Period: Post-Hogwarts (could be HBP compatible, I suppose, but doesn't draw heavily on canon events)
Summary: Nine moments in the lives of Draco Malfoy and Herimione Granger. Tie in a little mythology, sprinkle with angst and romance, and step back.
A/N: Not beta-ed. So sue me.
en·ne·ad énnee àd, énnee əd (plural en·ne·ads) n.
- set of nine: a set of nine persons or things (formal)
Mid-16th century. Via the Greek stem ennead- from ennea "nine."
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Part 1: Opposites
Norse mythology recognized nine realms of existence. Eight of the realms were embodiments of opposites: fire and ice, heaven and hell, creation and destruction, and light and darkness. These realms all converged on the center realm where humans lived out their lives.
One night, when Hermione dragged herself down the stairs of Grimmauld Place for water in the middle of the night, he was simply there. She wondered for a moment if she was imagining the still, wary figure standing with unnatural tension in one corner of the hall, but then he moved and the dim light glinted off his silvery hair, breaking the spell.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed. Draco Malfoy stepped out of the shadows, the smirk on his face exactly as it had been since their days at school.
"Not that it's any of your business, Granger, but I was invited," he drawled carelessly, a dangerous, defensive glint in his eyes. He glanced pointedly at the Order's preferred room for their most formal and serious meetings, currently shut tightly against prying eyes and ears. Hermione stepped closer, turning worried, puzzled eyes to the seemingly-innocuous door.
"A meeting? This late?" Her expression grew closed and shuttered, giving away nothing. "What's happened?"
"He's going to move soon," Draco said grimly. "I came as soon as I found out."
"What are we going to do?" Hermione's voice sounded breathy, strained, too young and frightened to belong to the battle-weary, 3-year veteran of the Second Great War and member of the Order of the Phoenix that she actually was.
"If I knew that, do you honestly think I'd be standing in this hell-hole in the middle of the goddamn night waiting for orders?" he snapped.
"No one asked you to take orders from us, Malfoy," Hermione sneered back. "You're the one who came crawling to our door when the orders of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named grew so insane that even you couldn't take them anymore."
"I did what I had to do, Granger," Draco said through clenched teeth. "Before you start slinging insinuations about that way, I suggest you remember how much you and your pathetic Order need my help."
"Oh yes, how could I forget," Hermione replied with mock sincerity. "However would we get by without all the invaluable information gathered by our little spy? It's really not his fault that he's so low in the pecking order that half the time we know what You-Know-Who is up to before he does!"
Draco's eyes flashed in the dim light and he moved forward threateningly. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously soft, like velvet over a wicked steel blade.
"We are on . . . the same . . . side, Granger," he reminded her quietly. "Don't make me regret it more than I already do." For a while, they simply stood there glaring at one another, listening to the sound of their own labored breathing. Finally, Draco moved away from her to resume his hunched, tense vigil in the dark corner. Hermione chose to slide down against the nearest wall while she waited for her answers.
"Isn't it odd," she said after a while, "that we both ended up in the same place?"
"What do you mean?"
"Here," she explained, waving one arm around the dark hallway. "Think about it. No two people in the entire world could be more different. Pureblood and Muggleborn, Slytherin and Gryffindor, light and dark, jaded and sheltered. Two different people with two different paths, and yet here we are in the same hallway in the middle of the night, doing the same thing with our lives and fighting for the same side. Why do you suppose that is?"
Any other night, in any other circumstances, she probably wouldn't have received a response, but suddenly his voice flowed out of the darkness and flooded the hall with its refined, slightly arrogant tones.
"Think about a circle for a moment. If you start at the top of the circle and begin simultaneously to trace its shape in both directions, won't your fingers meet at the other side?"
"So why is it so hard to believe that two such opposite paths as ours would eventually lead us back around to the same place?"
Hermione never got the chance to respond, because just then the door swung open and she and Draco turned to face their fate, which oddly enough seemed to be one and the same.
Part 2: Power
Nine is an important number in Chinese culture. It is considered lucky, and is strongly associated with the Chinese dragon, a symbol of magic and power. There are nine forms of the dragon, it is described in terms of nine attributes, has nine children.
It was a terrible thing to be powerful, Hermione decided. Power was too easily corrupted, too easily abused. Having power meant having to live with herself the next day when she saw what that power had done, and right now she didn't think she wanted to do that anymore.
It had been power that had allowed the Death Eaters to set fire to the grounds of Hogwarts when the final battle began to rage a few hours before. It had been power, too, that had summoned the rain clouds that now poured down upon the gradually dwindling battle, dousing the fires but creating a curtain of smoke and mist that further aided the Death Eaters who had not yet been captured or killed. It had been power that had left her bruised, bleeding, and in pain, limping heavily on her left leg and nursing ribs that felt cracked and cutting.
Finally, it had been power Hermione had feared when Lucius Malfoy appeared out of charcoal night and turned his flat, glittering eyes upon her, and power that she had used to strike him down with the first curse that came to mind: Sectumsempra. She had watched him die at her feet.
As Hermione stood there, the peculiar scent of smoke and death in her nostrils, in her hair, in her skin so deeply that she doubted she would ever be able to wash it away, she felt a frightening, disturbing urge to laugh. She looked down at Lucius Malfoy's dead face, warped with torment and terror, watched his blood trickle from the gaping wounds across his chest and pool on the trampled, rain-soaked ground, and she could hold it in no longer. Laughter that sounded like the dying cackles of a crow spewed forth from between her split, bleeding lips.
Hermione could not stop the hoarse, inhuman giggles in her throat, but she turned toward the voice anyway. Draco Malfoy stood behind her, one arm of his robes ripped to shreds and dripping with blood and rain, his hair darkened to sunset gold where it was plastered to his bruised face. He was looking at her, not with fear or concern, but with an exhausted sort of curiosity.
"Isn't it funny?" Hermione managed between painful bouts of sobbing laughter. "Isn't it damned funny?"
"Blood, mud, blood," Hermione singsonged, hearing the hysteria in her voice as though it came from someone else. "He hated me, hated who I was. Mudblood, he would call me, but whose blood is muddy now? All the same, now, isn't it? All running red, all in the mud." The laughter took over again, and Draco walked up to her to look down at the mutilated body of his father.
His expression did not change. He did not react at all, in fact. For a moment they stood there, while rain and blood insured that fire became smoke and the wounded became the dead, Draco in silence and Hermione convulsing with laughter that she had not yet recognized was turning rapidly into sobs. Then, with sudden violence, Draco turned on her, snarling.
"Snap out of it, Granger." He took her by the shoulders and shook hard until she gave one last, hiccupping gasp and went silent. When her eyes finally came into focus, Draco frowned at her. "Did you kill him?"
Hermione's eyes drifted back down to the body at their feet. When she didn't answer immediately, Draco shook her again. "Stay with me, Granger. Did you kill my father?"
"Yes," she whispered. Draco's eyes drifted closed, and he released his hold on her shoulders.
"At least I didn't have to do it ," she heard him whisper into the smoky, coppery night. She could think of nothing to say to that, so she stood there with him in the rain, listening to the silence of the wasted battlefield.
Suddenly, the unearthly quiet was broken by shouts from their right and an explosion from the other side of the hill on which they stood. Hermione looked to the west, where a greenish-gold glow was painting the horizon.
"Go." Hermione turned back to see Draco peering into the mist in the direction of the steadily approaching shouts, his stance defensive and his wand at the ready. His silvery eyes darted over to hers for a split second. "He needs you now. Merlin knows why, but he's going to need you with him to finish this." Hermione did not have to ask who he meant, or what he thought was happening on the other side of that hill. She knew. She also knew he was right.
Briefly, she considered trying to stumble her way through an apology, but with the mud on her shoes dark with his father's blood, she didn't think anything she could say would be enough. Instead, she simply nodded and turned to head over the hill, leaving Draco Malfoy to defend himself alone against who-knew-how-many members of who-knew-what side.
At the crest of the hill, she indulged herself with one last glance back. Draco's form had been swallowed by the smoke and mist, but as she turned to follow Harry to whatever end, she thought she heard a strong, clear voice shouting curses into the night, and for some reason she was not quite as afraid.
Part 3: Judgment
The ancient Egyptians believed that a person had to earn the right to enter the afterlife. Before an individual could pass into the next realm, nine great gods known collectively as the Ennead had to judge his worthiness.
The chamber was being called to order, and the terse, buzzing chatter of several hundred witches and wizards faded to a heavy, expectant silence. In the year and a half since the Final Battle, the Wizengamot had seen literally hundreds of suspected Death Eaters or war criminals pass through its doors, but never had a trial been so widely discussed or so breathlessly awaited.
If anyone had bothered to search the crowd thoroughly, they would have seen every single surviving member of the Order of the Phoenix in attendance. It was the first time they had all been together since the war, and in fact the first time most of them had summoned the courage to attend the Wizengamot's war trials. Most of them were gathered together near the back of the courtroom, not speaking. People were giving them a wide berth, whether out of respect or uneasiness it was hard to tell, and they made a sorrowful and desolate sight in a room that had seen too much of both.
Hermione was not sitting with them. She was near the front of the room, staring pointedly at the raised stage where the prisoner would be brought before the council, ignoring the odd, curious looks she was receiving from the people around her.
When he stepped out into view, it seemed as if the whole world caught its breath. How could someone look elegant and dignified in chains? His face was blank, his eyes unreadable, his chin held high and his shoulders squared even as he was secured to his chair like a common criminal.
Hermione tried to meet his eyes in the brief moments of heavy silence that followed his entrance, but he did not look at her. His eyes did not seem to belong to the present at all, in fact. They seemed in those moments to see only the past and its wrongs, as if all the good that had happened in between mattered even less to him than it did to the people who were now attempting to condemn him.
"Draco Malfoy," a voice boomed out of the darkness. "You have been accused of the following crimes: willingly entering into the service of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named; participation in Death Eater activities, including but not limited to theft, destruction of private property, torture, and murder; the use of Unforgivable curses; violation of the Mistreatment of Muggles Act of 1997; and various acts of high treason against Britain's Ministry of Magic. Have you anything to say in your defense?"
Draco stared into the darkness, not moving. For a long moment, it seemed as though he wouldn't answer them and would remain in his chair, lost in the past, until the end of eternity. Finally, he opened his mouth to speak, but just then another voice, out of the crowd, flowed clear and strong into the dark room.
"I have something to say in his defense." Every eye in the room, with the exception of a pair of steely-gray orbs that could not be torn away from the past even by the voice of a savior, turned toward the source.
Harry Potter looked too old for his twenty-two years, and he walked with a very slight limp as he made his way forward toward the prisoner at the front of the room. He looked war-torn, battle-weary, even though he hadn't seen battle for more than two years. Perhaps he would just always look that way.
"Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater. Anyone can see that by looking at his arm." It was a true statement, because against his pale skin, the Dark Mark was visible to every single person in the room. "But what you can't see is that he risked his life to help our side win the war. You can't see that he became a spy for the Order, or that he saved our lives a dozen times over, or that he was there on the battlefield, fighting until the very end."
Harry turned to face the Wizengamot, not pleading or demanding, but more powerful by his very presence than the most evocative and eloquent prayer for mercy.
"Condemn him for his crimes if you must, but remember two things. First of all, we all committed crimes during the war. Just because they were less blatant and we don't wear them on our arms does not make us any less guilty. Second of all, know that you are condemning someone far more heroic than I could ever be. I was a hero because my destiny made me one. He was a hero because his destiny made him the opposite, and he rose above it to be a hero anyway."
The room was silent for a few seconds after Harry's speech, and then all at once conversations buzzed to life in every corner. The members of the Wizengamot were speaking furiously under their breath, whispering to one another in rapid words and with nervous glances at the restless crowd. Finally, the head mugwump banged her gavel and called the room to order.
"In light of this new evidence provided by an extremely reliable source, the Wizengamot has ruled that all charges against Draco Malfoy have been dropped. Dismissed!"
The entire room exploded in conversation, and the Daily Prophet photographers began sending clouds of smoke into the air as they frantically snapped shots. Harry was limping back to his companions with a quietly satisfied look on his haggard face, and because he was the center of attention, no one but Hermione saw Draco's eyes return from their journey to the past.
He stood up and stared at his hands as though he didn't quite recognize them without the chains. At the urging of one of his guards, he began to leave the stage, but not before he allowed his eyes to settle for a moment on the only person in the room who was looking at him instead of at the Boy Who Lived. He paused for a moment as they gazed at one another, and then he nodded very slightly before disappearing into the wings.
Hermione slipped her coat on and made her way inconspicuously through the crowd, out of the Ministry, and into the chilled, wintry afternoon. She looked up at the sky, overlaid with gray clouds that were currently sending lazy snowflakes down upon London's streets, and breathed deeply. She smiled very faintly as she turned to walk back to her flat, preferring to stroll in the snowy streets rather than Apparate.
It had not been her trial, or her acquittal, but for the first time in a long time, she felt free.
Part 4: Art
In Greek mythology, nine goddesses called the Muses were responsible for inspiring the art of musicians, artists, and writers.
Hermione turned to the doorway, where Draco Malfoy was standing with a champagne glass in one hand and shuttered expression on his handsome face. His black silk dress robes made his long hair shimmer in the torch light.
"Hello, Malfoy," she answered quietly. She shifted slightly, taking the weight off her aching left foot to let the right have a turn taking the brunt of the punishment. How she hated high heels. "What are you doing in here?" He shrugged elegantly, but there was a darkness in his eyes that told her his reasons for abandoning the gala party being thrown to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the final battle were not so easily dismissed.
"I spend enough time working my charm on pompous arsehole politicians and their vapid, brainless arm-candy during the week," he said smoothly and hollowly as he entered the room completely. "I certainly don't want to do it on the weekend as well."
"Really? Considering that you are a pompous arsehole politician, I find that somewhat surprising." Her words, oddly enough, held no malice, and he didn't read any into them.
"Temper, temper," he scolded lightly as he came to stand beside her. "Your people skills haven't improved at all since school, Granger. No wonder you've banished yourself to the shadows of anti-social isolation."
"I couldn't listen to them congratulate me anymore," she said suddenly, harshly, all light banter gone from her voice. "Most of them weren't even there. They have no idea what it was like."
"I know," Draco agreed quietly. "If I had to hear once more about how great and noble it all was . . ." He trailed off, and they stood together silently in the secluded hallway in which they had both sought refuge from the party raging gaily in Hogwarts' Great Hall.
Hermione was watching the dancing shadows of partygoers on the wall behind Draco, envying and resenting their merriment and ignorance on this day of mourning, when she heard her strange companion gasp slightly beside her.
"Will you look at that?" he said wonderingly.
"What is it?" Hermione asked, turning to look in the same direction. She found herself staring at a painting, one that had hung there as long as she had attended Hogwarts. It was a landscape, lovely and serene, with a wooded area on the left and a stream that glowed golden in the perpetual sunset and lapped lightly at its banks.
"What? That painting's been here for ages. Surely you saw it when we were at school."
"Of course I did," he snapped. "That's not what I meant. Look." He pointed to the shadowy area where the trees clustered close together, and Hermione leaned forward to inspect it.
She gasped softly.
"Thestrals," she whispered, as the dark shapes between the tree trunks moved restlessly and blinked out of the painting with dark, mournful eyes. As they watched, two of the shy, bizarre creatures ventured out of their shadowy haven and into the oil-paint sunset to lap at the water of the stream.
"Have they always been there?" Hermione wondered.
"What do you think, Granger?" Draco drawled, and some of his usual sarcasm was back in his voice, though his eyes remained transfixed on the tiny, horse-like figures in the painting.
"But it's so morbid," Hermione whispered as at least half-a-dozen more thestrals wandered out of the woods to drink with their companions. "Why would they keep this here to remind us of all the death we've seen and caused?"
"Perhaps they don't even know the thestrals are there," Draco mused seriously. When she gave him a frankly disbelieving look out of the corner of her eye, he continued. "I mean it. I'd bet a thousand Galleons that if we had every single person in that room parade past this painting, no more than ten or twenty of them would see anything more than a sunset and stream. You seem to forget, Granger, that those who fought were relatively few, and those who survived were fewer still. We are a dying breed, you know, the ones who have truly seen."
"Could you have seen them?" she asked finally. "When we were students? Before the war?"
"No," he replied. "No, the first person I saw die was . . ." He trailed off, and when Hermione tore her eyes away from the painted thestrals, he was looking at her with something that was not-quite-apology in his eyes.
"You can say his name, you know," she said quietly. "It's been five years."
"But you loved him." It was not a question.
"Of course I did," Hermione confirmed with a small, wistful smile on her face. "I'm going to love Ron until the day I die, but he's dead, Malfoy. Not talking about him isn't going to bring him back."
"He died bravely," Draco said suddenly. "I don't know if I ever told you that. He was protecting his sister."
"I know. They told me."
"I tried to save him."
"They told me that, too."
And that was all they said, all they needed to say. For a long time, they stood together watching the thestrals and listening to the laughter pouring in from the Great Hall on the other side of the stone. Somehow, it seemed like it was the thestrals that separated the two of them from the party far more than any wall ever could.
Part 5: Progress
In Thai language, the word for the number nine, "gao," is the same as the verb for 'to develop or progress.'
The Ministry of Magic was a busy and demanding place to work. In almost any job at any level, a person spent half his day smooth-talking politicians, speaking with representatives of other departments, seeking support for new laws and bills, and trying to get approval for any number of things.
So, really, it wasn't that odd that Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy occasionally crossed paths. Her position as a member of the Department of Muggle Relations meant she was constantly in contact with various powerful people, lobbying for their support and negotiating compromises to get it, and as a rising politician Draco was in no position to go pissing off various departments within the Ministry. Of course they had to interact occasionally. It was practically required.
What was not required, however, was the quiet civility with which those interactions were conducted, or the subtle nods and smiles they shared as they passed in the halls.
Once, during a meeting of several departments to discuss a new bill regarding Muggle rights in cases of accidental magic, Draco defended Hermione's argument when a whiny, self-righteous rep from the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad began to nastily attack the bill's worth.
On another occasion, Draco rounded a corner to find Hermione ranting furiously at a pair of shaking, white-faced interns whom she'd overheard planning to skive off work early so they wouldn't have to take any more orders from "traitorous Death Eater scum."
To an outsider, these interactions were the normal exchanges of two colleagues and war veterans.
To anyone who had known them at school, they were possibly signs of a coming apocalypse.
To Draco and Hermione, they were simply . . . progress.
Part 6: Suffering
In the mythology of the Mayan civilization, there existed nine levels in the underworld. Metnal, the ninth level, was a place of eternal darkness, cold, and suffering.
Hermione blinked into the gloom of the alleyway into which she'd just Apparated. It smelled strongly of rot and mold and decaying food and stale beer. A dumpster overflowed with garbage on her right. A lone left boot leaned against the wall to her right, making her wonder vaguely what had become of its owner.
Hermione stepped gingerly over a pile of glop of indeterminable origin and made her way out to the street, which was dark and smoky and would have made her feel very unsafe if she hadn't had her wand clutched carefully in her hand and tucked in her coat pocket. She found herself standing in front of a rather dodgy-looking Muggle pub, and with an air of grim determination, she stepped inside.
She spotted him almost as soon as she walked through the door, and was immediately glad that her assistant, out for a night of fun with some of his Muggle friends, had called her when he'd recognized the angry-looking drunk at the bar. Any drunker, and Draco Malfoy was likely to start educating the patrons of this Muggle dive on the finer points of Death Eater etiquette and precisely why he was negotiating a trade agreement with the Mexican Ministry of Magic regarding the export of chupacabras for potions use.
As Hermione approached Draco, his figure hunched over the bar and his hair in uncharacteristic disarray, he turned toward her, trying and failing to focus bleary eyes on her form.
"What the hell are you doing here, Granger?" Draco drawled, sounding remarkably sober considering the number of empty shot glasses marching across the bar in front of him.
"My assistant saw you and was afraid you might be a threat to our secrecy, our security, and generally life as we know it," she said quietly as she sat herself down gingerly on the cracked barstool.
"Your assistant," Draco said, slurring his s's slightly and pausing as though he had to think about what he'd meant to say, "is a brown-nosing, arse-kissing pansy."
Hermione fought a smile as she motioned to the bartender for Draco's tab.
"He doesn't like you, either," she replied as she paid the bill and made a mental note to demand reimbursement when Draco was slightly more sober and not likely to begin pulling galleons out of his pockets. She stood and hooked a hand under her companion's arm, and he went without protest probably because he wasn't completely aware of what was happening. "Come on, Malfoy. I'm taking you home."
"No!" he exclaimed suddenly, jerking away from her and stumbling. "Not home! Don't want to go there!" Draco sudden, uncharacteristic outburst was beginning to draw attention, so Hermione stepped close to him and spoke in soft, soothing tones.
"Okay, okay, I won't take you home," she said quietly. "Let's just go, alright? We'll talk about where to go when we're outside."
"Don't take me home," he repeated petulantly but at a normal volume as he allowed himself to be led from the pub. "Anywhere but there."
Once they were outside, Hermione wasted no time in dragging him into the alleyway and Apparating them back to her flat, which was the safest place she could think of to bring a drunken wizard politician who was likely to raise hell if she took him to his own house.
"This is where you live?" Draco asked, squinting as though it might bring the room into better focus.
"Yes, this is where I live," Hermione answered wearily as she removed her coat and scarf.
"Uh-huh," she replied noncommittally. She turned back around and pointed her wand at him without pretense. "Sobrietus."
Draco blinked, and suddenly his eyes cleared and he stopped swaying on his feet. And before Hermione could blink herself, fury distorted his features and his eyes flashed dangerously at her.
"What the hell did you just do, Granger?"
"I sobered you up, you arsehole!" she snapped, affronted by his reaction to kindness she hadn't had to offer him. "In case you missed it, you were completely pissed in a Muggle pub!"
"I know!" he yelled back. "I suppose it didn't occur to you that I wanted to be completely pissed in a Muggle pub, did it?" He ran a hand over his face, which was rapidly flushing pink with his anger. "You have no idea how hard I worked to get that drunk, Granger."
"Why on earth would you do that?" she asked angrily. His mask of fury seemed to set like stone, and he thrust something at her that she hadn't realized before now was clutched in his hands. She snatched it from him and unfolded what appeared to be a piece of crumpled parchment.
This letter is to inform you, Draco Lucius Malfoy, that your mother, Narcissa Black Malfoy, passed away today in St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries at 3:21PM on Thursday, November 27th, 2005. We are sorry for your loss.
"Malfoy . . ." Hermione looked up from the parchment, tears shining in her eyes. "Oh gods, I'm so sorry . . ." She reached out to touch his arm but he flinched away from her, the fire returning to his eyes now fueled by the kindling of raw grief.
"I don't want your fucking pity, Granger," he snarled, snatching the letter out of her hands and holding it defensively to his chest. "If you would have just left me where you found me and not stuck your nose where it didn't fucking belong . . ."
"I was trying to help you, Malfoy!" she snapped, feeling sympathy and indignant fury battle in her heart. "Excuse me for trying to show a little kindness!"
"I don't want your kindness!" Draco roared. "And I don't want you here! Get the hell out!"
"It's my flat, you prat!" Hermione yelled back. "You get the hell out!"
Draco stalked over to her and glared down at her, seeming to fill the space of her tiny living room with his very presence.
"Don't presume to order me around," he hissed dangerously.
"Get out of my flat, Malfoy," she snarled back. "Don't make me hex you."
"You wouldn't dare."
Hermione's reflexes and wand-work had been honed by years of war, but so had his, and before she could mutter her spell he had her wrist in his iron grip and her body pinned to the wall of her living room.
"Let me go, you bastard!" she shrieked.
"Gods, you're so infuriating!" he growled, and then all of the sudden, his lips were crashing against hers and his tongue was in her mouth and it was violent and painful and perfect. Hermione finally shoved him away, and for a moment she just watched him stare at her with dilated eyes and swollen lips and flushed cheeks.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" she hissed as her heart thundered somewhere in the vicinity of her throat. And then she was back in his arms.
His kisses were needy and fire-hot, his hands cool on her heated skin. As he nipped at her lower lip and she stumbled with him toward her bedroom, she decided that nothing tasted quite so sweet and bitter on the tongue as whiskey and grief.
Part 7: Faith
The Christian Bible, a source of faith and guidance for 2.1 billion people around the world, is divided into nine subsections.
The next time they saw one another, it was a Tuesday. Hermione opened her office door to go home for the evening, and he was simply there. They said nothing until they had Apparated to the gates of Malfoy Manor, and even they were words of passion and need rather than explanation. They did not speak of the loneliness they were banishing, or of the conviction the promised they'd made that they would never let this happen again, or of the strange comfort they found in each other's arms. Those were words for a different time, and for different people.
Afterward, they lay together while the moonlight streamed in through soaring windows, painting ghosts on the walls and throwing the pristine white sheets of the bed into bright relief. As Hermione caught her breath, Draco's hands skimmed aimlessly over her back and arm. Finally, they brushed over her collar bone and snagged on the chain she wore around her neck. He glanced down, lifting the pendant from her chest and watching it shine in the thin light.
"What does this symbol mean, Granger?"
Hermione raised her head to look down at the "symbol" he was referring to: a small silver cross.
"It's a crucifix." At his blank look, she elaborated. "It's a religious symbol. Christians keep them because they believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins. It reminds them of God's love."
"Then you believe in God?" he asked. There was no mockery in his voice, just as there was no evasion in hers when she answered.
"No, not really. I believe in something greater than myself, but I don't claim to know who or what that is. The world is too miraculous to be accidental, but organized religion breeds thinking too mundane to be the path to understanding something so wondrous. I prefer to believe in my own way."
"Why do you wear this, then?"
"It was a gift from my mother, right before the war. Her beliefs brought her such strength, such peace. It was the only thing she had to give me."
He fingered the cross as it glinted silver against her moon-paled skin.
"And does it? Give you peace, I mean." She paused and seemed to consider his question very carefully.
"No," she answered finally. "But it gives me hope." He rose up on one elbow and looked down at her, bathed in silvered light, her eyes and hair dark on the luminous sheets. Slowly, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her breast bone, right above where the cross fell between her breasts. It was a chaste kiss, almost reverent, the way a repentant sinner might kiss the hand of a saint. Neither their nakedness nor the sweat cooling on their bodies and dampening the tangled sheets made it less pure.
"I envy you," he whispered against her skin. "More now than I ever did when we were young."
"What do you envy?" she asked softly as he skimmed his lips up the column of her throat to press soft, nuzzling kisses to the skin beneath her ear. "My cross?"
"Your faith," he answered as he pulled back to look at her face. His hair and eyes took on the luminosity of the moonbeams, and in his beauty there was a subtle sadness, like a thin crack running through an exquisite stained-glass window. She reached up to touch him as though to smooth the sorrow away from his face, but he caught her hand in his own and kissed the delicate skin on the inside of her wrist. She brushed her fingers over his lips as she spoke, feeling his breath ghost over her skin.
"Why do you need to envy me that? I don't have the monopoly on belief, Draco."
"No, but a person can't have faith if he has nothing to believe in." Hermione frowned as she looked up at him. She pulled her hand from his grasp, but instead of pushing him away, she reached behind her neck and unclasped the chain she wore there. Without every taking her eyes from his, she lifted the cross away from herself and fastened it around his neck. His breath hitched in his throat as she drew her hands away.
"I don't deserve to wear this," he whispered, searching her eyes for the reasoning behind her actions.
"No one does," she replied quietly. "That's really the point." He seemed to search her familiar face for signs of deceit or trickery. When he found none, he finally tore his eyes away from hers to look down at the pendant that hung between them. He reached a tentative hand up to steady its swinging and stared at it as though he wasn't entirely sure it was really there.
"So what does this mean? Do I believe in God now?" he asked, and oddly enough there was no sarcasm in his voice at all.
"No. You believe in whatever you trust not to betray your faith." Suddenly, he dropped his head and kissed her, kissed her as though he were trying to take everything she had and then give it back. She thought she could feel him in her soul.
"Can I believe in that?" he wondered softly against her lips.
"I don't know," she replied. "Can you?"
"I hope so," he whispered back. She smiled at him in the dark and pulled him back down to her, the cross clutched between them in their intertwined hands.
Part 8: Wisdom
One of the most famous legends in Celtic mythology tells the story of nine magical hazel trees at the center of the Otherworld. They hang over the Well of Wisdom and drop their nuts into it, importing wisdom and inspiration to all who drink from the water or eat the salmon of the river.
"I'm not asking you for a ring, Draco! It's Valentine's Day and I wanted to spend it with you! What the hell is wrong with that!"
"What the hell do you think is wrong with it?"
Hermione was sitting on the edge of Draco's bed, watching him pace the floor after having abruptly leapt out from between the sheets. Five minutes ago, she'd innocently asked what their plans were for the upcoming holiday, and all hell had broken loose.
"I don't know!" she wailed, this being the fourth or fifth time she'd answered the question. In the months that she and Draco had been dating/together/whatever, they had avoided talking about definitions or commitments or long-term, but she didn't think she was out of line in simply asking if they had plans on a certain day of the week.
"Is it that you don't want to spend Valentine's Day with me?" Hermione asked, trying to pretend it didn't hurt her to say it. Draco stopped pacing and hung his head, his hands on his hips and a sigh on his lips. He raised his eyes to meet hers. The look in them wasn't quite an apology, but it was close.
"I didn't say that," he said wearily. "In fact, that's what's wrong."
"What's what's wrong?" Hermione asked, wondering how it was possible that she could still want to rip her hair out over him after knowing him for sixteen years.
"I want to spend it with you," he said softly, not meeting her eyes. "Just with you." He finally met her gaze, and she felt herself tremble under the raw turbulence in his silver-gray eyes. "What does that mean?"
Hermione slowly got up off the bed and made her way carefully over to Draco's side.
"It doesn't have to mean anything if you don't want it to, Draco," she told him softly.
"But it does," he whispered. "It means something. It means . . ." He looked down at her, seeing who-knew-what in the face that had become a constant presence in his life over the past few months. Suddenly his eyes grew wide and he backed away from her, stumbling over an ottoman in his haste and landing rather ungracefully on his arse.
"Holy shit!" he exclaimed.
"What?" Hermione asked, alarmed. "What's wrong?"
"I love you." It was said in an almost accusatory tone.
Hermione gaped at him, feeling as if she'd somehow misplaced her kneecaps and was now standing there on legs that weren't exactly connected in all the right places.
"You . . . You what?"
"I love you." Draco frowned. "How annoying."
"How annoying?" Hermione repeated as Draco walked over to his vanity and settled down to begin combing his long, shimmery hair.
"Terribly annoying, actually. So many things to bother with." He stopped combing his hair as if he'd just thought of something. "You know, I'm rather proud of myself at the moment. It takes a very wise and secure man to recognize such an unthinkable thing about himself and not allow his self-image to be tarnished in the least."
"You . . . You utter bastard!" Hermione exclaimed, trying not to laugh aloud with joy. She marched across the room, snatched the comb out of his hand, and sat herself down on his lap.
"You are the only man in the world who could piss a woman off by telling her you love her," she said as she ran her hands over his wonderful, infuriating face.
"You're the first one to complain," he said snootily. He leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. "But then, I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've meant it, so that might have something to do with it."
"I love you back, you know."
But she proceeded to prove it to him anyway.
Part 9: The Future
The ninth astrological sign of the Zodiac is Sagittarius, identified by the Greeks as a centaur. Centaurs are magical creatures known for their skills as archers, philosophers, and predictors of the future.
"There you are."
Hermione turned around to see Draco standing in the break between hedges that allowed entrance into her tiny haven. This small, shady garden was her favorite of the dozens that were scattered liberally over the Malfoy estate, with a small stone fountain, a thoughtfully placed bench, and an abundance of sweet-smelling wildflowers, and more afternoons than not she could be found here, curled up with a book and a cup of tea.
"Was I lost?" Draco wandered over to her and lowered himself gracefully onto the bench beside her.
"No. You are frightfully predictable, Granger." Hermione smiled as he stretched himself out on the bench, not bother to ask if he could use her lap as a pillow. She let her hand rest on his silky head and watched the late-afternoon light dapple on his features.
"You know, you'll have to stop calling me that eventually," she said as she stroked a few strands of hair away from his forehead.
"Someday," he agreed vaguely. For a while they stayed that way, Draco listening to the sounds of birds in the trees and the soft trickling of the fountain while Hermione ran her fingers through his hair and read her book. Then, Draco took her hand in his, stroking her soft skin with his thumb and playing absentmindedly with the slim band on her fourth finger.
"Isn't it odd," he said finally, "that we both ended up here?"
Hermione put her book down and pondered the same question that she had asked him long ago.
"Yes," she agreed. "It's very odd." He laughed softly and kissed her palm.
"I gave you a prettier answer," he reminded her.
"I know. And it was a load of bullshit."
"It's a good thing I love you."
"Yes, it is. A very good thing."
A/N: Yay! I got it written in time. Here are the specs:
You are writing for:
Side pairing: No bothered
1) Winter/Nature/Something amusingly ironic (select two)(bet you won't go
for the ironic one..) (Haha, I got all THREE. Well, sort of.)
2) An old, lost left boot.
3) Hazel. It can be the wood. It can be the colour. However it must NOT be
used in reference to Hermione in any way. (Or as someone's wand. I can so
see that one coming.)
4) A picture of Thestrals
5) A moment of revelation or reversal. I don't mind which.
Tone: Romance/Humour/Drama/anything really so long as it's not
Ending: Suprise me
Sorry it ended up being kind of fractured, guys. I was researching hazel so that I could be super-cool and blow your mind with my originality, and I got all caught up in the number 9, and then the whole thing just ran off with my good judgment. Hope it wasn't too crazy to follow.
Make sure you come back and visit after Valentine's Day for the big author reveal!