Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or any of the characters below. I borrow and return them (mostly) unharmed. :)
Note: Written for the prompt: The Night Before Christmas.
Hermione clenched her teeth and shivered, bouncing in place in an attempt to stay warm. It was Christmas Eve and she was standing at the edge of a forest in Scotland waiting for the mysterious contact to arrive. She was all alone, and she had only her wand, the moon, and the stars for light. She kept her wand unlit. It was snowing lightly, softly, and it sounded like winter – a gentle breeze blowing snowflakes through the air.
She drew the short end of the stick – literally. No one wanted the job of going into the dark cold, hundreds of miles from the warm fire at Grimmauld Place, on Christmas Eve to wait for their contact among the Death Eaters. So they drew sticks, and she was the lucky winner. Hermione had no idea who she was waiting for, and even though everyone assured her it was completely safe, she couldn't help but be nervous. A lot; she was waiting for a Death Eater. But Harry and Ron had assured her she would be fine. And if they would allow her to go alone, she knew it was safe. But…
A gust of wind blew and her hair flew into her face, a few loose curls getting stuck in her eyelashes and on her lips. She reached a gloved hand to wipe them away and when she did, she saw someone coming out of the forest. She shivered and put a hand on her wand, just in case.
The man walked slowly, almost leisurely, toward her. The moonlight was no help in distinguishing any features; he walked with his hands in his pockets and his cloak hood up, the wind causing his cape to billow behind him. Hermione became slightly entranced watching him approach; he moved gracefully; purposefully.
She gulped when he stopped a few feet in front of her, partly out of fear and partly because she was so close to him.
"Do we need a light?" came a deep voice, reciting the pass-phrase. The man didn't look at her but kept his head bent.
"Not in the silver shade from above," she responded, her palms sweaty.
"Excellent," the man said, and threw back his hood.
Hermione gasped and a hand flew to her mouth. The other gripped her wand so tightly her knuckles were white.
"You!" she exclaimed in a whisper.
He smirked. "I wondered if they'd ever let you come."
She mentally shook herself and stood straight. "I drew the shortest stick."
He laughed and she almost flinched at the novel sound. "Yes, I suppose you would have had to. I doubt you'd volunteer for such a mission."
"I had no idea I was meeting you," she said with vehemence. "Otherwise I would have outright refused. I'm going to give Harry and Ron a yelling such as they've never had before."
He laughed again. "I have no doubt."
Hermione looked at him with suspicion. "You have something for us."
Draco reached into his robe and pulled out a scroll of parchment. He handed it to her; she took it and started to untie the string that bound the scroll.
"No, no, Granger. That's not for you." She scowled and tucked the missive in her own robe.
"And I believe you have something for me?" he drawled.
She then fetched her own package and handed it to him. He opened it immediately and read the few slips of parchment included. At the last one, he paled, then looked at Hermione with a gleam in his eyes.
"Short stick, huh? Ever think that perhaps they rigged it?"
She frowned. "Why on earth would they do that? And what would make you ask such a thing?"
He handed her the parchment he'd just read. She recognized Harry's writing immediately. Give it to her, Malfoy. you know who.
"Give me what?" she asked.
He sighed. "Nothing. Well, I suppose we're done then," he said, stuffing his delivery into various pockets.
"Wait, what was in the box?"
"Chocolate. From Honeydukes. They give me some every time we meet."
He shrugged. "I like chocolate? I don't get a lot of chances to drop by the sweet shop? They bribe me with it? Pick one."
"Malfoy, how long have you been doing this?"
He cocked his head. "How long has the Order been sending someone to meet me?"
She thought about his question. "Since the end of sixth year at Hogwarts… which makes one and a half years," She concluded, looking at him with something bordering on respect in her eyes. All this time, their secret source of information was him.
He winked. "Brilliant, you are."
He tutted. "As if I'd tell you," he said.
"Well, fine. But what was Harry talking about?"
"Nothing," he said adamantly. "Just forget it, okay?"
"Why did you show that to me if you weren't going to give whatever it is to me?"
"I wanted you to see that your friends sent you here on purpose."
"Why would they do that?"
He didn't answer. Instead he pulled the box out of his robe and opened it. He popped a piece of the chocolate into his mouth and handed one to Hermione. She looked at him and the chocolate warily. He shook it in her face and she finally accepted it.
"There. That's what he meant. Now we're done. And you can tell Potter that it's none of his business."
The chocolate was sweet and absolutely perfect; Honeydukes' finest, she knew. The snow was starting to swirl around them and Hermione shivered again. Draco saw her and rolled his eyes.
"What," she said, "aren't you cold?"
"No, genius, I'm not. Warming charm. We learned those in, what, third year?"
She felt ridiculous. She'd been so worried over this meeting that it completely slipped her mind to cast a charm to keep herself warm. She reached into her robe, but Draco was much faster and cast the spell before she could even wrap her hand around her wand.
"I don't believe you," she said.
He quirked an eyebrow. "About learning that in third year? I'm quite certain, really."
"No, not that. I don't believe Harry's note was about the chocolate."
"Well, bully for you. I don't really care what you believe. That's all you're getting. And we're finished here. Now we're just existing in each other's company for no reason at all."
"Are you spending tomorrow with your parents?" she asked. Much as she wasn't fond of Malfoy, she wanted to stay a little while longer, now that she was warm. And she didn't want to be there alone.
He scoffed. "What's tomorrow?"
"Christmas!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, right. Well, see, the Dark Lord isn't too fond of the practice of observing little things like holidays."
"So you'll be working?"
Again he made a sound of disgust. "Yes, work. It's like a desk job, really, and I simply loathe the paperwork."
"I – I'm sorry."
He glanced at her sideways. "For what?"
"That you don't get Christmas tomorrow."
"Oh, I'll get it. A hefty sack of galleons. Maybe mother will tie it up with a festive ribbon." The sarcasm in his voice was biting.
Hermione didn't know what to say.
"Sorry; I just couldn't care less about tomorrow."
"Yeah, well, you wouldn't care either, if you were me."
"That – thing you were supposed to give someone. Was it me? Or someone else? I can deliver whatever it is, if you want."
Draco bent down and picked up a handful of snow. "It's not a Christmas present or anything."
He looked at her as he formed a ball from the snow in his hands. "You're dying to know, aren't you?"
She jutted her chin out. "No. I'm curious, naturally, but I wouldn't care either way."
"Uh-huh." He threw the ball as hard as he could away from them. It landed with a smack and he smiled. "Nice." He picked up more snow and did the same thing; the second snowball went farther than the first.
"So, anyway, I guess I'll be going now," Hermione said.
"Oh, right. Whatever. When's my next meet?"
"Two weeks, they said."
He nodded. "Same place, and all that?"
"Yeah. So, everyone knows about you?"
He grimaced. "No. Only Potter and Weasley's dad. Maybe Moody. But that's it."
She frowned. "But lots of people have come out here to meet with you."
"But – "
He sighed, and sounded tired. "Think, Granger. Why would thirty people come out here and only three remember it?"
"You Obliviate them."
"Ding, ding, ding! Give the girl a prize!" His smile faded and his shoulders slumped. "Not that I really mind. I suppose, since you won't remember any of this anyway, I can tell you." He conjured two chairs and sat in one. Hermione sat in the other.
"It gets a little lonely, is all. And no one remembers me. Of those who do remember, and keep in mind there are three, only Potter comes, so I've gotten to know him a little, but he doesn't come much. He's all – important. I don't really have anyone to talk to. It would be nice, I guess. That's all." He stood and vanished his chair, then looked at Hermione expectantly.
"Up," he said, impatiently.
"That's it?" she said, standing.
"That's it? What do you mean, is that it? I have never said as much about myself to another living soul, and you ask 'is that it'?" He shook his head and pulled his cloak around him, scowling.
"I – I'm sorry. I – don't know what to say."
"Yeah, well; just don't say anything."
Hermione stood, feeling awkward. Draco was frowning deeply and he looked thoughtful. "Well, I guess I'll be off then," she said after a few moments.
"Right," he replied, shaking his head slightly before finally looking at her. "Only there's the matter still of your memory."
"Oh no, please don't. I won't tell, I promise."
"Sorry; can't do that. I'm afraid I'm too much of a self-preservationist to let that happen. The fewer people who know, the better."
"Then, why not give me whatever Harry wrote about? Since I won't remember it anyway." She hoped she didn't sound too interested; she didn't want to give away how very much she wanted to remember that there was something worth remembering. Somehow, she would Disapparate before he could Obliviate her.
He quirked an eyebrow, amused. "I thought you didn't care."
"I don't," she said airily, but the look on his face told her he had caught the excitement in her eyes.
Draco walked toward her slowly, the way he'd walked out of the forest—with purpose. His eyes stayed locked on her, and he stopped mere inches in front of her. She felt the mood change and she shivered as she looked up into his eyes. She couldn't look away; it was as if she was under a spell. A gust of wind blew around them, sending flakes of snow tumbling around them and onto their clothes, and her hair blowing around her face. When the wind calmed, once again she had hair in her face. Before she could even think to move it, Draco had reached up to do it for her.
Where she would have hastily brushed the clumps of curls out of her eyes, he moved each one as though it were made of some precious material, taking great care. He tucked one, then two, then three strands behind her ears, never taking his eyes from hers. With each strand, her heart pounded louder, her palms got sweaty, and her throat went dry.
Then he spoke, very softly and slowly in a calm, deep voice that made her insides rumble.
He leaned down to whisper in her ear. "The thing Potter wants me to give you is a message."
Hermione swallowed hard; Draco smirked, and moved to her other ear, their eyes meeting as his face passed hers. "He seems to think you've been down on yourself lately. He also seems to think this – message – will help make that better." He pulled back to look at her again.
Hermione felt weak at the knees. His eyes; his voice; the lock of hair slightly out of place—everything he was doing was making her crazy. And she couldn't be completely sure, but she was nearly certain it was the good kind of crazy. A tiny voice in the back of her head screamed that she was about to be kissed – and hard. Her eyes darted to his lips and he smirked again.
"I think he's off his rocker, naturally," he said smoothly. "But since you won't remember anyway – what's the harm?"
She looked back into his eyes and there was something new in them. "I – " he started, then stopped. Hermione was surprised to hear hesitation in his voice and see fear in his eyes where only a moment before they were full of life and light.
He broke eye contact and took a step back. Hermione's heart protested, and though she hadn't noticed the warmth he'd added, she could now feel its absence.
"What?" she said, and instantly regretted it. A shadow passed over his eyes and he frowned slightly.
He still wouldn't look at her. "I can do a lot of things. I can be very persuasive, and people have a tendency to just… follow me. I can give orders; I can throw insults and barbs; I can build up, or cut down; crush or elate with mere words. But I – can't seem to be able to tell a girl she's beautiful."
Hermione's eyes slowly widened. "Wh-what?"
"Just – don't," he said, holding a hand up and still not looking at her. It surprised her because of how intensely he had looked at her before. "I have no idea why Potter wanted me to tell you that. Do you feel any – better – because of it?"
Hermione had no concept of how she felt. She'd still been reeling from his closeness, and then his absence, and just how very much she missed the closeness, when he'd gone and said something that sounded suspiciously like him telling her he thought she was beautiful. Which – was just… absurd, really.
"Well, that's ridiculous," was the first thing she managed to blurt out.
He finally looked at her and he looked angry. The fact that he was a dangerous person came rushing back to her and she stepped away from him even though he wasn't close enough to grab her. "What, exactly, is ridiculous, Granger?" he snarled through gritted teeth.
Eyes wide, she shook her head. "No, I mean – I just can't believe you – you would think that, is all. I mean, you hate me, remember? And, well, I just meant…"
He was in front of her in two steps and he grabbed her wrist. "What? Did you mean?"
"I – I mean," she stuttered. "I'm flattered, but surprised…" her voice trailed off as his grip tightened.
"Why is it so ridiculous, huh? Have you looked in a mirror?"
She blinked a few times before looking away from his boiling, piercing gaze. "Of course, I've looked in – "
"Then what is so ridiculous?"
"I – I'm not beautiful," she said. Tears threatened to fill the spaces around her eyes.
Draco shook her by the wrist. "You calling me a liar?"
Her eyes widened, and the tears filled in. "Oh, n-no! I just – know…"
In a flash, his mouth was on hers, fast and fierce and demanding. She was so surprised that she forgot to respond. He grunted impatiently and when she opened her mouth to protest, his tongue picked up the same pace his lips started with. Soon, she forgot that she didn't want to respond and started kissing him back.
It only made him more aggressive. Hermione had never, ever, been kissed like this, like the world was going to crash into the sun at any moment. She was breathless, and soon she felt light-headed. She swayed but Draco caught her in a strong arm and crushed her to him.
After what felt like her whole life, Hermione pushed him away with considerable effort. He took a step away from her, eyes wide and panting. She immediately fell onto the snow, dazed. Draco just looked at her as though he surprised she was even there at all.
Neither of them spoke until finally Hermione's breathing calmed. "What – was that?" she asked, looking up at him.
He had his arms crossed; he was frowning severely, and looking at the ground. When she spoke, he turned his eyes to look at her, but not the rest of him; he didn't speak.
"Malfoy, what – "
He pulled out his wand and walked toward her, placing the tip on the top of her head. "Obli – "
"No!" she yelled, and rolled away from his spell. Then she stood and whipped out her own wand and pointed it back at him.
"Granger," he snarled. "Play nice. You knew this would happen."
"I won't let you erase my memory."
"And I won't let you jeopardize my mission and all the work I've done. I think my reason is better, don't you?" He sent an immobilizing spell at her, but she blocked it with a well-timed shield charm.
"Don't make this harder than it has to be." When she looked into his eyes now, they were raging. His jaw was set in a sharp line and his brow furrowed; he looked as though he was intent on getting exactly what he wanted.
"Please," she pleaded. "Don't. I won't tell, I swear."
"Right. I'm just supposed to let you go?"
"Yes. I don't want my memory erased!"
He scowled. "It's part of the deal I made with them. Only the people I agree to can know. Weasley's dad, Moody, Potter. That's the list." He repositioned his wand to point at her head. "Don't make me have to force you."
"Isn't there another way? Can't we talk about this?"
"We've already talked too much." The hardness fell away from his eyes and panic took its place. "I can't let you remember… that."
"Why? Would it be so horrible?"
"Yes," he whispered, and he lowered his wand, shoulders slumped.
"But you'd get to remember it? That's not fair."
He looked at her through the hair that had fallen in his face. "Why would you want to? Wasn't it ridiculous?"
"No, it was… amazing. But I want to understand what happened, because I'm really confused right now."
He straightened. "What happened, Granger, is that your friends have never bothered to tell you the truth. So I did."
"What truth?" she asked, frowning?
"That you're – you know."
"No, I don't. What are you talking about?"
Again he wouldn't look at her, and he turned around and took a few steps away from her. "The thing I just can't say."
"Say it," she demanded with such a fierce tone that he turned around.
Their eyes met and locked again, only this time it was a battle of wills. In the end, she was more determined.
He looked away, defeated. "You're beautiful."
Her smile spread all the way through her, from the corners of her mouth to the corners of her eyes, from her hair to her toes. No one had ever called her beautiful before; family didn't count.
"See?" she said.
"The Earth is still spinning." He chuckled, barely, but she heard it. "Thank you," she said sincerely and walked to stand beside him. She took his arm in her hand and turned him to face her. Smiling, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him gently on the lips. He started in surprise and went to pull her closer. She stopped him from deepening their activities, but he still held on to her.
"No, I'm not going to just kiss you. Despite how… pleasant it is. I should be going. They're probably getting worried."
"Because of his note?"
Draco nodded, looking into her eyes like a person hypnotized.
"Draco," she said firmly, and he snapped out of it and back away, letting go of her. Once again, she missed his warmth.
"Right. Uh, go. You should go."
"I still want to understand," she protested.
"Well, when you do, let me know what you learned." She started to speak, but he shook his head and cut her off. "I just thought you needed to know. That kiss… was completely…" Amazing; mind-blowing; intoxicating! "…unintentional, and out of nowhere. It won't happen again."
She smirked. "It almost did."
He looked at her and half smiled. "Go on," he said with a resigned sigh. "I guess I won't take your memory. It's only fair we both get to keep it."
"Thank you, but…"
"What does it mean?"
He looked at her as he pulled his cloak tight around him and drew his hood up. "I think it means I liked kissing you."
"No, the kiss! What does it mean?"
"You're smart; you'll figure it out." He winked and Disapparated with a pop! before she could protest.
A rush of cold fell over her, and she realized it was because he was gone. He'd cast the warming spell, and was now too far out of range for it to work. She stared into the forest from where he'd come, half hoping he'd come back. Her fingers, toes, and nose were numb before she decided he wasn't going to.
The softly falling snow swirled around her, and another rush of wind sent her hair spiraling around her head. She smiled and waited for the wind to pass, then touched her lips which were tingly from the cold and from him.
He was an enigma.
And she hoped she'd pick the shortest stick every time.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Hope you liked!