It was a beautiful clear night. An ivory full moon hung low in the deep blue black of the sky, surrounded by twinkling stars. The air was crisp and fresh; Hermione felt she had never tasted anything so sweet.
She glanced around. They were at the top of another tower. A low stonewall fenced the circular area, preventing them from toppling to the ground far, far below.
She closed her eyes and listened to the darkness. Crickets chirruped. Trees rustled as the breeze gently brushed against their leaves. Somewhere, far away, a creature howled a mournful tune. The eerie song chilled Hermione. She shivered.
"Are you cold?"
Hermione opened her eyes. Draco stood beside her; watching intently. Hermione opened her mouth to tell him it was not the cold that made her shiver, but Draco was already removing his dressing gown. He slung the black silk robe over her bare shoulders.
Hermione looked up at him- her eyes bright and round- full of questions.
Draco gazed at her sadly.
Hermione's already brimming eyes, overflowed with tears. She ran into Draco, and latched onto his middle. Draco stood stock-still, his arms pinned to his sides, whilst Hermione sobbed into his shirt.
They remained entwined for a long while, before Draco finally pulled away from the embrace.
"Granger, what's gotten into you? Get off me!" He mumbled sounding embarrassed.
Hermione dabbed her eyes with the sleeves of Draco's dressing gown.
What's gotten into me, Malfoy, is a little perspective.
"Thanks," she said softly.
Draco looked at her. A little smile played across his face.
"Come on," he said, "I want to show you something."
He grabbed her wrist and tugged her towards the stairs. Hermione turned to farewell freedom. The stars winked at her, wishing her goodbye and good luck.
Hermione winked back before being dragged down the spiral staircase, into the depths of Malfoy Manor.
"Malfoy, where are we going?" Hermione asked as she bumped along the gloomy corridors.
Draco called over his shoulder, "curious thing, aren't you Granger? Just wait and see."
Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but Draco beat her to it, "and would you please be a little quieter Granger? You aren't supposed to be out of your room."
A sudden thought hit Hermione.
Malfoy could get into big trouble for this. If his father found out...
They stopped in front of a large portrait of a portly man drinking rum.
"Bit late for it, isn't it Master Malfoy?" The man slurred drunkenly.
Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"I could say the same for you Reginald. Fizzing whizbees."
Reginald gave a huff, and swung left revealing a small gaping entrance.
Draco stepped through first, and then pulled Hermione after him. The portrait swung shut behind them, cutting off Reginald's gruff complaint ("bloody young pups, why in my day-").
The room had, obviously, been a dungeon at some stage. Damp stonewalls enclosed the windowless room. The ceiling was low. Stoves, cupboards and cluttered bench tops appeared to have been crammed into the room. Three house elves scurried about the surprisingly clean cobbled stone floor. In the far corner, a sink overflowed with dishes.
"This, Granger, is the kitchen."
Hermione eyed the bustling area with interest. Steam wafted about the kitchens, clouding the air as multiple pots bubbled atop the stoves.
"Um, Malfoy, isn't it about midnight?"
Draco smirked, "yes. Why? A little past your bedtime is it?"
Hermione frowned, "no, Malfoy, but it is quite a lot past dinner time. If everyone is asleep, why are these elves still up cooking?"
Draco stared at Hermione as if she were mad.
"Granger, the kitchen never closes."
Hermione shook her head in confusion.
"But why does it never close? You only have three people living here!"
"Three people? Whatever gave you that idea?"
Hermione blushed, indignant.
"Well, your mum, your pa and you."
Draco rolled his eyes, "We have many people staying here. There are elves, and guests, Mrs. Potts and Mr. Potts. It's not just 'the family.' Have you seen the size of this place, Granger?"
"We always have guests. Father has his friends, or colleagues, over quite often."
The term 'Colleagues' chilled Hermione to the bone.
Colleagues? Deatheaters more like.
"So how many House elves do you have working for you in total?" She asked, steering the question towards a different subject.
"We have six in the kitchen- three day staff and three night staff. Then there are the two maids, a butler and Mrs. Pott's helper, Button. We did have another servant. He helped Mr. Potts. That idiot Potter freed him though."
Hermione smiled, remembering her favourite little House elf, Dobby.
Draco continued, "That's nine in total."
"You have nine elves?" She asked, surprised.
Malfoy shrugged, "like I said, it's a big place."
Hermione was dumbfounded.
"Here, there's someone I want you to meet."
Draco waved over one of the House elves. A small one near the sinks dropped the pile of carrots he had been carrying and darted over. On his head he wore a white neckerchief like a bandana whilst his torso was clothed in a dirty white tea cosy.
The elf bowed.
"This, Granger, is Merry."