AUTHOR'S NOTE:This is my second D/Hr one-shot, after The Perpetual Fantasy, and I was trying to give this one a different atmosphere than a few tragic old works. I wanted there to be friendship and codependence first – not necessarily primal physical attraction – that develop into love. I truly believe that you have to lose someone to realize how much you love them. It's always such a pleasure to get them back. I wrote it with the classics in mind. All the books they read have been made into movies from as far back as the early 30s from which I got my inspiration for the tone. Even something as horrific as the topic of werewolves can be, I tried to romanticize it. This is also an alternate reality one-shot where basically the entire 6th book didn't happen. I hope you enjoy and I would very much appreciate a review.

DEDICATION: For Kelly, Linet, and Annette. Also to the band Snow Patrol who seem to feed my soul at 4AM.

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At Forest's Edge
By NeurticMuse413

Year 7.

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Hermione stood at the entrance to the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid had invited them over for late tea but a howling in the distance had deterred her in mid path, captivated her. It sounded like a wounded animal, a wolf. Ron turned around when he noticed she had lagged behind. He called her name but she didn't respond, just stared into the darkness within the trees. He grabbed her arm and she snapped out of it.

"You alright there?" he asked, genuine concern in his eyes.

She absorbed his stare for a moment before nodding. "Do you know what that is? I've never heard it before," she asked Hagrid the instant they got inside the hut, gesturing at the forest through the window.

"Some tragic thing that went out there to die. Only sounds at night, though," he replied, with interest.

"You've seen it?" Harry asked.

"Only shadows. It moves too fast. Something out there's got the creatures spooked, that's for sure."

Hermione spent some time thinking about it, this mysterious whimper. To her, it was like a child crying – a sound she could never ignore – and the curiosity in her pleaded to learn more. She spoke to Ginny about it the following night but she just told her to forget it. Ginny had other things on her mind, Harry mostly. She hadn't the time to worry about Hermione's nonsensical imagination.

She felt alone, as they all did at that time. Voldemort was on the loose. He was rallying soldiers. Even the Slytherins seemed affected. It was as if they had disbanded. They were out for themselves, had to deal with their own problems.

Some had to choose sides. Some had to live with the choices they'd already made.

After the third sleepless night of hearing the whining through the girls' dormitory window, she grabbed her cloak and wand and hurried out of the castle, running from it rather than to the sound. She told herself she was going to Hagrid's but she just kept walking deeper into the darkness. The light in Hagrid's hut turned on so she ran rather than get caught. Harry and Ron couldn't know she was out there, that she was questioning… everything.

Staring at the light, she ran into the forest blindly. Tree after tree, she ran until she could no longer see the tiny light from the hut in the distance. For the first time, her mind went blank with fear. The darkness was staggering, marvelous. The full moon caught her eyes and the darkness seemed to recede. She sighed and turned around, realizing she had gone too far. She reached the trunk of a great tree and rested against the trunk. She could barely breathe from running but at the same time, she didn't want to go back. She slid down its bark and hugged her knees in the grass.

For the first time in weeks, she began to fall asleep. It felt like 15 minutes, as it always did, when suddenly a cold, wet surface rubbed against her hand. She awoke, startled. The sun was starting to rise and the distant sky was beginning to unravel with orange. She looked at her hand but it was still free and untouched. No creatures had found her, which she found surprising. There were all sorts of creatures in the forest that would love to have her for a midnight snack.

That's when she heard it. The whimpering. It sounded so close like it was just behind her. She tensed and froze, but slowly began to look behind the thick trunk. The whimpering subsided and she saw nothing. But when she snapped back to get up, there it was.

It wasn't a wolf but it was wolf-like. Its eyes were gray and large. Its coat was white but dirty like he'd rolled down a hill. It stood back onto its hind legs like a man and his hair began to recede. His paw went to his arm. He had an open gash across his back to his arm. She stared at him, motionless, waiting for him to attack her. She knew she couldn't outrun him. But when she saw the gash, the pity began to overwhelm her. Who knows how long it'd been out there, wandering in pain. Then the transformation became clearer and she saw his bare pale skin, his human face, his floppy blonde hair… the eyes of a sad little boy begging for help.

"Malfoy?" she whispered, suddenly unable to form words. He let out a soft sigh and collapsed onto his knees. Her fear completely vanished and she ran to help him.

"Granger—Don't tell. Just leave me here. They can't know," he hissed, seeing his very energy evaporate with his monstrous nature.

"Oh bloody hell," she spat out, placing his head on her lap and caressing his hair from his face as he slowly drifted off. She had no way of knowing how far gone he was or how long he'd been wandering the forest. It'd been three days since their last class together and frankly, she never really cared to know. A sudden guilt took hold of her, like he'd been calling for help and nobody had come.

"He can't know," he whispered again and again. "He can't know."

"Malfoy? Draco? Draco, wake up!" she shouted, slapping him lightly. She looked for her wand but couldn't find it and figured she'd left it back at the castle. "No no. Don't die. Please, I know where we can get some help."

She carefully propped him up onto his feet and walked him carefully towards the morning light, following it to the forest's edge, to safety. Hagrid was outside his hut feeding Fang when he saw her coming up through the trees. He opened his eyes wide when he saw Draco, naked and dripping blood, and looked around quickly before helping her. He could only imagine what it could mean.

"'Ermione!" he hissed. "For the love of Merlin, have you gone mad? Were Harry and Ron in the forest too? Did they make it?"

Hermione set Draco down on Hagrid's bed, face down. The gash ran from the center of his back all the way up to his shoulder. When she saw it in clear light, she thought whatever innocence she had left had been drained out of her.

"It was just us," she finally answered after covering him to the waist. "I wanted to find out what the howling was. I fell asleep and when I woke up, there he was…"

"Naked and bleeding!"

She stared at him a little longer, dwelling in the sudden rush of ideas and consequences that seemed to want to piece together what had just happened, what she'd done, and what he was. She finally sat down at the table and said dreamily, "I think he's a werewolf, Hagrid. Either that or an Animagus but I truly doubt it."

"Did he say anything?"

"He said not to tell 'Him' and I have a pretty good idea who He is."

"God?"

She smiled, unable to take her eyes off the gash. "No, he just thinks so. Lucius Malfoy."

"Hermione, the boy needs medical attention! He's human now. Take him to Pomfrey," Hagrid begged, taking her hand. He was more afraid than she ever was.

"She'll find out what he is," she replied calmly. Hagrid couldn't understand how she could be so low in emotion, just pensive.

"That's not your problem! Better he's alive and a werewolf than dead and a werewolf. Either bloody way, he's screwed! I'll take him meself!" he shouted.

She took her eyes off Draco for a moment then looked up at the giant. "No, I'll get her. He can't be moved and I don't have my wand," she said. "Make sure nobody sees him."

Hagrid looked over at Malfoy, the vile of his teaching existence, and grimaced. "You're so lucky I'm a jolly giant," he said through gritted teeth after Hermione had run out the door.

She realized halfway to the castle that she was in her pajamas – that had now been covered in werewolf blood – and a cloak upon which she'd fallen asleep in the woods. She wasn't a pretty sight. At least Pomfrey had to believe her. When she reached the infirmary, it was empty. Nobody in the castle had woken yet. She thought maybe there was still a chance she could keep it all a secret and cautiously ran to her bed at the dormitory.

The Fat Lady stopped her. "My dear girl!" the painting said. "What's happened to you?"

Hermione shook her head and gestured she be quiet. A painting beside her had already begun to toss and turn in his chair. "Embellum," she whispered the password and the portrait reluctantly parted. "Please be quiet. I don't want to scare the other students. I just need to get my wand."

She ran inside and back out before the girls could see anything but a black-cloaked blur rushing down the stairs. She quickly thanked the Fat Lady and kept running back out to the cabin. Hagrid had begun to bite his fingernails and jump his knee up and down while staring out the window. Out of breathe, she closed the door behind her and pointed her wand at his back. The only healing spell she could think of was for much smaller wounds but it was the best she could do. It healed halfway and he groaned with pain. She sighed. At least she knew he was alive and the wound hadn't been magical.

He began to wake and turned to face her. "Mudblood?" he said so calmly as if it were name.

"Actually," she said with reproach, gesturing towards her ruined clothes. "This blood's all yours."

It all came back to him. The woods, running and seeing her rested against the tree… the feeling of safety just having her there.

"Oh God, I can't do this," Hagrid said. "I'm sorry, Hermione. You can take care of him here, and I promise I won't tell, but I can't watch you. I can't be here. It's just wrong."

He left and Hermione looked down at Draco, who replied at her silence and pitiful eyes, "He's right. You shouldn't help me. It's wrong. Just go on back. I'll find my way home."

She shook her head and looked down at her lap and her wand. She was gripping it so tightly that it nearly broke. When she looked back up, he was still watching her waiting for her to respond. "Nobody else knows. It's safe here. I couldn't heal it anymore and I couldn't find Pomfrey, though I figure you wouldn't have liked that."

"Why do you say that?"

"You begged me not to t-t-tell," she replied with a small stutter. She couldn't stop shaking.

"Why did you help me?"

It seemed like such a ridiculous question that she almost laughed had she not seen his face when he asked it. "Because you needed help. You were dying."

He gulped and tried to sit up but the pain didn't let him. "I wouldn't have done the same for you," he replied softly. It wasn't meant to be an insult but rather a thank you.

She looked away then prayed it never came down to it. Malfoy or death, she'd have chosen death prior to that night. It felt very different being in the situation. Hypothetical hatred only went so far. "It doesn't matter," she replied with a small smile. "If I'd died, be sure you're the first one I'm coming back to haunt."

He grinned back. "Well I should hope so. I could have worse company. Crabbe for one."

It went on like this. Hypothetical jokes and conversations about nothing. She found it comforting that he was witty and quick even while in immense pain. He was very lonely, she could tell. She figured he must be since he didn't have anyone of matching wit to befriend. She tried to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by people whose every decision is based on some selfish, calculating plan, and it made her sick. She couldn't imagine not trusting Harry and Ron, until today. She knew they'd find it hard to understand right away, like Hagrid.

She'd gone back to the forest and gathered some plants quickly, which she knew could be used to temporarily stop pain. "This won't last long but it'll get you through long enough to get some proper help back in the castle," she said as she mashed up the leaves in the tiny kitchen. She knew he was watching her, carefully observing her every move.

"It was a bounty hunter. They use werewolf hide in a few potions and charms. Apparently, white pelts are very rare and cost a fortune," he said after some time. She hadn't asked, for her own reasons. Denying danger came second nature to those who lived in safety and in love. He did not have those luxuries. "He followed me here from Romania. We have a home there. I was flying around through a forest for practice and crashed my broom into a tree. Had to walk home and a werewolf bit me at the forest edge. I was so close too."

"I take it your father doesn't know."

"Nobody knows."

She turned the leaves into a dark paste and asked him to lie down again. "How many times have you changed?" she asked, gently rubbing the paste over the wound. He tried not to wince but it was too hard. She wondered why he was putting up a brave face all of a sudden. She wondered if it was for her.

"Four," he said, his voice muffled with pain. She gulped down her pity and her disgust.

"All done," she announced and faked a smile. They were so easy for her to fake.

He waited till it made a difference and said, feeling the relief from the pain, "Thank you."

She didn't have to fake this smile, this time. Just as she washed her hands, Ron and Harry came running through the door. "Hermione!" Ron yelled. "Are you alright!?"

Draco rolled his eyes and sat up. "She's fine. She wouldn't have made a very good dinner anyway."

Hermione could tell he was faking his hatred. In the day they'd spent together, she had seen a private side to him that completely derailed any hatred she had for him.

"Oh dear God, he's naked," Harry spat. "Why the bloody hell is he naked?"

"I guess the oaf didn't get that far," Draco answered for her. He was trying to draw the anger away from her, which she appreciated and saw clearly. "We've just had a wonderful morning shag. Also, tomorrow I plan to sale all my belongings and become a Tibetan monk."

"No need to be sarcastic," Ron said. Hermione looked at them squabble, a bit amazed. It was like watching a giraffe and a gorilla have really angry sex.

"Oh there's always a need."

Hermione smiled just a bit, which Harry saw. It was suddenly starting to make sense. "He's hurt," she explained, as simply as she could without revealing his condition. "He was dying. I couldn't let it happen."

"You couldn't let it happen?" Ron asked, as if she'd just said something blasphemous. "Like you haven't been planning to assassinate him in his sleep like the rest of us."

"Oh you do that too?" Draco said, once again diverting the conversation from her. "It's quite a popular game at Slytherin. I'm always the most imaginative. Last I said I'd kill Potter with an army of ants and a pint of Haagen Dazs as a lure."

"A pint of what?"

"Now who would think that'd be the important part?"

Hermione couldn't take it anymore and yelled, "STOP!" Everyone looked at her quickly. "Of course you would have helped him! Do you see this blood? As vile as he may be, he's still human. You seem to have forgotten that. Now go on. I'll take him to the infirmary myself."

"Have you gone mad?" Ron yelled, completely ignoring her. "It's Malfoy! You're likely to get raped on the way there!"

"Oh we don't do that. Besides, I wouldn't put it anywhere Weasley's been." He'd said it so calmly but everyone froze. Ron went red. He had no reply.

"I can assure you, Weasley hasn't been anywhere," she said knowing she'd just killed any pride Ron had left. "Now let's cut the crap. Are you going to help me take him to Pomfrey or not?"

"What do you need?" Harry asked, ignoring Ron's outrage. Draco looked at him quickly. He was trying to get rid of them, not convince them to help. It was one thing for Hermione to come to his rescue. It was another to owe his worst enemy. It was also a bit hard to believe they would help.

"Get your invisibility cloak, and some pants. I tried to help him as much as I could but if the foot-long slash on his back gets infected, there's not enough magic in the world to save him."

They all nodded. Ron was sent to get pants. Harry got his cloak. And Hermione and Draco were left alone in silence for a few moments. She took a chair from the center table and sat by the bed. He took her hand and said, "I'm sorry."

It felt like a goodbye. "It's alright. Ron'll get over it. He has a 30-second rebound rate."

"I meant for… everything."

She looked down at his hand. He had such thin, long fingers that seemed to embrace her hand the way she would a friend she'd just seen for the first time in months. It was a small, whole-hearted gesture.

"You've made me cry, you know. I wouldn't admit it before but since you owe me, I figure I'd put in all the guilt I could before we never talk like this again," she replied.

He looked surprised, like he hadn't expected her to be so hurt by his past words. To him, Mudblood was like calling her a nickname. He had meant it in hatred at first but it had come so naturally to him that he had stopped thinking about it.

Something began to bug him though. When the silence overtook them again, he finally asked, "Granger, why were you in the woods?"

"I heard you, as a wolf, calling for help."

"You heard me? Why didn't anybody else?"

"Maybe they did. Maybe I was the only one stupid enough to wander through the forest at midnight."

He scoffed. "Stupid is the last word anyone would ever use to describe you."

She hadn't found it funny. She'd always used her intelligence as a shield. She could hold it over anyone she wanted and her insecurities would slowly seem to fade. "I was trying to run from the castle, Draco," she said in total honesty. "I didn't want to be part of this mess. I didn't want to choose sides. I didn't want to fight anymore. A part of me would never have made it past the edge of the woods but when I heard you cry out, I--"

"I'd like to pay you for your help," he said, reverting back to the only thing he ever knew: money.

She scoffed instead, just as he had done, and got up but he wouldn't let her pull her hand away. He pulled her back in and kissed her. It had been sudden and forceful and she resisted. She must have resisted. She wouldn't remember. All she'd remember was the incredible rush it sent through her, the need for more and more like an animal in heat. She saw Ron and Harry coming through the window and quickly pulled away, wiping her mouth with a trembling hand.

"I'm sorry. I've never done that before," he said, confused.

"Kissed a girl?"

"Never like that. I hadn't meant to, really"

She looked at him with new hope. "Who you were never would have. Take this as a sign that you're different. Better or worse, you're different and you can still change."

She took the clothes from Ron when he came in, and handed them to him. They waited for Draco to dress outside and cloaked him and Harry who helped hold him up. It was very hard to avoid the gash. When they got to the infirmary, they uncloaked him and Hermione took him inside. She gave Harry and Ron an appreciative nod just as the doors closed behind them.

The infirmary was completely empty, which she found strange. It was getting late in the day. She had missed classes, though she didn't bother to think of them at all when she ran to the forest or when she was with Draco. It was as if he made them meaningless, and at the same time, they had saved his life.

"Dear Lord! What the bloody hell have you gone and done now, you silly boy? It's not a day that some genius or another decides to play with fireworks in a closet or eat one of the Weasleys' concoctions," Madame Pomfrey exclaimed, almost to herself, when she saw the wound. She had a way of making it seem like it was the patient's fault, no matter what had happened. It came from years of saving people and getting them out of embarrassing situations. They both figured since she didn't get enough recognition. They also realized she didn't really care about which house they belonged to because she didn't once inquire about why such enemies would help each other.

"It was an arrow that scraped me is all. A loose arrow," he lied. It had been an arrow but definitely not a loose one.

"I found him lying face down in the grass," she tried to add, keeping her lie as vague as possible. "I used a healing herb for the pain but I didn't know too many charms or healing spells for something so large."

Madame Pomfrey had ignored both of them. She was caught up in the complexity of the wound like it was a puzzle of sorts. "This is strange. It looks like the wound was smaller and stretched out."

Draco and Hermione looked at each other. The transformation from wolf to man had nearly killed him. When Hermione saw her presence was completely unnecessary, she gave a look and a smile goodbye and walked off towards the door. Pomfrey didn't even notice but Draco had already begun to miss her.

-----

Three days later, he returned to class. Nobody questioned where he'd been or what had happened. No one had gone to visit him, except Hermione who had come when he was asleep and left a book by his bedside table with a simple Get Well Soon note. He'd kept the note as a bookmark and read the entire novel in a day. It was the fascinating story of a man with an evil counterpart who wreaked havoc through England and how the good man had to deal with the guilt and consequences of his alter ego. It was actually a bit comforting.

He found her alone again a week later and decided to thank her properly. She was waiting by the Quidditch field for Ron and Harry to exit from practice.

"'Ello," he greeted her, with a smile. When she smiled back, he continued, "I got your book. Read it all. It was fantastic."

"Really? It was written by a Muggle," she said, waiting for his response.

"Point taken. Are you sure this Stevenson wasn't a werewolf?"

"Positive. His demons were named Mr. Hyde, not Cujo."

"Who's Cujo?"

"A dog. He--" but she stopped when she realized the futility of explaining Muggle culture to the wizarding equivalent of a hick. It was hard enough explaining it to Muggles. "Nevermind."

"Have you another one I could read?" he asked. She was caught by surprise.

"Another Muggle book?"

He smiled at her expression, the sort of deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. "It'd be something… different." She nodded but Ron, Ginny, and Harry were on their way out of the locker rooms. "Best I go, then."

He turned around to walk back to the castle when she ran after him and very nervously said, "Meet me by the lake tomorrow two hours before potions. I'll bring a book. You bring food."

"What sort of food?" he asked, intrigued.

"Sweets. Might as well rebel all the way."

With that, she ran back to Harry and Ron. She didn't tell them about their meeting or their kiss. She hadn't shared what happened with Krum either and really couldn't imagine ever doings so. She'd told Ginny but even she wouldn't understand this.

They'd met on the way to the lake and walked to a secluded part. Everyone was having lunch in the Great Hall so they weren't likely to be interrupted. They lied down on the warm grass and ate out of a large and deep box of sweets Draco had brought. She took the book from her bag and began to read.

"This one's called Wuthering Heights," she said but he quickly posed a question as he would about every event in the story. She loved it, like he was truly analyzing the story rather than pretending interest to please her.

The next day, he read a chapter. They alternated until a month had passed and the full moon was once again hovering over him. She had crossed off the days, worried to death of what might happen next. The bounty hunter had probably gone but if it had followed him from Romania, it would have hidden for the month until he appeared again. The day before the first night of his transformation, she did the vilest thing she could think of.

She went to Snape for help.

She figured the lines were already blurred so what was one more indiscretion. She explained about his safety and how maybe if he had the potion he'd given Lupin third year, Draco could suppress the wolf mind.

He didn't even move the entire time she spoke, almost as if he were surprised she even came to him, alone. The fact that it was over a Slytherin left him to reconsider everything he'd ever thought of her. He agreed, with great mistrust, but he knew the Malfoys had been in Romania and that Draco had spent three days in the infirmary after the last full moon. It seemed too hard to doubt.

Next picnic, she gave him the potion and told him she'd stay with him during the change. He refused, not wanting to risk her safety. She didn't care. They locked themselves in a prefect bathroom on the second floor. She read to him through the night, from Gone with the Wind, until she fell asleep. He curled up into a little ball on her lap and waited for morning.

The instant light hit him, he was once again a man. A different man but one nonetheless. He thought how curses had a way of changing people's perspectives on life. He never thought his best friend would be a Mudblood nerd with bad hair.

"Gosh that floor's cold," he said with a bright smile in the morning.

"Well it is when you're nude," she replied, watching him jump into the water still naked. "Have you no shame?"

"It's not like it's anything new."

"True."

"Get in here," he said, looking up at her with the same admirer's eyes.

"You're bloody kidding, right?" she said, kneeling by the edge with her book still in hand.

"If I can change, you can be spontaneous," he insisted but she still shook her head no. He rolled his eyes and pulled her in, fully clothed. She furiously stood up but when he saw her covered in bubbles, he couldn't help but laugh and extended his hand for her to sit back down. She sighed and gave in and sat beside him watching the mermaids laugh with them.

Four nights before the next full moon, he didn't show up to lunch. She read by herself while she waited but kept having to reread paragraphs and full pages. She was starting to worry. She saw him the day after in arithmancy but he didn't look at her the entire class. Something had to be wrong. The Slytherins must have found out.

She tried to find a time to give him the potion but he was once again surrounded by his goons. He didn't look at her with scorn, which told her the separation was against his will. He seemed to apologize with his sad eyes. All she could think of was how lonely he must feel.

She showed up to the prefect bathroom but he never came. She looked out a window on her way back to her room and saw something moving at the forest edge. She thought the worst and ran back into the forest after him, calling out his name. She knew there was nothing left of her friend but she couldn't stand not knowing.

-----

Draco woke up in Hagrid's garden, which neither liked very much. He borrowed some of Hagrid's clothes and shrunk them. He got back to the castle for breakfast but Hermione wasn't there. He figured she'd be angry with him but he expected her to see if he was at least still alive. Nothing.

Harry and Ron both seemed worried and looked over to Malfoy as if to eat him alive. They cornered him as he left the Great Hall, pinning him against the castle wall with their wands pointed straight at his nose. "Where is she?" Ron asked. "Tell us or we'll turn you into a cupcake and set you up for lunch with Crabbe and Goyle."

"Imaginative, Weasley, but I haven't a clue. We haven't talked in a few days. The Slytherins were watching me," he replied calmly, pushing down their wands.

Harry put away his wand. "Ginny said she never came to bed last night. We know you've been meeting with her. She didn't even show up to dinner yesterday."

"She wasn't with me," he replied. Genuine concern and panic started to build up in him. He remembered not taking the potion and how she insisted on being with him when he changed. He wondered if she had found him. He feared what he could have done to her in his state. "Oh dear God…"

He ran past Ron and Harry without a single explanation, out towards the forest. He stood on the edge and pondered the worst. He feared going in, especially alone, but after all she'd done for him, he couldn't live with himself otherwise. It was in that moment that he came to realize how much he loved her, cared for her, as more than a friend but as a companion. There on the forest's edge. He thought of how safe and content she made him feel and he found courage in her memory.

He ran through to the only place he could think of: the clearing where he'd found her asleep against the tree trunk like a present sent from God to take away the loneliness.

He didn't remember it being so far but there she was. She was not resting as before but rather carelessly thrown upon the protruding branches. He knelt down and began to caress her face with happiness, to awaken her softly, but she would not open her eyes. She had a cut over her left eye like someone had knocked her out. It became so clear that when he saw the hunter's shadow over him, it was almost expected.

A trap, and Hermione was the bait. The tall, wide figure with his face hidden in shadow lifted an ax over his head. Draco closed his eyes and prepared for the worst when he heard Harry's voice in the distance calling out a spell. Harry, Ron, and Hagrid had come running towards them with wands in the air. They'd frozen the hunter but Draco didn't care. He looked down at Hermione in his arms and kissed her forehead, letting out a heavy sigh. Her sheer presence made him fearless, even of death.

Hagrid picked up Hermione and they took her quickly back to the infirmary where Dumbledore, Snape, and Pomfrey were waiting for them, fearing the worst themselves. Draco watched her wake but didn't stay. He offered her a smile goodbye as she had done and began to walk upstairs to pack his bags. Now that the headmaster knew of the hunter and his true nature, he couldn't be left back into school. And he accepted it, knowing Hermione would also be safe.

That night, he came to say goodbye at the infirmary and leave her a book but she was still awake. "I was wondering when you'd come," she said with a bright smile. "I thought today we'd read Dickens."

He didn't smile back. She saw his bags by the door and almost cried right then and there. "I'm sorry, Hermione. I can't put you or anybody else in danger anymore," he said, staring at the leather book in his hands. He sounded monotone, rehearsed.

"Dumbledore will let you stay! He'd done it before" she yelled, reaching for his hand.

"It doesn't matter. I have to go. But I wanted to thank you," he replied, handing her the book. "It's my journal."

"Why is there only one cover?" she asked. "What happened to the rest?"

"That's everything after I met you," he said, sitting down on the bed. "Everything before, I ripped out about a month ago when I realized it wasn't me anymore. You took away the solitude, the pain, the guilt and self-doubt. Hermione, you made me want to be a better man. You made me realize that I wasn't hopeless, that if I found the courage, I could break away from my father and my family and be a person you'd be proud of."

She'd begun to cry and looked away. With a gentle hand, he lifted her lips to his and kissed her goodbye, softly and sweetly. It left her wanting more but with the strange sensation that she could live with those kisses every day of her life. She didn't speak. She didn't get up or run to stop him. That's when she realized how much she loved him. It was why she had to be selfless and let him go into the world to become the man he knew she deserved.

She didn't see him again and after five months of school and exams, she was done with Hogwarts. She found it funny that she didn't see the truth until her seventh year. Life surprises us when it truly counts. She must have read his journal dozens of times. It was like being with a whole new side of him. He wrote down everything he felt, honestly and sometimes brutally.

But when it came to her, and there was a bit about her every day, he wrote endless pages on tiny details and how glorious they were like he never wanted to forget a single piece of her. There was a page on her smile, two on the way she read and spoke, a half on how she walked, another on how she ate. And at the end, on the very last page, he wrote what would seem a goodbye:

"I realized today how much I love her, like a switch had suddenly turned on inside me. It came at the shock that I might never see her again. It was as if the great Dementor that follows my weary days had found me and I'd never be happy again. I've hurt her and it nearly killed me inside. With the facility that I disregarded her in the past, I cannot imagine a day without her now. But here I am, faced with an ultimatum. If I stay, I am happy and with her. If I go, she will be safe and I will be at peace with that knowledge, even if missing her tears me apart. All I know for sure is that she deserves better than what my tired soul can allow and I beg to God she doesn't forget me."

She thought about him every day, worried she might forget him. She would get letters from him, of course, but it was sometimes weeks from one to the next. The last one she got from him, he was in Alaska among the Muggles. He'd sent a Polaroid of him with a little troupe of 8-year-old schoolgirls on a tourist boat overlooking a grand glacier. At the bottom of the picture, he wrote, "Your Competition."

A week to graduation and she'd received no letter from him. She dreamed of seeing him again, pictured his face behind every corner. She'd look out to the forest edge and picture him walking out to get her, save her. The moment she got off the Hogwarts Express for the last time as a student, a small part of her died when she saw he wasn't there waiting for her. She said goodbye to her friends for the few weeks they had free. Auror training would start soon for them and she'd been offered a place at Hogwarts after a year. It was strange that they all seemed to have a place in the world but no matter how hard she tried, she would always feel adrift.

She'd chosen a train home that didn't leave for two hours for the sheer reason that she wanted to walk around and breathe the free world. For a moment, as she stared into the vastness of London, she actually felt abandoned. For the first time, she wished he had taken her with him, that she didn't feel so overwhelmingly alone again. All her books and her pretty words meant nothing now.

Just as the anger started to churn inside her, she turned around and came face to face with the most beautiful gray eyes she had ever seen. Suddenly, she forgot how to breathe or how to stop herself from crying. He looked at her with an ever-increasing smile and she felt her knees start to lose strength. "Draco?" she whispered, touching his cheek so lightly as if he were a bubble of reality that might disappear if she blinked. "It's you. It's really you."

"I'm sorry I'm late," he said, placing his hands on her waist. "Do have any idea how hard it is to find a punctual canoe in the Amazon?"

She laughed and hugged him so hard, she never wanted to let go. "Please don't go," she begged, overwhelmed with tears. She felt like she was still talking to the dream she'd lived with for months.

"Darling, I'm not going anywhere," he said but she couldn't get enough of his skin, his scent, the way his hair felt between her fingers.

Not since that day in the Hagrid's hut had she kissed him so passionate, so desperately. It was like finding him again for the first time. It was like tasting all the sweets they'd shared by the lake and hearing his voice was like reliving every romance of every book they'd shared, would share for years to come.

She never took the job at Hogwarts. She never went back.

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TO BE CONTINUED FOR A SECOND PART...

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Thoughts? Feelings? Be kind, and review!