I wrote this for Dramione Advent on LJ. My promt was Candles. I figured that I'd share here since I'm such a meanie and currently not updating Bracelet. Merry Christmas! Also, thank you to Little Dollface for the beta. :)

Warnings: EWE?, implied sexual relationship

Draco carefully slipped into the dark classroom, quietly closing the door after himself. "Sorry I'm late," he muttered at the girl waiting for him. "Filch was out for blood tonight, dodging him was almost impossible."

Hermione remained quiet, not looking up from the book she was reading by a very subtle wandlight. He knew from experience that he had to wait until she found a good place to stop reading, before touching her, or she'd bite his head off. He smiled to himself. He liked her temperament. It made for some . . . interesting times.

"Be careful to shield that better," he said, walking over to the window. "We can't have anyone noticing the light from the grounds." He squinted, trying to see if there was any movement in the complete darkness outside. He succeeded in seeing little besides the ghostly reflection of himself squinting.

She slammed her book shut behind him. "I all but ruin my eyes with the weakest light available, and all you worry about is whether someone will see?" she asked in a low but furious voice.

Uh-oh. She was in a mood. He had to be careful or this would dissolve into fighting and . . . that wasn't what he wanted tonight. He didn't want to spend weeks trying to figure out how to make it better, either. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he said as regretfully as he could after having had this conversation a hundred times before. "But you know how my parents would react if they found out."

He turned around, but she wasn't even looking at him. Her jaw was set and she was staring down at the book gripped tightly in her hands. "That won't ever change," she said, her voice eerily calm. "Will it?"

He didn't like where this was going.

"We'll find a way," he said, crossing the distance to her and reaching for her hand, swallowing when she immediately jerked back. This wasn't going so well. Usually, she was at least a little bit receptive to his reassurances.

"You never meant to make it last, did you?" she asked in that low voice that scared him in a very strange way he didn't like to examine further. "You never meant to make the extra effort. In the past month you've grown more paranoid, not less. Now I can't even read by wandlight when you're an hour late?"

Draco's gaze flickered. How could he mollify her? How could he stop this confrontation? "Ok," he said, raising his hands to signal his surrender. "I may have overreacted a little bit." He didn't believe for a second that he had, though. He wanted her with a desperation that frightened him whenever he was careless enough to think about it, but he couldn't ever let anyone know that.

"That's what you said last week when you attempted to Obliviate that boy because he saw me hand you a book. And that time in Hogsmeade when you knocked me off the road so violently I fell and sprained my wrist—just because you thought someone was coming." Her jaw clenched again at the very unpleasant memory.

Draco didn't know what to reply. The wrist incident had been unfortunate. He had worked very hard to get her to forgive him after that. He'd really realised that Hermione Granger wasn't quite like other witches when he'd gotten the diamond earrings—which he'd ordered to soothe her temper—thrown right back in his face.

"The war is over," she whispered. "Most students from our year, including Ron and Harry, didn't even come back here. You certainly didn't have to, but you said you wanted to make amends. Make a fresh start free of prejudice and hate. I believed you. I forgave you."

"I meant it!" He had meant it. But that didn't mean there weren't still rules he had to follow. Those things didn't just change overnight!

"Yes," she muttered. "I believe you did. Otherwise I don't think I would have been open to . . . other suggestions."

He breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't want the bigot fight again. He wasn't a bigot anymore. Was it really his fault that the rest of the world was?

"However," Hermione said, slowly getting up. "It's not enough. I hoped it could eventually be different, but now I see."

"See what?" Draco was getting an ugly, churning feeling deep in the pit of his stomach.

"I can't do this anymore, Draco. It's not worth it. You are not worth it." She began walking towards the door.

"You're breaking up with me?" She couldn't do that! Could she?

She briefly paused with her hand on the handle. "I wasn't aware we were actually together."

And with that, she left him behind, alone in a pitch-dark classroom.

She had a new boyfriend. Or, rather, Hermione would have Draco think she had a new boyfriend. Draco was pretty sure it was a sham. She couldn't have found someone new this soon. It was impossible. It had only been a couple of weeks since she had broken up with him—and yes, they had been together, damn it—and who was this Bradley, anyway?

No. This was all for show.

The first time Draco had kissed Hermione, she had told him no, because she didn't want to be with anyone while she was at Hogwarts. She had told him that it was true she and Ron Weasley had broken up due to the strain of not being able to see each other for months at a time, but that she still counted on resuming that relationship once she finished the final year.

Of course, that hadn't stopped Draco. He had wanted her and he always got what he wanted. He'd decided to wear her down with illicit kisses, pretty lies and flirty notes. He hadn't actually gotten through to her, though, until one extremely embarrassing night when he couldn't sleep, could barely even breathe, where he'd rushed to get fresh air. She had seen him race for the Astronomy Tower and had followed him.

He'd been too blind and deaf with remembering to even notice her. Most of the time, he was able to push everything he'd seen and done during the war firmly to the very bottom of his being so it no longer even figured in his mind, but sometimes it would just expand until it filled and overwhelmed him and, for a short while, he wasn't able to function anymore.

He'd been good at hiding that fact from other people until he'd met her. Until she'd followed him. Until she'd watched him break down.

Apparently, that had been what it took for her to soften towards him. She hadn't truly ever rejected him again. Even when they'd been fighting, it had always been obvious that if he needed her, she would be there.

Until now.

Draco's eyes narrowed. If she was trying to teach him a lesson, it was a poor lesson indeed. He wouldn't get jealous at such a transparent act. Who did she think she was dealing with? He didn't need her. He could easily get another girlfriend, if he wanted—one much more suited to his wants and needs, someone he could actually bring home to his mother!

But if Bradley didn't remove that hand from Hermione soon, he just might lose it.

Christmas was only a few weeks away. Snow, looking deceptively soft and fluffy, was beginning to fall. Hermione was seen everywhere with her new boyfriend, even walking outside in the freezing cold with him. It was nauseating.

Draco finally confronted her about her poorly devised scheme to make him jealous. She merely looked at him for several seconds before saying, "This has nothing to do with you. I'm sorry if my happiness puts you off."

"What about your resolution to wait to be with Weasley again?" he demanded.

At that, he got the first real reaction he'd seen from her since she'd walked out on him. Her lips tightened and her eyes got infinitely sadder. "I let him know I was seeing someone else months ago," she finally said. "He didn't wait around after that. I lost him. But I'm not so selfish as to blame him for that."

Her eyes blamed Draco, though.

And he had to realise that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't trying to make him jealous.

She was showing him what she wanted. And she was showing him that she didn't need him to get it.

It was quite unexpected when he came across her crying. For all Draco knew, Hermione hadn't shed a single tear when she'd left him, and for one insanely selfish moment he felt jealous that someone else had made her feel more than he'd ever been able to.

She was sitting on a log at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, effectively shielded from any curious eyes. It was pure coincidence that he'd decided to brave the weather to walk off some of his recent odd restlessness.

He stepped forward, goaded by his jealousy. "Problems with the boyfriend?"

She immediately jerked and frantically tried to wipe the tears from her face, as if he hadn't seen them already. He rolled his eyes and handed her his handkerchief. At first she ignored it, but then she snatched it away, furiously dabbing at her eyes. "No," she said in a somewhat choked voice as she'd composed herself a bit. "Everything is fine."

"Obviously, everything is not fine," he pointed out.

She closed her eyes and slowly exhaled. "Don't do this, Draco," she whispered. "Just walk away."

He gritted his teeth. He would love to walk away, he really would. But he was finding that he couldn't when she was this unhappy. Even if it had nothing to do with him. Even if she was crying because she'd had a fight with some other tosser that she had no business being with in the first place! "I'm not the one who does that."

"I only walk away from people that don't deserve for anyone to stay!" she snapped back.

That hurt, and for a second, he found it hard to breathe, but something in the way she looked away from him soothed the worst of it. She looked . . . regretful. If it were only so. If only she missed him during some of these long, cold, dark winter nights. But, no. Why should she? She had Bradley to snuggle up with, didn't she? Unless that was the reason she was crying. Maybe she was alone again. Maybe she was lonely, like him. Maybe . . . .

"Maybe you're right. Maybe I didn't deserve you," he said. "But you know that you wouldn't wish what I really do deserve on me." He lowered his eyes. He knew she'd think he was trying to manipulate her, but the damnedest part was that he meant it. He'd done horrible things during the war and he'd always been rather awed at the extent of her understanding and forgiveness.

"No!" she sharply said, recognising where he was going with this before he could say anything else. "It's over. Get over it!"

He kneeled next to her, ignoring the icy cold wetness of the snow seeping through the fabric of his trousers around his knees. He really didn't like this season. "I can't," he simply said.

"Don't do this." Her voice was little more than a breath as she repeated the earlier plea.

"I have to do this!" He desperately grabbed for her hand. "Just give me another chance and I'll do better." He found to his own surprise that not only did he mean this, but his hopes that she'd agree were rather intense. As long as she would take him back . . . he would try his very best to keep from making her unhappy with him ever again.

She looked at him dully and withdrew her hand. "No, you won't. You'll be skittish and secretive and it'll be the same."

"No . . ." he muttered.

"Yes, Draco. And it's not fair that you keep making me reject you when I wanted this more than you did!" She grabbed the edges of her cloak around her and got up. "Don't talk to me again," she said. "If you care about me, leave me alone."

She dropped his stained handkerchief on the log where she'd sat and then she was gone. All there was left was the soggy cold and Draco's stunned realisation that his heart had just been broken—and not for the first time.

How was he supposed to leave her alone if he cared about her? It made no sense! He couldn't give her up. He couldn't let her go. He couldn't watch her with oh-so-clever-Ravenclaw-Bradley—who she was, by the way, getting along famously with, leaving Draco with no idea why she'd been crying—and be happy for her. Not when he suspected that she still had a few feelings for him.

He had to give it one last desperate shot.

It was the last day before the holidays when he finally found a way to slip her a note. She looked startled and on the verge of tossing it away until he lightly touched her arm and said, "Please."

She still looked sceptical, but at least she didn't get rid of the note.

He went early to the classroom he'd mentioned in the note, not at all sure she would come, but wanting to be there if she did. And then he waited. And waited. And waited.

As the hours ticked by, the clenching of his stomach forced him to realise just how disappointed he would be if . . . when she didn't come.

Because of course she wasn't going to come to him.

He could sit here all night, waiting for her—he planned on sitting here all night, waiting for her—but she wouldn't come. She didn't want him anymore. She wanted some dorky Ravenclaw who enjoyed being cold with her. With exhausted misery, Draco rested his head on his arms for just a minute.

He awoke with a start when the door opened.

"You're still here?" Hermione squeaked, seemingly before she could check herself. "I mean," she said, blushing, "it's very late."

"I couldn't seem to leave," he hoarsely replied. She had come! But she had come so late she didn't think he'd be here. What did that mean?

Hermione took in the room, her eyes widening in surprise, and then her brow furrowing in confusion. "Candles?" she asked.

Indeed, there were candles floating everywhere, lighting up the room.

"I figured that if I was going to be caught because of some light, I might as well make it a lot of light." He couldn't help but smile at her puzzled expression. "It shouldn't be a problem to read by these."

"Right," she slowly said. "Is this your idea of a romantic gesture?"

His face fell a little. Of course she would be on the defence. "You have no idea how scary this is for me."

"I'd be scared going to sleep in a room with this many lighted candles as well."

Draco wasn't really in the mood for defensive deflections tonight. "Hermione . . . ."

Her eyes hardened. "Your note said nothing new. Nothing you haven't lied about before. The only reason I came here was because I had problems sleeping anyway."

He had noticed her rumpled hair and was secretly glad that Bradley hadn't had anything to do with that. "I told them," he whispered.

Hermione stared at him, the hardness giving way to uncertainty. "You what?" she quietly asked.

"I told them," he repeated. "My parents. I don't think I have anywhere to go for the holidays."

She blinked a few times, looking remarkably like an owl, and then scrambled over to a bench and clumsily sat down. Draco would have smiled again if he hadn't been so nervous. "Why?" she asked. "I mean . . . really?"

"I figured that it might make you reconsider being with me if . . . if things were truly different this time. Even if it won't, my parents are sure to put me out of my misery the next time they see me." Draco stared down at his hands. Sending that owl home, telling his parents that he'd been involved with a Muggleborn and hoped to be so again, had been a moment of madness—one he was sure to pay for—and he wasn't sure it was even going to get him what he wanted.

There was every chance that it was too little too late.

"You told them . . . about me?"

This time Draco's lips did twitch. "You really are slow for someone very clever, Hermione," he teased.

"I'm sorry." She blushed again. "It just seems rather . . . far-fetched."

He frowned. "Why?"

"I thought you never really cared about me."

He stared at her. She looked tired and she was running her hands through her already untidy hair, making it stand on end. "You thought what?"

"I thought you just wanted . . . you know . . . and for nobody to know about it."

"I told you that I loved you!"

She snorted. She actually snorted at him! "I knew you were lying then, to get in my knickers."

He winced. Ouch. But she was right. His intentions had been anything but honourable and they had both known it. No use trying to whitewash it now. "Would you believe me now if I told you again?"

She hesitated and then shrugged a little apprehensively. "I don't know. Maybe?"

"I do love you."

She scrunched up her face, mulling over the words. "Even if you do mean it . . ." she finally said, "that doesn't mean it's enough."

"I know," he said. "But I'm trying here! I'm trying so hard that I don't even have anywhere to spend Christmas!"

"You could always spend Christmas with Bradley and me," she said, rather sarcastically. It seemed like she couldn't help deflecting him.

He looked down at his hands, feeling the jealousy tearing at him again. "I don't want to talk about Bradley."

She shot him a scathing look. "Too bad! You treated me horribly. Like I was yours to walk all over. Bradley was nice. He was sweet. He was fun to be with. When he kissed me, it wasn't just to get in my knickers. He wanted all of me, not just to sneak around every once in a while."

Draco swallowed, trying hard not to dwell on the image of those two kissing. "I see."

"He knew that I had some issues. He never pushed. I felt horrible for not being able to get over my bigoted, lying pseudo-ex long enough to give him a real chance."

Draco swallowed again, fighting a losing battle with a lump in his throat. So when she'd been crying . . . it had been his fault? Somehow he'd thought it would feel better to have that power. "You don't really want to give me that second chance, do you?" he slowly asked.

Hermione's lips tightened in a frown. "You were awful."

"Yes, I know. I'm sorry." Words. They seemed so inadequate. She hated him.

Draco buried his face in his hands, waiting for the final blow.

She took a deep breath. "If you ever act like that again, I will walk away, and this time I'm not coming back!" Draco's drooping shoulders shot back as he abruptly straightened and looked Hermione directly in the eyes. Her cheeks turned slightly pink, but she didn't allow her gaze to waver. "And understand," she quietly said, "that if I hurt him for you and you make it all for nothing again, I will make sure you regret it."

Slowly, a smile spread across Draco's features. She was threatening him. That must mean she was scared! The only reason for her to be scared was if she loved him and was afraid to be hurt again, right? "I won't," he swore, getting up and going over to her to draw her into his arms. "I promise."

She stopped him just before he could kiss her. "This doesn't mean I've forgotten everything you've done. I still don't trust that this is the best decision I've ever made. In fact, I'm fairly sure it's not. And I'm going to need to see proof that you actually did tell your parents."

In a rare moment of wisdom, Draco realised that this wasn't the time to debate Hermione's doubts about him, so instead he smiled and said, "As long as you'll sleep with me."

Her eyes widened in surprise, but then she allowed a small twitch of her own lips. "Well, of course I'll sleep with you. Why else would I keep you around?"

Draco's grin widened. She'd never find a reason to leave ever again. He would make sure of it.