"We are not doing this again." Those were the first words out of her mouth as soon as she entered the room. Draco sniggered.
"That's rather inconsistent of you, considering you went to the trouble of finding this room just for this purpose."
It was a small storage room in one of the castle's many towers, cluttered with half-broken junk discarded by generations of Hogwarts students. Going by the amount of dust and cobwebs, even the house elves didn't come up here.
"I'll have you know," she interjected, "that I found this room for the express purpose of telling you in private, as clearly as possible, that you and I are done."
"Why?" he asked simply. He wasn't worried. Not yet. Draco Malfoy did not worry before he had to, and he wasn't there yet.
"What do you mean 'why'; do you really need me to spell it out for you?"
"Let's say I do."
"You and I don't even like each other," she said exasperated. "We have nothing in common. You loathe my friends; I despise everything you stand for."
"Never stopped us before." Draco made to brush a rebel curl away from her face, but Hermione waved his hand aside.
"It should have. It stops now."
He regarded her in silence for a few seconds. He had not known where they stood after coming back from summer break, but they had quickly fallen back into their old pattern of making out in secluded areas of the castle whenever they could find the time. He had no doubt — and he knew she didn't either — that it was a bad habit, but it was a bad habit that he had grown rather fond of, and he was not prepared to part with it just yet.
"Is this about Umbridge?" he asked finally. When Hermione didn't reply, Draco pressed on. "How am I to blame for that pink bat? I happen to like Defense Against the Dark Arts, I would rather it were taught by a competent teacher."
"As long as that teacher is not a werewolf," she couldn't help but point out.
"What can I say, I'm more of a cat person," he joked, grabbing her hand.
"You're not funny, Draco."
"Come on, I'm a little funny." He leaned forward, planting a chaste kiss on her lips. The boy could see she was upset, he just wasn't sure how he could make it better. Hermione drew closer to him with a sigh, still avoiding his eyes.
"You know," he said, "of all the things that could be an issue between us — and I mean, like the Dark Lord or the impending clash between the conflicting forces in this messed up life of ours — mid-level management with atrocious fashion sense was not on my list of worries."
She smiled at that. "You have a list of worries?"
"Yes, it's a very long list. Nargles are at the very top of it."
The knot in his stomach eased a little when she laughed. He couldn't stand to see her upset. He couldn't stand that one day he wouldn't be able to fix it. It was always a relief to know he had earned one day more of whatever that thing between them was.
"Nargles, huh?" She looked up at him, a smile on her very tempting lips.
"What, I read The Quibbler! Just don't tell anyone, it would utterly ruin my reputation."
"I dare say that's the least I could say that would utterly ruin your reputation."
"I dare say you're right." Draco wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling Hermione to him and stopping that train of thought the only way he knew how. She kissed him back, some of the tension leaving her body as she relaxed into him. Why couldn't life be that simple?
He bit her lip playfully. "So, how safe is this room, exactly?" he asked in between kisses.
"Why do you ask?" The way she pressed harder against him suggested she knew exactly why he was asking.
"Call it curiosity." He started unbuttoning her shirt, slowly kissing and biting her neck as he did.
"It's untraceable. If someone was trying to track us down they wouldn't find us in here. It's also enchanted so only you or I can open the door. I used every protective spell I could think of."
"Smart girls are the sexiest girls," he grinned, pulling her towards the old battered sofa in the corner.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm all that smart." Hermione pushed him down on the sofa, sitting on his lap, one leg on each side of him. Draco cupped her face with his hands, breaking away from the kiss. She raised an eyebrow, surprised. Her face was slightly flustered and her hair looked even wilder than usual. She looked beautiful.
"Helen Appleberry," he said.
"Do you know who Helen Appleberry is?"
He could almost hear the gears turning inside her head, trying to make sense of the seemingly random question.
"She was a famous potion maker," Hermione said finally. "Appleberry wrote on the many applications of wolfsbane and discovered how to properly brew white baneberries so that they could be used in potions without poisoning the drinker."
"10 points for Gryffindor." His mimicry of Snape's monotone earned him a chuckle. "Helen Appleberry was really smart. And it didn't matter that she was involved with some dodgy wizard who turned out to be a body snatcher and it was this big scandal, because she went on to research wolfsbane and found a way to depoison perfectly good poisonous berries. She was really smart. So are you, even if you have terrible taste in guys."
Hermione smiled, bringing her forehead to rest against his. "I happen to think I have extremely good taste in guys."
He could still feel the smile on her lips when she kissed him again, and for the next hour they both managed to forget that life was infinitely more complicated outside of that cluttered tower room.