I just want to give a warm thanks to everyone that has taken their time to review my story :) It means so much to me to know how you feel about the story's progress and reading about how much you enjoy my writing really inspire me to keep, well, writing. X)
So thank you, and please do keep reviewing :) It warms my soul more than hot cocoa by the fireplace one chilly December evening.
So here you go: enjoy the latest, somewhat Christmassy addition to the story!
And what's the worst you take
From every heart you break
And like the blade you sting
Well, I've been holding on tonight
What's the worst thing I could say?
Things are better if I stay
So long and goodnight
So long and goodnight
//My Chemical Romance - Helena
She did not know what got into her, other than Abraxas' dire warning to run like the devil was chasing her, an advice she followed without hesitation as she spurted from the extravagant lobby of Malfoy Manor and out into the woods.
Where she was going, she did not know, neither did she care. Running was wonderful, like a natural high she had never before known that exercise could provide. The icy air was nipping at her naked skin, the wind fanning out her hair like a veil and the trees reaching out for her body, trying and failing to hold her back. There was no stopping Hermione Granger now.
Blood boiling, she entered the thickest of the woods, where the trees stood so near one another it was bothersome to move between the groping branches. More than once Hermione felt the ancient material of one of Narcissa Malfoy's dress being ripped, and it felt oddly satisfying. The sky was darkening and soon, really soon, she would tear the dress apart and give herself over to the loving embrace of that full moon.
It was hard for her to realize that she had once played in these woods, waded through a sea of crisp leaves during fall to find clearings in which she could search for worms, hairy caterpillars and various other bugs and insects to trap inside her grandmother's empty glass jars. That through her childhood she had played in the forest as though it was quite safe, and now it appeared that she had been at risk of being attacked by a family of ferocious werewolves through her entire upbringing without even suspecting that her grandparents' villa lay but a hundred acres from Malfoy Manor.
Speaking of which, the trees were thinning, and pretty soon Hermione could espy the white-painted wood-panel walls of her grandparents' house through the thick stems of oaks and pine-trees.
She stopped and looked up at the idyllic house. The twilight cast long shadows that almost tickled her toes, even though she felt miles removed from her childhood sanctuary.
Hermione wasn't even breathing from her marathon lap through the woods. The once so sedentary girl had suddenly become quite the athlete, and as she stood there, at the edge of the forest, she thought she could scent the distant smell of her grandmother's famous roasted pork. Silently, like a feline on the balls of its feet, she slipped out of the shelter of the trees like a shadow and snuck up on the house like a tiger sneaking up on its prey.
She neared the house on stealthy feet, not stopping until her forehead was resting against the frosted window of her grandparents' dining room.
Inside was a gathering of people quite unlike the unnerving accumulation that had sat around the table in the Malfoys' dining room earlier that same day. From between glittering pine-cones and various Santa-shaped figurines Hermione could spy a family gathered around a table cloth in red linen.
A stab went through Hermione's heart like a knife puncturing her very soul.
Grandma and grandpa, smiling, passing the gravy amongst one another.
Aunt Josie and Uncle Irvine, trying to solve an animated argument involving mashed potatoes between her cousins Miles, Erica and Little Janie.
Mom and Dad, in their Christmas things, smiling merrily while holding hands underneath the tabletop.
The chair usually occupied by Hermione was absent, and so was the portrait of her that hung over the crackling fireplace. All signs of Hermione Granger were swept under the carpet for the occasion, as the Grangers sat down to celebrate this jolliest of holidays.
The full moon rose like a giant sickle behind Hermione's back, casting her relatives in a monochromatic light. Suddenly, they looked positively manic in the moonlight.
Cousin Miles hungrily reached out for the steak with claw-like hands.
Grandpa lifted his knife and fork ravenously and turned to Grandma with a sick smile.
Mom threw her head back in laughter, making Dad glance longingly over at the pulsating veins of her long, slender neck.
Hermione's palms, which had been resting against the icy windowpane, curled to fists with the horrible, screeching sound of nails against glass. She was finally panting now, her eyes tightly shut against the sight of the Granger family rising from their Christmas feast and approaching the windowsill cautiously, following the sound of agonized growling and whining that followed the screeching of scraping on glass.
When Irvine Granger finally managed to break the lock the frost had put on the window and push it open he revealed a disconcerting sight of a female body huddled on the terrace.
The girl was shivering, dressed only in a delicate dress of ivory silk that looked as though it had been attempted torn from her frail body. She was bending forward, so her unkempt mane of brown hair fell over to hide her face from their view.
"Hello?" Irvine spoke, after the Grangers had stood closely together before the open window and stared down at Hermione's pathetic form on the ground.
There was no immediate reaction from the cowering figure on the ground.
After a few breathless seconds during which no one moved as much as a finger, however, Hermione turned her head ever so slowly to face her family.
The face that met them was twisted between what was human and what was not. Long, fang-like teeth were bared against the people she had once thought of as kin. A robust snout was hungrily sniffing the air, taking in the keen scent of human blood pulsing through the veins of the living. Large eyes were shining in an antic shade of gold as she met the nine pairs of brown eyes staring back at her in undisguised fear.
She rose on her suddenly muscular hind legs and howled against the moon's bright light, and at that exact moment there was a yell through the night.
A brilliant, silver vixen sprout out from the darkness, sprinting up to the house to stand between the werewolf and her loved ones. Despite being much smaller than the wolf, the vixen seemed to exert a certain amount of restraint on the larger animal, much like the mother of a child that had outgrown her.
"Hermione," the vixen said insistently, solemnly, looking up at Hermione with large, lustrous eyes that shone like two full moons instead of one; twice as paramount as the Earth's satellite far above them. "You can fight it, Hermione. You are stronger than this, better than this. Don't give in. Fight."
Hermione blinked, and saw the blurry outline of her family, lit up by the silver fox beneath the window. Frightened, confused, too overwhelmed for words, they merely stared at the incomprehensible scene as though their window was a movie-screen showing a rather powerful movie.
Hermione shook her head, shook away tears that fell from her golden orbs and followed trails through the fur on either side of her long snout. "I can't." she whispered, although the sound came out more like a growl. "It's indomitable. I can't fight it. I... I can't!"
The last word came like an desolate howl, and ignoring the vixen Hermione launched at the window.
The silvery fox dissolved, yet instead of meeting the cold glass of the window Hermione's hands collided with the warmth of a living, breathing human, banging the someone into the window with such force that the glass came close to breaking. The people on the other side of it backed away in wide-eyed fear, yet they still appeared to be unable to look away from the scene outside, with the exclusion of Little Janie, who hid her freckled face in her tiny hands.
"Hermione..." Draco Malfoy said soothingly as Hermione found herself towering above the blond she hated with such an intensity it racked her insides. He looked up at her, his silver eyes reflecting the moon, his surprisingly strong arms restraining her by the shoulders as he stood between her and her family. "Come back to me, Hermione. You can fight it, you can overcome this..."
"No," Hermione replied in a voice that wasn't her own. It sounded more like a deep, throaty growl than an actual voice, and she bared her teeth at Malfoy's sugar-white face. "I can't!"
"You can, Hermione." Malfoy insisted, his voice almost pleading as his eyes widened in fear, now reflecting twice the sight of fangs headed directly for his bare neck. With reflexes swift from years of Quidditch practice he drew his wand and yelled; "Stupefy!", making the werewolf collapse to the ground, stunned, with unblinking, golden eyes turned upwards to the black pit that was the starless sky.
Slowly, the blond hero turned to the stunned family of Muggles on the other side of the windowpane.
He lifted the hand still brandishing the wand in an awkward salute. "Merry Christmas," he said, nodding solemnly at the nine Grangers. "And 'Obliviate'!"
Hermione was cold when she awoke, her entire body was aching as though from excessive exercise and her eyelids as heavy as though they were glued shut.
She kept them closed, not wanting to remember what was happened, yet pictures formed eagerly in the darkness. A Christmas dinner ruined, a horrible monster reflected in the window's glass and a voice speaking through the obscurity.
Hermione opened her eyes to stare straight into the alabaster face of Draco Malfoy. She was back in a familiar room, upon the flowery couch in Malfoy's London apartment.
"You look like hell." Malfoy said, handing Hermione a glass of water, which she accepted in one hand while pushing herself into a sitting position with the help of the other. She drank the entire glass in one sip and swallowed harshly, feeling as though she had not drunk for days on end.
She looked back at Malfoy, and the details from last night appeared crystalline in her mind. The silver vixen, Malfoy's patronus, which had stood between her and her family, only to be replaced by Malfoy himself when Hermione refused to be dominated. He had put himself in mortal danger at the hands of a vicious werewolf to protect a collection of Muggles he did not know.
"Thank you." Hermione muttered, not looking at him, cheeks flushing, eyes burning with tears.
She vaguely saw Malfoy giving a non-committal shrug through a veil of her own tears. "I can't let you go on your own." he said after a short silence, and his voice was low and urgent.
Hermione nodded quietly. "I know."
"Well, yeah." Malfoy said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back into the chair he was sitting at by Hermione's sofa. "What can I say? It's better if we stay together."
This time Hermione responded by a shake of her head, the lanky locks of hair dance around her sallow face. "No." she said finally. "It's not."
Malfoy did not move a muscle, except for the one controlling his left eyebrow, which jumped an inch up on his forehead. "No? So you want to split up again, and either get consumed by savage, power-hungry werewolves or else eat your own kinsmen for supper?"
Hermione shook her head, again.
Malfoy continued to look mildly questioning, one eyebrow raised above the other, staring expectantly at Hermione.
"I..." Hermione began, swallowing dry, wishing she had a whole bucket of water, or better yet: blood. "I want to turn myself in to the Ministry."