Chapter 1 : Ending the Deal
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The stone floor beneath Hermione Granger’s bare feet is damp and icy; wind whispers through centuries-old cracks in the walls, rushing around corners and twisting the hem of her nightdress around her ankles. She takes the time to stop and untangle herself, as though if she delays long enough, she’ll have to avoid the inevitable.
It’s stupid, she thinks now. It’s as if he doesn’t know what’s at stake. We’re both prefects; we could lose our badges. But this past year quickly became much more than a red-and-gold pin on the lapel of her school robes, and at two in the morning, there are hardly any wandering eyes to notice that something’s amiss. Besides, Draco Malfoy always had a penchant for late-night meetings, and had ever since their first year of school. Hermione almost smiles to think on it now, the midnight duel that he’d boldly challenged Harry to not even a month into the term.
There is a sound from the end of the corridor, and Hermione tenses, preparing to duck into a niche behind the nearest suit of armor. It is only the Bloody Baron; he drifts mournfully along the corridor intersection, looking neither left nor right, and she breathes an inaudible sigh of relief. Where the Baron patrols, Peeves doesn’t dare to go, and she is grateful for this. As soon as the ghost passes on through a very solid-looking wall, she sets off again, trying to ignore how cold she is, wishing she had brought more than the sweater Mrs. Weasley had knitted for her the previous Christmas.
Hermione swallows hard against a sudden lump in her throat. She doesn’t know if she’ll be welcomed back at the Burrow this Christmas; maybe Ron didn’t want her there anymore. Maybe Lavender will get a sweater instead. She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip, forcefully wishing away the unwelcome thoughts, and rounds the final corner.
Draco is already there, his back facing the statue of Herpo the Foul where she had told him earlier, by way of covert note in passing between classes, that she would meet him. He is looking out of the window, though what he might be able to see at this time of night is anyone’s guess. He does not look around as she comes to stand beside him, though she knows he must sense she’s there; she can see her own reflection in the glass, transformed into obsidian by the heavy darkness outside.
“You’re ending the deal, then?”
Draco speaks into the silence at last, and it is the same voice she has always known: High, cool, drawling. Hermione gets a shiver up her spine almost at once, though she attributes it to the icy breeze still sweeping the stone walls.
“Don’t say it like that,” she snaps back, her voice coming out a bit more harshly than she had meant for it to. “I told you at the beginning that it wasn’t going to last forever.”
Draco’s upper lip rises into a sneer; she fights back the urge to smack it off his face. It’s important that he listen to her. “Look,” she tries again, turning to face him dead-on; he doesn’t turn from the window. “You’re still in danger, don’t you know that? Harry –“
“Potter’s an idiot.” Draco raises one eyebrow at his reflection in the mirror-like glass. “But that hasn’t changed since you first told me he was keeping tabs on me. So the question I have for you, once again, is this: Why now, Granger?”
Hermione feels her cheeks redden, though she’s hoping he doesn’t see, apparently absorbed in his window view as he is. “Because –“ she begins, her voice unnaturally shrill, and then falters. There are a hundred, a thousand excuses she could use, but none of them sound convincing, even in her head.
Draco laughs, and though there is no humor in it, there is pain. Hermione winces and pretends she doesn’t hear it. “I know why,” Draco says languidly, the smile on his face not even coming close to reaching his gray eyes. “Weasley’s finally growing sick of Lavender Brown, and you’ve got your hopes up again.”
“That’s not true,” Hermione retorts heatedly, an automatic response; her quickness of tongue belies her words. Draco smirks again and folds his arms across his chest. For the first time, she notices that he’s still wearing his school uniform, and wonders if he even tried to go to sleep at all.
“Let’s think.” Draco tips his head to the side, as though pondering something. “Here’s the truth as I see it. You used me to get over your blood-traitor boyfriend –“
“He’s not –“ she starts to interrupt, but Draco plows on.
“ – and then you had the nerve to try and tell me that I was in danger, save me, when I know damn well how much danger I’m in. Much more than you know.” His lip curls again. “And now, because Weasel’s starting to pull away from his stupid, slavish girlfriend, you’re going to run back to the safe option like the good little girl you are.”
Hermione says nothing. There’s nothing to say, because that was exactly what had happened, though it would have taken a Gryffindor of far more courage than she herself possessed to say it aloud.
“You’re making a mistake.” His tone, his words, are flatter than parchment. Draco had hunched in on himself, arms folded, back bent. He still stares out of the window. “There are far better wizards out there than Weasley.”
“Oh, what?” Hermione shoots back, speaking quite before she realizes it, folding her own arms against her sweater and trying not to be too aware of the rough wool beneath her hands. “Like you?”
As soon as the words are out of her mouth, she wants to clap a hand over it. For the first time, Draco turns his eyes away from the glass, shifting them onto her. His gaze is level, and her stomach plummets, coming to rest somewhere around her ankles, which are still tangled up in her nightdress.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers at last. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to say, though she knows just as much as he does that the apology doesn’t even come close. Draco turns back to the window, mouth set in a hard, firm line. “Draco, I’m so, so sorry.”
“The deal’s off,” he says, not looking back at her. “You said it yourself. Can’t risk being found out by Potty and Weasel, can you?” Hermione bites her lower lip again, this time nearly able to taste the copper tang of blood.
Very slowly, she steps closer to him; when he doesn’t protest, she leans her head awkwardly against his arm. Hermione is shorter than Draco by a good amount, and her chin falls just shy of his shoulder. Draco lets out a long, steady breath, and then, very carefully, his lips brush her temple. The gesture is light; she’s almost unsure if she’s imagined it or not. But then he is pulling away, and he is giving her what is the closest thing to a smile she’s seen on his face in a long, long time. There is sadness behind it, but it is genuine, and it is this that nearly makes her break her resolve.
And then he is gone.
Hermione turns, heading back toward Gryffindor Tower with firm, resolute steps. Her mind has been made up; her choice has been made, and she is able to feel the small fissures around her heart even as she walks away.
A/N: This is my very first time to ever write Draco/Hermione, and I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out -- I'm glad I gave it a shot! I'm big about grounding things in canon as much as possible, and tried to do that here. This story is set during the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as you might have been able to guess, and I feel that if Draco and Hermione was ever a plausible thing in the books, it might have gone something along these lines.
But that's neither here nor there, I suppose! Merry Christmas, Erica, and I'm happy to have written this for you. I do hope you've enjoyed it! Thank you for being such an invaluable support system to me this year, and just for being a great friend.
The quote in the story summary, and at the beginning of the story itself, comes from Charles Dickens; I do not own it.
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