"Ron," she said, voice shaky. "I don't know about this. It just seems so wrong..." A tall redheaded man rolled his soft denim eyes and seated himself on the overstuffed settee beside her, exasperated.
"Hermione," he reasoned. "There's nothing wrong with it. I know what's going on, and so do you; there's no deceit involved; what do you see wrong?"
"It's just," she stated softly, shifting. "Unorthodox." Ron sighed.
"You're a new age witch, Hermione, but you're forever old fashioned. Everybody's doing this; I promise you, it's all the rage. Since when are you afraid to try new things?"
"I'm not afraid, Ron," Hermione defended, pushing off the sofa in her frustration and pacing across the pile carpet of her living room. She threw up her hands in a pother as she turned back to her boyfriend, sprawled across the cushions. "I just don't know why you want this. Aren't I good enough for you?" Ron lost his calm countenance, suddenly looking agitated.
"Well, of course you are, Hermione. I love you, but this will be good for us, don't you think? We could learn some new things to try with each other, test out what we like; practice makes perfect. It'll make us a stronger couple. Don't you want that?" he asked her, knowing full well that she couldn't disagree. Hermione bit her lip, feet unconsciously trudging across the carpet in a distinct line. She felt disappointed in herself at first; ashamed at not being more open, and refused to answer Ron's question. "So," he started, interrupting the distracted pause. "Will you come with me? Please, love? I really want to try this; expand our boundaries. I won't go if you don't."
"Ron..." she stated softly, uncrossing her arms and wedging her fingers into her hair. "Why are you doing this?" Ron lifted himself from the sofa and moved to comfort his girlfriend, coming to stand before her and placing loving hands on her upper arms, fingers gently squeezing the soft flesh.
"Because I love you, Hermione. Only because I love you," he told her and Hermione looked away, ashamed again at disappointing him. Ron lifted her chin with a curled fist, pouting as his eyes met hers. Hermione felt herself smile at the childlike look on his face and looked quickly away again. "Hermione," Ron stated, pacified with her glance. "Don't you love me too?" Her face grew grim.
"Oh, Ron, of course I do. I just don't see how..."
"Then you'll come. For me," he stated more than asked, causing Hermione to frown. She sighed, giving into his incessant soliciting.
"For you," she agreed in a fleeting whisper, nodding once. Ron grinned and kissed above her lips.
"Get dressed," he said gently, as if surprising her with an evening out. Hermione, puzzled, looked down at her attire. "We're leaving in an hour," Ron finished, leaving her proximity for exertion of excitement.
"What's wrong with how I'm dressed?" Hermione asked, stock still in her spot on the rug, watching Ron skitter about the room, readying the little house to be left unoccupied. He turned when he heard her speak, as if surprised at her innocent defiance of his direction.
"You're going to represent my partner, Hermione; if you look good, I look good. It wouldn't hurt your chances to be spruced up a bit either; you have to catch attention if you want lusty looks."
"Well," Hermione said, slightly uncomfortable at the thought of displaying herself like a prized goat at a county fair. "What should I wear, then?" she asked with all respect to Ron, who brilliantly played the part of her farmer. He placed a perceptive finger to his chin, thinking through their bedroom closet. There was a silence and Hermione fidgeted noiselessly, lacing her fingers. Ron inhaled sharply.
"What about your ‘little black dress'? You have one, don't you? You wore it on our first date," he said, brows furrowed as he strained to remember. Hermione felt her heart unexpectedly sink.
"But, Ron..." she said. "That was for you; not some random one night stand. I wanted it to be special; I planned only to wear it on our dates."
"Hermione," he said as he came closer, as if speaking to a child. "This is a date; we're going out together, and we'll have fun, and come home and sleep through the afternoon, just like we always do. Even if we're not together the entire time, it's still an outing together. See?" Hermione looked tentative, but nodded in agreement. "Good," Ron said, smiling again. "Now go put it on, will you? We'll be late."
Hermione clutched Ron's arm as he walked, almost floated, toward the hotel, where a neon bordered sign advertised their destination in lighted plastic letters, ‘Straight Swing, Every weekend in the Chase Lounge'. Hermione looked away from the sign as a blush rose in her cheeks, embarrassed though no one but Ron could see. He seemed much more at ease and confident, walking boldly through the lobby with a callused hand guarding her painted fingertips. He smiled at her, looking excited, as child about to enter a candy shop.
"All right, love?" he asked warmly, squeezing her chilled hand where it lay nestled in the crook of his arm. Hermione tried to smile for his benefit; this meant a lot to Ron and as his girlfriend, it was meant for her to be supportive. If he wanted to experiment, she wanted to be behind him the entire road, even if it meant putting personal judgment to the wayside.
"I'm fine," she assured him, resting her head on his upper arm as they came to a stop in the lift. "Just a bit nervous, I guess." Ron grinned as he reached forward and pushed the floor button for the Chase Lounge.
"Don't worry, Hermione," he said, moving his arm to rest a hand on her exposed back. "You'll do fine. You're pretty enough; you'll find someone right away, I promise you." Hermione made a tiny whimper, again fidgeting with her hands, which showed no sign of discontinuing their trembles. "Would you stop that?" Ron asked, slightly irritated, taking both her hands in his. "I told you, you'll be fine."
"I'm sorry, Ron, I can't help it," she defended, speaking sharply. "I've never done anything this... bold before."
"Well, neither have I," he reminded her, bringing her icy digits to his lips. "But Harry hasn't had a bad idea yet." Hermione looked instantly surprised.
"Harry recommended this?" she asked and Ron nodded, still suckling the sides of her thumbs.
"He brought one of his coworkers, just as friends. You have to have a date to get in, to ensure equal numbers. It was all he talked about when we went flying; how commitment free and high spirited it all was."
"And he thought you should take me? That doesn't sound at all like Harry," Hermione noted, eyebrows drawn. Ron's teeth sunk slightly into her knuckle.
"Not exactly; I made the connection myself. He actually thought it was a bad idea, but I don't. And you're doing this for me, right? Not Harry," Ron reminded her, holding her hands tighter as if she might try to get away. Hermione, looking decisively more apprehensive, nodded.
"Right, Ron; because I love you," she recited truthfully, while at the same time feeling as if it were a programmed response. Ron looked as she knew he would; pleased and proud, as if she really were his prized goat.
The elevator stopped a moment later and Ron exited with renewed confidence, escorting Hermione with a large hand placed firm and possessively against her back. Hermione found the irony of the situation less than amusing, but swallowed back any comment to her date.
Immediate the opening they'd entered through, a pair of large doors labeled ‘Chase Lounge' in fancy gold cursive was blocked by a dozen well matched couples. Hermione noted that most were in a similar position to that in which she found herself with Ron; holding hands like lovers and smiling and chatting while they waited to be admitted. As if a complete pro, Ron sauntered up to the back of the line, eyeing the feminine half of the young couple in front of them. Hermione debated scolding him; in a few minutes it would be legal, but to do it before entry was uncalled for.
She refrained, however, when the young woman laughed at his once over and took her date's arm, moving up in the queue. Ron glared for a moment, pushing lightly on Hermione's back. She willingly moved forward, as he wished, and Ron looked down at her, his anger and disappointment at the other woman completely dissolved.
When they approached the burly man taking fees, Ron swallowed his pride and admitted that he had less than an inkling of an idea of the workings of such an establishment. The guard told him the price, took his money, and replaced it with a room key.
"It's pretty simple, mate," he promised, unhooking the velvet cord which kept them from passing through the tall entry doors. "You go in and break off, find a bird you like, and take her to your room. You, love," he said, pinching Hermione's rear with a wide smirk on his face. She glared heatedly at him, but Ron jostled her, as if to condemn her behavior. Reluctantly, Hermione refrained from defending herself against her assailant. "You find a nice bloke who'll take you out as well. Or, If you prefer, you can stay here, in the Lounge; there's an open bar and plenty of up-beat, tasteless music. Enjoy," he finally finished, moving aside the velvet rope. Ron escorted Hermione inside, slipping the little orange key into his left beast pocket.
The lounge was full of people and pounding with loud music. It reminded Hermione very much of a rock concert in which the voice microphones hadn't been hooked up; nothing but chords and loud rhythms. Ron looked on at the various couples, scattered about the dance floor and surrounding dining and conversation tables, with interest. Hermione, too, looked out at her audience. Each man in the room seemed to be watching the door if he weren't already occupied; looking for fresh meat.
As she entered, they seemed to stare, sizing her up; debating selection. Many simply bowed their heads to the grained tables and floors, while others eyed Ron, waiting for him to take leave and throw her at their mercy. Ron, grinning from ear to ear, turned toward Hermione, who was now looking terrified, as opposed to her earlier nervousness. Without a word, Ron descended his lips upon hers, trapping her in a very loving and delicate kiss. Hermione felt exhilarated; fear and adrenaline pumping in her veins.
"I love you," Ron yelled to her over the music, lips inches from her ear. "So much, Hermione." He kissed her again before continuing. "I'll meet you downstairs, in the lobby at tomorrow," he proposed. "In case you see someone else in the morning." Hermione was looking up at him with wide and pleading eyes, as if unable to believe he would simply drop her in the midst of two dozen shallow, lusty eyed men. Ron grinned at her, assuming she was merely excited. "I love you," he repeated. "Have fun." He made to step away, then, and leave her, but Hermione grabbed his cuff as he moved away. Ron turned back, perplexed, and accepted her back into his arms. She tied her hands behind his back and rested her cheek against his chest, almost as if she would never have chance for another goodbye.
"Please, Ron," she called up to him, turning her eyes toward his face. "Why can't we just go somewhere alone? I'll make up for all this, I promise. I'll do anything..."
Hermione's attempt at negotiation was interrupted as a broad chested woman with short brown hair and not enough skirt positioned herself next to Ron, linking her arm around his. Ron looked to this new woman, who was pulling him toward a group of equally eye-pleasing young girls, all staring intently at him. He turned back to Hermione, eyes wide, as if to say ‘Can you believe my luck?'.
"Tomorrow at ," he reminded her, yelling over the music, and kissed her one final time. Hermione tried to hold on as long as possible, but the whore to Ron's right was persistent. Hermione watched him be taken out to sea, feeling very much like a wandering sheep in the midst of a wolf pack. Noticing that a majority of the staring men, some of whom were approaching, were located at the wooden dining tables, Hermione opted to move in the opposite direction; toward the bar.
She sat quaintly at a stool, hiding her face with her hands while trying desperately to hold back tears. She'd never imagined it would hurt so deeply to see Ron blatantly go off with an attractive whore, whom he literally paid to meet. She felt unwanted and used; broken and abandoned. And paranoid; she was being pursued. Hermione could feel eyes on her from the moment she stepped into the room, but now the stares doubled. They seemed to be closing in on her; encasing her with their eyes, like a new toy to be tested. Even the man beside her seemed interested; ever since she'd sat down, he'd stared. It wasn't until the first of her tears began to fall that he spoke.
"Hey, there," he said softly, leaning slightly toward her. "What's all this about?" Hermione sniffled and spared him a glance, feeling the heated eyes of her other admirers vacillate. Her heart soared, and she moved closer to the tall blond man who had verbalized his concern. The wave of heat faltered, hesitating. When Hermione didn't answer, her bar-mate spoke again. "I haven't seen you here before; are you new?" Hermione nodded decisively, peeking over her shoulder. Most of the men were cursing now, moving back to their posts. She sighed in relief. "Then you might not know," he said, mostly to himself. "If someone does something you don't like, you don't have to let them. That's what the guards are for; they'll take care of it."
Surprised, Hermione turned her eyes to meet that of this man who'd offered her assistance. He was mildly handsome, with a childlike face and smoky eyes that reminded her strangely of Ron's ocean blues. At the thought of her lost lover, Hermione's own orbs began to prickle, filling with moisture. She shook her head for benefit of the blond, turning to look again at the grainy surface of the bar.
"No," she assured him. "I'm fine, really." He nodded, turning back to his drink and accepting her indirect request to stay out of her affairs. As Hermione picked a napkin from the nearby basket and nervously toyed with it in her fingers, dabbing her eyes and wiping her nose, the blond began to stare again. She felt his eyes, like the heated knives of the other men, but somehow less offensive and rash. She turned to him. "I'm not in the mood," Hermione declared truthfully, sniffling and turning back to her napkin. The blond shook his head, as if to clear it.
"Have we met? I can't seem to place it, but you seem so familiar," he admitted, eyes narrowed as he watched her profile. Alarmed, Hermione turned to try and place his cherubic face in her memory, but she felt no familiarity whatsoever. She shook her head.
"I don't think so," she admitted. "I'm sorry; I don't seem to remember you at all." The blond sighed, again focusing his attention on the half finished tawny liquid in his icy glass.
"'s all right," he said disappointedly, sipping his drink. There was silence then and Hermione ignored the man entirely, nearly forgetting his presence in her misery over Ron. When she dared, she peered over her shoulder to look for him, only to realize he had already found a new girl; already left for his fancy room. A room with a number never known to her. Fresh tears leaked from their crevices and Hermione suppressed a shudder as she sobbed once into her wrinkled and torn bar napkin. "Are you sure you're all right?" came a suspicious voice, startling her as she cried. Hermione turned to see that the blond man was staring at her again, one eyebrow lifted while he watched her weep. All coherent thought lost with Ron, Hermione shook her head.
"No," she admitted. "No, I'm not. I didn't want to come here; I don't do this. It isn't me. I don't want lust; I don't need it. I was perfectly content with everything the way it was; he had to try and change it. Change me."
"Your husband?" asked the blond, looking disheartened, although Hermione did not seem to notice. She shook her head.
"My boyfriend. I don't understand why he's acting this way; he says because he loves me, but I just don't understand," she explained, for the sole purpose of his presence, and the stranger beside her listened tentatively, feeling like the second wheel on a unicycle.
"You look like you could do for a drink," he noted decidedly, placing himself more traditionally into the conversation. "Do you prefer red wine or white?" Hermione sniffled, twisting her shredded napkin between her trembling fingers.
"Well, red, but..." she admitted quietly, realizing immediately the thirst her fear induced adrenaline had awarded her. The blond lifted a hand for the bartender and ordered her a drink, ignoring any further protest. Hermione was presented with and tall stemmed glass within seconds, brimming with a burgundy liquid that made her feel parched at its mere presence. The blond man smirked in satisfaction as he watched her hungrily gulp the tangy juice. Thirst quenched and spirit replenished, Hermione smiled up at him thankfully. "I do feel better," she admitted shyly. "Thank you, but I am lost as to why you're trying to help me. You know nothing of me but my ability to cry a few tears into a tattered paper napkin." Smiling at her humor, the blond man shrugged.
"Oh, but that isn't true. I know you don't want to be here; that says a lot about you. At the most primitive, it gives us something in common. I don't particularly enjoy the premise of this club either," he told her, sipping his drink to act as excuse from gauging her reaction.
"Really?" Hermione asked, now toying with the stem of her wine glass while she spoke. "Then why do you come?" He frowned slowly, staring at his idle glass of alcohol.
"A month ago, I would share your position; forced into it by a lover when all I wanted was the opposite. She wanted my name, my money... I wanted her. It got to a point where I couldn't do it anymore; I broke things off with her. I come here now with hope that I might meet someone new, someone I can talk to; more than just a one night stand. I know," he admitted, "this probably isn't the best place to look for that, but this was how I lost her... who's to say it can't give me someone back?" The blond man paused then and turned to her, skeptical. "Am I bothering you?" Hermione, mid-sip, started at his question, quickly dropping her half empty glass back onto the table. She shook her head.
"No, please; continue. There's a narrow chance I'll find anyone else here with no intention of copulating upon the evening's close... and I fear I may be surrounded within moments if I show any sign of disinterest in our conversation," she told him, looking over her shoulder to see a few lingering men giving her fleeting glances before moving on to another coupled woman, as if hunters checking traps.
"Much obliged," the blond man joked, smiling at her. Hermione returned the gesture happily before downing the remaining blood-like liquid in her glass and calling the bartender to refill it. "Hey, you might want to pace yourself a bit. It'll do you no good getting smashed." Hermione laughed.
"I don't see why I shouldn't. I've nothing better planned and the night is hardly young. In the same, if one plans to sleep on a bar, drunkenness is included in etiquette."
"Sleep?" the blond asked, surprised. "Shouldn't your... boyfriend be coming to take you soon? Cor, it's nearly ." Hermione smiled softly, running a finger tip over the edge of her refreshed glass.
"No," she admitted, sighing slightly. "I am to meet him tomorrow... well, this afternoon." His eyebrows lifted.
"Really? Well, we can't have that. I've still got a key; I'd be happy to put you up," he stated smoothly, but faltered at Hermione's sudden change in expression; she was instantly wary, as if realization of her current situation had suddenly struck her. "I promise you no foul play," he offered by way of appeasement and Hermione shook her head, clearing any fear. Ron's entire point in his exercise was to take risk and learn from it; Hermione could think of many a better way than rooming with a stranger, but none of which seemed at her grasp.
"No," she said, assuring the man she feared it not. "I wouldn't want to impose. Your point in coming, as you clearly stated, was to find someone you get on with; I'm just wasting your time." The blond looked stern.
"I do not believe I agree. You've proven a most casual and fluent conversationalist; you are exactly what I, in my best scenario, pictured this night to bring. And as well, I've been drawn into your affairs. I can't rightly let you sleep on a bar." Hermione gave him a quirky half smile, feeling her stomach knot.
"Well, all right then. Thank you," she said, blushing slightly. The blond man smiled, though not in triumph as she had expected. He quickly downed the remaining few centimeters of fluid in his glass and slid from his stool, planting his feet firmly on the floor of the lounge. Smirking as if amused, he thrust his elbow toward her in a gentlemanly gesture, lifting his eyebrows.
"Now?" Hermione asked, slightly confused. "But I've just ordered a second glass of wine..."
"There will be a bottle on ice in the room," he told her. "There always is. I'd fancy conversing with you in a place where I didn't have to speak quite so loudly to be heard." Hermione looked contemplative for a moment before giving a decisive nod and sliding off her stool to accept his offered arm. He smiled at her and started toward the doors, holding a palm over her fingertips, just as Ron had. In a fleeting instant, Hermione was reminded of Ron and felt as if she were betraying him. She shook herself a moment later, thinking herself delusional by lack of sleep and a glass of wine; she was doing this for Ron. He had asked her and she complied; because she loved him.
In final attempt to locate her lover, Hermione spared a glance over her shoulder as the blond man led her from the lounge. She saw no sign of Ron, nor the short-haired slut that had stolen him away. The men, who had been watching her and sitting grumpily at their tables, gave a moment to curse and bang their fists against the wood. The sheep was lost.
Hermione woke to a comfortably darkened room with a foreign hand on her lower abdomen and a brain flooded with memories. She opened her eyes slowly, savoring the heavy quiet, and smiled warmly at the sight of her blond-haired shepherd, sleeping peacefully in his naked glory. His pale angelic face seemed somewhat childlike and sad against the white cotton pillow, surrounded by a ditch-water halo. Hermione was awed at the mere sight of him, bathed in the gloomy silence; he was beautiful.
Her eyes roamed delicately over his face, tentative in their journey as if the warmth of their gaze might wake him and shatter the saintly illusion. She looked past the lids, hiding eyes that once had watched her, over the cheeks once flushed in the throws of passion, to his parted lips, moist and swollen from their night's labors; the lips which not only kissed and drank, but spoke to her as if made solely for the purpose.
Hermione moved her hand, which resided above her head and tangled in flowing curls, down the length of her body to cover his where it rested on her stomach. Her shepherd didn't move but to slightly curl his stiff fingers in response to her touch. Hermione smiled in spite of him, turning her eyes back to his pristine face.
She remembered everything in perfect detail, from the flowing wine, natural conversation and spirited laughter- to the unexpected and welcome sexual release. She felt calm and happy, more relaxed than she could ever remember.
In this instant, Hermione remembered Ron and slightly frowned. He would be waiting for her; waiting to take her away from the microcosm of unreality he had aided in creating. Disenchanted, Hermione pushed herself onto her elbow, checking the time on the little digital clock by the bedside. With a sigh, she let herself fall back into the goose feather clouds.
The blond man shifted slightly, but his visage persisted; a simple frown of sleep and fan of delicate lashes crowning slightly colored cheeks. Hermione smiled at him again, leaning close to press her lips to his. He woke slowly, mouth beginning to work against hers as reality flooded his conscious. When the kiss was broken, the blond man lifted his lashes and blinked, focusing quartz colored pools on the woman before him. She was smiling, her calm and collected countenance defying his befuddled brow. Hermione supposed he was surprised to see her still warm in his bed; he had promised her no foul play and broken his word within hours, no doubt expecting her to have left at the slice of dawn, mortified and muddled, seeking anything but a good morning kiss.
"Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end; each changing place with that which goes before, in sequent toil all forwards do contend," she recited in a hushed whisper, supporting each line with a sensual kiss near his swollen lips. The blond man did not speak, ensnared in her mystic chants and touches. "I have to go," Hermione explained then, her lips pressed firmly to his skin.
"Mm," the man mumbled, sounding slightly dejected, and moved his covered hand upward to rest lightly against her jaw line as he turned his head for a final kiss. She complied without protest and smiled, savoring his comfort for a moment before pulling away and standing to collect her clothing. The blond man pushed himself into a sitting position and watched her walk about the room like a lost lamb, sorting through clothing while fortuitously cleaning; she tossed garments over her arm, threw some in his direction, righted the two empty glasses on the floor, and picked up the overturned bottle of wine, just empty enough to lay sideways and not loose its precious blood.
When she had assembled all that she owned, Hermione threw a smile at her shepherd, slipping into the bathroom and refreshing her appearance. When she reentered the room, the blond man was waiting, dressed haphazardly and leaning against the wall beside the door. He looked up at her, smiling sheepishly, and Hermione approached, surprising him with a well placed kiss to the side of his jaw.
"I had fun," she admitted, smiling broadly and shrugging her shoulders. He returned her grin.
"Me too," he said, watching her bounce on the souls of her feet; lighthearted and content. A fleeting silence followed, broken before any trace of discomfiture could shake the casual atmosphere.
"I should go," Hermione repeated, looking briefly away. He nodded, frowning slightly, and opened the door for her, exposing their comfort to the callus hallway. Hermione thanked him and stepped past the threshold, turning back to see the shepherd closing the gate and stepping up beside her. She smiled, pleasantly surprised, and allowed him to lead her down the hallway, aiding in the transition to reality. They stopped at the end of the hall; around the corner from the destined lobby. Ron would be waiting, just around the bend in the corridor, hands in his pockets and smelling of foreign perfume, waiting to take her back to the little house with the pile carpet.
"Go," the blond man told her. "It will be awkward now, if I accompany you." Hermione sighed, nodding in agreement, and turned to leave. She could feel him watching her go; watching his lamb leave the shelter of his sight. It was then that she stopped and turned back, overcome in revelation; this was true, this was real. Everything would be different now; Ron would be different, sex would be different... her little black evening dress would be different. Her life would change because of him; him whom she barely knew.
"Hey," she said, taking a step again in his direction. He looked surprised and curious, waiting for her to continue. "I don't even know your name." He smiled warmly then, her handsome blond shepherd wearing the guise of an angel.
"I'm Draco," he told her. "Draco Malfoy." A rush of emotion hit her like a stampede, the awkwardness of the situation replaced by sheer surprise. Her voice swelled in her throat, forcing a strained pause before she spoke.
"Draco..." she started softly, as if about to break important news. "I'm Hermione Granger." The look of shock on his face was almost too much for Hermione to stand; she was grinning broadly and bouncing in excitement. Draco exhaled sharply, beginning to laugh as his lips curled upward. The irony of the situation did not escape him and Hermione's heart soared at his reaction.
"I knew you looked familiar," he chided jovially, laughing. "Cor, I haven't seen you in years! How are you? How've you been?" Hermione laughed at his enthusiasm.
"I've survived," she nodded, crossing her arms and relaxing into the conversation. "And yourself?" Draco's smile dropped halfway and he shrugged.
"I've been all right," he admitted, then continued as if to avoid pressing the subject. "Do you still buddy up with Potter and Weasley?" The moment he finished, Hermione's cheerful expression dropped. Draco frowned as well, afraid he'd said something wrong.
"Ron," Hermione breathed, looking over her shoulder. "Draco," she said as she turned back, shaking her head and moving slowly toward the lobby. "I have to go, Ron is... waiting." Draco lifted an eyebrow.
"That's who you're with? Really?"
"Five years now, on and off, yes," she said, nodding.
"And he brought you here?" he asked, surprised. "But... why?" Hermione shook her head, deflated and distressed.
"I have to go," she repeated once more, turning away, but Draco gently grasped her upper arm.
"Can I see you again?" he asked, rather boldly, and Hermione looked wary. "As friends," he promised her. "To catch up."
"I don't know..." she decided, pulling out of his grasp. "I..." she started. "I'll try to come back... here, next week. Meet me?" Draco nodded and Hermione fled, rushing around the corner and pressing herself against a wall, breathing deeply to calm her heart.
"Hermione?" asked another voice, deeper and more familiar. Hermione opened her eyes to meet the worried cobalt blues of Ron Weasley. "Are you all right? Did something happen?" Hermione laughed fleetingly, the rush of adrenaline flowing out of her body, leaving her cold in its wake.
"I'm fine, Ron," she promised. "I'm late; I was just rushing to get here."
"Oh," Ron said, accepting her answer through the cheerful way it was offered, and kissed her in hello. He took her hand, then, leading her toward the exit with a smug smile on his face. "Did you enjoy yourself?" he asked, and Hermione nodded enthusiastically.
"Very much, Ron," she admitted truthfully, glowing as they entered the busy street. "I really did. Do... do you think we could do it again? Next weekend?" Ron looked put out for a moment, as if her answer had been unexpected.
"Oh," he replied, frowning. "Sure, love; that's what we wanted, to have a new experience." Hermione was beaming and Ron seemed wary of her mood. She hadn't been so carefree since Hogwarts, and it showed. Ron noticed; she was radiant. Even the little frown on her lips at his obvious displeasure in her mood couldn't tone down the rays of sunshine which collected in her skin.
"What, Ron?" she asked disappointedly. "Didn't you have fun? You were gone within ten minutes." Ron shrugged.
"Sure I did," he assured, yet unconvincingly. "I'd love to go again; I'm glad you agree." Hermione, still frowning, accepted his answer though she did not believe it. Without another word, she allowed him to lead her in their way back home, where an upturned bed awaited them.
Hermione kissed Ron happily goodbye and hurried toward the bar, folding the skirt of her black dress below her as she seated herself. Smiling, she ordered a glass of red wine and cradled it in her hands as she turned to watch the door. This ritual had become so customary that she barely needed to think while acting.
Hermione supported her glass in her hands, body turned to view the entrance while her eyes shot glares at any man caught looking. The regulars knew her well; she had joined them as a hunter. The difference between them, however, was obvious; Hermione had her crosshairs set on a specific blond lamb.
She saw him enter, as he always did, with a different girl on his arm. He brought his eyes directly to her seat, knowing she would be there as she always was, and Hermione turned away, watching the grain of the wood of the countertop. Draco was beside her not a minute later, touching her arm slightly to acquire attention. Hermione looked up with a broad smile and happily accepted his welcoming kiss.
"Hey," he greeted, sliding his stool closer to hers and placing one hand on her back while using the other to call the bartender. Draco needn't speak a word; the man behind the counter immediately placed a familiar glass of scotch in front of him. Hermione smiled contentedly, relaxing into his presence.
"Hey," she returned, slouching inconsiderably as she relaxed. Draco slowly moved his hand along her exposed spine, making her back arc slightly. It was their ninth visit; she had counted. For two solid months, they would meet at the bar on Saturday evenings, free from commitment and content with their casual relationship. Most nights they would stay at the bar, talking and laughing, until the early morning hours before retreating to his room to recuperate and sleep off their alcohol, but less often she would lead him there sooner with more promiscuous thoughts on ways to spend their time.
After sipping his drink, Draco focused his attention and his lips on his companion, trailing kisses along her jaw and further downward, biting just where her neckline met her shoulder and leaving a canon mark.
"Mm..." he mumbled, trivial task complete. Hermione smiled. "So," Draco continued, smirking. "How do you feel tonight?" She laughed airily, meeting his lips quickly.
"I know what that means, Draco," she told him, looking slyly through parted lids. He chuckled.
"I bet you do."
"Must you always be illusive when you ask?" she wondered playfully, running a fingertip around the rim of her glass. "Can't you be blunt? Make things easier for me?" Draco smiled, drawing back from her skin.
"I think so. Come to bed with me?" he asked and Hermione pretended to think for only a moment before smiling and initiating a lusty kiss.
"Now, how could I say no to that?" she asked, slipping off her stool with gilded ease and leaving half a glass of wine unfinished. Draco joined her, ignoring his own drink, and led her toward the doors, grinning to himself. Hermione, too, seemed elated as she embraced his arm and let him guide her.
As they slipped from the lounge and into the lobby, Hermione heard her name called and whipped around in alarm.
"Ron?" she said, immediately detaching herself from Draco and sparing him a questioning glance. He shrugged, moving quickly away. Hermione's stomach flipped as Ron came through the doors a moment later, looking flushed.
"Hermione," he said again. "I'm not feeling well; would you mind if we left early?" Hermione glanced nervously at Draco where he stood behind her escort, but he shook his head and moved back through the swinging doors. She turned her eyes back to Ron, who was looking uncharacteristically stiff and emotionless. Blaming his illness, she tilted her head.
"Of course not, Ron," she told him, pouting as she linked their arms. "Are you all right? What is it?" she asked, kissing him quickly as if to comfort. Ron shook his head.
"I just need a lie down, ‘sall," he stated briskly and Hermione nodded, brow twitched in worry.
"Let's go home then," she suggested, taking the upper hand and leading them outside. Hermione hailed a taxi and allowed Ron to enter first before sliding in next to him; he was silent the entire ride, staring out the window into the streetlight shadowed darkness. She eyed him warily, though she did not speak; even ill, it was unlike him to be inattentive.
As they entered their home, Ron stomped ahead, silent and rigid. Hermione trailed behind him, frowning softly, and closed the door.
"Ronny, do you need anything?" she asked quietly, following him into the living room and watching in confusion as he paced the pile carpet. "I could make you some soup... or tea and toast." He was shaking his head, treading a line in the floor. "Ron?" she asked, moving closer. "Really, you should eat something; you'll feel better, I promise you..."
"No, Hermione," he said suddenly, stopping to stare at her. Hermione felt intimidated and unconsciously took half a step backward. "No tea and no soup and no toast."
"But Ron... if you're sick, then..."
"Hell, you don't get it, do you? Do you think I'm blind, Hermione? Did you think I wasn't going to notice?" he spat, eyes narrowed as he advanced. Hermione cowered from his glare, stepping backward.
"Ron, I don't understand... what-"
"Him, that... blond bloke!" he shouted, face red, and Hermione's heart dropped; Draco. "You seen him every night; it's like sneaking around, right in front of me! How could you, Hermione?" She began to feel tears stinging the backs of her eyes; she hadn't wanted this; she'd never wanted this.
"Ron," she pleaded. "I wasn't being unfaithful; you were off with women too..." He inhaled sharply, as if offended by her comment.
"That is not the same thing," he said, voice low and harsh. Hermione shuddered. "I was off with a dozen different floozy drunks, while you were... rendezvousing with a real person!" Hermione remained silent as Ron again began to pace, ignoring the fleeting nerve that wished to remind him that floozy drunks were people too. "I brought you there for tension release, Hermione," he said, exasperated. "Not to find a replacement for me." She sniffled, shaking her head exaggeratedly.
"No, Ron, it isn't like that. We've only had sex three times; if I have too much wine, I get funny..."
"You think that makes it better?" he asked her coldly, turning to connect their gaze. "That you just went out for drinks and conversation? That's a date, Hermione."
"No; Ron, please..."
"Do you have feelings for him?" he demanded, refusing to let her speak. Hermione took a stuttered breath, feeling the tears cascade down her cheeks. "Do you?"
"No; not like you."
"Not like me," Ron repeated slowly in a disbelieving whisper, then shouted, "Well, of course it's not like me!" The radical difference in his tone made Hermione jump. "If it were, he wouldn't even get a snog on a holiday!"
"Ron..." Hermione whispered, wincing at his arraignments, and Ron turned away, patting his waistline in search of a wand. Only when he held the holly stick firmly in his hand did he speak.
"I'm going to Harry's," he stated, voice calm and callous in a way that somewhat scared her; so different from his previous fury. "I think it's time we separated, Hermione. This relationship was shaky to begin with; it's only deteriorated. We aren't even married and we can't make each other happy; this is long overdue."
"What?" Hermione gasped in shock, a new wave of despair curtaining her knotted stomach. "Ron, no; please..." she begged, coming to stand in front of him and quickly clasping her hands behind his back. "I don't need him... I don't need the club. Please don't leave me, Ron; I did everything for you. I went because you asked me to, and I enjoyed it because I thought that's what you wanted. I didn't know what lines I was crossing; I did mean to... I love you, Ron. I did it all because I love you." Ron sighed softly, tying his own arms around her.
"Hermione..." he whispered. "I love you too, but that isn't enough. It was never enough; we've never been happy. This isn't just about the blond. We had problems before that, long before that." Hermione held him tighter.
"We can get through it, we always have. I can't lose you," she pleaded, but Ron gently pushed her shoulders back, breaking the embrace.
"I don't think we can, Hermione. I don't think we've ever really dealt with our problems the way we should have; we pretend they aren't there and don't talk about them, but they don't go away. That's why I asked you to come to the club at all; I thought you might see me with those other girls and get jealous... start opening your door to me again. When was the last time we made love, Hermione? Christmas?"
"I'm so sorry, Ron... I can change, I promise. I want to make you happy, please..." Hermione presented, hopes crushed as Ron slowly shook his head.
"There's nothing wrong with you; it's a problem with us and I don't think there's anything we can do. I don't want to force this; we've tried to work things out for long enough. It's time we went our separate ways and tried to be happy on our own terms. If that means I have to give you up, then I'll do that. I hate seeing you like this," he told her rationally, a deep frown fastened to his lips. Hermione listened with teary eyes, unable to believe her ears. Ron lifted a gentle hand to wipe away the moisture flowing down her cheek, then left a gentle kiss in its wake. "I have to go," he whispered. "Please don't come after me."
Before Hermione dared speak, Ron was gone with nothing but a loud crack as evidence of his presence. She collapsed onto the overstuffed settee, trembling like a wounded lamb, and let herself fall victim to wracking sobs and flowing tears. Hermione felt vulnerable and alone; no farmers and no shepherds were left to lend their watchful eyes.
Draco was still debating his actions even as the taxicab pulled up in front of the hotel. It was raining; buckets of water flowed over the windows and lightning periodically lit up the sky. He didn't move as the car came to a halt, but merely stared up at the building in front of him.
She hadn't come back. It had been almost a month since the night Ron had taken ill and she hadn't returned to their rendezvous point since. He hadn't expected Hermione to return later that same evening, but he had waited eagerly the next weekend, wanting to see her more than he ever had. She was like a drug and his body ached for her; a month without her was enough to commit him.
"Hey, Buddy," the driver said, looking over his shoulder. Draco leisurely turned to him. "The meters ticking." Draco sighed.
"Right," he mumbled, frowning, and shoved a generous note into the man's open palm. He was awarded with gratified thanks, but paid little attention to anything but the roar of the rain as he opened the door. Draco stopped before entering the massive building, allowing the water to pelt against his hood from the sky. He looked up at the illuminated signs, surrounded in neon, and sighed. There would be no reason to stay if she didn't come.
Draco had tried to get over her. He had claimed her lost and tried to strike up conversation with other women, but they all lacked something. Her quirky smile, sultry lips, intelligent remarks, and witty humor had never once come packaged in another woman. Ron Weasley must have been daft to look elsewhere with something so perfect at his fingertips.
It was decided, then, that he couldn't go back. He wouldn't, not again; there was no point without her. With a sigh, Draco turned forever from the Chase Lounge, discontent but acceptant of the very real possibility that he would never see her again. And strangely, he couldn't help but feel as if he had taken her for granted.
As he lifted an arm to hail another car, Draco stopped stock still, in wake of a ghost-like voice, piercing through the rain.
"Draco? Draco, wait," the voice called, small and choked, like a forgotten child; a lost lamb. He turned slowly, hesitant to believe the connections made in his mind.
She was there; sitting huddled in the corner formed by the glass doors and the brick wall. The little shelf of shelter above her had done little to stop the pelting rain, and she stood, drenched from head to toe.
"Hermione," he said, barely audible, and started for her. Hermione collected herself and hurried to meet him, the dark hood falling onto her shoulders and exposing her damp tresses to the late night showers. "What are you doing? How long have you been out here?" He noticed then that she was trembling, chilled from moving out of her warm huddle.
"A while," she admitted, smiling crookedly and tightly crossing her arms. "I had to see you," she explained, "but I don't have a date, so I can't go inside. I didn't want to miss you, so I came early." Draco frowned guiltily and reached out to her, but she stepped away. "Draco... we have to talk," she said, and he noticed for the first time that her face was wet from more than the rain.
"All right," he agreed, retracting his hand and letting it drop. Hermione swallowed, taking a calming breath.
"Well..." she said, but was taken by a tremor before she could continue. Draco looked honestly worried.
"We should go inside," he interrupted, and Hermione began shaking her head, fighting the shudders. She didn't want to go into that hotel; she never wanted too. Draco eyed her as if she'd grown a second head. "Yes; you'll catch pneumonia or something out here. Look, over there; come on," he said sternly, pointing down the street and taking hold of her upper arm. Hermione felt surprised and relieved, though she hadn't expected to.
Draco led her into the closest building, which happened to be a library, and looked around for some place secluded to be seated. On such a dreary day, the entire building was deserted, save the teenager behind the counter who paid them no attention. Quietly, Draco steered Hermione toward the back wall, which was lined with little study tables, and pushed her into a chair before bringing up another for himself.
"Take off your cloak," he ordered softly, whispering as not to disturb the placid silence. Hermione complied, unclasping the broach at the front and letting it fall over the back of her chair. "Hell, Hermione," Draco cursed, sounding slightly angry. "Are you mad?" He quickly shed his waterlogged covering and leaned forward to wrap his arms around her; clad now in just her little black dress and a shiny pair of pumps. Hermione was shivering profusely now, though the air in the room was tepid.
"I'm sorry," she forced through chattering teeth, gratefully leaning into his body. "I had to see you, Draco."
"Well you didn't have to kill yourself to do it," he stated, sounding slightly guilty.
"I didn't have a choice," she said, sniffling. "They wouldn't let me loiter in the hotel; I had to go outside."
"Well," Draco started, holding her closer. "You could've come back on a day wherein the elements weren't so harsh." Hermione shook her head, reluctantly pulling out of their embrace.
"I couldn't wait any longer," she admitted, looking up at him with glistening eyes. She watched him, taking note of the worry and confusion in his face, making the angel shepherd look as if he'd misplaced his wool strung harp. "I can't see you anymore," Hermione finally forced. Her face immediately twisted in emotional agony and she dropped her head into her hands, sobbing. Tentatively, Draco pulled her to him with intention to comfort her. Hermione put up little struggle, drained from her confession.
"Please don't cry," he whispered to her, pressing his lips to the top of her head. "You make me guilty when you cry." Hermione shook her head, digging into his chest.
"You didn't do anything," she assured, voiced choked. Draco laughed, running his hands over her hair.
"It doesn't matter," he told her. "You'd inspire it in anyone; I think it might be a curse." He felt her smile.
"Maybe you hexed me back in school and I never noticed," she joked, looking up at him, and Draco smiled.
"I wouldn't have put it past me," he agreed, running a thumb over her moist cheek. Hermione sniffled, lifting her own hand to wipe at her eyes. Draco watched her in silence with a smile on his face, but it turned into a frown as he saw her chin begin again to tremble. "What?" he asked. "What's wrong?"
"I can't see you again, Draco," she repeated, shaking her head. "I can't. Not anymore." His frown deepened, and he let his hand melt from her face. There was a troubled silence, stressed without words.
"Why?" Draco managed, sounding torn, and Hermione turned her eyes to her lap.
"Ron left me, Draco," she said, voiced strained and raspy in her throat. Draco was struck speechless. "He saw us together... he thought I was trying to replace him."
"What? That isn't fair; he brought you there... what did he expect you to do? He did the same thing," he shouted in her defense, but Hermione began to tear up once more. "You did nothing wrong."
"I did, Draco. It isn't the same; I was unfaithful, and I deserved it," she stated, wiping tears just as they escaped, and sitting straight; hording strength. "It wasn't just this; there were other things... I hadn't even realized what was going on. I was so stupid."
"You don't understand, Draco. There were so many signs... I just didn't see them," she said, exhaling a deep breath. "That's why I can't be with you; now that I know how he feels, it will seem wrong. It wouldn't be the same between us, anyway; it wouldn't be carefree anymore. It'd be like a dirty secret. I don't want to live a secret life and I don't want to drag you into it with me. For the both of us, we should stop... whatever this is, right now." She was gaining confidence; more controlled. Still, a sporadic tear would slither from its barracks.
"What?" Draco asked, sounding hurt. "Now you know that your little Weasel doesn't like me, so you're going to throw away everything we have, just to make him happy? Were you only with me because he wanted it? That's it, isn't it? That's all I'm worth to you." Hermione lost her confidence quickly; she hugged her midsection and expressively shook her head.
"No, Draco, it isn't... I didn't..." she tumbled, then paused, collecting herself. "Yes, I let myself be with you because I thought it would make Ron happy... but it wasn't the only reason. I wanted it too." Draco sighed in disbelief and stood from his chair, fastening his sodden cloak around his shoulders.
"Forget it. You've told me what you came to say. I'll call you a cab," he declared, turning to walk the path back to the front doors.
"Draco, wait," she begged, standing from her seat to grasp his hand and keep him in proximity. "I don't want to part on bad terms. Please, you have to understand..."
"You know what, Hermione? I don't understand," he countered, spinning around to face her; livid. "You weren't happy with him; you never were. You confided in me, Hermione. A glass of wine to make you a touch less paranoid and you'd confess your soul to me right proper. So, I'm sorry, but no; I can't understand. He left you. He walked out on the best thing he had and instead of letting yourself be happy, you're trying to follow him. You might love him, Hermione, but you don't want to be with him. He doesn't deserve you."
"And who does?" she asked, eyes narrowing slightly at his insensitivity, coupled with restrained tears. "You?"
"Honestly?" Draco asked her, pausing. "No." He shook his head. "No, I don't, but I do deserve a chance. More than he ever did." Hermione stared, speechless, and Draco threw his hand against the wall, making a light thump against the thick reference books. "Dammit, Hermione," he cursed. "Why now? Why now that we can be together, do you push me away?"
"Draco," she whispered, disbelieving. "Do you... have real feelings for me?" There was silence for a moment, and Draco breathed heavy in disbelief of her words. He laughed, then, harsh as he mocked her question.
"Hell, Hermione!" he said, shaking his head. "It's no wonder you didn't see your break up coming; how can you be so blind? You think, with everything I've told you... with all we've said and done to one another, I only wanted you for sex?" Hermione didn't move; shocked speechless. He sighed and stepped back. "And to think... I missed you. I wondered everyday where you were, if you were all right... if something happened. If I'd done something. All that time, you were perfect... alive, alone, and without a moment to spare on thoughts of me. Maybe you're right. Maybe we shouldn't see each other anymore." Hermione didn't speak; she couldn't, words escaped her. Draco waited impatiently, staring at her disheveled form with indented eyebrows. "Well?" he finally asked, edgy.
"Draco..." she said, voice escaping with a shaky breath. "I don't know what to say... I'm so... confused. Everything is happening so fast." Draco sighed, his features relaxing slightly. He felt guilty; she was near tears.
"Hermione," he began and she looked up as if startled; she had expected him to storm off long ago. "I will wait for you. I can do that, but you have to figure this out on your own. There's nothing to stop you from doing what you want, and there's no one to tell you want to do; you have to sort out what you feel. What you really want. If it happens to be me, I'll be there for you. If it isn't... I'm sure you'll have no regrets."
"I... I just need time," she pleaded, surprised to see him smile.
"That I can give you," he nodded, preceding a touchy silence. "Now, what about that cab?"
Hermione stepped up to the burgundy door and confidently knocked her knuckles against it. In moments, a frazzled and messy-haired Harry Potter appeared in wake of the metal slab. Hermione smiled at him, content in his presence.
"Hey, Harry," she greeted softly, shifting on her feet. "Is this a bad time?" Harry shook his head, offering her a half smile as he stepped aside and allowed her entry. Hermione crossed the threshold and stepped into the small living room of his apartment, noticing that it was much more disorderly than the last time she had seen it.
"Ron isn't here," Harry told her as he closed the door and Hermione turned around, nodding.
"That's all right. I wanted to talk to you; I'd actually rather he not be here."
"Oh," Harry said, sounding slightly surprised. "Have a seat then," he offered, gesturing to the couch behind her. Hermione smiled politely and took advantage of the cushions, but didn't speak until Harry was seated beside her.
"I've missed you, Harry," she started truthfully, tilting her head to the side. He smiled, kissing her cheek.
"I missed you too, Hermione. I'm sorry about Ron; you know how he is, but it doesn't mean you aren't welcome here."
"Thank you, Harry," she said softly, then paused before tentatively continuing, pressing a subject she'd tried hard to avoid. "How is he?" Harry frowned.
"He's all right," he admitted, sounding slightly disenchanted. "Honestly, better than I would have expected." Hermione tried to be happy for her ex- lover, but her lips refused to move from their frown.
"Oh," she managed. "I suppose that's good, then."
"Ron told me what happened, Hermione, and for the record, I don't agree with him; you didn't do anything dishonest," Harry offered, touching her arm with the backs of his fingers. Hermione smiled then, genuinely.
"Thank you, Harry; that means a lot to me. In fact, it's what I came to talk to you about. I'm confused, Harry; I don't know what to do," she admitted, clasping her hands together. "I need advice."
"That's what I'm here for," he responded jovially, grinning for her benefit. Hermione smiled warmly in thanks, and then sighed, frowning.
"Should I try to patch things up with Ron?" she asked, hesitant to make eye contact as he answered. "I was thinking about what he said... that we were doomed to live forever unhappy... and I think I might agree. We're always fighting about something; money, dinner, laundry... everything. We've spent time apart more times than I can remember. Are we really a lost cause?" Harry gaped for a moment, speechless at the burden with which she had encumbered him.
"Hermione... I really don't think it's my place to make that decision. You and Ron-"
"Aren't getting anywhere. We've talked about it, Harry; I never know what to make of it. I just want your opinion. Please, Harry; it would mean so much," she pleaded, staring with widened eyes. Harry sighed.
"Well, in all honesty, I think you're right. You've never been happy; not really. I was truthfully anticipating this," he admitted, however reluctantly. Hermione nodded, hands clasped in her lap.
"That's settled, then. I won't go back to Ron."
"Wait, Hermione; don't be rash. Just because I think that, it doesn't mean it's true..." Harry said, attempting to remove any future guilt from his shoulders. Hermione shook her head.
"It was my decision, Harry. I might very well have come to it even if you disagreed," she stated finally, and Harry remained silent, knowing he could not dissuade her. "Now," Hermione continued. "This presents me with another problem." Harry looked intrigued.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, and Hermione looked away, toward the hands in her lap.
"Well," she began. "There is still the matter of the man I met at the club." Harry's eyes widened in disbelief.
"Do you mean to tell me you were having an affair?" he asked in surprise. "Hermione, that's so unlike you." She shook her head.
"I know, Harry; I know," Hermione said. "I never expected it to get like this; up until Ron left me, I myself was under the impression that I felt nothing for him. That we were just friends, if that... but I went back. I went back to the club, two nights ago, and I met with him. I told him I couldn't see him anymore... and he told me he wanted me. He wants me, Harry; all of me... to be with me." Harry was left momentarily speechless. "I said I needed time, and he told me I could have as much as I wanted... Harry," she said, looking up at him. "What do I do?" Harry sighed.
"This is a problem, isn't it," he said, scratching at his brow. Hermione nodded sadly. "Well," Harry began, trying to remain neutral and supportive. "Do you have feelings for him? This new bloke?" Hermione barely hesitated before nodding.
"I've spent weeks thinking about him," she admitted. "It was so strange; after Ron left, I spent a few hours crying over him... but the next morning I woke up thinking of nothing but the fact that I could never see... -the blond- again." Harry chuckled, despite the situation.
"Hermione, I hate to bear bad news, but if you don't even know this man's name, how can you even consider a serious relationship?"
"Oh, I know his name, Harry," she corrected, but shared naught of his humor.
"Why won't you use it, then?" Harry asked, now innocently confused. Hermione sighed.
"Because, Harry," she started. "His name is Draco Malfoy." Harry looked as if he had been slapped and Hermione refused to look anywhere but her fidgeting fingers.
"You're serious?" he asked, deflating. "Hated me for years, made our lives a living hell, wanted nothing more than to be his father Draco Malfoy? Hermione, are you sure you even want to consider this?"
"Harry," she said in defense, meeting his gaze. "He isn't the same person he was back then, I know him now. I don't know what happened to Draco, Harry, but he isn't Malfoy."
"Hermione, I don't know what he said to you, but..."
"Would he have slept with me if he hadn't changed?" Hermione snapped, cutting off his comment, but Harry's reaction was not what she expected. His eyes narrowed.
"You slept with him?" he asked, spitting the word like dirt from his lips. Hermione nodded.
"Well, yes, Harry," she admitted. "That's what Ron wanted me to do; sleep with someone. I didn't know until afterward who he was."
"And you kept coming back?" he asked. "You slept with Malfoy and went back for more?"
"I didn't intend to," she told him. "I didn't want all this uneven ground between Ron and I... you and I. I didn't want conflict..." Hermione heaved a heavy sigh. "I can't do this if it puts us at each others' throats. Harry, help me. If you want me to break things off with Draco, I will." Harry opened his mouth with a harsh demand on his tongue, but the pleading look in her eyes stopped any such words. She was begging him; asking him to do the right thing. Harry sighed.
"Hermione, if-" he began, but was interrupted as Ron burst through the front door, laughing and dragging a pretty young girl behind him.
"Just let me get my coat," he asked her before walking into the living room and picking a cloak from the hooks on the wall. "Harry, look what I found in the... laundry... room," Ron said as he spun, trailing off at the notice of Hermione. They stared at one another in silence for a moment, words lost in sudden shock. "Hermione..."
"Ron," she returned, voice clipped and professional. The girl near the doorway sensed the tension thickly present in the room and started toward the hallway, frowning.
"Ron, maybe another time?" she suggested, feeling awkward, and Ron looked between the two women.
"No, Amanda; I'm coming," he assured her, following behind with just a fleeting glance over his shoulder for Hermione. She fell victim to a violent shiver as the door closed once more, and Harry turned immediately toward her.
"I think you should do whatever makes you happy," he decreed, finalizing the conversation and eyeing Hermione as if to playfully suggest she not try to wave his judgment. A slow smile spread over her lips.
"Thank you, Harry. That means the world to me."
Draco paced the trampled mat outside his frequented hotel, brow furrowed and arms crossed. She wasn't coming; it was as simple as that. He'd been waiting for what seemed like a fortnight, and she hadn't come. If he waited much longer, haunters of the lounge would be leaving with their dates, not to return for another seven days.
Anyone in their right mind would have left hours ago; not Draco. He convinced himself in modest increments to be patient; one more chime of the church clock, the next green car on the street, one more length of the entrance mat, another step, another breath.
"The next taxi that passes by," he told himself determinedly. "If it doesn't hold her, she can't be coming."
He paced slowly for five more minutes, watching the little street that seemed oddly vacant at such a late hour. It was then that a recognizable black car peeked over the hill, eyes bright as it approached him. The car showed little sign of stopping as it neared the building and Draco held bated breath. It passed him, sending wave-like truth crashing into the coastlines of his mind. She wasn't coming.
Without another thought, Draco began walking, pace quick and haphazard, making his way up the little hill and away from the place to which he'd become so attached. He was walking away from everything: the lounge, his girl; everything he'd ever been sure of was now left forgotten behind his treading feet.
As he made his way up the hill, farther and farther from everything he wanted never to forget, Draco found it harder to continue on. His feet felt heavy and his pace slowed, as if the incline of the hill had increased ten- fold. He wondered if perhaps he should have waited just a little longer; for one more taxi, for one more breath. He continued, forcing himself to move. If he waited for just one more, she might come. She might step out of the very next cab and tease the jealous moonlight with her crystallized breath.
It was decided then; he would wait for one more cab. Determinedly, Draco stopped and spun around, walking with vigor back toward his post. He looked up in fierce resolve, only to be met with the scarcely-clad body of the girl he'd been looking for; the lamb he hoped would find her way home.
Hermione pounced on Draco the moment she reached him, tying her arms around his neck and holding tight as he stumbled.
"Draco," she panted, feeling his arms tie around her. He looked up, over the top of her head, to see his final taxi parked two blocks from the hotel and slowly starting back toward the street; she had run the whole way. Hermione pulled back a moment later, visible breaths spouting quickly through her lips. "I called you and called you and you didn't turn around," she said sadly, as if hurt by his disregard. Draco met her eyes, bringing a hand to rest on her cheek.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, pressing his forehead to hers. "I didn't think you were coming." Hermione nodded, laughing softly.
"I know, I almost didn't," she admitted, voice soft. Draco felt her trembling, clad only in her little black dress, and tied her tighter in his arms. Hermione smiled into the embrace and rested her head sideways against his chest. "I can't believe you waited for me."
"I told you I would," he reminded, smirking into her hair. The night air was frigid and goose pimples were visible on Hermione's bare skin. She retracted the arms tied around his neck and folded them below her as she leaned into his chest, savoring the warmth offered there. "Hell, Hermione," he said, but much softer than ever before. "Must you always risk death to see me?" Draco stepped back from the embrace, ignoring the tiny frown crossing over her lips and quickly unclasping his cloak. He threw it over her shoulders before again tying her in his embrace, marking kisses on her covered head. "I can see it in the post," he jested carelessly, smiling in his euphoria. "Girl dies of exposure while beetling to meet with... her..." Draco began playfully, but trailed off with a frown. Hermione lifted her head from his chest, looking into his peppered eyes.
"Boyfriend?" she provided unsurely, cocking her shoulders slightly, and Draco suffered himself a small smile.
"Is that what we are?" he asked, sounding serious, and Hermione returned his quirky grin.
"I came, didn't I?" she asked and he nodded.
"But is that why?"
"Truthfully..." Hermione began, pretending to look disheartened. "No. The titles are just an effect." She looked up. "I came because I love you."
A/N: I do not own Harry Potter.