The slopes were heaped with packed snow and dusted with a more recent fall. The sun bounced off of it like a mirror and caught the look of exasperation on the young woman's face.
"I know how to ski; I really don't need help," Hermione Granger said pointedly to the muscle-bound man in the thick sweater and down vest, who was determined to give her hands-on instruction.
"Now you just want to bend your knees a little more and lean forward," he said, finding it necessary to put his hands on her slim hips then an arm around her waist.
"I know what I'm doing," she insisted, trying to extricate herself from his grasp.
"Oh, sorry," he said, as he accidentally grazed the side of her breast.
Her temper rose. She was about to pull out her wand, when the mauling instructor suddenly exclaimed, "Whoa, whoaaa...0hhh," as he went sliding without poles in a wide slant that would put him on the bunny slope.
Hermione knew magic when she saw it. She looked around for the source of the spell.
"Don't mention it, happy to help," said a teasing voice behind her.
She looked back and saw a tall, blond young man approaching her, slipping his wand back into the sleeve of his jacket. "Malfoy? What are you doing here?" she asked with open hostility.
Only a few months earlier she and her former classmate from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had fought on opposing sides in a wizards' war that culminated in a fierce battle at the school.
"Thank you just isn't in your vocabulary, is it?" Draco observed, much more jovial than the almond-eyed girl who still glared at him.
"I can take care of myself," she responded coldly, turning back to the slope and launching herself down its diamond facet.
He followed. At the bottom he continued as though uninterrupted, "I have no doubt you can handle yourself against a fresh wizard that you could openly hex, but it didn't look like you had very much experience with handsy Muggles. That requires a little finesse."
"Ah," interjected Hermione, "and you call an Olympic alternate skidding uncontrollably down a beginner's hill an example of a nuanced spell?"
"No," he smirked, "but I call it hilarious."
She smiled in spite of herself. "Yes, it was quite funny."
It occurred to Draco that this was the first time in all the years of their acquaintance that they had smiled at each other. Then he realized he'd missed something. "What did you say?" he asked her.
She rolled her eyes and repeated in an exaggerated tone, "I asked what are you doing here at a Muggle ski lodge?"
He grinned sheepishly and led her to a bench. "Muggle skiing has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years."
"Really," she said, her eyebrows drawn in skepticism.
"Yes," he answered. "You've been to my house. Can you imagine that it's ever been filled with much holiday cheer? So since I was fifteen, I've told my parents that I was spending the holiday with Goyle and then threatened him not to expose me."
Hermione looked at the imperious Draco with surprise. "But how can you stand to be here with Muggles?"
His grin was all smarm. "I won't pretend that there's not an increase in minor accidents while I'm here, but I do find Muggle girls are a bit more tolerable in ski pants, as are some witches," he added, concentrating on the long lines and curves of Hermione's legs under the stretchy fabric.
She stood with her wand raised. "As you said, I know what to do about fresh wizards."
With his legs stretched out and his arms over the back of the bench, Draco cajoled, "Aww, come on, Granger, the minister is meeting with former Death Eaters for reconciliation. Can't we declare our own detente, at least for the time that we're here? Or do you want to continue to be harassed by he-man snow bunnies?"
The laughter and conviviality from the people in the distance, not to mention Malfoy's uncharacteristic pleasantness before her, had their influence on the staunchly principled young witch and she lowered her wand.
"That's better," he said with a wide smile. He pulled out his wand again to quickly remove their skis then slung both pairs over his shoulder. "Come on," he offered, "I'll buy you a hot chocolate."
In the lodge, festooned with evergreens, the usually antagonistic pair sat in front of the open fireplace. Hermione watched the fire and Draco found himself more interested in the effect the flames had on her skin, eyes and hair.
"What brings you here?" he finally asked her. She turned her head to where he sat in a cushioned chair catty-cornered to her sofa.
"I'm here with my parents. They asked me to spend the holiday with them after I found them in Australia and restored their memories."
He looked at her quizzically and she explained, "I altered them before the start of the war to protect them."
"Very clever," Draco said in a low voice. "I've really never given you credit for what a good witch you are."
Her face, warmed by the fire, registered her surprise at his compliment. "Thank you."
Draco was beginning to feel overly warm. He pushed up the sleeves of his sweater and moved to the other end of the sofa so he wasn't quite so close to the fire. "What's Weasley doing without you? I thought the two of you were inseparable, the good 'ship Grangley and all."
Draco chuckled. "How is it that I know more about Muggle culture than you? Couples or 'ships'," he emphasized with air quotes, "are identified by a blending of their names."
"Oh," she responded, turning back to the fire, "well, there is no Grangley now, if there ever was." Her voice sounded both bitter and sad.
He knew it was wrong to feel a lift in his heart but still, he felt it. "I'm sorry to hear that."
Hermione looked at him from the corner of her eye. "Then why are you smiling?"
He shrugged. "I'm making efforts to change the way I feel about people, not only Muggles, but some from Hogwarts that I didn't let myself get to know, but I really can't stand that prat or Potter."
She looked at him and grinned. "Well, I suppose you know their feeling for you is mutual. Then what makes me different from my accomplices?"
"You mean besides the ski pants," he said boldly, throwing his arm over the back of the sofa and twisting his body toward her.
She leaned farther back in the corner. "I'd like to think I have a little more to offer," she said, somewhat offended.
"Oh sure," Draco quickly amended, "You're noble, brave, intelligent, resourceful, et cetera, but never underestimate the value of beautiful legs," he concluded, his grey eyes absorbing the firelight to remind Hermione of sunrise.
She gave her head a small shake and stood. "I should return to my cabin. My parents are probably back from shopping by now."
He rose to stand next to her and she looked up at him. She was taller than Harry and only a bit shorter than Ron, so looking up at a young man felt different to her.
"Can we meet here tomorrow morning? I'll keep you from being bothered by the Olympic has-been."
She dropped her eyes. "I don't think so. I wouldn't want to distract from everyone else's ski pants." Raising her head again, she concluded, "Thank you for the hot chocolate. Good-bye, Draco."
He watched her leave, his shoulders drooping in disappointment, and recalled their unpleasant past...
...Nobody cares for your opinion, you filthy little mudblood...He dropped his blond head and sat back down, pressing his fingers harshly against his temples. How dare you speak to me!...He winced. You foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach!
He leaned back with a heavy sigh, ignoring the two young women wearing eager smiles, who had just sat down in the chairs on either side of him.
Was there too much bad history between him and the brilliant, intriguing Muggle-born for them to overcome? Could he make her forget all that, or, at least, put it aside? I got this far, didn't I? he said to himself. He rose from the sofa with renewed purpose. "I'll get what I want," he proclaimed, earning even more attention from the pretty Muggles flanking him.