The sound of carols and buzz of conversation in the lodge made for a pleasant atmosphere for Hermione's breakfast with her parents, up to the moment that two giggling young women entered with Malfoy. She tried to brush off the twinge that she felt as annoyance at his being there, but she couldn't stop glancing at them or gripping her fork more tightly when the girls went into a new spurt of laughter.
"All of this noise seems to be giving me a headache," she explained to her parents as she rose from her chair. "I think I'll go back to the cabin and lie down for a while."
"Alright, dear. We're having lunch with a couple we met yesterday in the village so if we don't see you on the slopes, it will be later this evening," her mother said.
Hermione gave a tight nod and left the lodge. "It's my own fault," she ruminated in a small voice walking with her head down toward the cabin. "I chose Ron's family over them so many times, they had to develop other interests." She felt the sting of her first tears on her chafed face. "Now that I don't have Ron, I don't have his family either. I really don't have anyone."
"Feeling all right, Granger?" Hermione raised her head and saw Draco standing before her. There was no reason to ask how he'd gotten there. He'd simply Apparated from the lodge to block her path.
"How did you get away from your tolerable Muggles?" she asked snidely, walking around him. "For that matter, why did you get away from your tolerable Muggles?"
He fell into step beside her. "You're much more interesting and just as pretty." She turned up her red, tear-stained face to him to indicate her cynicism at his remark.
"Why are you crying on holiday? Is it because of Weasley?" he asked.
Hermione shook her head vigorously. "I'm not crying; it's just cold," she answered, folding her arms across her chest as she continued toward the cabin.
"Then why don't you just Apparate to wherever you're going, do a spell to keep warm, something?"
She stopped and turned on him. Why was he suddenly being considerate of her when he'd been so horrible to her in the past? She unleashed on him the anger and frustrations that she'd collected for some time. "Because I'm a Mudblood, remember?" she shouted, taking advantage of their being the only people in the vicinity. "I'm a lesser creature, right? I don't deserve the comforts of magic."
Draco looked down. "You've earned your magic," he said softly. "You've studied and practiced your craft and it's obvious that somewhere in your family tree, there were powerful wizards and witches. I'm sorry for the things I've said to you, for hurting you. Please, just...let me get around it. I'm not going to Obliviate you, so I wish you could think of me as a different person than the one who did those things. Think of me as someone you can like."
Hermione's strong jaw seemed to soften, releasing some of its tension. "Why?" she asked. "Why do you care all of a sudden about my liking you? And don't say it's because of my legs."
He sighed deeply, pushing enough visible air out of his body to momentarily block his view of the girl before him. "It's more than that," he said, beginning to pace. "You're a good person. You might know a lot of them but I don't. I'm really trying to be better myself. Maybe I need somebody to help me with that, someone that I can model myself on."
She gave a humorless laugh. "You can't model yourself on me," she said, resuming her stroll to her cabin. "We have absolutely nothing in common."
He put his hands on her arms and turned her to face him. "We have more in common with each other than we do with anyone else here, and not just magic. I saw you with your parents. That forced familiarity... I know it well."
He saw the tears pooling anew in her brown sugar-colored eyes. He produced a handkerchief and handed it to her. "I'm staying here as long as you are," he said, "and while we're here, I want you to think of me as your ally and friend."
Hermione dabbed her eyes and leaned weakly against him as he pulled her into a hug.
I might never want to leave, he said to himself, for the first time in his life offering comfort to a good person having a bad day.
Over the next few days the young couple discovered that they had more in common than they would have imagined. They had similar appreciation for music, books and ironic humor. They'd both been very good students and were better than the average witch and wizard.
"See that woman sitting alone at the table by the window and the slouching man who just walked in?" Draco asked, as he and Hermione were having dinner together. She nodded.
"I can make them fall in love," he said assuredly.
"You shouldn't do that," she whispered anxiously, grabbing his arm holding his wand under the table.
"Relax," he said with a lazy tone, giving the wand a flick. The man suddenly seemed drawn to something at the bank of windows. The small woman, with her dark blonde hair pulled into a tight bun, reached for her water pitcher while engrossed in a paperback novel. The pitcher turned over, its contents dousing the tall man, as he passed by her table.
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed the woman, jumping up with her napkin to try to ineffectively dry the soaked pants. She slipped on the water spilled on the floor and the man caught her in his arms, just as the serving staff hurried over to help clean up the mess. The man and woman smiled at each other and went to sit together at a dry table.
Hermione smiled in spite of herself. "That's very cute," she said, watching as the woman tugged her hair out of its bun and the man sat up taller, "but it's risky to try to make people fall in love."
Draco shrugged. "I just brought them together. What people do with the time they have together," he said, staring intently at his dinner partner, "is up to them."
She returned his look, her face flushed. He moved his wand to his other hand then grasped hers, interweaving their fingers. She accepted the contact. "People shouldn't waste the time they have together," he said. Hermione nodded in agreement.
Draco was deep in thought as they walked toward her family's cabin later that night, still holding hands, their feet crunching in the snow. "Do you think I'm weak, Hermione?"
"What do you mean?"
He led her off the path to a clearing, where he created a fire and a cozy bench next to it. He set her down there but didn't seem to be able to sit himself. "I never acted as honorable or brave as you or Potter, or even Weasley," he said, pacing again. "Most of what I've done has been because of fear—trying to kill Dumbledore, joining the Death Eaters, leaving the battle with my mother and father. I'm pathetic and weak."
Hermione was surprised that he would broach this subject with her, then realized she was the only person to whom he could mention his self-disappointment. "Sit, Draco," she said, patting the space next to her. He sat down heavily, his entire body radiating with disgust.
"No, I don't think you're weak. I think you were raised in a way that highlighted your worst traits, rather than your best. You were never encouraged to be brave, just obedient."
"Hmph," said the young man, sitting next to her sheepishly, with his hands shoved into his jacket pockets. "So what are my best traits?"
Hermione turned to him and laid a hand on his arm. "You're tenacious and inventive, open to change, surprising, appealing..."
Draco raised his downcast eyes to her.
"Umm," she stammered, suddenly shivering, "You're...uh..."
He put his arms around her. "That's enough," he said softly. "All I want to know now, is if I'm good enough for you."
She swallowed hard, as his fingers traced the planes of her face and his lips moved closer. This time she didn't back away.
"You can kiss me back, Hermione. It won't kill you," he whispered.
She found herself relaxing in his arms, then felt the scratch of leaves on her head. She looked up and saw that Malfoy had produced a plant that was snaking its way from a nearby oak tree, to which it was attached.
"Mistletoe," she said with a laugh.
"A lot of mistletoe," he responded, his lips reaching hers again after obediently pulling off a few of the small, white berries. "This is going to take a while."