"They're both so miserable; why can't we help them?" Finola asked her sister witches.
"Because Hermione has to figure this out for herself," Jean explained.
"I don't know that we've been that much help anyway," Hester opined. "What have you ever done with your sniping but keep her awake at night?"
Finola answered passionately, "We helped open her heart and made her defend her love."
"True," Clothilde spoke for the first time. "She never would have allowed herself to feel anything for someone so different from herself without our influence. Forgiveness became personal, not just a noble concept. And Draco allows her to relax; she's happy with him."
"Was," pointed out Hester. "How happy does she look now?"
"Our energy is waning; can't you feel it?" Jean asked.
Her sisters were quiet. "Hermione is the brightest witch of her age. We have reason to be very proud of her and trust her to make the right decision," Jean concluded.
"Maybe just a little dream would help," said the romantic Finola, with her thick brogue.
In a rare moment, Clothilde agreed with her. "It should be a very special dream, our last action for her...for them."
"Just don't make it too smutty," suggested the Puritan Hester. "Loyalty's important too." She sighed, remembering her husband, who had offered no protest when she was drowned in a witches' scourge in the Colonies.
"Yes," Jean added her contribution. "And it should highlight Draco's more honorable traits; it should show her if he's worthy," she said, thinking of young Tommy G. Her return to the wizarding world had prevented her from having to spend her last years in the confinement of a care home, but she regretted that she'd never seen her favorite Muggle again, and that he had come to resent all that magic took from him. Even with that, through Hermione, she knew him to be a wonderful, strong, compassionate man.
"But it should also make clear that Hermione has responsibility for their love too." Clothilde had learned that lesson well in her three marriages.
"Yes, yes, all of that," Finola conceded, waving her arm as if she still held her honeysuckle branch wand, "as long as most of the time is spent in each other's arms" (and naked,) she added under her breath.
Unaware of the ladies' continued interest in her and feeling quite abandoned, Hermione attempted to come to terms with her emotions, passions and reservations.
Draco watched her constantly but made no move to talk to her, realizing he had to give her time, even if it was killing him.
She would look at him out of the corner of her eye, noticing during meals that he too seemed to have lost his appetite, and throughout the day, that his step was plodding and lethargic. Of course, other girls tried to...console him, when it became apparent that he and Hermione weren't together anymore, but his lack of enthusiasm for any advance quickly dissuaded them.
Hermione knew that the torment had to stop, for both of them, but what should she do? Before, she would have talked to Ginny about it. But this wasn't a subject in which Ron's sister could be objective. In her desperation, Hermione sneaked out of the castle, using the passageway from the Room of Requirement to the Hog's Head tavern. From there, she Disapparated to her parents' house...and found them in flagrante.
"What's wrong, Myna Bird," Meredith asked when she'd put on a silk dressing gown and joined her daughter on the new heather tweed divan in the living room.
Hermione rested her head on the silken shoulder. "Oh, Mother, I'm so confused," she whimpered. "Draco wants me to love him; I think I do, but what if it doesn't work out? What if we become...stale with each other? I don't think I could bear it."
Meredith patted Hermione's head with her right hand, on which glowed a moonstone ring. "There are always ebbs and flows, honey. If the current stayed strong all the time, you'd both drown."
Hermione smiled at her mother's uncharacteristic sustained metaphor. "And you and Dad are in a flow now?"
"Well, he's still the most considerate, adorable man. Look what he gave me."
Hermione held her mother's fingers to catch the ring in the best light. "Wow, that's really beautiful," she said, eyeing the stone carefully. Moonstone, she knew, could renew passion and ensure love. "When did he give it to you?"
"The day you returned to school," Meredith answered, with the radiance of a well-satisfied woman.
Hermione smirked. That considerate, adorable hypocrite. He'd been so appalled at the idea of Draco's giving her a magical bracelet (which it wasn't) then he gives her mother one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs on earth—and during a full moon, when it's at the height of its potency. When had he learned about the magical properties of moonstone?
"You've always been careful and planned for every eventuality, dear," her mother said as Thomas came into the room to join them, dressed just a little more formally than his wife, whom he put his arm around as he sat next to her.
"But you can't plan love," Meredith continued, smiling at Thomas and holding her daughter's hand. "All you can do is enjoy it."
"And don't forget why you wanted each other in the first place," Thomas interjected with a wink.
Hermione smiled at her parents, more comfortable and happy with each other than she'd seen them in years. She hugged them both and left them in their candle-lit, domestic bliss.
Well, there's the overwhelming physical attraction, Hermione said to herself minutes later, after returning to the castle and stealthily making her way through the dark, silent corridors to the tower.
I wonder what he's doing now, she continued, as she studied some of the garish paintings that studded the stone walls. She had to admit that Muggle art was generally better than that produced by witches and wizards, maybe because things were just harder for the Muggles. It gave them a more soulful outlook.
Of course, Draco's art, much of which now decorated the Shrieking-Shack-slash-love-nest, was quite a bit better than most of what she saw in the castle.
She'd permitted one portrait of herself. The rest was his lovely landscapes and character sketches of strangers from all the fantastic places he'd been. He had spoken of returning to them—this time with her.
Has he been able to sleep this past week? she asked herself, climbing the last set of stairs to reach the tower.
She gave the password to a disapproving Fat Lady. The common room was dark, save for the fireplace. It lit the windows on the back wall, where Hermione thought that she saw an outline of a large bird—an owl? But by the time she'd walked over to the window, whatever she'd seen was gone.
She tiptoed up the echoing stone stairs to her dorm room, returning to her list of reasons for wanting Draco Malfoy.
He's brilliant and entertaining; he understands me. He has a temper, but so do I. At least, they don't seem to clash. We get up in arms about different things.
In her bed, Hermione took the scroll of his written apology out of the drawer in her bedside table. She opened it to read yet again, and the feather from Draco's owl that was rolled up in it floated to her lap. Outside the window, she thought she heard a flapping sound, like wings, but when she turned in that direction, she saw nothing.
Shaking her head in exhaustion, she returned the letter and feather to her table and lay back on her pillows to sleep.
"What do you think?" Draco asked, as he and Hermione Apparated into the bright, open room with the ruffled curtains on the windows. She walked toward the wall of bookshelves and saw copies of not only most of her favorite books from the Hogwarts library, but a good collection of Muggle literature as well.
Hermione turned in her bed, remembering the happy, expectant look on his face, as she next wandered over to the rocking chair by the fireplace and saw the knitting basket, filled with skeins of wool in different colors, sitting next to it.
She sat on the large white and green checked sofa in front of the windows and turned to the whitewashed end table to sniff the vase of spring flowers.
"It's lovely," she sighed, looking at him in wonder.
His relieved smile seemed to dim everything else in the room. "Are you hungry? The kitchen is fully stocked. I can make us lunch."
He answered with the Malfoy smirk. "One of my multitude of talents that you have yet to sample."
Hermione moaned softly in her sleep at the thought of him then removing his robe.
He wore a pair of slacks and a v-neck sweater. She walked over to him, conscious of the hollow in his throat, from which exuded the most wonderful, musky scent.
She could feel her heart and tremors in her legs, as she moistened her lips and said in what she hoped was a seductive voice, "I'm not hungry just yet. Why don't you show me more of your decorating talents upstairs."
He grinned and swooped her into his arms and carried her, like a blushing bride, to the second floor loft, and straight to the bed.
She smiled faintly behind her closed lids, as she relived the heat, caresses, tasting, whispers and exaltations that went on between them for hours.
For the first time in years, Hogsmeade denizens heard shrieks from the site of the now-burned shack.
"Draco," she whispered, sinking deeper into her covers as her dream, the product of her ancestors' combined efforts, continued.
"I knew we'd be this good together," Draco said throatily, as they lay cuddled like two spent and happy spoons.
The red satin sheets soughed beneath them, echoing their every movement.
There was an abundance of mirrors in different shapes and sizes on the walls, all framed in antique silver. "We'll never look better than we do now," he reasoned. "Let's see it."
The thick, patterned carpet muffled sounds and, as Hermione discovered when she went to the marbled loo, appeared to swallow her feet.
Decadent and delightful were the words that came to mind whenever she thought of the cottage, or Draco.
She awoke with a heavy sigh. The dream had been wonderful, but she'd never doubted the aspects of Draco that it had highlighted. She knew he was romantic, thoughtful, playful and adept as a lover, but would he always expect their time together to be monumental? Could he even understand ebb and flow?
She closed her bed hangings and fell back on the mattress with a loud, frustrated huff. If he can't accept the quiet, unexciting periods of a relationship, would she disappoint him and would he, in turn, break her heart?
She began to feel muggy in her velvet cocoon. She tossed off her covers and sought a comfortable position, as her eyes became heavy again...
Draco's face and voice soothed her for the rest of the night, saying such things as, You're the nicest thing about me...Hermione, be safe...I would never have left you...Help me convince her that I love her.
She awoke feeling more confident, happy and unburdened than she had all week. She hurriedly dressed and flew down the stairs to the Great Hall. It was French Toast Saturday and she ate with gusto, then, disregarding all of the eyes that followed her, she headed across the sun-lit room to the Slytherin table.
As usual, Draco had been watching her and stood as she approached.
"Would you like to go somewhere with me today?" she asked him.
Her pulse quickened and insides jumped, as if Imperioed by his slow grin and sparkling, silver eyes.
"Anywhere," he answered.
Her responding smile was timid. "Good," she said, pushing back a molasses curl and dropping her eyes. "I'll meet you at the front door in half an hour...?"
You can't plan love's path; you can only enjoy it...Don't forget why you wanted each other in the first place.
Hermione turned her parents' words of wisdom into a refrain, her mantra, as she hurried back up the stairs to prepare for her day with Draco.