Ebb and Flow
The grassy areas were bluish-green and the ideal height and lushness, thanks to Hagrid and his magical pink umbrella. The stones in the castle walls and walkways reflected the bright sun so that they looked like large, misshapen jewels. Everyone who walked out the front doors involuntarily gasped in amazement at the perfect day.
Draco, however, seemed immune to the lure of nature. He stood in the middle of the foyer, his eyes trained on the great staircase, awaiting his personal light. And then he saw her. Hermione descended the stairs slowly, with an anxious, bashful smile.
Draco felt the darkness in his mind and heart lessening with every step that she drew closer. "You look very pretty," he said when she finally stood next to him.
She was wearing a casual spring dress in a water-color floral pattern that fell just above her knees, accentuating her coltish legs. She'd put her hair up and wisps that escaped the 'do softened her face.
"Thank you," she said through her nervousness. "You look nice too."
Draco's loose, knee-length shorts and button down shirt, open to the top of his chest, and sleeves rolled up to his elbows, showcased the sleek definition of his limbs.
"Shall we?" asked Hermione, holding out her hand. He took her delicate fingers in his and they walked out the front door together. Draco smiled as she too gasped at the best day of the season.
They walked toward the front gate of the school. "Hermione," Draco finally said, "does this mean you forgive me?"
"For a fit of temper?" she said lightly. "I'd be a terrible hypocrite if I couldn't."
He stopped short and she staggered back to his side, like a stretched rubber band returned to its natural state.
"No," he faltered, "for the...Don't make me say it, Hermione."
She looked up at him in confusion.
He rubbed the back of his neck, rolled his eyes, made sure there was no one within range of his voice and choked out the statement, "For having sex with somebody else the night of your meeting."
Draco looked around again, then through clenched teeth, asked, "Why are you smiling?"
She shrugged a shoulder with a nonchalant expression. "I'm just wondering how you could have practically embedded me in the sofa after the meeting, then had the strength to shag someone else."
Draco's mouth fell open in surprise. "It was you?"
"Who else?" she confirmed with a laugh, resuming the walk.
"I...had no idea," he admitted.
"Hmm," Hermione said, "I think somebody in the meeting might have done some sort of memory charm. I'll have to talk to them about that. I think we've been a bit too casual about something that could have serious consequences."
"Agreed," Draco nodded. "Anything that would cause me to forget making love to you shouldn't be allowed." He stopped short again, just outside the gates, and tugged, so that she bumped into his chest and he wrapped his arms around her in a loving vise.
"I can kiss you now?" he asked, shutting down her thought process with the spears of his steel grey eyes.
She managed a nod, then felt her heart jump to her throat as his lips fell softly on hers. His tongue was like a feather, lightly tickling her own. She closed her eyes, perfectly willing to live and die in that Utopian state.
"Have you missed me?" he asked, moving his full, gentle lips around her face.
"A bit," she said, recovering enough of her senses to tease him.
He snickered over her mouth. "A bit, eh? I've missed you a lot. It's been a week since I've held you or felt you...this time."
He cradled her face in his hands, the optic spears now blunted with melancholy. "I've had to miss you too many times. Don't do this to me again, Granger. Can't we resolve whatever it is that holds you back, holds us back?"
She took in the pinpoints of color refracted in his platinum blond hair and skin and the barely pink lips that she wanted again. "That's why I asked you to come with me," she said, lifting on tiptoe so she could reach his mouth, unheeding of possible witnesses to her naked desire for him.
His arms tightened around her again. Their heart rates rose together in glad reunion.
"I hope wherever we're going isn't public," Draco said in a husky voice.
She smiled, catching her breath, "Well, it's somewhat public."
"Fine," he said, playing with her strands of hair, "Then I'll be somewhat under control."
With a simper suggesting tolerance, she grabbed his hand and thought of their destination. They knew from experience that Apparation while kissing was possible.
The only thing that could have distracted Draco away from her was the sudden snap of salty air and rumble of surf. His feet sank in dunes of pale sand. Hermione quickly pulled away from him and began chanting.
"Where are we?" he asked, slipping off his shoes. The granules of sand tickled his bare feet.
"Shell Cottage," she answered, moving to another spot to mark their perimeter.
He marveled at her intensity as she cast her spell. He wondered about her designation of the beach, since the only house in view was some distance from them and barely visible. Prominent among the sands and dry stalks of sea grass was a small area of colorful flowers. Draco walked toward it and realized it was the burial place of his first confidant and friend.
He knelt before it and said in a choked voice, "I'm sorry, Dobby."
Hermione glanced over her shoulder at the towheaded man, as she completed their private beach. She went to join him and noticed a small bowl of rice pudding with raisins and currants next to the rock that bore the free elf's name. She looked at the bowl in confusion, knowing well the restrictions against producing food from thin air.
"I know a restaurant where it's on the menu," Draco explained. "I summoned it from there."
That made sense. Hermione nodded in understanding.
"Who planted the flowers?"
"Luna," Hermione answered. She saw him wince at the name.
"And the headstone?" he asked haltingly.
Draco sighed and walked away from the tiny grave to look out to the sea. Hermione was silent at his side.
"I try to put the past behind me," he said with gallows humor, "but that just gives it the chance to bite me in the arse." He sat heavily on the dunes.
Hermione felt terrible. It was a mistake to come here, the place to which she and the others had come after escaping from Draco's house.
She had hoped that bringing him here, as she'd promised, to Dobby's grave would open his heart, the way she'd seen it that day when he'd spoken affectionately of the elf. She'd thought that would make her more comfortable telling him what she wanted to tell him.
She saw Draco's fingers digging into the warm sand, as if searching for the bottom of it.
He sighed again. "I should have done something. I wasn't there with them long but when I was...Not even Weasley could stand seeing them suffer. Of course he and Potter had to rescue everyone." He turned his head to the side and watched the sand sift through the funnel created by his fist. "No wonder everyone prefers them."
"Not everyone," Hermione said, moving to kneel in front of him. "I know all three of you very well and I prefer you." She lowered her eyes and took a deep, brave breath, then looked into his sad face. "I love you, Draco."
She gulped, waiting for response. After an awkward silence she dropped her head again, her voice repeating in her mind, with the sounds of crashing waves and Draco's indifference. She felt a finger under her chin lifting her head. The face she saw had less strain but was just as serious.
"Are you sure?" Draco asked her.
She bit her lip and nodded. He leaned closer. "Say it again."
Her eyes concentrated on his lips that neared her own. "I love you," she repeated breathily, any further comment cut off by their kiss.
He moved closer, her back against his chest and nestled her between his upraised knees and arms. They were quiet with their thoughts and the ocean's song until he finally spoke.
"When did you first know?"
She ran her fingers over the muscles of his forearms. "When I came to your house. It was just to shut up your cheer section, but the surge I felt through my body when I saw you...It wasn't just sexual, though there was that," she said with an earthy chuckle. "There was such a sense of relief in being with you again. I knew all of that couldn't just be infatuation."
"Why didn't you tell me then?" he asked, running his lips across the back of her exposed neck.
She shifted slightly to catch a glimpse of him. "Why didn't you?" Hermione turned back to view the cresting waves and the seagulls who played with them, lifting just out of their reach. "I thought of you as my weakness."
"Shouldn't your love be your one weakness?" Draco asked, nuzzling the side of her face.
She shrugged. "That's a magical luxury. I've grown up around Muggles where couples are inter-dependent. Sharing strength is more important.
He raised his head and joined her in contemplation of the sea. "And I can't give you that?"
"Well, she said with a tilt of her head, "I doubted it, until you told me that you wouldn't have left me and gave me your memory, where you showed such courage and feeling. I started thinking then that I could rely on you. I almost told you on Valentine's Day."
"Before we were so rudely interrupted," he said drily.
She smiled and nodded.
"Then I was back in competition with Weasley," he added with a growl.
"Nooo," Hermione chided him. "I needed time to think of us revealed to Ron and everyone else. The anonymity of Madam Puddifoot's was fun, but I didn't only want something clandestine with a bad boy."
"Alright," he sighed with relief, "then why didn't you tell me when you came back to Hogwarts?"
She sighed in hesitation. "You might think it's silly."
"I'm sure I will, but tell me anyway," he said, pushing his hand up past the hem of her skirt.
In a rush she admitted, "At that point I thought it would be anti-climactic."
Draco's hand stopped. "What?"
"I was afraid if I told you after all that time that you'd realize it didn't mean that much to you after all."
He huffed. "Hermione," he said, raising his head as if looking for an answer in the fluffy white clouds, "how can someone so smart be—"
"I know, I know," she interrupted. "I'm thick about love."
"Yes, you are. It's all I've wanted to hear for months."
Hermione dropped her head in embarrassment.
He turned her face to him. "Hermione-my-bonny-Jean-Granger, I love you as only a Slytherin can—slowly, reluctantly, then completely and irrevocably." The declaration ended with another breath-taking kiss.
She looked up at him and answered, "I love you as only a Gryffindor can—whole-heartedly and proudly."
With that she jumped up and moved awkwardly across the dunes toward Shell Cottage, where she raised her arms and waved her wand.
"What are you doing?" Draco asked, leaning on his arms and stretching out his legs.
She walked back to him, noting that he seemed to be one with his environment, his light coloring blending in with the sand and sunshine.
"I lifted the privacy charms so people can see us," she explained, adopting his posture. "That's Ron's brother's house. I don't care if Weasleys or anyone else see us. She laid her head on his shoulder. "I'm proud to be with you."
With that gesture on her part, Draco knew he needed to make one of his own. "You know," he began, "I'll always have some secrets. It's just my nature. I promise they won't be big and I'll tell you one when it's time, like now."
He rose to stand over her and slowly raised his bent arms, thinking majestic...flight...show her.
Hermione gasped as her lover suddenly changed into an owl, the owl that had delivered messages from her lover. "You..."
He returned to his human form and his seat next to her.
"You..." she said again.
"I wanted to see your reaction to the letters I sent you. Are you all right?" he asked, seeing that her mouth and eyes gaped and that she'd yet to say anything beyond the single syllable.
She nodded, closing her mouth, but the brown eyes were still wide, like the expanse of beach. "Is it that easy to be an animagus?"
"Not easy," Draco said, "but even that Pettigrew rat could do it," he reminded her. Her adventures with Ron and Harry were now common knowledge in school.
"Hmm," Hermione said, getting that look of challenge accepted in her eye. "My patronus is an otter."
Draco burst into deep laughter. "An otter? Waddling up the great staircase?" He held her close, beginning a verbal seduction. "Think, Hermione," he wooed while brushing his lips over her, "an animal like you—clever, beautiful. How would you come to me?"
She felt her head swim and body shiver. How could she sneak down to him? What kind of animal met his description? What would she be?
"How can you come to me?" Draco continued, "brilliant, beautiful, crawling in my bed." He felt her hand on his leg then the sensation changed.
Instead of a pretty brunette, there was a small Brazilian Rainbow Boa snake, crawling along his leg, its iridescent bronze skin streaked by colors of the spectrum.
Draco leaned back and moaned, as the vixenish viper coiled around his thigh, then slithered inside his shorts. His eyes glazed as the snake extended her exploration, before peeking her head out of the loose waistband. The boa shimmied under his shirt and all over his chest, grazing its fangs on the surface before coming out of the collar of his shirt.
"Change back," he said hoarsely, "give me something to hold onto."
Hermione lay next to him on the sand, panting from the thrill of her first transformation. "I can't believe I did that. A snake?"
"It makes sense," he said, leaning over her on one elbow. "You're patient, methodical and your strike is fast and lethal. I just hope you're not venomous," he chuckled, showing her the pink scratches on his chest from her pointed snake's teeth.
She giggled beneath his lips until their kiss became more intense, demanding.
"Hermione," he said with raspiness in his tone, "this is a lovely spot, and I thank you for showing me Dobby's resting place, but even a secluded beach isn't private enough for what I have in mind."
She smiled in agreement. "Let's go to the cottage," she said, hooking her arms around his neck. "It's my turn to make you shriek."