A Day and A Night

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Chapter 15: A Staircase and A Promise:

Hermione knew that Milo was still watching her as she ran along the open field toward the castle, but she didn’t care. Continuing to run, she didn't look back, not even once. She needed Draco. That was all she could think, was that she needed him. She reached the ruins of the old castle, walked through what would have once been the main doors, into what would have been the great hall, but all that remained were stones and charred beams, and instead of a ceiling, there was now nothing but open, blue sky overhead. She looked at what remained of the once grand, stone staircase, and wondered what this stone edifice once was like, and how it came to be replaced by a pile of ruined, burned out rubble.

Looking around, she called for Draco. He appeared from around a corner. “Finished holding hands with Milo?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

“I wasn’t really holding his hand,” she complained.

“It seemed as if you were having a nice little handholding session with the man.”

“No, it wasn’t that nice,” she said contritely. “In fact, do me a favour. Don’t leave me alone with him again, okay?” She said it so softly, but with such conviction, that he frowned and approached her.

“Did he hurt you?”

“Not really,” she said vaguely.

“Not really?” he said back. “What does that mean? Either he hurt you or he didn't."

"It's not that he hurt me, it's more of what he said to me," she admitted, without getting into specifics.

"What did he say that caused you so much alarm? Do you feel sick or faint again?”

She looked as if she was about to say something important to him, but instead she pleaded, “Please, just promise me.”

He needed to know what the man had said to her, but she seemed adamant that she wasn’t going to tell him, at least not right now, so Draco said, “I’m your bloody bodyguard, right? I’m here to protect you from everything, including him, so I’ll protect you from him.” He would protect her with his life if it came to that.

“Do you really think he’s a suspect?” she asked.

He started down a corridor, but stopped. He turned back and said, “No, I don’t. I saw his expression. He looked shocked when he saw that girl’s body. I wonder if there are more bodies out there.”

“I hope not,” she said honestly.

“So do I,” he answered. He slowly reached out for her, again taking her wrist instead of her hand. That seemed important to Hermione, but she let it pass. He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and held it lightly as they walked. He said, “I think the girls were murdered here, at this castle.”

“The bodies weren’t found here though, right?” she asked.

He continued to lead her down a corridor, until they found some stone steps that led downwards. He lit his wand, and then he lit several sconces that were on the walls. He said, “No, they were both found in similar graves as the new grave, in the woods, half buried, but they weren’t murdered there, we’re sure, because not enough evidence was found. They were studying the castle, so I wonder if they were killed here.”

They entered another tunnel, which afforded them no light since this one was underground. The fire that destroyed this once stately castle apparently didn’t touch this level, but still there were several fallen beams overhead. Draco ducked a few times, and once he even reached over and placed his hand on her head, to help her to duck under a fallen beam.

She lit her wand as they climbed lower still, down more steps. He said, “Dungeons, I suppose.”

She didn’t respond, for no response was necessary, since it was apparent that they were, in fact, in dungeons. After a few more twists and turns she said, “Do you still have the rucksack with Sandra’s journal?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“I read that they were studying the runes in the dungeons,” Hermione said.

“Hence why I’m leading you there,” Draco said sarcastically.

“I’m sorry to rehash things you already know,” she snipped back. “Sometimes I don’t know what you know and what you don’t know, and you don’t seem to keep me very well informed.”

He snapped back, “Why should I, when you seem to know everything.”

She stopped and pulled her wrist from his hand. “Why are you being boorish and mean again?”

He almost whined, “What do you want from me? Hand holding and storytelling, like Milo?”

“Just give me a few answers,” she quipped.

“You know as much about the case as I do,” he offered.

“I’m not referring to that. What were you thinking when you smelled my blood? What were you feeling when Milo took my hand? Did you feel anything? Did you care?”

Why did she want to go back to that? “Can we get to work?” he asked. He turned to go.

“Please, answer my questions,” she implored.

“I don’t have any answers, and that’s the truth,” he shouted. “Listen, for the remainder, let’s not get personal with each other, okay? We’ll work together, but my thoughts and feelings are my thoughts and feelings. Don’t go out of your way to touch me, or talk to me, and don’t ask questions I can’t answer. Let’s solve these murders and get the hell out of here.”

He walked down the hall toward two large, double, wooden doors. He lit torches that were in holders by each side of the doors. He started to open the doors, but he was aware that she was no longer behind him. He turned, cast his wand light back down the corridor, and he saw her retreating figure going back down the hallway, toward the steps that would lead out of the dungeons.

He ran after her. When she was on the middle of the stairs, and he was at the bottom step, he said, “Please, Granger, can’t we forget everything else but the case at hand?”

She turned to him and asked with an even voice, “Do you want me to forget the kiss that we shared in the bookstore, because I don’t want to forget it. It was one of the nicest kisses I’ve ever had.”

He shut his eyes, as if in pain. His thoughts went fleetingly to that kiss. He too thought it was one of the nicest kisses he had ever had. Immobile, and with hardly any sound, he said, “Forget the kiss. It shouldn’t have happened, and it was a mistake.”

“Do you want me to forget the fact that you tasted my blood?” she asked carefully, avoiding the word ‘suck’, and adding, “And that it didn’t disgust me, it only shocked me.”

He closed his eyes a second time. He opened them slowly and said, “I want us both to forget that. That was something borne from the dark magic of those woods and nothing more.” He said that to her even as his brain shouted…
’LIAR! You wanted to suck her blood! You wanted to taste it and you want to do it again!’ It was that last thought that scared him the most. He did have to protect her from himself, because he did want to do it again. The realization of that thought made him sick and sad, and he couldn’t ask her to understand it, if he didn’t understand it.

He closed his eyes a third time. He wanted all the unpleasant thoughts and feelings to go away. His mind was still wandering, his feelings dark and full of flashes of dread and fear. He wasn’t aware that she had climbed down the last few steps and was now right in front of him. “Should I forget that last night you whispered to me that I was your mate?” she asked.

His eyes flew open at that question and he stared right into her face. He dropped his wand from the shock of it, the sound of the wood hitting the stone steps and then the ground, as it made its trek to the bottom, rivaled the sound of his own heart beating right out of his chest.

He said, “I never.” That was all he could say.

In response she said, “You did. I heard you. I wasn’t asleep, and what’s more, I believe you, with every fiber of my body, I believe it to be true. When Milo touched me, all I could think was that it was wrong, and that the only person who should touch me is you. I can’t ignore it, even if you want me to, even if you tell me to forget it, I can’t do that, Malfoy, no more than I can ignore the way I’m beginning to feel for you.” She reached for his face, but he was quicker. He trapped her wrist in his hand, and pulled it down to her side.

Then he closed his eyes a final time. Everything about her intoxicated him, her scent, her hair, her eyes, and her voice. She was a siren, and he had to answer her call. Everything about her made him want her, drew him to her, and made him mad with want, jealousy, and protectiveness. He drew her toward him and when he opened his eyes, their faces were almost touching. His nose skimmed her face, her jaw line. He said in her ear, “You have to ignore those feelings. You have to forget I said that. Please. I’m not strong enough to ignore it, so you have to be the strong one. Be strong for me, Hermione, just until this is over.”

Each word spoken was like a small kiss to her earlobe. She shivered. How could he expect her to forget it, to ignore it, when a whisper in her ear made her feel like jelly at his feet?

“I’m your mate, you said it, and you meant it, I know you did. I know you do,” she argued. She removed her wrist from his hand, but then in a bold move, she grabbed his hand and held it in hers, their palms touching, and their fingers entwined. “Hold my hand, Draco. I feel it, too. I won’t ignore it. I can’t.”

He wanted to hold her hand and never let go. He wanted to kiss her. He breathed in her aroma. His breath fanned across her cheek and skimmed her ear, and moved her hair. His other hand went to her shoulder, and he played lightly with the material of her jacket before he let his hand clasp her shoulder hard. He still wanted to kiss her. Instead, he said, “Until this is over, it’s safer if you forget all of these things. Keep your distance, because I don’t have the strength to keep mine, and I’m afraid of what I might do to you.”

She leaned forward, kissed his cheek, her lips lingering for a mere moment, but long enough to cause him a sensation of utter ecstasy, because he let out a little moan when her lips touched his cheek, warm, moist and sweet. “You won’t hurt me, and you’re strong, Draco. I know you are,” she whispered back.

His insides felt twisted and torn. He was sure that her trust in him was misplaced. He let go of her hand, and her jacket sleeve, and pushed her slightly away, even as he moved one step down to stand on the floor. He bent down to pick up his wand and said, “I might not be as strong as you think, Hermione, and I might not be able to stop myself. Please, be strong for us both, and stay away from me physically, and forget everything that’s happened between us.” He hurried back toward the double doors.

She sat down on the steps to think. She saw that he had dropped the rucksack. She lifted it, climbed the stairs, and decided to leave him be. If that was what he wanted, so be it.

She would let Draco go his way, and she would go hers. She saw no reason to join him in the dungeons. He wanted her as much as she wanted him, but perhaps he wasn’t strong enough to protect her from his burgeoning feelings and emotions, and from whatever was happening here at Glendora. Since she didn’t understand what was happening any better than he did, maybe she did have to be the strong one and stay away from him. He seemed to be afraid of what he was becoming, and of what he was beginning to feel for her. On the other hand, maybe he was just afraid to admit it all, finally.

Far from the stone stairs, Hermione Granger traveled down twisted, burned out hallways, through unnatural tunnels from fallen beams and stones, through a labyrinth of corridors, throughout a castle that at one time must have been magnificent and beautiful. She finally found a small alcove, which remained mostly intact, so she sat down on the circular, wooden bench within, opened the rucksack, and began to read Sandra’s journal.

She lit a lantern she had found on the floor and propped it on the seat next to her. She would read the journal at leisure later, and compare it to the book of folktales, but for now, she leafed through the pages to see if she could find any mention of the dungeons and tunnels. She wanted to know what the girls had found down there, and if they could have been killed because of something that they had found in this castle, or if it was for something completely different. Maybe there was no rationale reason why they were killed. Nothing about this placed seemed rationale.

Reading the first few passages, she read something about a hot spring to the west of the castle ruins. She had no idea that there were hot springs in this part of Scotland. She made a mental note to examine those springs later. Fanning the pages of the handwritten journal in front of her, she saw crude drawings of runes, notes and passages on the side, and then she saw something interesting. She saw the name, “Milo” written to the side. It was underlined three times.

She stuffed the journal back in the rucksack, threw the rucksack over her shoulder, extinguished the flame of the lantern, and picked up her wand before she lit it. She needed to find Draco. She was acting childish. She was here to help translate the runes, to study the magical DNA, and to help solve the murders, and instead she was running away. She had never run away from anything in her life, and she wasn’t about to start now. Draco needed her; well at least she knew that she needed him.

Finding the opening to the dungeons again, she walked down the stairs, but she didn’t get far. He was sitting on the bottom step. She walked down slowly, dragging her feet, because she didn’t know what to say to him once she reached the bottom, and she was tired of fighting. She was tired of fighting with him, and for him. When she reached the bottom step, she sat down. He looked over at her, his eyes bright. He reached over and his hand cupped her cheek, his thumb brushing her mouth. He said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Never was there a truer statement. He had been waiting for her for most of his life.

Draco waited for her this time because he knew she would be back, even though he tried with all his might to drive her away. When she first started back down the stairs, he held his breath. She sat beside him; he cupped her cheek with his hand, his thumb rubbed the corner of her mouth, and then he said what he had been waiting to say, which was that he had been waiting for her.

What happened next he didn’t even think about, he just did it. He leaned over and kissed the other side of her mouth, not fully on the lips. He took her hand, which rested in her lap. The same hand he had healed, the same hand from which he tasted her blood. The same hand he had been afraid to hold all day. The wound was almost gone. He brought the hand to his mouth, and kissed it squarely on the palm. He kissed between each finger, splaying out her fingers in his hand as they came to his mouth, placing his tongue lightly between each finger before kissing between each one. He turned her hand over, and kissed the top. He had control. He would never hurt her.

This time Hermione closed her eyes.

However, what happened earlier should have been a warning to him. It caused him panic, as it should have, but he didn’t want her to forget everything that had occurred thus far, because he didn’t want to forget it. Her hand was still in his, still at his lips, though he was no longer kissing it. He turned to look at her face. She was trembling…from the cold? From fear? From want? From what? Her eyes were closed. “Open your eyes, Hermione,” he requested.

He looked into her eyes and he only saw trust and warmth. She trusted him. Even if he was uncertain if he would hurt her again, she wasn’t. That calmed him more than she could ever know. He placed their joined hands in his lap, and leaned forward and touched his lips to hers again. The first touch was almost painful. It was full of ache, want, and anguish. He tried to be gentle. He tried to go slow. He succeeded. He felt washed of his earlier sins. He could control himself with her. He could.

He kept his hands around hers, but moved his face closer, and she shifted slightly on the step, so that they faced each other a bit more. The kiss continued, and his lips floated across hers, tasting her, wanting her, wishing for this never to end. He dropped her hands, placed one of his on her face, kissed across her cheek and said, “This is difficult for me. I want to do so much. I want you more than words can express. I don’t want to hurt you.” He placed his forehead on hers. It was a good start. It was a place to begin.

He drew back and stared down into her warm, brown eyes. This time, she removed his hand from her face and held his wrist. She merely nodded. It was enough for now. She stood and led them both back to the dungeon, back to the double, wooden doors.

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