Hermione lifts the collar of the soft navy jumper and ducks her head, covering her chin and nose. She breathes in, long and deep, eyes closing. Her chest tingles as if she’s inhaled electric air before a storm. She’s done this at least a dozen times this morning as she sits in her Canadian hotel room doing work on her last day away from him. Draco.
Per her wishes he does not wear cologne, so the jumper smells only of a cleaning agent and him--where he’s been, his skin, a hint of shampoo, his sweat. He wore it for two days before she left, for her, and while she’s been gone she’s worn it to bed every night. She’s only sorry her own scent has begun to wear his away, and when she presses the fabric to her nose, she separates the two with her senses as best she can.
Parchment crinkles as she draws her knees up to her chest; the unmade bed is covered with notes for the speech on House-Elf advocacy she’ll deliver later today. It’s been nearly finished for hours--Hermione is an early riser--but she keeps distracting herself with the jumper. The room distracts her with its clean and generic hotel-ness. It could be the hotel in Muggle London where she and Draco met for months. Where she took his perfection and ruined it over and over for the pleasure of them both.
With her eyes closed she can see him in his white undershirt and pants, drenched in red wine. Or naked and splotched with ink. Smeared with mud or food. She sees him transform from a war-haunted shell to a healthy, beautiful man whose need is a dark mirror of her own.
Arousal spikes suddenly and sharply between her legs, and Hermione sighs. She glances at the clock, which affirms she doesn’t have time for this. She needs to finish this speech and get ready. She tells herself that before she knows it she’ll be delivering the speech, putting in an appearance at the reception, and crawling back into this bed where she can wrap herself in Draco’s jumper and do anything she likes to him in her head. She can make this ache of surprising strength go away until she falls asleep and goes back to him tomorrow, Christmas Eve.
Hermione’s speech is a success, and she is overwhelmed at the reception by fellow advocates who wish to express their admiration or speak with her about her ideas. She smiles and engages as best she can, letting her passion for her work fill her up and replace her longing for home. For Draco.
This is the first time they’ve been apart since they transitioned from meeting weekly in the hotel to beginning a relationship. The pain of what was once a regular separation frightens Hermione. She had agreed to see Draco outside their arrangement mostly so that she wouldn’t lose what they had. What she had. What especially terrifies her is that it’s been only a month since she made that decision. Not for the first time, she wonders if this is more an addiction than a relationship. Or if the two are the same and before now she’s been doing it wrong.
She shakes the hand of another admirer and notices that the crowd has thinned. She thanks the event organizer and slips away back up to her room, passing a large window that reveals a snowy night. Upon entering the room she strips off and yanks the jumper out of her suitcase and over her head. She does her packing for tomorrow and climbs into bed, lamenting the time lock on the international portkey she’ll use to return to England.
Head fuzzy with exhaustion, Hermione tries filling her mind with what she might do to Draco, with Draco, when she sees him the next day. But the images won’t come. Not the ones she pushes her mind to conjure: of him before, during, after she’s marred his beauty. Instead all she sees is a vision of his face whenever she’s been out for the day or as little as an hour--at work, with friends, shopping--and returns. His face, placid unless transformed by desire and pleasure, radiates joy and relief, eyes bright, smile wide with lips trembling. As if she’d been gone days. As if he thought she might not come back.
The desire from earlier in the day will not coalesce inside her, blocked by some monumental longing she’s sure she’s never felt before. So Hermione keeps her eyes shut and waits for sleep to replace it, every inch of skin sensitized to the jumper she’s curled up in.
Draco is waiting for her in the entryway as always, alerted by the wards. She thinks she spots the last traces of anguish leaving his face before that look relaxes it. Joy. Relief.
Hermione puts down her suitcase and approaches him, unable to keep her own expression from being taken over by the same emotions. Draco’s eyes widen in surprise; he’s always the one to rush to greet her, wrap himself around her. She folds her arms to his chest and tucks her head beneath his chin, inhaling his warmly clean scent, so much sharper than on the jumper. He holds her, first with a squeeze and then a soothing circle of one hand mid-back. She raises her face, and they kiss, close-mouthed but long and firm, her hand moving to brush his cheek with fingers chilled from the cold outside.
She pulls away to look at him, and he obliges, arms relaxed, hands clasped in front of him, welcoming the scrutiny. Everything about him is immaculate, blond hair to polished shoes. He wears navy robes over a pale, iris-colored button-down and pressed trousers.
Hermione’s breath is short, and Draco raises his hand to be taken. She knits her fingers with his, and he turns, heading for the staircase. Narcissa keeps her own rooms, and Lucius is rotting in Azkaban. The house-elves must have been dismissed or are off finishing with decorations and food for Christmas. It’s silent and still except for the crackling of a nearby fire, and Hermione is distracted by the massive Christmas tree before the stairs, twinkling with fairy lights. Draco leads her around it and pauses at the staircase she’s climbed dozens and dozens of times to reach his room.
“Shall we go up then?” Draco asks. She thinks he likes asking or suggesting, though it’s unnecessary. Of course they’ll go up; they always do before they do anything else. Then after everything else.
But this time, Hermione holds him fast with her hand. She doesn’t know what she’s thinking or feeling, like she’s cast Imperius on herself.
“How about tea?” she suggests, the words surprising even her.
His lips part, eyes flickering. Confused. Then--
“Yes.” He smiles. Joy.
They sit on a sofa close to the fire in the living room, sipping their tea and gazing at the Christmas tree in this room--there’s a tree in every room they inhabit--the one around which they’ll gather the next morning with Narcissa. Some presents are already set out, and Hermione lowers her head, unhappy with her gift: a first edition of Potions Primeval, an ancient and important text in the field. She’s encouraged Draco to indulge his interest in and facility for Potions when she’s not home, and he has a lab dedicated to the purpose. She suspects without this nudging on her part, he would simply sit and do nothing, waiting for her.
A book. A perfect gift for her, and though Draco is an avid reader, it’s hardly a romantic gift. But then, are they ever truly romantic with one another? When not being physically intimate, they tend to sit quietly, engaged in leisure or, in Hermione’s case, work. Sometimes she tells him about her job, the politicians that drive her mad, the entrenched prejudices with which her efforts are met. She enthuses over her friends’ accomplishments, complains about their idiosyncrasies.
And Draco just listens, nodding, smiling, frowning where appropriate. He listens so intently she could be delivering another speech or recounting grand adventures. He does not tell her about his day unless she asks, and then it is brief. As if really she is the only important thing in his day.
Ginny jokes that Draco is her “house husband,” and Hermione doesn’t know if it makes her uncomfortable because it’s essentially true or because really, she’s fine with the arrangement.
Arrangement. That’s not quite right. Not anymore. In Canada she’d thought addiction, that unaccustomed longing for him swallowing her up. The jumper of his she’d worn like a fix.
Her impulses today indicate otherwise. She assumed her hunger was for his body, yet here they sit, cups in hand, a tray of pastries on the table before them.
“I missed you,” she murmurs. She’s never said this to him before. Out of the corner of her eye she sees him set his cup down and shift closer to her. “I wore the jumper every night.” At last she turns to him, putting her own cup down, and places her palm against his chest, over his heart. She stares at her hand there, feels the beating. Feels it beat faster.
“Can I give you one of your presents? It’s something we’ve always done Christmas Eve.” He places his hand over hers lightly.
“All right,” she nods, looking up.
He Summons an elegantly wrapped package and hands it to her. “Happy Christmas.”
She smiles and pauses to appreciate the wrapping. She feels lighter, having told him she missed him. Having survived that moment.
She loves the holidays and all their trappings, giving and receiving gifts, and pulls at the big silver bow, undoing the knot and slipping it off. With his money he could have gotten her anything, and the anticipation quickens her fingers as she tears at the paper. She only hopes he hasn’t gotten her something she can’t possibly match, something as extravagant as his need for her.
Paper gone, she lifts the lid on the glossy red box. Beneath layers of tissue paper are two mirrors in square, platinum frames.
“They’re two-way. We can see each other in them.” He lifts one of the mirrors to demonstrate, peering into it. In the second mirror, she sees his face reflected. “This way, the next time you’re gone, you won’t really be gone.” As he speaks, words form in cursive script around the second mirror’s frame. His words. She lifts the mirror, seeing not her face but his.
“I realize it’s a gift for me, too. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” she beams into the mirror. She sticks her tongue out at him, and he laughs. Her mind fills with the possibilities of long distance intimacies.
“Thank you, Draco.” She leans in and kisses him on the cheek, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. He nuzzles into her before she draws back.
She can’t give him a sodding book right now.
“How about some music?” she suggests, stalling, and heads over to the wireless.
“Sure,” she hears, and he sounds happy. As she searches for some holiday music, her mind whirrs, trying to think of an alternate gift. Something more that will show him that finally she is with him. Needs him, too.
She thinks of the Christmas card in her bag, a message waiting to be written.
Landing on a station, she whirls around and dashes out of the room, calling, “Be right back!”
Her bag rests on a table in the entryway, and she digs inside through all the papers and books before remembering to use her wand. The card comes flying out, then a quill with ink, and she stands there, bent over the table. She pauses and scrawls a note, sticks the card in its envelope, and returns to the living room. She takes her place beside Draco and hands him the card.
His lips turn up, eyes lingering on her before he opens the envelope and pulls out the card. A winter scene adorns the front, a house covered in snow with a light on inside. He reads the generic Christmas greeting aloud first, before his eyes shift to her writing.
“First Christmas,” he reads and swallows. “You are hereby invited to attend the Weasleys’ Christmas do with one Hermione Granger.” He breathes a moment and runs a finger over the smeared ink.
Hermione twists her fingers. He’s not exactly friends with the Weasleys. Or any of her friends. They don’t do things with other people. Not together. This can be changed, she knows. She can change it.
“I know you and the Weasleys haven’t traditionally got on, but they did invite me to bring you tomorrow night. If you don’t want--”
“No,” he interrupts, and there’s a cataclysm in her chest. “No, I want to go. With you,” he adds. His eyes meet hers, and she’s relieved to see what’s inside them, inside her.