“If I have to hear Deck the Halls one more time, I’m going to bloody hang myself with this tinsel,” Hermione grumbled under her breath as she placed her head on her folded arms on top of the gift wrap counter. With only an hour left to wrap up in her shift, Hermione was once again asking herself why she thought working at a department store during the holidays was a good idea. Her back hurt, her feet were swollen, and she had more paper cuts on her fingers than she cared to count.
“Tsk, tsk, Granger. Whatever happened to your Christmas cheer?”
Startled, Hermione’s head popped up off her arms like a jack-in-the-box; though her surprised expression more closely resembled a reindeer in headlights.
“Malfoy! What are you doing here?” Heart suddenly keeping time with the Little Drummer Boy that was playing through the store, Hermione ran her hands down her apron to brush away any stray ribbon and tape while her mind raced with reasons why, of all the department stores in all the world, Draco Malfoy had to walk into hers.
“Well,” Draco drawled, standing casually in a black cashmere sweater and charcoal trousers that fit him deliciously, not that Hermione noticed, “there was something to do with my mother, my father, and a bottle of Firewhiskey about twenty five years ago, but …”
“I meant, what are you doing here, at Debenhams? You are aware this is a muggle department store?”
Every once in a while, Hermione liked to get a part time job in muggle London in order to make a little bit of extra pocket money as well as to keep up with her muggle heritage. It also served as a nice escape from the horrendous politics that still cursed the wizarding community. The general anonymity Hermione enjoyed in the muggle world was an added benefit; therefore seeing Draco Malfoy in the busy department store on Oxford Street where she worked was as surprising as it was thrilling.
He looked kind of, well, good, truth be told. And he had continually been looking good ever since last March when Luna threw a surprise party for Dean where Hermione had first noticed how well Draco fit his trousers. The handful of times they’d run into each other since had only served to confuse and irritate Hermione. She wasn’t supposed to think Draco Malfoy was – oh, Merlin’s shorts – good looking! He was ferrety and nauseating and, and . . . If Hermione was honest with herself, which she tried to be on a regular basis, she had to admit that Draco Malfoy wasn’t the horrid little boy he once was. Though still mildly irritating at times, like now, she decided, as Malfoy was looking at her in that supercilious way inherent in all Malfoy generations.
“It’s only five days until Christmas,” Draco stated matter-of-factly. “It just so happens that my mother is very fond of a muggle fragrance which can be purchased at this fine establishment. And since I’m a very doting son, don’t snort Granger, it’s not becoming, I decided to go the distance and even have it gift-wrapped. Lo’ and behold, I find you at the gift-wrapping counter, bedecked . . .,” Draco paused and perused her from the bottom up, “. . . in a dazzling candy striped apron. It’s a good look for you Granger, very festive.” His eyes flicked to a curl of ribbon caught in her hair and Hermione picked it out and tossed it behind her.
“I like my apron,” Hermione said sensitively, refusing to be embarrassed, though she could admit that the green ruffles along the edges might have made her look a little less festive and a little more like a deranged Santa’s helper. “Are you going to have me wrap that or are you just here to add more humbug to my day?”
“A Christmas Carol? Ebenezer Scrooge? No? Forget it. Give it here then.” Hermione reached out her hand and Draco placed a small box of perfume in it – Pink Sparkle by Kylie Minogue. Hermione held up the box and gave it a little shake whilst giving Draco a raised 'are you kidding me' eyebrow.
There was no way Hermione was going to feel bad about her silly apron now.
“It’s what my mother wants,” said Draco with a shrug. “So, let’s talk paper.” Leaning over the counter, he pointed a slender finger at a silvery paper with blue snowflakes. “I kind of like that; let’s see it.”
Hermione handed Draco a sample and narrowed her eyes at his intense inspection of the paper, as if he actually cared what wrap was used. Hermione didn’t take Draco for someone who was that fussy about their Christmas wrap and knew there must be an ulterior motive. From experience, Hermione knew that secret agendas and Draco Malfoy were like hand in glove, it was only a matter of discovering what he was up to.
Shaking his head, Draco returned the paper. “This one isn’t right; now let’s see that one red one instead. No, not the plaid one; the one with the gold flourishes . . . So, tell me, what is a junior liaison assistant in the department of Muggle Relations and Affairs doing working a meaningless job like Holiday Gift Wrapper?”
Stretching beyond her ability to grab the requested sample from the top shelf, Hermione turned with a huff. “My job isn’t meaningless. I’m performing a practical service that helps many.” She handed the wrap sample to Draco with an indignant flick.
“Oh yes, very helpful. I’m sure your patrons think deeply of your great kindness; how they could not have done without your wonderful services, as they carry their perfectly wrapped, monogrammed silver gravy bowls to their latest model BMWs and drive off to their mansions in Maida Vale. Okay, let me see the one with the Father Christmases on it.”
“They’re not all rich like you, Malfoy. I’ll have you know that one of my customers earlier today bought a scarf for his mum. And he drives a Peugeot and lives in Surrey.”
“Weasley dropped by then, did he? Should have gone with the Audi. Oh well, you know about Weasleys and taste – they have none. The one with the snowflakes now.”
“I like the Peugeot, it’s cute. And yes, it was Ron, and he was very thankful for how well I wrapped the scarf for his mum. And,” she said, drawing the word out for emphasis, “he didn’t spend fifteen minutes selecting gift wrap.”
“Well, you'd have an easier time of it if you'd use your wand. A simple Accio would do it. No, I don’t like this one. Let me see the green and red plaid one now. Anyway, I’m sure that’s the first time Weasley has ever been so decisive; must have rocked his world. Speaking of freckle-faced gits, remind me, how long has it been since you and Weaselbee called it quits?”
Taken aback at the abrupt change in topic, Hermione stumbled on her way back from retrieving the plaid wrap sample and didn’t see Draco’s amused smile. “This is a muggle store, if you haven't noticed Malfoy. I can't use my wand here." Not that Hermione hadn't already thought of using it. She'd have hid it in her sleeve if she hadn't worn a cap-sleeved shirt instead. "Not that it’s any of your concern, but Ron and I decided to be just friends two years ago.”
“Thanks love, bring me the silver one next . . . And there are no lingering regrets? No secret yearnings to bear his ugly-sweater-wearing spawn? Not harboring fantasies of ginger-beard sweeping you off your feet and flying away into the sunset on his Cleansweep P.O.S, are you?”
“You’ve already seen the silver one. And it’s none of your business what feelings I may or may not have for Ron.” Peeved, Hermione crossed her arms and refused to retrieve any more samples for Draco. He could buy a gift bag over at Boots and to hell with him, the intrusive, nosy, rude, attractive . . .
Draco waved his hands in front of him in a take it easy gesture. “Just checking, Granger, that’s all. You needn’t get your tinsel in a twist. I’ll take the blue one with the reindeer on it.”
“Are you positive? Sure you don’t need to look at every other sample four times just to be certain?” said Hermione as she grabbed the materials and began wrapping Draco’s package. Pink Sparkle, Hermione scoffed internally, what do the rich know about class . . .
“I’m starting to get the feeling that you’re not enjoying our time together, Granger.” Peering thoughtfully up at the ceiling, Draco rapped his knuckles on the counter.
“I’d have appreciated not dragging every wrap sample off the shelves just so you could dismiss every single one in turn,” Hermione said, folding the last corner of the paper and securing it with a piece of tape. “There.” She handed him the wrapped package.
“Looks great, Granger. But we’re not through here. Now about the bow . . .”
“Oh no, I’m not going through all that again but with bows instead. You’ll get the gold ribbon with the thistle.”
“No, no, no. I can’t let you do that. I have to compare each flourish against the paper to make sure it goes.” Draco smiled benignly but there was a flicker in his gray eyes that told Hermione he was hiding something.
“Unless . . .” he drawled.
There it is, Hermione thought.
Shaking her head, she folded her arms and said, “Out with it. I haven’t got all day.”
“I’ll forgo the bow, but you’ll have to do something for me in return.”
“I’m not going to be your house elf.”
Rolling his eyes, Draco said, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“And I won’t do anything involving illegal spells.”
“I’m sure you know, as the whole of wizardom, I’m sure, that I’ve been illegal-spell sober for seven years; according to the September issue of Witch Weekly featuring the Bad Boys of Britain. Of which I was number four, thank you very much.”
Slightly ashamed, Hermione had indeed read the issue – and maybe had saved a copy, not that the picture of Malfoy wearing his Quidditch kit sans jersey had anything to do with it. There was a very interesting article on great horned owls and their innate homing sense . . .
“Don’t worry so much, Granger; I promise you’ll like it. What time do you get off?”
“I’m not saying yes until I hear what it is.“
“Must you always be so difficult, Hermione? Just answer the question,” Draco said, rather huffily, Hermione thought. He must want this bad, especially due to his abnormal use of her first name, which certainly gave Hermione food for thought.
“With you, I find being difficult a directive. Being difficult saved my life a time or two.”
“Err, right.” Draco flushed then began fiddling with the wrapped corner of his mom’s gift.
Damn it, Hermione cursed inwardly. The last thing she wanted to do was refer to their distasteful shared history, since in the years past, she, Harry, and Ron had all made a serious attempt at civility, which actually resulted in friendship between Harry, Ron, and Draco, surprisingly, and at least a casual acquaintance between Malfoy and herself.
“Oh, I’m sorry, uh I didn’t mean, that is . . . I’m uh, I’m off in forty five minutes,” Hermione said rapidly, hating herself for rehashing her long buried resentment.
Jumping at her words with obvious relief, Draco quickly replied, “Perfect. There’s one of those muggle cafes down the street – Starbucks something or other. Meet me there in an hour.”
“Okay. And what exactly am I to do when I’m there?”
“I think it’s customary to drink hot caffeinated beverages at these places, or am I mistaken?”
Confused, Hermione said, “You just want me to meet you for coffee?”
“Forgive me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you supposed to be the smartest witch of our year?”
“Oh, shut it,” she laughed, this time simply accepting the joke for what it was - flirting. “I suppose I can meet you for coffee at seven.”
“Excellent, it’s a date.” Grinning, Draco cheerily tossed his wrapped package in the air and caught it then strode away, merrily whistling Deck the Halls.
“It is?” Hermione said to herself, a tad bemused. Did Draco Malfoy just ask her out on a date? Asking her out must have been his ulterior motive, she decided, but why, Hermione couldn’t fathom, since they’d done nothing but bicker the last fifteen minutes. The last fifteen years, really.
Nonetheless, Hermione found her Christmas spirit suddenly buoyed by the prospect of having a date with Draco Malfoy and completely forgot to hang herself with the tinsel.