The bell above the door jingled.
Behind the ancient cash register, Hermione looked up from the book she was reading... and stared, slack-jawed.
Her prospective customer stood stock-still as well.
Draco thought for a brief moment that he was in a waking dream. There was no way that swotty, I-can-save-the-world-too Granger would choose to be the owner of a bookshop instead of pursuing a career as a climbing Ministry minion.
“Can I help you find something, Malfoy?”
Draco blinked. Her tone was cool but pleasant. He cleared his throat. “Yes, I’m looking for a book.”
Hermione snorted. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. “Yes, I gathered that much. Five points from Slytherin for stating the obvious and demeaning yourself. Another five for insulting my intelligence.”
Draco’s eyes glinted dangerously. So, the know-it-all was in a snarky mood, was she? He smirked. “I thought that a severe blow to the head and subsequent concussion could be the only reason that you are working here instead of trying to free house-elves or clearing out Hogsmeade so that the giants can finally have a proper place to live. Five points from Gryffindor for horrible customer service. Another five for retaining all your swottiness from school.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed. But to Draco’s surprise, she suddenly smiled and waved toward the middle of the shop. “Well, in that case, please do feel free to browse the shelves for the book you want. I’m sure that someone with your calibre of intelligence will have no difficulty finding what you need.” And with that, she returned to her book.
Draco sniffed and turned his attention to the shelves. He found himself gaping. There were ladders leading to the tops of tall bookshelves everywhere, but they seemed to crisscross and disappear into the ceiling in a way that did not seem physically possible. It was like a dizzying maze of patterns and colours that could not logically fit together in the same space. Draco felt as if he was looking at an eccentric artist’s painting of the staircases at Hogwarts, but it was a scene seen through the eyes of one who had mixed a dangerous concoction of Firewhiskey, Fever Fudge, Electric Shock Shake, Fizzing Whizzbees, and a Patented Daydream Charm. He shook his head. Alas. It still looked discombobulating.
Draco took a deep breath. He was about to swallow his pride and ask for help when he saw the one-sided smirk that Granger was sporting as she pretended to read. Well. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped further into the shop and tried to focus on the signs that would indicate categories of books.
Finding the desired section, he scanned the lower shelves and then steeled himself for a moment before climbing the wooden ladder in front of the section marked “History of the British Isles”. He browsed each shelf for the book he sought and climbed higher as he finished his perusal. He discovered that the shelves were taller than they seemed from the ground. He also realized that, if he climbed high enough, he would reach a point where the top of one bookshelf fused with another at right angles, at which point, he would end up climbing down a different ladder belonging to a different section of books.
Draco took a moment to marvel at the elegance of this unusual setup. In its odd way, this arrangement maximized on the storage space available. It was also an efficient way to save time, for it meant that a browsing customer did not have to return to ground level and climb another ladder to reach books from a different section. By extrapolation, it also meant that the shelves that intersected each other were arranged so that related subjects would be found clustered together. Draco smiled, his respect for the architect of this space increasing several-fold.
After an immeasurable time of climbing or jumping from one ladder to another—they always seemed to be within an arm’s length of each other—Draco approached the counter where Hermione was still immersed in her novel. She looked up, took the book from his hand, and rang in his purchase. She wrapped it in brown paper and tied it with some twine before handing him the package. She then opened the shop door for him.
“Please come again.”
There was no choice but to leave. But Draco vowed that he would be back.
“Where’s Granger?” he blurted before he could stop himself.
The old man blinked at him, and then comprehension dawned. “Ah, you mean Hermione. She only helps me mind the shop on Sundays and the occasional weekday when she has time in between her busy work schedule. She works in Magical-Muggle Relations, you know, and most of her time is spent in her Muggle London office. She claims that this part-time job is her way of clearing her mind of the stresses of her Ministry work, but I’m quite sure she does it out of the goodness of her heart. Now, young man, is there something I can help you find?”
Draco thanked him politely but said that he was only browsing at present. The wizard nodded pleasantly and gave him free-reign of the shop. Draco spent two hours or so idly skimming the covers before finding two books that piqued his interest.
When he left the shop, he made a mental note to make sure his upcoming Sunday was clear for book browsing.
“That’s not the only thing you’ve underestimated about me.”
“Yes, I have a list that is rather long and rather eclectic. Perhaps we could divide it between us and see who finds all of them first?”
Hermione quirked an eyebrow. Then, she reached for the parchment in his hand, which she glanced over, magically rearranged the list of books by subject, then tore in half, handing the bottom part to him. “Meet you back here in an hour.”
For the next sixty minutes, they climbed and perused and found themselves bumping against each other on occasion as they switched ladders. When they arrived at the counter, arms laden with books, Hermione was shocked to see that Draco had found everything on his half of the list as well. She carefully stacked the books atop a blue square of wrapping paper, which was charmed to shrink the books to a size easy-to-carry, folded the edges so that they would self-seal, and collected the requisite Galleons.
A quirk of an eyebrow, to which a toss of the head of curls responded, confirmed that another challenge had been issued and accepted for another day.
“Granger, I can’t find a book. I vaguely remember that the title has the word ‘Potions’ in it and that the book is about rare concoctions of some African tribe. Any ideas? I’ve exhausted the obvious sections already.”
Hermione, of course, didn’t take his word for it and, for the next few hours, perused every possible shelf. The longer she browsed, the more disgruntled she became. This was one of many times that she wished a computer catalogue was available to check inventory. She had discussed the possibility of starting a magical bar-coding system with Mr. de Worde but had had to admit that it was a monumental task to complete, especially with only two people.
Draco smirked as he watched her traversing the space above him. He knew, of course, that while some African tribes might have written books of potions, none had ever been translated into English. The closest text was a travel journal by a Welsh sorcerer, who had spent a lifetime studying the healing cultures of the tribes of western Africa and whose invaluable notebook was sitting on a shelf in the library at Malfoy Manor.
A frazzled Hermione finally admitted defeat and returned to the counter. She huffily informed Draco that she had not had any luck but that she would make sure to leave a note for Mr. de Worde to see if he knew of the book’s whereabouts, whether within the shop or through another bookshop.
Hermione expected a disparaging comment and was surprised when Draco plucked a book from a nearby shelf and drawled, “My mistake. I misremembered about a book in the manor’s library. This is the one I want. No need to wrap it.”
Draco suddenly grabbed Hermione’s shoulders and pulled her into a rough kiss. He tossed down some Galleons and disappeared through the door without collecting his change and before Hermione could recover from the assault.
When he finally stepped foot in the shop, he hesitated at the door. His wand was in his hand, ready to put up a Shield Charm or otherwise deflect any hex sent his way. But what he encountered was a saucy grin and a wink. Emboldened, he reached the counter in a few strides, collected another soul-searing kiss, and announced that he would be looking for books on obscure mating rituals.
The flirtation continued in this light for another few weeks, escalating to French-kissing, less-than-subtle gropes while atop the ladders, and being pressed against bookshelves in one of the darker corners of the shop. It also resulted in several dates.
One fine Sunday, Draco decided that he’d tired of being patient. Despite her clear intention on continuing their blossoming relationship, Hermione had thus far refused to have sex with him. He knew that this was not due to any prudish reason as she had admitted that she had lost her virginity some time ago. He was determined to get her into his bed and had arranged an elaborate date.
Putting the plan into action, he strode into the bookshop and informed her that she was to close the shop early. He’d made early dinner reservations.
Hermione greeted him with her usual sultry kiss and then stared up coyly through long lashes. She whispered in his ear, “Never mind dinner. I’ve hidden my knickers on one of the shelves. If you find them, you get to come home with me.”