Hermione looked around her room one last time, making sure she’d packed everything. She’d already been through the drawers three times, the closet twice, and double-checked under the bed. She was only going home for a few weeks for the Christmas holiday, but it felt strange to think of leaving anything in this not-quite-home-away-from-home that was her dorm room.
Satisfied she’d done a thorough job, Hermione grabbed her bag and headed out for an early breakfast before her last final of the term. She ran through her notes while she ate, feeling confident and at ease about the test. She ordered a coffee to go and sipped it as she made her way across campus, glad she’d given herself so much time to get to the exam. The last thing she wanted was to feel rushed, though there was no fighting the steady stream of nerves skipping lightly inside. It always happened when things came to an end. There was some degree of nervous anticipation and excitement about putting one semester of university behind her.
As she neared the building, her attention was captured by a figure sitting alone on a bench, huddled against the frigid air. She’d know the back of his head anywhere after sitting behind him through Intro to Anthropology for four months.
“Hullo, Malfoy,” she said with a smile as she approached him.
He glanced up cheerlessly. “Hey.”
How they’d found themselves at the same university—though one that boasted the best College of Magic in all of Europe—was quite a tale. She’d wanted to further her education, both magical and Muggle, and she’d been accepted. Draco had similar ideas, but as part of his penance after the war, he’d been required to take only Muggle classes for his entire first year. The Ministry had even listed a few he was required to take, anthropology for one. It had been a strange surprise, finding him in her class, but as he’d been essentially tossed into Muggle life with no instruction, he’d eventually swallowed his pride and spoken to her. It had been terse at first, but she made him laugh once, and then he’d relaxed a bit.
“Are you all through?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at the door she needed to walk through.
“Yes,” he said flatly.
Unwilling to let his sour mood spoil her good one, she smiled and said thoughtlessly, “What are your plans for the holiday?” As soon as she’d got the words out, she cringed.
He scowled but didn’t snap at her, instead kicking a rock near his feet. “I’ll be staying here.”
She mentally berated herself for being so insensitive. Of course, what could he do? Both of his parents were in Azkaban and would be for at least another few years. None of his friends would be around, as many of them were also in Azkaban or working. The thought of him having nowhere to go for Christmas reminded her of Harry and a wave of empathy washed over her.
“You can come home with me,” she offered without thinking.
His eyes went wide with surprise.
“I mean, if you want,” she sputtered, her mind racing. What had she just done? “It’s got to be better than staying here for two weeks, alone.”
“I... um... I don’t....” He trailed off without saying no.
Hermione realized how lonely he must be, how affected he was by his situation. It bolstered her resolve to convince him to come. “You should. My Mum makes a tasty roast, and my cousins all come over. But that’s just on Christmas Eve. We always make biscuits, and you can help with the tree. They save it ‘til I’m home. We make pies for the Burrow Christmas Day, but you could skip that if you wanted. I—”
Draco held up his hand to stop her, for which she was thankful. “I appreciate the... offer, Granger, but....”
“Come on, Malfoy. Just say yes. Christmas at my house has to be better than here, right?” She wasn’t quite sure why she was pressing him so hard, except she knew how awful it was to be alone, and she didn’t despise him anymore, so she couldn’t be happy about his misery.
He hesitated, and she beamed. “Excellent. I’ve got my last final at nine, should be out by eleven. Let’s say... meet back here at noon? Then we’ll go?”
“I... Maybe....” he said, the barest hint of an almost-smile in his eyes.
“Great!” she said a little too enthusiastically. “I’ll see you then!” Without waiting for a response, she spun on her heel and marched into the building. Her heart was pounding; what had she done?
Hermione forgot about her offer for a moment as she bundled up after her test. She was momentarily startled to see Draco seated on the same bench, waiting for her with a large black sack beside him. “I thought we’d meet at noon,” was the only thing she could say.
He shrugged. “I’ve got nothing else to do. I can wait.”
“No, don’t be silly. I’ve just got to grab my suitcase, then we can go.” Hermione motioned for him to follow and he did, keeping a few steps behind her. They didn’t speak, and he waited outside while she retrieved her things. She gave him a patient smile, then started toward the parking lot.
“Where are you going?” he asked, hurrying to catch up.
“To my car,” she replied.
He stopped in his tracks. “Your... what?”
Her eyes went wide. “Oh! Right. Well, I’ve got a car here, and I typically drive home. Will that be all right?”
Draco seemed to swallow hard and nodded, his eyes betraying panic.
She smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m a very good driver. Let’s go.”
Hermione discovered that Draco liked to play chess—as did her father. The two bonded quickly over that and played as often as they could. Draco also surprised her in the kitchen: he’d discovered an enjoyment of cooking in his first semester away from home, and made a soufflé that her mother talked about every day after. He’d been pleasant enough at The Burrow, somewhat charming with her extended family, and quite companionable when it was just the two of them. She’d discovered that they could be friends, and he hadn’t seemed too opposed to the idea.
Friday was Draco’s favorite day of the week. His classes ended early, his favorite coffee shop served sugared croissants after three, and it was the one night of the week he was guaranteed to see Hermione. At Christmas the year before, she’d introduced him to movies, and he’d been instantly hooked. When they’d returned from holiday, she’d suggested they start up a weekly movie get-together and invite people. It quickly became a shining light in an otherwise bleak existence.
It hadn’t taken Draco long to realize he was falling for her. He’d tried to resist at first, but there was no use. He found her to be the most interesting, thoughtful, stubborn, infuriating and beautiful woman he’d ever known.
The only problem was that she had no idea of his feelings. She thought they were just incredible friends. He hadn’t minded that too much, because in his mind, it was inevitable that they’d be together eventually, and he was having too much fun as her friend to rush anything. He’d considered telling her this Christmas but hadn’t decided. He’d even made her a gift. He didn’t have the money to buy anything as nice as he wanted, thanks to the Ministry. All of his funds were frozen until he finished university and secured “honest employment.” Whatever that meant.
The gift, though. He’d scraped together some of his stipend, designated for educational and food expenses, even going without a meal on some days. He’d managed to buy a simple gold chain and pendant holder. Then he’d used magic to create a heart out of snow. It had required more research than he’d expected, and he’d been thankful for the access to the magical library and the witches and wizards within.
But then something happened.
It had been a Friday just like any other, a month away from Christmas break. He’d gone straight from his last class to the coffee shop to get two sugared croissants, one for him, one for her, and then to the library where he worked a few hours every week. He was a little late heading to Hermione’s dorm; they watched the movies in a common room on her floor.
When he’d walked in, there was a decent gathering already.
“Hey,” he said with a grin when he saw her.
She smiled easily. “Hi, Draco.” Then someone else entered their space. “Oh, Draco, this is Nathan. Nathan, Draco.”
An iron weight settled in the pit of Draco’s stomach, and he was thankful that his hands were full, so he didn’t have to shake.
“Nice to meet you,” said Nathan. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Draco immediately sensed that he’d never get along with Nathan and that Nathan had no intention of trying. He forced a stiff smile. “Can’t say the same.”
Someone turned off the lights and everyone scrambled to sit down. Draco stared as Nathan sat in his seat, beside Hermione. He glared as she leaned toward Nathan, then seethed as the other man put his arm around her.
He had definitely not seen that coming.
Since last Christmas, when he’d bonded with Hermione’s parents, they’d invited him to their home for any and all holidays. He’d spent a few with them, and Hermione, and he’d never felt more right than when he was with them. He’d thought it was because of Hermione, but perhaps he’d been mistaken. He’d thought they had an obvious, magical connection, the way they were so easy with each other, the way they challenged each other, the way he made her laugh.
It was with diminished anticipation that Draco packed for the trip to Hermione’s. He resolved to enjoy himself anyway; she was still his friend, after all, and he truly liked her parents. Bag in hand, Draco locked his room and headed toward Hermione’s car. Besides, he’d have Hermione all to himself for two weeks. Surely she’d realize the inevitable in that time, right?
“Draco, dear, would you get that?” called Mrs. Granger.
“Sure!” he said, feeling lighter than he could remember. It was Christmas Eve, when Hermione’s family traditionally invited all of their extended family over for a large meal and gift exchange.
The flow of people had been constant for the last ten minutes, so Draco thought nothing of answering the door. He was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the newest arrival was none other than Hermione’s... whatever... Nathan.
The other man was slightly taller than Draco with dark wavy hair that grew to his shoulders. He grinned warmly at Draco. “Happy Christmas!” he said, handing him a package that was clearly a bottle of wine.
Draco gave him a withering look.
“Oh, good, you’re here!” Hermione had appeared behind Draco and she now reached around him to pull Nathan into the house. In a flash, they’d disappeared into the house, all vestiges of Draco’s good mood vanishing with them.
“Who was it?” asked Mrs. Granger, joining him as he shut the door.
Draco handed her the wine. “Hermione’s... boyfriend, I guess.” He tried to brush away his suddenly foul mood, forcing a smile at the woman he’d come to consider a second mother. He couldn’t let her know or even suspect how he felt.
“Ahh.” She nodded. “Yes, she mentioned that she’d invited him.”
He was saved having to make a response by Mr. Granger, who came to call everyone to the table. Draco followed them, pausing to gather himself. The thought of sitting through dinner and having to watch Hermione with someone else made him want to punch something. Hermione intercepted him on his way to the dining room and grabbed his wrist.
Her expression was earnest. “Draco. Nathan is... a Muggle. So. Please don’t say anything?”
Draco didn’t try to hide his surprise. “Oh, I... of course. I mean, we’re surrounded by Muggles.”
She visibly relaxed. “Thank you.” Hermione squeezed his arm, then whirled to lead him into the room.
She sighed after a few minutes. “Chess is not for spectators. I’m going to watch something.”
Draco felt her eyes on him. Movies were their thing. But he wasn’t sure he could sit with her like nothing had happened. Not yet. He kept his eyes on the board, his gaze darting between pieces as he worked out his next move. She took the hint and left. After Draco moved, her father studied the board. When he moved his piece, he said, “I wouldn’t worry, Son.”
Draco scoffed jokingly. “Oh, I’m not worried. I think I’ve got this game in three, maybe four moves.”
Her father met his gaze. “I wasn’t talking about the game.”
Draco frowned and returned his focus back to the board. He almost asked what the other man was talking about but decided he didn’t want to know.
Hermione smiled with relief as she handed in her last final exam. She was glad it was over. The semester had been her hardest yet, and not just in terms of classes. She’d gone through a difficult break-up, been sick for three weeks, and worst of all, she hadn’t seen Draco nearly as much as she’d have liked. He’d been very busy too, and they hadn’t been able to continue their weekly movie gathering. It happened sporadically, and there were a few times either he or she had to miss at the last minute.
She missed him.
The two weeks of Christmas break had been like a beacon in a dark room for her the last month of classes, and she was looking forward to having Draco all to herself. They’d catch up, watch movies, laugh and be silly, and the next semester would be infinitely better. It would have to be.
Draco was waiting for her at the car and he smiled warmly when she arrived. He helped her with her things, then held open the door so she could get in. He even whistled as he walked around to the passenger side.
“You’re in a good mood,” she remarked as she turned on the car.
He shrugged. “No classes for two weeks,” he said, then yawned. “Sorry.”
“Up late studying?” she asked.
“Um, sort of,” he replied, looking out his window.
“Well, I’ve made a list of the best movies from the 1990s, and I thought we could take turns picking from them. I think we can get through four a day if we really try.” When he didn’t laugh, she said, “I’m joking. Not about the list, of course.”
“No, movies are great. I’m excited. It’s just... I won’t be staying with you the whole time. I’ve got a trip planned with some friends to go skiing in Switzerland. But I’ll be back for Christmas Eve.”
The news felt like a punch to the gut. “Oh! That’s... that sounds fun.” She tried to sound cheerful, but her hopes for two weeks with him had been smashed to bits.
He seemed to relax a little, as though he’d been dreading telling her of his plans. “Yeah, it’s a first for me, really. A trip with friends. Muggles, at that. Hopefully I don’t slip and cast a spell or something.”
Hermione managed a smile. Really, it would all be fine. He’d have some fun with friends, then come back, they’d watch movies. “Are you going to The Burrow?” she asked.
“Of course,” he replied with a mock scoff. “Can’t miss that.”
Hermione ran to the door, eager to see her favorite friend, only to receive quite a surprise when she opened it. Draco was standing on her front stoop with a woman. They were holding hands. In Draco’s other hand was a bottle of wine—a very fine wine, she assumed, before remembering that he had no access to his funds,
“Hermione?” Draco said gently.
She snapped her gaze from the wine to his face. “Yes. Hello, Draco. You just made it.”
“That’s my fault,” said the woman. “I couldn’t find my other earring, and Draco tried to help, and....”
“I knocked over a vase and it made a huge mess,” he said with a sheepish shrug.
“Not to mention all the glass,” said the woman with a tinny laugh.
Hermione hated her. “Well, come in,” she said, feeling another punch to the gut. A thousand questions were rushing through her mind, and she had to shake her head to clear them.
“Wait, Hermione.” Draco grabbed her arm lightly. “First, let me introduce you. This is Sarah. Sarah, Hermione.”
Sarah held out her hand. “I’ve heard so much about you!” she exclaimed. “I can’t wait to be friends.”
Hermione really wanted to punch her. “That’ll be fun. Come on in, I’m sure everything’s ready.” She didn’t wait for a response, and she couldn’t look at Draco, she was so livid. She plastered on a fake smile and made the introductions, then sat down beside her mother.
“Can you believe him?” she asked.
“Draco! He just showed up here with a—a person, without even asking! Like he owns the place! You know he’s always been so full of himself, and—”
Mrs. Granger patted her arm. “Oh, darling, he did ask. He called a few days ago, and I said it was fine.”
Hermione stared at her plate, feeling jolted. “I see. I just... think he should have asked me.”
“Why? We’ve invited him to make himself at home,” said her mother, passing the potatoes. “I’m glad he did.”
Dinner carried on around her. Hermione spoke when spoken to, but near the end, she was almost in tears. Her anger, briefly supported by her assumption of Draco’s poor manners, hadn’t dimmed since learning that he had asked to bring Sarah. She couldn’t look at him without feeling... well, she didn’t know quite what to call it.
Hermione gave him a wary look.
“She’s really hot,” said Harry appreciatively. Ginny elbowed him hard. “Ow!”
Ron laughed, sending bits of bread showering across the table. “He’s not wrong.”
Hermione silently fumed. She’d been alternating between anger and fear since Draco showed up with Sarah. And something else that she was loath to admit. Thankfully, the conversation turned, and she did her best to pretend to participate. She refused to look at Draco, who was having a wonderful time talking to Charlie and Bill.
After dinner, the yearly Quidditch game began. Hermione found herself near Sarah to watch.
“Do they play every year?” Sarah asked her.
Hermione nodded. “Without fail.”
A minute passed. Then Sarah said, “He talks about you all the time.”
“How long have you been seeing him?” Hermione couldn’t resist asking.
“About three months,” Sarah replied.
Another gut punch. Three months?
“He really never mentioned me?” Sarah asked.
Hermione could hear the concern in the other woman’s voice, the self-doubt, the fear that Draco wasn’t true or that he wasn’t as serious as she was. For the barest instant, Hermione considered being cruel. But she couldn’t. “Truthfully, I’ve barely talked to Draco this semester. We were both so busy.”
It seemed to mollify Sarah.
When the game ended three hours later, Draco had caught the Snitch, handing Harry his first-ever Christmas Day loss. Hermione wanted to congratulate him but she saw Sarah run to him, throw her arms around him, and kiss him enthusiastically.
The sight ended all doubt in Hermione’s heart.
She was in love with him.
Draco rarely received mail. So rarely, in fact, that he never bothered checking. The owlery usually had to send him a notice that he’d had mail waiting for a week or so. So when a student who worked in the owlery knocked on his door, he expected the usual note. Instead, he was given the letter itself.
“Said hand-deliver,” mumbled the student, who left quickly after handing off the letter.
Probably recognizes my name, Draco thought, shutting the door. He turned the thick envelope over to read the sender’s information and almost dropped it when he realized it was from his mother. Then he tore open the paper, eager to read it. It was eight hand-written pages, and he stood reading, frozen in place in his room.
She was home! His good behavior, as well as a word from Potter at her five-year review, had resulted in her release. He could go home. He’d be with his mother for Christmas.
His excitement was tangible. He grabbed his coat and scarf, threw them on as he rushed out, then ran across campus to Hermione’s dorm. She’d be studying, but he didn’t care—this couldn’t wait.
When she opened the door, looking just a little annoyed at being disturbed, he breezed into the room, brandishing the letter.
“My mum’s home! Right this minute. She sent me a letter, telling me she’s expecting me for Christmas!” He paused, unable and unwilling to fight the grin on his face. “I get to go home!”
She beamed, her annoyance forgotten. “Oh, Draco! That’s incredible news!”
“I can hardly believe it,” he said, glancing back at the letter. “I’m going home.”
“So you won’t be joining me, then,” she said, just a hint of disappointment in her voice.
He met her gaze. “No, and I am sorry. But listen, I want you to come stay with me for a few days. Say you will.” Her eyes went wide. “I’ll fix up the house so that it’s nothing like... when you were there last.”
Indecision warred in her features. He crossed to her and looked her earnestly in the eyes. “Please, Hermione.”
She gave a slight, stiff nod, and he breathed out in relief. “Excellent. I’ll come to The Burrow for the day, and then we’ll go to my house after.”
“All right,” she said, though he couldn’t help feeling that she was on the verge of changing her mind.
Then he took her to meet his mother, which went well. Narcissa was quite fond of Hermione already, from everything Draco had told her. So she was predisposed to like her. They had a small but delicious dinner together, during which Narcissa kept up a steady stream of light conversation. Hermione seemed to relax as the meal progressed, though he could tell she wasn’t completely at ease.
After Narcissa bade them goodnight, Draco wanted to show Hermione the rest of the house.
They went over every square inch, finally arriving in his wing. “My room is at the end of the hall,” he said, pointing. “And your room is here.” He indicated the door beside them.
“Brilliant. I’m so tired.” Hermione went to open her door, but Draco stopped her.
“Wait. There’s something I want to show you.” This. This was the moment he’d been waiting for.
Hermione gave him a weary smile. “All right.”
Draco pulled her to another door and opened it, letting her go in first. She took in the room, looking all around as she processed what she was seeing. Then she laughed. “A movie room?”
She shook her head, eyes sparkling. His breath caught. After a moment, her gaze rested on him. “I don’t know what to say! I can’t believe Malfoy Manor has electricity!”
“Mother couldn’t believe it either,” he said, feeling proud of himself. “Shall we sit?”
Hermione looked at him. “Oh, Draco, I don’t know.”
“We can watch anything we want,” he pressed. “There’s a popcorn machine, too, and I’ve stocked the cabinets with your favorite movie-watching sweets.”
She bit her lip. “It’s... incredible, Draco. It’s just....”
His good mood faltered. “Hermione, what is it? I can tell something’s bothering you.”
She shrugged and avoided his gaze. “It’s just... I... Oh, Draco, why did you do this?”
“You mean the room?” he asked.
“All of it!” she cried. “This room, inviting me here for a few days, having me meet your mother. I don’t understand it!”
His mind raced with how he could answer her without giving himself away, but he realized they’d come to a point where something had to give. The answer to her question was so simple. “I have something for you.”
She shook her head. “Why are you changing the subject?”
“I’m not. Not really. Trust me.” He took her arm and turned it palm up, setting the little black bag in her hand.
“Draco,” she said warningly. “What is going on?”
“Just... bloody open it, will you?”
Her fingers shook as she emptied the necklace into her hand. Then she gasped. “Oh! It’s lovely!” She picked it up to examine the heart. “What is this? I’ve not seen anything like it before.”
“It’s... snow,” he said, earning himself an incredulous look. “I made it. Two years ago. I’d planned to give it to you and... tell you I was in love with you.”
Her eyes went wide, then dropped to the necklace.
“But you were with Nathan, and then honestly, I forgot about it.”
She gently, almost reverently, touched the heart. “You... made this. Out of snow. It’s not even cold.”
Was she deliberately missing the point? “I’d imagined that ours was a tale from one of your movies. That we’d maybe dance around each other awhile and end up together. But the reality of you dating someone else hit me harder than I’d imagined.”
“So you started dating,” she supplied, glancing at him with a piercing expression.
“I doubted my initial feelings,” he admitted. “I ascribed them to a different cause than what I’d thought. I dated... several women. Sarah was the longest relationship, but I realized near the end of it that all along, I’d been trying to find someone like you. And nobody could possibly measure up.”
“But you broke up with Sarah months ago,” she said. “Why did you say nothing?”
He winced. “I... was afraid. Things were so good between us, I didn’t want to risk losing you by saying anything.”
Hermione shut her eyes, gripping the necklace tightly. When she opened them, tears glistened. They hurt him worse than any physical pain he’d yet experienced. “What changed?” she asked, her voice a whisper.
“I found the necklace, the same day I got the letter from my mother. I’d tucked it into a corner of my trunk, put a Concealing Charm on it. I bumped it while searching for something. A lot of things started to make sense. I... realized that I still feel the same way I felt when I made it. Except different. More. Better. That doesn’t make sense.”
She grabbed his arm and shook it lightly. “No, it does. I completely understand.” She looked him in the eye, which was alarming and thrilling at the same time.
“I’ve had a rather difficult year, to be honest. When you showed up at my house with her, I realized I fancied you.” She smiled, her eyes shining. “Quite a lot.”
Draco moved closer and took her face in his hands. He gently pressed his lips to hers and she shivered, shifting her body toward him. She took one of his hands in hers and held it tightly, leaning into the kiss as he deepened it. His nerve endings were on fire with each delicious touch, and he couldn’t understand why he’d taken so long to kiss her. After a few minutes, he ended the kiss.
“I just have one question,” she said, a little breathless.
“Tell me about the magic you used to make the heart.”
Percy is ecstatic. He won the pool about when you and Malfoy would get together. One hundred twelve Galleons! The rest of us just have one thing to say. About bloody time!