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Butterbeer Mustaches

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Steam rose off a small, chipped mug cradled in the hands of the petite brunette sitting at a table in the back of the Leaky Cauldron. Her back was to the door, and she shivered every time it opened as the chill made its way to her table before it clicked shut again.

Hermione glanced at the watch on her wrist, wondering how much longer she could justify sitting at the table by herself.

Well, my drink isn’t cold yet. A few more minutes won’t hurt, she warred with herself. But what if someone sees me and wonders why I’m here alone? I don’t want to have to explain that to them, she scoffed. I won’t have to explain it to them. Will I?

Although the War had been over for several years, she still cringed every time she heard someone shout her name. It was even worse if it was accompanied by a flashbulb. Just once, she’d like to be able to walk out onto the balcony of her flat above Flourish and Blotts and not worry about ending up on the cover of Witch Weekly. At least they had stopped publishing articles about her “mousy wardrobe.” It was expected for bookshop keepers to dress modestly, she supposed.

As she meandered through her thoughts, she missed the snick of the door opening. It was only when she felt the brisk air nip at her heels that she tried to covertly peer over her shoulder. A head full of wild brown hair moved toward the bar, and her shoulders relaxed. Not him.

She was, she imagined, rather silly to be sitting alone at the same table, night after night, only a warm cup of Butterbeer to keep her company. On the days that she remembered, she would also bring a book with her. Pass the time, expand her mind. There were worse ways to spend the weekend.

Hermione had been quite lonely since Harry and Ginny had moved to Godric’s Hollow. The trip wasn’t a long one, and she could Apparate there in an instant, but she didn’t want to invade their privacy. The last time she’d shown up unannounced, she had caught them in a very compromising position on the kitchen table. In hindsight, the pathway of clothes to the kitchen should have been an indication to stay away, but she did have a bad habit of shucking off her pants and bra on the walk to the kitchen.

She chuckled to herself and took a sip of her drink. At least Harry was happy. He did deserve it, after all. Not many people could say they defeated the Dark Lord at 17 and lived to tell the tale.

She and Ron hadn’t spoken in a while, but she was at peace with it. Their relationship had fizzled, and she imagined the spark had only been there because of their imminent deaths. Could anyone blame her for wanting to savor a relationship while she could?

She sighed. She missed Ron, her friend. Not Ron, the boyfriend. He and Pansy, through some miracle of fate, were happily together. She still wasn’t quite sure how they managed that one, but it seemed his need for constant validation matched Pansy’s need for constant attention. As long as they were in the same room together, they glowed. It was slightly nauseating. But she had to admit, Ron was no longer an immature little git.

A smile ghosted across her face as she reminisced. Hogwarts had been great for them. She missed seeing Harry and Ron all the time. She missed the warmth of the Gryffindor common room and the swish of cloaks across the stone floors.

On days when she felt particularly nostalgic, she even missed Quidditch games. Not that she would ever tell Ron or Harry.

Hermione smiled. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy. She was, deliriously so. She got to spend every day surrounded by books. She could travel to every continent to find rare editions. She went to bed drenched in the smell of old tomes and woke up every morning to do it all again. She had wonderful friends—family if she was honest. Her life, she mused, was perfect.

Although.

Although it would be nice to have someone around who appreciated the books just as much as she did.

Here we go. She grumbled to herself. Right back to the same thoughts. She swirled the cooling mug of Butterbeer in her hands.

It was quite strange to yearn for a relationship. Human companionship, she knew, was in short supply when one spent the majority of their days surrounded by books no one had cared to open in years.

She huffed. Maybe that was how she had ended up in the Leaky weekend after weekend.

She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but she had developed an...attachment to a certain customer. And she wasn’t sure how she felt about it.

Draco Malfoy. An enigma, albeit a very fit enigma. She chuckled to herself, then glanced around to make sure no one had heard. When she was sure they hadn’t, she settled back into her thoughts.

Two years ago, well after her break up with Ron, Malfoy had swept into her bookstore. She had immediately tensed when he rushed to the counter.


 

“I’ve heard that you have a limited edition Scamander piece,” he panted, out of breath. Almost like he had run the length of Diagon Alley from the Ministry of Magic. His robes were askew and his blond hair stuck up at the ends. If she hadn’t been utterly flummoxed as to why he was deigning to speak to her, she might have thought that flustered Malfoy was cute. When he stopped fumbling with his bag, which she was sure was filled to the brim with Galleons, he looked up and paused. Eyebrows slashed in confusion, he asked, “Granger?”

Hermione drew back from the counter a step, instantly on the defensive. “Still as observant as always, Malfoy,” she drawled, trying to appear unmoved.

If she hadn’t been watching him so closely, she might have missed his flinch. Might have missed the slight downturn of his eyes and the way his cheeks reddened.

“I’m sorry, it’s just—I’ve been out of the country and I—” Draco prattled on, obviously uncomfortable, but Hermione didn’t hear anything. She was still shocked that he’d apologized. Malfoy never apologized.

She started when he backed away from the counter and turned toward the door. The words tumbled out of her mouth before common sense could stop them. “Where are you going?”

“I’m sorry to have bothered you. I know with—” he mumbled, awkwardly waving his hand about. “—our history and what-not.” He trailed off. “I’ll owl order it.” He turned on his heel.

Hermione wasn’t going to say anything. She should let him walk out the door and chalk this encounter up to a strange spring day. And yet—

“Malfoy, stop.”

He paused, his hand on the door. But he didn’t turn to look at her, his shoulders tight, as though he was waiting for a blow.

He thinks I’m going to curse him, she thought incredulously. Or maybemaybe he’s afraid of what I’ll say?

This Malfoy was very different from the Malfoy she’d known, and loathed, at Hogwarts.

“The book is in the back. I’ll get it for you if you wait here.”

His shoulders relaxed slowly.

She turned and walked to the back room. As the door swung shut and she glanced at him again, she could have sworn she saw a relieved smile touch his eyes.


 

The table jostled and a lithe figure slid across from her, jolting Hermione from her memory. She nearly choked on the Butterbeer she’d been sipping absentmindedly.

Grey eyes pierced through her, and her heart started pounding.

Oh, Merlin. She had missed his entrance, too caught up in her daydreams to notice, even with the breeze nipping at her ankles.

Draco Malfoy sat across the table from her, Butterbeer in hand, and she was gaping at him like a house elf waiting for an order.

“Do you often sit by yourself at the bar, Granger?” Malfoy drawled, amusement quirking his lips upward.

“No. Well, not often—it’s just a weekend thing.” She groaned to herself. Just a weekend thing? You absolute dolt. Because that doesn’t sound pathetic.

His grin only got wider, and she hid behind a sip of her Butterbeer.

“So you haven’t, by chance, come down to stake out my reading booth?” he asked, mirth lighting up his grey eyes.

It’s funny, she thought, just how pretty such a dull color can be on the right person.

Her cheeks turned red as he surveyed her. He’d caught her, and he knew it. Ever since he’d come into her shop that first time, their interactions had become less and less forced until they’d developed a friendship of sorts. They discussed books and recommended new reads to each other. He’d often go out of his way to visit the shop even on days when he knew there were no new shipments.

They were tiptoeing around their shared past and trying to forge something new.

And it was nice.

“Work has been a little frustrating lately. I just needed a place to unwind before I went home.” She cringed as the lie slipped past her lips.

“If you wanted to continue our conversation, all you had to do was ask,” Draco teased.

She gulped down the last of her Butterbeer, trying to gather her thoughts.

“As much as I do enjoy our conversations, I didn’t want to impose. After all—” She was cut off by him holding up his hand. She spluttered angrily. “Excuse me, who do—”

“You have foam on your upper lip. From your Butterbeer,” Malfoy explained.

She blushed crimson and snatched a napkin from the holder on the table, but Malfoy’s hand closed on her wrist. She glanced up in time to see him take a drink of his Butterbeer and put it back on the table.

A foam mustache curved across his upper lip.

“There, we match.” Malfoy smirked.

Oh, Merlin, she thought, her heart rate accelerating. He looks entirely too cute with that.

Hermione was in trouble.

 

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy hummed as he walked down the street, a spring in his step. He’d left the Ministry early and hurried home to change into clean robes. He had a hot date with a corner booth at the Leaky Cauldron. He was on a mission tonight.

A chilly breeze swept down the sidewalk, and he pulled his cloak tighter over his black robes.

Black, he thought, like my soul.

Muggle humor. He chuckled to himself. Blaise and Theo were going to take the mickey out of him.

Draco knew he had changed since the War. Hell, if he was honest, that pureblood supremacy shite had gone out the window in sixth year, if not earlier. Having the Dark Lord live in your manor would do that to a person. He was utterly terrifying, but Draco had known after just one meeting with the creature—for he was not a man—that some ideologies were nonsense. It just so happened that he was branded on the wrong side of one.

He flexed his arm as a phantom pain lanced through it. Five years and the damn stain still plagues me, he thought. He kicked the ground petulantly.

He had grown up, but there were still some things that stung as though they had happened yesterday.

He sighed. He is dead. No use letting him rile you up from beyond the grave.

Draco lost himself in thought. After the War, he’d left Hogwarts. He couldn’t deal with Perfect Potter and the Weasel harrumphing through every hallway, trumpeting their victory from the highest towers. He was relieved the Dark Lord was dead, but that didn’t mean he wanted to put up with the whispered comments and half-hidden judgment. He didn’t need to justify himself to anyone. He was Draco Malfoy.

So he left. He took an entry-level position at the Ministry and worked his way through the ranks. He was determined to prove himself as something more than a spoiled pureblood. With his father rotting in Azkaban, someone needed to make sure the Malfoy name was respected once more.

He took his N.E.W.T.s at home, and he passed them with flying colors. He just didn’t know what he would do after that. He was running away from a past that chased him like a rabid dog, biting at his heels. Just when he thought he’d finally outrun it and could take a breath, it snuck up on him and breathed its putrid breath on his neck. He threw himself into his Ministry job.

He supposed that was why Astoria had left him. Astoria Greengrass, alabaster beauty. She was a beautiful, intelligent, fiercely independent woman. Draco swore her sharp wit could cut even the strongest man to his knees. He missed that about her; she didn’t take his shite.

He’d worshipped the ground that she walked on. He showered her with everything she had ever asked for and then some. He’d planned to propose eventually. He made plan after plan after plan, but work—his driving need to prove that he wasn’t some Death Eater punk—got in the way.

He should have known she was going to leave when she hugged him just a second too long that morning. He thought he had glimpsed tears in her eyes when he stepped into the Floo, but he’d chalked it up to an eyelash in her eye or allergies.

In hindsight, he realized what an absolute arse he’d been to her. They’d loved each other, though they didn’t often say it. He just worked and worked and worked until he was bone tired. He came home so exhausted that he could barely muster the energy to shovel down whatever leftovers she had from the dinner she’d cooked—and ate—alone.

He found her side of the closet empty and a goodbye note on his pillow when he came home from work that evening.

Without Theo and Blaise’s friendship and steady reassurance after that night, he wasn’t sure what he would have done.

It was Theo’s idea to get back into reading. Draco had always enjoyed learning, finding passages that allowed him to escape if he just read long enough. He had been at the top of his class at Hogwarts, second only to Granger. His competitive nature still wouldn’t let him forget that the bushy-haired witch always bested him.

At Theo and Blaise’s urging, he’d taken a couple weeks off from work, gathered a bunch of old books and some traveling clothes in a trunk, and gone to his family’s summer home. He had been thumbing through old books from third year when a soft growling caught his ear. He pushed aside a crumbling broom servicing kit and discovered the source of the noise; The Monster Book of Monsters growled up at him, blinking bleary eyes. He reached for it, and it snapped feebly at him.

“Yeh've got ter stroke 'em,” Draco had muttered to himself in a poor imitation of Hagrid. He’d winced and chided himself. He’d been a right git third year.

That book was how, three weeks later, he’d gone bumbling into Flourish and Blotts nearly arse over tit. He’d forgotten how much he’d loved creatures—when they weren’t trying to claw his arm off or living in his home.

He turned the corner and walked past Flourish and Blotts. His lips quirked in an ironic grin. He hadn’t meant to spend so much time—or money— there, but a certain brunette bookkeeper kept him coming back.

He hadn’t been able to get the command out of his head after he’d stumbled into the shop for the first time.


 

“Malfoy, stop.”

He’d stopped, alright. So had his heart and his breath, hand on the door as he waited for the damning words to leave her mouth.

But they didn’t.

Instead, she’d said something about the book in the back and sailed away, bushy brown hair bobbing between the stacks of books. She’d disturbed the air when she’d turned away, and he caught the scent of her over the old books, teasing him.

She smells like sugar cookies, he smiled dumbly to himself.

She shuffled back up the hallway, book in hand. She dropped it on the counter, only to cover both of them in the plume of dust that issued from the book.

“Oh, drat. I’m sorry! I always forget how dusty that room gets,” Hermione apologized, not quite looking him in the eye. She reached under the counter and pulled out a large blue square. She wiped her face, then handed him the fabric.

Hermione Granger was handing him a handkerchief. He knew better than to turn it down.

 As he reached for it, their fingers grazed, and he paused. Hermione looked at him quizzically, and he snatched it out of her hands.

He cringed. That was smooth. She probably thinks you still go around calling people Mudblood, too, he chided himself. He dared to look up, but she didn’t look angry. In fact, she looked—intrigued?

He shook off the stupor and wiped his face as she rifled through some papers on the desk. For someone so organized in school, the desk was a mess.

“I’m sorry; today’s inventory, and I’m still trying to sort through the papers from the old owners. I don’t think they knew what a file system was,” she continued on, but he’d tuned out.

He’d never taken the time to look at her in schoolhe’d never let himself. Father had done a number on him; every time she had been in eyesight, it was like an alarm had gone off, alerting him to her “impure” blood.

She was pretty in an understated way. And, bloody hell, was she smart. He liked intelligent women.

He zoned back into sudden silence. A light blush colored her cheeks, and he realized he’d been staring at her hands as she rifled through the papers, utterly unaware of the words that had tumbled out of her mouth.

It’s not fair for someone to have such delicate hands, he thought.

She cleared her throat and handed him the invoice. “That’ll be twelve Galleons.”

He nearly jumped out of his robes. “Twelve Galleons? For a book?”

“You’re paying for a limited edition, signed Scamander piece, Malfoy. Those don’t come cheap. You’re lucky I’m letting it walk out of my store for any less than fifteen Galleons,” she scoffed.

Right, he could pay that. He’d pay anything to get his hands on that book. He handed over the coins and their hands brushed again.

He had a feeling he’d be spending a lot more money at Flourish and Blotts in the future, anyway.


 

His trip through memory lane had taken him right to the door of the Leaky Cauldron. He brushed on hand through his platinum locks and shoved the door open.

He didn’t look toward the table in the back, the one he knew he’d find a too-casual Granger nursing a Butterbeer at. Instead, he walked straight to the bar and signaled for Tom, the barkeep.

“Malfoy.” Just the barest inclination of his head, but it was enough. He and Tom had settled their differences. Unlike Madam Rosmerta, Tom still allowed Draco to eat and drink in the tavern as long as he didn’t cause trouble. He didn’t blame Madam Rosmerta’s hesitation. He wasn’t sure he’d allow someone into his livelihood if they had Imperiused him either.

“I’ll have a Butterbeer, please. Warm, if you could,” Draco murmured.

Tom set about making his drink, and Draco surveyed the room.

She was sitting at her usual table, her back to the door. Three away and slightly left of the booth he usually sat in to read. A slight smile crossed her face, as though she was lost in a pleasant memory.

His breath caught in his throat, and he spun back around to pick up the Butterbeer that Tom had plunked on the bar, throwing a couple Galleons and a Sickle down in exchange. Tom raised an eyebrow at the generous tip but said nothing as he swept the coins into his palm.

He took a deep breath and crossed the room.

He hadn’t meant to, but he jostled the table a bit when he slid into the seat. He hid his grimace behind the first words that spilled out of his lips. “Do you often sit by yourself at the bar, Granger?”

He tried to tamp his amusement down, but it was obvious she’d noticed as she stammered, “No. Well, not often—it’s just a weekend thing.”

Gods, she’s cute when she blushes.

He fiddled with the rim of his mug, contemplating what he would say next. He could cut to the chase and ask her on the damn date he’d been inching oh-so-painfully slowly toward. Or he could tease her some more.

He did like to see her blush.

“So you haven’t, by chance, come down to stake out my reading booth?”

Oh, he had her. He watched the blush slowly spread down her neck and—even the tips of her ears, peeking out of that mane of curls, turned a lovely shade of red.  

“Work has been a little frustrating lately. I just needed a place to unwind before I went home.” She was a horrifyingly terrible liar.

Something in Draco beamed at that.

He couldn’t resist teasing her a little more. “If you wanted to continue our conversation, all you had to do was ask.”

Hermione’s face disappeared behind her mug of Butterbeer, no doubt trying to buy time before she answered. When she put the mug down, however, all thoughts screeched to a halt in Draco’s mind.

She had a bit of foam lining her mouth like a mustache. His gaze immediately dipped to her mouth, which had continued on despite his complete distraction from the conversation. That mouth that had captivated them in their ever-increasing literary discussions.

“As much as I do enjoy our conversations, I didn’t want to impose. After all—” He held up his hand, attempting to cut her off so she could wipe off the foam. He needed it gone so he could concentrate. She spluttered angrily, and he winced. Wrong move. “Excuse me, who do—”

“You have foam on your upper lip. From your Butterbeer,” he explained. The last thing he needed was her hexing his bollocks off before he could ask her on a date.

She blushed crimson and reached for a napkin. Of its own volition, his hand snapped up and grabbed her wrist gently. He blinked, unsure what to do, then quickly reached for his Butterbeer and took a swig. Damage control.

As he lowered the glass, her eyes flew straight to his mouth, where a foam mustache curved across his upper lip.

“There, we match.” He was gloating, and he knew it.

Her lips fell open, but no sound came out.

For the first time in his existence, he had struck Hermione Granger speechless.

Draco grinned. Oh, this is going to be fun.

Chapter Text

Hermione wasn’t sure how the time had passed so quickly, but one moment Draco had given himself an identical Butterbeer mustache and the next Tom was shouting for the last call.

Malfoy’s hand had brushed the small of her back when she’d stood from the table.

“Can I walk you home?” he had inquired quietly.

She’d nodded, wrapping her cloak tightly around herself. It’s nice, she’d thought, having a—whatever this is—with him.  

And it was. After he’d looked up at her with that Butterbeer mustache, all the tension had faded away. They were just two friends sharing a drink and a laugh, discussing the books they’d read all week. Just like their afternoons over the countertop at Flourish and Blotts. If their gazes lingered on each other a little longer than normal, they both wrote it off on the long week and one too many glasses of Butterbeer. Neither of them wanted to acknowledge what was charging the air between them, afraid to jinx it before it blossomed.

When Draco had gone to get himself a new mug of the steaming drink, he’d brought her a refill, too. He’d even gone out of the way to make sure Tom had given her one of the mugs she liked. He was charming when he wanted to be.

He held the door open for her as they left the Leaky. She tried not to let him see her shiver as the cool night air, but Draco didn’t miss much, despite how much she teased him about how observant he was. He shrugged off his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders, waving away her protests.

“I’d much rather get you home in one piece, Granger,” he said. He drew out his wand to tap on the bricks for entrance into Diagon Alley but paused when she mumbled something.

“Pardon? I do, despite my devilishly good looks, possess remarkably human hearing. You’ll have to speak up.” He winked over his shoulder and tapped on the bricks, which shifted out of the way to reveal Diagon Alley before them. They quickly stepped through.

She gave him a withering look as they set off down the wide lane. “I said ‘Hermione.’”

He glanced at her, eyebrow cocked. “I know your name. I’m not daft.”

“I meant call me Hermione. It seems rather silly to share a table all night and discuss books all the time and not call each other by our first names,” she reasoned.

He was silent for a few moments as they walked.

Great, she thought. He just starts warming up to you, and you’ve gone and made a fool of yourself. Just as she was about to hand him his cloak and take the long way home, his speculative voice interrupted her thoughts.

“So you’ll call me Draco, and I’ll call you Hermione. Just like that? No—” his hands waved about, “—no questions about my past? No judgment about who—what—I was?”

Hermione took a moment, choosing her words carefully. “I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me,” she shrugged. “We’ve both grown up. As far as I’m concerned, the past is the past. If something comes up from it, we can talk it out, like friends.” I’m buggering this up, she sighed to herself. Friends don’t think about each other the way I’ve been thinking about him all night.

She cautioned a look at him and noted the slight furrow between his eyes. “Friends.” If she wasn’t mistaken, he sounded disappointed.

She made a sound in the back of her throat and realized suddenly that they’d stopped walking. They had made the walk to Flourish and Blotts rather quickly, and she stood on the step just outside the door. She couldn’t quite make herself wave her wand to undo the locking spell yet. That look in his eyes—he was warring with something, and, the way his mouth opened and closed, she knew whatever he was going to stay, he stood to lose some pride if she reacted negatively. She gazed at him expectantly, too anxious to press further.

Draco rose onto his tiptoes, almost like he was weighing the merits of abandoning the conversation and fleeing down the street. Gone was the swagger of the Malfoy that had winked at her before walking down the street of Diagon Alley. He looked nervous—vulnerable.

He cleared his throat and his hand rose to fidget with his hair. “It’s just—” he paused and looked up at her from beneath his lashes.

Hermione never thought she’d see a bashful Draco. She had to bite her tongue to contain a giggle. “Yes?”

“Well, it’s just that it would be rather strange for friends to go on a date, wouldn’t it?” he asked in a rush of air.

There it was.

Despite her earlier trepidation, Hermione’s heart leapt. She fought to keep her voice light. “Well, I don’t know,” she teased. “Seeing as you haven’t asked me on a date.”

He stamped his foot. So there was still a little bit of the ferret in him. Her smile grew.

“Would you like me to beg, Hermione?” Her heart thumped at the emphasis on her name. Silk. It sounded like silk rolling off his tongue. The flicker in his eyes was the only indication that he saw her reaction to it. “Or shall I shout from the middle of the street just how much I’d like to take you to dinner?”

Her eyes widened as Draco turned on his heel. She scrambled to follow after him, but she stumbled on the extra length of his cloak. Why does he have to be so gods-blasted tall? she huffed to herself. By the time she’d rightened, he was standing in the middle of Diagon Alley, grinning from ear to ear. He pointed at her.

“Just remember: you asked for it.” He opened his arms wide and bellowed to the sky.

“I, Draco Malfoy, would like to take Hermione Granger on a date! A dinner date! We’ll hold hands!”

She’d dissolved in a fit of giggles when lamps lit up the nearby apartments. A window across the street opened and a cranky voice hollered, “Oi! It’s two in the damn morning! Go home!”

Hermione rushed into the street and clamped a hand over his mouth, laughing. He still tried to shout through her fingertips, and she had to fight to control her laughter. “Alright, alright. Your point is made.”

Draco gently peeled her fingers off his mouth and toyed with her fingertips. “Is that a yes?” he murmured.

She swallowed and nodded. His tightening grip on her fingertips made her heart lurch and stomach flop deliciously. The moon reflected off his hair and lit his grey eyes up like a beacon.

His answering grin rivaled the moonlight.


 

“I don’t know, Ginny. He’s just—he’s different. I don’t know how to explain it.” Hermione’s legs were flung over the side of the lounge chair as she flipped through Witch Weekly absently. Ginny had skimmed through the pages and deemed it safe—no unsolicited articles about her this week.

Ginny emerged from the closet, a hanger in each hand. “It’s just strange. At Hogwarts, you hated each other. Now you’ve got a crush on him?”

Hermione groaned. “It’s not a crush. I’m—slightly intrigued?” Ginny held up a fuchsia dress. “Not that one; it clashes with your hair.” Ginny threw it down. “Besides, Harry would appreciate a more understated color for a night out on the town. The less vibrant, the fewer reporters you’ll attract.”

“He’s the Chosen One. They’d flock to him if we showed up in couples potato sacks. Knowing our luck, it would be the new hot trend in the next issue of Witch Weekly,” Ginny scoffed.

She wasn’t wrong. Hermione remembered Ron’s bathrobe incident. He’d gone outside in a bathrobe just a little too short and a little too tight, and it was all the rage the next week. He’d had to fight off photographers with threats of setting his nonexistent ghoul on them. Pansy had only innocently batted her lashes at him and snarled at the reporters that dared step foot past their front gate.

Pansy could give Molly Weasley a run for her money.

Ginny returned to the closet and emerged with a slinky black dress. “What about this one?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. No matter how many times she’d told her that she had no interest in fashion, Ginny demanded that she help her pick outfits for their dates, even though they’d been married two years. “Gin, Harry will love you in whatever you choose to wear. Just pick something.”

“Some friend you are,” Ginny teased. She threw the dress down and sprawled in the chair next to Hermione’s. “So, did he try to kiss you?”

“No!” She felt her cheeks redden as she toyed with a loose thread on the arm of the chair. “He just stood in the middle of Diagon Alley and shouted for the whole world to hear that he wanted to take me to dinner.” Hermione tried to look unaffected.

Ginny shot up. “He did not!”

Hermione covered her face and groaned from behind her fingertips. “He did. Poor Mr. Cattermole shouted at him from across the street.”

Ginny dissolved into cackles. “Just how much Butterbeer did you have to ply him with before he started shouting sweet nothings to the rooftops?”

She tried to disappear into the cushions. She loved Ginny, but she didn’t want to cheapen the moment. She’d thought it was sweet—a little over the top for her taste, but that was Draco. Flamboyant. Confident. Just a little bit silly. And a whole lot of sexy, she giggled to herself.

She’d gone to bed that night on an emotional high. She had a date with Draco Malfoy. She’d practically danced down the hallway and flopped on her bed. She hadn’t even managed to kick off her shoes, but she didn’t care. Her grin spread ear to ear as she recalled their conversation from the Leaky.

He knew Muggle authors! He’d gone out of his way to mention that he’d studied Marlowe recently, and she’d gaped at him. He appeared a little alarmed when she began rambling about The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, but he eventually took it in stride.

He was handsome, witty, and intelligent. He knew Muggle authors. She’d been flabbergasted.

It wasn’t until she’d reached over to shut off her light that she realized that she still wore his cloak. She’d grudgingly taken it off and threw it over the door of her wardrobe, where it was resting among the discarded dresses that Ginny had haphazardly hauled into her room and flung aside when dismissed. She forced her gaze away.

“We’d each only had two drinks, thank you very much. I’m not a lush,” she chided.

Ginny just giggled again, and Hermione had to remind herself she actually liked Ginny. Had it been Parvati or, Merlin forbid, Lavender, she’d already have been out the door on her arse.

“He’s being quite secretive about his plans. He told me he’d owl me when he’d settled on something, but I haven’t heard from him.” She frowned at the window.

It was Sunday, the only day that she truly had off, as Flourish and Blotts wasn’t open on Sunday. He usually stopped by for a quick chat when she took a break from inventory on Monday nights. Maybe he’s waiting to tell me in person?

Ginny gave her a conspiratorial look. “You know, I could help you get ready for your date,” she offered.

Hermione shook her head. “No,” she softened her voice when she saw Ginny wilt. “I just don’t want him to get some huge expectations of me. I want him to go on a date with me—the me I am—not some dolled up Barbie.”

Ginny opened her mouth to question her, but Hermione waved her off. “Muggle thing. The point is, I want him to see me for me. No fancy makeup spells, no gallons of Sleekeazy’s. I might not have the best wardrobe, but I do have some cute dresses. I just can’t wear them around all the dust in the bookshop day after day.”

She looked up at Ginny and smiled. “I’m excited for this. I forgot the rush of going on a date for the first time.”

Ginny threw one of the discarded dresses at her with a laugh. “You’re only 23! You’re not ancient. You and Ron only broke up a few years ago.”

Hermione protested. “Almost 24!” She laughed, fidgeting with the arm of the chair. “It just feels different. It feels right.”

“You promise you’ll tell me everything about the date?”
Hermione nodded with a grin. “I promise.”

Ginny waggled her eyebrows. “And you’ll tell me if he’s got a dragon tattoo on his arse eventually, right?” Hermione groaned to herself. Ginny and Draco would be thick as thieves if they put their senses of humor together. They might even give Fred and George a run for their money someday.

She threw the discarded dress back at Ginny as she unfolded from the chair and walked to her closet to find a dress acceptable for Ginny to borrow for her date.

“If I know Draco, it’s more likely to be the Slytherin crest on his arse.”

Chapter Text

Draco thumbed through the papers on his desk. He’d been in an exceptionally good mood all weekend, and, though he was as cranky as ever when he’d woken that morning, he’d dressed with a smile and Apparated to Muggle London with a smile on his face. He’d even foregone his usual grimace as he stepped into the toilet entrance of the Ministry.

It was no wonder that everyone he crossed paths with peered at him curiously. He could feel the goofy grin spread across as his face as he headed for the lifts. He was powerless to wipe it away, though.

His weekend had gone even better than he’d planned.

Well, at least she agreed to the date after you made a right arse of yourself shouting to the rooftops.

He hadn’t cared, though, not when her fingers had closed over his mouth, and he could feel the laughter shaking her body. The smell of sugar cookies had been even more tantalizing when he held the wrist she’d undoubtedly dabbed the perfume on.

He’d walked home in the brisk night air and sat on his bed, the same grin lighting up his face. Draco couldn’t believe it. He’d been edging toward this date for weeks, and now he finally had it.

He only panicked a little bit when he had realized he had to actually plan the date.

The door to his office slammed open,, and all his thoughts came to a screeching halt as Theo and Blaise swept through the doorway, squabbling.

“I’ve told you how many times, Blaise, that you can’t just go about asking women to step into the loo with you for a quickie?” Theo grumbled.

“Well, that bird from International Magical Cooperation didn’t seem to have a problem with it last week,” Blaise answered with a chuckle that set Theo off again.

Draco rolled his eyes. Theo and Blaise argued on a daily basis, and apparently, his office was the best venue in which to do so. He pinched the bridge of his nose with the thumb and forefinger of one hand while he haphazardly gathered the papers strewn across his desk. He glanced at the clock magically projected on his office wall and sighed. He’d get nothing else done until they left his office, and he didn’t think that would happen before the end of the workday.

He sighed again, just loudly enough that Blaise and Theo paused in their argument. He quirked an eyebrow. “I’m assuming that there is a reason for this interruption? Or am I supposed to play the referee to one of your arguments yet again?”

Theo grinned at him sheepishly. “Sorry, mate.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Blaise, who slouched against the doorway—cultivated, no doubt, to flaunt his aloofness. “I had to save that one from another angry witch. He doesn’t seem to understand that propositioning witches in the hallway of the Ministry of Magic isn’t a beneficial way to start a relationship.”

Blaise unfolded from the wall with a scoff, picking imaginary lint off his pristine robes. “Who says I want a relationship?” He grinned. “A quick shag after lunch is much more preferred. I like to keep myself on my toes.”

Despite himself, Draco grinned. It still surprised him how open they’d all become since they’d left Hogwarts. They could finally breathe without a raging maniac breathing down their necks.

Blaise eyed Draco. “So I heard through the grapevine that you were found in the middle of Diagon Alley Friday night, shouting for the whole world to hear. Something about holding hands with one Hermione Granger.”

Theo’s eyebrows hit his hairline. Apparently, Blaise hadn’t thought to share the office gossip with his best mate.

Here goes, Draco thought.

“You heard correctly. I’ll be taking Hermione to dinner this Friday night. I just need to figure out where.” Draco did not miss the glance between his friends.

“Hermione, huh? I didn’t know you were on a first name basis with Granger,” Theo said with a grin.

Draco scratched the back of his head sheepishly, then quickly dropped his hand. He didn’t have time to run home to ensure it looked decent before he dropped by Flourish and Blotts on the way home. “It’s a recent development.” Blaise opened his mouth to interject with something crass, Draco was sure. “And before you open your mouth and make us all aware of just how big of a git you are, Blaise, I don’t have any ill intentions toward the witch.”

Blaise’s grin only widened. “So, you’re truly interested in Granger, eh? Gryffindor’s princess has ickle Drakey-poo wrapped around her pristine finger,” he teased, then quickly ducked.

Draco had sent the snitch he kept on his desk flying at his friend’s head. Theo, who had wisely kept his mouth shut while Blaise teased him, roared from his perch on the edge of Draco’s desk.

“Do not call her that again. Granger or Hermione, fine. But she’s not a princess. She’s a woman.” Draco rolled his eyes. Merlin, if I keep this up, my eyes are going to roll out of my head. “We’re not at Hogwarts anymore. We’re adults. And never call me Drakey-poo again.”

Blaise once again opened his mouth, but Draco silenced him with a glare. “I like her. I think, gods willing, she’s at least interested in me. I’d eventually like to introduce the two of you to her. Can you at least act like you’re not the depraved arses that you are?”

“Hey!” Theo exclaimed.

Draco winced and amended his statement. “Blaise, can you at least act like a civilized human being? Theo—keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing.”

Theo’s laughter punctuated his nod, and Blaise muttered huffily under his breath.

“Now, I’ve got things to do. Did you two need anything or did you just come to torment me with your bickering?”

Blaise pouted. “We just wanted to talk to you. We haven’t seen much of you around. We miss you at Friday night Quidditch practice. We’re one short, so Theo has been the only Beater for our team.”

“Yeah, and I’ve come close to having black eyes for the department meetings the last two weeks,” Theo whined.

Draco chuckled. “I’ll try to make it next week. I’ll see if I can talk Hermione out of her booth; maybe I can convince her to come watch.”

Blaise and Theo exchanged looks. “Based on her reaction to games at Hogwarts, you’d be more likely to drag her willingly to a bar fight.” The men left his office. The door barely closed before Blaise could be heard making jabs at Theo.

Draco cringed. She likes books but not Quidditch. Who doesn’t like Quidditch?


 

The bell overhead dinged as Draco walked in the front door of Flourish and Blotts. He’d told Hermione that he would owl her when he figured out what he wanted to do for their date, but he wanted to see her expression. He looked forward to seeing her Mondays after work.

 “I’m coming! I’m sorry!” A thud from the back room punctuated her words. After a beat, Hermione hustled up the hallway. Dust clung to every part of her, and a smudge of dust marred her forehead. Her light blue jumper clung to her curves. Draco smiled at her as his stomach did a summersault. Merlin, she’s perfect.

Hermione swept her dusty hair out of her eyes as she neared the desk. “Oh, Draco! Hi! I didn’t realize it was so late already. It’s been a slow day, and I decided to start going through some old paperwork.” She smiled sheepishly, trying in vain to dust the cobwebs out of her hair.

“It’s alright. I can help, if you want.” he offered. There were only a select few people he would get his robes dirty for. His biggest weakness at the moment happened to be the frizzy-haired witch in front of him.

“You don’t have to! Though I’d appreciate any help I can get. I think I found boxes from the store’s first year of business.” She grinned wryly. “Sure you want to get those robes dirty, though?”

“For you, I’d do just about anything,” he purred, just to see her blush. It worked like a charm, and she ducked her head.

“Well, alright then. Can you flip the sign to closed and lock the door? My wand is somewhere beneath a pile of invoices from 1455.”

Draco chuckled and concentrated, the sign flipping to closed. He was showing off, but he also lowered the blinds the way he knew she did before she went home for the night.

“Non-verbal and wandless magic. Draco, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to flirt with me.”  

He grinned. “It’s not trying if I’m succeeding.”

She made a face and whirled around. Gotcha, Granger. If you can tease me, then I can tease you.

“Well, I haven’t all day. Are you coming?” she called over her shoulder.

He followed Hermione down the hall into the plume of dust. Piles upon piles of books rested upon every surface, and dust motes danced around the room.

“Blimey. You weren’t kidding when you said they never got rid of anything, were you?” He wrinkled his nose in distaste at the disarray.

She winced. “I know; it’s horrid. You don’t have to stay. I wouldn’t blame you if you never came back.”

Draco immediately regretted his choice of words. Just because she agreed to the date doesn’t mean you have to stop trying to impress her, he scolded himself. “I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just a little daunting. I’ll stay. I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I left you here to fend off all the dust whatsits anyway, would I?”

She giggled. “Dust bunnies. But I suppose you wouldn’t, no.”

Draco stiffened. “There are rabbits in here?”

“Rabbits? No, there’s just dust, paper, and books. It’s just a Muggle saying for—” she trailed off, and a grin slowly lit up her features. “Draco Malfoy, are you afraid of bunnies?”

He couldn’t fight the blush that stole over his cheeks as he turned to survey the stack of papers nearest him. “No, I’m not afraid of bunnies.”

He felt rather than heard her sidle up behind him. “I won’t tell anyone, you know.”

Draco gritted his teeth against a smile. “I am not afraid of bunnies. I am afraid of those creepy white menaces with the red eyes.” He shuddered. “They’re not right. It’s like I can feel them staring into my soul with their beady little eyes.” He cautioned a glance over his shoulder.

She was a couple of paces away, staring at him with amusement. She bit her lip to keep the laughter in that was dancing in her eyes. He opened his mouth to protest when she threw a plastic trash bag at him.

“Get to work, Malfoy. We’ve got some cleaning to do.”


 

Three hours later, they were both collapsed on the floor, covered in dirt. Tears streamed down Hermione’s face as she laughed uncontrollably at the story Draco was telling. They’d abandoned separating the papers out an hour ago; Hermione had insisted that they hand-sort the papers so she could determine which ones she needed to keep. However, after a pile taller than Draco had enveloped Hermione, she’d succumbed to his urging to do it the magical way. Draco had cast a sorting spell of his own creation on the pile. He’d needed one to help him keep track of his papers at the Ministry.

“So I ran screaming back inside to my mother and made her come back outside with me.” He chuckled. “She looked at me like I’d gone ‘round the bend. What could a tiny rabbit do to me? She wouldn’t believe me that the thing’s mouth had more teeth than any rabbit should ever have.”

Hermione giggled again. “What did she do?”

“She marched out into the yard and petrified the thing, she did. Then she tried every spell in the book to make whatever was hiding in that thing show itself. When nothing happened, she let it go. I had to wash dishes for a week. The house elves were not happy.”

Mirth shone in her eyes, and she reached a hand up to wipe away the tears that had leaked from the corner of her eye at the force of her laughter.

“I can just picture a petulant Draco stomping away from Narcissa after that,” Hermione said.

“I was not petulant! The thing bit me. I have a scar!” He waved his pointer finger in her face. Hermione grabbed it and peered at it closely.

“What scar? This little thing?” She was fighting giggles again.

His grip tightened on her hand. “Laugh as you might, but it was traumatizing.”

“Oh, I can imagine.” Her laughter caught in her throat as he twined his fingers through hers.

He glanced up at her through his lashes. “So, about our date.” Hermione nodded mutely. Struck speechless twice in less than a week. That’s got to be a good sign. He tried to reign in his internal gloating. “I’ve suddenly decided that I’d much rather have a more private venue for our date. Would you mind coming to my house? I’ll cook dinner. I’ve been working on my Muggle cooking skills. Friday night?” He tried to plaster his most winning smile across his face, but he was sure that he fell short of winning and strongly into the constipated category. Why is this so hard? I’ve already got the date. It’s just a much more private date.

“You cook? Using Muggle means?” she asked. Of course, that’s the part she fixates on. Not the part where I invite her to my home for dinner.

He shrugged. “More or less. I’m not the best, but I think I can figure out something.”

She smiled up at him. “I’d love to come to dinner at your place, but only if you let me help.”

“You just don’t trust my cooking!” Draco cried, trying his best to appear scandalized.

Her grasp on his hand tightened. “I do! I just love to cook. It’ll be fun, a cooking adventure.”

“Deal.” He looked up into her brown eyes. “Prepare to have the best meal of your life.”

Chapter Text

Hermione glanced in the mirror one last time before leaving her flat. She had been mostly true to her words with Ginny and hadn’t gone too over the top with her outfit. She dabbed her perfume on the insides of her wrist and grabbed her purse off the chair. No more stalling, she chided herself. She shook her wavy hair off her shoulders and walked out the door.

She paused on the steps that led down to Flourish and Blotts, debating. I didn’t use that much Sleakeazy’s. Just enough to calm it, she thought, but she ran a nervous hand through the tousled waves that fell in place of the usually frizzy mess of curls. What if he notices and thinks I tried too hard?

Hermione sighed and straightened her shoulders. I look fantastic, and that’s that. She pulled her wand out of her purse and waved it over her shoulder, putting the locking spell back in place as she sailed down the steps.

She did look fantastic. She’d gone through her closet twice and finally settled on a knee-length, black pleated skirt and a lacy lavender blouse. Not overly fancy, but nice enough for dinner. She’d rounded the outfit out with a pair of black pumps—the only pair of shoes she owned that she could even remotely classify as sexy—and a small golden necklace with a star pendant. A gift from her dad for her sixteenth birthday and her lucky charm.

She toyed with the necklace absently as she crossed to the front door of Flourish and Blotts to ensure it was locked. She didn’t think anyone would rob the old bookstore, but she would rather be safe than sorry.

Lock in place and no other tasks to stall her, she walked down the hallway to the dusty office where the fireplace could be seen peeking out from behind stacks of old papers. Draco had given her the name of his house before he’d left on Monday, promising to connect his Floo to hers when he returned to the Ministry the following day. She grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from the pot haphazardly balanced on a frayed copy of Hogwarts: A History.

She stepped into the fireplace, careful to avoid the remnants of fires burnt out long ago. She spoke clearly, “Malfoy Bungalow.”

Green flames swept around her, tickling at her side, and she watched grate after grate fly past. When the grates slowed to a stop, she stepped out onto the hearth.

A small living room met her eyes, bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun through open curtains. It was homey, somewhere she could imagine sitting with a good book. She could see three whitewashed doors down a short hallway. A doorway lit up by an overhead lamp hinted at a small kitchenette, the sounds of running water issuing from the small space. This house was vastly different from the cold opulence of Malfoy Manor.

She apparently still had a great deal to learn about Draco Malfoy.

She cleared her throat, unsure of herself. “Hello?” she called.

“In the kitchen!” Draco’s muffled voice called back.

Hermione crossed the modest living room and leaned against the open doorway. Draco was standing at the stove flicking his wand lazily as a knife chopped an apple slice into perfect slices.

Hermione’s brows rose as the smell of baking pie crusts met her nose. Draco grinned at her.

“What? I agreed to let you help me cook dinner. I made no such promises about dessert.”

Hermione laughed. “Sometimes it’s much easier than others to remember that you were a Slytherin in school.”

“It’s all a part of the charm, sweetheart,” he drawled with a wink. She shook her head at him, and he turned back to the stove. “Now, the pie is almost done. I know it’s a little bit out of order, but I’ll get this out of the oven, and then we can work on the main course.”

“Sounds good to me,” Hermione said and sat in one of the chairs at the small dinette nestled into the corner of the kitchen. “So where did you learn to use Muggle appliances?”

Draco stopped waving his wand at the apple slices to sweep them into the Tupperware container he’d Accio’d from the cabinet. “It’s actually kind of a strange story.”

Hermione shrugged. “I’ve got time.”

Draco glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Well, when I was cleared by the Ministry for my actions that facilitated the War, I left Hogwarts and didn’t come back for seventh year. I took my N.E.W.T.s at home and applied to the Ministry straight away after receiving my scores.”

Hermione’s brow furrowed, confused. “You worked at the Ministry? But I never saw you. Harry is an Auror, and I’d visit him at work on occasion. I never—”

“Entry level Ministry position in the Department of Magical Games and Sports. I didn’t want too much attention, and I was relatively knowledgeable about Quidditch. I wasn’t a burden to have around because I kept to myself and did what I was told.” Draco shrugged. “I tried to steer clear of the major departments. It was actually how I met—” He stopped abruptly, his throat bobbing around an apparently unexpected emotion.

Hermione didn’t want to push too far. “We can talk about something else. I don’t want—”

“No, it’s okay,” he reassured. “It’s better to talk about it. Makes it a little less hard.” His attempt at a smile looked more like a grimace, but he powered on. “I actually reconnected with Astoria through the Ministry.”

“Astoria Greengrass?” Hermione had never met the girl but knew she was lusted after by most of the men at Hogwarts, regardless of house affiliation. Though she had been a couple of years below Hermione, she remembered watching the girl with jealousy on several occasions. She’d been effortlessly beautiful, the kind of beauty that one was born with and could rarely be cultivated. It shone in her eyes, her strength and passion for life.

Hermione swallowed her pride and asked, “What happened?”

Draco snorted. “I fell in love, but, like a fool, I was married to my job. We’d gotten a flat together, and I’d planned to propose. But I was offered a promotion and put it off. Then I was offered a larger office with a chance of another promotion and a transfer to a more prestigious office.” The slight pallor of his face gave away his grief. “I put her second, and I lost her.”

Hermione didn’t know what to say. Can anything be said to comfort those who lose a love? She wasn’t sure. She couldn’t be sure. She’d chosen to let hers go, and she’d found peace with it.

She could see that, despite his swagger, Draco still struggled to move on. He still felt guilt.

Hermione stood from the chair she’d been resting in and walked to Draco. His hair had grown in the few short weeks that they’d been tiptoeing around each other. Her fingers itched to brush it out of his face where it hung in his eyes as he kept them downcast on the stove. She hesitated just behind him, her hand falling to her side.

“She left while I was at work one day. All she left was a note.” He sighed. “I think I knew, deep down, that she was going to leave me. But I couldn’t stop myself from trying to prove to everyone that I wasn’t my father. I wasn’t Lucius.” The venom in his voice surprised her, and she closed the distance between them and placed her hand on top of his where it rested against the countertop.

He turned to face her, and she was surprised to see the humiliation written in the depths of his eyes.

“I left the country. I couldn’t bear to face the pain I’d caused her, so I left. I took the vacation that I’d accumulated at work and went to the States. I lived in a Muggle apartment and hid from my problems. It was only after I nearly burned it down trying to cook an egg that I decided I needed to learn how to use it properly.” He laughed wryly. “I enrolled in a Muggle cooking class. It was particularly satisfying to pull my first pie out of the oven and imagine my father’s appalled expression that I’d actually used a Muggle appliance successfully.”

Hermione chuckled and threaded her fingers through his. “I’m sure it would have been well worth it.”

His eyes met hers, and her heart rate sped up. “It was, indeed.” He leaned in, his eyelashes slowly fluttering shut. It was like a magnetic tie around her waist pulled her to him as her gaze dropped to his lips.

Merlin, his lips look far too soft for a man. He was a hairsbreadth away when her lids drooped closed.

A loud beeping noise made them spring apart, Draco cursing.

“Merlin’s baggy y-fronts, what is that?” she cried.

“I forgot I set a timer,” he grumbled as he waved his wand. The oven door sprung open, and the freshly baked apple pie inside sailed out and rested on the countertop beside them. “The pie is done,” he said sheepishly.

A faint blush dusted his cheekbones, and Hermione grinned. “Well, it looks like we need to get started on the main dish, then.”

Draco straightened, the blush disappearing from his cheeks. “Right. Well, my cooking class didn’t get too far into main dishes before I left. What’s your specialty?”

Hermione thought for a moment. “Have you ever had fried chicken?”

Draco raised his brows in shock. “No! Why would you ever do that to a poor chicken?”

Hermione giggled, then summoned pots from the cabinets around her, as well as the ingredients she would need.

“You don’t do it while it’s living. It’s extremely popular with Muggles. I’ll teach you.”

Draco’s skeptical glance was all she’d needed to begin the process. Even wizards had to love fried chicken.

Draco laid his napkin down next to his plate and let out a satisfied sigh. “I will never again doubt your culinary preferences.”

“So, it passes the inspection of the great Draco Malfoy, then?” Her lips quirked up in a grin as she teased him.

“Oh, very much so. Quite possibly one of the best meals I’ve ever had.” He paused, then spat out a rush of words. “Don’t you dare tell my mother that. She’d Avada me before I even got the chance to apologize. She’s territorial when it comes to cooking.”

Shoulders shaking with laughter, Hermione raised her hands in surrender. “I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.”

“Good. I’d like to keep you around, as I’ve grown rather fond of you.” He’d somehow inches his chair closer to hers as they’d been talking, and his fingers tangled in hers once again as she lowered them from the air.

Hermione gulped, once again captivated by his eyes. Merlin, he has beautiful eyes.

Those eyes widened, and Hermione realized her error. The words she hadn’t intended to say had somehow slipped out of her lips, breathless and a little pitchy.

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you,” Draco murmured as he closed the space between their chairs.

His lips landed on her cheek, just at the corner of her lips, featherlight in their touch. It took all of her self-control not to swoon into him as those lips ghosted across her lips to the other corner. She felt them tilt into a smile as he pressed another kiss on the other corner.

Hermione was only slightly dismayed that her small noise of protest slipped through her parted lips when he pulled away just enough to look into her eyes.

“You missed,” she whispered. She was sure he could hear every pounding beat of her heart.

His gaze dropped to her mouth once more, and his pupils flared. The heather gray of his iris seemed to melt into molten charcoal around the edges before they disappeared into the depths of his pupil. “Did I?” he breathed on an exhale, his breath ghosting over her lips.

She nodded, just slightly enough that his grin curved upwards. He was close enough that if she tilted her head just so she could capture his lips.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to demonstrate what you mean, Granger.” His face was alight with wicked delight, but she knew it was not at her expense. Draco’s flirting toed the line between teasing and wooing. He could make her blush to the high heavens one minute and want to sock him the next. The challenge in his eyes was playful.

She rose to the challenge “And if I don’t?” She leaned in, and his breathing quickened.

“Then I suppose we’ll have to—” he shivered as she pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

She pulled away. “We’ll have to what? I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”

At some point, they had turned in their chairs to face each other, and her hands rested on his knees. His had begun absently tracing her forearms. The sensation sent goosebumps racing down her spine, but she tried her best not to let him see her shudder.

He shuddered and pinched his eyes shut. “I suppose we’ll have to try again next time and have our dessert tonight, instead.”

Oh, you’re not getting out of this that easily, Mr. Malfoy.

“Are you quite sure?” she leaned forward further in the chair, and her right hand began tracing up his chest. “Because I’m rather preoccupied at the moment.” Her hand found its way into the golden blonde strands at the nape of his neck, and his breath whooshed out of him as his eyes snapped open.

“Hermione, I don’t want to—” he protested.

“Draco, I’m afraid I’m going to have to advise you to shut up and—” she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence as his lips crashed into hers.

Their kiss began frenzied and desperate as they clung to each other. Draco nipped at her bottom lip, and Hermione’s left hand joined her right to tangle in his hair.

After a moment, their kiss slowed to an exploration, a question seeking an answer. Where she yielded, he advanced. When he seemed to hesitate, she moved boldly forward, reclaiming control of the kiss. Hermione’s head spun as he caressed her lips carefully over and over again. The care he took not to push her further than she wanted made her heart flutter.

When she became dizzy, they broke apart, both breathing heavily and flushed. They rested their foreheads together, gazing intently into the other’s eyes. Hermione’s hands left Draco’s hair, and one raised to brush over her lips.

“Oh,” slipped past her lips, unbidden.

Draco grinned. “Oh, indeed.” His lips captured hers once more.

Chapter Text

They’d spent more time on the rickety chairs in the kitchen than Draco cared to admit. He didn’t mind though. His heart was still singing, and his mind couldn’t seem to stop shouting that he had kissed Hermione Granger.

I didn’t just kiss her, he thought smugly. I snogged the socks off Hermione Granger.

The woman kissed like her personality. She was shy when he was in control, but she was a spitfire when she took the reins. She teased him mercilessly and then blushed like the schoolgirl he’d known at Hogwarts when he peppered her brow, nose, and lips with kisses.  

After a while, they had broken apart by some sort of unspoken agreement. Hermione’s shy grin still lit up her face when he asked if she’d stay for pie, and she’d agreed.

They’d moved to the couch and talked late into the night, abandoning the pie after a single piece each. He’d forgotten how nice it was to have the company of a woman, and he found it hard to say goodnight when she’d realized just how late it had been.

Draco had made sure that she would go to bed that night thinking of him when he snogged her senseless before she disappeared into the Floo.

He was still distracted by the kiss at the game of pickup Quidditch he’d organized with his friends the next day when he was nearly taken out by a well-aimed bludger.

“Oy, Draco! Pay attention, mate!” Oliver Wood whinged to him from his team’s goals. Wood had recently started playing with them, and it was still strange to see the Gryffindor flying among his Slytherin mates.

Draco saluted Wood and took off after his opponents, trying to steal the Quaffle back. He tried valiantly to keep his mind off of Hermione, but he found he couldn’t quite keep it from wandering to the petite witch, no matter how into the game he got. The game went all afternoon, only stopping long enough for the players to gulp down cup after cup of water.

Draco was packing up his Quidditch gloves when Theo clapped him on the shoulder.

“It was good to see you today,” he said, his eyes alight with mischief. “We were all a little surprised to hear from you so quickly after your date with Granger.”

Draco tried to turn his grimace into a grin. “So everyone knows, huh? That secret didn’t last long.” He slung his broomstick over his shoulder and began walking slowly to the Apparition point.

Theo snorted. “You’re the talk of the Ministry, mate. It’s not often that a Slytherin goes on a date with the Gryffindor pri—” Draco’s glare had Theo quickly backpedaling. “Er, with part of the Golden Trio, I mean.” He wisely stepped to the side, knowing the chosen moniker was also likely to earn him a blow.

“Believe me; I was just as surprised as everyone else that she even gave me the time of day. I thought I was in for it when I stumbled into Flourish and Blotts and made an arse of myself.” Draco grinned at his friend wryly.

“Well, you must have done something right.” Theo mused.

“Here’s hoping I keep that trend.” Draco sighed and waved to Theo as he stepped away and Apparated home.

Draco had just walked into the Ministry Monday morning, bemoaning the torrential downpour outside, when a shock of unruly black hair, accompanied by a scrawny wizard, leapt into his path.

Damnit, Potter. What now? He growled inwardly, trying to affect a somewhat pleasant smile on his face. This being nice to her friends thing blows.

“Malfoy, we need to talk. Now.” Harry Potter stood before him in his Auror robes. Draco could have laughed at the image if he wasn’t so annoyed at being accosted at his workplace. The boy’s—he’s a man now, he reminded himself with more than a little annoyance—hair still stuck up all about the place like he’d never learned what a comb was. He also seemed extremely jumpy still, but whether that was due to conversing with Draco or a residual effect of his nearly life-long fear of the Dark Lord, Draco wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, Draco had no intentions of sticking around to find out. He had more important things to do today besides be lectured by Saint Potter about his past.

“Oh drat, Potter. You’ve caught me at just the wrong time. While I’m sure this would have been a lovely conversation about all the things wrong in our relationship, I’m afraid I’ll just have to go ahead and break it off now. I’m terribly sorry; you’ll have to inform my parents,” Draco drawled sarcastically, trying to stalk around him.

Potter moved into his path, sizing him up. “It’s about Hermione.”

Shite.

Draco tried not to let his trepidation show. “What about Hermione?”

“I’ve heard from several reliable sources that you took her on a date this weekend.” Harry looked slightly disbelieving.

Draco couldn’t help riling Potter up a bit. For old time’s sake. “Does it really count as taking her on a date if she came to my flat?”

The apoplectic expression on Potter’s face was nearly worth it. “Malfoy, I swear to Merlin, if you so much as—”

“Oh, relax.” Draco sighed and ran a hand through his blond locks. “This isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be. Yes, Hermione and I had a date. She came to my house, and we cooked dinner together. We ate, and she went home.”

Harry looked flabbergasted. “That’s it?”

“That’s it. As much as you’d love to keep me crammed into that little Death Eater mould you’ve got me shoved in in that wee brain of yours, I am capable of being a gentleman.” Draco rolled his eyes. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do have to be at work—” he glanced at the clock in the foyer above them and swore. “—five minutes ago.”

Harry ducked his head and had the decency to look chagrined. Draco thought he was done with the conversation as he walked past him, but a light brush of a hand against his shoulder called his attention.

Harry was looking at him with a mixture of respect and unease. “I know you’ve changed. The whole of the Ministry knows that, or they should, at the very least. I wasn’t trying to say you weren’t going to be good for her.”

Draco tried to keep the impatience off his face. As much as he loathed the man in front of him, he was one of Hermione’s best friends. If this was going to work out—and he’d be damned if it didn’t—he had to make an effort to at least be civil with her best friends.

The Weasel, on the other hand—his thoughts were interrupted as Harry continued.

“She’s just been by herself for a while,” Harry said. Draco knew that already, but he didn’t interrupt him. “I don’t want her to get hurt. The thing is, when Hermione likes someone, she doesn’t hold back. She’ll either give you everything she’s got or she’ll leave if it seems one-sided.”

“And you’re giving me advice—on how not to lose Granger?” Draco had to make sure he was hearing him right.

Harry shrugged. “Ginny said she seemed the happiest she’d been in a while the other day, and that was before your date. Since she and Ron split up, she’s thrown herself into that bookstore. I just want her to be happy. Even if I have to befriend a slimy ferret.” The grin on Harry’s face seemed like a peace offering, and Draco needed all the good luck he could get to keep his witch.

That was how, a moment later, he was shaking his once-sworn enemy’s hand and making plans with him to join their next Quidditch game. The conversation was stilted and awkward, as both wizards were unsure of the new development, but Draco felt a strange sense of relief.

He could give up a small amount of pride to befriend Harry Potter; if he was honest, the bloke didn’t seem too bad as they crossed the foyer to the elevators together, still discussing the logistics of Harry joining their Quidditch games. He might even be a valuable asset to his Quidditch team since all the other guys usually couldn’t tell up from down when they were mucking about on the pitch.

That didn’t stop him from pinching his thigh to ensure that he wasn’t having some strange, convoluted dream. Some things never changed.

For Hermione, though, he could try. She made him want to be better, to let go of his past resentment and start fresh.

He could handle some awkward silences between a former enemy, as long as she let him stay wrapped around her little finger. He’d already regained some of his reputation at the Ministry. How hard could it be to befriend Potter?

With a sigh, Draco dropped his quill on his desk and rubbed his eyes. Since he’d come back from the states, he found his job in Magical Games and Sports to be less than ideal. It bored him, and he hated to be bored.

He hated to admit it, but he was just a paper pusher. He edited memos and sent them out to whoever needed it, then sat around trying to determine schedules for Quidditch games. He didn’t do anything important.

Draco snorted. There’s nothing important about scheduling when and where the Harpies play.

He needed to do something, but he wasn’t sure what. As he sat fiddling with his quill, the door to his office crept open, and Hermione breezed through, instantly brightening the dull room.

He grinned. “I didn’t know you knew where my office was.”

Her answering smile made his heart stutter. “I didn’t. I came by to drop off a book that Kingsley ordered and ran into Harry in the elevator; he told me he had an interesting conversation with one Draco Malfoy this morning.” Her brow arched in question. “I asked him where your office was.”

“Ah, so he did take our conversation to heart. My poor mother will be heartbroken to hear that our relationship has been ended. She was always hoping I’d hyphenate,” Draco teased.

“You’d better not let Ginny catch you joking like that. I’ve been on the wrong end of her Bat Bogey Hex, and it’s not a pleasant experience,” Hermione warned, shuddering.

Draco grinned. “I think I might get along with the Weaslette.” Hermione’s withering look sent him into a fit of laughter. “Honestly though, Potter and I’s conversation went well. I’ve actually invited him to our Quidditch game this weekend.”

Hermione’s eyebrow arched in disbelief. “And he accepted? Just like that?”

“I’m as shocked as you are. However, apparently the Weaslette put a good word in for me. Said you’re happier than she’d seen you in a while the last time you two spent time together.” Draco shrugged. “He offered me an olive branch, and I took it.”

“Well, Ginny is usually very honest.” Hermione looked up. “And she’s right. I’m pretty content.”

Once again, Draco’s face lit up with a stupid grin, and he leaned back in his chair, propping a finger on his chin. “Are you? Must be quite the bloke, to make such a pretty witch so happy.”

Hermione’s grin took on a gleam. “Oh, he is. Charming, smart, kind of stuck on himself.” She stuck out her tongue.

Despite himself, he felt laughter rumble in his throat as stood from the chair and moved around his desk to stand in front of her. “Stuck on himself? Well, from your description it sounds like he has a lot to offer.”

Hermione looked up at him from beneath her lashes, eyes bright. She closed the distance between them and toyed with a button on his shirt. “He’s alright.”

“I bet he could prove that he’s more than ‘alright,’” Draco murmured, his lips ghosting over her temple as Hermione leaned into him.

“He is definitely encouraged to try.”

Draco needed no more encouragement as he tilted her chin up so he could bring his lips to hers. Sweet and chaste, he smiled into the kiss when she melted into his embrace, arms wrapping around her waist.

When she broke away from the kiss, Hermione’s eyes were dancing with happiness. “Point proven. He’s much, much more than alright.”

“That’s what I thought.” He looked down at his desk and sighed. With a wave of his wand, his papers stacked themselves together and folded themselves into his desk drawer. He turned back to Hermione, who studied him for a moment before bringing her hand up to ease the crease between his eyes.

“Rough day?” she queried.

“Not rough,” he muttered. “I just have some thinking to do.”

“Well, don’t think too hard about it.” Hermione tugged his hand toward the door. “Walk me home?”

“Only if I get another chance to prove how much more than alright I am,” Draco replied cheekily.

“I believe that can be arranged.”

Chapter Text

Hermione dragged Draco down the sidewalk, eager to chase whatever negative thoughts that had been plaguing him away. Sometimes it was easier than others to forget that he had been through the war too, that he had changed so drastically.

It was easy to think of this Draco as someone entirely separate from Hogwarts Draco.

It was dreary out, the earlier rain casting a damp pallor over Diagon Alley. Steam rose in droves from the warm sidewalk; Hermione could feel her hair defying gravity with each step she took, only encouraging her fast pace down the sidewalk.

Though, if she were honest, the prospect of snogging Draco senseless again played far more of a factor in her speed than she cared to admit. She glanced sideways at him, trying to gauge whether or not he could tell what she was thinking.

He was quieter than normal, pensive. She squeezed his hand in hers, earning her eye contact.

“What’s going on? You haven’t been this quiet for a while.”

Draco sighed. “I don’t want to bother you with it. Just me being moody.”

“I won’t press you. I just want you to know that I’m here for you, as your—” she trailed off, unsure what to call herself.

Brows quirked, a small smile touched Draco’s lips. “As my what, Hermione?”

Her cheeks heated as she looked around the alley. They were nearing Flourish and Blotts, so she tried to navigate around the subject. “I’m just here for you. You can talk to me about anything.” Draco tugged on her hand, and she halted.

“You know, I am a Slytherin. We kind of mastered the ‘strategic topic shift’ to avoid answering a question.” He teased, not unkindly. Her blush deepened at the teasing glint in his eyes. “You’re here for me as my what?”

She ducked her head, burying her nose in the scarf looped around her neck, hoping he would interpret it as her warding off the cold and not muffling her answer like she intended. “Nothing,” came out garbled and unintelligible.

Draco resumed walking with her again, ignoring her attempt to change the subject. “You know, if you wanted to—what was that Muggle phrase from the telly the other night? Define the relationship?”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione nodded.

“Right. If you wanted to ‘define the relationship,’ all you had to do was ask.” Draco scoffed.

Hermione had to stop herself from stamping her foot. Why does he sound so bloody smug? “Yes, Draco, because that would be so very romantic.” Tossing her hair, she tried her best to mimic him. “‘Hermione, because I am so very taken with you and your wonderful snogging abilities,’” Draco snorted but quieted at her glare. “‘At your insistence, I would very much like for you to be my girlfriend.’ Because every girl wants to be asked out following a prompt.”

“You’re not prompting me, per say. You’re just very strongly nudging in that direction,” Draco pointed out. They arrived at the door to Flourish and Blotts, and Draco turned Hermione to face him. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped when he was met with her palm.

“Draco, so help me, if you ask me to be your girlfriend after I told you exactly how I do not want to be asked, I will make Ginny’s Bat Bogey Hex seem like a trip to Honeyduke’s.”

Cringing, Draco nodded. “Duly noted.”

“Now, as your not-girlfriend, tell me what’s bothering you,” Hermione prodded.

Draco sighed and crossed his arms. “I’ll only tell you if you invite me in for butterbeer.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione waved her wand and unwarded the door, stepping inside. She took a few steps, only to notice that Draco hadn’t followed. She glanced over her shoulder to see him standing in the doorway looking expectant. Sarcasm heavily lacing her voice, she said, “Do come in, Draco. Shall I fetch us some butterbeer?”

Wicked delight lit up his features, and he stepped through the doorway. “Please do,” he drawled. “Such a hospitable little witch.”

His laughter followed her down the hallway as she made her way to the staircase to her flat.

“Lock the door behind you and get your arse up here, you git,” she said halfheartedly. Draco hurried to comply.


 

Despite his teasing, Hermione allowed Draco to stay for dinner. As she bustled around her little flat, Draco had taken up his usual habit of exploring all of her Muggle trinkets. He was especially fascinated with the telly, but the refrigerator also drew his attention frequently. He was currently messing about with the magnets littering the front of the appliance.

“I know you’ve told me this before, but why do you have all of your food in here? A spell could keep it just as cold, and it would probably keep it fresh longer.” Draco mused, sliding a dog magnet around the fridge while intermittently making quiet barking noises at the other animal magnets. Hermione held back a laugh when she noticed he’d covertly shoved the bunny magnet to the top left corner of the fridge, far out of his playing field.

“I grew up with it,” she answered with a shrug. “I don’t know. It just reminds me of home, I guess.” She tried not to let the sadness seep into her voice, but Draco had been getting better at reading her emotions.

He paused his game to look at her. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing. I just miss my parents,” she replied. “Besides, you’re here to tell me about why you have been so quiet. Don’t try to change the subject on me.”

Draco winced and went back to playing with the magnets. “I’m not trying to change the subject. Just prolonging the inevitable, I suppose.” He sighed. “I’d like to enjoy a good dinner with you before we talk about my melancholy.”

Hermione perked up. “You know, Ginny and I started a tradition for what we do whenever we’ve had a shite day!” She flung open a drawer and pulled out a wad of papers. “We order in and watch a cheesy Muggle movie.”

“I’m going to assume when you say ‘cheesy’ that you don’t literally mean a Muggle show about cheese,” Draco snarked.

Rolling her eyes, Hermione quickly chose a takeout menu and grabbed her cell phone. Her flat above Flourish and Blotts was one of the few places she could find that would allow her to make a call outit probably helped that she’d spoken specifically to Kingsley to help procure the wards to allow it to work, but that was neither here nor there.

“Not a movie about cheese. It’s just a feel-good show to make you feel better about what’s frustrating you.” She perused the menu. “Is Chinese okay with you?”

Draco looked slightly confused. “Why would you want to forget? Then you’ll just remember later and be even more frustrated.” He ran the dog in a few more laps around the refrigerator. “I’ve never had Chinese, so just order for me.” He looked embarrassed that he had to admit his inexperience.

Sometimes his bashfulness warmed her heart in ways she hadn’t anticipated.

She reached down to squeeze his hand, and he smiled shyly down at her. “You’ll like it. I promise,” she said. “I’ll be right back. I’ll just go call it in.”

Hermione retreated to her bedroom, closing the door until the living room could only be seen through a crack. She reached the Chinese restaurant rather quickly and placed their order: sesame chicken with fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and crab rangoons. They were both dishes she liked, so Draco could try both and decide which he liked better. She would take whichever he didn’t like. The crab rangoons were a purely selfish decision; they were her favorite, so she got them with every order.

Once the order was placed and she’d received her pickup time, Hermione hung up her phone and turned to leave her bedroom. However, just as she was about to leave the room, she noticed Draco looking at the framed pictures that hung on the far wall of the living room.

Specks of dusta result of all the dust she carried with her from the bookstore, she was surelined each of the frames. An eclectic mix of Muggle and wizarding photos all depicted different versions of Hermione. There were some from family vacations long past, with a small, wiry Hermione grinning out at the camera with a gap between her teeth where she’d recently lost a front tooth, sporting a bright purple swimsuit as she made her dad into a sand mermaid at the beach. Another showed her wearing a large set of mouse ears with her mother and father each holding one of her hands. A nice older woman had offered to take their photo when Hermione had been explaining how excited she was to visit Disney World with her favorite people. She loved that photo.

The photos progressed throughout the years. 11-year-old Hermione grinning ear to ear as she waved a blurry piece of paperher Hogwarts letterthrough the air. A slightly bushy-haired Hermione throwing her arms around a grinning Harry and Ron in one of the first wizarding photos, and another photo of a sullen-looking Ron and Harry in dress robes while Hermione in her periwinkle dress, teeth noticeably smaller than previous photos grinned up at Viktor Krum.

She watched as Draco moved from photo to photo, grinning at some and simply staring at others. He’d nearly reached the end of the group of photos when he paused at a group image of Hermione, Harry, and the Weasleys.

Taken mere weeks after the fall of Voldemort, everyone looked ragged and worn but noticeably less tense. Their smiles, though dimmed by the loss of so many friends and allies, were lighter, more genuine. Hermione could remember the sheer joy of the moment.

They’d survived. The Weasleys, Harry, Hermione herself. They’d all survived. George, with his arm flung around a bruised and unusually more somber Fred, grinned crookedly at the camera before glancing at his brother in concern. The one Weasley they’d nearly lost.

She still wasn’t quite sure what had happened.

Draco was still gazing at the picture when she emerged from the bedroom. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled at her, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

“The food will be ready to pick up in fifteen minutes,” Hermione said, unsure how to approach him. He appeared deep in thought, even though he was smiling at her warmly.

Draco nodded and turned back to the photos. A sigh gusted out of him.

“Have you ever felt like you missed the opportunity to do something good?”  He spoke to the photos, almost like he was afraid to turn around and face her.

Hermione frowned, not quite following his line of thought. “What do you mean?”

“You asked earlier why I was upset. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about opportunities I may have missed out on.” He squared his shoulders and turned to face her. “It’s justI see all these photos you have of people you love and care about, and I don’t have that. I have Theo and Blaise, sure. But this” he gestured to the wall behind him. “I don’t have this.”

Hermione nodded then. She didn’t understandshe couldn’t understand. She had always grown up surrounded by love and warmth. What little she knew of Draco’s family, he hadn’t had much in the way of warmth. His father had been commanding and arrogant, loath to admit he was wrong. His mother might have been a different story if she’d married someone else. To blatantly lie to Voldemort took more courage than Hermione thought even she had. She could only imagine the amount of love Narcissa had for her son to risk everything to find him.

Draco was chewing on his lip, lost in thought, when Hermione crossed the room and placed a tentative hand on his arm. He turned to look at her, a question in his stormy grey eyes. As she’d come to know him, she’d realized how much more expressive those eyes were, if one knew how to look into them.

“You could, you know.”

His puzzled eyes questioned her once more, and she took a deep breath.

“You could have this. Maybe not exactly thisthe childhood best friends, Muggle parents, trips to Disney Worldbut you could have a group of friends that become family.” She looked up into his gaze. “It’s hard, making yourself vulnerable to a large group of people. But I’d like to help you if you’ll let me. They’d love you, you know?”

Draco scoffed. “The Weasleys? Hardly. It’s difficult enough to get Ron to be in the same room as me. Mrs. Weasley would skin me alive and use my beautiful hair in some godawful sweater for the Weasel.”

Hermione cringed. “Not exactly a visual I wanted. And they certainly won’t love you if you act like that. But you could try. For me, at least?”

Draco sighed and turned to survey the photo once more. Hermione could nearly hear the wheels turning in his head as he processed what she’d told him. His gaze flicked back over Fred and George one more time and lingered. She wasn’t sure, but she thought something lurked there for him. Before she could ask, he turned back to her with a soft smile.

“I suppose, for you, I could try,” he said gently, taking her hand. Some of the weight seemed to have lifted from his shoulders.

Hermione’s lips curved upward, and she squeezed his hand. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Draco said with a dip of his head. “Now, I think our food is probably ready. Let’s go grab it and put on this Muggle cheese show. We’ll talk more later.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her lips and shooed her off to grab her purse.

Chapter Text

Hermione nudged the door to her little flat open with her hip. She had been trying to convince Draco the whole trip home that they should watch some movie called You've Got Mail. He didn't understand why she thought it was such a good show; why would any sane person communicate with a box when they could just send an owl?

"They're not communicating with a box, Draco." She rolled her eyes at him. "Honestly, for someone so smart, you're extremely slow to grasp Muggle stuff."

He couldn't help the grin that her comment pulled from him. "And for someone so in tune with wizard culture, you're certainly slow to get on a broom."

Her eyes flashed as she set down her box of takeout. "I'm not slow to get on a broom; I just don't relish the idea of dying a horrible death."

"I've been on brooms since I was a toddler and never died!" Draco protested. He rested his hip against the counter as she opened a cabinet for a plate.

Hermione eyed him as she pulled the plates out. "I'm not convinced you're totally sane, though." Her laughter danced in her eyes.

Draco stalked forward, determination in his eyes. "Says the one who repeatedly chooses to spend time with me." He stood close enough that he could feel the heat radiating from her petite body. He glanced down at her lips, and she flicked her tongue over her lips. Draco brought his hands up on either side of her waist, caging her in.

Hermione gulped, the movement bringing his eyes to the lovely column of her neck. "Surely I have no idea what you mean."

Draco allowed one hand to skim her waist as he brought his lips to her ear. A shudder ran through her as he whispered, "I think you do."

His hand closed on her waist as he crushed his lips to hers. Hermione sighed into his mouth and allowed her hands to travel up his chest and around his neck. One braced itself on his shoulder and the other played with the tips of his hand.

They fought each other for dominance, and Draco allowed a small groan to escape him. She responded in kind, tightening her grip on his hair. It was a delicious kind of pain, the kind that made a man want to drown in her attention and forget the world.

With more than a little effort, he withdrew from her lips, resting his forehead against hers. Their breath gusted out between them, but neither said a word for a few moments, content to just bask in each other's presence.

Draco marveled at the women in his arms. Years ago, he would have rather kissed the Dark Lord's feet than even make eye contact with her. Now, she made his days better, his heart lighter. He didn't know why she tolerated him around, why she let him kiss her, touch her, but he couldn't bring himself to push her away. She made him want to be better.

He leaned away from her to look in her eyes. Her flushed cheeks and wide eyes made him chuckle.

"What—what was that for?" She stammered.

Draco shrugged. "Just felt like it." He turned away to grab his plate and dumped his box of food on it. "By the way, I win." He tossed a look over his shoulder.

Her inquisitive look followed him out of the kitchen. "Win what?"

"Our argument. Now get in here, I want to watch something kick-arse. No cheese movies."

Hermione's groan echoed through the flat. "You only won because you cheated!" she scoffed.

Draco rolled his eyes. "It's not cheating; it was a distraction. And it worked."

He could here her muttering under breath in the kitchen, but he ignored her. Setting his plate down on her coffee table, he crossed the room to look at the shelf full of movies.

The first time they'd watched movies together, he had been transfixed. She'd described movies to him as a play that had been filmed. Similar to their moving photos, she'd said, only these people were doomed to complete the same actions over and over again. They never changed. He had thought it sounded dreadful, but the first movie had him hooked. Hermione hadn't let him choose; she just told him to sit and relax. He had found that hard to do when all he wanted to do was snog her again, but he did as he was told. She had chosen the movie Casablanca. It was good—long, but good. She kept a small square next to her that she used to stop it every time he had a question, which was often, and he was sure her patience had been worn thin by the time they got to the end of it, but she prevailed and answered every one of them in detail.

He imagined that she enjoyed getting to teach him about something. It became their routine; she would choose a movie, and they would watch it together, cuddled together on the couch. On the nights when neither of them felt they could watch through a whole movie, they read together, him on one end of the couch, her stretched out across it with her feet in his lap. She'd fallen asleep that way several times, and he never had the heart to move her. He just sat there watching her sleep, the small smile that graced her full lips making his chest ache, until she woke up and shooed him home with a kiss.

Hermione finally joined him in the living room and joined him at the shelf of movies, eyes scanning the titles.

"Well," she grumbled, "You've Got Mail is apparently out. What instead?"

Draco laughed. "I want to watch something kick-arse tonight."

Hermione pinned him with an incredulous look. "'Kick-arse'? You are more like Ron than you know."

"You take that back!" Draco glared at her. "I am absolutely nothing like the Weasel."

Hermione just laughed at him, grabbed a movie, and gestured at the couch. "We'll watch this one. It's an American movie, but it's one of my favorites. Guilty pleasure, I guess."

Draco muttered to himself on the short walk to the couch. "Compare me to the Weasel. He wouldn't even know his arse from his head without guidance some days."

Hermione's suppressed laughter shook her shoulders, and Draco made it his mission to glare her down until she came back and turned on the movie.


Draco was transfixed by the action screen. Every movie they watched together was different. He didn't know how Muggles did it, but he was convinced that they were superior when it came to entertainment—barring Quidditch. The movies Hermione had been showing him all fascinated him; he couldn't get enough.

The movie she had chosen was called Twister. It was set in the United States, and it was about weather. She'd explained that Muggles that lived in the middle of the United States sometimes had a weather phenomenon called tornadoes, and they were extremely dangerous. He'd heard the word before, but had never seen one before. Though he knew that they weren't real in the movie—Hermione had explained when he was shocked that they were able to find so many for one movie—he couldn't help but marvel at them. They were powerful and fast, capable of destroying a house within seconds. He shuddered and hoped he'd never have to encounter one.

Once the movie had started, he didn't ask many questions, but this time it wasn't due to his ignorance of the subject. Instead, he was dumbfounded by Hermione. Usually, she sat quietly beside him, curled into his side with a blanket thrown over her legs. Tonight, however, was a different story.

When she'd started the movie, she seemed oddly excited. The opening scene had made her tear up because—as she paused it to explain to him—the girl's father died. It made her miss her parents, and she made him promise to remind her to call them the next day. He knew how hard it was for her to be so far away from them, but he didn't bring it up often. She'd restarted the movie shortly afterward.

But it wasn't her emotions toward the movie that had kept him transfixed by her. Instead, it was her reaction throughout the rest of the movie.

She knew every single word, and she quoted along to the whole movie.

He thought it was a joke. Surely no one had ever seen something so many times that they could say it word for word. But she did. She'd danced in her seat to the music, and she'd said each line with each character. They'd only watched about fifteen minutes, and he hadn't been able to concentrate on the movie. He could barely contain himself as she acted out the scenes from the comfort of her seat.

However, he soon learned that he wouldn't be able to keep it to himself for long. The people had been following a tornado when the scene switched to one of the other characters in his death trap—or car, as Hermione repeatedly told him.

In complete synchronization with the man on the screen, Hermione shouted, "It's the wonder of nature, baby!" and proceeded to flail about wildly on the couch to the music on the telly.

Draco couldn't hold in his laughter any longer and burst into loud, undignified guffaws, and she promptly stopped. She quickly located the remote and paused the movie, then picked up the couch cushion and began hitting him.

"Do. Not. Laugh. At. Me!" she punctuated each word with a smack of the pillow, her cheeks flaming red.

He finally managed to get his arms around her and promised he would stop laughing if she stopped quoting every word of the movie. She'd grudgingly agreed and curled into him, but he could still tell that she was silently mouthing each line along with the characters. He had grinned into her hair and settled back into the movie.

On the screen, the man and woman—he thought the man's name was Bill, but he couldn't remember the woman's; Muggle movies still moved too quickly for him to catch everything sometimes—ran into a crumbling house. It looked like it had been hit with a blasting spell. The wreckage of the house hit a little too close to home for him. He glanced at Hermione to see if it affected her, but she was transfixed by the screen. Only me, I guess.

He fidgeted in his seat as he felt an uncomfortable crawling sensation on the back of his neck. The rubble looked like that he'd seen one too many times during the war. The miserable creaking of the house echoed in his ears, beckoning the memories he tried to shove down into the distant corner of his mind, the corner he tried to keep them tucked in, tidily away.

He was running down a hallway, Rookwood just feet in front of him.

Draco gulped and rubbed the back of his neck.

Ahead was a smoky hallway, the sounds of a shouted conversation reaching his ears. Familiar laughter flittered down the hallway, despite the cacophony of battle still ringing through the air. He knew that laugh. Despite them being older, he'd recognize the sounds of Fred and George Weasley's laughter anywhere. It usually preceded one of the Slytherins being pranked.

He started to sweat, and his grip tightened on Hermione's hand. She glanced up at him, a question in her eyes. He couldn't tell her; he didn't want her to change the way she looked at him. He shook his head, and she turned back to the screen.

His heart beat in his ears, blocking all sound as he hurtled after the deranged Death Eater. He knew that if Rookwood made it to that hallway, someone would die. He had to stop him, but how?

Gasping for breath as he ran, his voice sliced through the air, piercing in its desperation. "Rookwood!"

The Death Eater in front of him glanced over his shoulder, and Draco's wand raised up.

Draco blinked hard, still trying to shake the memory off. In the movie, the man and woman had climbed down into the rubble of the house to help the older woman from earlier in the movie. Part of the house creaked, and more of it collapsed.

"Bombarda Maxima!" he screamed. The charm missed Rookwood by mere inches, and Draco's eyes widened in horror as he saw a man with a shock of red hair round the corner, laughter mixing with the words that were falling out of his mouth.

" I don't think I've heard you joke since you were—" Draco's misaimed charm hit the wall, and time seemed to slow down as the wall crumbled behind Rookwood, who was still half-turned to face Draco, sure to crush him and the ginger-haired man, whose eyes had widened in fear as he stood transfixed in place.

Draco shook his head to try to clear the memory. It didn't help, only earning him a strange look from Hermione. It wasn't often, but sometimes, some things, sent his memory back to that night—hell, some things plunged him right back into the fear that had plagued him in sixth year. He'd talked to mind healers, but to no avail. He wasn't sure what he could do about it. Live with it, he supposed. He deserved the torment. He'd given worse to others at Voldemort's behest.

Draco ran forward, unsure how he was going to stop anything, but determined to try anyway. Both Rookwood and Weasley stood transfixed as the wall came down. Almost of its own accord, his wand snapped up, and he shouted the first thing that came to mind.

"Protego Maxima!" He wasn't sure if it did any good, but he couldn't wait to find out. The wall crashed to the ground, and he ran through the one area that hadn't been blocked by debris. As he sprinted around the corner, he clipped the shoulder of another red-haired man, briefly recognizing the pompous git who had been Gryffindor Prefect during first year. He didn't pause.

The last thing he heard from the man was his strangled gasp of "Fred!" before he disappeared into the bowels of the castle.

Draco blinked. The scene on the movie had changed, but his vision was mostly blocked by the frizzy-haired witch in front of him. At some point, she'd gotten up and knelt in from of him. One hand caressed his cheek, the other in a nervous fist, almost as though she had half a mind to fight whatever was happening in his head. Her eyebrows were drawn together in concern, the crease between them almost too cute to bear.

As he stared at Hermione, he felt the tension slowly leave his body. Draco was used to flashbacks of the war, but he didn't fancy the idea of Hermione seeing his weaknesses. He already had enough evidence of them etched into his arm.

He smiled sheepishly at Hermione. "Hullo, there. I guess I missed some of the movie." His joke fell flat, even to him. He reached up and wrapped his fingers around Hermione's, gently pulling her up onto the couch next to him. Neither said anything for a few moments, but Draco refused to let go of her hand. It was calming.

After his heart slowed to a dull thud, he cleared his throat. "So, um, I'm supposing that you'd like to know what happened?"

Her noncommittal shrug didn't fool him. Hermione Granger was nothing if not curious, but she was also fiercely protective of those she cared about; he knew she'd go to any lengths to protect Harry, Ron, and the other Weasley's. He remembered the hundreds of times he'd bullied her and her friends throughout school, and she always had the same reaction: face set in a stubborn glare, delicate fingers wrapped in a tight fist, eager to make someone regret what they'd said.

He'd been on the receiving end of that fist once. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined it being raised in his defense.

Draco sighed as he watched her chew on her lip. The frustration that she didn't know what was going on was evident in her eyes, but he knew she wouldn't push him. At some point, he was going to have to open up to her. He knew it as well as he knew his family tree. Now was as good of time as any, he supposed.

He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair, drawing her attention to him. "What do you remember about the Battle of Hogwarts?"

He could tell that his question had surprised her when she bit down harder on her lip. Cringing, she responded. "Everything. Every last minute seems to be etched into my mind."

Draco nodded. "Mine, too. Sometimes it's worse than others." Hermione waited patiently for him to go on, but he gently extracted his hand from hers, using them both to scrub over his eyes. He wasn't sure if he could do this. He wasn't sure if he should do this. He didn't want to change the way she saw him.

With a deep breath, he went continued, "Some days, some situations, remind me of the war. It's hard to remind myself that I'm not there," he confessed.

Hermione looked conflicted. "Draco, I think all of us struggle with that sometimes. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'm not ashamed!" he winced at how defensive he sounded and hung his head. "I'm not ashamed of struggling with it. I'm ashamed of what I did, and I hate myself for who I was then."

He heard the rustle of fabric, and Hermione's hand once again grazed his cheek. He couldn't look at her, but her gentle hand under his chin forced his gaze upwards.

"You're not the same man as you were then, Draco. You were just a boy. You didn't know what you were getting into. None of us did," Hermione's eyes shone with sincerity. "It was war. We all did things we're ashamed of."

Draco huffed out a chuckle. "I know that, but it's different for me. I made the choice. I got branded." The disgust in is voice was clear even to himself.

He stood from the couch and paced in from of Hermione's coffee table, the movie long forgotten.

"Every single day, I am reminded of how stupid I was. I'm reminded when I dress. It's there when I'm working. It's in the eyes of everyone I meet on the street." He turned to look at her. "Did you know that some people still cross the street when they see me coming?"

Hermione's eyes flashed. "You are not the same person that you were, Draco. You're not."

His pacing brought him to the photos lining the walls once more. He'd paused to look at them every time he had been in her flat. They all featured Hermione in various stages of life. His favorites were the Muggle ones, taken when she was so small that her bushy mane threatened to overwhelm her. Her big, toothy grin always made him smile, especially in the photos where her grin featured her missing front teeth, and she cuddled with a large tabby cat.

However, the photos were harder to look at as she got older. There some with her parents in her Hogwarts robes, grinning ear to ear. After those, most of the photos were of the moving wizard variety, and they predominantly featured Weasley and Potter. The Golden Trio, as the newspapers had taken to calling them after Voldemort's defeat. It wasn't a misnomer; the three seemed to shine whenever they were in each other's presence. It was obvious even in the photos.

The fourth photo from the end was the most difficult to look at, though. It had apparently been taken shortly after the war. Potter, Hermione, and the Weasleys all stood together, still looking worn and haggard, but each of them sporting a genuine smile. Weasley, Potter, and Hermione all stood together, the Weaslette on Potter's other side. Ron poked Hermione in it, and she slapped his arm, causing the Weaslette and Potter to roll their eyes at each other. Behind them stood Fred and George.

Draco had studied the photo nearly every time he'd been there. He watched the way George flung his arm around Fred's shoulders, and he noticed Fred's barely perceivable wince at being joslted. Fred's left eye had the shadow of a bruise under it, and his hand was wrapped in bandages when it came up to clap George's shoulder. The boys grinned crookedly at the camera, mirror images of each other. As everyone laughed into the camera, George turned his head and gazed at his brother. Concern filled his eyes, and his grin wilted a little.

Draco turned away from the photo, unable to look at it any longer. When he looked up, Hermione waited patiently for him to speak.

"Do you know what happened to George Weasley at the Battle of Hogwarts?"

She frowned. "I know that he was dueling Death Eaters with Percy, and he was nearly crushed to death by a wall that came down on top of him," she trailed off. He could nearly see steam coming out of her ears because she was thinking so hard. "The last thing he remembered before waking up in the hospital wing was someone shouting a spell at him."

Draco sighed. "I was chasing Rookwood through the castle. He had some bright idea that he would be the one to capture Potter and hand him over to Voldemort."

Hermione snorted, and he shared a wry grin with her. "I know. The man was a few sickles short of a galleon." Draco stopped long enough to share a giggle with her, but he quickly sobered. "I was chasing him down, trying to stop him from killing someone, and I shot a spell at him."

Hermione sucked in a breath. He knew what she would ask. "What spell?"

He looked down. "Bombarda Maxima. I don't know what I was thinking. Was I going to blow him up to stop him? At that point, I don't even think I was thinking. I just knew I had to stop him."

Silence stretched between them, but Draco couldn't bring himself to break it. A few moments passed before her quiet voice broke the deathly still of the flat. "What happened?"

"It missed," he whispered. He cleared his throat before he went on. "It missed, and it hit the wall behind him. Weasley came around the corner just before I'd shouted the spell. It was seconds, but it seemed like it lasted an hour."

Draco looked up, but he couldn't bring himself to look at her. The felt a twinge in the corner of his eye, and he knew that there were tears in his eyes. He refused to let them leak, though. He was showing enough vulnerability; he couldn't handle pity. He crossed the room and sat down unceremoniously, a deep sigh gusting out of him.

Draco looked down at his hands, unable to meet Hermione's eyes. "I saw the wall come crashing down and just shot a Protego at him as I ran by. I couldn't stop, but—" his voice broke just a little. "I wanted to stop, but I had to get out of there. I knew that Percy had seen me; he'd have thought I had something to do with it, and I did; I had everything to do with it. I was just scared. I couldn't let Vold—I just—and I had to find my mother—"

Draco blinked sharply to keep the angry tears at bay. Hermione's hand clasped his, and she squeezed slightly. Her nonverbal sign of support spurred his confession on.

"I didn't know what happened. I just kept going. I just hoped that it would be okay."

"Draco—it was more than okay. Fred lived." Draco looked up as her breath left her in a disbelieving laugh; tears leaked out of her eyes, but the expression on her face stole his breath away. She was smiling as the tears traveled in rivulets down her cheeks. "Because of you, Draco, Fred is alive. He's alive, and he's okay."

Draco snorted. "Because of me? Hogwarts was overrun with Death Eaters because of me. Fred almost died because of me. I am not good, Hermione. Don't make me out to be some kind of hero. I cast that spell more for myself than anyone else."

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Draco interrupted her.

"I am selfish. I cast that spell because I couldn't handle any more blood on my hands."

Hermione was silent, but his hand was still wrapped tightly in hers. He inhaled, preparing his rant, but she held up a hand, silencing him.

"You are not that person anymore, Draco." He opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off. "No. I won't hear it. You are not the same person. Can you honestly tell me that you would be here, in my flat, if you were still the same boy from Hogwarts?"

He shook his head.

"Exactly. You did what you had to do to survive. You were brainwashed by a sick man, and you followed along in order to survive. You saved a man's life, Draco." Hermione's hand once more forced his chin up. The look in her eyes captured him; he couldn't look away if he tried. "You are a good man. You've gone above and beyond to fix your father's wrongs. You work for the Ministry, and you are dating a Muggle born, for Merlin's sake."

Draco scoffed. "I work in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, Hermione. Not exactly Order of Merlin material."

She shrugged. "Maybe not, but I believe in you. You are good. You just need to have a little faith in yourself."

Draco couldn't believe the witch in front of him. After seven years of relentless bullying from him, she still could see him as completely changed. She'd forgiven him, even after years of being called a Mudblood. While he knew he couldn't instantly change everything he thought about himself, the disgust, the hatred, and the shame, he wanted to try. Not just for her, though that was largely one of the motivating factors. He wanted to see himself the way that she saw him.

He was damaged, but he wanted to be able to look at himself in the mirror and be proud of who he was as a person. He'd never be able to change his past, but he could change his future.

Draco looked up at Hermione and smiled crookedly. "I don't know what I did to deserve to have such a wonderful witch in my life."

She rolled her eyes at him. "First of all, I am not your possession, so you don't 'have' me at all. Second, you didn't have to do anything other than be yourself."

"Hmmph." Draco lifted his perfectly arched eyebrow at her—a skill he'd perfected long ago, when he spent more time slicking his hair back with gel than he did on homework. He knew the conversation was far from over, but he needed a moment of levity. "So you mentioned this dating thing a little bit ago."

Hermione groaned and fell back against the couch, throwing an arm over her eyes. "Don't start, Draco."

"Oh, I'm starting," he grinned. "Hermione Granger, girlfriend of Draco Malfoy."

She shot up and slapped a hand over his mouth. "You are not allowed to call me your girlfriend until you ask me like a proper gentleman."

He gently pried her fingers off his lips and kissed the pads of them one by one. When he was done, he looked up into her eyes. "I know that I'm a pain in the arse, and we've got a lot of history to overcome, but there's no one else I'd rather overcome it with than you. Would you do me the honor of officially becoming my girlfriend, Hermione?"

Her answering smile lit up the room, and she threw her arms around him. "Of course, I'll be your girlfriend, you git." She pulled back then leaned in to gently kiss him. "You have horrible timing, Draco Malfoy."

"Maybe so, but you asked for it." Draco smiled back at her and pulled her in for a kiss once more.

After a few heated moments, Draco pulled away and suggested another movie. He didn't care what, but he needed to be around his witch, even if that meant sitting on the couch through Muggle movie after Muggle movie.

As he watched her search through her stack of movies, he smiled.

Chapter Text

Following Draco's confession, they'd turned the movie off. Hermione couldn't focus anymore, and it was clear that it was far more detrimental to Draco's peace of mind than it was relaxing. She couldn't blame him; she still jumped from unexpected bangs and crashes. Her hand still flew to her wand whenever she was startled.

Old habits died hard, she supposed.

They'd sat on the couch for a while, talking about whatever happened to come to mind until Draco yawned. She offered for him to stay the night—on the couch, she had firmly stated—as it was late. Still, despite their conversation following the movie, Hermione wouldn't have felt right sending him out into the cold after laying his fears out for her.

While she was happy that Draco had asked her to be his girlfriend, despite his horrible timing, Hermione was conflicted.

As much as she liked Draco, she knew there were still aspects of their relationship that they had yet to confront. Admittedly, they had both changed since the war, but the previous night had definitely highlighted some of the issues they both had yet to deal with. Hermione had resolved herself long ago to the fact that she was likely to suffer from issues from the war for the foreseeable future; she'd never considered that she might also have to help another person confront theirs.

After the war, she'd realized how remarkably removed she was from the coping of her friends. They still loved her, of course she knew that, but they had other support systems to rely on. Harry had Ginny and the Weasleys, and Ron obviously had his family. It was different for her; she'd always known that she was a welcome extension of the Weasley family, but it felt strange to mourn the war with a family that wasn't truly her own. Her own parents had been in Australia, blissfully unaware that they had a daughter who had gone to battle against an evil wizard hell-bent on destroying Muggles and Muggle-borns. Harry and Ginny had been quick to move into Grimmauld Place together, despite Molly's protests, and Ron helped George get the joke shop running again while Fred recovered from the myriad of injuries that he'd received despite the shielding charm that Draco had saved him with.

Hermione wasn't sure where she had fit into the equation, so she'd packed up her things into the little beaded bag that had somehow survived their stint on the run and returned to her parents' little cottage. She'd kept in touch with the boys and Ginny, but she took a much-needed break from the wizarding world and went to find her parents.

Reversing the memory charm had been harder than she'd planned. Originally, she had decided that she would be gone for three months: one month to find her parents, for she hadn't planted exactly where in Australia she would send them. The second month and part of the third would be spent trying to reverse the memory charm. However, three months had rapidly turned to six, which had turned into eight before the charm was reversed.

It had taken incremental chinks every day to cut through the memories she'd planted in their minds; though she supposed she ought to have been proud of herself for the powerful spellwork, it had served only to frustrate her and make her wonder if her parents would ever look upon her as a daughter again or if they would forever remain Wendell and Monica Wilkins and she as the kind stranger who helped her mother carry her groceries home from the small seaside market.

Hermione sighed, trying to shake herself from her glum mood, and kicked the sheets off. There was no use wallowing in her issues when she could help someone else with theirs. Seeing as she was Draco's girlfriend now, she figured that she could help. He'd likely help her with hers, too, but she didn't want to think about that now. She always had been good at confronting the demons of others than her own, and she cared more about Draco than she thought was likely normal for such a new relationship—despite their tiptoeing around each other for so long.

Although it was only nine in the morning, she felt lazy for lying in bed so long contemplating the past. She stretched, limbs cracking, and smiled to herself. Despite the emotional turmoil of the night before and her early morning thoughts, she'd slept well and was refreshed. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and slid them into her slippers, humming to herself as she crossed the room and opened the curtains of her bedroom.

The morning dawned bright, glittering off of fresh snow that had apparently fallen as she and Draco had slept. She loved this time of year, and she couldn't wait to enjoy the fresh snowfall—with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a book, safely inside.

The whoosh of the Floo in her living room had her whirling away from the window. She rarely left it open, as it was just easier—and cleaner—to use the one in the shop. She didn't like cleaning the ashes every time she used it. As she rushed through her bedroom door, she heard Ginny's voice calling her name.

She barely spared a glance at a still-sleeping Draco as she skidded to a halt in front of the fireplace and peered down at Ginny's face.

"Ginny! What are you doing calling so early?" Hermione winced at her volume and consciously lowered it. "I didn't expect to hear from you today."

"Hermione? I was going to see if you wanted to grab lunch since you still haven't told me how your date went with Malfoy. Why do you look so worried? Do I—"

Hermione shushed the girl in the fire, hoping that she wouldn't wake Draco up on the couch. He looked peaceful, and she guessed he'd need rest after the emotionally taxing conversation they'd had the night before.

"Hermione, you're worrying me. Do I need to send Harry over?" Ginny queried, but Hermione rapidly shook her head.

"No, I'll—" she bit her lip and sighed. "Draco stayed the night here last night, and he's still sleeping. I don't want him to—"

Ginny gasped. "Hermione Granger, you little sneak! You've already moved on to spending the night with each other? I thought you were my best friend." She sniffed. "You're supposed to tell me these things!"

Hermione rolled her eyes despite the grin on her face. "Nothing happened, Gin."

"Nothing happened, my arse. Hermione Granger, you get your little arse through this Floo and tell me what happened right this instant." Ginny's slanted brow could have made Molly shake in her boots.

"I don't know, Gin. What if he wakes up, and I'm gone?" Hermione fidgeted with her sleeve. When Ginny's brow only rose higher, she sighed and said, "All right. I'll leave him a note and be right there."

Ginny whooped, drowning out Hermione's call of "for ten minutes only."

Hermione stood, sighing. Ginny wouldn't leave her be until she told her something, so she thought she'd might as well get it through with. She loved the woman, but, Merlin, was she relentless. She cast one last glance at Draco as she went back to her room to pull a sweatshirt over her head. She didn't bother to smooth the frizzy mess of curls that emerged and left the room.

Pausing in the doorway, she stared at Draco again on the couch. He'd shifted since she left the room and thrown an arm over his head. He'd also pushed the blanket off himself sometime during the night, and it lay in a tangled mess at the end of the couch. She smiled softly as he flexed his arm and stretched in his sleep, trying to ignore the twinge her heart gave at seeing him so vulnerable and cozy in her flat.

Hermione shook herself and summoned a sheet of paper and a pen to jot down a quick note and left it pinned beneath a coaster on her coffee table. With one more flick of her wand, she set the coffee pot brewing and summoned a mug on top of the note for good measure. She stood, trying to get herself to stop stalling, and decided that pulling the blanket up for Draco didn't count as stalling since he really looked quite cold.

As carefully as she could, she pulled the soft blanket up from under his feet, conscious that he was likely as light of a sleeper as she was. She had just tucked the sheet under his chin when he heaved a contented sigh and wrapped his arm around hers, snuggling it to his chest. A small smile quirked his lips upward, and Hermione froze to the spot.

Oh, bugger. Her eyes flicked to the clock on the opposite wall. She estimated it'd been about three minutes since Ginny had disappeared from the Floo, so she likely had about three more until she actually popped in and physically hauled Hermione through herself. Biting down on her lower lip, she gave an experimental tug of her arm. Draco's brow furrowed in his sleep, and, if possible, he hugged her arm closer to his chest. Hermione couldn't help the laugh that huffed out, accidentally disturbing the hair that was mussed from his sleep. His brow furrowed deeper, but he finally let go of her arm to brush the stray strands away and burrow into the blanket.

With a sigh of relief, Hermione stepped away from the couch and grabbed a handful of Floo powder. She glanced back at him once more before she vanished into the green flames with a quiet call of "Grimmauld Place!"

When the flames died out around her, Hermione stepped onto the hearth of Grimmauld Place's old drawing room and dusted ashes off her clothes. She had been about to call for Ginny—who was nowhere in sight—when a mug of tea hurtled through the doorway to her right and hovered in front of her, as if begging her to take it. Hermione barely contained a yelp as Ginny appeared in front of her with a pop, shoved the mug of tea into her hands, and dragged her to the couch near the fireplace.

"Ginny, what are you doing?" she hissed as hot tea slopped over the side of the mug and burned her had.

The redhead shrugged. "You said I had ten minutes. I made sure to be prepared. Now talk." Ginny's eyebrows waggled at her expectantly.

Hermione glared at her. "I don't know what you want me to tell you. He came over to watch a movie last night, we talked about the past, and then we went to bed. That's it." She shrugged. So she wasn't being entirely truthful about what they had discussed last night, but it wasn't her business to tell. She had a feeling—no, she knew—that if she told the Weasleys Draco's secret, then she could kiss their very new relationship goodbye, and she was rather loathe to do that.

Ginny stared back at Hermione, obviously not impressed. "That's it. No canoodling, no anything?"

"Well, that's not entirely true. We held hands while we watched the movie and then while we talked. We kissed some." Hermione shrugged. "Like I said, there's not anything to tell."

"So you mean to tell me," Ginny started, "that you had one of the most eligible bachelors in wizarding London stay the night in your flat last night and absolutely nothing happened?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "You have approximately four minutes until your time is up."

"Okay, okay. So, what does he kiss like? I've heard the rumors: Slytherin sex god and whatnot." Ginny grinned conspiratorially at her.

Hermione couldn't help the shudder that ran through her. As much as she liked the Slytherin and wasn't totally opposed to finding out whether that particular rumor was true one day—in the distant future—she didn't want to think about his previous escapades. Ginny, however, mistook the shudder of revulsion for ecstasy and squealed, practically jumping on the couch.

"Oh, I knew it!

Hermione nearly dropped the mug of tea in her haste to correct Ginny. "Gin, nothing happened! He fell asleep on the couch, and I went to my room. We woke up still in opposite rooms." She rolled her eyes at the glimmer in Ginny's eyes and added once more for emphasis, "We did not sleep together."

With a sigh, Ginny slumped back in the seat. "Fine, fine. Ruin all of my fun," she muttered under her breath.

Hermione huffed a laugh and took a sip from the tea Ginny had obviously prepared to her liking before she stood. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I need to get back before he wakes up and thinks I've bolted."

"Understandable," Ginny mused. She began to walk her to the fireplace when her arm shot out, clasping Hermione's upper arm. "Hey, I've got an idea! Why don't you and Draco come over for dinner tonight? It'll just be you two, Harry, and I."

Hermione grimaced. "I don't know, Gin. He's got a lot of stuff going on and I—"

Ginny was already shaking her head. "Uh-uh. No excuses. He's already invited Harry to play in his Quidditch games with his friends. It might be awkward at first, but we'll manage." She patted Hermione on the arm as she ushered the flabbergasted witch into the Floo. "Dinner will be at 6. Be sure to wear something cute!" With that, Ginny tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace and Hermione closed her eyes against the whirling of grates and stumbled out into her apartment mere seconds later, her mind still spinning. She was still trying to process what had just happened when a steaming mug of coffee appeared in front of her, and she jumped.

"A little jumpy this morning?" Draco drawled, and Hermione's heart bottomed out. His voice was still gravelly, like he had just woken up, and the chuckle that he punctuated his question with made her toes curl. She took the mug from his hands and smiled up at him from beneath her lashes. His hair still stuck out in every direction from sleeping on the couch, but he looked comfortable and happy. She broke eye contact and sipped from her mug.

"Maybe just a little jumpy. I'm sorry I was out; Ginny—"

"Kidnapped you and made you tell her all of the sordid details of my night spent on your couch?" Draco finished the statement for her, and Hermione's head whipped up to stare at him. His brow creased and he gestured to the sheet of paper on the coffee table. "You left a note. Hermione, I know I'm the last person that should say this, but you're off this morning, unless you always act like you walked in on Madam Pomphrey and Snape shagging every morning."

Hermione cringed through laughter, shaking herself. "No, I'm fine. Ginny just blindsided me a bit this morning." She worried her lip between her teeth. "She invited us to dinner tonight."

It was Draco's turn to look shocked. "Us. As in you and me?"

"Well, there's only two of us here, so that's the only us I could be referring to," Hermione quipped. Draco ran a hand through his mussed hair, and she softened her tone. "We don't have to. I know this is—" she gestured between them. "—is pretty new. I don't want to push you." Hermione stared down into her mug to hide her reddening cheeks.

He was in front of her in an instant, using his hand to tilt her face up so he could look her in the eyes. "Hey, none of that. It's not that I don't want to go. I've already kind of called a truce with Potter, so that won't be too bad." His thumb caressed her cheek.

Hermione nodded. "It's Ginny, right?"

Draco sighed and dropped his hands. "What if I accidentally blurt something out? I don't want her to find out that way. On top of that, my father is the one that slipped her that journal that almost got her killed. She probably hates me for it!" He paced about her living room, muttering to himself. Hermione gave him some space to think and retreated to the breakfast nook.

As Draco paced, Hermione gave herself time to think. She'd already known that this Draco was very different from the one that she'd been tormented by at school, but he was consistently surprising her. The fact that he genuinely cared about the way Ginny found out the truth of her brother's survival was one of many new sides of him that Hermione was intrigued by.

It also helps that he's ridiculously handsome, and his morning voice is quite possibly one of the sexiest things—

Hermione's internal dialogue was interrupted when the very man she was daydreaming about stopped in front of her with a sigh.

"I'll go."

Hermione blinked up at him. Draco was standing in front of her with his shoulders squared and a look of determination on his face. His eyes glinted with steely resolve, deepening the gray until it rivaled charcoal.

"Are you sure? I don't want to make you do anything that you don't want to." She stood and meandered into the kitchen, unwilling to push him, but he followed her and leaned against the countertop next to the sink as she washed out her mug.

"I'm sure. It'll be awkward." Hermione grinned as he echoed Ginny's words. "But I know they're important to you, so I'm going. And I'll do my best to keep the squabbling to a minimum."

Hermione grinned up at him, then launched herself at him to hug him. He started, a little unsure what to do, then wrapped his arms around her. "Thank you," she mumbled into his chest. She felt him bury his nose into her hair for just a moment before he pulled away with a serious expression on his face.

"Alright, if we're going to do this, then I need to get home and change. What time is dinner? What's the dress code? Do you know what we're having?" Draco fired question after question at her, and Hermione stifled her laughter.

He inhaled to keep going, but Hermione raised a hand to stop him. "Draco, slow down." He stopped, but his expression was expectant. Her laughter escaped her. "It's only ten in the morning! Dinner isn't until six tonight. You have plenty of time to get ready. And no, I don't know what's for dinner," she added.

"But I never know how much time I need to get ready," Draco complained as she steered him toward the fireplace. She shoved him inside with a peck on the cheek. As she grabbed a handful of Floo powder and called out the name of his flat, he shouted, "It takes time to get my hair perfectly coifed like this, Herm—" his statement was cut off with a whoosh of green flames, and Hermione collapsed on the floor in a fit of giggles.

Having Draco Malfoy around was certainly making her life very interesting.

Hermione stared into the mirror in her room, tugging at the hem of her sweater. She'd worked in the bookshop for the first half of the day to distract herself and relaxed with a book most of the afternoon, but she'd sprung off her couch when her clock chimed at four o'clock. She'd been rifling through her clothes ever since.

She knew Harry and Ginny didn't care what she wore, but this felt like a big deal. How often had she been able to double date with her best friends and her boyfriend when they hadn't already known each other for years? Viktor didn't count, because Harry and Ron had already known all about him when he had asked Hermione to the Yule Ball.

Draco, though. Draco was different. Harry and Ginny had known Hogwarts Draco, as she'd begun to refer to him. Seeing them interreact with him now was going to be interesting. She just hoped it would go well.

She smoothed her hands over the outfit she had finally landed on—a dark blue sweater and some skinny jeans—and slipped on a pair of flats. She was just grabbing her wand from the side table in the living room when Draco Flooed into her apartment.

He was carrying a bundle of fresh flowers in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other, and his hair was slightly damp as if he'd showered recently. She smiled shyly from her bedroom doorway as he stepped into her living room and brushed soot off the black oxford he was wearing.

He walked over to her and handed her the flowers, a warm smile lighting up his eyes. "Hi," he murmured.

"Hi there," she replied, a little shocked that he'd brought her flowers. She shouldn't be, she supposed, after his display in Diagon Alley, but she added it as another item to her Shocking Sides of Draco Malfoy list. She felt Draco's gaze travel the length of her body, and she could see the approval in his eyes when he finally met her gaze again. He dipped his head down and captured her lips in a sweet kiss.

She melted in to him, feeling the smile spread across his lips before he pulled back and kissed her once more on the forehead. "We should probably be going. Do you have a vase for these?"

Hermione gestured wordlessly to the kitchen, and he summoned the vase, filled it at her sink, and arranged the flowers in it. Once he was satisfied, he placed the vase in her breakfast nook, obviously stalling for time.

Hermione smiled up at him. "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be," he replied nervously. She disappeared into the Floo and arrived once more in the drawing room of Grimmauld Place with Draco behind her a moment later. Hermione reached back and squeezed his hand reassuringly as Ginny swept into the room.

"Hermione, Draco! We're so glad that you guys could come! Dinner will be ready in five, so come make yourselves comfortable. Hermione, you know where everything is, so show Draco around. Harry's in the kitchen watching the stove." The red-headed whirlwind rattled off the instructions as she swept forward to pepper the air between them with kisses of welcome. "Oh, you brought wine? How kind of you!" She winked at Hermione and removed the bottle from Draco's hands, hurtling out of the room once more.

Draco stood rooted to the spot. Hermione tugged on his hand; she wasn't about to leave him to fend for himself.

"Is she always like that?" he asked, some of his earlier swagger gone.

Hermione shrugged. "You'll get used to it. She's the only daughter, so she had to be pretty vivacious to be heard. Besides, she's close with Fred and George, so."

"Ah," Draco responded. "Say no more." As she led him through the house, she watched him gawk at his surroundings. Belatedly, she realized that this home was formerly the Black household, so his mother likely had spent time there as a child. They passed the room with the Black family tapestry lining the wall and she felt Draco slow to a crawl beside her. She'd undoubtedly have to bring him back to the room to study it at some point. While she didn't understand many of the Black family traditions, she supposed that it was important for Draco to maintain some ties to the family that had reared the one person to whom he was closest in the world; she wouldn't begrudge him learning more about his lineage.

They made it to the large flight of stairs and descended, following the smell of Harry's cooking throughout the house. Draco looked quizzically at a large burned rectangle on the wall—where Madam Black's portrait had once been affixed—and peered at Hermione quizzically.

She shook her head and pulled him past it, determining that she'd explain later. There were more important things to deal with as she felt Draco tense slightly next to her when they entered the kitchen with her raven-haired best friend.

Harry looked up at the stove and beamed at Hermione and Draco's arrival. He swiftly abandoned the hamburger he was browning and swept her off her feet into a big hug and swinging her in a circle. Both of them were laughing by the time he set her back on her feet.

"Alright, Hermione?" He squinted at her through slightly-fogged glasses and stuck his hand out for Draco to shake. "Malfoy, good to see you again."

Draco peered at Harry's outstretched hand with a strange glint in his eyes before taking it tentatively and shaking it. "I'm surprised you can tell it's me from the film on your glasses, Potter."

Hermione tensed for an outburst, but Harry surprised her with a crooked grin and a shake of his head. "Some things never change, do they, Malfoy?" He returned his attention to the stove and the hamburger he was cooking. "Hermione knows where everything is. Grab a drink and make yourselves at home. Dinner should be ready to go in five; Hermione tells me that she's started introducing you to Muggle food. Have you ever had tacos before?"

Draco shook his head. He'd never had the food, but Hermione could tell that he was eagerly anticipating it by his deep inhales every so often.

Hermione bustled about the kitchen, seeking wine glasses and the cork screw that she knew Ginny and Harry kept on hand. While tacos weren't exactly a wine meal, she knew that Draco would feel bad for bringing a gift that wouldn't be used. She poured out a glass for each of them and an additional one for Ginny, then returned to lean her hip into the counter next to Draco. The kitchen drifted into an awkward silence as each of them sipped their wine, unsure what to say.

The silence was broken by Ginny sweeping into the kitchen. She teased Harry for his glasses, which made Draco smirk again, and sampled the food declaring it done. With a wave of her wand, the food effortlessly made its way to the table and arranged itself neatly along the center of it. Plates and silverware floated out of the cabinets to their place settings while Hermione watched on appreciatively. Once it was arranged, Ginny looked at each of them. "Alright, let's eat!"

No one objected and each took a place at the table. Harry sat at the head, per usual, and Ginny sat to his right. After glancing at Draco's unsure expression, Hermione selected the seat next to Ginny, returning his grateful smile. Each of them filled their plates.

Though Hermione loved tacos, she waited to tuck in until she saw Draco's reaction. He approached the food cautiously, fork and knife in hand as he tried to daintily cut the soft shell that Hermione had shown him how to roll. Though he managed to cut it, the bite kept falling off the fork every time he tried to raise it to his mouth, and he began to stab at the portion with frustration. Harry's low chuckle broke the silence.

"I appreciate your dedication to manners, Malfoy, but it's okay to eat with your hands around here," Harry quipped. To accentuate his suggestion, he picked up his own burrito in his hands and took a large bite, barely chewing and swallowing it before he grinned back at Draco.

With a dubious expression, Draco gingerly picked up the burrito and took a cautious bite out of it. After a couple of tentative chews, he swallowed the bite and looked around the table.

"That was bloody delicious," he breathed before wolfing down another bite. Pride bubbled up in her stomach as he slowly baited Harry into a conversation about Quidditch, which Ginny soon joined.

So far, the evening had surpassed all her expectations, even though she had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

"Do you— do you remember that time that Draco pretended to be a dementor so that he could scare Harry?" Ginny wheezed through laughter, her face bright red.

"Oi, that was one time!" Harry cried, hiding his face in his hand as Draco laughed beside him.

"Oooh, what about the time Draco was part of the Inquisitorial Squad?" Ginny crooned. "'Potter... Weasley, your shirt's untucked.'"

"Hey now," Draco objected. "That's just bad manners!"

Hermione couldn't help but join in on Ginny's fun. "Why so tense, Pottah?"

Barely intelligible through her laughter, Ginny squeaked out, "Shut up, Malfoy."

"Will his father hear about this?" Hermione lost her battle with her laughter and slumped over in her chair, heaving with her unleashed mirth. As tears leaked down her cheeks, she felt Draco pat the top of her head, though his expression bore traces of both amusement and irritation at being the butt of the joke. Ginny was tittering across the table from her, and Hermione tried valiantly to refrain from making eye contact, but lost the battle when Ginny started snorting through her laughter. Even Draco couldn't help himself, and soon the whole table was whipping tears from their eyes.

When they had finally calmed down, Draco looked at Harry. "We were insufferable little brats, weren't we, Potter?"

"We?" Harry arched a brow at the blond wizard. "I seem to recall that you caused the majority of our conflicts."

Draco shrugged. "You and Weasley just made it so easy. I couldn't resist."

Harry squawked in indignation. "How did we make it easy?"

"Well, honey," Ginny cut in. "You did wear big round glasses and befriend my brother."

"And the Weaslette gets it in one," Draco drawled.

Hermione giggled again, but the laughter was cut off by her yawn. Draco glanced at her, then at the large grandfather clock. He turned to her, brows raised, and asked, "Should we head out? It is getting rather late."

Hermione nodded. "I have to open Flourish and Blotts at eight in the morning, so I'll be up early. And you have work tomorrow too." She didn't miss his grimace at her comment as they stood to leave.

Both Ginny and Harry stood with them, and Hermione had to hide her surprise as Harry and Draco shook hands, both wearing genuine smiles and making promises to get together for Quidditch later in the week. Ginny wrapped her arms around Hermione.

"I told you it would be fine," she whispered in Hermione's ear as she squeezed the other witch. When she let go, Ginny flashed her a thumbs up and turned to wrap Draco in a one-armed hug. Though he was initially surprised, he wrapped one arm around her and squeezed back.

When they Floo'd back to her flat, Hermione swallowed another huge yawn and looked up at Draco. He was relaxed, smiling in a way that Hermione hadn't seen him smile before.

"That wasn't so bad," he mused, wrapping his arms around his waist.

She smiled up at him. "If I didn't know better, I would think you actually enjoyed yourself," she teased.

"If you tell Potter that I had even a little bit of fun, you'll regret it, witch." His hands snaked up her back and teased the ends of her curls. She sighed and leaned into him. Her enjoyment was short-lived as he pulled back a bit. "I really ought to go; it's getting pretty late."

Hermione reluctantly nodded. "I do need to get some sleep. Thank you for coming tonight. I really appreciate it."

Draco leaned down and kissed her. When he pulled away, he leaned his forehead against hers. "Anything for you."

Hermione's heart lurched as he leaned back and pressed a kiss to her forehead. He walked backward to the Floo, grabbed a handful of powder and stepped into the fireplace. "Goodnight, Hermione."

"Goodnight, Draco," she murmured as he disappeared into the flames. Her heart was light and her stomach was full of butterflies as she practically danced into her bedroom and collapsed onto her bed, falling asleep with a smile on her face once again.

Chapter Text

Draco groaned as the doors to his office banged open and Theo and Blaise paraded through in the middle of yet another one of their squabbles. He would give anything—Merlin, he might even dress in a tea skirt and dance about singing the Weird Sisters in a terrible falsetto—if they would learn to just. Bloody. Knock. He dropped his quill on his desk, knowing he would no longer get any work done, and scrubbed a hand across his face.

Theo plopped into the chair across from him and whistled. "Looks like little Drakey is sleepy. Did Granger finally take you back to her place to let you ravish her or is this the result of yet another painful set of blue balls?"

Draco sighed. "For the last time, I'm not going to talk shop about what Hermione and I do together."

Blaise chuckled from his permanent slouch against the door frame. "That, my dear Theodore, is Draco speak for 'yes, I did have to return home to wank after the illustrious Hermione Granger turned me away yet again.'"

With a growl of annoyance, Draco sent the wads of paper littering the floor around his desk flying at his friends. While they were busy dodging the projectile papers, he made a quick emendation to his to-do list: make new friends.

With that settled and his friends finally calming their childish squeals of protest, he cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair. "If you must know, Hermione and I spent a lovely night watching her Muggle film things and baking cookies. She's showing me how to cook the Muggle way. I stayed the night and had to Floo here." At Theo's excited brow quirk, he added, "and that is all that happened and all that you'll be told."

"When did you become such a Gryffindor, mate?" Blaise drawled, and Theo made a low noise in his throat signaling his agreement. "You're boring now."

"I'm going to ask you kindly to retract that statement before you suddenly discover yourself missing a very vital organ or two," Draco quipped lazily back at his friends, who both nodded frantically.

Blaise looked like he was about to respond when a veritable whirlwind of curly hair blew into the room and nearly knocked him on his arse. Draco only managed to stand up halfway out of his chair before Hermione threw herself into his embrace. Over his shoulder, his friends shot him twin bewildered looks of confusion.

"Erm, Granger, not that I'm not glad to see you, but do you mind telling me what's going on?" She shuddered against him and, with growing horror, he realized that she was crying. Any concern that his friends were there went right out the window. He tried to brush her curls away from her face, which only caused her to sob harder. "Hermione, what's going on? You're scaring me, love."

With a shuddering breath, she pulled away from Draco. He searched her tearstained face as she fought to gain control of her breathing. When she'd finally calmed enough to speak, she looked at him. Draco's stomach sank at the fear in her eyes. "Harry got hurt. He was on a call with the other Aurors and they were ambushed. They haven't told us much, but it doesn't look good. I'm scared to go alone, but I know I need to be there. For Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys."

He nodded his understanding. "Harry is a strong wizard, love. He'll make it through whatever happened. Do you have everything you need?" She nodded and held up the little beaded bag that she had told him had survived her time on the run during the war. "Alright, we'll go. Blaise, Theo, can you hold the fort down here? I'm not sure how long I'll be gone."

For once in their friendship, his friends didn't make any snide comments or jibe him for jumping at a woman's need. Theo nodded solemnly. "You go, mate. Let us know if we can do anything to help."

Blaise hummed his agreement, his sharp eyes taking in the way that Hermione clung to Draco's arm. When he finally met Draco's eyes, Draco saw the understanding and—Merlin forgive him for needing it—the acceptance of the witch at his side. With a thin-lipped smile, he wrapped his hand in Hermione's and nodded at the other wizards before they bolted off for the Apparition point.

It was a quick trip to St. Mungo's, and Draco wasn't quite sure how they ended up at the hospital so quickly. One moment they were rushing through the halls of the Ministry and the next they were tumbling through the grate of the hospital and rushing toward the nurse's station. With a few rapid questions from Hermione, they were on the way to Harry's room: 406, the Spell Damage ward.

When they entered the waiting room, Draco was struck by the sudden appearance of red hair everywhere. In his haste to get Hermione to her—and now his—friend, he'd forgotten that he'd likely be forced to interact with the entire Weasley clan, just as eager for answers as she was. Hermione, fortunately, seemed to notice the sudden silence and intense stares pointed at him and squeezed his hand reassuringly. He smiled back at her as well as he could under the circumstances and followed her into the room.

It was a different experience, being in one of the regular wards. He had only ever been to the private wards that most pure-blood families could afford. After his mother had been injured in her frantic search for him in the war, he spared no expense trying to ensure she got the best care possible. Fortunately, the hospital staff hadn't been so wary of the Malfoy name that they had turned away his mother and his money. No, they'd taken the proffered sum with no questions asked and provided his mother with the best care they could with such limited resources.

This experience was different. The stark white of the room contrasted sharply with Draco's memory of his mother's room; her room had been a light green colour, furnished with comfy couches and elegant curtains. It hadn't appeared to be a hospital room, which he supposed was part of the reason that so many pure-blood families preferred to spend the galleons to upgrade. It was more depressing to acknowledge that you were sick by spending your time in such an antiseptic [CW2] atmosphere. Here, the white seemed to bleed into every surface. The room reeked of cleaning charms, and he could hear the Weasel's squeaking shoes on the faded tile while Pansy tried to offer soothing words. Ron would hear nothing of it, shaking his head while his eyes burned into the floor.

Hermione stood next to him, deadly still since entering the room and seemingly far away from where she stood. Her face was ghostly pale, and her eyes darted back and forth unseeingly. He gently steered her into one of the cracked leather chairs that sat around the perimeter of the room and clasped her hands. "Hermione listen to me. It's okay; you're going to be okay."

Her grip on his hands tightened minutely, and her breathing ratcheted higher. It was coming out in small wheezes, and her eyes continued to dart about the room. "Harry's hurt… what if he's not okay? He has to be okay."

Draco cursed himself for not knowing what to do, but he slipped one hand from her iron grip and cupped her cheek. "Hermione, love, I'm right here with you. Harry is at St. Mungo's, and the staff is doing everything they can. They're trained to help with situations like this." Her shuddering faltered for a moment before it resumed. "Hermione, you're having a panic attack. Can you hear me?"

At his question, she jerked her head in the affirmative. Though her mind was elsewhere, he could tell she was fighting through the fog to get back to him. He continued stroking her cheek and whispering to her that she would be okay. His heart thundered along with the pulse he could feel in her neck when he tucked a lock of curly hair behind her ear.

At last, after a few more reassurances, she finally calmed enough to lock eyes with him. "That's it, love. Can you breathe in slowly and deeply for me?" She nodded subtly and followed his example, holding it in her chest and then slowly exhaling through her mouth. "Just like that. Keep breathing. You're right here with me, the Weasleys are here, and you're going to be okay. Just keep breathing."

Great, gusting breaths ghosted over his cheek as he walked her through the panic attack. The four walls of St. Mungo's faded as his concern narrowed only to her. They were there for Harry, but she couldn't do anything if she was having a panic attack, and he was determined that he would help her through it. Everyone else be damned; he'd take care of his witch before he entertained the thought of the blasted bespeckled death magnet.

Hermione's breathing slowed, and he was relieved when she launched herself into his arms and wrapped hers around him in a vice-like hug. A throat cleared behind him, and he turned his head slightly to the intruder.

Ron Weasley stood just behind him, hands thrust deep into his pockets and a sheepish expression on his face. At Draco's quirked eyebrow, a light flush spread up the ginger's neck, and he clapped a hand across the back of it. With a light clearing of his throat, he shrugged at Draco. "Thanks, Malfoy, for being here. She needs you."

For once in his life, Draco didn't ridicule the ginger. He recognized an olive branch when he saw one, and Hermione had apparently heard too, as she slipped out of his arms and back into the plastic chair. At her slight nod as she tried to wipe the tears away, he turned and faced the other man. At some point, the other Weasleys had joined Ron. Draco fought the urge to turn tail and run; Malfoy men never backed down from a challenge.

He squared his shoulders. "There's no place I would rather be." He reached back and took Hermione's hand, sending a small smile at her. "Whenever she needs me, I'll be there. I've more than enough to make up for, and I'm more than willing to do so."

Ron nodded at him and stared down at his feet. Draco could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on him, and he nearly drew his wand when Ron stepped forward quickly and raised his hand. It took a half a second longer than he was comfortable to admit that the other wizard meant to shake his hand. He looked quizzically at the other man, who shrugged and said, "You're alright after all, Malfoy."

Draco fought the urge to roll his eyes, but he stepped forward and took the other man's hand, simultaneously raising his eyes to the other Weasleys behind Ron. The twins dipped their heads once, and Draco fought to keep from starting at the large scar that marred one side of Fred's face; so the twin hadn't managed to escape his errant spell entirely. When he met Ron's eyes again, the other man squeezed his hand in a single, awkward shake. Both looked away from one another, clearing their throats. The door of the emergency ward swinging open saved them from further stilted conversation.

"You're all here for Mr Potter, I presume?" The doctor's bemused expression sent a small chuckle through the room. "I'm happy to report that Mr Potter should be right as rain soon. He was grazed with a severing charm, so he's likely to have a nasty scar, but it was nothing that a little bit of Dittany couldn't fix."

All at once, the Weasleys started chattering amongst themselves, each one expressing their thanks for Harry's survival a little louder than the one next to them. The cacophony grated on his nerves. If he didn't have to make this group of people like him come hell or high water—

Hermione's hand slipped into his, and he peered down at her. She offered him a shy smile, a blush dusting her cheeks. At the slight dip of her head, he slipped his hand from hers and slid it slowly around her waist; he could still feel her heart thundering in her chest where she leaned against his side, but her breathing had returned to normal.

The doctor continued his speaking over the din of the Weasleys' voices. "He'll need rest, but you can see him now." When the whole lot of them moved toward the door, the doctor held his hands up. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Okay, we'll start out visitation in groups of two. I'm sure his wife would like to see him and—"

Molly Weasley stepped forward and nodded toward Hermione cuddled into his side. "Hermione, dear, why don't you go with Ginny? Two beautiful witches will have him perked up in no time." The woman winked and the doctor nodded. With everything sorted, he disappeared down the corridor again.

Hermione's grip on Draco tightened, and he turned his attention to her upturned face. His heart dropped at the uncertainty in her eyes. "Will you be okay? I know it's a lot—" she gestured her hand vaguely at the crowd of people around them.

He shook his head. "You go; your best friend needs you right now. I'll be here as soon as you're done. Come out whenever you're ready, yeah?"

She nodded and turned to walk down the hall. He sighed, his breath leaving him in one giant gust as the tension faded from his shoulders. Just as he was about to drop into one of the cheap plastic hospital chairs, arms wrapped around his middle in a tight hug. He could feel Hermione's bushy hair brushing against his neck, and he couldn't help his smile as he turned and gathered her in his arms. She mumbled something into his chest, and he chuckled at the garbled mess of words she'd tried to utter. When she pulled back, he canted his head to the side, one eyebrow raised at her.

"I said thank you. For being here and whatnot." She mumbled the words quickly, a blush staining her cheeks as she tugged at one of the long curls that framed her face.

He wrested it from her fingertips and tucked it behind her ear, cupping her jaw and tilting her face upright. He dropped a lingering kiss on her lips. "I meant what I told the Weasel: whenever you need me, I'm there."

She smiled at him, the hope in her eyes stealing his breath away. Gods she was beautiful. With one last squeeze of his hand, she was gone.

Draco dropped in the chair he'd been aiming for before she'd launched herself at him. Potter and he hadn't been friends for long, but Merlin was this hospital business draining. He shifted in the chair and cringed at the gods-awful squeak that the old leather emitted. Right, note to self: donate some funds to Mungo's to replace the terrible chairs if Potter made it out of here in one piece. For a man with a death wish, he certainly seemed capable of dodging death with a reckless luck that most men would kill to have.

When he saw a red-haired figure slip into the chair next to him, he stared down at his hands. Calling a truce with the Weasel was about as much of a curve-ball as he could handle today, and he prayed to whatever Muggle deity that was listening to spare him from having another awkward heart to heart, but the delicate clearing of a throat next to him indicated the individual had no intentions to maintain their silence.

"I should thank you, dear." Molly had dropped into the chair next to him and had seemed to summon knitting needles and yarn out of thin air.

Her words tied a knot in his throat. Thanking him? She couldn't— no, of course she didn't mean for Fred. He cleared his throat around the nerves crowding his tight throat. "I'm, uh, not sure what you mean, Mrs Weasley."

The woman clucked at him. "I'll have none of that nonsense. It's Molly or nothing at all." She peered over the edge of the clicking needles, apparently sewing a sweater of some sort if the monstrosity could be given a name. "For Hermione, of course. She's brighter now—happier. I haven't seen her smile that way in a long time. The last time—well, the last time I thought she might be my daughter-in-law, but that's neither here nor there. She's still family, after all."

Draco smiled tightly. He'd been waiting for the reminder of her relationship with Ron. "I hope you're not…" his voice trailed off, unsure how to address the situation.

"Upset? Oh, dear, of course not, not at all! I'm happy to see her happy." She gestured at the other ginger-haired individuals in the room, and his eyes lingered on Pansy's head resting against Ron's, their intertwined fingers. "She's still here with all of us, isn't she? She's family."

She didn't continue, but he felt the words hanging in the air between them: you could be family. He wasn't sure why the thought scared him so much when he first mused on it, but it became increasingly clear the longer the words bounced around his head.

In his experience, family left. Family hurt. Family was all the things that had fucked him up in his youth. Family was conditional, and he didn't want to live to see another family he was a part of blown to bits.

She seemed to follow his line of thought, humming disapprovingly under her voice. "I was never a fan of your father. Your mother—well, she had potential." Draco laughed around the unexpected pride that welled in his gut at the appreciative tone in Molly's voice. "She's one helluva witch—she's the one that taught me the bat-bogey hex, you know?"

He spluttered his shock. "My mother? Are we talking about the same Narcissa Malfoy née Black? The very same one who won't step out of the house with a single strand of hair out of place?"

Molly guffawed. "One and the same. I watched her use it on your father after a particularly nasty row in the Great Hall. She's quite the woman."

Draco hummed his agreement, and Molly continued. "She's proud of you, you know. And I'm sure she'd love to meet Hermione. It's not every day that your son falls in love."

His breath caught in his throat and his pulse pounded in his ears. Love? It was rather soon for that, wasn't it? And yet—

And yet Hermione was the first person he wanted to share every moment of his day with. She was the only person who could cheer him up on his off days, and she was the only one that could hold her own in the verbal spars that he so loved. Her laughter brightened his days, and knowing that she was in pain drove him to do whatever he could to protect her. Here he was, after all, waiting in a lobby full of ginger-haired individuals that he'd professed to loathe a short time ago, despite his rescue of one of them.

He loved her.

He cleared his throat, swiping a hand over his eyes, and peered back at Molly, who was still clicking away with her knitting needles. "How did you know?"

The woman smiled serenely. "Sometimes a mother just knows." A beat of silence passed between them. "You're a good man, Draco. You've worked to overcome a lot. Don't let your regrets define you; you've saved more lives than just your own, and the world is better for it." Her eyes lingered on Fred, the scar running jagged across his face, and his heart stuttered to a stop.

So she knew.

There was no grand fanfare in the exchange of information. She didn't say anything to him, didn't thank him for saving her son. The quiet acceptance in her gaze healed a part of him that he hadn't known needed it, and he turned to swipe stubbornly at his smarting eyes.

Of all the people in the world to give him any peace of mind, he'd least suspected Molly Weasley.

A wad of yarn landed in his lap, and he forced his agape mouth shut, staring down at the folded item. It was a sweater, light grey and knit with little knobs in it. A decorative D was centered on the chest in a deep emerald. For a second time that day, he was stunned speechless.

"Family dinners are on Sunday at 7pm. I trust you won't be late." Molly said softly, her hand squeezing his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Hermione was perched on the edge of Harry's hospital bed. Her heart had been in her throat when she pushed the door of the gods-awful sterile room open, but her fears had quickly subsided when she saw Harry sitting up against a mountain of pillows. Ginny had raced across the room and thrown herself into her husband's arms, ignoring the small cringe he gave at that impact.

She felt ridiculous; despite the fact that Harry was sitting up in bed, laughing, and teasing Ginny for wailing in relief, Hermione couldn't shake the tears that threatened her own vision. It had been years since their Hogwarts days, but getting the news that Harry was in St. Mungos dropped her right back into the feeling that had plagued her during the war: anxious, helpless, and terrified.

Fingers snapped in front of her face and she met Harry's quizzical gaze. "Earth to Hermione; are you in there?"

She smiled wanly. "I'm here," she said, brushing a hand against her cheek to wipe the stray tear away with what she hoped looked like a nonchalant toss of her hair. "Just thinking."

Harry nodded, his eyes tightening imperceptibly. "I'm going to be fine, 'Mione. Just a scrape, honestly."

Her eyes rolled to the ceiling. "It's not just a scrape when you nearly bleed out, but I appreciate the sentiment none-the-less."

At her words, Harry reached out and squeezed her hand. "The war was a long time ago, 'Mione. I promise I'm okay." He cleared his throat. "Besides, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be at work."

Hermione scoffed. "Yeah, like I was going to stay at work when I get an urgent owl that my best friend is in the hospital potentially dying. Honestly, Harry, I love you but I think I've met bricks smarter than you."

The man tried to look offended, but his wide grin gave him away. "Love you too." The room was silent save for the ticking of the clock while Ginny continued to baby Harry, running her fingers through his hair and tucking the blankets tighter around him. When he looked up, Hermione could tell he wanted to ask her something and she took a cue from Draco, arching an eyebrow at the man; she'd realized that she did get more out of people with silence than questions.

Harry sighed. "Look, 'Mione, I don't want to be weird about this but…" He played with the frayed edge of the hospital blanket before continuing. "When are you going to tell him?"

That wasn't what she'd been expecting, but her heart still began to race all the same. "Tell who what?"

The gaze he leveled at her was skeptical. "Malfoy, Hermione. Draco. When are you going to tell him?"

A hot flush crawled up her cheeks. Surely he couldn't mean…? Of course not; she wasn't even sure herself yet! "Harry, I don't—"

Ginny and Harry looked at each other and laughed. "Hermione, honey, you're the smartest witch we know. It's really time to stop playing dumb." Ginny met her gaze, perhaps the only person brave enough to call her dumb. "When you found out Harry was in the hospital today, who was the first person you told? Who did you go to for comfort?"

She swallowed around the knot in her throat before answering. "I went to Draco, but that's because—"

Ginny continued. "And who is the first person you want to tell all the good things about, to spend your free time with? Who do you reach for when you wake up in the middle of the night?"

The flush intensified, but she responded. "Draco. But Ginny, we've only been together for six months. It's too soon—"

Harry smiled at his best friend, the twinkle in his eye frighteningly reminiscent of Dumbledore when he was onto something. "It's too soon for what?"

Her voice was quiet when she peered over her shoulder at the door to ensure no one overhead. "It's too soon for love." Her heart pounded in her chest, and the words sounded so much more serious when spoken aloud. When Ginny wrapped an arm around her shoulders, she looked up into Harry's gaze.

"'Mione, I've known you for a long time. No one has made you light up the way that man does. And, Merlin forbid, he's actually not half bad." He cracked a grin. "He's definitely grown out of the git phase."

Despite herself, she chuckled. Hermione thought back on the last few months. The whirlwind of their relationship seemed ridiculous to the more logical side of her mind. She'd cleared out first a drawer in her chest of drawers for him, and that drawer had quickly turned into a section the wardrobe. His shoes had a specific place by the front door; she'd gone and bought a two-slot toothbrush holder so his had its own place. He had his own half of the bed, and she had taken to sleeping on her half even when he wasn't home, reaching for him when he wasn't there.

She didn't think of home anymore as a place without him.

Somehow, without a conscious decision, he'd managed to weave himself inextricably into her life, into her heart, and she was hardpressed to pinpoint exactly when that had happened.

When she looked up at Harry and Ginny, she was forced to wipe a tear away and laughed at the unexpected emotion. "When did you become so wise, Harry Potter?" She wrapped her arm around Ginny's waist and squeezed the woman to her. "You don't think it's too soon?" Hermione peered up at her friend.

Ginny scoffed. "I was writing love letters to Harry before I ever properly met him, so I think I'm the wrong witch to ask." The other woman sobered. "'Mione, we wouldn't be pushing this if we weren't supportive. We see the way he looks at you, the way you look at him. He would do anything for you. He has done pretty much anything for you. Do you think a man that didn't love you would show up with you to a hospital full of people he thinks hates him if he didn't care about you?"

Harry let loose a low whistle. "He's here? And you've left him alone in the lobby? Oh, you brave, brave woman."

Ginny's shoulders shook with a silent laugh. "Brave or stupid."

Hermione's fingers dug into the woman's waist. "Watch it, Ginger. I happen to know that you're quite ticklish, and I am not above exploiting it."

With a gasp, Ginny's eyes narrowed on Harry. "You sneak. You told her?!"

Harry had the decency to look chagrined and shrugged. "You never know when you'll need reinforcements." When Ginny untangled herself from Hermione and launched herself at Harry, Hermione couldn't contain her laughter.

This is what she needed. Reassurance that her friend would be okay, and, despite the fact that she was an independent person and could make her own decisions, it was still a relief to know that her friends approved of the Malfoy man. They had a long history, and there was still some history to work through, but her heart felt lighter.

She pondered how she had fallen so fast as Ginny snuggled into Harry's chest and wrapped his calloused hand in her own. For as long as she could remember after Ron, she had sworn she wouldn't get in so far over her head so fast. But with Malfoy… it felt natural and easy. It felt right. She couldn't explain it other than to say they just fit.

She smiled to herself. Love was such a silly emotion, so easy to fall into for the wrong person, but for once in her life, she didn't want to question it.

Who knew she'd fall in love with Draco Malfoy?

A few moments later, a knock at the door preceded a ginger head peeking around the corner. "Oy, mate. You decent?" Ron didn't bother to wait for an answer before he shoved the door open, ushering in everyone else. "Fred and George set off a dung bomb down a level so we could all come in and see you. I reckon we've got—" he glanced at the clock on the wall. "—ten minutes before they find it, another ten before they figure out what's going on, and then five more minutes to get everyone out."

As people filed into the room, she caught Draco's eyes, and he wound through the throng of people to stand by her side. He was carrying a mass of knitting, so she arched her eyebrow at him. With a mumbled, "later," he set it beside them and took her hand.

"Potter," he greeted, scanning what was visible of the other man above the blanket. "Glad to hear you're on the mend. Your hair is still a nightmare."

Harry chuckled. "There's the slimy git I know and love." His eyes flickered to Hermione's minutely before he continued. "You can take the ferret out of Slytherin but you can't take the Slytherin out of the ferret."

Draco shrugged, a small smile gracing his lips, and Hermione's heart clenched. "Wouldn't want to scare you into worse health with niceties, Potter." He squeezed her hand. "She's the sweet in this relationship; I'm okay with being the sour."

As the two men continued to banter to each other, Hermione looked around the room. These people gathered shoulder to shoulder and clambering to speak to Harry, these were the most important people in her life. She looked up to Draco, admiring the sharp planes of his face, the amused glint in his eyes, and the relaxed set of his shoulders. When he glanced down at her with a quizzical expression, she leaned into his side, allowing him to wrap his arm around her waist and squeeze.

A few moments later, Molly approached the bed, gently laying a hand on Hermione's back. "I'm so glad you could be here, dear. And thank you for bringing Draco." Hermione started, taken aback by Molly's familiarity with Draco. When she leaned over Harry's bed to press a kiss to her son-in-law's cheek, Hermione gaped wordlessly at Draco, who only smiled in return.

"Now," the elder witch clapped her hands, leaning back into an upright position. "We're all glad that Harry is okay, but we need to give him some breathing room." When Ron and the twins groaned, she leveled a glare at them. "Out, boys. Now. Harry and Ginny will be over for dinner on Sunday." She glanced up at Draco, and Hermione eyed the two in confusion.

She watched a blush spread over Draco's pale complexion and swallowed a confused expression when he cleared his throat a few times before speaking. "I think Hermione and I will be there, too." Her jaw dropped open when he glanced at her. With a quick hand, he nudged her jaw shut. "I think that also means yes, though you should close your mouth lest you catch flies, love."

She pinched his arm, but his yelp was lost in the chaos of the room. Molly clapped once more and with a hearty exclamation of excitement, she wrapped Hermione and Draco in a hug and then ushered the rest of the group out of the room.

In the aftermath of the room, Hermione and Harry stared at each other. Draco bore an expression of baffled delight, a curious change from his normally blank expression. "What… just happened?" he finally allowed.

Hermione swallowed her laughter. "I think Molly just announced to the whole family that you're one of us now," Harry said.

When understanding flashed across his face, he bent down to pick up the bundle of yarn and shook it out. "I guess that explains this." Harry's and Ginny's brows shot up and Hermione leaned around Draco to peer at the item. In his hands was a Weasley sweater, an ornate D sewn into the front. The ever-present lump in Hermione's throat returned, and she swallowed thickly.

Ginny was the one to answer. "Yeah, mate, I think you're welcome here." Her gaze shifted to Hermione, nodding minutely, but her response was directed to Draco: a warning. "Don't muck it up."

He wrapped his arm around Hermione, and she settled into his side, willing her heart to stop racing so he wouldn't hear it. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Wouldn't dream of it."

The intimate moment was broken up when the healer assigned to Harry and another frazzled man ran into the room, black scorch marks on their clothing. The one that wasn't assigned to Harry held up the remains of a dung bomb. "I presume this is your doing?"

His gaze was directed at Draco, and Hermione felt a swell of anger rise in her chest as she felt her boyfriend stiffen next to her, but Harry raised his hand. "Actually, sir, that would be my brothers-in-law's fault. You know, the owner of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes? Draco is merely visiting."

Hermione didn't miss the grateful glance that Draco exchanged with Harry. The healer looked skeptical, but he simply threw the bit of plastic in the trash. "See that they don't let one of those loose again. We have important work to do here, and we don't have time to babysit." He swept out of the room, leaving Harry's assigned healer to check after Harry's vitals.

He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the tense atmosphere. "You'll have to excuse Healer Melichar. He's new, still trying to assert authority and whatnot." He cracked a tentative smile at Hermione and Draco in turn, not missing the tension in Draco's frame. "Mr Malfoy, please trust me when I say that we're all very grateful for your contributions after the war. I'll speak personally with Healer Melichar."

Hermione peered up at Draco, trying to decipher his reaction, but his expression had returned to the carefully blank he maintained around most people. Contributions after the war?

She didn't have a chance to question him, as Healer Eckstrom skirted around them and began taking Harry's vitals. He waved his wand, a blue diagnostic spell scanning Harry's body and lingering over the slash where the curse had hit him. The healer nodded, scribbled something on his chart, and turned back to Harry, peering into his eyes with a Lumos Minima to check for signs of a concussion. After a few more scribbles, he clapped his hand and summoned a few objects into the room.

Ginny spoke first. "Is Harry going to be okay, sir?"

The man nodded enthusiastically. "Mr Potter will be on the mend before you know it! In fact, I dare say he'll be released by day's end. I'm just going to show you how to brew a couple of pain potions and one to help heal his scarring before I discharge him."

Ginny stepped close to the man's side, and Hermione watched for a few moments as the healer showed her how to begin the potion for scar fading. He walked her through the steps, mentioning that he could procure her a copy of the instructions before she left that day.

When Draco nudged her to get her attention, she peered up into his gaze. "What are you thinking? I can hear the gears in your mind turning." His question rumbled through her chest where his met hers. Wrapped his arms around her waist and she turned to face him.

"Healer Eckstrom said something about your contributions after the war," she hedged, "What did he mean?"

Draco smiled softly. "Mother was sick—I know I've told you about that, right?" When she nodded, he continued. "They were able to help her, to heal her, and so I donated a lot of money to them to help them build the new trauma wing."

Hermione sucked in a breath. "The Tonks Trauma Center? You funded that? But Draco that's—"

He shook his head. "It was the right thing to do. I… never knew my cousin, but by all accounts, she was a phenomenal witch, and Mungos needed something to help with war victims; it just wasn't big enough. It didn't have the resources. And Merlin knows I have more than enough money…" he trailed off, shrugging.

This man… constantly surprising her. She launched herself into his arms, tears threatening again. "I just…" the words lodged in her throat, and she froze.

When he leaned back to look at her, brushing her hair out of her face, she swallowed. "I know that this is too soon, and it's probably crazy, and I know I'm going to scare you away, but… I love you."

Draco froze in her grip, and the world around her went silent at the expressions crossing his face. The healer and Ginny's chatter, Harry's complaints, the ticking of the clock, the soft hum of the heater, all of it fell away as first shock, surprise, fear, and finally joy crossed his face. When he swept her up into his arms, her breath left her in a laugh. "I love you too, you beautiful, brilliant witch."

Her heart soared, and she showered his face with kisses. His answering grin was brilliant. "You have no idea how it makes me feel to hear you say that," he whispered, tucking an errant curl behind her ear when he finally set her down on her feet.

She beamed. "Oh trust me, I think I do."

So wrapped up in each other were they that they hadn't realized that all eyes in the room were on them. When they finally separated, Ginny was bouncing joyfully on the balls of her feet. "I tooold you," she sing-songed, grinning manically. Harry just shook his head, but the warmth in his eyes betrayed how happy he was for his friend. Healer Eckstrom coughed politely and turned back to the cauldron before him.

"Now," Healer Eckstrom interjected, "that we've established that everyone loves each other, let's finish this potion."

Hermione saw Draco's ears perk up, and he stealthily crossed the room to watch the healer. "Now, Mrs Potter, this potion is a variation of the Blood Replenishing Potion. Your husband lost a lot of blood, so this will be helpful. It also has properties of the anti-inflammatory Deflating Draught and Dittany. It's a newer potion, but we're confident that it has the properties to heal whatever you've been hit with."

Draco cleared his throat and Hermione looked at him. "I don't mean to disrespect you sir, but is it a good idea to use a relatively new potion on a wound inflicted by Dark Magic?" Draco looked down at his hand, a rare moment of uncertainty clear in his features. "What I mean to say is that I think, in this case, that it's safer to brew the potions in their entirety instead of using a variation of the brew. If the Dark Magic interacts negatively with the potions, it will be easier to determine which one is the problem if we can eliminate them one by one instead of having to entirely stop the potions regime."

Ginny hummed her agreement, and Hermione felt a bit of pride swell in her chest. She hadn't even thought of the potential side effects; all she cared about was Harry's healing.

Healer Eckstrom nodded slowly, a knit to his brow. After a beat of silence, he nodded. "You're right. Good call, Mr Malfoy." He cracked a smile at her and Draco. "Saving the day again, it seems." He rubbed his palms together and vanished the cauldron. "Send that back to the lab and—" with a snap, more cauldrons and ingredients zoomed into the room. "We'll start these to brew separately."

He hummed to himself and separated out the ingredients. Hermione wrapped her arm around Draco's waist again, smiling to herself. She'd be lying if she said she didn't notice the smug satisfaction in Draco's eyes.

"Altogether, this will work together to heal you from the inside out, so you'll likely start to feel better before you look any better." Healer Eckstrom dumped ingredients together in the various cauldrons and set them all to stir at regular intervals.

Hermione stifled a chuckle when Draco scoffed. "If a potion makes Potter look better, then I'll consider you a miracle worker."

Harry rolled his eyes with a muttered, "tosser."

The healer clapped his hands. "Alright, set them to boil and these potions should be good to go!" He leveled a stern look at Harry. "Just because you start feeling better doesn't mean you're to go back out in the field. You're to stay on bed rest for two weeks minimum, and you can only return to work after I've done a full workup to make sure there aren't any side effects from the curse."

With a groan, Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed. "What am I gonna do for two whole weeks?"

Ginny waggled her eyes at her husband. "Well, you did mention that you were ready to start trying for a family. Two weeks is a whole lot of time to practice."

"Ugh, Weasley!" Draco groaned, and Healer Eckstrom seemed to share his sentiments.

"Well, on that note, I'm going to go fill out the discharge papers, if you'll excuse me." He paused on the way out the door. "Actually, Mr Malfoy, could you spare a moment?"

Hermione jerked her head up to meet Draco's eyes, but it was clear that the confusion in his indicated he wasn't entirely sure of the healer's intentions either. "Uh, sure." He scratched his head and squeezed Hermione's hand as he moved to follow the healer.

After the door clicked closed, Ginny spoke. "What was that about?"

Hermione shook her head. She had no idea.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

The door closed behind Draco with a definitive snap, and suddenly he stood alone in the hallway with Healer Eckstrom. Nervous sweat pooled in the small of his back, and he fought the urge to clear his throat while the healer consulted his chart for a moment.

The other man looked up at Draco, motioning him to follow. "Why don't we walk, Mr Malfoy?"

Draco didn't have time to protest before Healer Eckstrom turned on his heel and strode off, so, with a quick glance over his shoulder at Harry's room, he sped off to catch up to the healer.

"I'm sure that you're familiar with St. Mungo's, what with your mother's condition?" Healer Eckstrom spoke lowly, but the words still rankled Draco, and he briefly debated the merits of snapping at the other man.

What kind of bloody question was that?

After a deep breath, he responded, "I'm quite familiar with them, yes. I'm not sure what that has to do with Harry's case."

Healer Eckstrom inclined his head as he walked between two rooms, clipboard in hand. "Tangentially related." He stopped and faced Draco. "If I may be frank?"

Draco nodded, though he wasn't sure where the conversation was leading, and he felt his guard raise incrementally.

"We get a lot of unique cases here. They've been escalating since the war: unknown Dark Magic, violent severing spells, all manner of blood curses." The healer walked as he spoke, taking care not to pause too long in any one place; nurses bustled between them, and Draco had to incline his head to hear the healer clearly, still having missed some of what he'd said. "—but it's gotten worse. We're trying to develop our approaches the best we can, but often we find that our efforts are for naught. It might help if we—"

Draco interrupted him, the hair on the back of his neck rising at the implication in Eckstrom's words. "If you had someone on staff that had experience with that type of magic."

Eckstrom grimaced but nodded. "Yes. I don't mean to imply that you used that kind of magic, but you've been exposed to it, and your insights might prove useful in helping us develop approaches for battling it." The healer looked down at the clipboard clutched within his hands. "I've been a healer at Mungo's for nearly thirty years. I've seen a lot of cases here, and I'm sure I'll see a lot more before I decide to retire."

Draco nodded, waiting for the other man to continue.

"Your acumen in Harry's case leads me to believe that you're a more than capable potioneer." Eckstrom crossed to a small expanse of wall outside of a patient's room. "Your ability to work through potions and their implications on your feet is impression; a lot of seasoned potioneers don't have that ability, and I'm sure it's not news to you that sometimes this results in life-threatening situations."

"I understand, sir, but forgive me if I'm not following your point here. What does any of this have to do with me?" Draco tried to be civil, but there was an edge to his tone that clearly illustrated his waning patience.

Eckstrom sighed. "You're young, but clearly you're skilled. Mungo's could use that. We need someone who knows potions and knows people. I think you fit that description quite well.

Draco mulled it over for a moment. The healer was right; he did have experience with that kind of magic, had often inflicted it on others despite the healer's statement otherwise. And he hadn't shirked his lessons with Snape before the man had been killed in the war. Though he was vain about his looks, he was perhaps most proud of his potioneering.

Eckstrom continued. "Technically I'm not authorised to offer you a position, especially not one that would essentially be research and development, but I could put in a good word for you, should you decide to approach the board. I've quite a lot of pull around here. And it won't hurt when I tell them about your role in saving Harry Potter." A sly smile pulled at his lips momentarily.

Draco sighed, choosing to ignore Eckstrom's embellishment of the truth, and he looked up at the other man. "Why me? I'm sure you've had several reformed Death Eaters as patients, or you've at least had them visit other patients. Why are you offering this to me?"

A nurse bustled out of the adjacent room, motioning the healer towards her. With a murmured apology to Draco, Healer Eckstrom stepped aside with the nurse, who Draco heard quietly discussing the particulars of a patient with Eckstrom.

Draco crossed the hallway to the window, gazing out over wizarding Britain to avoid hearing something he shouldn't. Small flecks of snow swirled through the air and dissolved upon hitting the pavement.

He couldn't escape the irony of the situation. The boy that had been a thorn in his side for as long as could remember had somehow landed him a job opportunity. Not intentionally, yes, but had the git not gone and got himself hurt, Draco surmised he likely wouldn't have ended up at Mungo's again—at least not for a good long while, ideally. He'd have continued wasting away at his Ministry desk, pushing papers every day until he went home with another pounding headache.

He tried to imagine a life where he spent the rest of it working at the Ministry and shuddered. It had never been for him. Honestly, it was supposed to have been a bridge, something to pass the time while he waited for the family business to be transferred into his name, but then the Ministry had seized the business for reparations, and Draco had been left to fend for himself.

A buzzer chimed down the hall and he smirked. It sounded just like the one he had hated at the Ministry, another reminder that some faceless bureaucrat wanted to annoy him for the phrasing he'd used in a single subsection of a ridiculously long report. He looked forward to never having to deal with that again.

He chuckled to himself. The opportunity had barely been presented to him and he was already thinking about the Ministry as the past. He was already imagining how he would set up his potions labs and mentally cataloging the supplies and ingredients he would need to purchase, who he would need to bring on board to help him with it. But at the same time… Draco sighed, glancing over his shoulder at the healer.

It felt too easy. Getting the girl, the Weasleys and Harry forgiving him, a job offer that got him out of the Ministry and allowed him to explore something he once loved… it all seemed too good to be true, but he'd be damned if he would pass up the opportunity.

He wouldn't know unless he tried.

A hand clamped over his shoulder, and he turned to Healer Eckstrom's drawn face. With a quirk of the brow, Draco silently inquired what had happened. "Tough case, that one. I can't discuss the particulars—confidentiality, you understand—but just know that we could use a bright young mind like yours," the healer spoke quietly, his face pensive, and he turned toward the nurse's station.

Draco nodded to himself, his decision already made. "Eckstrom!" The other man paused, glancing over his shoulder with drawn brows. "Er, Healer Eckstrom. I'm sorry." Draco rubbed the back of his neck, warmth settling on his cheeks at the faux pas. "I just meant to ask you…" He inhaled deeply, fighting the familiar feeling that told him he should just quit while he was ahead. "Where can I apply?"


Two and a half hours later and with a considerable spring in his step, Draco returned to Harry's hospital room.

It had taken a lot of convincing, but he'd finally been able to squeeze in an appointment with the president of the hospital. The man hadn't been happy at the intrusion—and even less so when he'd seen who it was—but he'd been allowed to speak his piece. Healer Eckstrom had managed to accompany him as well, forfeiting his only window to inhale whatever food he could, and they'd pleaded with the president to give Draco a chance.

In the end, plopping a giant back of Galleons that he'd had his house-elf fetch from Gringotts had been even more convincing than their collective begging, given the widening of the president's eyes at its loud clink when it hit his desk.

His father had taught him at least one useful life lesson before Draco had lost all faith in him, it seemed: money spoke volumes.

He peered in through the small glass rectangle. Hermione was nowhere to be seen, but he spotted Potter's unkempt head of black hair resting on the pillow, his eyes closed and glasses askew. Ginny was curled up with her lower half in the discoloured arm chair and her upper half awkwardly perched on the edge of Harry's bed. Their hands were intertwined on the cover. He swore he could hear Potter's snores through the sturdy metal door.

"He's going to be fine. Thanks to you."

Draco jumped, cursing to himself. When he turned around, Hermione was standing behind him with a cup of coffee in each hand. "Merlin, witch, give a man a heart attack, why don't you? Where'd you go?"

She cracked a grin at him, and his heart leapt once more at the fact that she even entertained the thought of dating him, let alone the fact that she loved him. A fairly recent development, the memory still set off a herd of hippogriffs in his chest. Blaise and Theo were going to have entirely too much fun with that.

She motioned him to follow her, and they set off in a leisurely stroll down the corridor he had just come. "Healer Eckstrom stopped in a little bit after you two left together. He said that you'd gone to take care of some business?" They stopped in the waiting room, recently vacated by the rest of the Weasley brood and marginally more peaceful than it had been mere hours before. She offered him the coffee cup, and he took it, studying the scrawl of his name on the side.

He smiled down at the cup before he looked at her. "You know, you've changed a lot for me in the last few months."

Hermione blushed, colour rushing to her cheeks and dusting her collarbones. "I didn't do anything. I just happened to be enjoying a Butterbeer in a place I frequented and—"

Draco laughed. "Obsessively watched the door?" Her blush deepened, and he slid his free arm around her waist. "I have it on good authority that you didn't start going to the Leaky regularly until a few months ago. And you haven't been back since I asked you on our date."

"That is entirely unrelated to the situation at hand," the witch protested, and he was amused to see that her blush had spread to the tips of her ears, just barely peeking out of the mane of hair she had half tied back in her rush to get to Harry.

"Anyway, without you, I'd still be spending every day shuffling miserably to work, listening to Blaise and Theo bicker—"

"You know, I've yet to meet them," Hermione mused, squeezing his side.

"And with good reason." Draco took a sip of his coffee. "But I look forward to the day you kick Theo's arse for one of his smart comments."

Hermione huffed out a laugh, and he continued.

"My point is, even if it is filled with boring paperwork and Blaise and Theo's incessant childishness, I enjoy every day now. Cooking for you. Spending time with you. Remembering the things that I used to love to do. Even trying new Muggle things. All of it."

Hermione leaned into him. "I'm glad. Who knew that a cup of Butterbeer could get us this far?"

Draco chuckled. "It was the mustache; I can't resist a cute witch with a foamy mustache." She pinched his side, laughing, and he twisted away from her. "Hey, I'll have you recall that I had one too!"

She conceded, a warm smile touching her lips again, and he couldn't help but match hers. They both stared out the window for a moment before he spoke again. "I'm quitting the Ministry."

Hermione whirled away from the growing snow storm to peer up at him, concern swimming in her gaze. "Draco, what's happened? I thought—"

He held up a hand, silencing her. "You know I hate it. After today, seeing everything happening here, realising that I have skills that could be used outside of stamping ridiculous Quidditch legislative motions that no one is ever going to care about, it made me want to change something." He took her hand, leading her to one of the peeling chairs in the waiting room. "I've felt like I was at a dead end for a long time now, but I just didn't know what I wanted to do."

She nodded, watching him closely.

"Helping Healer Eckstrom today made me realise that I want more than what I have. I'm tired of being idle." He twirled the coffee cup around in his hand. "He encouraged me to apply for a new position here." Draco huffed a laugh, remembering his conversation with the president of the hospital, a very frazzled man with an unfortunate toupee. "As of twenty minutes ago, the hospital has a new research and development wing."

A very undignified squeal left Hermione's throat, and suddenly Draco found himself wrapped in her arms and assaulted by her riotous mass of curls. He chuckled, blindly guiding his coffee cup to the side table before properly hugging her back. Unbidden, a knot rose in his throat, and he swallowed it down before she pulled away, happiness gleaming in her eyes.

"Draco, that's great news! But how is the hospital affording it? I mean—" she glanced around at the forlorn decor "—St. Mungo's isn't exactly swimming in money."

Draco nodded, settling back in his chair once more. "The Malfoy estate has quite a lot of money, what with most of the Black fortune passing to my mother and Andromeda follow Aunt Bella's death. I offered to fund the new department as long as I could hire a competent staff to work under me."

When she didn't speak, he looked up at her from beneath his lashes. "It's amazing what money can do?"

Hermione gaped at him, her expression blank. I could really get used to this leaving her speechless, he thought before she finally managed to speak. "Draco, that's… amazing, but it's a lot. Are you sure that this is what you want?"

He nodded. "I'm sure. I've spent my whole life trying to live up to the Malfoy name, to right my father's wrongs. And when that didn't work and the whole world still looked at me like I was scum, I just hid away at the Ministry. You helped me come out of that shell, helped me apologise to the Weasleys. I want to do something meaningful." He finally looked up at her. "I can do that here. Making potions, trying to discover cures to dark curses and healing those the other Death Eaters have hurt."

Hermione nodded, staring around the room in awe. "And you'd be happy?"

Not for the first time that day, he considered what would make him happy. "I think so, yeah. I have all those years brewing potions as an apprentice for Snape under my belt. I might as well put it to use for a good cause."

She hummed and reached over the armrests between them to twine her fingers through his. "If you're happy, then I'm happy." She smiled up at him, once more sending his heart into overdrive. "We can survive on the Flourish and Blotts income, surely. Though it might not be as glamorous a life as you're used to."

Despite himself, a large grin graced his face. "Already thinking about how we're going to combine our household income, Granger?"

Though he thought she might pull away or retract her statement, she stared at him with a cocked eyebrow, challenging him. "Unless you're already trying to weasel your way out of the relationship, Malfoy, I'm willing to place my bets on this." She squeezed his hand in emphasis.

Warmth radiated throughout his chest, a contentment he hadn't known since he was a child settling into his limbs. "I'm choosing to ignore the unfortunate likeness to the Weasley clan that you snuck in there." He leveled a playful grin at her. "I think you're well within your rights to place your bets on us." Draco leaned in to kiss her, his lips lingering against the warmth of hers, and he couldn't help but notice the smile that curved them when he separated from her.

Somewhere in the ward, a Sonoroused voice announced that visiting hours would be ending shortly, so, with unspoken agreement, they stood.

"So—" Hermione grabbed his hand and began the trek back to Harry's room. "Healer Malfoy—can I call you that?"

Draco snorted. "Negative. I don't have an official title yet, but I'm sure Mungo's will give me something. Some kind of honorific that will be terribly stuffy and annoying, I'm sure."

"Then what can I call you from now on?" Hermione queried, batting her lashes over her shoulder at him. She pushed the door to Harry's room open with her hip, and a groan met their entrance.

"Ugh, 'Mione, I was having the most delightful dream that you had ditched the Ferrett and had chosen to take up with Charlie instead. Molly was delighted." He tried—and failed—to dodge Ginny's well-aimed smack.

Hermione laughed. "No offense, but I've had enough Weasley men to last me a lifetime—no matter how many dragons they tame or how good they look with their hair tied back in leather thongs."

Draco scoffed, moving further into the room and plopping down amidst a chorus of laughter from Hermione and Ginny. "Very funny, Scarhead. You're welcome for saving your arse. Next time remind me to let the healer dose you with a strange cocktail of potions that may or may not kill you." He leveled a playful glare at Hermione. "And I'll have you know that I can also grow out my hair and tie it back with a leather thong."

Ginny and Hermione both burst into laughter, and he couldn't contain his smirk. "Yeah, I'm surprised I got through that one with a straight face."

"Aw, 'Mione, he's trying for you. I think this is the longest I've seen him go without a cross frown on his face," Ginny spluttered. "Go on, then, Malfoy. We bestow friend approval upon you."

Harry shrugged. "Just treat her right, okay?"

Hermione began to protest, but Draco aimed a solemn nod at Harry. "I've already promised I would once, but I've got her, Potter."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Not to kill the macho man vibes going on here, but I'm pretty sure Hermione can take care of herself." The witch vehemently agreed. "But, Hermione, I think you have an important question to answer."

Draco's stomach dropped, suspicion at her mischievous expression rising in him. With a resigned sigh, he looked at Harry. "Do I even want to know?"

With a disbelieving smirk, Harry shrugged. "I may be married to the witch, but Merlin be damned if I have any idea what she's planning in that head of hers. A woman Weasley is not one I want to trifle with, thank you."

The redhead looked at Draco, her gaze roving over every inch of exposed skin. She even tilted in her chair a bit to try to peer up his shirt sleeves, and Draco's brows drew together in confusion. With a giggle of pure mischief and the devil-may-care grin to match, Ginny looked at Hermione. "So which is on his arse: Slytherin crest or dragon?"

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 13 - Epilogue

Five Years Later

Hermione smoothed her hands over the gentle bell in the skirt of her dress. The butter-yellow of it complemented the subtle tan she'd gotten over the summer months, and she knew that Draco preferred the colour to offset the charcoal grey suit he'd become obsessed with since she'd taken him to the Muggle tailor in London.

Hermione smiled at herself in the mirror, her gaze tracing her figure in approval. With a wave of her wand, her hair swept itself up in a neat chignon—a trick Ginny had taught her since Draco's recent business endeavours had landed him in several wizarding news articles. A final coat of her favourite matte lippie and loosening a few curls from her updo saw that she was ready to go.

Footsteps echoed down the hallway, and Hermione looked up, happiness bubbling up inside her as Draco swept into the room, his tie hanging haphazardly around his neck. Despite the fact that she was standing before the mirror just opposite the door, his frantic gaze missed her, and he hurried into the bathroom calling her name.

"Hermione?" The loo door swung open once more, and a harried Draco slipped into the room, relief creasing his brow when he saw that she was dressed, sans shoes. "Are you ready to go? I'm expected at Mungo's in half an hour for the dedication of the new treatment center." He stalked up to the mirror beside her and began fiddling with his tie, muttering under his breath.

She watched him for a moment, mirth fighting to escape her in laughter, and finally took pity on him after he managed to tangle his tie into a crooked knot and started trying to undo it while cursing Merlin and every other magical being that he could.

"I swear to Morgana, I'm going to—"

Hermione stepped between him and the mirror, resting her hands on his elbows. "Let me?" She gently pulled his fingers away and loosened the knot, easily sliding it into place before weaving it into a neat Windsor. She leaned up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek and smiled fondly at him. "There. All done."

Draco heaved out a sigh and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "What I would do without you, witch?"

"It's a good thing you'll never have to find out then, isn't it?" Hermione picked up the necklace she'd laid out to wear—a simple teardrop diamond, Draco's gift to her on their first wedding anniversary—and held it up to him. He took it and slipped behind her, clasping it behind her neck while she watched him in the mirror. When he looked up and made eye contact with her, she leaned into him.

His hands slipped around her waist, and they gazed into each other's eyes for a moment. Hermione sank into the still moment, one of the few they'd had together since Draco had started his new position with St. Mungo's.

He'd name the ward after his mother: the Narcissa Malfoy Ward. Though there had been some initial pushback from the public to allow such an infamous former Death Eater access to such vulnerable patients, any hesitation had been quickly calmed when Harry had been interviewed by the Prophet. Since then, Draco had been interviewed countless times and asked to be nominated for Witch Weekly's Most Eligible Wizard, to which he'd kindly declined and taken his relationship with Hermione public.

The ward was so successful that other wizarding communities around the world had started to contact Draco for consultations. What had started out as a small department of four under strict observation by the hospital's board of trustees had quickly grown into a full research department staffed by some of the wizarding world's most promising young minds. With Molly and Hermione's connections at Hogwarts, Draco had been able to negotiate an internship program that allowed Hogwarts grads to begin working in the program the last half of their seventh year, and many of them had graduated with guaranteed jobs in the program.

Overwhelmed by the support of Mungo's and the rest of the wizarding world, he'd extended an invitation to Blaise and Theo to join him. Despite Hermione's initial doubt that the two would provide more distractions than assistance, they'd been remarkable assets for Draco. Blaise was just a smooth enough talker that he'd been able to convince some hesitant donors to invest in the ward. Theo had taken over the public relations position, using his charm to coordinate events with St. Mungo's.

With new investments pouring into the program, Draco had developed another ward that sought to combine Muggle and magical treatments for maladies that blurred the lines between the magical and non-magical world. To the wizarding world's shock, he had started to work with Muggle doctors—all carefully selected for their prowess and discretion—to begin developing treatments for diseases that so far lacked medical answers.

To say she was proud of him was an understatement.

Hermione, to no one's surprise but her own, had been approached by Kingsley to work under him in preparation to eventually become the next Minister for Magic. With some prompting from Draco, she had agreed.

It wasn't that she didn't want to become minister—she did, desperately, and she had dreamt of earning the position for quite a while, even in her early Hogwarts days—but she couldn't help but feel as though she was cheating. She hadn't worked her way through the ranks; she didn't have years of experience under her belt that helped inform her politics. But with Draco's gentle encouragement despite arguing all the reasons she shouldn't run for the position, she'd thrown her hat in the ring on a whim.

Hermione had started small, developing a grassroots campaign that tried to learn what ordinary wizards and witches needed from the government post-war. And she researched—of course she researched. She started with creature rights and worked all the way up to parental leave for witches and wizards, lobbied for—and successfully drafted legislature that passed—the election of the minister by wizarding citizens, and tried to ensure equal representation for all beings, creature and human alike. Hermione was surprised by how well her proposals were received.

It seemed as though more had changed after the world than even she was aware of.

Now here she was, three years later, with a large following who had willingly voted her as Kingsley's successor, and she was due to take the position when he retired the following spring. Her time working under him had been rewarding but challenging, and though sometimes she missed the relaxed pace of Flourish and Blotts, she would be lying if she said the change wasn't invigorating.

She still couldn't quite believe that it was reality some days. The wizarding world trusted her to step up and be their leader. She went to bed every evening thankful for the tumultuous past few years, and even more grateful for the wizard who slung his arm around her waist to fall asleep tangled in.

"I can see the steam from you thinking too hard." Draco nuzzled her neck, bringing her back to reality. "We need to go, love. Somebody has to keep Theo from imbibing too much before the speeches. Merlin knows what would come out of his mouth."

Hermione laughed. "Likely some half-cocked attempt at joking to pick up some witch or wizard in the audience."

"You are not wrong." Draco groaned. He spun her around and appraised her. "Merlin, I am one lucky wizard." His eyes lingered on the way her dress clung to her curves, and Hermione tilted his head up with one finger, laughing.

"Eyes. Up here," she chastised, though her heart wasn't in the complaint.

"Well if you didn't want me to stare, then you shouldn't look so beautiful. And on my birthday, of all days. Merlin, why did you let me schedule this today?" Draco nudged past her hand and sprinkled a line of kisses down her neck.

Her laughter tinkled between them. "Flattery will get you everywhere."

Together, they strolled to the Floo, and Hermione rested her hand on Draco's elbow so she could slip into the heels she'd chosen for the outfit. Once settled, she rocked up onto her toes once more to plant another kiss on his cheek. "You're going to be brilliant. They love you already."

Draco smirked as he grabbed a handful of Floo powder and strolled into the grate. "I know. And they'll all be jealous that I'm arriving with future Minister of Magic, Hermione Granger-Malfoy." He winked, then shouted his destination and disappeared in a flash of green flame.

Shaking her head, Hermione lifted her own handful of powder from the cup and entered the grate. Her smile was still on her lips as she spun toward her destination, thanking the universe once more for an ill-timed butterbeer mustache.