The first time he sees it, he's walking to breakfast. Crabbe and Goyle are lumbering behind him, carrying his broomstick as well as their own. Draco swaggers ahead of them.
He clasps hands with Montague, winks at Daphne Greengrass, and is about to turn the corner into the Great Hall where the Slytherin table will erupt into applause for him.
But first, he almost smacks into Granger. The back of her.
She stands at the entrance, blocking half the opening, in deep conversation with Ginny Weasley. And he's faced with her mane of hair, a red ribbon tying off the top half.
A bow bouncing in his face as she shakes her head. The long ends dangling down past her curls.
"Granger, do try not to block the halls. Your hair is swallowing all the free space."
She turns and glares at him. "Hm, and your ego can barely fit through as it is." She turns back to Ginny Weasley, continuing.
He narrows his eyes at the back of her head, watching the Weasley girl start to smirk.
Draco nudges his way past her, reaching up at the last second to tug one tail of her ribbon. It falls apart, tumbling down her back as he passes.
He hears a "Hey!" just before the Slytherin table starts stomping their feet, banging their glasses. He throws his hands out wide, enjoying their praise.
Falling down into a seat next to Pansy, he begins to fuel up for the Gryffindor-Slytherin match that day. He's more confident today than most, knowing that Potter is off the team. When Blaise starts a chorus of "Weasley is Our King," he enjoys watching the ginger oaf scowl into his oatmeal. Beside him, Granger's hands are above her head, retying the ribbon in her hair. He didn't realize before that it had four loops. He watches her fingers move and twist in strange dance, finished before the song is even over.
The second time he spots it, he chokes on his gingerbread scone.
A ribbon tying up a quarter of her hair, with four loops. But it's green.
Draco blinks across the Great Hall, coughing as he funnels tea down his throat.
The Slytherin-Ravenclaw match is this weekend. And she's... wearing green?
She has her body turned, leg folded on the bench as she faces Potter, talking quickly about something that she finds fascinating while he nods politely. Even in profile he can tell that she's beaming with joy.
And she's wearing a green ribbon in her hair. He looks around the Hall, wondering if he missed some kind of social justice movement where green stands for Centaur Rights or something ridiculous like that. But no one else is wearing a green ribbon.
Not even the Slytherin table. It's Monday, five days before the match.
He looks back at Granger just in time to see Weasley say something to her through a mouthful of toast. Dean Thomas laughs to his right, and Potter holds back a smile.
Granger looks down, green bow bouncing against her hair. She's not beaming any longer.
She turns away from Potter, facing her breakfast again, that's when Draco sees a matching four loop ribbon on the other side of her head. A red one.
He rolls his eyes at himself.
It's the first day of December. And she's wearing Christmas colors... not Slytherin colors.
He chews absently for the rest of breakfast, tasting nothing.
"And this one is for Mr. Malfoy!"
Helene, the plump and joyous secretary bounces over to him. She is clearly living her best life as the coordinator of Secret Santa this year. Draco leans against the side of his office, waiting for the holiday shenanigans to cease so he can get back to work.
The salary had been the selling point at the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. That, and his long-term girlfriend Daphne Greengrass had accepted a position there. But ever since they'd parted ways, he had been quite devoted to the job: working late, lunch at his desk, spending weekends at the office.
Granger started about a year back, working quietly from her cubicle across the floor in the Obliviator Headquarters. A month ago, she'd transferred into Magic Reversal, but they'd had little interaction so far. The head of the department was probably trying to purposely separate them to preempt any explosions.
She'd left the Aurors office about a year after she finalized her divorce from Weasley. If Daphne had stayed at Magic Reversal after their breakup, he probably would have left immediately. He can’t imagine "sticking it out."
Helene shoves the small anonymous gift into his arms, clapping for no reason. He bites his tongue and shifts to pull apart the wrapping.
A green ribbon, with four loops. The tails twisting merrily down the sides.
The wrapping paper is a slate grey, shimmering in the office light. Draco blinks down at it, and jumps when he hears someone clear their throat. Right. Yes. He should be unwrapping the gift. The office is watching.
Instead of tugging at the tails of the bow, he shimmies the ribbon around the corners of the box. He peels apart the grey wrapping paper as the gramophone changes to "Good King Wenceslas." A small Cherrywood box, engraved with a dragon. He opens the top, and a silver quill shaped into a feather and a matching inkpot lay in the velvet lining.
"Well," Helene twitters. "What is it?"
He's been staring into the little box for several seconds. He shakes his head and shows the room. "It's a quill set.
"What's on the box?"
"—cost a pretty penny."
"No note, yes? We said no notes!"
"Well, what do you get the boy who has every—"
"I don't know why this is all such a secret."
"Alright! Alright!" Helene claps her hands. "I'll grab the next one."
Draco stares at the sculpted quill. While the next present is passed around, he plucks it from the box and finds a nice, heavy weight to it. As it spins in his fingers, the light glints off the side and he sees that the letters D.M. have been engraved along the spine.
He looks up, searching the room for her.
She's nodding along to "Good King Wenceslas," smiling at Boyer opening the next gift. A blush just now fading from her cheeks. She turns to whisper something to the girl next to her and the green and red Christmas bow in her hair bounces.
They're up for the same promotion within the next year. She gets the position even though he'd been with Magic Reversal four years longer than she had.
Ron Weasley gets engaged the same day.
He sends her a bottle of champagne to her desk with his sincerest regards.
He hears a bottle pop on the empty floor at 7:08PM, just as he reaches the lift to head home.
"It wasn't your call, Malfoy!"
"It was my call! I was the one in the field! Did you want me to pause and send you an owl in front of the Muggles? Or maybe a Patronus?"
"I wanted you to use your head!" She paces away from him. "We have an Obliviate Team for this exact reason!"
"Again, should I have sent a Patronus? There was a firearm, Granger!"
"Look, I know you don't respect me-"
"Don't respect you? This is me being respectful—"
"But you have to abide by the rules I set forth." Her hands go to her hips. "Does this have to do with Daphne? I saw the Prophet announcement today—"
"Oh, fuck off, Granger." He slams the door to her office on his way out.
The next Christmas, she gives every person on her team an ornament. He arrives at his desk to find a red ribbon with four loops tied around a silver dragon ornament.
He severs the piece on top that would dangle it from a tree, and turns it into a paperweight. He places it next to his ink pot.
He pulls her name for Secret Santa the following year. He frowns at the slip as Helene continues to the person on his right.
He paces Diagon Alley that Saturday, stopping into Flourish and Blotts, dipping into the sweets shop, and weaving through the accessories at Madame Malkins. He doesn't know why he bothers. It wouldn't do to buy her jewelry.
Besides, she was seeing Terry Boot.
Not that that –
Or even if she weren't –
Hardly any reason –
He shakes out his shoulders and decides to head home and pluck an early edition of Fantastic Beasts from the Malfoy library, signed by Scamander himself. It's not doing any good sitting on his shelves. He buys a metal bookmark in the shape of the Hogwarts skyline before Apparating away from Diagon Alley.
He spends an hour trying to figure out the spell for a four-loop bow, and finally settles on tying one himself after much practice.
When Helene gives Granger her gift, he watches as her eyes take in the ribbon. She blinks at it, her brows scrunching together.
She pulls the ribbon off and tears away the paper.
"A book," someone says. "Of course."
She plucks the bookmark from the front cover and smiles down at it.
"Thank you to my Secret San..." she trails off. She's opened the front cover and stares down at the first page. "Oh."
He watches her lips open.
"What is it, Ms. Granger?"
"Is there a note in the front? We said no notes!"
"Well, of course she already has the book. It's Fantastic Beasts, for Merlin's sake—"
"Er," Granger says. Her face is pale now. "It's wonderful. I'm just very—"
"Is that a first edition?"
The room stops. Several people close to her crane their necks, and Draco feels a buzzing in his veins. Was it a first edition?
"Yes," Granger hums. "And it's signed by Newt Scamander."
A gasp from Helene, and Draco glares at her.
"That must have cost a fortune!"
"This is why we set a galleon limit—"
"Don't be daft, Barry. There's only one person here who could afford—"
"It doesn't say who it's from though, yes? That's part of the rules."
"No, no," Granger says, blushing. "It's still anonymous. Thank you very much." She bites her lip and turns to the table of contents. "And if I'm not mistaken..." She flips a few pages, her fingers resting delicately on the corners. "Yes, here. Mr. Scamander included Nargles in his 1927 copies, even though he had no first-hand experience with them." She looks up and her eyes rest on Draco momentarily before moving away. "He deduced later that they did not exist and removed them from future copies."
Several coworkers have already grown bored with conversation of the book, and for that Draco is pleased. Several others, however, are sending him shifty glances.
Helene grabs the next gift, and Draco watches Granger's fingers trail over the spine of the text absently.
Whispering from a corner of the room.
"Must be 600 galleons, don't you think?"
Draco runs his hand over his face. He hadn't expected the book to be a first edition. Not that he cares that it is no longer in his possession. It's just...
"You don't think that they're..."
"Oh, I'm positive. Have you seen the way she looks at him?"
"It's not her I'd keep my eye on. A gift like that? And in public?"
Draco waits for Helene to produce a small gift bag for him containing homemade treacle tart before slipping away to his office.
A few hours later, a knock raps on his doorframe and he looks up to see Granger there. She sends him a small smile and he gestures for her to enter.
"Forgive me, I've figured out who my Secret Santa is."
He swallows. "Well, that's against Helene's rules."
She grins down at her shoes. "Thank you, Draco—"
"I didn't know it was a first edition—"
They speak over each other and stop. Her brows lift and she waits.
"I apologize," he says. "It's... it's actually from the Malfoy library. I promise I didn't spend that kind of money— er.... Not that I wouldn't... I just mean to say, that I hope it didn't embarrass you. The book."
She stares back at him with wide eyes. "Oh, no. I very much like it."
"Good. Great," he stammers. "I didn't know it was a first edition."
"Oh," she says. "I don't need to keep it if you... Do you want it back?"
"You didn't know how valuable it was when you gave it, so if you wanted—"
"No!" He stands from his chair. "No, no. That's not it all." He runs a hand through his hair. "Unless you don't like it?"
"I already said I did."
"Right, right." He looks down at his desk. "Well, yes. You're welcome."
"You said that."
He hears her shuffle in the doorway. Would she just leave??
"I actually wanted to ask you," she begins, and he glances up at her from his very interesting paperwork on his desk. "The ribbon on the giftwrap."
He feels his pulse jump. "Yes?"
"My gran used to tie bows the same way. It's... a tricky tie, the way you did it. And I was wondering how you learned it—"
"I had the book giftwrapped. At the shop." His throat clicks.
She blinks at him. "I thought you said you pulled it from the Malfoy library."
He coughs and says, "Yes, and then I took it into a shop to be wrapped."
"Oh," she says. She looks down at the carpets. "Well, thank you again," she says, turning to leave, "Secret Santa." She presses her lips together in a smile and disappears, red and gold ribbon bouncing in her hair.
Draco sighs and rubs his eyes.
A week later, on Christmas, the Prophet announces Granger's engagement to Terry Boot. For reasons unknown to himself, Draco drinks heavily, and only smiles to himself when he thinks on the cost of his book in comparison to Boot's measly 800 galleon engagement ring.
Not that he wrote to the jeweler or anything.
"You're not listening to me!"
"I am listening to you! That's the problem!"
"Malfoy, if you took the time to actually read my proposal, you would see that the way you handled the situation was completely against policy—"
"Fuck the policies, Granger!" he snarls. "My hands were tied and your bloody backup wasn't even on their way yet."
"You don't seem to understand," she hisses. "Your actions are fireable, Draco."
He blinks at her, shaking his head. "Then fire me."
Her mouth drops open. "What?"
"That's... I wasn't threatening you, Draco, I was just trying to explain the seriousness of the situation –"
"If it's so serious, then fire me." He throws his hands to the side.
She stares at him. Her mouth moves to make words several times without success.
"Fucking joke of a department," he mutters and shoves his way past her.
A termination letter never finds its way to his desk. He pulls the report a week later while she's at lunch. She took 75% of the blame, citing her lack of immediate action in deploying the backup team.
He pulls Helene for Secret Santa that year. He considers signing his note just to spite her. But she's very pleased with his scarf and mitten set he found at a cart in Hogsmeade.
He watches Granger during the party the Friday before Christmas. She smiles at the right moments, and claps for the gifts, small diamond shining from her fourth finger, but her eyes keep glazing and landing on the tree. The wedding is the following weekend, and she has taken the next two weeks for preparation and her honeymoon.
At closing time, he stops by her office, tossing his coat over his arm.
"Happy Christmas, Granger."
She looks over from her office window. "Happy Christmas, Draco."
"Best of luck with the wedding," he chokes. "Enjoy your time off."
He moves away before she can ask him again about declining the invitation and before he would be forced to make something up. Again.
"I'll actually be in the office on Monday."
He stops. She's looking out the window, watching the snow.
"Is there a project I can take for you?" he asks. "You shouldn't have to come in. Should take the next eight days to prepare for the wedding."
She swallows. "We're postponing, actually." She stands and begins to shuffle some papers around, coming around the front of her desk to organize something that is already perfectly in place. "So, I won't need the next two weeks off."
"Postponing." It's a foreign concept in his mouth. The idea of postponing a wedding to Hermione Granger.
"Yes. So, I'll see you Monday."
She's turned her back on him. And really, he should wish her a happy weekend and walk out.
"Where's your ribbon?"
She turns, brows lifting in question.
"Your gran's bow. You always wear a Christmas ribbon."
Her hand goes to her hair, and she says, "Oh. Er, I guess I forgot it. Been distracted." He watches her fingers thread through the braid laying on her shoulder, tied off with a simple hairband.
He puts a hand in his pocket and says, "Well, how is that fair to the rest of us who've spent all year waiting for our eyes to be assaulted again by that ridiculous ribbon. I've seen that bow every December since Hogwarts. It's the only way I know what month it is, really."
The corner of her mouth lifts, and she leans back on her desk. "Well, I apologize, Draco. I'll be sure to wear it on Monday."
"Christmas will be over by then." He steps fully into her office, feeling his heart beating. He tosses his coat across her guest chair and wandlessly conjures a long green and silver ribbon, stepping towards her.
She rolls her eyes, smile tugging at her cheeks, and holds her hand out for the ribbon. He steps into her, and watches her eyes lift.
His fingers shake only once as he brings the ribbon around the hairband on her braid, twisting and turning and tugging until his fingers have shaped a bow with four loops, knuckles kissing her collar bone and jaw with every curve of the ribbon.
She watches his face, lips falling open slowly, and he ignores her eyes as he concentrates on evening out the size of each loop.
When he's done, he lets the braid tumble slowly back to her shoulder, long ribbon tails falling down her chest, and he fingers one of the tails, twisting dangerously low.
"There," he says. "Now it's Christmas."
She looks down at the bow finally, hand lifting to touch the ribbon, and even though he sees an 800 galleon engagement ring on one of those fingers, he considers it a polite formality at this point. When she looks up at him, eyes bright and wide to find him so close, he tips her jaw up to him, and presses his mouth to her parting lips, tasting her air as she gasps, and brushes a hand across her hip, up her ribs, following the ribbon tail up until his fingers find hers, tumbling around her hand. She opens her mouth against him and he feels the whisper of her breath in his lungs before he pulls back, letting his eyes burn hot into hers, and pressing his thumb against her bottom lip.
"Happy Christmas, Granger."
She swallows, and takes a small breath against his thumb. He pulls his body from hers, grabs up his coat, and walks out.
On Saturday, the Prophet prints the news of the end of the Boot-Granger engagement, citing that Granger was the one to break it off.
On Monday, she's wearing a large green and red bow in her hair, even though Christmas is over. He makes sure to leave it alone when his hand dives into her curls, tugging her face to his. He plays with the ends of the bow while pushing her hips against her office desk, locking the door, and smiling against her mouth.