The wind whispered secrets in its own incomprehensible language.
Tracy Rees, Amy Snow
31 December 1998
Draco fought to be heard over the glass-rattling thumping bass of the song currently being blasted over the speakers. He wasn't familiar with the offending tune, though the rest of the club goers seemed to be enjoying the pulsing beat as their bodies swayed and gyrated against each other on the dance floor as they celebrated the beginning of a new year.
Draco sighed impatiently, drumming his fingers on the sticky counter top as he waited for what felt like an eternity for the bartender to fill his order. Before the war, this never would have been an issue. A Malfoy always got immediate service as a sign of respect. But now, with the family name being what it was—well, he was forced to wait his turn with the masses as though they were all on equal footing. When the busy young bartender finally poured his three shots of firewhiskey, Draco snatched them up with a sneer, letting his displeasure be known.
"Fucking squib," he muttered, balancing the three glasses precariously in a triangle shape between his two hands as he turned back towards the table that he, Blaise, and Theo had commandeered earlier in the evening. He began to wind his way through the mass of half naked bodies, becoming more and more impatient for the bloody countdown to midnight, so the end to this hellish year would finally come. With the final battle over, the Dark Lord dead, and the subsequent criminal trials over, all he wanted to do was get pissed with his mates and find a witch to warm his bed for the night.
He sidestepped a snogging couple, watching the amber liquid of the firewhiskey in his hands slosh dangerously against the sides of the thin glass tumblers. He cursed himself for having to carry the drinks like a common Muggle, the dulling haze of previous shots having muted his wartime preparedness and making him forget his wand back at the table.
As the alcohol settled back into the bottom of the tumblers, Draco continued his journey around the club floor towards the darkened booth in the back corner. Watching his hands closely lest he spill any of the long waited for libations, he failed to notice the old witch standing directly in his path. He cursed loudly as he crashed into her, barely managing to stay upright even as her frail body took the brunt of the collision.
Fueled by alcohol and his frustration over this entire clusterfuck of a night, Draco stared down at the woman crumpled on the floor in front of him. Her lurid purple robes and fucking twinkling blue eyes reminded him of Albus Dumbledore, staring at him with mocking kindness. Shaking the spilled alcohol from his fingertips and plucking the wet silk of his shirt away from his chest, Draco's patience broke, his lip curling in disgust. "Look at what you've done! Next time, watch where you're going, you tired old hag."
He sneered at the old woman, ignoring her tangle of robes and her outstretched hand asking for help up from the hard, sticky floor as he moved to step around her, his dragonhide loafers squelching in the puddle of spilled alcohol.
"Draco Lucius Malfoy."
He stopped mid-stride upon hearing her speak his full name, her voice stronger and more resonant than she looked capable of producing with her withered skin and frail bones. As she continued to speak, the lights and sounds of the packed club seemed to fade from Draco's senses, her face and voice being the only things he could clearly make out.
"You have the potential to be a good man, but you throw it all away with your vanity. You must learn to look beyond youth and beauty and blood status if you wish to find happiness in this lifetime. Your actions tonight lead me no choice but to enchant you. Your quests for companionship will be futile until you learn to overcome past prejudices. Only then will you be able to find the one fated to stand by your side."
Draco’s normally haughty expression disappeared as his mouth hung open and his silver eyes widened in shock. "What in Salazar's sack is that supposed to mean?"
"You'll find out in due time, Draco Malfoy. For time is the one thing you cannot escape."
His mouth shut and his eyes hardened as he stared down at the old crone, her blue eyes looking back at him serenely as she continued sitting on the ground, her lips turned up in a sly smile.
"You're bloody barmy. Nothing but a pissed old bat who can't mind her own bloody business." He turned on his heel and continued walking to the booth in the corner, placing the strange experience out of his mind as he finally reached the table and, sneering lips and raised brow back in place, demanded that Blaise fetch the round from the barkeep this time around. He was not going back across the bloody dance floor to wait like the rest of the peons in this fucking place.
31 December 2000
Draco stormed back to the corner booth, his blond hair falling into his eyes, its normally perfectly coiffed appearance having fallen victim to his fingers carding through his hair in frustration. Blotches of red appeared on his cheekbones and his right hand clenched into a fist by his side in order not to reach for the wand tucked in a sheath along his inner arm. As he reached the table where his mates sat with their dates, he snatched the glass tumbler out of Theo's hands, quickly bringing it to his lips and draining the contents with a single swallow. Draco didn't even flinch as the burning heat of the firewhiskey worked its way down his throat to settle low in his belly. He slammed the etched glass back down to the concrete slab tabletop with a loud thunk .
"I'm bloody done. I can drink far better firewhiskey at home without having to deal with all these bloody people." Draco declared as he motioned around them to the club goers who were blissfully unaware of his rising frustration.
Theo merely raised an eyebrow at his friend, his arm resting along the back of the worn leather of the booth, a leggy redhead snuggling into his shoulder. Blaise however sat forward, elbows against the tabletop as he made a production of peering behind Draco. His lips twitched at the corners and eyes widened in mock confusion as he looked back to Draco.
"Draco! You seem to have misplaced Maria! Whatever could have happened? I thought she was a ' sure thing '!"
"She bloody well was ," Draco snapped as he reached forward to steal the drink that was sitting in front of Blaise. He downed it’s contents as he had the first, placing this one more carefully against the table when he was finished. “Everything was bloody perfect until her friend —” He spat the word as if it were the most deplorable thing about this evening. “—couldn’t keep from poking her nose where it clearly did not belong and pointed out my mark. Maria didn't seem to have a problem with it earlier when we discussed it, but once her friend saw it, suddenly there was an issue.”
Theo and Blaise's eyes followed Draco's hand as it gesticulated toward his left forearm, the slightest hint of a black marking visible under the cuffed sleeves of his black dress shirt.
"And of course, even in Spain the friend had heard of los Mortífagos, and that was bloody that."
Catching the eye of a passing waiter, Theo raised his finger, and, with a circular motion, indicated the table's need for another round before he turned his attention back to Draco.. "How long has it been, Draco? Almost two years?"
"Two years tonight."
Theo sighed, his forefinger and thumb pushing up under the rim of his glasses to rub his eyes before he ran his hand down the length of his face. "Maybe it's time to take what the old hag said seriously. No one has this much bad luck, mate, even with your questionable history. Maybe it's time to consider that she really did curse you. Go visit St Mungo's. Or consider hiring a curse breaker, at the very least."
"New Year's resolution, Drake. Can't hurt anything but your pride. Your cock will thank you." Blaise winked at the woman sitting next to him, her drunken giggle setting Draco's nerves on edge.
Draco was silent as the waiter appeared behind him, placing the ordered drinks in front of the group before silently walking away to the next patrons.
Once the waiter was out of earshot, Draco sighed, his shoulders hunching forward as he came to terms with the knowledge that there was no putting off the inevitable. If he ever wanted to continue the Malfoy name, even if he just wanted to ever get laid again, it was time to take the words of the batty old witch seriously. He picked up the glass of amber liquid sitting in front of him, raising it slightly to the others sitting around the booth. "To New Year's resolutions."
Theo and Blaise grabbed their own glasses of firewhiskey as their dates belatedly scrambled to hold aloft their own mugs of butterbeer, repeating the toast.
Gulping the drink, finally feeling the effects of so much alcohol in such a short amount of time, Draco stumbled slightly. He set down the glass and, without a word more to his friends, disapparated from the middle of the pub, breaking about half a dozen rules of wizarding etiquette. Fuck bloody pubs. Fuck bloody New Year's Eve. And fuck bloody witches.
Well, that was rather the problem, wasn't it?
6 April 2001
"Malfoy, I'm not sure exactly what you want us to do ." The blonde witch pouted at him, her black, magically enhanced eyelashes blinking at him while her full, pink bottom lip stuck out in a way that she obviously thought he would find alluring. "Pav and I practice divination, we're not Curse Breakers!"
"I know that, Brown—"
"Lavender," she interrupted, tilting her head as she smiled at him.
"I know that, Lavender ," Draco continued with forced patience, his frustration mounting over his inability to find answers to his problem. "I've already seen a Curse Breaker. Several of them, in fact. Not to mention all of the Healers and specialists at St Mungo's who poked and prodded me. And none of them could help. 'It's not a curse, Mr Malfoy. Its intentions are pure, Mr Malfoy. Embrace the gift of change that she bestowed upon you, Mr Malfoy.'" He quoted the oft-heard lines, finally relaxing back in the purple covered armchair with a loud sigh.
He ran a hand through his already disheveled hair, tugging slightly at the roots in order to bring his attention back to the present. It wasn't Lavender Brown's fault that he had exhausted all other options and had come to her and Parvati in desperation. "Sorry."
"It's fine." Lavender raised her hand as though she were physically brushing off his apology. "But I still don't know if we can help you..."
She stopped talking, glancing quickly at her partner, Parvati, who had remained silent so far, before finally turning back to Draco. She raked her eyes over his body, taking in the snug cut of his trousers and the soft silk of his shirt over his tight abdomen, before finally returning her eyes to his, her tongue darting out to quickly swipe across her lower lip.
"If you were hoping to help end your dry spell with a willing partner, I would have been more than happy to oblige. But–" she sighed heavily, shifting her left hand to the top of the desk in front of her, the glint of a large diamond shining from her finger "–you're a few months too late. Pav and I made things official in February, vowing to forsake all others."
Draco tipped his head back against the chair, looking toward the ceiling as he took a deep breath, trying to control his growing sense of helplessness. What in Salazar's name had he been thinking coming here? This was probably just another dead end. Taking another deep breath for good measure, he dropped his chin and looked back to the Gryffindor.
"I didn't come here looking for sex. I've resigned myself to the fact that a casual fling isn't going to be possible for me anymore. I need to find the woman 'fated' to be with me. You two were all into that soulmate bullshite back at Hogwarts so I presumed, having made divination your career , you would have a spell or a ritual to help me locate her."
Lavender perked up, throwing her shoulders back as she pulled her bejeweled crystal ball to the center of her desk. "Oh! Well, hand me your list then and we can get started!"
"Yes, your list of names."
"Names…" Draco trailed off, eyebrows raised in silent question.
"Oh for Merlin's sake , Draco! You can't expect us to do anything without a list of names of potential candidates!" The two women exchanged a silent look, Parvati finally nodding at Lavender to continue her explanation. The blonde sighed heavily and tossed her glossy curls back behind her shoulders with a huff.
"There's no spell that can just tell you the name of your soulmate. And if there were, there are simply too many people in the world. The magic would need to be kept continually focused until it had evaluated every person on the planet. And that level of concentration just isn't possible. The wielder's core would burn out and the spell would drop far before the magic had finished it's inspection. We need a specific name alongside yours to feed the magic in order to divine your compatibility."
"Fine." Draco ground out, ready for this farce to be over. "Pansy Parkinson."
After over an hour, the name of every witch Draco had ever dated or even considered dating having been checked for soulmate potential, Lavender slumped into the pillows on her floral chintz wingback chair, exhausted.
"I don't know what to say, Malfoy. No matches over thirty-three percent. None of the witches on your list is even a potential possibility."
Draco leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees as he placed his face in his upturned palms, attempting to scrub the fatigue from his face. That was it. He was going to be forced into celibacy for the rest of his life. He would forever be Uncle Draco to the offspring of his friends rather than father to his own. He was doomed to end the Malfoy line unless he found a child to blood-adopt. His ancestors would…
The unexpected noise of a throat clearing startled Draco from his spiraling thoughts and he looked up slowly, dreading the possibility of more bad news from Lavender.
Surprisingly, it was Parvati who spoke, finally breaking her silence.
"Luna. You should go visit Luna Lovegood. She may be able to help you where we can't."
7 April, 2001
Draco wove his way down the dirt path, hoping at any moment to finally see the tucked-away shed Luna Lovegood made her office. When she had owled him directions after he requested a meeting, Lovegood had failed to mention the Devil's Snare and the Venomous Tentacula he would have to evade to simply make it to her office in one piece. The longer he walked, the worse of an idea requesting this meeting seemed. He wasn't even sure what exactly the former Ravenclaw did. When he had pressed Lavender and Parvati for answers, they had both shaken their heads, refusing to say any more other than that she was studying the old ways.
Whatever that meant.
He forced himself to keep moving forward, even though he was beginning to lose his patience. The directions Lovegood sent were far from precise, and he was unsure if he made the last left turn at the correct rock that resembled a crying hippogriff. But he had exhausted all other options and had to keep going.
Draco heard the building before he saw it. The tinkling melody of metal on metal was a cacophony in the silent forest. The sound of the wind chimes swaying in the breeze directed him the rest of the way down the path as a spring green roof finally came into view. The walls of the shed were a slate grey, barely seen beneath the multiple layers of hanging potted flowers and vines. In front of the open door stood Luna, her blonde hair flowing unrestrained down her back, its ends tangling in the leaves of the surrounding plants.
"Draco," Luna said, her voice breathy and delicate. Draco strained to hear her over the tinkling of the metal. "I knew we'd meet again. Please, come in."
Draco said nothing, instead following the witch into her domain as the hem of her floral patterned robes dragged across the dirt, the sight of her bare feet peeking out with every step. As he stepped through the doorway, his eyes wandered around the large, single room, his eyebrows raised at the lack of traditional divination tools. Where he had expected to see canisters of loose tea, crystal balls, incense and tarot cards, he was instead greeted with an almost sparse workshop, a single desk shoved in the corner against the stark white walls. In the windows hung multi sized crystals, their rainbow of colours reflecting throughout the room as the sun caught their shapes. Across the ceiling stretched garlands of corks, butterbeer caps and the occasional bit of folded gum wrappers.
"Please, sit." Luna pulled her wand from the bodice of her robes, summoning two overstuffed floor pillows. She gestured to Draco to take one as she sat on the other, folding her legs beneath her.
Draco eyed the cushion, running his hand through his hair in a nervous tic he couldn't seem to shake. Sighing internally, he stiffly lowered himself to the ground, his long legs resting on the bare floor in front of him. He cleared his throat, eyes meeting those of the witch in front of him.
"I know I wrote to you a bit about my predicament—"
"Oh yes!" Luna said as she excitedly clasped her hands in front of her chest, "I can practically feel the benediction that has been cast upon you. I can sense your willingness to change—your desire to understand...but there's also confusion. You're lacking direction and clarity. You need my help to find your fated love."
"Err...um...yes." Draco stammered, surprised that he wouldn't have to once again recite his story from the beginning. Since Luna had delved right to the heart of the situation, he no longer felt any qualms about forgoing small talk and jumping straight to the reason for his visit. "How can you help me? Is there some sort of spell you can cast, or potion I can take to find my soulmate?"
Luna smiled, the tinkling sound of her laughter mimicking the chimes outside. "Oh no. Spells and potions are the wrong way to go about finding something as important as your destined mate. They're fine for the physical side of things but, when dealing with the soul, we must look to the beginning of time—to the elemental magicks that created us all." She stood and walked to her desk, rifling through the center drawer. She finally withdrew a purple velvet bag and looped its drawstring around her wrist before turning around to head back to her cushion in the middle of the room.
Draco watched her, unsure whether to laugh or cry at the witch's words. Beginning of time? Elemental magicks? He was beginning to remember, with more and more clarity, why the whole of Hogwarts had referred to her as Loony Lovegood for most of her years in attendance. But there was nothing he could do now besides humour the woman.
Standing in front of him, Luna held out her right hand, silently demanding that Draco grab hold of it. As he did, she pulled him to his feet with surprising strength.
"Shoes and socks off, Draco," she instructed, smiling softly. "Earth responds better when it's able to feel you."
With a shake of his head, Draco obeyed, standing slightly wobbly on one leg as, one foot at a time, he removed his loafers and socks. The dirt felt cool against his bare heels and he wiggled his toes slightly. Once he was standing on both feet again, Luna conjured a large stone bowl that she shoved unceremoniously into his hands.
"Hold this. And whatever happens, don't drop it."
Draco could only nod in response, unsure as to what exactly was going to happen.
Luna reached for the purple velvet bag and slowly pulled apart the drawstring to open it. Draco's eyes were strangely riveted on the small bag, breathlessly waiting to see what she would pull out to help him. His attention was broken when suddenly Luna stopped her motions and turned to look at him, her eyes large and unblinking.
"Draco." The tone of her voice caught his attention, the almost whisper gone, replaced with a quiet steel. "I want to warn you, before we go any further, that the elements, while usually willing to help, do so in their own ways. They won't spell out the name of your soulmate or give you her exact address. Instead, they'll guide you, subtly leading you to come to your own conclusions. And sometimes, there can be... side effects."
"Side effects," he echoed, cocking his eyebrow at this important piece of information. "Like what?"
"Oh, nothing life threatening." She shrugged. Her voice had returned to its dreamlike quality once more. "Just, you might suddenly find yourself running a low fever with no other symptoms. Or crying for no apparent reason."
"Cry? This spell is going to make me walk around crying?!"
"Not necessarily. It's just one example of a potential side effect. The chances of one even occurring are really quite slim."
Draco shifted his weight, growing more and more uncomfortable with this whole thing. Standing on the floor barefoot. Luna. This overly bright shed in the middle of a Merlin-forsaken forest. And now, possible side effects. Consequences. He started to raise his hand to card through his hair, aborting his movement at the last second, remembering Lovegood's demand that he not drop the bowl he was holding.
He sighed. If he didn't go through with this, he would always wonder if it would have been the key to ending this imposed celibacy.
"Go ahead, Lovegood. I've got nothing else to lose."
Luna smiled brilliantly, her hand reaching into the bag, withdrawing a large pink salt stone and placing it within the bowl held between Draco's palms. Next she brought out a candle and a cube of ice charmed to stay frozen, followed finally by a handful of loose pink flower petals.
"Now all we need is a bit of your blood…" the blonde witch trailed off as she sliced Draco's forefinger with a slash of her wand. He cried out at the unexpected prick of pain, and Luna grabbed his bleeding hand and held it above the bowl, letting the crimson liquid drip onto each of the items within the vessel. "There. The elements have accepted your blood magic signature. Now we can begin."
Luna once again directed Draco to hold the bowl in front of himself with both palms rested against the outer stone. She then placed her hands over his, the coldness of her skin surprising in the warmth of the room.
She began to chant quietly, muttering words under her breath that Draco was unable to identify. They were so soft and melodic, he wasn't even sure the Ravenclaw was still speaking English. He watched her, unnerved by her stillness and unsure of what part he was going to be asked to play.
Suddenly, Luna's serene face was marked by a downturn of her lips, her brows furrowing over her eyes. Her chant became faster until the candle levitated from the bowl, startling Draco at the unexpected motion. Its wick sparked with a flame for a mere second before extinguishing itself and falling back into the basin. The ice cube echoed the movements of the candle, floating up from the bowl only to melt into a hovering puddle of water before evaporating almost instantaneously.
Luna's frown deepened, her lips barely moving as her words grew louder and more forceful. Draco could feel her magic running through her palms, passing through his hands and into this deceptively simple bowl. Without warning, the salt stone rose into the air and, as if hit with a reducto curse, shattered into millions of particles of salt that settled messily back down. Most of the remnants missed the bowl entirely and fell back to the earth around the two of them.
Nearing the end of her spell, the corners of Luna's mouth lifted in a dazzling smile, her brow relaxing and her chanting taking on a playful melodic tone as though enticing the last of the elements to work for her. Finally, the flower petals rose out of the bowl, swirling and spinning, caught in their own miniature tornado. Abruptly, the petals changed course, moving towards Draco as if blown there, still twirling and dancing in the air. They spun lazily around his body, starting at his feet and working their way up to his head, gradually gaining momentum until they spun so quickly around his face Draco was incapable of distinguishing a solitary petal from the blur that surrounded him.
Having reached the apex of the wizard's head, the petals stopped and fluttered down to the ground, leaving Draco standing in a circle of pink.
At the sight, Luna stopped chanting and looked to Draco, her sparkling eyes meeting his.
"Air! Air has agreed to help you on your quest. The wind will help you find your fated."
9 April 2001
The wind will help you find your fated.
What in Merlin's saggy balls was that supposed to mean? Was there going to be a freak tornado or hurricane and some witch would fall into his lap? Draco rolled his eyes as he crossed the Ministry Atrium, stepping into the lift and rushing to get to his department on time. After a restless night's sleep Saturday, he had put himself to bed early last night, drifting off almost as soon as he closed his eyes, only to wake up late and have to rush to make it to work on time.
The more Draco thought about the events of the weekend, the more frustrated he became. He wasted his Friday evening and the majority of Saturday chasing a cure for a curse that every healer and curse breaker had told him didn't require one.
It was an impressive bit of magic—Lovegood wandlessly levitating the items with such control, but her chanting had probably just been her repeating the spells over and over to herself, hoping to sound mystical and authentic.
He had been hoping for a name. Or a location. Or shite, even a lock of hair that would help him to track down his soulmate, but instead all he received was assurance that the bloody wind was going to help him. Draco scoffed. For all he knew, the wrackspurts had been the ones to tell Luna the wind would find his mate.
The lift finally stopped at the third floor, the charmed magical voice announcing "Department of Magical Zoning and Permitting" as the doors slid open and Draco stepped out. The lack of any other ministry workers exiting with him alerted him to the fact that he was still running behind schedule. He had an interdepartmental meeting with the team from Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and he could not be late. He was the lead counsel for the Zoning Board, and he needed to convince the Magical Creatures team to sign off on the permits for the proposed wizarding shops that were slated to be built on the shores of a beautiful lake which, unfortunately, housed a small colony of merpeople in its vast depths.
Draco glanced at his watch, quickening his pace when he realised he actually had less than five minutes to reach the conference room. Making his way by memory, he turned at the first corridor to the left, focusing his attention on the inner pocket of his perfectly tailored navy robes, mentally inventorying everything he needed for the meeting ahead.
As he was checking off the last item on his list, satisfied that he hadn't left anything behind this morning in his haste, he stumbled, feet tripping forward with his hurried momentum. His arms flailed helplessly in front of his body as they uselessly tried to halt his impending fall.
The sudden collision with a soft, warm body startled Draco, and he reached out to clasp the person's arms, steadying himself, sheaths of parchment fluttering to the ground as his impact jarred them out of the other person's hands.
"Shite. Buggering fuck."
He glanced up from the strewn papers, littering the floor of the corridor, grey eyes meeting the soft brown of Hermione Granger's. Her reprimand was softened by the slight laugh lines at the corner of her eyes and the upturn of her lips. Her wild curls were haphazardly tamed today, tied into a knot on the back of her head, her wand shoved through the brunette strands. She wore robes of a deep plum open over black form fitting trousers and a cream sweater that dipped slightly at her neck.
Draco was used to seeing Hermione around the Ministry since their respective departments frequently worked together. The two of them often butted heads over issues involving the preservation of magical creature reserves and much needed progress and revitalisation of wizarding communities.
"Granger. My apologies. I'm running late."
"As you can see, I am as well." She gestured toward the surrounding hallway, empty of the usual cacophony of voices as coworkers and friends called out to each other in passing. Everyone was already congregated in the conference room, waiting for the meeting to begin.
At Hermione's reminder of the time, Draco pulled himself from his perusal, straightening his shoulders and palming his wand from its sheath on his forearm.
"Let me help you with this paperwork. Acci -hic!" As the sound of his hiccup echoed down the deserted corridor, Draco clasped his hand over his mouth in mortification, his face flushing a brilliant shade of red. At his aborted summoning charm, Hermione's parchment fluttered further away as though picked up by a gust of wind.
Attempting to regain his composure, the wizard lowered his hand from his mouth, pointing his wand at the offending papers, and as he opened his mouth to repeat the charm, he hiccuped again. Loudly.
Hermione let out a small snort of amusement as she reached for her own wand, pulling it from her bun and releasing her hair from its captive state. As the curls tumbled down her back, she cast an unimpeded summoning charm, her parchment flying back into her hand in perfectly stacked order.
"There. All done." She smiled, muttering under her breath as her hair wound itself back up behind her head, and she tucked her wand back through it.
"Come on, we don't want to be any later than we already are."
At her invitation, Draco stepped into place beside her, his humiliation complete. Not only did he hiccup in the most unrefined way, he also completely failed at a basic level Accio . And in front of the Gryffindor swot who had always bested him at everything . His face still a slight shade of pink, Draco kept his hand close to his mouth, attempting to smother any other hiccups as they occurred.
"Someone needs to scare you," Hermione stated, breaking the awkward silence between them.
"Pardon me?" Draco was not sure he heard her correctly. Was that some sort of threat, or some promise of impending retribution for all the shite he had done as a teenager?
"Scare you. You know, to get rid of the hiccups?"
"Does that work?" he asked, willing to try anything to never have to endure this embarrassment ever again.
"Well...sometimes. It's mostly an old Muggle wives' tale that has been vastly overstated. Along with pulling on your tongue, holding your breath, or drinking a glass of water whilst upside-down." Hermione's cheeks pinkened at the confession, her eyes darting to catch site of Draco's face without moving her head.
"And Muggles actually believe that those are cures for hiccups?"
"Not really, it's just something they say." Hermione shrugged her shoulders, continuing thoughtfully as they approached the double glass doors of their destination. "Though holding your breath, does, quite often work, as it helps to regulate air flow through the diaphragm."
Hic! Another hiccup escaped from Draco's mouth as he stood staring at the closed doors, dreading having to present his case to Hermione and her team with hiccups interrupting his every sentence.
"Thanks, Granger," he replied as she stood quietly next to him, waiting for him to regain his equilibrium. He finally reached forward, grasping the metal handle and pulling it towards himself as he gestured for her to precede him into the room. "Maybe I'll try holding my breath and hope to Merlin they calm down."
Hermione shot him a smile, the scent of her floral perfume wafting towards him as she squeezed past, finding her seat at the large conference table as he headed to the front of the room. It was time to begin.
"Thank you, everyone, for coming in today…"
28 April 2001
Draco took a deep breath as he stepped through the doorway of Flourish and Blotts. The scent of parchment, leather, and ink was one of his favourite combinations. He nodded politely at the clerk's welcome and made his way through the maze of tall shelves towards the history section in the back of the store.
The latest edition of Hogwarts: A History had been released earlier in the week, with updates highlighting the final battle, the roles of Severus Snape and Harry Potter, and the rebuilding of the school. While the previous edition had long been one of his favourite tomes to reread, he was somewhat nervous about this new version, loathe to see his regrettable decisions immortalised for the whole of the Wizarding World to read.
Draco sighed deeply, recognising it was too late to worry about how others perceived him. The Malfoy name had always been well known—but now, after the events of the war and the subsequent trials, it was infamous . There was no escaping his past mistakes, so he could only hope that by highlighting them in as well known a book as Hogwarts: A History , that one day some other Hogwarts student might read his story and think before deciding to follow a new dark lord. Maybe some good might one day come from all the bad that he had caused.
Melancholy thoughts firmly distracting him, Draco dragged his fingertips across the leather spines of the shelved books, enjoying the familiar texture on his skin as his eyes searched for the book in question. As he reached the end of the row, he turned the corner, intent on continuing his search when the tip of his dragon skin loafer caught in an upturned corner of the woven aisle runner. Though his pace had been slow, the momentum of his change in direction caused him to stumble a few steps, catching himself just in time to only brush against the only other customer in this section of the bookstore, rather than completely knock her over.
"Apologies, Madam," he automatically said despite the flushed skin of his cheeks. Years of etiquette had been drilled into his head by his mother, embarrassment not an excuse for lacking in manners. "I hope you can forgive my clumsi-"
"Oh, I don't know, Draco," the woman said, a smile curving her lips as she turned to face him, her eyes sparkling in undisguised laughter. "This is the second time, after all."
The blond wizard sighed, glancing down at the woman in front of him with her curly hair puffed out around her face, a large book clutched against her chest. Of course it was this bloody woman. Again. And on this day with memories of Hogwarts and the war rattling around his brain. The woman before whom he'd already embarrassed himself weeks ago.
"Do you make it a habit to run into all the witches you know, or am I just lucky?"
Despite his efforts otherwise, the red on his cheekbones deepened as he searched for a reply that wasn't completely inane. There was just something about this particular witch that made him feel like a dragon inside Madam Puddifoot's. A few moments of awkward silence slipped by until finally Draco settled on simply rolling his eyes and changing the subject.
"Granger." He jutted his chin in the direction of the thick leather bound tome she still held against her, the outline of Hogwarts Castle embossed on the cover giving away the title without actually needing to see it. " Hogwarts: A History was released this past Tuesday. I'm surprised you didn't run here after work to scoop up your pre-ordered copy."
Hermione lowered the book in question, staring at the cover as she stroked it gently with her right hand, brows furrowed and her lips pursed as though in contemplation. She looked back up to meet Draco's eyes, tilting her head slightly as her forehead smoothed, staring intently at him for a few seconds, before the corner of her mouth lifted in a wry smile.
"I thought about it," she admitted, chuckling quietly. "This has been my favourite book since Professor McGonagall visited my house and told me I was a witch. I even brought it with me hunting for Horcruxes. But I was...unsure about this edition."
Draco's eyebrow raised in silent question, prompting Hermione to continue.
"I wasn't sure I was ready for my favourite comfort book to detail the war. I lived it… I didn't know if I wanted to read about it so soon. I still don't know."
Draco inclined his head, surprised at her response. "I would have thought you'd want the truth about the war to be told. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't submit the additions yourself, color coded by name and location, complete with annotations, glossary and suggested further reading."
It was Hermione's turn to blush, her eyes shifting slightly, refusing to meet his gaze. "I do want the truth to be known, but I'm being selfish. I don't want my escapist reading to be tainted by the memories I'm attempting to forget." She shrugged her shoulders, looking back up at Draco with a self-deprecating smile.
"Well, at least you'll be one of the heroes of the story, not the boy who… hic! " As Draco was interrupted by a sudden onset of hiccups, he was unsure whether he should just Avada himself out of sheer embarrassment. Once again he sounded like a drunken idiot in front of Hermione Granger. Or maybe he should thank Circe the blasted hiccups stopped him before his own mouth could run away and humiliate him with its morose verbal diarrhea.
Unwilling to continue their conversation with such indignity, Draco took a step back from the curly-haired witch, determined to escape before one more damned singultus could escape his throat.
Hermione, however, seemed to have different plans, shifting the book in her arms and reaching out with her left hand to grasp the bicep of his right arm, halting his exit.
"Draco, wait," she said, her tone serious as she squeezed the muscle beneath her fingers. "I sincerely hope the wizarding world can see beyond your actions during sixth year. You really do deserve a chance to prove to them that you're more than that."
Hermione suddenly released her hold on him, thrusting the copy of Hogwarts: A History at Draco, catching him off guard as his hands fumbled to grasp the heavy tome.
"When you get a moment, turn to the chapter on the trials of the second wizarding war. Page 493. Hopefully it will help."
With that parting request, Hermione turned and grabbed a new copy of the recently amended book from the shelf next to her, giving Draco a small wave of her hand as she walked down the aisle, disappearing around the corner.
Now alone, Draco slapped his hand over his traitorous mouth, determined to make his purchase and Apparate home before encountering anyone else. Malfoys were never anything less than completely socially adroit, and the fucking hiccups were not a part of his desired image. They made him seen juvenile, like he couldn’t control the basic bodily function of breathing. He shook his head at himself, walking toward the counter as he swallowed the next hiccup, trying to control his breathing. What in Merlin's name was wrong with him? He couldn't remember ever having lost control of his own damn breathing in such a manner before.
Since that first time when colliding with Granger in the ministry corridor, singultus cases had randomly attacked him, mostly when working in his office, though once in the Ministry canteen while eating lunch with Theo. The other wizard hadn't let him live down the event for days, insisting that he was impressed the Malfoys actually had to deal with such inconveniences like mere mortals.
Foregoing his normal hour or two of browsing the store for new reading material, Draco slammed the leather volume on the counter beside the register, merely nodding, afraid to open his mouth, when the sales clerk asked if he had found what he was looking for.
Purchase finally complete, he grabbed the brown paper wrapped parcel, shrinking it slightly and tucking it into the inner pocket of his casual black robes. Nearing the heavy wooden front door of the shop, Draco was distracted by the knowledge of the bustling pace of Diagon Alley waiting on the other side, eagerly anticipating the noise and commotion of the street that would hide any accidental slip of a hiccup, tucking it away with the sounds of a busy Saturday.
In his preoccupation with what lay on the other side of the door, Draco lost his concentration, forgetting to hold back the hiccups he had been so desperately trying to conceal. Suddenly, a mere metre from liberation, an extremely loud burst of air forced its way out of his throat, escaping his lips and echoing out into the hushed atmosphere of the book store. The handful of patrons who had, up until that moment, been silently reading or browsing the shelves, swiftly all turned to stare at the flaxen haired man at the door, curious as to who had disrupted the quiet.
Draco hunched his shoulders as he felt his whole face and neck flush in mortification, casting his eyes to his feet before wresting open the door and dashing onto the stoop, Apparating to the security of his living room. He had thankfully departed quickly enough to avoid the commentary of any of the shoppers, but not quickly enough to avoid seeing Granger standing at the display table by the door, stifling her giggle with the palm of her hand.
15 May 2001
Merlin, it had been a long day and it was only noon. The Magical Creatures department had hesitantly signed off on permits for the new shopping center on the banks of the mermaid infested lake, making sure it was understood that they were only agreeing due to legal technicalities. The mermaid protected land only consisted of the actual lake, not the dry earth surrounding it, so they had no authority to deny the construction permits. They did, however, warn about the potential for retaliation from the merpeople, angry that their views and space were being threatened.
When Granger had issued her warning at the department meeting last month, most of the witches and wizards in his department secretly scoffed at her, his boss going so far as to openly laugh at the thought of mere mermaids attacking wizards .
But, early this morning, as the magical construction crew arrived on site, a group of mermaids swarmed the banks of their lake home; shrieking, brandishing spears, and preventing the wizards from doing their jobs. It had been a nightmare of bureaucracy trying to get it all figured out. The Aurors, the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and his own department of Magical Zoning and Permitting had stepped on each others' toes as they all attempted to get the problem resolved in the manner that was best for their own departments.
The Creatures team, of course wanted everyone off the site, abandoning the project and reverting the lands back to the mermaids' possession. The Aurors wanted the threat of the mermaids neutralised, the look on Granger's face when Potter's supervisor suggested execution had been priceless.
Draco's team was looking out for the bottom line. The wizarding community needed this shopping centre without the animosity of the creatures who lived in the lake. The centre could legally be built as things stood, but no one would patronise it if the merfolk were dangerous. Negotiations were still ongoing, though all parties had agreed to take an early end to the day and start fresh tomorrow.
Faced with an unexpected free afternoon, Draco transfigured his traditional wizard robe into a lightweight Muggle style jacket as he made his way to the guest entrance of the Ministry. His stomach was rumbling, unsatisfied with the meager slice of toast and tea it had been given for breakfast, and he was unwilling to make do with another day of mealy apples and soggy bread in the Ministry canteen.
Once on the streets of Muggle London, Draco navigated his way through the throng of people, finally spotting the bright red door of his favourite delicatessen. He, Theo and Blaise had stumbled upon it one late morning, lost and still slightly drunk after a night of clubbing with some girls in short skirts. They had been slightly uncomfortable in such an unfamiliar environment, especially with the lack of free flowing alcohol. The food had been delicious and filling though, and he'd made his way back here numerous times since when he needed to escape from the stress and notoriety being Draco Malfoy gave him.
After providing his order for his usual turkey and cheese sandwich with crisps and a fizzy drink, Draco glanced around the cafe, trying to locate an empty table. It was much busier today than it normally was on his weekend visits, all the tables and counter seating having been taken. The blond sighed, resigning himself to take his lunch to go and eat back at his flat, when he caught sight of a familiar head of curls sitting atop a floral wrap dress that he had seen peeking out through the opening of black robes earlier that day.
Winding his way through the tables, Draco came to a stop in front of the witch, clearing his throat to catch her attention.
"Hermione, may I join you?"
She looked up from the copy of the Quibbler she was reading, eyes wide at seeing him in front of her.
"Draco! Of course!" She gestured to the empty chair across from her, shifting her handbag to give him room to sit. "Though I have to admit I'm surprised to see you here."
Draco simply shrugged his shoulders, not really in the mood for explaining his drunken wanderings.
"I've been here a few times."
He fell silent as a waiter brought his meal, setting it on the table in front of him before quickly moving on to help the next customer.
He took a small sip of his fizzy drink, enjoying the taste that was so different than the standard pumpkin juice or butterbeer.
He finally broke the awkward silence that had been building between them. "Well, that was a morning, wasn't it?"
Hermione wiped her fingers on her napkin before pushing her almost empty plate away from her. She set her elbows on top of the table, placing her face in her upturned palms, and groaned. "I don't even want to think about it. Please, can we talk about anything else?"
Draco was more than willing to forget about the disastrous start of their day and he wracked his brain for a safe topic of conversation, unsure if he should bring up the first alternate subject that came to mind. Finally he succumbed to the curiosity he had been harbouring for weeks.
"You were interviewed for Hogwarts: A History."
"You were quoted about me. You defended me."
Hermione sighed, picking her head up out of her hands and straightening her shoulders. "You took the Dark Mark—were forced to take the Dark Mark when you were only sixteen. I would hate to be judged for the rest of my life based on one bad decision I made and had tried to make up for sense."
"It was a little more than just a ' bad decision ' though, wasn’t it?" he interrupted, refusing to let her minimize the damage he had caused.
"Well, yes, of course," Hermione agreed, "but that still doesn't mean you don't deserve a look at the extenuating circumstances and a second chance to prove yourself." She took a sip of her tea, staring down into the pale liquid with her brows furrowed, before finally looking back up and meeting Draco's eyes, seemingly having made a decision. "Did you know I Obliviated my parents?" she asked, the muscle of her temple twitching but never breaking eye contact.
"Yes." He did. The whole wizarding world knew the sacrifices Hermione Granger had made in order to keep her Muggle family safe as she fought to win the war.
"Well, everyone seems to think that decision was the right one to make. That yes, what I did was extreme and scary, but that 'all's well that ends well' because my parents survived and got their memories back and now everything is just perfect, because how couldn't it be? But what they didn't see is the six months it took to find my parents and revert their memories back to the originals, or the additional six months it took for them to forgive me and to stop flinching every time I reached for my wand."
She looked to her hands, her fingers twisting around each other at the memories of those first months after the war ended. She took another sip of now tepid tea, continuing, "And so I think about forgiveness a lot. About what would have happened if they hadn't forgiven me, or of the wizarding public had decided to condemn me for one decision I made. A decision I thought was best at the time. A decision I felt I had no other choice but to make."
Draco could only stare at the woman in front of him, amazed at her compassion and capacity for forgiveness, humbled that she even considered their circumstances to be somewhat similar. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, unsure of what to say after her heartfelt speech.
"I- I… thank you, Hermione. I know you didn't have to speak in my favour, but I do appreciate - hic! —Dammit!" He slammed his fist down on the table, rattling the plates and glasses as yet again a hiccup interrupted a conversation with this witch. He pushed his chair back and placed his napkin on his half-finished lunch, preparing to leave, when Hermione reached across to him to place her hand over his.
"Draco. You don't have to leave just because of a few bloody hiccups. You're welcome to show your human side in front of me. I won't hold this imperfection against you." Hermione laughed slightly, breaking the seriousness that had permeated the conversation the past few minutes.
"You really should see a healer though," she continued as Draco sat back down, placing his napkin back and get his lap and finishing his sandwich. "if it's an ongoing issue, they might have a potion they can give you to prevent the hiccups from starting."
Draco took a bite of his sandwich, chewing and swallowing carefully, wary of a rogue hiccup escaping and causing food to fly across the table. Hermione may be comfortable with his undignified singultuses, but she would probably look askance at half-masticated airborne food. He washed down his mouthful with the last of his drink, ice clinking as he set down the empty glass.
"I truthfully haven't really thought about getting a potion for it. It was never an issue until this past month or so. In fact, the first time I can even remember getting the hiccups in my life was the day I ran into you at the Ministry."
"Well, maybe I just bring them out in you then," Hermione teased, reaching across the table and stealing a crisp from his plate.
"Wait. What?" Draco asked, not fully comprehending her sentence as his mind whirled, trying to recall why that would have seemed like a familiar possibility.
"I said," Hermione repeated, smiling quizzically at him, "maybe I just bring out the hiccups in you. Maybe it's a side effect of spending time with me."
Side effect. Side effect . Where had he heard that before?! Someone had told him about possible side effe--shite. Luna Bloody Lovegood. He wracked his brain searching for what exactly the loony witch had told him.
" They'll guide you, subtly leading you to come to your own conclusions. And sometimes, there can be... side effects."
Fuck. Was this a result of asking the elements to help him find his destined mate? Was this what Lovegood meant when she said the elements led you to your own conclusions, sometimes with side effects? Was his soulmate Hermione Granger?
5 June 2001
It had been over two weeks since Draco had come to the conclusion that the bloody wind was leading him to Hermione Granger. He just didn't know what to do about it. All the hiccuping had only ever been done in her presence or when he was at the Ministry working...and with their departments crossing paths frequently, it was an easy assumption that she had been in close proximity all those other times as well. And his clumsiness when running into her! At times it was like he tripped on nothing but air . The clues had all been there. He should have fucking recognised them from the start. He was going to have to take back all the mean things he had thought about Luna Lovegood.
Looking back on the old woman's words when she had cursed him, Draco could see how Hermione was the right choice. He definitely had let go of the idea of blood purity and had overcome his prejudices towards Muggleborns before he even became friendly with the Gryffindor Princess, and now, as he got to know her better, he never even considered her blood status anymore.
And he actually liked Hermione and really did care for her, which made realising she was his soulmate all the easier. They had become closer the past few months, spending time on the mermaid issue and other cases they had in common, some nights working late together, sharing takeaway as they pored over maps and legal documents.
It was during those late night work sessions when Hermione confessed her secret desire to one day become Minister for Magic. She whispered it to him, afraid he would laugh like Ron apparently had, but Draco hadn't found it funny. He thought she could do anything she set her mind to.
He told her about the anger he still held towards his parents and his inability to express it. With Lucius in jail and Narcissa a shell of her old self, sequestered in the Manor, he felt they had suffered enough without hearing his hurt. Hermione had sat next to him during his confession, holding his hand and resting her head on his shoulder, lending silent comfort.
But now, the witch had seemingly disappeared. Draco hadn't seen her since last Wednesday, and his owl over the weekend had gone unanswered. She hadn't been in her office yesterday, and now today was his birthday and he was moping, wishing it wasn't such a shite day, wishing he could talk to her for just a few minutes as a little gift to himself.
Throwing his quill down, he rubbed his eyes, leaning back in his desk chair and sighing heavily. He was never going to be able to concentrate on this bloody proposal. Glancing at the clock and realising it was half past noon, he gave it up as a bad job, standing and gathering his robe as he went to visit the canteen for a quick bite.
Making his selection and sitting at a table by the enchanted window showing a view of sunny skies and fluffy white clouds, Draco just stared at the unappetising meal, wondering why in Salazar's name he hadn't just gone to the little Muggle deli. Debating just tossing the whole thing in the bin and taking off for the day, Draco was surprised when a pair of petite hands covered his eyes from behind, the cool skin of the fingers feeling calming against his face.
"Boo." Hermione laughed, her floral scent surrounding his body as she leaned behind him, still blindfolding him. "I want to make sure if you had the hiccups, they'd be scared away."
She took her hands from Draco's face, and he tilted his head back against his chair, meeting her eyes upside down and she gazed down at him.
"Happy birthday, Draco!" she exclaimed, leaning closer until the warmth of her lips grazed his cheek. "I'm so glad that I made it back in time to give you this!"
She pulled back and walked around the table, sitting in the chair across from his. As she settled herself, she grabbed a plate that had been floating sedately behind her, breaking the hovering charm and placing it in front of the grouchy wizard. "I remember it was your favourite at Hogwarts, so I hope it still is." She bit her lip, finally showing a sign of uncertainty at her gift.
Draco looked down at the slice of dark chocolate cake with a dark chocolate ganache filling, a smile finally tugging at the corners of his mouth. Hermione had not only remembered his birthday, she'd remembered his favourite sweet as well.
"Thank you, Hermione," he replied, meeting her gaze as he finally took a good look at her face. Her hair, usually pretty well tamed at work, was in a plait down her back, hair spilling out of the woven strands in all directions. She had dark circles under her eyes and a small scrape along her cheek.
"What the bloody hell happened to you?!" he exclaimed, abandoning his cake and jumping out of his chair, stretching across the table to run his finger down the length of the cut on her face. He whispered a spell, wandlessly healing the small scrape. "I owled you but didn't hear back. I was worried. I thought you were ignoring me."
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Hermione flushed, whether due to embarrassment over worrying him or him touching her face, he didn't know. "I got called away last week to an emergency meeting with the Forbidden Forest centaurs. They were having a territory dispute with Minerva over usage of some of the open meadows closer to the school. I've spent the past five days trooping in and out of the woods, trying to find a compromise, only returning to the castle at night for a quick supper before bed. I've only just got back."
Draco scowled, settling back in his chair. "Well, owl me next time so I don't worry unnecessarily."
"Yes, of course," Hermione agreed. "But enough about me! What about your birthday? Are you doing anything to celebrate?"
Draco took a bite of his cake, enjoying the explosion of bittersweet chocolate on his tongue before chewing and swallowing, slowly savouring it. "Not really. Mother is pretty lonely by herself at the Manor, so I'll spend the evening with her. She asked me to dinner and I can't really refuse when she has so few special occasions to celebrate anymore." He shrugged his shoulders, resigned already to the morose dinner.
"How is your mother? Is she on house arrest?" Hermione asked carefully, treading lightly over the seemingly sensitive topic.
"Not anymore. She had six months of court mandated house arrest, but even though now she's free to go wherever her heart desires, she stays at the Manor, all alone with just a few elves for company. It's her self imposed atonement."
"You're an excellent son for humouring her on your birthday and spending time with her, even if it isn't very exciting. She's very lucky to have you."
Her fingers squeezed his, and she looked at him for a moment as though gauging his mood. "I'm so happy I was able to make it back in time to catch you. I was hoping all weekend to finish with the centaurs quickly so I wouldn't miss your birthday. but, unfortunately, duty calls and I have parchments full of notes I need to transcribe into a legible report." She stood up, preparing to head to her small office but she looked at Draco one more time before walking away. "Let's catch up more later, yeah?" At his nod, she gave a small wave and wound her way through the maze of institutional metal tables and chairs.
She had brought him cake. His favourite cake. Did she bring Potter and Weasley cake on their birthdays? He liked to think not. She certainly didn’t bring them treats to the Ministry canteen, or he would have remembered.. Hopefully her small gift meant she was starting to have feelings for him too.
Making up his mind to not let one more moment pass, giving in to the ridiculous idea of the wind actually having blown him towards his soulmate, Draco stood up from the table, shoving his chair back so quickly it toppled over, clattering against the tiled floor. "Hermione!" he called, hoping she would hear him before she made her way to the canteen door.
She stopped where she was standing in the middle of the room, turning around to watch Draco weave his way to meet her.
"Come help me celebrate my birthday this weekend," he demanded, slightly out of breath and anxious for her reply.
"Of course. Is there someplace everyone is meeting?"
"No, not everyone, just you and me."
"Oh, well, should I, ah, meet you someplace then?" Hermione licked her lips, shifting from her left foot to her right, her cheeks tinted slightly pink.
"No, I'll pick you up at your flat if that's alright. We can go to dinner and maybe see one of those Muggle plays on the screen." Draco stood completely still, unwilling to let any emotion show as he waited for her response, inordinately relieved that for once the hiccups weren't interfering with this moment. Maybe now that he'd accepted Hermione as his destined partner, the side effects had vanished.
"Like a date?" Hermione asked, tilting her head slightly to the right as she narrowed her eyes, attempting to read his facial expression.
"Yes, exactly like a date."
She bit the corner of her bottom lip, the flush of her cheeks spreading down her back and to the small V of exposed skin on her chest. Draco wondered how far down exactly that blush went. And if he'd get the chance to ever find out. This was the point he'd been turned down by every woman over the past two years. They'd all be friendly and flirty, happy to spend time with him platonically, but when he had asked for a date or...more, every single woman had refused. Draco was confident that the elemental magic had led him to Hermione, but after years of rejection he was steeling his nerves for her negative response.
"I'd love to, Draco."
"Yes?" He almost couldn't believe it, thinking he'd either misheard or misunderstood her answer.
"Yes, of course. Did you think I'd say no?"
"Honestly, I wasn't sure." Draco ran his hand through his hair, trying to keep the grin that so desperately wanted to escape from his lips. "Does Saturday work for you? 8pm?"
"Perfect. It's a date." Hermione smiled at him, the happiness on her face causing the corners of his own mouth to lift in response.
"Ok, great." Draco smiled in return, unsure what to do now that she'd agreed. Should he hug her? Kiss her cheek? Shake her hand? He finally just shoved his hands into the pockets of his robes still grinning like a loon. The curse was bloody broken ! "See you Saturday, Hermione."
Hermione gave a short wave and backed away, holding his gaze until she was forced to turn around lest she bump into anyone. Once she had exited the double doors and was out of sight, Draco let his shoulders relax. She'd said yes !
Smirk firmly in place, indifferent to the eyes of every ministry worker that were trained on him, Draco sauntered out of the canteen, whistling to himself. He was taking the rest of the day off. It was his birthday, and he had a date to plan for.