"Oi! Granger—truth or dare?"
With tight eyes, Hermione Granger looked up from her book. She pursed her lips and glanced down at the watch on her wrist. "I'm not playing."
Malfoy cocked a pale brow, offering her a smirk. "You're in the common room."
"Which is not," she snipped, turning the page, "synonymous with engaging in this atrocious game."
One of the best—or worst, depending on one's particular state of mind—things about returning to complete her schooling for an eighth year at Hogwarts was that the eighth years had been sequestered in their own common room. It had done a lot for inter-house relations and school unity—but Hermione could have done without the constant presence of Slytherins in her personal space.
Although as she scanned the group of eighth year students responsible for the ruckus drawing her attention from her studies, she realised that all four houses were represented.
Scoffing, Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You're allowed to take a break, you know."
Hermione marked her page and set the book down, before facing him once more. "Our NEWTs are tomorrow. If I don't learn this content now, then when will I?"
"Like you don't already have it all memorised," Malfoy snickered, to a general chorus of agreement.
Releasing a long breath, Hermione folded her arms.
While the former Slytherin had expressed his remorse early in the year, even extending Hermione a personal olive branch by way of an apology, the pair of them had never made it past a begrudging, stifled acceptance of one another's presence.
It had become readily apparent that Malfoy was actively trying to improve and to make up for his indiscretions during the war—and he had even befriended some of the other Gryffindors—but the air between the pair of them had remained stilted.
She met Neville's stare, and his brows lifted in a hopeful gesture from one of the sofas around the fire. Beside him, Dean flashed her a grin.
"Fine," Hermione huffed, tucking her book into her bag. "I'll join in for a round."
Her nerves were jittery enough as it was, and maybe a break would help to refresh her brain so she could keep studying. And Malfoy was right—she did have her study notes memorised, not that she was willing to admit that to him.
The only open seat was beside Daphne Greengrass, and directly across from Malfoy, whose lips crept into a slow smirk as he leaned forward. "So? Truth or dare?"
Narrowing her eyes, Hermione stared at him for a moment. She didn't trust a slippery snake like him with personal details about her life—but she could only imagine what sort of dare he would think up.
At last, she sighed. "Dare, then." Gryffindor courage be damned.
Malfoy cocked his head to the side, his smirk widening into a flash of white teeth. Her stomach twisted with nerves and she instantly regretted her decision to participate. If his dare was something salacious or embarrassing, she would simply decline.
At last he chuckled, looking away. "I'll go easy on you so you won't curse me—I dare you to pull an all-nighter."
Scowling at him, Hermione clicked her tongue. "Not a chance. I'll need my rest for the exams tomorrow."
Beside her, Daphne snickered and Hermione nudged her in the arm. The pair had developed a tentative friendship through the year.
"Then you'll take the punishment?" Malfoy lifted a brow.
"I will not," she retorted, frowning as everyone turned to her. "What's the punishment?"
"If you'd been paying attention," Daphne said quietly, "you'd rather take the dare, Hermione."
Hermione threw her hands up in the air, growing steadily frustrated and wishing she hadn't agreed to play after all. "I didn't even know there was a punishment!"
"Okay." Malfoy clapped his hands together, his expression falling serious. "I'll up the stakes because now that you've entered the game you have to choose between the dare or the punishment."
She blew out a breath and gestured for him to continue.
"If you follow through with the dare and manage it to completion—meaning you don't sleep at all before sunrise…" His lips twitched. "I'll throw my O on the Potions NEWT."
Despite herself, Hermione scoffed. "You don't know you're going to get an O."
He gave a flippant shrug. "I do. But are you willing to risk the top spot in the class on it?"
For a long moment, she only glared at him. It was true that he was the one student in their year who stood the best chance of defeating her for the top Potions spot. "How do I know you'd follow through?"
"If it's part of the dare, I'd have to follow through. I'll get a few questions wrong intentionally, earn an E, and as long as you don't mess up your exam, you'll have an easy walk to the top." He waved a flippant hand, as if the thought of giving up marks meant nothing.
But Hermione had learned long ago not to trust him. "And if I don't complete the dare? If I fall asleep? What do you get then?"
Malfoy leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. She could see trouble brewing in his eyes as he offered her a smirk. Quietly, he breathed, "I get a date."
So astonishing and disarming was the request, she didn't instantly respond. Her brows pulled up as she stared at him, ignoring the tittering of their friends. Feeling a flush colour her cheeks, she asked, "You want a date?"
He only continued to stare at her, lips curled up with a hint of humour.
Snickering, Hermione muttered, "Are you sure that isn't the punishment?"
Malfoy scowled as a couple of his Slytherin friends jeered, but he didn't look away from her. "Those are the terms, Granger."
For a long, tense moment, they stared at one another. Realistically, all she had to do was to stay up until the sunrise—perhaps grab a pepper-up potion from Madam Pomfrey prior to the NEWTs—and she would be fine. She'd likely be so adrenalised before the exams anyways, and she could sleep after.
But Hermione knew herself, and she wasn't the most apt at staying up late. If she fell asleep, and Malfoy won—
The idea of that didn't sit well. She had no interest in going on a date with him, and she didn't trust that he wouldn't make things uncomfortable for her.
But the idea of taking a punishment didn't sound enjoyable either, and if she went that route there would be no turning back.
"Fine," she said at last, breaking the silence. "I'll stay up. I've got plenty of studying to do."
A slow, crooked grin spread across Malfoy's face that put a nervous twist in her stomach before he leaned back. "Good. Someone will have to stay up and make sure you don't catch a nap, of course."
Wrinkling the bridge of her nose, she said, "I'll withdraw a memory in the morning. I can't imagine anyone wants to babysit me all night."
"Memories can be manipulated." He took a sip of amber liquid from a crystal tumbler and added, "I'll do it."
Her lips turned down with bitter distaste. It was one thing to force herself to stay up all night, but another altogether to have Malfoy lingering in her space. She wondered what sort of sick amusement he was getting from this—from forcing her to write her NEWTs without adequate rest.
She sniffed, "Then you'll get to watch me study all night. Sounds like you're losing out."
He only slammed the last of his drink and proffered a hand. "We have a wager."
Narrowing her eyes, Hermione slipped her hand into his; the pads of his fingers were rougher than she would have expected. But she gave his hand a firm shake, scowling as he poured himself another two fingers of whisky and observed idly as the game carried on around them.
There was no way this wasn't a bad idea.
After the game had dwindled to an end and the rest of their classmates slowly trickled towards their dorms at a decent hour—given the most important exams of their Hogwarts years would begin the next morning—Hermione took up a spot at one of the large tables in the common room, spreading her books and notes before her.
Realistically, the sun would rise somewhere around five o'clock in the morning, which would allow Hermione a couple hours to sleep before their first exam began at eight if she needed to.
Releasing an aggravated scoff, Malfoy dropped into the seat across from her. "I can't imagine studying all night before an exam. My brain would be fried."
"No one asked you to stay," she returned, not looking up at him. "And actually, if you're going to linger all night, can you not do it right here?"
He ignored her. Leaning back in his seat, he propped his boots up on the far corner of the table, near her notes. Hermione fired him a glare, shifting her notes away from his polished dragonhide.
"Nothing else to do," he mused.
"You could study," Hermione clipped, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. "You know, for the most important exams of your academic years."
"Merlin, no." Snickering, he shook his head. "I never cram the night before an exam. It's a surefire way to wind up stressed during. The more relaxed you are, the more you'll remember."
Clicking her tongue, she attempted to begin a round of quizzing, drawing a blank sheet of parchment before her. "Wrong. I always get as much studying in as possible."
Malfoy dropped his head back over his seat. "Boring. Honestly, Granger. We should do something else."
"There's no we here," she sniffed. "I am studying—you are free to do whatever the hell it is you do in your abundant spare time."
For a flicker of an instant, Malfoy's expression faltered. A furrow pulled into his brow, lips curved downward in a frown. But then he picked up a page of her notes, stifling a wide yawn with his other hand, and skimmed her tight print.
"What are you doing after Hogwarts anyways?" he asked, tossing the page back into the stack carelessly.
Clicking her tongue, Hermione straightened the stack and snapped, "That isn't any of your business."
At the silence that followed, she felt a frisson of guilt. He hadn't been malicious to her all year, and though he was irritating, he hadn't actually done anything to her other than select a frustrating dare.
Realistically, he could have asked her to do any number of things that would have been worse.
She released a sigh, setting down her quill. "I always wanted to go into the Ministry—work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."
His grey eyes snapped up to meet hers across the table; he dropped his feet from the corner and settled properly into his seat. "That sounds like something you'd be good at." Idly, he added, "Though I suppose you'd be good at anything."
Despite herself, she felt warmth colour her cheeks at the flippant compliment. "I'm not sure anymore, though, whether I want to get on with the Ministry after all," she went on. "I might like to go into curse-breaking."
Malfoy let out a low whistle. "Way more interesting."
She scowled at him on principle, but her expression softened. "What about you? Or are you so wealthy you won't need to find gainful employment?"
Rolling his eyes, he looked away. "In fact, I don't intend to leach off society. I can't imagine anything more meaningless." He was silent for a moment, and Hermione returned to her revisions. "I'd like to get a mastery in Potions. Open an apothecary one day."
Her eyes snapped up to his in surprise. "Then why, in the name of Merlin, would you sacrifice your Outstanding NEWT on a stupid wager?"
"Please. You're going to fall asleep."
Hermione only gaped at him; there was no way he was hinging his entire future on her staying awake all night. No potions master in their right mind would take on an apprentice who only earned an E on his NEWT.
He added, "Especially if you stare at those dry fucking notes all night."
Though she didn't want to admit it, her eyes were already starting to burn between fixating on her own small print and the dim yellow lighting in the eighth year commons.
But she wasn't ready to let him think he was right, so she carried on quizzing herself, jotting down facts and notes on her parchment. By the time she looked up, only fifteen minutes had passed. With a heavy sigh, she tugged a book in front of her, attempting to focus.
She might have accomplished her goal if not for the fact of Malfoy sitting across from her, idly sipping from his tumbler and staring around the room as if mildly amused.
At last, she huffed an irritable sound. "Can you go sit elsewhere please? Obviously you can see I'm still awake from across the room."
Malfoy drawled, "Can you be less boring?" Without waiting for an answer, he quipped without venom, "We don't always get what we want."
Scoffing at the affront, she muttered, "I'm not boring."
Draining the remains of his glass, he gave a shrug. "Could have fooled me."
Her frustration mounting, Hermione slammed her book shut with more enthusiasm than she intended. "Why are you so rude?" Glaring at him, she gathered her notes into a rough stack, her fingers fumbling with her ire. "You are the one who's requiring me to sit here all bloody night, and the least you could do is attempt to be civil!"
Malfoy observed her with a cool stare. "Like you've done all year?"
She snapped her mouth shut with a reverberating click of her teeth. For a long moment they glared at one another across the table, before Hermione sagged infinitesimally.
Maybe he had a point—but she didn't owe him anything. Certainly not civility. One stiff, begrudging apology at the start of the year wasn't enough to undo the years of animosity between them. While the rest of her friends had thawed towards the brooding Slytherin, Hermione had dug in her heels and kept him well out of arms' length.
Chewing on her tongue, she looked away with a pinch between her brows. "I suppose I've struggled with the legitimacy of your intentions. But can you blame me?"
With a slight shake of his head, he breathed, "No. I can't."
It wasn't the response she was expecting, and Hermione found her gaze swing back to meet his across the table.
Blowing out a breath, he went on. "Every time I thought about attempting to be friends with you it felt disingenuous. I knew nothing I said or did would convince you that my intentions weren't malicious…" Trailing off, he shrugged again. "So I stopped trying."
Restlessness prickled along the surface of her skin and Hermione felt shame colour her cheeks. She had rebuked all of his attempts early in the year, and felt relieved when he ceased bothering her.
And then she had wondered why he befriended the rest of her friends and not her.
An uneasiness settled in the pit of her stomach, leaving her antsy and warm. It wasn't a topic she was willing to indulge; not when his presence inherently brought up too many bad memories.
Memories that had delved deeper under her skin than a schoolyard animosity.
A quick flash of his muted, defeated stare passed through her mind, watching as she was tortured on the floor of his drawing room.
Malfoy looked away, and she realised he gripped his empty tumbler with white knuckles as he rose to his feet and peered down at her. "I'll leave you alone, Granger. But I hope you'll consider the fact that I am trying—even if it doesn't make up for anything I put you through."
He was several steps towards the hearth when she released a strangled, "Malfoy, wait." He froze mid-step but didn't turn around. Clearing her throat, Hermione forced herself to push onwards. "I've seen you trying."
Despite her usual verbosity, she couldn't express her thoughts as his face shifted. She pressed her lips into a thin line and offered a meagre shrug.
With a slight tremble to her fingers, she gathered her notes and books and carefully organised them into her bag in an effort to distract herself; Malfoy had slumped into a chair by the fire, facing away from her, still holding his empty glass as if he couldn't decide whether he should pour himself another.
At last she said into the tension of the room, "You don't have to stay up with me all night, you know."
Though she couldn't see his face, she could hear the smirk colouring his words, and for some reason, it made her feel a little better. "Then how will I know if you don't go to sleep?"
"It just doesn't make sense for you to stay up when you should get some rest for the exams tomorrow." Worrying her lip, she sat on the edge of her seat, slinging her bag over her shoulder.
"I'm an insomniac, Granger," he said quietly, swinging his head around the edge of his chair to see her. "I would be awake regardless." When she made towards the dorms, he raised a brow. "Calling it in already?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I'm getting my cloak. And if you plan on stalking me all night, I suggest you do the same." Before he could fire a sarcastic rebuttal, she darted down the girls' corridor; by the time she stowed her bag, collected her cloak, and returned, Malfoy was already waiting for her in a sharp woolen peacoat.
She followed his stare to the watch on his wrist, consternation creeping into the back of her mind. His watch was oddly juvenile, and looked as if it had seen better days. Despite that she had never given any thought to his choice of timepieces, he had always struck her as the type to wear something ostentatious and exorbitantly overpriced.
When he noticed her staring, he quickly pulled down his sleeve, concealing his watch from her stare. "According to my estimations, the sun will rise in five or so hours."
At the prospect of staying awake that long, Hermione groaned, wondering again why she had agreed to such a preposterous notion. "Out of curiosity," she managed tightly, walking towards the common room exit, "what was the punishment?"
Malfoy's lips twitched as he cast her a sidelong glance. "It involved public nudity."
Scowling, she shook her head. "Pig."
"I didn't come up with it," he quipped without ire.
Before they exited into the corridor, however, Hermione held up a hand to still his advance. Grappling in her pocket, she drew out a worn piece of parchment, turning away from Malfoy to peer closer. When Harry and Ron had decided to go straight into Auror training, Harry had bestowed the Marauder's Map upon her for her final year.
Hermione had found little cause to use it, but now was as good as any. Not that she wanted to tell Malfoy about it.
But he drawled, "What is that?"
"Nothing," she snipped, watching for Filch and Mrs Norris. Most of the dots in the castle were static, because anyone with any sense to them was already in bed asleep.
"Sure, Granger," Malfoy mused, "keep your awkwardly shredded map private."
Flashing him a glare, she pocketed the map before he could look too closely; he was tall enough to see over her shoulder. "We're clear to go."
Sidling along into the corridor, Malfoy kept an easy pace at her side. "And where exactly are we going?"
"I don't know," Hermione returned, her voice hushed. "But I can't sit there in silence all night."
And maybe she was crazy, but inviting him along felt like a bit of an olive branch of her own. Even though she had never made an effort with his; maybe he did deserve another chance after all. He'd more than proven he was interested in something other than his misguided, youthful decisions haunting him.
Idly, they drifted the empty corridors, the dull yellow light from the torches casting grotesque shadows on the walls. Most of the portraits were lost to their slumber, several of them snoring quietly, but a couple folded their arms and clicked their tongues as the pair of them passed.
A flush coloured Hermione's cheeks at the thought of what it must have looked like, the two of them sneaking the corridors after curfew.
But Malfoy's expression remained stoic as he walked at her side, his longer stride inherently forcing her to increase her natural pace to keep up.
Every so often, she drew the map from her pocket and gave it a quick sweep to ensure they weren't about to be caught, but there was nothing.
At last Malfoy murmured, "Let's go outside."
"We are," she returned, glancing towards him. "But there isn't a hurry, is there?"
His eyes caught hers, their pale grey faintly illuminated. "We could go to the village."
"We can't—" Cutting herself off, Hermione worried her lower lip and continued, "we shouldn't."
"We shouldn't be out of the dorms at this hour," he said, rolling his eyes as his lips curled with a faint smirk, "but yet…" When she remained quiet, he slipped his hands into his pockets. "The Hog's Head will still be open. I'll buy you a drink."
When her eyes snapped to him again, he scoffed. "No one we know will be there, if you're concerned about being seen with me."
"Fine," she breathed at last. "We'll go. For one drink—and then we'll come back."
"Great." Malfoy clapped his hands together, a stark sound in the silent corridor. "Walking or flying?"
With a scoff, she fired him a look. "Walking."
"Come on," he quipped, "it's a quick flight. We can stop at the pitch and grab brooms."
"I'm not flying," Hermione hissed, feeling a prickle of unease in the pit of her stomach. "You can fly; I'll meet you there, then."
With an idle flippancy that made her stomach flop, he mused, "I'm not making you walk alone. Who knows what sort of creeps are out in the village?"
Hermione opened her mouth to snap at him that she was fully capable of looking after herself—when she froze, pressing her lips shut once more.
Suddenly Malfoy stopped, turning to face her as he folded his arms across his chest; the sleeves of his coat hugged his biceps as he assessed her. "Don't tell me you never got over that fear of flying. After all the crazy shite you've done?"
"I've simply never cared for it," she said, pacing forward without him and wishing he would drop the subject. When he caught up in several easy strides, she added, "There are preferable methods of transportation, is all."
"You'd rather walk for half an hour than fly for five minutes," Malfoy deadpanned.
With a stiff nod, Hermione steered towards the great doors of the entrance hall. "That is correct. You're the one who said we have five hours."
"Merlin," he muttered, dragging a hand down his face. "You can fly with me, if that's what you're worried about." His lips twitched again, and a tight breath caught in her throat as his voice dropped to a low timbre. "Come on, Granger. I'm not going to let you get hurt."
Adrenaline raced through her veins at the thought of an unexpected flight. Reminding herself that she was trying to give Malfoy a chance, she clenched her jaw hard. "Fine. You will fly straight there without detouring."
A slow grin spread across his face as if he'd won as he pulled open the heavy door, gesturing with a hand that she go through first.
Even though it was early summer, the night air still held a bit of a chill when she stepped outside, and privately Hermione was glad they wouldn't be walking to the village. The night sky above was black and dotted with a blanket of stars; it was one of her favourite things about Hogwarts. One of the things she would miss the most.
As they trekked towards the Quidditch pitch, Hermione slid her hands into her pockets, grateful for the dark and the cool of night as warmth rose to her cheeks.
"We're going to just ignore the elephant in the room, are we?" she asked without looking at her companion.
"To which elephant do you refer," Malfoy drawled. "There are plenty."
Despite herself, Hermione snickered. "The part where you winning this wager results in a date."
In her periphery, she saw Malfoy's shoulders lift in a shrug. "And?"
"And?" Hermione echoed, swinging her head to face him. "Out of all the things you could have asked of me? Why, Malfoy?"
"It's just a date," he said, a soft hint of a tease to his voice. "You know, people do that sort of thing."
The bridge of her nose pulled up with a wrinkle. "You'll have to forgive me if I didn't have much time to engage in casual dating while on the run."
Malfoy's expression dropped, his eyes tightening with contemplation. "I can't say it's really been top of my mind these last few years either. Hogwarts last year wasn't exactly a picnic."
An involuntary shudder chased down her spine at the low admission. She whispered, "I'm glad I wasn't here to see it. With the Carrows, and all."
Quietly, Malfoy returned, "It's a good thing you weren't."
A tight breath held in her chest, she asked, "Was it that bad?"
His eyes were lidded as he approached the Quidditch shed, leaning against the building. "They wanted us to practice the Unforgiveables on students who had earned detention. Children, Granger. Most of us wouldn't go through with it; everyone got pretty good at acting their part."
Bile churned in her stomach and she managed a stilted nod. "It sounds dreadful."
"It was." His brows flickered for a moment, before he silently held up a pointer finger and ducked into the shed. Moments later he returned, a sleek racing broom slung over one shoulder before he swung it down to hover between them. "Front or back?"
Hermione froze, realising all at once the implications of actually flying with Malfoy.
"What would you recommend?" she asked, blowing out a shaky breath.
A slow, crooked grin dragged across his face again, and warmth flitted through her stomach at the look of it. When he wasn't sneering at her, Malfoy was remarkably attractive. It was a terrible thought to have when she was about to climb atop his broom.
The thought deepened her flush.
"We're only going to be airborne five minutes, Granger," he teased. "But you might prefer the front if you don't want to worry about holding on."
Steeling her nerves, she offered a tight nod before approaching the broom. At the amusement on his face, she scowled. "For the record, I've ridden on a thestral before. And a dragon." She didn't even know why she said it, but it felt important to clarify.
Extending the handle of the broom towards her, he drawled, "Imagine being scared of a quick flight with little old me."
Hermione didn't know what to do with the way his words were burrowing beneath her skin, so she squared her shoulders and swung one leg over the broom, feeling its unfamiliar weight between her legs as she gently settled onto it.
Without waiting for her to get comfortable, Malfoy climbed on behind her, leaving a safe distance between them. For a moment, relief flickered through her, until his arms came around to hold onto the handle ahead of her.
Then awareness, thick and warm, coursed through her. The way his arms grazed her sides, his chest nudging against her shoulders, and his knees slipping behind hers. She was acutely aware of the way his face was just inches from hers, and she could feel the warmth of his breath in the night air.
Managing a swallow, she forced herself to stare forward.
A thought drifted, ricocheting and unwelcome on the walls of her brain, that his hold around her left her feeling safe and secure. Realistically, she knew she wouldn't fall, and she knew Malfoy wasn't going to kill them both. She had flown on a broom before, of course—but the last time had been through the fiery stacks of the Fiendfyre that overtook the Room of Hidden Things. And she wasn't willing to bring that up with Malfoy.
Shoving down the memory, she pressed her eyes shut as Malfoy pushed off from the ground without preamble. She drew in a long, unsteady breath, holding onto it for a moment before blowing it out. And then she opened her eyes.
He hadn't wasted any time in getting them up into the air, and from so high up, Hogwarts was silent and peaceful in the darkness of night. Her eyes stung with the chill and the acceleration, wind whipping at her face as Malfoy's grip tightened on the broom, and by extension, around her as well.
Quietly, beside her ear, his voice asked, "You're alright?"
"Yes," she returned on a breath. It wasn't as bad as she had been anticipating—another thing she wasn't going to admit to him.
But she heard the low snicker in response.
She had just begun to settle into the ride, feeling the tension sink from her shoulders, her back warm against the sturdy planes of his chest and stomach through his coat; by all accounts, she was feeling far more comfortable in his hold than she had any right to be, and the thought slammed her eyes open.
Moments later, he began a slow, spiralling descent into the village, despite that she'd seen the way most Quidditch players preferred to drop into a plummeting dive.
When they landed and disembarked, Hermione felt the implicit loss of his warmth. A flush stung her cheeks once more as a smirk dragged across his lips. "Not as bad as you thought, right?"
"Right." A smile tugged at her lips as he shook his head with a chuckle. "Don't you dare take credit."
He nudged her shoulder with his, shrinking his broom down and pocketing it. "I was cautious—didn't I say you'd be fine?"
The smile dropped from her lips as she lifted a suspicious brow towards the Hog's Head. "If this was all just an effort to get that date you think you're going to win—"
"This is just a fortunate side effect," he mused, swinging the door open and standing back to allow her to walk in first. Snickering, he followed her in, and added, "If we go on a date, it won't be at the Hog's Head."
Spinning on the spot, Hermione jabbed a finger into his chest. "You are trying to get a date."
He made a lazy, noncommittal sort of gesture with his hands that didn't give anything away. "If I wanted to win our wager, Granger, I'd have let you bore yourself to sleep studying. This is far more likely to keep you awake."
She scowled. He had a point.
"I just can't figure you out," she hissed, eyes narrowed as she stared at him, just inside the doorway of the pub.
His expression faltered, his grey stare meeting hers. "I'm simple, Granger. All I want is a chance to part on decent terms next week when we leave Hogwarts."
Twisting her lips to the side, she breathed, "That's all?"
"That's all." Malfoy stared at her a moment longer, long enough to embed a question in her mind and a flutter in her stomach, before he glanced away, edging further into the pub. "What would you like?"
Gazing around the pub to the stares of several patrons, Hermione plastered a thin smile to her lips. "Just a cocoa, please."
If Malfoy had any thoughts on her choice of drink, he didn't say so, but she wasn't keen to imbibe on liquor on top of depriving herself of sleep. But as she slipped into the cleanest looking booth she could find, he joined her moments later with two steaming mugs of cocoa.
It felt uncomfortable to be sitting there with him, but not as much as she might have expected. As they sipped their warm drinks in silence, a sort of companionable feel descended upon them.
Setting her mug down, she fixed him with a stare. "Thank you for the drink." He gave a muted nod, looking around. "Where will you be pursuing your mastery? Provided you don't throw your Outstanding."
The bridge of his nose knitted. "I have a few potential options. Most of them are out of the country." His lips remained parted, as if he had something to add, before he pursed them, the line of his jaw hard.
"That should be interesting."
Her attempt at small talk having gone awry, she took another quick sip of her cocoa, the warmth of the ceramic seeping through the chill in her fingers.
At last Malfoy sighed, chewing his tongue between his molars. "Most of the Potions masters I reached out to in England weren't willing to accept me as an apprentice." Leaving the words to hang for a moment, he added, "Not that I was surprised."
Small talk, indeed. Idly, he traced a deep gash in the wooden table, gaze fixed on his efforts.
Quietly, she managed, "Their loss. You'll be a great Potioneer, I'm sure."
His grey eyes snapped up to meet hers. "Thanks, Granger." Lips twitching, he took a sip of his drink. "So I hear, you brewed Polyjuice in second year. Pretty impressive."
A sting of colour graced her cheeks at the recollection of why she'd done so, and the results that had followed. "Well," she began flippantly, a bit of a tremble in her voice, "we had no other way of breaking into the Slytherin common room, so…"
Malfoy froze, his mug dropping to the table with a clunk. "You what?"
Humour tugged at her lips as she offered a shrug.
A slow grin spread across his face as he only shook his head. "How incredibly Slytherin of you."
With an unexpected titter, she murmured, "I'll take that as a compliment coming from you."
"As you should."
At the hint of a sparkle in his grey stare, she glanced away again. Quiet fell over them once more, and Hermione found several sets of eyes on them. Idly, she wondered whether Malfoy was used to people recognising him and treating him poorly for his role in the war.
He seemed unaware—or ignorant—of the stares. She suspected the former. Although maybe he was simply used to it and didn't care.
Finishing her drink, Hermione set her empty mug on the table, looking back to see Malfoy observing a pair of men near the bar who'd been eyeing them. But he was relaxed as he gestured to her drink. "Would you care for another?"
"No, thank you," Hermione replied, finding politeness at odds with their usual interactions. There was something oddly freeing in it.
Planting his hands into the table, he nodded. "Perhaps we should carry on."
Despite the casual ease in his words, it was belied by the slight hint of tension he carried in his shoulders; Hermione noticed the two men still staring at them and her eyes narrowed on instinct, fingers twitching towards her wand.
A frisson of sympathy chased through her. But his face remained carefully stoic, and she nodded, forcing a smile. "That's fine." Glancing at her watch, she grimaced. "We still have around four hours until the sunrise."
"I can't believe you agreed to this wager," he said, lips twitching with humour. "Who would willingly stay up all night before the NEWTs?"
Hermione gaped at him as she released a strangled sound. "You didn't give me any options!"
"You could have picked truth," he muttered, slipping on his coat.
"I can't imagine I would have liked your question any more than this."
Malfoy grinned. "No, probably not. But it would have been over quickly."
Despite that the timing and circumstances were less than ideal, Hermione was surprised to find she was actually enjoying herself with Malfoy—at least, more than she would have expected.
There was a part of her that was waiting for the other shoe to drop—for his true intentions to reveal themselves, and they could carry on with their distant animosity once more. But there was something genuine in the wry, self-deprecating smile on his face, and she found she desperately wanted to believe it was legitimate.
Shrugging on her cloak, she rose from the booth; he followed, beating her once more to the door and holding it open for her. She tried to remember the last time Harry or Ron had offered such a casual gesture, and couldn't. Especially not in the way that Malfoy seemed to offer without even realising it was significant.
It brought a dull flush of colour to her cheeks, and she was grateful for the yellow street lamps and the night air.
Slipping her hands into her pockets, she mused, "What now?"
As he resized his broom to its full length, Malfoy shrugged. "We could make it pretty far by sunrise."
"And miss our NEWTs entirely," she deadpanned.
His grey eyes slid to meet hers, a wrinkle in the bridge of his nose. "In the scheme of things," he began, proffering the expanded broom towards her, "are NEWTs really that important?"
Taking up her spot once more on the front of the broomstick, her lips twitched. "Of course they are."
Even though she knew he was referring to a grander picture, wherein a year ago they had all been raw and ragged from the aftermath of the war, he barked a laugh, swinging a leg over the broomstick and settling behind her. She noticed he wasn't as cautious about the space between them as he had been the last time, and reached a casual arm around her side to clutch the handle as he kicked off.
A nearly full moon hung, high in the sky, as Malfoy flew them away from the village and towards the distant spires of Hogwarts castle. A breath caught in her throat at the sight of it, even as she locked her fingers around the handle.
His chest pressed against her back, and Hermione felt his face brush against her hair as she shifted minutely, anxious she would fall as he still had only one hand on the broom. But much of her initial fear around flying with him had dissipated.
Until, however, he released the broom altogether, leaning back with a quiet, "Don't panic."
Her fingers clutched still tighter, her knuckles white, as her eyes blew wide open. "Malfoy!" she hissed.
She heard his quiet chuckle beside her ear but she didn't dare look away as the broom carried on at a consistent pace forward.
"You're flying, Granger, congratulations," he murmured, a low tone to his voice. "Not so hard, yeah?"
"Take hold of the broom," she ground through her teeth, nerves building in her chest and clawing at her throat. "I swear to Merlin, Malfoy—"
With another soft snicker, he reached an arm around her again, but his fingers settled instead on her own. His hand was cool on hers, his fingers splayed around her smaller ones as he adjusted course through her, fixing her grip.
Although he had mostly ignored her admonition, Hermione found herself silenced with her shock. Even more surprising was the way that warmth flooded through her at the innocent contact.
"You have to feel it," he murmured, his voice close to her ear. "Lean into it. Trust it."
Despite everything, she threw caution into the night sky and adjusted her hand the way he'd shown her, shifting so the movements of the broom felt more natural in her grasp. She leaned forward, testing the acceleration of the broom. Malfoy's fingers flexed around hers but he didn't withdraw.
Having control over the situation, after the initial moment of panic, soothed some of her anxiety. She'd watched him fly for years, and he obviously knew well enough how to handle a broom; it was that thought that spurred her onwards as she cautiously tested the speed and trajectory of the broom.
She could hear the grin in his voice. "That's it, Granger."
Adrenaline flitted through her, and a smile tugged at her own lips. He leaned into her once more, relaxing into her moderate pace, and a breath caught in her throat as his other arm looped around her waist.
There was nothing untoward or inappropriate in the contact, other than the fact that his arm around her midsection sent a fluttering into the pit of her stomach. But she found herself shifting in his hold, seeking comfort where she had no right to.
Even as a small voice suggested he had been more than amicable.
The warmth of his breath tickled the loose curls by her cheek, and she didn't dare look his way as blood rushed into her face and neck.
It was still his fault they were in this predicament at all, and the whole situation was far from ideal.
But there was something about the moment, her idly experimenting with control of the broom, him relaxed at her back, that she couldn't have explained if she wanted to.
Maybe there was something else to it.
The wind had settled to only a slight breeze with her meandering pace, and with his warmth pressed against her, she felt comfortable—more comfortable than she had ever felt on a broom by far.
Quietly, she admitted, "It's sort of nice."
He hummed near her ear. "Told you." Before she could respond, he added, "Veer left."
Following the directive, she turned the broom a little too sharply; as the broom jolted his arm tightened around her with quick seeker's reflexes, his other hand grasping the broom handle ahead of her. He snickered, his breath blowing her hair. "Not that sharp."
"Right," she bit out, feeling a sting of embarrassment as she smoothed out the movement; Malfoy relaxed again but maintained his tighter hold on her.
Distracted, and trying to decide whether it was strictly necessary for him to hold onto her with such intent, she glanced up just in time as they flew around the last tower of the castle towards the Black Lake.
The moon shone, pale and bright on the surface of the water, and moisture sprang to her eyes at the beauty of it. The massive peaks of the highlands reached up beyond the lake, dark and shadowy. Swallowing, she breathed, "It's lovely."
Malfoy hummed, resting his chin on her shoulder. "It is."
"Thank you." She felt a fluttering of emotion at the way he'd treated her since they'd left the common room, and the patience he'd shown.
Clicking his tongue, he said, "I couldn't let you leave Hogwarts afraid of flying, could I?"
The words felt at odds with their entire Hogwarts experience, and her eyes flickered sidelong to meet his. But there was nothing in his expression to suggest he thought the sentiment strange.
Refocusing on the sky ahead of them, Hermione blew out a breath. "Believe it or not, this night hasn't been terrible."
"Thanks, Granger," he teased. "If you can believe it, I'm enjoying myself."
"Why?" The word escaped her lips on a breath before she could think it through.
His gaze shifted away again, and he was silent for a long moment before he spoke. "I've spent the last year attempting to shift everything I've always known. And to come to terms with the fact that the way I was raised, and the things I believed when I was young, all turned out to be utter bollocks."
A low snort escaped her, to her own embarrassment, and she clapped a hand to her mouth, noticing too late that she'd let go of the broom. Quickly, she took hold once more.
But Malfoy's lips only twitched before he carried on. "It's been challenging, to say the least. I don't know, Granger… I wanted a chance to make things up to you—even though I know there's nothing I can say or do to undo all the harm I've caused."
She felt a fluttering in her chest at the words, and murmured, "This feels like a good start."
His breath grazed her cheek, sending a shiver down her spine.
They spent far longer airborne than Hermione would have ever expected, and when she quietly announced they ought to land, Malfoy easily took control of the broom once more and brought them safely down.
He landed them on the divide between the forest and the lake, and from the ground it all looked so different. Idly, Hermione considered the thought that flying hadn't been so bad after all—although some of it might have had to do with her companion.
And that was a strange thought in itself.
A cool breeze rolled in from the dark shores of the lake, and she wrapped her arms around herself despite the warmth of her cloak. Malfoy stood alongside her, chin ducked and pale fringe hanging in his eyes, broom loose at his side.
"Do you want to go back inside?"
She glanced to the side, taking in his carefully blank expression, and shrugged. The thought of returning to the stifling quiet of the common room wasn't appealing—and there was something about their time spent together outside that she wasn't quite ready to walk away from. Something about the possibilities held within the blackness of night. "We have a while before the sun will rise yet."
A gentle, barely-there smirk curved his lips. "Come on, then."
When he turned on the spot and strode off in the direction of the Quidditch pitch, Hermione stared after him, stifling a yawn, before tracking his steps. As she caught up to his longer pace, she shot him a scowl. "Where are you going now?"
He brandished the broom, making for the shed, and she followed in after him. In all her years at Hogwarts, she'd never had cause to enter the shed, and it was about as exciting as she would have imagined.
Malfoy led her towards a bank of green lockers, where he stowed his broom, and she fingered the fabric of his Quidditch jersey, silky green with a large white MALFOY emblazoned across the back. Even though she had never wanted to play the sport herself, largely because she had no interest in flying or spending her time playing sports when there were books to be read—she had enjoyed watching the games.
Staring at her for a long moment, his expression shifted. "Green would have looked good on you." A slow grin cracked across his face.
Hermione snickered, glancing away. "Please. You and I both know I never would have been welcome in Slytherin."
"Humour me." When she cocked a brow, he gestured to the jersey with a roll of his eyes. "It's clean."
Eyes narrowing, she assessed him for a moment. His head dropped to the side, a sparkle in his eyes that set her heart racing.
It certainly wouldn't be the most outlandish thing she'd done in the past few hours. Shrugging off her cloak—which had grown hot within the shed—she slipped his jersey over the thin fabric of her jumper. The fabric hung from her, the shoulders too wide, but with a tap of his wand it shrunk to fit her just right.
Planting her hands to her waist, she flashed him a leading stare.
Biting down on his lower lip, he barely withheld a grin. "Perfect."
Glancing down at her own frame, Hermione felt an odd thrill to be dressed in Slytherin colours—but not only that—there was something wholly disarming about wearing his name on her back.
Malfoy hadn't looked away from her, and his tongue swept out to moisten his lips. "It looks better on you than me. You should keep it." Before she could retort, he chuckled and added, "For when my Quidditch career takes off, of course."
Despite herself, Hermione released a full blown laugh, a wide smile lingering on her lips. "Quidditch now? In case the Potions mastery doesn't pan out?"
"Precisely." The word fell from his lips in a purr. "At this rate, I'll need a back-up plan if you stay up all night. Hell, maybe I'll do both."
"Just do both," she repeated with a flippant shrug, worrying her lower lip as she stared at him. "I suppose I never pegged you for a dreamer."
His face faltered, something she couldn't place in his eyes. "I never had a chance." A heavy, loaded silence fell over them, before he looked away. "Anyways. Are you hungry? I'm bleeding hungry."
A soft smile settled across her lips. "I'm hungry."
The tense air that had characterised their earlier trek through the empty corridors was all but gone as they crept through the castle, making a discreet path towards the kitchens. Malfoy was quiet and introspective, his hands in his trouser pockets as he walked at her side, eyes swivelling side to side.
Hermione had checked the Marauder's Map before they entered the castle, but even Filch and Mrs Norris were unmoving in the custodian's quarters. Which made sense since it was the middle of the night.
She hadn't been to the vast, cavernous kitchens, but apparently Malfoy was familiar. When they accessed the dark room, torchlight flared to life across the walls, illuminating the large space. The house elves that prepared the meals were evidently asleep, and the room was empty.
As Hermione gazed around with interest, taking in another area of Hogwarts she had never visited in all her years, she found an idle smile slip across her face. She shrugged off her cloak and caught up with Malfoy in the large walk-in pantry, jaw dropping as she gazed upon row after row of shelves loaded with food.
She still wore his jersey, and he smirked before taking a bite from a crisp green apple, one arm folded across his chest. "What do you feel like?"
Lips twitching as she eyed him, she ventured into the shelves.
Ten minutes later, Hermione settled into a chair across from Malfoy in a small dining nook off the main food preparation area, an assortment of fruits, cheeses, and crackers on her plate.
"Fancy," he drawled, snatching a cube of cheese and popping it between his lips.
For a moment, she gazed around the room once more before turning back to him. "I can't believe I've never seen all this."
"A night of firsts," he declared, a wry grin splitting his face.
Hermione felt blood colour her cheeks at the implication, even as she nodded. "I suppose, in a lot of ways, it is. Certainly the first time you and I have gotten on like this."
He had procured a bottle of sparkling juice, and poured it into two elegant glass flutes. When he brandished his, she clinked it with her own before taking a sip.
As they were directly under the Great Hall, there were no windows to the outdoors, but it was still too early for the sun to rise. Covering her mouth, she stifled a wide yawn and Malfoy snickered.
"Getting tired?" he teased, looking down at his watch.
Again, Hermione was struck by the rough, juvenile look of it, and she found herself staring, even as he pulled the cuff of his sleeve down to cover it.
Belatedly, she scowled. "Of course I'm tired—but I'm not giving up at this point, if that's what you're thinking."
"I didn't think you were going to," he quipped.
She stared at him for a moment, contemplating. "Where did you get your watch from?"
The skin between his brows tightened, and if she wasn't mistaken, two spots of colour appeared on his cheeks as he looked away. "It was a gift from my cousin."
"Your cousin," Hermione murmured, considering the thought. A quick inhale escaped her lips. "Tonks?"
Something like despair haunted the grey in his eyes when they met hers across the table. "I never met her—but it was hers, and she wanted to give it to me when I was born, apparently. My mother held onto it all these years and only gave it to me recently; she and Andromeda have attempted to reconnect since the war." He gave a flippant shrug that belied the expression on his face, the quiet strain in his voice. "I guess I wear it to remind myself that I can do better. And one day I'll be there for her son as he grows up."
As she gazed at him, listening to the genuine honesty in his words, Hermione felt moisture sting at the corners of her eyes. He looked away, pursing his lips.
"Tonks was lovely," she said at last, breaking the silence. Clearing her throat, she swiped at one eye. "It was impossible not to love her; I think you would have gotten on." A breath hitched in her throat and she finished, "It's a damn shame."
Rolling up his sleeve again, he stared at the watch; Hermione peered closer, recognising a Muggle character on the face beneath the ticking hands. He murmured, "I can't do anything about the past—but I can do something about the way things play out from here."
Her stomach churned, even as her heart rate escalated, and Hermione stared at him, feeling utterly at a loss. "I'm sorry I never gave you a chance this year."
"I wouldn't have." His lips twitched, but he continued to brood. "If the tables had been turned; I'm not surprised you didn't trust me."
For a brief moment, she lamented what might have been, despite that she still didn't know him very well. But she couldn't shake the implicit thought that she was starting to understand just a little bit better.
She recalled the way she had felt with him pressed against her on his broom; the way his hand had landed atop her own, warming her fingers. Shame stung her eyes as uncertainty settled over her like a blanket, and she suddenly felt anxious, seeking out his eyes once more.
It was a strange realisation, that everything she continued to believe about him—her own narrow, preconceived notions that the war had changed everyone but Malfoy—
She only whispered again, "I'm sorry."
With a slow nod, his lips twisted to the side with a hint of deprecation. "I don't need an apology, Granger. If anything, accept mine?"
Desperately holding back the tears that threatened to spill, she nodded, biting down hard on her lower lip. "I accept."
It felt like a heavy burden lifted from her soul, one of so many that still lingered, and a soft smile tugged at his mouth as he swept a hand through his hair. He drawled, "Wonderful. Shall we carry on? The sunrise awaits."
A genuine smile crossed her face this time as she vanished her empty plate and nodded.
The sky was still black when they emerged outside once more, both agreeing it would be the best place to put a close to their night. A small part of Hermione wasn't quite ready for it to come to a close, knowing that the end of their wager would signify the end of this—whatever this was.
Malfoy idly led them towards the Quidditch stands, and they climbed to the highest row of seats, from where they could observe the east unhindered. Interlocking his hands across his midsection, he stretched his long legs out to rest on the seat below. Settling beside him, her shoulder grazed his, but he didn't shift away.
After the revelations in the kitchen, she was feeling emotionally raw and exposed, and given the way Malfoy merely stared, his eyes tight, at the distant horizon, she wondered whether he was feeling the same.
But he glanced her way and asked, "Are you cold?"
"No." Slipping her hands into the lined pockets of her cloak, she leaned back against the high walls behind them. Even so, she felt the faint signature of Malfoy's warming spell.
After the excitement of the night, it felt nice to relax, but with the quiet and immobility, she felt exhaustion tug at her eyelids, her eyes stinging with the effort at keeping them open.
"In my estimations," Malfoy said quietly, breaking the silence, "we have a little over an hour."
"An hour," she echoed, with a thick swallow. "I can stay up another hour."
"Are you sure?" The words were soft, but carried an underlying note of teasing. "Because you don't sound sure."
Hermione wasn't willing to admit that the idea of going on an actual date with him wasn't as much of a deterrent as it had been when he had initially suggested the idea. In fact, she almost wanted to concede the wager. But she hadn't stayed up this long to lose, and certainly not to someone like Malfoy who would laud it over her for the rest of her days.
So she breathed, "I look forward to seeing the E on your exam results."
Malfoy barked a laugh, his arm pressing a little more firmly against hers. "Cold, Granger."
"You set the terms," she reminded him, even as a wide yawn assaulted her. "I guess you should have offered something different."
For just a moment, she allowed her eyelids to flutter shut, taking relief in the momentary darkness, before forcing them open again. It wouldn't do to fall asleep now.
But his warming charm felt so nice as it played across her skin, and the feel of his arm pressed against her side was oddly comforting. Her eyes were glazed as she stared blankly up into the sky, feeling her thoughts drift and her head drop.
Hermione snapped her eyes open, blinking several times. She felt disoriented, and it took a moment to realise her face was resting on Malfoy's shoulder. She sat upright, keeping her gaze carefully fixed ahead. There was no way she had actually fallen asleep, and even if she had, it could only have been a moment.
By the way he stared quietly up at the sky, his legs still stretched out before him, he hadn't noticed.
Except for the fact that her face had been on his shoulder. Cautiously, she studied him for a moment; though his gaze remained fixed away from her, his lips twitched.
She cast a surreptitious glance down at her watch, and tried to remember what time it had been when Malfoy had mentioned they had an hour left. But uncertainty crept through her to notice the sky was just so slightly lighter, the sun pushing gently at the horizon.
Still, Malfoy said nothing.
Hermione blew out a breath, folding her hands into her lap. His calculated silence set her on edge—exactly as it was meant to, she realised. She blurted, "I didn't fall asleep."
"Of course not," he returned softly. His gaze flickered to her face and away.
Rubbing at her face, Hermione was horrified to notice a thin, dried trail of drool at the corner of her mouth and she quickly swiped it away with the pad of her thumb.
Her thoughts were vague and blurry, rattling around the back of her fatigued mind, and she said, "I don't want you to give up your Potions O."
"Ah," he said mildly. "So just a quick, altruistic power-nap, then." At last, a slow, crooked grin spread across his face and he turned towards her. "I appreciate that."
"But I didn't fall asleep," she whispered again.
Malfoy drew his wand, and without saying anything, vanished her drool from the shoulder of his coat. Her eyes widened with horror and embarrassment, but he only snickered. "Whatever you have to tell yourself."
When she remained tense and silent, he went on. "I'm not going to force you to go on a date with me. Just like I wasn't actually going to intentionally blow my Potions exam."
Hermione gaped at him. "Then what was this even about?"
Returning his gaze to the distant horizon, which was now becoming visibly lighter, he shrugged. "I was bored."
"Bored," she echoed, disbelief tinging her words.
He offered her another smirk that set her insides jumping.
Deciding not to press, she relaxed again, leaning back against the wall and rolling her face towards him. "If I fell asleep—"
"You did," he interrupted, waving an idle hand, "but go on."
"Then technically, you won."
"No technicality about it—"
"Which means," Hermione said, unable to stem the titter that escaped her. But she couldn't quite finish the sentence, vulnerability colouring her face and throat.
Malfoy turned to face her, propping his elbow up along the back of the bench. His tongue flicked out to moisten his lips, and his arm dropped behind her. Quietly, he echoed, "Which means…"
A breath caught in her throat at the way he stared at her, the way his eyes dropped, just for a moment, towards her mouth. As he lifted a hand she froze, eyes locked on his; he dragged his thumb across her cheekbone, his fingers sliding along her jaw towards her hair.
Ducking in, Hermione could feel the warmth of his breath as it mingled with hers, and something in the back of her mind made the decision for her as she leaned forward, pressing her lips to his.
At the soft pressure of his return kiss, her eyes fell shut, her heart beginning to race as she dragged her hand along the sharp line of his jaw. She could feel the curve of his smile against her mouth as he kissed her again, his tongue grazing the seam of her lips and teasing her own.
He wrapped an arm around her, dragging her closer as they kissed, Hermione growing increasingly breathless at the feel of him.
At last he drew away, his forehead pressed to hers, idly playing with a loose curl.
She pulled back, unable to hold back a smile as she took him in, his face illuminated with the early hints of sunrise.
His lips dragged up with a smirk as he murmured, "So about that date…"
Thanks for reading! I wish you all the best xo