Actions

Work Header

Coffee and Alcohol

Work Text:

...after the Battle of Hogwarts…

“Just kill me,” his voice had a crack in the middle. She didn’t know if it was from the pain of his leg, crushed under a piece of masonry, or grief… he cradled his mother’s lifeless form to his chest. Sweat and blood streaked lines down his pale, pinched face. “Please,”

Hermione stared at him.

Which side had he been fighting for? Did he even know? Or was she grossly over-estimating his conviction… was it just self-preservation?

He’d given up on that, apparently.

She considered suggesting that he try harder this time. Be different. See it as a second chance.

But she felt hollow and heavy.

There was nothing she could do for his leg. A crush injury. If she lifted the stone without a healer present, he would die…

There was nothing she could do.

She turned and walked away through the rubble that had once been home.

One by one she found them. Closed their eyes. Stroked their hair.

This was not the way it was supposed to be.

 

nineteen years later…

The passage of time made it better, and worse.

She attended the ceremony every year, on the grounds, where the forbidden forest crept ever closer to the crumpled skeleton of the castle.

And every year, the Ministry speeches grew more and more glorious against the setting sun.

Harry was virtually a saint. Walking to his own death.

Ron, the loyal friend, the people’s hero.

Neville, in the face of complete defeat, an Arthurian figure with a magic sword, destroying the final horcrux…

They rarely mentioned Luna. Or Molly Weasley. Remus, and Tonks, the house elves, Lavender Brown, Justin Finch-Fletchey….

Could they really never spare a word for Minerva McGonagall? Rubeus Hagrid? What about Pomona Sprout?

They talked of the fallen, as though it was glorious now. As though, by dying they’d achieved something beautiful.

It made her sick to her stomach, and she went every year.

So did he.

She wished she had the strength to speak about it. To agree to address the crowd of people gathered to commemorate the Battle and celebrate the defeat of the Dark Lord.

She wished she could stand up and take away the glory. Set them all straight.

Walk every person there through her memories.

Show them that war has no glory. That suffering is pointless. That death is not beautiful.

She thought it must be worse for him.

The way they spoke about Death Eaters. As though they were never people to begin with.

He’d never been tried. She’d seen to that. Spoke on his behalf.

Perhaps because she’d walked away and left him there, cradling his mother’s corpse, trapped and alone.

It was bad this year.

Some idiot had written a song. Saccharine. Worshipping. Sloppy, and full of lies.

She walked away.

Back through the rubble.

Past the places where she’d found them.

She touched the cold stones with her fingertips.

Dripped tears on the blast marks and fallen stairs.

She walked this way every year, but she usually waited until the end.

Not this year.

Not with that lunatic warbling some nonsense about how valiant Harry was, how chivalrous…

She made her rounds. Nearly Headless Nick and the other ghosts cast her worried looks but knew better than to interrupt.

And when she reached the end she went back.

Back to where she’d been when it had all gone so horribly wrong, and the castle had come crashing down around them, old magic and heavy stone putting an end to the battle, and end to the war, an end to everything.

He was sitting on the lump of castle that had crushed his leg.

Formal and somber. Neatly pressed. Aristocratic.

Pale, pinched, punished.

Serious.

Grieving.

This was where his mother died.

She had no idea how long he’d sat there with her before the healers had found him.

She didn’t want to know.

“It’s getting worse,” she said, the first words she’d spoken to him in nineteen years, “It’ll be theatrical re-enactments next,”

His lips twitched. A faint echo of a sardonic look she remembered from school.

“Thank you,”

“What for?”

“Keeping me out of Azkaban. Sending the healers.”

His voice was scratchier than she remembered.

It had been more… mellow, at school. Smooth. A nice voice, if only it hadn’t been used to say such awful things.

She’d never thought of it as a nice voice before. It was strange to hear it different now.

She shrugged.

“What else could I have done?”

 A faint crease between those pale brows.

“You could have… oh...” He let his gaze drop, almost as though ashamed, recognising that where he saw a choice, she didn’t. “I can’t apologise.” He said, staring down at his dress shoes, “It’s… I can’t apologise,”

She thought about asking him to say it anyway. Apologise for all the things he’d done. Taunts. Cruelty. Cowardice.

“Fancy a drink?”

“What?” His grey eyes shot up to meet hers, startled and alarmed.

She couldn’t help it. It was funny. Against her will she was almost smiling. Smirking, maybe.

“Just… have a drink with me.”

He stared at her for a moment. Shook his head slightly, as though giving up on puzzling out the mystery of her request.

He got up and limped over.

Together they left, before the hum of ceremonial mourners spread through the ruins, turning it from tragedy to tourism.

 

…the drink…

The trouble with being the only two survivors of the most famous battle in recent British history was the press. Nosy reporters loitered at the gates.

She had let out an annoyed hiss, committed now to the idea of alcohol and a conversation with the one other person in the world who had actually been there…

“I live in London,” he’d said, out of nowhere, “If it’s just a drink you want…”

And somehow, now, she was in his flat.

She wasn’t quite sure how that had happened. They’d briefly discussed the possibilities of muggle London, but the idea of noise was off-putting to them both.

She was surprised by it. The flat.

As he rolled up his shirt sleeves and limped around the kitchen fetching glasses, she trailed her fingers along the bookshelves… and there were a lot of bookshelves.

The flat was neat, slatey grey and steel. Very modern. Very minimalist. Spartan. Expensive.

Except for a large photographic print of somewhere with green mountains in the sea- New Zealand, perhaps?- books provided the only colour, floor to ceiling, and spread on the table, with sheaves of parchment and bottles of ink  and a pair of spectacles and abandoned quills…

Legal work.

It was strange.

Almost as though he’d stolen her career.

Bookshelves stuffed with ethics and creature rights, and legal texts.

She’d retreated back to the muggle world after the war. Went to university. Studied. Re-emerged. Got S.P.E.W properly established. Found a wizarding university in Japan. Studied some more.

The research post in Oxford suited her.

She was close enough to visit Fleur, Victoire, and Teddy. The tiny collection of people who hadn’t been there when it all happened.

Andromeda and Teddy had moved in with Fleur in the aftermath. Andromeda was dead now.

Nearly everyone was dead. Her parents were dead. Car crash on the Gold Coast. She’d never been able to give them back their memories. Had never seen them again.

“What are you working on at the moment?” He passed her a tumbler with an inch of something amber and alcoholic in it. She took a tiny sip. Warm and burning. Good.

“Lycanthropy,” she said quietly.

He nodded and went over to the sofa, putting the decanter on the glass topped coffee table.

“You’re winning court cases,” he said, taking a sip from his drink, leaning back into the corner of the sofa, and stretching out the leg that had never healed quite right.

She gave a derisive huff, and sat down beside him, crowding into the other corner of the sofa, as far away as possible.

You’re winning court cases,” she said, annoyed at the flash of guilt that struck through her. She should have been fighting for creature rights. It’s what she’d always intended to do. She never felt ready though, to enter the fray.

Her office at the university felt safe.

“I’m winning court cases on the back of your research papers,” he clarified, “It’s so much easier, when I can say according to Granger and watch the Judge decide on the spot in my favour,”

She found she was half smiling now.

That was almost… kind.

She took another sip of her drink.

“Why are you here?” he asked after a moment, frowning at his drink and swirling the liquid against the sides of the glass.

She let the question hang in the air, until he looked up and met her gaze.

“You were there,” It was barely more than a whisper.

She wasn’t sure, but she thought he was trapped, somehow, gazing at her. Those grey eyes, the ones that used to be so full of hate and derision… they looked sad now. Troubled.

He looked away and swallowed the rest in a single mouthful, pouring himself another before he’d finished wincing as the alcohol burnt down his throat.

“What is it?” she asked, hoping it was something about the battle, wishing she didn’t want to talk about it, but still wrapped up in the idea of being able to, for once… being able to talk about all of it.

His eyes flicked back to hers for a moment, and he ran his long pale fingers through his white blonde hair. It looked soft.

“The only person who ever loved me died that day,” he said, and she knew he was talking about his mother.

There was something immensely pitiful in this.

She didn’t know what to say.

He took another mouthful and seemed to be trying to shake it off.

“Please tell me you shagged the socks off Weasley before he went and got himself killed,”

He startled a burst of laughter out of her, with the memory of being lifted up in Ron’s long arms and the magical melting feeling of belonging there, with his mouth on hers, and her legs wrapped around his waist… but they’d never got beyond that...

This was what she’d been waiting for.

Some acknowledgement of… of what?

Of life before.

She was laughing and shaking her head, and then she was crying, fat wet tears, and a horrible gulping sound.

“Shit. Sorry.”

He summoned a box of tissues, and she found she was laughing again.

“What, no handkerchiefs?”

“I have those too, if you prefer,”

This sent her into another peal of laughter.

She might be losing her mind.

She shook her head, and pulled herself together, accepting the box and wiping her eyes.

“I was kidding,”

“Oh,” he looked surprised. “Right,”

She sniffed and blinked away her tears. Took a breath and another sip of whatever the drink was. Some kind of hybridised brandy, she thought.

“Really wish I had,”

“What?”

“Shagged the socks off him,”

He gave a little choked laugh.

“Our kids would’ve had such spectacular hair,”

He snorted with amusement and she found herself wanting to make him laugh properly.

If such a thing was possible.

But she couldn’t think of anything funny to say.

“They never mention McGonagall,” he said abruptly, “I hate that.”

She nodded.

She hated that too.

She unzipped her boots and slipped them off, tucking her feet up on the couch. She caught the tiny twitch of his eyebrow at her lurid mismatched socks.

“In memory of Dobby,”

“Oh,”

She finished her drink, and he poured her another.

She examined his face for signs of… something. Evil, maybe. Empathy, perhaps. Something. Some micro-expression that might unravel him, make clear who he was, what he believed, how he felt about his role in the war.

“Would you tell me about them?”

She was surprising him a lot this evening, the slight flutter of pale lashes gave it away.

“Who?”

“Your homicidal aunt. The Death Eaters. Slytherin. Who really believed it. Who got caught up in their parents’ politics. What their dreams were. That sort of thing. Make them people again…”

He slid down the couch a little, letting his head loll back against the cushions.

He was such a specific shape. Elegant, she supposed. Not small and wiry, like Harry, or tall and lanky, like Ron. A little over average height perhaps, and slender. Nothing beefy or broad-shouldered about him.

“You don’t need me to tell you about my charming Auntie Bella. The Death Eaters… varied. Murderers and sadists, mostly, but some of them just… got tangled up and couldn’t escape. Knew he’d kill their children. I can tell you about Fenrir, if you think it would help,”

He meant for her research.

She didn’t want to know. Shook her head.

“Do you keep in touch with any of the Slytherins who got out before it started?”

He pulled a face.

“No. You’ve never seen people flee like Slytherins fleeing a PR disaster. They’re all overseas, where being an ex-Hogwarts’ student is less noteworthy.”

“And what about your friends? The ones who died?”

He did laugh this time, a properly amused chuckle.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Granger, I never had any friends,”

“Fine, brutish sidekicks,” she amended.

He shook his head.

“It’s hard to grieve for people you never liked,”

“Oh,”

The conversation continued on into the night, halting and strange. They drank through the decanter, and she told him about that year on the run… she told him some things, anyway, and left gaps for him to fill with his own tales.

For all that year had been a living nightmare, Malfoy’s had been infinitely worse.

 

…the morning…

She woke up to the dizzying smell of fresh coffee. She blinked and sat up, a soft grey blanket slipping to the floor. She must’ve fallen asleep when he’d got up to go to the bathroom.

Morning light streamed in through the windows, making the dust motes glow. He was in the kitchen again. Crisp and starched, ready for work. He looked like a lawyer.

“How do you take it?”

“Black,”

He nodded, making her coffee the wizard way, beans crushed and pressure steamed mid-air above a mug.

“Help yourself to breakfast. I have to go.”

“Oh, no it’s-”

“Lock the door when you leave,”

He passed her the mug of steaming coffee, collected a sheaf of parchment from the table, and left.

She took a deep breath of coffee fumes and relaxed into the couch.

She had a dark suspicion that whatever they’d been drinking last night had been hideously expensive because although she felt sleep-deprived, she didn’t have a headache.

She wasn’t quite sure how she’d gone from never speaking to him to waking up in his living room, but she realised she’d been right.

Talking to him had helped.

He remembered them all as people. Made snarky little comments about Harry and Ron. Nothing nasty, just little things, poking fun at the way they were. The way Ron draped himself over furniture, the way Harry blinked owlishly in the second before a snappy comeback to a teacher.

He had an eye for detail.

She rather thought he must’ve done more than just imitate Harry falling off his broom, back at school. Suspected he had a taste for the theatrical.

The courtroom was probably a good fit.

Before she left she went through the bookshelves again, slightly surprised that one whole section consisted of muggle titles, history and philosophy mainly. And because she had nowhere particular to be, she ate a bagel and nosed through his cupboards.

There wasn’t much.

She wasn’t sure why he’d brought her here. And left her here, alone.

Decided he was trying to show her something.

She scoured the flat, top to bottom. Even went through his wardrobe. Hesitated at the bedside table but went through the drawers anyway.

Just sleeping potion, and home-brewed painkillers, and a hefty paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings. The bookmark was a photograph of his mother.

It disturbed her a little, how similar his flat was to hers.

She had more mess. More books. And she had loads of photos crammed into albums, and no sense of décor, the way he had. She had a Chudley Cannons doona cover, for crying out loud.

But her cupboards were similar. Work clothes in the wardrobe. Hardly anything in the pantry. Sleeping potions and pain potions in the bathroom and bedroom.

She had the sense that, like her, he never invited anyone in.

A single toothbrush in the bathroom. An assortment of hair products.

Still vain, then.

She stared at herself in the mirror for a long moment, wondering again why she was there. Her eyes gazed back at her, dark and shadowed, her hair springing wildly out of the braid she’d forced it into yesterday. She was so much older now. Her body had changed shape. No longer thin with stress and lack of food. She thought she looked like perhaps she might’ve been someone’s mother.

But all chance of that had died with him, when he’d leapt in front of Harry, straight into the blast of green light.

She went back to the living room, washed and returned the coffee mug, put her boots back on, and left.

 

…three years after that…

She was seeing quite a lot of him lately. It had started off in tiny installments, months between their meetings, over coffee or drinks. The talked about creature rights a lot. They talked about Hogwarts occasionally, and she was secretly pleased she could make him laugh.

His face was less cold and formal when he laughed.

Last week, at lunch, she’d ribbed him endlessly about the badges.

“Look, I was impressed you’d gone to the trouble. Nothing says ‘obsessive loser’ quite like making a bunch of insulting badges.”

He smothered a chuckle and gestured to the wait staff for another coffee.

“I owl ordered them, Granger, don’t be ridiculous. At least I wasn’t knitting spew hats,

She made an indignant noise.

“Those hats sold for millions at auction, you cretin. Elvish Freedom exists because of that fundraiser,”

“And everyone is profoundly glad you took branding advice and changed the name,” he speared a piece of pumpkin on his fork, and waved it at her, “And that you stopped knitting,”

She grinned.

“Who says I’ve stopped knitting?”

He blinked at her. Realised she was kidding, and snorted.

“You’re ridiculous,”

“Thanks,”

And now here she was again, back in his flat. They’d bailed on the ceremony even earlier than usual this year. The idiot in charge of the ministry had begun proceedings by welcoming upstanding representatives from the new school of wizardry and witchcraft in Northumbria. When he’d started waxing lyrical about war heroes and how these students were the future, Malfoy had caught her eye, his lip curling in distaste, and they’d both slipped out up to the ruins. He always sat on that piece of fallen stone, waiting while she made her rounds.

It was bad this year.

She felt… like after twenty-two years she should be able to move on.

The sense of being anchorless and rudderless was somehow worse than ever. Adrift in the sea with nothing and no-one to cling to.

“You’re never going to get over him,”

“What?” she blinked through her tears and took a tissue from the proffered box.

His expression twisted. Wry, tragic.

“I know you lost everyone, but it’s him, isn’t it.”

It didn’t even sound like a question.

She blew her nose and nodded.

“You’ve dated a lot of muggles,” he said.

“So have you,”

He paused a moment.

“True.”

She sniffed.

“Your father must be proud.”

His lips twitched. A hint of a smile.

She wasn’t sure quite when he’d come to terms with his father. Just that he had.

“The trouble is,” he said, pouring himself a glass, “Muggle or magic, it doesn’t matter. No-one understands. No-one remembers.”

“The nightmares scare them off,”

He smirked.

“You keep telling yourself that,”

“What?”

“You terrify people, Granger. It’s that oversized brain,”

“You have a knack for making compliments sound like insults,”

“Who said it was a compliment?”

“You own a copy of every single article and book I’ve ever published,”

His cheeks tinged faintly pink. He took a swig of his drink and didn’t look at her.

She wondered how many people had seen this side of him. That little glimpse of vulnerability.

“Go on then,” he said, leaning back, blank mask in place, “What do you miss most about Weasley?”

She was smiling. Not on purpose. Just… the thought of him and she couldn’t help it. She closed her eyes and remembered.

“I don’t know… everything? He was such a goofball. Insensitive twit…”

“You miss that?”

She shrugged.

“I did say I miss everything. He had this brilliant strategic mind, and he would do the kindest things, without even thinking about it. I try to think it through, what I’m doing, but he’d just react. We buried Dobby in his shoes and socks. Completely impractical.”

He stared at her a moment.

“That’s not what you miss most,”

She glanced up to meet his gaze.

“What do you mean?”

He took another sip of his drink, eyes downcast, staring at his fingers as he toyed with the rim of the glass.

“Relationships have a dynamic. Power play, if you like. You were evenly matched.”

She was about to protest, say that she missed the smell of him most, or the way he looked at her, or his cheeky lopsided grin, or how safe she felt wrapped in his lanky embrace… but there was something in what he’d said.

When she was with Ron, she’d been able to be herself completely. It didn’t matter how bossy or uptight she’d been, how awful her hair, how weepy… she knew he loved every bit of her, so there was nothing to hide. All those blazing arguments, all that heat… there was something so perfect about it, something intangible and precious.

“That’s true, I suppose. Have you ever had that with anyone?”

He gave a huff of dismissive laughter.

“For the smartest witch of the century, you ask stupid questions,”

They sat for a while.

He picked up the folder with his latest case, perched his reading glasses on his aristocratic nose and started jotting down notes with a pencil. Hermione wandered over to the bookshelves, drawn by the collection of rare books. He had an early illustrated edition of Hogwarts: a History. She wasn’t sure she wanted to read that tonight. She chose Dragons of Australasia instead, and curled into the corner of the couch, tucking her feet up, and leaning her cheek against the cushions, hair flopped out of the way.

The summer night darkened, and the mage-light in the flat seemed to wrap around them, securing them in a little bubble, brightest near the couch, and fading out towards the bookshelves.

Somewhere around chapter three, he got up and fetched them both iced water with lemon.

She had just started on chapter five when she realised he’d stopped scribbling notes and shuffling pages.

He’d taken his glasses off and was just looking at her.

Calm, grey eyes. Long thin face. Cheekbones. Silky white hair…

A year ago he’d told her about New Zealand. How after the war and all the legally mandated community service, he’d fled to the other side of the world. Coloured his hair, used a fake name, travelled like muggle with a backpack and guidebook. The print on the wall was one he’d taken in Milford Sound. Something had happened there. She didn’t know what, but something had changed.

He’d looked ridiculous with brown hair and sunglasses.

She smiled accidentally, and he blinked at her, the mask slipping slightly, and she could see he was turning something over in his mind.

“What is it, Malfoy?”

He cast her a very careful look.

“You’re about to break my nose with that book or hex me into next week.”

“Why?”

“I’m about to make a move on you.”

She blinked.

“What?”

“You heard.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know exactly.” He ran a hand through his hair and put the work folder down on the coffee table. “Probably for the same reason there’s about a one percent chance you’re not going to maim me and storm out,” He smiled faintly, “Make that two percent,” he paused, “Three percent,”

She quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Five percent; you’re still here,”

She thought he looked just a tiny bit smug about this.

She narrowed her eyes at him.

Put the book down on the coffee table.

“Go on then,”

She couldn’t help it. That little eyelash flutter of surprise was just so funny.

“Are you sure?”

She shrugged.

“I’m not promising not to curse the bollocks off you, but I am curious about this so called ‘move’. What’s it involve?”

He gave an amused huff and looked down at his hands. It didn’t stop her from seeing the tiny tinge of pink in his pale cheeks.

He really was going to do something.

The question was, what?

What did seduction look like from Draco Malfoy?

If that’s what this was?

He shifted a bit closer on the couch, wincing slightly as he bent his bad knee up onto the couch so he would be facing her.

Then he held out his hand.

She blinked at it.

Long, pale, manicured fingers.

He kept his eyes on her face, an endless impenetrable gaze.

She tipped her head to the side, bemused.

This wasn’t a move exactly, was it? This was what? An invitation?

Curious.

She rolled her wand between her fingers and slipped her other hand into his. He broke the gaze then, instead looking down at her hand, as though pausing before the next step.

He looked up at her again, and when she didn’t say or do anything, he ran his fingertips across the back of her hand, tracing the bones and tendons, drifting over the veins and tracing shapes across her skin.

Feather light.

He wasn’t even really holding her hand. It was just rested in his, and she could’ve reclaimed it at any moment.

Interesting.

The corners of his mouth twitched.

“You look very suspicious,”

“I am,”

His fingers paused. Waiting.

She left her hand where it was.

After a moment, he resumed that light feathered touch.

It wasn’t loving, exactly. Attentive, perhaps.

She felt a faint tingle at being touched. It had been a long time since she’d bothered, and mostly that suited her fine. Nothing every really worked, because he was right. She would never get over Ron.

So perhaps it was loving, in a way. Just… not in the way she knew love.

It was careful, and affectionate. Admiring even. As he touched and examined every millimetre of her hand, she realised he liked them. Her hands.

He was showing her that he thought they were beautiful.

She narrowed her eyes at him and suppressed a smile, but he wasn’t watching, his eyes busy caressing each knuckle and crease of her fingers…

She let herself trace a fingertip along the lines of his palm.

Was that encouragement? Was she encouraging him?

Maybe.

If this was his ‘move’ it was a good one.

The thought amused her.

The boy she’d known at school thought he owned everything and everyone. A right little horror.

He’d grown into someone different.

There was nothing dominant or possessive in him now. He’d been trampled on. Broken. Glued back together into something new.

He was using his more than his fingertips now, touch still gentle and light, but warmer with the extra contact, smoothing over the back of her hand, soothing… she curled her fingers and caught his loosely…

More encouragement.

Perhaps she’d lost her mind.

Or perhaps it was nice to have some human contact. To be touched by someone who understood where her heart belonged, buried in the past with no way back…

He was turning her hand over, tracing her life line and heart line, gentle and warm.

She’d always thought he’d have cold hands. To match that blank, icy expression he wore so often.

It was peculiarly enthralling.

He kept pausing, waiting for her to pull away, or do nothing, or reciprocate.

Whatever he did, he made her choose.

She kept choosing to stay.

She found herself wrapping her fingers around his wrist. They were sinewy and streaked with blue veins beneath the pale skin, and she could imagine them as study in an artist’s sketch book. She ran her fingers over the bones and without thinking slipped her hand up his forearm, squeezing gently.

She caught the slight hitch in his breath and the flutter of those pale lashes.

She’s surprised him again.

“What was your intention with this?” she asked, pulling up her sleeve as his fingers stroked across her skin.

His face was sombre.

“I don’t know,” he said, and she thought he was telling the truth, “I wanted to touch you. I thought you would leave.”

She turned this over.

“Do you want me to go?”

His hands twitched, tightening ever so slightly and releasing.

“Only if you want to.”

There was something missing here.

“And this is your usual method of seduction, is it?”

The grave expression lifted a bit.

“I think you’ll find people seduce me, not the other way around,” It had a faint flavour of that patronising drawl he used to use.

Defensive.

Hmmmm.

“And why is that?”

He said nothing. He’d stopped moving, just gently holding her hand and arm.

“You might as well tell me.”

He pulled away, until just their fingertips were touching. He stared across the room to the print of Milford Sound. He’d gone somewhere safe, she thought.

“If you’d seen the things I’ve seen… “

“The things you’ve alluded to but never told me about?”

He flinched.

She didn’t want to imagine what he’d witnessed in what should have been their seventh year at Hogwarts. What she’d experienced at the Manor had been quite enough.

“I like being in control too much.” He said roughly, “It’s dangerous. So I don’t… not when there are other people involved.”

She considered him.

As a teen, he’d been selfish and mean, constantly searching for a way to dominate, a way to win, a way to lord it over everyone, a way to feel… what? Important? Respected? Feared? Maybe just powerful.

And now… well, now he’d seen what people did to each other when they went down that path. Unless she was misreading the situation, he’d raced off in the other direction completely.

“So… now you make them choose. Set the scene, and the tone, and the speed, and make them choose over and over again. So that you know they’re choosing… how very manipulative.”

He flinched again, and pulled away completely this time, shoulders hunched slightly.

She considered him.

He really was showing more than that steely mask tonight.

“It’s a good move,” she said, “I like it. I might even put my wand away.” She detected a mild frown. “What’s wrong?”

He rubbed his face with his hands.

She had made him very uncomfortable, it seemed.

Oh.

“You really didn’t think I’d stay, did you,” she said softly, “You thought I’d be out that door in a heartbeat, and I’d never look back.”

She knew they were off script. His normally blank face was twisted with confusion.

“Malfoy, do you want me to leave?”

“No,” It sounded dragged out of him. A little hoarse.

“But you did this to make me leave…”

“I like you,” he said bluntly, still staring at the print on the wall, “I like spending time with you. I thought you’d leave, and I could stop feeling…”

She smiled.

“Heaven forbid you have feelings, Malfoy, I mean, that’s practically human,

He shot a resentful glare at her.

“Neither of us are the people we once were. You don’t need to drive me away; I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be.” She paused. The bitter expression on his face had softened a bit. “We were nearly up to elbows, I believe, but you can tell me about the case you’re working on if you’d prefer,”

Some of the tension left his body.

“Cup of tea?” she offered.

“Don’t coddle me.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” she said lightly, getting up and wandering into the kitchen, “You’d just snap my head off; it would be a complete waste of time,”

She found the teapot and filled it with boiling water and green tea leaves and watched him. He was staring moodily at the print again.

“It’s a children’s case,” he said finally, lounging back into the couch, “Muggle family attacked by a werewolf. Parents were killed, and the little girl infected. The ministry wants her locked up.”

“That’s vile,”

“Yes,”

She passed him a mug of green tea, and they chatted about the case for an hour or so, and then she went home.

Lying in her own bed, under her Chudley Cannons doona, she retraced where his hands had been.

She thought about Ron as well.

And for the first time, as she fantasised about her other life, the life she could have had with Ron, with their children, and their home, with dinners at the Potters’, and Christmas at the Burrow… for the first time when she imagined all the details of the life she had lost, she didn’t cry.

For the first time in twenty-two years.

 

…two weeks later…

They’d passed elbows.

They kept the formula the same.

Slow.

Very slow.

Escape available at every moment. For both of them.

She’d used it once. Last Tuesday. She’d been feeling… shaky.

He’d used it once too. Brought up Ron as a way of escaping. Made it about her.

“What would Weasley think about all this?”

“Ron died a long time ago.”

“And?”

“And nothing. You might be fond of me, but that’s all; I’m a safe choice because you know that’s as far as it goes. Plus, I know all about the attempted murder, so you know I know what I’m getting involved with. Neither of us can have what we want. This is… solace.”

Company and comfort. That’s all that was left to her. And despite the fact that the Ron she’d known would never have believed she’d do anything with Malfoy, and would have spontaneously combusted if he had, she also knew he wouldn’t want her to be miserable and alone.

And so far, time with Malfoy, reading, or chatting about creature rights, or feeling the warmth of his gentle touch was the least alone and the least miserable she’d felt in years. Just… she didn’t have to pretend to be fine with him. And also, he was extremely well-read now, and that made for much more satisfying conversations.

“Besides, I imagine Ron would think a few orgasms might cheer me up a bit… but you don’t have to bring up Ron every time you want to stop,”

He'd looked really pissed off with her. It was in the tiny crease between his eyes, and the way his nostrils flared.

She wasn’t sure if it was because she’d openly acknowledged that this was heading in the direction of sex, or if it was because she’d known why he’d mentioned Ron.

He found her attractive, and it troubled him.

She chose not to point out to him that this was the other reason he wanted to take things so incredibly slow.

They were both nearly forty. It wasn’t as though either of them were new to this. But slow was safe…

She undid the buttons of his shirt.

He slipped the cardigan off her shoulders.

Every action took minutes to complete, filled with gentle hands and pauses, and the occasional quiet question.

He was touching her face now, tracing the line of her brow, cupping the side of her face, brushing her hair back…

It was a little funny, to be back on the couch again, exactly where they’d left off last time, and to be holding his face in her hands. His eyes fluttered shut as she ran her fingers through his hair.

It was soft. Silky.

Not like her mad tangle.

“How far are we going tonight, Granger?”

She’d trailed her fingers down his chest and across his stomach. She was starting to recognise the slight change in his breathing that signified a spike in arousal.

It always made him panic a little.

She felt the same. It was still hard to admit that his warm hands on her skin sent heat and heartbeat in a very specific direction.

She was adjusting to the idea though. So was he.

“As far as we feel like going,” she said, “Isn’t that the point of this particular approach?”

A little huff of amusement.

“That’s the idea,”

It was laborious, this process.

But it felt safe.

And it really worked.

She could hear her own breathing change as he trailed his fingers down the side of her neck, pausing before letting them slip slowly across her chest and over her shirt, light and curious.

She pulled him in closer, resting her temple against his, breathing over his shoulder, cheek to cheek.

It was excruciating, to take all this time.

She slipped his shirt down his arms. Feeling the warmth and shape of them… different to the others… they were all different…

“I don’t know…” he murmured, and she wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself, or to her.

“What don’t you know?”

“Hmmm?” His hands were tracing her sides, his shirt caught on his elbows, “Oh. I don’t know why I like your hair. It’s a mess. It’s more like a hedge than….” He lost the end of that thought as she feathered her fingers across his stomach.

“Is this ok?” Her hand hovered over his belt buckle. His breath in her ear told her he was finding it hard to concentrate.

“Yes…” He had one hand in her hair now, threading through against her scalp. She leaned into his hand and unbuckled his belt, letting her knuckles brush the fabric beneath.

She knew she was driving him wild.

Which was just as well, because his fingers had found where the tension sat where the back of her head and neck, and as he gently squeezed- partly by accident because she’d grazed her fingertips across the front of his trousers- she heard herself make a breathy noise, a cross between a moan and a squeak.

They both paused. Holding absolutely still, sitting on the couch, faces touching, his hands on her hip and the back of her neck, hers pressed against his bare chest and clinging to the top edge of his trousers.

She hadn’t really meant to do that.

They were supposed to be going slow.

That was the whole point.

Slow.

“Shall I take my shirt off?” She couldn’t manage more than a whisper. Everything felt warm. He felt warm. The heat radiating off him was… she wanted to lean into it. Press against it. Feel… safe.

He was nodding against her cheek, nuzzling against her neck, the tip of his nose brushing her earlobe. He took his hands away for a moment, freeing his arms completely and dropping his shirt on the floor.

Ah, but he was usually so neat.

She couldn’t help smiling into the curve of his neck and shoulder. She let her hands slip down his bare arm, and he froze, tense, alarmed, as her fingers brushed against the scarring on his forearm.

It was an ugly, twisted, purple scar, dark against his white translucent skin. She let her fingers continue without pausing, a caress.

He relaxed.

Had he really thought that would put her off? After coming this far? Or was the reminder stressful for him?

She ran her hand back up and covered the scar with her palm, rubbing her cheek against his. Reassurance.

He let his hand rest on her thigh. Lightly, on the denim.

Acceptance. Encouragement. Continue…

She pulled away and reached for the hem of her shirt, watching for the flutter of lashes that was so familiar now, his brain trying to process the unexpected.

Even though she’d asked and he’d said yes…

His grey eyes were unwavering. She pulled her shirt off, over her head, tugging it free of her hair which flopped and bounced against her shoulders.

She couldn’t help smiling again; his breath caught.

There was that pause again. The escape clause that was so integral to this arrangement.

He was having a hard time looking at her. Kept blinking, like he was trying to stare into the sun.

She took his hand and placed his fingertips against her collarbone. He let out a tense breath.

“We can stop at any time,” she murmured.

He started dragging his hand warm and gentle, down across the swell of her breast, but then he paused, shifted uncomfortably, wincing, as he tried to rearrange his bad leg.

“Is it better if it’s straight?” she asked, stroking a hand gently across his thigh.

He nodded.

“But it’s ok, I just…”

She’d stolen his words again. That was satisfying too. She’d gently pushed at his leg, a suggestion that he swivel around, sit straight on the couch, and as he turned, she put a hand on his shoulder and straddled him. He had a bra full of cleavage in his face for a moment, and that was where the words had vanished.

She knew what he meant, about powerplay.

The realisation that she wanted to make him feel something startled her. She’d been thinking of this as an arrangement. A pragmatic solution to loneliness. That they would each take what they needed from each other, and that would be that.

But as he traced swirling patterns across her skin, she knew there was something else for both of them in this.

He was trying to give her something. Control, to a degree, sure. But also…

She frowned, holding his face in her hands and considering.

“Something wrong?” he asked softly.

“We’re overdressed,”

A crack of laughter.

She got up and tugged on his hands- another suggestion- and led him to the bedroom, shedding her jeans along the way, casting him a look over her shoulder that made him chuckle.

“What are you doing, Granger?”

“Speeding things up a bit,” she said, unzipping his pants and letting them fall to the floor. “You’re still a complete coward, Malfoy,”

“I beg your-”

“Oh, don’t go all frosty. Look. You’re not going to hurt me. The opposite, in fact. So, just, you know. Stop panicking.”

He narrowed his eyes at her.

“You’re insufferable,”

“You really want to have sex with me.”

There was that pink flush again, almost invisible.

“Fortunately, the feeling is mutual. But we’re going to be here until Christmas at this rate,”

“What are you saying?”

“Let go a little, Malfoy, have some fun,”

“You really couldn’t be less specific,”

He was trying to be dry and sarcastic, but she could see a sort of anxious optimism in his eyes.

“How about this then: you have fifteen minutes to get me out of this bra. Obviously, stop if you change your mind, or feel uncomffnnnngh…”

A rush of unexpected heat flooded through her; he was dragging his tongue along the side of her neck towards her ear, and it was bold, compared to before, and unusual. He wasn’t kissing her neck. They’d never kissed. That wasn’t… That was something else. This was about… she was squeezing his upper arm gently, and letting her hand glide across his back, closer than they’d ever been, mere inches between them.

Fingertips chased up her sides, skimming over the hollow of her back, a sort of stabilising movement, as he buried his face in her hair, tracing hot wet lines up her throat. A caress now, cheek against cheek again.

There was affection there, and longing.

It felt honest.

They’d been driven here.

She took her own advice and let go a little. Forgetting about thinking temporarily and immersing herself in sensation. The feeling of him under her hands. The shapes and lines of him, the stripes of his ribs, the sharp angle of his hipbones… the firmness of the shifting muscle in his back, the smoothness of his hairless chest…

She traced all the scars. The mark left by Harry’s accidental sectumsempra, and others she didn’t recognise.

Realised she was mentally cataloguing them… and realised he was doing the same, tracing sad gentle fingers across the confetti of pale scars that marked her chest and abdomen from the fallen chandelier all those years ago.

He shifted his weight, and she nudged him in the direction of the bed. His leg was bothering him tonight.

She wondered just how much pain he was really in.

He sat down on the edge of the bed, in just his briefs and socks, and she rubbed her cheek against his in reassurance, before taking a good look at his leg.

Though it was whole and smooth, a near match for his other leg, the colour was wrong. Mottled red and purple marks, twisted along from part way up his thigh, disappearing down and vanishing mid-calf. The knee joint was swollen and puce and misshapen with scarring.

“You’re in a lot of pain,” she said, pulling his socks off, and crouching down to examine his leg properly.

“I’m fine,”

“Can I try something?”

“I imagine you’re going to,”

She rolled her eyes and clicked her fingers. Her wand snapped into her hand from no-where, and she saw shock in his face.

It was a house-elf trick. She’d never shown him that before. She’d never shown anyone except the elves who had taught her. She had a lot of things up her sleeve that no-one knew about.

She bit her lip to stop from herself from laughing.

“Show off,”

“I can’t fix this,” she said, ghosting her hand over his mangled knee, “But I might be able to do something…”

She’d given up on verbal magic long ago. She marked patterns in the air above his knee, by his temples, over his forehead, up and down his leg from his ankle to his hip… she thought perhaps the joint there had never recovered properly either… she knew it would work, because she’d done this herself many times, for the pain in her arm, left over from Bellatrix.

His eyes widened with alarm whenever her wand came near his face, but he didn’t flinch, and he didn’t look away, and when she reached the end, she had the satisfaction of hearing the sharp intake of breath.

“What did you do?

She grinned.

“Took a gamble that you’re too caught up in the idea of suffering endlessly for being a shithead teenager to work out the implications of that article I wrote on Cruciatus last year,”

“Oh,”

She sensed his hesitation and tipped her head, enquiring.

“I couldn’t bring myself to read that one,” he admitted gingerly feeling his damaged knee, “I tried a few times, but I just kept remembering…”

Well, that would wreck the mood completely.

“It’s muggle magic,” she said briskly, to redirect his thoughts some place less full of torture, “Science. I’ve just interfered with the way you perceive pain. Specific pain,” she pinched his bad leg hard.

Ow!”

“Yes, I’m very clever,” she said, grinning again, “I’ve interrupted the signal to your brain for this very specific injury. So, the pain is there, you just can’t feel it. But you can feel everything else.”

“It still aches,” he said, accusingly, as though the minor miracle she’d just worked was somehow defective.

She thought she probably looked a little smug.

“No, it doesn’t,” she said, “You think it does, because you’re used to it. How did it feel in the second when the magic kicked in?”

He frowned and didn’t say anything.

Sulking. She’d just taken away his security blanket of self-flagellation.

She trailed her fingernails up the inside of his other thigh and tried not to look too amused at the way his pants jumped.

“You... witch!” Half annoyance, half admiration.

“Can’t feel it any more, huh,”

“No. How long does it last?”

“Long enough,” she said, slipping her fingertips under the edge of the fabric- not far, just far enough to keep him distracted.

He got up cautiously.

She stood with him and saw the little surprised quirk of his lips when he put his weight on the leg and didn’t feel whatever he normally felt.

He took her hand and turned her under his arm, like an old-fashioned dance move in slow motion, so she was facing away from him.

Power and control, right? She’d just done something he had little control over. Her turn, she supposed.

Ye gods and little fishes, she actually trusted him.

He scooped her hair over her shoulder and traced patterns across her back, and down the backs of her arms, and up the backs of her thighs, and she bit her lip because he’d so completely taken her away from the moment before. His careful caress had slipped her straight into lust all over again.

It had been a very long time.

He stroked over her hips, hands coming to pause over her stomach and she shifted in his arms, leaning back, as he hooked his head over her shoulder.

She reached behind and found the elastic of his briefs, sliding her fingers down the sides, feeling the narrowness of his hips and pulling him closer so she could lean her back into his chest, and she could feel his pulse through his pants.

They stood like that for a minute.

His fingers fluttered across her stomach and traced the edge of her bra.

She breathed into the feeling of wanting him.

He didn’t have a strong smell, but it was a distinct one. Crisp and clean. And a faint sort of something that she wasn’t sure was a smell exactly… though it might’ve been. Whatever it was asserted ‘male’ and added to her heightened senses. She was starting to really want to take his pants off.

His touch had gone firm and gentle, burning across her skin.

“So what pain do you want me to take away?” A whisper in her ear.

“What?”

“Do you want me to guess?”

“I didn’t do it for- look, you’re just not used to anyone doing anything nice- uhhh…”

It was electric, the feeling that shot through her as he ran his hands over her bra, stirring her nipples into tight peaks beneath the fabric. He nuzzled against her neck, the slight abrasiveness of his jaw sending shivers through her.

“I don’t know that I can work that kind of magic,” he murmured, “Not if it’s heartache,”

She made a tragic little sound, unintentionally, and without thinking leant more heavily against him.

“Then again,” he slipped the straps off her shoulders, and rubbed his face against her skin, “Perhaps a distraction will do…”

And the bra was gone.

He had one of her breasts cupped, fingers gently teasing the nipple, as his other hand stroked up the front of her underwear.

In fairness, it was very distracting.

She knew he’d be able to feel how hot she was, and somehow that, combined with the cotton-clad erection pressing against her bum, just turned her on more.

She got quite confused after that. Lost in a heady muddle of touch and feeling. He was unflaggingly gentle and considered, and she’d slipped his briefs off to pool around his ankles long before he peeled her soaked underwear away and stroked hot, wet fingers across her clitoris, slipping them between her labia and making her weak kneed and frustrated.

“This is taking too long,” she didn’t mean to say it out loud, but he chuckled against her neck.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Uhhh… nothing…”

“Well then, it’s working isn’t it,”

She made an inarticulate noise and gave up. When she got too shaky, sagging heavily against him, he helped her down onto the bed and continued, gentle, insistent, and with his other hand, reassuring, stroking her sides or thighs, rubbing across her breasts or down her arms, and always, always pulling her back from the edge.

He’d started off sitting and kneeling beside her on the bed, but he couldn’t maintain those positions long; even with the pain blocked out, the leg was still stiff and weak. He ended up on his side, and she seized the opportunity touch him in much the same way as he was touching her.

He started, a hiss of breath as she ran her fingertips over the head of his penis, slick from a drip that had gathered on the end.

He pushed his face up against her cheek.

“I can’t concentrate if you do that,” his voice was a little shaky.

“My turn anyway,”

“What?”

She considered just playing, bringing him close and stopping, the way that he’d been doing with her, but he was so stiff and hot in her hand that it seemed pointless not to do the thing they were both there for.

She gave his shoulder a little nudge, a suggestion that he lie on his back. That flutter of lashes again- surprise. She thought he still hadn’t quite got used to the idea that she really did want to do this. She waited a moment, running her hands all over his penis and testicles slowly, feeling that strangely silky skin, watching his breathing change, and waiting for him to make a decision about it.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” His voice came out husky, and lust-filled. He was checking in again. Still couldn’t quite let go of the fear that maybe she didn’t want to.

She nodded, straddling his hips in response, and letting his penis slide between her legs, letting him feel how hot and wet she was. Saw the muscles in his stomach and arms tense up. He kept his hands loose though. Resting lightly on her knees. Such self-control.

“Malfoy,” She needed his eyes. Wanted him to know that she wasn’t pretending he was anyone else. She caught his gaze and held it, slipping him slowly inside, breathing into the feeling.

She kept it slow. Slow was what worked for them. Watched as he started to come apart, breathing uneven, colour in his cheeks, hips bucking beneath her. And when he lost control completely, it tipped her over the edge, hot pulsing light bursting through her, dizzying and exquisite…

She lay limply on top of him for a while, smiling into his collarbone, because of how she felt, and because of the look on his face right afterwards, which was peaceful and happy, and not something she’d ever seen on him before.

“You’re trickling semen down my leg,”

She snorted.

“How are you making that sound like my fault?”

“Well…”

“Let’s shower then. I want to try all your fancy shampoo,”

She was rewarded with a chuckle. A happy sounding chuckle, not one stained through with bitterness and irony.

“Ok,”

It was nice. He washed her hair. Massaged her head in that way that made her moan.

“What is this, some kind of brain orgasm?”

“Mmmm, don’t stop…”

He was chuckling again. Amused. Bemused.

She rested her head on his shoulder and wrapped her arms round his middle.

They stood in the hot water for a while.

Dried off.

He put a tentative hand out to touch her hair. Smirking, because she’d dried it with magic, so it was twice its usual size.

Went back to the bedroom and cleaned the sheets.

Climbed in between them.

Smiled. Shy and honest.

She felt tired, and warm. Relaxed, for once. Stretched. Strangely content.

The smile hadn’t left him. That little bit of peace he’d found was still there. And the way he was looking at her, stroking her hair… she knew that whatever it was he felt for her was genuine.

“Go on then,” she said, seeing the wistful expression grow.

“What?”

She snuggled up closer. Noses touching, lips brushing. She waited. The official pause.

And then he kissed her. Once. Melting and sweet. And she smiled against his mouth, free somehow from the past, and safe in his bed, in his arms.

And for the first time in twenty-two years, the only survivors of the Battle of Hogwarts slept through the night.

Though as he pointed out the next day over coffee, that wasn’t saying much considering they’d gone to bed at three in the morning.

She threw a bagel at him and he caught it left handed and grinned.

 

They didn’t bother going to the ceremony that year.