Admittedly, it was his own fault.
A “Watch your language!” was followed by a slap to the back of Draco Malfoy’s head.
Draco glared at the Medi-Witch. “My arm doesn’t bend that way!”
The witch with a pinched face narrowed her eyes, gave him a decidedly evil smirk and wrenched his arm too far in what he thought was the wrong direction.
The blood-curdling scream that echoed through St Mungo’s brought several people to the Magical Mishaps ward, including Harry Potter, Draco’s Auror partner. “What’s going on here?”
The Medi-Witch tried to look innocent. “There was an anterior dislocation to his left shoulder and I implemented the Milch reduction technique to manipulate the humeral head back into the glenohumeral joint. Sometimes it’s more painful than the injury itself.”
Harry glanced at Draco when he snorted. “I thought you just grazed the side of the building?”
“I did,” Draco gritted out, his face red and features tense. “It was the speed at which I flying that was the issue.” He was cradling his left arm. “And where the hell were you? I could’ve been mangled, torn limb from limb, beaten black and—”
“I was busy capturing the suspect,” Harry said. “And you’re a drama queen.” He studied Draco’s shoulder, then asked the Medi-Witch, “Why didn’t you just dose him with a potion or use a spell to correct the dislocation?”
The Medi-Witch was prepared for everything, it seemed, when she handed Harry a sheaf of parchment containing a long list of policy changes. “We’ve noticed in the past ten years that continuous use of some potions, spells or other therapies builds up a tolerance and are basically rendered ineffective. There’s also been a deficit of highly-trained Potions Masters and apothecaries are considered a bit dodgy, forcing us to outsource for certain volatile potions. Due to the nature of some of the ingredients, we’ve lost several owls, couriers and, in one case, two hippogriffs trying to transport them. So, for the past year, it has been St Mungo’s policy to use alternative methods—if they exist, of course—to alleviate pain and suffering before reverting to ones that could be quite costly to replace.”
It was on the tip of Draco’s tongue to remind the Medi-Witch that cost was no object to a Malfoy, but then he remembered the status of said name in relation to himself and quashed the ache that accompanied it. “There wasn’t much alleviation of pain,” Draco grumbled.
Harry coughed to hide his smirk. “All right then. So, will he live?”
She gave him an overly large smile. “Oh, yes. We here at St Mungo’s pride ourselves on making sure—”
“Spare me the fawning line you give my father when you want his money,” Draco muttered and rose to his feet. “I don’t have access to the Malfoy vault, not that I’d want it regardless.”
All pretence at politeness from the Medi-Witch immediately disappeared. “Sit down. We’re not done yet.”
When Draco refused to comply, Harry pressed down on his good shoulder, forcing him to the bed he’d been sitting on. “Come on, I know you’re in pain, Draco. Just do as she asks.”
“She didn’t ask,” Draco spat.
The Medi-Witch rolled her eyes, but said nothing more. She then proceeded to immobilise Draco’s left arm. “There’ll be swelling and a fair amount of pain from the muscles surrounding the socket, so you’ll need to keep your arm in a sling for several weeks.”
“Then, once the swelling is reduced, you’ll need to start therapy to return to your normal range of motion,” she continued, barrelling over his concerns. She withdrew a small pad of parchment, wrote quickly on it, tore a slip from the rest and handed it to Draco. “This is for a mild analgesic potion that will help with the pain. Paracelsus Potions is in Diagon Alley, but I highly suggest you go to Magnus Medicines near Godric’s Hollow, as they have a higher quality stock at their disposal.”
Before Draco could offer his opinion on which Potions shop was better, Harry clapped his good shoulder rather forcefully. “Thank you, Medi-Witch Kilroy. I’ll make sure he gets the proper care.”
“More like ‘killjoy’,” Draco said under his breath.
Kilroy gave Harry and Draco a sly look. “I’m sure you will.”
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake! I don’t—”
“Thank you!” Harry shouted as he pulled Draco out of the ward. He let go of his partner’s elbow once they were on the street and heading towards the Leaky Cauldron. “That could’ve gone better.”
“I should report her for cruel and unnecessary roughness,” Draco groused, absently touching his left shoulder. “She enjoyed that too much.”
Harry sniggered. “Which part? The one where she was able to inflict pain upon a Malfoy, or the part where she was living out her fantasies of being in a threesome with the both of us?”
Draco came to an abrupt halt and stared at Harry. “There is no way I’d be in a threesome with you, Potter. Your arse is too skinny.”
“Oi! I don’t have a skinny arse!” Harry objected. “Why just the other day, Ginny was admiring the cut of my uniform.”
“Still chasing that Snitch?” Draco asked with a snort. “How long has she been leading you by the balls in a merry dance?” He started walking on. “A proper witch would’ve at least accepted your fourth proposal and been married by now. Or cut you loose to pursue other options.”
“It’s not like that,” Harry murmured. “Her Quidditch schedule is really hectic, what with the World Championships this year.”
Draco arched his neck over his good shoulder and gave Harry a ‘look’. Harry and Ginny’s on-again-off-again relationship mirrored that of her brother’s and Granger’s—swinging wildly from one extreme to the other. He’d been privy to the fights, the make-up soppy romance that followed (and on one occasion, overhearing a vociferous round of shagging when he’d crashed on Potter’s sofa), only to have the cycle repeat itself every few months. It didn’t help matters much that both Weasleys were on champion Quidditch teams, and consequently were gone for games more often than they were home. Their devotion to their respective mates was never called into question, however, when they were home; Harry and Ginny lounged in bed for days after a gruelling game. Ron and Granger often ventured into the Muggle world, disappearing for days, returning flushed and rested, although that had been happening less and less as the years passed.
Harry had asked Ginny to marry him at least six times in the intervening years since the war, but her exhausting schedule allowed for little down time, and rather than limit her freedom, Harry accepted her answer of ‘maybe next year’. Ron had been just as committed, but Granger’s drive to first finish school, then go to uni and then to advance in her chosen field in the Legal Department of the Care of Magical Creatures left Ron floundering as to what to do, since he didn’t exactly have previous experience with a witch who knew her own mind (other than Ginny) and refused to conform to society’s standards. So, Ron had fallen back on the behaviour he’d adopted since they’d become friends: a sort of pining, laced with loyalty and a hot temper—a volatile combination in the wrong situation, Draco would have said if anyone had asked him. Which they hadn’t.
Draco thought it unwise to date ‘friends’, as things could become sticky if they went south, not that he had any history to base his judgement on. Dating Pansy had been a strategic move during his Hogwarts years, and their relationship quickly dissolved once the Dark Lord had been vanquished. He didn’t trust her not to run to his father if he did or said something that didn’t adhere to the pure-blood rhetoric Lucius still clung to, though he’d toned it down considerably since the end of the war. There was a healthy, although muted, dislike for his father and every time Lucius tried to enforce his viewpoints on his son, Draco would glare, lift the sleeve on his left arm and shove the faded Dark Mark in his face. It gave him untold satisfaction to watch Lucius’ eyes widen in shock then shutter in shame and guilt before he would clear his throat and excuse himself to go in search of cognac. With his mother dead at the Dark Lord’s hand, things between Draco and his father were tenuous at best.
And then, that taut line broke when Draco had dared to date a Muggle-born witch two years prior. Of course, Lucius had expressed his immense displeasure, but Draco had thought nothing more of it than his father spewing his usual vitriol. Then, while out on a date with said witch, he went to sign his name on the cheque… and it was declined. Red with embarrassment, Draco barely registered that his date had settled the bill. He apologised profusely when he left her at her flat in London later that evening and had never seen her again after that. He cringed to remember it.
When he confronted Lucius in his study afterwards, his father told him in no uncertain terms that if Draco continued with this foolish notion that a Malfoy could (Merlin forbid!) mix his genetic superiority with that of a commoner, then he would be treated as one. As of that moment, Draco ceased to exist in his father’s eyes. Lucius had struck him from the family Will, vault account, indeed any and all Malfoy assets, thinking that a taste of Muggle life would break his son and induce him to return to the family manse. His father hadn’t factored in one important defence Draco had against his ploys: Draco was a survivor, learning the subtle nuances from the master, Lucius himself.
Draco didn’t cry, didn’t scream or rail, or show any emotion at all. Instead, he’d packed up his few belongings from his chambers (including a Wizard portrait of his mother) and left. He held himself together long enough to arrive on Potter’s doorstep, and when Harry answered the door clad in nothing but a bedsheet, he proceeded to sob on Harry’s shoulder until his Auror partner dragged him inside to keep from disturbing the neighbours. The next day, he told Harry everything, while Ginny puttered around the house and Ron sat on the sofa with some sort of object in his hand that was attached to a black box. Neither of them paid Draco any attention, having long been inured to his presence in Harry’s life due to work and other social commitments. And Harry, ever the saviour, assured Draco that he would help in any way he could.
Now, Draco lived in Wimborne, Dorset in a cottage on Arrowsmith Road, had his own vault at Gringotts (with no attachment whatsoever to Lucius) and when not working with Harry, spent time with him and his friends. Of course, there had been some ups and downs, and in one case a surprise visit from Pansy, which led to all kinds of awkwardness when she practically dripped herself into Draco’s lap while he was sat next to Granger in a Muggle pub. Granger, to her credit, only smiled (though it was insincere), crossed her arms and focused on Ron and Harry, excluding Draco and his ‘guest’. This bothered Draco more than he let on, though he chose not to examine why. Draco forcefully removed Pansy from his person and pushed her out of the pub, hoping to quietly discuss her reason for being there. Quiet it was not, and a few Muggles had to have their memories erased in the aftermath. But what surprised Draco most was the support he received not only from Harry, but from Ginny, Ron and Granger as well.
“Mate, she’s just going to keep postponing the nuptials if you don’t force the issue,” Draco advised Harry.
Harry shoved his hands in his jeans pocket. “It’s just not the right time.”
It was rare for Draco to feel empathy for another person; Voldemort had practically carved the behaviour from his soul, if he were honest. But there were times when there was a spark that caught flame, and the resulting emotions were intense. “That’s just a myth, you know: the right time. If it’s important to you, you make the time. If the Weaselette doesn’t grasp the monumental screw-up she’s repeating every time you get a wand up your backside enough to mention it to her, then maybe you should let her go. It’s not worth seeing you go to pieces every time she leaves for a tournament.”
He watched Harry’s mouth pinch and his eyes drop. “Yeah, I know.”
They had reached the Leaky Cauldron at this point and entered. Instead of making their way to the courtyard and the brick wall leading to Diagon Alley, they stopped in front of one of the hearths on the Floo network.
“You might as well come to Godric’s Hollow; Magnus Medicines is two lanes over and Ron could probably use the company,” Harry said as he grabbed a handful of Floo powder.
“I thought he and Granger were—”
Harry shook his head.
Draco grimaced. “That bad?”
Harry nodded. “Hermione counted to three.” In a puff of green smoke, he was gone.
“Ouch,” Draco mused as he followed his partner.
Draco flopped down on the rich brown leather sofa next to Ron, sighing heavily at the ache in his shoulder. “I heard she counted to three.”
Ron, crossed-legged at the far right end and looking like something a troll had sat on, curled his arms around the large bowl of popcorn. “Didn’t get far past two, more like.” He morosely handed the bowl to Draco.
After popping a few puffed kernels into his mouth, Draco asked, “Merlin, what did you do?”
Ron gave him a wan smile. “I went to a teammate’s stag do and they had strippers.”
Draco could only imagine what happened next. “And?”
“Apparently, I pinched someone’s prosthetic leg, jumped up on stage and started playing it like Kirley Duke from the Weird Sisters, singing This is the Night very off-key and at the top of my lungs.”
Convulsive laughter overtook Draco as he pictured the ginger wizard making a spectacle of himself. “And the reason Granger is pissed off?”
“They had to call her to come get me off the stage. One of the strippers even told me to go home and sort my life out.”
“Oh, you are so lucky she didn’t hex your family jewels, mate.”
Ron tossed a throw pillow at Draco’s head. “It probably would’ve been better if she had, honestly.”
“I really don’t know how to keep my mouth shut when I’m pissed,” Ron admitted, dropping his head to the back of the sofa. “She tried to drag me off the stage, but I threw her over my shoulder and carried her outside, all the while drinking from the bottle of rum I snagged from the hostess, as the entire place watched in shock.”
Draco’s jaw dropped. “Damn.”
Ron nodded. “Then I proceeded to vomit all over her shoes and cry about how I need her but she doesn’t need me.”
“Mate, I wouldn’t have even made it to two,” Draco said, shaking his head.
Ron laughed mirthlessly. “That’s when she said she was an independent woman who is defined by her own actions and not by whether or not she had a man.”
“Sounds like Granger.”
“Yeah, then I told her she also had great tits.”
“Bloody hell,” Draco huffed. “You have truly bollixed this up, haven’t you?”
Ron looked away to stare in the distance. “You know what the horrible thing is, though? I should feel awful. But honestly? I just feel… relieved.”
Draco didn’t know what to say to that, so he just hummed. To him, Granger and Weasley never seemed to quite fit the way Harry and Ginny did. Like Ron was trying too hard to impress her and Granger not really noticing because books and career were first in her life. Not that there was anything wrong in that, but Draco knew it led down a lonely road. Now it seemed Ron was done travelling the path with her, at least as romantic companions.
The telly was on, so Draco turned his attention to the program while the analgesic potion spiralled through his system. Maybe it was the side-effects of the potion, but the images on the screen were… odd.
“What the hell are they doing?”
Ron tilted his head and studied the screen. “You know, I’m not sure.” He sat up and then cocked his head the other way. “Huh,” then, “Oh god!” Immediately, he reached over and arranged Draco’s head similar to his.
“What are we watching?”
Eyes still glued to the screen in morbid fascination, Ron blindly felt around for the card that listed all the channels. “Here, read it.”
Draco grabbed it and shuddered. “What number is this?”
Ron pushed a button and the number ‘153’ illuminated on the telly. “Got that?”
Draco cleared his throat. “Yeah.” He ran his finger down the card until he reached 153. “Animal Planet?” Returning his gaze to the screen, he blanched. “I’ve never seen a horse,” he gulped, “that big.”
“You should see a Thestral up close,” Harry piped in from behind them.
Whipping his attention to Harry, Draco cried, “No! I don’t want to be anywhere near something that could shag my arse and end up coming out my throat… literally.”
“Draco!” Harry and Ron yelled, giving him disgusted faces.
“What? Ron’s the one watching animals shagging while he laments the loss of Granger. I’m starting to see why she hasn’t—”
“Stop!” Harry said.
Ron was too horrified to verbalise anything, but threw the remote at Draco as if it burned his hands.
Before Draco could change the channel, Harry grabbed the remote and switched the telly to a blue screen. “No more Hermione and animal porn in the same sentence, please.” He then flicked his wand and the red, upright console below the telly lit up. “Time for practice anyway.”
“What? No! Why?” Ron whinged. “I’m on holiday.”
Harry rolled his eyes and handed Ron a Wii remote. “Do you want the Cannons to come in third next season? Again?”
Draco sniggered as Ron grabbed the remote and flicked it at the screen. “What’s this supposed to help Weaselbee do?”
“To help his aim and timing for saves, we’re playing tennis,” Harry said as he took the other remote. He flipped through the menus until he and Ron were set up as opponents in the game. “He usually beats me, but since he’s been lazing around for a week, I may beat him.”
“Not likely, mate,” Ron said with a grin. He flicked his remote up and then drew back his arm to hit the virtual tennis ball, the sound echoing loudly with the force of the hit.
Harry was able to return the serve, and he and Ron volleyed back and forth for a few minutes before Ron swung his arm and sent his return hit towards his opponent, one which Harry had no way of blocking. Draco watched them continue in this vein for just over an hour, and although neither Harry nor Ron were actually hitting any tangible object, they broke out in a sweat as if they’d just finished a Quidditch game.
“I’m too old for this,” Harry groaned and arched his back, as the game pronounced Ron the winner.
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but I did see a few white hairs in the sink a couple days ago,” Ron said, smirking.
“White hair is dignified,” Draco reminded them. “Look at me; I am the very epitome of nobility.”
Ron and Harry stared at him for a moment and then broke down into fits of laughter.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but when have you ever not been a pompous git?” Ron asked, still chuckling.
Draco thinned his lips. “And just how should I take that, hmm?”
“Ron,” Harry interjected, all mirth now gone. “Leave off.”
“What? Was just asking. Not like he can—”
“Ron!” Harry frowned. “Draco’s hurt and drugged. You want to poke the viper when he’s in a foul mood, you be my guest. But I won’t clean up the mess when you two are done.”
Harry was often the peace-maker between the three of them. Yes, for the most part, they got along together. Now. But some feelings and hurts ran too deep to be forgotten, and it would be these times where Harry was in his element, sorting out the anger and focusing on what really mattered.
To distract from the hostile path they seemed to be wandering down, Draco offered an alternative. “Do you have any games that don’t involve physical exertion?”
Ron moved to the caddy that held the games, searching for one that could be played by everyone. “Just a trivia game.”
“Put it in,” Draco said after yawning.
“Are you sure?” Harry asked. “It’s Muggle trivia, and you’re about to nod off.”
“Shut up, Harry!” Ron hissed. “It’ll be dead easy to beat him.”
“I heard that,” Draco murmured, his eyelids heavy. “You don’t know what I know.”
The last thing Draco heard was Ron snort with quiet laughter. “We should take him to the pub quiz night next week. Then he can show us what he knows, or what he doesn’t know, more like.”
An insistent knocking forced Draco to pry his eyes open. His head was foggy from the analgesic potion, so it was a few moments before he realised he was lying in an awkward position on Harry’s sofa. He shifted and spied Ron, passed out on the floor, Wii remote in hand, and Harry in much the same state. The flickering of the telly showed footie players running amok on a field and a bold FIFA logo in the upper left-hand corner. The imaginary participants were unruly since they had no one to guide their movements, seeing as the ones in control had nodded off at some point.
The knocking came again, this time louder. Harry snorted and curled into a ball. Ron moaned something about eating peas with a fork. Draco just wanted the noise to abate, so he heaved himself off the sofa and stumbled to open the door.
“What?” he snapped, his eyes closed and unaware of who stood before him.
“You look like hell.”
Draco squinted his eyes, and after a few seconds Granger came into focus. He blinked a couple of times to make sure she wasn’t an illusion. “You don’t look so peachy yourself,” he retorted. “Why are you here? What time is it anyway?”
She arched a brow. “It’s almost two in the morning. I just got off work.”
“They’ll have to revise the norm of ‘burning the midnight oil’ because of you. Stop making the rest of us look bad.” Draco yawned, shuddered and propped himself against the door. “Why are you here?”
“I was going to drop off Ron’s stuff,” she said, not really looking at Draco. “They usually stay up late and I figured it would be easier.”
Draco glanced over his shoulder at the two wizards passed out on the floor. “Yeah, well, Ron drowned his sorrows in Chip-O-Mint ice cream and something wretched called Guinness, and Harry spent the rest of the night hosing him off in the tub.”
She grimaced. “Never anything halfway for Ron.”
There wasn’t much Draco could say to counter that; he agreed with Granger that the whole Weasley brood had more passion than brains. And even if he had been inclined to say anything, Draco didn’t think it would be of any substance—he was still a bit fuzzy from the potion and the lateness of the hour. So they stood there, loitering in Harry’s doorway, saying nothing.
Finally, shifting on her feet and obviously weary, Granger handed Draco a small box. “Everything’s in there. If Ron thinks I missed anything, tell him he can come by when I’m not there.”
Draco frowned. “Will you remain friends?”
She tilted her head and looked at him funny. “Of course, Draco. He was always my friend. I just… we just need a break away from each other. To get back to where we used to be.”
“You sound like you don’t believe me.”
Draco shrugged. “Not something I’ve had personal experience with.”
“Was not my friend, Granger,” he reiterated. “She was a pawn… like me.”
Granger winced. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for. It’s done and over.”
And for once, he meant it. Draco didn’t feel any residual sorrow about what had happened with Pansy, or even with his father. He’d shied away from dating anyone since the incident with the Muggle-born witch because he just didn’t want to deal with the fallout. But the more he stood and looked at Granger, watched as her face softened with a sympathy he didn’t quite understand, the more he didn’t want the actions of the past to hamper the possibilities of his future.
He didn’t know if it was the lingering effects of the potion or his own twisted and long-buried desires, but the witch before him looked vulnerable in the light of the porch lantern. On the surface, Hermione Granger looked the consummate professional working witch, was a lauded war hero and quite wealthy. But on closer inspection—which Draco had no doubt only her closest friends were privy to —there were minute fractures in that façade. The strain of long nights studying legislation showed in her eyes. The wild disarray of her hair had never been truly tamed from her youth, and Draco often saw her in and about the Ministry with any manner of items pinning a haphazard bun to her head. And although she did occasionally venture forth with Potter and Weasley for a night out, she always seemed to be a bit on edge, as if she were waiting for something to happen, and that it was her duty to be ever vigilant.
In that moment, Draco realised something profound: Hermione Granger had never really left the war behind. Even though he and Potter were first-class Aurors, she was protective of them in relaxed settings, as if she were keeping watch while they slept. The idea of her including Draco in that circle of protection was quite humbling.
“Also, could you let Ron and Harry know I won’t be able to make the pub quiz next week? I’ll be in Italy for a symposium.”
Her words startled him from his inner musings. “Pub quiz?”
She laughed a little. “Yes, they’ve been going to tournaments for months now.”
“Have they won?”
“Only once I joined their team,” she said with a smirk.
“Hardly seems fair, then.”
“Well, it was painful watching them try to answer questions on their own. And since they’re timed, the longer it took, the less points they received. I just looked at it like I was doing a service to the other patrons.”
Draco laughed. “You just couldn’t help yourself, could you?”
She wrinkled her nose and, Merlin help him, Draco thought it was adorable. “There’s no need to make it sound like some unforgivable character trait.”
“I didn’t need to,” he said pointedly, though he winked at her for good measure.
That earned him a blush upon her cheeks. “You’ll tell them, then?”
Draco straightened and nodded. “Will I tell them when you’ll be back with the pub quiz? Only I’ll be around for the aftermath and I want to know how long I have to put up with their sorry arses.”
She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and looked like she was giving it a good, long think. “Have you ever participated in a pub quiz?”
Draco’s brows rose into his hairline. “I am not joining their team, Granger. I’ve seen them when they lose and when they win, and there’s not much difference. Forget about it.”
She rolled her eyes. “No, you misunderstand me. I was thinking that you and I would be a team by ourselves… against Harry and Ron.”
A delicious warmth curled through Draco’s system at the endless possibilities. Oh, how he loved this witch. “That is a most brilliant idea, Granger.”
She gave him a genuine smile. “Good. Meet me at the Floos after work on Monday.”
“We’ve got lots to work on.” She reached out and squeezed his good arm before she Disapparated.
He stood there for a few moments before he realised the extent of his earlier errant thoughts. “Oh, I am so screwed.”
Draco had to amend his previous estimation that he was screwed.
“Sorry, mate. She’ll never let you answer a question, but then again, that might be for the best.” Ron patted Draco’s good shoulder.
No, Draco was royally buggered.
“Ignore him, Draco,” Hermione said from his left. “He only stands a chance because Harry was raised in the Muggle world.”
“I know lots about the Muggle world, Hermione; dad loves Muggle stuff, remember?”
“That’s your dad, Ron. Not you.”
Draco leaned back and poked Harry. “Are they always like this?”
Harry gave him a sheepish look. “Actually, this is rather tame. They’re very competitive.”
“Yeah, I think I got that.”
And oh, did he ever get it.
In the two weeks since their break-up, Ron and Hermione (she had insisted upon her given name, and had taken to flinging a Stinging Hex Draco’s way every time he referred to her as Granger) had made it their personal mission to beat each other at the next weekly pub quiz.
The Beehive pub in Tottenham served as the location for their competition, the weekly quizzes held every Wednesday night around seven. The weekly quizzes amassed points, and those teams with the highest scores were invited back for an end of the month championship, where there was a fifty-quid prize. Harry and Ron had remained a team, while Hermione broke off on her own, inviting Draco to join her. Although Draco’s initial acceptance had been dubious, now that they were in the thick of it, he felt that surge of superiority he used to feel back in school.
And now here they were, seated on maroon plush velvet sofas, Harry and Ron on one side, Draco and Hermione on the other, a small table in the middle where two consoles resided. That table represented a defining line between Granger and Weasley.
“Welcome, ladies and gents, to the Hive’s weekly pub quiz!”
The loud voice echoed throughout the pub and there was a resounding cheer, with raised pints, whistles and a few wolf howls. Draco could tell that more than a few participants were already deep in their cups. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?
One hour later…
They were on the twenty-first question of a twenty-one question marathon game, the two teams tied, which astonished Draco, given that Hermione had been a know-it-all swot at Hogwarts. But with Harry’s help, Ron had held his own.
“The category is: Just How Do You Get Those Tricky Blood Stains Out?”
“This’ll be dead easy,” Ron crowed, squirming in his seat and grinning like Luna Lovegood did when contemplating turnip necklaces. “Mum’s a bloody wonder when it comes to stains.”
Harry gave Draco and Hermione a wan smile.
“And it’s a Dis or Dat, folks—chins up, shoulders back, you know the score. I’m going to read off seven names. They all fall into one of three categories, and your mission is to sort them into the correct one. Some of these names are ones you would use to do your laundry with; some are warriors from Homer’s Iliad, and some are both. Press one if it’s laundry related; press two if it’s a warrior; press three if it’s both. You get 500 points for each correct answer, but 500 will be subtracted from your score if you get it wrong.”
“Oh, ‘eck,” Ron grumbled. “Washing-up liquid? Mum always made her own!”
Draco could see a twisted grin form on Hermione’s mouth.
“Oi! Timekeeper, thirty seconds on the clock, please!” The announcer cleared his throat. “The mighty Persil…”
Harry and Hermione both pushed #1 – laundry, and were rewarded with a loud ding that indicated the right answer.
Draco definitely knew that one. #2 – warrior. He even smirked to himself that he was faster than Ron in pushing the correct button.
“Here’s a hard one… Stergene!”
Only Hermione pressed the correct button this time: #1 – laundry.
“The brilliant… Daz!”
No one made a move towards any of the buttons, though it was found to also be a laundry detergent.
Everyone scrambled for the #3 button—both.
“How about… Nestor!”
Again, only Hermione pressed the right button: #2 – warrior.
“And last, but not least… Bold!”
Harry beat Hermione this time in pressing #1 – laundry.
“That’s all of them, and the last category of the night. Let’s tally the scores, shall we?”
The screen above the bar whizzed through calculations and showed Harry and Ron’s team two points behind Draco and Hermione’s, which caused said witch to jump up and whoop.
“And there’s our winning team,” the announcer laughed, pointing at a now dancing Hermione. “How’s it feel, love?” he called out to her.
“Better than sex!” she shouted, causing the entire pub to light up with raucous laughter.
Draco couldn’t help joining in, casting a surreptitious glance at Ron, who was flaming red from ear to ear. He tried to feel sorry for the wizard, but watching Hermione come alive at having won was doing something twisty to his insides. Draco wanted to see her like this more often.
“All right, you lot, settle down!” The announcer took a long pull on his bitters. “Right, the top three teams are invited back next week for the next round of competition. The questions will be plentiful and harder, so study up!”
Hermione collapsed on the sofa, out of breath, a happy grin on her face. “That was more fun than breaking the dragon out of Gringotts.”
“That was fun?” Ron accused sourly. “My bloody disguise was falling apart, Harry was casting Unforgivables left and right, and since you didn’t have a mean bone in your body, your version of Bellatrix was as about as convincing as Seamus telling us it ‘was an accident’ every time he nearly blew up the school. I near pissed myself!”
The light-hearted smile on Hermione’s face dimmed.
“Weaselbee… ease up,” Draco snapped. “It’s just a game.”
Ron snorted. “Nothing’s ever a game when Hermione’s part of the competition. You might as well give up now, mate. She’ll take all your glory.”
Draco was about to say something extremely nasty, maybe even involve a hex or two, when Hermione stood up, sniffed and dusted off her shoulders. “Is that what you really think, Ron? That all I’ve been trying to do this whole time is steal your spot in the limelight?” She shook her head, her misery making Draco’s chest ache. “I thought… I thought you understood that I have to overcome more prejudice because I wasn’t even brought up in your world.” Her lip wobbled a bit. “I mean, how could I compare to a pure-blood, or—”
“Stop it,” Draco said heatedly, surprising himself and the others. “You’re better than that, and what’s more, you know it. Don’t degrade yourself to soothe this idiot’s ruffled feathers.”
“Ron, shut up,” Harry intoned. “Draco’s right.”
“What, you choose him over me, Harry?”
Harry pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ron, you’re being monumentally stupid, and I’m trying to prevent you from losing someone close to your heart, which, by the way, you’re hurting in a most spectacular fashion.”
Hermione shook her head. “Can’t hurt if you don’t care,” she said ruefully. She turned to Draco and gave him a small smile. “Thank you for being on my team. I appreciate it.” She swiped at her eyes and began walking towards the door.
“You’re a right fuck-up, you ginger twat!” Draco spat and got up to follow her.
He didn’t listen to the spluttering behind him. When he caught up with Hermione on the edge of the car park, he snagged her elbow to keep her from Disapparating.
“Please tell me you’re not seriously going to listen to his tripe,” he semi-begged.
She put on a brave face. “Same spiel, different day.”
“So why do you keep listening to it?”
She sighed heavily. “Draco, he’s my friend. A pretty crappy friend at the moment, but still.” She gave him a pointed look. “He was my friend when you and your cronies would’ve buried me underneath the Whomping Willow and not thought twice about it. That tends to instil a hefty dose of loyalty. I mean, he puked slugs because he was trying to defend me, for Merlin’s sake.”
Draco grimaced at the memory of both his treatment of the witch in front of him and Ron’s grey face every time he spewed forth a slimy mollusc. “I’m sorry for my part, I told you that.”
She patted his injured shoulder and let her hand linger. “I know you did. And I thank you for that, truly.” She plucked at a stray thread on his shirt. “You’ve changed so much, Draco. You should be extremely proud of the wizard you’ve become.”
The tips of his ears were burning. “Don’t get all sentimental on me, Granger,” he said gruffly. “It’s disconcerting.”
“Hermione,” she whispered. Then, she leaned up and kissed his cheek.
He blinked rapidly, frozen to the spot. “Hermione,” he managed after swallowing. He coughed, then frowned. “Next you’ll be expecting me to behave like a decent wizard and you know what kind of strain that puts on me.”
She grinned. “A sure sign of end times, to be sure.”
He swallowed thickly. “Why were you with Weaselbee for so long?”
“You’ve seen how competitive we both are. I just hadn’t realised we were competing in the ‘poor decision-making skills’ category.”
“Explains the last few years, certainly,” Draco said without thinking. “I… I mean—”
She placed the pad of her thumb over his mouth. “I agree.” She caressed his bottom lip and then retreated.
Draco didn’t want her to move, didn’t want her thumb to stop stroking his flesh, didn’t want her to be anywhere other than where she was currently. But he also realised that she was probably more than heart-sore from all that had happened, and not at all ready for something new or different. Especially not with Ron slinking about in the wings, watching them. This reasoning was his excuse for being blind-sided by Hermione Granger in the next instant.
Her lips pressed to his tentatively, then a bit harder until his mouth was moving against hers. His hand drifted to her neck and threaded through her lush hair, surprised at how soft it actually was. Someone moaned, but he honestly didn’t care if it was him or her. When she angled her head to deepen the kiss, his breath left him and he had to restrain himself not to clutch her body to his in blessed relief.
A loud slam of the pub door and boisterous laughter broke them apart. Draco leaned his forehead against hers. “What about Ron?”
She stiffened and began to pull away. “What about him?”
He clasped her shoulder to keep her near. “I’m not rebound material, Hermione. For me, it’s all or nothing. I’m like Ron in that respect; nothing with me is ever half-arsed.”
“Good to know.” She studied him. “Then you should know that it’s the same with me. Need I remind you of my S.P.E.W. campaign?”
Draco shook his head rapidly. “Heard enough about it, thank you very much.”
“Right. It just illustrates my point, is all.”
There was a point? “And that is?”
“You like to win, right?”
Where was she going with this line of thought? “Doesn’t everyone?”
She waved her hand in irritation. “Ideally, of course. But not everyone has that opportunity. Ron loves to compete, but he also hates losing.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Draco deadpanned.
“I once saw him have a staring contest with a Garden Gnome.”
Draco arched a brow.
“The Garden Gnome won,” she said mischievously. “The fallout was horrendous. Molly only had patches of scorched earth where several of her apple trees used to grow.”
“He seriously needs some sort of anger management therapy.”
Hermione snorted. “Why do you think he plays Quidditch? It’s an outlet for his frustrations.”
“Erm, okay. But what does this have to do with you snogging me?”
Again with the adorable blush on her cheeks. “Oh. I thought, well. I thought that was mutual?”
“Bloody hell, Hermione! Of course it was mutual. It was more than mutual; it was a bloody epiphany if you want to know the truth of it!”
Did she have to sound so shocked? “Look, I know you’re not in a good place right now, and I wouldn’t presume to—”
“Not in a good place?” she repeated at a higher, affronted pitch. “I am in a fantastic place, Draco Malfoy. Brilliant, even. There are not enough words to describe how—”
His mouth covered hers this time, silencing her rant about how bloody chuffed she was with her position in the universe. When he was sure she would remain quiet (at least for a few seconds), he withdrew and smiled at the dreamy look on her face. “Incandescent you feel?”
“Hmm?” She blinked and then cleared her throat. “Erm, yes. That. What you said.”
Draco felt a bit smug at the fact he’d kissed Hermione Granger into becoming nonverbal. “So?”
She inhaled shakily and blew out a heavy sigh. “I’m not on the rebound, Draco. I was emotionally invested in my relationship with Ron, and while he was caring to a certain extent, my needs had not been met for a very long time. I will always love him, it’s just that caring is tempered with a healthy dose of reality now, and not the fantasies everyone has at such a young age. The last few years, I was going through the motions, having emotionally left the relationship ages ago. By the time I said ‘enough’, it was because I knew I was better off by myself than with Ron because I might be lonely.” She glanced down at their feet. “I dragged us through the muck, and I shouldn’t have let it go on for as long as I did.”
“And you think you’re emotionally ready now?” He gave her a dubious look.
“More like emotionally angsting for the past year. Ever since you’ve been more involved in Harry’s life, in fact,” she said, her voice not at all steady.
“Since I’ve been…” Draco clapped his mouth shut, having heard the implication. Merlin. No wonder she’d reacted badly to Pansy showing up and making a spectacle of herself. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
She twisted her fingers, looking past his shoulder. “Your father gave you such a hard time about dating that Muggle-born girl. I didn’t want to cause you any trouble.”
Gently, he pried apart her fingers and kept hold of them. “Feel free to cause all the trouble you want.”
She laughed. “That’s a terrible line, Draco.”
He dipped his head and nuzzled her cheek. “Ah, but did it work?”
He delighted in the hitch of her breath. “More than it should.”
“Good.” His nose touched hers and he hummed. “But you know, I’m only going to start seeing you so that I can win against Weaselbee. You’re my secret weapon.”
“And how do you know it wasn’t the other way around? I mean, Ron was rather explosive when he lost. Maybe you’re my secret weapon.”
Draco pulled back a little to stare at her. A slow, wicked grin broke out upon his mouth. “Well played, Granger. Well played.”