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“That was brilliant in there, Granger,” Malfoy said as they exited the lift, holding an arm out and letting Hermione pass before he continued behind her. She got a whiff of his cologne as she passed him, breathing deeply to savor it even as she tried to breeze nonchalantly past. He smiled at her triumphantly. “I hope you got a good look at his face while you were tearing his entire defense apart.”

“Just doing my job,” Hermione smiled back proudly. This gloating energy of his, familiar from their Hogwarts years, was actually quite uplifting when it was something she could share in. Something like this work victory, as bittersweet as it was. It marked the end of the case that had them sharing a conference room after-hours for weeks. Now that the proceedings were over they would no longer have so much time together, as a case complex enough to merit two senior DMLE solicitors partnering on the work was unusual. She was trying not to let her disappointment show. They were simply colleagues, after all. He treated her with perfect professionalism and she could count on her hands the times he’d shown her a slip of personality in a moment of celebration or discovery. Her feelings, which had grown exponentially in their shared close quarters, were unrequited. She looked at him expectantly, “I’ll see you after work?”

“I might be late,” he confirmed, holding up a handful of documents. “But yes. Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Great,” Hermione smiled as they parted ways, Draco back to the DMLE and Hermione to the canteen. She only let herself watch him walk away for a few steps. Three. She counted them and then forced herself to turn away, in case he looked back and found her watching him go like a lovesick teenager. 

She’d promised to meet Harry and Ron for a late lunch after the case wrapped up, and her stomach was rumbling. That the two of them hadn’t been on the lift with her and Malfoy was already odd. They were either already here or they were a ride behind. 

“Did I just hear you make after-work plans with Draco Malfoy?” Padma Patil asked with clear curiosity as she swept to Hermione’s side. 

“Yes? That’s not unusual,” she replied. It wasn’t that she and Malfoy were friends, per se. She’d befriended most of his friends over the years after Theo and Harry had gotten together. They were civil, even occasionally pleasant, to one another after years of working in the DMLE together. She enjoyed his company, moreso now that they’d gotten to know each other over this prolonged assignment. If pressed, she would concede to finding him sinfully, distractingly attractive, and if held at wandpoint she would probably admit to her every lascivious desire and daydream. But they weren’t friends. She was sure she didn’t register on his radar day-to-day unless she was standing directly in front of him. It was just that there was a standing drinks night on Thursdays, organized by Blaise Zabini, and today just happened to be Thursday. 

“Oh!” Padma chirped. A surprised smile crossed her face and she said, “Interesting!”

“It really isn’t--” Hermione started, but Padma had peeled away again. For a moment, she wondered what that had been about, but then she was waved toward a table by Ron Weasley, and the moment passed her by.

 

***

 

When Hermione sat down in the Ministry canteen with Ron and Harry on the following Monday, she was greeted with bizarre expressions from both of them. 

“What? Is there something on my face?” she asked, putting her fingers to her skin. “Have I been going about all day with something on my face? Bugger all--”

“There’s nothing on your face,” Harry laughed. He started to continue, but was interrupted by an employee from Sports and Games rushing to the table babbling something about the weekend’s Ministry quidditch match. He excused himself with a raised finger and stepped to the side, leaving Hermione with Ron, who was still looking at her oddly.

“What? Ron, what are you staring at me for--”

“Are you dating Draco Malfoy?”

She blinked, dumbfounded. This had to be a joke. Not taking him seriously at all, she deadpanned, “Yes, Ron, I’m dating Draco Malfoy.”

“Bloody hell, ‘Mione--” he started, and then they were cut off again as Gawain Robards appeared, chattering a mile a minute about her next case, which had apparently been complicated by the apprehension of a new suspect. Hermione took a single bite of her sandwich, dropped it to her tray, and vanished the whole thing. 

“Sorry, Ron,” she said, giving an apologetic wave to Harry as she gathered herself. “Duty calls.”

 

***

 

There was a knock at her office door, a sharp double-tap that she recognized immediately as Draco. Her heart leapt into her throat with excitement. It was an unexpected visit. She didn’t have an open case that overlapped with his work, and he didn’t usually follow up when she missed a Thursday drinks night as she had the night before. It wasn’t odd that she missed it now and then for work.

“Come in,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. Sure enough, Malfoy swept in, looking as impeccably put-together as he always did, and Hermione definitely did not surreptitiously take a moment to appreciate the way his robes draped over his broad shoulders. She put her quill down and looked up at him curiously. “Can I help you?”

He dropped into the chair on the opposite side of her desk. Hermione certainly did not dwell on the casual way he leaned back in the chair, long fingers folded over his stomach, legs stretched out before him. “Morning, Granger.”

“Morning,” she smiled. Leaning against the armrest, Draco fixed her with a curious gaze, his grey eyes scanning her face.

“Any idea why Ron Weasley would corner me in the lift and tell me not to hurt you or else?”

“I… what?” she blinked at him. “He did what?”

“So you don’t know why he’d do that,” he said. Hermione shook her head slowly, trying to think of any reason Ron would have to do such a thing. Nothing came to mind. Malfoy took a breath and then straightened up, starting to get out of the chair. “Right. Well, that’s all I wanted to--”

“Oh, bugger all,” Hermione said, finally remembering the aborted lunch conversation from Monday. “I think I do know, actually.”

He sat back down and looked at her expectantly. 

“On Monday I was going to have lunch with him and Harry,” she explained. “I sat down, and both of them were looking at me strangely. Harry got pulled aside for something and then Ron asked me if you and I were dating,” she said. Draco’s face shifted, a small, amused smile curling the corner of his mouth. 

“Where did he get that idea?”

“I haven’t got a clue,” Hermione shrugged. “But I may have accidentally confirmed it.”

“What?”

“I thought he was joking,” Hermione explained. “I said yes, Ron, I’m dating Draco Malfoy,” and she recreated the tone she’d used to say it. Draco laughed once and shook his head.

“So Weasley took a joke seriously,” he said. 

“Evidently,” Hermione sighed. “I’ll set him straight at lunch, I’m sorry he accosted you.”

“Well, wait a moment,” Draco said, raising a hand. Hermione looked at him curiously. “I am actually in need of a date for my mother’s charity event on Friday, and in all the to-do about the Weller case, I made the mistake of waiting too long to ask someone. If you wouldn’t mind…”

Hermione calmly raised a brow, though her heart had already started to race at the idea. She gestured broadly at him and said, “You’re you, surely a last-minute invite would still thrill one of the millions of young women who throw themselves at you.”

“Yes, but then I’d have to spend the whole evening entertaining one of them, and trust me, Granger, I would rather curse myself than listen to the same vapid tittering one more time,” he said. Hermione laughed softly, shaking her head. He continued. “With you, I’m at least guaranteed to actually have an engaging conversation.”

“Say I agree to this,” Hermione started, trying sincerely not to let herself get too excited at the notion of a nice evening on his surely toned and muscular arm. “What do I get out of it?”

“An evening with yours truly isn’t enough?” Draco gestured to himself. Hermione took a breath and tried desperately not to blush as her traitorous mind ran wild.

That depends entirely on what we can get up to in a single evening, she thought first, immediately followed by a self-flagellating Christ, it has been entirely too long, don’t be so embarrassing.

“You’re asking me to dress up and go to a charity event last-minute and commandeering my entire Friday night, Malfoy,” she said. “Not to mention there will be press there. It’ll become a whole thing. We’ll be talked about for ages.”

“Where’s that Gryffindor spirit, Granger?” he said, and Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, earning a chuckle.

“You don’t think it’ll get away from us?” she asked, and he waved the question off.

“What about that quidditch event next month? The showcase?” he suggested. “I know you can’t get out of going, you have too many friends in the league. I’ll go with you.”

“Is that not just more for you?” she asked. 

“Well, I do enjoy quidditch, yes,” he conceded. And then he smirked. “But I have heard you complain about the event every year since you and Weasley split because Cormac McLaggen and Marcus Flint won’t leave you alone.”

Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. Having a date to that event would save her a good amount of stress, as she usually spent the whole time dodging wandering hands. Draco watched her as she deliberated, and then a sly smile grew on his face.

“Plus, it would really irritate Weasley if you were actually dating me, wouldn’t it?”

What I wouldn’t give to actually date you, don’t tease me like this, she thought. Then again, the mental whiplash of a chastisement. Calm down, Hermione. Bloody hell. Be rational. 

“Of course it would, he can’t stand you,” Hermione replied. The look on Malfoy’s face nearly made her laugh. He was eager to annoy Ron, and it was plainly evident.

“So why not let him think we are?”

God save me.

“Would anyone actually believe it?” she retorted. “Our friends know us, Malfoy, they’re going to see right through it in an instant. You only ever call me Granger.”

“So I’ll call you Hermione,” he replied, as if it was nothing to change such an ingrained habit. The sound of her given name rolling off his tongue was strangely thrilling. “And you’ll call me Draco. Easy enough.”

“We’d have to actually spend time together,” she said, and he smiled.

“I’m good company,” he said genially. Hermione couldn’t help but smile back. Then he lobbed a challenge at her. “You’d have to actually look like you like me.”

“I don’t dislike you!” she protested, perhaps a little too vehemently. His smile grew wider.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

“Such a high bar,” he teased. Hermione could feel her cheeks warming. “So you’re willing?”

“It would be nice to do the quidditch showcase without worry,” she mused. This is the worst idea. She looked him in the eye. After a thoughtful moment in which she absolutely did not think about how nice he looked, not even once, she agreed. “Okay.”

He beamed at her. Again, she absolutely, sincerely avoided thinking about his appearance. She definitely did not falter at the way it lit his eyes up. Her heartbeat remained firmly and steadily normal. And she definitely did not smile back and bite her lip as she did so, causing his gaze to flick to her mouth momentarily. And she never once, not even for a moment, began to wonder what it meant that he’d done that. She would absolutely not dwell on it for the remainder of the day.

“Come to mine tonight,” he said, and immediately her brain stopped working. She stared at him blankly, her eyes fixed firmly on the spot just below his Adam’s apple. She was shaken out of it when his voice cut in. “Granger? Hermione?”

“Yes, sorry,” she said. “Yours tonight. Why?”

He chuckled and crossed his arms. “If we’re dating, we ought to know a bit about each other. It’ll be obvious it’s not real if we stare like idiots when people ask us questions we should have answers for.”

“Like what?” Hermione’s mouth was suddenly dry. He looked at her with amusement.

“Oh, I don’t know. How this whole thing began,” he said, gesturing between the two of them with a slim finger. “What changed between us, first date, first kiss, how do you take your tea, small details that would betray a deeper intimacy, that sort of thing.”

First kiss. Kissing Draco. Jesus Mary and Joseph.

“Small details,” Hermione repeated, and again she nearly slipped into a panicked fugue. She’d only wanted to do that for ages. No big deal. Everything would be just fine.

“Right,” he nodded, smirking at her. “Are you quite all right?”

“Hm? Fine, I’m fine,” she said, suddenly, glancing down at her desk and latching onto the first thing she found. “Just thought of something to do with the Chisolm case.”

“Ah, well, I’ll let you get back to it, then,” he nodded. “Seven all right?”

“Hm? Yes, yes, I’ll come over at seven,” she said, and then she smiled at him. “Small details.”

 

***

 

“This is silly,” Hermione protested. They’d already eaten, chatting amiably over a pesto dish he’d made himself. He’d still been finishing it up when she arrived, treating her to the sight of him flipping the contents of the pan one-handed to coat them in sauce. It had been hard not to stare. Now, he had invited her to share a drink with him, guiding her to the couch in front of the fireplace. He sat down on one end of it and held his arm out for her, indicating she should sit in the space just beside him. She had perched stiffly upon the center cushion, drink held with both hands in her lap, and looked sideways at him.

“We’re meant to be dating,” he said. “Come and sit with me.”

“Malfoy--”

“Draco,” he corrected her, and then he took a bit of her shirt between his thumb and forefinger, tugging gently. “I haven’t actually had too many of them but I do know girlfriends typically enjoy a snuggle.”

“You haven’t?” Hermione looked at him curiously. He shook his head slowly.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bit of a reputation,” he said. “I didn’t actually earn it. You get your picture taken with enough people and the story tends to write itself.”

“Oh,” she said. He tugged at her shirt again, and she acquiesced, scooting sideways on the couch. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and drew her to his side, sipping at his drink. 

Oh my god. Oh my god. Breathe. Fuck. Oh my god.

“Would you relax?” he said, after a moment. “It’s like I’m hugging a broom.”

“Sorry,” she said, and she took a deep breath and tried to loosen up. He chuckled. 

“Am I really so terrifying?”

“No,” she protested. She turned her head toward him. “You’re not, I’m just… No one’s snuggled me in years, it all feels kind of... new.”

Smooth. Brightest witch of her age my arse.

“That’s a shame, Granger.”

“Hermione,” she said. He chuckled and took a sip of his drink. 

“Okay. Hermione. What are we telling people? How did this start?”

“Uhm,” she muttered, and then she finally took a sip of her own drink. “What do you usually do after work?”

“I’m here,” he gestured around the room. “Or I’m out with friends. You?”

“Home, usually, except I have standing drinks and dinners on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday,” she said. “And I nip into Flourish & Blotts most Fridays to see what’s come in that week.”

“What if I asked you to dinner after one of the Thursdays?” he suggested. “We’re already in the same place, our friends have seen us get along at those. The one after the werewolf cases a few weeks ago might be a good one to use, we were both pretty enthusiastic about those that night.”

“Okay,” she said. “That was three weeks ago.”

“So we ought to be more comfortable with each other,” he said, and then he sent a thrill through her as he ran his fingers along her outer arm. She took another sip of her drink and nearly jumped the next time he spoke, as his voice was suddenly very close to her ear. He’d put his drink down on the end table so that he could brush her hair away from the side of her face with gentle fingers. In a low whisper, he said, “Perhaps even affectionate.”

Fuck. Me.

“Draco,” she said, nervously. She turned her head to face him and he was very close, his blue-grey eyes sparkling, a small smile on his lips. They looked so soft. She wanted to know what they felt like against her own. Her gaze dropped to his mouth and then flicked back up to his eyes. 

“Have you ever wondered?” he asked, quietly. He hadn’t missed the glance, and he wasn’t letting her interest go unexplored.

Yes, all the time, incessantly. “No.”

“Can I?” he asked, already trailing his fingers along her jaw to position her gently for a kiss. 

“Yes,” she breathed, and he pressed his mouth to hers. He tasted pleasantly of the liquor they were sipping, and Hermione found it easy to melt against him as he lingered against her lips.  No one had kissed her in ages, and it was like rain after a drought. It wasn’t a long kiss, nor was it particularly intense, as far as kisses go, but it changed something within her all the same. She wanted so much more of this. When he pulled back, she scanned his face, drawing her lower lip into her mouth with her teeth. 

She leaned forward and put her drink down on the coffee table. Beside her, Draco simply lifted his glass again, taking another sip. 

Fuck it. Do I have to dare you, Hermione Jean? I dare you. Take what you want.

When Hermione wheeled around on him, grabbed his face, and came back for a second kiss, he scrambled to put his drink down, laughing brightly. His arms wrapped around her and Hermione let out a happy little hum as she threw caution to the wind and indulged in a proper snog for the first time in years. He smiled against her mouth and let her, which only encouraged her. When she finally pulled away, his expression was almost smug, his eyes alight with what could only be joy.

“You are full of surprises,” he said.

“We’re three weeks into a new relationship,” she said, grinning at him. “Won’t our friends be expecting us to be insufferable?”

“Well yes,” he chuckled. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be so willing.”

“I haven’t been properly kissed in years, Malfoy, maybe I deserve to have a bit of fun,” she admitted, making him grin. Her heart fluttered wildly in her chest. She leaned in and gave him one more, a chaste little peck on the lips, before settling back against his side. 

“Well,” he started, picking his glass back up. In a tone that made Hermione feel warm in the pit of her stomach, he murmured into her ear again. “I’m willing to have as much fun as you want, Hermione.”

Challenge accepted.

 

***

 

“Wait,” Draco tugged her back by the hand and she spun around to face him curiously. He had a smirk on his face and the glint of mischief in his eye. “What if we let one of them catch us?”

Hermione couldn’t help but grin. “It’ll be a right mess if it’s Ron.”

“No, it’ll be Blaise,” he shook his head. “Or Potter, maybe. The two of them are always watching for people until the table’s full.”

“If they’re already in there--”

“No, we’re early,” he said. Then, playfully, he added, “We’ll have a snog by the toilets, it’ll be grand.”

“Who are you?” Hermione laughed, and he just smiled and urged her along. She glanced around the pub as they made their way in, unable to keep from grinning like an idiot as she pulled Draco in by the hand. 

After she’d made her bit of fun comment that first night, he’d been eager to indulge her. He had given her his reasoning between kisses in a Ministry utility closet with the door purposely left ajar on Wednesday afternoon. If they got caught in public, even a few times, by the right kinds of gossips, their new relationship would spread like wildfire. It wouldn’t be solely on the two of them to convince the world if half of the Ministry was whispering about it. Furthermore, he’d added with a wicked grin, it’d be fun.

Now she found herself pressed against the wall in the back corridor of the pub, sharing an exhilarating semi-public display with Draco. He kissed her hungrily, holding her by the hips as he slipped his tongue against hers. She let herself get lost in the intoxicating feel of it, enjoying the way he worshipped her mouth in a way no one else had ever done. She’d never known she could enjoy kissing so much. In the few times they’d found themselves with time alone together since they started this endeavor she’d learned not only that he was a masterful kisser but that he was more than willing to carve the time out for a good snog. She was already addicted, happy to indulge every chance he gave her. 

As their kissing intensified, Draco shifted, pressing his thigh between her legs and propping himself up with one arm. The other hand went into her hair, grabbing a handful and holding her to him. It drew a wanting moan out of her. He didn’t stop, but she felt him smile against her, proud of himself. That she could elicit such a reaction from him only encouraged her. 

Her feelings for him, already intense, were now a tsunami; as much as she knew it was a bad idea to let herself get carried away, she wanted nothing more than to lose herself in his current. He was a riptide and she was a reckless swimmer, carelessly ignoring warning signs along the beach in search of a rush, mortal consequences be damned.

“What have we here?” came a drawling, amused voice from their left. Draco let her hair go, straightening up and pressing his lips together as he pulled away. Hermione glanced sheepishly in that direction.

Theo Nott stood there, hands in his pockets and clear amusement on his face. A curl of chocolate brown hair hung becomingly in his eyes. Hermione suspected that he styled it purposely that way. It had a boyish, charming effect. “Well, this is interesting.”

“Interesting,” Draco echoed, his eyes flicking back to Hermione for a moment before returning to his friend. She was looking up at him, ignoring Theo entirely in favor of memorizing the lines of Draco’s throat and the curve of his jaw. She was tempted to lift on her toes and kiss him there. To drag her lips across that sensitive skin. Theo laughed. 

“Straighten up and get to the table, yeah? Don’t make me come find you again,” he said, and then he turned on his heel with a laugh and a shake of his head. Draco looked down at Hermione, who smiled up at him. 

“Shall we?” she asked, tipping her head toward the table, and Draco glanced down the corridor. He still had her practically pinned to the wall, having only turned his head to speak to Theo. With a smirk, he dipped down and kissed her one more time, a long and slow indulgent thing that sent a shiver down Hermione’s spine. 

“Right, let’s go,” he said, and he finally started to pull away. Hermione reached forward and took a handful of his shirt, keeping him close to her. She glanced up into his eyes briefly before dragging him down for another, sliding her other arm around his shoulders and pressing herself against him. His hand landed back on her hip as he indulged her. He laughed softly as they came apart. “He’s going to come back here looking for us.”

“Let him,” she said. “I’m having fun.”

 

***

 

“If I say exactly what I’m thinking will you hex me?” Draco asked as Hermione emerged through his floo, dressed and ready to go to his mother’s charity event. She wore dress robes in a deep blue, fitted in the bodice with a low back, flared sleeves, and gold embroidered embellishments. Her hair was half-up, secured with a gold comb at the nape of her neck, and she’d had Lavender Brown nip by to give her a second opinion on how much makeup to wear. 

“How likely is it that he snogs you senseless sometime tonight?” Lavender asked, tipping her head and waving her wand at Hermione’s face.

“Highly likely,” Hermione said with a blush and a grin. Lavender wiggled her eyebrows and waved her wand again.

“Well, that won’t go anywhere, then. I’ll write down the countercharm and leave it on your table. It won’t come off your face until you do that.”

“You’re a lifesaver, Lavender.”

“I don’t know, is exactly what you’re thinking mean or flattering?”

“Not mean, never mean. Flattering, probably,” he said. Then he shot her a grin that nearly melted her knickers off. “Crude, yes.”

Curious, she promised, “I won’t hex you.”

“Those robes make me want to know if you would consider adding to our fun,” he said, and Hermione swallowed hard as he crossed the room and stepped right in front of her, tipping her face up for a rough and hungry kiss. Hermione’s lips parted to grant him passage and he took the opportunity eagerly, pulling her tightly to him. “Fuck, Granger. If I didn’t have to make an appearance--”

His clear attraction to her was driving her wild. The look in his eye was heated, a stormy flash that promised an intensely good time. If he was even half as good at everything else as he was at kissing, Hermione had just been offered a gift that she wanted very badly to begin unwrapping.

Later, say yes later, don’t let him know how fucking miserable you are, you desperate loon. You’re already going to come the moment he goes anywhere past your bloody navel.

“I’ll consider it,” she said, softly, as he dipped down for another heated kiss. When he pulled away, he slid his fingers along her side. 

“Please do,” he smirked at her, and she grinned right back. “Shall we?”

 

***

 

Hermione had not really put too much thought into the fact that joining Draco for this charity gala would involve meeting so many people. Damn that Harry Potter for dragging her into the limelight with him. Damn him for doing it so thoroughly that every witch and wizard on the face of the planet knew who she was. 

She was also kicking herself for the low back of her dress robes. Draco took every chance he could to put his hand on her back, and every time he touched her, his fingers left a blazing trail along her skin that kept the thought of adding to their fun at the very front of her mind.

“I think you’re more popular than I am,” Draco laughed, as he managed to drag her away from yet another person shaking her hand violently and gushing about whatever it was about her that they had most latched onto as a virtue. She’d heard it all this evening: an inspiration to muggle-borns everywhere, a paragon for the underserved, a pioneer of reform. One woman had even cited her as a “hairspiration,” claiming that it was Hermione who had convinced her to stop spending mounds of galleons on Sleekeazy and to embrace her curls.

Hermione had to admit the woman had beautiful hair. 

“I didn’t prepare for schmoozing,” Hermione said, leaning in as he pulled her out to the dance floor. 

“What did you prepare for?” he asked, smirking. 

“Keeping you company while you schmoozed,” she smiled back, and his smirk grew into a full-blown smile. It sent a wave of joy through her. They’d been there for a few hours now, and the evening was starting to feel different as the attendees had already done their charitable giving and had moved on to drinking as much liquor as Narcissa Malfoy would provide. Hermione let Draco twirl her away from him and when he drew her back, she said, “I’ve thought about it.”

“And?” he asked, a knowing look in his eye.

“I think there’s nothing keeping us from having all the fun we can think to have,” she said. His gaze shifted, the smile on his face gaining a wicked edge to it. There was something distinctly predatory about the way he was looking at her now, and her reaction to it was all heat and anticipation. 

Fucking kiss me, Draco Malfoy.

“I think,” he started, his eyes fixed on hers. “That we’ve been here long enough, don’t you?”

“I think that’s up to you, it’s your mother’s event,” she said, and smiled at him with her tongue between her teeth, enjoying the way it dragged his eyes downward. His own tongue darted between his lips briefly, and then he dipped and kissed her hungrily. Their dance stopped immediately, his hands sliding down to her hips as his tongue met hers. 

He pulled away, taking her hand. He cleared his throat. “Mine or yours?”

“I don’t care,” she said, and as he pulled her from the dance floor, Hermione couldn’t help but laugh brightly. No one had ever wanted her this intensely in her life. No one had ever stopped what they were doing like this. No one had ever chosen her in this way before. 

Maybe this could be real, she thought fleetingly as they made their way out of Malfoy Manor, stopping only momentarily to bid farewell to his mother. She said her goodbyes by rote, her mind going a mile a minute as she smiled and nodded and shared breezy air kisses with Narcissa. 

Draco called out his own address and sent her through first. He emerged moments after she arrived in his flat. They crashed together in a kiss, a hot and wanting clash of lips and tongues that was met in its frantic energy by their hands pulling at each others’ clothing. 

“So beautiful,” he muttered against her mouth, finding the closure of her dress robes, dragging the fabric down her body and letting it pool at her feet. She hadn’t worn a bra with it; the back had been too low-cut, and with that one move she was left standing only in her knickers, a mere wisp of black lace that only served to maintain the technicality that she wasn’t standing there nude. He looked down at her and groaned. “Fuck, Granger.”

“You’re overdressed,” she replied, having only managed to push his outer robes off and loosen his tie. His hands went to the buttons of his Oxford even as his lips came back to hers, helping her undress him and herding her further into his apartment all at once. Their path to his bedroom was littered with his clothing, first his tie, then his shirt. He lifted his foot and pulled at his socks, which made her laugh. “Socks next?”

“Can’t leave them to last,” he said with a boyish grin, pulling them off and tossing them aside. As soon as he had them off he kissed her again, one hand toying with her breast. 

“Why not?”

“Because then I’m a naked man in socks,” he said, and Hermione laughed brightly, dropping her hands to his belt and unfastening it.

“Can’t have that,” she said, kissing him.

“It’s undignified,” he insisted, which made her laugh again. He smiled at her, a heart-stoppingly dashing flash of teeth, and said, “I fucking love it when you laugh.”

“Do you?” she smiled back at him, and he kissed her again, stopping them in the hall and taking the opportunity to drop his trousers and step out of them. 

“You never laugh,” he said, and she shook her head, disagreeing. “No, you don’t! You’re always thinking--”

Hermione cut him off with another kiss, wrapping her arm around his neck and pulling him down toward her. His hands went to her waist, sliding against the skin there and around her back. He guided her backward until her legs hit furniture before he dipped and lifted her off the ground by the backs of her thighs. Not breaking their kiss, she tightened her grip on his neck, curling her legs around him as he lifted her into the center of the bed. 

“Can’t fucking believe--” he started, but didnt continue. Instead, he slipped his tongue into her mouth and palmed her breast. Hermione’s hands slid down his sides, exploring the muscles of his back on her way to grip his arse. He was soft skin over taut muscles, all lines and planes, and she wanted to learn every inch of him. 

He trailed the pads of his fingers down her stomach, tugging at the slip of lace banding her hips. She lifted herself, letting him drag the knickers away. She slipped her fingers under the fabric remaining at his stomach and smiled widely when he pulled away from her mouth to gasp as she curled the fingers of one hand around him. 

I’ll be ruined, she thought, as she stroked along his length. He rumbled low in his throat and closed his lips onto the sensitive skin in the crook of her neck. He sucked on her skin hard, and she smiled to herself, pushing the fingers of her free hand into his hair. As his fingers skated along her lower stomach and finally slipped between her folds, she thought, Ruin me. I’m never going to want anyone else.

“So wet for me,” he murmured, curling his fingers within her in a way that made her toes curl. 

“You had me-- oh, god-- thinking about sex all night,” she said, and he chuckled against her skin, dragging his tongue along her jaw. She turned her head to give him access to the space below her ear, that soft, sensitive skin behind her jaw. He kissed her there, and then latched onto her again. Sighing, she said, “Mmm, yes, I love that.”

He smiled against her skin and kept at it. Tension was building deliciously low in her belly, and her breath was shallow. She tugged at his hair to draw his attention and nearly came when she saw the look in his eye, lustful and hungry. She swallowed and managed, “I’m close.”

“Tell me what you want,” he said, and her eyes fluttered shut as a ripple of pleasure moved through her. 

Fucking ruin me.

“You,” she breathed. “I want you.”

“You’ve already got me,” he teased, and she huffed a laugh, letting her head roll back as he continued to come closer and closer to the edge of ecstasy. Though she had been steadily working him with her hand, her grip was tightening on him as tension coiled within her. Now, she pulled along his shaft and he groaned, dropping his forehead to her shoulder. “If you keep that up this is going to go very quickly.”

“So fuck me already,” she said, and with a flirtacious smile she added, “We can go slow next time.”

“Next time,” he repeated, grinning back at her. With his thumb, he pressed on her clit, rubbing a tight circle over it as he curled his fingers again. The tightening coil of pressure within Hermione snapped and released. Pleasure coursed through her, and as she shuddered around his fingers, Draco murmured in her ear, “That’s my girl.”

My girl. Oh my god.

“Draco,” she gasped, and he captured her lips in a searing kiss, pressing against her, letting her guide him with the hand she still had wrapped around his length. As he entered her, she drew her legs up around him. He filled her as far as he could and then stopped, taking a moment to indulge in an absolutely filthy kiss. She broke away and gasped, “Please, Draco.”

“Better than I ever--” he rasped, and then he drew back and thrust in again, and she moaned loudly, oscillating wildly between a delirious joy and the knowledge that she was in way, way too deep. As he established a rhythm and returned his lips and tongue to her neck, peppering her throat, shoulders, and collarbone with kisses, she tried simply to enjoy it. She buried her fingers in his hair, now thoroughly unkempt in a way she’d never seen on him before. 

“Draco,” she repeated his name, turning it into a chant as he drove into her again and again. Wave after wave of pleasure built within her, his voice in her ear driving her wild as fragments of his own thoughts escaped him a thrust at a time, phrases like fucking incredible and never expected and unbelievable and want you confessed low and breathy against her skin. 

His breath hitched in his throat, and he slowed down, asking, “Are you close?”

“I… maybe,” she said, and he smiled widely.

“What does that mean, maybe?” he asked, and then she held her hand up, wiggling her fingers. 

“Just give me some room,” she said, sliding her hand between them, and he propped himself up. As soon as he’d given her the space to move, she made him smile wider as she used her other hand to tap his upper arm, drawing her leg up. He took her meaning, hooking his arm underneath her knee, and she let her eyes flutter with a contented sigh as the movement shifted him inside her. Keeping her half-lidded eyes on his, she started to press circles against herself, and after a moment she breathed, “Go on then.”

He resumed his movement, the new angle hitting Hermione in a new and delicious way. Before long her free hand was gripping Draco by the forearm as he pushed her over the edge, her ecstasy washing over her like a wave. She drew her hand away from herself to grab at the bedding, and Draco leaned forward, pressing her leg up against her body as he slammed into her in pursuit of his own orgasm. Hermione leaned her head back, closing her eyes and sliding her fingers into his hair as he dropped his forehead to her shoulder, reaching his release with a groan. He remained there for a long moment, his breath hot and heavy against her shoulder, and then he withdrew from her and dropped to the bed, rolling onto his back beside her with a satisfied sigh.

Hermione turned toward him, propping her head up on one arm. He turned his head and looked at her with a sated, sleepy smile. “That was fun.”

Hermione beamed at him, unable to keep from laughing. “Yeah, it was.”

“Come here,” he said, lifting his arm. Hermione scooted into the space at his side and hummed happily as he wrapped his arm around her. Sliding her arm across his chest, she curled against him and sighed. She could hear his heart drumming steadily inside his chest, and for a while she simply lay there and listened to it. 

I could get used to this.

“Should I go?” she asked, after a long, comfortable silence. For a moment she got no response, and then Draco let out a little hm? He’d drifted off.

“Why?” he asked, and she shrugged. 

“Wasn’t sure if you wanted--”

“Stay,” he said, and it was all she needed. He shifted slightly and pressed his lips to her forehead. “We’ll have more fun in the morning.”

 

***

 

The following week was an exercise in things Hermione had never done before. Draco happened to cross paths with her on Monday at lunchtime, and she had her first-ever sex in a Ministry office, pressed against the back of Draco’s silenced door.

Tuesday, she had a standing dinner with Ginny, Luna, Lavender, and Parvati, but Draco managed to convince her they had time for an after-work session at hers. She introduced him to her flat and then they had enough fun in her bedroom that she was fifteen minutes late. Hermione was never late. She arrived in a harried mess, apologizing profusely to a tableful of friends who let her go the whole evening without telling her she had a prominent love bite in full view on her throat.

Wednesday she did not see him even once, as she was dragged into the Wizengamot chambers by a hastily-rescheduled opposing solicitor who was trying to undermine her efforts on a case by moving it up a week. By the time she was finished there, it was nearly 9:00. She returned to her office before heading home to find a note on her desk in Draco’s neat and elegant handwriting: Double the fun tomorrow? I’m getting dinner with my mother tonight and I’m convinced she’s going to give me an earful about the picture the Prophet decided to print of us snogging at the gala. 

Thursday, he made good on his offer: he brazenly booked an actual meeting on her calendar for the lunch hour, arrived promptly with a stack of paperwork as though they were meeting about a case, closed and silenced her door, and then swept the contents of her desk to the floor and shagged her rotten on top of it. Then that night after drinks, he brought her home and proceeded to render her completely without her faculties, reducing her to a babbling mess who could only repeat his name and blaspheme against every deity she’d ever learned to name.

On Friday morning, she appeared in Harry Potter’s office, closed the door behind her, and said, “I’ve made the biggest bloody mistake of my whole life.”

“You what?” Harry looked up at her, his brow furrowed. He put his quill down and waved his wand, silencing the door. Gesturing to the chair in front of his desk, he said, “Sit. Explain.”

“I should never have agreed to it,” she started, wringing her hands in her lap as soon as she sat down. “I was already… oh, God, Harry, how do I--”

“Start at the beginning, Hermione, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, gently. “You never should have agreed to what?”

“Pretending to date Draco,” she said, and his expression went from mildly confused to utterly bewildered. His dark brow furrowed so deeply his eyebrows nearly knit together.

“Pretending?” he asked. 

“It wasn’t supposed to--”

“Hermione, I’ve seen you, what are you talking about pretending?” he said. “The two of you are mad for each other, it’s really quite disgusting.”

“It’s all a bit of fun, isn’t it?” she said sadly, and then she crumpled, crossing her arms and dropping her head to the front of Harry’s desk. She wailed, “It’s Ron’s fault!”

“Okay, now I’m lost,” Harry said. He got up and came around the desk, kneeling beside Hermione. He placed a gentle hand on her knee. “How in the bloody hell is this Ron’s fault?”

“He asked once if I was dating Draco,” she said, sniffling. “I thought he was joking, I never… Draco didn’t… I wanted Draco but he was just a colleague, he didn’t think of me that way, why would he ever think of me that way?”

“Hermione--”

“But I sarcastically said yes, Ron, I’m dating Draco Malfoy,” she said, trying to pull off the deadpan again, though her voice was wavering with tears. She sat up straight again, wiping at her face. “And Ron took it seriously, because he’s Ron, he has never once understood me exactly as I mean for him to understand me.”

“Come on, that’s a little unfair,” Harry said with a chuckle.

“Is it?”

“I still don’t see how this is his fault.”

“Well he threatened Draco on my behalf,” she said, and then Harry laughed out loud. 

“He didn’t.”

“He did, and Draco then came to me asking why Ron would do such a thing, and then I explained, and he needed a date to his mother’s charity thing so he proposed we pretend, except that I was already in love with him--”

“You were?”

“Yes!” Hermione wailed, and she dropped her head to Harry’s desk again and sobbed. Harry took a deep breath and waved his wand, summoning his patronus. 

“Theo, I need you at the office, try not to draw attention on your way in,” he said. He then rubbed circles on Hermione’s back. “We’ll sort this out.”

By the time Theo arrived, Harry had managed to get Hermione to stop crying. As the taller man walked into the room, he raised an eyebrow, and Harry duplicated the chair she was in to give him somewhere to sit. Hermione explained, again, everything that had happened, and as she spoke Theo started to lose his composure. At first he just chuckled softly to himself, shoulders shaking as he tried to suppress it, but as she continued he gave up and just laughed out loud. She finally snapped.

“Why are you both so amused by all this?” she asked, hurt that they weren’t taking her seriously. 

“Because the two of you are the biggest idiots I have ever seen,” Theo said bluntly, and Harry nodded, crossing his arms. 

“We’re what?” Hermione asked, even more offended, and Theo raised his hands in surrender.

“I only mean that he’s clearly in love with you, too,” he said. “And knowing Draco, I know of a perfect way to sort this all out.”

“You do?” she narrowed her eyes, and Harry likewise looked at his boyfriend with curiosity and trepidation. “How?”

“Blaise,” he said, simply.

“What?”

“Blaise Zabini. The most beautiful man to ever walk the face of the earth--sorry, love,” Theo winked at Harry, who rolled his emerald green eyes. “He is well known to be an equal-opportunity sex fiend. If we ask him to lay his charms on you while Draco is watching, he’ll get so jealous you’ll have your answer in thirty seconds.”

“I don’t want to play tricks on Draco,” Hermione said warily.

“It’s not you playing tricks, it’s me,” Theo said, waving the idea off. “All you need to do is whatever it is that you are doing now. He’s like a man possessed. He’s smiling all the time. It’s like bloody second year around him lately.”

“Second year?” Harry raised a brow, curious.

“You know, when he got the new broom,” Theo said, rolling his eyes. “He grinned like an idiot for half a year before the excitement wore off. I promise you, he isn’t pretending anything.”

“You’re so sure,” Hermione said disbelievingly.

Theo snorted. “You know, you could just have a conversation about this like the grown adults that you are.”

“If he doesn’t feel the same I’ll never be okay,” Hermione muttered, frowning. 

“Now you sound like Lavender,” Harry said warningly. Hermione frowned deeper, glaring at him. “You do! Since when are you so dramatic?”

She laughed. “I did throw birds at Ron once.”

“Gryffindors,” Theo muttered, shaking his head. “All the bravery in the world until it comes to talking about your fucking feelings.”

“Oi,” Harry said, warningly. Theo shook his head.

“Need I remind you how long it took us?” he asked, and Harry shook his head, waving him off.

“Hermione, he’s arse over teakettle for you, we can all see it,” Harry laughed. “Just talk to him.”

“If you haven’t sorted this out by Thursday I’ll enlist Blaise,” Theo said. Hermione looked between the two of them and sighed heavily. When Theo simply beamed at her, she pressed her lips together in a tight line.

“I’ll talk to him,” she said. “I need to talk to him.”

 

***

 

“Take this and don’t stop stirring,” Draco said, handing Hermione a wooden spoon. As she took over the pan with the rice in it, he began the work of sauteeing mushrooms beside her, tossing them in the pan. He glanced over now and then, watching, and once the mushrooms were nearly done he said, “You’re very quiet tonight.”

“Just tired,” she deflected, and he looked skeptically at her, but didn’t press. He slipped a spoon into the rice and tried some.

“Keep stirring,” he said, grating cheese over the pan as she mixed it in. Finally, he dumped the sauteed mushrooms in, letting Hermione bring the whole thing together as he pulled out plates. He kissed her on the temple and took the pan. “My beautiful sous chef.”

“I only stirred,” she said, and he chuckled.

“It’s the most important part of a risotto, the stirring,” he protested. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

They ate mostly in silence, Hermione asking after his most recent case. When they were finished, he cleared the dishes and then coaxed her up out of her chair, pulling her into his arms. 

“Something’s bothering you,” he observed, and Hermione sighed into his shirt. She slid her arms around him, breathing in his now-familiar scent, and bit back the fear of rejection that was forming a lump in her throat and stinging threateningly behind her eyes. Draco offered quietly, “Want to sit?”

“I want you to hold me,” she said, and he pulled her not to the couch, but back toward the bedroom. He kissed her forehead and sat her on the edge of the bed, then crawled on, pulling her to his chest as he sat back against the headboard. 

“Will you tell me?” he asked, and his voice was pure, simple concern. Harry and Theo’s words echoed in her head: he’s arse over teakettle and he’s clearly in love with you. As he stroked her arm and she settled in against him, she balked. Not wanting to set the precedent of a bald-faced lie, she leaned on a truth about herself, though it wasn’t the cause of her malaise this time. Rather than risking the rejection she couldn’t bear to face, she chose a different kind of vulnerability: telling him something only her closest friends knew about her.

“I have bad days,” she said, quietly. “I’ll sleep badly or I’ll have a nightmare or something will trigger a bad memory. It just rots the whole day away until I crawl into bed and give up. Sometimes they’re bad enough that I can’t get out of bed.”

“That’s understandable,” he said, softly. He kept rubbing her arm reassuringly. “Can I help?”

“Just… keep doing what you’re doing,” she said, closing her eyes. She shifted, folding herself into his embrace, and he turned toward her, wrapping her in his arms. 

“You’re still in your work robes,” he said, after a long silence. She murmured a noncommittal response. She didn’t particularly care, but it seemed that Draco did. He got up, softly saying, “Give me a second.”

Hermione rolled sideways, propping herself up on an elbow to watch him. Rummaging in his drawers, he pulled out pajama bottoms for himself and for her. With a grin, he tossed the pair toward her. She picked them up and felt the soft fabric between her fingers. They would be much more comfortable than her robes, for sure. Standing, she pulled off her layers and pulled them on. Draco tossed her a t-shirt as well, and in moments they were back on his bed, this time without the bulk of professional solicitor’s robes. 

“Much better,” he said, wrapping his arms back around her. He planted a kiss on her forehead and she closed her eyes, pressing her face into his chest, agreeing with a soft hum. She knew she had to talk to him, knew she had to face the chance that he might not want what she wanted. But in this moment, she simply breathed him in and allowed herself to hope that Harry and Theo were right. He had demanded nothing of her and given her what she’d asked for without hesitation. 

As she drifted into sleep in his arms, she let herself believe that it was love.

 

***

 

Hermione woke slowly, blinking against the light of the sun from the window. She was draped over Draco’s chest, her arm slung across him, her leg curled over his. He faced away from her, still asleep. She tipped her head somewhat and simply enjoyed the view, his hair unkempt from sleep. The curve of his jaw and the long lines of his throat were enticing enough that she reached up, tracing her finger gently along his skin. It woke him, and he turned to look at her sleepily.

“Morning,” he rumbled, his voice rasping attractively as he woke. 

“Hi,” she replied. He rolled toward her, capturing her lips in a sweet and sleepy kiss. Hermione trailed her fingers along his shoulder, enjoying herself. 

“What are you doing today?” he asked, and Hermione shrugged.

“Cleaning my flat, unless you have a better idea,” she said, and he laughed.

“I promised Potter I’d sub in for Whitaker in the Ministry pick-up match today,” he said. “Evidently he’s the team’s only good chaser and his wife went into labor yesterday.”

“Mmm,” Hermione murmured her understanding. “Heard about that. Twins.”

“I can come by after?” he offered. Hermione smiled, nodding. He shifted, wrapping his arms around her and giving her another kiss before he flopped toward her, pressing her into the mattress with his weight.

“Draco!” she laughed, and he simply rumbled against her, nuzzling her further into the bedding. 

“What is it that you do on Sundays again?” he asked, pressing his face into the crook of her neck, making himself comfortable as he draped himself over her. 

“Weasleys,” she said, shifting under him to be more comfortable. She curled her arm around his head, playing with his hair. “We’re there most of the day.”

“You spend your Sundays with your ex’s family?” he asked, murmuring against her neck.

“They’re my family, too,” she said. “I was an adopted Weasley well before Ron and I made our attempt at romance. Which was a resounding failure, I might add. Even the other Weasleys tease about how bad an idea it was.”

Draco simply chuckled warmly in his throat as Hermione kept sliding his hair between her fingers, pulling it away from his head and letting it fall as she reached the ends. His breathing evened out after a while; he’d drifted off again, leaving Hermione to her thoughts. 

You need to talk to him.

“Draco?” 

“Mm?” he twitched slightly as he woke again, pressing his lips against her jaw as he lifted his head slightly to look at her. “Fell asleep.”

“I noticed.”

“I should get up,” he said, though all he did was nuzzle against her neck again, making her smile widely.

“You’re doing a great job,” she said, and he chuckled. She gasped as he dragged his tongue along the side of her neck, adding, more softly, “I’m really convinced. You’re definitely getting up right now.”

“Yes,” he affirmed, nibbling at her earlobe. Hermione’s loose grip on his hair tightened as one of his hands snaked up into her shirt, gripping her breast and thumbing her nipple. “I’m getting up.”

“Mmhmm,” she agreed, turning her head and pulling him by the hair to meet her in a searing kiss. Although it was already to the point that she’d be frustrated all day if his answer was no, she asked, “Do you really have time?”

His face twisted thoughtfully as he scanned the room. With a crinkle of his nose, he muttered, “Where the hell is my wand?”

“Mine’s here,” Hermione said, leaning away from him to the floor where her robes were crumpled in a pile. Draco draped himself over her again as she did so, watching her as she grabbed it and cast a tempus charm. Immediately, he groaned, dropping his forehead to her shoulder.

“I don’t have time,” he said. “I probably should have left already.”

“Something to look forward to?” she offered, and he smiled widely at her, kissing her one more time before clambering out of the bed and disappearing into his closet. Hermione got up as well, gathering her things, and when he came back out wearing simple quidditch trousers, still yanking a plain black jersey on, she had to fight to keep from groaning at the sight. She repeated, “Something to look forward to.”

“I have no idea what time I’ll get to you,” he said, giving her a kiss as he passed, stopping in front of a mirror on the wall and halfheartedly tugging at his hair, which was completely disheveled after Hermione’s tousling. “Depends if we win or lose, I think.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she shrugged. “I may just lie around in your pajamas all day.”

A slow smile grew across his face at that, and Hermione closed the space between them, tipping up onto her toes and giving him a slow, deliberately teasing kiss. He groaned. “Meddlesome little witch.”

“So you don’t forget me,” she winked. He laughed.

“As if I could.”

 

***

 

“Talk to him yet?” Theo asked, sidling up beside her in the Weasley garden. He held a glass of firewhiskey and clinked it against her wine glass as she leveled him with a weary stare. “That’s a no. My offer still stands.”

“I don’t want to play games with him,” she said. “Even if he doesn’t, I care about him.”

“He does,” Theo insisted. Then he turned to face her. “Can I ask you something?”

“Can I stop you?” she asked teasingly. He grinned at her.

“I’m glad you at least understand me,” he said. He took a sip of his drink and looked at her meaningfully, preparing to ask his question. Before he had a chance, Ginny appeared between them, draping an arm over each of them. 

“Finally,” she said, grinning. “I’ve been dying to get the gossip since Tuesday! Tell me everything, Hermione.”

“Tuesday?” Theo laughed, raising a brow, and Ginny beamed. 

“Hermione here showed up fifteen minutes late with a wicked love bite on her neck,” she gushed, tapping her own neck to show the general area. Theo simply looked at her with amusement, taking a sip of his drink to keep from laughing when Hermione turned bright red. A moment later, Harry and Ron emerged from the house as well, laughing about something.

“Merlin, ‘Mione, you’re as red as a beet,” Ron laughed. “Who told you a filthy joke?”

“Haven’t you heard, Ronnie?” Ginny said, and Ron rolled his eyes at her. “Hermione’s shagging Draco Malfoy.”

“Oh, I’ve heard,” he said wearily. “You’ve met my wife’s sister, right? Biggest gossip in the whole Ministry?”

As if summoned, Parvati came outside. “Here you are! What are you all doing out here? Molly’s about to bring out dessert. She made a pineapple upside-down cake!”

“Ooh!” Theo turned excitedly, making the others laugh. As they all made their way back in, Ron nudged Hermione in the arm.

“Wait a minute, ‘Mione,” he said, and she looked up at him curiously. He looked at her with one of his uneasy, thoughtful frowns, his bright blue eyes scanning her face for a moment as he considered his words. “Look, I don’t want to tell you how to handle your own business or anything, but, er, Padma says you and Malfoy have been shagging in utility closets and the like--”

“We have not shagged in a utility closet,” Hermione protested, though she knew exactly how that rumor came to exist. “As if I would get caught with my knickers down--”

“Sorry, sorry,” Ron raised his hands in surrender. “I only mean… he’s not just using you, is he? I mean, unless you want to be--er, I just… don’t want you to get hurt, is all.”

Hermione placed a hand on his arm, appreciating his concern. “I’ll be all right, Ron. He’s been very good to me,” she said, and as the words rolled past her lips, she realized she wasn’t simply saying it to appease him. She believed it, every word.

“Yeah?” he asked, then he gave her an awkward grin. “Good, ‘cause I might’ve already given him a piece of my mind.”

“Ron,” she said, wearily, and he laughed.

“I know, sorry. I know.”

 

***

 

Hermione took a deep breath, ran her hands down the front of her robe, and tapped on the door of Draco’s office with her knuckles.

“Come in,” he called from within, and she stepped inside, closing the door behind her. He looked up from his work and smiled widely at her. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Are you expecting someone else?” she asked. “If you have a meeting--”

“No, no,” he shook his head. He stood up and came around his desk, cupping her face with a hand and giving her a kiss. “What brings you to my office?”

“I can’t pretend anymore,” she blurted out, before she could get distracted by kissing or balk again. He frowned down at her, taking a step back. 

“Oh,” he said, dropping his hand. Hermione bit her lip, willing the panic away. The look on his face was unlike anything she might have expected in this moment. Despite everything Theo and Harry had said to her, she hadn’t let herself fully believe he felt for her the same way that she felt for him. So watching him suppress a reaction of hurt and disappointment was a punch to the gut. 

“I only mean--” she started, and he shook his head.

“I don’t need an explanation. If you’re done, you’re done,” he said. His voice was thick, and he had taken yet another step away from her. There was a lump in her throat now. This wasn’t going how she had expected it would.

“Draco, wait, let me--”

“Hermione, it’s--”

“Let me say it,” she said, frustrated, and he furrowed his brow at her, his jaw clenched. But he didn’t interrupt her. So she barreled through it, not caring that her voice broke as she spoke, not caring that tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. She wrung her hands. “I only mean that I can’t bear it anymore if it’s not real. I need it to be real. I need you to love me, because I’ve been in love with you this whole time and I can’t keep pretending it isn’t real.”

“Hermione,” he started, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she held up a hand and made him let her finish.

“I shouldn’t have agreed to pretend in the first place,” she said. “I just… I wanted it so badly, Draco, I wanted you, and I was selfish, and I shouldn’t have… I should have just told you--”

He closed the space between them, cutting her off and claiming her mouth with his. His hands were on either side of her face, holding her close. He kissed her desperately, and Hermione whimpered against him, sliding her hands up and over his shoulders. She clung to him like a lifeline, relief and joy threatening to drown her as she realized too slowly that Harry and Theo had, of course, been right. 

“I should have just asked you out,” he said, pulling away just enough to say it. “If I’d just done that,” he kissed her again. “You wouldn’t have worried,” and again, “That I didn’t care,” and again, “Because I care so fucking much,” he kissed her again and again, explaining himself between kisses as though he was in danger of running out of opportunities. Finally, he pulled back enough to look her in the eye. “I fucking love you.”

“Oh thank God,” she breathed, and it made him laugh. He kissed her again, this time sliding his arms around her back and pulling her close. When he pulled away he put his chin on top of her head and held her tight. 

“I should have just asked you out,” he repeated.

“I would have said yes,” she offered. He huffed, amused. Then she made him laugh again when she said, “Harry and Theo said we’re both enormous idiots.”

“They’re not wrong,” he conceded, and then he asked, “They know?”

“I had a bit of a meltdown on Friday,” she admitted. “I burst into Harry’s office and told him everything and then he told Theo and, well, it was confess to you now and hope they were right that you were madly in love with me, or suffer an embarrassing meddling charade at Thursday drinks.”

“Of Theo’s design, or Potter’s?”

“Theo said he’d enlist Blaise,” she muttered into his clothing. He grumbled, immediately understanding. Then he rubbed her back, pulling back enough to look down at her. Still a little tearful, she gave him a watery smile, and he wiped her face gently with his thumbs and planted one more kiss on her lips. 

“Be my girlfriend,” he said. “For real.”

“Yes,” she smiled widely at him.

“Let me take you to dinner tonight,” he said.

“Yes,” she replied.

“I’ll have you for dessert after,” he promised. With one more kiss, he let her go.

 

***

 

“Hello, Granger,” there was a drawl from her right. Hermione turned and immediately sighed, rolling her eyes as Blaise Zabini leaned sideways against the table, running his fingers up her outer arm. She shook her head and scanned the room for Theo.

“Nott!” she shouted, finding him in the crowd. He turned and then pointed to himself, mouthing a cheeky me? Hermione waved him over. Speaking about Blaise as if he were a wayward kitten and not a person, she merely said, “Collect your Blaise, would you? This isn’t necessary.”

“Are you sure?” Theo raised a brow. 

“She’s sure,” Draco arrived, handing Hermione a glass of wine. “I see you two have met my girlfriend.”

“About bloody time,” Theo murmured, and Blaise barked a laugh, lifting his own drink and clinking it against first Hermione’s glass, then Draco’s. 

“If my services are not needed here,” he started, scanning the room and fixing his gaze on a table on the other side of the pub. “I think I will go try my luck with the Greengrass sisters.”