We're gonna be birds and fly
We're gonna set the world alight
We're gonna lose ourselves tonight
Heaven - Avicii feat. Chris Martin
"You're going where?" Hermione blinked, surprised, at Daphne's expectant grin.
The other girl waved her hands. "California! With some friends who went to Beauxbatons." She paused, giving Hermione a pointed waggle of her brows. "You should come."
Chuckling, Hermione gave her friend a placating smile. "I can't. But I'm sure you'll have fun."
They very thought that they'd completed their eighth year – with no significant, life-threatening snags – was still one Hermione found herself struggling with. But now that they'd left Hogwarts for the last time, there were so many things she needed to do in order to prepare for her life after school.
Like select a career path from the stack of letters she'd received.
Healer training was a frontrunner – but she still wasn't certain whether she didn't want to pursue a position with the Ministry. Harry and Ron had foregone their eighth year at Hogwarts in favour of beginning Auror training early, but Hermione had been unable to fathom the thought of leaving her NEWT studies incomplete.
Becoming an Auror had never held the same appeal for her, but she also had offers from the Departments of Transportation, International Magical Cooperation, and Magical Creatures.
There was also the possibility of a Curse-breaking internship with Gringotts, and Hermione couldn't deny the intrigue she felt each time she considered that avenue.
"Come on," Daphne urged, jabbing Hermione in the arm with pointy fingers. Hermione scowled, rubbing at her flesh. "Just for a week. Maybe two. You won't be starting on with anything just yet anyways."
Hermione frowned, realizing the truth of the matter. Healer training didn't start until September, and the same was true of the Curse-breaking program.
"Regardless," she said, shaking her head, "I have plenty to do around London. Not to mention I need to spend the summer making money, not spending it."
When she'd sent her parents on to their new life in Australia, she'd left very little money in her own account. And even if she didn't get on with a proper career just yet, Hermione didn't have enough money to last her until September without some source of revenue. She'd essentially resigned herself to working whatever sort of job she could find until she was ready to pursue something else.
Until Daphne, with all of her cheery persuasion, had approached Hermione once they'd arrived back on the platform in London.
Daphne waved a finger. "We'll be travelling by International Portkey. That won't cost you anything." She held up a second finger, cocking a brow. "My family has a timeshare villa near Venice, so we won't be paying for that either."
"Okay," Hermione huffed, "but food, drink, entertainment. I know you'll want to go out every night."
"Every night," Daphne repeated seriously. "Come on, Hermione. You're going to go off and start your fancy job, and then when are you going to have time to get away and take a fun trip?"
Daphne's words tugged at something in her chest; for so many years, she had been forced to take everything seriously. Maybe it was a good opportunity.
Hesitating, Hermione stared at her new and unexpected friend. Their eighth year at Hogwarts had been filled with surprises, including a more inclusive and accepting eighth year class. And without Harry and Ron, Hermione had found herself branching out in her friendships.
She and Daphne shared more in common than Hermione had ever realized – but there were still certain differences between them.
Hermione wasn't interested in drinking to excess each night, and she didn't even know Daphne's Beauxbatons friends – but something about the girl's latest argument settled into the pit of her stomach with a churn.
Once she started on at the Ministry, or St Mungos, or Gringotts – that would be it for a long time. She'd be too focused on moving forward in her career to do anything so frivolous as travel across the world to visit the beach and party.
And aside from all that… her heart still mourned the loss of her parents, stuck in an alternate reality across the world. Hermione was losing hope the healers would be able to reverse the spell she'd cast during the war, and she longed for a distraction.
Her lips twisted to the side as her eyes tightened on Daphne's knowing smirk.
"Yes!" Daphne exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Hermione, we'll have so much fun!"
With a sardonic smile, Hermione fell into step with her friend as they made their way back onto the platform proper. She was already beginning to regret her acquiescence – but how bad could it possibly be?
Running through a mental checklist, Hermione prepared to leave her parents' old house in London. She had everything packed for her week in California – but more importantly, she had numerous interviews arranged with some of the shops in Diagon Alley for the week after she was to return home.
Daphne had already left days earlier with her other friends from Beauxbatons, only a few days after returning home from Hogwarts, but Hermione had wanted to ensure she had everything organized before she was set to leave.
Her International Portkey was scheduled to activate in ten minutes, and Hermione debated the merits of backing out at the last minute.
But there was a part of her that was interested in having a little fun before settling into the tedium and routine of a job. Following everything that had occurred with the war a year ago, and then jumping into ten months of NEWT studying, the thought of simply relaxing and enjoying life was appealing.
Clapping her hands together, Hermione perched on a seat at the kitchen table to wait for the Portkey. And only minutes later, when it glowed blue, she grabbed hold of the rusted metal flagon without hesitation.
After four days in the heat of the California sun, she was both relaxed and exhausted. Daphne and her friends had wanted to go dancing in the clubs every night – having acquired some fake identification for the lot of them – and they spent the majority of every day sunbathing on the beach in Santa Monica, hiking, or exploring the boardwalk.
Daphne's friends – Alexander and Marie – were due to return to Paris the following day, and the group of them decided to spend their last day together at the Santa Monica Pier.
Much like she had for the beginning of the week, Hermione trailed after the rest without any agenda of her own. She'd come to realize she was enjoying just going with the flow, even if the trip had left her in a nearly constant state of exhaustion. The endless stash of hangover draughts and pepper-up potions they'd brought along hadn't gone unused.
The pier itself was packed with tourists, and while the three others drifted away to ride the roller coaster for the fourth time, Hermione decided to explore the end of the pier on her own.
After nearly a week of almost constant companionship, it was nice to get away on her own and breathe.
The sun was beginning to set and Hermione found herself leaning against the rail, gazing out upon the way the dropping sun lit the sky into an array of oranges and golds. It was the most peaceful she'd felt all week – and away from the bustle of people she allowed herself to release a long exhale, letting the residual tension sink from her shoulders.
Even if she had been hesitant at first, she'd enjoyed her time in California. And while she was eager to get on with her life, there was so much indecision surrounding her future that Hermione found she wasn't in a rush to deal with all of that.
There was something about the sun, surf, and sand, that had delved into the still healing cracks of her heart.
The thought of returning to London – and the anxiety that went along with all of that – had become daunting.
She didn't want to work at a shop, but she didn't know that she was quite ready to settle into the career that she would make a focus for the rest of her life. She was only nineteen – but she'd been fighting for her life for years.
Hermione had found she was glad for Daphne's invitation, even if she wasn't really the type to drink and party every night. But she'd smiled and laughed, able to push away the demands she'd been facing for the time being.
And she'd even developed a bit of a tan.
She and Daphne would return to London in two days time, and from there… Hermione wasn't quite certain anymore.
Gazing out the end of the pier at the ocean, she felt a sort of easy joy settle in her heart.
She wasn't sure the next time she would feel that way.
A slight chill lifted into the air as the sun drifted lazily lower on the horizon, and Hermione grasped her bare arms with her fingers, turning back to return to the park.
The four of them had arranged to meet for supper, and they would be looking for her.
But Hermione froze, doing a quick double-take as she walked. A man walked by in the opposite direction, and something twinged in her heart, setting it into a rapid jolt and an escalated pace.
Certain reminders of the war still hit her harder than she liked.
And the man's hair had been a particularly light shade of blond – a shade Hermione had only seen on one other before.
As soon as it had come, the moment passed. It was California, and bleach blond hair was abundant beneath the almost ubiquitous sun.
Still, the man's figure was so similar, and a shiver crept the length of her spine as she peered through the crowds, growing again as she neared the bulk of the tourists.
It was irrational – Draco Malfoy was presumed dead.
In the wake of the Battle of Hogwarts, the former Slytherin had vanished into the ether, leaving behind his name, his family, and his future. His personal bank account, according to his mother, had been emptied – but that had been more than a year ago.
No one had seen or heard from him since. According to Daphne, his classmates and friends had held onto a shred of hope that Malfoy might have turned up at Hogwarts in September to complete his NEWTs; that hope had proved futile.
Now, fourteen months after the Battle of Hogwarts, Hermione knew better than to mention his name in front of Daphne, who had taken the loss of her friend hard. The girl liked to insist Malfoy wasn't as bad as he acted. In an effort to avoid an affront to his memory, Hermione hadn't pushed.
It still didn't change the fact that he had vanished off the face of the earth without a trace.
Hermione jumped as a hand curled around her wrist, and she narrowly avoided letting out a yelp as she turned to see Daphne's wide smile. "There you are! We've been looking for you."
"Right," Hermione managed, even as she still peered over the crowds – but the man with the pale hair was nearly gone from her line of vision. His hair wasn't the same style as Malfoy had kept his anyways – it was longer and scruffier than the posh and proper heir would have worn.
Daphne snickered. "What are you looking at?"
Squinting at her friend in consideration, Hermione shook her head. Her heart hammered in her throat as she turned to look once more – but the man was gone. "Nothing." She pressed a smile into her lips. "Shall we?"
By the time they were finished eating, the darkness of the sky overhead was fuzzy with an abundance of light, and Hermione found herself wandering the length of the pier with Daphne, the edges of her mind hazy with the two drinks in which she'd indulged at dinner.
Daphne slipped her elbow through Hermione's as they walked, and pranced along the wooden planks, peering up at the night sky. She grinned, rolling her head to face Hermione. "We're going dancing for Alex and Marie's last night. Are you coming?"
For a brief moment, she debated the idea of sharing with Daphne what she thought she'd seen – but there was no sense dredging up the past.
With an apologetic smile, Hermione shook her head. "I was thinking I might stay here for a bit longer."
Clicking her tongue, Daphne released Hermione and spun into a twirl, laughing into the dark sky. "Fine. I'm not surprised – though I am surprised you went along with most everything this week."
Allowing an indulgent smile, Hermione said, "It's been more fun than I expected… just existing. Without worrying about everything."
"Told you!" Daph exclaimed with a wide grin. "It's healthy to unwind now and again, Hermione." She checked the watch at her wrist. "I'd better go – you know where to find us if you change your mind. And be safe!"
"Be safe," Hermione echoed, watching with a smile as Daphne twisted and danced away in a semi-intoxicated flutter.
Something was still niggling at the back of Hermione's brain from the encounter earlier, and as she found herself wandering the aisles of carnival games on the pier, she attempted to push the thoughts from her mind. But still, she'd survived a war relying on her instincts, and she wasn't so keen to discount them now.
Realistically, even if Draco Malfoy was still alive – which was possible, despite that no one had heard from him in over a year – he wouldn't be in California, of all places. For one, his pale skin would probably melt.
Hermione snorted at the thought as she walked, feeling the last of the buzz from her dinner drinks fading into the night. The chill was beginning to seep into her bones, and she debated returning to the villa and getting some sleep while the house was empty and quiet.
And even if it was Malfoy she had seen earlier – just to allow the thought – there was no way she would see him again, hours later.
She wished she had brought a jumper, but she wasn't keen to spend the money on one at the shops, so she turned and made her way back down the aisle towards the exit.
Stopping short, her jaw fell open and her heart slammed to life in her chest. All Hermione could hear was the roaring of her pulse in her ears as she stared until her eyes began to water and she pressed her lips into a thick swallow.
It was Draco Malfoy.
Draco bleeding Malfoy – and he was working at the Santa Monica Pier.
Someone shouldered past Hermione, startling her back to her present reality, even as her mind raced and spun so that she couldn't make sense of anything.
Crossing the midway, Hermione found herself peering at him as if he were a caged animal – and his expression looked remarkably trapped.
The rest of the people operating games and booths in the aisle were shouting to draw attention to their stall; Malfoy merely stared out at the passersby. She could see him speaking to a couple who had stopped, and watched as his lips pulled into a hint of that old smirk she remembered.
Unintentionally, she released a startled gasp.
He was alive.
Realizing she was frozen to the pavement, with no clue what to do, Hermione found herself staring from a distance. Then her feet moved her towards him as if of their own volition, while the couple carried on without spending any money.
Malfoy peered the other way as Hermione approached. His hair was longer than she remembered, swept back from his face; the curve of his jaw was scruffy with stubble, and his skin held the golden tan she'd come to associate with Californians.
Sensing her presence, he turned to speak – and froze. His eyes widened, his lips parted, and he blinked several times before slamming his mouth shut.
Hermione could only stare; her mouth felt dry. Her head dropped to the side, calculating, considering.
Malfoy rubbed at the back of his neck, his mouth twisting into a grimace.
Feeling uncomfortable with the prolonged silence, Hermione muttered, "Hello."
His lips pressed into a thin line, and he nodded. "Granger. Yeah. Hi."
It was only then that Hermione took the time to look closer at his booth, her eyes narrowing at the row of horses on what looked to be slats of wood painted like fake grass.
Shifting on the spot, Hermione nodded. "You're… alive."
"I'm alive." Malfoy stood still as a statue, and he frowned. "Just as smart as they always said you were."
Scoffing in a mixture of amusement and derision, she examined a spot on the nearest plastic seat. "You know… because everyone thinks you're dead."
Malfoy clicked his tongue. "My mother knows I'm alive."
Stunned at the flippant response, Hermione gaped at him. "And you're just… here at this carnival running this…" She waved a hand. "Horse game."
"Right." His expression darkened. "It's exactly what I always wanted to be doing. Look, Granger, are you going to spend some money or no?"
"Fine," she huffed, settling down onto the torn plastic of the stool. She peeled an American paper note from her pocket and handed it to him. "How do you play?"
Malfoy ignored her, affixing some sort of electronic headset to his head and adjusting the mouthpiece. He barked, "Oi!" at a man walking past, and the man jumped in surprise. Malfoy waved his hand, twisting it towards his booth, and fixed the man with a glare.
Looking uncomfortable, the man edged closer, slipping into a seat three down from Hermione. As he paid, he cast her a grimace, which Hermione returned.
"So," Malfoy drawled, his voice amplified, "you have to shoot this spout into the target, yeah? Winner gets a prize." He waved a hand at the display of prizes on the wall behind him with a scowl.
Hermione gave a nod, fiddling with the controls of the water spout she was meant to aim, given the way it shifted up and down. Before either of them could respond Malfoy rolled his eyes and hit a switch, initiating the game.
Caught off guard, Hermione struggled to align the water spout with the target, and watched as her opponent's horse shifted steadily towards the finish line, beating hers by nearly half.
Malfoy huffed an irritated breath and brandished a small stuffed tiger at the man, who accepted it with a quick, "Thanks," before he edged back away.
"Pitiful," Malfoy said, turning to Hermione with a lifted brow. "One would think you'd be good at these things."
"I haven't been to a carnival since I was a child," Hermione deadpanned. It occurred to her at that moment that this was one of the oddest scenarios in which she'd been involved in years – and that was saying a lot.
Not only was Malfoy alive, he was working at a carnival in the United States, conning Muggles out of their hard-earned money. And he was conversing with her as if it was nothing.
Malfoy shrugged and tossed her a stuffed green snake with a smirk. "Pity prize. Look, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone I'm here. Right. Thanks."
Appraising him, Hermione said, "Daphne would have liked to have seen you I'm sure. We're headed home in two days."
His expression tightened so quickly she might have imagined it. "You're here with Daph?"
"Yes." Her voice dropped as he stared at her, as if warring with something internal. "She only just left maybe half an hour ago."
Malfoy's lips pursed. "Don't tell Daph either. Just… don't tell anyone."
Hermione couldn't keep the questions contained anymore. "Why? Why leave London? Why are you here, of all places? Working this lousy Muggle job?"
"Mind your own, Granger," he said, his tone cold. "And unless you're going to play again, carry on. I'm not talking to you about this."
A chill gust swept through the midway and Malfoy glared at her. She rose from her seat, hands pressed into the wooden surface of the booth ahead of her. But then something broke between them, and she leaned away, stepping back.
Wrapping her arms around herself, Hermione stared at him for a long moment, clenching her snake prize in one hand. "Fine, Malfoy. I won't tell anyone. But… you should."
"No," he said, his voice low. "I'm quite fine with the way things are. And it isn't your place."
"Right," she muttered, wanting now more than ever to return to the villa. Before she walked away she turned back to him. "Malfoy?"
He rolled his eyes, his jaw clenched. "What?"
"I'm glad you're alive." She pressed her lips into a thin approximation of a smile. "You know. Compared to the alternative."
"The alternative being dead," he mocked. "Brilliant as ever."
Despite the situation, Hermione felt her lips twitch. She pointed a finger at him with the hand holding her stuffed snake. "Exactly."
Malfoy huffed, shaking his head. "Take care, Granger."
Her eyes blew wide with surprise as she nodded, stuttered a step forward, and walked away.
Just a young gun with a quick fuse
I was uptight, wanna let loose
I was dreaming of bigger things
And wanna leave my old life behind
Thunder - Imagine Dragons
Hermione spent most of the following day skirting around Daphne, Alex, and Marie, under the guise of allowing them to spend their last day together before Alex and Marie were to return to France. Her own Portkey was arranged to return the next evening.
Reasonably, she didn't owe Malfoy. If anything, she ought to tell Daphne what had happened the night before on the pier, but something stayed her tongue.
It wasn't her truth to share.
And despite that she had never connected with Malfoy on any level, if she tried to put herself in his shoes, she wouldn't have appreciated someone speaking out of turn.
But those thoughts led her to a firm belief that Malfoy should, at the very least, let his friends know he was still alive. Daphne had been devastated to think her friend and classmate was well and truly gone, and the reminder of that alone nearly drove Hermione to tell her the truth.
Still, she said nothing. When Daphne asked what was wrong, Hermione made an excuse that she was tired, even though she had been back at the villa well before the three of them.
When the others decided to go for dinner before Alex and Marie's Portkey was to activate, Hermione opted to stay home, even though realistically she had no reason not to go along.
Instead, she found herself toying with the idea of returning to the Pier. Not to see Malfoy, of course.
Although if she did see him – maybe she could persuade him to allow her to tell Daphne. It felt like a betrayal of her friend's trust to keep something of this magnitude from her.
Which brought her back to the idea that she didn't owe Malfoy anything. He had no right to ask for her silence – but she had no right to advertise his existence working at a Muggle carnival on the Santa Monica Pier.
The day before, the four of them had taken the metro line to the pier, uncertain as to whether or not there was an Apparition point. Steeling her nerves and clenching her jaw, she found herself boarding the metro shortly after everyone else had left.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Hermione was hoping Malfoy wouldn't even be working that day, because she had no reason to explain her presence.
It would be evident she was there specifically to see him, in some capacity or another. And she certainly didn't need him getting the wrong idea.
Something akin to relief leapt in Hermione's chest when there was no sign of Malfoy's platinum hair upon a cursory walk through the midway, even as it mingled with disappointment.
She had travelled to the Pier in search of him, even though she had no idea what she would say if she even saw him. Determining not to waste her evening, Hermione strolled the length of the Pier until she found herself gazing out at the ocean as the early vestiges of sunset lit up the sky.
Folding her arms on the rail, Hermione leaned forward, watching as ships danced in the distance. It was a beautiful evening, the air still and quiet around her. Only a handful of tourists milled about, and she felt remarkably alone.
After a long moment, a voice drawled to her right, "Why am I not surprised to see you here again?"
Startled from her reverie, Hermione glanced over to see Malfoy take up the spot beside her. Several long wisps of blond fell across his face, refracting the early golds of the setting sun. At first glance he looked to be taking a drag of a cigarette, but peering closer, Hermione realized it was a joint.
Stunned, she blinked at him. "Are you smoking marijuana?"
Malfoy shrugged. "I'm on break." His grey eyes caught hers for a moment, his lips twitching. He brandished the joint between long fingers. Hermione grimaced and shook her head.
With a snicker, he turned to stare out at the ocean, taking another long drag. His eyes fluttered shut before he blew out the smoke. In a low voice, he said, "So you're stalking me now."
"I'm not stalking you." Hermione folded her arms with a huff. She didn't have a better answer to offer instead, so she stayed silent, given he had approached her.
"Right." Malfoy gave a facetious nod. "Of course. You just happened to end up at my place of work two days in a row. Daph isn't here, is she?"
"No." Hermione frowned, eyes narrowing in his direction. "You told me not to tell her."
"You actually listened?" With a roll of his eyes, he took one last hit from the joint and put out the end, slipping the partial remains into a pocket in his wallet. "Colour me fucking surprised."
Hermione felt nerves stir within her and flare to life with ire. "Malfoy, what is your problem?"
"Shouldn't that be obvious?" He cocked a brow, his lips pursed. "Clearly, you're here with some agenda that you expect I'll listen to, despite that you don't care about me, and it's mutual, by the way. But yet." He waved a hand to indicate her presence. "Shouldn't you be running along to save the day somewhere?"
Turning on the spot to face him, Hermione wrapped her arms tighter around herself. "Look, Malfoy, since you left the world a year ago, there are some things you obviously don't know. For one, your friends were devastated at the thought that you'd been declared missing, and presumed dead. I don't give a rat's arse about you, but I do care about Daphne. And she deserves to know you're here."
Malfoy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'd tell Daph. But Daph would tell Pansy, and the last thing I need is for everyone to know I'm working at a bloody Muggle carnival."
"So get a new job?" Hermione asked, making a face. "Surely that can't be the biggest issue out of everything I just said."
Clicking his tongue, he turned away from her. "I need the money."
"You." Hermione scoffed. "Spoiled, rich, pureblood heir."
He snickered, his eyes flickering to hers for a moment and away. "Right, well. New York was expensive. And so is California, for that matter. Believe it or not, Granger, but I like it here. I don't want to go back to England. I have no desire to face all that bullshit anymore."
Frowning, Hermione said, "For the record, Daphne and Pansy aren't really friends anymore. Pansy didn't come back for eighth year."
"Doesn't matter," he muttered, waving a hand. "If Daph finds out, everyone will find out. Though, I am surprised to learn you and Daphne are friends. Either her judgement is failing or you've pulled the stick out of your arse."
Feeling irritation flare in her blood, Hermione scowled at him until his lips twitched with a smirk.
"I'm bloody joking, Granger. Maybe you should have taken a hit." He released a single 'ha' at his own joke, his grey eyes heavily lidded. "Look, where are you staying?"
"Daphne's family has a timeshare near Venice Beach," Hermione said carefully, unwilling to divulge too much information to him. His nose twitched but he didn't respond other than to check the watch on his wrist.
"I've got to get back. If you're sticking around, you ought to go up the ferris wheel." He swept his hair from his eyes, turning to her. "Helluva view."
Hermione blinked at him, surprised. "Thanks. I will."
Malfoy shifted on the spot, looking uncertain before his expression went stoic again. "What are you doing tomorrow?"
"Going home." She eyed him with caution, wondering at his rapid mood swings. "Why?"
He sucked his teeth for a moment. "When are you leaving?"
"Seven. Daph's leaving early in the morning, though."
Pulling his lower lip between his teeth, Malfoy rummaged in his pocket for a ballpoint pen and a scrap of paper. "Write down your address. I'll teach you something before you go back."
Her eyes widened in surprise; the Muggle writing utensil looked so out of place in his hand as he held it out to her. "You've got to be kidding. Why would you willingly want to spend any more time with me?"
With a shrug, he looked over his shoulder. "Been a while since I've seen someone from home. Hurry up. Or forget it, then."
As if that was an answer. And despite the warning bells pealing in the back of her mind, Hermione took the pen and paper, jotting down the address of the villa.
"Swanky," he muttered as he read the note before pocketing it. "I'll be there at eight. Dress for the beach."
"The beach," she deadpanned.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "The beach, Granger. Keep up." She could only gape at him as he backed away, and he exclaimed, "Ferris wheel!" before he turned and was gone down the path.
The bizarre encounter lingered in her thoughts as Hermione found herself wandering once more, eyes landing on the tall structure across the park. Releasing a tight breath, Hermione joined the queue for the ferris wheel.
When she reached the top, the last vestiges of dusk falling across the park, she had to admit Malfoy was right. The view was breathtaking, and she found herself grateful for the suggestion.
Her trip in California had taken a completely unexpected turn in the last twenty-four hours, but she would certainly return home to London with memories.
Hermione wrapped her arms around Daphne as the blonde waited for her Portkey to activate and return her home to London.
The restrictions around International Portkeys were more stringent than ever, and the Ministry closely monitored all incoming and outgoing travel. Although having their return times staggered by twelve hours seemed excessive.
"Thank you for coming, Hermione," Daphne said as she drew back, clasping Hermione's arms. "I hope you had fun."
"I truly did," Hermione said with a sad smile. "Hard to believe we're leaving so soon."
"I know." Daphne's head fell to the side. "We can come back, someday. Or go somewhere else together."
With a sharp nod, Hermione mused, "I appreciate the invitation. And the push." They both laughed, even as she couldn't quite meet Daphne's eyes.
Daphne leapt away as her Portkey began to glow blue, scrambling for her bags. "I'll talk to you soon, Hermione. Owl me when you get back!"
The girl was gone before Hermione could respond, and she whispered, "Bye, Daph," into the empty space where her friend had been. Then she slung her beaded bag around her shoulder and made for the sitting room, nerves dancing in the pit of her stomach at the thought of spending more time with Malfoy. On purpose.
She couldn't even quite wrap her head around the invitation, and she had forced herself not to think any harder than usual on her outfit of choice when she'd dressed that morning.
Not even understanding why he had invited her, or in fact, what they were doing, she found herself out of sorts while she paced the spacious room, hands clenched at her front.
Malfoy hadn't even clarified whether he would be arriving via Floo or Apparition, and so she kept half an eye on the fireplace as she watched the front walk.
Not ten minutes later, there was a sharp rap on the door. Hermione peered through the peephole and felt a jolt to see Malfoy on the front step, leaning against the wall next to the door with his arms folded and dark aviators on the bridge of his nose.
Swinging the door open, she eyed him with thinly veiled skepticism.
"You're ready. Good." Malfoy pushed off from the wall with his shoulders and strode down the steps as Hermione scrambled to lock up the villa.
Rushing after him, Hermione exclaimed, "Where are we going?"
"Told you." He adjusted his glasses. "The beach."
"But what are we doing?" Scowling at him as she was nearly forced into a jog to keep up with his long stride, she said, "The Apparition point is over there."
"I didn't Apparate." His lips twisted into a grimace as he stopped short and turned to face her. "Look, Granger, I know this is sort of your thing and all, but you don't need to ask a million questions about everything, yeah? Just… go with it."
A frown pulled at her lips as she held back a retort and resumed following him to the walk. It was only then that Hermione noticed the black Jeep Wrangler parked out front and her eyes widened as Malfoy slipped through the door on the driver's side.
Her mouth fell open as she noticed the pair of surfboards strapped to the roof. "We're going surfing?"
"Yes." His eyes tightened. "Come on. We're already late."
"I can't surf," Hermione choked, frozen to the walk. "And for that matter, you drive?"
"You think I could get by around here without driving?" he asked with a derisive snort. "And did you miss the part where I was going to teach you? Now hurry up, the breakwater gets busy as hell."
Most everything about what Malfoy just said sounded foreign coming from him, so she merely blinked and slid into the passenger's side, clenching her wand in her pocket in case he drove like he flew a broom.
But he slid the gear shifter into first and pulled out into the road in a fluid movement, his face fixed ahead on the road. Hermione frowned, eyeing him.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked. She couldn't see his eyes but imagined him rolling them.
With a shrug, he said, "I find this amusing."
"Amusing," she repeated. So many things just weren't making sense that she didn't even know where to begin.
"I told you," he huffed. "I haven't seen anyone from home in a long time. And clearly you aren't looking to murder me or you'd have done so already."
Her confusion only intensified. "Why would I want to murder you?"
"Look, Granger," he muttered as he rounded the corner. "Obviously you and I have some ugly history." He was silent for a long moment. "I've had a lot of time to think since leaving England, and I don't want that shite to follow me the rest of my life. Can you get that?"
It was the most honest thing she'd ever heard from him. And finally something she understood. She breathed, "I get that."
"So just…" He ran a hand through his pale hair. "Let me do something cool for you. Let me show you a good time before you go back home."
It made too much sense, and she felt emotion constrict her throat as she glanced sidelong at him.
"Anyways," he went on, shattering what might have been a moment. "You can't see Venice as a tourist. It isn't the same."
"Do you live here?" she asked, turning in her seat to face him.
"Santa Monica," he said, turning the wheel as they rounded another corner. "Close to the Pier. But we surf here a lot."
"We?" she asked, shrinking a bit deeper into her seat. She could only imagine the sort of people Malfoy knew here, having known his friends from school.
His friends, as she came to learn once they arrived at the breakwater, were a collection of good-natured, tanned twenty-somethings who evidently had a running joke in teasing Malfoy for his British accent.
So when he introduced her with a roll of his eyes while snagging a spare wetsuit from the box of someone's pick-up, his friends let out a hearty cheer. Some of them, she learned, had already been out surfing since sun-up, but a few had also just arrived.
"Another Brit!" a man exclaimed with a chuckle, stepping forward and offering a hand. "Mikhael."
"Yes, yes," Malfoy said, waving a dismissive hand. He threw the wetsuit at Hermione. "This should fit you."
The heavy fabric bounced off her shoulder as she took Mikhael's hand, with a crisp, "Hermione."
A stunning brunette with long, straight hair that made Hermione envious grinned. "Ignore him. But also – say knackered."
Malfoy barked a laugh as he met Hermione's stare with a hint of a smirk. "Ignore them all."
Feeling her lips twitch into a smile, she pronounced, "Knackered."
The girl clapped her hands together with an exclaimed, "Yes!" and offered her hand. "Lisa."
Shaking his head, Malfoy began to release the surfboards from the roof of his vehicle, shouldering Mikhael to give him a hand.
"Never surfed before?" Lisa asked with a sidelong glance as she approached Hermione.
She offered a grim shake of her head. "Never. He claims he's going to teach me."
"I'd pay money to see that," Lisa said with a grin. "But I don't even have to! You're going to want to put on that wetsuit. The swells are a bit chilly."
Malfoy's friends were already suited up in their gear and ready to go, so she glanced around, feeling suddenly self-conscious as she pulled her hair back into a messy knot atop her head. She had worn her two-piece suit, although now the thought of stripping down to what could essentially be underwear in front of Malfoy left her feeling unsettled.
But he wasn't paying any attention so she slipped her tank top and shorts off, tucking them into her bag. Then she attempted to pull on the wetsuit, struggling with the tight material and making her best effort at doing so gracefully.
It was more complicated than she expected, and Malfoy's eyes swept her with a smirk while she struggled with the upper half. She couldn't help but notice the way his stare lingered for just a moment, and felt a flush creep up her neck.
Thankfully Lisa stepped in and helped tug the neoprene around her shoulders, and pulled the zipper up the length of Hermione's back.
"Have fun," Lisa said, picking up a surfboard of her own. "Don't let him give you shit."
Then she and Mikhael turned to catch up with the rest, leaving Hermione alone with Malfoy, and she felt self-conscious once more. He'd donned his own wetsuit, and swept a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face as he stowed the rest of their belongings in the car.
"Right," he muttered, turning to gaze out at the ocean. "We'll start over there. Easiest place to learn."
She followed after him as he walked towards the water, feeling completely disarmed and out of her element. Not only was she facing something brand new and complex that she'd never so much as tried before, but Malfoy was the one who had decided to teach her. She could only imagine the short length of his patience if she was bollocks at it.
"Basics," he muttered, sweeping a hand through his hair again. "Never drop in – that means don't steal someone else's wave if they're taking it. Don't try to surf outside of your skill because you could fucking drown. Respect the locals, the water, the waves."
"I mean," Hermione interrupted, "I don't even know what to do yet so…"
He grimaced. "I guess you should learn to paddle first." He gestured to one of the boards. "That's a beginner board."
Taking a step towards the board, Hermione was knocked off her guard when Malfoy planted a hand to the middle of her back and shoved her forward. She stumbled, and turned on her heel, fuming. "What was that for!"
"You're goofy," he said, flashing her a smirk.
"Excuse me!" Hermione exclaimed, glaring at him as she stomped closer.
Malfoy released an indelicate snort, followed by a bark of laughter. "Relax, Granger. It means you'll stand with your right foot forward on the board."
Scowling, Hermione turned back to face the board he'd suggested. She hoisted it up lengthwise and turned to the ocean when Malfoy stopped her with a hand to her arm.
"Wait," he muttered. "Fuck. I don't know how to teach this. You'd better learn to take-off first. So that's the movement of standing up on the board from a lying position. Better to learn the action of it before you're in the water."
Her eyes narrowed. "Your decisiveness is so reassuring."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Put the board back in the sand." When she didn't move, he snickered. "Just fucking go with it, Granger."
Several hours later, Hermione collapsed on the beach, exhausted. Her arms were about ready to drop out of their joints, she felt completely waterlogged, and she was ready for a good nap.
Malfoy sat beside her, unzipping the back of his suit.
"You weren't terrible," he said.
"I didn't get up once," she deadpanned.
"Twice, actually," he corrected. "You just didn't stay up for more than a few seconds."
From her spot on the beach, Hermione could see his friends out in the distance, riding the waves like professionals. She frowned, wondering how long they'd been practicing.
"I was really hoping to manage it," she admitted.
"You can try again in a bit, if you like." After returning to the Jeep to collect their bags and a cooler, he hefted his beside him and slipped his sunglasses on. Her gaze flickered to him and it was then Hermione noticed he'd removed the top half of his wetsuit and hadn't donned a shirt.
Her mouth went dry; his pectorals and abdomen were defined, the muscles of his arms long and lean, and his tanned skin shone with residual moisture. Subtle slashes of scar tissue marred the skin every so often.
Thankfully he hadn't noticed her perusal as he opened the hard cooler, and waved a hand. "Drink?"
"Please," she muttered, grateful for anything to take the edge off her burning muscles. He handed her an aluminum can. "I don't think I have any arm strength left to try again."
"If you weren't leaving today we could work on it," he said casually, as he cracked open a beer and took a sip, his gaze fixed on his friends out on the waves.
"You aren't sick of watching me fail yet?" she asked with a snicker, following his gaze. "You can go join them. I don't mean to keep you from enjoying your day."
But Malfoy shook his head. "I surf all the time. And honestly, it took me a week to even manage an easy wave. I didn't expect you to get it today. But you'll know the basic techniques at least."
"Right," she managed. For the briefest flicker of time, she considered the fact that it might be nice to stay and try again in a day or two. But her Portkey was scheduled for seven o'clock, and she had only hours left in California. She glanced at him. "Do you have the time?"
Rummaging in his bag for a watch, Malfoy said, "Half one."
With a tight nod, she put on her own sunglasses in the brightness of the sun. "Do you have to work at the Pier tonight?"
He shook his head slowly. "Day off. We'll most likely stay here for a while. Maybe go to Santa Monica tonight or something.."
Hermione took a swig of her beer, enjoying the cold feel of it as it slid down her throat. The sun was high in the sky, and her wetsuit was drawing in more heat than she'd expected. She wanted to shrug out of it, but she'd had enough trouble getting it on dry, with help, and she wasn't keen to make a fool of herself in front of Malfoy.
She also remembered the way he'd eyed her bare stomach and she wore nothing other than a bikini top to cover her chest. A flush crept up at her neck at the thought.
"Sounds fun," she said softly, watching as a huge swell crashed down, taking a surfer with it. Hermione tensed on the sand, but Malfoy only took a sip of his beer. Moments later, the surfer popped back up.
His grey eyes cut away from the water to meet hers. "I'd say you're welcome to join us. But England calls."
"Right," she whispered. There was something wholly disassociated about the idea of returning home so soon, while she was on a beach learning to surf with Draco Malfoy.
Somehow the thought of interviewing at the shops in Diagon felt incredibly far away.
"What are you doing back there now, anyway?" he asked, his gaze again fixed ahead on the ocean. "I'm sure you have your pick of golden opportunities."
There wasn't anything snide or judgemental in his tone, and Hermione wasn't certain how to respond. After a long moment he glanced at her, and she found herself shrugging. "I haven't decided yet, to be honest."
He took another long swig of his beer and released a sharp exhale. "So why rush back?"
Hermione shrugged, leaning her hands back behind her as she set her beer in the sand. "Daphne's gone, and her friends. She basically had to drag me out here as it was."
"I see." He fell silent again, and Hermione wondered at the companionable silence between them. "Well, let me know when you need a ride back. Unless you have your stuff with you."
"I brought it," she managed, nudging the beaded bag. Malfoy's lips twitched with a smirk. "I didn't know how long we'd be today. The Portkey activates at seven."
His expression was blank, and Hermione wished she could see his stare through the glasses. Finally he spoke again. "Obviously, my friends are Muggles. You'll need to go somewhere else."
"You drive, you surf with Muggles, you work at a carnival…" She trailed off, pressing her lips together. "I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this."
"It's simple," he said, his words clipped. "I don't use magic anymore."
"Why?" she asked, the word a breath.
He glanced at her, propping his sunglasses on top of his hair. "It's too easy to track. Apparition, spellcasting. I emptied my Gringotts vault, exchanged the Galleons for Pounds, and it got me this far after leaving England. I ended up in California nine months ago and planted roots."
"And you're just going to stay here?" she asked, wondering if she was inching across some invisible line – whether he was going to lock up and push her away.
And a small part of her wondered why she cared at all.
"That's the plan," he said. "Like I said, I like it here. Do I want to run a fucking carnival game forever? Hell no. But I'll take it. No one here knows who I am, Granger, and what I've done. I'll take that any day of the week."
"I get it," she whispered, swallowing. "It's great here. I'm tempted to stay a bit longer, to be honest. "
Malfoy snorted. "So throw your bloody Portkey into the ocean."
Skeptical, she eyed him, attempting to discern whether he was being serious. For a brief moment, she wondered what would happen if a Portkey activated in the ocean. "I've got interviews lined up in the next few days, and I've already left the villa. I'd have no place to stay, and I don't have the money for a hotel."
"Just a thought." Mind churning, Hermione watched as he crunched his empty can and swapped it out for a fresh one. "We can get food if you're hungry. That lot should probably be coming off the waves soon."
She offered a slow nod. "Food sounds good." She fell silent, eyeing him for a moment. "Thanks, Malfoy. For the invitation today. I've actually had fun."
His lips tugged into a smirk. "Believe it or not, so have I, Granger. Thanks for coming along."
Hermione couldn't quite comprehend the twist in her stomach as she stared at him.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to everyone for reading! I hope you're enjoying so far, and would love to hear your thoughts!
I'm happy/terrified some of you reached out to let me know you're from this area - and I hope you'll have a little grace with me as we go along, since where I live we have snow six months of the year! I'm so excited for this story and I hope you're feeling the summer vibes!
Alpha love to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta credit to the fabulous I was BOTWP.
Waiting for a roar
Looking at the mutating skyline
The city is my church
It wraps me in the sparkling twilight
Midnight City - M83
The day rushed past, and Hermione found herself clinging to the final hours of her time in California as she picked at the last of her fish tacos and chips on the Venice boardwalk, feeling comfortably full.
Never could she have imagined she would enjoy a day with Malfoy, but there was something about the situation. His friends were so much more welcoming than she would have guessed, and Hermione found herself laughing and joining the conversation as if she'd known them all longer than a day.
She sipped on some fruity concoction in one of the restaurants on the Strand, cognizant of the fact that it was nearly seven. A few times, she'd felt Malfoy's gaze slide to land on her, and as they finished up with their meal she pulled him aside.
"Can I talk to you?" she asked, slipping her hands into the pockets of her shorts.
Everyone else was preparing to leave for the day, and from the sounds of it they had decided to go to Lisa's house to carry on with the evening.
"Yes." Malfoy swept his hair from his face, leading her to a quiet spot on the boardwalk where they could observe the sun beginning to drop over the beach. With a glance at his watch, he said, "I guess this is where we part. It was good to see you again, Granger."
"You too," she murmured. "Thank you for today."
"And you know," he continued, rolling out his neck, "if you ever want another lesson."
With an incredulous laugh, she turned to face him. "You can't be serious."
"I am." He gave a shrug. "I know it probably won't mean much now, but I regret how I acted at school. Living out here has changed my perspective on a lot of things." He pressed his lips into a thin line, looking uncomfortable. "Everything was so fucked up back home and I just… I needed to get out, you know?"
"I hear that." Releasing a tight breath, Hermione rummaged through her bag for the Portkey, setting it on the rail beside her. His gaze flickered to it. "It's still a mess, to be honest. The Ministry and everything. School was a little better, I guess because we all saw first-hand what that sort of hate does to a person."
The air between them was thick with tension, and she wasn't sure whether he even wanted to continue the conversation.
But he turned to face her, his expression hesitant. "Yeah. I get it. Living here has given me a fresh start, and I can't walk away from that. But maybe I'll reach out to a couple of people."
She heard the words he didn't ask. "I'll leave that to you, then. I won't tell anyone about any of this."
His lips twitched. "Thanks, Granger. It really is too bad you're leaving so soon. It'll be a good night – but I'll make your excuses for you."
Biting out, "Thanks," she managed an uneasy smile.
They both tensed, startled, when the Portkey began to emit a faint glow. Malfoy's eyes landed on the rusted cup but he didn't speak. Hermione swallowed, her stomach twisting into knots.
She hadn't even wanted to come to California in the first place – she had responsibilities back home. She'd arranged all those interviews, and there was Healer training, or the Gringotts internship, or maybe a job waiting for her at the Ministry…
Voice soft, Malfoy said, "Take care of yourself, Granger."
She couldn't tear her eyes from the Portkey, and jumped when he nudged her in the shoulder. Her eyes widened and swept to meet his. Mouth dry, she whispered, "Did you mean it?"
In the early hints of the darkening sky, the glow of the Portkey cast a blue tinge across his face, and Hermione's heart pulsed heavily in her chest, adrenaline racing through her veins.
Malfoy huffed, leaning back against the rail. "It's your decision, Granger. But you need to make it now."
She found herself breathing, "Do you think I should stay?"
His jaw clenched and he didn't answer.
Moments later, Hermione flinched as the Portkey dulled and whisked away without her.
Malfoy released a tight huff of a breath and said, "You should stay." His eyes lifted to meet hers and his lips tugged into a smirk. "Welcome to California, Granger."
Eyes widening as the implication settled in, Hermione turned to him with a nervous grin. "Guess I need to find somewhere to stay."
"You'll be fine." He snickered, gazing around. "Lots of homeless here in Venice."
Scowling at him, Hermione toed the ground. "I guess I'll take you up on that second lesson after all."
Malfoy barked a laugh. "Come on. We're late for the party."
Rolling her eyes, she followed him back to the Jeep, attempting to quell the nerves chasing through her stomach at the thought of exactly what she would do now.
The sun was fully down, leaving everything in a blanket of darkness, illuminated only by the roaring bonfire in front of her as her world swam in the soft haze of Malfoy's alcohol.
Lisa had a small house not too far from Venice Beach and the rest of them had all congregated around the fire.
Hermione felt adrift as she nursed her third beer from his cooler, but he hadn't said anything about it.
Now that she'd missed her way home, she didn't have any immediate plans, and while the thought was terrifying, it was also liberating. She sat quietly while he and his friends shared stories and anecdotes, a smile playing about her lips as she listened.
The following day she would have to see about finding a temporary job if she was going to spend any additional length of time in America, so she could find a place of her own to stay. She couldn't very well ask Daphne for continued use of the villa now that her friend had returned home. Hermione wasn't even certain how she was going to broach the situation with Daphne at all.
But she had determined to worry about everything tomorrow.
"Granger has unexpectedly decided to extend her stay," Malfoy was saying, and her eyes snapped to him at the mention of her. "So maybe we'll make a surfer of her yet."
Lisa grinned on Hermione's other side. "I have faith."
With a snicker, Hermione shook her head. "I'm glad someone does – right now I just feel like everything's broken."
There was an appreciative chorus of laughter and Lisa said, "Totally normal!"
"What do you think, Lis?" Malfoy asked with a smirk. "Are you looking for a new roommate?"
Hermione's eyes blew open as she stared at him, mouth hanging open at his brash ask. Then she turned to Lisa, whose brows were high in surprise. "Really, it's okay. I'll find somewhere to stay tomorrow."
But Lisa waved a hand. "It's fine. Just clean up after yourself. Help out with the rent and bills."
Swallowing, Hermione mused, "I can do that."
In the darkness, Malfoy's foot nudged hers and she scowled, returning the gesture with a kick. He gave her a slow grin, rolling his eyes. He announced, "Great."
She took another sip of her beer, feeling the drink wash over her, and settled back into her seat, until Lisa elbowed her, handing her a joint.
Blinking at the offering, Hermione pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. But Malfoy reached across, snagging the joint and taking a hit. "Granger doesn't smoke," he said after he'd blown out the smoke.
"I never said I don't," she quipped, eyes narrowing in his direction. The teasing smirk on his face felt like a challenge. "Only, it's been a couple years."
"Fine," he said, handing her back the joint.
She wasn't lying – she'd last tried the substance with her Muggle neighbours the summer before leaving on a Horcrux hunt with Harry and Ron.
The thought stirred something in her and she glanced at Malfoy before taking a quick hit from the joint, pleased with herself that she managed to avoid a coughing fit. His eyes met hers as he took it back, and he muttered, low enough so only she could hear, "Just full of fucking surprises."
Unable to quite tear her eyes from his, Hermione wasn't sure what to think of the way his words made something clench low in her belly. His gaze lingered on her for a moment longer, his expression faltering.
"The fuck, Malfoy," Mikhael called, and Malfoy flinched, realizing he still held the burning joint. He cracked a grin, took a drag, and passed it on. As a warm flush crept into her cheeks that had nothing to do with the fire, Hermione looked away and took a long swig of her beer.
When she glanced around, Lisa was staring at her with a knowing smile. Hermione offered a grimace in return.
Realistically, she'd always known Malfoy was attractive, and there was something about him now. A little rougher around the edges, less of a prat, and a bit more fascinating. She decided to chalk it up to the day they'd shared in the ocean, coupled with the few drinks she'd had.
But the teasing smirk certainly wasn't helping matters, and she couldn't help the thoughts from dancing around her brain about what it might be like to kiss him.
She shifted, uncomfortable, as she attempted to repress the consideration.
"Come on," Lisa said, rising and offering a hand to Hermione. "I'll show you your room."
"Thanks," Hermione said, grateful for the diversion. Malfoy watched for a moment before turning back to his mates.
The house was small but loaded with eclectic ornaments, brightly coloured abstract paintings, and other assorted bits of oceanic decor. It was crowded but tidy, and Hermione smiled as she looked around.
"So what's going on with you and Draco?" Lisa asked as she led Hermione through the house, and threw a smile over her shoulder.
"Nothing," Hermione rushed. "We went to school with one another, and only reconnected a few days ago. We've never gotten on even remotely before this." She hesitated, glancing at the beautiful girl. "You aren't –"
"Oh, hell no," she said with a waved hand. "He's too young for me. And too blond."
Hermione smiled. "So Mikhael, then?"
Lisa huffed a laugh, her eyes rolling. "Maybe." But then she went on. "Only a few days, and he's convinced you to stay longer? He must be magic."
Pressing her lips into a polite smile, Hermione peered into her new room. It was fully furnished and decorated much like the rest of the house, and she felt a wider smile crack her face. "It's perfect."
"Great." Lisa clapped her hands together. "We'll work out the details tomorrow."
When they emerged back into the yard, the rest were engaged in some sort of game on the lawn involving a spinning disc and Malfoy walked over as Hermione took up a spot on the deck to watch. He sat beside her, silent.
"Another drink?" he asked, his eyes swivelling to meet hers.
"I'm good," she returned with a nod. "Thanks… for your help."
His brows lifted for a moment. "It's nothing. You'll need to find a job, but I'm sure there are plenty of options around here."
Releasing a long breath, she gazed out to where Lisa joined in their game. "It's strange to think I'm just here now."
With a snort, he shook his head. "You can leave whenever you want. That's the good thing about all of this. We aren't locked into any one thing, you know? Just because you completed your NEWTs, it doesn't mean you need to work at the bloody Ministry. I can't imagine anything more boring."
"More boring than the horse race booth at the carnival?" she teased, nudging him in the shoulder.
"So much more boring," he admonished. He pushed back and left his shoulder pressed against hers. "You wouldn't believe some of the things that happen on that pier."
Hermione chuckled, feeling uncertain about his proximity but somehow unwilling to pull away. "I think I've about torn every muscle. When will you go surfing again?"
He laughed, taking a long swig of his drink. "I still feel that way some days. Usually a couple times a week. We don't often get a large group together like this. Sometimes I just go alone."
"It can be."
Turning to face him, Hermione stifled a wide yawn behind her hand. "It's been a long day. Are you going to drive home?"
Malfoy shook his head, making a face. "Too much to drink. I'll probably just crash on the couch."
"Okay," she managed, and the thought of him sleeping in the next room was unsettling as much as it put a flutter in her stomach. "I think I'll get some sleep. Thanks again, for today."
"Right." He stared at his empty can for a long moment, before turning back to her. "Sleep well, Granger."
Rising to her feet before she could do something stupid like ask him to walk inside with her, Hermione gave a little wave to Lisa and made her way into the house. It was oddly quiet, after the general hum in the yard, and she slipped into her new room, setting out a few things from her beaded bag to make herself comfortable.
After a quick trip to the loo to prepare for bed, she dropped into the sheets, falling asleep in an instant.
Hermione awoke to a muffled ringing in her ears and an unpleasant feeling in the pit of her stomach – and she wasn't certain it had anything to do with the few drinks she'd consumed the night before.
Not only had she missed her Portkey home, but she had committed to staying in California for some indeterminate length of time. She had no owl, and no way to cancel the interviews she had arranged in Diagon Alley over the next handful of days. Furthermore, she needed to find a job now in order to cover her share of expenses.
And she didn't know what sort of fallout there was from missing an International Portkey, not that it was the most pressing of her concerns.
The worst part was, she had no clue how much of it was of her own volition, and her own desires to delay the life waiting for her at home, and how much had been because she was interested in spending more time with Malfoy and his friends.
Prior to three days ago, she never would have thought twice of the blond.
Releasing a groan, she dropped her head back into the pillow, wondering if she had any vials of hangover draught left.
She would need to spend the day looking for a job – and she didn't know what cost she would be looking at for her share of the rent and expenses, but she suspected any job she could find would do for now.
Dressing quickly, and making her best effort at freshening up, Hermione emerged into the kitchen.
Lisa, Mikhael, and Malfoy were already seated at the kitchen table, drinking from mismatched coffee mugs. Rubbing at her eyes, Hermione gave a weak smile as she settled into the fourth chair.
"How is everyone doing?" she asked, peering around the quiet room. There was a general muttering of discontent. With a grimace, she rose and poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot, settling back into her seat. The coffee nearly scalded her throat but was reassuring all the same, and she joined the imposed silence as she sipped the first half of her cup.
Rubbing at the back of his neck, Malfoy handed her a copy of the local newspaper, opened to the classified ads. She dipped her head in acknowledgement and let her gaze land on the job offerings, not entirely able to look him in the eye.
A short while later, Mikhael finished his coffee and made for the door. Lisa announced she had to get ready for work and vanished into her room.
Hermione felt a blush settle into her cheeks as she became aware of Malfoy's eyes on her.
"If you find a job near the pier," he said, breaking the silence, "I can drive you."
"I'm sure I can take the metro. Or maybe I'll get a bike," she said, still skimming the job opportunities, jotting a list of businesses looking for employees. She didn't have a CV, or any Muggle job experience whatsoever, which left her options limited. Looking up, she added, "But I appreciate the offer."
Malfoy shrugged. "Obviously, I can't all the time anyways. Do you know how to drive?"
"Sort of," she murmured, feeling the flush intensify. "But I never had a chance to get my license."
That Malfoy of all people knew more about something intrinsically Muggle than she did, felt unsettling.
His lips twitched, as if the same thought had registered with him. "I have to work at three today. I can drive you somewhere if you want before then."
"It looks like there are a few options on the pier and along the Santa Monica boardwalk," she announced, folding the paper, and tucking her list into her pocket. "I don't have a CV, so I'll just visit these places."
"Fine." He finished his coffee, leaving the empty cup in the sink. "I'll pick you up at half two."
Uncertain how much of the camaraderie between them the night before had been used up, and how much had been a result of alcohol, she merely nodded. "Thanks, Malfoy."
With a sharp returning nod, he turned and walked out, leaving Hermione alone in the kitchen.
Several hours later, Hermione wandered the pier, lingering down at the end so she could watch the waves crash and break as they rolled in.
She had been offered a part-time job at a souvenir shop in the park, and tried to rationalize that it wasn't that much worse than working in one of the shops on Diagon. In fact, it was most assuredly better than working somewhere like Eeylops, where she would spend half her day cleaning up owl pellets.
The games area was quiet when she made her way back to the park, and she found Malfoy's booth void of visitors. He was leaning against the wall, headset around his neck, and his eyes closed.
"Sleeping on the job?" she asked, and Malfoy jolted, eyes flying open in surprise.
"I wish," he grumbled, rubbing at his face. "Three more hours still, and I'm ready for a fucking nap."
A group of teenagers approached and he huffed, arranging the headset on his head as he hollered at them how to play. With a smile, Hermione selected one of the polyester stools and joined in, offering him a paper note.
Malfoy's lips lifted into a smirk as he looked at her; Hermione rolled out her shoulders, preparing herself. She wasn't willing to do so poorly as she did the last time.
In the end, one of the boys narrowly beat Hermione's horse to the finish, and Malfoy clicked his tongue as he handed the boy a prize and suggested they play again. He shrugged, unconcerned, when they carried on.
"Did you find a job?" he asked, turning back to Hermione.
"I did." She made a face. "In the souvenir shop. It'll do for now."
Malfoy stared at her for a long moment before he nodded. "Lisa's nice. I think you'll get along, or I wouldn't have suggested it."
Hermione twisted on her stool and folded her legs beneath her so she could gaze out. "I appreciate it. I guess I'm still trying to wrap my head around all this."
Leaning against the wall again, he hummed. "Sometimes we're never ready for the turns our lives take, but we make the jump anyway."
"Insightful," she mused, her lips curling up. "When I think about it, the thought of starting into a career so soon left me feeling paralyzed every time. I have all these job offers in my trunk, but this is what I feel like I should be doing right now."
Snickering, Malfoy adjusted his headset once more as a couple wandered to the stall. He muttered, "Haven't I told you, Granger? Just go with it."
As she spun on the stool, preparing to jump into another round, she felt her lips quirk into a smile.
Author's Note: Thank you all SO MUCH for reading this little story (that has turned out to be not so little). Your comments all make me smile. I hope you enjoyed this one - let me know what you think!
Alpha credit to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta hearts to I was BOTWP!
And all the ways, I got to know
Your pretty face and electric soul
Young and Beautiful - Lana Del Rey
Peering through the window, Hermione found herself wishing she was outside – or more accurately, anywhere but working in the small shop filled with racks of brightly coloured t-shirts, keychains, mugs, and other assorted bits of overpriced advertising.
Mostly, she wished she wasn't wearing her scratchy red uniform polo.
Maybe staying in California had been a mistake after all. She hadn't imagined her job to be so boring. Surely full O's across the board in her NEWTs merited better than this. At least something less mindless.
"Some help here?" a voice drawled, and she spun on the spot, eyes wide. She could feel a flush creeping up her neck as she took in Malfoy, leaning against the front counter, his eyes on her. His lips twitched when she rolled her eyes. "How have your first few days gone?"
"Fine." Hermione twisted her mouth to the side, keeping an eye out for her supervisor, a man in his late twenties with a thick beard and a superiority complex. "Boring, to be honest."
Malfoy's eyes swept the merchandise she was peddling in poor conscience with a hint of disdain pulling his mouth. "I can imagine." Then he took a step closer, folding his arms. "We're going to the beach tomorrow – do you have to work?"
"No," she said, adding under her breath, "thank Merlin."
Surreptitiously, she took in Malfoy's appearance. His headset was wrapped around his neck as usual, and he wore a black t-shirt and light jeans. Swallowing, she forced herself to look away from the way the sleeves of his shirt hugged the lean muscles of his arms.
"Great," he quipped. "I'll give you another lesson."
Hermione brightened for what felt like the first time all day. "That would be excellent."
"I'll pick you up at seven-thirty?" His brows were high on his forehead. "I'd say just go with Lisa but she'll probably be with Mikhael."
With a hesitant nod, she glanced around the shop once more to be sure her inattentiveness wasn't being noted. "Right. Are they –" She waved a hand.
Malfoy snorted. "Sleeping together? They don't really talk about it, but yes. Everyone knows anyways."
Cheeks warm, Hermione instantly wished she hadn't brought up the topic. She wondered exactly how she and Malfoy had reached the point where sex was a point of casual conversation. She muttered, "Of course."
"So, you know…" His lips pulled into a slow smirk. "You might not want to forget how to cast a Silencing Charm."
She choked on her own saliva, and he released a bark of laughter. Shaking his head, he stepped away, flicking through a rack of tie-dye shirts plastered with a large emblem of the park. Holding one up in front of his chest, he quirked a questioning brow.
"Definitely." Hermione gave him a nod, a smile teasing her lips. "Rainbow is your colour."
With a grin, he replaced the shirt on the rack, just as Hermione's supervisor returned from the back room. Malfoy gave the man a cool assessment, the skin around his eyes tightening, before offering a cursory nod to the man and a muttered, "Tomorrow," to her.
Quietly, she returned, "See you then."
Malfoy stared at her a moment longer as he backed towards the entrance, a secretive smile on his lips. Then he said, "Nice fucking polo, by the way."
He ducked out before she could fire a retort.
Excitement swept through Hermione when Malfoy's Jeep pulled up out front of the house the following morning at twenty past seven. She had almost convinced herself she was looking forward to improving at surfing – but when he stepped out of the vehicle, hair swept back and dark sunglasses on, the fluttering in her stomach suggested otherwise.
Despite everything else, he was still Malfoy – and whether he was attractive or not, she had no right to be thinking these sorts of thoughts. He arranged her things into the backseat before jumping back in, and frowning, she slipped into the passenger side with a quick, "Hello."
He considered her over the top of his glasses for a long moment, his expression stoic and unreadable, before pulling out into the road, gaze fixed on the traffic ahead of him without a word.
As they were nearing the beach, Malfoy finally spoke. "Mikhael can't make it until later, so Lisa decided not to come either, since I'm still teaching you."
"Oh." Feeling awkward, Hermione pressed her lips into a grimace. "You can go with her, if you prefer."
He gave a casual shrug. "I already made plans with you."
There was something in his tone that filled her with heat and she nodded, attempting to ignore the feeling. His friends felt like a buffer of sorts, but now knowing it would be just the two of them, she felt a tingle of nerves in her chest.
"Besides." His mouth pulled into a smirk as his gaze landed on her for a brief moment. "It's so much fun watching you fall again and again."
Eyes narrowed, Hermione scowled at him, but his words were teasing and she felt the ire deflate almost instantly, to be replaced once more with a hesitancy to spend the day with Malfoy alone.
Which was ironic, because she had originally been expecting that exact scenario when he had first invited her to the beach.
"What?" Malfoy's cold drawl pulled her back to the present; he parked the car at the beach, and turned to stare at her. "You look like I've just killed your great beast of a cat." Then he hesitated, jaw clenching. "What ever happened to that cat, anyways?"
Surprised, Hermione blinked at him. "He went to stay with the neighbours across the street when I left with Harry and Ron. How did you even know about my cat?"
Rolling his eyes, Malfoy let himself out of the vehicle and began untying the surfboards. "Who didn't know about that cat? Honestly, Granger, your presence at Hogwarts was a little difficult to miss."
Hermione sniggered. "Says you, the most conceited, self-absorbed boy in school."
He fixed her with a long stare, the skin around his eyes tight; she wondered whether she had struck a nerve. But he rolled out his shoulders, and said, "We all had to grow up, didn't we? Come on, give me a hand with this."
Quietly, she murmured, "I suppose we did." His grey eyes met hers for a moment before she looked away, hauling the top board free.
The wetsuit she had borrowed the time before was folded carefully in the back of his Jeep, and Hermione pulled it out. "Whose is this, anyway?"
His eyes widened as he shook his head in a facetious sort of way. "Mikhael's ex-girlfriend. We don't mention her."
Chuckling, she said, "Noted." Without thinking, Hermione stepped out of her shorts, and tugged her top over her head, leaving her in just her swimsuit; it wasn't until she was partially into the wetsuit that she noticed Malfoy standing awkwardly beside the Jeep, his gaze lingering halfway on her, before he turned away.
Feeling a flush creep into her cheeks, Hermione wrung her hands as his throat bobbed and he started fidgeting with his own suit. She couldn't keep her gaze from sweeping the smooth muscle of his back, eyes tightening at the slashing scar tissue visible.
But he zipped himself up before she could look any closer, and his eyes flashed as he turned back to face her, where she was still shifting and tugging at the tight material. His lips drew up into a slow smirk as he stowed their bags in the car. "Do you need a hand?"
"No." Her voice came out oddly high-pitched as she managed to get herself into the suit, reaching back for the zipper pull. Her flush darkened as she wound up flailing a hand behind her for the pull, unable to find it.
"Fuck, Granger," he barked a laugh, sweeping his hair out of his face. "You're going to break something."
He walked around her, and Hermione was hyper-aware of his presence; she could feel the heat emanating from his body as he swatted her hand out of the way and pulled the closure shut. She thought his fingers hesitated against the back of her neck for a moment, but then he swept away, slinging his surfboard up to his side and making for the beach without her.
Unsettled by his abrupt departure, Hermione collected her board and chased after him.
"So," Malfoy prompted, sweeping his wet fringe back, "as you improve, you're going to get better at reading the surf, how and where the waves break, and when to paddle out. Make sense?"
Processing his words, Hermione gave a stuttering nod. "Got it."
He'd been giving her a more technical lesson than the last time, and Hermione found her brain spinning as she attempted to comprehend all of the small nuances he'd been explaining.
Her eyes kept drifting further out towards the fishing pier, where surfers caught and rode massive waves with practiced ease.
"And this is important –" her eyes snapped back to meet his narrowed grey ones "– stop bloody watching everyone else. You don't know how long most of them have been surfing. This is your second time, stop comparing."
Feeling chastised, Hermione nodded again, panting slightly as she tread water, holding tight to her board. But she couldn't stop herself from asking, "Can you do that?"
His eyes flickered out. "Yes."
"How long did it take?"
"Months." He shrugged. "This isn't an easy sport, Granger. Swells are powerful, and they can be unpredictable. A nasty wave can take down even the most experienced, careful rider. Which is why we're learning all this. Yeah?"
"Yeah," she muttered, refocusing. "It makes sense."
He nodded out into the incoming waves. "I want you to try and catch one of those green reforms coming in."
Swallowing the lump of nerves in her throat, Hermione gave a nod.
"And just remember everything you've learned." His expression tightened for a moment. "I'll keep close by in case anything happens."
Running through her mental list, Hermione clambered atop her surfboard, preparing herself to begin an approach into the waves. Malfoy gave her a thumbs up with a hint of a smirk when she looked back at him, and feeling a smile of her own pull at her mouth, she began to paddle out.
It went about as well as most of her attempts had gone – and Hermione felt herself pulled beneath the waves as the swell toppled across her. Choking on a large mouthful of seawater, she struggled with a shortage of breath as she fought to break the surface.
Panic swept through her when she realized she was deeper down than she'd expected, and she reached out, her eyes blurry and stinging as she focused on the bright spot of sunlight above her.
An arm belted around her waist from behind, and Hermione felt herself yanked from beneath the waves. Coughing out water from her lungs, she swiped at her eyes, gasping desperately for breath as her board floated up, still attached to her by its leash.
Drifting alongside his own board, Malfoy eyed her, his expression hesitant, shoulders tense. His hands lingered on her arms before he released her. "You're okay."
She wasn't certain whether he was telling her or asking, but she managed a rough nod, eyes watering from a combination of saltwater and fear-induced adrenaline.
Sweeping his eyes over her face, Malfoy assessed her with a blank expression. "Do you want to take a break?"
Considering the thought for a moment, Hermione shook her head. "No. I want to figure this out."
"Atta girl," he muttered, a glint in his eye that set her heart racing.
It took more attempts than she could recall, but Hermione knew she would never forget the moment it happened. Reading the waves as they broke, she began to paddle out, gaze fixed ahead of her.
Then at the moment he'd taught her, Hermione lifted into her take-off, feeling anticipation mingle with nerves when she realized she was still standing, chasing down the green swell – and when she emerged on the other side, something leapt in her chest she had never expected.
And the slow, crooked grin that spread across Malfoy's face as he watched her – that was something she hadn't expected either.
She paddled back over, elation flowing through her, a smile wide on her face as she squinted at him in the brightness of the sun.
"Very good, Granger," he said, his grin softening into a teasing smirk. He nudged her in the side. "Now just do that – again."
By the time Hermione dragged herself out of the ocean, every muscle in her body felt as if it had wilted, and all she wanted to do was collapse into the sand and burrow deep, ignoring the legions of sand grains that clung to her wetsuit.
A few minutes later, Malfoy dropped down beside her with their things, slipping his dark aviators from his bag and releasing the zip on his suit. She was too tired to feel embarrassed as he shrugged his shoulders free, dragging the wet material down to his waist and she merely rolled over, staring up at the brightness of the sky.
"You did well today, Granger." His gaze flickered to her. "Better than I was expecting."
"Thanks," she puffed out on a breath. Her head rolled to face him. "You don't need to stay with me, if you'd rather actually surf. I'm sure it's frustrating for you to watch me struggle all day."
Making a face, he merely gazed out at the waves, and she thought he was going to grab his board and head back out. But then he shrugged. "Are you hungry?"
Sitting back up in the sand, she replied, "Famished."
Turning away as she peeled herself out of her suit, Hermione felt a flush creep up her neck as she avoided looking his way until they'd towelled off and dressed. As they packed up the boards on top of his vehicle, Hermione asked, "Who taught you? To surf, that is."
"Mikhael," he responded, his expression partially obscured by the dark glasses he wore. "He works at the pier, too. That's where he and I met. He runs the ferris wheel." An absent smile drifted to his face, and Hermione was struck by the way it made him look. "To be honest, he thought it was mad I didn't know how to drive, but he taught me that too."
She gaped at him for a while as he secured the boards, before turning back to her. "So I met him the second time I was at the pier? I didn't remember."
"Must have done." With a shrug, he locked the vehicle and made for the lengthy boardwalk of shops and restaurants that ran along Venice Beach. "But anyways – he's the one that introduced me to surfing, and to everyone else."
"Interesting," she mused, falling into step.
There was something both intriguing and frightening about the way she and Malfoy had slipped into a sort of rhythm in their interactions with one another – and Hermione wondered whether such a thing ever would have happened in England.
But she had been given the impression he wasn't keen to talk about much from home, and hadn't broached the subject. After all, she'd be heading back for healer training or the curse-breaking internship come the end of August, and presumably that would be the end of their newfound almost-friendship.
So there wasn't much sense in pushing any of that.
And given the way she'd been reacting to him physically, it was probably for the best.
She started in surprise as Malfoy flicked her sharply on the side of the temple with his forefinger.
"Hey," she exclaimed, rubbing at the spot with a scowl. She smacked his hand away, ignoring the amused look on his face.
"Back to the present, Granger, if you will," he quipped.
With a huff, Hermione folded her arms. But she could see, in her periphery, his grey eyes on her and she found herself unable to stay annoyed with him. Dropping her shoulder, she shoved into him, pushing him sideways from the walk.
Then carried on, smiling, as Malfoy strung a trail of curses, indignant.
The last hints of dusk hovered in the air as they paced the boardwalk once more, and Hermione glanced over as Malfoy lit up a partial joint, taking a long hit.
Head falling to the side, contemplative, she watched as he blew out the smoke.
"It surprises me," she began, "that you smoke pot. You've always been so proper."
He snorted, taking another quick drag and brandishing the roll. After a moment's consideration, she accepted the offering, her fingers brushing his.
"Look where proper got me, yeah?" he muttered, shaking his head. "A lifetime of expectations, and always blindly following what people told me to do? Nearly got me bloody killed, didn't it?"
Her eyes met his for a second before she took a drag, feeling the sharp acridity of the smoke fill her lungs and she released a cough, handing back the joint as she lifted her other hand to her mouth. Malfoy snickered.
"I hear you, but it feels different," Hermione mused, in control of herself once more. "I mean, it has no bearing on your life in that capacity."
Malfoy waved the hand holding the joint, a wispy trail of smoke following it in the darkening sky. "Look around you. You're on fucking Venice Beach. When in Rome, Granger."
With a laugh, she conceded, "Fair enough."
"I don't know," he went on, his eyes fluttering shut as he sighed heavily. "Maybe I was tired of expectations. Maybe I like the way it makes me feel. Maybe I just want to live my life on my own terms, for once."
His words resonated deeper than Hermione expected as she accepted the joint, taking an easier drag than the last.
He eyed her. "Why are you smoking with me? You and I both know you aren't the type. Weren't the type."
With a shrug, her lips twisted to the side. "Maybe I get it. Everything you just said."
Malfoy drawled, "I guess you would." He waved a hand again. "But don't try this on Santa Monica beach. Things are more lax in Venice."
Hermione fell silent as they walked, feeling a warmth sweep through her veins, and she found herself giggling as she glanced sidelong at him. His blond fringe hung in his eyes, grey stare lidded as he cocked a brow at her.
"What?" he murmured, a smirk playing at his lips as he put out what remained of the joint and tucked the roach back in his wallet.
Smiling, she peered up at the night sky. "This feels weird. You and I, here. It doesn't really make sense."
"So fucking weird," he agreed, and Hermione laughed again, the sound bright between them. He chuckled as well, his arm brushing against hers as they walked. "But it's fine. Something about it – it's fine."
She turned to face him, flashing a hesitant smile. "Yeah, it's fine."
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! I hope you're continuing to enjoy this little story - let me know what you thought of the chapter! Since a couple of people have asked, I currently have 15 chapters written, with the expectation this story will land around 17-19!
Thanks to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347 for alpha-reading, and to I was BOTWP for beta-reading.
She's something mystical in colored lights
So far from typical, but take my advice
Before you play with fire, do think twice
And if you get burned, don't be surprised
Sugar - Robin Schulz
Wrenching her scratchy red polo over her head, leaving her in just a tank top, Hermione released a long sigh, rolling out her neck.
Two glorious days off. Her job wasn't particularly arduous – it didn't require any significant level of intellect and Hermione was bored beyond belief.
Roger, her supervisor, somehow managed to be both pretentious and unassuming, and had a tendency to explain the most menial of tasks to her as if she were slow, which left her wringing her hands more often than not.
Repeatedly, she reminded herself that it was only for the summer, and then she'd be returning to England to get started with a real job in a magical field. At which point she might long to return to something simpler.
And it was convenient to work at the Pier, given Malfoy was often able to drive her if they worked the same shift.
Despite the mindless nature of her work days, she was looking forward to having two consecutive days off.
She'd made plans to go out with Lisa the following night, and in her understanding, Mikhael and Malfoy would be coming along, as well as some others. Hermione couldn't quite deny the butterflies that leapt in her stomach at the thought of that.
They had only seen one another when he was able to drive her to work since the day they'd spent at Venice Beach together, when she'd managed to surf a few passable waves. And she could confess, if only to herself, that she was beginning to enjoy his company.
Which was a most preposterous thought in itself – or it would have been, a month ago.
Hermione hadn't delved into his experiences during the war, or since, but whatever had happened had shifted him into a person who she didn't quite know anymore – but wanted to.
Tucking her polo into her beaded bag with a furtive glance to be sure Roger wasn't watching, Hermione checked out on the timesheet and made for the metro station that would take her home.
Stopping short in surprise as she hit the parking lot, she noticed a black Jeep with a blond driver.
"Get in," he muttered, tilting his sunglasses down to peer at her. "We're doing something."
Feeling a shake of trepidation, Hermione slipped into the passenger's side, a smile pulling at her lips. "And what's the something?"
Malfoy ripped out of the parking stall with a smirk. "You'll see."
On a random street in a quiet part of town with which Hermione wasn't familiar, he pulled over, his dark glasses obscuring his expression as she eyed him with caution. Without a word, he exited the vehicle and came around to Hermione's side, lifting a haughty brow.
Huffing, Hermione folded her arms. "Not unless you tell me what we're doing."
Malfoy gave an exaggerated scoff. "Swot. I'm teaching you to drive."
"I know how to drive." Eyes narrowed, she glared at him. "And why are you doing this?"
"I'm feeling particularly charitable," he said, lips twitching and mischief in his eyes. "And number one – you don't have your license, so it doesn't matter if you know how." Before Hermione could ask about the legitimacy of his identification, he added, "And unless you're interested in going to New York, I can't help you secure a fake. You probably don't want to ask too many questions about how I managed to set up my identity stateside – the less you know, the better."
Wide-eyed, she gaped at him, but he went on. "Two – have you ever driven on the right side of the road?"
"No," Hermione allowed, tilting her head, and deciding to let the legality of his identity go. The idea had merit – and if she had her license she wouldn't need to rely on Malfoy, Lisa, or the metro to get her everywhere. She wasn't even sure if she had the proper specifications to get a license in America, but it likely wasn't worth arguing the case when her time there was finite to begin with. "Fine. I'll allow it."
"But," he carried on, "obviously my car has a manual transmission."
The image of Malfoy lecturing her about vehicle transmissions was one she never thought she'd see, and Hermione found herself gaping at him as she slouched in her seat. His words didn't even register for a prolonged moment until she glanced at the shifter, feeling a dull heat in her cheeks.
"I don't know how to use a manual transmission."
Malfoy pressed his lips into a forced smile. "Exactly as I feared."
Tapping her fingers on the dash, Hermione conceded. "Fine. But you can't blame me if I crash your car."
"If you cause any damage, you'll learn the spell to reverse it," he posed, cocking a brow.
Hermione nodded. "That's fair." She released the clip on her seatbelt and circled the vehicle, slipping into the driver's seat. His legs were significantly longer than her own, so she had to shift the seat forward; Malfoy folded his hands in his lap, staring blankly at the roof while he waited.
"Right foot manages the gas and brake, left foot to the clutch." Peering beneath the dash as she toyed with the pedals, he nodded. "The vehicle won't shift unless your foot is on the clutch."
He looked wholly unimpressed – despite that it was his idea – as he turned in his seat to face her, dropping a hand on the shifter. "This is neutral. Brake and clutch, Granger. This is first."
She scrambled to keep up with his instruction, noting he was about as terrible as a driving instructor as he had been at the beginning of their first surfing lesson. His demonstration with the gear shifter didn't register as she stared; it looked as if his hand was in the same place and he huffed a breath, moving the shifter back into the middle.
"You try it." His gaze was insistent on her as she stamped both feet into the pedals, fidgeting with the shifter. "To the left and forward."
Making a face, Hermione pulled at the shifter, rubbing the back of her neck with her free hand. Embarrassment and shame crept through her, again making her feel poorly that Malfoy knew so much more about something Muggle than she did. But a handful of lessons with her father years ago didn't stand up to his months of experience.
Scowling, Malfoy dropped a hand on top of hers, maneuvering her hand to the left and forward. His eyes met hers, and her stomach twisted into a tight ball. "First. Do you feel that?"
"Yes," she breathed, her mouth suddenly dry. "I feel it."
His expression faltered, then softened, and his hand flexed around her smaller one, loosening as he eased her hand back away from the dash. "Second."
"Second," she repeated in a whisper, wondering if he could hear the way her heart was racing.
His hand dragged hers forward again, through neutral and ahead. "Third." He guided her through fourth and fifth before maneuvering her hand into reverse with a brief explanation. Scratching the back of his head, he looked away. "You'll always start in first, or you'll stall the transmission. Keep watch of your RPMs for when you need to shift – but you'll feel it too."
Nodding, Hermione moved the gear shifter back into first when he extracted his hand from atop hers and he pressed his mouth into a thin line. "Fine. Now, left foot stays on the clutch. Right foot to the gas – and you'll ease off the clutch as you ease onto the gas."
Making her best efforts at his instruction, she abruptly stalled the vehicle. Malfoy's lips twitched and she felt her flush deepening.
She wished she knew how to do something he didn't, so she could force him into feeling this same way. He settled back into his seat, noisily opening a packet of crisps. When she scowled at him, he feigned an innocent look. "What? We could be at this a while."
Several hours later, Hermione was quite certain she had some form of minor whiplash from the number of times she had stalled Malfoy's Jeep. But after a while she began to get the hang of it, and she'd crept through quiet back streets at a slow pace, cautiously adjusting to the feel of shifting and pulling off the clutch.
Slowly, she began making her way home. Her stomach was rumbling up a storm and she felt a great desire to eat.
"Good," Malfoy murmured, tapping an anxious rhythm on the dash. "Now you won't feel comfortable driving in England anymore."
"Right," she mused, eyes flickering to him. The vehicle jolted sharply as she shifted gears, and Hermione pulled her lower lip between her teeth. "Thanks for the lesson."
Clicking his tongue, he shifted in his seat. "You're welcome. A couple more goes at it and you might be able to pass the exam."
"It's a fascinating thought." Peering at him, she attempted to figure out his angle. "When given the fact that I'll be headed back home soon."
His tone was neutral as he asked, "And when are you planning on doing that?"
Easing into a parking spot outside of Lisa's house, Hermione put the Jeep into neutral and turned to face him as he yanked up on the parking brake. "Before September, I imagine. I have a few potential options that start in September."
Humming, Malfoy dropped his head back against the headrest on his seat. "Doesn't surprise me. What are you going to be doing?"
"Healing, or maybe Curse-breaking," she said, aware they were treading cautious waters. "I haven't quite decided yet."
"Curse-breaking sounds interesting," Malfoy drawled, his gaze fixed firmly on the dash. "I would have been interested in something like that. Before."
Swallowing her nerves and indecision, Hermione breathed, "You still could."
With a derisive snort, he shook his head, dragging a hand down his face. "I couldn't. There's no way I can ever go back to England. And I never took my NEWTs, so no one in their right mind would hire me. Even if the former Death Eater title wasn't repulsive enough."
Her eyes widened in surprise as she blinked at him, unable to find the words with which to respond.
Malfoy snickered, his brows knitting. "No. All of that is out of the cards for me. I have no intention of going to Azkaban. No magic usage, no prodigal return home. But this feels like home now at least."
Frowning, Hermione stared at him. "Why do you think you'd go to Azkaban?"
Sweeping his hair from his face, he turned to look out the window. The sun was dropping, casting the street into an array of gold and shadow. "Maybe you didn't notice, Granger, but I fled a war. I ignored my trial summons – all three of them. Bloody Ministry birds tracked me down while I was still on the move. I can only imagine I'll be arrested the moment I land back in England, and charged with an extensive litany of my foul misdeeds."
He barked a laugh, as if he'd told a joke, but Hermione felt her insides twist up and freeze. "So that's why you won't go back home?"
"Yes." His nose wrinkled. "And I know you've been dying to ask this whole time – so now you know. This is it for me. But there are certainly worse places in this bloody world."
Something akin to sympathy, or maybe pity, tugged at her chest and she opened her mouth to speak, but forced her lips shut. Malfoy's face rolled towards her again, and he scoffed.
"Don't look at me like that. I made my fucking bed, Granger." Lips pursed, he shook his head slowly. "I made a lot of poor choices, because I didn't think I had any options. Turns out, I just wasn't willing to open my eyes."
She didn't know everything he'd been faced with during the war, but something about his words didn't quite ring true. Her voice was soft. "I don't get the impression any of the decisions you made were easy ones."
His grey eyes flashed with something she couldn't place, and Hermione found herself lost in his stare, her own gaze stinging. But then he frowned, and huffed, and clapped his hands to the dash.
"Are you eating?" He raised an innocent brow, and Hermione, heart mourning the lost potential of a true moment between them, forced a smile.
"Yes, come along. You've put your life in my hands, after all."
He cracked a slow, lopsided grin.
Shaking her head, Hermione exited the vehicle, leading him into the house.
Hermione would have been lying if she claimed she didn't spend extra time on her appearance the next day, knowing Malfoy would be meeting up with them that night.
And after shifting through her meagre clothing supply, having only originally packed for a week, Hermione was met with Lisa's pity when the girl announced they were going shopping.
In her best jeans and a new top, coupled with a pair of Lisa's heels – secretly imbued with a cushioning charm – and some borrowed jewellery, Hermione was torn between an apprehensive trepidation and eager anticipation. She had applied some blush and mascara – and a thin line of kohl at Lisa's insistence – and fixed her hair the best she could manage.
Before they'd left the house, Lisa had glanced at her with a knowing smile, and quipped, "He'll be all over you."
A hot flush had flared to life in her cheeks and down her neck, because Hermione wasn't certain that was what she even wanted.
But she couldn't quite deny the fascination for Malfoy that had been manifesting somewhere deep within her since she had first seen him working on the pier.
Even with all of her deeply-rooted nerves, Hermione found herself sipping a cocktail for liquid courage once she and Lisa arrived at a club in Santa Monica, and joined up with a few of the people Hermione had met the first day on the beach.
She hadn't seen any hint of either Malfoy or Mikhael, and it took everything she had to keep herself present in the conversation going on around them. Lisa didn't appear overly bothered that Mikhael hadn't shown up – despite that Malfoy claimed they were sleeping together – and Hermione did her best to follow her new roommate's lead.
It wasn't as if there was anything between her and Malfoy, so it shouldn't matter to her whether or not he came out.
And in fact, if he didn't show up, all the better, because she could simply have fun with the others and meet some new people. Tossing back a thick swallow of her drink, Hermione gave herself a sharp nod as she poured all her conscious efforts into focusing on what Lisa was saying.
When Malfoy slipped into the upholstered booth next to her, she was laughing at a joke, and didn't even notice him right away. A frisson of pride straightened her spine.
But his pale eyes flickered and shone in the black lights of the club, and his lips twitched with a smirk as he looked at her and muttered a hello.
Sipping her drink, she returned the greeting with a nod.
Allowing her gaze to land on him for a brief moment, it occurred to Hermione that liquid courage was not what she had needed, because her heart leapt into overdrive as her stomach twisted into anxious knots.
He wore a dark button down, the sleeves rolled to the middle of his forearms, and a pair of dark jeans. His hair was styled nicely, swept back from his face, and his jaw clean shaven. Having grown used to seeing him with stubble, Hermione realized he looked much more like the Draco Malfoy she knew from school, and instead of leaving her perturbed, she felt fascinated.
He looked younger – but different.
Sipping from a dark beverage, he slipped seamlessly into the conversation, muttering a witty quip that set the rest of the group off.
The seat he'd claimed was so close to her own that if Hermione shifted, her thigh might have pressed against his, and the thought caused a hot flush to shoot across her skin that had nothing to do with the warmth in the club.
Grey eyes slid to meet hers, and a slow smile tugged at his mouth. "You look nice."
Pressing her lips together, Hermione gave a short nod. "Thanks. And you."
He gave a nonchalant shrug, and Hermione scoffed, rolling her eyes as his grin widened; he nodded at her outfit. "Much better than the carnival polo."
Her eyes tightened. "You know I hate that bloody polo."
"I would too." He made a show of cringing. "It's about the cheapest grade of synthetic fabric I've ever seen."
The words reminded her of the haughty countenance he'd carried as a youth at Hogwarts. Opening her mouth to retort, Hermione froze when he turned halfway towards her, propping an arm up on the back of the bench near her shoulder. He raised his drink, his expression sobering. "To doing what you have to do."
A tiny smile pulled at her lips as Hermione clinked her partial glass against his. "To just going with it."
Malfoy barked a laugh, keeping his glass pressed against hers for a delayed moment. "Just fucking going with it. Right."
He tossed back a swig of his drink, and Hermione took a pull of her own, her gaze falling on his. He confessed after a moment, "This sort of thing isn't really my scene. Not anymore, anyways. Too many people, too much noise."
"Neither, if I'm honest." Her heart thudded in her chest as she stared at him; her tongue flicked out to moisten her lips and she thought his eyes darted from hers for a brief instant. "I don't usually drink very much."
Murmuring in a low voice, he said, "We can be uncomfortable together."
Hermione wasn't sure she didn't like the sound of that.
Several hours later, Hermione was a few drinks in, and she found herself dancing with Lisa, the pair of them twirling and spinning with abandon.
She was quite certain Lisa was drunk, and her own brain felt a little fuzzy, but she had already decided days earlier she was going to let loose and have a little fun. It would only be a month or so until she would return to England and face everything back home.
And maybe Malfoy had the right idea – in going elsewhere. There was a genuine type of carefree energy here, and Hermione released a bright laugh as Lisa twisted and stumbled into her.
A heavy beat permeated the air, quaking into Hermione's spine, and neon lights flashed and danced to the rhythm. Her eyes fell shut as she allowed herself to simply be, enjoying herself with a new friend.
When Hermione took a break for a drink of water, leaving Lisa dancing aimlessly on her own, she spotted Malfoy and Mikhael in conversation near the dance floor. She sidled up with her glass of water, a little unsteady on her feet as she leered at Malfoy.
"Having fun?" he asked, turning to face her. His hair was a bit scruffier than it had been earlier, and the way he clutched his drink suggested he'd had a few.
"Yes," Hermione proclaimed with a nod. Mikhael shifted, peering towards the dance floor.
"Lisa still dancing?" he asked, setting down his empty glass. Hermione nodded, and the man ducked away with a quick wave.
Fixing Malfoy with a stare, she leaned against the nearest table for balance. "Are you going to come dance?"
He snorted. "I don't like to dance."
Dropping her chin, unimpressed, she said, "You danced at the Yule Ball."
Even as he rolled his eyes, his lips twitched. "Let me clarify: I don't like to dance." He smirked, shaking his head. "Besides, I was fourteen, and it was mandatory. I was forced into ballroom lessons most of my life and I'll happily avoid anything like that the rest of it."
Her eyes met his. "This isn't ballroom dancing. Ten minutes." Lifting a hand, she made to reach for his wrist, but dropped the hand partway. She slammed the last of her water, leaving the empty cup on the table.
Malfoy made a face, brows knitting on his forehead. "Fine, Granger. Ten minutes."
Ordinarily Hermione didn't care to dance in front of others, but there was something exhilarating about the atmosphere, and she had consumed enough alcohol that her usual inhibitions had sloughed away, leaving her with a lightness flowing in her veins.
Without waiting for Malfoy, she made her way back to the dance floor, locating Lisa and Mikhael. Lisa was swaying dangerously off balance and Mikhael laughed, tugging her closer into his arms.
Something jolted in Hermione's chest at the sight of them, and she halted mid-step, feeling Malfoy collide into her back. His hand steadied against her hip, and a burst of energy chased her spine at the feel of the contact.
Despite the innate feeling, deep down, that she should keep her distance, Hermione didn't shift away and found herself melting back into him.
Turning on the spot, she dropped a hand to his bicep, snaking up around his neck as his fingers tightened on her hip. His grey eyes met hers, dark under the black lights of the club. The rhythm coaxed at her, and she felt herself moving to the beat, a smile lingering on her lips as her eyelids fluttered.
And Malfoy danced, drawing her closer; she could feel the warmth from his body emanating, a light sheen breaking from her temples as she pressed still closer, her conscience and all shreds of logic screaming at her from deep within.
But she repressed the thoughts, some other part of her rationalizing the moment as her hand dragged down his chest, and at some point his hips found hers, shooting a jolt of heat straight to her core.
His breath was hot against her skin as her fingers toyed with the blond strands at the base of his neck, all logic forsaken as she ground against him, her brain hazy and idle.
Fingers tugged at her curls and Malfoy's eyes were on hers, dark and enticing, his lips parted as he gazed at her. Hermione blinked up at him, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth as her hips met his again, enticing a sharp huff of a breath from his mouth.
His fingers trailed down her spine, coming to rest in the small of her back and he hitched her forward to press tightly against him. Staring down at her he swallowed, his grey eyes heavily lidded. A hand swept to his jaw, and Hermione leaned in, lifting onto her toes; she could taste the alcohol on his breath as it mingled with her own.
Her heart pounded in her chest, anticipation hot and eager in her belly.
His gaze was fixed on her mouth, hands flexing on her – and then his face snapped to the side, his grip loosening. The haze fogging Hermione's thoughts dissipated as if by a bucket of cold water, and she noticed Mikhael muttering something in Malfoy's ear, but the music was too loud for her to hear.
Gaze flickering to her, Malfoy released her, stepping away. With a nod in her direction, he followed Mikhael from the dance floor and Hermione chased after, her steps a little unsteady.
She knew with absolute certainty she wasn't ready to unpack what any of that had been.
"Lisa's sick," Malfoy explained once she caught up to them along the periphery of the club, where the lights were brighter and the music was quieter. "She's gone to the ladies' – can you find her?"
Nodding, Hermione ventured into the bathroom as Mikhael said something about calling a cab; she didn't meet Malfoy's gaze as she walked away, a hot flush colouring her cheeks at just the thought of him.
Several minutes later the four of them were outside, and Hermione felt the cold breeze nipping at her bare shoulders; Lisa leaned against her, barely managing to keep upright.
"Are you sure you can get her home?" Mikhael asked. "Do you want us to come along?"
"We'll be fine," Hermione replied, the urgency and the fresh air playing wonders on the hints of intoxication that had made her thoughts and actions so fuzzy. She didn't dare entertain the thought of Malfoy coming back to their house.
And if she wasn't certain Lisa would toss the contents of her stomach again, Hermione might have considered side-along Apparating her home – if it wouldn't break about a dozen laws of the Statute.
Once the taxi arrived, they situated Lisa in the backseat, and Hermione slipped into the other side. And despite the situation – once the door closed behind her, without a word spoken of what had occurred between her and Malfoy on the dance floor – she felt a massive sigh of relief chase from her, sinking back into the seat.
Hermione sat cross-legged on the floor of their dimly-lit bathroom, idly tying Lisa's long hair into a single plait down the middle of her back. The girl groaned, dropping to the floor. She was pale and sickly, a sheen of sweat on her face, and her eyelids fluttered shut.
Dragging a soothing hand across the girl's temple, Hermione said, "Mum always said, better out than in." Her heart clenched at the memory, feeling a sting when her mother's voice echoed in her head.
Lisa huffed a poor attempt at a laugh, settling her face on Hermione's knee. "Mine always said don't fucking drink if you don't want the hangover the next day." Her words were slurred and clumsy.
Hermione tittered, sweeping a few stray hairs back from Lisa's face. "That you'll have, I'm afraid." She peered at her new friend, a tilt to her head. "Are you okay? Truly?"
Rolling over so she was facing the ceiling, Lisa sighed. "I don't know. Sometimes I ask myself if this is worth it, you know?"
"With Mikhael," Hermione inferred. Lisa pressed her eyes shut and nodded. "You care for him."
She muttered, "More than I should. But he'll never see me like he saw her."
There was a hesitant silence between the two of them; Hermione had never been very good at this sort of thing, especially since the only female influences through most of her adolescence had been Lavender and Parvati, who generally avoided talking about boys with her. And Ginny, who had usually wanted to talk about Quidditch.
"Her," Hermione finally mused, "his ex-girlfriend?"
"Charlie," Lisa scoffed, shifting to drop her face into the soft strands of the bathmat. "She was a model and an actress, and Mikhael treated her like a queen. But she never cared about him in the same way."
She was silent, her mouth twisting to one side, before continuing. "He did everything for her; even bought her a board and a suit so he could teach her to surf – the ones you use, by the way – but she had no interest."
"She doesn't sound like she was very nice," Hermione admonished, propping her knees up and dropping her chin.
"She wasn't," Lisa slurred, her face half pressed into the floor. "She cheated on him – at least twice. He was heartbroken but kept thinking she could change."
"I think he likes you," Hermione said, "judging by the way the two of you were tonight."
"Maybe he does," Lisa said, her whole body shifting with a half-hearted shrug. "But he isn't over her, not truly. I can see it in him when we're together."
Staring at her new friend, Hermione felt a tug in her chest. "Maybe he just needs a little more time. Have you told him how you feel?" She hesitated, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. "Maybe he thinks you don't want anything more."
Lisa blinked several times, her green eyes foggy and her mouth gaping. "Maybe. Have you told Draco how you feel?"
"I don't –" Hermione began, frowning.
"You're so obvious," Lisa said with a huff of laughter. "And so is he, by the way."
Tapping a pattern on the floor, Hermione avoided Lisa's penetrating stare. "I don't think I am – or him. In fact, I can promise you he'd never be interested in me. You don't know half of the things we've said and done to one another."
"People change," Lisa muttered, as if it were that simple. "He didn't kiss you tonight?"
Pressing her lips into a thin line, Hermione shook her head, unwilling to divulge how close the two of them had actually come – but Malfoy had consumed too many drinks, as had she, and that had to be the only reason.
Lisa smiled sadly. "I was sure he was going to."
A glimmer of longing tugged at her chest as Hermione shook her head. "Nope." She snapped the 'p' for emphasis, falling silent for a moment in thought. "And even if he had – it's a terrible idea, you know? I'll be going back to England at the end of August, and he's going to stay here in LA, and the last thing I need is any sort of attachments."
Musing, she stared at the mat beside Lisa's plait, and shook her head. "It's for the best – really. There's too much negative history between the two of us, and…" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I think it would just be asking to get hurt. And maybe I've dealt with enough of that over the last few years."
Pensive, she fell into silence, wondering whether the words were meant to convince herself.
Lisa was fast asleep.
A gentle smile on her features, Hermione collected her wand and levitated Lisa's prone, unconscious form into her bedroom, leaving a glass of water and aspirin on the nightstand, before changing and collapsing into her own bed, wholly uncertain about the myriad of thoughts coursing her brain.
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for your continued support. I'm always so thrilled when your lovely comments come in, and thanks also for the follows and favourites! I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
Massive shout out to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347 for their alpha work, and to I was BOTWP for her beta efforts.
For a moment
Felt like we were floating
Baby, I swear, we were golden
It was easy, natural as breathing air
Crawl Outta Love - Illenium feat. Annika Wells
It became increasingly evident over the course of the following week that the situation at the nightclub had been a mistake.
Hermione had neither seen nor heard from Malfoy in days. On more than one occasion she'd refrained from ringing him for a ride, and he hadn't offered. She hadn't even seen him at work – before he had been stopping by the souvenir shop on his breaks when they worked the same shift.
It was fine – it only told her where they stood. Clearly, whatever had gone on between them had either revulsed or spooked Malfoy to the point where he no longer wanted anything to do with her.
The worst part of it was that she missed talking to him. Missed his snarky attitude and his languid drawl, and the enjoyment from learning and exploring with him.
She had debated going to the beach on her own the day before, but it hadn't felt the same. And she hadn't found the heart to ask Lisa to go with her, who was dealing with her own issues with Mikhael.
The short of it was that she and Malfoy weren't together – and would never be together – and the entire situation was better off if they wedged some distance back between them again.
Boundaries were important, she'd learned time and again. Yet, she'd allowed Malfoy to parade through hers as if they were made of straw.
She was more frustrated with herself for enabling a brief hope to tug at her heart when it came to him, when she absolutely knew better. But still – there was a tiny, bitter sort of sting, and it might have been something reminiscent to hurt.
It would just mean she had nothing tying her to California, which had been the intention all along.
Roger snapped his fingers with an exaggerated huff, drawing Hermione back to the present. Her nose wrinkled, lip curling as she eyed him with irritation. Honestly, who snapped at a person?
"Tell your friends to stop coming here if they aren't going to buy anything," he said, crossing his arms and making for the back room.
Startled, Hermione looked to the door. Her heart plummeted into her stomach and she felt a shortness of breath. Malfoy stood near the entrance, idly browsing the racks as if he intended to make a purchase – although she knew he wouldn't.
Uncertain whether she ought to take her time or rush, she made an awkward pace in his direction, pretending to inspect a rack of shirts on her way.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her words stiff and formal, when he was within hearing range.
With a shrug, Malfoy swept his long fringe from his sight. He looked at her for a moment then away, the skin around his eyes tight. "Wanted to see how you were doing. Haven't heard from you."
Frowning, Hermione eyed him, skeptical. "I haven't heard from you."
His gaze was firmly on a shelf of trinkets, his lips pursed. "Suspected you didn't want to see me. And if you don't, it's fine – I'll go."
Hermione froze. "Where did you get that idea?"
"From your utter silence." Lifting a brow, he stared at her.
"My –" Huffing a long exhale, Hermione turned to see Roger glaring at her and she rolled her eyes. "I can't talk to you if you aren't going to buy anything."
His grey eyes roved the shop and his lips curled with a smirk. "There's literally no one ever here." He sneered in Roger's direction and shrugged. "Fine. When are you through?"
"Nine." A cursory glance at the clock told her it was in half an hour. "Meet you somewhere?"
Nodding, Malfoy made for the door. "I'll be at the ferris wheel. See you then."
Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, Hermione nodded, unable to steady the anxious pulse of her heart.
As if knowing she had somewhere important to be – more important than the souvenir shop, anyways – Roger assigned Hermione a task of unloading several new boxes onto shelves at a quarter to nine.
Scowling at the menial work, she wished for her wand. Instead she rushed through, making her best effort at arranging the decorative porcelain figures without taking too much time.
All the while, her brain twisted and spun with all the options that Malfoy might want to talk about. Despite her own self-assurance that she was better off, she couldn't deny the interest in seeing him.
Still, she wondered how things had changed between them so quickly.
At five past nine, she pulled the irritating polo over her shoulders, and with a brisk nod to Roger, made for the door.
Malfoy was leaning back against a piece of machinery when Hermione approached, gesturing with a hand as he spoke to Mikhael. Chuckling, Mikhael shook his head as he engaged a series of buttons and the ferris wheel initiated its rotation.
They both turned to her when she walked up and slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans, Malfoy with a tilt to his head.
"Hermione," Mikhael greeted, expression faltering.
"Hello," she breezed, her voice coming out breathier than she'd intended. Malfoy offered only a nod, his face stoic.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Mikhael asked, "How's Lisa doing?"
Hermione debated how to answer the seemingly innocuous question."She's good. But you should call her."
Malfoy and Mikhael exchanged a glance, and Mikhael shrugged. "Okay. I will."
"Come on," Malfoy said, pushing away from the machine with his shoulders. "Let's go for a drive."
He shouldered Mikhael on the way past, who waved an absent hand at the pair of them, and Hermione found herself rushing to keep up with his longer stride as he left the park.
"Where are we going?" she asked as she fell into step towards his Jeep; the sky overhead was black, and away from the grounds of the park, a hushed sort of silence had fallen over the world.
With a shrug, Malfoy swept a hand through his hair, carding his fringe out of the way. She wondered why he didn't just cut it since it always seemed to irritate him. "Beach."
"Okay," she breathed, unsure whether he was telling or asking. "Beach is good."
He was silent most of the way as he navigated the streets leading from the pier to Venice Beach, and Hermione didn't know how to break the silence. Although she was interested in hearing what he wanted to say, something stayed her tongue.
Finally he sighed, scratching the back of his head. "Look, Granger – if I crossed a line the other night, I apologize."
"It's fine," she rushed, forcing her lips into her best approximation of a smile. "Yeah, fine. We were drinking."
His nose wrinkled and he looked away out the window. Sliding the shifter into neutral and engaging the brake as they arrived at the beach, he exited the vehicle and circled around to her side, leaning against the side panel.
"It isn't something I make a habit of." He dipped his chin, staring towards the ocean. "Drinking. I don't like feeling like I'm not in control."
Hermione felt his words somewhere deep in her soul. "I understand."
With a huffed breath through his nose, he turned to face her, his grey eyes tight. "And if I made you uncomfortable, it wasn't my intention."
She managed in a low whisper, "I wasn't uncomfortable."
"You seemed uncomfortable," he muttered. "After. With Lisa."
Thinking back to how she had been unable to look him in the eye, she frowned. She couldn't quite tell in the dim yellow light from the distant street lamps, but she thought there was colour suffusing his cheeks.
She ventured down towards the beach, fixing her focus on the sand sliding into her sandals. "Maybe I just didn't know what to make of it."
"Right." He followed alongside, peering at the night sky. "That's fine."
Despite her interest in burrowing into the sand so they didn't have to have this conversation, Hermione waved a hand, feeling the words push from her mouth of their own accord. "You know, because I'll be leaving fairly soon, and obviously there's no point in – even if – not that, you know –"
"Granger," he interrupted, lips curling into a smirk. "Understood."
He dropped to the beach in his jeans, legs stretched out in front of him and Hermione settled alongside, folding her legs beneath her. His jaw was scruffy with stubble again, and it seemed more natural, now that she was used to seeing him that way.
With a jolt, Hermione realized he was fiddling with a large silver signet ring that she'd seen him wear a few times but hadn't given it much thought.
Following her stare to his hands, he snorted. "Should toss this bloody thing into the ocean."
It was then she noticed the elegant M shaped around a twisted snake. She swallowed, feeling worlds away from any place where his surname mattered. She mused softly, "Won't you pass it on some day?"
His jaw clenched and body shifted with a shrug. "Only if I still cared about any of that. Let the bleeding house rot."
She knew his father was in Azkaban on a life sentence, but she frowned. "Don't you talk to your mother?"
"Sometimes," he muttered. "She knows how to reach me if she wants to see me." His gaze slid to hers. "What about you? I heard something about your parents, I thought, during the war."
Blinking, confusion tugged at her mind. "You heard about them?"
His face darkened again. "Right. The Death Eaters sent to find them – couldn't."
Her vision went black as a rough breath chased from her lungs, leaving Hermione gaping and choking on nothing as her eyes widened in surprise. She clutched at her chest. "They – what –"
Something broken crossed his expression. "You sent them away."
"I did," she whispered, adrenaline chasing through her veins. She was hyper-aware of her pulse roaring in her ears. "I erased myself from their memories."
The air between them was tense, and Hermione grasped a handful of sand to ground herself, concentrating on its coarse texture as her heart raced and stuttered in her chest. Finally she sought his stare, hating the pity in his eyes, but clinging to those grey depths like a lifeline.
He swallowed, and said, "You saved their lives, Granger."
Clapping a hand to her mouth, she felt the rising sting of moisture at the corners of her eyes as she gave a slow nod, his words sinking in with a force she never could have anticipated.
Swiping at her eye as a lone tear broke, she whispered, "It was irreversible. The healers have tried, but…"
"Fuck." Malfoy shook his head, running a hand through his hair; it glistened with the white light of the moon overhead and Hermione found herself blinking at him. "I'm sorry, Granger."
"Thank you," she managed, eyes wide. "For telling me. All this time I've wondered…"
"Whether it was worth it," he finished, hand flexing in the sand between them. "Well, it was."
Despite the pain and struggle she'd faced since the final battle – the many failed attempts to restore their memories – she felt a part of that burden slough away with a great heaved sigh, washed out into the ocean like the endless rolling tide.
Drawing her knees up to her chest, she dropped her face into her knees, feeling overwhelmed with unexpected emotion. After a long, wrought moment of silence, she felt Malfoy's hand on her bare shoulder nearest him, his long fingers curling around her arm in a brief squeeze.
With a drawn-out exhale she looked up, feeling lighter with his revelation.
Malfoy's gaze was fixed on the horizon, his hair ruffled in a rising breeze as clouds drifted through the night sky. They were a far stretch down from anyone else, and the beach felt remarkably private.
Hermione picked at a few small stones in the sand, collecting them in her palm. She murmured, "I'm glad I'm here. Glad I stayed, after all."
He replied, "It's a good place."
"And," she went on, steeling her nerves, "I'm glad I ran into you. I might have lived out my life thinking something else entirely, you know?"
"I know," he said with a nod. "And same, by the way. You were always just… Potter's swotty Gryffindor friend." His gaze flickered to her, apologetic. "Muggle-born friend. Everything I'd been taught to hate."
"Right," she forced a swallow. "I guess I can understand that." A musing smile curled her lips. "But here you are, friends with Muggles."
His brows flickered in time with his chuckle. "If dear old Lucius could see me now."
A bright laugh escaped her lips as she turned to him with a grin. "He would hate it."
"Good." He snickered, grinning at her before turning back to the ocean. "Very good. Fuck, look at those swells."
Startled at the change of topic, she followed his stare to where the waves were crashing, far out in the ocean. "I couldn't surf those," she managed.
"Not many people can," he said. "Mikhael could. Storm's rolling in."
Grey clouds were shifting and drifting past with haste, and Hermione peered up, planting her hands back into the sand behind her. "Think it's going to rain?"
Even as she spoke the words, she felt the first light drops of rain and leaned back, eyes fluttering shut as silence fell between them.
Within a few minutes, the rain picked up and when she glanced at Malfoy his pale hair was wet, a smirk on his lips as he glanced at her waterlogged curls.
Apologetically, she said, "Maybe we ought to go."
"If you can't handle a little rain," he returned, lips twitching.
A breeze gusted past, sending a shiver down her spine from the cold and wet of the falling rain. She gave a flippant shrug. "I'm fine."
A great clap of thunder sounded in the distance over the ocean, startling Hermione. Her eyes widened, sliding to meet his. "Should we get inside?"
"Probably," he murmured. "It's pretty far off yet, though. Might not even make it too far inland."
Hermione watched the raindrops prance along the surface of the ocean, raising in intensity until she was soaked, and her shirt was plastered to her skin. Malfoy huffed a laugh, wiping rain from his face.
"Maybe now we should go."
Her lips curled and she shook her head, rising to her feet as the sky opened up, releasing a violent deluge upon them. With a laugh she made for his Jeep, her sandals snagging on the wet sand.
Arms belted around her waist from behind and a small shriek of surprise chased from her lips as Malfoy swung her around, depositing her behind him as he carried on.
He cracked her a grin as she caught up and shouldered into him from the side, knocking him off balance and he reached for her, arms coming around her shoulders as he nudged her over into the sand.
Releasing a huffed affront, she kicked him in the ankles, just hard enough to knock him down into the sand beside her. Attempting to rise, Hermione stumbled and he grabbed her wrist, pushing her back down as the rain poured over them both and she struggled to get free with a laugh.
Malfoy was stronger when she tried to shove him away, grabbing a handful of sand and throwing it blindly; some of it landed in his hair and he gasped an exaggerated huff of annoyance, tugging at her drenched curls as she lay in the sand, rolling to face him with her eyes narrowed.
She could see the challenge in his eyes as she extracted her wrist from his loosened grip, and she pushed him into the sand, scrambling to her feet as she made once more for the Jeep.
But Malfoy caught her, his longer legs catching up to her in a handful of strides, and Hermione felt herself land on her back in the sand again, an infectious and unstoppable laugh chasing from her stomach.
She was covered in wet sand, and when she looked over, so was Malfoy. He looked such a departure from the version of him she remembered from school, and she found herself smiling up at him as he collapsed into the sand beside her.
Breathing heavily, Hermione shoved a handful of sand at him and his eyes flashed as he held tight to her wrist again, leaning over the top of her to secure her on the beach.
Her chest heaved, and his expression faltered as he stared down at her, letting go of her wrist.
A laugh died in her throat and she pressed her lips together into a thick swallow.
Water poured from the back of his head, even as the intensity of the rain let up; her mouth felt dry.
Malfoy had one hand planted in the sand beside her head, the other near her hip and he stared down at her, eyes tight as if he didn't know what to make of her.
Hermione hardly felt the racing of her heart in her chest as her gaze fell to his mouth; his tongue flicked out, moistening his lower lip, and something clenched deep in her belly.
Her fingers grazed the back of his hand planted beside hers; something flashed in his dark eyes. Shallow breaths chased from her mouth as she stared at him, and he must have seen something in her gaze –
He ducked in, his mouth meeting hers. The kiss was hesitant, teasing, testing the waters between them. Her eyes fluttered shut at the contact, something hot and urgent rearing to life in her core as she threaded a hand into his wet hair.
Acting on instinct and burying the rest, her indecisions and doubts, Hermione swept her tongue along his lips and his mouth opened to her, one of his hands sinking into her curls as he pressed closer, angling his lips so he could delve into her mouth with his tongue.
A whimper escaped her throat at the feel of his body against hers, and Hermione kissed him harder, one hand trailing down his back to move him closer still.
With a groan, he shifted above her fully, his other hand grasping a tight hold of her hip and dragging down her thigh, hitching her leg up to his hip as his mouth played hers, his tongue grazing and teasing her own.
His thigh pressed into her core and he swallowed her groan, shifting to drag his teeth along the curve of her jaw, pressing a string of kisses to the curve of her neck. Hermione arched her back into him, her leg curling around his back as he ground against her, slow and teasing.
Drawing her bottom lip between her teeth to keep from crying out, her hand tugged at his hair, head digging back into the sand as he slid the strap of her tank top down her shoulder, sucking at the skin of her collarbone.
Then he was kissing her again, meticulous but heated, and she drew him still closer, heat racing through her blood as she ground her hips against his, biting down on his lower lip.
One of his hands slid down to palm her arse, dragging her into an angle against him that caused them both to groan into each other's mouths. Grinding absently against him, she could feel his hard-on pressed into her core and a heavy exhale escaped her mouth as he tore away.
"Granger," he choked, his chest heaving and swollen lips parted.
Hermione only stared up at him, her eyes searching out his. "What –" she managed, shaking her head. She drew him back down, lips clashing with his and his tongue grazed hers again, languid and sensual, before they parted.
"Fuck," he groaned, long and drawn out, pressing his forehead into her temple. When he drew away he offered a heart-rending, crooked grin, and Hermione's heart tossed in her chest even as her core throbbed and pulsed.
It took several long, hazy blinks for Hermione to realize the rain had slowed to a light spittle, the dark clouds mostly carried on.
Without a word, Malfoy rolled onto his back beside her, staring up at the dark night sky.
Her mind was abuzz with thoughts and words that demanded to be spoken, but she only rolled onto her side, eyeing him with caution. Her heart raced as his grey eyes met hers, lips curling into a secretive smirk.
A smile tugged at Hermione's lips when he reached an arm out above her shoulders, and she tucked herself into his hold, a hand teasing the wet fabric of his shirt as she made herself comfortable against his chest.
Suppressing the ravenous thoughts, she allowed her eyelids to flutter as he pressed a kiss into her wet, sandy curls.
And allowed herself, for once, to just go with it.
Author's Note: Hello friends! The love for this story continues to overwhelm, thrill, and deeply humble me. You're all so wonderful and I love hearing your thoughts on each chapter. As of last night, Boardwalk is written in its entirety! I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Alpha love to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta love to I was BOTWP - go check them out and drop some love!
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can kiss
I want something just like this
Something Like This - Coldplay & The Chainsmokers
In hindsight, it was both remarkable and alarming how seamlessly Hermione had stepped into this erstwhile facade of a life in California. She didn't even remember the last time she had cast a spell.
And when she really thought about it, there was a part of her that had fallen in love with the crash of the ocean, the golden glow of the sunset, and the almost ubiquitous heat of the California sun.
She had been in America for nearly a month, and she'd begun to dread her inevitable return to the war-ravaged world she'd known for eight years.
Then to add on top of everything else… her lips pulled into an absent smile as a flush sunk into her cheeks at the thought of her trip to the beach with Malfoy two nights prior.
Lisa's brows had jumped nearly into her hairline when Hermione had arrived home, bedraggled and leaving a trail of sand, but her expression had only twitched into a knowing smile.
Pulling Hermione from the memories, Lisa dropped something on the table in front of her as she ate her breakfast.
"You've got some strange, old-timey mail."
"Mail?" Hermione's head snapped up. "What sort of mail?"
With a hesitant stare, Lisa shrugged. "I didn't open it. It was just in the mailbox with the rest."
"The mailbox," Hermione echoed, picking through the sheets of parchment. "Are you sure?"
Lisa made a face. "Of course I'm sure. How else would the mail be delivered?"
Forcing a smile, Hermione made a show of a nervous chuckle. "Of course." Once Lisa had drifted from the kitchen, she slipped the seal open on the first letter, her eyes widening in surprise at the familiar handwriting.
It was strange to think that it hadn't really been all that long since she'd left England.
But such a great many things had changed.
I can't believe I haven't seen you since you left Hogwarts. I have the weekend away from training – you'll have to tell me all about it. Ron said he'd be able to come along too.
Swallowing a thick lump in her throat, Hermione pushed away her half-empty bowl, her appetite having vanished. She picked idly at the next letter, cringing at Daphne's tight cursive.
Where did you vanish to? I haven't seen you since leaving LA! Leaky this weekend? Or maybe Hogsmeade?
Feeling an unpleasant churning in the pit of her stomach at the sudden intrusion of her life back home, Hermione stacked both letters and folded them into a tight square together. She would need to ask Malfoy whether there was a place where she could borrow an owl to respond.
She still hadn't mentioned to Daphne that she had stayed in America, and in her understanding, Malfoy hadn't reached out to her either. So many of her present circumstances felt beyond her control.
And now this – whatever it was, with him. It was the exact reason she had wanted to avoid attachments overseas, when she knew she would be returning home… but yet.
She couldn't bring herself to regret the kiss they'd shared. Although kiss was most certainly an understatement.
Even the thought of seeing Harry and Ron felt so far away, and she pondered what she would say to Harry in a return owl. The pair of them had been so busy with Auror training they'd barely spoken during her last year at Hogwarts.
Lisa breezed back into the kitchen, eyeing Hermione oddly, an amused look on her face. "You're not going to get that?"
Startled, Hermione shook her head to clear the thoughts. It was only then she noticed a knock on the door.
Walking to open the door, Lisa turned to face Hermione, her gaze flickering to the mail in her hand. "Everything okay?"
"Just fine." Hermione offered her a smile. "Sorry, I was just thinking about something."
With a snicker, Lisa unlocked and opened the door, and Hermione's heart stuttered in her chest when Mikhael and Malfoy filed in, taking up what seemed to be their respective spots at the kitchen table.
Fidgeting with her folded letters, Hermione felt a smile creep across her lips when she looked at Malfoy and he was already staring at her, his eyes loaded with heat.
Huffing out a sharp breath, she asked, "What brings you two here?"
Mikhael held up his hands. "From what I hear, we all have the day off."
Malfoy lifted his brows for emphasis.
"It's true," Lisa announced. She worked as a server at one of the local pubs. "So, what do we do?"
The three of them turned to look at Hermione as if they all knew the answer already. Timid, she asked, "Beach?"
"She's catching on," Mikhael said with a grin. "Get your things."
Biting back a grin, Hermione rose from her seat, noticing the way Malfoy's gaze lingered on the parchment in her hand, and ducked into her room to change.
When she emerged several minutes later, Malfoy was leaning against her doorway, peering down the hallway. With a furtive glance around, he swept into her room, pressing the door closed quietly behind him.
His hands slid up her arms, and he leaned in to press a kiss to her lips before Hermione could react. Smiling against his mouth, her arms tangled around his neck, and she returned the kiss with light pressure for a moment before pulling away.
With the way he made her feel, she was likely to get carried away. Staring up at him, she said, "I was wondering if we were going to talk about this."
His expression faltering, Malfoy leaned against the wall, shoulders tense. "We can. What do you want to talk about?"
Hermione took a step towards him, trailing her fingers across the muscles of his abdomen through his shirt. His eyes flashed as he smirked at her.
"Well…" she began, looking away. "What is this?"
"This is whatever we want it to be." He dropped a hand to her lower back, hitching her closer to him as her eyes snapped to meet his again. "What do you think it is?"
Swallowing, she breathed, "I don't know."
His hand dropped to her arse, giving it a squeeze; her core clenched tightly. "Here's what I think." Pressing a kiss to her lips, and drawing away, he went on. "I think you're pretty. And brilliant. And I like spending time with you. And I really like kissing you."
Hermione laced her hands behind his back, feeling her lips twitch as she stared up at him. "I like kissing you too."
Expression sobering, he swept a loose curl back from her face. "And maybe we don't need to worry too much about anything else right now."
"Anything else," she hedged, "like I'm leaving at the end of August."
"Like that," he agreed with a short nod.
With their volatile past, they didn't even know if it would work out. And if it didn't, there wasn't any harm in having a little fun anyways. She whispered, "Fine."
"So," he went on, his tone soft, "who owled you?"
Collecting the letters from her dresser, Hermione sat on her bed, folding one leg beneath her. "One from Harry, and one from Daphne. It feels odd, having been here, to receive owl mail." She glanced at him for a moment, and his expression was unreadable. "Do you know of a place that has an owl post office?"
"There's a small wizarding community near Pasadena. I've sent a couple owls from there," he said, dropping into the bed and leaning back against the headboard. With a hint of a smirk he added, "The British Ministry doesn't track standard incoming owl mail these days. You should be able to Apparate there from here, unless you'd rather drive down."
"We could drive, if you want to come along," she said, gauging his response.
Malfoy shrugged. "That's fine. What did Daph say?"
"Just that she hasn't seen me since she was here, and wants to meet up this weekend," she said, picking at a spot on the quilt. "And Harry's was about the same."
"They don't know you're here?" There was a furrow in his brow and a twist to his mouth.
Shaking her head, Hermione said, "You didn't want Daphne to know. I kept my word."
Something flashed in his eyes akin to gratitude. "We can go tomorrow. I suppose I ought to send my mother a letter anyways."
Nodding, Hermione offered a soft, "Thank you." Then she clapped her hands together. "We'd better go, Lisa and Mikhael will be waiting."
"They already left." His lips twitched as he leaned forward, staring at her. "We don't need to rush, if you don't want."
A smile crept across her lips as he tugged her closer and she crawled atop his lap, mouth finding his as she slid her hands across his shoulders and into his hair.
She could feel the smirk against her lips as he murmured, "I don't think anyone's going to wonder where we are, anyways."
When they arrived at the beach an hour later, Hermione felt heat flare in her cheeks as she attempted to avoid Lisa's pointed stare. Malfoy unloaded the surfboards and Lisa rounded closer as Hermione slipped her shirt and shorts off, pulling herself into her wetsuit with a bit more finesse than she had the last time.
She could still feel Lisa's hard stare on her, and finally Hermione exclaimed, "What?"
Lisa's lips twitched as her eyes narrowed, appraising. "You had sex with Draco."
"No!" Hermione exclaimed, mortified. Her voice dropped and she hissed, "We haven't had sex."
"But there's something!" Lisa exclaimed, pointing a victorious finger. "Since when? No, never mind. Since you came home covered in sand." She clicked her tongue loudly.
The flush intensified, and Hermione averted her gaze, toeing her bare foot into the sand. "It's only just new, so… no. We haven't."
They both glanced to where Malfoy stood with Mikhael, the pair of them chuckling over something.
"Well, good news," Lisa proclaimed, turning back to Hermione. "I convinced Draco to let me take over your lessons today so he can go out on the swells by the fishing pier with Mikhael. I practically had to beg him."
The brief sting of disappointment faded as soon as it came, replaced with gratitude. She could tell Malfoy was interested in surfing waves of his own during their two previous lessons, and it would be nice to spend some time getting to know Lisa better.
Catching her gaze, Malfoy sauntered over, eyeing the two of them. "Lisa said you're fine with her. Are you sure?"
"Yes," Hermione said with a teasing smile. "Go out with Mikhael. Then I can see if you're as good as you claim."
His eyes brightened with a mocking scoff, and he shook his head before zipping up the back of his suit and grabbing his board.
Lisa's gaze flickered to Hermione once they were alone again. "He's got it bad."
"He doesn't," Hermione denied.
With a mere shrug, Lisa's lips twitched. "You have before, right? Had sex, I mean."
"Yes." Her eyes widened at the blatant ask, but she managed a grin. "Actually, with a professional athlete from Bulgaria."
Lisa turned to her, gaping. "You're kidding. Does Draco know?"
"I'm not sure." Her gaze drifted out to the large swells further out, where she could just barely make out the shapes of surfers. "I don't imagine so."
Snickering, Lisa pulled her board up to her side and Hermione followed suit. "Enough talk about boys. Let's go surf."
By the time they all congregated back on the beach, it was late afternoon and Hermione was exhausted but exhilarated. She'd managed to consistently surf a number of the green waves near the breakwater, and was feeling good about her technique.
"She'll be ready to go out further soon," Lisa said as she tucked herself into Mikhael's side on the sand, peeling the top half of her suit down.
"We saw," Malfoy said, a teasing smirk on his lips. "You were great."
With an absent smile, Hermione pulled her own suit down with some difficulty and took a seat beside him, bending her legs in front of her. "You looked like you caught some good waves yourself."
His lips twitched. "A few."
Startled, she jumped on the spot when he reached for her hand, idly entwining their fingers. She caught Mikhael and Lisa exchange a glance, and gave his hand a squeeze, dropping her head to rest on his shoulder. She exclaimed, "I'm tired."
Malfoy chuckled, pressing a brief kiss to her temple. "I am starving."
"Seconded," Mikhael exclaimed.
Lisa clapped her hands together. "Sounds like we're eating."
Later that evening, after a large meal and a frosty beverage at one of the restaurants along the Strand, Hermione was back at home in the yard, and it brought back memories of her first day surfing, and subsequent night with Malfoy and his friends.
But everything felt different.
Malfoy threw his head back in a laugh at something Mikhael had said, his hand clenched in hers as he propped one ankle up on his other knee. Hermione grinned across the fire at Lisa, whose lips twitched with a secret.
Turning to face her, Malfoy asked, "What time do you have to work tomorrow?"
"Three," she replied in a low voice. "How long will it take to go to Pasadena?"
Twisting his mouth, he shrugged. "It depends on traffic – maybe an hour, probably more." He considered for a moment. "We could leave around nine."
"That's fine." Hermione glanced across the fire but Lisa and Mikhael were too wrapped up in one another to pay them any mind. "I still need to write my responses. I'm not entirely sure what to say, to be honest."
Malfoy shrugged, but his jaw clenched. "Worry about it in the morning if you prefer." He covered his mouth with a wide yawn, blinking at her. "I'm bloody wiped out."
Hermione smiled with an admitted, "Me too." Then she hesitated, chewing her lower lip. "Are you staying over or going home?"
"Bold," he snickered. "I was going to go home." Mouth pulling into a crooked grin, he added, "Unless that was an invitation."
Flushing, Hermione made to backtrack. "I don't know that it was. But if you wanted, just to sleep –"
"I know," he mused, nudging her in the shoulder. Grey eyes found hers and his tongue dipped out, moistening his lips. "No pressure. On anything. But I'd like that."
"No pressure," she echoed, smiling. "That's fine."
She could see the question in his stare, but she wasn't sure she was ready to have that conversation with him, not when there had only been something between them for a few days.
And maybe there was a small part that was hesitant to open up too much, when she knew it would likely result in being hurt when September came around and they would be across the world from one another.
But she smiled, rising to her feet as she stifled another yawn. Malfoy wrapped his arms around her from behind, throwing her off guard and eliciting a laugh.
Mikhael and Lisa glanced up with matched knowing grins, and Hermione rolled her eyes as she offered a small wave, allowing Malfoy to maneuver her into the house.
She dipped into the loo to prepare for sleep, and found him lingering in her room, eyeing the artwork on the walls.
Despite all her reservations and the messy past that followed them, she sunk into his arms when she closed her bedroom door, feeling something akin to security in his hold.
His hands swept up her arms to round her shoulders from behind, and he ducked in, pressing his lips to the back of her neck. Tipping her head to further expose her skin, a shiver crept the length of her spine and her skin tingled with goosebumps when his hands teased her sides, coming up to cup her breasts through her shirt.
Releasing a soft whimper, Hermione fisted a hand back in the fabric of his swim shorts, pressing her back against his chest.
One of his arms wrapped across her stomach, holding her in place as his lips and tongue danced, tantalizing, across the sensitive skin of her neck and collarbone.
Dragging his tongue up her throat, his fingers played with the hem of her shirt as he caught her earlobe between his teeth, and Hermione's knees nearly buckled at the onslaught of sensation.
Her hands landed on his and she tugged upwards; Malfoy pulled her shirt off the rest of the way, leaving her in her bikini top. She might have flushed at feeling so exposed if not for the fact that he'd already seen her in such a state numerous times at the beach.
But never had she felt so intimate with him, and he continued his patient, meticulous teasing as his hands skated her chest, tweaking her nipples, and she released a groan, pressing into him as her back arched into his hands.
She could feel his hard-on against her arse, and there was something wholly sensual about the situation; she'd never experienced anything quite like it and her core was hot and clenched as his hands worked across her skin. Hermione didn't think she'd ever been so turned on.
As she ground slowly against him, one of his hands slipped beneath the fabric of her top, rolling her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Feeling fit to burst she turned in his hold, lips parted, eyes heavily lidded as she stared up at him. Silently, he ducked in, a hand to the small of her back as he used the other to peel the fabric aside, pulling her other nipple between his lips, flicking the sensitive tip with his tongue and then sucking it between his teeth.
Her eyes rolled back into her skull at the waves of sensation falling over her, and she drew his face up to hers, lips crashing into his.
His slow patience dropped as he kissed her, urgency and passion in every move, and somehow they stumbled to the bed, collapsing in a heap of limbs; Hermione laughed into his neck, pulling him back in for another kiss.
"Where's your wand?" he mumbled against her mouth, tugging her bottom lip between his teeth.
"Nightstand," she managed, and moments later her wand was pressed into her hand. Catching his lead, she cast a quick Silencio, her head falling back against the pillow as he laved her throat with hot kisses.
A whimper escaped her mouth as one of his hands dropped to her denim shorts, fidgeting with the button closure, and his eyes found hers, seeking permission. He breathed, "Let me touch you?"
Her head spun with desire for that very thing, her body demanding something, anything, and she nodded; her hands found the base of his shirt and she tugged it over his head without finesse as he shifted to drag her shorts down her legs, smirking as he dropped a trail of kisses to her bare stomach.
Stopping, Malfoy hovered near her sternum, his fingers pushing her bikini bottoms to the side and slipping between her legs.
"Shit, Hermione," he groaned, moving to kiss her again. "You're so bloody wet."
It only vaguely registered in the back of her mind that he'd used her given name, when his fingers were so close.
"For you," she whispered, reaching a hand beneath his shorts to grasp his hard-on and he groaned, plunging one finger, and then two inside of her.
A sharp breath chased from Hermione's lips as she pulled at his cock, pushing into his hand as he set a steady rhythm into her hot core.
Sweeping the head of him with her thumb, she freed him from his shorts as she matched his pace; Malfoy buried his face in her throat, his breath hot against her neck as each thrust of his fingers drew breathy gasps and whimpers from her throat.
"Fuck," he muttered, his fingers escalating in pace, "you're going to make me come."
Her only response was to arch further into his hand, tugging at him; his thumb swept across her clitoris, playing vague circles against the sensitive flesh.
Release crashed over her like a wave, darkening her vision and curling her toes as with a huff of a breath, he shot his seed into her hand and on the sheets, following her over the edge.
Breathing heavy, his head lifted to face her; his eyes were glazed as her chest heaved and she stared up at him, releasing her hold of him.
Tongue flicking out to wet his lips, he drew his fingers out, and a smirk curled his lips as he dipped the fingers one by one into his mouth, licking her juices from the digits.
She swallowed, feeling about ready to climb atop him. Her mind was still foggy as she said, "Right. That was great."
Malfoy barked a laugh, laying down beside her. "Great is one word for it."
He turned his head, slipping a hand beneath her curls that had all but fallen free of their bun, and pressed his lips to hers in a gentle kiss. She could taste herself on his lips and something tightened again in her stomach.
Eyes wide, Hermione stared at him while her heart rate slowed, a languid smile pulling at her features. She cast a quick Scourgify on the sheets, rising to clean herself. She collected a fresh pair of knickers and a shirt before making a quick sweep of the hallway and darting across into the loo.
When she returned, Malfoy had cleaned himself up and settled into her bed. He blinked at her before yawning, his eyelids fluttering.
With a smirk, he said, "Night Granger."
Smiling back, she breathed, "Sweet dreams. Draco."
Author's Note: You guys kill me, honestly. Thank you for your overwhelming support on this story - all of your lovely words make me so happy, and this story has been a joy to share. Fun fact: Boardwalk was borne of a lot of Lana Del Rey and so much Illenium. If anyone wants the YT playlist, PM me! Hope you enjoyed the chapter!
Massive thanks to the endless assistance and encouragement of Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP.
Back to work or the coffee shop
Doesn't matter 'cause it's enough
To be young and in love
Love - Lana Del Rey
Hermione awoke the following morning to an arm draped across her bare midriff; her shirt had ridden up in sleep, bunching across her middle. Pale blond hair was splayed out on the pillow beside her, and her eyes widened briefly before a smile pulled at her lips at the memories of the night before.
Malfoy stirred, his eyes sliding open to find hers, and his fingers tightened on her hip. "G'morning," he said, voice thick with sleep as his eyes fell shut again. Shifting nearer, his arm wrapped around her back and drew her tighter against him.
Relaxing into him, Hermione mused silently it wasn't a bad way to wake up.
Belatedly, she responded. "Good morning."
It was only then she recalled they were to drive to Pasadena in order to locate the owl post office, and a twist pulled at her stomach at the thought of what she was going to say to both Harry and Daphne.
Something about the intrusion of her life back home, especially at the moment, tucked away in the strong arms of Draco Malfoy, felt like a dip into ice water in winter.
His hand found the small of her back, absently tracing her spine up towards her neck and she arched into his touch, feeling her body flare to life with the recollection of the way he'd made her feel the night before.
But his eyes snapped open again and his lips curled into a slow smirk. "I could stay in bed all day. But we ought to get moving."
Huffing a sharp exhale, Hermione smiled, dropping a quick kiss to his mouth. "Fine. Come on, then."
Swinging her legs out of bed, she rose to her feet and rolled her shoulders out, stretching her arms overhead. She wore only her knickers and a camisole and felt his gaze sear into her; when she turned back he was eyeing her as if he'd changed his mind.
Malfoy swallowed, his throat bobbing, and his lips pursed. He shoved the blankets off and rose; Hermione couldn't help the way her gaze fell to his bare chest.
"One of the best things about this," he said, walking over and pressing his lips to hers, "is that I don't need to pretend I'm not staring when you take your wetsuit off."
Hermione scoffed against his mouth, lips brushing his again. "Please. You're not very good at pretending."
His eyes flashed, a challenge in his gaze and in a quick moment he tossed her back onto the bed, following with his body atop hers; something hot and needy roiled in her belly. A roguish grin pulled at his mouth and he growled, "We're going to be late for breakfast."
"Oh!" Lisa exclaimed, her eyes mocking and wide, "Draco! What a surprise. Mikhael, Draco is still here."
"Shocked," Mikhael said with a snicker.
Colour crept up the length of Hermione's neck as she avoided everyone's gaze, collecting two bowls and silverware from the cupboard before dropping cereal and milk on the table.
Malfoy chuckled and slipped into his spot at the table. "She offered."
Folding her arms across her chest, Hermione huffed, even as her lips twitched. "It was considerate."
"Certainly," Lisa agreed with a nod, her stare meeting Hermione's. "Incredibly thoughtful of you, not to make him drive the ten minutes home."
Hermione gave a facetious nod. She glanced at Malfoy, who was pouring himself a bowl of cereal and shaking his head. He nudged her foot under the table and rolled his eyes.
Smiling, she trailed her fingers across his knee; his hand caught hers and interlocked their fingers. A smile threatened at her face while she dropped her gaze to her cereal.
"You two are making me uncomfortable," Lisa said with a bark of a laugh. "Kidding, of course. I have to get ready for work, but you kids have fun."
Rising from her seat to rinse her own dishes, Lisa vanished into her room; with a grin and a bit of a teasing salute, Mikhael followed.
Malfoy turned to face her, a brow lifted and a serious look on his face. "Didn't I tell you, that first day? Ignore them both." He cracked a grin, pulling her hand further towards him, leaving her one hand free to eat.
"That you did," she mused. Her smile faltered for a moment as she held his gaze; there was something so casual and easy about living here, so far away from the strife she'd come to know over the years in the wizarding world. Uncertainty crashed over her as she realized how much she'd be walking away from when she returned home.
"What?" His voice dropped, expression expectant. "I can see your brain reeling."
Pressing her lips into a tight smile, Hermione shook her head. "Nothing."
"Don't believe you," he deadpanned. "But fine. I'm sure I can guess, anyway."
Swallowing the thick lump in her throat as her appetite vanished, Hermione forced down the rest of her breakfast in silence.
By half nine they were on the road. The sun was shining bright in a cloudless sky, only a light breeze drifting on the air as Malfoy cranked the volume of an upbeat track on the radio.
His pale hair was swept back, dark aviators perched on the bridge of his strong nose and Hermione couldn't help the smile as she took him in. The last of her melancholy cloud drifted away at the prospect of taking a trip with him, even if they would have to return in time for work that afternoon.
Hermione had brought along a notepad and a pen, planning to scribble a pair of quick letters to both Harry and Daphne.
Harry's was a vague explanation that she'd gone out of town and wouldn't be able to meet him for a few weeks. And Daphne… she hadn't known what to write in that letter, given Malfoy wanted to reach out to his friends himself. Even more so now than ever, she wasn't willing to take that from him.
Finally she had settled on a modified version of the letter to Harry, saying they would have to catch up soon but that she was unavailable that weekend.
She wondered whether Malfoy would owl Daphne while they were in Pasadena but didn't have the heart to bring it up. Without knowing exactly what had gone on with him during and after the war, she didn't want to tread on any bad memories unintentionally.
Malfoy flashed her a grin, his straight white teeth gleaming in the sunlight, and the sentiment was infectious as she smiled back. Even the thought that her parents would have appreciated his dental hygiene wasn't enough to drop her spirits.
Wind blew across from his window, and Hermione's curls twisted in the breeze; with a laugh she tied them back into a messy bun, drawing her own sunglasses from her bag and settling them on her face.
He turned to her, self-deprecating and amused, as his head pulsed to the beat of the music.
Tittering, Hermione wondered what exactly had happened to the Draco Malfoy she'd known as a child. He had been so rude, insufferable, and conceited – but yet the man she was coming to know here was fun, easygoing, and there was a genuine sincerity to him that she found incredibly appealing.
Something had happened during the year and handful of months since the war, and at the moment, it was enough that she had a chance to see the difference.
As he cruised down the road, one hand on the wheel, Hermione drew his other into her lap, wrapping it in both her hands.
He flashed her a winning smile, and her heart leapt in her chest.
Fortunately, the owl post office accepted both Muggle and magical currency, so Hermione had no problem sending her letters. Watching the owl she had hired fly away with the scrolls – finding it odd to see an owl carrying standard Muggle note paper – she turned to face Malfoy. His face was pensive as he watched another owl vanish into the skyline.
He had borrowed her notepad, and just shy of half an hour later he had returned with his letters; Hermione hadn't seen fit to ask.
But there was a lightness to him, carried forward from his positive mood during the drive to Pasadena, and he turned to face her with a smile, his fingers playing about the small of her back.
"You're in a good mood," she mused, tucking into his side.
It was strange to see another wizarding community, especially having spent a steady length of time living in the Muggle world. The magical area outside of Pasadena was more modern than Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, and witches and wizards paced by in their robes as the pair of them ambled down the street in their jeans.
Hermione could see a small apothecary and wondered whether she needed anything – before realizing she had only Muggle money on her, and no supplies with which to brew anyways.
His eyes were lidded as he gazed at her, and returned, "I'm having a good day."
Checking the watch at her wrist, Hermione smiled. "Should we get lunch before heading back?"
"Sure." He gave an absent shrug, leading her towards a small outdoor cafe. Gaze flickering to her, he added, "They take Muggle money here. I've been before."
As he slung an arm around her shoulders, dragging her closer alongside him, Hermione couldn't help her carefree grin. "Excellent."
After a delicious sandwich, they strolled the streets, window shopping and people-watching, and Hermione wished they could drag out the time longer. Unfortunately, it was soon time to leave if they were to make it to the pier in time for work.
A smirk twitched at Malfoy's lips as he turned to face her, muttering, "Don't you know, I think I'm coming down with something."
Hermione frowned, turning to him with alarm. Perhaps something he'd eaten at lunch had turned – but his smirk widened, brows lifting, and she caught on, a sympathetic tilt dropping her head. "You shouldn't go into work, then – in case you make anyone else sick."
Clicking his tongue, he shook his head. "What if I've already made you sick? It would be such a shame if your arsehole boss got sick too."
She stared at him for a moment, calculating. "I'm meant to be there in a little over an hour." Pulling her lip between her teeth in hesitation, she debated the idea.
"But here's the thing," he said, voice dropping as his fingers trailed her arm. "Mikhael says there are these places that are public telephones, and you can call to let them know you just won't be there. It's so unfortunate you were waiting it out, hoping to feel better, but ultimately it's best if you stay home today." His lips twitched, grey eyes heated as they held hers. "Come on – we can make a day of it."
When given the option, Hermione knew she would much rather spend the day with him exploring than under Roger's unyielding scrutiny, and she didn't have to think long.
Lips curling, she murmured, "You've convinced me."
"Good." He nudged her in the shoulder. "There was a payphone near the Muggle entrance. I already called the park when I went to write my letters."
Gaping at his smug grin, Hermione couldn't help but shake her head as his presumption. "You knew I'd say yes."
"Of course you were going to say yes," he teased, slipping his hand into hers, "you like any excuse not to wear that stupid polo."
She couldn't argue with his logic. And despite her propriety suggesting she ought to go to work anyway, there was a small voice in the back of her mind, and it sounded an awful lot like Malfoy's, as it whispered, just go with it.
By the time evening hit, they had explored most of the wizarding community in Pasadena; there was a branch of Gringotts on the high street and Hermione had even exchanged some Muggle money for galleons and made a few small purchases.
Malfoy had gifted her a small white dragon figure that blew miniature orange flames which tickled her palm. He'd presented it with a slow, languorous smirk.
As the sun began to set, he sighed, turning to face her. "I suppose we ought to head back."
"This has been fun," Hermione offered with a smile. "But I have a different idea."
"And what's that?" he asked, lips curling.
No one was around and she turned to face him, hands coming to his hips. "We could find a hotel and stay here tonight – and drive home tomorrow."
Ducking in, he pressed a brief kiss to her lips. "I really like that idea."
Hermione leaned back against the headboard in the hotel room they'd found, picking at one of several appetizers they'd ordered from room service after checking in.
"So," she began, popping a cube of cheese into her mouth, "tell me about New York. I've never been."
Gaze flickering to her, he nodded as he took a sip of his ale. "New York was… fast. I went there straight when I decided to leave Britain, and I didn't have a bloody clue about anything Muggle. I'd emptied my personal Gringotts account in Muggle money at Easter, just in case things went arse up… which they did."
Swallowing at the recollection of Easter, and what had happened at that point in time, she found herself seeking his gaze. The flicker in his brow suggested he understood, and hesitating, he pulled her hand into his.
He was silent for a long time before he breathed, "I'm so sorry for what she did to you, Granger. I should have done something. It's…" He blew out a long breath. "It's one of the many things I regret."
Her thumb grazed the back of his hand. "It wasn't your fault. And I don't know that you could have done anything, anyway."
After a long moment, his lips pressed into a tight smile that didn't quite feel sincere. "Right… so I was in New York, didn't know a soul, and I ended up blowing so much money in only a handful of months." He chuckled, shaking his head. "I'd been so used to living well, and had never realized the ramifications of doing so on limited funds. I was staying in the nicest hotels, going out and partying most nights with people I know you wouldn't have liked, and never even gave consideration to the fact that I was spending my life savings because all that Muggle money just didn't feel real."
He hesitated, in deep consideration. "And besides that, of course, I didn't give a shite. My life felt like a bloody train wreck and I didn't really care what happened."
Catching her gaze, a furrow pulled at his brow. Hermione gave his hand an encouraging squeeze. "I think sometimes, things happen when we need them to, not necessarily when we want them to. I'd burned the summons from the Ministry, and in New York I was right under MACUSA's nose. There were a few close calls that made me realize I was being stupid, so I bought a bus ticket and got out."
"And you came to California?" she asked, peering up at him.
Pressing his lips into a line, he nodded. "By the time I got here and sobered up for a while, I realized I'd burned through most of my money. I met Mikhael one day and he suggested I get a job at the pier – and after he taught me to drive, I spent the last of my money on the Jeep so I could get around. That was an interesting day." He shrugged, brows high as he glanced at her. "The rest, you can probably piece together."
Musing, she hummed. "That's why you said you don't like to drink much."
"Right." He bit the word through a clenched jaw. "I'm pretty strict with myself after a few these days. Even my sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts, I was drinking too much. I had no idea what to do, or how I'd ended up so far in, and everything felt like a mess."
Hermione smiled, her fingers playing across the back of his wrist. "Thank you for sharing with me."
Leaning back, he cradled his head in his hands against the headboard. "I know some of what happened to you during the war, but I can't imagine."
Settling beside him, Hermione tucked her feet beneath her. "It was some of the hardest times I've known. We had no idea what we were getting into when we left London. For a while it was just Harry and I – Ron had left, and everything felt so bloody hopeless." Falling silent, she stared at the quilt as a twisted jumble of bad memories chased past, and a flicker of the good. "But some days… it wasn't so bad after all."
Malfoy wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his chest. "And ultimately…"
"Ultimately," she breathed with a sigh, "it was okay. We lost a lot of really good people. But… it could have been so much worse."
Feeling the tension in his shoulders, she glanced at him, following his gaze to where the mangled scar tissue of his Dark Mark still existed. His lips were pursed when he looked at her, shifting, uncomfortable.
Pulling his arm into her lap, Hermione ran her fingertips across the outline of the dark tattoo that had once laid there. He attempted to pull his arm back but she held firm. Staring at it, she only breathed, "This doesn't define you, you know."
He choked, "It really does."
Boldly, she met his hesitant stare. "It doesn't hold any power over you any more. He doesn't hold power over you." Her fingers grazed the raised, scarred skin again. "I'm so glad for this opportunity to know you, and Draco, you are so much more than your past."
Expression pained, he only stared at her, breathing shallow. "Hermione, that's…" He shook his head, instead leaning in to capture her lips. When he drew back, his breath warm on her lips, she thought his eyes were glossy. His fingers played with her curls, and he said, "I've been debating covering it up. But I guess I keep thinking, maybe I don't deserve to forget about everything I did."
Hermione released a tight breath. "I think you should. The war's over – what you deserve is peace." His throat bobbed with a thick swallow, and her lips curled up into a smile. "I have an idea."
"No." He was resolute, his eyes narrowed as he squinted at the flashing neon lights. "Absolutely not."
"You could at least take a look." Her eyes slid sideways to meet his, but Malfoy shook his head slowly. "Fine. It was only an idea."
Huffing a breath through his nose, he folded his arms across his front. "Mikhael says they hurt like a sonofabitch."
Hermione's lips quirked into a smile. "I've heard that too."
Releasing an exaggerated exhale, he frowned. "Fine. Only if it means I won't have to stare at this blasted mess on my arm forever."
"Forever," she repeated with emphasis.
"But!" He raised a finger. "I'm not doing this alone."
Gaping, Hermione shook her head. "I'm not getting a tattoo."
She was met with wide puppy eyes blinking at her. "Surely there's something you'd like."
"I am not prepared to get something inked permanently on my skin. Not without due consideration as to content, placement, artist selection…" she listed, trailing off at the smirk tugging at his lips. "Alright, fine, I've considered it. But I haven't done the due diligence."
"Then why, dear Granger, are you not allowing me the same?" His drawl was thick, and her eyes tightened as she scowled at him. But then he shrugged, his shoulders tense. "Suppose we could at least look at some photos or something."
There was something about the trepidation in his face, about the way he slipped his hands into his pockets, the way his shoulders dropped.
"I mostly know what I want," she mused, taking a step closer. "So I guess I could get mine too, if it's important to you. But you need to be sure, because there's no going back from it."
A bitter twist pulled at his mouth. "There was no going back from a Dark Mark, either. And I wasn't given a choice in that matter." He took her hand, entwining their fingers. "Let's take a look. And I was only joking – you don't need to do this with me."
"It does hurt, from what I hear," she said quietly at his side.
He clicked his tongue, pursing his lips. "It can't hurt worse than having your skin infused with Dark Magic."
Hermione pressed her mouth shut, not entirely certain how to answer that. Sometimes it was startling to think of how much he was willing to open up to her, when they hadn't really known one another all that long.
Without another word, he blew out a long breath and pushed open the door, and Hermione followed in as the charm above the door tinkled; several people looked up at them, and Malfoy slipped his hands into his pockets once more.
"Hello," he began, with a stiff nod, "I'd like to get a tattoo."
Malfoy peered at his new tattoo, several hours later once they were back at the hotel. Grimacing, he jabbed a finger into its protective covering.
"Leave it alone." Hermione smacked his hand away. "It has to heal."
"Or you could cast a healing spell on it for me," he said with a teasing smirk. "Potential healer-in-training."
With a facetious smile, she shook her head. "I don't know well enough how the skin needs to heal. You could do it yourself."
With a laugh, he shook his head. "I don't even keep my wand on me anymore." Looking closer, he hesitated. "It's really something, isn't it?"
Hermione could hear, just below the edge of his words, the emotion he wasn't speaking. That after years of struggling and confronting his past and the role he had played, the evidence no longer glared at him, mockingly, from his forearm.
"It's fantastic," she breathed.
Instead of the scarred remains of his Dark Mark, the skin of his arm portrayed a beautiful oceanic sunset, tucked amongst daffodils – for a fresh beginning – and violets, symbolizing peace. It was quite remarkable the way the artist had been able to create something so beautiful with only minimal preparation.
Her own tattoo stung along the line of her collarbone – a series of small birds in flight, with a few flowers of remembrance for her parents.
Leaning back against the headboard, Malfoy continued to stare at the piece of art adorning his forearm, and his gaze slid to meet hers. "Thanks. For coming with me."
Pulling his other hand into her lap, Hermione traced an idle pattern on the back of it. A breath hitched in her throat as she mused, "It was my pleasure."
His grey eyes shone as he leaned in, pressing his lips to hers and drawing away, the minty freshness of his breath lingering against her mouth.
Tugging her beneath the covers, his arms wrapped around her, and within moments, Hermione found herself drifting to sleep within his secure embrace.
Author's Note: The support for this fic continues to overwhelm me, and you're all fantastic. Thank you for your words, for reaching out and sharing your artwork and music with me, and for continuing to have faith in this story. It all means more than I can say.
So much love to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347 for their alpha prowess, and to I was BOTWP my beta extraordinaire, who created an amazing manip of Draco's tattoo which I'll share on my tumblr later! (@indreamsink). This story wouldn't be what it is without these ladies.
How could I go home
When I feel like I belong
In your arms it's like Champagne
Feel it pouring in my veins
Yeah, I got myself too drunk on you to drive
So I'm crashing here tonight
Crashing - Illenium feat. Bahari
August swept in on a warm summer breeze, bringing with it the stark realization that Hermione had less than a month remaining before she would have to return to England.
She was leaning towards the Curse-breaking internship, which began promptly at the start of September, and while she anticipated the idea of it, she wasn't entirely sure she had the strength to walk away from her life in California.
The day before, after she and Malfoy had returned from Pasadena, Hermione had spent the afternoon with Lisa, shopping and visiting on the Santa Monica boardwalk. It was disarming to think that Lisa was rapidly becoming the closest girl friend she had ever found, aside from perhaps Daphne, and she didn't quite know how to explain that she would soon be leaving.
Malfoy hadn't brought up the subject, and while Hermione knew that he was aware, guilt had begun to creep in.
Perhaps she shouldn't have allowed anything to happen between them at all, knowing she had such a limited amount of time.
But he knew. He understood, and he was almost assuredly still interested in keeping things casual between them.
Although their trip to Pasadena, the conversations and experiences they had shared… none of that had felt particularly casual.
Strolling the midway after her shift was over, Hermione made her way over to Malfoy's stall, jumping in on a game with a handful of twenty-somethings, lips twitching as he shot her a smirk.
She flashed him a wide grin when she won.
After the group had carried on, he huffed a breath. "Finally! Do you know how many games you've lost?"
Her mouth pulled into a self-deprecating smile. "I've not a clue. But I imagine I've been largely supporting your booth."
He scoffed. "Close. But I haven't been accepting your money for a while now." With a furtive glance around, he handed her a small wad of paper notes. "The last thing you need is to spend all your hard earned money racing wooden horses."
Gaping at him, she breathed, "Isn't that theft?"
"The park doesn't need your money," he snipped, leaving little room for argument. "Especially since you only spend it to see me." With a smug look, he reached behind the counter and withdrew a large stuffed lion, brandishing it. "Congratulations!"
Eyes wide, she accepted the lion. "You've been waiting for me to finally win one, haven't you?"
His eyes rolled. "Like I said, it took you long enough."
Folding her legs beneath her on the stool, she clutched the lion to her chest with an absent smile. "Well earned, then. How late do you have to work?"
Checking the watch at his wrist, he announced, "Another hour."
Hermione's gaze lingered on the tattoo on his forearm, her heart leaping in her chest again at the sight of it. He'd removed the protective coating, and the shin still shone with a fresh rawness. Lifting his gaze back to her, he cocked a brow. "You've been looking after yours, I hope?"
"Of course." With a demure smile, she turned, gazing out at the passersby. The tattoo artist had been strict with them both about aftercare. "Permanent is permanent. Are you still happy with it?"
His eyes sparkled with a slow grin, and he said, "Thrilled."
Holding his gaze for a prolonged moment, she felt a hint of a fluttering in her stomach. "I'll wait for you, if you want."
"I want." His lips twitched into a smirk. "But I have something I wanted to show you anyways." Carding a hand through his hair, he dug in the pocket of his jeans for a folded sheet of parchment. After a moments' hesitation, he handed it to her.
Eyes widening as she recognized the tight script, Hermione read with her lips parted.
It was a letter from Daphne, expressing – rather exuberantly – her excitement to hear from him.
"You did owl her," Hermione mused.
"And Theo." He rubbed the back of his neck. "You were right. My friends deserve to know where I am. Read the rest of it."
At the bottom of the letter, Daphne said that she and Theo were interested in coming to see him the following week. Pulling her lip between her teeth, Hermione gazed up at him.
"That's good news, isn't it? To see your friends after so long."
"It is." He nodded. "But I wasn't sure whether you wanted me to tell Daph you've still been here. I didn't mention it in the letter… or anything about the two of us, but if you'd like to come along, you're welcome to."
Something about his casual inclusion of her – his mention of the two of them – tugged at her chest and her brow knitted as she nodded. "I'd like that."
"Good." He pocketed the letter, affixing his headset atop his hair as a group of people approached.
Slipping off her seat, Hermione waved with the lion. "I'll come back in an hour."
"Fine," he scoffed, moving the mouthpiece away so his voice wouldn't project, "now that you've won one you're not playing anymore?"
Giggling, she teased, "I'm quitting while I'm ahead."
His grey eyes sparkled. "I'll take you up the ferris wheel before we leave."
Smiling, she nodded, chewing her lip before turning and making her way down to the end of the pier where a spectacular sunset was materializing.
Malfoy strode past the line of carnival-goers directly to Mikhael, who waved them in and Hermione snuck through with an apologetic smile.
The sky was approaching dusk, the last hints of colour overtaken by a dark indigo as the moon lifted high into the sky.
Although she had already been up the ferris wheel, it felt different with him at her side as he slung an arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. The bright, colourful lights of the carnival down below flashed and sparkled, a startling juxtaposition to the darkness of the sky.
When they reached the top, the machine came to a shuddering halt, and Hermione shot Malfoy a look; his lips twitched as he peered over the edge of the cart.
Reaching an arm across his stomach as she laid her face on his chest, she breathed, "It sure is pretty up here."
She could just make out the dark ocean beyond the pier, and the bright haze of lights further in.
"It is." His tone was musing as he gazed out, before turning to look at her. His voice dropped, softening. "I think I'm going to miss you when you go home, Granger."
Something leapt and pulsed in Hermione's chest, chasing through her veins as she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. She managed, "I'm going to miss you, too."
With a long exhale, he went on. "I never imagined any of this happening. And then when I saw you that night, I didn't know what to think. That you, of all people, would be the first person from my past I'd seen in over a year."
Chuckling, she traced the stubble on his jaw. "You were presumed dead, so you can imagine my surprise."
Barking a laugh, he said, "I suppose I can."
"I'm glad you're going to see your friends next week."
An extended, heavy silence hung between them. "So am I." When she was sure he wasn't going to say anything more, he went on, his tone just above a whisper. "Thanks for taking a chance on me, Granger. For letting that Portkey go."
Emotion wrenched at her, leaving her tossing like a ship in the wind and she could only lean in, her lips finding his as her hands threaded in his hair.
He returned the kiss, urgency in his actions as his hands tightened on her back, tongue meeting hers as he delved into her mouth and Hermione found herself caught up in him, his words, his touch, as she shifted –
The cart startled into motion again and they wrenched apart; Hermione stared at him wide-eyed, chest lifting with heavy breaths.
His throat bobbed with a swallow, his stare lingering on her mouth.
"Do you want to come over?" she breathed.
The response was instant. "Yes."
His hands were on her the moment the door closed behind him in the kitchen. The stuffed lion fell to the floor, and Hermione pulled him closer, tugging at the hem of his shirt as his teeth grazed the curve of her jaw.
The sound of a throat clearing loudly threw them apart and Hermione felt heat flare in her face and neck upon seeing Lisa, wide-eyed, watching television in the next room.
"Please," she choked, waving a hand towards Hermione's room, "carry on. Without my involvement."
Malfoy huffed a laugh into her throat before taking her hand and dragging her bodily into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Wrenching her shirt off, he palmed her chest through her bra while she pulled his shirt up, mindful of his tattoo; her heart raced and pounded in her chest as his hands trailed the bare skin of her back and sides, his mouth finding hers again.
Hermione released the buckle of his belt, pulling it free of his jeans with a bit of a tremble to her hands. Reaching a hand into her nightstand drawer, she cast a quick silencing charm on the room and a contraceptive charm on herself.
"I thought you wanted to wait," he murmured against her lips, even as his fingers slipped the button of her shorts and pushed them from her hips.
"It's occurred to me," she responded, breathy and quiet as she undid the fly of his trousers, "that we don't have a lot of time, and there's no sense in delaying what feels pretty bloody inevitable."
"So inevitable," he groaned, as he toed his jeans off the rest of his way, snapping the closure of her bra free.
Staring at her, his lips parted, he gathered her breasts in his hands, ducking in to trace the line of her cleavage with his tongue before taking one nipple between his teeth, tweaking the other with his fingers.
Mind already spiralling with sensation, she tugged him towards the bed and he pushed her down, climbing atop and dropping a trail of kisses from her neck to her stomach, lingering at her chest.
Grey eyes snapped to meet hers as he toyed with the waistband of her knickers, seeking, and she nodded, swallowing thickly as he dragged the material down her legs. A cry escaped her lips as he inserted two fingers into her heat, and a smirk tugged at his lips as he eyed her folds.
Before she could comprehend, he ducked in, drawing her clit between his lips. Her toes curled as her hand fisted in his locks, head falling back against the pillow with a cry.
He laved at her with his tongue, setting a steady rhythm with his fingers, and a series of unintelligible sounds were pulled from her throat at the way he made her feel.
Thighs trembling as the pressure mounted and pushed at her, a low sort of keening spilled from her as his ministrations pushed her over the edge with a cry, his tongue and fingers working in tandem.
Malfoy offered her a slow, crooked smile as he emerged from between her legs, licking her juices from his lips. Gazing at him blankly, her chest heaving and head spinning, she pushed his shorts down, freeing his hard-on as she took it in her hand, tugging at the smooth flesh.
Shifting to hover above her, he murmured, "You're sure."
"Yes," she gasped, pulling his cock to align with her core, dragging it through her wetness and drawing a groan from him.
He growled, "Thank Merlin," and plunged into her, filling her with his thickness.
A harsh exhale escaped Hermione as he stared down at her for a moment, searching her stare for something – and then he moved. Setting a rapid pace, he pushed into her again and again, and her legs coiled around his waist as she shifted to accommodate him even deeper.
She gasped, choked his name, pulled at his hair, dragged her hands down his back as he pushed her near to the edge again.
His fingers clenched the skin of her hip, hard enough to bruise, and he thrust into her with a punishing pace, his lips finding hers with increased urgency. Desire filled her belly and thrummed through her veins – and with a darkening of her vision, orgasm crashed over her once more as her back arched from the bed into him.
Swallowing her cry, he gave a few more rough thrusts before coming with a groan of her name, burying his face in her neck with harsh breaths.
A thin sheen of perspiration clung to his temples as he shifted to stare at her, his grey eyes glossy and heated. She smiled, sweeping his hair back from his face as she pressed her lips to his once more in a lingering kiss, tasting the essence of herself on his tongue.
Quickly cleaning herself up, Hermione tucked herself into bed alongside him. His arms wrapped around her, their feet tangling together, and she drifted into sleep pressed against him.
When Hermione came into awareness the next morning, there was a sense of peace settled over her heart. Blinking, she realized a strong pair of arms were wrapped around her, and Malfoy's morning erection pressed against her arse.
Biting back a smile at the thought of the night before, she craned her head around to face him.
His breathing was still deep and even, his eyes gently closed, and his face looked so soft and youthful, despite the stubble and a bit of a furrow between his brows, she couldn't help herself to stare at him for a moment.
Sweeping his fringe out of his eyes carefully, she turned halfway and pressed a kiss to his lips. He didn't stir but to shift in sleep, his grip on her tightening.
Feeling a hint of mischief tug at her lips, she reached beneath the covers, wrapping her hand around his shaft and dragging it along his length.
Malfoy's eyes snapped open, wide, to meet hers, and he blinked several times, rubbing at his eyes before stifling a yawn. Then he offered her a cheeky, gut-wrenching smirk, his fingers flexing their grip on her as he plucked at one of her nipples.
Releasing her hold of him, Hermione pressed her arse backwards, grinding it against him and he groaned, dropping his face and biting into the skin of her shoulder.
He followed her slow rhythm, his hardness sliding against the growing wetness of her folds until he grasped hold of her, pressing her chest into the bed and drawing her arse up.
Biting into her bottom lip, Hermione's fingers curled into the sheets as he positioned himself at her entrance, teasing until he slid inside of her and they released a simultaneous groan.
Setting a tortuorous, teasing pace, Malfoy drove into her from behind, pressing her into the mattress as he pulled her earlobe between his teeth. Her eyelids fluttered at the depth of penetration, arching back into him as his hands trailed her sides and chest.
She wasn't entirely certain whether the silencing charm she had set the night before was still active, and she pressed her face into the sheets as his pace increased, holding tight to her arse as he slammed into her. Her release crashed, unexpected and intense, and he groaned into her neck, pushing harder until he followed her over the edge, collapsing against her on the bed.
"Fuck," he chuckled as he rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "I could wake up to that every day."
Smiling, she turned to face him, pressing a kiss to his mouth, even as ever-mounting guilt and despair settled into a place deep within her heart.
Hermione sunk into the couch beside Lisa, drawing a pillow to her chest as she dropped her head onto the girl's shoulder. Malfoy had left to get ready for work and she went through the motions of showering, feeling only partially refreshed.
"Fun night?" Lisa mused.
"Yes," Hermione replied, absently picking at the fringe on the pillow. "It was lovely."
"Good." Cracking a grin, Lisa nudged her in the shoulder. "I'm glad he's keeping you happy."
With a half-hearted smile, Hermione nodded. "He is – more than I could have imagined."
Something knowing flashed in Lisa's expression, and she pulled at one of Hermione's damp curls, coiling it around her fingers before moving on to the next. "And you're sad because you're going back to England."
The word was a whisper. "Yes."
"Do you have to?" Lisa asked with a shrug. "I know you said you have a job lined up or something… but can you do it here? Or maybe Draco wants to go back home?"
"It has to be there," Hermione mused, shaking her head. "The offer is only available at home. And he doesn't ever want to go back."
It was difficult to have the conversation when Lisa obviously wasn't privy to any of the details of the situation, and there were no parts of it Hermione could openly share without breaking wizarding law. But she could convey the basics of it.
"Sweetie," Lisa said, wrapping an arm around Hermione's shoulders, "all I know is that I haven't seen that boy so happy in the past year since I met him. Whatever he's running from did him bad, but you're good for him. And if it's meant to work, you two will figure it out."
"Right." Hermione frowned, staring blankly at the carpet. "If only it were that simple, I'm afraid."
"It's as complicated as you make it." Checking her watch, Lisa smiled. "Do you have to work today?"
Shaking her head, Hermione felt her eyelids flutter, and wondered how late they had been awake the night before. "Not today. Thankfully."
"I don't work until tonight." Leaning back, Lisa clapped her hands together. "What do you say you cover up that fresh ink and we hit the beach and practice your swells? Just us girls."
Gratefulness tugged at her heart as she peered at Lisa. "That sounds perfect."
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Thanks so much, as always, for your kind words on this story. Let me know what you thought!
Alpha hugs to both Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta love to I was BOTWP.
Author's Note: Psst I forgot the song on the last chapter - I know some of you are into that sort of thing, so it's there now (and it's a gooder)!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Nothing's ever what we expect
But they keep asking where we're going next
All we're chasing is the sunset
Got my mind on you
Sun Goes Down - Robin Schulz feat. Jasmine Thompson
Malfoy leered at her from outside of the gift shop, and Hermione ducked out into the walk after ensuring Roger was busy in the back.
"I drove down to Pasadena yesterday while you were busy," he said without preamble, squinting into the brightness of the sun. "Theo and Daph are going to be here tomorrow. Do you still want to come?"
"Yes." Biting back a smile, she linked their hands, entwining their fingers. "What time? I work until two."
With a shrug and a hint of a smile, he said, "I know. I checked your schedule. They're coming to Venice at three."
The fingers of her free hand tapped an anxious rhythm on her thigh. Theodore Nott had been civil during their eighth year, although she still didn't know much about him, and to her knowledge, Malfoy still hadn't told Daphne about the two of them. But something danced behind the grey in his eyes, and she eased a step closer.
"You're looking forward to seeing your friends."
"You know," he said, with a huff, "I actually am."
Hermione dropped his hand, glancing behind her, making sure Roger hadn't emerged. "Then I can't wait."
He smirked, leaning against the building. "The look on Daphne's face when she finds out you've been here all along is going to be priceless. But don't worry – I'll tell her I asked you to keep it private. She can blame me, and she will."
"She will," she echoed, teasing.
"Hermione!" Roger barked, suspicion on his face as he scowled at her through the front door of the shop. Malfoy's lips pulled into a sneer as his eyes narrowed in return.
"Coming," she breathed, rolling her eyes before ducking back into the shop.
Hermione took her time in making her way to the beach the following day, knowing Malfoy would appreciate the time spent with his friends. He had picked her up from the carnival and driven her home, but she had urged him to carry on to the beach without her.
It wasn't a far walk from Lisa's house, and the sun shone in a cloudless sky overhead, wiping out any residual melancholy about thoughts of England and returning home.
She found them at his favourite place on the Strand, sharing a drink, and he cracked a grin, laughing at something as she approached. Noticing her, he looked up, a devilish glint in his eyes.
Meekly, Hermione slipped into the open chair beside him, to be met with the matching astonished stares of both Theo and Daphne. Tension sitting in her shoulders, Hermione managed a quiet, "Hi."
Confusion flashed in Daphne's expression, coupled with something else, as she said, "Hermione? What are you doing here?" When Hermione glanced at Malfoy, shifting towards him infinitesimally, there must have been something in her countenance, because Daphne's mouth fell wide. "No!"
"Granger and I," Malfoy began, pulling her hand into his, "ran into one another at the pier when you were on holiday. I asked her to let me tell you I was here on my own terms."
Theo's brow wrinkled, and for a brief moment Hermione thought he was going to make a critical comment – her house, her blood status, her hair – when he chuckled. "I always thought the two of you would be a good match if you'd only pulled your heads out of your arses."
Hermione blinked at him – it wasn't what she had been expecting from the man, but Malfoy only laughed, flashing her a grin.
"Huh," Daphne said, deep in consideration as she folded her arms, glancing at Theo. "You're right – I see it."
And it was that simple – the tension in her shoulders dissipated as Hermione settled into her seat, ordering a drink to steady her nerves.
"So you just…" Daphne trailed off, a tilt to her head, "never left California? You've been here this whole time?" A hint of envy coloured her tone as she added, "You're quite tanned."
"Yes." Hermione nodded, apologetic. "I wanted to tell you, Daph, but it didn't feel right to share."
The blonde shook her head, waving off the concern with a dismissive hand. "Are you not coming back in September for your internship, then?"
"I am," Hermione hedged, unable to meet Malfoy's gaze. "I'll come back at the end of August."
"So then," Theo interrupted, his gaze brightening, "you'll be coming back too?"
Malfoy pressed his lips into a thin line. "I'll be staying here in California."
It occurred to Hermione, as recognition of the tension in his words settled over the four of them, that maybe it wasn't the best time to tell his friends about them. But in less than a month, there would no longer be any sort of time.
Forcing a smile, she managed to choke out, "We haven't quite sorted… that. Yet."
Daphne and Theo exchanged a grimace. Malfoy's hand clenched around hers and Hermione took a long sip of her drink.
The silence stretched on enough for Hermione to shift in her seat, uncomfortable, as longing and hesitation tugged at her chest.
Finally Malfoy tapped his nails on the wooden surface of the table in front of him, a grimace on his face. "So how long are you two planning on staying?"
Theo and Daphne exchanged a glance, and Theo shrugged. "A few days."
"Good," Hermione exclaimed. "Why don't you both come over tonight? We'll do a fire."
Malfoy nodded. "You can see Granger's surfing skills."
At Daphne's lifted brow, Hermione groaned. "Merlin, no. He's the one you ought to watch." Head dropping into a tilt, she suggested, "Or you can both rent boards tomorrow."
"Doesn't matter to me," Theo said with a shrug and a banal smile.
"Oh." Malfoy made a face. "Just, be careful, yeah? Granger's roommate and our friends are all Muggles. So mind your language."
Daphne glanced at Theo again, and the pair of them seemed to communicate something before turning back to face Malfoy, Daphne with a smile on her face. "Right. Muggles. Of course you're friends with Muggles."
Malfoy only chuckled. "A lot has changed, Daph."
"Clearly," she mused, her lips curling. "For one, you're smiling."
Hermione perched on the deck in the backyard after a fire-grilled meal, eyeing Malfoy and Nott who looked to be in a serious conversation across the yard. Mikhael and Lisa were roasting marshmallows over the fire, and Daphne took up the spot beside Hermione, her green eyes expectant.
"So," the girl prompted, nudging Hermione with her leg. "You and Draco."
Brows high, Hermione gave a resigned nod. "I'm as shocked as you are. But I think… once I started getting to know him, I realized how much he wanted a fresh start. Just as much as anyone else – more, even."
A sad smile flickered across Daphne's face. "And you're sure on leaving him here?"
"I don't know what else to do," she whispered. "I can't just give up on everything back home. I don't want to work at the pier forever, and… I don't want to just run away."
Deep in thought, Daphne stared at her. "It would be nice if Draco decided to come back to England, wouldn't it?"
"He won't," Hermione said with a sigh. "He thinks he'll be thrown in Azkaban. And I don't know that I can ask him, anyways. I think he's really found peace here, Daph – or he's working on it, at least."
"I can see that," Daphne mused, "but do you think some of his peace is because of you?"
Taken aback, Hermione found herself gazing at him across the yard; he chuckled with Theo, taking a sip from a bottle of beer. Feeling her stare, he looked up, a slow smirk drawing across his face.
She breathed, "I don't know. And even if it is… don't you think he needs to find peace on his own?"
"I think we've all needed to find peace in our own way," Daphne said with a nod. "And do you feel like you have? I don't know that it's something that just comes neatly packaged with a bow on top. Maybe it comes in ways we aren't expecting. And maybe… we all need to help one another through this, even if just in some small way."
Daphne's words struck a chord and Hermione felt the sting of moisture in her eyes. She sighed, giving Daphne a wry smile.
"I guess you're probably right," she said, falling silent for a long moment. "I guess the other thing is, I don't know that I want to leave here, either."
"Well Merlin, if you move here too I'll have a reason to visit California more often." Daphne's words were teasing even as her expression was serious. "But you know I'd miss you. Both of you."
"I wanted to tell you Daph, truly," Hermione said, tapping her fingertips on the deck. "But Malfoy asked me not to, and it just felt important to let him come to terms with all of this on his own."
"I understand." Daphne's eyes lingered on Malfoy and Theo, who had joined Mikhael and Lisa around the fire. "But you'd better believe I was shocked when I received Draco's letter."
Chuckling, Hermione met her friend's stare. "I can imagine. I was shocked when I first saw him at the pier. And working at a carnival, of all possible things."
Daphne's nose wrinkled with distaste. "I can't honestly see either of you working at a grungy Muggle carnival. But I'll have to come visit and see what you've been up to before we head back."
"I'm sure you'll have more fun tomorrow at the beach." Flashing Daphne a grin, she pulled her into a sort of partial embrace. "I'm glad you're here."
Clicking her tongue, Daphne drew away. "I always will be." Peering closer at the sweet confections everyone else was making with their toasted marshmallows she added, "I want one of those."
In a flash, she leapt up from the deck and Hermione chuckled, following after her.
Floating atop his own board alongside her, Malfoy peered at Hermione with consternation.
It was the second day at the beach since Daphne and Theo had arrived, and after a disastrous attempt at a group lesson the day before, the visiting pair had opted to hire professional instructors for lessons that day.
"How are you doing?" he finally asked. "I know with Daph and Theo here, you and I haven't had much time."
"Great," she said, shooting him a teasing grin. She collapsed lengthwise on her board, resting her aching muscles. "I'm only glad you're getting to spend some time with you friends for the first time in over a year."
"If you're sure," he mused. "They're going out to the club with Lisa and Mikhael tonight, apparently, so we can go, or we can have a night alone together."
Paddling closer, Hermione met his stare. "That is up to you. They're only here one more day, and I want you to feel good about it when they leave."
"Honestly." Malfoy splashed her in the face and she recoiled, firing him a scowl. "I want to spend time with you. We can watch a movie or something." He hesitated, a smirk crossing his face. "Besides, I'm sure Theo will be back to visit often now that he knows how to find me."
"Right." Her voice was soft, her smile forced. "Of course."
"And as it turns out," he breathed, expression faltering, "I only have limited time with you as well."
"Draco," she whispered, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. "We can work something out, don't you think? After I go back. If you… if you still want, that is."
He flashed a tight smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Of course we can. It won't be the same, but… maybe I'll get an owl or something. We can call one another."
"I can come visit," she managed. "At holidays. Maybe the odd weekend."
"Right." A flicker of a grimace crossed his face. "Yeah. That would be good."
His words did nothing to reassure her.
"Okay," Malfoy huffed with a laugh, passing her the joint. "There was no way anyone was ever passing you for top marks in Arithmancy. I don't even know how many times I saw you passed out in the library during sixth year with ink equations imprinted on your face."
A flush came to her cheeks as she sucked in a long hit, shaking her head before she blew out the smoke. "I had to be sure you weren't going to pass me."
"Please," he muttered, "I had bigger problems during sixth."
"Fifth, then," she said, taking another puff before passing the joint back. "There was that one assignment and I saw you had an O, when Vector only gave me an E. I studied extra every night for the next two weeks before the exam."
"I remember that." He cracked a grin, taking a long drag. "I was so bloody proud over that. Theo got sick of me bragging about it."
Propping herself up on her elbows in the grass, she shoved into his shoulder. The darkness of the night sky hung above them, faintly illuminated with metropolitan light.
Scoffing, he narrowed his eyes and jabbed her in the ribs with his free hand. Sucking in a long hit, he leaned in to press his lips to hers, blowing the smoke into her mouth; she hacked a breath, caught off guard.
Malfoy threw his head back with a laugh as she swiped the joint, giggling despite herself.
"I bet," she tittered, tears stinging at her eyes as her throat burned, "Theo got sick about you bragging a lot."
"Watch yourself, Granger," he growled, propping the joint between his lips and pinning her into the grass, tickling his fingers along her sides.
With a bright laugh, Hermione swatted at his hands. She nicked the joint from his mouth, taking a hit and blowing the smoke up at him.
Malfoy snickered, holding firm to her wrist in the grass as he extracted the joint from her fingers, taking a final drag and putting out the rest while she giggled, wiping at her eyes. "I think you've had enough," he choked, pulling her to her feet.
Hermione stumbled into him, her hands lacing around his neck as she grinned at him, her eyes heavily lidded. "Movie?"
"Movie," he echoed, before adding, "and snacks."
She gasped, "Snacks."
With a smack to her arse, he led her back into the house where he shuffled through a stack of Lisa's movies and brandished three random selections. Hermione tapped the nearest one, bustling off to fill a bowl with crisps.
She watched the first half hour of the movie, only partly attentive as Malfoy became increasingly touchy, until his hands were clenched on her hips, tugging her closer, his lips on her neck.
It was the first time they'd had alone in days to just relax since everyone else was out for the night, and she giggled, swinging a leg over his lap until she climbed atop him, burying her hands in his hair and kissing him.
His hands grabbed hold of her arse, hitching her closer so she could feel his erection beneath her, and her belly clenched in anticipation. Fingers sliding beneath the elastic waistband of her shorts, he dragged the fabric down her legs, tossing them to the floor.
Snorting, Hermione buried her face in his throat as he shoved her knickers to the side, sliding two fingers inside of her until her breath was chasing from her in a quick rhythm and she made fast work of the closure of his jeans, forcing him to shift so she could push them down his arse.
"Contraceptive," he murmured against her mouth, and cursing, Hermione ran into the bedroom for her wand, returning moments later to retake her position after stripping off her knickers.
Grey eyes flashing, Malfoy stared up at her with a smirk as she freed his cock from his shorts before sheathing herself atop it without preamble, and he huffed a sharp exhale at the motion.
Her lips found his as she shifted, lazily easing up and back down, using his shoulders as leverage.
"Fuck, Granger," he groaned, palming her bare arse as his head fell backwards against the back of the couch.
As she increased her pace, he ripped her shirt over her head, burying his face in the line of her cleavage, and dragging the cups of her bra to the side, teasing her nipples with his mouth and fingers.
She wrenched his mouth back to hers as she chased her release, riding him to completion, and with a few upward thrusts he fell after her with his own. Breathing heavily, Hermione pressed her temple to his, her hands lingering in his damp hair as she came back down.
He drew her face towards him, planting a soft kiss to her lips, his eyelids fluttering as he stared at her. Then he cracked a grin. "Get dressed," he muttered, "honestly, your roommate could have walked in."
Jabbing him in the side, Hermione collected her clothes and ran to the loo to clean up and change. She collapsed back into his chest; he'd righted himself as well, and she stared absently at the rest of the movie, eyelids heavy and a hint of a smile lingering on her lips.
It was more difficult than Hermione had anticipated to say goodbye the Daphne, the following day when she prepared to leave for work. She and Theo were set to Portkey home that afternoon, but had promised to stop by the carnival briefly before they left.
And they had also promised to visit regularly.
Malfoy shoved his hands in his pockets as he talked to Theo out of earshot, and Hermione wrapped her arms around Daphne's shoulders, drawing the girl closer. She breathed, "Owl lots?"
"Of course." Daphne drew back, her expression serious. "And you. Let me know… what you decide."
With a stuttering nod, Hermione did her best to ignore the jolt in her chest. "I will. Take care of yourself. And Theo."
She wasn't certain but thought she had picked up on something between the pair of them over the handful of days they'd been in California together.
Daphne's answering wink confirmed it. "I'd say take care of Draco, but I think at this point I need to be sure he's taking care of you."
Hermione whispered, "A bit of both, I think."
"Good." Daphne's hand lingered on Hermione's arm. "I meant it, Hermione. I've never seen Draco like this."
With a slow nod, she forced a smile. "Neither have I. And I quite like him, Daph."
"Then you'll make it work, however that looks to the two of you." With a reassuring nod, she pulled her lower lip between her teeth. "I have faith."
"Thanks, Daph," Hermione whispered. "Be safe."
"Granger," Malfoy drawled, sidling up alongside her. "You're going to be late for work – come on. Daph – look after Theo, yeah?"
Daphne rolled her eyes, pulling Malfoy in for an embrace. "You know I will." She drew back, fixing him with a firm stare despite the significant height difference. "It was good to see you again, Draco. And I'm glad you're doing well."
With sincerity on his face, he gripped her shoulder. "Same to you, Daph."
Then he spun, slinging an arm around Hermione's shoulders and dragging her to the Jeep while she turned and waggled her fingers at the pair of them.
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for reading! It's been a rough couple weeks on this end, and I'm thrilled you're sticking with me, even if summer is coming to an end. I hope you enjoyed the chapter – let me know what you thought!
Much love to my alpha and beta squad, Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP for their efforts.
I'm slowly drifting (drifting away)
And it feels like I'm drowning
Pulling against the stream
Pulling against the wave
Waves - Mr Probz
Gazing out beyond the break, Hermione felt her mind drifting.
She had received a letter back from Harry the day before – he would be returning to training but would try to accommodate her when she was available – and she had Apparated to Pasadena while Malfoy was working to send a brief response.
His less than enthusiastic letter had been the least of her worries.
As she had penned her return missive, Hermione was jarred to read her own words as she informed Harry she would be back in England within a few weeks. The thought of it left a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach, and around the edges of her heart.
"What," Malfoy drawled, "the fuck are you doing?"
Shaking her head and blinking rapidly, Hermione stared at him. She was in the ocean, draped halfway across her board as her mind fluttered and ran away with her, the waves slowly pushing her further towards shore.
Eyes tightening, she quipped, "I was watching you and Mikhael."
"Right." The flicker of his brow suggested he didn't believe her but wasn't going to press. Hermione suspected she was alarmingly transparent at this point, at least as far as he was concerned.
"Do you want to come out further today?" His lips twitched with a smirk, and if she wasn't mistaken, a hint of pride. "It's a hell of a leap from what you're used to, but Lisa and I both think you're ready to try something more challenging."
Her mood brightened as she bit down on her lower lip, nodding. "If you think I can manage it."
"I don't think you can actually manage it yet," he said, beginning to paddle further out again. "But I think it's about time you give it a shot and see what you're up against. And please, Granger, don't bloody drown."
With a snort, she followed.
Several hours later, her muscles weary and stomach nauseated with the abundance of saltwater she'd swallowed, Hermione's interest was starting to wane, and her patience was slipping.
Huffing a frustrated breath, she hauled herself atop the board, flopping out lengthwise. Sweeping his hair back, Malfoy swam closer, resting his arms on the side of her board.
"What are you doing?" he asked, squinting in the brightness of the sun. "You were pretty close on that one."
"Tired," she sighed, letting her eyes fall shut. Clenching her jaw, she added, "Go ahead without me."
He pulled her close hand into his, a brow lifting. "Do you want to go in for the day? We can get something to eat if you want."
"Doesn't matter." Hermione was aware her attitude was poor, when he was making a solid effort to teach her despite that she hadn't even come close to managing one of the taller waves out beyond the breakwater.
Malfoy frowned, sucking on his teeth as he stared at her. Some of the warmth dropped from his gaze as he said, "Well let me know when you decide."
The overarching problem was that she couldn't decide. Her heart ached just to look at him and she pressed her eyes tightly shut. If she had any ounce of sense she would let him go, before things got any further on between them.
But the thought alone was painful enough to wrench her in two.
"It won't matter if I learn," she whispered, glancing at him again, "in a few weeks."
His expression hardening, Malfoy let her hand slip from his. "If that's how you think of it, then no, I guess it won't matter."
The sting in his tone made her flinch, and she rolled her face away so he couldn't see the moisture playing at the corners of her eyes. She could feel the tension radiating between them and imagined he was about to swim off.
Unable to handle that, either, she turned back to face him, rolling onto her side. She whispered, "I'm sorry. I want to learn – I'm just struggling."
The tight lines on his face released as Malfoy leaned in closer. "I know you are – and you're so close. I wish you could see it. I know you're going to get there, but we can try again next time –"
"Struggling," she repeated in a broken whisper, a tear leaking unbidden from her eye nearest the board as she gazed at him.
His stare shifted, softening, something like pain behind the grey in his eyes. "I'm struggling too." Shaking his head, he looked away. "I keep telling myself you're leaving but it doesn't make it any easier to accept."
Something soft and strangled escaped from her throat as she stared up at the blinding brightness of the sun, white spots lingering behind her eyelids. "I'll understand if you want to call this off."
Even as she spoke the words, something deep within her shattered at the thought that he might agree. But it wasn't fair to ask him to stay when there was only a mess waiting for them.
Apparition and Portkeys made things easier than they would have if they were Muggles, but given he refused to do anything magical, it would be a tremendous hassle to see one another with any sort of regularity. Especially when she started working full-time in her internship, and with him working shifts at the carnival…
"I don't want to call it off," he said, his gruff tone interrupting her thoughts. "In case it isn't obvious, I like you."
She managed to whisper, "I like you, too."
"And," he said, peering at her from beneath a knitted brow, "I want to make this work."
"Even if we're across the world from one another?" she asked, a shameful level of desperation leaking through her words as she stared at him.
"Even if," he said, pressing forward onto her board to plant a kiss on her lips. Sinking back with his arms folded on the edge, he shook his head as he squinted at her. "You're worth the effort, Granger, or don't you realize?"
Her heart could just rend in two at any time, and that might make this all easier.
"Then I suppose," she huffed, her words meek and exhausted, "I ought to work on my surfing."
A sad, despairing hint of a smile pulled at his lips as he dropped a hand to her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "Next time – when we're fresh. I'm tired, too. Let's go for a drive."
Planting her face flat on the board, Hermione said, "I'd like that."
Over the following week, every action, every smile, every laugh had been forcibly wrenched from her. She had spent almost every free day with Malfoy, seeing one another before or after one of them was meant to work, and meeting up on their breaks.
She had managed a half-arsed effort at a tall wave the day before, and the breathtaking grin of pride on his face had nearly drawn tears from her eyes as he pulled her into his arms in the ocean.
And in the dead of night, when he was buried inside of her, his face hidden in the crook of her neck and her hands clinging to the hard planes of his back, emotion was wrought forth from deep within her.
Hermione knew without a shadow of a doubt she wasn't ready to unpack any of that.
Because there was no way she –
Not in such a short amount of time.
And even if she was, if she had – he wasn't –
She was leaving in a matter of weeks, and if she did feel about him like that… Hermione wasn't certain she would have the strength to walk away.
But if she didn't return home, she would only be running away. She wouldn't reach her potential in the magical world and her NEWTs would go unused. There was no way she could stay working at the gift shop on the pier for much longer without going mad, and there were so few opportunities without any Muggle schooling or relevant experience.
Even so, she tossed and rolled as she tried to find sleep in his embrace, night after night.
When he shifted in his sleep, grey eyes drowsy as they blinked open at her, there was both understanding and something disconcerting in his stare.
Life had come to feel so easy and free with him by her side, and Hermione wasn't certain how that had happened. It hadn't been all that long since she had stumbled across him at the carnival, but there were parts about it she couldn't wrap her head around.
Even when they were doing nothing – even when she was frustrated and annoyed at work – he managed to make her smile. He had become a friend and confidant, and she supposed, her boyfriend.
But the moniker fell short, when something else lingered in the darkness of the night in his arms. Something hesitant and anticipatory, and something just beyond her comprehension.
Malfoy was no longer the boy she had known from school – and Hermione was starting to suspect she wasn't the same girl either.
"Let's go somewhere," he declared, one arm tight around her shoulders as they watched some aimless, meandering Muggle sitcom on the television, neither particularly attentive.
He had an apartment – Hermione had been to visit twice, only briefly – but he had spent the majority of his time at Lisa's house since Theo and Daphne had left.
"What do you mean, somewhere?" she asked, peering up at him with consternation. "Like on a trip?"
"A trip, yeah," he murmured. "Before you leave."
She fought the wince at his words – the feeling had become almost constant when either of them brought up the topic, but mostly they danced around it in a waltz of denial.
"A trip sounds nice." Dropping her face into his chest, Hermione found comfort in the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. "Where to?"
"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "I have three days off next weekend – do you think you can move some shifts around? Somewhere we can drive."
"I think so," Hermione said, curling tighter into him. "I'll just ask one of the other employees to switch, because I doubt Roger will give me time off."
"Roger's a tosser," Malfoy bit out, leaning in to tug her earlobe between his teeth; a shiver shot down her spine and she arched into him. "If he won't give you the time off, just don't show up. It's not like you'll be working there much longer anyways."
Snorting, she jabbed him in the ribs, trying to hold in a smile. "I suppose you're right."
His fingers rolled along the curve of her shoulder, and he picked up the remote, turning the inane program on the television off and facing her. Hermione propped herself up, tucking her feet beneath her.
Malfoy stared at her for a long moment – long enough that she shifted, feeling uncomfortable in his gaze. "You're going home soon, and I just want the two of us to spend some time together. No work, no one else, just…"
With a shake of his head, his words trailed off. Hermione swallowed, her mouth dry, and whispered, "Just a goodbye."
His expression faltered, and she could see, from so close, the dark circles beneath his eyes. "A goodbye," he echoed, adding, "for now."
On a tight exhalation, her lips found his, and she wondered whether he could feel the moisture breaking from her eyes.
They were out on the Santa Monica boardwalk, and as the evening bled into night, Hermione heard a light tinkling of music in the distance. Exchanging a glance with Malfoy, she tucked into his side as he looped an arm around her back; his mouth split into a crooked grin.
Warmth still hung in the air, and despite wearing only a summer dress and a thin cardigan, Hermione was comfortable. Malfoy wore dark jeans and a button-down shirt, his hair swept into a classy style atop the crown of his head – it was unusual to see him done up a little.
As they approached they discovered a four-piece band, a short distance from the main stretch of the boardwalk, playing bright tunes as a few couples danced and spun to the impromptu music of the buskers.
With a grin, Malfoy nudged her in the side before offering his hand.
Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, Hermione smiled. "I thought you don't like to dance."
He rolled his eyes – they darkened as they landed back on her. "I don't – but you do."
Her heart leapt in her chest at his admission, and with a coy smile, she slipped her hand into his.
Cicadas and crickets sang in the distance, an accompanying chorus as Draco drew her closer, arms wrapping around her back as hers twined around his neck. His forehead pressed against her temple as the band struck up a slow ballad, and Hermione could feel the warmth of his breath on her skin.
Allowing her eyes to flutter as he led, a smile pulled to Hermione's lips.
For all his gruff exterior and drawling sarcasm, there was a side to him that she was learning and enjoying more by the day.
On a whim, Malfoy spun and twirled her as the band picked up into a more upbeat song, and he flashed her a wide grin, a pink flush in his cheeks as he drew her closer, leading her into a more complicated dance.
Following his lead, Hermione stumbled over her feet a few times before she managed to get the steps right; he'd been serious when he said he'd been dancing his entire life, and a bright laugh escaped her as the crowd around them moved to the sides to watch.
When the song came to an end, Hermione buried her face in his chest as he chuckled, planting a kiss into her disorderly curls. The crowd, and even a few members of the band, gave a light smattering of applause, and throwing caution to the wind, Hermione ducked into a bit of an obliging curtsey.
Meeting his sparkling grey eyes, Hermione wondered, for a brief moment, how she'd been lucky enough for fate to cast its hand upon her, that day she'd stumbled across Draco Malfoy.
"I hear you and Draco are going on a little trip," Lisa announced, her brows waggling. "When are you going home again?"
"Yes," Hermione said, easing onto the couch beside her. "I'm leaving August 30th." In actuality, she had Apparated to the wizarding high street in Pasadena a few days before to secure an International Portkey from their MACUSA liaison office. But to everyone but Malfoy, she was taking an airplane home.
Lisa's mouth pulled to the side as she nodded, brows sinking on her forehead. "Where is he taking you?"
"He says he wants to go to Napa Valley?" Hermione shrugged, knowing only vague details about his locale of choice. "We'll be staying there for two nights."
Gaping, Lisa's eyes went wide. "Napa! Mikhael won't even take me to Napa. I'm sure you'll have a lovely time." A grin crossed her face. "Drink lots of wine."
"I sort of feel like Draco's more of a beer drinker," Hermione quipped, returning the smile, which faltered when Lisa's grin widened.
"I don't think I've ever heard you call him Draco," the girl said, nudging Hermione in the shoulder. A flush crossed heated up Hermione's cheeks at the slip. "Which, by the way, I find it incredibly odd that you're dating, and you're sleeping together, and you still refer to one another by your surnames."
"I call him Draco," she managed, "sometimes. Not very often."
"Why?" Lisa asked, snickering. "Draco's a nice name. Weird, but it suits him for some odd reason."
She hesitated, considering the thought. It was strange, to anyone who didn't know them and their past – and she wondered whether Lisa would press. "I've just always thought of him as Malfoy, and he's always called me Granger. We didn't get on at school, at all, and it was a hostile thing I suppose."
"Well," Lisa said with teasing emphasis, "now it's a love thing, so you should change that, don't you think?"
Freezing, Hermione felt her eyes widen as her heart jolted in her chest. She was highly aware of the shallowness of her breathing, her fingers clenched on her knees.
Following her reaction, Lisa's eyes stretched in turn. "You haven't –" She shook her head, looking uncomfortable. "You haven't said it?"
"No," Hermione choked out. "I haven't."
"Do you?" Lisa asked, her voice timid. "Has he?"
"He hasn't," she breathed. "And… I don't know. Maybe I haven't given it too much thought."
The softness in Lisa's face was almost too much for Hermione to handle, and the tension in her entire body wanted her to run as Lisa murmured, "Maybe you're afraid to admit it because you won't want to leave him."
Staring for a long moment, Hermione shook her head, managing a thick swallow. "Maybe."
"And if he says it this weekend in Napa?" Lisa asked, quirking her brows.
Eyes flying wide again, Hermione could only gape. "Do you think he's going to?"
Lisa gazed at Hermione with a sad smile on her face. "Sweetie. That boy is long gone for you. I know if I were him, and the girl I loved was about to move away to a different fucking continent… I'd be trying my damnedest to get her to stay with me."
"Love," Hermione whispered, mostly to herself; the word felt thick and cumbersome on her tongue, and uneasy in the pit of her stomach.
"Don't let me sway you," Lisa went on, looking away and blinking rapidly. "I know your reasons for leaving are important to you. But I would just really think about what – and who – you're leaving behind. You're a smart girl… but maybe you need to think this one through with your heart."
Hermione didn't know how to respond to any of that, other than to swipe at her eyes. Lisa rose from her seat, wrapping her arms tightly around Hermione's shoulder. A great sniffle wrenched out as she returned the hug, her eyes pressing shut with a whispered, "Thanks."
Malfoy came over that night, and they built up a bonfire in the backyard. He was quiet and sullen, and wordlessly lit up a joint as he tossed a log in the fire.
With a long drag, he gazed into the flames, and it was long-belated when he offered her a hit.
"I'm okay," Hermione whispered, pulling her knees up to her chest. With a shrug, he took another hit himself. "Are you excited for Napa?"
He nodded, distracted, before turning to face her. "I am. I've never been. I think it'll be really nice."
With a slow nod, Hermione stared into the flames. "I was able to switch my shifts around."
"Right," he said. "Good."
"So shall we leave Friday morning?"
"Yeah." Sucking in a long drag, his eyes fluttered as he blew out the smoke. "Friday morning, early. It's a six hour drive so let's leave early."
Feeling timid and cautious, Hermione whispered, "I'm really looking forward to it."
Lisa's words had been bouncing around her head all day, and she jolted a little when he grabbed her hand, pulling her closer to him on the deck. With a small sigh, Hermione folded into his side and he wrapped an arm around her back.
Plucking the joint from his fingers, Hermione offered a small smile as she took a hit before handing it back, releasing the smoke into the space between them.
He cracked a smirk, taking a last hit before he put out the rest of it.
His lips met her curls, hand tangling in her hair before he drew back, pressing his forehead to the side of her temple. "I am, too. Merlin, I'm looking forward to it." Flashing her a grin, he entwined their fingers, giving her hand a squeeze. "Wait until you see the hotel room I booked."
"Oh," Hermione said, giving an uneasy chuckle, "I hope you haven't spent a lot of money."
Scoffing, he shook his head. "All I do is work and surf. I can afford to spend a bit on my girl for her last weekend here."
Thinking again of Lisa's words, she wondered if he would ask her to stay.
And somewhere, deep down, and for only a second, Hermione wondered if she had it in her to ask him to come home. She knew she didn't – not seeing how much he loved California. Not having seen the sparkle of the ocean in his eyes – seeing him more at peace than she ever could have imagined.
He deserved that peace, after everything he had been through. So no, she wouldn't ask him to come home.
Hermione had confirmed the curse-breaking internship; she would need to follow through. And they had agreed they wanted to make things work between them. She was quite certain they could.
Realizing she hadn't responded, she pressed a soft kiss to his lips, leaning in closer when he deepened the touch, tongue teasing hers.
"Come on," he whispered, pulling her to her feet and dousing the fire with a pail of water. "Let's go to bed."
Stifling a sob, it was everything she could do to manage a nod.
She was starting to wonder whether home and England were still one and the same.
Author's Note: Thank you all for continuing to stick by me. I appreciate your patience with the chapter, and I hope you enjoyed it. xoxo
Alpha love to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta hearts to I was BOTWP.
Can't see the stars, but we're reaching
Trying to get through the dark on a feeling
Lost our gravity, now we're weightless
But I know in my heart we can take this
Beautiful Creatures - Illenium feat. MAX
There was a glimmer in his eye as Malfoy loaded their overnight bags into the Jeep, his entire being exuding an almost ubiquitous sort of amusement.
His excitement was contagious. Rolling her head to face him, Hermione settled into the passenger seat as they reached the highway. A warm summer breeze hovered on the air and a smile crossed her face as he swiped the back of her hand with his thumb.
Hermione had already decided she would make her best effort at staving off the melancholy that overtook her each time she thought of the idea of saying goodbye to California – of saying goodbye to him.
Malfoy had become the constant she hadn't realized her life was missing, and her time in America had shifted her thoughts on a great many things.
She was beginning to fear life back home, where the world was still fractured and people were doing their best to move on, wouldn't measure up.
But beyond the Gringotts internship, Hermione didn't know what her life would look like. Whether her path might yet lead her back west one day.
And there would be Christmas, and holidays, and weekends off. She had begun to consider the thought that if they were able to get Malfoy's name cleared, he would be able to travel internationally on his own – but that could prove to be a hurdle in itself – and she hadn't yet broached the idea.
For the time being, and for the sake of the man in the car beside her, she would do her best to set it all aside. She was almost beside herself with excitement to spend three days, just the two of them, with nothing else to get in the way.
Entwining their fingers, he brought the back of her hand to his mouth, pressing a soft kiss on her knuckles.
Slipping his sunglasses on with his free hand, he smirked at her and cranked the volume. Hermione settled in to enjoy the drive up north.
By the time they arrived in Napa Valley, time was leading into late afternoon, and Hermione stepped from the car, stretching out her sore muscles.
Sweeping in before she could collect her bag, he hoisted both onto his shoulder, flashing her a smile as she gaped.
She was perfectly capable of carrying her own things – but at the shake of his head she was reminded of the weightlessness charm she'd cast on both before leaving the house, and the tension sunk from her shoulders as she followed him inside.
Ten minutes later, Hermione found herself overwhelmed at the deluxe suite he'd booked. "Draco," she breathed, eyes spanning the sitting room, to a doorway which presumably led to the bedroom. "This is way too much."
Sometimes Hermione wondered how he had ever adjusted to living on his carnival wage, having grown up disgustingly wealthy in a Pureblood manor.
He murmured, "It's just right." His arms wrapped around her from behind, one around her stomach and the other across her sternum, as he tugged her into his chest. A brush of his lips lingered on the curve of her jaw. "You're going to let me spoil you this weekend, and no arguments, please."
Biting back a retort, Hermione allowed a smile to grace her lips. "Fine. I suppose this once."
"Good," he breathed into her cheek, one hand sliding up to cup her breast as he pressed himself against her arse. Desire coiled in her belly as her lips parted under his attention. "I think I need to start by spoiling you in the bedroom. Any objections?"
A harsh breath choked from her lungs as she said, "None."
She could feel the smirk against her face as he lifted her shirt, tugging it over her head and tossing it to the floor. He nudged her in the direction of the door with a sharp smack to her arse and Hermione laughed as he tackled her into the bed.
"I've booked us a vineyard tour and wine tasting tomorrow," Malfoy drawled as Hermione curled up against his bare chest some time later. "And maybe we can visit the hot springs, or go for a hike if you want."
"That all sounds fantastic." Nodding, she traced idle patterns on his lower abdomen with her fingertips; a smile curved her lips when he squirmed, gazing at her with a tightening around his eyes. As his stare darkened she drew her hand back. If they weren't mindful, they'd end up spending the entire weekend in bed. "I think it will be nice just to relax as well."
His hand swept the length of her bare back, down over the curve of her arse as he palmed a handful of flesh, shooting a fresh jolt through her core. "Absolutely. We'll do plenty of that. We have a dinner reservation in half an hour. But for now..." His lips found hers, pulling her atop his lap, and his rejuvenated hard-on nudged against her folds, his eyes flashing.
Groaning, Hermione slid down on the length of him, eyes fluttering at the feel. She ducked her head, drawing his earlobe between her teeth as she set a slow, teasing rhythm, arms tangling around his neck. Soft, breathy cries escaped her lips as he filled her again and again.
He guided her with a tight grip on her hips, his other hand pulling a handful of curls back so he could lave her neck with bites and kisses, indulging her languid pace.
Nearing her release again, Hermione dropped her face to his shoulder, dragging her teeth along the curve of it as she stifled her own cry on his skin, vision darkening with the crash of her orgasm.
Flipping her onto her back, his lips met hers as he thrust into her to his own completion. Collapsing next to her, spent, that sparkle was in his eyes once more. Kissing him, a slow graze of her tongue, Hermione felt a smile on her face and in her heart.
It would be a good weekend – she would make sure of it.
They drove past the outskirts of Napa, a blanket of stars hanging over them that were almost impossible to see in LA.
Having grown so accustomed to the bustle and the murky skies around Los Angeles, Hermione felt a sort of quiet peace tugging at her chest as she peered out the window. She whispered, "Pull over."
Quirking a brow, he pulled off the road. They were surrounded on all sides by vast fields, and Hermione wandered further out, gazing up at the sky as she took a seat in the tall grasses. Dropping down beside her, Malfoy leaned back on his hands as he stared up at the sky.
"You forget, after a while," he mused, "what the skies really look like. The downside to living in such a populated area, I guess."
Gaze flickering to his, Hermione pulled his hand into hers; he interlocked their fingers. Lips curled, she said, "I bet I can guess your favourite constellation."
He laughed softly, turning to face her. "But can you pick it out?"
Eyes roving the night sky, Hermione pointed with her free hand, tracking the collection of stars that made up Draco, from its head to tail. "It looks a little different here than back home."
"Swot," he whispered, teasingly. "But do you know the mythology behind it?"
Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, Hermione shook her head. "I never bothered to learn, because of you."
Making a face, he dropped his head to rest on her shoulder. His voice was soft in her ear. "In Greek mythology, Draco symbolizes the dragon Ladon, who was meant to guard the golden apple tree gifted as a wedding present to Hera when she married Zeus."
"Lovely," Hermione mused, wrapping her arms around her knees as a chill breeze lifted into the air.
"Not entirely." He snorted, amused. "Ladon was killed by Heracles; one of his twelve labours was to steal the golden apples."
Laughing, Hermione turned to face him with a smile. "Fascinating. Poor Ladon."
Lifting his hands, Malfoy ducked his head. "Dragons are terribly misunderstood in many cultures, you know."
She jabbed him in the ribs. "Now I understand why you have such a penchant for apples."
With a loud 'ha', he slung an arm across her shoulders. "You've learned my secrets. And for your information, Draco is the eighth largest constellation, lies within the Ursa Major family, and is correlated with the Draconids meteor shower."
"Merlin," Hermione breathed, "are you ever well versed in your namesake."
His lips curled with a smirk. "Well, I know how much you like facts." Grey eyes flashed. "And the recitation of such facts."
Tossing her head back, she released a full belly laugh. "So you think you can just spout information and that's what does it for me?"
He smirked, picking at the grass. "Is it working?"
Shifting to face him, Hermione pressed her lips to his in a soft kiss. "You, Draco Malfoy, are insatiable."
Kissing her again, his fingers tangling in her curls, he muttered, "Only for you." But then he stood, tugging her to her feet and she stumbled into him, coiling her arms around his waist. Gazing down at her, he added, "Let's go back. We have a big day planned tomorrow."
Unable to keep the smile from her face, Hermione followed him to the car.
They were on a bus, surrounded by mostly middle-aged couples, and Hermione glanced at Malfoy as he gazed out the window. He had arranged them some sort of vineyard tour and wine tasting afternoon, and Hermione wondered about his frame of reference for what he would consider a good vintage of wine.
She didn't know any details, but surmised the Malfoy wine cellars to be of the highest quality.
And while Hermione's parents had been respectable in their own Muggle circles, she knew it was nothing compared to the type of society in which he had grown up. Her mother had been fond of the occasional bottle of wine, but her father had always preferred a glass of scotch.
The reminder of her parents struck a pang of melancholy in her chest, and she tucked into Malfoy's side, wrapping an arm around her stomach. Drawn from his thoughts, he glanced sidelong at her, dropping an arm behind her and pulling her closer.
She whispered, "Everything okay?"
He had been oddly quiet since they had awoken, and showered and dressed with few words. Hermione wondered whether he had been feeling the strain of her impending departure as much as she had.
With a soft smile, he replied, "Of course." As if shrugging out of his introspective mood, he turned to face forward, his shoulders straightening. "According to the tour pamphlet, we'll be visiting some of Napa's most renowned wineries today." Lips twitching, he added, "And I'm not driving. I don't know about you, but I plan on indulging a little today."
Laughing, Hermione drew circles on his abdomen through his shirt. "I thought the point was to taste the wines, not to get drunk on them."
Pressing his lips together, he shook his head. "Always struck me as a waste of good wine to spit them out." And his eyes sparkled with a hint of mischief as they met hers.
By the time they left the second vineyard, Hermione was giggling as she peered at Malfoy. His grey eyes were a little unfocused, his hair ruffled, and a troublesome grin cracked his features.
She whispered, "I don't think I've seen you drunk."
"I'm not drunk," he returned, though his words were a little slurred. "I'm just… moderately loaded."
The majority of the couples on their tour bus were stone-faced, in matching pastels and proper haircuts, and Hermione felt a snort escape the back of her throat as she cracked up, moisture breaking from her eyes. In contrast, the pair of them were dressed for the beach, looking a little unkempt, and imbibing too much wine.
"Moderately loaded," she gasped, ignoring the scowl from the woman across from them. "I'll have to remember that one."
Wheezing silently beside her, and clutching his stomach, his head dropped back against the seat. The sight of him had her releasing another wave of laughter into the otherwise silent bus, and Hermione clapped her hands to her mouth in an effort to stem her amusement.
"You're going to get us kicked out of the tour," he snickered, nudging her in the side.
"I'm sorry," Hermione choked, swiping at the tears streaming from her eyes. "They'll let you stay if you're silent. You'll have to carry on without me." The words brought forth another peal of mirth, and he barked a laugh, dropping his face into a hand.
"No," he scoffed between laughs, "we're in this together. They'll have to send us both away."
People were eyeing the two of them with cautious irritation now, and Hermione dropped her face against his shoulder, huffing into his skin as she made a conscious effort at catching her breath.
"Shit," he muttered, dragging a hand down his face, "you're drunk."
"I'm just moderately –"
"Shut up," he chuckled. "There's no moderately about it."
Forcing her features into a stoic expression, Hermione sat taller in her seat, brows high on her forehead. She nodded to the woman across the aisle, clasping her hands in her lap.
"You're so ridiculous," Malfoy said with a grin, picking at a loose thread on his trousers. "I lo–"
Pressing his lips into a swallow, he cut himself off, turning to look out the window. Hermione froze, staring at the back of the seat ahead of her, hardly daring to breathe. She wasn't certain whether she had misheard him – she must have done.
Releasing a tight exhale, his gaze flickered to land just short of hers, and he clarified, "You're funny."
With a brief nod, she offered an uneasy smile. His returning one looked altogether too forced, and her stomach churned.
At the fourth and final winery, Hermione felt her vision blurring; she stumbled a little on the pathway as their guide led them through the fields. Malfoy's arm was firmly around her back – for her support or his own, she wasn't sure – and his eyes heavily lidded as he squinted at the guide.
"I don't think," he slurred into her ear, "I want any more wine."
"I need food," she breathed in return. As if punctuating the words, her stomach released a low rumble and she laughed, biting down on her bottom lip.
His lips twitched as his hand tightened on her hip. "Should we skive?" They were lingering near the back of the crowd, in an effort to appease the proper sensibilities of the rest of the group, and Hermione glanced around.
"Where would we go?"
Without his Jeep, they were at the mercy of the bus ride, and Hermione didn't know what else he had planned for the rest of the day. Although at this point, she considered, they were both intoxicated enough that their options were limited.
Hesitating for a moment, and dawdling further back, he yanked her by the wrist from the group, pulling her into a small stone shack.
It seemed to be some sort of supply shed, and Hermione released a sharp laugh as she stumbled over her own feet, tripping up against him. He snorted, holding tight to her arm as he leaned against the wall.
"We need to eat," he gasped, "unless you have a sober-up in that bag of yours."
Fumbling the closure, Hermione snickered, and when she reached her whole arm into the small beaded bag, Malfoy threw his head back as his entire body quaked with a laugh.
Pressing her back against the wall, his lips met hers, distracting her from her task. Groaning into her mouth, he hitched her leg up to his thigh, fingers clenching the bare skin of her leg as he pressed against her. Hermione whimpered against his mouth, her fingers sweeping into his hair as she fumbled with the buckle of his belt with her other hand.
"We can't," he choked, even as his hand slipped beneath her shirt, sliding it up and tugging the cup of her bra to the side. Ducking in, his teeth found the peak of her nipple and desire shot through her. Hermione doubled her efforts at the closure of his trousers – and her eyes snapped open wide as the door rattled in its frame.
Malfoy let her shirt drop, mouth parted as he stared at her. Then without another thought, he said, "Apparate." Pressing his mouth to hers quickly, he added, "And for fuck's sake, don't splinch us."
Before the door could swing open, Hermione spun into Apparition.
Malfoy peered at her when they landed, eyes narrowed. Cautious, he asked, "Where are we?"
"I didn't have time," she choked, flashing him a hesitant grin. "We are… nearby where the tour left from – I didn't know well enough anywhere else to Apparate. Hopefully there's food nearby."
"Brilliant." He chuckled, sweeping his overlong hair back from his face. Taking a few steps down the empty street, he nodded. "This way."
As they walked, Hermione fumbled once more in her bag for the vial of sober-up, and brandished it. "It's the only one I have left."
His brows raised. "Split it?" Nodding, Hermione sipped a portion of the vial that looked to be approximately half, and he finished it, passing back the empty bottle. Rolling his shoulders, he grinned. "Better."
"I suppose you miss certain things about magic," Hermione mused, twining their fingers as they walked.
Gaze landing on her, he nodded. "Certain things. Now and then. But all in all…" he shrugged, making a face. "You'd probably have been surprised by how quickly I adjusted to a Muggle lifestyle. All those gadgets and everything I never understood… they turned out to be useful."
Tittering, she shook her head. "Maybe you ought to have taken Muggle studies."
"The irony." He snickered, facing her. "We can go to the hot springs tonight if you like."
Hermione stared at him as they reached a street in Napa they recognized near the hotel, and he steered her towards what looked like a high-end restaurant. "That sounds lovely. I can't believe we need to go home tomorrow."
His smile faltered, and his voice dropped. "I can't quite believe the summer's nearly over."
Turning on the sidewalk to face him, Hermione felt a despairing sort of sadness in her chest at the words he'd only implied. That she would be returning to England in only a handful of days. It was difficult to comprehend that she had been in California for almost two months. But growing almost impossible was the thought that she would be leaving him.
She couldn't be certain, but she almost thought he had started to say something earlier. Something that could have been significant.
His gaze locked on hers, and Hermione felt her mouth go dry at the depth of emotions she found in his stare. She had wondered whether he might say something – whether he might ask her to stay.
And Hermione wasn't certain she had the mental fortitude to say no.
Her chin dropped, a furrow in her brow as she peered up at him; her hand clenched tighter around his. Throat bobbing with a thick swallow, he held her gaze, and tugged her a little closer. Her fingers grazed his side, and Hermione felt heat scratching at her eyes.
The frantic beat of her heart danced in her chest, throbbing in her veins and tingling at her nerve endings, all-encompassing.
Malfoy tore himself away, his hand tightening around hers. "Let's get something to eat."
As he turned, she found herself tracing his steps, her breathing shallow as if something deep within her might have just shattered.
Hermione picked at a delicious meal, feeling as if she had lost her appetite following the moment they'd shared on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant. She wasn't sure what she had been about to say, and what he had been thinking.
They both indulged in a tall glass of ice water, and Hermione felt a lot of the wine seep from her system, aided by the vial of sober-up she and Malfoy had split.
Recalling what he had shared with her in Pasadena about his time during the war, and subsequently afterwards in New York – how he had shared with her at the club in Venice that he wasn't fond of drinking much anymore.
She wondered at the level of trust it showed that he had felt comfortable getting intoxicated on wine with her that afternoon.
Malfoy had been curiously quiet and introspective once more as they finished their meal, and when he looked up at her after squaring up with their server, there was a resigned sort of smile on his face. "Shall we?"
Offering a small smile, she returned, "The hot springs await."
When they arrived back at the hotel, Hermione felt fatigue pulling at her eyelids as she stifled a wide yawn. Malfoy had been friendly but quiet, if a little overly polite at the hot springs, and after all the wine and excitement earlier that day, they both wound up overrun with fatigue.
His blond hair hung in his face as he stared at her, something unreadable in his expression. Softly, he announced, "I'm going to get ready for bed."
While he ducked into the loo, Hermione worried her bottom lip as she slipped on a pair of shorts and a tank top for sleep. Since that afternoon in the supply shed, he hadn't been overly handsy, and she wondered whether her impending departure was affecting him more than he was letting on.
But when he returned several minutes later, he gave her a slow, crooked grin that had her stomach doing flips.
His hands grazed her sides as he approached, pushing her shirt up, and his fingers trailed the lines of her ribcage. His touch was gentle, almost covetous as he pulled the shirt over her head, leaving her bared to his gaze. Stoic, he stared at her for a long moment before his eyes met hers, and he whispered, "You're so beautiful."
A flush infused her cheeks as she reached for the drawstring on his pajama pants, but he caught her wrist.
He pressed a kiss to her mouth, soft and chaste, and her eyes fluttered shut at the way it made her heart leap in her chest. Touching her cheeks with a gentle caress of his fingertips, his forehead dropped against hers and Hermione realized she wasn't breathing.
Then he trailed a string of kisses down her jaw, the curve of her throat, her collarbone. Lingering at her breasts, he moved down the flat of her stomach until he dropped to his knees, dragging her shorts and knickers to the floor. Clutching the backs of her legs, he pressed a soft kiss to each of her thighs before rising, and swinging her into his arms, he deposited her on the bed.
A bright laugh of surprise escaped her as she stared up at him, a curious smile playing about her lips.
When he dropped his trousers and climbed atop her, his lips found hers in another breathtakingly soft, heart-rending kiss, and he slid into her with reverent care. He moved against her, slow and gentle, and Hermione ached with desire and something else she couldn't place as her mouth danced against his.
As he buried a hand in her hair, she arched her back into him and he plunged deeper. He breathed her name as an oath beside her ear, as he kept up a relentless, languid rhythm, and Hermione's mind drifted and spiralled until she broke on him, with a breathy exultation of his name.
When he followed moments later, his eyes were pressed shut. And when he rolled over beside her, he pressed one last, gentle kiss to her brow before pulling her body into his arms.
Heart racing in her chest, Hermione blinked, overwhelmed, and tears slipped from her eyes. Something lingered beneath the surface of her skin, emotional and exquisite, leaving her breathless.
His breathing evened out against her neck, and she couldn't decide whether he'd just told her something.
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for your continuing support on this story, and for all of your lovely, beautiful words. I so appreciate it all. I swear I'm not collecting tears, and I hope you'll stick with me.
Thanks as always to the lovely ladies who have helped refine this story: Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP.
Kiss me hard before you go
I just wanted you to know
That baby, you're the best
Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Rey
The atmosphere on the drive back to Santa Monica was both quiet and tense, a startling shift from the cheerful mood with which they had travelled to Napa. Sunken into her seat, Hermione gazed through the window at the passing scenery, fatigue tugging at her eyelids.
Malfoy leaned forward, sweeping his hair back from his face before interlocking his fingers atop the wheel. Occasionally his gaze would slide to land on hers, and Hermione could scarcely summon a smile.
From the start of the weekend, things had felt promising and bright. But now… she was only days away from her return to England, and Hermione had never felt more uncertain.
Even through everything, she had always recognized the value of completing her magical education and had poured herself into her schoolwork for years. Truly, she was looking forward to the internship.
Never had she considered herself the sort of girl who would make her decisions based on a boy. Hermione was the sort of girl with plans, and meticulous preparation, and tidy, organizational processes.
She wasn't the type to run off on a whim based on a fresh, young relationship that might not even have any bearing on her life a year from now.
Yet, her stomach churned at the thought.
Though young, Hermione had experienced much of the world – both wizarding and Muggle – and she didn't doubt her relationship with Malfoy was real. Even given the fact that her experiences with boys weren't the most extensive.
With a frightening vehemence, she wished that she had more time.
Malfoy cleared his throat, jolting her from her thoughts. But he kept his gaze on the open road in front of him, his head only tilting to one side.
Moments later, he released a long sigh. "Look, Granger."
Staring at him, Hermione felt her heart escalate in her heart. She wasn't ready to say goodbye. If he asked her otherwise – she didn't know what she would do. Biting her tongue, she waited for him to speak.
"I just need you to know." He tapped an anxious rhythm on the steering wheel, his gaze landing on hers and then away. "I like having you here – and I hope there's no doubt about that. But for as much as I want you to stay… I understand. Why you're leaving. And… I'm not going to ask you to stay."
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Hermione managed a nod, and a scratchy, "Okay."
His lips pursed, nose wrinkled. "Not for me. I know how important your future is to you, and you deserve anything you want." Mouth pressed into a thin line, and after a long pause, he went on. "You deserve better than this life here. Better than me."
"Draco –" she began, eyes widening, but he held up a hand.
"Please, Hermione. Let me finish." His tone was defeated. Falling silent, she slunk back into her seat again, feeling tears pull at the corners of her eyes. "For whatever reason, you've decided you want to pursue something with me, and I'm so grateful for that. But you could have and do anything in your life. Hell, you could probably be the Minister if you set your mind to it." Voice dropping, he finished, "And I can't do that to you. I can't try to force your hand like that."
Attempting to steady her breathing, Hermione blew out a long exhale, swiping at a tear. "Are you breaking up with me?"
Shaking his head, Malfoy said, "Of course not. But I'll be honest… I don't know how this is going to work out."
Biting down hard on her lower lip to compress a sob, Hermione stared straight ahead. "I thought… we were going to try to make it work."
"We are." His gaze was fixed on the road again. "But I can't go back to England without being arrested. You'll be busy with your new job." With a flippant shrug that was belied by the tension in his shoulders, he dragged a hand down his face. "We can give our best go at it… but we'll be across the world from one another, Hermione."
Eyes watering, she managed, "I don't want to lose you."
"It's mutual," he quickly assured her. His mouth was set with a grimace. "But I am not going to be the reason you give up on your future. And if it comes to the point where you need to choose… I won't let you choose me."
The words resonated with silent undertones, clamouring inside her skull until the sob escaped – a choked, fragmented sound – and she curled into herself, facing out the window.
After a long, drawn moment, his hand landed in her lap. Sniffling, Hermione interlaced their fingers, holding tight to his hand with both of her own.
The air between them filled with a pained silence once more.
There was a surge of satisfaction bubbling within Hermione – more than she had expected – when she handed her scratchy red polo in to Roger at the end of her last shift at the gift shop. Roger frowned, peering at the shirt, before setting it on the counter.
"Too bad you're leaving," he said, making a face.
Frowning, Hermione lifted a brow. "You've got to be kidding me."
Scratching his beard, Roger added, "You were the most efficient employee I've ever had here."
Blinking at him, startled, she shook her head. "Maybe if you treated your employees a little better."
Malfoy swept into the shop, folding his arms as he leaned against the front counter. His gaze landed on Roger, unimpressed.
Her now former boss muttered, "Noted."
Clicking his tongue, Malfoy drawled, "Are you ready to go?"
"Yes." With a tight press of her lips into a thin approximation of a smile, Hermione gave a bit of a wave before sliding her hand into Malfoy's, allowing him to lead her from the shop.
Malfoy fired a scowl behind him. "Bloody tosser."
"He wasn't very nice, was he?" Hermione asked, worrying her lower lip. "He mostly treated me as if I didn't have a clue how to do menial things like stock shelves and ring purchases into the register."
Freezing, Malfoy turned to face her. "He was clearly into you."
"No he wasn't." Scoffing, Hermione shook her head. "He's eight years older than me."
"Obviously he didn't care about that, did he?" His lips pulled into a smirk as he drew her closer, wrapping an arm around her back. "That's why he never wanted me in the shop."
Frowning, Hermione mentally processed the majority of her interactions at the gift shop. "I don't think that's it."
Malfoy chuckled, pressing a kiss to her temple. "For someone so brilliant, you sure can be dense."
Lisa had decided to throw a going away party on Hermione's last night in California, and she wasn't sure whether she was looking forward to it or simply dreading it. Not one to bask in attention, Hermione would have preferred a quiet night with Malfoy, and maybe Lisa and Mikhael.
But she hadn't begrudged the girl her fun, given Lisa had been more than accommodating, and Hermione had come to consider her a true friend.
Regardless, Hermione spent most of the evening tucked into Malfoy's side on the deck, nursing the same warm beer until finally she set it aside, half-gone, with a sigh.
"I can't believe this is it," she mused. Malfoy had been quieter than usual, and she suspected her impending departure was weighing on him just as heavily.
His arm tightened around her shoulders. "Neither can I." He gazed out at their friends in every corner of the small yard. "I purchased an owl, in Pasadena. So… I can owl you."
"Good." Hermione forced a nod, her throat tightening. "Often, please."
Clearing his throat, he muttered, "And you." As he buried his face in her curls, Hermione felt her eyes flutter shut briefly. He muttered beside her ear, "I'm going to fucking miss you, Granger."
Biting down hard on her lower lip, she dropped a hand to rest on his knee. In a choked breath, she returned, "I'll miss you like crazy."
He gazed out at the yard once more. "Just so you aren't caught unaware. I mentioned you, last time I owled my mother. So in case you see her around… can you let her know I'm doing well?"
"Of course," Hermione whispered. Opening her mouth to say something more, she found herself lost for words, idly tracing circles on his knee with her fingers.
He broke the silence again. "When do you leave?"
"The Portkey is scheduled for noon." The words felt thick and foreign on her tongue, threatening her delicate emotional balance. "Did you want to go to the beach for the morning?"
"Maybe," he said with an absent shrug, sweeping his hair back from his temples. "I think I'd sooner just spend our last hours together."
With a whispered, "That's fine," Hermione felt a tear slip from one eye, swiping at it quickly.
The rest of the party-goers, including Lisa and Mikhael, were making plans to carry on with their evening at a club, and Hermione glanced at Malfoy for only a moment before they declined.
With a sad, knowing smile, Lisa clasped her arm before the rest of them left.
Once the house was empty, Hermione sagged into the couch in the dark silence of the sitting room, and Malfoy sat alongside her, drawing her close.
Feeling emotionally wrought in a way she had never expected, she dropped her face into his chest, tucking her feet beneath her. In a breath, she asked, "How did this happen?" His silence weighed on her, and before he could speak, she said, "This… this wasn't ever part of the plan."
Even as the words left her mouth, she realized how they sounded, and she could imagine the smirk curling his lips. "You can't plan for everything. Surely you ought to have learned that by now."
"But this was supposed to be in my control." She let the words hang between them. "School, NEWTs, profession."
His lips found her temple, hands sweeping her hair to the far side. "Running off to California wasn't in my plans either, if it makes you feel any better. But sometimes the things we don't plan for turn out to be the best."
"Then why does it hurt so badly?" She blinked at the carpet, eyes watery.
"I'm afraid," he murmured, tightening his hold around her, "that's just life."
Logically, the words made sense. And she knew that – she had experienced more than her share of life during the war.
But something about this felt different. It was heart-rending, and it left Hermione wondering if she would ever feel any other way again.
Her eyes fell shut, and she could feel her tears seeping into the fabric of his shirt beneath her face.
The right choice simply couldn't feel so wrong. It couldn't hurt like this. She breathed against his chest, "Maybe I should just stay. Maybe I'll just –"
"Don't you dare," he interrupted, gruffly, his fingers coiling against her scalp. "You'll be starting your internship, and you're going to be amazing at it, Granger. I know it."
"But..." Uncertain how to continue, she mutely traced the tattooed image on his forearm, covering where the Dark Mark had once existed. "If you aren't there… will it be worth it?"
A sharp intake of breath was the only indication he had heard her.
Finally, his head dropped to rest on hers. With a long sigh, he said, "You don't need me with you to take over the world, Granger."
Despite that they didn't take their surfboards out, the beach felt like the most fitting place for Hermione to spend her last hours in California. It had been where they'd grown to know one another, where they had spent countless hours, and where she had lost her heart to the sand and surf.
And, she was starting to think, to one specific blond.
Hermione had said her final goodbyes to Lisa early that morning, packing the last of her things and leaving the house that had become a home, before departing with Malfoy, under the pretense that he would drop her off at the airport.
When in reality, she would merely be taking a Portkey from a secluded area of the beach.
The whole situation felt a little like repeating history, and reminded Hermione of her first day on the beach with Malfoy and his friends, when she had opted not to take the Portkey – a decision that had changed so many facets of her life.
She would have only a day to settle herself back in London before beginning her internship with Gringotts – and Hermione was beginning to hope she'd feel more optimistic about that course of action once she was actually back in London.
For now, all she could think of was the pair of grey eyes on her.
Hermione stretched her legs out in front of her on the beach, feeling the hot sand on her bare legs. Malfoy sat beside her in his dark glasses, and it could have been any other day of the many they'd spent in this very spot.
Only it was the day she was to leave, uprooting the life she'd fallen into unwittingly. And saying goodbye to the one person who had come to mean so much to her, so unexpectedly.
An absent smile lingered on his face as Malfoy dropped a soft kiss on her lips, startling her from her thoughts.
Forcing a smile, Hermione placed a hand on his where it rested in the sand. She had spent the better part of the morning on the verge of silent tears, and was determined to make their last hours together enjoyable.
The night before, he had filled her, both physically and emotionally, and she'd been unable to hold back a fresh round of tears as she cradled him close in the afters.
They made idle small talk, as if both attempting to avoid the egregious elephant lingering between them. The details had been worked out, as best as they could manage, about the efforts they would make once they were no longer able to see one another on a daily basis.
Malfoy hadn't said anything about travelling to England, but she knew any magic he used could be tracked, and he was still convinced he would be sentenced to Azkaban for evading his trial.
Which meant it would be Hermione travelling – but she was willing to do so. International Portkeys were inexpensive – and he was worth it. Furthermore, since she was still living at her parents' house, she would have access to a telephone and they would be able to manage some brief long-distance calls. He had also mentioned the possibility of finding a fireplace for Floo calls.
It would only be difficult being so far apart, struggling with time zones. And knowing she wouldn't be able to share with him everything that happened in her day was a difficult pill to swallow.
But still, she was optimistic.
"I'm losing you," Malfoy murmured, and a hint of a smirk played on his lips as Hermione shook the melancholy thoughts free once more, turning to face him. He cracked a grin, sliding a lazy hand into the base of her messy bun, his lips pressing against hers with more force.
Leaning into him, Hermione buried her hands in his pale locks, bright with the vibrant light of the sun above. Drawing back, she whispered, "Never."
The look he gave her in return was a bit more sad than she'd hoped.
Clearing his throat, he said, "I'm looking forward to hearing about your first few days in your Curse-breaking internship."
"I'm nervous," Hermione admitted, glancing at him. "I don't know if there will be others or if I'll be alone."
"Don't be nervous," he scoffed, "you're bloody brilliant. They ought to be the nervous ones, in case you change your mind."
His confidence in her was unparalleled, and another thing Hermione just hadn't seen coming. Smiling at him, she whispered, "Thanks. I still think you're awfully brilliant yourself."
"And I'm wasting myself working at the carnival," he teased with a mocking sigh. "I know. I'm debating other options, but for now it'll do."
Eyes widening, Hermione perked up, turning to face him with her feet folded beneath her. "You didn't tell me that! What else are you thinking of doing?"
With a hesitant smile, he shrugged. "I figured you had enough on your mind as it was." Nodding with his chin down the length of the beach, he added, "The surf shop down the way is struggling. The current owner is looking to get out and might be motivated to sell." His lips curled with a secretive smile. "Obviously I'm rubbish at teaching people to surf, but Mikhael isn't."
With a bright grin, Hermione coiled their fingers. "That sounds lovely. And for what it's worth, I don't think you're rubbish. You managed to teach me, didn't you?"
"Sort of," he said, nose wrinkling. "You're decent."
With a snort, she shoved him in the shoulder; he caught her wrist, dusting the sand from her palm so he could plant a kiss there. Head tilting, she said, "I think it sounds brilliant. Is Mikhael interested in walking away from the pier?"
Malfoy shrugged, wrapping her hand in his. "We haven't had any serious conversations about it, but potentially."
While intrigued and excited at the prospect that he might have found something he'd enjoy more than running the horse races at the carnival, the thought only left a pang of sadness in her heart. Again, Hermione found herself wondering what she was walking away from, in order to walk towards her career.
Pushing a smile forth, he added, "I'll keep you posted."
Nodding, Hermione squinted at him. "Good." Glancing at her watch, she was startled to see it was a quarter to twelve – and her Portkey was set to activate in only fifteen minutes.
Malfoy's throat bobbed with a swallow as he followed her gaze. There was no one near enough to see them, and Hermione drew the Portkey from her bag with a heavy heart, planting it in the sand ahead of her. They both eyed it in silence, and it felt remarkably similar to the last time.
Only everything had changed.
Her heart began to race in her chest, adrenaline pulsing through her veins, and she turned to Malfoy, a million words fighting on the tip of her tongue – and nothing to say.
It felt like a race against time – and again, she longed for more of it.
Staring at her, he swallowed again, his brows pulling into a furrow on his forehead. He tugged her hand closer towards him, bringing her knuckles against his lips. "I'm going to miss you like hell, Granger."
"Draco." Releasing a long breath, Hermione frowned, feeling a prickle of moisture in her eyes. "I need you to know how much this has meant to me. Having this time with you – getting to know you. It's been the most unexpected, and most beautiful thing I could have imagined."
His grey eyes were glassy as they held hers. He ran a hand down his face, with a muttered, "Fuck, Hermione." Shaking his head, he released her hand, cradling her face between his fingers as he drew her closer into his side. He swiped a thumb beneath her eye as a tear let go. "This has been the best summer of my life."
His words drifted through the back of her mind – from the night they had gone up the ferris wheel together. The first night they'd been intimate.
Thanks for taking a chance on me, Granger. For letting that Portkey go.
Her eyes widened as she stared at him, and chaos and indecision pulled at her heart from all sides. Was she making the wrong decision – did she need to stay? Was this the chance she needed to take?
Swallowing, she looked away with a tight exhale. "I don't know if I can do this."
He breathed, "You're Hermione Granger. You can do any bloody thing you want."
His eyes shone with moisture even as he offered her a broken smile, and Hermione shook her head, a choked sob fighting its way out of her throat. Her stomach tossed, indecision settled into an uneasy pit inside of her.
"Draco, I lo –" The words faltered as a fresh round of tears streamed from her eyes.
He only stared at her, lips pressed into a thin line, resigned. His expression sagged, his shoulders fell, and something deep within her shattered with a rending crack. "I know, Granger." Tugging her closer, he murmured into her hair, "I know." Drawing away, he wiped away her tears, pressing his lips to the soft skin beneath each of her eyes. "I'll miss you, too. More than you can even believe."
Every breath chased from her with a pained huff, each one marking the relentless passing of time she no longer had.
Dropping her stare to the innocuous Portkey, leaning at an awkward angle in the sand, she whispered, "Should I stay?"
Jaw clenched, he only blinked at her. Before… before, he'd wanted her to stay.
She wanted to stay.
The thought struck through her heart with a wild voracity, and she shook her head, heart racing and pulse pounding in her ears. Again, she heard his voice.
So throw your bloody Portkey into the ocean.
A whimper escaped from her throat as the Portkey began to glow a dull blue, and tears chased from her eyes in earnest now. "I can't – I can't do it."
"Granger," he choked. "You have to." His grey eyes held hers, and he shook his head. "I don't get to keep you here this time."
His hand found hers, achingly gentle, and he placed it beside the Portkey. His lips met hers, and she kissed him, pained, desperate, and she wasn't sure whether the tears on her cheeks were her own, but he tore away.
He whispered, "Goodbye, my Granger." With a soft, encouraging nod, he drew back, gazing at her. A subtle, broken smile crossed his features. "You need to go."
A strangled sob wrenched free from somewhere deep within her, shattering the torn remains of her heart, as she clasped a hand around the Portkey, and felt that distant tug beneath her navel, his fragile grey stare lingering in her mind's eye.
Author's Note: ... Deep breaths. I love you. Trust me?
Alpha and beta love to Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP.
I'm coming to terms with a broken heart
I guess that sometimes good things fall apart
Good Things Fall Apart - Illenium & Jon Bellion
It was oddly surreal, when she really thought about it, that Hermione hadn't expected life to be carrying on without her.
For nearly two months she had existed within a bubble – with Malfoy and her new American friends – and it had become all too easy to forget that time was still passing in England. People's lives were changing and shifting, and she had slipped almost seamlessly into a largely Muggle existence.
Surfing, working at the pier, laughing and living, and – falling for someone she had once despised.
On the final day of August, Hermione had owled Harry to check in and see about arranging an evening at the Leaky.
His return letter had been scarcely more encouraging than the one she had received whilst still in California.
Through a series of subsequent owls to her friends, Hermione had learned the details she'd missed.
Harry and Ron were entering their second year of Auror training – advanced training – and if they successfully completed the year they would both be certified as fully trained Aurors. Harry and Ginny had called it quits shortly after Christmas – that much Hermione had already known – but it turned out that he and Luna started up shortly after the blonde left Hogwarts.
Furthermore, she learned that Ron had been dating Katie for almost a year, and the news had surprised her even as she found she was happy for one of her oldest friends.
Despite the fact that neither of them had reached out to tell her until now.
Soon after her seventh year ended, Ginny had been scouted by the Holyhead Harpies and had left in July for training.
The only real constant Hermione found was Daphne, but that was largely to do with the fact that they had spent all of eighth year together, and the other girl knew about her relationship with Draco. But even so, Daphne had Theo, and the thought that all of her friends had someone else in their life left her feeling alone and fractured.
She went to bed that night, wondering how Draco was doing. Whether he was thinking of her, as she'd done of him the whole day through.
An unfamiliar owl was waiting for her when she woke, early the morning of September the first.
Best of luck on your first day in your internship. Don't be nervous – you're going to blow them away. Let me know how it goes.
Despite the impersonal tone of the letter, Hermione felt a stinging at her eyes as she read the quick missive several times. As she dressed in her smartest outfit and prepared for her day, she found herself clutching the letter, before folding it into a tight square and tucking it into her pocket, as if it somehow personified the person she missed the most.
When she arrived at Gringotts, Hermione was introduced to a slender, balding man by the name of Talfryn Cecil. His appearance was highly innocuous, and if Hermione had seen him on the streets she might have thought him to have a far less interesting profession.
But the man gave her a sharp nod, and with minimal discussion, led her through the main foyer into a back room that dropped into a spiralling staircase several floors down.
Through a series of spells and wards, Cecil ushered her through an elaborate burnished brass door, and Hermione felt her heart rate begin to escalate in her chest. She hadn't been expecting anything particularly exciting for the first day of her internship – but maybe it was more than she'd been expecting. Maybe her supervisor would be teaching her Curse-breaking fundamentals straight away.
Torches lit the hallways with a dull, staggering sort of light, and when they reached the far end, Cecil clapped his hands together, turning to face her.
"This is the file room." The announcement was dry; even Cecil himself looked bored. "It's in horrendous disrepair, and I'll need you to organize the files. The system is listed on the wall over there. If you have any questions, my office is back three hallways and up one flight."
With a furrowed brow, she attempted to envision the disarray and Hermione managed a tight smile. "Very well."
Hesitating for a moment, as if to determine whether he was forgetting anything, Cecil gave a shrug. "You have a half hour for lunch, and your day will end at five."
"Thanks." Swallowing, Hermione turned to face the towering shelves before her with wide eyes.
It was only her first day – but she had anticipated something more interesting than organizing files. Or at least more of an interaction with her supervisor. She wasn't simply to be a student lackey, but training to become a proper Curse-breaker.
Even so, a twinge of excitement pulled at her chest at the thought of what sorts of tales the files themselves could tell, but after the first few, even that hope dwindled.
The reports were clinical, depicting the nature of the dilemma, the spells employed, and the results. After a few, the files all started to run together, and Hermione found herself unsurprised that no one had bothered to properly file them.
Her hand slipped into her pocket, clutching the slip of paper penned from Draco, before she released a sigh, and turned back to the tedium before her.
Cecil had kept her past five, finally explaining in finer detail what her internship would comprise, and Hermione was hopeful that she would begin practicing Curse-breaking soon, even if it sounded like she had plenty of other menial tasks as a part of her job description.
It left Hermione rushing to the Leaky to meet up with Harry and Ron, unable to change out of her posh skirt and blouse which were thick with dust and grime from the contents of the file room, most of which looked as if they hadn't been handled in a century.
A proper Scourgify could only do so much, and irritation crawled over her skin as she made her way through Diagon.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm for her new position, and the sadness pulling at her heart every time she thought of Draco back in California – wondering, always, what he was up to – her soul warmed to see the matching grins of Harry and Ron as they each pulled her into a hug.
Easing into a seat at the table they'd already claimed, she found her palms slightly clammy, and an unfamiliar sort of hesitation hung in the air between them. Clapping her hands together, she asked, "So how's training going?"
"Great." Harry nodded, a slightly forced smile on his face. "How was your summer? We haven't really heard much from you since you left Hogwarts."
Hermione nodded, hesitant. "It was really good," she exclaimed, "although too fast!" The three of them shared an appreciative chuckle. The smile slipped from her face; everything felt wrong. Conversation with Harry and Ron wasn't meant to be awkward and superficial; they'd fought in a war together, for Merlin's sake.
Tracing the water stain left on the table from the condensation on her glass, Hermione released a breath and went on. "Actually, I spent much of the past two months in California. Los Angeles, to be exact."
"California," Ron echoed, screwing up his face. "What were you doing there?"
With a bit of a shrug, she averted her stare. "I went there for a holiday with Daphne."
The pair exchanged a glance, and Harry said, "Greengrass?" At her nod, he frowned. "I saw Greengrass in Diagon with Nott, maybe two weeks ago."
Stalling, Hermione took a long sip of her drink, wincing at the unfamiliar sting of Firewhisky. "Right. I stayed longer… than she did."
She hadn't been able to decide how to broach the subject that she'd run into, and began a relationship with, their former school nemesis. But she had already determined she wouldn't shy away from the subject, for Draco's sake. She knew how she would feel if he kept her in the shadows like a dirty secret, and she refused to treat their relationship like that.
Unfortunately, Ron steered the conversation elsewhere before she could elaborate. "How is your new job going?"
Blowing out a breath, Hermione nodded. "It's fine, so far. Today was only my first day, so nothing particularly exciting just yet."
"Will you be working with Bill at all? He's been stationed out of Gringotts for a while now."
Feeling the courage sink from her shoulders as the topic strayed further from California, Hermione managed a nervous titter. "I'm not sure. I suppose I will be I only met my direct supervisor."
Her skin was crawling with the abundance of small talk, even as she managed, "How's Luna been since leaving Hogwarts? And Ron, how are things with Katie?" She had to bite her tongue to refrain from throwing a jab that he had taken so long to tell her about the relationship.
The pair of them gave absent nods, tossing out idle phrases about the banality of their relationships, and Hermione could only smile, feeling completely out of place with her two best friends. Finally Harry turned to face her with a sheepish look.
"Maybe you'll meet someone working at Gringotts," he offered.
Hands gripping her glass a little too tightly, Hermione stared at him.
"Yeah," Ron said, nodding, "that would be good. Bet there's loads of good blokes there."
Wishing she could crawl beneath a rock, she found herself giving a small shake of the head. "I'm not looking to meet anyone."
"Well, that's fine too," Harry said. "Time alone is good."
Drawing a deep breath, she threw out a jumbled, "Actually I'm seeing someone."
There was no going back now, and as Harry and Ron exchanged another look, she couldn't help but catch the surprise in their stares. Harry's eyes brightened when he turned back to her. "You didn't tell us. Who's the lucky sod?"
Hermione refrained from mentioning again that she hadn't heard of either of their relationships until months after the fact. Folding her hands together atop the table, she fixed each of them with a stare. "He lives in California – but you both know him."
She could virtually see the cogs spinning in their heads as they tried to piece the information together. Feeling a hot flush creep up her neck, Hermione blurted out, "It's Draco Malfoy."
"California?" Harry asked, scratching the back of his neck. Then he gave a sort of chuckle. "Malfoy. Good one, Hermione."
"Oh," Ron added, with a low laugh. "I thought you were serious for a second. Weird joke, Hermione."
Face straight, she stared them down. "I'm being perfectly honest. I came across him while I was there – it's why I've only just returned."
The bridge of Ron's nose screwed up. "You're serious? Isn't that tosser dead?"
"In fact, he's neither." Her voice was high-pitched, and at his confusion, she clarified, "Dead, or a tosser."
Harry snorted. "That git's always going to be a tosser. Doesn't the Wizengamot have a warrant out for his arrest anyways?"
Harry and Ron stared at one another, considering the thought, as Hermione's heart jumped in her chest when she realized that they might possibly go after him. She released a long, aggravated sigh. "He's done no harm. And… he's changed. The war affected him just as much as it did any of us."
Scowling, Harry shook his head. "He chose his side. I can't believe this – you're actually defending him? How did this even happen, Hermione?"
"It happened," she ground out, feeling ire begin to course in her veins, "because I was willing to give him a second chance, and get to know him."
Ron scoffed. "He doesn't deserve any second chances. Don't you remember all the nasty things he said and did to our lot in school? To you? He was a fucking Death Eater, Hermione."
"Was," she snapped, eyes flashing as she stared at her friends. "Was a Death Eater. Completely unwillingly, might I add."
Shaking his head in disbelief, Ron turned to Harry. "Fucking tosser deserves a cell in Azkaban, is what he deserves."
"Don't you dare," Hermione found herself whispering, her eyes stinging with moisture. "I shared this with you in confidence – and if either one of you so much as thinks about tracking him down, I swear to Merlin –"
"Hermione." Harry held his hands up, defensively, in front of him. His bright green eyes fixed on hers. "You're being honest about this?"
"Yes," she managed, the word choked as a breath.
Ron shook his head even as he winced, rubbing at the back of his neck.
Grimacing, Harry took a swig of his drink, his gaze dropping to land on the table as he released a long breath. "So even if we're to believe that you're not only on speaking terms with Malfoy, but the two of you are together…" He shook his head, mouth tight, meeting her eyes again. "How do you intend to carry things on while you're here and he's there?"
She held his stare, beseeching, her throat dry as she forced a sip of whisky back. "As best we can manage."
And Hermione didn't quite care for the sympathy reflected back at her.
There was a Pasadena post owl waiting for her when she returned home at the end of the day, physically exhausted and emotionally wrought. She wondered how far apart the letters had been sent. The fact that Draco had been thinking of her broke through the floodgate and tears spilled down her cheeks, her vision blurring as she read the quick missive.
Like the note that morning, it wasn't particularly long or specific, but her fingers traced the signed Draco before she clutched the parchment tightly in her hand, releasing the wards and letting herself in.
Collapsing at the kitchen table, Hermione drew forth a sheet of parchment and a quill, staring at the blank page, and attempted to conjure a response.
It was still only the afternoon in California, despite that she was ready for sleep, and she wondered whether he was at the carnival, or if he'd gone out surfing. Maybe he was relaxing in his small flat in Santa Monica.
She tried to picture him – wished he was at her side. She could imagine his reaction to the day she'd had – her dull first day at the internship, and the borderline-disastrous meeting with Harry and Ron at the Leaky.
Hands shaking, she scribbled a quick response. Maybe he'd had just as much trouble forming his thoughts into words.
The first day at my internship was quite dry if I'm honest, but hopefully it'll pick up. I met with Harry and Ron tonight, and it felt strange to see them after so long. I told them of my summer, and of you, and they took it about as well as I was expecting. I hope you have a lovely day.
I miss you like crazy. I can't wait until I can make arrangements to visit.
Her hand hung, suspended, over the signature line. A simple "Hermione" felt too impersonal for the tone she meant to portray – but he had signed his letters as Draco. And while the rending crack in her heart suggested an alternative, she didn't think she was ready to put the feeling into words, and certainly not for the first time in a letter.
A part of her still wondered if she had made the right decision.
There was no doubt in her mind that she wanted to make things work with Draco, no matter what it took, but she knew he questioned the logistics of it.
Uncertain how to proceed, she drafted a quick Hermione xo before sending the letter off with her own owl, watching as it flew through the open window. Heart heavy, Hermione prepared for sleep and tucked herself into bed, feeling incredibly alone.
The spot beside her was empty, after having grown so used to Draco by her side, and it was with uneasy thoughts that she drifted to sleep.
A letter awaited her when she woke up. Briefly, she wondered how his owls were reaching her so fast, before she noticed it was stamped by the Pasadena international mail system – which meant it would have been dispatched directly through a portal to arrive in the post office in Diagon. Making a mental note to register for the same service in Diagon, she wondered if it meant he'd had to drive all the way to Pasadena; tears stung at her eyes.
I'm sorry your first day wasn't great – and I hope your friends weren't too hard on you. Hopefully today goes a little better.
I drove to Pasadena to inquire about fireplace rentals, but I need to register with my wand so I'll see about one elsewhere. I miss your beautiful face and hope to see you soon. I see you in the waves, and the air, and the sun, and it's so bittersweet.
Owl me later.
Beside his name he'd scrawled a miniature smiley-face, and Hermione laughed through the tears his sweet words had evoked.
Unable to resist, Hermione scratched out a quick response.
I've connected the fireplace here to the Floo network, so if you can figure it out on your end, let me know! And I've picked up a long-distance calling card so we can arrange to speak soon.
I'll carry your beautiful words with me all day.
It's my birthday the nineteenth, so if I don't have to work I'll arrange a Portkey?
Taking his cue, she drew a sort of crude face blowing a kiss. Tittering to herself, she felt the most hopeful in her heart since returning to England, and decided she would deliver the letter to the international post office herself on her way to work. If he could figure out a way to connect to the Floo network, they could at least visit through Floo calls. And hearing his voice over the phone, even if they needed to keep the call short, would be infinitely better than waiting for owls and letters to be dispatched.
Hopefully they would be able to meet up for her birthday.
A semblance of a smile formed on her lips at the thought. Despite the pleasant wake-up, a sort of deep-seated sadness still lingered in the pit of her stomach. She could only picture the grey of his eyes, alight with a sparkle, the amused twitch of his lips as he stared at her. The touch of his hands on her skin…
She exhaled a long breath, feeling a spasm deep in her core and a tug at her heart.
Putting on a pot of coffee to brew, Hermione dressed and prepared for her day. Hopefully Talfryn Cecil would have some more interesting work for her to do on the second day of her internship, but based on how the day prior had gone, she doubted it.
Maybe she would owl Daphne to meet up – it might go a long way to lift her spirits, to visit with someone who knew and understood. And maybe she and Theo had heard from Draco.
But even so, Hermione frowned.
It seemed the part of her life which she most looked forward to was the man still living across the world, where she'd left him. Her eyes stung, her heart throbbed with an intense longing she wouldn't have imagined, and all she could think about was whether she'd made the wrong decision.
The thought was a sobering one.
Author's Note: It's Canadian Thanksgiving here this weekend, and I am SO thankful to all of you who continue to read my words and enjoy my stories! I appreciate it more than I can say. I've posted a bunch of new short stories if you're interested, with two more coming in the next few days.
Hugs to my alpha and beta squad, Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP. Grateful for all your time and efforts in helping to polish this story.
Don't you remember
The way that we used to live for each other?
Remember the way we fell for each other
Remember, Gryffin & ZOHARA
After the first week of her internship concluded, Hermione was losing hope that Talfryn Cecil would give her anything beyond the mundane to do. Despite the fact that she was training to become a Curse-breaker, they hadn't actually delved into Curse-breaking magic at all.
Following the tedium of organizing the file room – which took two and a half days – Cecil had left Hermione doing menial task work for the senior Curse-breakers. Which included a lot of administrative work, fetching beverages, answering owls, and organizing Cecil's personal desk supplies.
The internship was meant to go on for a year, and it had been strongly suggested at that point that she would be able to step in at Gringotts as a full Curse-breaker.
But at this rate, she wouldn't even qualify if she didn't start learning and using the magic of it.
Draco's letters had continued – not always via his owl – an average of one per day, and she had taken to sending some of her letters through the international post office in Diagon to relieve her own owl of so many long flights.
They'd arranged to speak on the phone that weekend, and Hermione was exuberant. He hadn't managed to secure access to a Floo portal, but after a difficult, lonely week, she was greatly anticipating the sound of his voice.
Hermione had also made plans to meet up with Daphne and Theo for lunch on Saturday, and by the time Friday afternoon hit, she was more than ready for two days away from Gringotts and Cecil's appraising stare.
An owl was waiting for her when she returned to her parents' house, one of the Pasadena post birds, and she unrolled the short missive with an anticipatory wave coiling in her stomach.
I miss you.
Miserably failing to hold back her disappointment over the single sentence, despair swept through her heart. Hermione clutched the note to her chest as she sunk into the couch and tears pulled at her eyes. The letter had torn apart the fragile threads of her excitement.
"It feels odd, seeing you back here," Daphne mused, twirling her straw between her fingers. "I suppose there was a part of me that expected you would end up staying in California."
Beside Daphne, Theo's brows crept high on his forehead but he was silent as he took a bite of his sandwich.
Releasing a sigh, Hermione tapped an anxious rhythm on the wooden surface of the table. "I debated it." Frowning, she glanced up at Daphne. "I truly did. But…"
"But you weren't ready to walk away from everything you've worked for over a summer romance," Daphne surmised with a knowing grimace.
"Yeah." Hermione felt her shoulders slump as she sunk deeper into her seat. "I guess that's most of it." Breaking one of her chips in half, she chewed thoughtfully as she stared ahead. "I suppose I'm still wondering whether I made the right decision."
Theo took a long sip of his pint.
A strange, fleeting thought crossed her mind that she was spending an inordinate amount of time with former Slytherins, now that Hogwarts was over.
"I, for one," Daphne said, breaking the silence, "am glad you've returned. And you and Draco are still keeping in contact, right? You haven't broken up?"
"No." A tightness clenched at her chest. "We didn't break up."
Dabbing at his lips with his handkerchief, Theo interlocked his fingers across his chest and fixed Hermione with a stare. "You'll make it work, yeah? I mean, I've known Draco a long time, and I've not seen him like that over a girl."
Swallowing, Hermione squinted her eyes to keep the threatening moisture at bay. "Thanks, Theo."
"If it's what you truly want," Daphne added, her gaze sliding to Theo. "Personally, I'm a little surprised Draco didn't fight harder for you to stay there with him. Or did he?"
With a shake of her head, Hermione released a sharp breath. "No. He said he wasn't going to ask me to stay."
Daphne raised her brows in surprise. "I thought he would have."
The same thought that had been niggling at the back of her mind leapt forth, and Hermione frowned. "I guess I thought, maybe he would have too. What do you suppose that means?"
Daphne shrugged. "I don't know. But I did get the impression he cared for you."
"Daft," Theo interrupted, shaking his head. "Both of you."
Affronted, Hermione scowled at him. "Excuse me?"
"Look." Leaning forward, Theo propped his elbows on the table. "I've known Draco since we were kids, and he can be a right selfish arse. If he just wanted you around for fun, trust me, he would have tried to talk you into staying."
The words circled around Hermione's mind, not quite falling into place, and she made a face as she stared across the table at him.
Waving a hand, Theo went on. "Look at how the war played out for him. He put his life on the line to protect his mother, because she was the only person he cared more about than himself." Leaning back, his stare was tight. "I reckon the reason he let you go was because he loved you enough to want the best for you, no matter what that meant for him."
Daphne clicked her tongue, eyeing Theo with something akin to admiration – or lust. Uncomfortable, Hermione shifted in her seat. Then Daphne turned back, a brow cocked. "That makes sense."
Hermione choked on a breath. "Does it?"
Finishing the last of his pint, Theo released a long exhale of satisfaction. "Of course it makes sense. I'm only surprised he didn't chase after you, threat of prison be damned."
Pushing her plate away, Hermione found the clamp around her heart tightening, and all of a sudden it felt quite difficult to breathe.
After her lunch with Daphne and Theo, Hermione wandered Diagon Alley, before stopping at the Apothecary to fill up on some supplies. Her mind was still reeling with the ideas Theo had suggested, and although she wasn't sure she even believed the words, she couldn't quite decide how she felt about them.
Before leaving California, the thought had crossed her mind numerous times that she might have been in love with Draco – but she had so little experience with the concept, and she was leaving, and there was simply no sense thinking too hard on it.
But she was beginning to wonder if sense played no role in the situation at all. If just maybe, something stronger was at play.
Her eyes swam with moisture as she recalled the way Draco had stared at her, the way he'd kissed her, before pressing her to take her Portkey home.
His soft, broken words as he'd said he didn't get to keep her with him.
The internship wasn't anything like she had hoped, her relationship with Harry and Ron felt stunted and awkward, and Hermione was starting to wonder whether she had returned home for the wrong reasons after all.
She had never been that type of girl. The type to abandon her hopes, dreams, and ambitions over a boy who smiled at her and told her nice things.
But Draco wasn't just any boy. Theirs was a past rife with controversy and struggle – and overcoming that. They had learned to accept and understand one another, and he had become the person in her life she had never imagined.
And she missed him to her very core.
Life had felt vibrant and fulfilled with him by her side, even working an inane and pointless job at the carnival.
Hermione had felt alive.
The feeling had all but dulled to a ghostly trace of what it had been in California, and she didn't think it was because she had traded the sun for rain. It was because the reason for that spark was still across the world.
A breath chased from her lungs as she absently turned the corner and collided with someone – her eyes widened in surprise and horror as her mouth fell open.
Narcissa Malfoy stared down at her, her expression cool and appraising.
There was a tightness in Hermione's chest as she deliberated her options. But while the urge to run was strong, she summoned her courage and managed a nod. "Hello, Missus Malfoy."
"Miss Granger." Narcissa's expression was stoic; she wore flowing elegant robes of pale blue, her hair pulled into a perfect coif. Hermione felt awkward and out of place in comparison. The woman's lips twitched. "I hope you're well."
With a sharp inhale, Hermione opened her mouth to affirm the statement, but the lift of Narcissa's brows gave her pause. She recalled Draco mentioning he'd spoken to his mother about her. After an extended pause, she said, "As well as can be."
Idly, the woman selected a jar of rose petals from the shelf, eyeing its contents as she spoke. "I'm told you ran into Draco in California."
Hermione wished he had been more specific as to the capacity in which he had referred to her. Whether it was a passing mention or a romantic inference.
With a jerky nod, she responded, "Yes. I spent two months there."
Blue eyes seared into her own as Narcissa turned to face her. "If I may be frank, Miss Granger, I find I am quite curious with regards to the situation." A thick tension hung between the pair of them as Hermione waited for the woman to elaborate, shifting on the spot. "Draco has never expressed interest in a woman to me, until you."
Realizing she was wringing her hands together, Hermione forced herself to plaster her sweaty palms against the legs of her jeans. "I am quite interested in him as well, Missus Malfoy."
Narcissa squinted at her for a long moment, before offering a subtle nod. "Good. Merlin knows that boy has put himself through enough."
Releasing a tight exhale, Hermione breathed, "I know." Sensing a relief of the tension, she gave a bit of a smile. "He's grown into a fine man."
Something flashed in Narcissa's blue eyes, and her shoulders dropped ever so slightly. "I am relieved to hear that. I've tried to give him his space, but some days I am restless. And I worry. I am glad you've seen him – and from what I am told, you've been good for him."
Her head fell to the side with a tilt, and Hermione clasped her hands together. "He wanted me to tell you, he's doing well."
On a nod, the woman's lips twitched with the makings of a smile. "I am pleased to hear that, Miss Granger. But I can't help but wonder – how can that be, when he is in America, and you are here, speaking with me?"
A thick lump gathered in Hermione's throat, and she felt a forced smile linger on her mouth as her stomach turned.
Before she could speak, Narcissa went on. "I must carry on, Miss Granger. But perhaps, the two of us might meet soon for tea."
Managing a fervent nod, Hermione said, "That sounds lovely. And please, call me Hermione."
"Hermione." The woman repeated the word, as if testing the way it felt on her lips, before nodding. "I will send you an owl. Enjoy your day, Hermione."
Blinking, and feeling a little stunned, Hermione watched the woman flow from the shop in a whirl of soft blue robes.
Nerves chased through her body as Hermione picked up the cordless receiver of the old telephone in her parents' house. She knew Draco wasn't particularly fond of speaking on the phone, given their interactions in California had always been short.
But it was one of the easiest ways by which they could communicate, and Hermione had picked up a long distance calling card from the grocer.
Clutching the card in one hand, Hermione dialed in, her mouth going dry in anticipation. Swallowing, she dialed his number and waited as the dull tone rang. Twice – and three times.
Then a click, and a prolonged silence, and a muted, "Hello?"
His voice was soft and tinny, but Hermione sagged into the sofa, feeling moisture spring to the corners of her eyes. "Draco."
"Hi." Another pause, while Hermione worried her bottom lip, and he added, "How are you?"
"Fine. You?" Hermione couldn't quite shake the awkward feeling, and she forced a bright smile, hoping it would infuse her voice.
"I'm okay." A deep sigh was released on the other end. "I miss you." He was silent for a moment while Hermione waited, hesitating. "We went out for Mikhael's birthday last night, and you know how they all are at the clubs. I just kept wishing you were there."
Biting back a sob threatening the back of her throat, Hermione nodded, despite that he couldn't see her. "I wish I'd been there, too." Longing stung in the pit of her stomach. She wished she'd been there to spend the evening with the rest of them. "Are you going to the beach today?"
It was still early in California; they'd arranged the time to suit the discrepancy in time zones between them.
"I work at two." His voice sounded resigned.
Even despite the banality of the conversation, his quiet voice was a soothing balm to her ragged soul, and her eyes fluttered shut at the sound of his deep timbre. She breathed, "That's too bad," and added, "I ran into your mother at the apothecary yesterday afternoon."
A sharp exhale. "How is she?"
"She looked lovely as ever." The words were hushed as she recalled the brief conversation she'd had. "I didn't know how much she was aware of between us – but she wants to meet for tea."
His voice came through with a soft chuckle. "That's good news."
A smile lingered on her face as silence once again stifled the line. Hermione offered, "I'll arrange a Portkey to see you on my birthday, if you'd like."
There was a tense hesitation, before he sighed. "If you want to, Hermione. You don't need to take time off from your internship so soon."
She whispered, "But I want to see you."
"And I am dying to see you." She could sense the but, and waited, wishing she could see his face. "But your internship is important – even if it's boring right now."
Tears stung at her eyes again. "Then I'll only Portkey in after I'm done for the day. It'll still be early there, and I can go back in time for the next day."
She didn't think his comment was meant to sound discouraging, but Hermione felt something inside her wither and her enthusiasm about the idea melted away as she spoke the words.
"I'd like to see you on your birthday," he finally said. "But only if it works out for you. Otherwise we'll celebrate when you can properly make it out for a few days, yeah?"
"Yeah," she murmured, sniffling. She wasn't sure if he'd noticed, but his voice dropped.
"Hermione…" She clutched the receiver to her face like a lifeline, biting down hard on her lower lip. "Merlin, I wish I was with you."
Exhaling a long breath, she confessed, "I wish I was in California." Steeling her nerves, she added, "Maybe I shouldn't have left."
She could hear him snicker, and imagined the crooked grin. "You'll wish you were here when it gets cold there."
A smile broke across her face, sweeping away some of the melancholy that had encompassed her since leaving him. "I'm sure I will – you'll get sick of me visiting so often."
"I can't wait." His words sobered her once more and Hermione laid out on the couch, gazing up at the roof. "But I know how important your career is to you, and I've never meant to get in the way of you pursuing what matters."
She breathed, "You matter. More than any internship."
A long pause hung on the line again, so long that Hermione glanced at the receiver to be sure the call hadn't been disconnected. There was some shuffling and he cursed under his breath with a muttered, "Give me a minute?"
The call was placed on hold before she could respond, something sinking in her stomach. But Draco returned moments later, and he said, "Mikhael wants to go for breakfast."
Her heart twinged at the thought of saying goodbye so soon, and there was added hurt from the thought of him spending time with their friends. It somehow felt so much more concrete than her own existence back in London. She managed a tight, "That sounds fun."
"I told him I'd meet them there in a bit. Lisa says hi."
"Hi," she whispered, tears stinging once more at the corners of her eyes. "You don't have to do that. You should go."
He hesitated, sighing. "I'd rather talk to you. And anyways, I'm sure the internship will pick up. You'll be breaking curses before you know it."
With a breathy nod, Hermione pressed her lips into a thin line. "You're probably right." Wanting to change the subject, she asked, "Did you speak with Mikhael about the surf shack idea?"
Silence, and then, "Not yet. I'm not sure if that's going to be happening."
"Oh." The word was soft and timid as she twisted her mouth to the side. "That's too bad."
"I guess we'll have to see how it plays out."
His tone left little room for discussion, and he sounded distracted. Hermione frowned, blinking at the ceiling as she mused, "I don't want to keep you from your plans."
"They aren't really plans."
She chewed on her lower lip again in silence.
"Have you seen Daph and Theo at all?" Draco asked.
"Yesterday," she returned, quietly. "They're well. We all miss you."
"Fuck," he murmured, and she could picture him sweeping his long fringe from his eyes. "I miss you all the time, Granger. The carnival doesn't feel the same without you. LA doesn't feel the same." Tears spiked from her eyes at his admission and she failed to stifle another loud sniffle. His voice lowered as he said, "Don't cry, Granger. We'll see each other again soon."
"Right," she managed, "soon." Swallowing a thick lump in her dry throat, she said, "You should go for breakfast. Tell everyone hello."
"Are you sure?"
With a sharp inhale, she breathed, "Yes. We'll talk again later."
Sighing, he muttered, "Okay. I'll owl you after work."
"Granger, I –" he hedged, and she fell silent, the word hanging in a muted tension, "– am thinking about you, always. Remember that, okay?"
Her heart twisted in her chest. "Okay. And you."
Tears flowing from her eyes, she blinked up at the ceiling again, whispering, "Goodbye."
After another moments' hesitation, there was a soft click and the dial tone went off, buzzing gently in her ear. Hanging up the phone, Hermione set the receiver on the coffee table beside her.
She gathered her large stuffed lion from the floor – the prize from her only victory at his carnival booth – and clutched it to her chest, feeling the sobs wrench free of her heart.
Author's Note: Happy Friday! ... I mean sad Friday? I hope you all have a wonderful weekend regardless! I can't believe we're so far on with this story already, and I'm just so happy to have you all along for the ride with me. Thank you for reading, and for your lovely words, and your faves, follows, subs, etc.
So much love to Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP with their alpha/beta assistance.
White lights, flirt in the darkness
This road leads where your heart is
These signs, something we can't ignore no
Red Lights - Tiesto
With a heavy sigh, Hermione pushed a cold chip around her plate with her fork, shoulders slumped forward. Taking a sip of his icewater, Harry cocked a brow. She scowled, dropping the fork to the table.
Delicately, Harry said, "I have never seen you like this." His expression was thoughtful as he fixed her with a stare. "Not even during sixth year when Ron started dating Lavender."
With a snort, she forced a smile. "Sorry, Harry – I know I've been terrible company."
"It's fine." Harry waved a hand. "Luckily, my meal was good, so I didn't need you –" As her eyes tightened, his expression softened. "But I mean it – you're making me depressed."
Leaning back in her seat, Hermione tapped her fingers on the surface of the table between them. "I suppose everything just… isn't how I expected it. This internship feels like Cecil will never give me any tasks that are actually related to curse-breaking. And being home just feels wrong." After a moment, her voice fell and she added, "I don't think staying at my parents' house – without them – is helping any."
Making a face, she dropped her chin into a hand.
Harry gave her a look, his expression soft and understanding, before he gave her fingers a light squeeze.
"Well, obviously," Harry intoned, "you miss Malfoy. And that's something I never thought I'd hear myself say, but it's readily apparent. Why don't you get a Portkey and go visit?"
"I meant to," she mused, "for my birthday, but Cecil has me working Saturday and I've got to work the following Monday as well, and the time zones are so extreme that it doesn't make sense."
With a shrug, Harry frowned. "So owl in sick the next day. Hermione, if you're this downtrodden, I can only imagine he's missing you too. He just probably doesn't want to ask you to go out of your way." Tension hung in his shoulders as he leaned forward. "And he probably feels badly because he can't come back, given that warrant for his trial evasion."
Releasing a long breath, Hermione pulled at her curls. "I wish he could come back, even just for a visit. But Harry – California is his home now. I think he would feel even more uncomfortable here than I do."
Gaze fixed on the table, Harry lowered his voice and said, "I looked into it, by the way. The circumstances around the warrant. And… it isn't terrible. I'm not sure if there's something I can do."
Freezing, she stared at him until he met her gaze. "You mean, something you can do."
"I don't know."
"But," he said, releasing a long sigh, "I can take a closer look, if you want. Ask around a little."
Knowing how unwilling Harry ordinarily was to make an effort to pull strings, especially using his name to do so, Hermione felt tears sting at the corners of her eyes. "That would be wonderful."
"Of course," he said, straightening, "I can't do anything about all this bloody moping, other than tell you to just go and see the bloke."
A sad smile tugged at her features. "I'll see if I can take a day or two away. Thanks, Harry."
Talfryn Cecil had been going on about some conference or other for half an hour across the room as Hermione organized paperwork and fought the insistent tug at her eyelids. She stifled a wide yawn.
For the millionth time, she wondered whether he was going to give her anything useful to do.
"So as I was saying," Cecil carried on, his voice a monotone bass that nearly lulled her to sleep as she attempted to focus in. "I won't be back until Tuesday, so if you like you can report in to the goblins and see if they need any filing done –"
"Tuesday?" Hermione asked, perking up. "You'll be gone Monday?"
With a measuring stare, Cecil eyed her for a moment. "Yes. For the conference."
"Of course." Waving a hand, she looked away with a brief grimace. "I had my dates confused."
Stretching out her neck, Hermione stared at the pile of ancient documents before her, summoning every shred of courage she had and plotting how best to ask for the day off.
"Or if you prefer, you can take the day off," Cecil said with a cheeky grin. "For all your efforts."
Hermione scarcely dared breathe. "I can take Monday off?"
Chortling, Cecil nodded. "Sure."
Huffing a breath, she fought to keep a smile from pulling at her lips. If she left after she was done work on Saturday, that would give her Sunday and Monday to see Draco. Her heart felt lighter than it had since her impending return home from California, and she couldn't wait.
Perhaps she would keep it a surprise, and she would visit the Ministry as soon as she was done to secure an international Portkey – she could only imagine the look on Draco's face when she showed up in Santa Monica.
Blowing out a breath and sinking back into her seat, Hermione flashed Cecil a smile. "Thank you, sir. I appreciate it."
"And at some point here," Cecil went on, adjusting the thick frames of his glasses as he peered at a yellowing scroll, "we'll get you working with some of the active Curse-breakers. See how you are with a wand."
Eyes widening, excitement raced through her veins. Maybe things were starting to look up after all.
Daphne lounged back on Hermione's bed, lips twitching with amusement as Hermione glared at a pile of clothing.
"Honestly, Hermione, you're going to be there for two days," Daphne teased, picking through a pile of shirts. "And I'm sure Draco is going to be so excited to see you, you'll be lucky if you even need anything more than underwear."
Flushing, Hermione made a face as she sank into the bed beside her friend. "I'm nervous."
"Don't be!" Daphne swatted her in the arm with a cardigan.
Sighing, Hermione folded her legs beneath her. "What if he doesn't want to see me? Maybe I should have told him I'm coming."
"He will be thrilled to see you," Daphne admonished, shoving Hermione in the shoulder as she rose from the bed and began to stack a series of items together, brandishing a lace sheath dress. "And he will love that you surprised him. Here – this is cute. Take this."
Releasing a long, shuddering breath, Hermione folded and tucked the items into her bag. Daphne was probably right, and she was worked up and overthinking the situation for no reason. Once she returned to California, things would probably feel as they had weeks ago, before she left.
And seeing him for a couple days was better than not seeing him at all.
Dwelling on Harry's words that Draco probably just didn't want to ask her to go out of her way, she allowed a smile to come to her lips, and forced some of the lingering tension and worries away. "You're probably right. Thanks, Daph."
"Of course I'm right." Rifling through her knickers drawer, Daphne brandished something sheer and black that Hermione didn't even recognize before tossing it into the pile. "Take that. Draco will like that."
"You just put that in there," Hermione huffed. Daph's eyes widened in innocence , as if daring Hermione to object.
Avoiding the subject, Daphne asked, "When do you leave?"
"Straight from work tomorrow," Hermione sighed, zipping the closure of the bag. With a hint of a smile, she whispered, "Wish me luck?"
Daphne's returning smile was brilliant.
"You won't need it."
The internship at Gringotts dragged frequently, but never had Hermione sincerely questioned whether time had simply stopped progressing as she did on Saturday before her Portkey was set to return to California.
The tasks assigned to her felt more tedious and mind-numbing than ever, and despite her conversation with Daphne the day before, Hermione felt far from reassured. She felt like there was a part of her that wouldn't be able to leave Draco behind a second time, knowing how much she had missed him since returning to England.
Despite her potential future at Gringotts, everything felt dull and uninspired. And even though she hadn't particularly enjoyed her job at the carnival, she found herself missing most every other aspect of her life in America.
She missed Lisa and Mikhael, and the salty spray of the ocean as the waves crashed over her. The warmth of the California sun and the way the sunsets just felt different.
Mostly she missed Draco, the feel of his arms around her, and the sparkle in his grey eyes when he looked at her like she mattered.
As the day neared an end, her anxiety reared to a head and she found herself all but pacing the file room as she checked her watch every few minutes. Her suitcase was shrunken in the bottom of her beaded bag, which she clutched like a lifeline, fingers tight and knuckles white.
And the Portkey was set to activate ten minutes after her day ended – she had zero intentions of letting it vanish without her along for the ride.
She would simply tell Lisa and whoever else she had come on an airplane.
Pacing by Cecil with a brief wave at the end of the day, Hermione settled into a quiet, empty room in the back of the bank's office corridor, feeling elation and anticipation tear at the nerves that had coursed through her all day. Clutching the Portkey in her hand, she waited until finally it glowed blue – and whisked her away across the world.
The feel of the warm California air brought a smile to her face, and peace surged within her as Hermione Apparated to an alley in Draco's neighbourhood in Santa Monica.
Since it was still early in California, he was mostly likely at home – and it was her first stop. Steeling her nerves, she pressed the buzzer to his suite, and waited.
He wasn't likely to still be asleep, unless he'd worked late or gone out the night before, and Hermione glanced at her watch as she pressed the button again. Still no response was forthcoming and she shifted on the tiled floor of the foyer before pressing it a third time.
Opting not to invade, she ducked outside, pulling her lip between her teeth as she made her way back to the alley before Apparating to a concealed area near the Pier.
Maybe he was working early – or sometimes he visited the Santa Monica boardwalk before making his way to the carnival.
A quick trip through the games area suggested he wasn't working, given the other operator was running the horse races; the man gave Hermione a nod and she forced a smile in return as she approached.
"Draco isn't working?" she asked.
The man shook his head, opening his mouth to speak before a group approached the stall, and she ducked away with another quick nod.
He was probably at the beach. It ought to have been the first place she checked, especially when he wasn't home. She recalled him saying he sometimes went to Venice on his own, and certainty tingling in her veins, she carried on towards Venice Beach.
If he was out on the waves it would have been difficult to find him, so she scanned the parking area first, but saw no sign of his black Jeep. Settling onto the sand, she watched the more skilled surfers at the fishing pier for a while, hoping for a glimpse of his board or his recognizable pale hair.
Time rolled by into the afternoon when she gave up, surmising he wasn't at the beach after all.
With another trip back to his apartment, she determined he still wasn't at home. Maybe he'd been out all day – and while she had been hoping to see Draco first, she decided to check in with Lisa.
The girl blinked astonished green eyes as she opened the door, and a smile crested Hermione's lips at the sight of a familiar face; with a bit of a sniffle she allowed herself to be enveloped in the older girl's embrace, her own arms tightening around Lisa's back.
"Hermione!" Lisa exclaimed, holding her at arm's length when they drew apart. She gaped, shaking her head. "What are you doing here? Did you just get in?"
"A couple hours ago," Hermione said, intending to keep her responses vague. "I thought I'd surprise Draco."
Lisa's smile faltered, and dropped into a frown as she shook her head once, as if confused. "What do you mean? Haven't you talked to him?"
"We spoke a couple days ago," Hermione said, slowly; something wasn't adding up. Fear and apprehension clenched in her stomach. "But I didn't tell him I was coming. What is it?"
A furrow pulled at Lisa's brow as she stared at Hermione for a long moment, her lips parted in silence. At last her fingers coiled around Hermione's arm and she shook her head again. "He's gone, Hermione."
The words echoed through Hermione's brain with a rattle, refusing to settle or make sense. "Gone? He – what?"
Sweeping a hand through her hair, Lisa led Hermione into the kitchen and they sat at the table; Hermione's heart raced, her gaze unseeing. "Just a couple of days ago. We thought he would have said something to you at least – and at first Mikhael and I thought he'd just gone out of town for the day – sometimes he goes down to San Diego to surf… but apparently he left his job at the Pier and everything."
The girl paused for a moment with a grimace. "To be honest, we weren't sure whether he actually quit or if he was let go… he's missed a few shifts, and Mikhael said he'd been smoking a lot at work."
Bile churned in the pit of her stomach to think of him struggling.
Lisa fixed her with an honest, if apologetic, stare. "Hermione… he was having a hard go of things, after you left. I think…" Trailing off, she shook her head. "I think that boy didn't know how much he needed you until you were gone."
Tears stung at the corners of Hermione's eyes, and she dropped her head, shame and guilt seizing at her chest. "I didn't – but we'd been talking, and writing, and –"
"You're across the world from one another." Lisa's tone was gentle but it made the emotions all the worse as they stabbed at her conscience. "You both knew it would be a challenge."
"I told him I might come by for my birthday," Hermione whispered.
Looking at a loss, Lisa offered a small shrug. "From what I heard, you were waiting until you could come for a proper visit. Maybe he's planning on coming back, but… he didn't even tell Mikhael he was leaving."
She recalled the last time they'd spoken on the phone – Draco had sounded so defeated. He'd made idle mention of his decision not to purchase the surf shop after all.
Tears poured down her cheeks as she blinked at Lisa, feeling as if her world was shattering around her. "I never thought –"
"I know," Lisa whispered, wrapping Hermione's hand in her own. "I'm sure he'll reach out, when he gets wherever he's gone."
Nodding, Hermione could hear only a dull buzz and the anxious thudding of her heart in her chest, the blood racing through her veins and pounding behind her ears. She would go to Pasadena, send him an owl, and ask where he'd gone –
The trail of thought died off abruptly. Maybe he didn't want to see her – maybe she'd lost her chance after all, and he'd been too hurt to carry on with things as they were.
She hadn't explicitly told him she was coming after all – she'd wanted to surprise him… but now the whole idea felt short-sighted. She ought to have at least called first.
"You're welcome to stay here," Lisa said, her voice soft, "if you want to wait for a bit and see…" She shrugged, a deep frown on her face. "He's disconnected his phone line and everything."
With a stuttering nod, Hermione barely registered the words Lisa was speaking. Her stomach rolled with nausea at the thought of Draco simply being gone. Perhaps he'd needed to get away – but what if he hadn't wanted to see her?
Obviously he hadn't expected her to turn up unannounced… but what if he never reached out? What if he never owled her or called her or –
Breathing heavily, her eyes met Lisa's watery ones as the girl squeezed her hand tighter.
"I'll go," Hermione affirmed, with a nod. "Thank you for letting me know."
"Really, you can stay here," Lisa assured her, "you've come all this way."
"Maybe." Pressing her lips into a vague attempt at a smile, Hermione rose to her feet, clutching her bag tight to her side. "I think I need to get some air."
"Okay." Biting down on her lower lip, Lisa followed Hermione to the door. "Thanks for coming by, Hermione. I'm sorry I don't have better news for you – and if we see him, I'll tell him to call you. I know he'll be choked he missed you."
The last words pulled at Hermione's heart and she strangled out a bit of a sob as she pulled Lisa into a hug. Releasing her friend with a watery smile, Hermione turned and made her way down the walk, without the slightest clue what she would do now.
There was no point in acting rash and leaving, if Draco hadn't gone far – and she couldn't very well be upset with him since he didn't even know she was coming. But the thought of knowing he'd gone somewhere, and hadn't even told his closest friends, stirred a continuous storm of shame in her stomach.
His owls had been morose, and he'd been generally downcast when they spoke on the telephone, but Hermione had never expected this.
After moping around the neighbourhood for a while, as if Draco would magically appear at her side, she took a deep breath, wiped her tears, and Apparated to Pasadena.
She rented a post owl, scrawled a brief missive to check in, and sat down at a small cafe to wait on a response – to hope for a response. Something still held her back from telling him she'd come all the way to California only to find out he wasn't even there.
It was the niggling thought that maybe he didn't want to see her, still playing havoc at the back of her mind.
Hours passed, melancholy clutched at her heart, and no owl fluttered in with a response.
With a wide yawn, it occurred to Hermione that it was approaching the morning in England and the events of the day had left her emotionally and physically drained. For a moment she considered staying the night in the small hotel where she and Draco had stayed on their first visit to Pasadena together, but the thought dredged too many memories that were now tinged with heartache and doubt.
Giving up felt like a poor choice, but she hadn't heard back, and if he was in southern California, he would have had plenty of time to respond to her owl by now.
She didn't want to return to Lisa's house, despite the girl being the only friend Hermione currently had in LA. The only person she wanted to see now was Draco, and without him here, California felt a little less bright.
Tears prickling at her red eyes, she visited the International office in Pasadena to modify her Portkey, and without any fanfare, she returned home.
Sleep tugged at her eyelids to see the sun rising when she returned to England, and it occurred to Hermione with a despairing sniffle that it was officially her birthday. Hope pulled at her chest at the thought that maybe Draco would still owl her back, and she might hear from him after some sleep.
Maybe this would all look better with a fresh day, and maybe it was all a misunderstanding.
Most likely, Draco's leaving Santa Monica wasn't because he didn't want to see her – but even the thought that he'd needed to escape after she left only made her feel worse.
Lisa's words – that Draco hadn't realized how much he needed her until she was gone – rang through her head with a harsh clang.
Maybe the same was true for her – and the pain she felt at the thought that she might have lost him for good was a sign that she needed to see him more often. That she needed to work something else out if they were going to make it through.
Apparating home, Hermione dragged herself into her bed, drawing her giant stuffed lion into her chest as she soaked the fabric with her tears.
Eventually she drifted into a restless sleep.
Author's Note: You're all wonderful – please don't kill me. I am curious to hear your thoughts about the chapter! Thank you for all your continued support, and I love hearing your stories! I can't believe we're so close to the end.
Thanks to alpha squad, Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta queen I was BOTWP.
If we're caught in a wave
Baby, we'll make a way
You could put an ocean between our love, love, love
It won't keep us apart
Ocean - Martin Garrix feat. Khalid
There was an unsettled sinking feeling in Hermione's entire being when she stirred awake in the late morning. Her stomach growled, making itself known after she'd set her own wellbeing aside upon discovering Draco had left California the day – or had it been night – before.
None of it made sense anymore, and she rubbed at her groggy eyes, unwilling to get out of bed.
It was her birthday, but all of her friends thought she was in California, and she wasn't sure she was ready to talk about what had happened. Guilt over having left in the first place raced through her brain, and there was a deep ache in her heart at the thought of Draco being out there, somewhere.
But when she finally forced herself out of bed, logic winning out that she couldn't sleep through the day, there was an owl waiting for her from Daphne.
Clearly, the girl had sent the bird with a message simply to find her, and it had presumably found her much sooner than intended.
Reading the missive of birthday wishes, Hermione felt her eyes well up, and wondered when she had become one of those girls that were so prone to crying at the smallest things.
Daphne was the friend Hermione had never expected to find, and in that moment she decided she didn't want to be alone on her birthday after all – that even if she was depressed and miserable over what had happened on her ill-fated trip across the world, she couldn't spend the day moping. She just wasn't that sort of girl.
Responding with a vague, unassuming message, Hermione offered her scroll to the owl and made her way to the kitchen to make some toast, feeling unambitious in her food preparation.
Fifteen minutes later Daphne knocked at the door, eyes wide in horror as she stepped over the threshold, regarding Hermione as if she might simply melt.
Her voice was hushed as she jumped forward, tugging Hermione into an embrace. "Are you okay? Merlin, I can't believe he just left."
The fine strands of Daphne's blonde hair pressed into Hermione's face as she sunk into the girl's hold, releasing a long sigh. It was cathartic, in the end, to tell a friend as she shared the whole story.
Putting in two more slices of toast, Hermione buttered the first pair and offered them to Daphne. "What do you think this means? Maybe Draco just couldn't stand to be there without you."
Sighing, Hermione gazed at the floor. "Then where would he have gone? And why didn't he just reach out to me, Daph? If he was struggling that much? I thought…" Trailing off, she shook her head. "I guess I thought our relationship was more honest than this."
With a slow nod, Daphne hopped up to sit on the counter at Hermione's side. "It is, Hermione – trust me. I've never seen Draco with anyone like he was with you. He just doesn't know how to deal with his emotions very well." Making a face, she turned to Hermione. "Look at it this way – a family like Draco's doesn't exactly encourage shows of emotion, and his upbringing was cold, to say the least. He isn't used to sharing the way he feels, and maybe he just didn't know how else to deal with you being gone."
"I should have stayed," Hermione whispered, as her toast popped. Ignoring it, she swallowed thickly. "I wanted to stay, and I knew it would be hard on both of us… I just never realized –"
"Don't you dare blame yourself," Daphne whispered, jabbing Hermione with an elbow. "I'm sure Draco will owl you back before you know it, and you can arrange a time to visit him, wherever he's gone to now."
"But he loves California."
Frowning, Hermione buttered her now cold toast.
"And he will love wherever he can see you," Daphne pressed, her green eyes tight. "Because he loves you, Hermione. I know he does."
Tears stung her eyes again as she dropped the knife to the counter with a clatter. Her voice fell to a whisper, cracking as she spoke. "I love him, Daph. I can't lose him."
It felt odd, to admit the sentiment to someone else, but she knew it had been building for longer than she could even admit.
Wrapping her arms around Hermione's shoulders from her seat on the counter, Daphne mused, "I know you do." Giving her a squeeze, she added, "And he knows it. He'll come back to you when he can. Now eat up – we've got a birthday party to get to."
Her eyes blew wide as she turned to see Daphne's cheshire grin.
Apparently, when Hermione had owled Daphne, the girl had left Theo in charge of planning a birthday party. Before leaving her parents' house, Daphne had her get ready, and despite Hermione's reticence, the girl performed some fancy spellwork to settle her curls. Hermione felt incredibly touched when the pair of them arrived in Grimmauld Place to a gathering of her closest friends.
Harry and Luna, Ron and Katie, Theo, and Blaise Zabini, looking moderately uncomfortable, greeted her with a range from warm hugs to a casual nod and a smirk.
Daphne wrapped an arm around her back, acting as both her strength and her support, as they edged into the room.
"Happy birthday, Hermione," Harry said with a wide grin, even as his expression faltered when he took a step closer and Hermione broke free of Daphne's hold. "Daphne told me – I'm sorry about how your trip went."
"It's okay, Harry," she mused, dropping a soft kiss to his cheek. "I appreciate the effort you've gone to in hosting."
With a dismissive wave, Harry shook off the sentiment. "Daphne and Nott put most of it together, they just needed a place."
Smiling, relief and gratitude coursing through her as one, Hermione settled into one of the couches in the sitting room. Despite everything that happened during the summer, she did still have friends in England who cared about her and were willing to look after her.
She was showered with gifts, and as the group of them gorged on an elaborate spread prepared by Kreacher, Hermione felt a smile cross her face.
Even if things hadn't worked out according to plan in California, tomorrow was another day. And if Draco needed time to get used to the situation, she would give him time. But if he needed more from her, she would do her best to give him whatever he needed.
It had been a shocking experience to realize exactly how devastated she'd been upon learning she wouldn't be spending her birthday with him after all – and it only served to enforce her conviction that he was the one she wanted.
Smiling at Daphne as the other girl settled in beside her, Hermione allowed herself to enjoy her birthday.
Despite having been in California for only a portion of a day, her sleep cycles had been disrupted, and by the time Hermione arrived back at her parents' house after dinner that evening, she was stifling a wide yawn, and ready to call it an early night.
While it had been nice to spend the day with her friends, a thought still played at the back of her mind as to whether or not Draco would have received her owl yet – and whether he'd thought to respond.
She settled onto the couch in the sitting room, idly flipping through the channels on the television as another heavy yawn pulled her eyes shut when there was a soft knock at the door.
Frowning, Hermione slipped her wand into her hand as she approached the front door with caution, and reached for the handle.
Blinking several times, her mouth fell open as her eyes widened.
Grey eyes stared back at her, his head in a bit of a tilt, and his jaw clenched as he thrust a wrapped package forward. Gaping in silence, she accepted the package, clutching it to her stomach with trembling fingers. His other hand swept through dishevelled blond hair, and there were dark circles beneath his eyes.
Finally he said, voice soft, "Happy birthday, Hermione."
The utterance was hushed, reverent. "Draco." Shaking her head, she managed a choked, "What are you doing here?"
Huffing a breath through his nose, his lips tilted in a hint of a smirk. "I couldn't miss your birthday, could I?"
Moisture pulled at her eyes for what felt like the millionth time in the span of a little over a day. Ushering him inside, she asked, "How did you get here?"
He gave a mirthless chuckle. "A fucking airplane – and let me tell you, never again."
With a watery laugh, she breathed, "An airplane." She set the wrapped package on the counter.
Expression faltering, he shook his head as he stared at her. "I warred with myself, Hermione, ever since you left. But I couldn't do it. And – and I needed to see you first, in case I'm going to be arrested as soon as they find out I'm in the country." He swallowed thickly, lips pursed as his chin dropped. "Fuck, I've missed you."
The floodgates burst, then, and she threw her arms around his neck, burying her face in his neck as her tears broke free.
His lips met her temple softly as she whispered, "I missed you." Drawing back, she searched his gaze. "Lisa said you left. You quit at the pier and everything."
"Lisa?" His nose wrinkled. "When did you talk to Lisa?"
"Yesterday," she choked, taking his hand in hers. "When I took a Portkey to Santa Monica to see you."
His eyes bulged. "Hermione, you –" Frowning, he shook his head. "And I wasn't there."
"And I didn't know what to think," she breathed, entwining their fingers. "Whether you just didn't want to see me, or –"
His lips, insistent against hers, cut her off. Her heart clenched painfully in her chest as she leaned into him, kissing him back, the fingers of her free hand threading his hair. When he drew away, his brow was knit, lips pulled into a frown.
"Don't," he whispered, tracing her cheekbone with the tips of his fingers, "ever think I don't want to see you." He gazed at her for a moment longer, as if memorizing the lines of her face. "I just didn't know what was going to happen when I returned to England, so I tied up all my loose ends over there."
"Draco, you didn't need –"
"I told myself," he huffed, "if I wasn't willing to put myself on the line for you, I didn't deserve you. And Merlin, maybe I'll never deserve you, Hermione, but I love you." As he paused, the words resonated between them, sinking into her soul. "I couldn't live with myself if I didn't give it my all to make this work. I should have told you before you left but I didn't want you to stay for me – not when you had so many opportunities here."
His expression was soft, forlorn, as he stared at her – and she stared back, processing his words, her heart erratic.
Misinterpreting her silence, he glanced away, letting her hand drop. "And I understand if you don't feel the same –"
"Draco," she whispered, her lips finding his in a soft, chaste kiss, "I love you."
As he swallowed, she could see the shine to his eyes, and his jaw was clenched tight. "You do?"
Releasing a long, heaving sigh, he drew her into his chest, face turning to rest atop her curls. "I don't know what comes next, Hermione. But I couldn't stay there – not when everything reminded me of you."
When he drew away, Hermione dragged her bottom lip through her teeth, contemplating. "Harry was going to look into your warrant, in case you ever wanted to visit. The details of it."
His brows lifted in surprise, expression hesitant, and she briefly wondered whether he would say something about Harry's assistance. "The Wizengamot will put me on trial now. I'll accept what's coming to me, which I should have done after the war ended. And… if it means Azkaban, I can't ask you to wait for me. But I just needed you to know how I felt. Because I couldn't spend the rest of my life wondering, what if." His voice dropped to little more than a whisper as he stared at her, and he swiped gruffly at the corner of one eye.
Shaking her head, she stared up at him as adrenaline coursed through her veins. "I won't let that happen."
With a chuckle, he shook his head. "I don't know that it'll be within your control, but I appreciate the sentiment."
Eyes tightening, she offered a hint of a smile. "Are you underestimating me, Draco Malfoy?"
He breathed, "Never."
"At any rate," she mused, hands sliding up to play with the collar of his shirt, "you don't need to let anyone know you're here just yet."
"I'll owl my mother," he said with a sigh, "now that I'm here." With a smirk, he tugged at the hem of her jumper, "But I wasn't planning on going back to the Manor yet, so if you're willing to put me up for the night…"
Pressing her lips to his, she murmured, "Absolutely."
"You have to open your gift," he said, drawing away, even as he dragged her jumper up and over her head, leaving her in a tank top. "It isn't anything much, because I spent the last of my money on a plane ticket."
Clutching the wrapped package in her lap as they sat on the couch, Hermione smiled. "I'm sure it's wonderful."
He watched as she tugged a loose corner of the paper, and his hand stalled hers. "Do you remember that night on the Santa Monica boardwalk, when that band was playing?"
Expression pensive, he said, "There was a Muggle with a camera, and I noticed her taking photos, so I tracked her down afterwards."
Face softening, she stared at him as she released the paper the rest of the way. Inside was a framed, motionless photo of the two of them dancing. Her face was flushed with colour, eyes sparkling and bright with a laugh. His hands held her close, a grin tugging at his lips as he planted a kiss to her temple.
Emotion reared deep within her as she gazed at the photograph, recalling the bright tones of the musicians in the darkness of the night. In an instant, she was back in Santa Monica, her heart tight in her chest.
"Draco, it's beautiful," she breathed, meeting his stare.
"It was one of my favourite memories of us." His grey eyes were serious as they held hers, heart racing in her chest. "And the night I realized I was in love with you." Swallowing, he glanced away.
Gazing at him, Hermione whispered, "I can't believe you're here."
Slinging his arm around her, he settled back against the couch. "I can't believe you went to California."
"I owled you." Feeling safe and comfortable in his hold, she smiled. "And I waited in Pasadena for hours for you to respond."
With a long exhale, he said, "And you thought I was ignoring you. When in reality, I was fighting those Merlin-cursed airports. Honestly, how do Muggles actually travel that way? Hours upon hours, just to get somewhere when a Portkey could do it in an instant."
Throwing her head back with a laugh, Hermione returned, "You're sounding more like a wizard already."
"Right, well." Shaking his head, he cracked a crooked grin. "I've lived like a Muggle for a long time, but there are absolutely benefits to being magical." Cocking his head, he added, "Although I haven't used any magic yet because I couldn't very well see you if I'd been hauled to Azkaban the moment I entered the country."
"We'll deal with it when you're ready," she assured him, dragging his arm across her front and dropping her head into the crook of his shoulder. "You're welcome to stay here as long as you need."
"Technically," he drawled, "you're harbouring a fugitive." When she cast him an unimpressed stare, he said, "Tomorrow. I need to visit my mother, and then… come what may."
Despite her conviction earlier, the idea of him winding up in Azkaban terrified her. The thought that she might have so little time with him left her stomach in a tangled knot, and she turned to press her lips to his. "Okay. Whatever you need to do, I'll support you."
There was a long, comfortable silence between them as his fingers tightened around her shoulder. His eyes fluttered when she glanced at him, basking in the feel of him beside her after so long.
"Right now," he mused, "I want to sleep for a dozen hours, but I don't want to give up our time together." Pressing his face into her hair, he added in a soft voice that made her stomach clench with desire, "And I want to bury myself inside you."
"That can all be arranged." Standing, she tugged him to her feet and led him to her bedroom. He undressed and collapsed into her bed, his eyelids fluttering already as she prepared for sleep.
When she returned from the loo he was fast asleep, and Hermione smiled, slipping in beside him with a soft, "Tomorrow, then."
He shifted, arms wrapping around her to drag her closer, and for the first time in weeks, she fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
An absent smile crossed her face, dragging her from the depths of sleep, and Hermione stirred, blinking awake. She'd been having the most wonderful dream that Draco was with her in England – but the smile slowly faded as her gaze landed on the empty pillow beside her.
Then with a startled jump, she nearly flew from bed at the feel of hands on her legs, and her heart leapt in her chest.
Throwing the covers back, the memories of the night before – the events of the past two days – flooded back as she met mischievous grey eyes.
Draco's lips found the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, hands tugging at the waist of her sleep shorts and tossing them to the floor. He offered a clipped, "Good morning," before dragging his tongue towards her knickers.
Eyes wide, Hermione managed a choked, "Morning." With a groan, her head dropped back into the pillow and her fingers threaded the soft strands of his hair as he pulled her knickers to the side, his tongue flicking out to find her clit.
One of his hands pulled her knickers off while he slid two fingers into her with the other.
A whimper escaped her as she was overtaken by an onslaught of sensation, and as she yanked on his hair, he released a growl, diving in to suck the bundle of nerves between his lips, his fingers setting a steady rhythm.
It didn't take long for orgasm to crest and sweep through her with a cry, and when he drew away, peering up at her with a smirk as he licked his lips, she cracked a slow grin.
"Did I mention," he murmured, dropping a trail of kisses from her thigh, and up along her stomach, his hands toying with her breasts, "I missed you?"
"You did." Chest heaving, the words left her as a whisper and she dragged her hands down his bare back, drawing him closer. Draco's lips found hers as he pressed himself against her core; she felt a stirring of arousal again and reached a hand down to push at his shorts, making her intentions known.
Dragging his pants the rest of the way, Draco flipped her onto her stomach in one motion, and she could feel the smirk against the side of her neck as he pressed her back down, leaving her flat against the mattress.
A long-drawn groan pulled from her lips as he slid into her, his chest firm against her back, and his teeth grazed the line of her jaw as he initiated a slow, intense rhythm at an angle that pulled a cry from deep within her with every thrust.
The roll of his hips was sensual and his hands clutched at her arse, the curve of her hip, pressure building within until release crashed upon her once more, darkening her vision. Moments later he stilled with a groan, before collapsing gently atop her and rolling to the side.
A lazy smile pulled at Hermione's lips, her eyes fluttering shut as the side of her face pressed into the sheets. Fingers entwined with his, she whispered, "I missed you, too."
Author's Note: You guys are champions for sticking with me through the angst, and I love you all so much for your lovely words. I HOPE you enjoyed this chapter!
Alpha love to Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and beta hearts to I was BOTWP.
When you're tired of the dark nights
And need someone to hold
I'll be your fire in the cold rain
I'm never gonna let you go
Let You Go - Illenium feat. Ember Island
It was strange, to see Draco Malfoy sitting at the small round table in her Muggle parents' kitchen, sipping black coffee from one of her mother's favourite ceramic mugs.
Although, Hermione mused, it was strange to see Draco Malfoy in England, period. Especially without the trademark sneer he had always reserved for her back in school.
But with the shaggier hair he now sported, the scruff along his jaw, and the softness in his expression as he glanced her way – she supposed everything was simply different now.
It was a good thing Cecil was away for his conference, so she'd be able to spend the day with him.
His head fell to the side, pensive. "What are you thinking?"
Smiling, Hermione leaned back against the island. "I'm thinking I can't believe you're here with me."
Expression faltering, he cleared his throat, setting his mug on the place setting before him. "It might not be for long, I'm afraid."
With a sigh, Hermione moved to take a seat at the table across from him. "Suppose you aren't thrown in Azkaban – what was the plan?"
"I didn't really have one," he responded, his tone delicate. "See you, and pray to fucking Merlin I don't get tossed in a cell." Swallowing, he scratched the back of his neck. "But like I said last night, it's time to own up to my mistakes. And if that means Azkaban, I've come to terms with it."
Her eyes stung as she reached for his hand. "You can't possibly believe I'm going to watch that happen without putting up one hell of a fight."
Draco mused with a smirk, "It's enough to hang a hope on."
Humour pulling at her lips, Hermione rose to collect a stack of parchment and a quill. "You're seeing your mother today, yes?" When he nodded, she went on. "I have an idea."
After a moment's consideration, she penned a quick missive, followed by another, and gave both letters to her owl.
Twenty minutes later, as they were finishing up a breakfast of bacon and eggs, the owl returned with two responses. Draco quirked a brow as she skimmed each one before passing them to him.
With a thin smile, she said, "Looks like we're meeting your mother for tea."
When Hermione had owled Narcissa to take up the woman's offer for tea, she'd left out the small detail that Draco was back in England, thinking it would be best if he spoke to his mother in person.
As the pair arrived at the posh Muggle tea shop Hermione had suggested, Narcissa Malfoy was already seated. The woman rose to her feet upon seeing her, a demure smile on her face, which quickly morphed into something else altogether.
Eyes widening, Narcissa clapped a hand to her mouth when she noticed Draco, hands shoved in his pockets and brows high on his forehead.
Her head shaking slightly as if in denial, Narcissa merely gaped wordlessly, eyes shining as she reached a cautious hand towards her son. Jaw clenched hard, Draco swept in and took his mother into his arms.
Hermione had never considered Narcissa Malfoy even remotely small or vulnerable, but in her son's embrace, she looked both, and there was a stinging in Hermione's eyes as she averted her gaze from the scene. When they drew apart, Draco held his mother by the arms, holding her stare as they spoke softly to one another.
Narcissa dabbed gingerly at her eyes with a handkerchief as she retook her seat, and Hermione settled in beside Draco. A genuine smile graced her face. "This is quite the surprise!"
Taking her hand into his, Draco said, "I decided to come visit for Hermione's birthday."
"But…" Narcissa looked confused, staring between the two of them. "Your letters… you said you weren't able to return home. That you would be arrested."
Draco's expression was grim. "I probably will be. Which is why I wanted to see you today."
Surprised, Narcissa simply stared at him, at a loss for words. Swallowing, she asked, "Then how come you've –"
"We're hoping to work something out," Hermione said, uncertain, as she glanced his way. "I believe the Wizengamot may be persuaded otherwise."
Clearly understanding the insinuation, Narcissa's head only dropped into a curious tilt as she gazed at Hermione. "I certainly hope so."
A waitress came along, and talk ceased until they'd received their orders. Narcissa turned to face Hermione with a soft smile. "It truly is wonderful to see you again – and I must thank you for bringing my son home."
"Hopefully," Hermione hedged, "if we can manage to clear Draco's name, he'll be able to return more often, wherever he chooses to live."
The sentiment hung, unspoken, between them, and his grey eyes tightened with significance as they met hers, hand squeezing hers tight. "I haven't decided anything yet." With a brisk smile, he turned back to face his mother. "I've been hesitant to make plans when the future is so uncertain."
A knowing curve to her lips, Narcissa took a sip of her tea. Her eyes settling on Hermione, she mused in a lofty voice, "I'm not sure, Draco. Your future might be more certain than you realize."
A flare of colour suffused her cheeks, even as Hermione smiled in return.
She could feel the burn of Draco's eyes on the side of her face, and his lips found her temple. Drawing back, he said, "Mother, I think you might be right."
Hermione's heart clenched tightly but pleasantly in her chest.
After two hours in the tea shop, long after the tea had gone cold, the three of them finally parted, and Hermione waited while Draco said goodbye to his mother. Emotion hung in the lines of his face when he found her lingering by the door, and he released a sigh, shoulders sinking.
As they walked down the road, he mused, "I guess there was a part of me that thought I might never see my mother again."
"Must have been nice," Hermione said quietly, taking his hand in hers.
With a brief smile, he pulled her closer. "It was." He planted a kiss to the back of her hand that held his, and added, "And I'm only sorry I'll never be able to properly meet your parents."
With a bittersweet surge in her chest, Hermione nodded. "As am I." As tears threatened, she thumbed through the letters from earlier, before brandishing Harry's response. "We have to meet Harry at three."
"Joy," Draco muttered with a smirk, and she elbowed him in the side.
"He's going to try to help you," she warned, lifting a brow, "so behave."
With a petulant pout, he said, "I will if he does."
Shaking her head, and unwilling to dignify the quip with a response, she dragged him towards the nearest back alley and Apparated the pair of them across London.
Since it wouldn't have been the brightest idea to bring a wanted fugitive into the Auror's Office, they met up with Harry in a small Muggle pub a block away from the Ministry.
With a furtive glance around, Harry removed his cloak and slipped into a booth across from them, his emerald eyes guarded. "Malfoy," he allowed, adjusting his crooked tie. "You look… tanned."
Draco made a face, drumming his fingertips on the wooden surface of the table. "And you're looking disheveled as usual."
Cocking a brow in the direction of Draco's disorderly locks, Harry's mouth twitched with humour as he said, "Whatever you say." Glancing at his watch, he leaned in. "I don't have a lot of time – I told Robards I was interviewing a witness."
Reaching into his pocket, he enlarged a sheet of parchment and presented it on the table. "This is the warrant for your arrest, and here are the charges."
Silently, Hermione scanned the list, feeling a grimace pull at her face. "That doesn't sound good."
"No less than I expected," Draco said, but she could hear the concern hidden below his words. "What am I looking at?"
"Honestly?" Harry ran a hand through his hair, lips pulling to the side. "Ten years. Worst case scenario – if you were found guilty of all these charges. The trial evasion alone isn't good."
Ten years. The words clanged through Hermione's brain, and she felt Draco's hand slip into hers. Anxiety built in her chest as she stared at Harry, imploring. "Is there something you can do?"
Leaning back in his seat, Harry scowled at Draco. "I've never liked you, and if it were a matter of things strictly between you and I, maybe a few years in a cell would do you good."
Hermione pressed her lips into a thin line to keep from retorting. Expression stoic, Draco merely stared in return.
"But," Harry went on, cursing under his breath, "fortunately for your arse, Hermione's decided she cares about you, and I can't do that to her. I'm only a Junior Auror, so I don't have any sway with the Wizengamot, but Kingsley does, and I have sway with him."
A harsh breath chased from her lungs as Harry cleared his throat. "If I know Kings, and I think I do, he'll want to keep this out of the papers, which means avoiding a public trial. His efforts have been focused on rebuilding and moving on from the war, and another high profile trial isn't what he'll want. So… I'll see if I can swing a deal."
"A deal," Draco choked, gaping at Harry. "Potter, I don't even know what to say."
Rolling his eyes, Harry offered a chuckle. "Tell me you're going to take care of my best friend. This Order of Merlin is just collecting dust so I suppose I might as well use it for something." Voice gruff, he added, "Not that I can make any promises, mind you."
Draco's voice was low. "Thank you, Potter. I appreciate it."
Harry rose from his seat, slinging his cloak over his shoulders once more as he pocketed the warrant. "Like I said, I appreciate you looking out for Hermione." His gaze flickered between them and he sighed. "But something tells me I don't need to worry."
Chin low, Draco offered a hand. There was a heavy, tense beat in which Harry stared at the outstretched hand, before he clasped it within his own.
Wringing her hands at her front, Hermione said, "Thanks, Harry."
Nodding, he threw a few coins on the table to pay for his drink. "I'll meet with Kingsley this afternoon and do the best I can manage. Await my message."
They both watched in a drawn out silence as Harry swept from the pub. Expression thoughtful, Draco finally turned to face her, brows rising on his forehead. Blowing out a breath, he asked, "What now?"
Evening found them In Daphne's flat outside of London, with Daphne, Nott, and Blaise Zabini, who, despite being invited to Hermione's birthday party the day before, apparently hadn't been privy to the connection.
Zabini stared between them when they arrived, his jaw dropping, before he pulled Draco into an embrace.
Daphne met Hermione's stare with surprise before tugging her away, leaving the three men to catch up. "Draco's here!"
"He is," Hermione agreed, hesitant, "but we aren't sure about the status of his warrant yet." After explaining the situation to Daphne, she offered a nervous grin. "We're just waiting to hear from Harry."
Peering through the opening into the sitting room, the blonde mused, "If anyone can keep Draco out of Azkaban…"
"It's Harry Potter," Hermione finished with a sigh. She watched as Draco grinned, at ease with his old friends, the three of them chatting over a drink. A tight breath left her chest as a stag Patronus pranced into the flat, and she whispered, "Speak of the devil."
Hermione, the Patronus said in Harry's urgent voice, I need to speak with you and Malfoy. Where are you?
After returning a message with her own otter, Hermione waited with Daphne, heart racing in her chest until a few minutes later, Harry Apparated into the flat. Grey eyes met hers, and Draco excused himself from his conversation, following as Daphne offered the three of them access to the study.
Casting an array of silencing spells and wards on the room, Harry sighed, taking a seat at the desk. He looked even more frazzled than he had when they'd seen him that afternoon, and he brandished a sheet of parchment.
"Kings and I spent most of the evening going back and forth with the Wizengamot," he prefaced, unfolding the sheet, "and this is the best we can get."
Scanning the list of provisions, Hermione's heart jumped in her chest when one word jumped out at her.
"Probation," she gasped.
Beside her Draco was silent, his expression blank as he read through the list.
Breaking the haze of tension in the room, Harry went through the essentials. "One year's probation, full use of your magic, but anything remotely dark will trigger the Ministry's traces." Draco didn't respond, and Hermione noticed his knuckles were white as he clutched the edge of the desk. "You may choose a place of residence for the duration of your probation, and travel will be allowed with express written consent of the Wizengamot, requiring forty-eight hours' notice." Harry's lips twitched and he said as an aside, "I made them include that one."
Leaning back, he concluded, "This is a good deal, Malfoy. Trust me – no one else would have been offered a deal like this."
"Monthly check-ins," Draco mused, eyes flickering to Harry's, "with the Wizengamot?"
"With the Ministry," Harry allowed, "or with an agent at MACUSA. The finer details will all be worked out if you take the deal."
Hermione could see the sparkle in his eye as he asked in a drawl, "And if I don't?"
"You'll go to trial," Harry said without preamble. "And I can almost guarantee you prison time."
"I'll take the deal." The response was instantaneous, and Hermione's hand was crushed within Draco's as he cracked a grin. Relief and exhilaration welled inside her until her vision was blurred.
Returning the grin, Harry folded up the conditions and handed them to Draco, who stowed the sheet in the back pocket of his jeans. "The Wizengamot will expect you in the morning to go through the details and make arrangements."
Clapping Harry on the back, Draco said, "Thank you, Potter." As Harry nodded, moving for the door, he added, "Stay for a beer?"
With a chuckle, Harry glanced away and said, "I could do that."
Hermione lingered in the study with Harry as Draco left to collect a fresh bottle, and she nudged him in the side. "Thank you – for doing all that."
"It wasn't for him," Harry said, his tone brusque. "But maybe, just a little. We're all moving on from the war in the ways we know, and I think Malfoy ended up swept into a lot of things beyond his control, like we all did." With a soft smile, Harry shrugged. "All I know is, you fell for the bloke, so he can't be that bad."
"He isn't," she whispered, eyes watery, "you'll see."
As Harry's arm coiled around her shoulders, she sunk into his side, smiling. He mused, "And I suppose I'm going to lose you to California again, now that he needs to choose."
Startled, Hermione glanced at Harry. "I don't know that he'll go back."
With a shrug, Harry made for the door. "Regardless, why do you think I made them include the condition about visiting?"
He cracked a grin as Draco returned, and as the pair of them clinked bottles, Hermione followed, feeling peace settle into her heart.
Draco peered at her, cautious, from his spot cross-legged atop her bed. Eyeing him in return, she pulled her knees up into her chest.
"Are you nervous?" she asked, "for your meeting in the morning?"
"No." Running a hand through his hair, he made a face, looking away to stare at her bedspread. "I'll need to tell them where I plan to live. I don't want to be separated from you again, so if you'll have me, I'll stay in England."
"Draco," she breathed, a furtive tilt to her brows. "Are you sure?"
"No," he mused, "for as much as I've missed the people, being back in England feels stifling. But staying with you feels more important than any of that."
Steeling herself, she asked, "And what if I came back to California?"
"The internship," he deadpanned. "The same reason I wanted you to come back here in the first place."
Hermione shook her head. "The internship isn't more important than you, and I should have realized that last time." Frowning, she met his eyes. "And to be honest, the internship is abysmal. I haven't been doing any real curse-breaking, and… maybe there are other things I could do in California."
Releasing a sigh, he looked away, pulling her hand into his lap. "I know of something you might be interested in, but I didn't want to make things any more challenging for you." Voice soft, he went on, trailing his fingers absently across the back of her hand. "When I was looking at gift ideas for your birthday, I visited this book shop in the wizarding area of Pasadena."
Hermione's chest felt tight as she waited.
"I spoke with the proprietor for a while – older bloke – and he said he deals in a lot of old, rare books." His tone was conversational, but Hermione found she was scarcely breathing. "Lots of the books, he said, come to him cursed. Old blood rites and familial curses, that sort of thing."
Grey eyes flickered up to meet hers, and she realized she had his hand clenched in a death grip. Carefully extracting his hand, he stretched out the fingers with a smirk. "He told me he's looking for an Apprentice."
"Draco," she whispered, lips parted. "Honestly?"
Shaking his head, he said, "I told him I might know of someone interested, but that I wasn't sure." In a quiet voice he added, "At the time I wasn't sure I'd ever return."
"It sounds wonderful."
He didn't say anything more for a long moment, and only stared at her, a heavy significance in his stare. "I don't want you to give up on everything here for me. But I learned my lesson about letting you go, and I don't intend to live across the world from you again."
"I don't want to be parted from you." Staring at him, she frowned. "Draco, every day without you only reminded me how much I need you in my life. And I would come with you, if California is where you want to be."
Emotion sat heavy on his brow and he leaned in, fingers trailing her jaw, before pressing his lips to hers. Drawing back and leaving Hermione breathless, he whispered, "I love you so much."
"I love you, too," she breathed against his lips, kissing him again. "And rain or shine, I look forward to the next chapter, wherever life takes us."
For a moment, she almost thought she could see the ocean in the depths of his eyes.
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for reading, and for sticking with me! I appreciate your patience with this chapter, as I've been preoccupied with NaNoWriMo. All that remains of Boardwalk is the epilogue, which I'll post in the next couple of days :)
Love to my super-fab pre-reading team, Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP.
Baby, you know I just wanna leave tonight
We can go anywhere we want
Drive down to the coast, jump in the sea
Just take my hand and come with me
Eastside - Benny Blanco, Halsey, & Khalid
One Year Later
Spray flew up around her as a wave crashed down behind the tail of her board. A grin lit Hermione's face as she rode through the last of the wave, meeting Lisa's keen stare.
"Nice one," Lisa mused, floating in the water along the length of her board.
Hermione came up alongside, settling down atop her own. "Thanks." Following the other girl's stare, she snickered. "Mikhael still getting the worst of it with those two kids?"
Tittering, Lisa shook her head. "The worst." Then her smile softened as she glanced at Hermione. "But he loves it."
Sweeping her wet curls back, Hermione allowed her board to drift in towards the breakwater. "He's a natural instructor."
"Absolutely." Gazing up at the sun, high in the cloudless sky, Lisa squinted. "Do you have to go soon?" At Hermione's affirming nod, she shook her head. "Not sure what it is about this bookshop in Pasadena. Why don't you find somewhere closer to home?"
Hermione offered a vague shrug. "Just love it, I guess."
"I'll come in with you," Lisa mused, and the pair of them returned to the shore. Hoisting her board up to her side, she went on. "Draco's been acting funny."
Twisting her mouth to the side, Hermione asked, "Has he?"
Lisa gave her a pointed look. "Yes. You know he has. And not just today – all week."
"The surf shop's been busy," Hermione said, "and Mikhael's had lots of lessons."
"Not about the surf shop." Lisa gave a coy smile. "About you."
From the beach near the fishing pier, Hermione could scarcely make out the pale blond of Draco's head and an absent smile pulled to her lips as she watched him. He was in his element, and she was glad he had followed through on his dream after they'd returned to LA.
As they neared the shop, Hermione dragged the zipper down the back of her suit, pausing halfway. "Okay, he says he wants to go out tonight after I'm done work because it's been a year since we moved back here." Lisa's gaze sparkled at her own.
The celebration was actually regarding the end of Draco's probation, but they hadn't seen fit to attempt an explanation at any of that with Lisa and Mikhael.
"Do you want to know what I think?" Lisa asked, a leading stare on her face that brooked little room for argument. "I think he's going to propose to you. And so does Mikhael."
Eyes narrowing, Hermione turned to stare at Draco again. Feeling her stare across the beach, he eyed her with a smirk. Chewing her bottom lip, she released an exaggerated sigh. "Okay fine, I think he thinks he's been sneaky about it."
Lisa rolled her eyes. "He hasn't."
"And," Hermione went on, offering a placating wave to the blond, "his mother let slip last week that she'd sent him something from the family vault."
Scoffing, Lisa grinned. "I still can't believe Draco's family is that level of wealthy. And he ran that stupid carnival game for how long?"
"Imagine my surprise," Hermione mused. "But just go with it, okay? I think he's planning something and we all need to act like we didn't see it coming."
"Fine. I still think you're both awfully young. What are you, twenty?"
Shrugging, she gave a wry smile in response. "Draco's family is incredibly traditional. His parents were married by the time they were our age."
Huffing a breath, Lisa muttered, "His family sounds terrifying." Straightening up, she schooled her expression blank. "Hi, Draco."
"Ladies," Draco murmured, eyes tightening. "What are you talking about?"
Dropping her board down, Lisa flashed a grin. "Hermione was telling me you're taking her out for a date night in Pasadena tonight!"
Planting a kiss on his lips, Hermione stowed her board in the back of the small shop. Lisa and Mikhael were always hesitant to leave anything at the beach overnight given the sort of crowd that were often attracted to Venice Beach after dark. But with Hermione's wards, no Muggle would stand a chance at breaking in. Turning back to him, she added, "And how I'm looking forward to it."
"As am I." There was a stiffness to Draco's shoulders as he pressed his palms flat to his shorts, and his lips pulled into a somewhat forced smile. "I spoke with Lester, and he said you could leave an hour early tonight."
Hermione avoided looking Lisa's direction. "That sounds great."
Lester was the proprietor of the rare book brokerage where Hermione worked as an apprentice, a weathered Curse-breaker with stories that frequently blew the pair of them away. She'd learned so much under his tutelage of the past year, and Lester had begun to hint, more and more frequently, that he'd like to move north with his wife and settle in a small cottage somewhere.
Which would leave Hermione with a decision to make.
Draco shifted on his feet, gaze flickering to the pier and back. He wasn't particularly prone to fidgeting, and Hermione heard Lisa release a quiet snort.
Before she could escape and get to Pasadena – she'd purchased a car after securing a license of her own, although she Apparated to and from work – Mikhael strolled in, still clad in his wetsuit, stopping short when he found the three of them.
"Hermione," he said with a grin, tugging Lisa under his arm, "I heard about your special date –"
He was abruptly cut off by Lisa's heel to his instep.
The blood drained from Draco's face.
Making a show of checking her watch, Hermione waved her hands in the air. "Look at the time. I've got to get changed, and get to work."
Snickering, Mikhael walked away to check on his next lesson, and Lisa followed, leaving Draco at her side, his expression tight as he shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'll come to Pasadena at six."
Flashing a bright smile, Hermione planted a kiss on his lips. "I can't wait."
Some of the tension sunk from his face as he returned the kiss, tongue grazing hers just for an instant before he drew away with a smirk. "Neither."
Glancing around to be sure they weren't watched, Hermione dropped her voice. "How does it feel to be through your probation?"
"It feels the same," he mused, "probably because I haven't been routinely practicing Dark Magic, and they've had no reason to track me down."
"Any magic," Hermione corrected.
"Untrue." Pointing a finger at her, his lips twitched. "Apparition is so much easier than driving."
They both regularly opted to Apparate, although there was a certain amount of moving their vehicles around so as not to draw suspicion. But since Hermione had moved out of Lisa's house into a place with Draco, that had been made easier.
"But," he went on, "I have an appointment with the MACUSA liaison at five to go over the final release paperwork." With a long sigh, he flashed a relieved grin.
"So we'll definitely be celebrating tonight." At her casual mention of the topic, his eyes widened, stance tightening again. Hermione fought to keep her expression straight.
He managed a hoarse, "Yes."
A fluttering in her chest at the thought that he might truly propose left her feeling both light with excitement and tense with anticipation. Backing a step away, she mused, "See you at six."
Sweeping a few rogue curls out of her face, Hermione glanced up. There was a distant murmur of conversation in the main shop, and she was startled to notice it was ten to six.
She'd spent most of the day sequestered away in the back room, fighting with a particularly ancient copy of Moste Potente Potions, and Lester had left her to her devices, as he often did. There was a shake to his hand that made it troublesome for him to release some of the more complex curses.
Hovering a gloved hand above the tome, Hermione scoured its aura for any lingering spells and leaned back, satisfied.
"... How she is, when she's working on something."
A collective chuckle floated through into the room, and a twitch pulled at her lips. Lester and Draco. Most often they got along famously – apart from the occasional debate about archaic magical practices – so she wasn't worried.
Finishing up the last of her work with the book, Hermione slid the heavily protective gloves from her hands and stood, rolling out a kink in her neck.
Ducking her head out of the back room, she flashed the two of them a smile. "I'm nearly done here."
"Nearly – so another half hour," she heard Lester say as she set about the final steps to secure the no-longer-cursed book for sale or trade.
"At least." Draco's voice floated into the room and she snorted under her breath.
It was interesting, and still sometimes jarred her to her core, to see how far Draco had come since the petulant, disdainful boy she had known at Hogwarts. He was often prone to brooding, but he was enthusiastic, quick to laugh, and there was a spark to him she never could have imagined.
Not for the first time, Hermione considered how things might have gone if they'd stayed in England for the duration of his probation – and she suspected the post-war haze of Wizarding London would have dulled the spark he'd found in California.
He was loving and respectful, if teasing and sarcastic, and every so often they'd debate so heavily as to work one another into an explosive argument.
But she wouldn't have it any other way – and the make-up sex was always fantastic.
He never treated her as anything less than his equal; her goals and dreams had become his, and vice versa.
If Draco wanted to make her his bride, Hermione would be thrilled and honoured.
Washing up, she fixed her hair as well as she could manage after hovering over intense crackling magic all day. Then she slipped out of her t-shirt and jeans, pulling on a forest green lace dress she knew to be one of Draco's favourites.
They'd made reservations at one of their favourite restaurants in Pasadena, and despite that it was only a quick Apparition trip to their home in Venice, Draco had suggested they stay the night in the hotel where they stayed on their first visit together.
A stirring of nerves settled in her belly as she slung her purse over her shoulder and emerged to find Draco admiring one of Lester's latest acquisitions – an ancient journal on the earliest American magical settlers.
A furrow sat in his brow as he glanced up at her, and his throat bobbed with a swallow. His voice quiet, he asked, "Are you ready to go?"
"Yes." With a nod, she flashed a smile to Lester, who was eyeing the pair of them with a scrutinizing look he sometimes wore.
"Have fun, be safe," the man said, waving a flippant hand. "Enjoy your special evening."
Draco's expression tensed as he stared at her, his lips pursed, and he drawled, "Thanks."
Barking a laugh, Lester clapped Draco on the back, before retreating to the back of the shop. Then Draco turned to face her, a hint of amusement playing on his lips as he offered his arm. "Shall we?"
Sliding her hand through his elbow, she acquiesced with a demure nod. "We shall."
Their dinner was delicious and overpriced, and uneventful. For all of Draco's awkward behaviour of the past week, all the hints everyone else thought they'd seen, there was no proposal after all.
Hermione wasn't entirely certain, but she didn't feel disappointed, per se. After all, they were quite young and hadn't even been together for a year and a half.
But there was a part of her that had started to grow accustomed to the idea, and then why else had he been acting so strange.
The hotel was within walking distance of the restaurant, and despite that night had fallen by the time they finished their meal, Draco turned to face her, sliding his hand into hers. "Walk with me?"
Swallowing, she nodded. There was a light breeze on the air, but it was warm enough she didn't need a sweater.
Draco was silent and pensive as they walked, his hand tight around hers, and he swept his hair back with his other hand as he glanced to face her. With a bit of a chuckle, he said, "I have so many things to say, I don't know where to begin."
A sad smile pulled at her features. "About your probation being over?"
He nodded, and said, "Yes. About all of this." Falling silent again, he pulled her closer, wrapping an arm around her back. "You didn't need to come back with me to LA. You didn't need to do any of this. Yet, you uprooted your life because you knew I liked it better here."
"I liked it here too, Draco," she managed, the words coming out as a broken whisper. "And I love you – it was important to me that you were happy."
"I would have been happy either way," he mused, "if you were with me." Her heart leapt in her chest at the declaration, and they came to a stop near a small park. Dropping a kiss into her hair, he added, "I love you, too."
There was a small pond, and she turned to face him, leaning against the railing. "I never could have foreseen any of this, Draco… but I wouldn't take it back. Any of it."
His eyes searched hers, his brows knitting. "I still can't believe how everything happened." Sweeping his hair aside, he glanced away. "And Merlin knows, I'm no good at this. But Hermione… you're the piece my life was missing. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Tears stung at her eyes as her hand lingered on his arm on the rail, and his chin dropped as he reached into his coat pocket. A slow smile spread across her lips, and he hesitated, chewing his tongue.
"Mikhael says I've been bloody obvious." With a hint of a grin, he shook his head, meeting her eyes. "Have I been obvious?"
With a watery laugh, she said, "Yes."
Drawing a small box from his pocket, his lips pursed, the bridge of his nose wrinkling. His eyes were tight as he ran his thumb across the smooth surface of the box, taking her hand. "So maybe you've already had time to think about this."
"Yes." The word fell from her lips again as a breath, and he cracked a smirk.
His lips found hers, and he whispered, "You need to let me ask first."
Then he dropped to one knee, as tears broke from her eyes, and snapped open the box with one hand. She couldn't tear her eyes from his, staring up at her, vulnerable and soft.
He asked, "Will you be my wife?" and a sob choked from her throat with a voracious nod.
Hermione pulled him up, kissing him again, with another murmured, "Yes."
Pulling back long enough to slide the ring on her finger, a slow smile split his face. Glancing down, Hermione did a double-take when she finally observed the ring, and she didn't dare wonder at its value before gifting him with a brilliant smile. "I love you."
"I love you," he returned, head dropping to the side. "I was going to ask at dinner, but I didn't think you'd want a spectacle."
Shaking her head, she drew him in for a long kiss, and his hands slid up her back as he deepened the kiss.
When they drew apart, Hermione could see a sparkle of moonlight in his eyes, and in his stare was a future, the life they would have together, and she was filled with hope. Anticipation coiled deep within her chest as he swiped a tear from her cheek.
She never could have known, the path her life was meant to lead, after a summer spent in California.
Author's Note: Thank you all so, so incredibly much for coming along on this journey with me. Boardwalk was meant to be just a "15-20k summer story" and turned into something a lot more. You all have made it an absolute joy to share this story, and I'm so humbled and appreciative of your time and attention. It's really been a special experience for me to share these chapters.
So many thanks to the ladies who helped make this story happen, Kyonomiko, LadyKenz347, and I was BOTWP. All the love and hugs my friends.
I'm biased, but I like to think there are some really cool stories coming up, so if you're interested in reading more, drop a follow, and come find me on tumblr @indreamsink.
Until next time...