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Lost and Found

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The lights of passing cars glared at her through the darkness and the heavy rain. Hermione pulled her cardigan tighter around herself and angrily swiped at the tears coursing down her cheeks. She’d been walking through Muggle London for so long, she’d lost track of time as well as her way. She had no idea where she was. She was soaked through to the bone. She didn’t care.

An icy drop of water detached from her messy hair and slid down the top of her spine. She shivered and gasped at the sensation though it ended in a pathetic sob that brought forth more tears. At least the rain offered some sort of subterfuge. 

A black cab drove past her and caught a puddle, splashing her. It was so cold, she actually couldn’t breathe for a moment. What else was going to go wrong today? She wiped at her wet face again though she couldn’t tell anymore what was rain and what were tears. 

Looking around herself, she found a few garish neon signs flaunting Girls and advertising a sex shop. So she’d wandered into the seedier part of Soho. At least now she knew where she was. Not that she cared. She kept on walking aimlessly.

Hermione was drenched, cold, angry, heartbroken, and just plain exhausted but she kept walking because walking meant doing something. It meant putting one foot in front of the other. It meant counting her steps instead of thinking. If she stopped walking, stopped the counting, she would start thinking. For once in her life, she didn’t know how to deal with thinking. 

So she kept counting: 1884, 1885, 1886, 188- ‘Oof!’ 

She’d walked right into someone while concentrating on her feet. 

‘Watch where you’re going!’ 

She stared up at the cold voice barking at her and within a split second, she recognised the person she walked into and simply reacted. 

‘What the fuck!’ he exclaimed, holding his stinging cheek, now glaring at her. Recognition dawned on his face.

‘Granger? What the fuck?’

‘Piss off, Malfoy!’ 

She turned and resolutely marched off. Where was she? 1885? 1889? She stopped and screamed in frustration, pressing both heels of her hands into her eyes. Damn it all, she couldn’t remember what count she was on, and Ron’s voice echoed around her head. 

Feck sake ‘Mione .’

Feck sake, indeed. It had been subtle. If you’d asked her she wouldn’t even be able to pinpoint it. She wouldn’t be able to give specific examples. Ron had a way about it. He’d make it out to be in jest, his criticising her. It hurt all the same. Little tidbits of needling that all added up. Added up to her becoming an emotional wreck when it came to the man she loved. 

She was so afraid to fail. Always had been. Back at school, it was her fear of failing exams. Now she was afraid to fail at her job at the Ministry; afraid to fail the creatures she worked so hard to help. 

Now she was afraid to even cook. So afraid that she’d started making mistakes. She’d put too much salt into the food, accidentally burn things, forget ingredients. She’d try to clean only to spill the detergent. Washed clothes only to find she’d forgotten to add the soap. 

All because Ron would constantly needle her and actually get angry when things weren’t just right. She had become afraid of his reactions. Not that he’d ever laid a hand on her in anger. No, never that. If only he had, she’d have walked out on him long ago. 

No, he’d just been cold. Any arguments they’d had inevitably ended in him walking away from her, blanking her, punishing her by ignoring her existence. Until she’d break the silence first. She always broke the silence first. 

Not this time though. This time, she’d not go back. She wouldn’t. She was Hermione Granger for crying out loud. War heroine. She survived Voldemort, a whole war. She wasn’t going to die lonely in a relationship with Ron.

Why then did it feel like dying? 

She was vaguely aware of people hurrying past her though she couldn’t make herself move. Breathing became more difficult. She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. Her chest felt too tight, suffocating her. She stood up straighter, throwing her arms up towards the sky in a futile attempt to let her chest expand. 

Her breathing became more erratic the more she tried to bring it under control through her sobs. She wobbled on her feet, becoming dizzy. The glaring lights diluted through the raindrops and the world swirled around her.

Then, the world went black.

Chapter Text

The first thing Hermione noticed as she came to, was the glaring white lights blinding her. She closed her eyes again. For a brief second, she hoped she’d died. Wasn’t that what was happening? She remembered Harry telling her about his experience of King’s Cross station when he died briefly. He’d said it was all white. Maybe that’s what had happened. She could only hope.

‘Miss Granger. Glad to have you with us again. I’m Healer Owen. Welcome to St Mungo’s.’

Hermione opened her eyes again to find an elderly wizard in a Healer’s robe smiling at her kindly. Not dead so. She closed her eyes and tried to swallow but found her mouth and throat too dry. 

‘Here you are,’ the kind Healer said and she felt herself being raised into a seated position. ‘I have a glass of water for you, I daresay you might like a drink.’ 

She nodded and took it off him, taking a greedy swallow. 

‘Thank you,’ she whispered hoarsely.  ‘How did I get here?’

‘Mr Malfoy brought you in. Junior, not Senior.’ The Healer’s words were curt and had an edge of disapproval to them. 

Hermione nodded. Why would Malfoy care? And oh Merlin, had he really seen her breakdown? She screwed up her face in anguish, unable to keep her emotions under control. 

The Healer took the glass off her and set it on the table by the bed. He regarded her thoughtfully. 

‘I don’t wish to pry, especially since you weren’t physically harmed by the panic attack that landed you in here. However, I can’t help but observe. Your reaction… Miss Granger, is young Mr Malfoy the cause of your distress?’

Her eyes went wide at the Healer’s words.

‘No!’ she all but shouted. ‘No, Malfoy didn’t do anything to me.’

The Healer looked unconvinced but relented.

‘Of course, please forgive me. You just appeared so distressed when I mentioned him. I shouldn’t have…’ He trailed off.

‘Honestly, he didn’t do anything. I just - I… I didn’t feel well and ran into him.’ She swallowed, remembering that she had indeed done that. Literally. And then slapped him. Oh, Merlin. ‘He must’ve seen me when I… when I… did I faint? I don’t remember what happened, only that I couldn’t breathe.’

‘You had a panic attack, Miss Granger. Nothing life-threatening. However, you also hit your head when you fell, so we checked you over. You’re physically well. We couldn’t detect a concussion or any other injuries. However, I must ask: Do you frequently suffer from panic attacks?’

She shook her head and answered in a low voice.

‘No, I don’t. I remember I couldn’t control my breathing. I thought I was dying.’

‘Yes, that is typical of a panic attack. What caused it, I wonder?’ 

She clamped her mouth shut and shrugged. The memory of their row came unbidden to her mind.

Feck sake, Mione,’ Ron grumbled. ‘Do you have to leave your stuff all over the kitchen table? How am I supposed to eat my breakfast here?’

She’d looked up from her papers, startled. She’d been up since stupid o’clock even though it was Saturday. 

‘Can you not leave your paperwork at the Ministry? Bloody hell, ‘Mione. A bloke needs some space.’

‘And I need to finish this draft, Ronald,’ she’d snapped back, irritated. ‘I’m sure you can eat your cereal elsewhere this once.’

‘Well, at least leave me some space. You’re always harping on about me to be tidier but you’ve no regards for me. Double standards, Hermione.’

‘I’ve not once asked you to stop working when you brought your paperwork home because you couldn’t finish it on time in the office!’

‘Oh, of course! I’m still not good enough, am I? No matter what I do, how successful I am, I’m never good enough for you. But I’m not allowed to point out how hypocritical you are. Dare I point out anythingthat is just a little annoying and I’m the bad guy. I’m done.’

‘What? That’s not what I’ve said!’ 

But Ron wasn’t listening, he’d thrown his cereal onto the counter so deftly, Hermione actually flinched as she watched it spill from the bowl, covering the splashback and some dripping onto the floor. She’d never before been afraid he’d physically hurt her. She was sure he wouldn’t. Yet, she couldn’t stop the bad feeling in her stomach at the sound of the cutlery clattering down to the floor.

‘Ron!’

He’d walked out of the kitchen, ignoring her. She went after him, calling his name. She had to fix this. He pretended he couldn’t hear her, furiously dressing as she stood in the doorway to their bedroom. 

Hermione didn’t understand what had just happened. Was he really that petty? Or was it really her fault, not leaving him space? Maybe she should’ve just stacked things differently, or enlarged the table. 

‘Ron,’ she began again but he kept ignoring her. He haphazardly stuffed some clothes into a bag, then brushed past her, grabbed his wand from the hall table and disapparated. 

She walked back into the kitchen, numb. 

What just happened? She stared out the window at the dark sky and the rain. 

‘I don’t know.’ She couldn’t look at the Healer as she lied through her teeth. ‘I really don’t.’

The Healer contemplated her for a long moment, then let out a breath and said, ‘Very well. If you’re sure.’ He sighed. ‘Miss Granger, since you are in good health overall, you have no need to stay at St Mungo’s any longer. You may leave at your own convenience. Your clothes are on the chair in the corner. We’ve taken the liberty to Scourgify and dry them for you after your fall in the rain. Can we contact someone to pick you up and escort you home?’ 

‘No, thank you.’ The last thing she needed was for Ron to be contacted. Would he even care that she’d been admitted to hospital? Would it just add to the list of things she annoyed him with? 

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and made to stand up awkwardly, suddenly aware that the patient robe was back-fastening and not actually closed. ‘I’m okay to go home by myself,’ she added quietly. 

‘Very well. I do hope you remain in good health.’ After a pause, he added, ‘I also hope that you will seek help should you require it. There is no shame in speaking to a Mind Healer.’

Hermione could feel her face heating up and her immediate reaction was to deny she needed that. However, she managed to catch herself, afraid he’d mistake her reply for denial. So instead, she nodded at him and promised she would if she thought it necessary.

Apparently satisfied, the older wizard shook her hand and excused himself from her room. 

 

*****

 

When she returned to their flat, she stood outside their door for long minutes. She felt sick at the thought of going inside. Ridiculous really. It was her home, too. She should feel happy and safe in there, not anxious to enter. 

Eventually, she pushed open their front door and entered quietly. She didn’t want a confrontation of where she’d been. Not that she’d thought he’d ask since he was giving her the silent treatment again. She couldn’t take the chance though to tell him she’d been admitted to St Mungo’s and dropped there by Malfoy of all people. 

Malfoy. 

Shit. She’d have to actually thank the prat for helping her. He was probably burning his clothes and disinfecting his hands now after touching a Mudblood. Still, she thought he deserved her thanks, along with an apology for her slapping him across the face not minutes before.

Hermione’s breath hitched when she realised that Ron was not actually home. Their bed was unmade and his clothes still strewn across the floor. His cereal bowl still where he’d thrown it. It was with a lot of self-control that she sent cleaning and tidying spells around instead of crashing the dishes against the wall and flinging his filthy clothes out the window. 

It became harder and harder to be with Ron. She loved him, she did, and she thought that ought to be enough. It had to be, right? She lived for the moments he’d hold her, hugged her, made love to her. He loved her back. Didn't he?

But then, maybe not. It had been at least two months since they’d even had sex. Not because he didn’t make advances but because they felt so fake. It had become a literal rut. She couldn’t remember the last time they took their time instead of just having a quick fuck, many of which she had to finish off herself after he was done. 

So she’d faked illness, sleep, hell, anything, not to have to do it. Maybe she should put out more. She longed for the connection they used to have. It was difficult though, to let him touch her when she was afraid to ruin it by doing something wrong. She longed to hold him, remembered the few times he'd let her have the connection she craved. More often than not, he'd turned her over though so she couldn't touch him back. Said he didn't like it, never had, and it hadn't anything to do with her. It felt different though like he couldn't even stand to look at her. It didn't help what little self-confidence she had.

Had he actually left her this time? 

He’d run off in a huff before, but he’d always been back within an hour, maybe two. She glanced at her watch. It had been over seven hours since he’d left. 

Unsure of what else to do, she went to the bathroom, shed her clothes and turned on the shower to wash off the last few hours. She scrubbed at her skin and hair until she was nearly raw. By the time she’d towelled herself dry and got into her pyjamas, she felt... empty. 

She walked into the kitchen and opened their fridge, then closed it again. She filled the kettle and boiled the water but decided against making coffee in the end. She wouldn’t be able to stomach it. 

Was the Healer sure she wasn’t physically ill? She couldn’t remember the last time she eventhought that she wouldn’t want coffee. For a moment, she was lost standing in the middle of the kitchen. She didn’t know what to do. She was utterly out of control. She did the only thing she could do to gain a little of that control back:

She summoned parchment and a Muggle pen and made a to-do list in no particular order.

  • Finish legislation draft

She didn’t know how she was supposed to concentrate on that. Her head felt like it would explode with a thousand thoughts flying around it. She screwed her eyes shut and continued her list. 

  • Tell Ron that I’m sorry

She scratched it out and tried again. 

  • Thank Malfoy
  • Apologise to Malfoy
  • Tell Ron to

She stared at the parchment, her stomach roiling with anxiety. Tell Ron to - what? To tell me he still loves me? To realise that he’s hurting me? To fuck off? She scrunched up the parchment and set it aflame. Bugger it all.  

Hermione stared out the window. She sat like that until way past midnight then moved to their bed and stared at the ceiling in the dark. The sheets around her smelled of Ron. He was everywhere around her. Except, he wasn’t home.

As usual, her mind went places she'd rather it didn’t. It was Saturday, well, Sunday now, she supposed, and for once he wasn’t on call for the Auror department. It was his time off and he ought to have been home. As far as she knew, he didn’t have other plans.

But, she guessed that was irrelevant after their blow-up earlier. 

She’d had a bad week at work, all because she’d overlooked something which put the last two months of work in jeopardy. She had barely slept, trying to rectify it and save the draft legislation she’d so tirelessly slaved over. To add to that, her period had come early, and with a vengeance. The cramps didn’t improve her mood. The hormones didn’t help her sleep-deprived emotional state. And then, Ron just had to be an ass. Again.

Hermione knew she shouldn’t give him that much power over her. The rational side of her knew this. He was an adult. An Auror. He was capable. Still, the irrational side of her worried that he was out there, doing something rash, maybe getting hurt. 

 

*****

 

Hermione woke groggily and glanced at her watch. 9.34am. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so long. Then again, she hadn’t thought she’d be able to sleep at all. She remembered looking at her watch at 4.42am, unable to switch off her head.

She got up and took another shower in their en suite. Once she was dressed, she walked over to their little kitchen, hoping Ron was back while at the same time hoping the opposite. The kitchen was empty. There was no sign that he’d been back. No note to say where he was. 

If he wasn’t back by tonight, she’d contact Molly. She was sure he’d gone home. Except she wasn’t at all and she just hoped he was safe. 

Her movements were automatic as she brewed her coffee. She sat down with her favourite red mug of steaming black liquid, but it sat there, untouched. Her insides were still squirming with the possibility that he’d actually left her.

A look at the clock on the wall made her falter. It was already past lunchtime. She hadn’t known she’d sat there for so long, staring at nothing, her thoughts running wild. 

She thought of the list she’d tried to make last night. Talking to Ron was impossible, for now. Swallowing, she thought of the other items on her list. 

Legislation draft. Malfoy. Thank you. Apology.  

She couldn't imagine concentrating on something so important while the other stuff hung over her. The other items on the list... well, she wasn’t sure how she’d do it, but she would. Because she ought to. It was the right thing to do. And she’d failed so many other things, she would do this right.

Her stomach was churning at the thought of it, but her conscience demanded it anyway. So she tied up her hair, put on a glamour charm to conceal the bags under her eyes, and resolutely walked out of their flat. 

She had to act quickly or she’d lose her nerve. So she concentrated, hard. 

Destination, Determination, Deliberation. The words played in her mind like a mantra, over and over. With her stomach full of nerves, she gathered her courage and turned.

 

*****

 

The black wrought iron gates loomed up ahead of her on the straight drive. She felt exposed and uncomfortable, walking along the gravel. Every footstep seemed to crunch louder than the last in the eerie silence provided by the tall, manicured yew hedges on either side of her. She was about halfway down the lane when she could make out a faint trickling of water, the sound of which faded again. She presumed that a fountain of some sort was on the other side of the impenetrable hedge. 

Hermione wished that the churning in her stomach would ease but it wasn’t to be. She was surprised she hadn’t thrown up yet.

Something green. The hedge. The leaves on the hedge. Something red. The berries on the yew hedge. Something hard. The gravel beneath her feet. Something soft. She glanced up at the sky. A fluffy white cloud. 

Grounding. She’d read all about it. After the war. It helped. She knew it would. She just had to ground herself. 

Another step forward, and another. Willing her heartbeat to slow down as it threatened to burst out of her chest, her neck. She was sure it was audible to anyone who’d be around her, it was echoing so vehemently in her own ears. 

Something she could smell. She inhaled, it was woody, like undergrowth in a forest, nothing flowery. Something she could touch. She clutched the smooth wood of her wand. 

She could do this. Only a few more yards to the gate. The manor loomed behind the gates like a fortress. It should be illegal for anyone to own a property this big. The entrance hall could likely swallow her parents’ house whole. She tried to concentrate on the architecture. 

Three storeys. Large wooden entrance doors in the centre. The building was symmetrical, with imposing towers on the corners, turrets and parapets, and tall chimney stacks. The arched windows and columns surrounding the building reminded her of the Cathedral of Canterbury when she’d visited it with her parents during one of her holidays.

Bricks and mortar. That’s all it was, in the end. Bellatrix was dead. Just bricks and mortar. Neither could harm her. 

She came to a stop just in front of the imposing gates. She noted that they weren’t just black, but ornately welded with an intricate letter M incorporated into the ironwork. The hinges on either side resembled climbing vines. Everything about these gates screamed wealth at her. 

A brass bell on the side of the gate post waited for her to announce herself. Why was it so difficult to move her arm? She’d come this far, surely she could do this? Just move one arm. Reach over and give a sharp tug. It wasn’t complicated. 

Why then was she still standing there, one hand by her side, the other in her robes and clutching her wand? She closed her eyes trying to gather her courage. Instead of her courage, images assaulted her. Images she’d long since tried to forget.

In front of her, the black gates contorted into a horrible grimacing face, demanding her purpose for visiting. Her breathing turned ragged at once and she screamed at the gate, fired off a hex and ran for her life.

Only when she was far away from the gate, down the drive and around the corner, back on the country lane she’d apparated to, did she stop. Her hands were on her knees, wand still firmly in hand, and she gasped for breath. This was all a mistake. A terrible mistake. How on earth did she think she could actually walk into Malfoy Manor?

She squeezed her eyes shut and willed her tears to stay away. She would not have another panic attack. She would not. 

‘Granger?’

Her name had hardly left his lips when she had already twisted herself around and shouted ‘Flipendo’ at him. 

She stared at Malfoy on the ground, horrified. He’d done nothing but call her name, and she’d attacked him! Again. She swallowed, hard. For a moment they stared at each other.

He was the first to break the silence.

‘Granger, I’m going to stand up now. Please refrain from attacking me.’

She nodded though she thought he probably wouldn’t need her permission anyway. Hermione licked her dry lips and willed her heart to slow down. Somehow, her brain wasn’t working right. She couldn't think past the fact that she’d attacked him - again.

‘What are you doing here?’ she blurted out. He raised an eyebrow and one side of his mouth lifted into a mocking smile.

‘I live here,’ he answered slowly, enunciating every word as if he were talking to a small child, or maybe someone whose first language wasn’t English. 

‘I know that,’ she fired back, indignant now. Did he have to make fun of her? ‘What I meant was, what are you doing out here .’ 

‘I was going to ask you the same question.’ He made a show of stowing away his wand. ‘Why did you come up to the gates, attack them, and then run off?’ 

Oh, Merlin, he had seen her? She briefly closed her eyes. I came to apologise for hitting you. I came to thank you for bringing me to St Mungo's. I ran because your house scares the living daylights out of me.  

‘Wrong address.’ She turned from him and walked down the lane, wanting to get some distance between them before trying to disapparate.

‘Bullshit.’ 

His ungentlemanly snort stopped her in her tracks but she didn’t turn to him. She took a deep breath and began to count. If she counted, she’d keep her composure. For good measure, she began in French. Un, deux, trois, quatre…

‘You know what I think?’ 

Cinque, six, sept. 

‘I think you remembered my dear aunt and ran off like a scared little Hufflepuff. Not so brave without Potter and Weasel.’

Huit, neuf, dix, onze, douze, treize.

‘Coward.’

Something snapped in her and she whirled around. In the space of a heartbeat, she’d crossed the distance between them and had her wand jabbed up against his neck.

‘Don’t. Tempt. Me,’ she growled unable to let go of the memories of the Manor assaulting her, alongside a decade of animosity. 

He lifted his hands in surrender. 

‘I’m unarmed, Granger. Was I wrong? Did you just come here to beat me up some more?’

She inhaled sharply and nearly spluttered as the earthy scent of Malfoy’s cologne invaded her nostrils. She looked up at him, momentarily lost in his scrutinising, stormy-grey eyes. With a shaking hand, she lowered her wand and stepped back. 

She took another couple of deep breaths, willing her body to stay under control. She was so busy trying to ground herself again, she almost missed the quiet question.

‘What did the Weasel to do you?’

When her brain caught up with her ears, her eyes snapped to his. 

‘What?’

For a long moment, they stared at each other. Hermione still trying to keep her breathing under control, her thoughts whirring like one of the Weasley’s Whiz-Bang fireworks. How did he guess so accurately? She looked away across the brambles to her left.

Again, it was Malfoy who broke the silence.

‘Granger, as much as I love being out in nature and all - I’m not overly fond of standing on the lane and being attacked. Either come in and do what you came here to do or get your arse back home.’

She should just apologise and thank him. Get it over with. When she opened her mouth however, only two words came out.

‘I can’t.’

Her eyes flew to his. She hadn’t meant to say that. Oh, Merlin, this was all wrong. She saw him open his mouth to say something but she cut him off.

‘I’m sorry.’ 

She choked the words out just as her throat clogged up and tears threatened to fall. She was shaking her head and stepping back, once, twice. 

‘I’m sorry.’

With a crack, she was gone.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione appeared in a small alley not far from her parents’ house in the town of Richmond in South-West London. She stowed away her wand inside her magical, purpose-made pocket in her jeans and rubbed her hands over her eyes. She was a wreck and she hated it. 

She felt silly. She was an adult now. Still, she wanted her mum. Her mum, who’d always been there to hug her no matter what. Her mum, who’d still hugged her even after being informed that her daughter had caused her memory to change so severely they had moved continents. Her mum, who still loved her despite everything that happened. 

If she wasn’t careful she’d blubber all over her mum. Taking a shuddering breath, she blinked away the tears and resolutely walked forward. 

Veronica Granger opened the door almost instantly. 

‘Hermione!’ She sounded surprised but pleased. Hermione tried to smile but it wobbled and she couldn’t hide her distress. ‘What happened. My god, are you okay? Come in.’

Her mother pulled her into the house, closed the door and took her only daughter by the shoulders. Hermione couldn’t look her mum in the face. 

‘Oh, sweetheart.’ Within seconds, Hermione was enveloped in her mother’s arms, crying and unable to stop. After several minutes her sobs slowly subsided and she hiccuped through shuddering breaths. Her mum extracted herself gently and said, ‘come’. 

In no time at all, Hermione was seated at the kitchen table, a box of tissues and a steaming mug of strong tea in front of her. Veronica sat down opposite with her own tea, keeping her silent company. 

This is what she loved about her mum. She wouldn’t force her to talk, she’d just be there, no matter what. Hermione absentmindedly blew the steam and watched it swirl away, her thoughts jumbled up in her head. 

When her tea was nearly cold and she had yet to take a sip, her mum finally spoke.

‘Will you tell me?’

Hermione looked up, startled. 

‘What?’

‘Will you tell me why you’re so upset?’

Hermione looked down on her mug and swallowed. She should tell her mum. She could tell her mum. Her mum would understand.

‘I… it’s… I…,’ she stuttered, unsure how to begin. How did anyone tell their mum that they’d failed at life? After fighting and winning a war, she’d failed at something as simple as a relationship. 

She turned her mug around to look at the back of it. It had been from years ago, something she had bought for Father’s Day. It read ‘Dad’ll fix it’. The lettering was faded. 

‘It’s nothing,’ she muttered at length. 

‘Oh, sweetheart.’ Her mum shook her head. ‘Clearly, it isn’t nothing.’ She sighed. ‘I won’t pry. You know you can tell me anything. I will help you if I can.’

‘I know mum. Thanks. I don’t think you can, though. Not this time.’ 

‘If you’re sure?'

No. I want you to fix it, but I have to do this myself. ‘Yes. I’m sorry, it’s just been a tough time at work, that’s all.’

‘I’m sorry. I do hope it will get better. Has there been a problem then with the legislation you told me about last time?’

Hermione latched on to that, grateful her mum just went with it.

‘Yes. I’ve overlooked something important and now it might all come to nought, because of it. I guess I just needed a break.’ 

‘Of course. A break is always good. A bit of distance and then look at it again with fresh eyes. I have every faith in you, Hermione. You’ve always excelled and never given up. I’m sure you will succeed.’

But I have failed. She swallowed and nodded her head, not trusting that she could answer.

‘Will you stay for a while? Maybe stay for dinner?’

‘Thanks, mum, but I really should get back to it.’ She got up from the table and brought her cold tea to the sink. ‘Thank you though, for the tea. And the hug. I just… I needed that.’

Her mum smiled and pulled her close once more for another tight hug. 

‘Anytime.’



*****

After she left her parents’ house, Hermione walked eastward along the Thames. The footpath along the river was open to fields on the other side and she inhaled the relatively fresh air deeply. She missed going on walks around the area just because she could. 

She’d walked for over 2 hours, slowly meandering alongside the river. Her thoughts circled around her head like the spirograph she had as a child circled around paper. No matter what, it always came back to Ron.

Did that mean that Ron was the problem? Surely it wasn’t that black and white? After all, two people were in their relationship, weren’t there? She thought of all their recent arguments. Ron’s explosive behaviour, his blanking her, walking away from confrontation. About how it eventually always got ignored and they went back to before. 

Was that normal? 

She thought back to her parents and couldn’t remember them ever being so cold to each other. Come to that, she barely remembered them fighting, though she did remember them having arguments, discussions, in the evenings.

She thought of Molly and Arthur. A smile came across her face when she thought of the Weasley matriarch with her hands on her hips, laying into her husband. Yes, they too argued, but they got it out in the open and were very much loving in their interactions. 

Her smile turned wistful and sad. No, what she and Ron had was definitely not normal. How could she fix this? Fix them? Did Ron really not see what was happening with the two of them? Hermione stopped walking and looked to her feet. She picked up a flat stone and tried to skip it across the water. It plopped in after two skips. 

She longed for Ron’s hugs; for having him wrap her up so tightly, she didn’t know where he ended and she began. She thought back at their time through the years, even at Hogwarts. She missed his easy-going nature, the Ron who’d make funny quips while they sat together in the common room. Ron, who’d lighten the mood with just a few words, unwilling to take life, or himself, too seriously. 

Maybe she was the one at fault. She’d always been more serious, unable to take things lightly. Maybe she just needed to lighten up, be more spontaneous, more considerate. She’d always been quick to bluster.

She skipped another flat stone. It didn’t even do one bounce. Hermione sighed heavily and let her head fall back to look up at the clouds, heedless of the people out for walks on the same path. If she squinted, that fluffy cloud over to her right looked like a niffler. As she scanned the sky, the wind picked up and she noticed dark clouds roll in behind her.

More rain. 

Just as she’d thought it, the first fat drops splashed into her face and she quickly looked around to find cover. A cluster of large chestnut trees stood near enough and she made her way over. Making sure she was alone, she turned and disapparated.



*****

 

After she got home and put on her comfiest pair of pyjamas and fluffy socks, she took her paperwork out and resolutely continued working on her legislation draft. She was determined to change the way magical beasts were used for research. Some so-called research facilities were shady at best, circumventing any and all regulations. Her draft needed to close every loophole there ever was. 

When her alarm went off she deactivated it, sighed, and stretched. She’d been so engrossed in her work, she hadn’t even noticed that she’d pulled an all-nighter. Her eyes were itchy and she didn’t need a mirror to know they would be red and puffy looking from lack of sleep and crying. 

Hermione put her documents in order and dropped them into her work bag alongside some heavy tomes of wizarding law. She’d have to ask one of her co-workers for help today. She’d been unable to find the answers she needed in the books she had access to. Maybe one of the others would know which books to look for. After all, the Ministry had every copy of every legislation there ever was. One only had to know where to look.



*****

 

As she walked out of her office for lunch she was stopped by the department’s receptionist walking toward her. 

‘Miss Granger! This just arrived for you.’

‘Thanks, Lucille.’

She recognised the handwriting immediately and smiled. 

 

Hermione,

Drowning in paperwork. Need you to keep me sane. 

Meet for lunch? 1 pm?

Harry

 

She checked her watch and grinned ruefully. 12.58. Thanks for the notice.  

As she stepped out into the long corridor the man in question stepped out of the lift. 

‘Thought I’d pick you up,’ he greeted her, pulling her into a quick hug. 

‘Thank you. Afraid I wouldn’t come? I mean, you did give an enormous amount of notice.’ She laughed despite herself. 

‘No, just afraid you might hide in your office instead.’ 

He threw her a quick glance as they stepped up to the lifts and waited. 

‘Why would I hide in my office? Even I need a break sometimes, you know.’ 

Harry raised an eyebrow at her but said nothing else as he opened the grate for them to enter the lift. He pushed the number 8 to the Atrium, off of which there was a public café as well as an employee-specific one.  

‘How’s the legislation coming along then?’ Harry asked as they were pulled sideways and then down.

‘Dreadfully slow. I’m a bit stumped, to be honest.’ Hermione sighed heavily. ‘I’m a bit tired, to be honest.’

Harry nodded but didn’t reply further as other people joined them on level 6 and space became almost uncomfortably tight. 

When they finally arrived at the café and had bought the day’s special - Creamy Pumpkin Soup with crusty bread - both sighed happily to have found a small table at the side of the busy room. 

They ate in companionable silence for a few bites before Harry spoke again.

‘So, how are you really?’ 

‘I told you, I’m tired,’ she replied between taking a drink of water and biting into her buttered bread. 

‘Try that again, will ya?’ 

Harry’s spoon was suspended above his bowl, a bit dripping back down. Hermione put her spoon down.

‘Ron and I had a fight.’

Harry stared at her, waiting. She wondered if she’d get away with ignoring him for the rest of their lunch. He simply kept on staring at her rather intently. It occurred to her that this was the reason he was so good at interrogating suspects. She had to consciously stop herself from fidgeting under his gaze. 

‘I don’t know what else you want me to say, Harry. We fought. He- well, he walked out,’ she finished quietly. Had she not been looking down on her food, she’d have noticed how unsurprised her friend was.

‘And…,’ he prompted. 

‘And nothing, Harry. It’ll blow over, it always does.’ 

‘What did you fight about, this time?’ He had resumed eating.

Hermione pushed her bowl away, not even half-eaten.

‘I don’t even know anymore. It was stupid. I was working at the kitchen table and somehow that was wrong and then he twisted my words around and- I don’t know what I did wrong, but it must’ve been something.’ 

She bit her lip in order to stop it from wobbling dangerously and closed her eyes, willing herself not to turn into a watering pot in this public space. Harry was quiet for a moment, then sighed heavily.

‘Hermione. I love you. I really do. And I love Ron, too. Git that he is, he’s my best mate. So please, please don’t kill me for this, but-.’ 

Harry stopped and pushed his bowl away. He rested both elbows on the table, his hands locking. Then he put his chin on them. 

‘But?’ Hermione asked, unsure whether she wanted him to tell her what to do, or if she’d like him to stop just there.

‘Ron’s been at my place since Saturday.’ He paused and looked a bit weary. ‘He’s asked me not to tell you but I refuse to lie to you. I also refuse to be part of these spats you two have.’ He took a sip of his water. ‘You know, you can always come to me. Both of you can. I won’t ever not be there for you. This though, you two have to work out. We’re not kids anymore. And I’m still not going to take sides, or get involved other than to tell you both the same thing: Do the adult thing and talk to each other.’

He grinned briefly at her expression. 

‘I assure you, this comes from a purely selfish viewpoint. Since Ron’s been at mine, he’s effectively killed the mood and I’d really rather have some more time with Gin before she’s off on her next league camp and matches. Season’s well underway again.’

Hermione nodded.

‘You’re right. And I’m sorry, Harry. I really am. I wish he would talk to me. He just walked out. He won’t speak to me.’ She rubbed her hand over her face. ‘Send him home, would you? Tell him- tell him I want him home.’

‘Sure?’

‘Yes, sure. I’ll make him talk. I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle. I’ll fix it, promise.’

‘Hermione, that’s not-’ Harry started, but she interrupted him.

‘No, you’re right. It’s ridiculous and it’s time we… we… it’s time,’ she finished lamely and got up, blindly grabbing her purse. ‘I’ve to get back to work. Thanks for lunch, Harry.’

She didn’t wait for a reply but rushed out before he could say or do anything. Had she looked back, she’d have noticed Harry’s frown.



*****

 

When Hermione entered their flat that evening she did so with considerable nerves. The lights were on, which meant Ron was back. She quietly hung up her work cloak and put her purse on the hall table. She checked herself in the mirror before taking a deep breath and willing her hands to stop shaking.

Why was she so nervous? This was Ron, after all. Maybe he’d apologise, this time. Maybe they’d be alright again. She walked into the kitchen, where he stood, making a sandwich. Her voice eluded her and she simply watched how he brushed the bread crumbs to the floor instead of catching them in his hand and binning them. 

Hermione bit her tongue not to give out about that . Her eyes, however, had followed the crumbs and she’d just looked back up when Ron had turned and noticed her in the doorway. 

For a moment, they simply stared at each other. It was not a comfortable silence. It felt awkward and strained. Hermione didn’t like it at all. She wanted nothing more than a hug, and an apology. In the end, she gave in first and moved over to him, wrapping her arms around his torso. 

Ron put his sandwich back onto the plate and loosely hugged her back. She wanted to cry. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. She hugged herself closer to him because if she let go now, she would’ve given up too soon. When she felt Ron pull back and put his hands on her arms to disentangle her from him, she blurted out, ‘I’m sorry.’

His arms went back around her and he hugged her close for a few seconds, then let go completely and said, ‘Okay,’ before going back to his sandwich. She stood, unsure of what to do next. She felt dismissed, and confused because she wasn’t entirely sure why she had apologised to him when it was him who owed her an apology. Wasn’t it?

She wasn’t going to say that though lest they’d fall out again. So, instead, she made another peace offering. 

‘Do you want to watch a movie?’ 

A muggle TV and VHS player had been something that was an easy sell to Ron. He’d become so interested in this technology, that he was frequently found in electronics shops, much to his dad’s delight. They’d lost more than one videotape to his dad’s curious mind. Lately, he’d been trying to convince Hermione to buy one of the new DVD players. She had yet to give in to that.

Twenty minutes later, they sat on their couch, the opening credits of Dr No flashing in front of them. The multicoloured dots, then the movie title, flashing on the screen made her remember walking through Soho. She closed her eyes and swallowed. Can’t think of that now .

Hermione leaned against Ron, wishing he’d put his arm around her. He shifted to reach over to the popcorn bowl instead. So he was still punishing her then? All Hermione wanted was to be held. She was so tired. Tired from work, tired from lack of sleep, tired of fighting, tired from being emotionally raw for the last few days.

Maybe she just needed to really take the initiative. She held her breath as she moved his left arm up and scooted beneath it, putting her head on his lap and draping his arm over her waist. When he left it there, she slowly let out her breath and tried to focus on the movie. 

Her head was spinning in circles. He’d come back. She’d apologised. He hadn’t. Then again, she couldn’t really remember many times over the past decade she’d known him where he ever had. He wasn’t someone to say ‘sorry’. She should just stop hoping that would ever change. He was back, wasn’t he? That’s enough proof that he wanted to be here with her, wasn’t it? She was sure the adult thing to do was to sit down with him and have a discussion about it all. Where would that lead though? What if he decided he didn’t want to be here?

She swallowed heavily when she realised that she was afraid of him leaving because she was afraid of being alone. She wasn’t sure who she even was anymore, without him by her side. If they’d break up, how would that affect their friendship with Harry? Would she still be welcome at the Weasley’s home?

What would her parents say? They’d always been so adamant that she’d try her very best and not give up, and she wasn’t sure she’d already tried her very best. Perhaps there was more she could try to save this. 

They’d both thrown themselves into their work after the war. Hermione into completing her N.E.W.T.s, Ron into his Auror training. They saw each other rarely, on Hogsmeade weekends, and holidays. Somehow, they’d skipped the whole dating thing and gone straight to the next level. She figured it was because they’d known each other since they were 11. There hadn’t been a need for them to have a first date to get to know each other.

Maybe that had been foolish. In retrospect, she thought, they should’ve started fresh, after the war. Yes, they’d known each other for 7 years and had gone through hell and back in that time, but maybe they didn’t know each other outside of that. Maybe, they should’ve taken the time to find out who they were without a war, or other calamities, looming over them. 

At the time though, she at least had thought that they’d danced around each other for way longer than was healthy. It had been inevitable, really, to end up together. And she did know Ron. She did . She knew he was insecure, always thought he was in his brothers’ shadows, Harry’s shadow. 

She nearly snorted. That was something they had in common. Insecurity. She was well aware that she herself was insecure in herself. Not in regard to her ability. No, she was very much sure of being a very capable witch. She was insecure in the way girls and women often were: she didn’t like her unruly hair, wished it was sleeker. She wished her breasts weren’t so insignificant as to hardly warrant a bra. She wished her knees weren’t so knobbly, and she wished she had the confidence to just shine like other women. Ginny, for example. 

Hermione really wished she were as self-confident as Ginny was. She had this compelling energy about her that just drew people in. She envied Ginny that trait. Hermione herself often felt awkward because no matter how hard she tried, she knew she came across a bit like a nerd. More often than not, she’d offer her opinions even when they weren’t asked for, and she felt foolish even while speaking, unable to change.

Hermione jumped slightly when she felt Ron’s leg move below her head. She blinked and realised she’d spent the whole movie in her own head, going around her thoughts in circles. Ron had switched off the telly and set the video to rewind. She turned in his lap so she was looking up at him.

‘Hi,’ she croaked out, her voice hoarse from not being used.

‘Hi.’ Ron looked down at her and lifted a hand to brush a strand of hair from her face. 

‘I’m sorry,’ Hermione whispered. Internally, she screamed at herself to stop apologising. She’d nothing to apologise for, after all. Why did she keep doing it then?

Ron, for his part, didn’t say anything at first, just drew his hand across her hair once more and gently lifted her head off his lap so he could get up.

‘I’m going to bed,’ he mumbled as he moved to the door. ‘You coming?’

It was as close to an apology she’d ever get, she realised. Somewhere in the recesses of her brain, it registered that this wasn’t healthy. Not healthy at all. Nothing was resolved, everything was ignored. 

Not for the first time she wondered if the Sorting hat shouldn’t have ignored her and put her into Ravenclaw instead. She clearly lacked courage as she didn’t feel at all brave currently. She knew she should have it out with Ron. Actually, Hermione couldn’t even remember the last time she shied away from a fight. Every time though, she’d been sure she was in the right and sure of Ron and of the outcome. Not this time though. 

So instead, she flicked the lights off and followed him to bed.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Hermione began to consciously notice things. 

On Tuesday, she noticed that she and Ron barely said good-bye to each other when they stepped out of the Ministry’s Floo and headed in different directions to their respective jobs, while another couple kissed briefly before doing the same. 

On Wednesday, she noticed that two of her colleagues had lunch dates with their boyfriend and wife respectively, while she ate her sandwich at her desk - alone.

On Thursday, she noticed how smitten one of her colleagues was when he told another how glowing his wife looked after a massage treatment he’d bought her as a surprise and how happy it made him to see her happy. Hermione wanted to cry.

On Friday, she noticed that she and Ron had been all but roommates since he’d returned on Monday night. If she were honest with herself, it had happened a good while before then. Hermione swallowed as the realisation settled into her stomach like a ball of lead. What she’d thought had been a relationship had turned to them coexisting. She wondered if it was a normal thing for couples to go through. Surely everyone struggled? She resolved to maybe ask Ginny later.

‘You ready?’ Ron called from the sitting room. 

Hermione clasped her bracelet closed and slid her feet into her low heeled black shoes. She wasn’t a vain person, really, but she wanted to make an effort for one of her best friend’s special night. A last glance in the mirror showed that she had indeed won the fight with her hair, now tamed and drawn into an elegant, low, side bun. Her make-up was simple, just a little to enhance her eyes, and a tinted lip gloss. 

‘I am!’ she announced as she walked into the room and did a twirl in front of him to show off the bottle green wrap dress she’d bought especially for tonight. She smiled up at him, determined to make them work.

‘Come on then.’ Ron took the pot with the Floo powder off the mantlepiece. 

She tried very hard not to let her disappointment show through. He can’t read your mind. Ask him if he likes it. Hermione took a deep breath.

‘What do you think of the dress?’ He looked up from the Floo powder and his gaze swept over her.

‘It’s nice.’ When she didn’t say anything else, he added, ‘what else do you want me to say? It’s a dress, it’s green. It looks nice.’

For a moment she thought back to her colleague, Jake, waxing lyrical about how his wife glowed. It hit her that Ron wouldn’t ever do the same. She swallowed.

‘Thank you, I guess.’ Still determined to make an honest effort, she held out her hand for him to take. He did, threw the Floo powder into the flames, and together they stepped forward while he clearly stated their destination.

The evening was a whirlwind. It was definitely a celebration. Harry had planned it together with George and Neville, who in turn asked his girlfriend, Hannah, to help out. Hannah had begun working in the Leaky in order to earn some money while she figured out what she wanted to do in life. It suited her, and Tom often joked that he might retire after all. 

So, they had managed to reserve most of the pub for their friends and family and even convinced Tom to make some space for a makeshift dance floor to one side. Harry had organised a DJ to play, paying Tom handsomely for the extra noise, as the barkeep had called it.  

Hermione looked at her watch. Three hours they had been here now, congratulating Ginny on making the team. She was no longer on reserve, having her first official match the following weekend. Ginny was glowing, Hermione noticed. She was genuinely happy, her radiant smile stretching her cheeks and making her eyes twinkle. 

Hermione made her way over to the bar for another glass of red Elfwine. Harry stepped in front of her just as she’d managed to side-step an animated Oliver Wood, who had his own fan club hanging on his every word. She shook her head at the girls’ dopey expressions. 

‘Hermione!’ Harry beamed at her. She couldn’t help but grin back.

‘Harry!’ 

‘Dance with me.’ It wasn’t a question. Hermione stared at Harry for a moment. Dancing was not something he did willingly under normal circumstances. 

‘Alright?’ She placed her hand in his and he pulled her over to the other side of the bar where a few people were dancing to a quiet, jazzy number. Harry pulled her close.

‘I need to talk to you, and this is the only place I could think of without being interrupted,’ Harry said after he pulled her close and then made a show of dipping her. Hermione gasped a laugh.

‘What’s going on?’ she asked when she was righted again. She searched his eyes and realised that he was nervous. 

‘Honestly?’ Hermione nodded at his question. He cleared his throat, hesitated, twirled her, and spoke so fast, she nearly didn’t catch it. ‘I’mgoingtoaskGinnytomarryme.’

For a moment, both stopped moving and simply stared at each other. Then, Hermione let out a very undignified squeal and hugged Harry fiercely. Harry hugged her back. She was so happy for him.

Then it hit her. Harry was going to marry Ginny. This was huge. It really wasn’t that surprising, but it shocked her how much she felt all in one go. Joy. So much joy. They deserved their happiness. Jealousy. So much unwanted, and unexpected jealousy.

Hermione was afraid to let go of Harry lest he’d see the green tinge in her. Let go she did though, and she swiftly wiped at the tear under her eyes. ‘I’m so happy for you. She’ll say yes, of course!’ 

‘I hope so. It’d be right embarrassing if she didn’t, with all these people looking on.’

‘You’re going to do it tonight?’ She had to concentrate on closing her mouth. 

‘Yeah. Go get your drink. I’m going to do it now before my courage disappears. I just, I needed to tell you before. I love you, you know that, don’t you?’

‘Oh Harry.’ She hugged him again. ‘I love you, too, you great prat. Go get your woman.’ Hermione smiled at him and shoved him away. He laughed and waved as he made his way over to the DJ. Hermione shook her head. She wished he hadn’t sprung that on her in the middle of the party. 

Putting a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes back on her face, she finally made it to the bar just in time to hear Harry announce that everyone should get a drink so he could toast Ginny’s success. 

Ginny walked up to Harry, beaming at him. Seconds later, hollering, whistling, shouts of ‘get a room’, and laughter all mingled in the crowded room. Flashlights went off. So someone tipped off the Prophet. Hermione sighed. Then again, she thought, it served him right, doing it so publically. 

When Harry and Ginny pulled apart and remembered they had an audience they had the decency to look sheepish. Harry held her hand tightly in his and pointed his wand at his throat, whispering an incantation.

‘Hi everyone,’ he began, his voice now amplified. ‘Thank you all for coming tonight. It’s wonderful to see so many of you joining in to celebrate Ginny’s success. I couldn’t be prouder of her.’ 

A chorus of ‘awww’ sounded around the room and Harry laughed. Ginny grinned. 

‘Ginny,’ he continued, ‘you are amazing.’ Harry kept hold of her hand and went down on one knee. Excited gasps could be heard all around them. Ginny stared at him with wide eyes, her mouth hanging open. ‘Ginevra Molly Weasley, you are amazing. I love you. And I had a big speech that eludes me now.’ More laughter. ‘I love you. Will you marry me?’

Ginny’s affirmative answer was almost drowned out by the crowd as she pulled Harry up and tackled him with another searing kiss. Cameras flashed non-stop. Hermione clapped with the rest of their friends and family, delighted for the two of them. The DJ began playing a cheesy Celestina Warbeck number and the newly engaged couple rotated slowly, in their own world. 

Hermione sipped her wine and took in the scene before her. More and more couples joined the two on the dance floor. Molly and Arthur sat near them, beaming. Molly with a handkerchief, dabbing her eyes frequently and Arthur pulling her close, kissing her cheek. Hermione looked away. Her eyes fell on Ron who was talking with someone she recognised as an Auror Ron worked with. She couldn’t quite remember his name. Jared? She was nearly sure. 

The man in question spotted her and nudged Ron, then inclined his head towards Hermione. Ron waved at her and turned back to his mate. Hermione drained the rest of her wine in one go. 

‘More wine?’ 

‘Oh, yes, please.’ Hermione turned around to find another glass of red Elfwine held out to her and faltered. 

‘It’s not poisoned.’ Draco Malfoy raised one eyebrow in challenge. ‘I figured there’s less of a chance of you attacking me if I brought offerings.’ 

Hermione huffed and took the wine. ‘Thank you.’ He inclined his head in acknowledgement. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Harsh. You don’t think Potter invited me.’ It wasn’t a question. She gave him a look . ‘Fair enough. You’re right. I wasn’t invited. However, since Potter is apparently too cheap to book this place exclusively, I happened to pass through just as he proposed.’

‘I suppose you wanted to watch her turn him down?’ It was her turn to lift a brow. Except she lifted both, because she couldn’t manage only one. Malfoy smirked. She scowled.

‘No. I knew the Weaselette would say yes. Just look at them. Disgusting.’ Hermione didn’t know what came over her, but she found herself laughing out loud. Malfoy appeared startled like he hadn’t expected that reaction either. 

‘I’m sorry,’ she managed after she caught herself again, still grinning. Then her grin faded. ‘Actually, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to attack you, or slap you.’ She looked down on her drink and back up. ‘And thank you for helping me when I…,’ she hesitated. ‘When I... fell ill.’ 

Draco opened his mouth but snapped it closed and simply nodded at her before vanishing into the crowd and disappearing. Hermione didn’t know what to make of that but was startled seconds later when Ron’s voice sounded from right behind her.

‘What did Malfoy want?’

Hermione barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she turned to Ron. ‘Nothing, Ronald. He merely said hello.’

Ron snorted. ‘Malfoy. You’re honestly telling me that Malfoy came here only to say hello to you ?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Am I that insignificant to you that you can’t imagine others wanting to speak to me?’ she hissed. 

‘I just don’t believe that Malfoy of all people would come in here just to speak to someone he considers a Mudblood .’ 

Hermione was vaguely aware of the stares and murmurs following her as she exited the Leaky Cauldron, blinking her tears away. She shook out her right hand. It stung from the slap she’d rewarded Ron with. Merlin, she needed to stop being so violent

She looked around and realised she’d exited the wrong side of the pub and was now on Charing Cross Road, in Muggle London. She couldn’t disapparate from here but neither did she want to go back in and through the pub. Turning right, she followed the road and took the next right also, into the hustle and bustle of Soho.

By the time she’d turned the second corner, she wished she hadn’t been so impulsive. The wind had picked up and goosebumps covered her bare arms, the cap sleeves doing nothing for warmth. She shivered and wondered if she should just turn back when she spotted a familiar-looking head of blond hair not far ahead of her.

Her brain switched off. There was no other explanation for what she did next. 

‘Malfoy!’

Draco stopped and turned around, clearly surprised. He waited for her to catch up to him.

‘Hi,’ Hermione said, lamely. 

‘Hi,’ he replied, studying her.

Silence stretched between them, him watching her, and Hermione aimlessly looking around. 

‘Not to be rude, but was there a point to you calling after me?’

‘No. I mean. I don’t know,’ she finished lamely. 

‘You look like you could use another drink.’

Hermione let out a huff that could’ve been a laugh. ‘You have no idea.’

‘Well, come on then.’ Without waiting, he turned away and continued walking. Hermione hurried to catch up and both fell into step next to each other. 

‘Where are you going?’ she asked at length.

The Cursed Hare .’

‘Where’s that?’ Hermione glanced at him but Draco looked straight ahead.

‘Down a side road off Knockturn.’ 

Hermione nodded her head unsure what to do now. Did she really want to go for a drink with Draco Malfoy? In a shady part of wizarding London to boot? What was the alternative though? Going back to the party? Going home? Another fight with Ron? No , she thought angrily, bugger him .

She found she was back in the area of Soho that promised GIRLS and other entertainment in that direction. Draco stopped her with a hand on her elbow.

‘This way.’ He pulled her into a small alley between a Sex Shop and a pub. The alley stank to high heavens, a mixture of eau de rubbish bins and urine, but Draco pulled her to the very end, pulled out his wand, tapped 7 bricks on the wall, and, just like the entrance to Diagon Alley by the Leaky, the wall opened up to admit the two of them.

‘I had no idea this was here,’ she admitted

‘I should hope not.’ Draco smirked at her. ‘This isn’t an entrance a reputable woman should ever use.’

‘I’m going to take that as a compliment.’ Hermione grinned back at him and wondered why that didn’t feel completely wrong. It should’ve and as quick as her grin came, it vanished again.

‘Well, come on then.’ He held his arm out to her. She stared at it. ‘Oh for Merlin’s sake, just take my arm. You don’t want to get lost here.’ 

After another second of hesitation, she stepped forward decisively and took his arm. She also put her other hand in her pocket, firmly clutching her wand. 

‘So you’re so disreputable that you come here often?’ She thought back to the previous weekend when she’d literally walked into him near the entrance. Draco barked out a laugh.

‘Granger, your pick up lines need work.’ He snorted in mirth. ‘ Do you come here often ,’ he imitated and shook his head with a grin. Hermione blushed, flustered, and tried to let go of his arm. He put his free hand on the one on his arm and firmly kept her in place. 

‘Don’t get your wand in a twist, I’m only teasing.

Hermione huffed but continued walking with him. ‘Well?’ she prompted after they’d passed a questionable food stall that served nothing remotely recognisable. Draco was still grinning to himself. 

‘Yes, I suppose I do. I find it is difficult to go anywhere more mainstream so to speak. My kind isn’t really welcome.’ He said it like it was a simple fact, without a trace of self-pity. Hermione gave him another sidelong glance and wondered who Draco Malfoy truly was. He certainly didn’t act like the bastard he had been all through school. 

‘I’m sorry.’ Hermione tried to keep pity out of her voice but he stopped her anyway. 

‘Don’t. You’ve apologised enough. After all that happened, I’m still not sure why you apologised to me .’ He was still not looking at her, but straight ahead. 

‘Because I - hang on, do you mean to tell me you don’t think you deserve an apology when someone attacks you?’ She stopped and pulled him to a halt next to her. ‘You. Draco Malfoy, the Slytherin Darling, don’t think you are deserving of an apology?’

A forced smile that bordered on condescending appeared on his face as he looked at her. Draco reached up and put a stray strand of hair behind her ear. A jolt went through Hermione that she’d not felt in a long time. She swallowed, unable to look away as he answered, ‘I’m nobody’s darling. And I think we both know that I deserve everything coming to me after all is said and done.’ 

Without further preamble, he turned and pulled her along with him, neither saying any more. Before long, they arrived at The Cursed Hare and made their way inside. It wasn’t a very busy place which Hermione thought surprising since it was a Friday night. She welcomed it though because it afforded them a table to sit at. Hermione couldn’t help a small sigh when she finally sat and took the weight off her feet. She really wasn’t used to wearing heels, no matter how low. 

Draco left to order drinks and Hermione wondered, not for the first time that night, how on earth she’d ended up here. She was so lost in her thoughts that she jumped slightly when another voice interrupted her. 

‘Granger?’

Hermione looked up to see none other than Blaise Zabini staring at her.

‘That’s me,’ she answered, sitting up straighter and putting her hand back into her wand pocket. Blaise followed the movement and snorted.

‘If I’d wanted to kill you, I’d have long done it. No need to arm yourself. What’s a princess like you doing in a dump like this?’ He gestured around them with his hand holding a beer.

‘Waiting for my drink. Malfoy’s just gone to get it.’ She stared up at him trying hard to keep a straight face. Hermione failed and burst out laughing at his expression. 

‘What are you really doing here? I know for a fact that you’re not here with Draco. I’m meeting him and he’s not mentioned that he’s bringing a date .’ Blaise looked down his nose at her. 

‘Ah, Blaise, but you see, she is here with me,’ Draco said smoothly as he edged around Blaise and put a drink in front of Hermione. ‘Here you are.’ 

‘Thank you.’ Hermione stared at her drink. It looked like a cocktail she’d once had in a Muggle bar. ‘What is it?’

Draco barked a laugh and she looked up, startled, only to see he wasn’t paying her any attention but was laughing at Blaise. Blaise, for his part, kept looking from her to Draco and back, obviously shocked. 

‘It’s Whisky Sour, with Firewhisky, the proper way, not like the Muggles make it.’ So Draco had heard her. She nodded and tried a sip. ‘And we’re not on a date, Blaise.’ The cough was unexpected. 

‘Strong,’ she wheezed when she could breathe again, her eyes watering. Draco had slid into a seat next to her, and Blaise across. The latter was still staring openly. 

‘How?’ Blaise asked. Hermione wasn’t quite sure how to explain it. Thankfully, Draco did it for her.

‘No reason. Just ran into her and she’s had a bad night. Decided to be chivalrous and rescue her.’ Both Blaise and Hermione snorted at that. ‘What?’ He looked affronted. 

‘No, you’re right. I had a bad night. We did run into each other. And I suppose you are chivalrous.’ A strange feeling overcame her. It all sounded a lot more than it actually was. Yet she couldn’t dispute it, try as she might. 

‘Well then,’ Blaise said, raising his glass along with a perfectly arched brow, ‘to chivalry and a better night.’ He winked at her and Hermione wondered yet again just how she had ended up here.

An hour later, she had a stitch in her side from laughter. Both Blaise and Draco detailed with great hilarity some anecdotes of their antics in Slytherin during their time at Hogwarts. It had never occurred to her that they would’ve had fun other than to bully other students. She was surprised to find that both had a sense of humour, even if it was a very twisted one. It also didn’t escape here that all these anecdotes happened before their 6th year.

‘Ah,’ Blaise continued with mirth, ‘do you remember when Weasley vomited slugs?’ He laughed at the memory to find Hermione had gone quiet and Draco couldn’t muster more than a grin either. 

‘I should go.’ Hermione abruptly stood up and had to hold on to the table as the pub around her wobbled a bit. ‘I definitely should go.’ Blaise looked surprised at her sudden change of mood but held his tongue. Draco stood up, too.

‘You probably shouldn’t apparate in your state,’ Draco noted. 

‘Thank you, I’m quite aware,’ she shot back, irritated. ‘I’ll just - can you Floo from here?’ 

‘Of course,’ Draco said. ‘I’ll show you. This way.’ A look passed between the two men but Hermione didn’t pay it much attention, aware that she really ought to go home. Guilt crept into her for having run off - something she’d accused Ron of numerous times. She was sure it was going to bite her in the arse.

She followed Draco to a side room off the main bar where there was a fireplace with a pot of Floo powder sitting atop the mantelpiece. He held the pot out to her and she took some. Hermione looked up at him and noted that he wasn’t all that much taller than her, merely a few inches, unlike Ron who towered over her. Unsure of what to say, if anything, she nodded at him in thanks and turned to the fireplace.

‘Goodnight, Granger,’ Draco said in a low voice. His tone did something funny to her insides and she could feel a blush creeping up her neck to her cheeks and had no idea how to react. Hermione didn’t turn back to him but answered nonetheless.

‘Night, Malfoy.’ With a swoosh of green flames, she was gone.

Chapter Text

The second Hermione stepped out of her living room fireplace she was accosted with an irate Ron.

‘Where have you been?’ 

‘Out.’

She tried to walk past him to their bedroom in order to get changed out of her dress but Ron blocked her way.

‘Out where?’ he demanded, stepping into her space and using his significant height to effective advantage. Hermione gritted her teeth but didn’t cow before him. This, this out and out fighting, this she could handle.

‘At a pub. With Draco Malfoy.’ The second the words came out of her mouth, she knew it was the wrong thing to say.

For a moment, it felt like they were suspended in time. Ron stared at her with an open mouth, eyes wide. As if in slow motion, his ears then his neck and face turned out and out puce. His whole body was one large personification of anger. For the first time in her life, Hermione was actually afraid that Ron would hit her. She flinched just as he turned and hit the wall next to him and he let out a loud, ‘Fuck!'

He stayed like that, his fist against the wall, breathing heavily through his nose. Hermione had rarely seen him that angry, and never before like this, directed at her. She wasn’t sure what to do and slowly reached for her wand, just in case. 

The movement did not escape him. He let out another forceful breath through his nose, then growled at her, ‘Do you really think you need a wand to defend yourself from me? Fuck, Hermione, if you really have such little faith in me that you go and cosy up to fucking Malfoy - I would never hurt you! HE.. who knows what the fuck he’d do to you. HE WAS A FUCKING DEATH EATER!’

Hermione stared at him and stood firm, but was unable to repress another flinch when he’d begun turning and shouting at her in the middle of his rant. Her stomach churned.

‘Ron-’

‘NO. Don’t. Fucking. Speak.’ He stared hard at Hermione. She wanted to cry at the hate in his eyes. She wasn’t going to give him any more tears though. Every fibre within her wanted to lash out at Ron.

‘No. YOU listen to ME. Draco Malfoy has been nothing but kind to me tonight. He was there for me last weekend when you walked out on me. He may have been a Death Eater but he was nothing but a gentleman. YOUR behaviour, on the other hand, is despicable!’ 

Hermione blinked to keep her eyes dry, grabbing her wand tighter. She knew she shouldn’t have told him about the previous weekend. She knew what she’d just shouted at him would do nothing but anger him further, making the argument worse but she was tired and, maybe, just a little bit, she wanted him to hurt, too.

‘You went out with Malfoy last weekend?’ Ron asked in a very low voice that somehow sounded more dangerous than any amount of shouting ever could have. 

‘No. I went out by myself and had a panic attack, thanks to your behaviour. He helped me by dropping me to St. Mungo’s when I blacked out.’ Hermione’s voice was no less lethal.

‘So, we’re back to everything being my fault, are we? Never good enough!’ Ron spat back. 

Hermione reeled for a second-- that was what he had latched onto; not the fact that she’d been in hospital. Without letting herself consider her next words fully like she normally would have, she pulled herself up as straight as she could.

‘That’s not true. You are plenty good enough! But, right now, you are not good enough for me .’ She turned and grabbed the Floo powder, threw it into the flames and called out for Grimmauld Place.

 

*****

 

The short trip through the whirlwind that was the Floo network was over before she could even consider that she was barging directly into a newly engaged couple’s house. When she stepped out of the sitting room fireplace, she was relieved to find the house dark. She decided the two must still be at their party in the Leaky. 

She was stuck now though. Leaving through the main door of the house would set off Harry’s wards. Going back home was not yet an option. Not after what had just happened. Hermione dropped onto the couch and stared at the wall in the dark. Her thoughts were a whirlwind, replaying their argument over and over in her head. 

Was this it then? Had they just broken up? Had she really just told Ron that he wasn’t good enough for her? Did she mean it? Yes, she did. Hermione grimaced to herself at the thought. It was the truth though. She deserved better, they both did. It wasn’t right to keep pretending when the two of them were clearly unhappy in that relationship. 

Hermione thought she should probably be a mess now… like she’d been last weekend. Instead, she felt hollow; empty. It hadn’t sunk in, what she had done. She wondered if Ron had understood her meaning: that it was over. 

It was like this, quietly staring straight ahead, that Harry and Ginny found Hermione sometime later when they arrived home. 

‘Hermione?’ Harry prompted. 

Ginny knelt down in front of her waving a hand before her eyes. Hermione looked up at Harry when Ginny took one hand in her own. 

‘I think I broke up with Ron,’ she said evenly. She couldn’t quite see the look in Harry’s or Ginny’s eyes as her own finally filled with tears at saying it out loud. Harry sat down next to her and pulled her into his shoulder while Ginny sat down on her other side, hugging her as well. 

Neither said anything to Hermione but simply sat with her until her tears stopped. She wondered how they knew that this was exactly what she needed at that moment. When she finally stopped, Hermione took a shuddering breath and tried to sit up straighter. 

Ginny stood up. ‘I’m putting the kettle on. Mum always says that tea cures anything.’

Harry stayed next to her, his arm around her still, and he pulled her head back onto his shoulder. 

‘For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘Want to tell me what happened?’ 

‘He got irrationally angry earlier, at the Leaky. Then- well, Malfoy was there.’

‘Yeah, I saw him.’ She nodded. She would’ve been surprised if Harry hadn’t spotted him. ‘Was Ron angry because Malfoy showed up?’

‘No. Yes. I mean. Merlin, I can’t even get a sentence out.’ She rubbed a hand over her eyes. ‘Malfoy talked to me.’ Hermione hesitated again but then decided to tell him everything. She told Harry about the previous weekend, how Malfoy had helped her, how she’d assaulted him - twice - and that she’d finally apologised right before Ron took notice at the Leaky. Then she told him about going for drinks with not only Malfoy, but Zabini also, and Harry finally let go of her to stare openly.

‘You did what ?’ There was no anger in Harry’s voice. He just looked stunned.

‘You heard me,’ Hermione murmured back, grinning feebly at her friend’s obvious shock. It wasn’t often she could catch Harry with the unexpected these days.

‘I thought I did but now I wonder if I ought to have my hearing checked.’ Harry chuckled a little. ‘Malfoy and Zabini, out with Gryffindor’s golden girl, eh? That’s- quite something.’ 

‘You’re not mad then?’

‘No, why would I be mad? Do I think you’re a bit mental to go out with them? Yes. Absolutely. Would I have stopped you had I known where you’re going? Totally. But - I also trust your judgement. I know you can handle yourself.’ He took both her shoulders in his hands and made full eye contact with her. ‘I also think that Ron is an idiot for not trusting you and still thinking that he’s not good enough. You deserve better. He needs to get his act together. He deserves happiness, too.’

‘What my brother deserves is a foot up his arse!’ Ginny growled as she walked into the room, a tray heavily laden with mugs of tea, sugar, and biscuits, floating ahead of her. Both Harry and Hermione snorted.

‘Don’t, Ginny. Ron’s not a bad man,’ Hermione insisted.

‘No, he’s not,’ Ginny conceded, but added, ‘That doesn’t make him less of a wankpuffin currently. He does need a wakeup call. And while he really isn’t a bad bloke, he’s not right for you.’ 

Hermione looked at her in surprise. ‘You sound like you’ve been holding that one back a while.’

‘I have,’ Ginny confirmed. It’s been clear to me that you two have fizzled out a while ago. And I’m not even around that often. Maybe that made it all the more obvious.’ She shrugged her shoulders and took a sip of her tea. 

‘How did you know when I had no idea?’ Hermione shook her head and reached for her own tea. 

‘So, now what?’ 

‘I don’t know, Harry.’ She blew the steam before taking a sip. ‘I guess I have to go back home to face him and we’ll have to make decisions.’

‘Do you want me to come with you?’ 

Hermione looked at Harry and smiled as he absentmindedly pushed his glasses further up his nose with his ring finger and then raked his hand through his hair. 

‘No. You’ve done enough already. I’m so sorry to crash your first night of being engaged.’ She put her mug down and jumped up to go and hug Ginny. ‘Congratulations. I’m so happy for you.’

‘Thank you,’ Ginny grinned. ‘I’m quite pleased to be making an honest man out of Harry.’ She winked at Hermione who grinned back. Harry looked like a Cheshire cat and wiggled his eyebrows. 

‘Alright, alright, I’m gonna leave the two of you to it. Just be sure to use protection. Wouldn’t want a baby just now that you made the team, eh?’ 

Laughing, and ducking the couch cushions simultaneously thrown at her from two directions, she swiftly exited via Floo.

 

*****

 

Hermione quietly made her way from the living room fireplace into the bedroom where she could hear Ron. It felt like a déjà vu from the previous weekend: he was heedlessly throwing clothes into a holdall, pulling drawers open, slamming them shut again. She swallowed heavily when he spotted her and briefly paused in his tracks. 

Neither said a word but whatever he saw in her eyes, he turned away and continued packing.

‘Ron?’ She felt like she should say something. Explain something

‘What?’ Ron paused again and turned to her. ‘What else could you possibly have to say to me now?’

‘I’m sorry. I wish it were different. I wish we could fix us. Or at least remain friends.’ Hermione spoke quietly but broke off when he let out a snort. 

‘Bit late for that, innit?’ He zipped up the bag and turned to her again. ‘’Mione, I-,’ he stopped and looked up at the ceiling. ‘I have to go.’ 
Hermione nodded and stepped aside as he exited the bedroom. Unlike the last time he stormed off, he hesitated again but didn’t turn back to her before disapparating with a determined nod to himself before she could ask, ‘ where?

Chapter Text


By Saturday lunchtime, Hermione had thrown herself into research for her legislation draft. This time, in a nearby Muggle library looking for anything on animal welfare she could find. The silence at home had been too much to deal with after their fight and Ron’s departure the night before. Even though she knew logically that it was over between them, it hadn’t actually sunk in yet. She still expected him to turn up at any time. Hermione needed to not look at her own four walls.

Hermione looked up, startled when the librarian stopped by her table. 

‘I’m sorry to interrupt you, dear, but we’re closing,’ she said quietly. 

‘Oh!’ Hermione consulted her watch. ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise the time.’ She began pushing her research together, marking the pages in the one book she found that had some helpful passages in it. ‘Can I check this book out, please?’

The librarian took it off her to put onto her account while Hermione gathered the rest of her things. Once back outside she paused briefly and closed her eyes. Going home somehow felt wrong. With a sigh, she made her way by foot anyway. 

It was the strangest feeling, coming home to their apartment. Everything was quiet and dark and even though it was no different than on days that Ron was still at work when she got home, it felt… wrong. No , she thought, not wrong… just… off.

She put her research away and put the kettle on. Thirty minutes later, her cold mug of tea sat forgotten on the kitchen table while she walked from room to room unable to shake the memories associated with Ron. Did she even want to shake those memories off? 

She stared at their telly and the unit below it that housed Ron’s VHS tapes. He’d been so happy when she’d finally agreed to it, like a small child at Christmas. It was a good memory, one that still made her smile now when she thought of how he’d scooped her up and swirled her around, kissing her like it was going to go out of fashion. Happier times, for sure… a time when she was still convinced that Ron was hers forever, the man she’d grow old with. 

Hermione scratched an itch on her chin, surprised to find it wet. She’d not even noticed that she was crying. There’d been a time when she’d dreamed of marrying Ron. She’d loved him so much it hurt at times. She still thought she loved him. She just wasn’t in love with him anymore and that hurt, too. The thought that he would be hurting also caused her grief. Hermione was very aware that they’d all suffered enough in the war and wished that things were different. They were supposed to be, after all. 

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. 

It was something her dad always said to her, making it clear that whatever she wished for, she would have to make it happen herself. She would have to work at it, make the effort. Had she made the effort though? 

Her mind cycled from one extreme to the other. She’d made the effort and he hadn’t. Had she been obvious enough though? Yes. In the past few months, she’d tried so often to do things right by him and most importantly them. Also - no. There was always a niggling doubt that she hadn’t tried hard enough, should’ve done more. 

She shivered when she awoke sometime later on the couch. Yawning, she glanced at her watch to note it had gone past midnight. She made her way to the bedroom and merely fell into the bed, not bothering to wake herself up more by going to brush her teeth. 

However, as she snuggled herself into the bed and sighed into her pillow, she was suddenly wide awake. Her bed still smelled of Ron. He was all around her on the sheets, the pillow, the duvet. She thought she should probably get up and change the bedding. Instead, she snuggled in and inhaled deeply, letting his scent surround her. It reminded her of a Potions lesson long ago, when Professor Slughorn had shown them Amortentia. 

Hermione knew it was perverse, really, how she purposefully engulfed herself with Ron’s scent now that they’d broken it off, when recently she often made sure not to even be embraced by him. 

She cried herself to sleep.

 

***** 

 

Monday morning, a note waited for her on her desk. 

Hermione,

Lunch today at 1 pm. No excuses.

Harry

She huffed but couldn’t quite bring herself to get annoyed with him. Her whole weekend had been a rollercoaster of emotions, from reeling at being alone to being glad it was finally over so she could breathe and look forward. Though, it still felt too raw. She couldn’t quite see her future self moved on . Not yet. Not by a long shot. 

Hermione supposed she owed Harry a lunch date. She’d already ignored two Floo calls and an owl, unable to deal with even him. 

Just before lunch, she set down her eagle feather quill and massaged her wrist. Her hand was cramping from the notes she was taking, and her neck and back ached from sitting at her desk for 4 hours straight. She stood,stretched and reached for her purse to go get food with Harry when a knock sounded on her office door. 

‘Come in.’

‘Hey.’

‘Harry! Am I late?’ Hermione consulted her watch, it was exactly 1 pm. 

‘Not at all. I brought us lunch. Thought it would be good to eat in here.’ 

Harry watched her closely, making Hermione feel exposed. She nodded and indicated the chair in front of her desk to him. Once they were seated and their lunches distributed to share between them, they ate their sushi in silence for a while. Eventually, Harry spoke.

‘He’s back at the Burrow, by the way, for now.’ He dipped another of his sushi rolls into the sauce and stuffed it into his mouth. 

‘How is he?’ Hermione asked in a small voice, half-afraid of the answer. 

‘About as put together as you are I imagine. Molly flooed to ask what happened between you. Ginny told her you broke it off.’ 

‘How’d she take it?’

‘She- I think, well, she looked resigned.’ Harry paused to look her over. ‘On some level, I think she was expecting it.’ Hermione’s shoulders sagged and she put her chopsticks down, unable to stomach any more food. 

‘Was it that obvious then?’ She rested her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands. ‘How am I going to face her again? After all that she’s done for me, and I gave up on her son.’ 

‘Is that how you feel? That you disappointed her?’

Hermione shrugged, unable to speak. If she spoke out loud now, she’d burst into tears again. She didn’t have time for that, not in the office. 

‘Hermione. You know I’m not the best with words and feelings and all that. But- well, I’m proud of you. Looking in from the outside-’ he paused and looked around the office as if to summon the correct words. ‘Well, from the outside it- it was clear that neither of you was happy anymore. Recently, anyway. And it must’ve been a scary thing to do-- to break up. We all know you overthink everything.’ He put his own chopsticks down and sipped his drink. ‘We know it wasn’t a rash decision.’

‘I’m scared, Harry.’ She didn’t know why she said that of all things, but once it was out, she was almost glad to get it off her chest

‘Of what?’ Harry tried to catch her eyes, but she determinedly looked down onto her desk. 

‘Being alone.’ Admitting it to Harry was freeing. It was also hurting as the truth of it all sank in and she couldn’t quite keep her tears at bay. ‘I’m so scared to be alone, Harry. I haven’t been alone since I was eleven. Even if I wasn’t with Ron, I was at Hogwarts, with others in the dorm, or at home with my parents, or at the Burrow, or with you. Never alone.’ 

It overwhelmed her, the desolate feeling of being alone. Lonely, even. Though she’d recently enough thought that those two things were very different from each other. She’d not been alone in a very long time, yet she had felt lonely even while lying in bed next to a snoring Ron. Yet being alone scared her.

‘You’re on your own , not alone. We’re all still here for you.’

‘I know you are.’ She’d said it automatically, the words hollow to her own ears and Harry reiterated quickly that he meant what he’d said, that he and Ginny both were definitely there for her at any time.

‘We all want to see you happy. Ron, too. It will happen again.’

‘How can you be so sure?’

‘Because you both deserve it.’ He shrugged his shoulders as if that had been the obvious answer all along. His nonchalant attitude almost made her smile. Almost.

‘Thanks, Harry.’ 

Harry nodded at her and stole the rest of her sushi rolls, citing the hardship of being an Auror and needing all the energy he could get and that he wouldn’t let it go to waste if she was sure she wasn’t going to eat it herself. That received a hint of a smile; one that turned wistful at the stark reminder that Ron, too, would’ve eaten her leftovers.  

When Harry had eaten all their food, she used her wand to vanish the empty containers and restore order to her desk. She’d expected Harry to leave and return to his own work when he instead looked rather nervous now. 

‘Are you alright, Harry?’ she asked him when he didn’t speak but continued to fidget with his wand in his hand, and absentmindedly tipped his chair onto the back legs. He took a deep breath as if to steel himself for something.

‘You haven’t read the Prophet yet this morning.’ It struck her that he hadn’t asked but stated it as fact.

‘No, I haven’t had the time yet. Why?’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘I presume your engagement is front-page news?’ Hermione smiled a little at that. ‘You’re engaged.’

A dopey smile briefly appeared on Harry’s face, too. ‘I am.’ He shook his head in wonder. ‘Still find it hard to believe. I’m a lucky bloke.

‘Yes, you are,’ she agreed readily but sobered up almost immediately, remembering what began this conversation. ‘So what’s in the Prophet ?’

‘It’s probably best to show you.’ He took a copy of the newspaper out of his robe pocket. ‘It’s one of the reasons I brought lunch to you.’ Harry swallowed, finally handing the paper over. ‘Just remember, it’s still Skeeter. Her journalism is shite at best. Although, this time… well, I still don’t like what she did.’ He winced and let go of the paper she’d closed her hand around while he spoke.

‘Okay.’ She nodded to emphasize that she understood and swallowed. Whatever it was couldn’t be good so. 

Hermione unfolded the paper and found a picture of Harry and Ginny at the Leaky Cauldron. In the picture, Harry fell down to one knee and then got back up to embrace a beaming Ginny. She watched the picture repeat a few times before she read the headline: 

‘The Boy Who Lived - ENGAGED!’

Beneath that, ‘ Harry Potter proposed to his long-time girlfriend Ginevra Weasley

Harry Potter, famous for vanquishing Lord Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts in 1998, has finally popped the question. Scores of single girls across the country will no doubt be distraught that the Boy Who Lived has cemented his relationship even further.

‘We were hoping he’d grow out of his teenage crush and see other people,’ said one Romilda Vane, ‘but of course we at HAPAS (Harry Potter Appreciation Society) wish the couple nothing but the best.’

It seems that not all was well though, as the man in question’s two best friends, not to be outshone, staged their own public stunt on the night. Read more on page 7…

Hermione sent a furtive glance at Harry who had a pained look on his face. She flipped the pages over. Her heart stopped short. At the top of the page, just below a damning headline, two photographs played on repeat:

Hermione smiling brightly at Draco Malfoy while she accepted a glass of wine. 

An irate Hermione slapping Ron and storming off.

The headline read: Trouble in Paradise?

Below that, there was, mercifully, only a small bit of text, but it was no less alarming: ‘Has Ron Weasley been thrown over for none other than Draco Malfoy? This reporter vows to find out!’

Hermione felt sick. She sat frozen in her chair, unable to voice the thoughts and emotions assaulting her and running through her head. How could she have been so stupid ? She’d known that reporters were there. She should’ve known better than to make a scene. 

‘Oh god.’ Hermione looked up at Harry in horror. ‘This. I didn’t. Why? Oh god.’ 

‘Yeah. Sums it up.’

‘Oh god, Ron! He’ll believe this!’ Hermione jumped to her feet. ‘I have to go see Ron. I have to explain-’

‘Sit down,’ Harry interrupted her. ‘You’re not going anywhere.’

‘But Harry, I have to. I can’t let him think this is true!’

‘He’s not stupid, Hermione.’ Harry looked affronted on Ron’s behalf. 

‘Of course, he’s not stupid. He can be utterly brilliant, but he never thinks he’s good enough. Harry- his jealousy, his constant self-doubt - it’s part of the reason we didn’t work out. I don’t want him to think there’s truth in this.’ 

She cringed as she remembered their fight. After a few beats, she spoke in a really quiet voice, ‘Harry, Ron and I broke up that night. After I literally shouted at him that Malfoy had been nothing but a gentleman to me.’ She groaned. ‘He’ll believe Skeeter’s words. I know he will.’

 

*****

 

That evening, Hermione stayed in the office for an extra hour, hoping to evade most Ministry workers. She didn’t want the stares, the pitying looks, the judgmental looks. What she did want was to desperately explain herself to Ron. But, Harry had been resolute. He’d said that he’d go visit Ron this evening and that he’d knock some sense into him if necessary, but that she really shouldn’t go because it would inevitably end in another fight.

She knew Harry was right, but it didn’t make it any easier. 

When she did eventually make the walk from her office to the Atrium in order to Floo home, she felt like a right coward. Instead of holding her head high and ignoring the gossip that would surely be flying around in every corner, she put a glamour charm on herself, disguising her looks. As soon as she walked into her living room, she muttered the countercharm and went straight into the shower. She hoped she’d feel better after letting the hot water soothe her worries away. 

It didn’t really help as much as she’d hoped. After she pulled on a comfortable pair of pyjamas she walked into the kitchen to find a small owl perched on her post branch outside the window. The owl hopped onto her arm and hooted gently as soon as she had opened up for access. Hermione untied the small scroll from her leg and sat the owl down on the back of her kitchen chair to go retrieve a treat for the feathery ball of fluff. 

That done, she watched the owl settle in for a quick nap and sat down to read the message she’d delivered.

Hermione didn’t recognise the neatly slanted writing, and her eyes furtively glanced to the bottom of the missive before taking in anything else. 

It was simply signed D.M

Her eyes flew back up to the top of the short note, her heartbeat increasing. There was only one reason why Draco Malfoy would’ve written to her.

Granger,

I trust you still read the Prophet and are aware of the latest journalistic marvel by that Skeeter.

While I applaud your action towards Weasley, I do not enjoy being used as a pawn in that game. 

I am considering legal action and with that in mind, decided to offer assistance to you should you want to do the same. 

D.M.

Hermione read the note three times to make sure she comprehended it correctly. Draco Malfoy wanted to take legal action against Rita Skeeter. Or the Prophet. For a second she’d thought it was against herself. Either way, she was sure she didn’t want him to do that.

Not because she thought Skeeter didn’t deserve it, far from it, but because it felt like they’d just play into her hands with that. Rumours, and gossip, she’d long since learned, were best left alone. If denied, especially so vehemently, it only exacerbated the issue.

She summoned a Muggle pen and, after thinking long and hard, wrote a note on a fresh piece of parchment.

Malfoy,

I do indeed still read the Prophet and am just as exasperated as you are by that shoddy journalism. However, while I wouldn’t mind for Skeeter to be put in her place, there’s no need for legal action. It would only add fuel to the fire and, quite frankly, that’s the last thing I need right now. I do have my own method to deal with her.
So, thank you but I will not be seeking legal advice for this and I would like to kindly ask you to refrain from same.

Granger

After much deliberation, she added: PS: Should you wish to discuss this further, away from the public, my Floo is open when I’m home.

The small owl gave an indignant hoot as she woke up when Hermione tied the new missive to her leg. She acquiesced to being handled after receiving another treat.

‘Bring this to Draco Malfoy, please,’ Hermione said, giving the owl a gentle scratch on top of her head. She ruffled her feathers importantly and soared out the open window. Hermione thought, not for the first time, how handy it would be to have her own owl. 

Determined not to let the day’s news bring her even further down, she decided to ignore it all. She poured herself a generous glass of wine, tied up her unruly hair in a haphazard bun, and settled down on the couch with a novel that never failed to bring a smile to her face: Little Women .

She’d just turned the page to the beginning of chapter 2 when her fire blazed green and Draco Malfoy’s head appeared in the flames. 

‘Evening, Granger.’

Chapter Text

Hermione stood up straight so suddenly, her book fell to the floor. ‘Malfoy!’ She picked up her book and added, ‘I didn’t expect you.’

‘I can see that.’

‘Come on through?’ She put her book on the low coffee table as he stepped out of her living room fireplace. Hermione suddenly was painfully aware that she was only wearing a pair of fleecy pyjama bottoms with a tank top. She pulled the hem of her top down a bit. 

Draco looked around the cosy room, taking in the bookshelves, the small escritoire in front of the window, and finally the telly. He stared at it for a moment. 

‘Um.’ Um?  ‘Can I get you something to drink? Tea?’

‘Tea sounds nice,’ he answered without looking at her. ‘What is that?’ 

‘Oh, that’s a television set. You know, to watch movies and news and…,’ she trailed off. ‘It’s a Muggle thing. Here.’ She’d picked up the remote and held it out to him. ‘Take it.’

Draco hesitated briefly before taking it and running his thumb over the buttons. ‘What’s it do?’

‘It’s a remote. It works the telly. It’s… it’s a bit like a wand. Press a number, it’ll come on.’ 

He held it up to look closer and pushed a button. Nothing happened. Hermione laughed. ‘You have to point it at the telly.’ 

‘Right. Of course.’ He did, and moments later, the television flickered to life, showing a presenter in front of a large field, speaking about biodiversity. 

‘I’ll be just a moment,’ Hermione said and exited to the kitchen in order to make tea, leaving Malfoy to stare at the screen. 

Once the kettle was on and the mugs prepared, she quickly ran to grab a zip-up hoodie from her closet to pull over her tank top. As she passed her mirror, she thought she should probably do something about her hair, too, but dismissed it. After all, she wasn’t out to impress Malfoy. They were supposed to discuss Skeeter, not hold a fashion show. Still, she felt a bit underdressed as Malfoy was put together flawlessly, as usual, even in his casual trousers and a button-down shirt. 

When Hermione returned to the living room, he was flicking through channels. 

‘Having fun?’ she asked, grinning at his stunned face. 

‘It’s incredible. Muggles made this? Surely, this has some magic in it? How does this work? Like magical photographs?’

‘No. No magic. Transmissions, receivers. I’m not exactly sure how it all works, myself, to be honest.’ She shrugged. ‘Never thought I’d see the day though.’

‘What do you mean?’ He raised an eyebrow in her direction. 

‘Draco Malfoy, amazed by a Muggle device.’ Hermione grinned at him. He laughed. He had a nice laugh . Hermione’s grin faded. Where’d that thought come from?  

‘I can’t say I’d have expected it myself.’ Draco shrugged. ‘So, what’s that you have on Skeeter?’

Hermione sat down on her couch, pulled her legs up under her, and indicated for him to join her. He sat down on the opposite end and casually crossed one leg over the other. Before answering his question, Hermione took her red mug and wrapped both hands around it. 

‘I didn’t know how you take your tea, so you’ll have to add the rest yourself.’ With a nod towards the tray on her table, she indicated sugar, milk, honey, and lemon next to his mug, which was white with roses around it. 

‘Thanks.’ Draco uncrossed his legs to add two spoonfuls of sugar and a dash of milk. He picked up his mug by the handle and stirred his tea.

‘She’s an Animagus.’ 

‘Skeeter is, yeah.’ There was no surprise in his statement.

‘I remember that back in fourth year. You fed her all sorts of lies about Harry.’ Hermione took a sip and glanced over at Draco. He winced. 

‘I guess it was too much to hope you’d have forgotten that.’ He winced before sipping his own tea. 

‘Do you really think I would forget that?’ The look she sent him would’ve made lesser men waver. 

‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘Though there have been worse things I did back then, so maybe, by comparison, it would’ve been… consigned to oblivion?’

Hermione snorted out loud. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. Or any of the other things that went on while we were at school.’

‘Yeah, like that time you punched me?’

‘That. I would love to say I’m sorry, but I’m not.’ She smiled into her tea at the memory. ‘God, Malfoy you were insufferable, and much as I hate to say it, I think you had that coming.’

He couldn’t suppress a grin either. ‘Guess so. It was so easy to rile you up though. I’d like to say it was worth it, but we both know I was a complete arse back then.’

At that, Hermione’s eyes widened and she stared at him openly.

‘Don’t look at me like that, Granger. I’m not stupid. I know that I was a right bastard to you.’

‘So what changed?’ Her mug was now empty but she kept both hands wrapped around it for something to do.

‘Would you believe me if I told you I wish I could do it all over?’

She nodded her head but said, ‘No. Maybe. Bits of it? I don’t know, Malfoy. A lot of teenagers do a lot of stupid stuff. We were kids. I wasn’t a poster child either. That doesn’t answer my question though. What changed?’

‘My life was always good. I almost always got what I wanted. Whatever else happened, I knew my parents were supporting me.’ He concentrated on his tea while he spoke. ‘Everything changed when Father’s plans got out of hand and He moved in.’ Draco closed his eyes. ‘Oh, how proud the family was at first.’

‘Only at first?’ Hermione grimaced at her own tone. ‘I mean--’

‘No, you’re right. For quite a while. Though we found out the hard way that it wasn’t so much an honour to host the Dark Lord as it was mistrust that had him keep our family close after Father was… was arrested -- back in fifth year.’

‘That, I also remember. The day that led to his arrest. At least up to the part where Dolohov nearly killed me.’ It was Draco’s turn to grimace. ‘Some days I remember it too well,’ she added quietly.

‘It was a shit time, Granger. A really shit time.’ 

‘You can say that again.’ Hermione put her mug down and pulled her knees up to wrap her arms around them. For a long while, neither of them spoke, both lost in thought.

‘So,’ Draco prompted eventually. ‘How does Skeeter being an Animagus play into our hands?’

Hermione huffed and shook her head with a wistful smile. ‘For someone so intelligent, you really have daft moments, Malfoy.’

‘Was that a compliment, Granger?’ A raised eyebrow and a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes greeted her. 

‘No. Have you really not figured it out? She’s unregistered. Still, after all this time. Trust me, I know. I work in the right department to check. I daresay there are quite a few people who’d suddenly realise how she got her stories. Doubt any of them would be happy. If word got out, she’d not see the outside of Azkaban for a while.’

Draco nodded. ‘I see. Blackmail. Very Slytherin of you.’

‘I’d like to think of it more as an incentive not to drag my name through the dirt. I’ll be sending her a reminder by owl tomorrow.’

‘And you think that will be enough?’

‘Definitely.’ Hermione nodded to emphasize her point. ‘Did you know I kept her in a jar for a while at Hogwarts?’

‘You did not!’ 

‘Did, too.’ She grinned at him and he laughed out loud, lifting the melancholy mood. 

‘Granger, you dark horse. And here I thought you were the reasonable one next to Potter and Weasley. Sounds like you were the ringleader.’ 

He was still chuckling when she replied, ‘I was the reasonable one. Still am, mind you. Harry and Ron, well, they often acted first and thought about it after.’ Hermione shrugged a shoulder. ‘They’ve gotten better since they began their Auror careers.’

‘Really?’

‘Oh, there’s no need to sound so sceptical. You know full well that both of them are very capable wizards. Harry is an incredible duellist, and Ron’s strategic mind has always been immensely valuable.’

‘Don’t get your wand in a twist, Granger. I didn’t come over to insult your boyfriend, believe it or not.’

‘I didn’t think you did. And Ron -- well, he’s... not my boyfriend anymore.’ Saying it out loud, confirming it - it plummeted a large ball of lead into her stomach and it became a little more real to her. Unfortunately, it didn’t become less scary to be without him. Until now, she could almost pretend that he was away on placement somewhere like he had been several times during his training and subsequent Auror work. It had only been a few days, after all. 

‘Oh. I’m sorry to--’ Draco stopped as the fire suddenly blazed green and another visitor arrived.

‘Ron!’ Hermione shouted, so hastily jumping up that she bumped into the coffee table and her mug fell over. ‘What are you doing here?’

Ron, however, didn’t acknowledge her at all. He was staring at the man at the end of her couch who was holding his wand after quickly cleaning up the spilt tea remnants with a flick of his wrist. 

‘Mione, what’s the ferret doing here?’ Ron spoke slowly and in a quiet voice that immediately had Hermione on edge. 

‘Don’t be rude, Ronald. Draco and I had a few things to discuss.’

At that, Ron’s head whipped around to her. His eyes narrowed. ‘Draco and you had things to discuss?’ Hermione rolled her eyes. 

‘Yes, Draco . That is his name, you know. And, I invited him in, in case you were wondering. Unlike you, who was not invited. What did you want?’ She was standing with her hands on her hips now, aware that she didn’t have her wand on her and wondering if she’d be able to throw up a wandless shield charm should one of the two decide to revert to an adolescent boy.

‘Maybe I should go,’ Draco offered and stood from the couch.

‘Yes. Bye,’ Ron ground out.

‘No, stay. Please, Draco.’ She shot him a look, hoping he’d understand. He returned the look with an unreadable expression but nodded once and sat back down.

‘You can’t be serious!’ Ron stared at her, open-mouthed. After a couple of seconds, he began gesturing between Hermione and Draco, and added, ‘I told Harry! I bloody told him. But no, he said I was wrong. I’m right though, aren’t I?’

‘Ron, no, you’re not.’ Hermione countered. ‘You’re getting this all wrong!’

‘Do you think I’m blind?’ She winced at the anguish in his tone. ‘How long has this been going on?’ Ron was now pointing at Draco, who looked amused if anything. 

‘There’s nothing going on between us!’ 

Ron snorted in disbelief and scowled when Draco added his tuppence. ‘Weasel, if you had a brain you’d be dangerous.’ Draco stayed seated on the couch but his relaxed position was belied by the fact that he was holding his wand just a little tighter. 

‘Ron, why are you here?’ Hermione demanded, ignoring Draco’s jibe.

‘Technically,’ he spat back acidly, ‘I still live here.’

‘You left.’

‘You broke us up.’

‘We were miserable together, Ron.’

‘So miserable you had to go to him instead?’ He was pointing again but Hermione kept her eyes firmly on Ron. She sighed in defeat, realising that he wouldn’t let that go no matter what she said to the contrary. 

‘Why did you come here Ronald?’ Hermione sounded tired.

‘I came to pick up more of my stuff.’ Ron sounded bitter now more than angry. ‘I will come back tomorrow. Too much of an infestation here right now.’ He turned, grabbed some Floo powder and disappeared before Hermione could say anything else. She stared at the fireplace willing her heart rate to go back to normal and her eyes to remain dry. She was acutely aware that she was flushed and in disarray but she was loath to turn into a blubbering fool on top of that.

‘Sorry,’ she said quietly when she sat back down. ‘I didn’t mean to bring you into that. I’ll talk to him tomorrow. He’ll see sense.’

‘Who are you trying to convince?’ Draco looked at her as if she was a puzzle to be solved. Hermione studied him in much the same manner after he’d asked that.

‘What do you mean?’ 

‘Are you telling me you really believe that he is going to believe you? After you expressly told me to stay while telling him he doesn’t belong here? Hermione , he was so green with jealousy just there, he could’ve been mistaken for a Slytherin.’

Hermione braced her elbows on her thighs and buried her face in her hands, her messy bun flopping over her head to dangle in front of her. ‘This is such a mess,’ she mumbled through her fingers. Her head was spinning with everything that had happened since Friday night. 

After a few minutes of silence in which it had become clear that Hermione was lost to her thoughts, Draco spoke.

‘I think I better head now.’ He got up and walked to the fireplace. Hermione lifted her head to watch him take Floo powder out of the container. ‘I--’

‘Thank you,’ she blurted out, interrupting whatever it was he wanted to say.

‘Pardon?’ Draco looked at her with his eyes drawn together. 

‘For staying. For not being a bastard anymore. I don’t know.’

‘Don’t thank me. Now go get some sleep, Granger. You look like you need it.’ He turned away from her and threw the powder. ‘Malfoy Manor!’

Hermione was left staring at the fireplace and wondering just how exactly her world had turned upside-down. 

Chapter Text

Hermione sighed heavily and slumped back in her desk chair. The rest of the week had not been much better than the beginning of it. 

Her owl to Rita Skeeter had been met with a reluctant agreement to not print any further stories about Hermione, Ron, and Malfoy. However, so far an apology she had also asked to be printed was nowhere to be found. 

Malfoy’s return owl to her update on the situation was short and to the point: Well done, Granger. DM 

Hermione wasn’t sure why she felt a little disappointed at the short note. Somehow, after they’d managed to have a relatively enjoyable evening at her flat, she’d foolishly thought he’d write back more. With what, or why, she couldn’t say. 

Ron had come back to pick up the rest of his clothes, his movies, his Quidditch gear, even his favourite mug and the bottle of Firewhisky he’d kept for special occasions. Her place now felt empty and not like home anymore. 

Her lunches were spent at her desk. Most of them alone, two with Harry because he insisted on bestowing his company upon her. She was thankful for his presence because he was great at distracting her with tales from the Auror office, or a few anecdotes from Teddy’s latest visit.

She loved Harry for that. 

The hardest times were the evenings when she sat alone in her flat, deafened by the silence around her. Tuesday she tried to distract herself by working from home, which resulted in a sleepless night. Wednesday, she stayed in her office until Francis, the security wizard, came through on his rounds just before 10 pm and insisted she’d depart so the night staff could clean the offices. She cried herself to sleep late that night.

Thursday, she went home to her parents’ house. Her mum was home alone and informed Hermione that her dad was at a dental convention in Birmingham until Sunday night. 

‘You’re still not sleeping, Hermione.’ Monica said. 

‘No. I can’t sleep, mum,’ she admitted. 

Mrs Granger held her arms out wide and Hermione gladly went to her, holding on in her mother’s embrace. Monica held her daughter tightly and rubbed her back like she used to do when Hermione was small. 

‘Will you tell me now what happened?’

‘Ron and I broke up,’ she mumbled into her mum’s shoulder. ‘He left.’

The backrubs paused briefly before continuing with the same calming strokes. Her mum took a long time to speak, Hermione lost in thought and sensation in her mother’s arms. When she did speak, she started a few times only to stop again. Eventually, Monica settled on, ‘I’m sorry.’

Hermione nodded into her mum’s shoulder, then pulled back and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. ‘I’m sorry, too.’

‘What happened?’ Monica held her daughter’s shoulders in her hands as Hermione pulled further back. She rubbed her hands up and down her upper arms quickly, then let go and added, ‘No, hang on. Before you tell me, I’m going to order food. Chinese?’

‘Sounds lovely, mum. Thanks.’

Monica retrieved her mobile from her purse and ordered the food over the phone. While they waited, Hermione went upstairs to her old bedroom and changed into an old pair of Hogwarts pyjamas she’d kept from her time at school when she’d gone back for her eighth year. By the time she had washed her face, tied up her hair again, found a pair of fluffy socks and got back downstairs, her mum had just closed the front door after the delivery man.

‘That smells delicious already,’ she said with a small smile. 

‘Doesn’t it?’ Her mum led the way into the kitchen were both transferred their food from the containers onto plates. Hermione had just sat down when her mum motioned for her to follow on through to the living room. 

‘Really?’ Hermione’s looked at her mum, eyes wide. It had always been a rule in their home that food was to be eaten at the kitchen table, or the dining room table for occasions such as birthdays, or Christmas. 

‘Yes, really. Come on, let’s be rebels. I’ll even get us some wine to go with this.’ She winked and laughed at her daughter’s stunned expression. 

Soon, they both were settled, legs folded up under them on the couch, the coffee table pulled close so they could reach their drinks, plates on their laps. They ate in companionable silence until they were full and only picked at the leftovers because it was delicious, not because it was necessary to eat any more. 

‘Now,’ Monica began, refilling their wine, ‘tell me what happened.’

Hermione put her plate on the table and settled back with her wine glass cupped in both her hands much like she did with mugs of tea. She took a bracing swallow and then proceeded to tell her mum everything: from their fights, her panic attack, to Harry’s engagement evening, the damning articles in the Prophet, Draco’s visit, Ron moving everything out of their flat - she left nothing out. Her mum listened silently, not once interrupting. Hermione was grateful to get it all off her chest. When she finished, she gulped down the last few dregs of wine in one go. 

Monica wordlessly filled the glass back up, then took one of Hermione’s hands in her own. Hermione squeezed it tightly before letting go to hold onto her wine like a lifeline. She was getting tipsy but she couldn’t quite make herself care right that minute. 

‘I feel like I’ve failed.’ She held her breath, not daring to look up because she didn’t want to see the disappointment in her mother’s eyes. 

‘Goodness, child, whyever would you think that?’ The shock in her mother’s voice made Hermione look up after all. 

‘Because I did. Maybe I should’ve done more. Fought harder. Make Ron see better. I don’t know. Just. How did this happen? I don’t understand. He broke my heart with the way he behaved but I still love him, Mum.’ A stray tear slid down her cheek and she angrily swiped at it. 

‘Oh sweetheart, you haven’t failed. How could you even think that? You have to make decisions in your life that nobody else can make for you. Some are difficult, like breaking up with Ron. What’s important is that you know in your heart what you want and need. And from what you’ve just told me, you were unhappy for a long time. Not only you but Ron, too. I don’t want to excuse his behaviour towards you but a man who is happy in himself and his relationships doesn’t act that way.’

She drank a little of her own wine. ‘I know you probably can’t see it yet, but you and Ron, you used to be such good friends. You both went through so much in such a short time. You all had to do things before you even came of age that nobody should ever have to do in their whole lifetime. Your life has been so unconventional, you certainly didn’t have the usual--’ she paused, looking for the right word ‘courtship - is that what you kids still call it? - and you threw yourselves at each other.’

‘You know, I still remember my first boyfriend. The first boy I was serious about. I was 18 and he was 20. We’d met at a party, introduced by a friend of a friend. It was a whirlwind. We ended up chatting the whole night while the party went on around us. By morning, we sat wrapped up outside, watching the sunrise. I still remember the song that was playing when he first kissed me.’ Monica had a faraway look on her face as she became lost in her memories. 

‘Some days I still think of him. Daniel. He was my first everything. My first love, and lover. We were together for 2 years, and at the time I thought he was my forever. When it fizzled out towards the end, it broke my heart. In some ways, I still love him. I don’t think your first love will ever leave you, you know. A little piece of your heart stays with them. But the memories, they become better. The good ones, they stay, the bad ones, they fade. And then, just when I finished dental college, your father turned my life upside down and the rest is history.’

‘What I’m saying, sweetheart is that you’re young, you’re intelligent, you’re beautiful. You deserve to find love that is reciprocated in the same way you give. I remember how it felt. Like my life was over. Believe me, your life has only just begun.’

‘Thanks, mum.’ Hermione didn’t know what else to say to that. She felt less alone after hearing her mum talk about her own past. Less alone than in between her friends who all seemed to have settled into secure relationships, becoming engaged while hers broke down. 

They didn’t speak about it after that but shifted so Hermione could lean her head on her mum’s shoulder and they watched the latest episode of a popular detective series. Hermione stayed in her old room that night.

Friday, she felt lighter than she had all week. That wasn’t to say happy, but at least she felt like she could breathe again and she wasn’t fearing a panic attack would overpower her at any moment. For the first time that week, she left her desk for lunch and walked into Muggle London to buy a sandwich at a local deli. It was a sunny day, and she soaked up the sunshine, sitting on a park bench in Whitehall Gardens. 

She actually felt a little refreshed when she tackled the paperwork on her desk for the afternoon. When Harry came to her office at 5pm, she greeted him with a genuine smile while she was already pulling on her coat.

‘Hi,’ he said, smiling back at her and kissing her cheek. ‘You look happier.’

‘I feel better. Wouldn’t quite say happier just yet.’ She pulled her wand out and flicked the last couple of pages into the correct trays so her desk was clear for the weekend. ‘What brings you here, Harry?’

‘Just wanted to see how you’re doing. I’m glad to see that you appear to be doing better. Also, a few of us are going out for a drink or two. You wanna come with?’

A refusal instantly was on her lips though she managed to catch herself just in time. ‘Who’s going?’ she asked instead.

‘Just a few of us. Fangbury, McCann, Finnegan and Jones.’

Hermione nodded, biting her lip. ‘Okay.’

Half an hour later, Dorian Fangbury entertained them all with a story about their callout earlier that week. Someone had been sure they’d seen one of the few Death Eaters still at large, holding company with a Dementor of all things. The Auror office had responded immediately, of course.

Dorian was chuckling so much, he had to calm himself before he could continue on. ‘And then we get there, ten of us, surrounding the farm where they were sighted.’ He paused again, lost to his own hilarity. ‘Imagine it. Ten of us. Six Aurors, four Hitwizards, pulled from other missions because obviously this was top priority. So, imagine our confusion when our informant refused to go within a mile of the location but gave a detailed description of the individuals.’ 

At this point, the others also began chuckling, clearly having heard the story before. Hermione hadn’t but enjoyed the fact that they were such a happy bunch, and she was incredibly curious how this all played out.

‘Imagine - we actually found them!’ He leaned over at Hermione and mock whispered the next words as if he was imparting a big secret. She smiled up at him, marvelling at the dimple on his left cheek and the bright blue eyes dancing merrily. He was a good-looking man. ‘They turned out to be two scarecrows. One, the Dementor, in the field, another, supposed Death Eater, stored away by the barn.’

Laughter surrounded her then and she couldn’t fight a proper belly laugh either. She let it wash over her, sweep her up in its wake: the sounds, the glasses clinking as they cheered each other, the warm fuzzy feeling that came with good company and a matching mood. 

So the evening continued with another couple of rounds of drinks, anecdotes of their new recruits, finger food that Hermione ate with actual appetite, and Harry by her side, every so often putting his arm around her and giving her a squeeze. 

Hermione yawned when the only female Auror, Jessica McCann, announced that she was leaving since she was on duty the next afternoon and needed sleep. 

‘I’m going, too. Thanks for the lovely evening.’ Hermione gave Harry’s arm a squeeze and stood up from her chair, pulling her coat off the back of it. She was startled when a pair of hands took it off her and held it out for her to slide her arms into. 

‘Thank you, Dorian.’ She smiled up at him. He smiled back, holding her gaze. Harry cleared his throat and she turned away, slightly flustered. 

‘You flooing home?’ Harry asked.

‘Yeah, I need to catch some sleep.’ She hugged Harry and spoke into his ear so only he could hear her. ‘Thanks so much for everything, Harry. I had fun tonight.’ He squeezed her tighter in response before letting go. 

‘Goodnight,’ she called out and waved. 

A chorus of good night echoed back at her. She smiled and turned when Dorian spoke up again. ‘Don’t be a stranger, Granger.’ He winced at the unintended rhyme and shook his head with a grimace. Hermione chuckled and simply waved again, then made her way home. 

At home, Hermione chucked her work clothes and pulled on a fleecy pair of pyjamas. She decided to drink one more cinnamon flavoured tea while reading a little before turning in. After that lively evening, she needed to wind down a little to have any hope of sleep. 

She was so deeply invested in her book that she wasn’t sure how long the tapping on the window had already gone on for. When she let the owl in, it ruffled its feathers and looked put out. Hermione put two treats in front of the bird and took the small scroll attached to her leg. 

Hermione unrolled it and looked at the neat writing with a jolt of recognition. 

 

Granger,

Glad you’re feeling better.

DM

 

She snorted to herself and grabbed a pen. Beneath his note, after a little thought, she added her own.

 

Malfoy,

If you saw me at the pub, why didn’t
you come over instead of stalking me? 

Creep!
HG

 

She sent the owl off and stared after it for a few seconds before going back to her book. An hour later, there was again tapping on her window. 

 

Granger
You’re supposed to be the brightest witch of our age?
Those Aurors would have come up with any
excuse to arrest me had I approached you.

DM

 

Hermione found herself reading that short answer several times in a row. She remembered that he’d mentioned before that he wasn’t truly welcome in many places in the wizarding world. Her sense of justice bristled at the notion. She’d been at his trial like she’d been at all trials. His whole family had been pardoned, their names cleared. It’s been two years, and she didn’t think he should be treated like a second class citizen. With grim determination, she answered on the back of the parchment.

 

Malfoy,

That’s ridiculous. You have a right to be there, the same as
the rest of us.
Your poor owl looks tired. Whatever happened to that large
beast of yours you had at school?
HG

 

Hermione provided another treat before she sent the small owl back on its way. She flew out the window with a hoot that sounded distinctly irked. For the next hour, Hermione tried to read more but found herself watching the window and forgetting all about her book. Twenty minutes past that hour, the owl returned.

 

Granger,

Morgana is well up for the task. Don’t let her pathetic  
look fool you. She needs the exercise.
Snidget died in the war.

As sorry as she was to hear Snidget died -- he’d named that monstrosity of an Eagle owl after a tiny fluttery bird? She snorted. Then became indignant as she read on.


What happened to that cat of yours. He always
looked like he got run over by the Knight Bus.
DM

It didn’t escape her that he’d ignored the more important matter.

 

Malfoy,

Crookshanks was an amazing cat, I’ll have you know!
I still miss him. I haven’t seen him in 3 years and don’t know
what’s happened to him.

I swear your owl is glaring at me. Next time you feel like
talking just come over instead of sending Morgana. I’m afraid 
for my fingers at this point.
Goodnight.

HG

 

She coaxed the owl down from her kitchen cupboard with yet another owl treat and spoke to her in what she hoped was a calming voice. Morgana pecked at her hand and Hermione let out a curse that Ron would’ve been proud of. In the end, she used magic to attach the note and was glad to close the window after the bird.

Hermione trudged into her bathroom, flicking the lights off on her way as she went. After she’d brushed her teeth, she snuggled into her freshly made bed and reflected on the evening and how unexpected all of it had been. She sighed and summoned her book from the living room. Making herself comfortable with an extra pillow, she let herself fall back into the world of Miss Alcott’s Little Women

Her eyes were drooping when she heard her Floo activate. Instantly awake, she grabbed her wand and silently moved off her bed. Standing, she cast a quick spell. Homenum Revelio . Nothing. Puzzled, she cast a Lumos and walked into her living room, wand at the ready anyway. Constant vigilance, after all. 

On the fireplace surround, there lay a note. She stared at it for a few seconds before picking it up and unfolding it. 

Granger,

What did you do to my owl? She bit me!
DM

Grinning to herself, she shook her head and went back to bed, note in hand. It was beyond her how a trivial exchange of notes could bring a smile to her face. Comfortable once again, she read a little longer and then used the note as a bookmark. For the first time in a long while, she fell asleep easily.

Chapter Text

Hermione sat at her kitchen table and hummed along to the radio, her second morning coffee contributing to her good mood. She flicked through the weekend edition of the Prophet and absentmindedly finished her buttered toast. When she turned the page and found the day’s horoscopes, she amused herself by actually reading hers. 

 

Virgo 23.08.-22.09. 

A face from the past may be causing you to rethink.
It may be time to meet again and see if anything has changed, or could change in the future. 
Your mind is always in a whirl, but for the next few weeks, it will be more in a whirl than usual.
This is to be expected. Roll with whatever comes your way.

 

She slammed the paper shut and grumbled about Inner Eye Polish and barely-educated guesswork. Of course, her mind was always in a whirl! She was a thinking, breathing, human being after all! ‘ Roll with whatever comes your way ,’ she muttered and rolled her eyes.

Draining the last of her coffee, she got up and set her dishes to be magically cleaned in the sink. Hermione stretched and walked back to her living room. She took a piece of paper and a Muggle pen from her escritoire and stood bent, writing a quick missive. 

 

Malfoy,

You really shouldn’t send notes through the Floo
in the middle of the night. I don’t appreciate mini heart-attacks while
I’m in bed, trying to sleep.
And tell Morgana she’s a good girl, after all.

 

Once the note was written, she faced her fireplace, took a pinch of powder and swallowed. She was quite aware that she was about to willingly contact a place she only associated with torture. The place that sent her into a panic when she went only two weeks earlier. 

Hermione braced herself. With a decisive movement, she knelt down and threw the powder. As soon as the green flames billowed, she moved her head forward and called out, ‘Malfoy Manor.’

It was a strange experience to see fireplaces rush by on her way. They slowed down and she got a good glimpse of a house-elf in what appeared to be a kitchen, books on tall shelves that appeared to be a library, a long dining table at which an elegant woman sat, drinking tea. The instant she recognised her as Narcissa Malfoy, she jerked and pulled out of the fireplace so fast, she fell backwards onto her bum.

Panting, she willed her heart to slow down. Cursing the fact that Malfoy’s Manor had more fireplaces than ought to be legal, she struggled up and took another couple of deep breaths. She supposed she should count herself lucky that she hadn’t tried to go through. Who knows where she’d have ended up in there.

Once again lamenting her lack of owl, she closed her eyes and thought of happy events in her life: finding out she was a witch, receiving ten O.W.L.s and as many N.E.W.T.s, reversing the obliviation of her parents’ memories. She spoke an incantation and when she opened her eyes again a silvery otter waited before her. 

She used the otter like a Muggle would use a dictaphone. 

‘Malfoy, your house is too large. Who needs that many fireplaces? Thank Morgana for me. Tell her she’s a good girl, after all. I didn’t appreciate the mini heart-attack last night, by the way. The next time you send a note via Floo, please don’t do it while I’m trying to sleep.’

Hermione flicked her wand and her faithful otter disappeared out of sight. Her Patronus had reminded her of Ottery St Catchpole, and the Burrow. She missed Molly and figured that there really was no time like the present to go and face her. She just hoped it would be civil should Ron be there, too. 

Half an hour later, Hermione walked up the garden path of the Burrow. A stray chicken crossed in front of her and clucked as it sped up out of her way. She smiled and inhaled deeply. The scent of the Seven Sons Shrub engulfing her as she passed it. Her smile widened at the memory of Molly telling her how it is related to honeysuckle but someone thought it would be funny to gift that shrub to them when she was pregnant with her last baby. In her head, Hermione had renamed it to Six Sons And A Daughter Shrub

When she reached the house, she automatically turned to follow the path leading to the back entrance. Very few people ever used the main entrance to the house. Most were visitors who weren’t particularly well-liked, nor wanted. Anyone familiar knew to use the kitchen door out the back.

Hermione gave a perfunctory knock and let herself into the house. Molly, who’d sat at the wooden kitchen table and was reading through the Prophet , turned towards her and beamed. 

‘Hermione!’ she sprang to her feet and pulled Hermione into a bone-crushing hug. ‘My dear girl, I’ve missed you. We all have.’ She loosened her grip but only let her hands glide to Hermione’s shoulders to hold on to inspect her.

‘Oh, you’ve not eaten enough, have you. I’m so glad you’re here. I told Arthur only last night that if you didn’t make contact by the end of this weekend that I would come to visit you at work.’ 

‘It’s good to see you, too, Molly,’ she replied shakily. The relief at finding the person she considered a second mother welcoming her so warmly made her tear up. ‘I’m so glad. I missed you, too, and I wasn’t sure - I mean, after… after everything,’ she finished lamely.

‘Oh, nonsense. Did you really think we’d all cast you aside just because things didn’t work out between you and Ron? Come, I’ll make us a hot pot of tea and we can catch up.’

Three hours and several large mugs of tea later, Hermione excused herself to the loo. Being back at the Burrow, chatting with Molly about the latest antics of her grandchildren, the beginning stages of planning Ginny and Harry’s wedding - she felt lighter than she had in a long time. She was smiling to herself as she descended the stairs back to the kitchen. As she walked through the doorway, her smile faltered. 

‘Hi,’ she offered stiffly. Ron merely set his jaw and looked away from her. Stubborn ass . Tired of fighting, she turned away from him also. ‘Molly, thank you so much for this afternoon.’ She walked over to hug the Weasley matriarch. 

‘Don’t go on Ron’s account, Hermione,’ Molly quietly said, holding Hermione tightly to her. ‘It’ll all be alright when all is said and done, you’ll see.’ Hermione nodded as she let go. 

‘I’ll come by again soon, I promise.’ Molly squeezed Hermione’s hand reassuringly. Hermione returned the gesture, grabbed her coat off the back of the chair and swiftly let herself out the back door, not bothering to put it on.

Once outside the wards, she disapparated to an alley near the Leaky Cauldron. Maybe what she needed was a little bit of time and retail therapy. A new book was always good. Anything to distract her from herself. Hermione swiftly walked through the pub and out the back. Once in the hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday in the busiest wizarding shopping district in London, she wove her way through the cobblestoned road towards a little bookshop that regularly updated a Muggle literary section alongside wizarding works. 

The Knowledge Base was quieter than Flourish & Blotts and she loved it for that reason alone. As she walked, she slowly became aware of people staring at her, mumbling to each other and, in one case, openly pointing at her.

It wasn’t as if she was unaccustomed to having this kind of attention on her - she had been in the papers often enough since the war, and even before it all came to a head. Yet this, it felt different. People weren’t smiling as they stared at her, they were scowling. Taken aback, she kept her head down and continued on until someone bumped into her, hissing at her. ‘Turncoat!'

Hermione hurried her steps and sighed in relief when she found herself safely inside the book shop. Very few patrons were present. She spotted the middle-aged, bespectacled owner behind the counter and walked straight over to him. 

‘Hi Sebastian.’ She tried to smile at him but it came across more of a grimace.  

‘Hermione! How are you?’ His genuine smile wavered when he looked up and saw the look on Hermione’s face. ‘How can I help?’ 

Hermione could have cried in relief. Sebastian had a knack for reading people correctly. Before she could even answer him, he was already ushering her through to his back office and handed her a jar of Floo powder. 

‘Thank you, I don’t know how - thank you.’ Hermione took the powder, and within seconds was spinning towards her own home.

As she stepped out of her fireplace in her living room, she nearly walked straight into Harry. She flung herself into his arms, hugging him as if her life depended on it. She was glad that Harry had full access to her home. She hadn’t known it but she needed him right now and she was glad he was there. 

Harry hugged her back for a long moment. Eventually, he pulled back. ‘What happened?’

Hermione took a shaky breath and explained what had happened in Diagon Alley. Harry pressed his lips together into a thin line, his eyes pulled together. ‘This is all because of Skeeter still, isn’t it?’ 

She was pacing now, becoming angry. She should’ve been firmer, insisting more on an official apology by that woman

‘Mione…’ Harry pinched the bridge of his nose, glasses hanging from his hand. Hermione stopped her pacing. It wasn’t often that Harry called her by that nickname. She held her breath.

‘It’s not just because of Skeeter. Sit down.’ 

‘What?’ She sank down onto her couch, staring at Harry. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, it’s - for once - not entirely Skeeter’s fault.’ He took a deep breath. ‘There’s really no easy way of saying this.’

‘Out with it then! What on Earth is going on?’ Hermione could feel her heartbeat quicken in her chest. ‘Harry?’

Harry dropped his hands to his hips, glasses still dangling from his right hand. ‘You know what? Ron is an absolute and utter fuckwit.’ 

She wanted to laugh and she would have, had he not immediately continued. ‘He’s been seen out with a woman. Apparently, he’s been on a date. With none other than Romilda Vane.’

‘You’re having me on.’ Hermione openly gaped at Harry. ‘There’s no way he- no. There’s just no way.’

‘Unfortunately, there’s every way. He’s - he’s an idiot.’ Harry put his glasses back on and looked her in the eyes. ‘I’m sorry.’

Hermione didn’t know what to say. It felt like a slap in the face to be replaced this soon. Of course, he was free to see whomever he wanted now. Still, she thought it would take him longer than a week to find someone else. It made a farce out of their relationship. Had he ever really loved her?

She didn’t know she’d mumbled her thoughts aloud until she felt Harry sit down next to her. ‘Of course, he loved you. The prat still does. This has rebound written all over it.’ He pulled Hermione into his shoulder. She stared at the blank telly, unable to put her thoughts into words. Everything inside her head jumbled together. 

How could he do that? Why was she ridiculed? Did society at large really think she cheated on Ron? Of course, they did, she thought with dismay. They’d already condemned her when she was 15 and went with Viktor to the Yule Ball. Back then, she was supposed to have broken Harry’s heart. It really wasn’t right, how women were not allowed the same freedoms and courtesies as men. Not that the Muggle world was much better but the Wizarding world was definitely archaic in many of its views.

‘I really didn’t cheat on him, Harry.’ Hermione felt the need to reiterate that. 

‘I know and I believe you. He’s hurting. That’s all.’

‘So am I but you don’t see me taking the next bloke out! Merlin, Harry, this is such a mess. And I saw Ron earlier. Couldn’t he have told me then?’

‘You saw Ron? Where?’ Harry moved to better look at her.

‘I went to visit Molly, and he turned up. He didn’t even say hello to me.’ She blinked a few tears away, refusing to give in. She’d cried enough over this whole mess.

‘As I said, he’s a twat right now.’ Hermione snorted and swiped at a tear that had escaped despite her best efforts. 

‘Stop calling him names, Harry. It doesn’t do anyone any good.’ She patted his knee. 

‘I dunno about that. Made me feel better to get it out.’ He grinned at her and she put her head back on his shoulder.

‘I love you, Harry.’

‘Love you, too, sis.’ 

For a moment, both sat quietly lost in thought. Then, Harry suddenly jumped. 

‘Oh! I nearly forgot. There’s an owl in your kitchen.’ At this, Hermione sat up straight. ‘Grumpy thing wouldn’t let me take the note and tried to bite me,’ he continued as she stood up.

‘Small brown one?’ she asked, already moving towards her kitchen.

‘Yeah. I take it you know whose beast it is?’ Harry’s voice grew louder as he followed and caught up to her. 

‘I do.’ She smiled at the bird, somehow feeling a little better at the sight of her up on the top cupboard. ‘Morgana, come on down. Please.’ The owl ruffled her feathers and only moved when Hermione held out an owl treat. With great ceremonial flapping, she settled on the back of a chair and let Hermione take the note.

‘Who’s it from, then?’ Harry looked very curious now.

‘Malfoy.’ She laughed at the stunned look on her best friend’s face. ‘Not often I surprise you, Harry.’

‘Please don’t tell me you’ve got your own rebound now?’ He grinned as he was saying it but it didn’t quite reach his eyes and his playful tone didn’t make up for the serious question behind it.

‘Harry, honestly. He’s not my rebound. Although-,’ she paused, trying to think of how to phrase her next thought. ‘I think, in an odd way, we’re… not quite friends, but… it’s complicated.’

‘I see.’ 

Hermione had a terrible feeling that he did indeed see something that she didn’t. She hoped he didn’t read too much into his sight . She unfolded the parchment and made no move to block him when Harry came closer to read over her shoulder.

 

Granger,

For someone who tells me, I gave her a
heart attack in her bed last night, you’ve some
gall to be sending your Patronus without warning.
I’ve not seen Mother that flustered in a while.
She now kindly requests your presence for afternoon tea.
Tomorrow at 2 pm at our home.
DM

 

‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘Absolutely not. No way. No.’ She turned to look at Harry who stared at her, open-mouthed and slightly shocked. ‘Harry I can’t go to Malfoy Manor. I can’t.’ 

Harry cleared his throat. ‘Hermione.’

‘Yes? What’s wrong, Harry? You look a bit pale.’

‘What.’ He cleared his throat again. ‘What did Malfoy mean by ‘he gave you a heart attack in your bed last night’?’

‘What?’ She looked at the note again. ‘Oh!’ Then up at Harry. ‘Oh no! No! NO! Harry, look at me. No. It’s not what you think! Merlin’s beard.’ She exhaled with a forced laugh. ‘I swear, Harry if you don’t listen to me very closely now: I was in bed - by myself - when Malfoy sent a note through the Floo. We’d been owling each other and I thought his owl looked tired and suggested other ways of communication. I’ve-’ Hermione stopped rambling. She felt like shaking Harry who was still staring at her as if she’d sprouted horns.

‘Harry!’

‘Yes. No. What I mean. I believe you. I’m just. Wow. Malfoy, huh?’

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. ‘What exactly do you mean by that?’

‘Nothing! I’m just surprised, is all. I didn’t realise you two still corresponded since you’ve resolved that issue with Skeeter.’

‘Well, now you know.’ She was surprised when her cheeks suddenly burned. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong!’

‘I know. I know you didn’t. C’mere.’ Harry enveloped her in his arms and kissed the top of her head. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sure you’ve got your reasons. I trust you, you know I do.’

‘Thank you,’ she mumbled against his shoulder. ‘I really can’t go to the Manor though. I’m gonna have to tell him.’ She screwed her eyes shut. ‘Why is everything so complicated all of a sudden?’

She could feel Harry’s laugh rumble in his chest before it was fully out. It didn’t take her long to join in. Complicated , indeed. As if anything was truly complicated compared to what they’d lived through in the last decade.

Hermione was the first to pull away. ‘I’m going to send Morgana back to him and ask him to come over. Do you want to stay?’

Harry hesitated only a moment. ‘No. I think I’ll go now.’ As he left the kitchen towards her living room fireplace, he threw a cheeky grin over his shoulder. ‘I’ll leave you two lovebirds to it.’ He ducked out of the way quickly as the salt shaker sailed past where his head had been only a second before.

 

Draco stepped out of Hermione’s Floo exactly one hour after she’d sent Morgana back with her note. 

‘Malfoy. Hi.’ She closed her book with a loud snap and put it down on her side table. Hermione had only held it in her lap for something to do, unable to concentrate on the words before her but drawing comfort from the familiar feeling of holding the book in her hands. Now, she would have to tell Malfoy that she couldn’t accept the invite, and she was sure that that would go down like a lead balloon. Somehow, Hermione didn’t think Narcissa Malfoy was a woman who’d take ‘no’ for an answer.

‘Hello, Granger.’ He was busy dusting the soot off his dark grey jumper. ‘So, you miss me that much, or why couldn’t this wait until you come by tomorrow?’ His tone suggested annoyance but there was humour in his eyes. 

Hermione jumped up from her seat on the couch and considered what to say. Snarky Malfoy, she could deal with. This new side of him, the funny, almost flirty, side that he’d revealed last time already, she still found very strange. She wasn’t sure how to respond so she said the first thing that came to mind.

‘Tea?’ She smiled at him but had a sinking feeling that it looked more like a grimace. Draco considered her for a long moment. 

‘You look like you need something stronger.’

‘I -’ the denial was right there at the tip of her tongue but she cut herself off. ‘Yes, actually. I think I do.’ She moved toward her kitchen and motioned for him to follow her. ‘I don’t have much, mind you. Just some wine and gin.’

‘Wine is good,’ he said as he followed her.

‘Cheap wine,’ she clarified, throwing a glance back over her shoulder as she went. ‘Probably way below the quality you’re used to. But, it’s also not quite a headache in a bottle.’

‘Wine is good, Granger.’

Draco walked over to her window and looked out over the small courtyard that connected the buildings. Hermione poured two generous glasses of red wine. 

‘Here you are,’ she said and offered it to him, careful not to spill any. He took the glass by the stem and sipped. To his credit, he didn’t wince at the taste. He did, however, raise an eyebrow when he watched her take a few full swallows while holding the glass by the bowl of it. Hermione nearly choked when she realised. 

‘I don’t stand on etiquette in my own home, Malfoy. This is much more comfortable.’ That seemed to amuse him greatly and he laughed openly. ‘Is it that funny, Malfoy?’ Hermione scowled.

‘No.’ Still grinning, he took another elegant sip. ‘I’m just imagining my mother’s conniptions. She does stand on ceremony when we have guests.’ He paused. ‘And when we don’t.’

Hermione’s scowl was quickly replaced by a grimace. ‘About that…’

‘You don’t want to come over.’ It wasn’t a question, he stated a fact. She shook her head. ‘You do want to come over?’ This time, he sounded surprised.

‘No!’ Hermione yelled and used her hand to push a few escaped strands of hair behind her ear. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. I meant that I can’t come over.’

‘Of course, forgive my Mother, she should have known you would have plans already.’

‘That’s not it.’ Hermione sighed. She could’ve just gone with that excuse. Instead, she braced herself with another bit of liquid courage. ‘You’ve seen how I reacted the last time I came to your Manor.’

He nodded and frowned. ‘I did. To be honest, I thought your reaction was still linked to your panic attack.’

‘Maybe. I thought I was okay though until I was faced with that place again.’

‘Hey, that place is my home, you know.’ He sounded a little petulant now.

‘Excuse me when I don’t find any happy memories of your home .’

For a moment, both glared at each other. Hermione caved first. ‘I’m sorry, that was rude of me. It wasn’t your fault. C’mon.’ She pushed off the counter she’d been leaning against and walked back into her living room. 

Once both were comfortable on the couch, Draco surprised Hermione with an insight she hadn’t considered before. 

‘You know, Granger,’ he said quietly, staring hard at his drink, ‘you’re not the only one with bad memories of my home. You weren’t the only one tortured there.’ His eyes flicked to hers for only a moment. ‘While He lived there, he-’ He faltered, then pressed on with a forced smile and different tone. ‘Mother has completely remodelled parts of the Manor.’ 

Hermione studied Malfoy for a moment. Beneath his impeccable exterior, she was beginning to see little cracks though he covered them well. For a moment, she had an inexplicable urge to reach out to him, to comfort him. Her hand gripped tighter around her wine. 

‘I’ll tell Mother you are otherwise engaged.’ Draco’s clipped tone was quickly followed by his wine glass being set down on the low table before them. He got to his feet and moved to leave, barely sparing Hermione a glance. As he was reaching for the Floo powder, Hermione also jumped up from the couch and moved over to him, calling out.

‘Draco!’ 

He halted his movements and turned to her expectantly. Hermione stared at him, wondering what to say now that she had his full attention. Words flitted in and out of her mind, muddled together as she stared up at him. His eyes distracting, grey but warm, which surprised her. Coupled with his cologne that somehow managed to smell divine, a bit like an expensive forest, she was suddenly hyper-aware of how close they were standing. She felt her cheeks heat up.

‘Two o'clock.’ Hermione barely recognised her voice. It sounded winded as if she’d just run a mile. His eyes danced between her own, and down her face, then back up and for a split second she had the insane notion that he was going to kiss her. She blinked and he’d turned away again, this time taking some of the powder.

‘Don’t be late.’ This, not looking at her and then he was gone in a flash of green flames.

Chapter Text

To say Hermione was nervous would have been the understatement of the century. She’d showered, she’d wrestled her hair into a semblance of something akin to a low, elegant side bun, applied minimal make-up, and dressed carefully in a powder-blue fitted blouse and a full, floral, circle skirt that came down to her calves. She wasn’t a vain person as such but she knew that even something trivial as having tea with Narcissa Malfoy would require more than comfortable jeans and a t-shirt. 

As if she wasn’t going to be out of her comfort zone already.

With a last glance at her full-length mirror to check that her blouse was correctly tucked in, she turned to take her navy-blue blazer off the hanger and slid her arms into it. She slipped her feet into navy flats and twirled once, letting the full skirt circle her. Hermione did like the outfit, but she knew that even so, it wouldn’t be anywhere near Narcissa’s designer robes. While that kind of thing didn’t normally bother Hermione, she couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated by the prospect of being judged for her high street fashion.

Laughable, really, since Hermione knew she was being judged on her blood status alone already. Draco seemed to have changed his mind about that, but would his mother have done the same? Somehow, she doubted that. 

She glanced at her silver wristwatch. 1:43 pm. Taking a deep breath, she walked into the hall to take her small purse. Another glance at her watch revealed that barely a minute had passed. Should she leave now, and be a little early? Or was there such a thing as being fashionably late? Maybe she should check in with Harry, just in case he needed her this afternoon? Was it too late to cancel?

Hermione’s hand flew to her eyes and she just about managed to stop herself before she rubbed at them, remembering that she’d actually put make-up on. What some might consider butterflies having a party in her stomach was churning at her. She’d like to think butterflies were a better feeling. This felt more like doxies. Hermione felt ill. She couldn’t help but remember the last time. The gate, remembering that day. 

Maybe there still was time to cancel. 

 

Her Floo activating stirred her into action and she moved from the small hall into her living room to find Malfoy had come through. 

‘Hi.’ She pushed a small strand of escaped her behind her ear and could feel her cheeks heating up from the way he was staring at her. ‘I was just about to--’ 

The Floo activating again stopped her in her tracks. Malfoy smoothly stepped out of the way of the new visitor.

‘Harry!’ Hermione all but shouted his name. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Making sure you’re okay and not about to do something against your better judgement.’ He answered her but was looking at Malfoy. The latter oozed confidence. He stood ramrod straight and merely lifted an arrogant brow. Hermione was starkly reminded of a strutting peacock. 

She would’ve laughed if she wasn’t so affronted with Harry’s insinuation that she wouldn’t have thought this through. Before she could answer him though, Harry spoke again, taking all the bluster out of her sails. 

‘You look very pretty in that, by the way.’ This time, he was looking at her with a bit of a grin that she couldn’t help but return with a self-conscious smile. 

‘Thank you. And thank you for your concern, but I’m okay, Harry. Really.’ She moved over to him and pulled him down into a hug. ‘I promise, I’m okay,’ she whispered into his ear as he pulled her close.

‘Patronus to me directly if you’re not,’ Harry whispered back. Hermione nodded as they pulled back. She noticed Malfoy looking at the ceiling rather than them. 

‘We do have to leave lest we will be late. Mother doesn’t appreciate tardiness.’ His crisp words sliced through the quiet like a sword through butter. She could see Harry bristle and squeezed his arm with a shake of her head. She really didn’t need Harry to be her knight in shining armour right now; she was nervous enough as it was. 

Hermione stepped away from Harry and over to Malfoy, surprising everyone by linking her hand to his elbow. 

‘I’ll be in touch later, Harry, I promise.’ She looked up at the blond wizard by her side. ‘Lead the way, Malfoy.’

He looked at Harry as he replied to her. ‘As you wish.’ 

Together, they moved to the fireplace and Hermione held out the Floo powder to him. While he took some, she cast a last glance at Harry who stood, staring at them with a cocked head. 

‘Malfoy!’ he called out. The man in question half-turned to him and whatever else Harry tried to communicate, it was all conveyed in a look

‘Potter.’ He nodded once, threw the Floo powder into the low flames and called out his address, Hermione by his side.

 

Hermione stumbled a little upon exiting the Fireplace and immediately felt his arms steadying her, letting go as soon as she had her balance back. 

‘Thank you.’ Her reply was automatic as she scanned the vaguely familiar entrance hall. She remembered the portraits lining these walls, remembered staring at the flagstone floor, but somehow, it felt more welcoming. Airier, brighter than she remembered. 

‘I told you, Mother redecorated,’ he said quietly, guessing her thoughts correctly. She nodded in reply, still looking all around her. ‘Potter was right, by the way, you do look very pretty in that.’

Hermione’s eyes snapped to his at that, a blush creeping up her cheeks. He smiled tightly and looked away towards the other end of the corridor, holding his arm out for her to take again. She took it and straightened herself up, taking a shaky breath. 

His free hand briefly covered the one around his left arm, either to keep her from bolting, or to reassure her, she wasn’t sure, but it steadied her a little as they walked to the end of the corridor. They paused outside the door and he turned to her.

‘Last chance to run.’ He said it so quietly, she nearly didn’t hear him over her own heartbeat. In reply, she let go of his arm and pulled her shoulders back, head held high. Malfoy pushed open the door, holding it, and guided her through with his hand low on her back.

Hermione found herself in a room bathed in sunlight coming through tall windows that made up most of one of the walls. It was decorated in warm colours of yellows, blues, and gold. There were paintings of landscapes lining the walls, not a single portrait in sight. It put her at ease more than anything else, knowing that no deceased ancestors would judge her on top of Narcissa Malfoy, who was notably absent.

Draco guided her to an opulent brocade sofa in front of which a delicate china tea service was set out on an ornate, low, mahogany coffee table. She sat down gingerly, taking care not to wrinkle her dress too much. He sat down on the same couch, a notable distance from her. Their eyes caught, and for a moment she was reminded of her period novels, and respectable distances between people lest they’d be compromised. 

Her laugh caught her off guard but she couldn’t help the giggles erupting. The more she tried to contain them, the worse it got and when she chanced a glance at the wizard next to her, she noticed that his silver eyes shone with amusement. Whether by her antics, or the situation, she didn’t know but it was nice to see him relaxed. She liked his eyes like this. 

The thought surprised her and she could feel the heat creep up her cheeks. She looked away just in time to see Narcissa Malfoy float into the room in an exquisite cobalt blue dress robe with intricate gold thread woven through the fabric. Hermione felt thoroughly underdressed. 

Draco stood immediately, greeting his mother with a kiss to her cheek and waiting for Narcissa to sit in the matching brocade chair opposite the couch before taking his own seat again. Hermione swallowed. Suddenly, all her humour was gone. Should she have stood also? She felt so far out of her depth.

‘Miss Granger,’ Narcissa began with a smile and an elegant outstretched hand, a priceless emerald glinting off her ring finger. ‘Nice to meet you again, and in much nicer circumstances.’

Hermione took the proffered hand and had to clear her throat before she could reply. ‘Thank you, Mrs Malfoy, I’m honoured to be your guest.’ The handshake was brief and somehow left her feeling inadequate.

She noted how Narcissa sat impeccably straight, her back not resting against the back of the chair, her legs perfectly angled below her, feet crossed at her ankles. For a moment, words from the night before drifted through her mind. I’m just imagining my mother’s conniptions. She does stand on ceremony when we have guests . Hermione swallowed.

‘Think nothing of it, my dear.’ Narcissa’s words and tone were directly juxtaposed with the calculating look she gave Hermione. ‘Figgy!’

It took a lot of self-restraint for Hermione not to jump at the sudden appearance of the house-elf. Figgy was well-dressed in a functional emerald green garment and a white apron. In hindsight, she should have known the Malfoys still employed elves.

‘Is mistress ready for her tea now?’

‘Yes, Figgy, that will be all.’

The house-elf clicked her fingers and a steaming hot pot of tea appeared in the middle of the table, alongside shortbread biscuits, miniature scones, and pots of clotted cream, and jam. Then, the house-elf bowed low and disappeared with another pop.

Narcissa smiled at Hermione and nodded to the teapot. ‘My dear, why don’t you do us the honours?’

‘Of course!’ Hermione was jerked into action and reached across the table to pick up the steaming china pot. Before she could reach it, Narcissa spoke again, stopping her in her tracks.

‘Oh my dear, that pot is ever so heavy. Do let me.’ Hermione looked from her suspended hands to the teapot, up to Narcissa who now nonchalantly held her wand in her hand, giving it a swift flick to animate the teapot enough to magically pour exact amounts into each cup.

Hermione sat back, biting the inside of her cheek and casting a swift glance at the wizard next to her. He frowned at his mother.

Once the tea was poured, Narcissa levitated a single sugar lump into her tea and set the spoon to stir it silently, not once clinking against the cup’s side while Draco manually spooned sugar into his tea, and also added the milk by hand.

‘Do you not take sugar? Do you require honey, dear?’ Narcissa asked Hermione. 

‘She takes hers black,’ Draco answered for her, earning him a slightly raised eyebrow from his mother. 

Hermione wasn’t sure if she was impressed that he remembered or annoyed that he spoke for her. Deciding silence was best, for now, she picked up her tea without adding anything. She held the saucer in her left hand, while carefully holding the cup by its tiny handle with her right. As she sipped, she made direct eye contact with Narcissa, silently daring the older woman to criticize her manners.

She, however, turned to her son. ‘Draco, dear, have you had enough time yet to think through your father’s proposal?’

Sipping her tea, Hermione curiously watched him as his jaw clenched the tiniest bit. 

‘Not yet, Mother.’ 

‘Surely, there really isn’t much to discuss or even think about, Draco. I don’t understand why there is an argument at all. It is, as I have been told the young people now call it, a ‘no-brainer’.’

‘Mother now is hardly the time --’

‘Oh, nonsense. I’m sure Miss Granger won’t mind. We’re all friends here, are we not?’ Another meticulous smile and a raised eyebrow found their way directed at Hermione. She swallowed her sip of tea and wondered how to best navigate this. Draco clearly didn’t want that subject breached with her here, whatever it was. So, she opted for the polite but vague answer.

‘Of course, we are all friends.’ She smiled at Narcissa and carefully put her tea down on the table in front of her. ‘I’m so sorry, but would you please tell me where the bathroom is?’ Hopefully, by the time she’d return, they’d be through with whatever this was.

‘I’ll show you.’ He stood up in tandem with her but his mother interrupted his departure.

‘Draco, there really is no need. We have staff for this, you needn’t act like a common Muggle. Figgy!’

‘Mother, really, I can just show her the way.’ He was roundly ignored as his mother instructed the house-elf to show Hermione which way to go. 

Once Hermione was through the door and back out in the corridor, she turned to the elf. ‘Thank you, Figgy. That’s a pretty uniform you’re wearing.’

‘Thanks, miss. Figgy likes it, too. Mistress is very generous.’ 

‘She pays you?’

‘Oh no!’ Figgy looked horrified. ‘Of course not! Mistress lets Figgy have the good pillowcases and allows Figgy to turn them into dresses.’

‘So, you’re not free?’ Hermione couldn’t help but ask. ‘You’re bound to her?'

‘Nobody is free, miss.’ It was an oddly deep comment to be made by a house-elf but Hermione didn’t push it any further as she moved into the bathroom they’d now arrived at. Hermione took as long as she dared to linger, wash her hands and double-check herself in the opulent gilded mirror.

Slowly, she made her way back to the small drawing-room. She stopped right outside the door and held her breath as she overheard Narcissa speak.

‘...pretty enough, I admit, but very bourgeois.’

‘Mother!’

‘Draco, I am well aware of your modern views. I assure you, I am not opposed to her being a Muggleborn. Still--’

‘Mother, I didn’t bring her here to be insulted by you.’

‘I have not insulted her.’ She sounded affronted at the accusation. ‘Have I said one rude word to her?’

‘Bourgeois , Mother? Not having staff being equated to being a common Muggle ?’ In her mind, Hermione pictured Draco raising an eyebrow at his mother. She didn’t need him to defend her. She made a show of opening the door as if she’d just arrived.

‘Ah, Miss Granger, you’re back.’ Narcissa smiled widely as Draco stood, waiting for Hermione to be seated again before retaking his own seat. He gave her a wary look. 

‘You haven’t tried Figgy’s scones yet, Miss Granger, they are to die for. Truly.’ 

‘I’m sure they are, but I’m not hungry, so do forgive me,’ Hermione replied in the same silky, polite tone that the woman in front of her deployed. The last thing she needed was to try and eat food that would inevitably spill on her. ‘Draco,’ Hermione continued, turning away from his mother, ‘I nearly forgot. Harry asked if we are coming over to his house this evening.’

Hermione plastered a smile on her face and hoped that she sounded convincing in her lie. Maybe it was petty, but she thought it might irk the woman just a little that her son might have plans with the bourgeois Muggleborn. If he was surprised by her words, he didn’t show it. He barely missed a beat.

‘Of course, did he say what time he’s expecting us?’

‘Oh, the usual time, eight o’clock.’ 

Hermione bit the inside of her cheek again as she noticed Narcissa’s eyes flick back and forth between them, her brows narrowed slightly. Let her wonder about it. Let her think her son has friends other than the ones in the upper echelon of wizarding aristocracy. 

‘I’m sorry, Draco, but you will remember your Father invited the Greengrass family to dine with us tonight.’ It wasn’t a question, and there was an unmistakable firmness beneath her polite tone.

‘Of course, Mother. However, if I recall, Father requested this dinner to be early tonight so he and Mr Greengrass can attend a function at Father’s club this evening. I have no intention of joining them.’ 

‘But the two misses Greengrass--’

‘Can surely entertain each other for one evening, Mother.’ He turned back to Hermione. ‘I’ll pick you up just before eight?’ She nodded quickly, not quite trusting her voice to come out right. This had escalated rather quickly. She hadn’t quite meant for him to start a fight with his mother who was visibly affronted now.

‘Maybe it would be best if I escorted Hermione home now, so I can prepare for dinner in time.’ Draco stood and held a hand out for Hermione to take. 

‘We’ve only just met!’ Narcissa remained seated, indicating the spread on the table. ‘Surely, there are other things we could talk about. Tell me, Miss Granger, how is work at the Ministry treating you?’

Hermione, who had been looking up at Draco, turned to Narcissa, unsure how to proceed. ‘It’s going well.’ She reached up to his hand with her own but instead of getting up, she pulled lightly to make him sit back down. He frowned at her. So did his mother, with a pointed look to their hands. Hermione wanted to laugh. Draco sat back down, a little closer than before. She squeezed his hand briefly, before letting go. ‘I’m working on a draft for a legislation change that will prevent pointless testing of potions on beings and beasts. I’ve had a productive week, and am hopeful that it will be successful once complete.’ 

‘But surely, potions must be tested.’

‘Of course, but we have magic, do we not?’ It was Hermione’s turn to raise an eyebrow at Narcissa. ‘There are many other methods to employ for testing other than pouring potions down their throats. Furthermore, existing regulations can be tightened in order to prevent harm to many innocent lives currently caged in many a laboratory.’

The more she spoke the more animated she became. She explained about her research, what she’d found during the week that made her feel like she had a breakthrough, and finally that she felt she could confidently put the draft forward over the next week or two once it was proof-read and cleaned up.

‘A valiant effort, I’m sure,’ Narcissa allowed when she finally finished her little outburst. ‘I do hope you are successful.’

‘Thank you.’ 

Hermione wished she hadn’t declined further tea as she had nothing to occupy her hands with now. It felt awkward to clasp them in front of her in her lap, self-conscious again that it took such effort to sit gracefully while the woman opposite her made it look so effortless. 

Figgy appeared, stalling any further conversation.

‘Mistress, there is a visitor at the door.’

‘Who is it?’ 

‘It is your sister, Mistress.'

‘Show her in, Figgy.’ With a bow, the elf disappeared. ‘My apologies, it appears we have to curtail our little tea party after all.’ She stood, Draco and Hermione followed suit. ‘I will see you again soon, I’m sure, Miss Granger. Do excuse me.’ Narcissa swept out of the room swiftly, not losing any of her grace.

Hermione sat back down, sagging, her head in her hands. 

‘C’mon, Granger.’ She looked up to find his hand held out to her again. She groaned and took it, standing up. 

‘That was a disaster,’ she mumbled. He chuckled. 

‘No, it wasn’t. Though I’m not quite sure why you brought Potter into the equation. It gives me the perfect alibi for tonight so I won’t complain. I’m going to meet Blaise at the pub. Now I won’t have to make up an excuse, I’ll just use yours.’ He smirked, amusement reaching his eyes this time. His thumb brushing across her knuckles sent a jolt through her and she pulled her hand away. 

‘In that case, you’re welcome.’ She moved around the table toward the door, trying to figure out why she was disappointed that he wasn’t really going to go to Harry’s with her. She shook her head to stop herself from going down that rabbit hole. Harry would have a fit, anyway. What was she thinking! 

‘Granger, wait!’ She paused and with a few strides he’d caught up with her. Hermione studied the grooves of the herringbone parquet floor. ‘Granger,’ he coaxed. ‘Hermione.’ Two fingers below her chin, gently lifting her face. ‘You meant it, didn’t you? You meant for me to come over to Potter’s. Why?’

‘It doesn’t matter. Let’s just go please.’ She sidestepped him but he moved in front of her again. 

‘Clearly it does matter. Although I can’t imagine Potter being happy about me tagging along to his house.’ He was standing close again, just like the night before, and his eyes again roamed her face. ‘Were you even invited over? Or did you make the whole thing up?’ The laughter in his eyes said it all, he’d seen right through her. 

Before she could say anything though, the door to the room opened again and Draco got jostled right into her. His arms came to her hips, steadying her, just as she grasped for his shoulders to prevent herself from falling over. Still entangled, they found themselves face to face with Narcissa and Andromeda. Both witches clearly surprised by what they’ve found. Hermione’s face flamed and, glancing at Draco, his cheeks also held a tinge of red. 

Andromeda found her voice first. ‘Hermione! So nice to see you again.’ She nodded her head toward the door behind her. ‘You two lovebirds best get out of here.’ With a wink, she grasped her sister’s arm and steered a stunned Narcissa away from them. 

‘We’re--’ Hermione began but Draco cleared his throat loudly and used his arm around her waist to all but push her out of the room and close the door behind them. He swiftly brought her back to the fireplace in the entrance hall, effectively herding her out of his home. Once there, he wasted no time to throw powder into the flames and pull her in after him, clearly calling out Hermione’s address.

Hermione could feel him shaking next to her even amidst the swirl of Floo travel. When they emerged at her flat, she was convinced that he had lost whatever marbles he had left. He wasn’t just amused, he was laughing full-on, his shoulders shaking. 

‘Granger, you are a genius,’ he gasped between fresh bursts of laughter. Hermione somehow didn’t get the joke.

‘I’m not sure what you’re laughing at, Malfoy. Your mother, and Andromeda, now think that we… that you and I… that… oh, Merlin!’ She sank down on her couch in a graceless slouch and covered her face in her hands. ‘You need to tell your mother that she got it all wrong,’ Hermione spoke through her fingers.

‘Not a chance!’ 

Hermione’s head snapped up at that. She stared at him in disbelief. He stared back, deadly serious now. ‘You have got to be kidding me, Malfoy!’

‘Nope.’ He let the ‘p’ pop as he grinned. 

‘Fix this! This is bad! First the Prophet article. That was bad enough, but now this? Are you insane?’ She shot up, pacing the room.

‘Hear me out, Granger. It’s just Mother who now thinks we’re more than friends.’

‘More than friends? We aren’t even just friends, Malfoy!’ Hermione threw her hands up in the air, ignoring the stony look directed at her. ‘So why? What benefit is this to you?’

‘If you’d shut up a minute, I would tell you.’ He crossed his arms in front of him and stared down his nose at her as she seethed in front of him with narrowed eyes.

‘This better be good,’ she growled. ‘At least you don’t deny that you’re plainly using me!’

‘Mother mentioned it earlier, the Greengrasses are coming for dinner. My parents are putting a deal together with their parents. A union between our families would be advantageous all around, you see. More money in our vaults. Wizarding Britain is still archaic. And without trying to insult you, you wouldn’t understand the pureblood ways without growing up in them. Marriages are arranged more often than not, and brides bring their dowry into the union.’

‘Your parents are selling you to the highest bidder?’ She gaped at him. 

‘Pretty much. Though I’m guessing I’m still seen as the one with the better bargain. After all, I’m the one inheriting the vast fortunes.’ He shrugged. 

‘That’s barbaric! Does Daphne agree to this?’ 

Another shrug. ‘I don’t think she did, which is why they are still negotiating with both daughters.’ He smirked a bit at that, humour entering his voice as he continued. ‘You wouldn’t know it by looking at them, but they can be a bit obstreperous and surprisingly, neither sees me as the grand prize.’ 

‘How is that surprising?’

‘Are you saying I’m not a good catch?’

‘How does this help with your mother thinking we’re a couple?’ Hermione was becoming a little exasperated. ‘It was obvious that your mother hasn’t changed her views all that dramatically. I thought it would irk her if she thought you’d have made friends with Harry and me, but I never meant for it to escalate like this!’

Malfoy levelled her with a look and an incredulous laugh. ‘Oh, you thought you’d play my mother? Are you out of your mind?’

‘You joined right in!’

‘It was the perfect alibi, I already told you!’

‘Then why are we shouting at each other?’

‘I have no idea.’ He cracked a grin and she couldn’t help but return it. 

‘Honestly, though, how are we going to fix this?’

‘Do we have to fix this?’ The look Hermione shot him, made him backtrack. ‘Of course, we have to fix this, but does it have to be now? Look, it’s only my mother and Andromeda. We can tell Andromeda the truth, and my parents will be off my back at least for a while.’

‘And what then? When they’re fed up of you gallivanting with a Muggleborn and want you to marry?’ She hardly believed her own ears. Why was she even contemplating this? It was insane!

‘I’ll come up with a different plan. This gives me much needed time though.’

‘How about you tell your parents that you won’t be manipulated into marriage through archaic customs and stand up for yourself?’ She spread her arms wide. What else was there to do, really? His clenched jaw and rigid posture spoke volumes of something she couldn’t quite get her finger on. For a moment they just stared each other down. 

‘Granger, I don’t expect you to understand pureblood society. Don’t give me that look. Again. I don’t expect you to understand because you didn’t grow up with the same expectations. While I am more than willing to leave most of those customs behind, my parents are a different generation, they don’t know any different and find it almost impossible to change that much. Not because they’re evil like most of society likes to believe, but because it’s all they’ve ever known. Their whole lives, friends, acquaintances - it’s all built on those ideals. Do you know what happens to anyone going so directly against those ideals? They get disowned.’

‘Like Andromeda? Like Sirius?’

‘Exactly like those.’

‘And they were happier for it! Are you really just concerned with keeping your money and wealth?’

‘Granger, I don’t want to be disowned by my parents. I’m not expecting you to understand, but they’re all I have!’ 

Hermione stared at him as it hit her like a ton of bricks. She was such an idiot. 

‘I’m sorry, Draco,’ she said quietly, surprised by the sudden tears threatening to fall. ‘I shouldn’t have assumed. I’m sorry. I do understand that. Believe me, I do.’ Her voice was a mere whisper by the end and she turned away from him to wipe a tear away with the back of her hand.

‘Granger, look, I’ll find another way. It just-- it was a good plan.’

‘No.’ She took a shaky breath and turned back to him. ‘Let’s keep this plan. But only for your mother, right? Nobody else needs to know.’

‘I’m pretty sure she’ll tell Father.’ Humour was back in his voice but Hermione only nodded. His tone softened as he took a step closer. ‘What happened with your parents, Granger?’

She shook her head. ‘I’ll tell you another time.’

‘Okay.’ He looked over to her window. After a long pause, he spoke again. ‘I better get home. I’ll send Morgana.’

‘You’re not coming to Harry’s?’ Hermione tried to put some humour into her words.

He huffed a laugh at that. ’Are you actually surprised? As you said, that’s not necessary and we’re not even just friends. Doubt Potter will want to see me, anyway.’

It stung to have her words thrown back at her. Damn her lack of filter. ‘Maybe we could be. Just friends, I mean.’ She hedged, looking away from him. 

‘If you’d like. You’re not so bad, you know,’ he replied, lifting a strand of hair from her face. ‘Beneath all the swottiness.’ He let her hair drop with a lopsided smirk.

Hermione’s stomach did a funny swoop at that. She swallowed but managed to crack a grin before telling him to get out.

Chapter Text

Hermione’s Patronus was answered almost instantly. 

We’re home.

She’d changed into jeans, a t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie. Much more comfortable than she was before, she finished tying up her runners and disapparated to Harry’s house.

She landed on the front step of 12, Grimmauld Place, and barely lifted her hand to the door when it swung open to reveal Harry. He looked her up and down as if to assess for injuries which struck her as so absurd that she twirled for him.

‘Satisfied?’ she asked. 

‘Worried.’ He reached out for her and pulled her into a hug. ‘How was tea?’

‘It was interesting,’ Hermione replied, extricating herself. ‘Also eventful,’ she added as she walked down the hallway towards the old servant stairs leading down to the kitchen. Something smelled wonderful and she was truly hungry now, not having had anything to eat since breakfast.

‘Molly sent over some stew,’ Harry said behind her. ‘Enough for an army, of course. I hope you’re hungry.’

‘Starving!’

She hugged Ginny in greeting before sitting down opposite her at the large, scrubbed, wooden table. Kreacher, as usual, pretended that she hadn’t just cheerfully greeted him also. He had long since given up calling her names and muttering about her, treating her well, but he certainly wasn’t as chatty, or friendly, as Dobby had been. 

‘So,’ Ginny began with an almost devious grin. ‘How’s Draco ?’

Hermione’s swiftly reddening head whipped around to Harry. She levelled him with an accusing glare. He had the audacity to shrug his shoulders, looking otherwise relaxed sitting at the head of the table. 

‘Did you really think I kept you going to Malfoy Manor a secret from Ginny?’

‘He was like a caged tiger all afternoon,’ Ginny explained. ‘I actually stopped him from going after you.’

‘Harry! Honestly, that really wasn’t necessary.’

‘So, how was it?’ Ginny, ever the nosy parker, dove right back in. Hermione leaned back a little as Kreacher levitated a steaming bowl of stew in front of her.

‘Oh, this smells delicious. I must ask Molly for the recipe.’ Hermione picked up a spoonful and blew on her food before tasting it. She hummed in appreciation. Harry followed suit but Ginny sat still, spoon in hand, and stared at her.

‘Nice, Granger, but you’ll have to do better than that if you want to distract me. Spill!’ 

‘Can we eat a bit more first? I’m actually hungry.’

‘What, did his mummy not feed you? Surely, she had a spread all laid out. It would’ve been the height of rude not to.’ Ginny finally also took her first bite. Hermione swallowed another spoonful of her dinner.

‘Oh, there was food alright, I just couldn’t eat any at the time.’ She looked into her bowl and stirred once. ‘Narcissa Malfoy is quite... something.’ 

‘Do tell.’ Ginny was like a dog with a bone. She’d latched on and wouldn’t give up until she’d extracted everything there was to extract. Hermione put her spoon down and took a piece of bread from the woven basket in the middle of the table. She pulled it apart, delaying any reply, and wondering just where to begin.

‘I don’t have to arrest Malfoy, do I?’ Harry asked, his hand half-way between his bowl and his mouth, stew dripping back down.

‘Nobody needs to be arrested, Harry,’ Hermione assured him. ‘I might need to be sectioned though.’ She dropped the bread onto her stew and put her head in her hands. ‘I may have done something insane.’

‘Oh dear, Mione. You did something insane?’

‘Don’t pretend to be surprised, Ginny, it doesn’t suit you,’ she snapped back and winced at her own tone. ‘I’m sorry. It’s just been such a weird day.’

Ginny went to get a bottle of wine from the adjacent pantry, claiming the occasion clearly called for a drink and filled their glasses generously before retaking her seat.

Hermione thanked her and took a deep swallow, savouring the rich, fruity aroma of the wine. She swirled the liquid around and, after another deep breath, told them about the afternoon. She left nothing out.

‘So, now I’m in a pretend relationship with Draco Malfoy, and even though I was present, I’m not really sure how it all happened,’ she concluded. Hermione drained the rest of her wine and held the glass out for more. 

Instead of a refill, she received incredulous stares from two of her best friends. Ginny opened and closed her mouth in an attempt to speak, making a good impression of a goldfish. Hermione grabbed the bottle of wine to top up her glass, thought better of it and drank straight from the bottle.

‘Yep. That about sums it up.’ She nodded her head at them. Ginny recovered first.

‘You are barking mad. Tell me that you’re yanking my wand.’

‘Nope.’

‘Mione. Stop fucking with us.’

‘I’m not! Every word I said is true. I swear. I guess I’m lucky it’s just a show for his mother.’

‘So his Father isn’t in on it?’ Ginny’s voice rose.

‘Of course, he is! But it’s just his parents.’

‘So, you don’t think that the Greengrass family hasn’t been informed? Who will then tell their acquaintances of the horror of their intended son-in-law fraternising with the Hermione Granger instead of courting their daughters?’ 

‘Oh, no. That’s-- oh Merlin.’ Hermione’s eyes widened almost comically as she stared at Ginny and realised the inevitable. 

‘Hermione, you really are naive sometimes. I know my family isn’t all that hoity-toity like the other purebloods, but all of us know the customs. Don’t get yourself into something you won’t be able to get out of.’ Ginny stared at her with open astonishment. Harry appearing in deep thought as he watched his fiancée educate his best friend. 

The world had gone mad around her, and Hermione had a sinking feeling that she had only herself to blame. 

 

***

 

Morgana was waiting for her when she arrived home later that evening. She stroked the bird absentmindedly while reading the note and received a nip to her hand as thanks. Grumbling about spoiled owls, she retrieved a treat for her, which Morgana took to the top of her kitchen press to devour. 

 

Granger,

You really should’ve come to the pub with us. I told Blaise about our plan.
He was immediately in favour of it. Dinner was interesting, too. 

I managed to have a few quiet words with Daphne and Astoria. 

They thank you for your help.

DM

 

Hermione read his short letter several times in a row. She knew she was just a pawn in his little game, but for Merlin’s sake, there would have to be a better, different solution to this. And she would find it.

 

Malfoy,

This is ridiculous. Meet me at my office tomorrow for lunch.

We need to talk.

HG

 

***

 

Hermione startled when the overhead light of her office dimmed suddenly. Looking up, she found Draco Malfoy standing over her, creating a shadow across her paperwork.

‘You could knock, you know.’ She sat back in her chair, put her quill down and rolled her shoulders before shaking her hand out. 

‘I did, twice. You didn’t reply so I thought you were elsewhere and I’d wait here until you return.’ He crossed his arms and sent her a challenging look. ‘You working on something incredibly interesting then?’

‘Still that legislation draft. I cannot afford an error.’ Hermione sighed, checking the time. ‘I’m sorry. Take a seat while I sort a few bits out? Then we can go to lunch.’

He sat in the visitor chair and snatched the day’s Prophet off her desk, casually flipping through it. A knock on her door had both of them looking up.

‘Come in!’

The door opened to reveal Harry, his smile frozen on his face when he realised who was already with Hermione. 

‘I was wondering if you wanted to grab lunch with me?’ He eyed Malfoy curiously. 

‘Get in line, Potter.’ Draco sneered. Harry scowled at him.

‘Really, Malfoy? Harry, join us if you want. We were just about to go. I’m ready.’ Hermione stood and took her purse off the back of her chair to sling over her right shoulder. ‘Well?’

The three of them attracted looks all the way through the Ministry’s halls and in the cafeteria. She tried to ignore them as best she could. Once seated, she needlessly stirred her black tea and stuffed one of her cheese and onion crisps into her mouth. Harry took a hearty bite of his tuna sandwich, and Draco carefully placed his napkin on his lap - only then picking up his own chicken wrap.

‘So,’ Harry began, motioning between the two with his sandwich. ‘You two are serious about this? You’re actually going to do this?’

‘She told you of our plans then?’ Draco asked, not really sounding surprised. 

‘She is sitting right here, and has a name, Draco .’ Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Of course, I told Harry about your plan. Don’t make it out as if it were my idea.’ She took a sip of tea. ‘And as I said, we need to talk.’

Harry let out a huff of laughter, drawing more curious looks from people around them. ‘Oh dear, trouble in paradise already? Malfoy, nothing a woman says after those words is ever good.’ 

‘Shut up, Harry.’ She rolled her eyes. Draco looked amused if anything. ‘We do need to talk.’

‘Then talk,’ he said before taking another bite of his wrap and chewing slowly. 

‘Oh.’ Clearly taken aback a little, she had to take a bite of her own sandwich and chew in order to figure out how to best phrase it. She settled on bluntness.

‘We can’t do this.’ She took another bite, ignoring Harry’s grin. He was enjoying this a little too much. 

‘What do you mean? You agreed.’ He all but abandoned his wrap and stared at her, incredulous.

‘I know. But that was before your owl last night. And a rather enlightening rant from Ginny.’ She winced at the memory.

‘So, the Weaselette also knows.’ Draco raised an eyebrow.

‘Hey. That’s my fiancée you’re ridiculing, Malfoy.’ Harry’s grin was replaced by a spectacular scowl. 

‘My apologies, Potter.’ To Hermione’s ears, it almost sounded sincere. ‘Who else have you told, Hermione ?’

‘That’s exactly the point, Draco . It won’t just be your parents to act for. They’ll tell Daphne and Astoria’s family, who will then tell more people and it’ll just snowball until we will find ourselves so trapped we won’t get back out!’

He was about to retort when Harry cleared his throat and pulled their attention to him. ‘You might want to make up your minds right now. Malfoy, your mother has just walked in and is coming over here.’

Hermione’s eyes widened. Draco, who had his back to the entrance of the cafeteria, closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, it was like he had put a mask over his face. He turned to her just as Narcissa stopped next to the table. 

Draco stood to greet her with a kiss to her cheek. 

‘Draco, what a pleasant surprise. I meant to come and see Miss Granger. How fortuitous to find you both together.’ She smiled brightly. ‘And Mr Potter, I do hope you are well? Congratulations on your engagement.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Malfoy, I am. And you, I hope?’ Hermione felt like kicking her best friend for suddenly sounding so smitten. ‘Would you care to join us?’ Harry pointed to the free seat at their table. 

‘Thank you but there is no need. I had intended to take Miss Granger to lunch, but I see my son got there before me. How are you fixed for tomorrow’s lunch, my dear?’ She smiled brightly at Hermione.

‘I--,’ she stumbled, taken off guard. Harry jumped in.

‘It’s okay Hermione, we can reschedule that meeting.’ He smiled up at Narcissa. ‘She’s free tomorrow.’ 

Before Hermione could protest, Narcissa clapped her hands together. ‘It’s settled then. I shall pick you up at 1 pm. Until tomorrow, Miss Granger. Mr Potter. Draco.’ She nodded to them and gracefully exited the cafeteria. Draco retook his seat. All around them, whispers broke out like a wildfire.

 

***

 

Hermione tried in vain to distract herself from the impending lunch by throwing herself into her work. It was no use. All she did was rehash everything that Draco told her the day before. 

 

‘Mother won’t cause a scene.’

‘Be yourself. Except use your napkin; hasn’t anyone ever told you to do that?’ 

‘Don’t eat with your hands. Oh, and she’ll insist on paying - let her.’ 

‘No, of course, you don’t need to impress her. It’s not like you’ll actually be her daughter-in-law someday.’
‘Mother likes nothing more than to find a good argument. Sometimes, it is easier to just give in.’

‘Absolutely not, there’s no reason to explain the plan to her! Granger, have you lost your mind?’

‘You have lost your mind!’

 

Hermione ran her hand through her hair for the hundredth time in the past hour. If she wasn’t careful, she would have to redo the spells she used this morning. As 1 pm neared, she tidied up her desk and checked her appearance in a small compact mirror she had thrown into her handbag that morning. 

When a knock sounded on her door, her breath stopped short for a full 3 seconds and she gasped before beckoning the caller to enter. 

‘Malfoy! What are you doing here?’ Surprise was clear on her face. She hadn’t thought that he’d be attending the luncheon.

‘Damage control, Granger. I don’t trust that you’ll do the right thing.’ Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Please, Granger, just for a few weeks. I promise I’ll make it up to you after.’

‘Oh yeah? How?’ She raised her head up high and crossed her arms over her chest, daring him to give her a good reason. 

‘I promise, I’ll--’ Draco stopped mid-sentence when he registered Hermione’s eyes veering over his right shoulder, focusing on something else, her arms slowly unfolding.

‘Miss Granger,’ his mother’s smooth, cultured voice sounded from behind him. ‘How wonderful to see you again. And Draco, I was not aware that you were joining us today.’ One of Narcissa’s delicately plucked eyebrows raised in question, her tone slightly less warm by the end.

‘Forgive me, Mother. I didn’t mean to intrude, I merely wished to see Hermione for a few minutes.’ 

Hermione couldn’t help it, her head swivelled to Malfoy at the casual use of her first name. She hoped she didn’t openly gape too long before she caught herself.

‘Oh nonsense, my dear. You’re welcome to join us. It will be the first of many happy lunches we shall have together I hope.’ She smiled at Hermione. ‘Do you know Saffron at the end of Diagon Alley?’

‘Mother, isn’t their service a little slow for a quick lunch?’ 

Hermione was actually glad he’d said that as she had indeed heard of that new restaurant and it was so insanely upmarket, she didn’t think her work clothes would even allow her through the door. 

‘Do you have a better suggestion, Draco?’ Narcissa asked, pointedly. 

‘I’m in the mood for Madam Rosmerta’s Steak and Kidney Pie.’ He stood just a little straighter, looking down his nose at his mother.

‘You want to go all the way to Scotland?’ Smaller as she was, her presence was commanding in her own right. Hermione thought his mother had a point. 

‘We can apparate, Mother, it will take the same amount of time to travel.’ Apparently, he had a point, too. 

‘I have to admit, I do like Madam Rosmerta’s lasagne,’ Hermione chimed in, hopeful to avoid the pompous restaurant in Diagon. 

‘I see I am outnumbered. Very well.’ She preceded them through the door, Draco holding it for Hermione to exit, then falling into step next to her. Hermione bit her lip, wondering how the lunch would go, and how slowly she would be able to chew in order to avoid having to speak much. Hermione wasn’t even sure if she would be able to eat at all, her stomach in knots over spending time with both Narcissa and Draco Malfoy.

On their way to the entrance hall, Narcissa insisted that she and Draco would lead the way. It made it impossible for Hermione to speak to him, to get any kind of hint of how this was going to go. They walked side by side to the lifts, feeling Narcissa’s eyes on them the whole time. 

‘You two need not be shy on my account.’ She smiled brightly as they waited for the lift to arrive, then leaned a little closer as if to impart a great secret. ‘Contrary to popular belief, I do know what it is like to be young and in love. There’s no need to pretend, I see how nervous you both are. It is very sweet. I’m sure you are careful of gaudy public displays and I’m glad. However, there’s no need to be this restrained. Go ahead and do hold hands.’ 

Any reply that would have escaped Hermione was cut off by her hand being taken and squeezed tightly. She just about managed not to wince in pain. Draco smiled at her tensely, then laced his fingers with hers. Hermione was sure she wasn’t supposed to feel more sure of herself than before he took her hand. She squeezed back and a little bit of the tension around his eyes loosened. 

When the lift arrived and opened, it was filled with people and the three of them barely had space to stand. Draco let go of her hand and instead put it on her lower back to guide her in. Once in the lift, he turned on the spot to not be face-to-face with a burly wizard Hermione didn’t recognise. Hermione then found herself next to Narcissa and with her back pushed up to the front of Draco Malfoy. He felt very solid behind her and when his right hand settled on her hip, she could’ve sworn it emitted heat.

Hermione shot him a glance over her shoulder and found him smirking down at her from far too close. She wanted to wipe the expression off his face if only to distract herself from her own reaction to him. She scowled up at him which seemed to amuse him all the more, irritatingly also causing her stomach to flutter even more. 

Upon exiting the lift, Draco took her hand again, holding it a little tighter than strictly necessary, leaving Hermione no choice but to let him lest she’d want to cause a scene. Of course, that was when they ran into Harry. 

Harry greeted Mrs Malfoy cordially, then sent a pointed look to Hermione, his eyes flicking to her hand still attached to Draco. Hermione shrugged one shoulder and tried to smile at him, knowing her face must be resembling a ripe tomato by now. She sent him a look that promised more later and followed the Malfoys toward the apparition points in the lobby. 

Hermione wouldn’t have admitted it out loud, but his suggestion of going to the Three Broomsticks was indeed a good one. It had been a long time since she’d been there, and she found she truly had missed the quirky pub in Hogsmeade. 

Madam Rosmerta was welcoming as ever, not showing any dismay over having the Malfoys at her establishment, nor did she seem to have an opinion about Hermione being with them. They sat down at a quiet table toward the side of the pub. They hadn’t even fully made themselves comfortable when three steaming tankards of butterbeer materialised before them. 

Hermione stared as Narcissa Malfoy’s eyes lit up, making her feel much more approachable than she had been in all the interaction Hermione had ever had with the woman. Narcissa lifted her tankard and held it out to the other two. Hermione and Draco followed suit, clinking them together with a ‘Cheers.’

Narcissa put her butterbeer down on the coaster with a small sigh. ‘Oh, I have missed a good butterbeer. Rosmerta really makes the best. It tastes just like I remember from my days at Hogwarts.’ 

Hermione blinked when Draco lightly elbowed her in the ribs. She flushed, realising she must’ve been staring at his mother again. Somehow the picture of Narcissa Malfoy she had in her head did not resemble the woman sitting across the table from her now. She was still elegantly dressed, sat impossibly straight, and made drinking butterbeer look sophisticated, but the tiny foam moustache that now graced her upper lip made her human. 

‘Miss Granger, you must think me silly to be sentimental about it.’ She smiled, and if Hermione didn’t know any better, she’d think it was a little remorseful. 

‘Not at all, Mrs Malfoy. Good butterbeer is hard to find.’ Hermione smiled in earnest now.

‘Oh, but I must insist that you call me Narcissa. Under the circumstances it is warranted, don’t you think?’ Another smile greeted Hermione, this one pure Slytherin. Hermione swallowed and nodded, unsure what to make of the woman.

‘Thank you, Narcissa. Please, call me Hermione?’

‘Gladly.’ 

Any further talk was forestalled when Madam Rosmerta came to take their orders. Once the cheerful woman left the table, Narcissa picked up conversation again.

Suddenly, she sounded very business-like. ‘Clearly, this-,’ she gestured between her son and Hermione, ‘has been going on for a little while. I appreciate the attempt at keeping your relationship private. However, a poor attempt it was. I am, of course, referring to Skeeter’s article in the Prophet . For once, she had the truth, it seems.

‘Naturally, this presented your father with a conundrum during his meeting with Gabriel last night.’ She took another sip of her butterbeer and daintily dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. ‘Gabriel is Daphne and Astoria’s father, you understand,’ thus answering Hermione’s unasked question. 

‘Mother, you know how I feel about that arrangement.’ Draco sounded almost petulant.

‘Of course, I do, and - between you and me - I fully support you marrying for love.’ 

Hermione’s ill-timed sip of butterbeer went the wrong way, then sprayed across the table, missing Narcissa by mere millimetres. Draco patted her back while Narcissa nonchalantly held out a napkin to her. 

‘This is what you two had in mind, is it not?’ she asked pointedly when Hermione’s coughs finally subsided. 

‘Honestly?’ Hermione’s voice sounded hoarse from her coughing. ‘I haven’t thought that far.’ No, she thought in dismay, she hadn’t really thought at all, or she wouldn’t be sitting here now.

‘Mother!’ Draco’s hand had stopped patting her back but was still resting on the back of her chair behind Hermione. ‘Why must every relationship I have immediately lead to marriage?’ 

Narcissa drew herself up impossibly tall in her chair and gave Draco a hard look. ‘Draco Lucius Malfoy, are you telling me you’re merely using this delightful woman without intending to do the right thing?’

‘The right thing?’ He sounded a little derailed from his usual cool. Hermione had rarely seen him so unguarded. It seemed his mother knew how to push his buttons. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself by getting in between the two so she did the only thing she could think of: she put her right hand on his thigh below the table, squeezing gently, to let him know she had his back. 

Unfortunately, the move was not lost on Narcissa, whose eyes immediately caught on to it. Hermione’s face flamed. Draco had gone rigid next to her. Awkward silence rained down on the three for a long moment, thankfully shattered by the arrival of their food.

‘Now you enjoy your meal, me dears!’ Rosmerta called out just before she left to tend to other patrons. 

For a few minutes they each took deliberate bites of food, avoiding eye-contact. The lasagne really was as good as Hermione remembered, maybe even better. She hummed in appreciation, then startled as Draco addressed her.

‘I missed her cooking, too.’ She was faced with a lopsided grin on his face and couldn’t help a twitching of her mouth either. Who knew they had a love of good home-cooked food in common?

‘I missed Hogsmeade. It’s wonderful to be back here. Thank you for suggesting it, Draco.’ This time she truly smiled at him and found she meant every word she said. The brilliant smile that lit up his face brought a jolt to her stomach that made her look away, pushing a strand of escaped hair behind her ear and knowing she was blushing spectacularly. She glanced up to see Narcissa contemplate the couple before her with her brows knit together.

‘How long exactly have you two been dating?’ 

‘Oh, not long,’ Hermione hedged, stuffing another bite into her mouth to avoid having to say more.

‘A couple weeks,’ Draco supplied hastily. His mother’s eyebrows lifted so high they nearly disappeared into her hairline. When she addressed her son, her voice was low, silky, and frightening.

‘Are you telling me you two dated before Hermione broke up with Ronald Weasley?’ 

‘No!’ Both of them, together, this time. 

‘Of course not.’ Hermione sounded indignant. ‘I do not cheat.’

‘So, how did this start?’

Hermione felt the bottom fall away beneath her. Whatever she’d expected, whatever Draco had expected, she knew it wasn’t this. Which was downright idiotic, because if anything at all, they should have expected exactly this. 

‘By accident,’ Hermione said. ‘It started by accident.’ It wasn’t even a lie. Which accident it started at, she couldn’t quite decide: her fainting and hitting her head, or him being pushed right into her by a door making his mother believe they were an item. She supposed it ought to be the latter though she suspected none of this would’ve happened without the former.

Draco snorted indelicately. ‘That’s a great way of putting it, Granger.’ Hermione raised an eyebrow at his use of her second name. So did his mother.

‘Draco , how else would you describe it?’ Hermione asked.

‘Oh no, I meant that. It is a great way to put it.’ He saluted her with his butterbeer and took a swig. 

‘Would you care to elaborate?’ Narcissa took a delicate bite of her steak. Hermione decided she would rather not. She took another bite of lasagne. Draco also became engrossed with his food. ‘Is it that gaudy a tale that you don’t think your mother can stomach it, Draco?’

If Hermione didn’t know any better, she could’ve sworn Narcissa was enjoying their discomfort. Who was she kidding? Narcissa definitely looked like she was enjoying it. Hermione wished she hadn’t agreed to any of this, or at the very least that they had made a proper plan. With lists. And back-up plans. Narcissa’s enjoyment rattled her and she found she couldn’t make up a lie on the spot. Not to her face.

‘There’s nothing to elaborate,’ Hermione said, closing her eyes and putting her cutlery down. 

‘What she means is that she doesn’t think it that monumental to recount every detail,’ Draco added, nudging her leg with his.

‘No, Draco,’ Hermione sighed. ‘What I meant was there’s nothing to elaborate because there’s nothing going on. I’m sorry, I can’t keep this up. Draco and I are not together.’ As she said this, his leg moved away and she could feel him stiffen next to her. ‘I really am sorry, Mrs Malfoy, it’s all a big misunderstanding and it got out of control and I’m really sorry.’ She finished quietly. 

For a few dreadfully long seconds, there was absolute silence at their table. Then, Narcissa put her cutlery down, dabbed her lips with her napkin and sighed with relief.

‘Thank Merlin for that.’

Chapter Text

Both Hermione and Draco stared at Narcissa Malfoy. Draco with something akin to outrage, Hermione with resignation and barely concealed disappointment. Of course, she would be happy that her son wouldn’t sully the family by being in a relationship with a Mudblood .

Draco looked about to speak but his mother held up a hand to stop him.  

‘Now, Hermione, dear, didn’t I already ask you to call me Narcissa?’ There was a glint in her eyes that hadn’t been there before. This was completely unexpected and Hermione could only continue to stare. 

‘I believe I should explain myself,’ she continued. Hermione and Draco exchanged a glance. ‘I am indeed relieved that you came clean , as they say.’

Draco’s shoulders fell a little and Hermione felt rather stupid. Of course, she’d seen through them. 

‘I must admit, you’ve done well. I almost believed you both.’

‘You did?’ Hermione couldn’t help but ask. She clamped her mouth shut just as quickly. 

‘Yes, almost. You see, everything circumstantial pointed to supporting your story. If it hadn’t been for dear Figgy on Saturday morning telling me that Draco had arrived back late with Blaise. I knew then that you hadn’t gone to see Harry Potter. I must admit, I was a little surprised to see you having lunch together yesterday but as for being a couple in a romantic relationship?’ She smiled in a way that reminded Hermione of the Joker in a Batman comic she once read. ‘You’re not nearly comfortable enough around each other -- yet.’

Yet? Hermione’s heart stopped a beat on that.

‘Mother, why did you take us for lunch if you knew?’ Draco sounded exasperated, something Hermione didn’t think he’d do often toward his mother. Instead of rebuking him though, she let out a tingly laugh.

‘I must say, this has surpassed all my expectations since I was only going to take Hermione out in the first place. Oh, but Draco, it was ever so fun to watch you both squirm. It was the least you two deserved for attempting to fool me.’

Hermione was immediately taken back to a conversation the day before when Draco had laughed at her. ‘Oh, you thought you’d play my mother? Are you out of your mind?’ Clearly, they both were.

‘Now, listen closely,’ Narcissa continued. ‘You two have the right idea.’

‘Pardon?’ Hermione’s eyes went wide.

‘Lucius was less impressed by your… arrangement. However, even he can see the advantage going forward.’ She looked decidedly pleased with herself as she sipped her butterbeer and spiked a lonesome carrot on her fork, letting them wait for further elaboration. 

Hermione’s lasagne lay forgotten. She’d lost all her appetite. A quick glance to her wrist told her that she had only 15 minutes before she needed to be back in her office. Narcissa caught the movement. 

‘Oh, pardon me, Hermione, naturally you must get back to work soon.’ She placed her own cutlery down again. ‘I will be direct to make it quick. Draco and you will continue this relationship. No, don’t interrupt, Draco, Hermione does not have the time.’ She gave him a pointed look. ‘You will continue this relationship. It has given us the perfect reason to call off your marriage to Daphne or Astoria, for now. Of course, should you two break up, it is likely that proposal will be back on the table unless the two girls will be married by then.’

‘No.’ Hermione nearly choked on that word.

‘But of course. It is perfect. Lucius informed Gabriel Greengrass on Friday, and while he did not receive the news with joy, he admitted that it was for the best to put plans on hold, for now. He is convinced your relationship is doomed to fail within a month. He is also unwilling to attach either of his girls to a potential scandal through slur campaigns in the Prophet .’

‘So you want me to date Draco in order for him to not have to marry Daphne or Astoria?’ Her voice rose at the end.

‘Yes.’ Narcissa added a nod to quantify her answer.

‘Why don’t you just tell them that Draco can choose his own wife if and when he’s willing?’ Hermione felt like screaming at the idiocy of it all. ‘Much simpler than us having to play your games!’ She was through with being reserved.

‘I do believe the game was yours to begin with. Shall we pretend I didn’t see through your plans?’ Narcissa took her napkin off her lap and carefully folded it. ‘I will not expect you to understand pureblood customs, however, simply calling off a union that has been in the making for many years is impossible without the other party finding a cause of action with regards to a breach of contract.’

‘So they would sue you?’

‘In simple terms, yes. However, it isn’t always that straight forward in magical society. There are other terms in these magical, binding, contracts that need to be navigated carefully in order to dissolve them without causing permanent harm to any of the named parties.’

‘Wonderful.’ Hermione’s tone conveyed the exact opposite. She was also more than a little annoyed that Draco so far had said absolutely nothing. ‘Just one more question, Narcissa.’

‘Yes?’

‘What’s in it for me?’

It spoke volumes of Narcissa Malfoy’s heritage that the question didn’t so much as raise her eyebrows. In actual fact, she appeared to have been expecting it. 

‘Naturally, you would be curious. I am of course, willing to be very generous. Would you prefer a transfer directly to your Gringott’s vault, or rather receive a sum in cash?’

Hermione opened and closed her mouth several times without making a sound. She looked at Draco who appeared to have similar issues finding his speech. When he turned his eyes on her, she saw a myriad of emotions reflected in them, none of which she could pinpoint with a name. He swallowed visibly.

‘Well?’ Narcissa finally asked. Hermione’s eyes held Draco’s for another long second before she faced the witch across the table from her once more.

‘Let me see if I understand you correctly. You are willing to pay me for dating your son.’ Narcissa nodded. 

‘If you wish to put it that way,’ the witch conceded.

Hermione looked at the man in question who had gone very white. She squinted her eyes at him, holding his gaze but continued speaking to his mother, as he took another sip of his drink. ‘Do I get extra for shagging him?’

This time, the drink that got spat out did hit his mother’s sleeve. He coughed and spluttered and turned to her trying to speak through the gasping but his mother cut his attempts off.

‘There is no need to be that crass.’

‘Oh, I was crass was I?’ Hermione latched onto her indignation which was quickly turning to anger and she hissed her next words at the older witch. ‘You are trying to pay me like a whore. Do I look like I’m for sale, or in this case, for rent?’

‘I didn’t mean to imply any of the sort.’ 

Hermione stood up from her seat and Draco - still coughing - followed suit automatically. She pushed her chair into the table and stared down at Narcissa. ‘You may keep your money. This conversation is over.’ 

She turned to Draco not waiting for an answer from his mother. His eyes were watering from his coughing fit and his face was flushed. Holding his gaze, she spoke in a more restrained voice. ‘Do you really still need to buy friends? That’s not how this-’ she gestured back and forth between the two of them, ‘-was supposed to work. I meant what I said about trying to be friends, you know. No payment necessary.’ 

Not waiting for a reaction or reply, Hermione reached into her bag, threw a handful of coins on the table and quickly walked out of the pub. She disapparated back to the Ministry as soon as she cleared the threshold.

***

Hermione fumed all the way through the Atrium, the lift ride, and the walk back to her office. Once in her office, she sat down at her desk only to jump straight back up. She paced back and forth, muttering to herself about crazy witches and insane offers. After a solid half an hour of pacing and berating herself, a knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

‘Come in!’ She winced at her own tone. It was a bark more than a friendly invitation to enter. The door opened slowly, revealing a certain blond wizard.

‘Hi,’ he said quietly. Hermione closed her eyes as she faced him and consciously removed her hands from her hips and forced herself to relax. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘No.’ She opened her eyes again to see him wipe his face of any emotion. Hermione was impressed by his ability to shut things down at will. ‘I don’t want you to apologise, Draco. I don’t need you to. Your mother on the other hand! Ugh!’ She turned from him in a huff and crossed her arms over her chest. 

In her head, she was fuming. Mostly, at her own stupidity. She should’ve never gone to tea in the first place. What on Earth was she thinking? Clearly, she hadn’t been thinking at all. Clearly -- Her thoughts were interrupted by Draco speaking again.

‘Still, I’m sorry. I should’ve known. My mother, she’s… all that Slytherin embodies. I doubt she was able to help herself. I don’t expect you to play along. I told Mother as much before I left.’

She turned back to him, and something in her chest constricted as she looked him over, unnaturally slumped when she had only ever seen him stand rigidly straight, his head hanging low when he’d always been holding it high.

Hermione uncrossed her arms, rubbed her hands over her face and then carded one through her hair.

‘Look, I know it’s not your doing.’ She took a step closer to him to get his full attention. ‘But your mother really is barmy if she thinks she can hire me like a common whore.’

For some reason he seemed to find that amusing, judging by his crooked grin as he glanced up through his fringe that was falling over his eyes when his head hung low. Hermione surprised herself with the thought that he looked awfully appealing like that, and blushed. He shook his head and stepped closer to her. 

‘No’, he said. ‘There’s really nothing common about you, is there?’ His quiet voice sent a shiver up her spine. She fought hard to suppress it.

‘Is that the only thing you took out of that? I’m not common? But I’m still a whore to you?’ She spoke just as quietly and swallowed when she met his eyes. This felt way too intimate, he was suddenly standing way too close but stepping back was an impossibility. His hand came up to tug on a curl, letting it bounce back up. Her breath hitched. 

‘No.’ He took another step and was directly in front of her now, her eyes level with his throat. Hermione watched him swallow. She couldn’t help but do the same herself before daring to look up at his face. His mouth was open as if he wanted to speak but whatever it was, remained unspoken. His eyes drifted down to her mouth as Hermione licked her lips. 

‘Hermione?’ Her name was but a breath on his lips. It did funny things to her insides.

‘Yeah?’ she whispered, unable to look away from him. His hand came back up to pull another curl, but this time, he tugged her closer and ducked his head towards hers. A jolt went through her at the realisation that he was going to kiss her. She knew she should pull away, but right then, she couldn’t remember a reason to. 

‘Hermione?’ Harry’s voice called out. A bucket of iced water couldn’t have been more effective. She jumped back and turned away from Draco toward her desk, hastily grabbing a pile of random sheets of parchment and willing her heart to stop racing. She’d almost kissed Draco Malfoy, in her office, with the door wide open. 

She took a deep breath. ‘Harry!’ Turning back toward the door, she was faced with her best friend eyeing up both her and Draco. ‘Come on in. We were just finished.’ Hermione forced herself to look at the man who seemed to turn her brain to mush. ‘I’ll be in touch?’

‘Of course. I’ll send Morgana.’ He was wearing his mask again. As he left, he nodded at Harry. ‘Potter.’ 

‘Malfoy.’

Harry closed the door and turned back to Hermione with an incredulous look on his face.

‘I know I didn’t just see you almost kiss Malfoy.’ Hermione closed her eyes and scrunched up her face. When she didn’t respond, he called her name. ‘Hermione?’

‘No! Yes. Maybe. I don’t know! Oh Merlin.’ She slumped back against her desk, throwing the random parchment back onto it and hiding her face beneath her hands, her hair falling in front of her. 

‘Wow.’ Hermione peeked out from through her fingers and found Harry with hands on his hips, looking down and shaking his head. When he looked up, she saw him laugh briefly before she clamped her fingers shut over her face again. 

‘This is all such a mess,’ she mumbled into her hands. 

‘Does this mean you’re actually going with it? You’re going to pretend to date him? And what was that? Practise?’ Harry snorted indelicately, making Hermione grimace and drop her hands.

‘Maybe it would’ve been had you not interrupted,’ she said sheepishly which made Harry laugh outright. She scowled at him but couldn’t stop a grin from pulling on the edges of her mouth. 

‘Your lunch went well then?’ Harry startled when she barked a laugh.

‘I suppose that depends on how you look at it. Sit down.’ She went around her desk and sat on her own chair before filling Harry in on lunch with Narcissa Malfoy. To his credit, Harry didn’t interrupt once, even though he looked like he really, really wanted to. When she finished speaking, he let out a low whistle. 

‘You really are something, ‘Mione.’ Harry looked at her with pride in his eyes. ‘Walking out on her like that. Good woman!’ She smiled at the compliment. ‘Just, clarify one thing for me?’

‘Sure.’ Hermione had managed to calm down a little and was now organising the parchment she’d so carelessly mixed up on her desk earlier. 

‘If you’re not going to do this pretend relationship, why were you going to kiss the git?’

Her hands and her breathing stilled. She swallowed heavily before looking at her best friend.

‘I… don’t know.’ At his raised eyebrows, she added, ‘I really don’t. I mean… he’s changed, I think. He’s… nice. He can be nice, you know.’ 

‘Nice,’ he said dryly.

‘Yes, nice.’

‘Nice because he wants something from you.’ Harry sent her a hard look.

‘Maybe.’ Hermione had to admit that she wasn’t sure although she believed that he hadn’t known what his mother was up to. She’d felt the outrage at his mother’s choice of words toward her and she’d definitely felt drawn to him. Did she know for sure that he didn’t just want to use her for his own gain? No.

Her uncertainty must have shown on her face. Harry’s expression softened a little. ‘Just promise me you’ll be careful, yeah?’ She nodded as he got up. ‘I’ve to get back. I’ll talk to you soon?’

She waved at him with a shooing motion. ‘Go catch bad guys. I’ll be okay, promise.’

 

***

 

Hermione left work an hour early and flooed home. She’d tried to get stuck into work but found that her mind kept wandering back to Draco Malfoy and their almost kiss. There was nothing productive in her afternoon, and she justified her early departure by her many late nights she’d had at the office in the past months. 

After kicking off her shoes, she went to change into a pair of black yoga pants, fluffy socks and a comfortable large, blue jumper. She was snuggled up on her couch, a blanket on her lap, and flicking through TV channels in search for some mindless entertainment when her small, lit fire turned green.

‘Hey.’

‘Hi.’ Hermione untangled her legs from the blanket. ‘Come on through?’

Barely a minute later, Draco sat on the far end of her couch. Hermione snuggled back into her blanket and tucked her feet closer so she wouldn’t kick him. 

‘I thought you wanted to send Morgana?’ she asked, unsure how else to start a conversation. 

‘She’s still not back from a trip to my cousin in France.’ He shrugged a shoulder, then nodded at the TV. ‘What are you watching?’

‘Nothing, really. Haven’t found anything interesting yet.’ She pressed the channel up button again. Two baboons sat grooming each other while the unmistakable voice of David Attenborough educated the viewers about their behaviour. 

‘Merlin, he sounds as excited about monkeys as Hagrid about hippogriffs,’ Draco stared at the telly. 

‘Oh, he is and more. I remember watching David Attenborough with my parents when I was younger. He’s a fountain of knowledge when it comes to nature and animals.’

‘So, what is he like a Muggle Scamander or something?’

Hermione’s mouth turned up in a half-smile. ‘Yeah, that’s a fair comparison I think.’

For a few moments, both sat entranced, watching and listening. Hermione’s right foot was falling asleep though so she shifted to sit up straighter and move her foot in a circular motion beneath her blanket. She stilled when she made contact with Draco’s leg.

‘Sorry,’ she said quickly. ‘My foot fell asleep.’

‘It’s okay.’ Draco didn’t look put out, quite the opposite. He lifted the blanket and pulled her foot towards him, making her gasp. She slid down a little. ‘Are you ticklish?’

‘Why, what are you doing?’ Her question was followed by an involuntary ‘ oh ’ when he began to massage her foot through her fluffy sock. 

‘Want me to stop?’ he teased and she quickly shook her head. Draco continued massaging her foot, switching to the other after a few minutes while they watched more of the nature programme. 

Hermione’s mind wasn’t on the telly though. She looked at the screen, yet the thoughts racing through her brain all revolved around the wizard on the couch next to her. The way he touched her was in no way sexual but she’d be damned if she didn’t wonder how his fingers might feel in other places. 

Suddenly feeling rather warm, she pulled her feet away and stood up. ‘Would you like anything? Drink? Snacks?’

Not really waiting for an answer she quickly made her way to her kitchen and busied herself with the kettle. 

‘Tea would be nice, thank you.’ She glanced towards him and swiftly away again. He was casually leaning against the frame of her kitchen door, his hands in his pockets. Hermione nodded and reached for two cups and tea bags. She also found a packet of custard creams.

‘Biscuits? Pulling out all the stops tonight, Granger.’ Draco said, a lot closer than he had been a second ago. She didn’t dare turn to him for fear that her reaction to him was plain to see on her face. 

‘I’ve not had dinner yet,’ she mumbled and heard him snort behind her.

‘Custard creams aren’t dinner, Granger.’ She shrugged and grabbed the now whistling kettle off the hob. Once the tea was prepared, she grabbed the biscuits, shoved them under one arm, and then took a mug in each hand before turning to him. He raised an eyebrow at her but said nothing as he followed her back to the living room. 

A few moments later, they sat back on the couch, each cradling their mug of tea, almost like a shield. The opened packet of custard creams lay untouched. 

‘Are you actually hungry?’ Draco asked, breaking the silence between them. ‘We could go out for food?’

Hermione sent him a rueful grin. ‘I’m not dressed to go out to dinner and I’ve no plans on changing again.’ She was hungry though. ‘Do you like pizza?’

‘What kind of question is that?’ he laughed. ‘Who doesn’t like pizza?’ 

‘Let me rephrase: Do you like pizza with pineapple, feta cheese and jalapeños?’ Hermione waited for the usual reaction to her addition of pineapple on pizza. It didn’t come. Instead, he looked thoughtful for a moment. 

‘Can’t say I’ve ever tried that combination before.’ He shrugged a shoulder and grinned at her. ‘You cooking?’

‘Oh no. You don’t want me cooking for you.’ She snorted a laugh. ‘But I’ll order in if you’re hungry, too?’

A minute later, Hermione used her cordless home telephone to place an order, very aware that Draco was watching her every move with the Muggle device. Once she’d hung up, she informed him that the pizza would be delivered within half an hour.

‘It’s amazing what Muggles have invented and all without magic. You can simply speak with people who are far away?’ Hermione smiled a genuine smile at his question.

‘Yes, it’s handy. There are mobile phones, too. You can take them with you in your pocket and call from anywhere. You can even send messages by text from one to the other.’ 

‘And the other device receives them?'

‘Yes, almost instantly. Similar to the Protean Charm I suppose. I wish I could explain how it is done with Muggle phones, but I’m not sure.’ Hermione grimaced a little. She really should look it up. Draco grinned at her.

‘Hermione Granger doesn’t know the answer to something. You made my day.’

‘Prat.’

‘Swot.’

They briefly grinned at each other before looking away and sipping at their respective tea again. Uneasy with the silence, Hermione tried to think of more to say. Conversation didn’t feel natural. Maybe, she decided, because she didn’t really know him yet.

‘Where in France does your cousin live?’ 

‘Oh. Neufchâtel-en-Bray. It’s relatively near to Le Havre.’ Draco cleared his throat. ‘His name is Alex.’ Hermione nodded in thought. 

‘Is that where your family is from then?’

‘Yeah, but--’ he stopped for a few seconds. ‘He’s a distant relative. Very distant. I tell people he’s my cousin, but -- well, he probably is, just twice removed, once turned about and thrice mangled, or something.’ He chuckled. ‘My parents thought it would make our family look good if I made contact with him. He’s from undesirable Malfoy lineage, you see. “Illegitimate offspring”.’ Draco underlined that by making air quotes. ‘One of my father’s uncles married a Muggle. He’s not spoken of, and there’s no official family tree with him on it.’ He grimaced. ‘Anyway, long story short, the youngest of that line, Alexandre, he’s 24 and went to Beauxbatons.’

Hermione nodded her understanding. ‘So how did you get in contact?’ 

‘Years ago, in Fourth Year, during the Triwizard Tournament. He was with the delegation that came over for it. He approached me one day shortly before the Yule ball.’ Draco closed his eyes and snorted in laughter. ‘I’d nearly forgotten. The guys thought he came to ask me out to the ball.’ Shaking his head, he let out another chuckle. Hermione grinned into her cup. ‘He asked to speak to me privately and handed me a letter explaining who he is. It contained his details and asked for me to contact him if I wanted.’ 

‘And you’ve been in contact since?’

‘No. I didn’t even consider it at the time. I found his details again last year and showed them to Mother. She urged me to write and so I have since October. So, nearly a year.’

Before she could ask anything else, her doorbell rang. She got up to buzz the delivery guy into the building and rummaged in her bag for her wallet with Muggle money. After she paid for the pizza and closed the door, she found Draco walking ahead of her into the kitchen, both mugs in hand. She followed him and watched silently as he set the mugs into the sink and proceeded to wash his hands.

She set the pizza box on the table and went to take out two plates from the cupboard.

‘Do you want some wine with your pizza? Or rather some Muggle coke?’

‘Wine’s good, thanks,’ he answered, drying his hands on the kitchen towel she had hanging off the oven door.

While she poured generous helpings into the glasses, Draco opened the pizza box and used his wand to levitate a couple of slices onto each plate. 

‘Which drawer is your cutlery in?’ he asked. She looked at him in surprise.

‘What do you need cutlery for?’ She smirked at him and grabbed a slice off a plate, taking a large bite. 

‘Savage.’ He threw the word at her but smirked back, then copied her by picking up a slice and taking a bite.

Hermione chuckled and put her slice back down in favour of retrieving her wand. With a practised flick, her wireless sprang to life, playing quiet music in the background. After tearing off a couple of paper kitchen towels and handing him one, she sat down at the table. He followed suit, sitting opposite her. For a few minutes, they ate in silence, occasionally glancing at the other, or out the window. 

‘The pizza’s good.’ Draco eventually broke the silence.

‘Mhmm,’ Hermione hummed as her mouth was full. When she’d swallowed that bite she admitted that she ordered pizza a couple times a month at least. He nodded.

‘Tell me about your parents?’ Hermione froze mid-sip. She hadn’t expected that question. When he saw her reaction, he backtracked immediately and assured her that she didn’t need to. Hermione set her glass down and took a breath.

‘No, it’s fine. It’s-- just not easy to talk about.’ She wiped her hands on her napkin and looked out the window, not really seeing anything outside, instead getting lost in thoughts. Draco made her jump a little when he nudged her arm. She turned to find he was standing next to her. She hadn’t noticed him getting up. Draco’s look was void of humour but laced with something close to concern.

‘C’mon, how about we go back to the couch?’ He held out the hand not holding a wand. She hesitated only a moment before taking his hand and letting him pull her up. He used his wand to levitate the refilled glasses before them and led her back into the living room. Only when she sat down on the couch did she realise he was holding her hand the whole time. She pulled it back and picked up her wine.

‘Sorry, I--.’ She sighed and took a bracing sip, then watched the fire crackle while she continued. ‘My parents spent time in Australia during the war.’ Hermione glanced in his direction and noted he was paying close attention. ‘I obliviated them so they had no memory that I existed. I made them believe they were other people and convinced them to leave the country. It was the only way I knew how to keep them safe.’

The silence stretched between them for a few moments while he patiently waited for her to continue. 

‘Ron and I went to Australia during the summer after. After the Battle. ‘I’d had a long talk with Kingsley and he introduced me to the Head of the Obliviator Squad. They taught me how to reverse the Obliviation. When-- when we found them, I started doubting myself. Doubting whether they would, or could, forgive me for what I had done to them.’

Hermione wiped at her eyes. Even though her parents had forgiven her, after an emotional week of explanations of why, how, and when, plus assurances that the threat was gone, and that Hermione wouldn’t ever use magic on her parents again - especially without first explaining exactly what she was doing - it had taken months for them to relocate back to England, reopen their practice and a semblance of normalcy to return. 

‘They did forgive you?’ he prompted quietly when she was lost to her thoughts.

‘Oh. Yes, they did but it was difficult.’ Hermione rubbed her hands over her face and tried out a wobbly smile. ‘I bet you regret asking now.’

‘No, I don’t.’ He rearranged himself on the couch so he was a little closer and facing her, his left leg tucked beneath him, his right foot on the floor. ‘That was a very brave thing to do. Very Gryffindor.’ He accentuated that last word with a tug on a curl. She snorted and wiped a final stray tear away with her thumb.

‘I’m not sure if it was brave, or foolish, to be honest. I had no idea if it was going to be reversible after so long.’ She shrugged her shoulders. ‘Sometimes I still dream of failing to fix them.’

‘I do think it was brave.’ He trailed a finger from her shoulder down her arm as he continued. ‘You are very brave.’ 

Goosebumps erupted under her jumper in the wake of his touch down her arm. Hermione shivered slightly and blushed at her involuntary reaction to him. 

‘Cold?’ he asked, leaning a little closer. Her voice caught in her throat at the look in his eyes. All she could do was shake her head. Draco trailed his finger back up to her shoulder holding her gaze. Hermione decided that he had developed an unhealthy fascination with her hair because he tugged on yet another curl. Once it bounced back up, he reached across to put a strand of hair behind her left ear. His fingers lingered and for the second time that day, she felt that Draco wanted to kiss her - and that she was not opposed.

Hermione reached up to place her hand on his, holding his palm to her cheek. She watched as his eyes flicked to her mouth, then back up to her eyes. There was no mistaking his look. His breath ghosted across her lips and Hermione let her eyes fall shut. Her breath hitched and butterflies took up residence in her stomach in anticipation. A sudden crack made her jump, gripping his hand tighter and pulling it down into her lap. Draco’s forehead slumped to her shoulder with a colourful curse which made Hermione erupt in a fit of giggles when she realised what had happened.

At least Harry had the decency to look uncomfortable at his inconvenient arrival. 

Chapter Text

“Harry, what are you doing here?” Hermione asked once she got ahold of herself. Draco straightened himself up next to her, pulling his hand from hers. She tried not to focus on the fact that she wanted him to leave his hand in hers.  

“I --” Harry cleared his throat. “Ginny sent me to make sure you know to be at the Leaky next Tuesday, and to wear your surprised face.” He spoke to the ceiling. 

“Oh yes, of course! I’d almost forgotten.” Hermione’s voice was a little louder than necessary, and she winced at how strained it sounded in her attempt to act normal in this situation.

“How could you forget turning 21?” Harry was looking at her now, his eyes briefly flicking over to Malfoy. Hermione rolled her eyes, summoning irritation over having been disturbed - again - rather than allowing embarrassment to creep up on her.

“I didn’t forget my birthday, I merely forgot that Ginny was planning a surprise party for me that I know nothing about.” It was Draco who snorted at that, a look of utter disbelief on his face.

“Something wrong, Malfoy?” Harry narrowed his eyes at the other wizard. 

“Nothing at all, Potter.” Draco drawled. He turned to Hermione, his voice different and full of amusement. “Do you always know about your surprise parties?” Hermione smiled down at her hands, her eyes crinkling at memories of previous birthdays.

“I do. I don’t do well without knowing. They tried before, to surprise me properly. They were hiding in the apartment and jumped out at me when I got home.” She pulled a face at the memory and chuckled. “I was a bit jumpy and had hexed the intruders before my brain caught up. Seamus and Ron both needed to go to St Mungo's for treatment.”

At that, Draco’s face lit up with a smile that momentarily blinded Hermione. Her stomach did a flip and she tore her eyes from his, feeling her face heat up more than it already was. She was confronted with Harry’s curious look, clearly trying to figure something out.

“I’ll be there, Harry. I promise. I’ll leave work on time, and I’ll be there and act surprised and everything.” She got up and walked over to him on shaky legs and pulled him into a tight hug. “Thank you, Harry.”

Harry returned her hug, momentarily wrapping her firmly in his arms. “I’m sorry I barged in unannounced,” he whispered into her ear. “Do I need to give him The Speech ?”

Hermione pulled back and smiled at her best friend and shook her head. She quickly pecked him on his cheek and stepped away from him. “Tell Ginny it’s in my diary.”

“Will do.” With a last glance at Malfoy, who had also stood up when Hermione did, he waved good-bye and disapparated on the spot. 

When she turned back to Draco, he was standing directly behind her and she found herself eye-level with his throat. She swallowed and chanced a glance up to his face, getting caught in his intense gaze. 

“Are you expecting any other callers?” Hermione shook her head. Butterflies danced a merry dance around her insides as his hands came up to push her hair behind both her ears, his thumbs stroking her jaw. 

He murmured, “good,” as his lips crashed against hers. Hermione gasped, and he took full advantage of her parted lips to deepen the kiss. A jolt went through her when their tongues collided, dancing with each other. She heard a distant moan and was slightly horrified that it was her making that noise. 

Her hands slid up his chest between his arms and wound around his neck, holding him close, while one of his own traced a path down her back to come to rest on her bum, squeezing lightly. Draco pulled her closer and Hermione arched into him feeling, for the first time in months, desire as well as desired .

Draco’s hand found its way beneath her jumper and trailed up her back, around her side and up her ribs, leaving goosebumps in its wake. His lips left her mouth in favour of kissing and nipping at her neck. She couldn’t help the shaky breath emerging. It had been so long since anyone made her feel like this, the sheer power of her own response scared her.

“Draco,” she gasped when he nipped her right ear and his hand wandered to the side of her breast. She leaned away. “Stop.”

To his credit, he did stop kissing her immediately and removed his hand from beneath her jumper. They both tried to gain control of their breathing, Hermione uselessly swiping some of her unruly hair behind her ear only for it flop back out. She looked to the floor. Her fluffy socks: purple with white polka dots. His feet clad in polished dragonhide shoes. They were dark brown with colour-matched laces. 

Breathe in - one, two, three, four… breathe out - one, two, three, four, five, six… she closed her eyes, concentrating on grounding herself. What was wrong with her? A kiss had never before elicited such a reaction from her - the feeling of being too hot and not hot enough, too close but not close enough. And that’s all this was: a kiss. Wasn’t it? What was a kiss between friends? Her eyes snapped open, finding his and her mind blurted out her next thought.

“Friends don’t kiss like that!” 

“Is that what we are now? Friends?” Draco shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and looked at her questioningly. 

“I think so.” She glanced up at his face, and then away again. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Hermione crossed her arms in front of her, her hands cradling her elbows, feeling too exposed.

“Are we being honest right now? If we are, I should probably go before I show you what I actually want.” Hermione’s breath hitched, his words shooting straight to her core. Her eyes shifted to his, getting caught in a heated gaze that left no doubt as to his meaning. She swallowed. 

Draco stepped closer to her and she took a step back, her arms falling to her sides. Hermione suddenly felt like prey. The corner of his mouth lifted in a slow smirk as he advanced. She had her back to a bookshelf now, no further way to retreat. His hands still in his pockets, he leaned in to whisper, “In case that wasn’t clear: I want you.” 

Her heart stopped for a beat and she squeezed her eyes shut feeling overwhelmed by his nearness, the heat radiating off him, and her own reaction to him. She felt rather than saw his grin as his lips grazed her cheek. 

Then he abruptly moved away from her, taking all the heat with him. Her eyes flew open. Draco was taking Floo powder off the mantle. With a last look over his shoulder, he threw it into the flames and was gone in a swirl of green.

 

***

 

Hermione didn’t sleep much at all that night. Her brain simply wouldn’t shut off, replaying their kiss over and over again. If she hadn’t stopped him, how far would they have gone? She blushed even as she lay in the dark in her own bed, wondering how all her rules had become so distorted. She’d always seen herself as a sensible woman, not one who’d let herself be ruled by urges but rather by her head. 

Hadn’t she always judged the other witches who jumped into bed with the next wizard? Wasn’t she sore at Ron with his Romilda-shaped rebound? Yet, here she was, contemplating the same thing. Dear Merlin, she was a hypocrite of the highest order.

When she arrived in the office the next morning, she was nervous about lunch. Would he turn up unannounced again? Would she let him? Should she let him? Hermione found she couldn’t even concentrate on her work, her mind going in all directions but what she ought to focus on. 

After an hour of staring at the same place on the file in front of her, she sighed, pulled out a clean memo sheet and wrote to Harry.

 

Harry,

Lunch today? Just us. 

HG

 

She hoped he would be free. She needed him to be free so she could let him distract her if only for that one blissful hour and she’d hex him if he didn’t stay away from the Malfoy topic.

Hermione had just managed to finally get into her work when a new memo landed on her desk, the writing unfamiliar. 

 

To Hermione Granger:

Auror Potter is unavailable and outside of the office. 

He is not expected to return before evening.
Any urgent messages may be directed to Head Auror Robards.

Regards,

Felicity Redmond
Auror Secretarial Office DMLE

 

She sighed. So much for that. She would just have to work through her lunch and hope for the best. For the first time in months, she asked her secretary to bring her back lunch from the canteen so she could work through her break. When her lunch arrived, it was exactly what she’d asked for, yet Hermione only picked at it, her stomach queasy.

It wasn’t even a bad queasiness as such; it was like the butterflies when she first kissed Ron. A good kind of nausea when you don’t know if you want to grin like a lunatic or throw up at the thought of him. Good Godric, did she really have a crush on Draco Malfoy?

She managed to get through the bare minimum of her workload that day, betrayed by her brain drifting to his husky words the night before. I want you . The things those words did to her were indecent at best and she would be lying to herself if she wasn’t interested in him also. 

What kind of interested though? What did he want? What did she want, for that matter? Was Harry right to say he was looking to use her? Use her for what though? Sex? Get out of an arranged marriage? Both? More? No, not more. Maybe she truly was just a means to an end. Would she be okay with that? After all, it was exciting to be wanted, desired - without worrying about where it would lead; if it would lead anywhere at all. Maybe, just this once, she could simply let herself be seduced.

Yes, maybe she needed a good shag to get it all out of her system. It had been too long since she had one of those. Maybe she could indulge in Malfoy’s game and make it suit her, too. Scratch each other’s back, so to speak. Plus if the kiss last night was anything to judge by, he was good. 

Hermione left the office at 5pm on the dot, relieved that he hadn’t shown up while at the same time just a little bit disappointed for the same reason. She arrived home and found herself a tad crestfallen at not finding Morgana waiting for her either. Pathetic, she thought, how easily he’d turned her into a stupid teenage girl. 

Annoyed with herself, she quickly changed out of her work clothes and fixed herself a small ready meal to eat. Unable to concentrate on anything she aimlessly flicked channels on her telly without paying any attention. 

 

***

 

The rest of her week continued in my the same way: there wasn’t a word from Malfoy, Harry was still out on assignment, which Ginny lamented on the second evening via a floo call. Hermione neglected to tell Ginny anything and cut the call short with a feeble excuse when she grinned like a Cheshire cat and crassly asked if Harry’s accidental cockblocking had been remedied after he’d left. Hermione had rolled her eyes, hoping Ginny would take the hint, and forcefully said that nothing happened. 

Nothing had happened, after all. Clearly, or he’d have been back for more. 

As anxious as she felt anticipating sudden appearances, as the week wore on without word or sight of him, annoyance took over.: at him, for his silence after that weighty declaration on Tuesday night, and at herself for being so damn focused on it. 

So instead of another night at home to overthink and replay, she decided to go visit her parents on Friday evening. She used the visitor lift to exit the Ministry and pulled out her Muggle coins to use the payphone in the booth next to the one she stepped out of. 

Before apparating to her parents’ house, she walked the twenty minutes up Charing Cross to the Leaky Cauldron, slipping through the pub and out onto Diagon Alley without more than a courtesy wave to anyone she passed. Dentists her parents might be, but they absolutely adored some of the baked goods Hermione had brought home from the Hogwarts Express - especially the proper treacle tarts; the ones with the dark treacle, not the golden syrup Muggles used. 

Hermione exited the bakery, her purchase in a plain white box when she ran, almost literally, into him . Of course. She nearly dropped the box of treacle tarts, saved only by his quick reflexes. 

“Hi,” he said with a smile when she had a grip on her purchase again.

“Malfoy,” she greeted back, unable to keep the irritation out of her voice. 

“Bad day?” he asked, his eyes on hers. Hermione cursed inwardly at the butterflies upon seeing him again. She had been so determined to put him out of her mind after he’d not contacted her since he left on Tuesday evening. How dare he just go on as if nothing happened. 

Maybe that was it. Maybe he had changed his mind and that mind-blowing kiss wasn’t as good as she remembered? Maybe he hadn’t liked it as much, wasn’t affected to the same degree. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe the Earth was flat and magic wasn’t real. She took a calming breath through her nose and let it out through her mouth.

“Long week. Sorry, I really have to go.” She smiled at him tightly and stepped around him. He stepped in her way. 

“You’re not running away from me are you?” Hermione pressed her lips into a tight line at his accurate guess. After a moment, he added, “Are you free tonight?” He was standing way too close and she had to move back to look at him. His eyes were searching hers. She wished she could read his expression. 

“No, I’m not.” Hermione kept it short. She didn’t owe him explanations after all. Really, she didn’t owe him anything. She turned to leave and he put a hand on her elbow.

“Blaise and I will be at the Cursed Hare later.” 

“Good for you. I have to go now.” She tried to pull her arm away but stopped when he leaned in as if to read the advertisement that was stuck to the inside of the bakery’s window over her shoulder, invading her space, filling her nostrils with his delicious scent. Her breath hitched. 

Friends go to the pub together, Hermione,” he whispered in her ear, sending a shiver down her spine. She hoped he hadn’t felt her tremble. The next moment, he stepped back from her while murmuring, “See you later,” and exuding confidence. 

Cocky bastard. There was no way she would cut her evening with her parents short just to run after him like some brainless bimbo, desperate for scraps of affection he’d throw at her.

 

***

 

Hermione was a brainless bimbo. She’d had dinner with her parents, both of whom had noticed how distracted she was. Aside from raised eyebrows and looks between each other, they refrained from questioning her, however. She was thankful they kept conversation light about happenings in their practice and asking about her work and her surprise birthday party they also didn’t know anything about. 

Now, just after 10pm, Hermione had walked up to the Cursed Hare’s entrance twice before turning around and walking a short distance away again. This was pathetic, she knew. She should just go home and call it a night, forget she’d met him earlier, forget the way her body hummed at the memory of him leaning in close. 

As she approached the pub’s entrance for the third time, a middle-aged wizard with a leer on his face approached her. 

“Evening, love.”

She stopped her pacing and eyed him wearily, remembering that she was in one of the shadier parts of Wizarding London.

“A pretty witch like you oughtn’t to be out by herself.” He stepped into her and continued, “Looking for a date ?” 

“No.” Hermione flicked her wrist, her wand smoothly sliding into her hand from where it was hidden in her right sleeve. 

“There’s no need to be shy, love,” he leered, putting his arm around her shoulders. His eyes bulged when her wand stabbed his throat just below his chin.

“I said no !” she growled, her voice carrying clearly across the area. “Take your filthy hands off me this instant.” Hermione prodded his throat again for good measure and felt his arm sliding off her. She kept her wand trained on him.

“Granger?” Hermione fought to not roll her eyes so she wouldn’t lose sight of the sleazebag in front of her. “Everything okay?” Malfoy came to stand beside her and she could feel another presence just behind her back. She hoped it was Blaise and not someone else shady. 

“Yes, this gentleman was about to apologise to me and leave.” The man in question’s expression had turned to dread when Malfoy had called her surname. Good , she thought, he knew who he was messing with . He took the hint. 

“My apologies, Miss Granger. I mistook you for someone else. Mr. Malfoy. Good evening.” He all but ran, not waiting for her to acknowledge his words. Interesting, she thought, he recognised Malfoy. Did they know each other? Hermione turned to find Blaise grinning widely, whistling appreciatively. 

“Damn, Granger, that was hot.” 

Her eyes flashed at him as she gripped her wand tighter in her hand. “Zabini, don’t tempt me or I’ll be hexing your arse into next week. I have not had a good week and I don’t need any of your crap.” He lifted his hands in surrender.

“Alright, I’ll behave. If you can’t take a compliment for what it is…” he smirked. Hermione rolled her eyes and stowed her wand away again. When she looked up, she noticed Malfoy scowling at Zabini.

“I knew this was a mistake,” she muttered.

“Nonsense,” Zabini’s teeth shone very white in the light of the street lamp as he smiled widely. “Let’s celebrate with a drink. C’mon.”

He moved towards the pub’s entrance and opened the door. Malfoy put his hand on her back and guided her along, letting her enter before him and ignoring her displeased huff. She wasn’t sure if she liked this gentlemanly thing he did with his hand on her back. It felt a little like he was herding her.

The pub was crowded with revelers and there was a lively atmosphere all around. A large group on the far end of the pub erupted in laughter making anyone in the vicinity look over at them. The last time Hermione had been here, she hadn’t really taken in any of it, too focused on what had happened with Ron at the party. This time, she let her eyes roam the place. 

For a pub in a shady location, it appeared to be rather upmarket. The decor screamed classic British pub, though the shabbiness she’d come to associate with many of them was noticeably absent. Even the floor lacked a certain stickiness. Malfoy was saying something over her head and she saw Zabini’s answering nod. Hermione simply followed, thinking they’d seen an open table. 

Instead, she found herself steered toward a heavy deep navy curtain behind which a staircase was revealed. They climbed the stairs and came to another, much quieter room with very few patrons. The room was rectangular and featured a fireplace at each end, armchairs and couches and tables dotted around the place, reminding her very much of the Gryffindor Common Room. Only the colours were off, there was no one colour scheme; everything was mixed to such an extent that it had to have been deliberate.

They chose a table right in front of the fire. She sat down on a small sofa while Zabini sat in the armchair next to it. Malfoy excused himself to go get drinks. 

“So, what is it?” Hermione asked.

“What is what?” Zabini sat back in his armchair and casually crossed his right ankle over his left knee. 

“You said we’re going to celebrate?” she prompted. 

“Oh, that. Do we need an occasion? By all accounts, it’s been a shite week for all of us. It’s Friday. That’s got to be enough, no?” Hermione lifted a brow in reply. 

“Zabini, what, pray tell, made your week shite?” she challenged and saw his grin waver on his face. 

“Nothing for you to worry about, Hermione.” It was strange to hear her given name from him. “I also thought we were past the surnames the last time we met? Old habits and all that rot?”

“As you said, it’s been a shite week.” Hermione shrugged and wished she already had a drink in hand.

“From what I hear, you had a very interesting week? Lunch with Narcissa. Don’t remember the last time Draco introduced a girl to his mother.” Her insides squirmed at his calculating look but she refused to look down. Malfoy must have told him at least some of what went on but he must’ve misunderstood the true nature of it. 

“I’m sure introducing me was not his idea. It just happened; and trust me, it won’t be repeated after the way I left,” she added darkly, thinking back to how Narcissa had treated her like a whore. 

Any reply was forestalled as a drink was set down before her on the table. A Firewhisky Sour, just like he got her the last time. She picked it up immediately and sipped it.

“Oi! Hermione!” She lowered the glass.

“What?” 

Blaise held his firewhisky tumbler out. 

“A toast. To a shite week, and a better weekend!” He clinked his glass, first to hers, then Malfoy’s.

“Cheers to that,” she agreed and leaned back against the couch, letting her head fall against it, enjoying the comfort and warmth from the fire. “Oh, this place is nice.” Hermione turned her head to the right and found a pair of grey eyes studying her. She couldn’t see it here in the low lighting but she remembered the flecks of blue that were visible when he was closer. 

Closer. Close enough to touch, smell, kiss. She felt the blush creep up her neck and found it impossible to stop the colour coming to her face when she thought of that kiss.

“You know, if I knew that all I’d be doing here would be watch you two eye fuck each other, I’d have brought myself a date, too.” Hermione tore her eyes from Malfoy’s. Draco’s. She was supposed to call him Draco now, all the time.

“Blaise, that’s enough.” 

“Yes, dad,” he sang back, his grin not faltering one bit at his friend’s warning tone. “Seriously though, that there-” he waved his free hand between her and Draco, “that was definite UST.”

“UST,” Hermione repeated, exasperated.

“Unresolved Sexual Ten-”

“Yes, thank you, I know what it is. I just don’t understand why you think you’ve seen it in us!” 

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” he replied with a smirk from behind his tumbler. She huffed, taking a sip of her cocktail. “So, Hermione, friends don’t kiss, and have no UST either? What do friends do?”

“Blaise!” Draco hissed as her jaw dropped and she swivelled to Draco. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” 

“Nothing.” His voice was all innocence, although the mischief was evident in his face. “Come on, mate, it’s not like it was a secret, was it?” He put his drink on the table and stood. “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.” He walked off, grinning. 

For a moment she and Draco sat in silence. She wasn’t sure what exactly he was thinking, but she was torn between embarrassment over being called out on her hypocrisy or trying to deny that there really was attraction between them. But he hadn’t owled or contacted her in any way after saying he would. Surely, that meant there wasn’t anything but maybe friends?

“So, why was your week shite?”

Hermione was pulled out of her thoughts by his sudden question and she blurted out, “You didn’t owl.” She wished she could stuff the words right back into her mouth and looked down at her hands, which were fiddling with the rim of her glass. 

“Is that really what upset you?” She shrugged her shoulders, feeling awfully silly. “I was busy all week between Mother and her scheme she still wants to continue, and-”

“Stop. Draco, stop.” She sat up straight and put her drink down before looking at him. “You don’t need to explain yourself to me.”

He put his own drink down and scooted closer to her on the sofa. “Oh, but I think I do.” His mouth quirked up. “I wanted to come over to you.” Draco touched her hand with one finger, tracing over her knuckles. “I didn’t know if I’d be welcome though.” He picked up her hand and turned it over, drawing small circles over the pulse point on her wrist. She shivered and let him raise her hand up to his mouth. He lightly kissed over her sensitive skin he’d just touched, not breaking eye contact. 

“I also meant what I said, Hermione.” A tug on her arm and she felt unable to resist leaning towards him as he gathered her close and whispered, “I do want you,” before pressing his lips to her neck. 

She gasped, a low moan leaving her as he kissed his way along her jaw. “Draco.” His name was but a breath on her lips as his hand cradled the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her hair. He kissed across her cheek to her mouth, hovering a hair’s breadth from her, their breath mingling. Hermione’s whole body was on fire. His gentle nips and licks did something delicious to her and she didn’t want it to stop. 

“Tell me,” he whispered. “Tell me you want this. Tell me you want me, Hermione.”

“Yes.” She leaned in trying to kiss him but he moved backwards.

“Yes, what?” he murmured. 

“I want you, Dra-” Hermione didn’t get to finish the sentence, Draco’s lips on hers, silencing her in the most delicious way. Her insides squirmed, her magic soared and the heat that was igniting was something she hadn’t felt with anyone else before. Merlin, she wanted him. She wanted him to tear her clothes off and touch her and fill her and - she tore her mouth from his when she registered the slow clapping over the rushing in her ears. 

“That was hot.” Blaise grinned and downed the rest of his drink.

Hermione swallowed and hid her face against Draco’s shoulder, desperately trying to regain her breath. She felt the low rumble in his chest as he indelicately told Blaise to fuck off . She didn’t catch Blaise’s response but by the way Draco tensed she was sure it was something crass. Slowly, she extricated herself from his arms, sitting up in an effort to save some of her dignity after that little display. 

“Remembered we’re in public, have we?” Blaise’s right eyebrow was raised as he smirked at them. “Maybe you should take this somewhere more private.” Hermione wanted to tell him to mind his own business. She knew he was right though, and glad he’d interrupted before she’d done something worse, like climbing all over Draco right here in the pub where anyone could see them. Not that she’d ever tell him that.

Before she could reply in any form, Draco stood and pulled her up with him. “Blaise is right. Let’s go get a room , as he put it.” Did he want to rent a room? “Your place, or mine?” 

Her eyes snapped to his at that, pulling her out of her thoughts of hourly transactions and whores and what exactly he wanted her for. She nearly laughed. 

“Mine.”

Chapter Text

Hermione’s hand was firmly clasped in Draco’s when they left the Cursed Hare. They walked to the nearest apparition point, the butterflies in her stomach going wild. Out here, cool night air in her face, the trance was gone, the urgency she’d felt kissing him not quite so urgent anymore. It felt strange to be on her way home with him with the sole intention to shag him.

Was this what one night stands felt like? 

She felt ill. Was this who she was now? Use him and lose him? Could she keep emotions out of the sex? Wasn’t that what she’d told herself all week, that she should shag him and get him out of her system? Goodness knew he surely wouldn’t want more than to get into her knickers. Hermione always thought herself above such acts before tonight.

She glanced up at his face. He looked straight ahead, a slight smile on his face. What did that mean? He got her where he wanted? She looked away again, down to watch her feet march down the cobbled street. Somehow, all her Gryffindor bravado was missing. The closer they got to the apparition point, the queasier she felt.

When Draco pulled her to a stop she hadn’t even noticed they’d arrived. She took a shaky breath and steeled herself to look up at him. His grey eyes were searching her face, his free hand coming up to her cheek.

“Change your mind?” 

Hermione swallowed thickly. He was giving her a way out, she realised. She could tell him yes, she had changed her mind . She was sure he’d back off immediately; after all, he’d stopped last time she’d asked him to. 

His head lowered to hers, coming eye-level with her. “You look scared. Is the prospect of sleeping with me so terrifying?” 

There was something about the way he’d said it that brought her breathing back. He’d spoken with humour in his voice yet his face belied his easy words; vulnerability she knew he didn’t often show clear in his eyes. Maybe this uncertainty wasn’t just her. As his hand dropped from her face, she raised up onto her toes and pressed her closed lips to his and turned.

They arrived in her living room, gasping. Hermione let out a girly giggle she never wanted to hear herself make ever again. Apparating while kissing was definitely strange. Draco pulled her in, wrapping his arms around her, also chuckling. They stayed like that for what felt like long minutes. 

When Draco let go of her, Hermione turned away, awkward now. She blushed, wondering what the normal thing to do was. Did she get them drinks? Show him directly to her bedroom? She realised her hands were trembling so she pressed them to her sides, wiping her clammy palms on her thighs. She let out a shaky breath and felt him reach for her again. Hermione let him envelop her in his arms.

“Why are you so nervous? We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” he said quietly.

“It’s not that. I want to.” She mumbled into his chest as she continued, “I just haven’t exactly done this before.” 

Draco leaned back a little and stared at her. “But you lived with Weasley.”

“Oh, we weren’t like this. It was different.” She and Ron had just happened. There had been no dates, no figuring out how many of those before they’d cross lines and bring their relationship further. They’d just felt right at the time. No, they’d been very different. 

Lost in thought, she played with the collar of his shirt. He gently pried her hand off. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea then.”

Hermione’s eyes snapped to his. “What?” She hadn’t expected that at all. “Why not?” He didn’t want to sleep with her after all? She watched him swallow and step back from her. “Draco?”

“It should be someone else.”

“What are you talking about?” She was really confused now. 

“If you’ve never done this before, it should be someone else, not me.”

Hermione’s patience wore thin and she’d no clue what he was on about. “Are you talking about me bringing random men home for a shag and having one night stands?” She didn’t give him a chance and held her hand up when she saw him open his mouth to interrupt. “Because that’s something I’ve never done before. Until now I’ve only ever been with Ron and Ron and I… it was different. We just happened, we never went on dates, it just… happened. I never needed to overthink with him why he wanted to sleep with me. I knew why. This, us, whatever this is - it’s different. I don’t kno-” 

Her eyes went wide before falling shut as Draco stepped into her and his mouth collided with hers, teeth clashing. There was nothing gentle in that kiss as they fought for dominance over each other, tongues tangling, hands gripping each other. Hermione’s reservations were but an echo in her head as Draco robbed her of all thought.

They stumbled through the apartment, barely breaking their kisses only to pull clothes off on their way. She nearly laughed when he hopped on one leg pulling off his socks but sobered quickly when she realised they were all but naked in her bedroom. 

She quickly moved onto the bed, holding her duvet open for him to join her. Not that it was cold in there, but the sudden realisation that she was only in her bra and knickers made her self-conscious. He joined her, leaning over her and immediately began kissing her again. He braced himself on his right forearm, his left hand sliding over her body, leaving goosebumps in its wake. 

Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, letting her hands explore his back, his shoulders, his chest, marvelling at the fact that he let her. Ron hadn’t been a fan of being touched like that. It had always been straight to his erection with him. She doubled her effort of kissing Draco, determined to leave her ex out of her head, and her bed. 

She brought her hand to his cheek and pushed him off a little. He turned his head and nipped at her thumb with his mouth. Hermione smiled at his playfulness. Draco smiled back, then let out a most delicious growl when her wet thumb circled his nipple. He nearly tore her underwear off her.

Hermione helped him kick off her knickers, her bra long gone flying to the side somewhere. Draco’s boxers followed directly after and she wasted no time to take him in hand and explore.

He was kissing her again and she marvelled at the feeling of his chest against hers as his hand travelled down her side, her leg, and back up her inside thigh. She let out a whimper when he gently drew his fingers through her folds while his mouth was busy drawing a nipple into his mouth. Her free hand gripped his hair tighter and she arched into him with a moan. 

His mouth moved back up her chest, her neck, to her ear, and he was whispering between kisses, “Merlin. So wet. I want you. Now.”

“Yes,” she hissed.

Draco moved over her and let her guide his erection to her entrance. His eyes locked on hers as he pushed into her in one quick stroke and she struggled to keep her eyes open and on him at the feeling of him inside her. 

“Fuck,” he moaned and then he was kissing her again, open-mouthed, urgent, almost clumsily as he set a fast rhythm that left her breathless, repeating his sentiment in her head, over and over again. That’s what it was, Hermione thought in a haze: all feeling, no thinking, bodies slapping against each other, magic soaring fucking and she felt alive

When Draco’s hand wandered between them and circled her most sensitive spot, she swore she saw stars as she came with a cry almost at first contact. Hermione felt herself pulsing, contracting around him and he followed her with a growl, his face buried in her neck, holding still inside her while her legs were wrapped around him, her fingernails biting into his back. 

For long minutes, they stayed like that, wrapped around each other and taking control of their breathing again. Then he peppered small kisses along her throat, up her cheek and claimed her mouth for a languid kiss, their tongues tangling lazily. He slid out of her, moving off and she shivered, her sweat-dampened skin chilly without him to warm her. Draco pulled the cover back up over them both and wrapped her up in his arms.

Hermione had a stupid, contented grin on her face. That had been, without a doubt, the best shag she’d had in a long time, if not ever, and thinking about it made her consider that a second round wouldn’t go amiss. She’d never felt that way before; never had the urge to do it again right after. Her hand trailed down his body and he stopped her just before she reached her destination.

She looked at him with a raised brow, almost challenging him and he chuckled lightly, still keeping her hand from touching him. “I’ll need a minute.” He kissed her, bringing her hand back up to his chest.

 

***

 

Hermione lay on her back, grinning like an idiot. She glanced over to Draco and found he was mirroring her expression. Not only had she got her wish of a second round the night before, this morning he’d woken her up slowly with roaming hands and languid kisses. Round three had been her favourite so far. She let out a helpless giggle.

“What?” Draco moved to his side to face her, his head supported by his hand. He trailed a finger over her stomach.

“Can you believe this?” She grinned at his raised eyebrow. “I mean. It’s you. And me. You and me, like this.” She waved her arms back and forth. He snorted in amusement and opened his mouth to speak when another voice interrupted them.

“Hermione? You home?”

“Do your friends always just barge in?” Draco whispered, exasperated and falling back onto the mattress. 

Hermione ignored him and called back, “Put the kettle on, Gin, I’ll be there in a minute!”

They heard undistinguished muttering and retreating footsteps. Hermione sat up and pulled the duvet up over her chest. She needed to get up and dress though even after all they’d done last night and this morning, she felt too shy to just get up and walk around naked in front of him. She bit her lip, wondering how to get dressed and how Ginny would react to Draco being here.

“Sickle for your thoughts?” Draco’s hand rubbed along her spine. “You wondering where to hide me?” His tone was light though as she glanced down at him, his face was serious. 

“Of course not.” She turned and leaned down to peck his lips. “I… it’s just… that…”

“Spit it out, Granger.”

“I need to get dressed.” It came out in a rush. Draco looked at her, amused and confused. 

“Who’s stopping you?” Hermione felt the heat rise in her cheeks and she averted her eyes. “You’re not being shy now, are you, Granger? Merlin, you are.” He laughed quietly. “I’ll turn my back, go on.” 

She didn’t respond but hurried to throw clothes on before turning to him. “I’ll make you tea.”

A moment later, she slipped out of her bedroom and froze. There, on the ground, were her jeans, discarded inside-out. A little further along the small corridor, his shirt, haphazardly hanging off the storage closet’s door handle. She swallowed. Oh, Merlin. 

Ginny appeared in the doorway to her kitchen with a big grin on her face and wiggling eyebrows. Hermione buried her face in her hands with a laugh and joined her friend in the kitchen just as the kettle whistled. 

Ginny pulled it off the hob and poured water over a tea bag in her mug. “Malfoy having a cuppa or is he hiding?”

Ginny !” It came out on a helpless bark of a laugh.

“What?” she asked innocently. “It is Malfoy who left that trail to your bedroom with you, right?” 

Hermione slumped into a chair and buried her face in her arms, mumbling, “Merlin, what have I done?”

“Get shagged good and proper by the looks of you,” Ginny observed with amusement, setting a cup of instant coffee down in front of Hermione. “Does your loverboy drink tea or coffee?”

“Tea. Two sugars, and milk.” Her head came up and she shared a look with Ginny that had both of them giggling. 

“So, how was it?” Ginny sat down opposite her, cradling her mug and looking way too interested in an actual answer. Hermione couldn’t help the grin creeping onto her face. She knew she was perma-red in the face already. Before she could say anything, Ginny let out a low whistle of appreciation. “Nice.”

Stop ,” Hermione hissed when she heard the bedroom door open but Draco didn’t come into the kitchen. A moment later, the bathroom door shut. She let out a breath she didn’t realise she was holding. “Why are you actually here, Gin?”

“Changing the subject? Oh alright. I wanted to check in with you about your birthday party.”

“Tuesday in the Leaky. I told Harry I would be there.”

“I know, it’s not that.” She took a sip of tea, obviously stalling. “I want to know if it’s okay for Ron and Romilda to be there.” Ginny’s mouth pressed into a tight line while she waited for a response. Hermione stared at her hands cradling her coffee. 

Really, she had no problem with Ron being there, even with Romilda. She just wasn’t sure if she could stomach seeing him with her. Not that she had any objections to Ron moving on. He should. She was, wasn’t she?

“It’s fine. It’s inevitable anyway, isn’t it? Meeting them together. Not like it’s my business anyway.”

“Okay.” Ginny’s eyes snapped up to the door, a smirk taking over her face. “Morning.” 

Hermione’s stomach swooped as she turned to find Draco stand in the door looking rather put together for someone who had no change of clothes with him. 

“Morning, Weas- Ginny,” he nodded. After a moment of hesitation, he moved towards the table and sat down next to Hermione, somehow managing to kiss her cheek as he lowered himself into the chair. 

Hermione smiled despite herself even as Ginny let out a dramatic, “ Aww,” before she continued with a chirpy, “So are you two a thing now?” 

Hermione’s smile dropped like a lead balloon. Her eyes flicked to Draco who was taking a sip of tea from the mug Ginny had pushed in front of him. His eyes were trained on the table. She swallowed, her eyes going back to Ginny, pleading. The redhead nodded, her lips pursed.

“I’m only teasing, I know it’s new. Don’t get your wands in a twist.” She drained her tea and got up. “Anyway, I better go. I just needed to know that about Tuesday. See you both there!” 

She waved and was gone before either could reply. Silence stretched between them, bordering on uncomfortable until Draco reached over and took her hand in his. 

“Are you Gryffindors always this chipper in the mornings or is the Baby-Weas-,” he stopped and cleared his throat. “Or is Ginny the exception?” 

“She’s exceptionally chipper.” After a beat, she added, “Thank you. For, you know, for making an effort. With Ginny.” He squeezed her hand and she returned the gesture, smiling. “Do you want breakfast?”

“I should get back home.” He let go of her and drained his mug before standing. Hermione followed him into the hall. She noted that their clothes were gone. 

“You tidied up,” she said, half to herself, half in wonder at him. 

“Well, I needed my clothes back to get dressed anyway, it wasn’t that difficult to pick up yours also. They’re on your bed.”

“Thank you.” She moved into him as she spoke and hugged her arms around his middle. Draco’s arms came around her just as tightly. He nuzzled her ear, and she moved to let him kiss her neck, up her jaw, to her mouth. Kissing him was bliss, she could do it for hours.

When they finally pulled back, she felt warm and fuzzy and just a little bit dazed. He pressed his forehead to hers. “I really want to see you tonight.”

The thought was appealing, though the way he’d said it… “But?” she prompted.

“I’ve made plans before last night. I don’t think I’ll be able to see you until your party, actually.” He pressed a kiss to her temple as he straightened up. She fought the disappointment rising in her.

“That’s okay.” She tried a smile. “I’m not expecting you to… to…,” she shrugged, unable to find the right words. 

Draco lifted her chin with his fingers. Her eyes slid to his. “Hi.” He smiled. “Last night wasn’t just about a bloody fantastic shag. Just in case you think you’re merely a notch in the bedpost. You’re not.” Hermione smiled lopsidedly, finding it difficult not to. “You’ve earned three notches.” His big grin and wiggling eyebrows made her laugh even though she tried to swat at him as he chuckled. 

“You’re a beast,” she huffed, trying in vain to look affronted. 

“Yep, a dragon.” Draco was still chuckling. “And you need to stop worrying so much. Let’s just see where this goes, yeah?” He kissed her once more before leaving through the Floo. 

 

*** 

Hermione went through the rest of her weekend in a state of bewilderment. She cleaned her flat, ran mundane errands, did her laundry, read, watched telly, visited her parents for Sunday lunch, treated herself to a new book she’d been wanting to read for ages - all things that weren’t out of the ordinary. Though her thoughts, while she did any single one of them, had never truly been on the task. During lunch with her parents, she’d lost herself in a particularly lovely daydream that had her blushing to the roots of her hair when her father asked if she was okay as she looked a little feverish. 

She was in a perpetual cycle of floating on clouds, wanting to vomit, feeling aroused and doubting her sanity. More than once had she considered to go as far as contacting him even though she knew he was busy. Ridiculous , she chided herself. 

Monday at work she finally managed to focus on the tasks in front of her and mainly put him out of her mind. Until Harry arrived in her office just at finishing time. 

“Knock, knock,” he said as he walked in through the open door. Hermione had one arm in her coat already. 

“Harry! How are you?” she asked, continuing on to button up. 

“I’m good. How are you?” Hermione looked up to see him scrutinising her. 

“I’m sure Ginny filled you in,” she said primly, a hand on her hip. 

“She’s shopping for your wedding present already,” he deadpanned. Hermione groaned. “Can I tell Ron?”

“Tell him what, Harry? This has nothing to do with him.”

“He should hear it before he sees it tomorrow night.”

“Why? Harry, he’s got a girlfriend. Why would he care if I have a… have any one myself?” She glared at him with narrowed eyes. “He already thinks Draco and I are together, anyway. I don’t see what good it would do to make more out of it than it is.”

“More than it is? What is it then? Friends? With benefits?” Harry’s eyebrows nearly vanished in his hairline. 

“Yes? No? I don’t know. Merlin, Harry. Must there even be a label?” Hermione threw her hands up in frustration, then grabbed her handbag and breezed past him, rankled that he’d asked out loud what she’d asked herself since Saturday morning.

 

***

 

When she arrived home, she was greeted by Morgana sitting on the windowsill outside her kitchen window. She let the owl in and pulled a couple of ham slices from her fridge which she took with a hoot after Hermione released the note from her leg. Morgana settled on top of her cupboard to devour her spoils. 

She opened the letter, though instead of the familiar elegantly slanted lettering, it was written in a much bolder, broader font. 

 

My dear Lass,

I have a bone to pick with you.

You appear to have stolen my best mate’s wits.
That must’ve been some night you two had.

He’s not even paying attention to me now.

I just told him I was shagging his mother and
do you know, all he did was hum in agreement.

By the way, thanks for the invite to your party.

Love and kisses,

BZ

 

Hermione read the missive twice, a grin splitting her face even while she blushed at the thought of Draco also thinking of her. She’d be buying a large drink for Blaise after this even though she was fairly certain he’d invited himself. Whether he intended it to be an encouragement or if it was accidental, she didn’t know, but she was thankful nonetheless to read that she wasn’t the only one affected. 

She grabbed a piece of paper from a notebook, and a muggle pen, and wrote a short message back.

 

My dear Lad,

It must have been my beguiling ways that have
muddled poor Draco’s mind.
I find I’m quite delighted to hear it. 
Do let me know how Narcissa enjoys your 
lecherous ways.

HG

 

After she sent Morgana off with her note, chuckling to herself and wondering how on Earth she ended up enjoying banter with Blaise Zabini, she went and organised her now dried laundry. 

 

***

 

When Hermione woke the next morning, Harry was waiting for her in her kitchen, bacon and eggs sizzling in a frying pan, coffee ready on the table, along with two mugs of tea. She frowned. This was all too familiar. Two mugs of tea, and her coffee. Last year, her first birthday after she and Ron had moved in together, it had been the same setup. The three of them, having breakfast cooked by Harry.

“Harry?” 

He turned and smiled at her, moving the pan off the heat before coming to hug her. “Happy birthday, ‘Mione.” 

“Thanks.” She pulled back. “Who’s the third cup for?” Harry sighed.

“Don’t get mad.” He faced her with one of his implacable looks that made her see why he was so good at interrogations. She could only wait while he paused and considered his next words. “And let me finish.” He waited for her to nod. “I’ve asked Ron to come along. He’ll be here in a moment. He needs to hear it from you.”

There was no need to elaborate on what it was.

“Are you sure he’ll come?” It would be the first real meeting since their breakup. She wasn’t sure she liked that it was likely to ruin her birthday. Her Floo activated. Hermione took a breath and turned to see Ron standing in the kitchen door looking hesitant. She fought the urge to cross her arms over her. 

“Ron,” she said, keeping her voice as even as possible. 

“Happy birthday, ‘Mione.” He swallowed visibly. “Can I?” Ron gestured towards her and after a moment of doubt, she nodded almost imperceptibly and he came to wrap her in a tentative hug. She returned it, putting her arms around him and marvelled at the fact that it wasn’t as awkward as she’d thought it would be. She’d felt no different from hugging other friends - except Draco. He made her feel things on a level that scared her. 

“Hungry?” Harry called behind them just as the toaster popped. 

“Starving,” Ron replied, letting go of Hermione and sitting where he used to, in the same seat Draco had sat on Saturday morning. Hermione bit her lip and thanked Harry when he served her first. She prodded her food with her fork, wondering how this conversation was going to go.

After a bracing sip of coffee, then another, she decided to break the silence between them.

“Will you be at the party tonight, Ron?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind. It’s been a while since I caught up with a few people.” He put his fork down. “You included.” 

“Will your girlfriend be with you?” She gave up her pretence of eating and clasped her coffee. “I mean, it’s okay if Romilda comes with you, of course.” 

Harry got up and excused himself to the bathroom in a way that almost made Hermione smile. Subtle, he was not. 

“Yeah, Romilda will be with me.” He fidgeted. She could tell he was nervous even if there weren’t over a decade of friendship involved. “I’m sorry, ‘Mione,” Ron blurted out suddenly. Hermione was taken aback by the outburst. “I should’ve seen we were over when you did. I never meant to hurt you, you know.”  

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered around a lump in her throat. She’d been expecting many scenarios since Harry told her that Ron would visit, but an apology was not one of them. She blinked to keep the tears at bay. One escaped anyway and she brushed at it with the back of her hand, while smiling. “Sorry. I… Ron… thank you.” 

For a moment she thought he would reach for her but then he put his hands in his lap and she was glad. 

“Are you happy with Romilda?” she dared ask. She suddenly needed to know. He smiled at the table.

“Yeah, actually.” She nodded.

“I have to tell you something, Ron.” Taking a deep breath, she ploughed on, “I’m also bringing someone tonight. It’s-” She stopped, her eyes widening. “I think it’s our first proper date,” she whispered, more to herself than Ron. Did the times they met with Blaise count? She wasn’t sure. Ron surprised her by chuckling. 

“He must be brave if your first date with him involves all your closest friends and family.”

Hermione stared at him, her brown eyes going back and forth between his deep blue. “Ron,” she whispered unable somehow to up her volume. “I’m bringing Draco.”