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Universal Truths

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“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Hermione Granger took a deep breath and scanned the room. She did not particularly want to be at this investment networking event, but she had promised Harry. Catching her eye through the crowd, he waved her over and she moved to join him in a small group of what she assumed were potential investors, steeling herself for an evening of small talk and bad wine.  

Having recently quit his job as a ministry auror, Harry was trying to attract financiers for a new, London-based Quidditch team, a venture that would easily cost millions of galleons. This was his dream - conceived after years of difficult and depressing work, which of course had followed his abusive childhood and dark adolescence, during which he’d died to save the entire wizarding world from the Dark Lord. Twice. 

Countless late night brainstorming sessions, scrapped proposals and endless revisions - many in which she had participated - had led to this moment. Hermione gazed at her best friend with deep affection. If anyone deserved a new start doing something that would give him joy, it was Harry. However, he did need serious capital if he was going to do it. And while his name paired with his Quidditch star fiancée Ginny’s was enough to get people to listen to the pitch, it wasn’t necessarily enough to get them to sign on. Hence the plea to Hermione to accompany them to this event and add a little additional golden girl lustre. 

She supposed she did bring something to the table. She’d kept her profile high in the years since Voldemort’s defeat and had risen through the ranks at the ministry. She was now in a top position in the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures department and she was proud of her work. She also wasn’t above using her status to further it, so she did also have some skill at this networking game. How many ministry mixers had she smiled and chatted through? With that thought, she turned on the charm for the newcomers, murmuring her way through introductions, hoping her smile was gracious. They were indeed investors with many questions about the business plan and her involvement. 

Hermione listened and made conversation, but her mind wandered. Which was probably why she noticed the exact moment that Draco Malfoy walked into the room with Theodore Nott. The rest of the crowd seemed to notice too and a ripple of whispers pulsed through it. Nott was a well-known angel investor, with the type of deep pockets most of the hopefuls at the gathering were dreaming about. And of course Malfoy controlled one of the largest fortunes in wizarding Britain. Their presence instantly seemed to make the room’s energy higher, the laughter louder. 

Hermione hadn’t seen either wizard in years, but one couldn’t avoid reading about them in the Daily Prophet , which followed particularly Malfoy’s every move breathlessly. She supposed it was understandable - young, beautiful and rich always sold papers. 

She very pointedly didn’t stare, unlike some others in the crowd, but admitted to herself that the two wizards did make an impression. Both were tall and impeccably dressed - so polished that they looked a bit out of place in this group of hopefuls. Nott was on the slight side and a bit more relaxed in his bearing, his dark eyes twinkling as he surveyed the scene. Malfoy was the same yet different to her eye. The annoying cockiness of his school days had matured into a sort of languid confidence, and his face was no longer pointed, but more … arresting. She took in his perfectly tousled hair, broad shoulders and slim hips and was taken aback by the small frisson of heat that resulted, although she ruthlessly tamped it down. He’d been a twat in school, but an irritatingly good-looking one, so nothing had really changed.

The surprising thing was that Malfoy was the last person she expected to see at a function like this. He was too well-connected to need to network - she figured he must be there as a favor too. She noted that his features already registered a sort of pained boredom and sniffed to herself. Wasn’t that just like him? He may have publicly renounced his family’s wartime beliefs, but he was still a snob. 

He obviously thinks himself above all this tedious money grubbing - she conveniently ignored the fact that her thoughts had been running in much the same direction not five minutes ago. Deciding not to waste any more attention on the two wizards, she instead redoubled her focus on Harry’s investors, catching Ginny’s eye and laughing as one of them attempted a witty comment. 

~oOo~

A few hours later, Hermione was waiting at the bar for a glass of water, slightly hidden from the rest of the room by a potted shrubbery. She looked on in amusement; it seemed that the networking event had, with the help of the ample drink and rather scant food, turned into a bit of a dance party. Groups of people were whooping it up on the floor as the lights went lower and the band got louder. 

Harry had been working the room - he’d spent a good 30 minutes talking to Theodore Nott - but he had now commandeered a table and was huddled up with another group who were gesturing and speaking loudly over the music. Ginny was sitting with them until she caught Hermione’s eye and got up to join her.

“Looking for a way out, yet?” Ginny grimaced as she glanced around.

Hermione gave her a guilty smile. “Yesss, I believe my utility and patience are both spent for the night. You?” 

“I think Harry’s stuck in for a bit longer. I’ll need to hang around in support, but you should get the fuck out of here while you can.” 

Just then the band started a particularly energetic tune that triggered waves of cheering from the pissed crowd. “I’m sorry, darling. I wish I could spirit you away too.” Hermione winced as someone fell over on the dance floor. 

“Oh I’ll be ok. It’s gillywater from here on out. I’ll just have to make sure Harry doesn’t need too much help home.” 

Hermione laughed and nodded - Harry had been going drink for drink with his new friends, and he was a notorious lightweight. “It seems like it’s been a good night for him. Those men he’s with have been talking to him for ages and I saw you two with Theodore Nott for a good chunk of time.”

“I know! It’s been ace! I’ll need to do background checks on that lot,” Ginny gestured to the table, “but Nott is legitimate. He seemed really interested in Harry’s plan. He asked all the right questions and suggested a follow-up meeting. I also actually enjoyed talking to him. He’s not at all what I thought he was like in school. He was very charming and kind. Not stuck up in the least.” 

“That’s good to hear. Unfortunately one can’t say the same about his companion.” Hermione felt the corner of her mouth tug up in a smirk. 

“Yeah, Malfoy’s been walking around all night like he has a stick up his arse.” Ginny put on an over-the-top posh voice; “one wonders why he bothered sullying himself with the riff-raff.” 

Hermione snorted.

“Although, it’s really too bad,” Ginny continued with a mercenary gleam in her eye. “He would actually be an amazing addition to our investment team. Our publicity would double! And he’s gotten surprisingly easy on the eyes.” 

“Agreed. But , total prat.” Hermione tilted her head with mock regret, causing her friend let out a bark of laughter. 

At that exact moment the band ended their set and in the relative silence Hermione overheard the voices of the subjects of their conversation from directly on the other side of the shrubbery. She slapped a hand over her mouth as Ginny’s widening eyes mirrored her instant panic, oh my god had they been overheard...? But it soon became clear that Malfoy and Nott were deep in conversation and hadn’t noticed them.

“...‘s not all bad, Draco,” said Nott’s voice. “There are some great ideas in this room!” 

“And did any of these ideas came with great business plans ? Or really any sort of plan at all other than, ‘give me your money and don’t ask too many questions’?” 

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Ginny, who mouthed ‘twat’ , but they remained in place and silent, committed to shameless eavesdropping.

“Thanks for your insight, but I’m not an idiot,” said Nott, taking a sip of something. “Potter’s scheme is actually rather intriguing. He wants to start a London-based Quidditch team, which when you think about it, it’s astounding that no teams represent London. There’s a large wizarding population to support a fan base and ample locations for a pitch. And with Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley’s names attached to the project there will be a lot of free PR. I’ve asked him for a private meeting to discuss it further. I’ve always sort of fancied being involved with a Quidditch franchise.”

Malfoy snorted, “Make sure you go over his numbers with a fine-toothed comb at your meeting. If I know anything about the ‘chosen one’, it’s that he tends to rush in without much of a plan.”

Hermione locked eyes with Ginny at this, although she privately acknowledged that the least well-supported part of the plan was the actual financials. She’d been meaning to review them, but hadn’t had time to really sit down yet.   

“Hermione Granger seems to be lending her support to it,” countered Nott. “Seems like she wouldn’t do that if it were a shit plan. In fact I think you should consider investing too. You love Quidditch, you live in London and you don’t lack for funds. It would be a lark. Besides, you’d get to work with Granger, and she’s gotten rather nice to look at.”  

Hermione’s brows flew to her hairline at this comment. Ginny’s mouth dropped open in total surprise. Both witches were riveted waiting for Malfoy’s response.

“Yes, the involvement of the ‘brightest witch of our age’ seems to be enough for the whole of wizarding Britain to drop everything and wade in,” he said, his tone icy. “But Granger would do anything for Potter, including supporting a poorly thought-out investment scheme. I don’t trust that lot to have worked anything through carefully, so I would never trust them with my gold.”

Nott started to protest but Malfoy cut him off. “Anyway, I’m out, Theo. I can’t stand another minute of this soiree and this crap wine. I can feel a headache coming on. Take your meeting with the Golden Trio if you want; you’ve certainly placed stupider bets. Just don’t throw my name around and do not set yourself up as a matchmaker. Granger may be tolerable, but she’s not enough to tempt me.” A glass plunked on the bar, “I’ll see you tomorrow at the Club.” With this parting shot Malfoy stalked away. Nott called out a quick goodbye and also moved off - in Harry’s direction. 

Hermione looked at Ginny in complete silence for a full ten seconds before they both broke into helpless laughter. When Hermione could speak again, she posed exaggeratedly against the bar and drawled, “the brightest witch of our age is tolerable, but NOT enough to tempt me,” in her best imitation. This set Ginny off again and the two were wiping tears from their eyes as Harry approached. 

“What’s got you two in stitches?” he asked with a tipsy smile. 

“Oh nothing,” Ginny replied. “Just making fun of a couple of posh twats.” This cracked Hermione up afresh and it took a moment before all was calm again.  

“Well, I count this night a big success,” said Harry, looking a bit puzzled at their antics, but clearly deciding from long experience to ignore them. “The investment group I was talking to at the table wants me to send them my proposal documents and Theo Nott wants to meet with me this week to discuss the plan in more depth.” 

“I’m so glad, Harry.” Hermione planted a kiss on her best friend’s cheek. 

Ginny kissed his other cheek, “yes, love, that is really encouraging. I’ll help you prepare the documents and prep for your meeting, but shall we get going home now?” 

“Yes!” Hermione joined her voice to Harry’s and then followed her friends out the door toward the apparition point.  

~oOo~

Later in bed, she couldn’t help chuckling again at the tone of Malfoy’s voice when he’d said ‘the brightest witch of our age’. She actually hated that moniker, every news article about her seemed to work it in and she thought it made her seem totally insufferable, but she cackled at the idea that it got under his skin. Anything to pierce that upper crust arrogance. 


And she truly didn’t care about his opinion. Although the ‘tolerable’ comment had stung slightly, it also appealed to her sense of the ridiculous. She knew she was more than tolerable. And despite the fact that she’d seemed to display a very minor physical attraction to grown-up Malfoy tonight, she wouldn’t ever remotely consider him either. He was too full of himself, and the pureblood world he moved in bored her to tears. She sighed, rolled over and closed her eyes, content to put him out of her mind for another several years.

Chapter Text

"She was a woman of mean undertaking, little information, and uncertain temper. when she was discontented she fancied herself nervous"

“Pass the mint jelly, Arthur. Oh no it’s empty, I’ll refill it from the pantry.” 

Hermione watched Molly Weasley bustle around her kitchen, magically filling plates with lamb, new potatoes and spring peas for the assorted members of the Weasley clan who were seated around the dining table. 

There was a standing invitation for Sunday roast at the Burrow and as an honorary Weasley, Hermione often attended. She was sitting next to Ginny as they discussed Harry’s successful meeting with Theodore Nott that week. 

“Nott seems really keen,” said Harry through a mouthful of potato. “We talked for a good two hours over lunch and he understood why there are so many positives to the scheme.” Ginny squeezed his arm in solidarity as an approving buzz rose around the table.

“That’s great news, mate,” said Ron, nodding enthusiastically. 

Hermione glanced at him, struck - as she often was - by how distant they had grown since school. There had been the brief romance directly after the war, but they’d broken it off - she’d been rather devastated by it until she realized it did not mean exile from the whole of the Weasley family. But she and Ron had never seemed to be able to rise to the same level of friendship they had enjoyed before. 

And since then he had drifted a bit, struggled to find his path. He’d lived in Spain for several years and while he was gone they had just … fallen out of regular touch, other than through Harry and Ginny or things like these meals or holiday gatherings. It had been a long time since she’d sat down and talked with him. Last she’d heard he was living back at the Burrow and working part time at Fred and George’s joke shop. She was fairly certain that he expected Harry to give him a position in the Quidditch venture once it was funded. And Harry probably would.  

Bill Weasley chimed in too, pulling Hermione out of her reverie, “Theo Nott is a well respected backer and he tends to pick winners - although some say he invests more with his heart than his head.” Bill’s position at Gringott’s gave him access to the rumour mill that was the world of finance, so the table quieted briefly as he spoke.

His words gave Hermione, who was enjoying Molly’s excellent homemade chutney, a flashback to Draco Malfoy’s remarks earlier in the week about Nott’s impulsiveness, and she vowed anew to sit down with Harry and Ginny and go over financials in the next few days. She didn’t want Harry losing such a valuable backer due to sloppiness. Especially if Malfoy was breathing down Nott’s neck. And that was two too many thoughts for a merely tolerable girl to have of Draco Malfoy on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, she chastised herself with a slight grin. 

Hermione’s attention was recalled to Harry when he mentioned that Nott had actually invited him to his country estate the following weekend to go over the proposal documents in detail. Apparently Nott was having a sort of weekend houseparty, but had some free time in the afternoons. The group exclaimed at this news, but Mrs. Weasley’s voice soon rose above the din. 

“Well Harry you’ll have to get as much as you can out of this. Did you say you were only invited for an afternoon? You’ll have to find a way to stretch that into an evening or overnight invitation!” 

“Mum!” Ginny protested, “Harry does not need to push himself in like that. Theo’s all right, but his friends are the worst sort of toffs. We all went to Hogwarts together and we know them. It will be the old Slytherin crowd - Pansy Parkinson, that whatsername Greengrass girl Dorothy or Daisy, ugh - Blaise Zabini and of course Mr. Arrogant himself, Draco Malfoy...” Heads nodded all around the table in agreement.

“Malfoy?” said Mrs Weasley with a look like a pointer scenting a rabbit, “I loathe his family of course, but he’s done a good bit to distance himself from all that, and since Lucius died he’s the sole heir to that extremely large fortune! He could probably finance the whole scheme without turning a hair!” 

Hermione shook her head as the table erupted with ten different (mostly negative) opinions about this remark. Ginny flushed bright red and Harry sputtered, “really, Molly I don’t need any more time than the planned meeting. And Theo did offer for me to stay the weekend, but Gin is right, mixing with that crowd does not appeal. It’s definitely better that I just focus my attention on a successful proposal review with Theo alone.” 

Hermione agreed wholeheartedly. She frankly couldn’t imagine anything worse than a country weekend with Pansy Parkinson and her ilk. Her few interactions with Pansy since school had shown her that the woman hadn’t changed. The war may have made blood purity views déclassé, but Parkinson was still a snob and a bitch even without the overt bigotry. Hermione shook her head again and looked down-table where she caught a very shifty look on Molly Weasley’s face. Ginny saw it too and jumped up, pointing her finger at her mother. 

“Mum, don’t you dare meddle in this! You could ruin the best chance Harry’s had so far. And I’m going to be away for the tournament and unable to stop it! Dad, tell her not to interfere!” she pleaded to her father, who chuckled softly as Mrs. Weasley’s mouth pursed alarmingly. 

“Now Ginevra, no matter what your mother gets up to, Harry will carry the day. Wherever he goes, people will always think highly of him,” he said. “Fred, pass me the radishes and tell Harry and Ginny about those investors you met.” 

Hermione raised her eyebrows in respect at the deftness of Mr. Weasley’s deflection, watching as Fred further distracted Ginny and Molly from a showdown by telling Harry about his meeting with a property investment group who were looking to diversify. He and Harry agreed to arrange a dinner with them in the near future and Harry looked well-pleased. 

During this conversation Ginny was shooting Hermione very intense glares and Hermione was sure she was going to be recruited to protect Harry from Mrs. Weasley’s machinations while Ginny was away. Both of them knew enough about the extent of Molly Weasley’s ambition for her children - including honorary and by-marriage children - to be concerned. Sure enough, right after lunch Ginny pulled her aside and demanded her solemn vow. Hermione gave it and mentally cleared her calendar for the following weekend, a bit alarmed, but hoping it would come to nothing. 

~oOo~

The following Saturday morning at around 11am, Hermione was luxuriating on the couch and reading a trashy novel, when she was the recipient of a hysterical floo call. Suited up in her full Quidditch kit, Ginny looked murderous as she shrieked, “You have to help him Hermione! You have to get to Theo’s and help him!”

“What. did. she. do?” Hermione said with deadly calm. Harry had been fine when he’d left the house not an hour ago. She’d checked him herself for traces of hexes and he’d been clear! She was trying to present a cool facade to pacify Ginny, but inside she wanted to KILL Molly Weasley. The woman was a scheming manipulator. 

Hermione’s demeanor must have helped, because Ginny stopped yelling and started speed talking, “I have to be on the pitch in two minutes, so I don’t have much time to explain, but mum slipped him some kind of time-delayed puking pastille that allowed him just enough time to get to Theo’s house before he started being sick all over the place.”

“Also George told me she fucked up the dosage, so even though she planned for it to let up in time for him to stay for dinner, he’s actually not going to be well until tomorrow or Monday. AND it’s a new prototype that Fred and George were still developing so there’s no counterspell! He’s very dizzy and the healer said floo and apparition are too dangerous, so the only thing he can do is stay put in bed with a self-cleaning bucket and lots of fluids.

Ginny shook her head. “He’s so upset, Hermione. Would you please go to him and stay with him and possibly talk Theo through the plan? I’m sorry to ask, but there’s no way I can miss these matches and you know how strict team policy is. I can’t get away until Monday after the match!” 

Tears had gathered in her eyes and Hermione was quick to reassure her friend that she would leave within minutes. Ginny thanked her repeatedly then called, “ Nott House, Greater Winchbourne! ” as she was being pulled away by her teammates before vanishing back into the fireplace. 

Hermione took a deep, centering breath then looked out her magical travel bag, a small duffle that was charmed to accio anything from her closet upon request. She slipped her copy of Harry’s business plan into it and added her copious notes. Then she located her magical atlas of Great Britain and found the closest apparition point to Nott House. She’d still have to walk a mile or so, but that couldn’t be helped. At least the area looks beautiful , she thought, searching for a bright side. 

Although she was decidedly not looking forward to the house party, she was determined to salvage the situation for Harry’s sake. Changing out of her pajamas and slippers into jeans and her sturdy hill-walking boots, she focused on the apparition spot then disappeared with a crack. 

~oOo~

About an hour later Hermione found herself walking energetically up a lovely country lane in the Northwest Cotswolds. Hedgerows rose on either side, oak trees stood in the fields and birdsong trilled from all around. She was rather enjoying herself despite her unsavoury destination; she’d never been to this part of the country and it was breathtaking. 

The village had looked charming as well. She’d have to make sure to walk back down and explore its winding lanes and promising shops. It had been a while since she’d gotten outside London and taken a long ramble in the country. She took a lungful of pristine air and came around a bend in the road to a pair of huge stone gates. This must be it. 

After checking with the house elf at the gatehouse Hermione was admitted promptly. The elf offered to apparate her up to the manor, but she declined in favor of continuing her walk - and perhaps putting off the inevitable for a bit longer. 

About a half a mile up the drive, the way had started to feel steep and she was regretting her choice when she heard an engine purring behind her. It sounded for all the world like a muggle car, and she whirled around in surprise. She couldn’t have been more shocked when she saw that it was a muggle car, an absolutely gorgeous classic Jaguar coming slowly up the drive. She stood to the side, mouth open, to let it pass. But it slowed. And as it pulled up next to her, the window rolled down. 

“Granger, what are you doing mountaineering up Nott’s driveway?” said an indifferent drawl. Sunlight glinted off a shock of platinum hair.

She was too busy circling the car to respond. 

“Malfoy is this a fucking 1966 E-Type?” she asked when she came back around to the driver’s side window. 

He tilted his head and pulled off his sunglasses. “Well yes it fucking is, Granger. How did you know that?” 

She took in the car’s gleaming surface as she eyed Malfoy speculatively. It was black (of course) but with a red leather interior. How was Malfoy of all people driving a muggle car? And how was it the car she loved most in all the world? What the actual fuck? 

“My grandmother had one of these. My muggle grandmother.” She shot him a look. “I loved it. My father sold it after she died, and it broke my heart. Hers was racing green.”

“Ah, the classic,” he said. “Roadster or Coupe?”

“Coupe, of course. How did you learn to drive a muggle car?” she asked with narrowed eyes, “Isn’t that against some pureblood rule or something?”

“Why don’t you hop in and I’ll tell you all about it on the way up to the house, since I presume that’s where you’re going? Looking up at you is giving me a neck cramp.” He lowered the sunglasses - of course they were Italian and chic - and leaned over to open the passenger side door. 

She hesitated for only a second, weighing being ‘tolerable’ against her sore feet, before she slipped into the seat. The interior smelled heavenly - like vintage leather and some indefinable but delicious thing. 

Her shock over the car receding, she answered his first question. “I’m here because I’m joining the house party to rescue Harry.” Malfoy glanced at her and she continued, “he came here earlier today to meet with Nott, but became ill and can’t be moved. Nothing serious, but rather debilitating for the next couple of days, and since Ginny’s at a tournament, I have to come play nursemaid.” 

“Well that’s a creative way to beg an invitation,” he said. “I hope whatever “illness” Potter has isn’t catching.“ 

She sniffed. Rude . “Please. And what are you doing driving a muggle car? It doesn’t even look enchanted.” She leaned over to peer at the steering wheel and study his hand on the gear shift. 

“It’s not,” he replied. “Part of my self-directed rehabilitation program after the war was to pick some muggle things and learn about them. I discovered that I particularly like cars and driving, so I learned how. I have a bit of a collection now, but this one is my favorite.” 

“Well you have good taste,” she said, rolling her eyes internally at, “ a bit of a collection ” as he pulled to a stop in front of the house. He gave a soft snort, and she also had to laugh at herself, in jeans and hiking boots, complimenting one of the most aristocratic men in the wizarding world on his taste. “Thanks for the ride.” She stroked the leather seat. “It was a privilege.” 

Malfoy killed the engine and looked at her for a beat from behind his sunglasses before giving a brief nod and climbing out of the coupe. He disappeared into the house without a backward glance. “Uh, ‘you’re welcome’,” she said to the empty car as a parade of house elves arrived to greet her properly.

Chapter Text

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

The interior of Nott house was predictably beautiful and imposing. Hermione blinked at tooled woodwork and soaring ceilings as her eyes adjusted from the bright sun to the dim indoor light. House elves removed her anorak and took her travel bag, fussing around and asking her if she needed refreshment. She thanked them and declined just as Theo Nott appeared with Pansy Parkinson. 

“Fantastic,” she breathed, taking in Nott’s formal robes and the other woman’s spotless boucle sheath ( Chanel? ) and bitchy expression. Hermione’s boots and jeans suddenly seemed a bit out of place. 

However, Nott moved forward with a smile to take her hand in both of his, instantly dispelling any awkwardness she felt. “You’re very welcome, Hermione!”

Parkinson’s greeting was much quieter and distinctly less warm; “Hello, Granger,” she said with a faint sneer. 

“Thank you, Theo. Hello Parkinson,” Hermione smiled gratefully at the wizard and gave the witch a cool nod. “How is Harry? May I go to him?” 

“He’s as well as can be,” said Theo with a sympathetic grimace. Pansy just grimaced. “Of course you’ll be wanting to see him. Let’s go straightaway and then we can find you some food and drink. I take it you walked here from the village? You must be peckish,” Theo continued as they began to climb the sweeping staircase to the second floor. Parkinson stayed below watching them with distaste, although Hermione noted that her expression brightened when she saw Malfoy descending in the opposite direction. 

He paused briefly. “Hello Theo. Granger.”  

“Draco!” said Nott. “Didn’t realize you’d arrived. I’ll come find you after I’ve settled Hermione. She’s uh, here to check on Harry. Potter. Who’s also here, but sick.”  

“Yes, Granger filled me in,” Malfoy said, catching Hermione’s eye briefly. Nott frowned in confusion, but let it go. He continued up the stairs and Hermione followed as Malfoy brushed past them and made his way down to where Pansy was standing. 

~oOo~

“Oh God, I’m glad you’re here,” Pansy sighed, reaching out to grab Draco around the waist. “I’m already over it and the weekend’s barely started. Theo’s haring around like the welcome wagon on speed. Blaise is fucking annoying and Daph says she’s not going to drink because she’s on a cleanse. Harry Potter, of all people, showed up and promptly started puking everywhere. And now we’re going to have to play nice with Hermione Granger all weekend?” She pressed her body against his and tilted her head back slightly. 

Draco reached around his back, dislodged her hands and put a good two feet of distance between them. He despised it when she acted proprietary. Although they’d fucked on and off for years, he’d always been honest and consistent about his lack of desire for a relationship - and it had been over a year since they’d last slept together. But she could still be extremely tedious about it at times. 

“Other than Daphne not drinking, that all sounds par for the course,” he said, bored. “And both of us know she’ll forget all about her cleanse by about 5:05pm. Lush,” he added with something akin to affection. 

“Well you can’t deny that Potter and Granger are an annoyance. At least Potter’s laid up in bed, but Granger? Whatever will we talk about? The latest in house elf rights? How to claw up the ministry promotion ladder? Vomit. She’s going to completely cramp our style.” Pansy flicked her hair. “I mean did you even see what she was wearing, Draco? She looked like she wandered in from L-Fest by way of dykesville with those fucking boots. I was personally offended by seeing denim in a wizarding home. And was she trying to prove some idiotic muggle point by walking up the hill instead of apparating? She was so flushed and sweaty. I noticed you brushed by her quickly. You must have been appalled.”  

“Actually,” he said, now extremely bored, “I gave her a ride up the hill in my car. And I thought the exercise made her skin glow.” 

Pansy’s mouth compressed into a thin line. Draco took advantage of her momentary silence to push past her out of the foyer. “Off for a smoke. See you later for drinks,” he tossed over his shoulder. 

~oOo~

Draco stood on a sufficiently secluded terrace, plucked a cigarette out of his silver case and looked out over the gardens, which were showing signs of the change from spring to summer. It was good to be in the country again. Work had been an absolute bitch lately, his mother and a recent situation with his adopted ward, Astoria, had also been extremely mentally taxing. He was looking forward to a relaxing weekend, as long as Pansy’s moaning didn’t ruin it. 

He couldn’t give a shit about Potter being here. They would never be best friends, but ten years after the war, they could be cordial. He’d even brought Potter in to advise on a project at The Meadows last year. He just hoped Theo wouldn’t make a stupid mistake with the Quidditch team investment. He’d find a way to look closely over the business plan at some point in the next few days. 

As for Granger, this afternoon’s encounter had bordered on inoffensive. Of course he had made his comment about her mostly to fuck with Pansy, but she had been somewhat tolerable to converse with for five minutes. Who knew she could appreciate something as singular as his car? Not that he was interested. Even if she had grown more attractive since school. 

He shrugged off such dreary thoughts, stubbed out his cigarillo and magicked it away, intending to get in a little broom time on Theo’s excellent practice pitch before cocktails and dinner. As he ran lightly up the stairs to his room to change, he conceded that the addition of Granger to this party probably wouldn’t hurt. At the very least, it would be entertaining to watch her spar with the snakes. 

~oOo~

Hermione sat with Harry, who looked distinctly green and kept emitting moans - intermittently due to nausea and being distraught at the situation. 

“I can’t believe that Molly would do this to me,” he groaned for the fourth time. 

“Can’t you? I have to admit that I’m totally unsurprised. That woman is ruthless and incredibly stupid. It’s a dangerous combination.” 

“You’re right. I just thought that since you checked me I was in the clear. And now I’ve embarrassed myself and cocked up any chance to get funding from Nott.”

“That I do not believe. Theo strikes me as intelligent and understanding. He won’t judge you or pass on a good opportunity because of this. Besides, I’ll find some way to talk to him about the plan again and keep his interest alive. Then we’ll just schedule you another meeting for next week. Easy peasy.” She stroked his forehead, brushing back his untidy hair. He covered her hand with his and looked at her with gratitude.  

“Thanks so much for rushing to be here, Hermione. I feel much better now - well at least mentally better,” he groaned, as his face went pale with another wave of nausea. He fought it down, “I really appreciate that you’re willing to mix with with people you don’t like very much in order to help me and the scheme.” He flopped back onto the pillows, a sheen of sweat on his brow.  

“You are very welcome and I will be fine.”  

Hermione measured out a dose of the dreamless sleep potion left by the healer and Harry swallowed it eagerly. 

“After meeting Theo, I don’t think he’ll let anyone be too mean to me,” she mused. “And Malfoy actually gave me a ride up the hill in his muggle car .”  She wiggled her brows at Harry and his eyes widened, even as they began to close in sleep. 

“And, I think I’ll actually enjoy sparring with that bitch, Parkinson. She has an obvious weakness that I’m eager to exploit,” she said, thinking of the hungry way the witch’s eyes had followed Malfoy down the staircase. After all this time, she was still smitten with him...  

By this time Harry was breathing deeply, so she left him with a watchful house elf and went to find her room. Theo had told her that cocktails were at 5pm on the terrace and she wanted to relax a bit before she stepped into the breach. 

~oOo~

Hermione arrived on the patio promptly at five and looked around appreciatively. The light was golden, the air was soft and the gardens were lovely. The other guests began to trickle in as the sun rode low in the sky, starting with Theo and Blaise Zabini. Blaise was teasing Theo and they laughed as they greeted Hermione, then settled into a couple of the comfortable seats strewn about.  

“What’s on the menu, man?” asked Blaise, rubbing his hands together. “I could use a DRINK!” 

“Me too,” said a melodious voice. It belonged to Daphne Greengrass, who hugged the two wizards, then came over and said a polite hello to Hermione. 

Theo looked around, “Well, Pansy had some concoction she wanted to try. She was huddling with the elves about it earlier. Something with elderflower she had in St. Moritz.”

“Sounds poncy,” said Blaise. 

“Well I’ve also got the usual - white, red and bubbly, ale, anything from the bar. Even butterbeer if you want to please your inner thirteen year old. ” 

“Wait, you two have got to try my alpine spritz!” called Pansy as she appeared. Hermione noted that she’d changed for the evening activities into something long and beautifully cut with a very plunging neckline. Her black hair was a shiny curtain framing her expertly made up face. Several carats of fine stones dangled from her ears. 

“Wow, Pans, you look like a million. Literally,” said Blaise, eyeing her earrings and leaning in to air kiss her cheeks.  

“Thanks, love,” she responded, her face lighting up, then falling almost comically as she spotted Hermione standing with Daphne. They were chatting politely, which in itself seemed to annoy her. 

Also, Hermione thought with some relish, if Parkinson hoped she would embarrass herself sartorially, that hope was now dashed. She knew she looked perfectly stylish in a summery jumpsuit and statement earrings. In fact, considering Daphne’s simple linen trousers and blouse, and the wizards’ similarly casual attire, it actually appeared that Pansy was a bit overdressed - a fact which did not seem to escape the dark-haired witch, who twitched her hem and looked daggers at the other guests. 

“Daph, Hermione,” exclaimed Theo, ever the gracious host. “What is your poison? Do you want to try Pansy’s Alpine cocktail? Oh but of course it will be sparkling water for you, Daph.” 

“Ahhh no,” Daphne replied with a rueful look. “I, uh, actually think I’ll have the Alpine thingy.” 

“Sooo predictable,” commented Blaise, rolling his eyes. The rest of the group laughed, although Hermione glanced around, a bit confused.  

“Daphne announced earlier that she wouldn’t be drinking this weekend,” commented a wry voice from behind her. “We all had bets on how long past 5 o’clock it would last and I think I won with ‘30 seconds’.” Malfoy moved into view as the crowd, including Daphne, laughed. Hermione joined in. The blonde witch seemed like a good sport.

“Draco, you want to try Pansy’s Alpine thing too?” asked Theo, as a helpful house elf hovered nearby with a pitcher of the drinks.  

“It’s called an Alpine Spritzer,” said Pansy, her eyes flashing. “You have to taste it Draco, everyone was drinking them in St. Moritz this Winter and they’re divine. It’s Vodka and elderflower topped with champagne.”   

“Yes, sounds fine.”  

“And Hermione? You? Are you in for a spritzer?” asked Theo.

“I think I’ll just have some bubbly.”

“Oh Hermione are you one of those people who ‘doesn’t drink hard alcohol’? Too much for you?” Pansy said.  

“No, I just really like Champagne.” Hermione forced a smile at the dark haired witch.  

Daphne laughed, “who doesn’t!?” 

“Oh I see. You’re going to nurse that glass all night.” Pansy ignored Daphne and kept Hermione locked in her sights. 

Hermione stared back, feeling like she’d been transported back to 5th year, peer pressure and all - but decided it was best not to respond. She accepted a delicate flute from Theo with thanks and sipped contentedly, looking to start a conversation with someone, anyone - but Pansy seemed goaded by her silence.  

“Well you won’t be able to maintain long with this crowd,” she said, looking around for confirmation. Blaise tittered and Theo made a noncommittal sound. Malfoy was totally silent, turning his back to the group to look out over the garden. 

“So tell me how you discovered this drink, Pans. It’s really delicious!” said Daphne, holding out her glass for a refill, obviously trying to diffuse her friend’s vitriol toward the newcomer. 

But Pansy was relentless. “Oh, it was the thing at Badrutt’s this Winter when I was there for the skiing. We drank pitchers of them and had fun, because we know how to.”

Daphne shifted uncomfortably and Hermione noticed that the others seemed to have tacitly agreed to ignore the dark-haired witch.  

She decided that Pansy deserved needling, so she walked in Malfoy’s direction. “Malfoy,” she said in carrying voice, looking up at him with a winsome tilt of her chin, “I was so taken with your car when you gave me a lift this afternoon that I forgot to ask what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been. I mean, I haven’t seen you in an age.” She smiled up at him and blinked rapidly, feeling mischievous. There was an audible exhale from somewhere behind her right shoulder at the mention of the lift. Really, the woman was too obvious for her own good.

Malfoy looked down at her, then cut his eyes briefly over to Pansy. He then turned so he faced away from her and screened the Hermione from the rest of the group, creating a neat little circle of privacy. 

“Well after my trial I did some ‘soul-searching’,” he said in a low voice, making their exchange even more intimate. Hermione noticed another frisson - to her annoyed surprise. “I traveled a bit and dove deep into some muggle ‘stuff’ as I mentioned earlier.” 

She nodded, finding herself actually interested. “What kind of muggle stuff? I mean, other than vintage cars.”  

“Oh the usual university kid things,” he said, running a hand through his hair and quirking the corner of his mouth. “Literature, music, film, cooking…”  

“Wait, don’t tell me Draco Malfoy knows how to cook like a muggle!” He raised a brow. “Well what can you make?” 

“I’m great with breakfast,” he deadpanned, stepping slightly closer to her and intensifying his eye contact. She paused a beat, her pulse quickening, then broke into real laughter as she realized what he was about.  

“Oh very good,” she said as she settled into a chuckle, draining her glass. He finished his as well and gave her an almost smile.  

Did I just have a moment with Draco Malfoy? The thought flitted through her mind with a little jolt. 

After a beat, she and Malfoy seemed to realize they were staring at each other and turned abruptly back to the group to find themselves the subjects of intense scrutiny.  

Pansy looked furious, which greatly amused Hermione. “So, you’ve proved you can drink a glass of champagne. Why don’t you try the cocktail?” the other witch challenged, reckless now and seemingly unaware of how ridiculous she appeared.  

Hermione sighed, done with this conversation. “To tell you the truth, I don’t like vodka and never drink it. I find vodka drinks boring and I don’t like the taste, which I can always detect. I consider it the liquor for people with unsophisticated palates that ‘don’t want to taste the alcohol’. I’m sorry if that offends anyone here.” She finished the statement with a cold smile that didn’t reach her eyes then heard the very faint ghost of a snicker from behind her.  

Parkinson’s face turned a dull red and it finally seemed to dawn on her how ridiculous she’d been about the whole thing. She snapped at one of the house elves and drew Daphne away to the side with a whispered comment.  

“20 points to Gryffindor,” muttered Blaise as Theo tried to smooth over the tension, coming over and offering to take Hermione around the sculpture garden. 

“I really don’t mean to be a snob,” she said as she accepted his offer gratefully, still in disbelief that the discussion had run on this long. “It’s just that spirits are an interest of mine and I know what I like.” She clinked her glass to his as he smiled down at her and told her not to worry about it. But she couldn’t help feeling like she’d been put to some sort of test - and wasn’t sure if she’d passed or not. 

For the rest of the night she steered clear of Pansy and focused her attention on Theo, who was a delight; Blaise, who was ridiculous, but fun; and Daphne, who was truly friendly and also surprisingly knowledgeable about fine spirits.  

They’d had a lively debate on the merits of Speyside versus Islay single malt whisky and Hermione had been surprised and pleased to find a pureblood so well versed in a muggle subject. Blaise had even jumped in to make the case for firewhiskey, although they’d shot him down pretty quickly, as one thing the witches were in agreement about was that there was really no comparison. 

She didn’t speak much more to Malfoy, but looked up once or twice to find his eyes on her. She didn’t think anything of it, though, as he seemed to give her a wide berth all evening and then stepped out early, directly after Pansy announced that she was going to bed. She wondered idly if there was something more to them than she had realised, and then immediately hoped there was so that her little interlude with him would have pissed the bitch off even more. 

Evil, Granger, you’re getting evil in your old age, she chuckled to herself as she climbed the stairs to bed. The day hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared, but she hoped to make tomorrow more pleasant by mostly keeping to herself until the requisite evening gathering. There was the village to explore as well as the beautiful grounds, which seemed to stretch on for miles. She decided she’d rise early and take a walk, as well as search out the library, which had to be impressive. She also needed to make sure she talked to Theo about Harry’s plans and vowed to keep alert for an opportune time to do that.  

She made a quick stop at Harry’s room, poking her head in to make sure he was asleep, before heading off to bed herself, suddenly exhausted after the events of the day. 

Chapter Text

“He had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty: he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.”

The next morning Hermione woke just after sunrise and went straight to check on Harry again. He was pale and sleeping so soundly that she didn’t like to disturb him. Besides, the grounds beckoned. 

She set out in the morning mist with a purposeful stride and a large mug of coffee provided by a friendly house elf. She walked for a few miles through carefully tended gardens closer to the house and less tame groves and woods further out. It was all delightful; obviously the product of years of careful tending by an army of experienced groundskeepers. 

She had walked her fill and swung around back toward the house, intending to go in and clean up before heading into the village, when she heard a distinctive ‘ thunk...thunk… ” sound in the near distance. “ Oooh, target practice! ” she thought as she hurried toward the sound. Rounding a bend out of the woods cautiously, she came to a large meadow where an archery course had been set up. Blaise and Theo were loosing arrows with practised ease, Theo a bit better of a shot, but both skilled. Theo caught sight of her and waved his arm.  

“Good morning! Fancy a go?” he called, gesturing with his bow. She jogged over.  

“I’d love to,” she said as she approached them. “It’s been ages, but I used to be keen. I didn’t realise this was a sport that purebloods played…?” 

“Yes, it’s one of the few approved recreational activities that seem to cross wizard and muggle lines,” said Theo. “Another is fencing. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with both activities being related to elements of combat that are useful in wizarding battle as well as muggle. Perhaps we learned them in ancient times to be effective if disarmed? There’s actually an interesting book on this very thing in the library at the house.” 

She had been nodding along, fascinated. At the mention of the library her pulse quickened. “Ohh yes, your library. Would it be ok if I took a look in there?”  

Theo grinned and nodded while Blaise snorted. “Swot,” Blaise said, but with no sting. He then notched another arrow and let it loose. It hit the board with a thunk, feathers quivering, then extracted itself and whizzed back to the basket next to Theo.

“Guilty,” Hermione shrugged. “But, I would never forgive myself if I wasted my chance to peruse the library at Nott House.”   

“Your chance?” said Theo with raised brows. “You make it sound so final! I was going to invite you and Harry back for my Solstice party next month. “It’s an annual celebration and I’d love for you both to come.” 

“That’s so kind of you,” she said, her mind defaulting to looking for a way to gracefully decline the invitation. She might be tolerating this crowd for Harry’s sake, but she wasn’t truly keen on furthering the relationship beyond friendly acquaintances.

Blaise, whom she had noticed was extremely socially perceptive, seemed to take her measure in a glance. “It’s really an astounding do, Granger. The Nott House Summer Solstice Party? Haven’t you heard of it? It’s infamous. You’d be meeting all sorts of interesting people. Not just the posh toff crowd you’re stuck with this weekend. And if Potter really hopes to make a success of  a Quidditch team in London, he couldn’t find a better set of contacts. PR influencers, regulatory heads, investors, suppliers - they’ll all be here.” 

Hermione took the hint and shot Blaise a covert look of thanks mixed with resignation. He smirked. She took a deep breath, “I’d love to come, Theo, and I know Harry will too. In fact, he’s extremely upset and embarrassed at what’s happened this weekend - part of him asking me to come here was to convey that to you and to make sure you don’t lose interest in the Quidditch investment just because he’s a dolt who showed up on your doorstep and promptly vomited.” She punctuated the last sentence with a rueful laugh, hoping to soften the mercenary tone of her statement.  

“Of course his illness doesn’t affect my interest in the scheme!” said Theo as he helped Hermione shoulder the bow. “I’m going to read over the proposal document this afternoon and then I’ll make sure to set another meeting time with him before he goes. I haven’t wanted to disturb him, but I’ll definitely look in on him this afternoon.” 

“Thanks so much, Theo. I’m sure that news will speed his recovery.” Hermione turned to sight the target and make her shot. The arrow went true and embedded itself respectably close to the bullseye.  

“Nice one!” shouted Theo, patting Hermione on the back. “You know, I’m very sorry that Harry got sick, but the silver lining is that it’s allowing me to get to know you better, which has been delightful.” He took her hand and executed a little bow over it.  

Hermione laughed. “Likewise,” she said with her own bow.  

Later, Hermione returned to the house and ate a quick lunch. She then ran up the stairs to Harry’s room to peek in on him. He was awake and sipping a thin broth with the help of a house elf. 

“Hullo,” he said, his eyes downcast as he slurped at a spoonful of the unappetizing-looking liquid.  

Hermione apprised him of her conversation with Theo. “Blimey, that’s good news,” he said with a weak grin, pushing away the rest of the broth and falling back on his pillow.  

“Do you want to sleep some more?” Hermione asked with concern and a silent curse for Molly Weasley. He’d been sleeping an awful lot.  

“Well it’s better than lying here bored and counting the squares in the canopy,” he said, gesturing to the checked fabric over his head.  

“Oh god, of course you’re bored,” Hermione leaned down to fluff his pillow. “Well listen, I was planning on going into the village this afternoon. I’ll pick you up some Quidditch magazines and I’ll have the house elves bring you a deck of cards in the meantime.” Harry nodded his thanks. “And I’ll have a look in the library and see if there are any interesting books I can bring to you.” 

“I can’t believe you’ve been here 24 hours and haven’t been to the library yet,” remarked Harry with a slight grin. 

“Oh, you’re well enough to make jokes,” she said. “You must be feeling better!” He smiled faintly, but his eyelids were lowering. “Ok,” she said. “I’m off. I’ll come back in a bit with your stuff and I’ll tell Theo to come in and chat if you’re awake in a few hours.” 

*

This time Hermione apparated into the village. As suspected, the shops were charming and she enjoyed a couple of hours wandering. She returned to the manor with Harry’s magazines, some new books, and two bottles of good single malt - one for herself and the other to thank Theo for his hospitality to an unexpected guest.  

She entered the manor from the apparition point rather than the front door and walked a different way to the entry hall, her steps clicking pleasantly on the thick marble floor. She suddenly caught a whiff of fragrant smoke and stopped, looking around for the source. A thin plume unfurled from behind a half-closed velvet drape that covered the entrance to what looked like a small balcony. She stepped closer and pulled the curtain aside, revealing a graceful torso stretched over a balustrade and a fair head glinting in the last of the evening sun.  

“Hello, Granger,” Malfoy said over his shoulder before taking an elegant drag on his thin, brown cigarette.

She stepped onto the balcony, wondering how he knew it was her. “You know those things are bad for you.” 

He shrugged, which she noticed did interesting things to the interplay of muscle under his fine linen shirt. 

“May I have one?” 

He turned around, surprised, then extracted his cigarette case and a silver lighter. He stepped closer and offered her one. She took the slim brown cylinder and put it to her lips. The lighter wicked to life and she inhaled deeply and with some enjoyment. 

“All right, I admit I’m at least as shocked about this as you were about the car,” he said, gazing down at her. She raised her eyebrows and took another long drag, trying to ignore that she continued to find him annoyingly attractive. It wasn’t that she was attracted to Malfoy, she told herself - it was some instinct in the primal brain that responded to a tall, well-built man. 

“I’m not a 16 year old schoolgirl anymore,” was the brilliant thing her mouth said. For some reason her voice came out a bit husky and it sounded sort of like a come-on. She cringed inwardly. 

His eyes went unfocused for a second and she could have sworn he glanced her mouth before they both suddenly turned to face out over the grounds. 

“It is really ridiculously beautiful here,” she said in an attempt to diffuse the awkwardness. 

The mellow sunset light gilded pockets in the trees that turned to a deep, flame orange as they watched.

“The magic hour,” he agreed. 

“You know, right now I’m actually glad I came here,” she said, smiling out at the view. 

“Not so dismissive about what money can buy?” 

“What? I never…”  

“Oh don’t lie. You’ve been judging us all as spoiled rotten toffs since you got here.” 

She looked at him open-mouthed. He continued to look out at the scenery as she struggled to make a response. 

Then she closed her mouth and her eyes glinted. “It was actually since the networking party.” 

“What?” 

“I haven’t been judging you since I got here. It’s been at least since the networking party,” she clarified. “Probably longer. Actually I’ve thought you were spoiled rotten since I first met you.” 

He paused for a moment then laughed, a real, honest laugh that did something to her pulse - accompanied by a smile that did something to her insides. She tried very hard to rationalize these effects. 

“Thanks for the interlude. Glad I could provide some comic relief,” she said in a rush, as she stubbed out her cigarette. He glanced at her as she turned to go.

“You’ll be happy to know that drinks are in the library tonight.” Was he stalling her?  

“How does everyone seem to know that about me?” she mused, willing to be detained. “But yes, I’m looking forward to seeing it. Do you think we’ll need to dress nicely for dinner again? Will I need to change?” She gestured to her silk t-shirt, trousers and stylish sandals that would be fine for almost any late spring dinner party she could conceive of. For fuck’s sake, was she fishing for a compliment?

Malfoy surveyed her and exhaled, looking like the dragon of his namesake, then flicked his glance away. “ Yes, you’ll need to change, Granger. It’s a formal dinner at Nott House. This isn’t a curry takeaway or that pile the Weasleys live in. You’ll need to make an effort. Just like last night.” 

She rolled her eyes. That’s what she got for forgetting what a total prat he could be. “I just find it tedious to select and change clothes multiple times a day.”

“Is it, though?” he said. “I’d have said your cheap high street fashion is more tedious, anytime.” His lip curled and he turned back around. For a moment she longed to smack the back of his platinum head.   

She contained her violent urges and gave his back a flat stare before spinning on her heel, whispering, “arse,” under her breath. She was so intent on her exit, she missed the grin that transformed his face as she left.   

*

Draco’s smile faded and he kept his eyes firmly trained on the garden as he heard her light steps trip away across the entry hall, then up the carpeted stair. He exhaled, not realizing he’d been holding his breath. She was a surprise, that’s all, a surprise. He wasn’t going to let his reaction to her shake him. He’d known her since he was eleven for fuck’s sake. It wasn’t like she’d exploded on his consciousness out of nowhere. But her company this weekend had been … refreshing? Interesting? Stimulating. Yes, stimulating. In more ways than one

He’d actually noticed her at that ridiculous investor event - partly because it was her and partly because he’d caught her looking as bored and unhappy as he’d felt. She had also been wearing a distinctly sexy black dress - nothing trashy, but well-cut and showing off her slim build. If he was being totally honest, he’d always found her pretty - even when he was being a shit to her at school. 

When he’d spotted her walking up to the manor yesterday, he’d been a bit startled by the strength of his response. He’d known it was her immediately and told himself not to stop, but his body hadn’t listened to his brain. And then her reaction to the car - he huffed a soft laugh - that had been a surprise. He had been expecting her to be stiff and rude and had instead gotten an intriguing little conversation. 

Their exchange in the car and again on the terrace last night. Just now. He was affected by her. Noticing the dusting of golden freckles across her nose and the dark wings of her expressive eyebrows. Her pretty mouth. He’d mocked her clothes because he absolutely couldn’t say what he’d really been thinking. And then she’d called him an arse. Priceless. He grinned again. He was obviously too used to girls who fawned over him. The one that insulted him gave him a hard-on. 

Maybe he needed to seek out Pansy tonight. It had been too long since he’d been with anyone. But the thought didn’t appeal. Was Granger getting under his skin that badly? Fuck. He’d need to do something about this. Luckily they only had tonight and then would all be going their separate ways in the morning. He’d put her out of his mind - he’d always been good at compartmentalizing. 

Draco reached for his cigarettes and lit another - he almost never smoked more than one a day, but this was clearly a special circumstance. Maybe he’d follow it with a cold shower. 

The smoke relaxed him and his mind wandered, picturing her walking across the garden to the house just now. Long, swinging strides and deep breaths. He could see her tits bouncing under her top and he’d stared like a fucking teenager. And then she’d come up to the balcony and he could smell her - the scent she’d left in his car. 

Bollocks, maybe he should just pursue her - see if he could fuck her and get her out of his system. But no, he was almost sure she wouldn’t go for a fling. He didn’t think she was a prude per se, but she was self-possessed. He couldn’t see her standing for his shit. He realized with surprise that she wouldn’t settle for him - or at least what he would offer her. She’d expect more.

More. He snorted as he thought of the reaction if he brought Granger home in her boots and muggle attire to Narcissa. The war had driven anti-muggle sentiment underground, but it still coursed through the pureblood community - especially the older generations. Muggles might be tolerated to work with or live next to, but not to marry or - horrors! - create half-blood children with. Draco himself no longer held these opinions, but he also didn’t really intend to rock that particular boat when the time came. Marriages were alliances and he would make a good one. As long as his future spouse was undemanding (this requirement excluded Pansy) and could produce the requisite heir, they’d rub along just fine. His mother had been pestering him more intensely lately to settle down, with a proper girl , but he wasn’t remotely ready. 

No, Granger may be intriguing - clever and interesting, beautiful in a way that distracted him, but he was not interested in a misalliance. He could make it one more night and once this weekend was over he’d simply put her out of his mind.

Chapter Text

"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome." "And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody." "And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them."

An hour and a bit later, Hermione swept down the stairs in search of the library. She had initially agonised over her dress choice after Malfoy’s comments, but her sense of humor had kicked in and she was able to have a good chuckle at his poncy-highness. So she went to dinner and drinks comfortable in a simple floor-length wrap dress of ochre silk that she’d definitely bought in the high street. With her hair in a loose, low twist and some very fetching heeled sandals, she felt ready to brave the snake pit. 

She found what must be the library door, an elaborately carved wooden double passageway that looked like the gates to a lost fairy grotto rather than a normal room. Her breath caught as she stepped through the threshold and registered the size and beauty of the chamber. She took in the shelves of what were clearly thousands of books on two levels joined by spiraling staircases and felt a stab of pure lust to be mistress of Nott house and this incredible collection - despite the fact that she was 99% sure that Theo was gay. She would engage in a number of marriages of convenience to have free reign of this place. 

She must have stopped and gaped in the doorway for an unseemly amount of time because Blaise soon prodded her lightly from behind whispering, “Malfoy Manor’s library is five times this big. Just sayin’…” She shot a puzzled look at his highly amused face, then stepped away from him and into the room. 

Theo greeted her with an outstretched hand, asking after her trip to the village. She held out the bottle of whisky in response, thanking him for his hospitality and generosity in opening his home to her. 

“How kind,” sneered Parkinson’s voice, cutting in from the deep leather couch on which she was sitting, resplendent in something dark green and definitely not from the high street. “So lovely and middle class that your mummy instilled the hostess gift rule in you.” Hermione was amazed at her blatant rudeness, but refused to acknowledge it, figuring Pansy made herself look worse than she ever could. 

Theo leveled a long, murderous look at the black-haired witch, then thanked Hermione for the thoughtful gift. He began to open the bottle directly and Daphne wandered over to ask about its origin and characteristics. Hermione chatted with her for a bit and they tried a dram. Blaise also came over for a lesson and taste. A late spring rain pattered against the windows, which had gone the deep violet of near night.   

Hermione realized she hadn’t seen Malfoy and looked around to spot him in a secluded corner desk, writing a letter. He seemed to be totally engrossed and ignoring everyone else, although she could see Parkinson making little motions and sounds in an attempt to attract his attention. 

She still wasn’t sure what to make of her encounters with him during this house party, but she decided that her best course of action was probably to chalk them up to the strangeness of being thrown together in this circumstance … and then forget them. 

“Do you mind if I just have a wander?” she asked Theo, gesturing to the further reaches of the library. 

“Of course! Look all you like,” he said. “Ground floor is history, literature and poetry. Second floor is magical reference. The oldest magical texts are in a special section in the back downstairs. The password to enter is paradísum voluptátis.” 

Hermione smiled. “Earthly delights indeed.” 

“Would you like a glass of this to take with you?” he indicated the whisky bottle. 

“Yes, please. You really are the perfect host” she said, winking at him and taking another dram before heading for the nearest staircase. 

Parkinson snorted. “So true to form, Granger. Latin. Practically aroused over a library. Always reading. Don’t you have any other hobbies?” 

“I don’t really consider reading a hobby - it’s more of an ‘essential for life’ activity. But yes, I do have many other interests. Don’t you worry about me.”

Parkinson rolled her eyes and mouthed the word “BOR-ING,” in Draco’s direction, but he continued to ignore her. 

Hermione also ignored her, gathering her dress hem and climbing the staircase carefully. She ascended to a narrow walkway with a solid, carpeted center and open grillwork on either side. Taking a calming breath, she ran her fingers lightly over the spines of the books, noting at least seven titles she’d like a closer look at in the first shelf alone. She moved slowly down the walkway, soon becoming totally engrossed. 

*

Theo watched the curly haired witch with a fond gleam in his eye. He’d meant what he’d said earlier that day, he was enjoying getting to know her and glad that she had made an addition to their little group this weekend, even if he did feel sorry for Potter. He’d especially enjoyed the way she put Pansy, who could be exceedingly annoying, in her place. And she had great taste in whisky. 

Sipping his dram and surveying the room, Theo’s eye was caught by a movement from Draco’s corner. He looked over to see his best friend glance up, startled, as Granger paused directly above him on the walkway. Theo caught a glimpse of long slender leg through the grillwork and the slit in Hermione’s dress and figured the view must be much more explicit for Draco, who froze in place, upturned eyes glazed. 

Theo gasped silently as his friend looked down and swallowed, delicate pink creeping up his neck and over his fine cheekbones. Draco stared down at the desk motionless for a full minute until a flash of annoyance crossed his features, and he schooled his countenance into its usual cool mask, then redoubled his attention on his letter. 

So that’s the way the wind blows?? thought Theo with more than a little glee. A very quiet snort of laughter from his left let him know that the little display had not escaped Blaise’s attention either. Theo looked at the other wizard with eyes wide and brows raised as Blaise shot him a huge grin and mimed a wolf whistle. Theo reached out and slapped him quietly on the wrist, shaking his head as if to say, ‘don’t you dare.’ 

He then darted a glance at Pansy, who luckily seemed to have chosen that moment to take her attention off Draco, but now seemed to decide she was tired of being ignored. “Draco darling, who are you writing to?” she drawled, her consonants making Theo think she had likely started drinking earlier in the day. 

“Astoria,” grunted Draco without looking up. 

“Oh give the dear girl my love !” said Pansy, in raptures. Theo winced at the shrillness in the enclosed space. “Daph, I haven’t seen your sister in an age and I just adore her. Such style and originality in a young girl. So gamine . Is she still at Hogwarts? Fifth year? It’s sweet how you write to her, Draco. You play the role of wise guardian sooo perfectly. How did that come about again? You’re all some sort of cousins, correct?” 

Her gushing ceased momentarily as Daphne, looking up from a magazine, cut her eyes to Theo, a warning flashing in them. Theo gave her a slight nod.

“Second cousins once removed,” said Draco, his attention still firmly fastened on his letter. 

“Astor left Hogwarts this Winter,” Daphne said cautiously. “She’ll be at Beauxbatons once term starts.” 

“Amazing! A term in France. She’ll gain just the polish she needs to be truly accomplished. You see so few girls these days that are well-rounded in the ways that all pureblood witches used to be. And so many witches,” here Pansy glared at Hermione, who was coming carefully back down the spiral staircase, “who have no social graces or fashion sense to speak of .” Theo felt like slapping her. 

“And here I thought I looked rather well tonight,” Hermione remarked under her breath, but not too quietly. Theo snorted - she could certainly take care of herself - and saw Draco’s glance flick to her too. Louder, she said, “and what would make a pureblood witch considered ‘truly accomplished’? And why would she want or need the designation?” 

“Oh,” said Pansy, with a sort of sneering enthusiasm that showed how eager she was to make Hermione aware of her shortcomings. Theo sighed audibly. “She would need tutors and a fine classical education, not just that half-assed shit they peddle at Hogwarts. Of course, she’d still need to be skilled at spellwork, to speak at least three languages - preferably English, French and either Italian, Mandarin or Russian - have a good knowledge of art, architecture, design and fashion, be able to play a musical instrument well, know how to run a grand home and have something in her air - something that marks her out as collected and above the fray at all times.” 

“And you know several women who qualify for this label?” asked Hermione. 

“Of course. Loads.” 

Hermione snorted, “I’m surprised that you know even one .” Pansy heard the implied insult and looked daggers at her. Theo cheered silently, but kept out of it, enjoying the banter.

“You’re hard on your sex,” interjected Malfoy from the corner, eying Hermione. Guess he couldn’t keep out of it , Theo chortled to himself. Pansy grew even more annoyed, and Theo could tell she had not missed the fact that Hermione’s contribution was the thing that drew Draco away from his precious letter. 

“Am I?” said Hermione. “I rather think you purebloods are the ones who are hard on us . Imagine expecting someone to do all of that? What time would you have for just relaxing and enjoying life? And I didn’t hear any mention of a career. So really, what is the reason for these paragons to develop all of these talents and virtues?” she asked. 

“Well so that they, we, can be proper wives for pureblood men who need partners to run their homes and social lives while they run the world,” remarked Pansy with a little flourish. Theo rolled his eyes.

“I’m sorry but did we suddenly go back in time to 1955?” asked Hermione. 

“I’m perfectly serious, Granger,” sneered Pansy. “Back me up the rest of you! Draco, don’t you expect your wife to have all the qualities I listed?”

“Of course,” replied Malfoy. “And she should add something more.” Pansy raised her eyebrows in eager inquiry.

“She should constantly be improving her mind through extensive reading.” He folded and sealed his letter. Hermione snorted and her eyes flew to him. 

Pansy sniffed, and for once Theo was in sympathy because something had passed between them, but he had no idea what it was. 

“I agree, the well-rounded woman should be sophisticated and educated,” Pansy said, trying to regain control of the conversation, “but she should never be a swot or an insufferable know-it-all,” she finished with a pursed mouth and a dismissive air.

Hermione openly laughed at this, looking around for confirmation. Theo was about to speak up in support when Pansy interjected, “What?” she demanded, a little too aggressively. 

“I just can’t believe how old-fashioned you all are!” 

“Hey…” said Blaise.

“Not all of us!” said Theo at the same time.

“Ok, well Parkinson and Malfoy, representing a certain segment of wizarding society, then,” conceded Hermione. “It’s all so reductive and strange. Don’t you want your partner to be an equal? Do there have to be strict roles based on gender? What if I’m ambitious and good at running a concern and my future husband is better at managing the home and our children? You’re saying people should ignore essential parts of themselves to be trained for rigidly structured and gendered roles. I (and I daresay the rest of the modern world) just think that’s limiting … and frankly, sad,” she finished with a look of pity. 

“You’re saying you could see yourself ending up with a man who is happy to stay home and change nappies all day?” said Draco, standing up from the desk and stalking toward Hermione. Theo noticed the telltale signs of temper in his usually icy friend. The twitch of a jaw muscle, the tense way he held his frame.

“Yes,” she said stoutly. 

“I think you’re fooling yourself,” he countered. “Although you did date Weasly for a while, so maybe not.” Hermione shook her head and rolled her eyes as Pansy giggled. Low blow, Draco , thought Theo.

“But,” Draco continued, moving closer. “I don’t think you’d be happy for one second with a man who is only a helpmeet rather than someone who would challenge you.” Theo’s eyes slid to Blaise’s in open surprise. Blaise looked like a kid on Christmas morning.

“And you would? Be satisfied with a woman who is purely ornamental? Only there to raise your children and make sure your flower arrangements are au courant?” said Hermione, now visibly annoyed and also drawing closer to Draco. Theo noticed that Pansy’s face was rapidly moving from amused to concerned. Blaise was basically rubbing his hands together with glee and Daphne had looked up from her magazine, bemused. 

“I’m not saying that.” Draco sounded irritated. “That’s what Pansy said. I merely said I would want my wife to be educated, well-rounded and well-read.” Theo noted he was now within a few feet of Hermione. “You are willfully misunderstanding me.”

“Oh I don’t think I am,” she said. “Because I think you also require a few more things.” She ticked off the items on her fingers directly in front of his face, “One, your partner have the right sort of name and connections to satisfy your family; two she not be cheap or “tedious”; and three that she not taint the ancient and venerable Malfoy line.” Hermione had moved a step closer and Malfoy’s face had grown a shade darker with each tick they were now virtually nose to nose. 

“You. Are. Full. Of. Shit,” he said.  “You know nothing about me.” 

“Really?” she retorted. “Prove it. Name one muggle-born or half-blood girl you’ve dated, slept with or even snogged .” Their bodies were now about an inch apart and Hermione was glaring up at Draco as he looked down at her. Tension thrummed between them and the words “slept with” and “snogged” seemed to hang in the air. They stared at each other for another beat, and Theo had no idea what was about to happen, although he was here for it, whatever it was. 

But at the height of the tension, Draco suddenly pulled his face into the controlled mask, spun on his heel and walked away. It didn’t miss Theo’s notice that he went directly to the liquor cart and poured, then downed, a healthy measure of the whisky Hermione had brought. 

For her part, Hermione took a deep breath then retreated to peruse a shelf of nearby books, murmuring, “I knew he couldn’t prove it.” Theo actually did laugh out loud at that, and saw Draco’s hand tighten on his whisky, but his friend showed no other sign of having heard the witch and instead took up a softly worded conversation with Daphne. 

Theo went into host mode, moving to Hermione and asking her some more about the malt. Pansy was subdued and stayed that way for the rest of the night, thank God. Blaise tried half-heartedly to revive the argument, talking loudly about all the muggle models he’d slept with, but no one was biting. 

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. Theo kept Hermione close to him and let her engage him in conversation about the Quidditch scheme, since he knew she and Harry would be leaving in the morning. He didn’t notice Draco’s eyes on her again, although he had to admit the evening’s events had given him enough food for thought to eat for weeks.

*

The next morning Hermione rose early and availed herself of her en suite’s wonderful accoutrements. She hadn’t had such a luxurious shower since the prefects’ bathroom at Hogwarts. Once she’d dressed (back in her jeans ) and packed, she made her way to Harry’s room. He was also freshly clean and standing, if a little pale and wobbly. 

“Can you face breakfast?”

“Uh, no,” he said. “I’ll have something light at home after we’ve floo’ed.”  

“Of course. Let’s leave as soon as we go down and thank Theo.” She walked slowly with Harry to the breakfast room, wishing they could go faster. She was hoping to avoid seeing any of the house guests and just make a clean getaway. Luckily Theo was at-table and they were able to spend 15 minutes alone with him, thanking him and chatting. 


When it was time to leave, Hermione could tell Harry wouldn’t have minded talking for longer. She cursed Molly Weasley one last time for torpedoing his chance to really get to know Theo this weekend. Hopefully she hadn’t ruined anything by sparring with Parkinson and Malfoy. Malfoy. The thought of having to say an awkward goodbye to the blond wizard spurred her to action. She gave Harry a meaningful look and they made their final farewells. Theo walked them to the giant fireplace in the entrance hall and they floo’ed home, Hermione relieved that she hadn’t seen Malfoy again.

Chapter Text

“You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.”

The weeks following the house party were fairly routine for Hermione. She was happy to leave the rarified air of Nott house for the familiar round of flat, work, dinner with Harry and Ginny, running in the park, Sunday meal with the Weasleys, rinse and repeat. Everything went back to normal except for one disturbing thing - she kept seeing Draco Malfoy. 

Just in random encounters - across the road in Diagon Alley or in a cafe where they were both having lunch with other groups. She’d have sworn she’d seen his fair hair in the stacks at the central library, although when she went to stealthily investigate, she didn’t find him. After their last encounter at Nott House, she didn’t have the desire to approach him and he never acknowledged her beyond a casual nod, but she still felt it was odd. 

She’d never used to see Malfoy at all - the first time she’d been in any sort of proximity to him in years was that networking reception. Had they been shadowing each other before and she’d just not noticed? Was she now attuned to his presence somehow? She shrugged that thought off as daft and told herself that wizarding London was a very small world - after all, she’d seen Daphne in the market and avoided Pansy at a cocktail bar since the house party weekend - so maybe it was just coincidence. 

Then one day she literally ran into Malfoy in the lobby of the Ministry. She’d had her head down studying a file as she exited a lift and he’d been looking over his shoulder as he went to enter it. She stumbled backwards and he reached out to steady her, grabbing hold of her forearms and pulling her away from the closing lift doors. They locked eyes and the moment of surprise was so great that they stayed close for a beat, just staring at each other from a few inches away. She’d have sworn that his eyes darted down to her mouth and she knew that a flush was creeping up her neck. 

Then they both snapped out of it and stiffly tried to apologise at the same time. She’d smiled uncomfortably and he’d gone silent, but continued to look at her with an intensity that she couldn’t tell stemmed from dislike or … she pushed the thought away - she was almost certain it wouldn’t be anything other than dislike, considering their last interaction. 

They’d made about thirty seconds of cool small talk - enough to establish that they were both well and that he was at the ministry to advise a committee - and then gone their separate ways. But Hermione couldn’t stop thinking about the encounter and about her reaction to him, which was distressing to say the least. She didn’t like Malfoy - she never had - and he certainly hadn’t improved upon recent acquaintance - so why did her heartbeat and temperature increase just because he looked at her and touched her for three seconds? Annoying. 

Even more annoying was opening the Daily Prophe t the next day and seeing pictures of the encounter in the gossip section. “OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” she yelled.

That waste of space, Rita Skeeter, must have been haunting the lobby with her photographer again. She often did on a slow news day, hoping to catch the odd pairing she could speculate about or someone coming in slightly tipsy from a boozy lunch that she could rake over the coals. 

Malfoy was a beloved topic of hers and she often featured photos of him with breathless copy about ‘the wizarding world’s reformed bad boy’. In fact, Hermione and Ginny had quite enjoyed snickering over said entries in the past. 

And now there were two photos of him and Hermione in the Prophet Insider column under the header, “Opposites Attract! Gryffindor Golden Girl Snags (or SNOGS!) Prince of Slytherin???” 

Hermione put her head in her hands before forcing herself to look. The first snap must have been taken just as Malfoy pulled her forward from the lift doors. The angle made his hands look less like they were grabbing and more like they were caressing. She stepped forward and then appeared to look down coyly (at her PAPERS - but of course that was cut out) as he pulled her to him, bending his neck in a gesture that looked protective and intimate. 

Skeeter must have employed a spell to reduce the speed of the action because it looked slow and playful, when Hermione knew it had been fairly abrupt. The next snap was half a second later when they were staring at each other - her face turned up and his bent to hers. There was barely any movement to this one, they just seemed to sway toward each other. Suffice to say that the intensity she’d felt in the moment carried through loud and clear on film. It looked for all the world like he was about to kiss her. 

“Fuck, fuck, fuckity FUCK! I’m going to KILL her!” Hermione pounded the table for emphasis. Ginny heard the disturbance and came out of the bathroom.

“What the hell?” she asked, mascara wand in one hand. Hermione shoved the paper toward her. Ginny took it in and gave a long, low whistle. Then she looked at Hermione with her eyebrows raised.

“Oh for fuck’s… He ran into me and I stumbled! He reached out to right me and we overcorrected!” 

“And then stared at each other for several moments like he wanted to throw you up against that elevator door and you wanted to let him?” 

“It was the camera angle! And the editing!” 

“Nope,” said Ginny. “You can’t fake chemistry like that. I would lay 20 golden galleons down that he wants to fuck you so badly he can taste it.” Her raised eyebrows and smug expression clearly telegraphed the fact that she thought Hermione would also be a willing participant, although she was wise enough not to say that out loud. 

“Ginny!” God , she could feel her face heating. “I told you how we got along at the house party. He told me I was tedious - or at least my clothes were tedious. We basically had a shouting match in the library! I’m sure he still sees me as a boorish, unattractive muggle plebe. And I certainly still see him as rude, poncy ass.”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Ginny with a smug grin. “In fact verbal sparring and outward displays of dislike are classic precursors to ravenous fucking. And I highly doubt he thinks you’re unattractive. I also didn’t hear you say you think he’s unattractive. And you went beet red when I brought up the fact that he wants to fuck you.” 

“STOP SAYING THAT! He does NOT! And he’s not attractive! He’s repellent!! … His background and some of his opinions are repellent...” she said more quietly. “Just because he’s clever and has interesting hobbies,” she muttered.

“And his physical attractions?” teased Ginny. 

Hermione groaned. “Why do I ever talk to you?” she asked, flipping the paper into the fire grate and flouncing out of the kitchen. 

Ginny’s laugh followed her down the hallway. “That was an answer, you know! And you talk to me because you love me! … And because I tell you the truth!!” 

Hermione slammed her bedroom door, then leaned against it with a sigh.

 ~oOo~

 

Sitting in her office later, Hermione was ostensibly working, but in actuality brooding about the photos when an absolutely gorgeous Eagle owl suddenly appeared at her window. She opened the owl pane and accepted a small rolled parchment from its elegantly offered foot, giving the tawny bird a pellet from the bowl on her desk before it flew away. She unrolled the paper, immediately aware that it was of very fine quality. There was a short note centered in the middle of the page and the handwriting was precise, bold and unfamiliar; 

Dear Hermione, 

Please accept my apologies for the misleading photos in today’s Daily Prophet. I should have been more careful. Incidentally, I’ve instructed Skeeter to publish a retraction and it will be in tomorrow’s column. I again apologize for any embarrassment or discomfort this may have caused you. 

Regards,
DM  

Hermione sat with her mouth hanging open - then re-read the letter several times. Different emotions washed over her - among them utter surprise, gratitude, relief and a sort of deflated feeling that she didn’t particularly want to examine. 

What did he mean ‘he should have been more careful’? Did he know Skeeter was following him? Or was he talking about their physical collision? Or did he mean careful about what he had revealed to the camera during the encounter? And how was he able to ‘instruct’ Skeeter!? Did he have some controlling interest in the Daily Prophet

Hermione felt confused on many levels, but the question that rose most persistently was, why ? Why did he do this? Was it really for her, to alleviate her discomfort? Or was he embarrassed to be seen in an intimate position with her and eager to preserve his reputation? 

After ruminating for a good while, she came to the conclusion that she’d never really know the answers - unless she interrogated Malfoy himself, which was NOT going to happen. The only thing to do was put the entire incident out of her mind. She’d thank him casually the next time she saw him and treat it like a silly joke with everyone else. She’d have to deal with Ginny of course, but she could at least trust her best friend to keep quiet. 

Hermione stroked the lovely paper. She couldn’t deny that it pleased her somehow that he’d taken the care to write to her - and to apologize even though it wasn’t really his fault. She briefly contemplated writing him a thank you note, but decided that would be overdoing it. Her original instinct to play it off casually was best. 

She’d thank him the next time she saw him, likely at Theo’s party in a few weeks. She, Ginny and Harry had finally accepted invitations and, she realized with surprise, she had actually begun to look forward to it.   

Chapter Text

“Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away with her head full of him.”

Hermione walked briskly down the cobblestones of Diagon Alley, looking for the restaurant name Harry had told her this morning. She was headed to another investor event - this one a dinner with the group that Fred and George had found. Harry had asked her to come along because, although he was optimistic about a large investment from Theo, he still needed to secure at least three or four more sizable partners. Of course she had agreed, but not without some reluctance. 

Aside from just not liking these sort of professional/socializing affairs, she’d finally taken a deeper look at Harry’s numbers and realized they needed work. She’d explained her concerns to him and to Ginny, and both acknowledged them, but seemed to think she was being over-conservative and that any problems or shortfalls would be solved through a combination of PR and the right connections. Hermione believed they were being over-optimistic, but there wasn’t much more she could say. 

So, she felt distinctly unenthusiastic as she finally arrived, about fifteen minutes late, to the restaurant. Everyone had already been seated at a long, private table and she found herself at the end, her closest dining companion a man who looked a bit younger than the rest of the group. She sat down next to him and he smiled as he rose in welcome - then blinked as she realized he was dazzlingly handsome, tall with curling dark hair and a striking blue gaze. His smile was roguish and friendly at the same time.  

“Jack Wickham,” he said, helping her into her chair and holding out his hand.

Hermione actually felt her eyelids batting as she said hello in an uncharacteristically stammering way. “Maybe this dinner won’t be so bad after all,” she thought, taking in Wickham’s broad shoulders and full lips, as well as the lively intelligence in his eyes. 

She was right. Jack Wickham proved to be more than a pretty face (‘ and body’ , her brain noted), but also a charming companion. They developed an instant, playful rapport and she found herself laughing much of the night. Dinner flew by as he regaled her with tales of living in America, where he had been since before the wizarding war, as well as his impressions of being back in England after so long. She was captivated by his mix of American twang and English drawl and was already teasing him about it before the meal was through. 

Wickham also proved to be an attentive listener, asking about her work and interests and paying close attention to her answers. Hermione felt bathed in a glow of attention all night - and it certainly didn’t hurt that it was coming from such a gorgeous man. Although she couldn’t help but notice that Wickham was a flirt who seemed to draw women to him. The waitress, and even Ginny, were not immune to his charms- many feminine giggles could be heard around the table -  and Ginny kept wiggling her eyebrows suggestively at Hermione when no one was looking. 

Ron also seemed to be taken with Wickham and moved down the table after the pudding to speak to him some more about a business venture Jack had run in America. Hermione gave up her seat to him and went to sit with Ginny for a moment. The covert squeeing immediately began. 

“OhmygodheissofuckingHOT,” Ginny yell-whispered behind her hand as soon as Hermione sat down. 

“Calm down, tiger,” laughed Hermione. “Harry is sitting right there .”

“Oh you know what I mean!” Ginny smacked her on the arm none too lightly. “So are you going home with him tonight? Please tell me you are. Please tell me you are at least trying to hit that.”   

Hermione laughed again and told her friend she was crazy. 

“You didn’t say no! That was NOT a ‘no’!” yelled Ginny, punching the air. 

“Shhhh, keep it down, you lunatic,” hissed Hermione, shooting Ginny a killing look. “You are cut off. No more wine.” 

Ginny stuck out her tongue and very deliberately refilled her glass. “So we’re going out after this of course. Ron knows a place nearby. I want to give you every opportunity to get drunk and make a beautiful mistake with that beautiful man.” 

“Why a mistake?” Hermione’s eyes narrowed. 

“Wellll, the guys told Harry that Wickham’s a bit of a flirt. Apparently has women coming out of his ears. And he’s looking for a sugar mama. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t use him and abuse him. Just keep your head in it and don’t get attached.” 

“Hmmm,” said Hermione, wincing. “Don’t love the sound of that.” Ginny groaned and dropped her head on the table. Hermione pulled her up, “Look, you know I don’t mind a bit of fun, but I don’t particularly like the idea of being nothing but a notch in someone’s bedpost.” For some irritating reason Draco Malfoy popped into her head at that moment. 

Then she happened to look up and see Wickham and the waitress having a little … exchange. Ron had buggered off somewhere and Wickham was standing very close to the young witch, speaking quietly into her ear. Hermione kept her gaze averted, but watched them out of the corner of her eye. When he pulled away, the waitress pressed something into his hand and he gave her a quick grin before pocketing it. 

“Ah,” thought Hermione, officially reassigning Wickham from the, ‘maybe has potential’ category to the ‘ok to flirt with, not ok to sleep with’ category. 

Ginny saw the whole thing too and sighed. “Another one bites the dust. Damnit.” 

“Don’t worry, darling, we’ll still go out. And I’ll still flirt with him if it makes you happy. Do you fancy a bottle of champagne? I do!” Hermione chirped as they gathered their things, strangely unmoved by the fact that Wickham wasn’t going to be a runner after all. 

Her spirits were high as the group spilled out of the restaurant into the street. She fell into step with Jack while they followed Ron from the restaurant to the pub he knew. They chatted a bit, their rapport undamaged by her conclusions. In fact, it was sort of fun to observe him trying to pull her now that she had decided that was definitely not happening. She played along gamely, sure that a man with his opportunities wouldn’t be too hurt when she said ‘no thanks’ in the end. 

They hadn’t gone two blocks when Hermione heard Harry call out, “Theo! Theo Nott! How the heck you doing!?” (Harry had had a good bit of wine with dinner). She craned her neck to spot Theo and saw his lanky frame through the group. He was bro-hugging Harry and patting him on the back. 

“Ahh, Nott,” said Wickham, grinning at the pair in the distance. Harry was now trying to convince Theo to come to the pub with them. 

“Oh do you know Theo?” 

“Yes, yes we go way back,” he said. “I’ve known him since school.”

“But you never went to Hogwarts? Otherwise I’m sure I would have known you or known of you.” She certainly wouldn’t have missed him. 

“Well school years, not school itsel…” Wickham stopped and stared at something, his face utterly still. Spooked, Hermione reached up to touch his arm and ask if he was ok. He didn’t answer and she turned to see what he was looking at. 

A pair of silver grey eyes bored into hers then flitted back to Wickham. She inhaled in surprise. What was Malfoy doing here and why was he looking with so much hositility at her companion? Malfoy’s gaze shifted back to her again, taking in her intimate stance, so close to the dark-haired wizard. His mouth tightened and a spasm of something close to disgust crossed his handsome face. 

Hermione instinctively stepped away from Jack, then immediately wondered why she had done so. Malfoy turned from them and leaned over to speak to Theo. Theo’s eyes cut to Wickham and darkened. He then said a quick but jovial goodbye to Harry and sent a wave to Hermione before he and Malfoy turned to leave. 

Hermione’s feet and mouth moved before her brain again. “Malfoy!” she called softly, “Draco!” As she stepped toward the blond wizard, Jack Wickham melted away, seeming to want to distance himself. Malfoy stopped, not turning around. Hermione was surprised that he’d heard her through the din of the rowdy group - she’d been half-hoping he hadn’t. She approached and stood behind him. His back looked rigid as he turned to almost face her. 

“My given name, Granger?” he said without looking at her - he seemed angry . “I guess there’s a first time for everything.” 

Hermione was flustered, an unusual feeling for her. Why had she called after him? It was something instinctive about not wanting him to go away thinking she was with Wickham when there seemed to be something hostile between them. This flitted through her mind in an instant, but she ended up blurting, “I just wanted to thank you. For the Prophet . And the letter. Your owl is beautiful. And your penmanship.” Oh God, she was babbling. Fuck

Oddly, his angry posture seemed to relax. He turned fully to her and looked down into her face, taking a step closer. His eyes went from flinty to warm in an instant, and Hermione felt her insides do a strange flip. “My penmanship, Granger?” he murmured, as the corner of his mouth pulled up. 

“Um, yes. It’s very neat. And bold. Your paper is nice too.” His smirk turned into a smile and now she definitely felt her pulse speed. Had she ever seen him really smile before? Hermione had lost all touch with the others around them in her little bubble with Draco (‘ huh, ‘ Draco’ again? ’). 

“Well you don’t have to. Thank me, that is,” he said softly as his smile faded and his eyes roved around her face. “It was my fault, and my responsibility to make it right.” 

Hermione frowned, her hand darting out and gently touching his forearm. He gazed down at it. Electricity crackled between them.“It wasn’t your…” then suddenly she heard a loud, fake throat-clearing sound. Her head whipped around and she saw Ginny and Theo nearby staring at them - the others had continued down the street. 

Jack Wickham was in the lead with Ron, but turned around at that moment to beckon Hermione down the alley. She came-to and snatched her hand back from Malfoy, practically leapt away and hurried to Ginny’s side. Malfoy’s posture tensed again, his easy warmth replaced by cold disdain. Hermione didn’t dare look at Ginny, but she sensed the vibe emanating from the redheaded witch.

Malfoy blinked once and stepped toward Theo, his indifferent expression back in place. The two wizards said a terse goodbye and turned to walk in one direction, the two witches in the other. Ginny shot a significant glance at Hermione that clearly meant, “ You are telling me everything as soon as I get you alone. ” Hermione felt her face redden. Part of her longed to turn around and part of her wanted to apparate directly home and hide in bed.

“Hermione!” Malfoy’s refined tones echoed in the alley. She whirled around at his use of her given name. “Watch yourself with your ‘friend’.” She looked puzzled. “Wickham,” he almost spat. “He’s not anyone you want to get too involved with.” 

Her mouth opened and closed and her eyebrows drew together. She wanted to yell that she wasn’t involved with Jack Wickham, but Malfoy had already turned around again, his tall figure stalking up the lane. Her anger flared - who the hell was he to tell her who to associate with? And besides, she’d already figured out that Wickham wasn’t worth her time. She didn’t need that posh arse to tell her anything! 

She too spun around, then grabbed Ginny’s arm and steered her back toward the pub, walking at a furious pace. Why did Malfoy seem to be able to drive her to distraction one minute and enrage her the next? 

“Wanker,” she muttered under her breath. Ginny laughed and patted her arm as they walked on.  

 ~oOo~

Draco’s breath came fast as he and Theo moved up the alley away from the two witches. He wasn’t sure if it was from his encounter with Wickham or with Granger. 

Wickham . Back in London. The bloody cheek of that git to show his face here. He was lucky he wasn’t in Azkaban awaiting trial. Only the need to protect the innocent had saved his worthless skin from prison. And to see him sniffing around Granger … and her touching him and staring up at him with those limpid doe eyes. Wickham was lucky he hadn’t had his arse handed to him right in this alleyway. 

She wouldn’t be stupid enough to take up with that piece of human garbage, would she? But why had she been standing so close to him? And why did he fucking care? Why had her ridiculous comment about his penmanship bloomed in his chest like a ruddy warm flower? He’d been standing there grinning at her like an idiot when Theo had cleared his throat. And then her arsehole date had done that possessive little wave. Fuck , he felt foolish. And Draco Malfoy hated feeling foolish.

Draco realized he was grinding his teeth and practically running up the street. Theo was keeping pace with him and staying silent, obviously aware that his friend was wound up. 

He decided at that moment to do two things. 1) Focus on showing Wickham just what an inhospitable place London could be for him and 2) Re-double his efforts at banishing Hermione Granger from his sight and mind for good. Nothing good could come of this little preoccupation he had with her. She was all wrong for him - especially if she was giving her time to Wickham. Showed terrible judgment and worse taste. 

No more finding excuses to be in the neighborhood where she worked and he’d only go to the Ministry during times he thought she wouldn't be there - like the weekends. Maybe he’d go out of town. He’d been needing to go to America to do some fact-finding for the new treatment center at the Meadows. He could leave tomorrow and stay a few weeks until Theo’s party. There were plenty of distractions in New York and he could also use the time to investigate some of what Wickham had gotten up to in the states. Maybe the information would be of use in getting the criminal out of Britain for good.

 ~oOo~

Later at the pub Hermione flitted from person to person, chatting and laughing with more than her usual vigor. She and Ginny had shared the better part of a bottle of champagne and she was feeling tipsy and sort of reckless. 

She’d continued flirting with Wickham from across the room, although they hadn’t spoken since they’d left the restaurant. Probably part of his strategy , she thought, amused, watching him lean suggestively over the bar and speaking to the barmaid when he thought no one was looking. Eventually he found his way to Hermione and sat down. 

“Having a nice night?” he smiled, looking into her eyes soulfully. 

“Yes, lovely.” She returned his intense gaze with a light smile. “And you?” 

“How can I not be?” 

Hermione fought the urge to snort. 

He ducked his head and then looked up at her, clearly a practiced move. His face went from beguiling to serious, “I noticed you were rather familiar with Draco Malfoy earlier. Are you friends?” 

Hermione did snort at this. “Friends? Hardly! He spent most of our childhood bullying me for being muggle-born, and our relationship as adults hasn’t been much of an improvement. He’s not at all what I’d call a friend.” She tossed her head with a sniff.  

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, looking down again and tracing circles on the table with his finger. 

Hermione frowned. “Why do you say that?” she said, curiosity getting the better of her.

“Well I’m sure you noticed our odd exchange earlier.” 

“Yesss, I couldn’t help but see the tension between you.” She decided to keep Malfoy’s comments about Wickham to herself until she knew more. “Do you know each other?”

“Know him? I grew up with him.” Wickham flashed her a wry smile. She tilted her head in surprise, waiting for him to continue. “I was raised at Malfoy Manor until I was eleven years old. My father was Lucius’s steward. He’s a pureblood, although the Wickhams are nowhere near the same social strata as the Blacks or Malfoys. My mother was American and a muggle. She cut off her family when she married my dad and then died when I was born, so my dad raised me alone.” 

He shifted in his seat, seeming to look inward. “Draco and I are only a few months apart in age, so we were natural playmates. Although I was never allowed to forget that I was lesser than the ‘little lord’.” Wickham’s mouth twisted. “I was a halfblood with an insignificant name, we had little money and I was son of the help. Yet, we got along and were companions for many years.”

“It was an isolated upbringing for both of us. Other than me, Draco was only allowed to socialize with certain types of children in very controlled circumstances. He had tutors at home while I was sent to the village school, but I felt uncomfortable playing with the local children because it meant I had to hide my magic.” He paused to order from the barmaid, who gave him an inviting smile, despite Hermione’s presence. 

“We were rather close until it was time for him to go to Hogwarts. Lucius Malfoy had told my father in no uncertain terms that I was not to go to ‘Draco’s school’. He’d tolerated our association at home but didn’t want Draco sullied by my presence in public. He even secured his edict with a promise of gold should my father cooperate - a sizable sum to be released to me upon finishing school somewhere else.” 

“So while I did receive a letter from Hogwarts, my father declined the invitation and since I was half American, he was able to send me to Ilvermorny instead. Which was fine, I had a good experience at school and didn’t know what I was missing, but it shows what type of control the Malfoys exercised over my life.” 

Hermione’s brows had drawn together as he spoke and she was fuming. This was so typical of that snobbish, managing TWAT, Lucius. Throwing his gold around to run people’s lives. She shook her head and placed her hand over Wickham’s on the table. “That’s abhorrent,” she said. “I’m so sorry. That wasn’t fair to you at all.” 

He flipped his hand to grasp hers from underneath and continued, his eyes looking into the past. “Once Draco and I were apart at school our personal relationship grew distant as well. I’d sometimes see him when we were back from breaks at the same time, but I tried to stay with friends in America as often as I could and the Malfoys were often in France or at one of their other villas.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “When we did see each other, it was awkward, and our friendship, such as it was, faded.” 

“Once the war started, I was glad of the distance. I didn’t come back to England the entire time Voldemort was in ascension. I’m sorry if that seems cowardly, but it didn’t seem like my fight. And I certainly didn’t want to be forced to throw my lot in with Death Eaters.” 

“I think that’s legitimate,” Hermione nodded. “It was one thing to run away to America during the war, but you were already there and not even by your own choice. And besides if you’d come back home you would have been in danger from the scum living at Malfoy Manor.” 

“Exactly,” he agreed, “In fact, my father barely made it out alive. He did it by keeping his head down, but there were some close calls. As a halfblood, I would definitely have been a target.” He sighed, “and then after Voldemort was killed,” his gaze flicked briefly across the room to Harry, “it came time for me to collect the sum that Lucius had promised my father. But of course by that time Lucius had died and I had to ask Draco for it. It was an uncomfortable interview, to say the least.”

“Lucius had wanted me to study finance and estate management so that I could take my father’s place. He’d set aside a sum to pay for a training and apprenticeship with Gringotts, but I didn’t have any interest in that. I didn’t want to be another servant for a rich family - especially the Malfoys. I wanted to go to muggle medical school and become a doctor. So I requested the lump sum to do with as I chose. Draco agreed to give it to me, but then when it came it was much less than I had been promised. It effectively ended my medical school hopes. It was better than nothing, though. So I took it to America and did what I could with property investment. That’s how I wound up connected with this group. But I still feel the loss of pursuing my true calling.” 

“But why would he do that? Why wouldn’t he give you what you were promised or even just enough to go to medical school? It’s not like he couldn’t afford it with ease.” 

Wickham shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. He didn’t make me privy to his reasoning or decision, but I always felt it had something to do with it being a muggle career. That he didn’t approve of it somehow. Or maybe he was angry that I was rejecting employment with his family.” 

“Well that’s total shite. He had no right to decide for you. This isn’t the middle ages and you weren’t his serf. It’s so like him though. Born privileged, told he was better than everyone else all his life. Of course he’s a managing arse. And arrogant too.”  Hermione felt her temper and her voice rise.

~oOo~

Ginny heard Hermione’s voice from across the bar and whipped her head toward her friend, then touched Harry’s arm, whispered in his ear and walked in her direction. She had been wondering if it was time to extricate her friend from Wickham. Hermione could generally handle herself, but she’d had more than usual to drink tonight and he had proved himself to be a silver-tongued bastard. 

“How’s it going over here,” she asked, raising her eyebrows when she saw the familiar way Wickham was playing with Hermione’s hands.  

“Just talking about what a giant ARSEHOLE Malfoy is,” said Hermione as Wickham chuckled. 

“I think Hermione’s feeling protective of me now that she knows the full history of my association with Draco Malfoy,” he said as he reached over to tuck a curl behind her ear.

Ginny stared him down and his easy smile faltered. “That’s funny because I thought we were starting to like Malfoy a bit more.” Her gaze moved to Hermione, who shook her head and withdrew her hand from Wickham’s, then asked if he minded if she told Ginny the history. He acquiesced and Hermione gave her the two minute version. 

Ginny, being more sober than her friend and in much less turmoil over her feelings about a certain blond wizard, saw a few holes in the narrative that she thought were dodgy or at least worth further investigation. But she decided to keep her mouth shut until Hermione was in a better frame of mind to hear them.   

“He thinks he’s so great, with his smirks and his ability to lift a single eyebrow,” Hermione was muttering. She was more drunk than Ginny had realized. It was clearly time to get her home.

“His cars and his face and clothes and his opinions make me angry. I am going to say something to him, Jack. I’ll ask him why he did that to you. Why did you think you got to decide what a fully functioning autonomous human being got to do with his life, Malfoy !? I will ask him when I see him at Theo’s party and I WILL have an answer.” Ginny looked on with a mixture of consternation and amusement. Her friend seemed positively excited at the idea of a confrontation. 

“Oh nonononono, Hermione, please don’t,” said Wickham sliding around to the other side of the booth and putting his arm around her. “I absolutely adore it that you’re angry on my behalf, but it’s water under the bridge at this point. I’m fine. Bringing it up will do nothing other than make us all feel awkward.” Hermione looked sullen but agreed. 

Ginny slid into the other side of the booth and shot Wickham another look. She was bothered by his familiarity, especially when Hermione was so obviously pissed. He had rapidly moved from potential fun-shag partner to way too close too fast and it was bordering on creepy. She looked around for Harry, caught his eye and touched her watch. 

“Hey!” Hermione suddenly brightened. “Jack you know Theo and he’s way nicer than Malfoy. Are you invited to his big party weekend after next? Ginny and Harry and I are going!” 

Wickham cast his eyes down, “I highly doubt I’d be welcome if Draco is going to be there. He really doesn’t like to mix with me or even speak to me anymore, as you saw tonight.” Hermione looked ready to launch into another rant at this statement, so Ginny patted her hand and murmured soothingly while Wickham cut back in. “But I’m still friendly with Blaise Zabini. He and I met a few years ago at the Manor and hit it off. I’ll ask him to ask Theo for me. Maybe it’s a big enough party that no one will mind.” This seemed to appease Hermione and she let it go.  

There was a brief lull in the conversation and Ginny saw an opportunity to get her intoxicated friend home, so she took it, bundling Hermione out of the booth to the apparition point down the street from the pub. She wanted to hear more about everything that had transpired this night, but it was obviously going to have to wait until her friend had had a deep, sobering sleep.

Chapter Text

“Mr. Darcy began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention.”

Hermione woke the next morning late and with a splitting headache. “And this is why I never drink champagne in quantity,” she muttered as she swung out of bed and mounted a heroic mission to the loo for paracetamol and water. She encountered Ginny on the way back, just coming in the door with a tray of coffees and several bags from Greggs the Bakers that smelled like sausage rolls and heaven. 

She grabbed the hot beverages from Ginny just before they tipped, “you are the best person in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. How many sausage rolls are in there?” 

“Harry’s hungover too, so I just went for the dozen. There are some cheese and onion bakes too.” 

Hermione almost wept with gratitude. 

“Let me bring this to Harry and then I’ll be joining you in the living room,” Ginny said with a significant look. Hermione took a blissful sip of scalding black coffee and nodded, resigned. 

She had ensconced herself on the couch with a large blanket, ready for her interrogation, when Ginny reappeared, looking amused. “Harry is in baaad shape. These nights are rough on him. He’s such a lightweight,” she chuckled.  

“That was a bit of a rough night,” Hermione said through a mouthful of cheese and onion. 

“It was a very interesting night. I want to know what the hell is going on.” Ginny held Hermione’s gaze. “Especially with Malfoy. What was up with you and him?”

Hermione shook her head, “I don’t even know.” 

“Come on ,” said Ginny, “I thought he was going to come through the crowd and hit Wickham at one point.” 

Hermione held up her palms. 

Ginny slurped at her coffee, “It was bloody sexy, I have to admit.” 

Hermione privately agreed. 

“But then he flipped from arsehole to sweetheart when you went nerdy on him about his penmanship. And then back to knob-end just as quickly when Wickham did that stupid little come hither thing.” 

“Yeah but after what Wickham told us, don’t you think Malfoy’s reaction makes more sense?” 

“Not exactly. I was a bit more sober than you last night and I can guarantee you that Jack’s story was dodgy as fuck. I won’t believe that until it’s verified by trusted sources. And besides there was no motivation in there for Malfoy to hate him. And that’s what it seemed like last night. Hate.” Hermione felt the sudden heat of Ginny’s laser-like gaze, “Or maybe it was jealousy…??” 

“No way. My recent interactions with Malfoy have been unpleasant or awkward or both - either him insulting me or us arguing. And remember the elevator thing was staged by those oafs at the Prophet . And I know you think arguing is foreplay, but seriously he did nothing but smirk at me and insult my clothes and/or opinions the whole time we were at Theo’s! And I’m sure he could shag whatever model or gorgeous pureblood princess he wanted.” 

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Oh please, bitch. You know you’re sex on legs. And I’m almost certain he was fucking with you with the tacky clothes comment. Seems like something a prat like him would find funny.”

“Fine,” Hermione brushed off her hands and finished her coffee. “So he runs hot and cold. Whatever. I’m absolutely not going to think about this anymore. He’s not a possibility for me. Even if I do find him attractive - and yes, I admit that I do.” She put her hands up in the face of Ginny’s monster smirk. “I will even concede that he’s fucking gorgeous and my body or my id or something realises that and it’s very annoying - but it’s not enough for me to act on anything with him.” 

Ginny opened her mouth, but Hermione talked over her. “It’s Malfoy for fuck’s sake. He bullied me in school. We have some truly piss poor war memories between us. His family categorically hates people like me. His social milieu and lifestyle are completely different from mine. And even if we do have some common interests and have shared a good conversation or two, he’s got a lot of women that are just gagging for it. And as we discussed last night, I do not fancy just taking a number so that I can be a notch on some conceited male’s bed post. No thanks.”

“Agreed on all points,” said Ginny, seeming to realise that now was the time for a solidarity vote. “And you’ve had a weird bit of running into him, but that was probably just …  coincidence. I mean, we hadn’t seen him for years and years before last month. Maybe with time you’ll be able to just let it go and put him out of your mind.” 

“Exactly!” 

“Although, there is Theo’s party. He’s going to be there, right? 

“Yes.” Hermione scowled.“Ok, I need a strategy. And a costume. What are you and Harry wearing?” 

“We decided to go as lusty peasants. You know, all that midsummer boning in the fields for fertility. Harry’s going to wear a rope belt and a tunic and I’m going to be in something that pushes my boobs up really spectacularly. What are you thinking?”

“Well I was in the library researching Wargs and I came across an illustrated book on Norse muggle mythology.” Hermione saw Ginny roll her eyes and sent her friend a rude hand gesture. Ginny just laughed.  “ Anyway , there’s a goddess called Freyja who is associated with gold and fertility. She rides in a chariot pulled by two cats and has a pet boar!” 

“Awesome! We need to enchant a couple of cats and a pig to hang out with you all night.” 

“Ha. Ha. But I thought the costume would be rather simple. Maybe a sort of shift dress with a gold belt? Some gold circlets around my arms and I’ll let my hair go loose and wild.”

“Ohh we should draw some Norse runes on your arms in gold paint! And I’ll braid some gold wire or ribbon through your hair. Absolutely brilliant!” 

“Excellent. And my strategy will be *if* I see Malfoy there or any time before then, I will be polite yet distant. Distance is the watchword!” 

“Good call. And seriously, I’ve heard about these parties. So many people are invited, plus things go a bit mad. You may not even see Malfoy. Or you might see him, but he’ll be in a hot tub filled with soap suds with at least five models wearing nothing but gold bikini bottoms and he’ll just make finger guns at you and the moment will pass.” 

“Oh god,” giggled Hermione. “Thanks for the mental image. Speaking of the party being huge, do you think Wickham will be able to go?” 

“Maybe? I’ve met Blaise Zabini a few times at Harpies events and he seems like a persuasive little shite who likes to stir the pot. I could see him talking Theo into it just to see Malfoy’s reaction.” 

“Hmm, yeah I could see that too,” said Hermione with a wicked gleam. “I do kind of hope Jack will be there. He may be a slag and have a mysterious conflict with Malfoy, but he’s charming. I had a lot of fun with him last night once I decided not to sleep with him. And it would be nice to know one more person in that crowd.”

“Mmm hmm. He’s definitely good for looking at and chatting to,” said Ginny. “But watch yourself around him. He was skewing a bit creepy last night.” 

“All that hand holding and eye contact at the end? I noticed that too and I’ll be careful. I’ve put him firmly in the friend zone and there he will stay.” Hermione raised her right hand for emphasis. The behaviour that she’d thought was funny last night seemed a little sleazy in the light of day.

“Good,” Ginny sounded relieved. “Oh, GOD. Did I tell you that Theo also invited my mum and dad and ‘all my brothers’ to the party?” 

“Whaaaat!?” 

“Yes, fuck my life. He and Harry were walking back from their lunch last week and they ran into my mum. Who I’m sure was very persuasive slash embarrassingly obvious about fishing for an invitation,” Ginny’s cheeks had bloomed pink. 

“Oh well how bad can it be in such a big crowd?” Hermione asked. Ginny just looked at her. “Yeah, ok it might be bad. We’ll have to be on the lookout and run interference.” 

“Exactly. And I’m bringing sober-up potion and slipping it into every single one of her drinks.”

“Is Ron going? And Fred and George?” 

Ginny nodded. “Yes, everyone except Bill. It’s going to be maximum Weasley chaos. Let’s just hope no one breaks anything too expensive, snogs someone else’s significant other and/or gets in a fistfight.” 

Hermione snorted. Funny enough, that wasn’t an outlandish wish. 

~oOo~

Draco and Theo dismounted from their brooms, both breathing heavily. The late evening summer sun was just dipping below the horizon and casting long shadows across the pitch at Nott House. 

“Great chase,” huffed Draco, wiping his brow. 

“I almost fucking had it! I hate how quick you are!” Theo doubled over and heaved out a huge breath. 

“Eh I’d chalk that one up to chance more than anything,” said Draco, slapping him on the back. “If it had swerved left instead of right it would have been yours.” He looked toward the house. “Now let’s go drink something cold. And strong.” 

Theo straightened up and smiled, never one to be miffed for long. The two wizards strode up the lawn towards the manor, their long legs encased in identical white trousers tucked into tall leather boots, their robes billowing out behind them. Draco pulled his off as they walked, too hot under their heavy drape. Sweat dampened the back of his soft t-shirt and he stretched and rubbed the back of his neck. Theo let out a wolf whistle.

“Fuck off, you poof,” Draco laughed. 

“I”m just saying you look very sexy right now. You should let me take your picture and send it to the girl you like.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, you git.”

“Oh you know the one you like to send apology owls to. The one you keep ‘running into’. The one over whom you almost got into fistcuffs in a public street last night…”

“You know Theo, your eyes are really the most beautifully deep shade of brown. Probably because you are full of utter shite. And it was a very small, out of the way alley .” 

Theo tipped his head back and laughed, wagging his finger at his friend, but he also decided to drop it. He thought Draco’s little obsession with Granger was entertaining - and could possibly be very good for him, but he also knew the quickest way to crush it was to keep bringing it up. Much better to let it play out naturally. 

“That was a bit of a shock seeing that fucker, Wickham,” he said, glancing at Draco, whose face drew into a scowl. 

“That little cunt showing his face here? He must have a fucking death wish,” Draco ground out. “And what the hell was Potter doing with him? I’ve told you that scheme is dodgy and now Wickham is attached to it?”

“Well we don’t know if he’s attached…” 

“Those men were part of that investment group he is involved with. I tell you if they sign on, you sign off. They are dodgy. The plan is dodgy. The whole thing reeks of Potter’s special brand of ‘dive in first, consider things like details such as the soundness of my investors later.’” Draco shook his head. 

“Well I’m going to decide for myself, but you know I take your advice seriously,” remarked Theo, placing his hand on Draco’s shoulder as they approached the house. “Would you take a close look at the prospectus with me? If you see something truly wrong, I’ll reconsider my involvement.” 

Draco turned to him, “Of course. And if we find that it’s airtight, I’ll send you off into partnership with Potter with my blessing, such as it is. Harry’s actually not a bad bloke, despite being heedless and uh, not detail-oriented. And Wickham doesn’t have the capital to be deeply involved.” 

“I agree, I actually really like Harry,” replied Theo. “Now that Wickham shite, I really hate. How much do you want to bet once Blaise realises he’s in town, he asks me to invite him to the party?” 

“I would not take that bet because it will definitely happen. Fucking Blaise,” snorted Malfoy. “He’s very transparent for a snake.” 

“Well I’m certainly not inviting Wickham. Zabini will have to sneak him in if he really wants his drama,” said Theo.

“I wouldn’t put it past him. Hey, did you invite Potter and the gang too?” asked Draco as they sprang lightly up the steps to the house. 

“Yes, I invited Hermione,” said Theo, unable to help himself. “Now who’s being transparent?” 

Draco flushed slightly. “Fuck off. I just want to know what to expect.” 

Was Hermione seeing Wickham? Theo wondered. She was too smart for that, wasn’t she? He didn’t think Draco would handle seeing them together at the party very well. He’d probably hit Wickham just on principal. Theo made a mental note to impress upon Blaise how very detrimental it would be to his future access to Nott House events if he snuck Wickham into the party. 

“Well they’ll all be there - Harry, Ginny, Hermione and all the other Weasleys too.”

“Shit, you invited ALL of them?” 

“Yes,” sighed Theo, “I ran into Mrs Weasley in Diagon Alley last week and she was … hinting.” 

“Oh God the mother is a fucking nightmare. Very ambitious and totally crass. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was behind Potter’s ‘illness’ at your house party...” Theo sighed and shook his head.

Draco mounted the stairs to head up to his room and change. “ By the way, I’m going to New York tomorrow.”

“Oh? That’s sudden,” said Theo, raising his brows. 

“Not really, I’ve been meaning to go for a few months. There’s an experimental treatment center north of the city that I want to observe. I’m planning to do something similar at the Meadows. But I’ll be back in time for the party.” 

Theo let the statement lie. “And when you get back we’ll look at the prospectus?” 

“Definitely.” Draco pulled his shirt over his head as he walked into his room, his back muscles rippling. 

Theo whistled again, “Stop it, you show off. God, if she saw you like this, no one could hold her back.”

Draco balled up his shirt and threw it at Theo. “Wanker.” 

Theo just laughed. 

~oOo~

Draco woke in the deep of the New York night, but could immediately sense he wasn’t alone in his bed. A familiar, seductive scent filled his nostrils and he became aware of the silken feel of a soft body pressed to his. 

A completely nude body. 

He shifted to press his front against her back, wrapping himself around her and feeling the tickle of wayward curls against his nose. He buried his face in her hair and breathed in more of the wonderful scent, his hands roving over her hips, skimming over her smooth belly and up to cup her breasts. 

She sighed and arched into him. He kissed her neck, trailing down to her shoulder, where he bit her softly. She moaned his name and then laughed lightly at the bite. He was so hard he couldn’t bear it. So eager for her that he felt like a 16 year old. 

She pressed her perfect ass into his groin, lifting it to give him access and he couldn’t wait any longer. He plunged into her, murmuring “ Hermione, oh god, ” as he slid in his full length - feeling her tight, wet, warmth. She reached her arms back and twined around the back of his neck and shoulders, pulling him closer, inviting him deeper. His strokes became faster, then frenzied as they both neared their peak. He could feel her tightening around him and she was panting his name. He started to come and everything dissolved … everything … the warm body, the moans, the scent. 

Draco opened his eyes to realise he was alone in his hotel room bed. 

And that he’d just had the first nocturnal emission he could remember since he began sleeping with actual girls in 5th year. 

He groaned and rolled over, grabbing his wand and performing a quick scourgify. This had gotten totally out of hand. He was putting this witch out of his mind if it killed him. He wouldn’t even talk to her at Theo’s party if he could help it...

Chapter Text

" This is an evening of wonders, indeed!"

Hermione walked up to Nott House with Ginny and Harry, chattering brightly. The evening settled around them in a warm haze, highlighted by the flaming torches that led up the lane. She felt a frisson of excitement race through her veins as they approached the doors, which were flung open to the sweet summer air and framed by two gigantic tapestries depicting the sun and moon. The old magic was high tonight. She could sense it crackling in the atmosphere. The longest day and shortest night of the year; a simultaneous celebration of light's triumph, even as it started to give way to the seductive dark. Wizards and Muggles alike had been celebrating this day since the beginning of time. She actually felt good to be here, a part of something exciting and a little bit wild.

She looked at Ginny with a nervous smile and her friend patted her on the arm, then handed her a flask. "A little liquid courage to kick this off?"

Hermione accepted gratefully and drank deeply, a sweet burn running down her throat and into her belly. Molly's famously strong bramble brandy. No doubt distilled last from last summer's crop of rich blue-black fruit that grew riotously behind the Burrow.

She passed the flask to Harry who thanked her and took a big swig. The trio walked past a huge pile of branches and sticks set up for the later bonfire and approached the house. Ginny saluted the stacked wood with the flask and tipped it down her throat, her barely covered bosom bobbing in her tightly corseted peasant costume as she swallowed. She wiped her mouth and passed the half empty flask back to Hermione, who usually would have refused, but instead took a second deep drink, already feeling good from the first one. She linked arms with Harry on one side and Ginny on the other.

"Ok, peasants! What are our marching orders for tonight?"

"Don't get too pissed!" yelled Ginny.

"Yeah right," whispered Harry in an obvious aside to Hermione. Both girls hit him.

"OW! Ok, ok try to find people in this crowd with serious money and be charming to them!"

"Polite yet distant!" Hermione was definitely feeling the brandy now.

Harry looked at her as if she were mad. "Never you mind," said Ginny, giggling with her as Harry shook his head.

"Oh and secondary goal!" yelled Ginny. "Don't let MUM get too pissed!" Harry and Hermione dissolved into laughter and Ginny shook a full bottle of sober-up potion under their noses. "If either of you gits sees her accepting a drink, tell me so I can run over and tip this in!"

Harry placed his hand over his bloused chest and bowed low, "you have my word, fair maiden." Hermione snickered at the word maiden and Ginny gave her a two fingered salute, which made her laugh harder.

"But seriously." Hermione stopped her friends before they walked up the steps to the house. "No one leaves without telling the other two. And we don't let each other get too pissed or do strange drugs." Harry and Ginny agreed before they walked through the door.

Stepping into the foyer was like crossing a gateway into another world. The dark, cool interior Hermione remembered had been totally transformed into a golden grotto. There must have been thousands of lit candles sitting on every surface and floating in the air. Vines appeared to twine up the walls, reaching delicate tendrils to criss-cross the ceiling. Tree stumps interspersed with decadent floral arrangements lined the room. The effect was of nature in full blown, fertile riot, taking over anything man-made. A beautiful chaos of greenery and light.

Ginny clapped with delight as they looked around. "Marvelous!"

Just then a slender figure in a molded gold mask approached them. "Theo!" Hermione exclaimed holding out her arms. "This is completely amazing!"

"I'm so glad to see you," he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek and holding out his hand to Harry, then Ginny.

"Thank you so much for inviting us," said Harry. "What are you supposed to be? Golden Phantom of the Opera?" Theo raised his mask and looked at him blankly. "Sorry, muggle reference," said Harry, shooting a rueful look at Hermione.

"Well I'm actually just supposed to be the sun," Theo spun around to show off his costume. Hermione noticed that his mask was intricately worked and appeared to be actual gold leaf. His robes were long and flowing and the fabric was woven of a fine golden thread. A clever charm made the tips of his hems glow. She fingered the fine cloth and murmured in admiration.

"Warning, the rest of my family should be here shortly," Ginny said with a grimace.

Theo laughed, "They are very welcome. Please join the absolute insanity already underway. Drinks are scattered around the house. Food is being passed by servers. Don't drink any of Blaise's 'special punch', smoke or snort anything anyone gives you and you should be fine."

"Thanks," laughed Hermione, squeezing Theo's hand and leaving him to the next arrivals. She, Harry and Ginny proceeded further into the house, joining an absolute crush of partygoers. The scene was incredible. Music played and candles flickered, even as the mellow evening sun filtered through the windows.

Costumes and glamours of every sort met her eyes - all in Summer shades of gold and white and even some green. There was everything from muggle formalwear to ornate wizarding robes to fantastical get-ups. One wizard was dressed like an exact replica of Louis XIV, complete with his own cadre of elaborately costumed and bewigged courtiers. The sun king, of course, Hermione thought, accepting a glass of champagne from a passing server.

An absolutely stunning witch walked by in what looked to be a golden snitch costume, her dress a sheer veil of gold barely concealing her naughty bits and tiny fluttering wings sprouting from her shoulders. Ginny had to forcibly turn Harry's head from watching her walk away. She wagged a finger in his face and he grinned and held up his palms, then snatched her in for a deep kiss as she laughed.

Hermione smiled at them then looked down at her own costume, smoothing the short skirt and touching her hair. She'd created her Freyja look with a dark green leather dress that had a sort of warrior look to it. It was sleeveless with a high neck, braided shoulder detail, girdled waist and gored, slitted skirt. And it was very short thanks to Ginny's intervention at the last minute, no Goddess wears knee-length, Hermione. As a result, she wouldn't be leaning over even slightly at the waist tonight.

None of her shoes had seemed right, so Ginny had dug out a pair of knee-high gladiator sandals she'd worn for another costume a few years back. A gold metal belt encircled her waist and a similar circlet rested in her hair.

Her hair. It could probably be assigned its own postcode tonight. She usually took pains to tame it, but the truth was it could still be rather bushy despite a regiment of talented hairdressers, products and spellwork. And if left to its own devices, let alone encouraged, it easily formed a gigantic halo around her head. Ginny had woven some gold wire and ribbon into the mass, giving it some structure and a golden gleam. It was epic, but now seeing the crowd, Hermione didn't feel at all overdone.

To complete her costume, Nordic runes snaked down both of her shoulders to her upper arms. Ginny had drawn them and, being preoccupied with her hair, Hermione hadn't looked closely while she was doing it, although she had soon realised she was covered in rather risque references. "Fertility! Love! Abundance!" Ginny sang when Hermione protested.

She shrugged inwardly. When in Rome… and this certainly wasn't a time or place for restraint. Scanning the crowd again, she noticed Harry and Ginny had already been pulled into a conversation with a group nearby. Harry's entrance had caused an audible stir, even after all these years. She doubted it would ever not be that way, despite his wishes. Well at least in this case, notoriety would work to his advantage.

She gulped her champagne and scanned the room, wishing she would see a familiar face, say, maybe Jack Wickham, when all of a sudden Blaise Zabini was there giving her a bear hug.

"Blaise!" she exclaimed as soon as she could breathe again. "You look amazing!" He preened and spun in a slow circle, inviting her to admire him. And she did. He was dressed like an Egyptian god - Ra? Aten? One of the sun gods... His beautifully muscled chest was bare except for a jeweled gold collar and he wore a fine linen kilt and no shoes. Bracelets circled his wrists and ankles and an elaborate falcon headdress adorned his head and shoulders. He looked like a Pharaoh come to life. Hermione sucked in her breath at such a display of male beauty.

"You like, Granger?" he said with a mischievous grin as he completed his circle.

"Come off it, you know you look like a romance novel fantasy." She reached out to skim her fingers over the rigid muscles and smooth skin of his upper arm.

"You don't look so bad yourself." He motionioned for her to pivot as well. "Love the hair. And your legs look amazing. You should wear leather micro-minis more often." She snorted. He lifted his chin at her, "what do the runes say?"

"If you don't know, I'm not telling," she shook her finger at him. "Ginny drew them, and they're rude."

"Let's hope so." His white teeth flashed in his bronzed face.

"So did you manage to get Jack Wickham an invite?" she asked, looking around nonchalantly. Blaise's grin got bigger.

"Naww, Theo shut it down. His highness doesn't like Jack, you know."

"His highness?" Hermione had a sneaking suspicion who he was referring to and her brows were already drawing together.

"Draco. He and Jack have some bad blood between them, but I don't know the details. I happen to like the guy."

"Well so do I," said Hermione, feeling unreasonably put out. "It seems too bad that Malfoy's prejudice against him for being the son of the help would influence the situation."

Blaise raised his eyebrows and his palms. "Preaching to the choir, darling. I'd love to see the damage Jack could do in this crowd. Some right fit birds here."

She laughed. "Yeah he'd be like a kid in a sweet shop. He might even find his sugar mama!"

"Oh you know about that?" laughed Blaise, eyeing her.

"Yes, I don't hold it against him. We're just friends, but I do enjoy his company. I was just hoping to know at least one more person here."

"Look, you'll be fine," said Blaise, taking her by the arm. "I know absolutely everyone and I'm going to introduce you. You're the golden girl and you look smoking hot tonight." She smacked his arm playfully. "They'll love you. And you should try some of this special cocktail I mixed." He held out a flask, but remembering Theo's earlier warning she declined and instead grabbed another glass of champagne from a passing house elf, promising herself she'd switch to something less hangover-inducing for the next round.

"Ok, I challenge you to introduce me to the hottest wizard here," she said with a smirk.

"But we're already acquainted, darling," he drawled.

She sighed and grinned. "That I don't already know, of course."

He tipped his head in acknowledgment and looked into the middle distance. "I accept your challenge, Granger. And I will not let you down. Let's go." She laughed and clinked his flask with her glass as they moved off through the crowd.

~oOo~

Draco sat in a lounge chair in the library and tipped his head back, closing his eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath, gathering himself to leave the quiet sanctuary for the chaos of the party.

He sat up with a sigh. It wasn't that he didn't like the annual Nott midsummer celebration, he'd just been to a lot of them. Starting when he and Theo were 15, they'd been allowed to join the festivities. Of course those first few years, when Theo's father had run the show, the celebrations had been very different. Less like a social event and more focused on the rituals. He recalled a couple of memorable years before the war really kicked off… But now it was just another party at which to see and be seen.

He wondered who he'd see tonight. If she had actually come. But he banished the thought as he walked down the dim corridor to the reception rooms. He wasn't going to focus on her. If she was here and if he saw her, he'd be polite, but disengage as quickly as possible. No focusing, no lingering and no getting caught up. There'd be plenty to distract him anyway. Some things about this party hadn't changed that much after all.

He emerged into the blaze of candlelight in one of the drawing rooms and immediately ran into a gorgeous witch who he'd slept with a few years ago. She was poured into a gold gown that left little to the imagination. He let his eyes linger obviously on her curves as they chatted and she responded enthusiastically. Well there's someone for the end of the night, he thought. He found that he wasn't really interested, though.

He extricated himself and went in search of a drink, finding a bar tucked in a corner. He lounged there for a moment, sipping a very dry martini and surveying the scene. Theo had outdone himself with the decor this year. It really felt like the forest floor in some enchanted fairy world. Draco wondered if Pansy had had a hand in it. She was rather talented and something in the overblown, yet whimsical nature of the scene reminded him of her.

Speaking of Pansy, he spotted her across the room, dressed in deep green and hanging on the arm of an absurdly tall wizard. Draco moved into a shadow, hoping she wouldn't notice him. He needed at least one more drink in him before he could deal with her in full social mode.

Despite his best intentions, he felt his eyes searching and cataloging the room. He was looking for her, damn it. He swore to himself, swiftly finished his drink and ordered another, thinking it might be best to go find the witch in gold after all. But at that moment Blaise appeared, looking like a bloody bas-relief from a tomb wall.

"Drake!" he said with a broad grin. "Glad to see you at least made a nod to the theme this year, mate." He gestured to Draco's dark gold dinner jacket.

"You know I hate it when you call me that," Draco said thinly. "What are you supposed to be? Other than whatever costume allows you to be half naked?"

"Amen-Ra. Egyptian sun god. Duh," said Blaise. "When did you arrive and where have you been?"

"I stayed over last night. Just been gathering my strength before facing all of this."

"Yeah it's fucking mental! There are so many fit women here. Speaking of, I just finished introducing Granger to all the blokes," Blaise was all nonchalance, but his eyes were bright.

"Oh did she actually show?" said Draco, turning to signal the bartender for another round.

"Oh yes, and she looks fucking incredible," said Blaise with a grin. "She took rather well with the lads. Although she seemed to be looking for someone else."

"Oh?" said Draco, a model of supreme indifference.

"Yeah. Jack Wickham," said Blaise as he scanned the room. "Seemed really disappointed when I said he wasn't here." He also ordered a drink and took it off the bar, thanking the bartender. "Well I'm off. There's a delectable little piece dressed as a wood nymph that I intend to get to know better. Cheers, mate!" He saluted Draco and swaggered off through the crowd, a huge smile on his face.

Draco maintained his outward look of boredom but stood still, staring out at the room for several beats as he finished his drink. Then he pushed away from the bar and headed out into the party with purpose.

~oOo~

Hermione laughed up into the face of the charming wizard who was leaning over her. René? Ricard? She couldn't remember, and who really cared. He had a French accent, he was beautiful and, bonus, he was funny. She was about to ask him if he knew anything about French centaur herds since she was researching one for a project, when she felt a claw-like hand grasp her arm.

"There you are!" It was Ginny. "I was getting worried! This house is too fucking big."

"Oh yeah, Blaise took me around," said Hermione waving a little goodbye to René/Ricard ...Rémy! as he wound off through the crowd, mouthing that he would find her later. "I have no idea where I actually am. I must have only seen half of the house during the house party. Are you ok?" she asked, peering at Ginny. "You look tense."

Ginny sighed. "My family are just being fucking embarrassing is all. And Harry got sucked into a conversation in some random room, so I can't find him to help me."

Hermione exhaled, "what's going on?"

"Oh I let my mum out of my sight for 20 minutes and she managed to get wasted. And I heard someone say Fred and George were doing double keg stands. Need I remind you they're nearly 30? Ron is holding court in a corner and bellowing war stories to some barely legal witches. And my dad is nowhere to be seen. Probably in the library or smoking on a patio somewhere." Ginny paused for breath.

"I'm sorry." Hermione squeezed Ginny's shoulder. "But you know it's so busy that nobody is noticing. And it doesn't reflect on you. You are your own separate person and people realise that."

Ginny just looked at her and shook her head.

Hermione realised action was needed to save her friend's night. Ginny didn't often let being a Weasley get to her, so Hermione felt honor-bound to intervene when she did. "Right, so you still have the sober up potion?" Ginny nodded. Hermione took her friend's elbow and started walking. "We'll dump some of that in your mum's drink. We can tell a house elf that Theo asked to have the keg put away. I don't think anyone can get Ron to stop talking about his glory days, though."

Ginny laughed. "You're right and I'm sorry to whinge. They just rattle me sometimes."

Hermione gave her a half hug as they entered the main reception rooms. If anything the party had gotten bigger and louder and more wild since they'd arrived. She scanned the crowd, not admitting to herself that she was looking for anyone until she spotted a tall, fair figure dressed beautifully gold and black. Her heart did a little bump when she realised it was him. But then it did a dip when she also realised he was standing very close to a stunning dark-haired witch dressed in a diaphanous ball gown, his hand protectively spread across her lower back. His head was bent over hers and they were only inches apart. She couldn't see either of their faces, but it was clear that they were close.

"So Malfoy came with a date, so what," she told herself, taking a deep breath. What did she expect? She hadn't seen or talked to him in two weeks and their last interaction had ended badly. She was angry at him about Wickham! So why should it matter if he was here with someone. She tossed her head and averted her eyes, almost dragging Ginny into the next room.

Her temper frayed further as she observed the Weasleys at work, seemingly intent on winning awards for being embarrassing and uncouth. Molly was clearly drunk and Hermione could hear her even over the buzz of the party, bragging to another older witch about her 'son-in-law Harry Potter,' and how he was about to be very rich due to starting a Quidditch team in London.

Hermione and Ginny looked at each other and then went into action, Hermione distracting Molly while Ginny dumped practically the whole vial of sober up potion into her glass of wine. Unfortunately it wouldn't take full effect for at least twenty minutes, but they could at least babysit her until then.

~oOo~

Draco finally managed to extricate himself from Jonquil, a childhood friend with a penchant for crap men. As usual, she was a wreck over Alastair, a cunt whom Draco had also known for many years and was not worth Jonnie's time. They'd recently broken up (again) and she hadn't known he was going to be here and of course he'd come with some tart who was draped all over him… blah blah blah.

He twitched his head. A girl as intelligent and beautiful as Jonnie - it was too bad she would never learn. He was deep in these thoughts as he entered the main drawing room and simultaneously realised that one; he'd stepped into some sort of Weasley convention and two; he'd finally found Granger.

His first coherent thought upon seeing her was that she'd literally stopped him in his tracks. But he wasn't coherent for several moments. He white knuckled the doorknob, taking in endless legs under an extremely short skirt, an impossibly slim waist, and perfect tits encased in supple green leather. Her makeup was heavier than he'd ever seen - with dark, seductive eyes and full, deep red lips. The wild hair and golden runes twining seductively down her arms nearly undid him. He could read old Norse - he knew what those runes said and it made his groin tighten. He swallowed, still paralysed.

It took one of the Weasley twins yelling something inane to jar him out of his trance. Granger hadn't even noticed him. But all the Weasleys seemed to simultaneously erupt, with Fred and George attempting some sort of dual musical performance by banging on Theo's priceless 17th century harpsichord, while the oaf Ron knocked over a Sevres vase acting out what one could only presume was one of his exploits at Hogwarts over a decade ago. Draco sneered. And then he heard the mother, nattering on about Potter and his investment scheme to an old biddy in the corner.

"Theo Nott will be investing and of course it has the support of Draco Malfoy," she simpered. At the sound of his name, Draco's eyebrows snapped together and he glared at the older witch, who continued, heedless of his presence. "In fact, you know my adopted daughter, Hermione Granger? Best friends with Harry Potter? And of course she's a war heroine in her own right. We thought at one point she'd marry into the family, but it didn't work out - well now she's involved with Draco Malfoy. There were pictures of them in the Prophet a few weeks ago. Did you see? What a match that would be. Her brains and his money! Of course that's unless she chooses Jack Wickham. He's new in town. Devastatingly handsome and a huge success in real estate. She's also seeing him! Make them work, I told her. Play them off each other and see who comes up to scratch!"

Molly only stopped because she ran out of breath, but Granger clearly heard the last bit because she hustled over to the older witch and practically shoved a canapé in her mouth.

Draco felt his face drain of color at the news that Granger really was seeing that fucking animal, Wickham. He made a convulsive movement and it must have caught her attention because she slowly turned her head in his direction as though expecting the inevitable, flushing to the roots of her hair when they made eye contact. Draco was so furious at the Weasley mother and the idea of Granger with Wickham that he turned abruptly and exited the room.

This time she didn't call after him.

He strode to the nearest balcony and immediately lit a cigarette, taking a deep drag and trying to calm down. About halfway through he felt more himself, although the rage was simmering just below the surface. Was it the gossip about him and his money that angered him? The idea of Hermione with Wickham? Or just the idea of Hermione with anyone...

It also occurred to Draco just then how close Granger was with the Weasleys since her own parents had disappeared after the war. She'd essentially been adopted by them. While Ginny and the older brothers were tolerable, Draco legitimately couldn't stand any of the others. An association with her would mean - he shuddered - family dinners and the like with them.

He exhaled sharply. This whole situation wasn't going the way it was supposed to. He wicked another cigarette to life and heard the curtain to the balcony swish open and closed. He tensed, wondering if she'd come looking for him after all.

"There you are, darling," slurred a familiar voice.

Gods, just who he didn't want to see right now.

"Good evening, Pansy. Having a nice time?" Maybe if he was extremely bland, she'd go away.

"Better now," she said, stepping closer to him. He caught a whiff of hard alcohol and strong perfume. "Can I beg a fag?"

He offered his cigarette case and she selected one, leaning into his lighter and inhaling with relish. "Ahh now this is more like it. It's entirely too loud and full of Weasleys in there," she sniffed, inclining her shoulder toward the rest of the house. "Whatever possessed Theo to invite all of them?"

He tensed at her mention of the family, but shrugged disdainfully in response. "Momentary dementia, I suppose."

She laughed too enthusiastically at his weak joke and he cringed, wishing she'd leave. He wanted to be alone with his brooding thoughts or at least with someone who could make a passing go at taking his mind off of them.

"Well they're really bringing the tone of the party down," she said. "And of course Granger and Potter are with them. It's like the Gryffindor common room in there. Emphasis on 'common'."

She shuddered. "I wonder who told Granger this was a fancy dress party," she tittered at her own joke.

"There are a lot of people in costume," Draco said mildly, in a bid to shut her up.

"But her hair. What a disaster."

"Actually, I thought her hair was incredibly sexy and I had an overwhelming compulsion to bury my hands and, even better, my face in it," he said as he flipped his cigarette butt into an ashtray. She stood speechless for several beats, but recovered.

"Well if you harbor those kinds of thoughts about her it's too bad. I hear she's hot and heavy with your father's steward's son." Her voice dripped venom. "Jack Wickham? He's supposed to be deliciously handsome … for the help. Blaise told me she was vocally put out that he wasn't invited tonight - especially when she learned that you were the one who prevented it."

Pansy's dark eyes sparked maliciously, and Draco's anger flared hot again, but he was too practised at this game to show it. He just lifted one shoulder and looked slightly to the side of her left ear, murmuring, "pardon me," as he slipped past her and back through the curtain. He heard her shrill voice demanding that he come back, but ignored it and proceeded through the entry hall and up the stairs to his room, done for the evening.

~oOo~

Hermione and Ginny found Harry and left the party soon after what Hermione was already dubbing, 'the most excruciatingly embarrassing 60 seconds of my life'. She was mortified that Malfoy had heard Mrs. Weasley and that he might possibly think the addled woman was repeating something she had expressed. His face when he had turned on his heel to leave the room! She'd never seen a more eloquent mixture of distaste and contempt. She'd thought about going after him, but what would she have said?

Ginny gave Hermione a sympathetic smile and rubbed her arm as they stepped through the fireplace into their own living room, but Hermione didn't feel like talking. She just grimaced and said goodnight, before heading down the hall to her room. Once she was in bed, her head started pounding and she could tell sleep was a long way off. She wasn't supposed to care what he thought, so why couldn't she stop the scene running over and over in her mind? Finally, she flicked on her light, picked a well-worn novel from her bookshelf and started to read. She read late into the night, shutting her eyes only when exhaustion completely overcame her.

Chapter Text

“I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself...My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

The morning after the party, Hermione woke feeling only slightly less mortified at the events of the evening before. She dearly hoped that Malfoy was aware of Molly Weasley’s reputation and that his reaction was more to being gossiped about than the content of the gossip. Although, in the cold light of day she told herself sternly that the whole situation with him was something she needed to box up and put behind her anyway - and perhaps this incident, although distressing, would help her do that.

Besides, now that the party was over she’d have very little reason to see any of that crowd. And she was about to put her new field study into motion. A few weeks on-site in Provence working with a local Centaur herd would be just what she needed to move on and forget this whole upsetting episode. 

And speaking of France, she had met that charming Rémy... Maybe she’d use him to take her mind off the events of the last few weeks. He’d told her where he was staying - she’d send him an owl and invite him for drinks. She kicked off her covers and rose out of bed with new purpose and determination.

But despite her resolve and the satisfying feeling of having a plan, Hermione felt flat all week. It didn’t help that her plan seemed to be thwarted at every turn. She continued to have trouble getting the final permissions assured for France, which meant more delays. Rémy had gone out of town and sent his regrets about drinks. Harry had accompanied Ginny on an away stand with the Harpies, so there was no one in the flat. Wickham, who had been a fairly reliable lunch companion of late, also seemed to have disappeared. She wondered what had happened to him, until she read in the Prophet gossip column that he’d been seen around town with a notable heiress to a potions fortune. She sighed when she read the tidbit. She didn’t begrudge Jack his ambitions, but she wouldn’t have minded some company. 

Her restlessness and sense of being in limbo were also making her extremely irritable. It was these times when she missed her mum and dad most. Jean had always been able to charm her out of these moods and her dad was great at distracting her with a new hobby or a bruising tennis match. With them in Australia a phone call was all that was possible and that just wasn’t the same. Besides their lives were so separate now...

It also didn’t help that she saw Draco at the ministry that week and he’d barely acknowledged her presence, giving her a curt nod and never breaking his stride. In fact, she thought he was actually trying to pretend he didn’t see her until she’d lifted her hand in a small salute. Not that she cared per se, but it was a bit humiliating. And despite endless internal rationalisations, she continued to be stung by little barbs of embarrassment every time she thought of the scene with Molly at the party. 

Work had always been a balm for Hermione, so she redoubled her focus to take her mind off of her low mood. She did make good headway in preparations and background research on the Centaur project - so much so that she was feeling rather soothed by the end of the week. Then Rémy came back into town and they went out, which was amusing, although she was strangely uninterested in him romantically. She told herself it was because she was being cautious. 

Her mood lifted even more once Ginny and Harry returned and she was no longer alone in the flat. 

She and Ginny were having a leisurely Saturday while Harry had a lie-in, sipping coffee and passing sections of the Prophet back and forth, and Hermione was feeling almost content again, when Ginny suddenly gasped. 

“What!?” she lowered the arts section to look at her friend. 

“Wickham! He’s engaged to that Pepper Up Potion witch!” Ginny said with wide eyes, showing her the printed announcement. 

“Wow, he works quickly,” Hermione laughed and shook her head. “Good on him. I hope they’ll be happy.” 

“You’re not upset at all?” asked Ginny, searching her face. 

“God, no! I told you when I first met him that I would never get involved with him.”

“I know, but at the party - you seemed so disappointed not to see him…” 

“I just wanted to know someone else there. And it irked me that Malfoy had kept him out. Snob.” 

Ginny had looked back down at the paper. “Speaking of Malfoy,” she said slowly.

Hermione glanced up as Ginny slid Skeeter’s gossip column across the table, feeling a strange sense of dread steal over her. 

‘Dark Horse in the Running for Platinum Prince’s Heart?’ screamed a section header accompanied by a picture of Malfoy with what looked like the black-haired beauty from Theo’s party. The grainy snap showed him hugging her close as she rested her forehead on his chest. Lurid copy next to the photo speculated wildly about their relationship and even mentioned that the ‘dusky beauty’ had edged out the ‘golden girl’ in the ‘race for the Malfoy scion’s heart’. Hermione was aware of a distinct taste of bile at the back of her throat as she took in the column. 

Ginny was reading over her shoulder. “Who is that? And is she supposed to be a horse in this scenario? Jesus, Skeeter ,” she muttered.

Hermione swallowed and tried to school her reaction. “I saw her with Malfoy at the party. I’m not sure who she is since I didn’t talk to either of them that night,” she said in clipped tones. “Is there any more coffee?” 

“Wait whoa, are you ok?” 

“I’m fine. Let’s just drop it.” 

“Ok, ok,” Ginny sat back down and put her palms up. “Just let me know if you want to talk about this at all.” 

“I don’t.” Hermione sat still for a moment, her mind churning. “It’s just annoying that these implications that I was after him in any way keep surfacing. I mean he’s clearly not after me. So it just makes me look pathetic.” 

Ginny covered her friend’s hand with her own. “First, you could never look pathetic.” Hermione snorted. “And second,” Ginny said, raising her voice over the sound, “I’m not so sure he was never after you. You know my opinions about the house party weekend. And I was with you in that alleyway - and - I wasn’t going to tell you this because you didn’t seem to want to talk about it, but I saw Malfoy when he first saw you at Theo’s party. Just before my mum opened her big mouth. And he looked… knocked sideways. He stood there just staring at you like you were something he wanted to eat , for a good ten seconds - all that famous sangfroid out the window.” She fluttered her fingers. “And we both know that you can’t believe anything that Skeeter puts on paper. You of all people should understand that. And that pictures can be very misleading,” Ginny continued when Hermione’s eyes drifted to the small image again. 

“I just don’t know. All of this is so uncomfortable.” Hermione flopped back on the couch and moaned. “It’s true. I’ll admit it. I can’t stop thinking about him, but I mull it over and reach the same conclusion every time. Which is that it’s too complicated and the best thing to do is just forget it.” 

“I don’t disagree,” said Ginny carefully. “But sometimes we can tell ourselves something until we are blue in the face and it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference. I remember that well from the time that Harry and I were apart.” Hermione shot her friend a sympathetic look. “So just take care that you aren’t fooling yourself or letting something as silly as fear hold you back.” 

Hermione nodded tightly, feeling stupidly close to tears. Then she launched herself across the table to wrap her friend in a bear hug. “What would I do without you?” she mumbled into Ginny’s fiery hair. 

“Oh you’d probably still be best friends with my git of a brother and wondering why you were walking through life constantly annoyed and bored at the same time,” laughed Ginny, giving her a smacking kiss on the cheek. 

~oOo~

A welcome invitation came in Hermione’s window later that afternoon by way of a cream-colored barn owl. It was from Theo, asking her to brunch the next day. She was delighted to accept. If one good thing comes out of this mess, it will be getting to be friends with him

The next morning she walked up to a sweet little cafe off Diagon Alley, and saw Theo wave at her from an outdoor table. He stood when she arrived, kissing her on both cheeks and flashing her a brilliant grin. She felt some more of her tension fall away as she sat and chatted with him in the sun. 

“Are you all recovered from the party? Or more accurately is your house recovered?” she asked.

“Oh nearly so,” he laughed. “The house elves have the clean-up down to a science, but there are still tree stumps in some of my drawing rooms.” She chuckled. “Did you have a good time, though?” he asked searchingly, and she felt her face warm, wondering how much he’d heard about the scene with Draco and Molly. She hoped desperately it hadn’t reached Pansy or Blaise’s ears to be spread around. 

“Oh yes,” she managed to answer lightly. “I met some lovely people. Blaise introduced me to Rémy Leon?” Theo nodded and waggled his eyebrows. Rémy was very handsome… “He and I had drinks the other night. He’s très amusant!” 

“Yes, I’ve always fancied him,” sighed Theo. “I have a thing for breathtakingly good-looking Frenchmen. It’s too bad for me that he plays for the other side…” He accompanied his comment with a self deprecating little shrug. “You knew, didn’t you?”

“I figured,” she smiled. “Although it’s too bad for the witch population that you play for the other side.”

He laughed, “stop!” 

“But all kidding aside,” she said. “Is this public information or something that you’d like to keep private?” 

Theo sighed, “well it’s not a secret. It’s public amongst my friends. But I don’t flaunt it. I wish I felt confident enough to do so. It’s a holdover from when my father was alive. He was very … opposed … to the idea of living what the muggles would call an ‘out and proud’ sort of lifestyle.” He sipped his espresso. “Most pureblood families are rather liberal about same sex relationships - as long as you marry a member of the opposite sex first and produce an heir or two. But I never wanted that. I’ve never wanted to live dishonestly.” Hermione nodded sympathetically. “So I learned to hide and misdirect. It’s just in the last year or two that I've talked about it aloud. Although my best friends have known for a few years. Draco’s known forever.” 

Hermione felt herself flinch the slightest bit at the mention of Malfoy and Theo paused for a beat before exclaiming, “but enough about me! You and Rémy. Do tell. I want to live vicariously!” 

She accepted the subject change gratefully as she did not want to discuss Draco with his best friend - even tangentially. “Well sorry, but there’s not much to tell. We went out and had tapas and a few drinks. He flirted with me and made me laugh. Then we parted ways with a quick peck and nothing more.”  

“So disappointing,” said Theo. “What was wrong? Did he chew with his mouth open? Act rude to the server?” 

“No, nothing like that!” she laughed. “I just didn’t feel attracted to him. And I think he could sense that and was being a gentleman about it. I’m not sure why I didn’t find him …” she waved her hands around, at a loss for words.

Theo tilted his head but stayed silent. 

“I think,” she continued, pausing to cut a bite of her food and gather her thoughts, “that Rémy’s a bit of a charming rogue. And I tend to be very cautious when it comes to them. Sort of like Jack Wickham. It’s like as soon as a really beautiful man starts trying to aggressively charm me, my red flags go up and I’m instantly disinterested in that way. Do you know what I mean?” 

Theo nodded. “Yes, although unfortunately I do not suffer from the same affliction.” He rolled his eyes and smiled. “So you were never dating Jack Wickham? When I saw you that one night you looked kind of cosy.” This was said casually, although Hermione noticed a flutter of distaste cross his features when he said Jack’s name. 

“God, no!” She shook her head. “I will admit that when I very first met him, which was the night you saw us, I was dazzled. He’s just so, so good-looking.” Theo nodded emphatically.  “He’s also a great conversationalist - interesting and fun. But he’s an incorrigible womanizer. He literally can’t help himself. And he’s so handsome and charismatic that he has an endless supply of willing victims. I personally saw him collect two phone numbers from complete strangers that night. After that I was definitely in the ‘thanks, but no’ camp.” 

Theo nodded. “Yes, that sounds like the Jack Wickham I’ve seen in action. Although it seemed like he was going out of his way to charm you.” 

“Oh yes, he definitely wanted me to go home with him!” she laughed. “But my sense of self-preservation is too strong.” 

“So you weren’t at all upset by the announcement of his engagement?” Theo spooned coulis onto his yoghurt and Hermione had the distinct sensation that she was being grilled very gently and skillfully.

“No, not for myself,” she said slowly. “But I do worry about that Pepper Up witch. What was her name…?” 

“Gladiola Sinclair,” supplied Theo. “Our families move in the same circles, although she’s a bit older than us. She can definitely take care of herself. I figure she knows what she’s got with Wickham, but doesn’t care. We’ll just see if her family allows it to actually happen, though. To my recollection, she hasn’t actually inherited yet and won’t for a few years, so they may pull the plug on her allowance if they want to pressure her to drop him.”   

“Hmm,” Hermione was unsure what to think about his comment. On the one hand, she didn’t wish a womanizer on any witch, but on the other, if Wickham was Gladiola’s choice and pureblood prejudice was all that was making him off-limits, that was infuriating on several levels. Of course if Wickham disappeared just because she wouldn’t have any money for a few years that was also despicable. 

“So what are your plans for the rest of the summer?” she asked after a slightly overlong silence. Theo grinned and launched into a description of a holiday to Italy he’d be taking in a few weeks. Hermione had been the year before and commended his choice. 

They spent the rest of brunch skirting controversial topics in favor of discussing the merits of Rome vs Florence, where to find the best carbonara and what made Italian men so attractive (a combination of swagger and close attention to sartorial detail, they agreed). 

It was lovely and she went home much happier than when she’d started out. Probably because she felt she had cemented a friendship - and because Malfoy’s name had never come up again. 

~oOo~

Theo went on his way also happy about the outcome of brunch. He’d had two purposes in inviting Hermione out. First, because he genuinely liked her and wanted to get closer to her and second because he wanted to feel her out with regard to certain topics. He felt he’d been successful in both endeavors and had much to think about. 

Having hidden his true nature most of his life, Theo had become a very careful and subtle observer of others. Though she’d never known it, he’d watched Hermione closely when he asked about the party, when he mentioned Draco - just the once! - and when he’d probed about Wickham. Her reactions were exactly as he would have predicted based on what he already knew of her. 

Namely, she’d had nothing to do with Molly Weasley’s crass comments, she had a tendre that she was barely acknowledging to herself for his best friend (eclipsing even the dangerously gorgeous Rémy Leon, no less) and she had no feelings for Jack Wickham beyond an amused sort of friendliness and mild protective impulse based on whatever fantasy story Wickham had fed her about his circumstances. 

All of these conclusions pleased Theo and he hummed as he walked to his next appointment. He loved Draco dearly and had decided after careful thought that Hermione would be very good for him. He wanted to do what he could to help his friend see that, but he also knew Draco was understandably intractable when it came to Wickham, and wouldn’t consider anyone who’d been with him in any way. So these developments were encouraging, indeed. 

Theo had suspected Hermione was made of finer stuff and he was right. Now just to help pull his best mate’s head from his arse. Luckily he had a few strategies in mind for that. He grinned to himself as he pushed open the door to his fencing club and entered the cool, white interior. 

Striding into the changing room he spotted Draco right away, half dressed in his whites, pulling a thin undershirt over his head. “You’re late,” he growled, clearly displeased that he’d have to wait while Theo got into his gear. 

“Oh go get your practice thrusts in,” Theo tossed over his shoulder as he removed his shoes. “I won’t be two minutes.” 

Draco grumbled and exited to the salle. Once Theo joined him their bout began with a polite salute but quickly turned aggressive. Theo, usually the better fencer, found himself parrying and retreating down the piste at a rapid pace, Draco’s attacks and lunges pushing him off the strip in record time. He had a strong suspicion what his friend’s display was about - Draco had been in a foul mood since the party. 

Theo gamely regrouped, more than willing to be the punching bag if it helped Draco work off his pique. But although he was more focused and intent in his attacks, he was again pushed off piste, with Draco applying a punishing bind to his foil for emphasis. 

“Stop holding back,” Draco snapped at him. “Let’s have a real match.”

Theo nodded once, tacitly agreeing to take off the kid gloves. He and Draco then engaged in furious combat, trading hits and points, blades ringing and clashing as they moved rapidly up and down the strip. Theo vaguely noticed that they had attracted the attention of others in the club, who drifted over to watch the match. Draco’s energy and intensity matched against Theo’s calculated skill meant they traded points equally for some time. 

Finally, expertise won out with Theo combining a diabolical riposte with a compound attack to best Draco for the winning point, the two of them finishing practically chest to chest and gasping for air. They held still for a moment and then grinned at each other before breaking apart for the formal salute signalling the end of the match.

Theo clapped Draco on the back as they headed to the changing room, “that was the best I’ve ever seen you, mate! You were a fury!” 

“Still couldn’t beat you, though” Draco said with a slight smile. 

“Yeah but I was fighting for my life the whole time,” Theo stripped out of his whites and strolled back to the showers. Standing under the hot spray, he considered how best to address his friend’s … emotional state. 

“Where were you coming from before the match?” said Draco over the noise of the water. 

Thank you very much for the perfect opening. Theo smothered a smile as he rinsed his hair. “I was having brunch!” 

“With Blaise?” yelled Draco, water sluicing over his face and chest. 

Theo snorted. Blaise was always banging on about brunch being one of the best ways to ‘find fit tail on a Sunday’. 

“No, Hermione!” he replied while pretending to scrub his face, but secretly watching his friend’s reaction. Draco, who had been hanging his head under the hot water letting it massage the back of his neck, jerked up involuntarily, but didn’t say anything. Theo turned off the shower and buried his smirking face in a towel. 

Draco also cut off his shower and grabbed a towel, drying himself and tying it around his waist. “Was she well?” he asked after a lengthy pause. 

“Oh yeah, great,” said Theo with a blasé wave of his hand. “She had all kinds of tips for my Italy holiday. I should have kept a list.”

Draco grunted and started getting dressed. 

“I’m glad I asked her. I want to keep in touch with her,” Theo mused. “I like that witch. She’s very different from our usual crowd. Different from how I thought she was at school.” He was careful to keep his tone neutral. “I got the impression she was mortified by Molly Weasley’s remarks at the party.”

Draco’s head snapped up. “She mentioned that? Wait, how did you hear about it?” his eyes narrowed.

“House elves. And no, she didn’t mention it. She just went bright red and uncomfortable when I asked her if she had a good time. I can’t think of any other reason she’d react that way.”

“Maybe because she was still fucked off that you didn’t invite her twat-with-benefits, Wickham,” Draco bit off with a sneer. “Pansy told me she made a scene when she realised he wasn’t there.” 

“No, she didn’t,” said Theo, rolling his eyes and giving Draco a, ‘you really believed Pansy?’ look. “To be honest, I don’t think she cared much,” he continued as he pulled his shirt over his head. “Wickham’s name came up today and she’s definitely not involved with him. Never has been, thank Merlin. I suspected she had better taste. I’m glad I was right. Couldn’t really friends with her otherwise.” He mock shuddered. “I don’t even think they’re really friends, although I do think the little shite fed her some sob story. She definitely feels sorry for him. But she knows he’s a skirt-chasing tosser. She told me she figured it out within an hour of meeting him. Can’t say I’m surprised. She’s a sharp one,” Theo chuckled. 

Draco stared blankly for a moment and Theo grinned to himself. There’s something to think about, eh mate? 

“Speaking of, did you see the engagement announcement in the Prophet yesterday? Wickham and Gladiola?” Theo chattered on. Draco nodded, an expression of disgust breaking his trance. “I mentioned it to Hermione and she actually laughed when I asked if she was ok with it. She was concerned for Glady, though. I told her that’s a witch who can definitely take care of herself. Although we’ll see how long her new fiance sticks around if mummy and daddy cut off her allowance,” Theo snorted. “Did Jonnie mention it when you saw her the other night? I saw that picture of you two in the Prophet . She also seemed upset at the party. Alistair must be fucking around again.” 

Draco shook his head. “She didn’t and he is. Although I don’t know if Jonquil and Glady are as close as they used to be. Alistair seems to drive all Jonnie’s friends away. I’d like to hex that arsehole’s bollocks off. She also needs to wake up and leave him.”

Theo nodded. “She really does.”

“Did you say anything to Granger about Astoria’s, uh my, recent history with Wickham?” 

“No, of course not,” said Theo, suddenly very serious. “Although you might want to consider a discreet lunch with Glady before things become official…” Draco nodded slowly. 

Theo gathered his gear, intending to apparate home and let Draco sit with his thoughts. He knew from experience that his friend would need time to come to his own conclusions about what Theo had fed him today. 

“Well I’m off!” he said, rubbing Draco’s back briskly. “See you Thursday for Daph’s birthday drinks? And give my love to Astoria. Can’t wait to see her now that she’s back in London.” 

“Yeah, thanks. Will do.” Draco muttered distractedly, waving a hand over his shoulder. 

Theo chuckled again as he strode out, pleased with the day’s work.

Chapter Text

“But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”

Draco wandered out of the fencing club in a daze, Theo’s words playing over and over in his head: definitely not involved with him... never has been… don’t even think they’re friends... As the snippets ran through his mind, he felt a sense of lightness steal over him and was conscious of being in a better mood than he had been in a long while. Must have been the exercise, he told himself, smiling slightly as he headed home. 

Opening the door to his flat, Draco was still lost in thought when he was assaulted from the side by a small whirlwind. 

“Draco, Draco, Draco! I’m so glad you’re home,” said a high, sweet voice. “How was fencing and how is my favourite?” 

Draco’s felt his face relax into a smile as he beheld the small person clinging to his waist. She was all huge dark eyes and short, spiky black hair, the polar opposite of her tall, blonde sister.  

“Hello, my Astor.” He bent down to kiss her cheek. “Fencing was satisfying. Theo is well. He sends his love. How has your day been?”

“Daph and I went record-shopping in muggle London and it was brilliant. I brought home loads of cool things. We’ll have a listening party later!” She twirled him around in a little dance and he let her. No one could get him to bend his dignity as easily as Astoria could. 

She’d come into his life just after the war when he was still a shell of a person. Daphne’s much younger sister, an orphaned casualty of the conflict. Her parents’ will had contained an ancient and magically binding clause decreeing that if their minor child were left parentless, guardianship would pass to the male heir of the line. 

Everyone else male in their entire tangled family tree had died or disappeared, but Draco. So to his extreme surprise he was informed that he had become the guardian of a six year old girl at 18 years of age. And Daphne’s sister no less. He had immediately appointed Daph co-guardian and they had effectively become Astoria’s parents from then on. 

Helping to raise and guide her had transformed him in many ways, saved him really. He’d been smitten the moment she raised her dark eyes and small arms up to him the first time they met. From then on he’d been very actively involved in her life, despite his mother’s suggestion that they ship her off to some distant Greengrass cousins in the North. 

After he and Daphne had roundly rejected that idea, Astoria had come to live with them at their flat in London - and at Theo’s and his aunt’s in France. She’d been raised cheerfully by committee. The day she’d first ridden the train to Hogwarts had been the most bittersweet of his life. And she’d done so well at school. Sorted into Ravenclaw and quickly singled out for her kindness and musical talent. 

The day last winter when he’d received a patronus from Minerva McGonagall informing him that she was missing had been his worst nightmare come true. They’d all been frantic and rushed to Scotland, where, thank gods, she’d been found quickly and physically unharmed. 

But the damage had been profound. 

Minerva had had to disarm Draco to stop him dealing Wickham the killing curse and then it had taken all Theo’s strength to pull him off the other wizard. In the end they’d let Wickham go because nothing could be proven and Astoria wouldn’t speak of it, except to repeat that she went with him willingly. The feeling was that bringing anything before the Wizengamot would harm her all over again. And Draco largely blamed himself because the whole sordid episode was clearly a revenge plot aimed at him. 

He still couldn’t think about it without wanting to throw up or break something, preferably several of Wickham’s bones. The only reason he didn’t hex the absolute cunt into oblivion each time he saw him was because when Astoria started talking again she had calmly and seriously told Draco and Daphne that the best thing they could do for her was to put it behind them. She had been all of 16 years old.

She’d eventually come back to them - slowly and not quite the same as she had been before. Leaving Hogwarts had helped, and she had declared she would never go back. Going to his aunt’s in France for a long rest this Spring had also soothed her. Then she had finally recovered enough to ask to enroll at Beauxbatons in the Autumn and to come to London in the meantime, which he took as a good sign - although had he known Wickham was here he would never have allowed it. 

For a while noise and activity had overwhelmed her, so the fact that she’d willingly gone into the city today was extremely encouraging. It did him good to see the sparkle back in her beautiful eyes. The eyes that now peered up at him with a keen look. 

“You’re different than when you left this morning,” she said, scrunching her face. “Lighter. Happier. And nooo, I don’t think it’s all down to the exercise…” Sometimes she was so perceptive he wondered if she had a touch of the sight. Many witches in her line had been known for it. 

Draco just shrugged and grinned at her. “Maybe it was Theo’s sparkling conversation. More important discussion though. What are we doing for your sister’s birthday tomorrow? I want to celebrate with the three of us and not just rely on the big piss-up on Thursday.” 

Astoria pouted, “and besides you and Daphne are being big prats and not letting me go to that.”

“That is because you are underage,” said Draco. “Focus. Tomorrow.” 

“Well Daph was on about some muggle supper club that’s supposed to be ‘very now’ and very hard to get into. She’s such a hipster. So I called them and used my em, powers of persuasion to get us a table.” 

“You mean you cast a spell.” Since she had withdrawn from Hogwarts, she wasn’t bound by the same magical restrictions as students, and she had been making very free with the loophole. 

“Don’t come over all boring and fatherly, Draco. It was just a tiny wandless compelling charm. More of a suggestion than a spell. The muggle never knew because I did it over the telephone.” She trained the full effect of her brilliant smile on him. He frowned. “Oh just forget about it. It’s for Daphne,” she wheedled. “She’ll be so chuffed.” 

He held his frown for a moment longer and then relented, grabbing her face and kissing her on the forehead. “Fine, you menace. But when the Improper Use of Magic Office comes knocking on our door I’m just going to say, ‘She’s in there. Have at her.’” 

She laughed and grabbed his hand. “Now come see all these records I bought and this cracking birthday gag I’m going to play on Daph Thursday...” 

Draco smiled and let himself be led. 

~oOo~

Hermione sucked down the last of her cocktail and started to gather her things. She’d done her duty with two hours and two drinks at the leaving do for a junior witch in Magical Creatures who was relocating to Germany. Now she wanted nothing more than to get home and finish a sheaf of reports that had been lingering in her in-tray. 

Saying her goodbyes and good lucks to her colleague, she was just about to walk out of the bustling little pub when someone waved at her from the bar. It was Daphne Greengrass and she was wearing a very silly headband that read ‘Birthday Girl’ in blinking lights. Hermione walked over with a grin. 

“I guess I should say … Happy Birthday?” she laughed at the tall, blonde witch. 

Daphne huffed out an angry sigh. “Yes, my little sister is in town and purchased this charming item for me. She tricked me into trying it on and then informed me that it was enchanted to douse me in a wave of everlasting-stick glitter glue if I try to take it off within the next 5 hours.” 

“Clever and evil in equal parts!” Hermione noticed Blaise approaching out of the corner of her eye. “Your sister sounds intriguing. Is she the one who is going to Beauxbatons this year?

“Yes, Astoria. She’s spending part of the summer in London. But luckily she’s not old enough to come here because I’d probably be hexing her right now.” Daphne scowled as she accepted a glass from Blaise, the rainbow lights from her crown dancing across her face. 

“Oh leave it,” Blaise chuckled. “She got you good, Daph, and besides you look festive - bringing the disco wherever you go. Hello, Granger. Are you joining us for Daphne’s birthday drinks?” 

“Oh, I’d love to, but I’m just leaving another celebration and I have to get home,” Hermione responded with fake sincerity, already edging away from the bar. 

She liked Daphne, but was almost certain this occasion would involve Pansy Parkinson - and she wanted to avoid that encounter like the plague. And more importantly, Malfoy could show up any second, said her inner voice in a panic. 

At that very instant, a pair of strong arms slid around her waist from behind while a kiss landed on her cheek. For a wild moment, the thought flitted through her brain that it was him and she started in shock.

“Leaving so soon?” an unnaturally deep voice tickled her ear.

Hermione twisted, a genuine smile breaking over her face and a slightly hysterical laugh escaping her lips. “ Theo ! You startled me!” He flashed her a smile, all dimples and innocent eyes, then released her with a twirl, holding her hand companionably. 

“Do you really have to go?” he said with a moue of disappointment.

“I really do,” she replied, her sense of urgency increasing as the clock ticked. “I’ve been here for hours with another group!” Theo continued to pout and didn’t let go of her hand. Hermione started to get the distinct impression that he was detaining her, which made her even more nervous. She used a cunning little tactic she’d learned in a muggle self-defense class to disengage, then put some fast distance between herself and the others.

“I’m really sorry I can’t stay and celebrate,” she chattered, laying a small pile of galleons on the bar. “Happy Birthday, Daph, and next round’s on me. Let’s get together soon at that whisky bar in Knockturn that you were telling me about!” Hermione darted in to kiss Daphne on both cheeks, gave Blaise a little salute and walked backward away from Theo, who was still rubbing his wrist, blowing him a kiss as she went. 

She was halfway across the room and still waving over her shoulder, when she noticed the most curious expression cross Theo’s face. She had a split second to wonder why before she felt herself walk into something tall and fairly unyielding. 

“Granger,” murmured a familiar, aristocratically bored voice “we really must stop running into each other this way.”

Hermione felt her heart drop to her toes. 

She was usually a really very self-possessed person. She wasn’t clumsy. She didn't embarrass easily. She’d once been described in the Prophet as having ‘an easy confidence and natural authority’. So why, for the love of all that was magic, did her encounters with this wizard keep being so awkward? She really, really didn’t want to look up. 

“Hullo, Draco,” (Draco!) she said in a low voice, feeling a wave of warmth start up her neck. She forced her eyes up to his, expecting the cold dismissal he’d given her when he’d seen her in the ministry last week. 

But he wasn’t cold. 

His eyes were warm. Warm and smiling with little crinkles at the corners. His mouth was faintly smiling too - as if he was in on a joke with her. A little laugh of relief and surprise burst from her lips and she felt something loosen in her shoulders. 

“Sorry about that. Not looking where I was going. Have fun tonight, though,” she said, attempting nonchalance. 

“Oh are you leaving?” he murmured, his mouth turning down slightly. His mouth…mmm. God, why is he so good looking? Suddenly Ginny’s words floated through her mind unbidden, “I’m not so sure he was never after you." The thought caused heat to flash over Hermione’s body and that galvanized her to stop staring at him gormlessly and move. She stepped around him, although she didn’t miss how arresting he was in impeccable grey robes. 

“Yes, got to get home and do some exciting and scintillating work!” 

“Isn’t there something the muggles say about all work and no play?” he asked, tapping his forefinger to his temple in an exaggerated motion. 

“Are you saying I’m dull?” she parried, unable to resist turning around and stepping closer. 

“Furthest thing from it.” Malfoy’s half smile turned into a grin that could have really spelled trouble for her, except that Hermione could now see over his shoulder that Theo and Blaise were watching them avidly from the bar. 

She gestured in their direction with a significant look. “I think your friends are waiting for you.” 

Malfoy turned and took in the situation, his fine brows drawing together. Hermione used the opportunity to beat a full retreat. 

“Don’t work too hard,” she heard his soft voice call behind her. She risked one more quick smile over her shoulder and stepped into the night, catching his eyes lingering on her as she walked out the door.

~oOo~

Harry bustled into the kitchen the next morning in slightly rumpled robes, tie askew and running ten minutes behind, as usual. Hermione was already there, humming as she fixed herself a cup of tea. She glided over and automatically began straightening his messy neckwear, still humming and wearing a dreamy smile.  

“Why are you in such a good mood?” he demanded, shoving toast into his mouth and glancing suspiciously at her beatific face as he lifted his chin. It was very early in the morning for her to look so cheerful. Ginny for example, wouldn’t be up for hours. Perk of not toiling at a desk job or having to take early meetings. 

“Oh no reason,” she said, her smile lingering as she put the finishing touches on what he knew would be a much-improved half-windsor. “Other than it’s Friday and it’s supposed to be hot this weekend. Where are you rushing out to?” 

Harry continued to regard her. “Investor meeting at 9. What were you up to last night? Gin and I didn’t see you before we went over to the Burrow.” 

“There was a leaving drinks thing at the Divining Rod for a colleague. I put in my time and came home to catch up on some reports. I must have just missed you.” Hermione was now studying her reflection in the hall mirror, twisting bits of her hair this way and that. 

Realization dawned on Harry and he felt a smirk tug at his mouth. “That’s interesting because I ran into Theo Nott yesterday and he invited me to a drinks thing at the Divining Rod,” he said. Hermione’s cheeks flushed and she looked more closely in the mirror, now very obviously using it as a tactic not to look at Harry. She also didn’t respond. “Did you happen to see Theo there?” he probed. “Couldn’t have been the same drinks thing. He said his was a birthday do… for Daphne, I think?” 

“Yes, now that you mention it I did see Theo there, just briefly,” Hermione said, now sticking her head into the fridge and rummaging around.

“Anyone else we know show up?” Harry matched her tone and leaned against the counter, all nonchalance. 

“Oh that whole gang from the house party was there,” came the muffled reply from within the fridge. Harry’s smirk deepened. Ginny had told him a bit about what was going on with Malfoy and Hermione and he found it … interesting. Judging by Hermione’s mood today, Malfoy had shown up and their encounter had been better than the last one. Which was good, because Hermione had been in a right state since the party - alternating between glum slumping about the flat and near manic levels of activity. 

When Ginny had mentioned her hunch about Hermione and Draco, Harry had been shocked at first, but then gradually warmed to the idea. The wizards and even a few muggles who had constituted Hermione’s love life over the last few years had been distinctly lackluster in his opinion. Of course, he had extremely high expectations for anyone wanting to be a part of her life. And few measured up to those or her general excellency. But if anyone was as intelligent and ambitious as his best friend, it was Draco Malfoy. And they shared some very strong opinions about things that Harry couldn’t work up a lot of fervor about - like art or runic translation or muggle music and food. 

Besides, it had been a long time since he had viewed Malfoy with the hatred and distrust of their school years. They’d never be best mates, but Harry believed in actions and deeds - and Malfoy’s during and since the war had proved who he really was. The project they’d worked on together at the Meadows last year, designing a diagnostic checklist for post-traumatic stress, had allowed him to further get to know his old rival. And while he firmly believed that Malfoy would always be somewhat of a posh twat, he’d also come to think that he was brilliant, caring and occasionally very funny. 

One of the most surreal moments of Harry’s post-war life had been sitting over a firewhiskey with Draco Malfoy and laughing until tears rolled down his cheeks over Draco’s spot-on impression of Minerva McGonagall. 

And he respected that Malfoy was using his wealth and notoriety to do something useful. It would have been very easy for him to recede into an idle private life after the war, cushioned by money and the power that was still concentrated in the hands of a few dozen pureblood families. But he hadn’t - he’d stuck his neck out again and again to build the Meadows and make it what it was, much to the displeasure of those same families. 

If Malfoy recognized Hermione’s quality - and she could get past his cool exterior to stir the depths, Harry thought they might have a real chance to make each other happy. 

And interestingly, Harry had gotten the distinct impression that Theo Nott was advocating for the match too. Yesterday when they had bumped into each other the invitation to drinks was less to Harry and more to Harry if he were to bring Hermione. Theo had mentioned something about the misunderstanding with Molly Weasley at the party and that he had set Draco straight. He’d seemed eager to make sure Hermione knew that... 

Harry snapped out of his reverie as Hermione emerged from the fridge, yoghurt in hand. “Harry,” she asked, carefully opening the tub, “do you think people can change?” 

Harry almost laughed out loud, but maintained his casual air. “Yes, I do. Or maybe I should say that I believe people can reveal themselves more fully as we get to know them, and that the way we perceive them can change.”

“Hmm,” she murmured, still contemplating her breakfast. 

“But I also think that life can change people,” continued Harry, warming to his subject. “Events, like the war. Having children. Doing a certain job. Being happy or unhappy in a marriage.” Hermione nodded slowly. A thought struck Harry and he sobered, “Take Ron, for example. I’ll always love him and he’ll always be a mate, but I’d say we’ve all changed and grown apart - especially the two of you.” 

“It still makes me sad,” Hermione said. “I know we’ve talked about this before, but it sneaks up on me once in a while.” Harry sighed and sent her a sympathetic glance. “Of course our breakup was hard, but with our history, we should have been able to come back from it. And it was eight years ago. But I feel like I barely even know him now.”

“Well it’s sort of like I said - I think events changed Ron. Or maybe they shaped him. Well, they shaped all of us. I mean, look at Neville! But Ron never moved on from the war the way the rest of us did. He never progressed. I think your breakup was part of that. And then right afterward when you needed distance was when you got really close to Ginny - and she sort of replaced him, for better or for worse. For me too - falling in love and making a life with her meant I had less room for him. I think he resented that. Then when we three moved in together - even though he said he didn’t want to live with us, I think it made him feel even more left out. I’m convinced that’s why he left and stayed abroad for so many years.”

Hermione nodded, “I felt so awkward after we split - I pushed him away and I’ll always regret that.” She dabbed at her eyes and gave a watery laugh. “Anyway, this is a bit heavy for Friday morning before work.” 

Harry crossed over to her and hugged her, sniffing a bit himself. “It’s a good thing Ginny’s not up. She’d be having a go at us for being watering-pots and telling us we got the better end of the Weasley bargain.” Hermione smiled up at him. “Anyway,” he continued placing his hands on her shoulders bracingly. “I think things are looking up for Ron. He’s gotten close to Jack Wickham and they’re cooking up some sort of business scheme that he’s really excited about. Something to do with coastal property in Spain. They’re combining Ron’s knowledge of the area with Wickham’s real estate expertise.” 

Hermione looked encouraged, “That’s great!” 

Harry nodded, “I know. I’m happy for him. But back to your earlier question, I truly do think people can change - and change again. The worst thing to do is remain rigid in your thinking about someone when they are showing you that they’re different.” 

Hermione looked thoughtful, then placed her hands over Harry’s. “Thanks, friend,” she said with a smile. “Now I hate to tell you this after we’ve had such a lovely talk, but it’s 8:56.” 

“Shite!” Harry grabbed his bag and dashed for the fireplace, “I have to meet this bloke at some tea shop in Diagon Alley in 4 minutes!” 

“Floo with me to the ministry! It’ll be fastest” Hermione called, shouldering her work satchel as she ran after him. She tossed the floo into the grate and they both stepped into the swirling green cloud and disappeared.

Chapter Text

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

Hermione browsed through the mystery section of Familiar Books, her favorite bookshop in Diagon Alley. Saturday had turned out to be more than just warm - hellishly hot would be a better description - and the only thing a sane person could do was buy a book and a picnic and take it to Green Park to sit under a tree with very deep shade and read the afternoon away. She was rather pleased at hitting on this plan after moaning about the heat in the sweltering flat for most of the morning. Ginny and Harry had invited her to the cinema with them, which had sounded appealing because of the air con, until she looked at the film choices. Explosions or rom-com, no thanks. So the park it would be. 

And she needed something good to read along with the lovely cheese, figs and baguette she had picked up at the fancy market. A mystery seemed a little autumnal , but she was in the mood light, but clever. Her eyes darted through the section until she spotted an Elizabeth Peters she had never read. Summer of the Dragon ? “ Oddly fitting ,” her brain thought dryly. She plucked the slim volume from the shelf and wheeled around to head to the till - and almost ran into … Draco Malfoy ? AGAIN? 

This really couldn’t be happening, her rational mind protested. But there he was, leaning in the aisle, looking down at her with a bemused expression. He was dressed the polar opposite of how he’d been at the pub the other night. Then he’d been the picture of a perfectly tailored wizard. Today he looked like a cute muggle in a fitted button-down and impeccable summer weight trousers. His sleeves were rolled - his one nod to the record-breaking heat? Oh no, second nod - he was wearing trainers. 

God, but rolled sleeves and bare forearms were a kink of hers… Was it possible he looked even more delicious as a muggle than as a wizard? Interesting internal debate for another time, Hermione. Now it’s time to stop staring and say something . She dragged her eyes up to his and said brilliantly, “What are YOU doing here?” Lovely Granger, just lovely and very smooth

“I saw you come in,” he said with an enigmatic look. 

“Well I. It’s very hot as you know, and so I need a book.” She was even more thrown off by the idea that he’d followed her. And why did he have to be so put together? She was sure she looked sweaty and disheveled. Her rolled shorts and blousy top, which seemed cute and weather-appropriate when she left the house, now felt so un-crisp

“Yes the heat makes reading essential for me too.” A ghost of a smile played at the corners of his lips. 

“I mean, I’m going to the park to sit under a shade tree and wait out the heat,” she said with a better attempt at clarity and lucidity. “And I’ll need a book to while away the hours I plan to spend. Hence, being here, and shopping for said book.” 

“Splendid idea. I commend you,” he replied, his eyes traveling lazily down her person. 

“What are you doing to … beat the heat?” she asked, swallowing. Oh god that sounded like a masturbation reference. “Apparating to an ice house?” FUCK. She had to STOP. 

His eyes flicked back up to hers and held. “Oh no, I was thinking of buying a book and a picnic and going to the park.” 

His eyes were really the most extraordinary shade of silvery grey, she mused, must be a recessive gene trait that went with the platinum hair … She’d gone silent for a beat as he looked expectantly at her. 

She started. Did he want to join her?? No, he couldn’t! But that had sounded like he was fishing for an invitation. Her mind went into a panicked state. What did this mean? It seemed like he wanted to come? Otherwise why would he joke about that!? But what would they talk about all day? Had it been too long since she said something? Was she being unforgivably rude? 

“Would you like to come with me?” she finally blurted. “It would be silly to just be … sitting under different trees.” Mouth moving before brain again, she cursed herself. She used to be rather erudite and quick with him. What had he done to her mind-speech connection?

“I thought you’d never ask,” his smile was dazzling in the dim stacks. She acquiesced in a daze and paid for her book. They were walking out of wizarding London before she could register what had happened. 

“So where are we going?” he asked. “Hyde? St. James? Green?”

“Admirable knowledge of nearby Muggle parks,” she said, shooting him an amused sideways glance. Being in a little less close proximity had seemed to afford her use of her brain again. “I like Green Park for days like this. Less crowded and bigger, more plentiful trees.” 

Their slow stroll - it was too hot to move quickly - gave Hermione a chance to fully restore her equilibrium, although walking next to him, glancing at his fine profile, was a bit intoxicating. She scoffed at herself for being shallow, but she couldn’t deny that being so close to a tall, beautiful man was a turn-on. Some small, regressive part of her brain actually liked that people must think they were together. Distressing. She’d have to examine her feminist sensibilities later. 

“Oh how did Daphne’s birthday go the other night? Did she manage to wear that crown until the spell faded or did she get doused in glitter?”

“Absolutely covered,” he responded with a grin. 

Hermione laughed and put her hand over her mouth, “Oh no!! What happened?”

“You know our Daph’s a bit of a lush?” he asked, and Hermione nodded, still snickering. “Well she got absolutely blotto on these ridiculous shots Blaise kept ordering her. I told her shots are for amateurs,” he sniffed. 

Hermione laughed outright, nodding. She’d said the same thing many times herself. 

“So eventually she went round the bend and decided she had to have the crown off. She kept trying to point her wand at it but her aim wasn’t great and she took out a chandelier in this smart cocktail lounge we’d gone to. So we confiscated the wand and then she just got angry and tried to fling the crown at Blaise. I think she was hoping it would explode on its way and get him? But as soon as it left her head by a millimeter it was like a small, glitter-filled bomb went off,” he laughed, shaking his head at the memory. “Her face, her hair. You know that muggle film Carrie ?” Hermione nodded, really laughing now and also a bit impressed at his film knowledge. “Picture that, except glitter instead of blood.”   

“OhnonoNO, poor thing!” she gasped. “I hope you were all able to help her clean up!” 

“Pansy knew a charm for removing cosmetic glue - do not ask because I have no idea why!” he said, holding up his hand and laughing at her horrified, yet fascinated, face. “But it worked and Daph was only a bit shiny by the time we got her home. Excellent night, though. You should have stayed on.” His laugh turned into a half smile aimed at her. He looked so fucking adorable that whatever she was about to say in response flew out of her brain and she could only smile dumbly at him in response.

Luckily for Hermione’s composure, or lack thereof, their steps had delivered them to the park’s lush, emerald grounds. Most of the gigantic oaks scattered about the lawns already had groups of picnickers surrounding their bases. Hermione looked for a nice one and whispered a wandless spell. Suddenly the Muggles occupying the area dispersed - deciding to abandon their choice tree and sit far, far away. 

Draco cut his eyes to her and whistled. “Damn, that was ruthless.”

She grinned. “Oh I’ll use my magical advantages to get the best shade.” 

~oOo~

Fucking adorable , Draco thought to himself. He cursed his use of that word. But he couldn’t seem to help it when it came to her. She was adorable. “And bloody sexy,” his brain added. He’d spotted her across the alley as she’d come out of the food market. Or more accurately, he’d been stopped dead in his tracks by her. Again. Especially her legs. Long, smooth and barely covered by some seriously short shorts that she’d rolled up to make even shorter. A clear attempt to drive men mad. His mind had gone straight to the gutter and his feet had followed her into the bookstore before he’d even known what he was doing. He’d had a vague plan to go to the Meadows and do some work today, maybe have lunch with Daph and Astor, but it had all gone out the window the moment he’d seen her. Whatever she was doing today he was now doing. 

Something had changed when he’d found out she wasn’t seeing Wickham. Before then he’d been attracted to her, but determined to fight it. Why get involved with someone who would pose … complications? He’d felt attraction and not acted on it many times. And the taint of Wickham had allowed his distaste to override his baser instincts. But now somehow his defenses had come down. He’d lost interest in fighting. 

When he’d seen her at the bar the other night, he hadn’t held himself back and their interaction had been a fucking delight. She was playful and fun and, needless to say, wickedly clever. And it didn’t hurt that she’d made him want to cast a disillusionment charm on his arsehole friends and snog her senseless in the middle of the room. And then to top it off, she’d said no to his invitation to stay! He was so used to girls being overeager. He’d really had to hold himself back from flipping Blaise and Theo off and following her out the door.  

They stepped into the deepest part of the tree’s shelter and it felt at least ten degrees cooler. “Ahhhh” she said, stretching her arms overhead, which lifted her breasts beguilingly. Draco took a discreet deep breath and tried not very successfully to look elsewhere. Thank Merlin for sunglasses. “Now this is lovely. Where is that blanket?” She started digging in her small canvas shoulder bag, bringing out her book, a baguette, cheese, figs, a cutting board, a straw hat, a tube of sunscreen, a flask of water, something that looked like a small muggle electronic device, a few magazines, a deck of cards and finally a folded square of soft cloth. Draco’s eyes had gotten wider the more she pulled out of the small sack. 

“My God, woman, what else have you got in there?” 

She rolled her eyes. “What is it with wizards being shocked by witch handbags? Haven’t you ever seen an extension charm before?”  He just shook his head and grinned as she unfurled the square of blue patterned cloth and laid it down on the soft green. She distributed the other items around the blanket, muttered a quick repelling charm to keep others away and then sat down with a contented sigh. Draco dropped down next to her, elbows on his knees and wrists crossed as he took in the scene around them. They sat silently for a while, breathing in the sweet air and cooling down after their hot walk. Hermione passed him the water flask and he drank deeply, a bit struck by the casual intimacy of putting his mouth where hers had just been. 

There was a lot of scope for people-watching in the immediate vicinity. One nearby group seemed to be all young women who, at the ripe hour of 11:30 am, were already pissed, if the number of empty wine bottles near their area was any indicator. They were also playing some form of tag that seemed to involve a lot of falling over and giggling. This was much to the amusement of a nearby group of boys, who were ogling the girls as they flashed thighs and knickers with their antics. Another group of mums with young children shot both girls and boys dirty looks as they sniffed and tsked at the rowdy behavior. 

“Ahh muggle London,” he sighed, watching them all from under his sunglasses. 

“Don’t be a snob.” 

“I’m not. I’m really not,” he protested, wounded. “I have extreme affection for muggle London. I feel *affectionate* about this scene.”

“Hmph, ok I guess,” she slanted him a suspicious look. 

“I’m serious.” he took off his glasses off and looked back. “When things were bad after the war. Right after they let me out of prison, but people still openly hated me, I came here often. In fact, you know I have a ward? Daphne’s sister?” Hermione nodded. “Well when she was small I used to take her to that play park right over there, “ he pointed. “And then we’d go for ice lollies there,” he pointed to a shop down across the street. “No one knew me and everyone was polite and pleasant. It was refreshing and at the risk of sounding like a total ponce, healing.” 

“I can see that,” she said, tilting her head at him, her eyes soft. He wished at that moment, and probably for the tenth time since he’d seen her at that stupid networking event, that they didn’t have the weight of their history between them. 

Instead he murmured, “you know, I’m sorry.” 

“Sorry?” she said, “for?” 

“Just all of it,” he said, suddenly very serious, looking deeply into her eyes. She looked back at him with eyebrows raised. “Bullying you when we were kids. Calling you disgusting names. Ever thinking badly of you for how you were born. For not doing more to stop my psychotic aunt.” 

“Draco, please,” she stopped him, stopped the memories, laid her hand on his arm. “Thank you, but it’s not necessary. I understand where you came from and you’ve done so much since then to show who you are. Your work. You helped raise a war orphan, for god’s sake! And I do think people can change. Let’s let the past stay in the past. Being here, together as…uh, friends, is enough.” 

He put his hand over hers. “Please let me.” 

“Ok... then I accept,” she said slowly. He held her gaze and the atmosphere became rather charged. But suddenly she smirked and patted him. “Then I also apologize for hitting you in the face third year.” 

He laughed and withdrew his hand, running it through his hair. “Oh please. A mere slap.” 

“You didn’t think so then!” she laughed. “Admit it, I dropped you to the floor!” 

“Bitch,” he chuckled, sliding his shades back on and leaning back on his folded hands. “You don’t happen to have a pillow in that insane bag do you?” 

She pulled one out and pitched it at him. He caught it and tucked it behind his head while she continued rummaging. “What will she pull out next, ladies and gents?” he announced at large, “a harpsichord? The three volume illustrated Hogwarts, a History ? A sofa?” 

“Git,” she muttered, pulling out another small electronic device. “It’s a muggle music player. Didn’t you mention you studied muggle music a bit when we were at Theo’s?” 

“Yes, I did, and it’s now another interest of mine,” he replied. “Far superior to any wizard- produced music, which is 99% shit.” 

“Ok I know you’re reformed and all that, but to say something muggle is far superior than something from the magical world?” 

“Oh there are a lot of muggle things I feel that way about,” he said, slanting her a look. 

~oOo~

Hermione suddenly got very busy with her music player as Draco settled back onto his pillow. Was he flirting with her? She couldn’t quite tell. He’d definitely been much warmer at the pub. And now he was inviting himself on her outing, saying vaguely suggestive things, apologizing ? If it were anyone else she’d suspect he was making a play, but her read of his signs was all muddled. She just couldn’t trust that he was attracted to her or if it was her attraction to him sending all the signals. Ginny thought he was after her, but Ginny was sort of biased. And insanely confident. Hermione didn’t lack for confidence, but Ginny could make her look like a wallflower at times.

Truthfully part of her thrilled to the idea of him. She hadn’t been stimulated like this, well... ever. Her intellectual equal, funny, interesting and sophisticated, able to make her pulse speed up with a glance? God, just walking next to him earlier had gotten to her. But her cautious side held sway. As she’d told Ginny repeatedly, it was Malfoy, for fuck’s sake. She just couldn’t forget or ignore that. With their history and his reputation … and she flatly refused to be just another number in his lineup. He might play this charming role with many girls, like specifically that beautiful dark-haired girl from the party and the Prophet, she reminded herself. 

“Music, cars, clothing, design and architecture, food and restaurants, wine, whisky, psychology, just the sheer variety of experience, all far superior,” he ticked on his fingers, addressing the tree tops. “I can’t imagine going through life without incorporating the muggle world. It would be so limiting.” 

“I agree, obviously.” She smiled at him, marveling at the change from the Malfoy of their youth. “And from my point of view, some pureblood families seem almost stunted in their ignorance of it.”

“Thinking of the Weasleys?” he drawled. She swatted him on the shoulder.

“Hey! You just apologised for hitting me!” he protested. “And you have to admit that that family is a prime example of inbred wizarding weirdness. You should have married one of them and injected some fresh blood into the lineage.” 

“Well Ginny, Percy and Bill are taken and Charlie’s gay, so I don’t really see an option there,” she said and then broke into laughter. 

“Good point,” he remarked, smiling at her appreciatively. “It’s interesting to see your mean, bitchy side, Hermione. You know I quite like it.” 

She went to smack him again but he grabbed her arm. God he was quick. Time slowed down as she looked at her wrist encircled by his fingers, intimate as a caress, and felt a stab of pure, scalding lust. What would he do if she turned her wrist in his and stroked his face. Or if she leaned down and kissed him? Would he let her? Would it be sweet and light? Or would it be instantly hot - his hands tangled in her hair? Hermione had glazed over slightly with the possibilities, but he just tsked, and gently dropped her hand. She turned away and rummaged in her bag again to hide her confusion, withdrawing some plates and cutlery, to his renewed amusement. “Lunch?” she asked with only a slight tremor in her voice. 

“Yes, please.”

Hermione handed him a piece of bread and cheese liberally smeared with fig. He thanked her, leaned back on his elbows and contemplated the park. 

“Draco.” She prepared her own snack and took a bite. It was heaven; a perfect blend of sweet salty. 

“Hmm?” he also seemed to be enjoying the food. 

“How did the Meadows come about?” She licked some preserve off her thumb. He watched her from under lowered lids. 

“Well,” he straightened up. “It was also part of my foray into the muggle world. Once I spent more time here and read more, I realised that muggles have many more options for dealing with mental illness and just … coping… than wizards do. It occurred to me that it was patently ridiculous that we either have St. Mungos or Azkaban and nothing in between. We were essentially 100 years behind the muggles in this area.”

Hermione shook her head in sympathy, “completely agree.” 

“And then the effects of the wars. Two successive generations grew up under the threat or experience of terror and death. Our childhood, for example, was incredibly stunted. You had all these strange effects. People getting married too young, rearing children when they were still children themselves, children without families, anger problems, depression, isolation. But no names for it and no treatment that wasn’t a potion or a fucking dementor. Barbaric.” He polished off his bread and reached for the loaf again. “This is delicious.” 

“I’m glad you like it.” They smiled at each other for a moment, but then he turned serious again, looking off in the distance.

“And the Manor. I couldn’t ever live there again. The whole place was tainted.” His eyes flicked to her. “But it seemed so wasteful to just shut it up and let it fall to ruin. I wanted to transform it and, this is going to sound silly,” he glanced at her with a self-deprecating shrug, “But I wanted it to be a symbol of a radical dismantling of the past.” 

“That doesn’t sound silly!” she exclaimed. “It’s a …a ….noble, ambition” Her eyes shone. 

“Ahh yes, I forgot I was talking to the would-be freer of house elves and a scion of Gryffindor house,” he said with a smile that took the sting out of his remark. She threw a piece of bread at him. He caught it and popped it in his mouth. “You just can’t say those kinds of things around Slytherins…” 

“Well you’re in a safe space now,” she soothed and then snickered. He grinned and shook his head slightly before resuming his story. 

“So now we have over two hundred beds as well as outpatient facilities that can treat hundreds more. We offer therapy around all sorts of issues and we combine muggle and wizarding methods. My head of treatment is training the next generation of counselors as well. Right now we’re very focused on putting together a course of study that the ministry will recognize with a designation like a muggle doctor of psychology. That’s why I’ve been at the ministry HQ so much lately. A lot of lobbying. I don’t like it because it takes me away from the facility, but it’s necessary,” he shrugged. 

“All kidding aside, what you’ve done is wonderful, Draco,” she said. “It’s more than enough apology for me.” He smiled and lunged for the water bottle, taking a long swig. “And if you’re not at the Manor where do you live now?” Hermione asked, realizing she had absolutely no idea. 

“I have a flat here. But I spend a fair amount of time in other places. New York, my mother’s house, France, Theo’s. I’m probably here less than half the time.” 

Bachelor pad, the thought popped into her head, along with images of him from the gossip columns. But then she felt uncharitable. Hadn’t he just told her about the incredibly important work he was doing? 

“And I share the flat with Daph,” he continued. “As roommates,” he added quickly. “We’ve basically roomed together since we took guardianship of Astoria. We wanted to give her a sense of having a home. Although we do all move around a lot, so Daph and I usually aren’t there at the same time unless Astor is there too. You should meet Astoria someday. I think you two would hit it off. She’s a complete swot in school too.” he smiled. 

Now Hermione felt like an arse. She covered it with a barrage of questions about his guardianship and Draco explained how Astoria had come into his life. The way he talked about the young girl showed how much she meant to him and Hermione was amazed at how he continued to surprise her. Harry’s words ran through her mind. “The worst thing to do is remain rigid in your thinking about someone when they are showing you that they’re different.” She could feel herself relaxing by the minute. 

~oOo~

“Enough about me. What about you? What are you working on in Magical Creatures?” 

“Well you know about the creature Bill of Rights project?”

He nodded, “An excellent idea. And opposed by many of my father’s oldest friends, which means it has my ringing endorsement.”

She laughed. “Well we finished our test cases with dwarves and imps. Two admittedly easy species that we knew would be unanimously in favor of and cooperate with the plan. Now it’s time for a challenge.” He lifted a brow. “We need a high profile species for publicity and to capture the public attention and support. We’re not going to be able to do that unless we show that we can tackle more than just the easy cases.” He nodded. “So next is Centaurs. Along with merpeople and werewolves, they form our biggest challenge to universal adoption.” 

He let out a long whistle, “yeah, that’s going to be tough.” 

“Yes, they’re notoriously intractable and each one is fiercely individual. Even though they live in herds, consensus doesn’t come easily to them. And yet,” she continued, “they’re one of the most at-risk groups for persecution and misunderstanding. So they need the bill desperately.” 

“Very true,” he said. “I recall discussions at the manor during the war about uses for centaurs once victory was assured.” He shook his head, disgusted. 

She sighed, “exactly. So I’ll be going to France soon for an indefinite amount of time. There’s a herd in Provence who have made tentative responses to our overtures. We’ve identified them as the most receptive of all the groups. They’re also large and influential in the greater community. If we could win with them, we’d have something real to take to the others.” 

“Are you speaking of the Aix herd?” 

“Yes! Do you know of them?” 

“My great aunt ‘owns’ part of the land in their territory. Although whether or not she actually owns it is a longstanding bone of contention between them.”

“Of course! Your great aunt is Lucretia Black!” 

“That’s the one,” he confirmed. “I’m related to all the Blacks, for better or worse.” 

“Right... Well, I’ve been writing to her for months, trying to get permission to cross her land. She’s totally ignored my letters!”

“Yes, that sounds like her. Dreadful snob. She doesn’t open mail if she doesn’t already know the sender.” 

“But my letters came on Ministry letterhead!” 

“Oh that’s an even lower chance of success. She doesn’t acknowledge the Ministry.” Hermione laughed. He examined his fingernails, carefully not looking at her. “I may be able to intercede on your behalf. Would that be helpful?” 

“Oh my god! Would you do that? That would be amazing! I have a letter of introduction to the herd from Bane at Hogwarts. I just need your aunt to confirm that she’ll lift the wards on her land for me.”

It occurred to him that he would do a fair bit to get her face to light up like that. 

“Of course. I’ll owl her tomorrow. I can’t guarantee her permission, but at least she’ll read your letter.” 

“Oh thank you!” Hermione looked like she was about to throw her arms around his neck. And part of him very much wanted her to, but actually getting to know her was proving satisfying. He wouldn’t rush his fences now. 

“Speaking of Provence,” he suddenly declared, “it also has rather a reputation for crisp, dry, thirst- quenching Rosé wine. I should know. I own vineyards there that produce lovely vintages.” 

She rolled her eyes, “toff.”

“ANYway,” he said over her remark. “It occurs to me some of said wine would perfect this already pleasant day.” Hermione nodded enthusiastically. “And,” he continued “I keep seeing folk come out of that shop across the way with cold bottles of the stuff. I propose that I go over there and bring us back some.” 

“Yes, please! That’s a great shop. Good selection and knowledgeable clerk. Can you handle muggle money?” She had started to dig around in her bag again. 

“Can I? … Witch, it is lucky that you find me in a mellow and relaxed mood,” he said, glaring at her in mock outrage and standing up. He looked down at her and lifted an imperious brow, then turned and strode away. “How do you think I bought the Jaguar?” he tossed over his shoulder. She waved him off and picked up her book. 

~oOo~

Of course she was only pretending to read. In reality she was watching him walk. And watching the young pissed girls watch him too. One girl actually lowered her sunglasses and let out a silent wolf whistle at his back as he strolled by. She then gave Hermione a salute of sisterly solidarity. Hermione waved at her then sighed. From an empirical perspective, he really was, what was the technical term? Oh, yes it was, ‘fucking gorgeous’. The way he moved - the combination of unstudied elegance and confidence - was unfair. He’d always had that, even when he was a arsey little school bully. It was probably something that came from being born with unnatural amounts of good looks, wealth and privilege. 

Fuck. It occurred to her that she was very much on the way to being in trouble here. Was she the type of woman to be seduced by these things? She’d never thought she was. She’d really meant what she’d said in the Nott House library about being happy with a house husband. But did that mean she couldn’t also be happy with something different? 

Either way, she was having real trouble controlling her brain’s tendency to think of scenarios like verbally sparring with him here in the park, then takin him back to her flat to channel that combative energy in, ahem, creative ways as soon as they walked through the door. Or him being very impressive as her escort at future ministry events. After which she would show him her appreciation … in bed. 

She moaned and flopped onto her stomach, feeling shallow. But then she reminded herself that she was also savoring his conversation and actually very impressed with the things he cared about and what he had accomplished. It wasn’t just about his looks and stature. She was enjoying him . Let’s face it, if this were a blind date she would be sneaking off to the loo to send an excited patronus update to Ginny right now. 

And he had apologised . That had been a shock. Maybe she just needed to let this breathe and not be so wound up. He had clearly changed. Or, according to Harry, he’d always been this way and her perception of him had changed. Both of which contributed to his attractiveness. Fuck, back to square one. 

She sighed, really the only current course of action was to wait and see. She couldn’t forget the dark-haired girl. And who knows how many more there could be. She needed to stay on her guard, but perhaps be open to possibilities? And not get too pissed today. Clearly her hormones were trying to run away with her and she needed to be careful of charming men bearing wine. Which he was - coming her way with a carrier bag. 

“Success?” she queried, squinting up at him. 

“Well yes,” he replied, his brow drawing down. He pulled a lightly frosted bottle from the bag and expertly twisted a corkscrew into it, giving Hermione a chance to lust over his forearms again. “But the man also asked for my phone number…?” 

Hermione snorted, unsurprised if the clerk was the *very gay* one she had chatted to in the past. “Well did you stand around in that louche way of yours and discourse knowledgeably about subregions of the Rhône Valley?”

He glinted a smile at her, “possibly.” 

She went completely liquid inside, but laughed outwardly and withdrew two glasses from her bag. His eyebrows shot up as he regarded the now legendary canvas square.  He caught the glasses up, poured them each a healthy measure and took a sip. 

“Crisp with a clean, dry, minerality,” he pronounced with satisfaction. “Just as the chap said. Maybe I should have given him my number…” Hermione laughed again and clinked her glass to his.

~oOo~

A few hours later the air was still balmy as they polished off the last bottle of wine. The sun was low in the sky and they lay side by side, not touching, examining the canopy of green above them. Hermione broke her gaze at the tree tops to glance around the park. Not many people had left and if anything, the party atmosphere had increased as muggle London celebrated one of the truly warm evenings of the year. Draco’s long legs were crossed at the ankles and he was gesturing with his glass. She laughed out loud when wine sloshed on her legs. 

“You are completely full of shit, Malfoy!” 

“Am not. You have no taste.” 

“NO TASTE? I’m telling you Sticky Fingers is the best Rolling Stones album and you are telling me I have no taste?”

“I’m telling you anyone who doesn’t rank Exile on Main Street first has no taste. Ergo, dot dot dot. Full stop. You know I’m right.” 

“What I KNOW is that you’ve taken this ‘I’m an expert at muggle stuff’ thing a bit too far. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Hobgoblin of small minds and all that,” she said vaguely. 

“Are you daring to imply i’m not that intelligent? You will pay for that, Granger. Ooh what’s this song?” A buzzed Draco was easily distracted. 

“‘Fade Into You’. Mazzy Star.” 

“Mazza wha?” 

“Mazzy Star. ‘Fade into You’. It was the number one song for Muggle boys to lose their virginity to during our school years.” 

“Oh really?” He perked up and flipped over onto one elbow to stare down at her.  “It is rather sexy…” 

“Yes this and Glory Box by Portishead. Big makeout songs of the mid-90s. I brought recordings of both of them into Hogwarts and Dean Thomas had a CD player that he somehow enchanted into working. All the witches in Gryffindor loved them. So many snog sessions,” she said airily.

“God, what the fuck was I missing? I always assumed we were having the best parties.” 

“You didn’t have any muggles - they couldn’t have been as good.” He looked at her speculatively and she stuck her tongue out at him. “Why do you like Exile better?”

“Huh?” He was still staring at her in a slightly glazed way. 

“How did you develop your uninformed and fallacious opinion about the best Rolling Stones album?” 

“Other than having ears?”

She made a rude gesture at him. 

“So vulgar! Well my tertiary reason is that I play piano and it’s a much better keyboard album.”

“You play piano? Like muggle piano?”

“The instrument is largely the same in both worlds, and yes, I play. I grew up learning very stuffy and complicated wizarding compositions and some of the elite muggle classical pieces. Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, blah blah blah. But then when I started listening to rock, of course I wanted to play it too. Much more fun.” 

“So you can play things from Exile ?” 

“Of course! You should hear my Torn and Frayed . It’s fun to sing too. Great country sound. I also like to do Tumbling Dice - and that song alone could comprise my entire argument.” 

“Fun to sing… you sing too?” she said weakly, mind blown. He nodded. “I would absolutely love to hear that. And I counter your one song argument with Wild Horses .”  

“Ooh put that on.” 

“Ok. Does that mean you concede?”

“No, it’s just a really good fucking song and I want to listen to it. Are you always this dogged?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. I like opinionated women.” 

~oOo~

They finally left the park in the deep twilight, chatting companionably as they passed from muggle London back into Diagon Alley. At one point Draco laughed out loud at something Hermione said and his face was so boyishly transformed that it took her breath away. 

They were close as they strolled and she felt her shoulder and fingers brush his, contact which sent delightful frissons up her body. This time she didn’t try to tamp them down. The better part of two bottles of wine paired with hours of conversation and playful flirting had muted her sense of caution. She was barely paying attention to their route and was surprised to look up and see that Draco had guided them to her street. She hadn’t realised he knew where she lived. They slowly climbed the stair and paused at the doorway to her flat. She wondered if she should invite him in. She didn’t really want the evening to end. But Harry and Ginny may be home and that could be awkward. 

“Thank you for a lovely afternoon…and evening,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I did nothing for quite so long - or enjoyed it so much.”

She laughed softly. “We really were the most appalling slugs, weren’t we?” His answering smile flashed through the dark and she felt herself sway toward him - as if her very molecules were being pulled toward his. She was just close enough to catch an alluring hint of his woodsy spice scent when an overly loud voice rang out through the dark. 

“Look, Harry! What good timing!” Ginny waved at them from the pavement at the bottom of the steps. Hermione knew her friend had spoken up to give a warning in case they were interrupting something, but her reaction was still sheer annoyance. But despite her pique, she managed to call down a casual hello while Draco subtly shifted a bit further away from her and greeted Harry and Ginny politely as they came up the stairs. 

Hermione participated in the slightly awkward chit-chat about how they’d all spent their day, enduring Ginny’s significant looks and Harry’s bemused ones, but felt disgruntled when Malfoy mentioned that he should be going. He said his goodnights with nothing more intimate than a jaunty wave, before pushing himself off the stair rail and tripping lightly down the steps to stroll off into the night. 

The three roommates wandered inside, Harry and Ginny declaring themselves utterly knackered and heading straight to bed. Hermione lingered in the hall staring blankly into space. With no talk of seeing Draco again and no closure to their encounter, she started to second guess the tone of the day. Had it been nothing more than a friendly distraction on a hot, boring Saturday? 

Still standing in the hallway, Hermione was contemplating whether she should have a cool shower and fall into her own bed or if a cognac would be advisable, when three soft raps sounded on the front door.

She wheeled back around - what the hell? - and cracked the heavy door to see Draco lounging against her porch as if he’d never left. His eyes kindled when he saw it was her. 

“What are you doing...?” she started softly, opening the door and slipping out.

“I forgot something,” he interrupted. His eyes were dark in the low light and there was tension in his bearing, although he also wore a slight smile. She looked up, puzzled, as he pushed forward from the rail. He moved closer and then stepped into her, his hands sliding around her waist and pulling her against him in a single, swift movement. She puffed out a soft, “oh,” as her hands slid up his chest and her eyes locked with his.   

He bent his head but paused, almost touching her parted lips, then whispered against them with that hint of a smile, “I’ve been wanting to do this all day. You?” She responded by reaching up and capturing his mouth with hers. Her eager reaction seemed to undo his playful calm and he crushed her against him. Desire exploded through her as she gave in to what she’d been fighting for weeks. She pushed even closer, molding to him, reveling in his height and the feel of his lean body as he stroked his tongue between her lips. She ran her hands up his neck and into his bright hair, running it through her fingers and leaning against the closed door so that her weak knees wouldn’t give out. She was desperate for the taste of him and he matched her desire, pinning her against the cool wood and ravishing her mouth. She tilted her head to give him deeper access, twining her tongue with his recklessly. 

The kiss continued to heat and Hermione lost all sense of where she was and what they were doing - not caring that she was making out with him in the open, for anyone to see. She realised her leg - when had she moved it ? - was sliding up his, hooking him to her as he pressed against her and ran his hand into her hair, angling her neck so he could trail kisses down her throat. “You taste like honey,” he mouthed against her skin, his voice hoarse and deep. 

Draco ,” she whispered as his other hand skimmed up under her blouse and over the curve of her waist, his fingers smooth and sure against her bare skin. 

He inhaled sharply and his lips crashed back against hers while his fingers spasmed against her hip. She swept her hands underneath his shirt, up the sleek muscle and smooth skin of his bare back. God, he felt perfect - and then he breathed her name and it was absolutely sinful. 

The small part of her brain that was capable of rational thought was trying to decide how good of an idea it would be to pull him inside and smuggle him into her bedroom - how fast could she cast a silencing charm? - when a faint noise intruded on her consciousness. She tried to ignore it as he was now doing something devastating to the sensitive spot just beneath her earlobe, but the sound got louder and closer. 

“Hermione? Hullo!?” 

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck . It was Ginny. She must have gotten up after Harry fell asleep to have a chat. She sounded worried and Hermione knew that her bedroom door was wide open and all rooms in the house were very obviously empty. It was only a matter of time before Ginny came pelting outside to see if she was ok. She very reluctantly drew away from, hands-down, the best kiss of her life, and looked ruefully at Draco. 

He cupped her jaw in one hand and rested his forehead softly against hers, whispering “I guess I should be going.” She considered the angles and then nodded reluctantly, biting down hard on her swollen lower lip to keep from lunging at him again. 

His eyes went dark as he focused on her mouth. “Do you want to drive me totally mad, woman?” he said softly, claiming her lips once more. She responded hungrily and they were off again, but he pulled back, taking a deep breath. “May I reiterate that today was lovely,” he exhaled, feathering kisses from the corner of her mouth to her temple and moving his hands to her shoulders. He was breathless. High color tinted his cheekbones and his hair was disheveled. Hermione felt absurdly pleased to have rumpled him. He also looked utterly delectable and she directed a round of particularly nasty mental curses at her best friend.  

Ginny’s steps toward the front door were audible now, so he placed a last, light kiss on her lips. “I want to see you again. Soon,” he said softly, then stepped back, tapped the side of his nose with a wicked smile and disapparated totally silently. Show off , Hermione thought. At that moment the door yanked open. 

“What the wank are you doing out here?? I was worried!!” Ginny practically shouted. Then she looked at Hermione and blinked, taking in her mussed hair and swollen lips. “Oh.” Her eyes widened and her mouth went slack.  “He. Came. Back! That sneaky git came back!!” A huge grin overtook her face and she started to cackle, but then she stopped abruptly, throwing her hands over her mouth. “Hermione oh my GODS I am so sorry! I am officially the world’s worst twat blocker. You were about to get some and I ruuuuuined it!!” 

“Could we please do this more quietly and not on the stair, Ginny? And I was not about to ‘get some’,” Hermione sniffed, conveniently forgetting her thought process of not two minutes previous. “It was just a kiss.” 

“Some kiss,” Ginny said slyly. “You look like you were properly snogged, you slag.” 

Hermione flipped her off and then sighed as she felt a dreamy look came over her face. They stepped back through the door and into the flat. “Well I think I’m off to bed.”

“Yeah and I absolutely promise I will not knock on, open or approach this door in any way shape or form until you exit your room tomorrow,” said Ginny, raising her right hand and touching Hermione’s bedroom door with her left. “Just in case he decides to put his broom to good use and fly in your window or something.” 

Hermione laughed, “I think that was it for tonight. I’m actually glad it didn’t go any further. If I’m doing this - and it seems like I am doing this - I want to go slow. And I was about to, uh, not go slow.” 

Ginny snorted, “I knew it!!”

“He made me lose my mind, Gin. It’s never been like that for me.” 

“Well, I’m not surprised. As I may have said a few times before, you two have insane chemistry. And he’s extremely attractive. I don’t know when or how it happened. But here we are. Even I see it. And we’re basically born and sworn mortal enemies. But I care more about your happiness and sexual satisfaction than I do about old grudges. And so does Harry. Well less about the sex part and more about the happiness for him. But he and I talked about it. It’s clear the ferret has turned - or turned over a new leaf. I dunno. But go for it with our full support.” 

“Thanks, love, and goodnight,” Hermione murmured, wiggling her fingers and floating into her room.