Hermione Granger had been on her fair share of dates.
Some good dates that led to a second and a third and eventually fizzled out for some reason or other. Plenty of mediocre dates with well-intentioned individuals who were ultimately a bad fit. And there had been a handful of dreadful dates.
She wasn't an expert in the matter, of course, but well enough that she could typically get a read on a situation pretty early on. More than once―much to Harry's amusement―Hermione had walked out of a date early because she simply didn't see a future.
It was pragmatic.
Hermione had no interest in wasting anyone's time―despite that she'd had her own wasted a time or two. But it was the best way to find the person with whom she was meant to be, and she was a willing participant in the process.
Not that Hermione needed anyone. She had learned well enough to get along on her own, and had charted a path for herself during the years since leaving Hogwarts. But the simple matter was that she enjoyed dating, and at the end of the day she enjoyed the benefits that came along with it. She liked having someone to talk to about the menial things that happened during the day, and to share enjoyable weekends together―and she almost always enjoyed the physical side of a relationship as well.
She felt wary of the man across the table from her.
The initial impression had been favourable―warm and polite―yet as the meal carried on, she began to notice a few things that didn't sit well.
More than once he spoke with his mouth full. It wasn't a deal breaker, but coupled with the way he hadn't stopped staring at her―and Hermione wasn't certain whether he had even blinked for the last several minutes―she'd begun to feel uneasy.
He flashed her a toothy grin that left her nerves on edge.
With a careful sip of her water, Hermione managed a quick glance at her watch.
"I almost forgot," Paul said, rummaging through his pocket for a small item which he enlarged. "Will you sign my copy of your book?"
"Oh," Hermione said, taken aback as she observed the clearly used copy of her book―a self-written account of her experiences during the war―and something within her warmed to know he'd enjoyed it and maybe even read it more than once. "Of course―have you a quill?"
Paul brightened, brandishing a self-inking quill. "While we're at it―I've got twelve more copies. Will you sign each of them?"
The smile froze on her face, her chest tightening on instinct. Paul dumped a handful of miniaturised books on the table between them and Hermione cleared her throat as he enlarged them all.
The nearest one had a handmade bookmark with her face printed on it.
"I've actually got to use the loo―do you mind if―"
"Of course." Paul flashed her another intense leer that set off alarm bells in the back of her mind.
Hermione slid her chair back, suppressing the urge to wince as it scraped across the tiled floor, and with careful, measured steps, she retreated to the loo. Thankfully it was empty, and she locked the door behind her as she released a long breath.
"Expecto Patronum." Her pale blue otter fluttered into existence in front of her and Hermione spoke, pacing the short length of the room. "Harry I've got a Limpet Emergency and I could use an extraction. I'm at that cafe you like in Covent Garden." She grimaced at the otter. "Harry should be in the Auror's Office."
She watched the otter vanish into the air once more, leaning back against the wall to bide her time. Never mind that it was cowardly, she didn't care to deal with the situation. The last time she'd had a date with someone like Paul, the man had ended up Stunned in a dark alley after trying to follow her home from a short distance.
It was a system she and Harry had developed years ago to help one another out of a bad date, and they'd both called on one another more than once.
Hopefully he wouldn't dawdle.
Draco Malfoy paused in drafting his report at a sudden whoosh and a shimmer of silvery-blue light in his periphery by Potter's desk and he released a breath. "Potter's not here," he drawled to the Patronus, before setting down his quill and glancing up. But he froze when he recognised the otter as Granger's Patronus.
His lips tugged into a frown, a furrow of consternation―and then agitation―pulling at his brow when her voice emanated from the corporeal creature. Draco thought he could detect a note of panic in her voice, and he quickly jotted several lines on the corner of his parchment.
With a glance at his watch, he jumped to his feet. Potter had gone out on a mission with another duo or Aurors while Draco stayed behind to submit their latest report―but he wouldn't be back in the office for a few hours.
And if Granger was trapped in an emergency situation, he couldn't wait.
He tore the corner from his page, jammed it in his pocket, and ran for the department's emergency Apparition point.
Luckily he knew the small wizarding cafe to which she referred―he and Potter had visited the spot once for a cup of coffee during an all-night stakeout―and without wasting any time, Draco made his way there.
Per department protocol, upon receipt of any sort of emergency summons, they were to act first and ask questions later. In that vein of thought, Draco blasted the front door from its hinges with a carefully aimed Bombarda and charged through, wand aloft.
As he ventured into the cafe, quickly scanning for any sign of an attack or struggle, he was met with a smattering of patrons staring at him. By the far wall, he spotted Granger, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.
"Thank Merlin you're alright," he huffed, pacing forward and searching her stare. "Are you harmed?"
"No, Malfoy―" She made to walk away from him but he caught her arm, holding fast despite her efforts to shrug him off. "My Patronus was meant for Harry; what are you even―"
"Department protocol," he stated with a sharp nod. "You called for an emergency Auror extraction. Potter's on a mission."
Her cheeks turned bright pink, the entirety of the cafe watching them in a dead silence, and she stared hard into the nearest wall. "I'm fine―I don't need an extraction, I swear."
Draco lowered his voice. "Granger, are you under duress? Blink once for yes."
"For fuck's sake, Malfoy," she grit under her breath, "I'm fine. Please just... please go. False alarm, okay? And don't mention this to Harry."
Confusion raced through him, edging towards irritation. She could at least be grateful for his quick response. "It's too late," he said, clicking his tongue, "I've already activated the emergency protocol engagement. If I don't properly debrief you I'll have to―"
"Debrief," she hissed, her face rapidly melting into a strange combination of shame and horror. "Just go and pretend you did, alright?"
Draco huffed a breath through his nose. "I can't do that, Granger. Let's go."
Wrapping his hand around her elbow, he spun on the spot and the cafe faded away.
Hermione fumed, torn between annoyance and extreme embarrassment. She had never considered the fact that, in Harry's absence, her Patronus would have sought out his partner instead. Draco Sodding Malfoy.
The moment they landed in an unfamiliar room, she tore her arm from his grip and stomped away, an almost unbearable warmth in her cheeks. Her shame mingled with regret with a host of other things she could hardly stand to name when Malfoy stared at her as though he was concerned.
A small voice in the back of her mind suggested that just maybe he was.
"What happened?" he asked, a sharp tone to his voice that raised her hackles. "What's a Limpet Emergency?"
Hermione ground her teeth, looking around her. "Where are we?"
"Safehouse." Malfoy wrinkled the bridge of his nose, peering at her through tight eyes. "We'll be locked down until everything is deemed safe. I told you―emergency protocol."
"Protocol!" Hermione exclaimed, her voice high and derisive. "It's an overreaction if I ever saw one!"
"You didn't clarify the nature of the emergency." Malfoy was haughty and judgemental as ever, despite having supposedly rescued her.
The only good thing about the situation was that she didn't have to deal with her awkward and potentially creepy date anymore. She would stop by later and leave a few coins for her meal, after her less-than-ceremonious departure from the restaurant. But the situation was more than a little embarrassing, and she was almost certain she would be receiving an owl later from Paul regardless.
Harry would have been stealthy. Meanwhile Malfoy had all the stealth of a boulder rolling downhill through a village composed of straw huts.
"What do you mean by locked down?" she asked, her nerves frazzled. If she was stuck in this house with Malfoy for any length of time she didn't know what she would do. "Can't I just leave?"
Of all bloody people to intercept and misinterpret her Patronus.
"Not until I file the report."
Malfoy shrugged out of his Auror robes with little effort at expediency and hung them on a coat rack by the door.
The room was nondescript if a little unkempt, and Malfoy dragged a wooden chair up to a small wooden table in the otherwise empty kitchen. He took a seat, waving his wand to summon a parchment form and a quill, and began filling in several lines of the form.
Hermione sighed, rubbing at her eyes before slipping into the only other chair at the table. "Fine. Please be quick about it."
His lips curled with a facsimile of a sneer but his face fell blank again as he murmured to himself. "Hermione Granger―middle name?"
"You've got to be―" Clamping her lips shut, she released a long breath through her nose. "Jean. It's Jean."
Without responding, Malfoy checked the time on his watch and jotted the time of the incident on his parchment.
"This is completely unnecessary, you realise," she hissed, frustrated with the entire ordeal. At this point she would have preferred to take her chances with Paul and his thirteen copies of her book.
"When we're done," Malfoy said, tutting as he carried on, "you'll be the second to know."
Hermione sank back in her seat, gazing around at the kitchen.
At last he looked up, peering at her with one slender brow raised on his forehead. He set the quill to record everything she said, and Hermione scowled as it hovered over the page. "I need you to walk me through what happened tonight."
Releasing a heavy scoff, Hermione muttered, "I was on a date, you prat."
Malfoy froze, his eyes tightening for a moment as the quill scritched across the page of its own volition. "You were on a date?"
Hermione's frown deepened as she folded her arms across her chest. "Not that it's any of your business" ―he flinched― "but yes, I was."
"I see." His jaw visibly clenched but Malfoy continued on. "And at what point did the date devolve into an emergency?"
"You have got to be kidding me."
"Answer the question, Granger."
She released a sound of frustration through clenched teeth. "When you blew the door off the building and stormed in!"
For a long moment, Malfoy only stared at her beneath lowered brows, the quill falling silent. At last he drawled, "What do you mean? You sent Potter a Patronus citing the emergency had already occurred."
"If you would have let me speak before hauling me out as though you were taking me into custody," Hermione hissed, "you would know that it's a code between Harry and I." She blew out a long breath, shaking her head. "We use it to call on one another to come up with an excuse to save us from a bad first date, if you must know."
Malfoy didn't react.
In fact, his face remained stoic for so long that she wondered whether he had even heard her. But then his eye twitched―his lips thinned. "The emergency was a shite date?"
"It wasn't an actual emergency!" Hermione threw her hands up and pushed her seat back from the table, making to pace the small kitchen. "It's just the wording we use. A limpet is an marine mollusk that clings tightly to rocks." She chewed her tongue for a moment. "It's a private joke."
Merlin knew Hermione didn't want to be having this conversation with him in the first place.
He simply made a face.
"So let me get this straight" ―Malfoy carded a hand through his hair― "you didn't like the bloke you were supposed to be on a date with, and you called Potter to get you out of it? Isn't that... I don't know, fucking immature?"
Hermione seethed at him. "It is a thing that Harry and I do sometimes. And it can be helpful in a bad situation, so you know."
He snorted. Then with a quiet chuckle, shook his head. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, Granger. I get it… but I don't."
"Fine," she hissed, "laugh all you want. But throw that report out and let me out of this blasted safehouse."
"I can't." Malfoy jotted several things manually into the parchment and rolled it into a tight scroll, before carefully tying it with a length of ribbon. "I told you―the emergency protocol was initiated over your stupid thing with Potter, and now we're locked down here until it's through."
She ground her teeth to withhold a string of expletives. "And when will it be through?"
He glanced at his watch. "Another hour and a half or so, give or take. Might as well get comfortable."
"What!" Hermione gaped at him. "Why does it take that long?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Protocol."
Infuriating. The man was infuriating. Never mind any of his more appealing qualities that she had once found more than a little enticing.
As he rose from his seat and made towards the adjacent sitting room, Hermione's eyes followed him while she leaned back against the tattered wallpaper. "If you hadn't completely taken my message out of context, none of this would be happening."
Malfoy hesitated on the threshold beside her. The hard line of his jaw tightened. "And you'd still be on your shitty fucking date. I can't help but notice that you haven't so much as acknowledged the fact that I wanted to help you out of what I thought to be an emergency." His voice dropped to a low breath. "Merlin forbid I didn't want you to end up injured or worse."
And he carried on into the sitting room, leaving an uneasy lump in the pit of Hermione's stomach.
Draco stared blankly at the yellowed pages of a book he found on the end table beside the sofa.
Twenty minutes had passed and he'd scarcely read three pages. Somewhere in the next room, Granger was furious with him for ruining her efforts to escape her date. Never mind the fact that, in a roundabout way, he had actually done what she had hoped Potter would do. Albeit, she clearly hadn't wanted him to make it so obvious.
Draco didn't care. It wasn't any of his business about Granger and her dates, no matter whether they were good or terrible.
She had made that abundantly clear a year ago.
And Draco had scarcely been able to put that night from his mind since. Put her from his mind.
How was he to know her so-called emergency hadn't been one at all. If he hadn't responded to her Patronus, and she had been in real trouble, he would never have forgiven himself. So he would much rather Granger angry at him than dead, whether she cared about his intentions or not.
He glanced up at a rustling to find her sink into the other end of the sofa. Draco forced his attention back to the page, scanning his eyes side to side despite that the content was miserably dry.
"You're right," Granger said after a moment, releasing a long breath. "Thank you for rushing to my aid. I understand that you thought you were doing the right thing, and I appreciate it. If I had been in trouble, you would have really helped me with your quick response."
The words felt a little mechanical, as though she merely thought she should express them. But her doleful chocolate eyes flit to his for a moment and a hint of an apologetic smile lifted her lips.
Draco swallowed, setting the book aside. "I appreciate that."
She fell silent, gnawing on her lower lip while Draco stared at the wall. "Does the protocol really last that long?"
"It's designed to keep the safehouse under impenetrable warding in the event of an emergency." The last word fell a little aggressive. "And I can't manually lift the wards until the protocol ends."
Granger sank back into the sofa, rolling her head to face him. "Maybe we can make peace until this is through then? And... if you don't mind not bringing this up to Harry."
"I won't be the one to tell Potter about this," Draco bit out, but his lips twitched. "Although you have to admit, it is a little funny."
"It is," Granger conceded with a bit of a titter.
"And for the record," Draco went on, pushing the sound of her laugh to the back of his mind, "I've tried at peace with you for a long time. And that won't end in an hour."
"Right." She rolled her eyes as though she didn't believe him.
Draco clenched his jaw. "Why do you find that difficult to believe?"
"I have a hard time believing any of your motives anymore," she said quietly, but the words stung.
Releasing a long breath, Draco let his eyes drift up to linger on the dirty ceiling. "I resent that, Granger. If you're referring to what happened last year, I did my best to respect your wishes to be left alone after the fact."
"My wishes," she scoffed. "You never even―"
"You were the one who left."
Granger huffed a breath through her nose, her face a deep scowl once more. So much for peace.
At last she spoke again, measuring each word delicately. "We were both intoxicated, and the night was a mistake. I knew you wouldn't take kindly to my still being there the next morning."
The night of the annual Aurors' Fundraising Gala. Simultaneously the best and worst night of Draco's life.
"And how did you know that?" Draco drawled. "Are you a Seer?"
"Well you certainly confirmed it," she snapped, "when I didn't hear from you until tonight."
"Are you seriously fucking going to―" Draco cut himself off, huffing out a sharp breath. "You left, and I thought you wanted me to leave you alone, so I didn't owl you. What did you expect?"
Granger dropped her face into a hand, and when she spoke again the words were muffled. "Just forget it, okay? Just forget it ever happened."
Draco had made his best effort at exactly that for a year, to little avail. But he snipped, "Fine."
He could still remember the way her soft skin had felt beneath his hands. The breathy cries of his name in the throes of pleasure, his blood pounding in his veins as she came undone around him.
"No, actually," he said, shaking his head, "I'm not going to forget it. You're acting like I did something to wrong you, when I tried―and have tried ever since, by the way―to respect your wishes. You left me to believe you didn't want me to owl you. And owls fly both ways."
Granger sucked in a quiet breath, lifting her head to stare at him again. "How was I to know you wanted me to owl you?"
"Apparently in the same way I was meant to know."
The chocolate depths of her eyes held no warmth, but she didn't instantly look away. "For what it's worth, I almost did. But... the night itself was a mistake. And I didn't know that I wanted to deal with your rejection if I reached out."
"Why do you keep saying it was a mistake?" Draco asked through clenched teeth.
Her face softened, sadness tugging at her brow. "We were drunk."
He waved a hand. "And?"
She fell silent, staring at him for a moment before she looked away.
"And I thought..." she trailed off with a sniffle. "I thought you'd feel differently sober. That's why I left."
Draco stared at her, his chest clenching. "Why don't I tell you how the night went down in my understanding?" Her expression faltered but he pressed on, averting his gaze. "I spent half the night trying to work up the courage to talk to you, and as a result, drank way too much, so that by the time I finally asked you to dance we were both wasted." He stared down at the arm of the sofa with a deep breath. "The only part that was a mistake was that you actually decided to go home with me. And that's why I didn't owl you."
He could feel her stare searing into the side of his head but couldn't find it within himself to meet the accusation in her eyes.
She cleared her throat. "That wasn't a mistake, either."
A breath wedged itself in his chest as his eyes slid sidelong to find hers. "What?"
"Maybe we both needed a bit of liquid courage," she breathed.
For a year, Draco had dwelled on the way her eyes had sparkled with warmth that night as the rest of the partygoers dwindled until only a handful remained. The way she had smiled at him as though he were someone worthy of her attention. How she had pressed up on her toes and leaned in and―
"You ignored me before that night," he murmured, confusion lingering in the back of his mind. "I thought you had no interest. Two months earlier, when we were both at Potter's birthday."
Granger frowned with a bit of a half-hearted shrug. "I'd seen in Witch Weekly you were to be betrothed to Astoria Greengrass."
"You believed anything that rag had to say?" Draco scoffed.
Straightening on the sofa, Granger released a long breath. "Maybe we both haven't communicated very well."
"This entire situation could be summed up that way, yes." A smirk tugged at his lips and he snickered. "Including tonight." He turned towards her, resting an arm along the back of the sofa. "I can't say I'm sorry your date didn't go well tonight."
Her face brightened with a laugh, and Draco sought that warmth in her stare that had become only a memory. "Honestly, it was not very good at all."
"Of course not." Draco rolled his eyes. So many other words he longed to say died on his tongue. Granger shifted a little closer, reducing the gap between them, and Draco dropped his arm around her to tug her flush against him. He murmured into her curls, "Go on a date with me, Granger. A proper, sober one."
Her voice was soft but his heart leapt. "Okay."
He met her eyes, cocking a brow. "And don't you dare ask Potter to get you out of it. You won't get rid of me that easily this time."
Another burst of laughter escaped her mouth, and she snagged her bottom lip between her teeth. Draco's stomach clenched at the sight of it. "I wouldn't dream of it."
"Good." Draco released a sigh, enjoying the feel of her in his arms again―and something about knowing she had felt the same that night spurred peace within his soul. That he hadn't dwelled for a year on something he may or may not have seen in her eyes, wondering fruitlessly.
The tips of her fingers grazed an idle pattern along his collarbone, and Draco brushed his lips against her temple.
"Are you sure you can't break the wards?" she asked, lifting her eyes to peer up at him. "That wasn't just to annoy me?"
Draco grinned. "No, but your irritation was a fortuitous side effect." He released a breath as a thought fluttered through the back of his mind. "Potter might wonder where I've gone to when he gets back but he'll get over it."
Granger tittered softly, her gaze sparkling. "I'm sorry I got upset. You were only doing what you thought was best."
Sighing, Draco tugged at one of her curls. "I know it may be difficult to believe after everything I put you through growing up, but I don't want to see anyone suffer―least of all you. It's why I worked so hard to get a position in the Auror's Department in the first place."
The night they had spent together the year before hadn't allowed for much by way of deep conversation, despite the chemistry that had chased between them. But for years they had orbited one another's circle, and Draco hoped she already realised as much.
"I know." A sad smile lingered on her lips. "I knew that a long time ago, and it didn't take you and Harry working together to convince me to give you another chance."
Draco stared at her for a moment, his chest tightening at her words, but before he could respond, Granger leaned in, her lips brushing against his.
His heart stuttered, froze, and leapt into a sprint as Draco kissed her back, sweeping one hand into her hair. As he deepened the kiss, his core tightening at the feel of her pressed against him, she shifted to straddle his lap on the sofa.
His eyes snapped open to find hers, a harsh breath chasing from his lungs, and she simply stared at him for a moment. Then she ducked in again, her lips soft against his own, and he dragged a hand along her spine, hitching her closer still.
A groan slipped free and he bit down on her bottom lip when she ground against him, Draco's body reacting to her overwhelming proximity. Trailing a line of kisses along the curve of her jaw, he basked in the way his name fell from her lips like an oath, a quiet exaltation that shot straight through him.
Her fingers tugged at the knot of his tie, fumbling a little with the silk, and he kissed her again, slipping a hand beneath the hem of her jumper. Her skin felt softer than he even remembered as he dragged a hand up the smooth skin of her stomach to the fabric of her bra, cupping one of her breasts in his palm.
Granger released a bit of a whimper, grounding down against him again, and a breath caught in Draco's throat.
She drew back, breath mingling with his own as her eyes lifted to his. "Are you still working?"
Draco dropped a kiss to the shell of her ear, darting his tongue out to graze the ridge. "Technically, yes." As he sucked her earlobe between his teeth, a low groan slipped from her lips.
"So we shouldn't―"
A harsh breath broke free against his jaw, and she didn't make a move to pull away. Her presence was intoxicating, and Draco's every nerve felt alive under her touch as she kissed him again, softer this time.
She drew back, only far enough that her lips brushed his when she spoke. "And maybe not in this grungy safehouse."
He couldn't argue with her. Not with the unclean furnishings and the somewhat ambiguous appearance of everything. Even so, he kissed her again deeply, smoothing his palms along her arms. "Smart as ever."
A contented smile rested on her face when she pulled back at last, and Draco felt himself light up from within.
"When did you want to go on that date?" she asked softly.
"I would say tonight," he breathed, "but I still have to work late. And Potter's definitely going to ask questions if I don't come back. I'd sooner not explain what happened." When her face faltered, he added, "Earlier. At the cafe. Not this. He's finding out about this."
Her smile broadened, the warmth in her stare all his.
"What about the report you have to submit?"
Draco offered her a cheeky wink. "I'll just say it was a false alarm. There isn't really an Auror code for severe overreaction to a bad date." When her mouth fell open, he grinned. "Not that I'm complaining about how the night turned out."
As she shifted from his lap to settle once more at his side, Granger beamed at him. "Neither am I. Crazy date and all."
"If I have a say in it," he mused, "you won't have to worry about that anymore."
He coveted the way her face lit up, the melted chocolate in his eyes soothing, until she murmured, "Something tells me you'll be a crazy enough date as it is."
A laugh broke free from his lips. "That sounds about right. As for that date... every damn day if you'll have me―but I'd not say no to tomorrow."
"Tomorrow sounds perfect."