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Draco looked at himself in the mirror for the thousandth time, hating his reflection though knowing it wouldn’t change no matter how much he scrutinized it.

 

Not for the first time, he glared at his stress-provoking head of white-blond hair and felt his fingers twitch. It would only take one little spell to position his hair just right. Another little spell to smooth those bags under his eyes from all the late nights he’d been spending at the Ministry. Just a simple twitch of his wand to make his clothes fit him just that much better.  Truly, why had he insisted upon having a third drink at the Leaky Cauldron with Theo and Blaise last night? His hand made to move over his abdomen; was his stomach poking out an inch, or was it just his imagination? His fingers redirected his hand towards the wand in his pocket, then stopped.

 

No. If he wanted Hermione to think him handsome and charming and someone she wanted a second date with, he wanted it to happen naturally, not because he’d used magic to manipulate the situation.

 

Draco sighed, shaking his head at himself. When had he become so self-conscious? He had always thought himself quite good-looking and had been popular with the Slytherin girls at school, especially with Pansy. Of course, he was head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement now too, the youngest head at twenty-seven. With all of that, he had plenty of reason to think highly of himself. And up until he’d started trying to get the attention of Hermione Granger, he had.

 

Now he was a ball of nerves who thought every part of him was horrifyingly ugly. But as long as Granger didn’t think so, everything would be fine.

 

He hoped.

 

It had taken him ages, first of all, to work up the nerve to ask her out, then to convince her to say yes. The journey to getting Granger to trust him had been a long and harrowing one. In the beginning, she’d still seen him as the impudent Slytherin who had—on many horrific occasions during his teenage years—called her Mudblood amongst other ghastly things. The first time he asked Hermione for a date, she’d thought he was playing a nasty joke on her, and dismissed him almost entirely.

 

So, he’d spent the last few months playing a role he was mostly accustomed to, the role of a gentleman . Of course, it wasn’t entirely an act. He did shift into a gentleman around Hermione Granger. But, he became a lot of things around Hermione Granger. A pile of mush, a nervous blubbering fool, a socially inept maniac. And yes, a romantic.

 

He watched his reflection shudder at the word as he continued to gaze into the mirror. A year ago, had you told Draco Malfoy he would turn into a romantic and try to win over a muggle-born witch , he would have baulked at the ridiculous notion and probably laughed in your face. Maybe even put a spell on you to freeze your tongue. But the sweets and hot chocolate he’d sent to Granger’s office, the letters he’d slipped underneath her door, and the compliments he’d thrown at her while passing her in the halls all pointed to one thing.

 

Romantic.

 

“Lovesick, foolish romantic,” Draco grumbled to himself before finally turning away from the mirror. There was nothing for it now. He had to hurry, or else he was going to be late.

 

Quickly snatching up the bouquet of red roses he’d Accio ’d from the nearby florist’s shop, Draco flicked his wand and Apparated out of his apartment, landing a second later at Granger’s doorstep. 

 

A tiny grin formed on his face as he stared at the brass knocker on Hermione’s door. It was shaped into a book, which was so like her it was comical. Usually, Draco didn’t believe in doing anything the Muggle way, and he would have much rather just floo’d straight into her living room. But he was making an effort to appreciate her Muggle ancestry and at least try to enjoy it, trying to better understand her preferences by doing them as well. It wasn’t too much of a struggle, though, considering how smitten he was with her. His grin spread as he lifted the knocker and rapped it down sharply on the door three times.

 

A moment later, the door swung open, and with it all the breath was whisked out of him.

 

Barely managing to step back as she stepped forward, Hermione moved onto the doorstep in classic Muggle wear: a pair of tight jeans and what they called a T-shirt. Her curly brown hair—a favoured feature of hers now which Draco had once thought frizzy and unattractive—was tied back into a high ponytail at the top of her head. Unlike the other women who tried to get Draco’s attention with their magically-enhanced cosmetics, she wore no makeup apart from her lips.  There sat a clear, faintly peppermint-scented lip balm that brought out the natural rosy hue of them. For a moment, Draco had trouble looking away as they further pursed towards him.

 

Then Granger cleared her throat, “Excuse me, but my eyes are up here.

 

Draco’s insides shrivelled up in embarrassment. He wished more than anything he could utter a quick spell to get rid of the annoying red blush that no doubt coloured his cheeks, but it was useless.

 

“Sorry,” he muttered awkwardly.

 

But when he finally looked into Granger’s firewhisky eyes, he was able to relax a little. 

 

Reproachful though her tone had been, her gaze was purely playful. She’d been teasing him. 

 

Something about that gave Draco a giddy feeling. He cleared his throat to shake it off and asked, “Are you ready to go?”

 

Hermione started laughing.

 

“What?” Draco asked. “What is it?” Though Granger’s laugh was beautiful, it irritated Draco when people laughed about things he knew nothing about. It was a gut reaction to hate being left out of a joke.

 

But Hermione quickly spoke to soothe his ego.

 

“Malfoy, your clothes !” she said, giggling and gesturing at him, not tamping down the irritation one bit.

 

He couldn’t help but blush again. Looking down in anxiety, he surveyed himself again, eyes following the clean lines of one of his best muggle suits. There was still so much he didn’t know or understand about the witch in front of him, despite being in love with her for so long. This was one of those things.  Why did his tie, button-down shirt, and crisp black pants warrant a laugh?

 

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” he asked.

 

“Well, nothing’s inherently wrong with them, Malfoy, it’s just…well, you’re terribly overdressed.”

 

“Me?!” he drawled, keeping his tone steady.

 

He had just been thinking the same thing about her ! Well, not overdressed, but under dressed. 

 

Of course, Hermione looked stunning in anything she put on, but he had expected her to be in something a bit more…date-like.

 

“Yes, you,” she said, still grinning. “Remember I only agreed to go on this date if you let me pick the place?”

 

“Of course, I remember.”

 

“So wouldn’t it stand to reason that I would know just what sort of attire is appropriate for this outing?”

 

Her smile was infectious, even if the moodier side of him wanted the teasing to end. “So? Where’s the place then?”

 

Hermione reached forward to pat Draco in the shoulder, a soft, almost sinful pout on her face and the gesture sent a thrill rocking through his whole body.

 

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” she smirked.

 

Draco started to roll his eyes, then stopped himself. “Well, how are we going to get there if I don’t know where it is?”

 

Hermione reached into her back pocket and withdrew another bizarre Muggle artefact. Draco couldn’t fathom the point of chewing gum. At first, Draco thought she was about to pop one of the strips in her own mouth rather than answer him, but instead she held the pack between them.  

 

“This is the Portkey we’ll be taking. Oh, are those for me?”

 

She finally noticed the roses he’d managed to hold behind his back.

 

Draco coughed, once again trying to maintain an air of confidence rather than how flustered she made him as she leaned into him to see the flowers tucked behind his frame. With a flourish, he brought out the flowers and handed them to her.

 

She giggled again. “Roses. How cliché. But sweet. Thank you, Malfoy,” she flashed him a genuine smile. “Hold on, let me put these in water, and we can get going.” 

 

She dashed inside her flat for a couple of minutes and shut the door behind her. “Okay, ready? Firmly, it won’t bite.” Draco couldn’t hide his grin as she grabbed hold of his hand, readjusting it so they were both gripping the packet tightly, “Good like that! Before we’re late!”

 

“Late for what?” Nervously, he readjusted his grip on the edge of the gum pack, eyeing it as if it were something alien.

 

Hermione grinned up at him, curls bouncing behind her in her excitement, “You’re about to find out!”

 

And with that, the Portkey activated, sucking them into a spinning whirlpool that carried them far from familiarity and into the unknown.

 


  

The stench hit Draco while he was still mid-travel and he knew, before he even landed, that Hermione had taken him far out of his comfort zone.

 

Still, he made an effort to smooth out his reaction as they dropped softly together onto the dirt and gravel pathway.

 

"Er, Granger?" As Draco looked around, his facial muscles worked overtime to keep a pleasant smile in place. "Where exactly are we?"

 

She flashed an innocent grin that was hypnotising and terrifying all at once. "It's a farm. Haven't you ever seen one before?"

 

Still smiling, cheeks twitching in protest, Draco swept his gaze over the rural landscape. Underneath the warm spring sun the meadows spreading out before them looked like gold-dusted fields of emerald. Cows, sheep, and other animals Draco wasn't familiar with grazed peacefully on the grassland.

 

It was a beautiful, relaxing country scene. Beautiful, but sleepy. Boring. Draco had never been a big advocate of nature or animals. He still had nightmares about Care of Magical Creatures lessons at Hogwarts and, more specifically, violent chickens nearly taking his arm off.

 

Nonetheless, Hermione was here. With her around, even a freezer full of dead bodies could become a haven. He stared at her, quickly becoming preoccupied with the sunlight dancing on her hair and bringing out all the different golden tones and hues that made up her pretty brown curls.

 

"Malfoy?" she snapped her finger. When he didn't answer, she added, "Have you suddenly gone deaf?"

 

He blinked and came back to the present. "Oh, um, sorry. Yes. Well, no, actually. I mean, no to me going deaf, but yes to having seen a farm and—Granger? Not that I'm not absolutely thrilled to be here, but…why didn't you tell me I needed to wear something more…?" He couldn't find the right words to describe it, so he gestured at Granger herself, indicating her easygoing jeans and short-sleeved shirt.

 

She chuckled. "Because then you would've asked me what I was planning for us to do, and I wanted it to be a surprise. Besides, I did tell you to dress casual. Don't you remember?"

 

Draco cleared his throat awkwardly. He remembered little of the moment he'd asked Granger for a date, apart from how nervous and sweaty he'd been and how hard he worked to not appear nervous and sweaty.

 

"This is casual," he said, refusing to mention the hours he'd spent trying on outfits before settling on his very best suit. "Anyway. What have you planned for us to do, exactly?"

 

"Come along, and I'll show you."

 

Suddenly, before Draco even had time to brace himself, Hermione reached out and swiped up his hand. His heart responded strangely to the abrupt contact, sputtering once before ceasing movement altogether. He found himself walking, following in step with Granger, though he was surprised his feet were functioning properly considering he felt like he'd been hit with a Jelly-Legs Jinx. His whole body, mind included, felt like it'd been assaulted with that curse.

 

Draco didn't know what to think about all his reactions to Granger and all these feelings . Sure, he’d been in love before. With himself, power, ambition, at some point perhaps even his parents. But this was different. He'd never turned warm at the sight of his reflection or shivered at the thought of rising to a higher position at work. This was entirely new territory for him, and whether he liked it or not—he was still unsure— Draco wished for her to hold his hand forever.

 

It was hot, though. And dirty. And the air smelled horrible. As he strode across the farmland, painfully aware of the dust clouds and grass blades flying up to stain the hems of his pants, he couldn't help but grimace. 

 

Granger was a delight, but the circumstances were not.

 

"Isn't this a delight , Malfoy?" she asked him cheerily, flashing him a quick glimpse of her gorgeous smile. Draco was so smitten he nearly tripped over his own feet.

 

Struggling to regain his footing—and his composure—Draco said, "Yes, it sure is. How do you know about this place? It's…in the middle of nowhere."

 

"Well, the farm's been in my family for the longest time," Hermione said. "My great-grandparents, you see. They started it, and then a couple of my distant cousins took over about a decade ago. I come up here whenever I need a break from the Ministry and the city. It's so peaceful."

 

Draco would have chosen a different adjective ( dull , perhaps?), but he nodded in agreement all the same. Again, he was struck by how far Hermione had burrowed into his heart. There was not much he wouldn't endure for her if only she would have him.  

 

Bloody romantic ,” he grumbled at himself. 

 

“What was that?” Hermione asked, eyes squinting up at him, bestowing him with all her attention. 

 

“Nothing, careful,” Draco murmured quickly, indicating with his free hand that she should focus on the path before them, praying she didn’t ask what he had said again.  

 

After a few more meters Draco took to watching her. Watching the sunlight dappling through the strands of her hair and making her whole face glow.  However, before he could be any further mesmerized, he cleared his throat, "Granger?"

 

"Hmm?" She answered without turning toward him this time, her eyes never wavering on the path before them.

 

He hesitated for a moment, a sandpaper-like dryness in his mouth nearly stopped him from getting the words out at all. However, he squared his shoulders and pushed past the nerves, he wanted to tell her this and would rather say it now. "Hermione, I know I’ve said this before but I really am sorry for everything that happened to you because of me and my friends at Hogwarts. You must know by now that I was always intimidated by you. You were never like the other girls, always so clever, independent and strong even when we teased you. Secretly, I admired that, I think. I never understood why it burned me up so much to see you with that Weasley character, but now I realise—I'm just sorry I showed them in all the wrong ways."

 

"Oh," Hermione chuckled, then finally looked at him, squeezing his hand slightly in its hold around hers. The pink blush in her skin made Draco's heart thump faster. "You don't have to apologise for that. We were children. Even I wasn't at my wisest then."

 

"Yes, you were," Draco said. "You were always wise, always beautiful, always the brightest witch of our age. And you still are."

 

Hermione lowered her eyes to the ground, the colour in her face deepening to a sheepish crimson.

 

When she didn't say anything, Draco added, quietly, "You know I like you quite a lot, don't you?"

 

"Yes, I know." She raised her eyes again and smiled at something ahead.

 

Draco sniffed. "Well, aren't you going to say anything else?" 

 

"Perhaps I will…" Hermione said cryptically, teasingly, " After I see how you interact with one of those."

 

"Those?"

 

She pointed ahead as she slowed her walk, and Draco reluctantly shifted his gaze to look.

 

The sight of the animals standing up ahead made his stomach rumble in anxiety.

 

"Horses?" He swallowed.

 

"Don't be daft, Malfoy," Hermione gave him a playful shove in the shoulder, her face alight with excitement. "Those are alpacas!"

 

"Oh. Quite right, yes. Alpacas. And what are they doing here exactly?"

 

Granger, in her excitement, neglected to answer. Releasing Draco's hand, she ran ahead of him, and for a moment she looked twenty years younger, a carefree girl darting across the field. Though he dreaded coming that close to those furry beasts he followed eagerly, loving the sight of the hyper, overjoyed witch bouncing ahead.

 

When they reached the large enclosure the alpacas were standing in, Draco noticed a Muggle man standing off to the side, outside of the gate where he watched Granger approach him.

 

"Hermione!" he called.

 

Draco stiffened as Granger tossed her arms around the Muggle's neck. How did she know this man, with his bizarre checkered shirt and awkward denim pants? He looked like a sketchy character. Draco narrowed his eyes as he stopped a few feet away to watch them.

 

He was about to get ruffled when she turned abruptly to him and introduced the man.

 

"Malfoy, this is my cousin." Her eyes flitted briefly to the checkered shirt man. To her cousin, she added, "This is Draco Malfoy, the man I was telling you about."

 

Draco's heart shot up into his throat. Had she talked about him?

 

"Nice to meet you," the man said, nodding to him.

 

"Thanks for letting us have the grounds to ourselves," Granger said to her cousin as Draco finally greeted him politely. "When Malfoy said I could pick the place, I instantly thought of this."

 

The man chuckled good-naturedly. His eyes were on Draco, on his clothes, to be exact. Draco pursed his lips, just as she noticed where her cousin's attention was.

 

"Oh, um, he didn't exactly know we were coming here," she said. "It was a surprise, so he didn't know what to wear."

 

Still chuckling, Granger's cousin began to stride past them. "Well, I'll leave you two to it then," he said, waving goodbye at her and acknowledging Draco with a maddening laugh.

 

Once the man was gone, Draco turned to Granger who was opening the gate to the alpaca pen.  He stood there for a long moment as she fiddled with the door.  

 

"Your cousin doesn't like me."

 

"Sure he does!" Hermione said. "He just…well, if anyone is to blame, it's me."

 

"You did quite blindside me," he agreed, trying to remain firm but once again being unable to hide the smile he so easily bestowed her. That was another thing that had changed about Draco. The smiles. He couldn't remember ever grinning this much in his life. Even as a toddler, he had been stoic. All of his infant photographs usually showed him glaring or narrowing his cold-grey eyes at whoever was taking the picture. But since Granger had whizzed into his heart like a springtime breeze, he had been doing a lot of smiling lately. It was unnerving, really. His face muscles were beginning to ache.

 

"Malfoy? Are you coming?" Her eyes bore into his; he had been staring again.

 

Abruptly, he shook himself free of the stupor that had gripped him and found her standing inside— inside!— the alpaca pen, turning toward him with one of her hands on the fluffy creature.

 

His eyes widened. Go in the pen? Why should he want to do that?

 

"Er, Granger, why do you want me to go in there?"

 

"Because we're going to walk the alpacas, silly!"

 

Walk them?!

 

Draco started forward nervously.

 

"Walk…the alpacas, you say?"

 

"Of course. Haven't you ever done it before?"

 

The laugh that burst out of his throat didn't sound like a laugh at all—more like a grunt struggling toward a choking cough.

 

"No, no, I can't say I have."

 

"Well, hurry up!" Impatient—and adorably excited—Granger flailed her arm, waving him over.

 

Draco took a deep breath and slowly moved into the alpaca pen, trying—and failing miserably—to keep his expensive dragonhide shoes from touching the dirty ground beneath him. All the while, he kept his eyes on Hermione, her expectant smile turning to its highest brightness. He couldn't bring himself to look at the animal, knowing the minute he would focus on it and its enormous size, his own smile would dim into consternation.  

 

"This is Ruby," Hermione said, patting the fluffy, golden-furred creature beside her. "Say hi to Ruby."

 

"Oh, um"—Draco cleared his throat, feeling utterly stupid—"Hello, Ruby."

 

He finally looked at the animal and was pleasantly surprised. She was actually kind of cute and didn't seem murderous like that dreadful hippogriff had in year three. With a tentative reach of his hand, Draco dragged his fingers through the alpaca's soft fur and felt a smile forming on his face. This isn't so bad.

 

But then Hermione said, "Isn't she lovely? I can't wait to walk her."

 

"Oh. Oh, you'll be walking Ruby? Well, then which one am I…"

 

Grinning, Hermione pointed at a giant beast of an animal clinging to the back of the fence. This one wasn't nearly as benign-looking as Ruby. With its jet-black fur, massive bone structure, and beady eyes, it looked like a monster straight out of Draco's worst nightmares. Standing off to the side like a lone wolf, it didn't even seem to like the other alpacas in the pen, so why should it have any fondness toward a human ?

 

Again, just as it had that morning, Draco's fingers twitched toward his pocket. But he knew it wasn't that simple. Granger was known as the brightest witch of her age for a reason. She was even brighter than him! It wouldn't escape her notice if Draco put a small spell of tranquillity on the animal. And he didn't want her to know how uncomfortable he truly was. He tried to seem brave, chivalrous, and an all-around animal lover.

 

So what was the solution?

 

Draco sighed. Grin and bear it.

 

His only consolation was this: he'd survived the hippogriff attack. So why shouldn't he survive an alpaca?

 


 

However, as Draco walked beside Granger and Ruby he realized that question was easier said than answered.  Within minutes of initiating down the grassy field, Draco was already having issues with his own.

 

For one thing, it kept trying to chew his clothes.

 

“Bad Onyx!” Granger chastised playfully when the black alpaca snapped its jaws at the sleeve of Draco’s suit jacket. But Draco knew her scolding was only half-hearted. As soon as she saw the terror on his face and heard the yelp escape his throat as he let go of the alpaca’s leash and jumped out of the way, she burst out laughing. Ruby, her alpaca, made a wheezing, grunting sound as if it was laughing at him too.

 

“Malfoy, don’t worry,” she said once her laughter had subsided. “Onyx is only playing with you.”

 

Playing? I’d like to see what he’s like when he’s mad at me!

 

“On the contrary Granger, I don’t think Onyx likes me,” he said, sneering at the creature from a safe distance of ten yards away.

 

Hermione chuckled into her hand. “He loves you. Just look.” And with that, she released her hold on her own alpaca’s leash and reached for Onyx’s. She gently tugged the black alpaca forward, moving in a straight line toward Draco. He watched in wonder, shocked that the alpaca that had been like a rambunctious two-year-old with him was now acting as prim and proper as the Queen with Hermione.

 

“Are you one of those animal whisperers?” Draco asked, only half-joking.

 

“Look, just pet him. Let him know you’re open to him.” Even softer than she’d handled the alpaca, Granger took Draco’s hand in hers. If she noticed his sweaty palm or trembling fingers, she didn’t let on. She just calmly guided Draco’s hand to the black alpaca’s woolly back, her hand on his, grazing it in a straight line across the length of the animal’s spine. He both wanted to yank his hand out from under her and to implore she never let go, something about her closeness, the intimacy of her holding his hand even to pet an animal, warming him towards the animal.  

 

“You see, Draco?” she softly said, smiling up at him. “He may be a bit bristly, but he’s a sweet animal at heart. You’ve just got to appeal to his sensitive side.”

 

Draco sniffed, cleared his throat, and inadvertently twitched his fingers so that Granger released them. “I, er, I suppose you’re right. I was a bit tense with him.”

 

Hermione shifted her eyes so that they were directly on Draco. Hers shone with a strange glimmer, one of delight and guilt at the same time. Draco frowned, not understanding the expression.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

 

She gave a soft smile and shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong. I just…I’m really glad I came today.”

 

“Really?” Draco blinked at her as if she’d just asked him something much more intimate. “You…you’re actually having…fun?”

 

“Of course, I am.” Her smile broadened, then slipped again, back into the guilty look. “Draco, I’m sorry about blindsiding you. The truth is…I brought you here because I wanted to see if you really liked me. I mean, I know you said you did, but…it was a little hard to believe. I thought for sure you’d leave once I brought you to this place. I was convinced your feelings would be too flimsy to handle a hot afternoon on a smelly farm with even smellier animals. But you stayed…and you actually tried to enjoy it. Thank you, Draco.”

 

Draco gaped at her. Had it all been a test? Seriously? He sighed with relief, then started to chuckle. Leave it to Hermione Granger to devise a clever plan like this one. He was just disappointed she hadn’t thought his intentions pure.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, stifling his laughter with a glum expression. “You had every reason to doubt me.”

 

“Yes,” she agreed with a tiny smile. “But I was wrong. I see that now. You care about me quite a lot, don’t you, Malfoy?” Her eyes caressed him with something new, something he had longed for.

 

He lowered his gaze to the ground. “I do, Granger, I really do.”

 

“I care about you too.”

 

Draco looked up in shock. For the first time, Hermione was the bashful one. He wasn’t used to seeing her unsure of herself. But the sheepishness she felt was there in every line of her face. It was endearing and made him smile. Though Draco had never been good at affection—growing up in the Malfoy home hadn’t permitted it— he wanted more than anything to kiss her, to convey his feelings for her in a gesture, since words wouldn’t come to him.

 

But not here. Not in the blazing heat, surrounded by dirt and smelly animals. He wanted to kiss her properly . Wanted to pour all his emotions in one single kiss. 

 

For now, though, he contented himself by reaching a hand up to touch her soft, wavy hair. His fingers deftly pushed a loosened lock behind her ear, the swift motion that sent butterflies to his stomach.

 

Then he smiled down at her. “I hate to pull us away from this riveting activity, but it is lunchtime. How about we go get something to eat?”

 

“Oh, thank goodness!” she sighed in relief. “I’ve been starving.

 

Draco chuckled. “But Granger…is it okay if I pick the place this time?”

 

She smiled and took his hand in hers. “I’d love it if you did.”

           

Draco had never been lovesick. He’d never been affectionate. And he had certainly never been sentimental. But Granger had managed to change all of this somehow. It was because of her that he wanted to be a better man. She’d whisked him away to another dimension, a dimension of jittery hands and pink flushed cheeks, a dimension in which existed a version of himself that was lovesick, affectionate, and sentimental.

 

He held out his hands to her and apparated them to the perfect place he had in mind. 

 




"Hogsmeade? What are we doing here ?" she asked.

 

More comfortable touching her now, Draco reached for her hand, holding her warm, delicate fingers tightly.  With a slight smirk he explained, "I know you already think I’m cheesy, so I figured I’d go all out...I wanted you to have some good memories of me and this school. I wanted to begin to make up for all the bad ones."

 

Hermione's eyes twinkled with a sudden flood of moisture. Draco squeezed her fingers once more before leading her into the main bustling street of Hogsmeade.

 

It had been ages since Draco last visited the whimsical wizarding village, and they both wore a more subdued wide-eyed stare of awestruck children as they looked around. Of course, Hogsmeade was most charming in winter, when the streets and shop roofs were blanketed with snow, and the lights were strung everywhere. But something about it being springtime made the atmosphere more…romantic. It was the warm breeze, the splashes of pink from the cherry blossoms littering the streets, and of course, Granger's hand in Draco's.

 

He led her to the Three Broomsticks, a favourite destination amongst Hogwarts students. Luckily, the students were trapped in classrooms at this time of day, so Draco could choose a prime spot in the pub without it being too crowded.

 

Draco was thankful that he was far more comfortable than he had been at the farm. Plus, the warm, sweet butterbeer he drank had a way of loosening his nerves as well. He was able to chat with Granger like they were old friends, not stammering the way he had during the alpaca trip. They talked about any and everything, mostly reliving a lot of Hogwarts memories and enjoying hearing them from one another's perspective. They discussed work as well, with Draco asking Granger about her work as an Unspeakable, and Hermione listening eagerly to Draco's stories from the Aurors Office. It was fun, a mostly cosy, delightful time with the witch Draco was increasingly falling harder for with every passing second. The best part was when he could make her laugh. Hermione had the prettiest laugh he'd ever heard.

 

Sometime later, they left the pub with spirits high and cheeks pink.

 

After a brief stint in Honeydukes—Draco bought Hermione her favourite candy—Draco took her on a childish trip to the Shrieking Shack, remaking another memory he had ruined so long ago. The sun was beginning to dip down below the horizon, and vibrant streaks of pink, yellow, and orange indicated the end of their date. Draco would have liked to keep her with him all night, but he couldn't help but notice the frequent yawns she kept hiding behind her hand. It had been a long day, she was tired, and she had an earlier start in the morning than most people at the Ministry.

 

So, regrettably, Draco took her soft hands in his again and apparated them back to her flat. 

 

She was in front of him, leaning against the door, looking almost as reluctant to leave as he was to drop her off.

 

"I had the greatest time, Malfoy," she lowered her eyes, fiddling with the hem of her shirt. "I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did."

 

"Yes," he replied. "You have no idea how much I loved it." His gaze lingered over her and those pink lips that he had a hard time keeping his eyes off all day.

 

She sighed and laid her hand over the brass doorknob. It was completely dark now, but the lamp set into the wall beside them bathed Hermione's face in golden light against the dark shadow.

 

"Next time," she said, "you can pick the place for our date." Her cheeks flushed. 

 

Draco smirked, then stopped abruptly as his stomach dropped. "Next time?"

 

"Well, of course. Unless…you don't want a second date with me?"

 

Draco's heart flailed. "Yes, yes, of course, I do, I'd love one." Mentally, he berated himself for being so overexcited. He couldn't help it though. He'd worried after today she would never want to see him again. He was so new to this whole dating game, and he honestly had no way of knowing if he was doing it right or not.

 

But now…he was so thrilled he could've screamed.

 

"Good night, Draco," Granger murmured, giving him a soft smile that further electrified his nerves.

 

"Goodnight, Hermione." his voice came out low.

 

She twisted the knob and started to open the door.

 

But she had only opened it a few inches before Draco, acting on an impulse he never knew he had, darted forward and grabbed her hand, stopping her.

 

"Wait," he growled.

 

Bewilderment widened her eyes. She looked at him in wordless confusion.

 

With his hand still covering Hermione's, Draco took a deep breath and allowed his eyes to fall on her lips. Though he'd seen it as a bystander plenty of times, he'd never done anything like this himself. Still, it couldn't be that hard, could it?

 

He leaned in.

 

Well, swooped in is more like it.

 

Draco didn't realize he was supposed to go slow. The result wasn't pretty; in a humiliating moment, he banged his forehead against hers, causing Hermione to cry out in pain for a moment, then burst out laughing in the next.

 

"Draco!" she laughed. "Have you never kissed a witch before?"

 

He couldn't help the sneer that was morphing his features and looked away, tugged anxiously on his tie. "Well, er, you see—"

 

But he never got to finish that sentence. In a swift, heart-pounding moment, Hermione had leaned in and whisked away his embarrassment, his hesitation, his oxygen. She'd placed her hands on his shoulders and stood on the tips of her toes to reach his mouth.  She reached him with confidence, landing on his lips ever so softly with her own. She kissed him, and after a moment of being paralyzed, Draco kissed her back and circled his arms around her.  He held her tight, his arms asking her to stay there, in his embrace, ensuring she’d remain longer than she’d initially intended, he was sure.   

 

With a gentle tug at his lower lip, she pulled away from Draco, Hermione's face was beet-red when he blinked his eyes open, fingers tracing the soft flush, relishing in the warmth his actions had caused.

 

"Um, yes, well, that's—that's pretty much how you do it," she leaned back in, whispering against his mouth.  The warmth of her breath had his eyes fluttering shut and he relished in the shudder that passed through his body.  However, the full-bodied shiver had her jumping away from him as if his physical reaction to her proximity reminded her just how quickly this could escalate in the most delicious ways, even if it is too soon.  "Good night, Draco."

 

"Good night, Hermione."

 

With a grin that seemed to be permanently fixed to his face like a tattoo, he watched her dart into her apartment. Then he set off for his own home, walking slowly, replaying the events of their first date a million times over, ready to add many more to their story.