For the record, Hermione has never struggled to maintain professionalism.
Like, historically. Factually.
You can look at the glowing testimonials (four hundred and twenty-six) or even the lackluster three-star review (singular) that concedes her services were adequate even though her perfume was strong enough to give him a headache.
Hermione is nothing if not committed to Listening & Learning™, so she takes the L with grace.
Which means she doesn’t type out a four-paragraph explanation about the series of unfortunate events that led her to go without a shower for four consecutive days. Honestly, if he caught a whiff of the godless place her armpits had become, he’d be thanking her for--
Well, she does type it out. She does. It’s embarrassing, but this is who she is.
Edits seven separate drafts of it, dresses it in Comic Sans to convince herself that a response of this magnitude would be ridiculous and--eventually, she deletes it.
(Everyone wears grace differently, but for Hermione it almost always looks like just shutting up.)
Mediocre review aside, there’s a reason she’s been asked to speak by the American Physical Therapy Association at various conferences and seminars seven years in a row.
She splits rent for her office in a duplex in Chicago with two other male practitioners, neither of whom are 100% confident at pronouncing her first name.
They mean well enough, though. Last Christmas, Ibrahim got her a necklace with a cracked glass pendant to symbolize how she’s ‘shattering the glass ceiling’ for women everywhere and Miles opted for a coffee mug with BOSS BITCH scrawled across it in flowery calligraphy.
So, while their feminism is second-wave at best and they left her in charge of decorating their office because she’s a woman even though she’s got terrible taste, it’s--it’s fine.
It’s like working with two golden retrievers. Two himbos.
Not much different from her childhood of hanging around Ron and Harry, if she’s quite honest.
But, right. The death of her professionalism.
It happens like this:
Hermione is hunched over her desk like some kind of Tolkien goblin, essentially deep-throating three Sambal fish tacos from Del Seoul in a desperate bid to finish a late lunch before her next appointment (she’d rather choke to death than be late) when a light knock on the open door makes her head snap up.
Her previous nonchalance about choking to death vanishes when she sees who’s standing in her door and a piece of fish hunkers down for a long winter in her esophagus.
“Are you--shall I perform the Heimlich?” He asks, face familiar and concerned as he moves a step closer.
And even through the hacking and coughing and blood rushing to her face, her mind still snags on the thought that she’s never seen this expression on his face.
Especially not in regards to her.
Well, that and the fact that he’s teetering on crutches.
“I don't think your face should be that shade of purp--”
She cuts him off by vomiting into the trash can.
Airway finally clear, she gulps a few greedy breaths. Her lungs expand and her face burns, and Hermione genuinely wonders if she’s hallucinating. She’s not prone to fantastical thinking even though she’s well acquainted with the fantastic, but...why else would Draco Malfoy be standing in front of her?
Malfoy, on crutches.
Malfoy, handing her a tissue?
For one, he has glasses.
Round, silver-rimmed, and perched atop an aristocratic nose. They have the disorienting effect of softening the icy blue irises she hasn’t forgotten.
Secondly, his hair.
It’s dark blonde; not the bottled bleach you couldn’t look directly at in the sun. Wavy, too. Apparently this Urban Outfitter poster-boy version of Malfoy realised how much of a prat he looked like with it all slicked back.
His concern has morphed into a smile, bright and self-assured.
She’s being ridiculous.
This isn’t Malfoy.
He’s tan, for Christ’s sake! That in and of itself should be enough to put it to rest. The jawline is all wrong, too--softened by stubble; the kind that might tickle her inner thigh when he--
“So sorry about that.” She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and takes a quick swig from her water bottle, struggling to maintain eye contact. “Just trying to squeeze in a late lunch.”
Humour is spelled out in his dimples (another point against Malfoy--she can confidently say he didn’t have those) as he leans against one of his crutches and straightens his button-up forest green corduroy shirt.
“Looks like your lunch squeezed back.”
Hermione’s fingers flutter to her throat, letting out a light laugh as she massages it.
She doesn’t know why she keeps staring at him.
(She knows exactly why she keeps staring at him.)
Moving behind the desk, she glances at the name on her schedule and breathes a sigh of relief as the floor solidifies beneath her feet. “Callum, is it? Come on in.”
He’s a bit clumsy on the crutches but more graceful than she expects when he takes a seat in the chair across from her.
“I felt lucky to get an appointment with you on such short notice,” he says, setting his crutches to the side and folding his hands together. “My friend, Avery, speaks quite highly of you.”
She knew an Avery.
Knows he knew an Avery.
“And you’re a fellow Brit,” he adds, unaware of the tension in Hermione’s fingers as she grips the mouse to her computer.
How had she missed the accent?
“I’m surprised you could tell,” she says, somehow managing to keep her tone neutral as she scans his file. “All my friends from home tell me I sound ridiculous.”
Callum rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Bastards.”
Can she turn off the specific reflex that puts her body into fight or flight mode every time he opens his mouth? Or take a swig of a calming draught? Or use a time-turner to go back and alter the past minute so he never sees her regurgitate partially chewed fish?
None of those are both possible and responsible, so she directs her laser focus--more strobe-like, really--to the details that his primary care physician sent over.
“You’ve been here for a while then, yeah?”
Hermione nods, allowing her eyes to briefly scan his face before returning to her monitor.
“Seven years, this October.”
There’s no way it’s him.
The last time she saw him, he was gaunt and pale and wearing all black all the time, like a human thestral. This filled-out, easy-going muggle in front of her looks like he’s never gone through a goth stage in his life--
--and, oh, gods, she’s struck by the imagery of Draco Malfoy standing in a Hot Topic as a teenager in the early 2000’s, all pout and Bieber hair swooped to the side with a Blink-182 t-shirt and black gauges in his ears.
She snorts. Covers it up with her hand.
Keep it professional.
“What about you?” She asks.
Callum rubs his hands along the thighs of his black jeans, brows furrowing as if he hasn’t been keeping track of the answer. “Ten...eleven years? Feels like forever.”
A familiar itch burrows its way into the tips of her fingers; the tip of her tongue. She wants a pen and a piece of paper. She wants to do the math and ask the questions and dig until she strikes metal.
When was the last time Theo or Pansy had heard from him?
It’s been years. Half a decade, maybe?
But he’s not a research project—he’s a patient. A client. Nothing beyond his medical history is her business, and yet.
“What brought you to the States?”
“I was recruited,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “Football team.”
His answer evokes the same sensation of her foot missing the last stair.
He correctly reads the skepticism in her tone and laughs. “God, no. Don’t have the physique for it.”
His humility is...infuriating.
She might as well be back in McGonagall’s classroom, wand trained at a beetle that absolutely refuses to become a button. Malfoy has always danced the same dance with her since the genesis of their acquaintance, but now he’s skipping steps and doing cartwheels and twirling her in circles and--
It's making her jaw clench hard enough that she knows she'll have a headache if she doesn't relax.
In order for that to happen, she needs a bit of insurance--at least one damning quality about him to feel comfortable in his presence.
Her eyes narrow just the slightest bit.
He’s probably one of those assholes who can spend hours belaboring niche topics that nobody asked about: which local microbrewery is best, the ‘bennies’ of drinking mushroom coffee or explaining why, actually, Elon Musk is a really smart dude.
She scoffs internally.
“So, to be clear,” she says, letting her disbelief bleed through. “You’re saying that the US offered more opportunity in the way of soccer than the UK?”
For a fraction of a second, his eyes narrow too. A shock of electricity shoots up her spine at how familiar the expression is, but it doesn’t last because he taps his bottom lip with a self-deprecating grimace.
“Never said I was particularly good at it, did I?”
They stare at each other for a few moments.
This is the first time they’ve met and she resents him. Which...isn’t logical. It’s like the gears in her brain are coated in molasses as she struggles to talk sense into herself.
Callum is not Malfoy.
Callum is her client.
Callum is beginning to look confused.
“Well, my neighbor’s kid just made Lincoln Park High School’s JV team. I’m sure he could put in a good word if you ever want to upgrade.”
In her uncertainty of whether or not to be annoyed or attracted to him, it comes out flirty. Teasing. Embarrassing.
Callum’s smile grows and he looks at her--gods, he’s looking at her like he’s delighted.
“I knew physical therapy was going to hurt, but damn,” he says, rubbing his hand over his mouth as if to smooth out his grin.
Of all people, Ginny pops into her mind.
Ginny, who sticks by her side on their nights out to elbow Hermione in the side when a guy is interested because, as brilliant as she is, she’s always flown blind when it comes to that particular skill.
She feels the phantom elbow landing between her ribs and imagines Ginny rolling her eyes.
Are you kidding, ‘Mione? He’s into you.
“If you want my advice, I think bringing orange slices for the team might be nice enough to tip the scales,” she says. Clears her throat. “Or maybe juice boxes?”
He snorts, a delightfully improper sound that would never come out of a Malfoy.
It thrills her.
And, thankfully, it jolts her back to reality.
“So,” she says, compensating for her failure at self-control with a brusque tone. “I read your file, but why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“Right,” he says, bumping his glasses up the bridge of his nose as they’d begun to slide. “Well, there’s no telling this story without coming off like a complete git, but I was running down the field and there was a divot in the ground. Caught it just right and snapped my Achilles.”
Hermione has enough athlete clients to know that it’s just the beginning of Fall soccer, and regardless of how good his team was, he’d probably have to be benched for the rest of it.
“I’m sorry to hear it.”
At this, Callum leans back and smirks at the ceiling. “Oh, don’t let up on my account.”
She doesn’t do this.
She doesn’t flirt with clients.
“You should know that my bedside manners aren’t usually this terrible,” she confesses.
The innuendo only registers when he looks down at his lap in an attempt not to smile and--
Hermione has the unpleasant sensation of being perched at the top of a rollercoaster, just before it drops.
“As it is,” she plows ahead, squaring her shoulders, “I’m afraid we should actually get to the part where we examine your leg. It looks like your surgery was successful?”
He nods in her periphery as she reads over his doctor’s recommendation for 5-6 weeks of physical therapy.
“Far as I can tell.”
Slowly, Hermione’s molasses brain returns to professional mode. From the notes on his chart, it looks like he’s been in recovery for two weeks and he’s healed enough to start working on range of movement and strengthening exercises.
“And is it usually stiff first thing in the morning?”
It’s silent for five seconds too long.
A flush is climbing his neck.
He smooths his hand down the wooden buttons of his shirt.
Heat flares beneath her cheeks and she makes the executive decision to aggressively pretend like this isn’t the second time she's said something needlessly suggestive.
“Right. Well,” she says, clasping her hands together. “I’ll be showing you some stretches and exercises to keep you limber, but the farthest we’ll go today is a deep tissue massage.”
Jesus Christ, Hermione.
Callum just nods with a pleasant smile. His poker face is infinitely more practiced than Hermione’s, which—
That’s a bit of a Malfoy trait, isn’t it?
“Just because the muscles and tendons surrounding your Achilles are taking on a lot of undue stress. It should help with the stiffness.” She adds, swallowing. “Let’s move to an examination room so we can get started.”
Hermione walks around her desk and bends to hand him his crutches, getting a whiff of sunscreen and something spicy, like cloves.
Summer and Christmas at the same time.
He’s so much taller than her as he hobbles down the hall that she subconsciously pats the top of her bun to make sure her curls haven’t broken free of their constraints.
The examination room is cluttered.
Two of Hermione’s Gen-Z clients, Rashaad and Liza, call her interior decor style “clutter-core,” which—okay. It’s valid. It’s eclectic for a physical therapy office, but she’s just found so many great things at thrift stores! Art, vintage books, punny cross-stitch pillows to match hand-made wooden chairs.
She suspects it might be an unhealthy side-effect of living on the run for so long as a teenager so she has this insatiable urge to nest and gather and overcompensate.
Callum’s eyebrows draw together as he takes it all in and she tries not to feel naked.
“I’ll step outside while you put these on,” she says, tossing him a pair of black terry cloth shorts from the cupboard.
The door clicks shut behind her and she flexes her fingers, leaning against the opposite wall to catch her breath.
She’s making this weird.
He’s just an attractive client who happens to share some features with her childhood bully--somebody who wouldn’t be caught dead in a muggle doctor’s office.
Draco Malfoy didn’t even tell his best friends where he was going after the Ministry dropped the charges against him, post-war. Every time Pansy brought him up at their weekly meeting for drinks, she’d call him a bastard and Theo would half-heartedly defend him before eventually giving up.
She wonders what Malfoy would think if he knew she’d poached his closest friends.
When she reenters, Callum balances his crutches against the wall and hops onto the examination table, thin white paper crinkling loudly as he shifts his hips back.
“I’m nervous about this,” he says, pushing his glasses back up his nose with a teasing glint in his eyes, “If you notice my eyes leaking, just...mind your business.”
Hermione laughs harder than is warranted, which she knows by the lift of his brows. Maybe it’s the thought of Malfoy voluntarily joking about his weakness or the sincere note in Callum’s tone. Either way, it leaves both of them grinning broadly.
“Do you have an ego at all?”
It’s a stupid question. A weirdly intimate one, too, that his physical therapist shouldn’t be asking.
Callum tilts his head to the side for a few moments, then answers anyway.
“Yeah. His name’s Milton though, and he’s a real ponce so it’s easy not to take him seriously.”
Hermione blinks, torn between laughing and confusion.
He rubs his forehead with the palm of his hand.
“Sorry,” he says; laughs. “I don’t usually tell people about my therapy coping mechanisms within the first ten minutes of meeting them. I’m--you’re easy to joke around with."
It’s a confession.
One that, for some bizarre reason, sets her blood ablaze.
She busies herself by pumping some lotion into her hands, motioning for him to lie down all the way.
“Now you’ve got me wondering what my ego’s name would be.”
Rubbing her hands together, she gets to work on his calf, pressing deeply enough to make him wince.
“Well, what’s her personality like?” He asks, relaxing with his arms behind his head. “Mine’s a prick who thinks too highly of himself, so I gave him a name to match.”
She moves her thumbs in tight circles, digging into the deep tissue with a slight smirk as he flinches. “I imagine she hails from a swamp of some sort,” she says. “Always has to be right; never willing to accept help when she needs it.”
Callum hums thoughtfully.
Hermione snorts. “God, you’re good at that.”
He looks pleased even though he’s almost certainly in pain from the work her hands are doing just behind his knee. “I may look humble but Milton’s absolutely purring right now.”
And for Godric's sake--
She's been surrounded by funny people for most of her life--Fred and George, obviously, with their slapstick humour; Ginny with her general disregard for decorum and Pansy's perfect storm of razor-sharp bluntness and terrible timing. But Callum's wit, with its warmth and sophistication, has her feeling like she's been wearing the wrong size shoe her whole life and only now, upon seeing how snugly it fits, does she realise that this is the first pair she never wants to take off.
“Milton and Grogda,” she murmurs, chest light and cheeks aching. “Quite the duo.”
The line between Malfoy and Callum solidifies in her head, breaking up the tension between Hermione’s shoulder blades.
The more he talks, the less he reminds her of Malfoy.
She works up his calf, hot skin glancing across her wrist as she goes. This time, it’s Pansy who appears to her, coffee-colored eyes flashing with amusement as she eggs Hermione on.
He likes you, Granger. Don’t fuck it up.
She clears her throat.
“So tell me about where you’re from,” she says, partially as a distraction and partially because curiosity gets the better of her.
“Near Bath,” he says, tone almost bored and eyes on the ceiling. “But I haven’t been back in so long that it feels odd to claim it, you know?”
She needs to know how his ligaments are healing, so she casts a nonverbal spell of her own creation.
His leg jolts, which isn’t entirely unusual.
He might be more sensitive to magic than the average person, but she knows from experience that it’s best to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary happened and continues her ministrations.
Healing magic is finicky because its foundation is elemental and the composition of each body is so different, but she’s pleased when tiny blue runes appear on the side of his calf.
It’s healing up quite nicely.
“I’ve been back loads of times and even I feel that way, too,” she says, mentally noting that he should be up and about within the next five weeks. Or four, if she can swing it.
“Oh yeah?” Callum’s voice takes on a strained quality that has her eyes snapping to his.
He looks alarmed.
Her hands falter.
“Does this hurt?”
His brows, which had crowded together, shoot up.
“No,” he says, returning his gaze to the ceiling. “No, it actually feels quite nice. There was--I thought I might have forgotten to turn off the stove in my flat. False alarm.”
One of her hands goes to his knee while the other soothes down the front of his shin.
“Oh,” she says, chuckling breathlessly. “I hate it when that happens.”
It’s impossible to relax after that, so Hermione whips out one of her own therapy techniques.
Puts Callum and the impossible but persistent fear that he’s really Draco Malfoy into a chest and locks it up, then moves over to her physical therapist chest and wrenches open the lid. Steps inside. Shuts the top.
She can’t be sure how long she’s been coaxing the deep tissue into compliance when Callum speaks up again.
“It’s literally just a local indoor football club,” he says, looking at her with a curiously earnest expression. “Nobody recruited me from England; I became friends with my neighbors from across the hall and they invited me to join because they felt bad for me.”
Hermione makes sure to keep her hands moving. Before she can say anything, he smiles a little.
“We play every Thursday night and our team is absolute rubbish,” he says, letting out a self-deprecating laugh. “Like, more awful than you can probably imagine; constantly passing to the wrong team and scoring on ourselves. But it’s a sort of family I never had at home. It’s...it’s nice.”
Hermione’s heart wrenches in her chest and her hand slides down his leg, resting on the sharp bone of his ankle.
“So you’re telling me that not even Lincoln Park High’s second string would give you a spot on their team.”
Her words are teasing but don’t quite match the tenderness in her expression.
Callum’s answering laugh is deep.
“Your teenage neighbor could probably wipe the floor with me.”
Hermione isn’t drunk or anything, but her limbs are light and her mind is heady with a foreign sensation.
It needs somewhere to go.
“So what are you good at, then?”
His eyes dip to her lips—it’s an indisputable fact—and she becomes aware that her hand is still delicately cradling his ankle.
She keeps it there for a fraction of a second, meeting his challenging stare before letting it drop.
“Baking,” he says, as if the air isn’t suddenly thick between them. “I make something stupidly complicated for every game, and now that I’m sidelined, it’s only going to get stupider.”
This game of chicken between them is ill-advised, and normally she’d imperiously inform him that ‘stupider’ isn’t a word.
But there’s something building in her chest--something she only ever leans into when it’s a matter of survival.
It feels like recklessness.
She meets his gaze and casts another nonverbal spell.
This time, he has nowhere to hide.
The moment the spell hits him, his entire body tenses and his eyes dart to his leg. It only lasts a second before he’s back to watching her, expression schooled and calm.
She’s seen people react to her magic before, but she’s never seen a client quite so determined to appear unaffected by it.
The rollercoaster begins to drop.
“Fuck,” he swears softly, leaning over and grabbing his jeans from the chair next to where he’s laying. “I didn’t realise the time. I forgot that I’m supposed to give Imani a ride today.”
Hermione doesn’t know who Imani is but she’s shocked to learn their session has already gone fifteen minutes over when she looks at the clock.
“Oh,” she says, scooting her stool back. “I’ll--you’re due back here once or twice a week for the next month or so. You’ll probably only be able to book an appointment with one of my associates if you go through Carissa."
Reaching into her pocket and refusing to acknowledge how wildly unprofessional she’s about to be, she pulls out the business card that contains her personal number and passes it to him.
“Call or text this instead.”
For somebody who’s been flirting fairly shamelessly with her for the past hour, Callum barely meets her eyes as he smiles through pursed lips.
“Great,” he says, pocketing the card. “Thank you.”
Hermione stares at him for a few more moments before she jumps, finally aware of the fact that he’s waiting for her to leave so he can change back into his pants.
“Right. I’ve got another client waiting, so I'll, er, see you soon.”
By the time she locks her office, she doesn’t bother walking to the stop for the L. She disapparates straight home with a crack! and stumbles to her fireplace. Grasping a handful of powder on the side table, Hermione steps into the floo and throws it at her feet.
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
Those are the words Draco Malfoy’s muggle-born therapist had used to describe him just the day before.
“Truly, Draco. Ten years ago I wasn’t sure if you were going to live to see your next appointment with me and now look at you,” Shauna had said, gesturing to the mini key lime pie in her hand with a grimace to show her distaste. “Bringing me baked goods even though I specifically asked you not to.”
It had been his eighth sobriety birthday--almost a decade of being clear-headed and functional, for the most part.
He figured it was worth Shauna’s griping to celebrate because she’s one of the only people on the planet who knows just how deep the pit was that he crawled out of.
To be clear, his memory has gone to shit.
While he’s been sober for eight years, the seven leading up to it were a blur of intentionally terrible decisions--he couldn’t possibly make worse ones than he already had--and reveling in a toxic brand of freedom that he’d always craved.
He wanted to make poor decisions because he wanted them, not because he had the weight of a pureblood dynasty on his shoulders.
Not because he was trying to atone for the sins of his father.
And gods, not because he was scared.
He did them with the intent of loosening his memory, hoping the worst ones would slip like sand through his fingers.
Not the most scientific approach, but--
Here’s the thing: Draco’s father was the one to teach him how to play wizard’s chess.
Rule number one?
The game never ends.
Every word spoken, breakfast taken, owl exchanged--it’s all a continuation of cunning plays and underhanded moves. You must concentrate. Nothing is safe, not even personal relationships.
It used to thrill Draco. He prided himself on making connections, not friends, as soon as he made it to Hogwarts.
That didn’t last too long, though, before Pansy and Theo weaseled their way into his circle and let him know that he’s human for Merlin’s sake and can’t be expected to live like every relationship is purely transactional--
It still hurts to think of them. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
Anyway, apparently Draco’s shit at chess. He tried his best to be clever and it landed him a few inches shy of Azkaban so, yes, losing himself in drugs would be an objectively stupid thing to do, but what did he know, really, anymore?
Events became hazy; faces even more so.
He has a general idea of the role he played, but when he tries to nail down details and timelines, it’s like looking straight ahead at a void with fuzzy shapes and shadows in the periphery.
So he became Callum Davies.
Melted into muggle life.
Cleaned himself up.
Snapped his Achilles tendon doing the dumbest thing--just, like, fucking power walking--and the edges of those shadows in his periphery began to sharpen.
What would life in England look like if he’d been made of stronger stuff?
Would his wildest imaginations of living in muggle society ever capture the visceral panic of realising that he’s forgotten his debit card in the middle of ringing up his groceries? The heart-stopping moment of accidentally ‘liking’ a crush’s Instagram photo from 113 weeks ago?
Gods, he can’t imagine parting with the wonderful mundanity of it all.
His pureblood upbringing with every comfort at his disposal has taken on the yellow colouring of an old photograph in his mind, feeling more and more like he’d just been playing dress-up in a period-piece while this life is the only one that’s ever actually existed.
Even so, over a decade later, his wand is always on his person because he still hasn’t quite learned how to stop looking over his shoulder.
He’ll use magic in a bind: a flat tire on the highway, a warming charm to heat the middle of his Thai leftovers that the microwave never seems to penetrate. Suffering needlessly has never interested him.
He’s also not the dipshit he used to be.
It was his biggest initial shock upon entering muggle society that their technology is much more advanced than their magical counterparts. In fact, he felt like some sort of feral man-child somebody found in the woods going to the doctor without any medical history to speak of.
He worried he’d say something stupid.
All he had were tv shows to go off of, because his only friend who might be able to help him prepare was Shauna, and she’s a sadist who couldn’t wait to hear how he made a fool out of himself.
She’ll make him detail every second of it in their next appointment and then somehow he’s the one who has to pay for her time?
Anyway, it only happens occasionally--very occasionally--that he runs into somebody he suspects of being a witch or wizard. More often, he’ll attend movie nights with Avery and Sung-jin (his married neighbors) and make a private game of guessing which actors have magical blood.
(He can’t prove anything, but how else would Ben Affleck get the role of Batman when he’s so indisputably terrible at acting?)
She was someone to him, though.
Of that, he is certain.
Not from the moment he stepped into her office--he’d mostly been charmed and delighted that her reaction to him seemed to be blushing and mocking him in equal amounts, which did not match what he’d come to expect from what Avery had told him about her. She’d spoken of Dr. Granger’s warmth and competence, but Draco got the feeling he’d seen her in a way most of her clients didn’t.
There’s no denying that she’s lovely, with her freckle-dusted cheeks and thick brows that give her serious expression a scholarly edge.
That’s the problem.
Perhaps if he was a muggle, he wouldn’t have thought much of the distinct tingle on the back of his ankle when she’d cast her spell, but he wasn’t. The sensation of magic is one thing his body can’t forget. It’s instinctive, and there was something about her magical signature that had his blood thrumming through his veins.
He knew her magic. He knew it.
He can’t imagine why.
Especially because, gods, she carries herself with grace but she is clearly not a pureblood witch. Her nails are shorter than Draco’s, her hair looks like it would Thanos snap a straightener, and her wide eyes are much more honest than they could possibly be if she grew up like he did.
They shared a history, but there was no way it could be positive.
He wanted to curl in on himself.
He wanted her to know that he knew he was an idiot. That even though he couldn’t remember most of it, he’d been an insufferable prat for the majority of his life.
The compulsion to tell her every terrible thing about him to make her feel better about not liking him was so strong that he had to physically bite his tongue and recite constellations to the ceiling.
But then, she was warm.
It didn’t make sense.
Her sharp tongue hooked him; pierced his lungs. He was out of breath and overwhelmed and fucking intrigued.
Asking him what else he could possibly be good at?
He was missing something.
And then, she effectively bombarda’d his solar plexus when she looked in his eyes with some kind of burning intention as she cast another spell--almost like she was testing his reaction.
His stomach twisted; he was a bug pinned under her microscope.
Then he blinked, an image of crimson blood seeping into ancestral carpet and away from a ghostly pale wrist burned against the back of his eyelids.
He’d slammed his Occlumency walls down so fast he was guaranteed to pay for it with a headache later. With horror creeping along the edges of his control, he had mere minutes before a panic attack.
Maybe less, considering how rusty he was at building mental walls.
Hours and a panic bake of cranberry brie pull-apart bread later, he isn’t even sure what he’d told her to get out of there so fast. All he has is the vague memory of clinging to her business card and counting constellations as he redressed to stave off the pandemonium ready to erupt in his mind.
Oh gods, who was I to her?
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
There’s a concept in Transfiguration Theory that stabs at Hermione’s conscience like a sliver under her fingernail.
The idea that nothing can be turned into something that it has nothing in common with.
That’s why it’s relatively simple to turn a needle into a thimble and, you know, quite challenging to turn a styrofoam plate into a grenade.
Not that she’s tried.
An empathic person--one who naturally gravitates toward commonalities rather than differences between themselves and the world--isn’t necessarily key to excelling in Transfiguration, but it certainly makes it easier. That’s what tea with Minerva had taught her.
People, though infinitely more complex than inanimate objects, follow the same basic principle.
She’s found that if you can find the common thread and focus on it with the obstinance of a gnome clinging to Molly's marigolds for a consistent amount of time, a friendship can pop into existence from even the most dubious beginnings.
Take Pansy, for example.
She was a bitch.
(Not Hermione’s words, mind you, but true all the same.)
They were paired together for the clean-up of Hogwarts one month after the war ended and it was about as smooth-sailing as one might expect in the beginning: constant snide remarks about the tackiness of her sweaters, the outright mutiny of her curls, or the filth of her blood.
Minerva encouraged her to look at it like a Transfiguration problem.
Where were the commonalities?
Pansy was raised as a rich pureblood heiress.
Her black hair was blunt-cut and stick straight.
She wouldn’t be caught dead wearing muggle jeans.
They had nothing in common.
Besides--well, Hermione could be a bitch too, if she wanted.
“I assume you have a personality outside of the blood purity bullshit and edgy haircut,” she said calmly, levitating a medium-sized boulder out of the hallway and onto the grass outside. “What’s it like?”
Pansy raised an aggressively plucked brow and the rest is history.
Theo was much easier to befriend, thank God.
Three years after the war, she still hadn’t succeeded in restoring her parents’ memories. Every healer she could find said the same thing: too risky. Not enough conclusive research done on the reversal of total obliviation.
As a special witness to Hermione’s desperation, Pansy called in a favour with an old friend.
He’d been experimenting in combining mind healing magic with muggle psychology--a groundbreaking approach that most people thought was too ‘out there’ to be effective.
But it was.
Within two years of beginning their treatments, her parents had moved back to Hampstead and for all the late nights and crying sessions the occasion had called for, Hermione was convinced that Theo was a male version of her: analytical, thoughtful, and wickedly smart.
Come to find out, he’d been a hat-stall for Ravenclaw and opened her eyes to how shitty it was that the entire trajectory of their lives and careers were predicated upon the personalities of four long-dead school founders.
How could you ever reduce a person to a singular trait when human beings are so complex?
Anyway, it shouldn’t be so impossible for Hermione that Draco Malfoy might be romantically interested in her. Stranger things have happened.
She even knows (objectively and purely based on evidence) that she’s a fucking catch.
Her self-esteem is not the problem.
It’s the fact that she can’t imagine a world in which Draco is the same person as Callum.
How could someone so deeply terrible--
“Oh, gods, Theo! I’m so sorry!”
She steps out of his floo and slaps her hand over her eyes, listening to the rustling of blankets as he and his guest scramble to cover themselves.
“For Salazar’s sake, Hermione--second time this month--”
“I know! I’m supposed to text you, I’m sorry, but something truly impossible just happened and I have to talk to you about it before I lose my mind.”
Charlie’s deep chuckle is muffled for a moment until his auburn hair comes out from under the covers.
“Wotcher, ‘Mione,” he says, lifting a hand in greeting. His cornflower blue eyes twinkle in amusement at Theo’s scowl.
“I really am sorry,” she repeats, turning her back to face the fireplace. “Usually the most exciting thing happening is Theo sipping tea and wearing reading glasses at this time of night.”
When she turns back around, Theo gives Hermione a flat look and Charlie barks out a laugh.
“I’ll be tucking that little nugget away, you ageist fuck.”
Charlie says it so lightly and with such affection, Hermione’s heart squeezes in Theo’s behalf.
A moment later Charlie springs from the bed and hugs her tightly, then gives her a nudge so she falls into the armchair in front of the fireplace.
“You two get started. I’ll make us tea.”
As soon as he exits the room, Hermione’s eyes widen.
“So that’s new,” she says, temporarily distracted by her giddiness for Theo’s romantic life.
Theo pulls on a pair of joggers and scoffs.
“You have terrible timing.”
Her leg begins to bounce, too thrilled to take offense. Theo’s been crushing on Charlie for at least three years (ever since he started attending the Weasley family New Years party), so it’s almost surreal to see him acting so casual about it.
“I’m happy for you.”
Theo smiles as he sinks into the chair across from her.
A flick of his wrist gets the fire crackling.
They stare at the flames for a moment before he leans back and crosses his legs.
“So what’s this about?”
“I--think you ought to use Legilimency on me. It’ll be easier.”
Hermione’s skill in the practice is rudimentary, mostly because she’s never quite gotten over the spine-tingling feeling of having someone rifle through her brain. She’s adept enough to push forward the relevant memories, so she closes her eyes and does so.
Callum, standing in the doorway and the heart-stopping moment she was sure he must be Draco Malfoy.
Listening to him talk about his found family; how he didn’t have that in England.
Casting a spell and seeing his alarm, then watching as his face goes blank.
His hurry to get the hell out of there.
When she opens her eyes, Theo is staring at her with an indecipherable expression.
Her stomach sinks. Or evaporates altogether. Hard to tell.
“It’s him, isn’t it?”
Theo’s face stays neutral and Hermione recognizes the absolute blankness behind his eyes.
“Theodore Nott,” she says, growing irritated. “Are you Occluding right now?”
His shoulders slump.
“Attempting to, anyway.”
“You’re not surprised,” she says, watching him scrub his face with his hands as her brain zips from clue to conclusion. “Why aren’t you surprised?”
When he finally meets her gaze, his green eyes look wary.
“I promised him, Granger.”
not actually angry.
Pansy would be.
Gods, she’d murder him.
But as it is, Hermione understands that Draco has always been a brother to Theo. They were never the meet-in-Hogsmeade-on-the-weekend type of friends; more the I-can-cry-in-front-of-you-and-do-a-shitty-job-of-mending-your-broken-ribs-so-Madam-Pomfrey-doesn’t-alert-your-dad-that-you-did-something-stupid kind.
“That’s fine,” she says, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees. “But a bit irrelevant at this point, right?”
Theo blows out a slow breath.
Charlie re-enters the room and two cups of tea elegantly float to Hermione and Theo before he sits at the foot of Theo’s chair, crossing his legs.
“Missed something good, didn’t I?”
Hermione wraps her fingers around her fine china cup, relishing in the warmth that seeps through.
“I ran into Malfoy today, but he didn’t remember me. Theo’s about to tell me why.”
Charlie takes this in stride, nodding thoughtfully as if she just told him her theory that Phoebe Bridgers is a witch.
(She is, but that’s beside the point.)
“Do go on,” he says, nudging Theo’s leg with his shoulder.
“You’re not going to like it,” Theo warns her, watching the surface of his tea ripple as he blows on it.
Hermione tucks her legs under her; snuggles further into the forest green velvet armchair as he begins to lay it out.
“You know he had a rough go of it after the war,” he says, just loud enough to be heard over the crackling fire. “He was severely depressed, wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating--his nightmares were bad enough that not even doubling his dosage of Draught of Living Death could make them go away.
“The next step was drugs, and those helped for a bit until, you know, they didn’t.” He takes a deep breath. “So he asked me if I could fix it.”
Ah. So that’s why he’s so sure she wouldn’t like it.
“You obliviated him.”
“Not point-blank.” He says, somewhat defensive as he taps his knee. “There was one memory in particular that he wanted erased.”
Callum’s—Draco’s—hunted expression is painted across the backs of her eyelids when she blinks.
He was afraid of her. Or, no, that wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t just fear in his eyes.
Could it have been guilt?
“What Bellatrix did to me at the Manor?” she guesses, surprised at the lack of venom in her gut. The word carved into her arm has long since lost its potency.
Theo nods, looking grateful to not have to say it out loud.
“That memory was a formative one for him. You can think of it like a tumor in the brain with tendrils that grow like roots; I couldn’t take it out without taking out the surrounding tissue. And that took incredible precision and nonstop concentration for basically a year--not to mention that Draco was high as fuck the entire time--so, yeah. I didn’t expect it to actually work.”
The scholar in Hermione has approximately one thousand questions--so many that her brain short-circuits and she’s left gaping at him.
“Theo, that’s brill--that’s revolutionary,” she finally sputters. “That’s never been done. What did your process look like?”
She leans forward and smacks his foot.
“And more importantly, why haven’t I proofread your research on it yet?”
His eyes light up and Hermione watches in real-time as Charlie discovers why they’re such good friends.
“Because it was a fucking nightmare of a process and the result was far from perfect,” he counters, pleased nonetheless. “I had to use Legilimency to comb through his brain for every goddamn memory of you, then fill in the spaces with somebody else. It’ll unravel eventually, should he choose to think about it hard enough, but he was pretty determined not to.”
A pinch of concern settles between her brows, the high of discovery fading as quickly as it came.
“Being with me is going to re-traumatize him, isn’t it?”
Theo’s non-answer of frowning into his tea is enough.
Charlie clears his throat.
“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” he says, glancing between the two of them. “All Theo did was slap a plaster on it, but there aren’t shortcuts with this kind of thing. If Draco’s got a chance at actual healing, it has to be you, hasn’t it?”
What do a wound and a balm have in common?
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
Draco doesn’t know what he’s doing, bringing a full plate of fritters dusted with powdered sugar to a physical therapy appointment, but that’s where he’s at emotionally.
The thought of facing her again knowing he has sins to repent for but not being able to recall precisely which ones was almost unbearable enough to convince him that he needed some form of armour.
It used to be a sneer, but he’d outgrown that long ago. The fritters would have to do.
And it had nothing to do with wanting to bribe his way into Dr. Granger’s good graces, alright? Shut up about it.
“God, I thought you were joking about the baking,” she says when he walks through her door.
Half of her hair is up in a small bun at the top of her head and he can detect the faintest notes of amber, hibiscus, and peach. Is she wearing perfume? Having read the singular 3-star review, he's half tempted to joke about it but has the presence of mind to guess that she might not find it funny.
“Do you bake for all the girls in your life, or am I the only one you’re afraid might injure you unless you sweeten the deal?”
Several different responses run through his head, most of them matching or exceeding her degree of flirtiness, but what comes out is far and away the worst of all the options: “They’ve got jam in the middle. You sort of struck me as a jam girl.”
He blushes so hard he feels the heat of it on his nose.
Dr. Granger blinks, lifting a fritter and looking underneath it to see a small spot of raspberry jam peeking out of the center.
“Well, you’re not wrong.” she says, corners of her mouth tipping up.
He can’t help but watch her mouth as she takes a bite and closes her eyes, chewing with precise motions.
This moment must be a microcosm of the way she moves through the world: each movement focused and intentional as she weighs whatever is in front of her with the most careful consideration.
He wonders if that’s the only reason she hasn’t written him off by now.
Draco breathes out slowly, placing the image of her serene expression in a box to be examined at a more convenient time before piling brick after brick on top of each other to form a wall in front of it.
“A bit outrageous how good these are,” she mutters, hand hovering in front of her sugar-dusted lips.
Places another brick.
“You’re a good judge of character. I’ve become so picky with desserts since moving here because everything is so excessively sweet, but jam’s always been my favourite.”
The compliment hits him in the sternum like a strike of lightning on a cloudless day.
Draco had always thrown in his lot with the wrong crowd, especially before the war, so it’s absurd (and delightful--so fucking delightful) to hear that she thinks highly of his judgment, even about something so inconsequential.
She finishes her fritter and they relocate to the room next to her office, which is just as packed and cluttered as every other room in the place.
He thought the part of him that was an aristocratic snob had died a slow and painful death, but apparently there was some hope for it yet because his gut reaction to the office decor was revulsion that even his mother would have called dramatic.
Dr. Granger sees him eyeing a particularly horrifying gouache painting of a clown’s reflection in the Bean and her lips pull into a wide smile, entire countenance brightening.
“I love that artist, too. I was lucky enough to find her booth at an Art in the Park.”
It’s terribly endearing to him that her assumption of his expression had been so positive; adorable in the way a kid showing a parent their macaroni art could be.
Somehow he knows she’d probably snap his neck if she caught wind of how condescending his thoughts are.
“What a wonderful way to support the art scene in your community.”
The ease of her grin slips and her eyes narrow just the slightest bit, but the effect is chilling.
“It is, isn’t it?” Dr. Granger gestures for him to sit on the bed and folds her arms, but Draco is frozen. Her shoulders are bunched up and she’s looking at him like they’ve been in this position before.
Fucking hell. They probably have been, haven’t they?
“Fine art isn’t exactly accessible to those of us who don’t have generational wealth to pad our pockets,” she says, somehow managing to look down her nose at him even though he’s the one with a height advantage.
She doesn’t even seem to mind that she inadvertently let it slip that she knows something of his past.
Her ire is familiar and completely foreign at the same time, like hearing a language that he’s fallen out of practice in speaking. He still knows the cadence and shapes his mouth should be making but can’t quite remember any words.
It has the most peculiar effect of snapping him out of his stupor and fortifying his walls.
“I have a hard time believing that the budget you were working with forced you to choose this specific artist’s work when they clearly don’t understand the rules of composition or form well enough to have any business breaking them in the first place,” he says, managing to sound amused.
He could mention that the painting is really the least of her problems considering how cluttered and strange the rest of her practice looks, but Draco isn’t completely hopeless.
He’s still got an instinct for self-preservation.
A sort of choking noise comes from her throat and her eyes widen.
Heart skipping like a stone over water, he’s too consumed by the thrill of knowing that she isn’t the type to be bowled over by his opinions stated as facts to stop there.
Hopping up on the bed, he ignores the loud crinkle of the paper.
“But hey, I’ve got a goddaughter who does finger paints as a side-hustle. You know, if you were looking to level up your decor without sacrificing your support for local artistry or breaking the bank."
Dr. Granger bites on her cheek as she pulls her stool over and watches him take off his boot.
“And where does one look for art that doesn’t offend your delicate sensibilities?”
Draco leans back on his hands and the smug mask he'd been wearing melts completely to reveal a boyish grin.
“I shit you not: all the art in my flat comes from JCPenney.”
She actually cackles at that, and Draco watches with a growing sense of satisfaction in his ever-tightening chest, soaking up every second because she is actual sunshine.
This is new.
He understands that instinctively.
Whoever they’d been to each other in that other lifetime, only this version of himself is allowed close enough to see the barely-there freckles around her eyebrows and the surprising calluses on her hands.
This can’t end in four more weeks.
“We’ve got a game tonight,” he blurts, wiggling his foot. “Obviously I won’t be playing, but would you like to accompany me?”
He should say something about how he suspects she’ll be better at roasting his teammates than he could ever hope to be, or that there will be dessert, or that it would mean more to him than he’s comfortable admitting for her to meet his friends.
He should, but his tongue feels like it’s been petrified.
“Yes,” she says, blinking for a moment before gathering herself with a small smile. “But bring some tissues. I don’t like sports and I can be quite mean.”
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
Hermione squeezes out of a packed train on 18th Street with a bag of orange slices tucked under one arm and two boxes of Capri Sun cradled in the other.
Her hair is in a power pony and it bounces as she walks and—
She feels ridiculous.
But she’s committed to the bit.
“Oh, fuck me,” Callum says when he meets her on the curb, bringing both hands to his mouth as he leans one knee on his scooter. His laugh is loud and unrestrained.
“I would have brought my minivan, but, you know,” she says, shrugging, “I’ve been burned by carpool politics one too many times. Didn’t want to risk getting in a fist fight at my first game.”
He takes the boxes from her hand and, after balancing them carefully in one arm so he can still steer his scooter, he wraps her up in a hug.
Like he’s not just her client.
Like they’ve been friends for a really long time.
Like maybe she’s not the only one thinking they could find their way to being more.
Her nose brushes against his jean jacket and Cornish pixies stir to life in her stomach as if summoned by the familiar scent of sunscreen and cloves.
“God, you’ve got me wanting something I didn’t even know I could have,” he says, minty breath jostling the curls at her temples.
The pixies riot.
Hermione is good at talking--some might argue she often doesn’t know when to stop--but talking is an entirely separate genus from flirting. She likes a bit of space between her and the intimacy of emotion: to talk about the theory of flirting; how to classify the harmless versus the overt.
To actually participate in it makes her palms sweat like they always did during pop quizzes.
He pulls away and oxygen makes its way to her brain unimpeded once more.
“I was told there’d be a dessert that’s all kinds of stupid,” she says a few moments too late, making a show of glancing around him. “But I get the feeling I was brought here on false pretenses.”
“You were,” he admits without the slightest hint of shame. He scoots back and motions for her to follow him as they cross the street. “I wasn’t about to attempt to transport a whole fuckin’ croquembouche by scooter.
“Plus, this way I get to casually invite you to my place so you can get a peek at how extraordinarily gifted I am at interior design. You know, take notes and all that, if you’d like.”
How very Slytherin of you is on the tip of her tongue but she laughs instead, springing a trap of a different sort.
“You Hansel and Gretel’d me.”
Will he recognize the muggle fairytale?
He maneuvers carefully around a large crack in the pavement, only glancing up at her for a moment with mischief in his eyes. “You’re lured by the competition, not the dessert. And besides, I’m not a cannibal, but I do know this method of eating a woman that’s quite pleasant for both parties--”
A jolt of electricity shoots through her and she whacks his arm, failing at her attempt not to smile.
“Callum, my God.”
“At the risk of sounding like an ass, just Callum is fine.”
They make their way to the indoor soccer facility, Callum nearly falling over twice in his attempts to pop a wheelie to make her laugh.
Not Callum. Draco.
Good Godric, what a mindfuck.
Once they make it, they end up taking their seats without introductions to Draco’s friends because the game’s already ten minutes in--which works wonderfully for Hermione because she’s always liked to have a bit of time to study before she's tested.
As soon as her bony butt hits the chilly bleachers, she can’t help but compare the experience unfavourably to Quidditch.
For one, the pungent smell of rubber tires and sweat that hit her like a wall as soon as she walked into the building was unpleasant. She’ll take the freshly cut grass of a pitch over that any day of the week.
Secondly, the massive fluorescent lights that hang from the domed ceiling beat down like unholy synthetic suns, casting a waxy pallor on everyone’s faces.
And it’s not vain to be bothered by that.
It doesn’t make her superficial, it makes her...observant. Her artist’s eye is offended, that’s all. Nothing to do with caring about what the man sitting next to her might see—
Well, that’s enough self-deception for now.
Lastly, even though the stadium of a Quidditch pitch provides less coverage than the tall black nets surrounding the perimeter of the soccer field, she still has the sense that a soccer ball is going to come flying straight for the space between her eyes.
It takes all of twenty minutes to change her mind.
Quidditch has always been the visual equivalent of taking a fistful of melatonin. Flowing robes flapping past in streaks of color, oftentimes diving in and out of clouds. It never failed to put Hermione to sleep.
This, however, is something much more primal.
“D’you ever think about how the ethics of entertainment have evolved over time?”
Draco looks at her sideways, pushing his glasses up.
“Am I about to look irredeemably plebeian if I say no?”
“I’m too polite to say either way,” she says, rotating an orange slice around in her fingers. “But think about it. At one point in civilization, we had regular people sitting in the Coliseum and watching gladiators get torn apart for fun.”
His knee is touching hers now as he turns to watch her fully, chin resting on his knuckles and elbows braced against his thighs.
No one’s ever looked at her like that.
Hermione the war hero, sure. But just Hermione?
A thrill skates up her spine.
“How did their brains take in that gory scene and then codify it as fun? Obviously the context of their culture is completely different from ours, but we’re still haunted by its echoes.”
He tilts his head in concentration, like he’s looking at a simple math problem yet somehow unable to see the solution.
“It’s the only explanation I can think of for why this is fun,” she says, lazily gesturing at the field in front of them. “Our entertainment has evolved and softened, sure, but I still think we’re a bunch of bloodthirsty ancient Romans at heart who enjoy watching people get ripped apart, even if nowadays that just looks like Avery accidentally head-butting the goalpost.”
Draco’s laugh is usually quieter, as she’s learning, but his eyes go all squinty when he’s laughing hard.
“I fucking love your brain.”
She floats through the rest of the game.
They end up leaving early to get a head start back to his apartment to set up. It’s a good thing, too, because the more time she spends with him the more she realises how badly she wants to make a good impression with his friends.
“I don’t think you actually hate sports,” he says as soon as they hit the pavement. “I was watching you and you were riveted.”
Hermione scrunches up her nose, tugging the sleeves of her shirt over her palms.
“You know, I think you might be right.”
He must get the sense that it’s rare for her to concede to being wrong so easily because he does a double-take.
She looks up at the hazy spread of stars above their heads, mostly nullified by the city lights.
“Well, yeah. The first guy I dated was an athlete and the outcome of the matches he played would basically determine whether he’d be in a good enough mood to show me affection or not. I loathed that.”
It’s been over a decade since her and Ron’s ill-advised romance fizzled out, but she’s never actually admitted that bit out loud.
“Poor guy,” Callum says, elegantly gliding next to her while sipping on a Capri Sun.
Hermione scoffs, nearly tripping over the curb.
“You have five seconds to explain why you feel bad for him instead of me before I tip you over like a cow.”
Callum guffaws, spitting out the mouthful of Capri Sun he’d just sipped.
“Jesus, no. I just meant that’s one hell of a self-sabotage,” he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “I can’t imagine caring about anything so much that it would, you know, keep me from wanting to be around you.”
She scrunches her nose again, filled to the brim with the most ridiculous warring desires to either punch him in the arm or wrap herself around his torso.
“To be fair, I hadn’t figured out how to tame my frizz and my teeth basically had their own zip code back then.”
He glances at her sideways.
She holds her breath.
“Yeah, but it was still you, right?”
Hermione’s eyes begin to sting and against all logic, a lump appears in her throat.
Two seconds away from bawling, actually.
Callum stops moving and she feels his hand lightly grasp her shoulder, bringing her to a halt.
She’s looking at the street light in the opposite direction and it blurs gossamer orange as he abandons his scooter, hopping close to take her hand.
Hermione opens her mouth to tell him how embarrassed she is and how impossible it would be to explain how much it means to hear him, of all people, tell her that she’s worthy of affection--even though it's stupid and she doesn't actually need his stamp of approval in the first place. She's a grown-ass woman who's been put through multiple life-threatening situations and one of the only perks to come with it was how quickly she learned to brush off the small things. And yet.
All that comes out is this:
Callum’s hand makes a soothing path from her wrist to shoulder, up and down, up and down. She hiccups and covers her eyes with her other arm, determined not to let him see the snot situation that was quickly becoming a problem.
“I’m so sorry--I get the feeling I’ve just done something really stupid,” he says lowly, taking yet another step closer until her head is tucked beneath his chin.
Every move he makes that isn’t in the opposite direction fortifies the warmth growing in her chest even though she’s mortified.
“No, shut up,” she says.
Lays her cheek against the softness of his white t-shirt.
“What you said was lovely.”
His chest moves with laughter and one of his hands smooths down her curls, exposing her ear to the coolness of the night air.
Draco doesn’t understand that this is more than the apology he’d given her all those years ago.
A salve on something not quite broken but definitely bruised.
“I don’t know why that made me so emotional,” she says, wiping her eyes and dabbing her nose with her sleeve. “Now I’m embarrassed.”
“Let’s make it even, then.”
Callum steps back and tucks his chin in, crossing his eyes and screwing up his face. The effect is impressively unattractive.
A laugh escapes her involuntarily.
“God, I can’t believe I just let you see me like that,” he says.
She shakes her head, wiping away tears for an entirely different reason now.
“That’s--you’re not even--”
Gesturing at his face, she exhales roughly. “I don’t mean to gatekeep, but your face is too pretty.”
Draco’s eyebrows shoot up and he frowns, simultaneously flattered and displeased.
“Watch this,” she says, folding her eyelids back so their pink undersides show in a trick that always grossed out her mother, then twisting her lips into a snarl. “See? Now I’m doubly embarrassed. I hope you feel terrible about it.”
Draco snorts, lifting a hand to tuck the same curl he’d tried to wrangle earlier behind her ear.
“It’s cute that you think this is a game you can win.”
“You really think goading me about it is the way to go?”
“Come on,” he says, wrapping his hand around her arm and tugging her forward. “We’re going to be standing on the side of the street until one of us sprains a muscle in our face and I’m gonna be fucking heart broken if my croquembouche falls before you see it.”
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
The funny thing is, Hermione already knows his friends.
She elbowed her way into Theo and Pansy’s lives and they had much pricklier countenances than any of Draco’s friends here in Chicago. She had to defang and declaw and ply all parties involved with sweets in order to get an invite to Blaise Zabini’s poker table, only to lose the majority of her galleons within twenty minutes.
She’s made of tougher stuff than this occasion even calls for.
It’s just that--good lord, she hadn’t realised how much she relied on her superiority complex to give her a confidence boost when she needed it.
Especially because his new friends are the kind of put-together that Hermione suspects she only pretends to be most of the time.
“I’ve got the perfect tarot set for you,” Imani says, twisting to reach into the hand-embroidered tote bag hanging from the handles of her wheelchair. “It’s fungi-themed, which, you know, probably sounds random but it’s got these low-key witchy vibes because I was experimenting with adding a dark academia feel to it, and there’s just something about your look that screams--”
Hermione mourns the fact that Draco is on the opposite side of the room and she couldn’t see if he’d flinch at Imani’s perceptiveness.
“Imani calling you witchy is actually the greatest compliment she could pay to you,” Avery cuts in, apparently aware of her friend’s fondness for rambling. She leans over Imani’s shoulder and Hermione does the same, looking at the spread of cards on her lap. “She’s an amazing illustrator.”
Avery’s right. Even though divination is still her least favourite form of traditional magic, a pang of nostalgia strikes her chest and she’s standing in the Hogwarts library with Minerva, watching them install the art nouveau stained glass windows she’d been privileged to pick out.
The cards have the same style; deep jewel tones, creeping vines, and swirling shadows.
“These are magic,” Hermione says softly, and she means it.
Imani’s various rings clink together as she collects the deck and hands them over with a sprightly smile. “They’re for you.”
Normally her first thought would be that she’d never use them (and she probably won’t), but they remind her too much of the beauty of a new start. She takes them, then fishes into her own tote bag to grab her wallet.
“Thank you so much,” she says, then freezes when Imani protests.
“No no no, they’re a gift,” she says, waving a hand to where Draco is breaking apart the croquembouche and handing out plates. “Callum described your personality so vividly, it got me out of a creative slump.”
Hermione cradles the cards, biting the inside of her cheek to hold off a massive grin.
New beginnings, indeed.
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
“You didn’t warn her about the books.”
Sung-jin drops onto the sofa next to Callum, pectoral-length silvery-blue hair temporarily caught in the spun caramel around his choux pastry puff.
“Didn’t cross my mind,” he says honestly, amusement pulling at the corners of his lips as he watches Hermione kneeling before his wall of books, fingers tracing each spine and lips moving as she reads the titles. His collection's quite large, having spent the past decade working as a manager at the same bookshop.
But he’s seen this before.
“This is going to sound wild,” Callum says, speaking low and turning to face his friend, “but I’m almost certain that I know her from back home.”
Sung-jin’s eyes dart between him and Hermione. “In England? When you were using?”
His friend lets out a whistle and leans back, leaving his portion of the croquembouche on the wicker coffee table in front of them.
“Even without the drugs, you were a dick back then, weren’t you?”
He nods again, chewing at his bottom lip. Hermione’s got a stack of four books at her side and it’s only growing.
“Then why is she here?”
This brings Draco’s brain to a halt.
“She likes you. We all saw the way you two were cuddled up during the game.”
“I mean, she must know--she might be one of the few…” He trails off, still unwilling or unable to put his damning actions into words. Not with his friends who only know the best of him.
He clears his throat. “I can’t make sense of it. Either she doesn’t know the full extent of who I was or she’s--God, I don’t know--an irresponsibly compassionate person.”
“I forgot how dramatic you are when you talk about this shit. You turn back into this self-loathing Victorian child with Tim Burton bags under your eyes,” he says, making Callum laugh. “Stop overcomplicating things. You two are complementary, and that's it.”
Maybe he's right.
Draco watches her sitting cross-legged in between Avery and Imani, speaking animatedly about something he can’t quite hear. It's getting late and she's gathered her hair in a haphazard bun on top of her head in what he suspects is an effort to cool down and sweet Jesus--
Not impersonally, either, like a bat's wing can be used to substitute for asphodel in a pinch, but like a place setting on his family's Dalbergia wood table that he's saved for her on purpose.
And it’s more than just the magic they have in common. It’s like he subconsciously built a life that could feel like home to her, that she could flourish in, should she ever find her way to him; like he’s always known that it would be the only apology that could actually mean something.
How deep did his want go if he couldn't even bury it?
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
Not many phrases piss Hermione off, but “falling in love” somehow manages it.
And no, she’s not an emotionally stunted dolt who doesn’t understand that matters of the heart aren’t exactly scientific.
She gets that.
But...is anything on the molecular level really not scientific?
You can’t fall in love unless you choose to participate in conversations with that person, choose to spend time with that person, choose to prioritize that person. Sure, it’s quite impossible to control who you’re attracted to, but it would be disturbing indeed if you had no control over which attractions you pursued.
It’s not as romantic to imagine that it’s more choice than accident, but Hermione’s never really been accused of being romantic, anyway.
She’s too aware of it as it’s happening.
Too analytical of every choice to move closer instead of away.
While some might be lulled into the trance of new love, Hermione does not go gentle into that good night.
It doesn’t make it any less thrilling.
Over the next three weeks, she chooses to attend his soccer games, to sit close enough that their knees knock together, to learn the names of his friends and join in their weekly viewing of The Bachelorette, to silently begin thinking of him by his given name, to be cheesy as hell by listening to his Spotify playlists when she’s missing him.
She knows exactly what she’s doing.
She knows where this is headed.
She just isn’t sure how to break the news to him.
“Jason’s a goddamn gem but I just know she’s going to end up with Garrett. Doesn’t take a genius to guess that as soon as they get home and politics come up, Becca’s going to get an earful about something god-awful like the virtues of trickle-down economics.”
Today is officially his last appointment and he’s lying on his side with an arm tucked under his head, doing a leg lift exercise.
“I’d be willing to perform witchcraft to make sure Jason is the next Bachelor,” she jokes, testing the waters.
Draco looks up at her.
“Are we talking blood sacrifices? Pentagrams?”
She doesn’t want to make him feel cornered but she’s tired of dancing around it.
“I was thinking just regular old magic,” she says, mentally strapping in her seat belt. “You know, the wave of a wand and all that.”
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
Leave it to Hermione to go for the jugular.
They’ve been hanging out for a month, keeping things light and easy and casual for—well, several reasons.
The biggest one is his cowardice.
The rest are inconsequential.
Draco gets up, following her lead by standing on the balls of his feet, carefully stretching his calves.
Something inside him feels stretched taut, about to snap.
Thank God it’s not his Achilles.
For Salazar’s sake, how much longer will we carry on this way?
She’s been dropping hints that she probably thinks are subtle but the woman is a goddamn Mack truck on a one-way street.
He can’t side-step it forever.
It’s an odd thing, knowing he probably owes her a thousand apologies (in his nightmares that she’s taken to starring in recently, there’s so much blood and it feels like the most fruitless wishful thinking to imagine it isn’t all hers) but instead spends their time together flirting and making up excuses to touch her.
If it were any other girl, it would be the most natural thing in the world.
But this is Hermione Granger, a woman he’s fairly certain should, at the very least, get to knee him in the bollocks whenever it strikes her fancy.
it must be pathetically transparent how far gone he is because she takes a decisive step forward, fingers gently gliding down his arm to take his wrist and, well.
Draco isn’t the coward he was raised to be.
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
“You’re in my nightmares.”
It isn’t a question, but Hermione senses the hesitation behind it.
And then, “Shit, I don’t mean—”
“You’re not in mine,” she says. A reassurance. The beginning of a transfiguration from wound to balm, if she can help it.
They stare at each other.
“You don’t remember me,” she says. Also not a question.
Draco’s eyes search her face.
“My body does,” he says, the corners of his lips tugging up in a smile that somehow manages to be suggestive and sad at the same time. “But I--my memory’s all fucked. I couldn’t…”
“Theo told me,” she says, licking her lips.
Hermione watches him process that piece of news, an internal landslide of all the unsaid things between them scraping a path against gravity from her ribs to her throat. She tries to put a fence in front of her teeth so she doesn’t overwhelm Draco with the impact of it all.
“You’re friends,” he says, shoulders visibly relaxing.
Hermione wants to laugh at the understatement.
Tension crackles beneath the silence between them. Draco’s throat struggles to force down a swallow.
“I punched you in the face once.”
She’d hoped it would make him laugh but it doesn’t. He leans the tiniest bit closer to her with his brows furrowed, like he’s just taken a punch to the gut but trying not to look like it. “I wish you’d done worse,” he says, soft tone cutting through her attempt to lighten the mood. “I was a fucking bigot and I didn’t do--there was so much blood.”
His voice goes hoarse.
Somehow she knows he doesn’t want to be comforted. Especially not by her.
So they stand inches apart, listening to each other breathe.
“I’m a bit shit at comforting people,” she admits, as if it isn’t already abundantly clear. “All I want to do right now is tell you how stupid your hair looked when you’d slick it back.”
His grin is lopsided. “Thank God you’ve got the restraint not to.”
She glances down at their hands hanging inches from one another, fingers twitching to take his. “You were a kid, Draco.”
His gaze is far away and focused on her at the same time.
“I wasn’t lying when I said I don’t remember the specifics of what happened between us, but this feeling in my gut--what I did or, you know, didn’t do, was...dark. Hateful. I can’t understand why this,” he says, gesturing between them, “is even possible.”
Hurt for him blooms like a bruise against her ribs and she swallows her beating heart away.
The advantage of not remembering was numbing the pain when he needed it most, sure, but it also rendered him incapable of seeing how much he’s changed.
“You realise it’s been fifteen years for me, right?” Her hand hovers by his elbow before she breathes in and lets it drop. “I’ve had all this time to process and heal and move on. I went to therapy. You know...like a normal person."
His laugh is shaky and he still smells like the most contradictory marriage of summer and Christmas and Hermione isn’t sure how to feel now that she’s finally standing this close to him.
The thin rings of pale blue around his dark pupils are beginning to look a lot like an event horizon; the kind of thing there’s no coming back from. They’re close enough to feel the warmth of each other’s breath and her eyes follow his Adam’s apple when it bobs as he swallows and--
He is not an event horizon.
She knows this.
She is not prone to poetic thoughts because there is some hungry, insatiable aspect of her soul that has always felt the need to devour and pick apart anything that smells like hyperbole; anything that might not be the capital-T Truth.
She’s lying; she knows how she feels. She’s just scared of it.
Draco leans forward, resting his forehead against hers.
“Granger,” he exhales.
It’s either a warning or a plea, and the thrill of it shoots through her with enough force to restart a heart.
An invitation rolls around in her mind like a marble in one of those handheld maze games and there’s so much they should probably talk about and parse through but--
She only tries to talk herself out of it for ten seconds, tops.
“Come home with me.”
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
Draco Malfoy is used to wanting things.
It’s kind of his whole issue, really--the reason he needed to numb his mind and body with drugs for all those years just to get that nagging yearning to shut the fuck up.
Because the other side of that galleon is that Draco Malfoy hardly ever deserves the things he wants.
And when he does get them (a found family in his neighbors and soccer team, a particularly good bake, Hermione fucking Granger, holy shit), he’s deliberate about it: he’ll collect the details like potion ingredients, memorizing them greedily just in case they vanish one day and all he has left are mental beakers and petri dishes of once-in-a-lifetime intimacies.
Like this one: her apartment is chaos.
A meticulous chaos, he can admit, where the frames covering every wall are hung smartly and the alarming number of throw pillows on the couch are arranged neatly--but the space still feels smaller than it really is.
She seems to favour trinkets from what he suspects is either the 70's or the 90's interpretation of the 70's. An orange lava lamp here, a disco ball she must have cut in half and converted into a hanging planter there; blue velvet couch and...are those glow in the dark stars on her ceiling? He's only seen those in movies from twenty years ago and the simple fact that she has them sends a rush of affection all the way through to his fingertips.
It's in the middle of examining the star patterns to see if they're accurate to the night sky when he realises--
He’s fucking nervous.
His glasses get in the way of their kissing three times in the span of thirty seconds and her hands shake as she takes them off, so he thinks she might be too.
“Ah--tea?” Hermione asks absentmindedly, gasping as he kisses down the column of her throat.
She doesn’t even give him a chance to answer, though, before pushing him down onto the couch and straddling his lap.
Her fingers scratch against his scalp and her nose brushes against the stretch of skin just above his clavicle that he never imagined would be the thing to really get him going until now and Jesus fuck--
She kisses along his throat, reaching down at the same time to unbutton his jeans.
“You want me on my knees?”
It’s a breathy whisper against his neck.
Her hands have a sort of frantic energy to them and gods, who could possibly not want what she offered? But he wants to take his time, so he hooks his fingers through the loops of her jeans, yanking her closer and swallowing a grunt as she begins to grind against where he’s already hard.
“No skipping ahead,” he says sternly, hands gliding up her sides by the fingertips. “I get the feeling this is something I’ve wanted for a long time, so indulge me, yeah?”
Hermione moves back a bit, allowing him to pepper kisses along the inside of her wrist as she looks down at him, eyes alight with curiosity.
“You don’t want to fuck my mouth?”
He’s pretty sure that most people he’s been with would have meant it as a seduction, but it’s clear that she’s genuinely confused.
“I--shit, Hermione,” he says, searching her face. “There’s not much I don’t want to do with you, but there are a few other things I want to try first. Is that okay?”
No sooner does she nod than he twists them around and lays her on the couch beneath him, careful to avoid tweaking his ankle. Her curls splay across a cream coloured throw pillow and looking down at her with her hands clutching his shirt, something solid and something good takes root in him and fills up his lungs.
Is this what they mean when they talk about moments being holy?
He watches her watching him and knows they’re both overthinking.
“I can feel my heartbeat in my armpits,” he confesses, lowering his nose to her chest. “That’s how fucking nervous I am right now.”
Tremors of her laughter get him to look up. Her mouth curves into what is objectively—quantifiably—the most beautiful smile he’s ever seen as he holds himself above her.
“You are not at all what I expected,” she says, carding her fingers through his hair. He closes his eyes and waits for her to elaborate, determined not to assume the worst. “I sort of thought you’d—I don’t know, throw me down and ravage me whether I fought it or not."
Draco logs that fact with the force of a sledgehammer inside his skull, a thrumming tension twisting at his insides.
“Whether you fought it or not?” He echoes flatly, a dull horror beginning to crawl up his spine.
If she can be surprised he isn’t forcing himself on her, then he has absolutely no business—
“Not like that!” She hurries to explain as soon as she registers his stricken expression. “I know you’d never do that. I just meant that I thought you’d be more into BDSM.”
It’s his turn to blink.
“You know, chains and whips and dominating. That sort of thing.”
Draco huffs out a laugh, rolling his eyes.
“I know what BDSM is, Granger. Is that what you like?”
He can see the pretty flush spreading across her chest and neck by the light of the hideous purple cow print lamp next to them.
“Maybe some of the milder aspects of it, like being praised or you taking charge or—or even some light spanking?” Her blush reaches her cheeks. “But the heavier elements—being forced or choked doesn’t appeal to me. Unless...you like that kind of thing?”
He tucks a curl behind her ear, relief flooding him. “Oh, no, I can categorically say that I’m not into anything less than your enthusiastic consent. Can’t get into it if it feels like you don’t want it.”
“Huh. Okay.” Like she’s stumped. Processing. “I guess I’ve never encountered that before. All the guys I’ve been with have had a thing for wanting me to fight it, I think.”
He frowns and his reaction makes her realise that that isn’t necessarily normal.
“Hold on,” she says, sitting up on her elbows. “Has my sex life been terrible this whole time?”
Draco’s still processing his relief and ends up laughing so hard he collapses on top of her for a moment.
When he pulls back up, he brings her with him.
“Come on,” he says, tugging her hand to stand up. “We’ll unpack that later, but the things I want to do with you require more surface area than this couch has to offer.”
Hermione seems a bit more relaxed, leading him by the hand through the hallway.
“Alright, so what about you?” She asks, glancing up at him through her lashes when they make it to her bedroom. “What do you like?”
His hands are already at the bottom of her shirt and he rubs his thumbs across the sensitive skin just underneath the hem.
“Er--pretty much all of it,” he says honestly, then cringes. “Jesus, I can’t think straight. Can we get you out of these clothes?”
Hermione takes out her wand and Draco sees the quickest swish before she tosses it on her nightstand, then holds her arms up while he slides her shirt over her head.
What he sees is...unexpected.
She must see it on his face because she looks down and blanches.
“Damn it,” she says, looking up at the ceiling in misery. “My knickers weren’t sexy so I tried to transfigure them but this is going to be a nightmare to get off. You’re--apparently I was too distracted.”
He runs his finger underneath the complicated network of black criss-crossing straps, thumb glancing off her hardened nipple.
“Any ideas as to why that is?” he asks, dipping his head to drag his lips along the edge of her ear. She shivers and glares at him, but it’s familiar.
He basks in the warmth of it.
“May I?” He asks, fingertips skating down her waist. She nods and he murmurs a quiet spell to vanish her clothes. Then he tries to drop his pants, only to get his foot stuck and have to hop awkwardly for a moment while she bites her lip to keep from laughing.
By the time he gently pushes Hermione to sit on the bed and kneels in front of her, she isn’t laughing anymore.
He works his way from her knee to inner thigh, dropping kisses like hot wax on her skin. A yelp escapes her when he hitches her leg over his shoulder and presses her closer, hands squeezing her ass.
All his previous shyness vanishes as he just really fucking goes for it. Hermione writhes beneath him, alternating between whimpering and tangling her hands in his hair, trying to pull him impossibly closer.
“So good,” he hums against her, knowing she’s beginning to grow frantic by the way her back arches and her thighs clench both sides of his face. He slows down, wanting to draw it out. “So fucking good.”
She tugs his hair with one hand and drops the other to claw at the sheets.
“Don’t you dare,” she growls.
An image of her floating down a set of stairs in a pink dress flashes behind his eyes.
Her arm winding up for the punch.
Draco keeps the slow ministrations of his tongue, a pulsing throb beginning to build somewhere below his navel before easily thrusting in one finger, then two. He picks up the pace and it isn’t long before Hermione tenses, moving her hips against him at a languid roll with her mouth wide open.
She meets his eyes as she rides the wave of her orgasm.
He lifts her bum a bit and keeps the rocking motion going as he places unhurried open-mouthed kisses on her pussy, relishing the taste that’s so distinctly her as he eases her down from the high.
Now that he knows what Hermione Granger looks like when she unravels, what sort of mental shelf can he place that on? Where is he expected to file that sort of information?
As his catalogue grows, a battle wages somewhere in the depths of his mind, like background noise. Hazy memories of her face from years ago, voices he can’t manage to forget insisting this has to be some kind of joke; that he doesn’t actually get to keep this.
“Draco,” she whimpers, bringing him back out of his head and he draws the mental drawbridge, letting his insecurities flounder in the fucking moat.
He has more worthy things to focus on.
“This feel good?” He asks, alternating between kissing and sucking her clit and bloody hell, he’d be happy if she just let him do this for as long as his jaw will allow it.
She lets him worship her, take his time.
Orgasm isn’t so much the goal as it is to make sure it feels just as good for her as it does for him to luxuriate in this newfound intimacy. Their hands explore the topography of each others’ bodies, memorizing a valley of shoulder blades here, the delicate wings of collarbones there.
The fond feeling he’s had for her since their unwitting reunion begins to unfurl in his chest, revealing itself to be a bit more than just fondness.
By the time she sinks down on his cock, her curls sweeping across her shoulders and back, he’s clutching her hips like rosary beads.
“Such a good girl,” he pants; prays. “Riding my cock after you made it so fucking hard.”
Hermione gasps, rolling her hips faster and taking him deeper and--and, shit, he isn’t going to last at this pace. That’s okay, he figures, because there’s plenty he wants to do that doesn’t involve his dick.
Firmly anchored in the moment, he watches her lightly drag her fingers back and forth over her hardened nipples, groaning every time she pinches them. He uses his thumb to rub over the top of her clit as she bounces on his cock, then gives her ass a light smack. They both moan.
She's so fucking wet--
“Just like that, Granger,” he grunts, snapping his hips to meet her thrusts. She leans forward, her fingertips making a path from his throat down his sternum with a look in her eyes that can only be adoration--like she might actually understand that this moment could either be the beginning of a love story or his demise if things don’t work out.
“Fuck, baby, I’m--fuck.”
Draco keeps his eyes open to watch Hermione rolling her hips, milking his cock as he comes hard, gasping quietly.
When he finally stills, it’s to find her biting her lip to keep from smiling too wide. She leans down and kisses him, tongue sliding against his with the faintest taste of raspberry jam and--Merlin, it pierces Draco like an arrow through the chest that she’s so intentional and soft.
Nobody ever thought they needed to be gentle with him, but her tender ministrations feel a lot like being stitched up from the inside; a cauterization of a wound that’s been bleeding since long before he can remember.
Hermione lays down next to him after casting a wandless Evanesco and Draco swallows against the lump in his throat.
“How are you feeling?” He asks, consciously deciding to leave the pile of bricks that had made up his mental walls to lay in their rubble.
The pads of her fingertips trace down his right arm, seeming to notice his sleeve of tattoos for the first time. She skates over his Dark Mark before lifting his wrist and pressing a kiss to it.
He exhales shakily.
“Like we’ve got time,” she says simply, scooting closer as he wraps an arm around her waist.
He pulls her tight against his chest, laughing in hopes of loosening the words lodged in his throat much sooner than they should be.
“That’s good,” he says instead, lips moving against her hair. “It’ll take more than a few years to purge you of your hoarding tendencies.”
Hermione snorts. "You can pry my baubles from my cold, dead hands."
A car alarm goes off somewhere nearby as the late afternoon light filters through the blinds, floating lazy stripes of gold through Hermione's hair and one of her eyes. The soft pink at the rim of her lashes is warm; almost lit from within. He takes his time tracing from her jaw to her sternum, unable to contain another boyish grin.
Before any quip can pass his lips, however, he feels Hermione's brow lift in amusement.
"You're trying so hard to make an innuendo out of my breasts being baubles, aren't you?"
He could mention that between the two of them, she's far more gifted when it comes to insinuations. In fact, it's one of the most adorable things about her and he's been looking for an opening to tease her about it for weeks, but--
The thing is, he believes her. More than any tarot cards or tea leaves or celestial bodies woven with their webs of fate.
We've got time.
◡ · · · ○ · · · ◡
When he meets her beneath the sheets, both of their lips are curved into a smile.