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Ghosts in a Wishing Well

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Draco,” she whispers, and the sound is like an enchanted melody.

She is warm and impossibly soft against him as she leans up for another kiss, and he eagerly slips his arms around her waist to tug her closer. He breathes in the fragrance of her hair while her lips dance across his, and he thinks he might never know what it is to be cold again.

But suddenly her hands are on his chest and pushing—pushing him away—and he knows what comes next.

“I have to go,” she says, and he can feel her slipping through his fingers as she stumbles backward.

“Wait,” he says, panicking, “don’t go. Stay just a little longer—”

—and then he wakes up.

~

He finds her at her desk in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment and muttering to herself the way she always does when she gets carried away with her work, a flock of spurned inter-office memos fluttering about her head. Her hair is pinned up in a futile attempt to tame her riotous curls; but more than a few rebellious wisps have escaped, giving her a wild look as they frame her face. She is so lost in her thoughts that she does not notice him enter until he clears his throat.

Her head jerks up. “Oh,” she says, eyes wide with surprise. “Sorry—I didn’t hear you.”

He takes an angry step in her direction, brandishing the memo in his hand like a weapon.

“What the fuck, Granger?”

Her gaze falters for an instant. “Draco, listen—”

“No, you listen—”

“—it wasn’t my decision—”

Bullshit!” he exclaims, and she flinches.

“Draco,” she says, blinking rapidly, her voice wavering even as she attempts to maintain her composure, “it was never up to me. If Atkins thinks it’s too dangerous, it’s too dangerous.”

“How could you?” he asks lowly, his voice nearing a growl. “You knew how long I spent working on that potion. You could have at least warned me!”

“No, I couldn’t,” she interrupts fiercely. “I wasn’t supposed to know, Draco. You weren’t allowed to talk to me about it, remember? I couldn’t very well shoot off a note to the Department of Mysteries and, in the process, alert the entire Ministry that you violated the Unspeakables’ number one rule!”

“Well, I shouldn’t have had to find out from a two-sentence memo from Atkins!”

They are silent for a moment, and he glares at her as he catches his breath. She looks strangely tired.

“I fought for it, you know,” she says quietly, and something flickers behind her eyes as she speaks. “I tried to get the potion approved. But Atkins didn’t think it was safe enough for mass production. He didn’t want criminals to be able to defend themselves against the Aurors with it.”

“Well,” he says, his tone cold and spiteful, “if anyone ever dies unnecessarily, at the hands of a criminal, because they didn’t have access to a proper Shielding potion—you’ll have yourself to thank.”

He regrets the words the instant they have left his mouth. But he refuses to let her see that—so he turns and sweeps angrily out of the room nonetheless.

~

He drinks too much after work. Blaise begins to look worried when he orders his third shot of Firewhiskey in five minutes.

“You sure that’s a good idea, mate?”

“It’s a great idea,” he drawls, before knocking back the shot in one gulp. The liquor burns his throat, and he winces at the fire that blooms in his insides.

“Something bad happen at work?”

Draco nods stiffly. “Got some bad news today. A project I’ve been working on for months—apparently, it was all for shit.”

Blaise exhales. “Sorry to hear that.”

“Not as sorry as I am.”

“I would ask whether you want to talk about it, but I know you can’t.”

“The woes of being a fucking Unspeakable.”

He signals the bartender, and Blaise reaches out to place a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe you should slow down, Draco.”

“Shut up, Zabini.”

“Is there anything besides work that’s bothering you?” Blaise asks pointedly; and in a moment of profound weakness, Draco almost answers him.

But then he snaps out of his drunken haze and shakes his head. When Blaise looks at him with unconcealed doubt, he says simply, “Drop it.”

~

The first thing he sees when he steps out of the Ministry Floo is her talking to Weasley. They’re standing together in the lobby, looking completely comfortable with one another—the way they’ve always looked together—and Draco freezes. When Weasley reaches forward and affectionately brushes something off her shoulder in an intimate gesture, something inside him snaps.

But before he can react, the person getting out of the Floo behind him bumps into him, and he is jolted back into the reality of his Monday morning. He averts his gaze and makes for the lifts, hoping to escape before she can see him.

Their eyes meet across the Atrium just as the lift doors bang shut.

~

The dreams always end the same way.

He pulls, and she pushes.

And then she slips away from him, whispering her excuses; and he wakes with her name a ghost on his lips.

~

They attend a meeting on safety testing standards, and he is distracted the entire time. He knows he ought to be listening to whatever Atkins is prattling on about, but he can’t stop watching her. Her hair is tied back, exposing the smooth, creamy skin of her neck; and he can’t keep his eyes from following the line of her open shirt collar down to where it skims the curve of her breasts. When she leans over the table to jot down her notes, her chest strains against the buttons of her blouse, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of a shadow where the neckline ends.

She bends her head lower to scribble something particularly emphatically, and the slightest hint of black lace—so slight that he might be imagining it—just barely peeks out from behind the fabric. His eyes blaze a path through the taut white silk, filling in with his mind what he cannot see, and Atkins might as well be on a different planet for all he cares.

“Is that all right with you, Malfoy?” he suddenly hears.

Draco glances up and realizes that all eyes are on him. Atkins is looking at him expectantly, waiting for a reply, so he clears his throat awkwardly and asks, “What do you think, Beckett?”

Beckett, who looks surprised that the questioning has fallen on him, stammers, “I, er—I don’t think it’ll be a problem. But, I mean, you’re the head of the team, Malfoy. You should be the one to make decisions about our deadlines.”

He agrees his way out of a tight spot, and Atkins returns to prattling on about the latest regulations. But, out of the corner of his eye, he senses her watching him and knows that while he might have fooled the others, he has not fooled her.

When the meeting finally comes to its much awaited end, he follows her out and makes it a point to get in the same lift that she does. They crowd close together in the back of the packed car, and he sidles up to her so that his right thigh is pressed against her left. She flinches for a second when their legs first touch, but there is no room in the lift for her to recoil.

They are standing in a sea of Ministry officials bundled together like sardines in a tin, and yet there is no one behind them to see when he places his hand lightly on the back of her thigh. She stiffens, but doesn’t stop him. Her eyes remain fixed directly ahead, as though she is glaring furiously at the back of Beckett’s head, while Draco slowly runs his hand up her leg and under her skirt until his fingers are grazing the edge of her knickers.

For a moment, he lets himself dare to hope that she’s allowing this because she wants it—because she’s thought about it as much as he has. But in the darkest part of his heart, he knows it’s more likely that she’s afraid of attracting attention by stopping him. Half of him is terrified that she will never speak to him again; the other half has never longed so much to throw her against the wall behind them and take her in front of the entire lift, onlookers be damned. And so it is with conflicted emotions that he slips his fingers inside the lacy fabric, boldly seeking out the skin underneath. Her eyes widen in response, and he has never seen her look so confused or so angry.

When the lift comes to a halt at her floor, she pulls violently away from him into the crowd and gets out without looking back; and he is fairly certain that he’s harder than he’s ever been in his life.

~

Blaise tries to set him up—again—with Daphne’s younger sister, Astoria. It’s the fifth time he’s mentioned it this month alone, and Draco’s patience is wearing thin.

“She’s a great girl, Draco,” says Blaise. “Really. I think you two would be perfect for each other.”

“If we’re so perfect for each other, why do you think it is that we’ve never actually gotten together?” he asks dryly, and Blaise gives an exasperated sigh.

“Draco. You need this. You’re spending too much time at work and not nearly enough time out with your friends, and frankly, you could use the distraction.”

He opens his mouth to argue, but Blaise cuts him off. “And don’t you think it’s about time you got yourself into an actual relationship?”

Draco’s mouth snaps shut.

He swallows hard before saying, in as chilly a tone as he can muster, “A relationship is the last thing I need right now.”

~

Outside of his dreams, he doesn’t see her again for an entire month, until she stops by his laboratory one evening to confront him about why he hasn’t submitted his last four weekly reports. He’s alone in the room when she enters—it’s after hours—and she seems wary of him, keeping her distance and staying on guard as though he were some sort of unpredictable wild beast.

“Why haven’t you turned in your ingredient verification forms?” she asks, from across the laboratory.

“I don’t answer to you, Granger,” he replies, more sharply than necessary.

“It literally takes two minutes to fill those out and sign them.”

“Yes, well, I’m busy. Doing actual work, instead of the menial paperwork you call a job.”

She sighs and extends the forms in his direction. “Please. Let’s not turn this into another ordeal.”

He takes the forms, reluctantly, and fills them out while she waits. The air in the room is deathly silent and thick with tension; and when he is finished, she seems immensely relieved, which annoys him.

“Thank you,” she says hurriedly, clearly eager to escape.

Suddenly determined to wipe that look of relief off her face, he takes one deliberate step in her direction, then another. He moves closer and closer still, until he can see his breath fluttering through her hair.

Flustered, she takes several steps backward and hits the wall behind her. “What are you doing?” she asks uncomfortably.

He takes yet another step towards her, bringing his face so close to hers that he can make out every fleck of gold in her dark irises. “What does it look like I’m doing?” he asks, before leaning down and kissing her.

For what feels like the longest second in the world, she does not respond. But then she melts into him, and her hands slip into the crooks of his arms as she kisses him back; and suddenly the forms lie forgotten on the floor as he presses against her, crushing her into the wall. He buries his face in her hair and breathes in the familiar scent that has haunted his dreams for so long, and she moans and clutches at him for purchase when he turns his head to suck at the skin behind her ear. He licks a trail down her neck, over her collarbone, across the upper curve of her breasts. With impatient fingers he tugs her blouse open, while she slips a hand into his trousers and squeezes. He lets out an embarrassingly shaky breath in response, but she leaves him no time to feel shame—all he can think about is the way her fingers feel on him. He struggles to unfasten her bra before finally admitting defeat and pushing it up out of the way. As she deftly unbuckles his belt, he reaches under her skirt and pulls her knickers aside before thrusting into her; and the guttural sound she makes as he slides all the way inside of her reminds him of coming home at last.

He drives into her urgently, as she spurs him on with whispered pleas of faster harder oh yes please don’t stop. Her legs wrap more tightly around him, heels digging into his back, while he braces her against the wall and builds a steady rhythm to the sound of her gasps. She is tight and wet and perfect; and when he starts to feel her losing control, he finds it hard not to follow suit. His lips find her ear, his tongue swirling inside as he moves in and out of her, and she throws her head back against the wall and says his name—soft, slow, like a reverent prayer.

The second he hears it, he comes so hard that he sees flashes of light behind his eyes.

He recovers slowly, holding her against the wall as he catches his breath. The laboratory is silent and still aside from the sound of their panting; and when he pulls back to look at her, she does not meet his gaze.

He doesn’t want the moment to end, but he senses that it isn’t up to him. With a heavy sigh, he slips out of her and sets her gently on the ground.

She immediately starts fixing her clothing and hair, as if erasing the signs of what they’ve just done will undo the reality of it as well. Then, continuing not to look at him or acknowledge him in any way, she crouches down and begins gathering the abandoned forms that lie strewn across the floor. He drops to the ground to help her, but it is too late—she has already collected them all.

Desperate to stop her from leaving and unable to think of anything else to say, he asks lamely, “Have you eaten?”

She shakes her head. He is about to take this as an answer to his question when she clarifies, “This was a mistake.”

His chest goes strangely hollow. “Was it?” he asks, and her eyes rise to meet his.

“Yes,” she says firmly.

Whatever euphoria he might have experienced just a few minutes prior suddenly feels miles away. “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”

“You know we weren’t good together.”

This time, it is Draco that looks away. That isn’t how I remember it, he wants to say. That isn’t how things are in my dreams.

What he says instead is: “Then what the fuck was this about?”

She lets out a harsh breath. “This,” she says, “was the last time.”

He snorts in reply, watching from behind as she walks out the door. “So you always say.”

~

He agrees to go on a double date with Astoria and Daphne and Blaise. They have dinner together at a trendy new restaurant, and Draco barely listens to half the conversation.

Astoria turns out to be prettier than he remembered from school. He always thought of her as a younger, slightly more girlish version of Daphne; but while it’s true that they share many of the same features, those features somehow come together to create a much more striking result in Astoria. Reluctantly, he has to admit that this is exactly the kind of girl he would want to end up with: pleasant and charming and immaculately groomed. Blaise knows him well. She is graceful and perfectly well-mannered in a way that would thrill his parents—like Daphne, her bearing, her composure, her every movement reflects the propriety of her pureblood upbringing.

Draco can’t be bothered to pay attention as Daphne blathers on throughout the meal, but he occasionally glances over at Astoria to watch her reactions and admire her demeanor. From what he can tell, she seems lively enough; and her dark eyes are gentle in a way that would appear to indicate kindness. But there is an ache in the pit of his stomach that he can’t seem to ignore, and every time his dinner companions bring up yet another boring subject to chatter on about, his thoughts drift to potions and ingredients and sometimes how unruly her hair looked as she was leaving his laboratory. What it felt like between his fingers.

Suddenly, he becomes aware that all eyes are on him.

Blaise purposefully clears his throat, and Draco quickly glances around the table before realizing that someone must have just asked him a question.

“I’m sorry,” he says, taking his chances and turning to face Astoria. “Did you say something?”

“Yes—I asked what you thought of the recent exhibition.”

Draco blinks in response, and it becomes evident that he has not been listening for far longer than he realized. “The… exhibition?”

“The ancient art exhibition? At Madam Allard’s gallery?”

Oh,” he says, far too obviously. “I haven’t had a chance to see it.”

“That’s too bad,” she replies kindly, without expressing the slightest irritation at having to repeat herself. “You really shouldn’t miss it.”

Blaise begins to agree with her, and Draco smiles politely and takes a sip of his wine. He is just starting to fade away when he hears her speak again.

“So you’re an Unspeakable,” she says brightly. “What’s that like?”

“I can’t talk about it,” he replies curtly.

Astoria looks a bit taken aback by this answer, but she smiles graciously at him and goes on, “I’m sure it must be a fascinating job. Blaise tells me that you work with potions?”

“Again,” he says, “I can’t talk about it.”

She stares at him for a moment, then says, “All right.”

The table falls silent, and he turns his gaze across the table to find Blaise shooting daggers at him with his eyes.

“Draco,” says Blaise, brimming with barely disguised anger, “can I speak to you for a second?”

“Of course,” replies Draco, though the way Blaise is looking at him makes him think he would rather swallow a porcupine.

Blaise drags him to the bar and violently pushes him onto a stool. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking abo—”

“She’s Daphne’s sister, you fuck. If you were going to act cold and uninterested the entire night, you shouldn’t have agreed to come.”

“If you’ll recall, I didn’t want to come to thi—”

“Oh, shut up, Draco,” Blaise interrupts angrily. “I trusted you enough to introduce you to my girlfriend’s sister. Even if you don’t like her, you can certainly humor her for one night.”

“I’ve been perfectly polite,” Draco insists, but Blaise isn’t having it.

“And honestly, Draco?” he snaps. “You could do a lot worse than Astoria.”

“I know I could.”

“She’s gorgeous, you know.”

Draco groans. “Merlin, Blaise, I get it.”

“I did you a fucking favor, setting you two up. Not her. She’s got plenty of wizards interested in her that aren’t petulant, self-absorbed gits.”

All right,” he says, exasperated. “I’ll behave.” He rises from his stool and gestures towards the dining room. “Can we go back now?”

“You’d better pull it together for the rest of this dinner,” warns Blaise, his eyes flashing. “I mean it, Draco.”

They return to their table, and Draco spends the rest of the night pretending that he isn’t somewhere else entirely.

~

It isn’t that he wants to keep thinking about her. He wants to forget her.

It’s just that he can’t stop remembering.

He remembers—fondly—what his life was like a year ago, before he was assigned to work with her. He dreaded it at first: the mandatory month he was required to spend working in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, learning about the legal aspect of his particular field, in order to become eligible to head his own research team. It was just his luck, he thought, to be matched with Granger, who happened to be one of the officials that handled the testing and approval of mass-produced potions.

He never expected her to be so charming.

That unbridled enthusiasm that he found so annoying as a child—he can still remember her practically jumping up and down in her seat, waving her hand madly in the air as she tried to get the attention of her schoolteachers—had evolved into a passion that was somehow strangely appealing. He could have listened to her talk about her work for ages: the frantic way she spoke about things she loved, as though she were afraid of not having enough time to get out all the words she needed, was the most addictive thing he’d ever seen. Her eyes would light up and grow very round, and when she got to a point that particularly thrilled her, she would bite her lip as though to suppress her excitement. Draco was not particularly interested in the intricacies of magical law, but in those moments, it would have been easy to convince him otherwise.

He soon discovered that her ardor extended beyond her own work—no one understood his passion for potions like she did. Draco had always been a secretive person by nature, but there was something about the way she looked at him as she listened to him describing his research that made him want to break his own rules. He couldn’t get enough of that look. So he broke not only his own rules but also those of his department: he told her everything there was to know about his projects and more. And she ate it up hungrily—asking a flood of questions, nodding intently, leaning towards him as she took in all he had to offer. It was everything he’d never known he wanted.

If he could go back in time, he thinks, he would request a reassignment.

~

He drops off his next report in person.

“You could have sent a memo,” she points out as he closes her office door behind him, and the look in her eyes tells him that she knows exactly what he’s doing.

“I wanted to take a break from the lab anyway,” he says nonchalantly.

She reaches out for the report, but he doesn’t hand it to her. Instead, he waits by the door until she finally gives an irritated sigh and leaves her desk to come get it from him. Even then, he holds it close, so that she’s forced to lean in as she tries to take it; and when she attempts to pull it out of his hand, he pulls it closer still, so that she must pause inches from his face while he maintains a death grip on the parchment in his hand.

“Draco,” she says quietly, and her voice is a warning. Her breath is warm as it floats over his face, and it takes all the strength he has not to close the gap between them and kiss her.

He ends their game of tug-of-war and lets go of the parchment. She isn’t expecting it, so she stumbles backward slightly and then struggles to regain her footing.

She’s never been comfortable losing her balance in front of others. Keeping her eyes fastened to his report, she returns to her desk and says dismissively, “Goodbye.”

~

He makes several alterations to his Shielding Potion, in an attempt to have it reconsidered for approval by Atkins. After a great deal of research, he finds a way to limit its potency so that it only protects against Dark Magic and not the spells most commonly used by Aurors.

But when he receives the note of rejection from her, the message is clear:

Too similar to the last.

~

He takes Astoria to a cousin’s wedding, and he tries to like her. He really does.

It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with her: he couldn’t have asked for a better date. Astoria is radiant in robes of pale lemon yellow, and she stands out of the crowd with the natural ease of a true beauty; not by effort, but by simply being impossible to ignore. His family moons over her, and even his generally frosty mother can’t seem to contain her excitement that her son is dating such a suitable prospect.

But Draco is haunted. He hears laughter in his ear where none exists, tinkling loud and bright from the crowd, and he whips around like a madman to see where it came from—even though he knows she isn’t there. A redheaded witch on the dance floor transforms into Weasley, and suddenly all he can see is how they looked huddled close together in the Ministry lobby. When, like a man consumed, he finally turns to drink to dampen his own misery, he glances down into the punch bowl and imagines her likeness reflected in its rippling surface.

When Astoria finally asks him, kindly and carefully, whether he’s feeling all right, he has no choice but to tell her that he hasn’t felt worse in years.

~

He waits for her in the lobby after work, just like he used to. When she steps out of the lift and sees him, a strange look of trepidation flashes briefly across her face, and she instinctively turns to flee into the crowd. But, after pausing to reconsider, she turns back towards him and crosses the lobby in his direction.

“Are you waiting for me?” she asks.

He offers her a small smile. “Aren’t I always?”

Suddenly seeming extremely weary, she casts her gaze downward. “What do you want, Draco?”

“To talk.”

“About what?”

“I don’t think you want me to say in public.”

She looks at him keenly. “I don’t want you to say in public, or you don’t want to say in public?”

Confused, he stares at her for a moment, but before he can puzzle out her meaning, she gives a small shake of her head and says, “Never mind. Let’s go.”

They go to Serpentine Bridge in Hyde Park and stand together amidst passing Muggles, looking out on the water. The sun is on its daily journey downward, and when he turns to glance at her, she is practically glowing with the light of the pink horizon behind her. Perhaps it is only his keen awareness of the fleeting moment, but Draco muses that she has never looked more beautiful than she does now, standing against the backdrop of the lake. He wishes he could hold onto this forever—but, even as he thinks it, he can feel the present turning into a memory.

“Well, what is it?” she asks.

Can we stay here?

The question dies on his lips as he takes in her frowning countenance. Realizing how alone he is in his enjoyment of the scenery, he searches fumblingly for words and ends up saying, “I don’t know.”

She makes a disbelieving noise and asks, rather irritably, “Are you kidding me?”

Suddenly afraid that she will take off without him, he blurts out, “I want us to start seeing each other again.”

She goes very still.

There is a moment of silence in which he wonders frantically whether he’s said the wrong thing or whether he’s said it the wrong way (in his haste to say the words, they came out sounding far more argumentative than he intended); and then, before she can gather her thoughts and respond with something that he doesn’t want to hear—something that will end this definitively—he turns to face her and places one hand over hers on the railing. When she does not shrink back, he leans forward, somewhat hesitantly, and presses his lips gently to the corner of her mouth.

She draws a harsh breath. “Draco, don’t.”

“Why not?” he breathes against her lips, which are warm and soft and just as he’s remembered; and she shakes her head before pushing him away.

“I can’t do this again,” she whispers, as she takes a step back. “I just can’t.”

The sun is gone from view. The light has faded, and she is fading along with it. No longer bathed in the rosy glow of dusk, he can barely make out her expression in the dim violet of twilight, and he struggles to see whether she is blinking back tears. The moment, like everything with them, has proven ephemeral—holding onto it as futile as trying to capture a shooting star in his fist.

He can’t bear to look at her, so he turns back towards the lake. It is only after he has heard the distant, unmistakable pop of Disapparition that he gathers his things and follows in her footsteps.

~

Had he not so desperately loved hearing her speak, he would have kissed her much sooner. But he was so content to just talk to her that he ended up waiting until the month he spent under her tutelage was almost over to kiss her for the first time.

It was in her office, after they’d shared a drink during a particularly late night at work. Her co-workers were long gone, and he was sprawled out in one of her chairs, listening to her ramble on about something that only she could possibly be interested in. When she stood up and reached over him to grab something from her desk, bringing her face inches from his own—so close that he was immersed in that scent so distinctly hers—he looked up at her and knew that he was unable to hold himself back any longer. Emboldened by the alcohol and the knowledge that he was running out of time, he took her by the hand and pulled her forcefully down into his lap to kiss her, and she let out a squeak of surprise as she tumbled onto him.

“Wait,” she said breathlessly, pulling away, “we shouldn’t do this. We’re co-workers.”

She resisted when he tried to kiss her again, repeating her excuses about working together and professionalism and Ministry rules. So he said something along the lines of “No one has to know” to placate her—he can no longer remember the exact words—and then tangled one hand into the hair at the nape of her neck and kissed her harder.

She made no protests as his hands slid over her robes and then under them, grasping at her as though he were poisoned and she were some sort of antidote. She, in turn, reached for the buttons of his shirt, undoing them frantically as he fastened his lips to her neck. They tore off the rest of each other’s clothes in a frenzy until there was nothing left between them, and then she sank down onto him with a moan he was sure he would remember forever.

He took her as slowly as he could, nipping at the delicate skin where her neck met her shoulder, tucking loose strands of her hair gently behind her ear, whispering confessions he’d kept locked inside all month. After that night, he was never able to look at her office the same way again.

It is this memory that he can’t escape as he lies in bed, fisting his covers and willing himself to forget her. But the image of what she looked like with him moving inside her—lips swollen, cheeks flushed, eyes hooded—is enough to keep him awake the rest of the night.

~

He is browsing the shelves of Flourish and Blotts, looking for a certain book on potions, when he hears her voice.

“It isn’t here, is it?” she says.

He wanders out of his aisle, waiting for her to speak again so he can locate her, but he hears the low mumble of a man’s voice instead.

“Ron!” she exclaims, before laughing so brightly that it fills the store.

Something dark stirs inside him, and his hands curl into fists as he approaches the area where he heard her. He slips into the next aisle, peering through the shelves as he looks for them—but he is too late, and they are already on their way out of the store.

“I can’t believe they don’t have it,” she says, as they walk towards the exit. “It’s a classic!”

“Only to you, Hermione,” says Weasley, and there is a teasing lilt to his voice that somehow gives Draco the feeling of being punch-drunk.

He was here with her once, too.

They were browsing books together when he ran into Sorcier LeBois, a close friend of his father’s. Lebois spotted him from behind and greeted him warmly, and as they exchanged pleasantries, Draco could see his eyes traveling over to her in curiosity.

Draco, however, did not want his parents to find out. So he carried on with his conversation, casually pretending that she was not there. He never introduced her, and she said nothing about it later. Over time, he simply forgot about it altogether.

But he remembers the incident now as he watches her leave with Weasley, and he has never felt more helpless.

~

He enters her office without knocking and slams the door behind him.

“Draco?” she asks in alarm. “What are you doi—” But he makes his way behind her desk and forcefully kisses her before she can finish her question.

Her eyelids flutter shut, and she returns the kiss for several seconds before seeming to remember herself. She shoves him off her with both arms, but he is undeterred. Pulling her flush against him, he spins her into the nearest wall, and she gasps when her back hits the hard surface. He grabs her wrists and holds them together above her head, remembering how much she used to like that, and he licks the shell of her ear before growling into it: “You’re not going anywhere.

The last time was far too rushed—in his haste, he had lacked the presence of mind to make it last as long as possible—so this time, he intends to make it count. He wants nothing more than to rip her clothes off and plunge into her, but he restrains himself as he presses one leg between hers to pin her against the wall. “Stop it, Draco,” she starts to order, but it turns into more of a whimper when he uses his leg to rub her gently through her robes. He doesn’t want her to back out now, so he forces her to commit: he reaches under her skirt and slides her knickers off first, casting them aside with a casual toss. It’s only after he’s thrown them to the floor that he recognizes them as the silky, pale pink pair he loves so well.

He never grew tired of seeing her walk around his flat in those flimsy, feminine underthings that seemed so at odds with her bossy personality, and seeing them again sparks an inexplicable pang in his chest. But he ignores it, turning his attention back towards untying the ribbon at her collar.

He pulls her blouse over her head before kissing her again, less urgently than before, raking his teeth over her bottom lip and taking the time to explore her mouth.

“Draco, I—”

“Shh,” he whispers, running his tongue over her jawline.

“No,” she insists, but when he slips his fingers under her skirt and slides one all the way inside her, she exhales in a way that doesn’t seem to indicate displeasure. He adds a finger, then another, before stroking her with his thumb in slow, torturous circles until she can’t stop herself from bucking against his fingers in frustration.

He doesn’t want her to come just yet, so he leads her back to her desk and bends her over it so that her stomach is flat against the wood, her face resting against the many papers that they never bothered to clear away. Her backside is jutting out irresistibly, and he starts to feel desperate with arousal as he presses against her from behind. Stretching out her arms and placing his hands on hers to keep her in place, he leans over her to kiss her from this new angle, and she twists her neck to meet him halfway.

“I want you so badly,” he breathes hotly against her cheek. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.” She makes a strained noise in response that he doesn’t quite know how to interpret.

Suddenly realizing that he is grinding against her over their clothes like a randy schoolboy, he forces himself to stand and take a step back.

A tug at her skirt, and she is exposed to the elements. He caresses the soft flesh of her backside admiringly before reaching down and lifting her ankle to spread her legs apart, giving himself a view he can’t tear his eyes away from. He is clumsy as he undresses, seemingly unable to get rid of his own clothing quickly enough. Guiding himself between her legs, he positions himself and then just barely slides in a fraction of an inch.

He’s on the verge of losing his mind. She is wet and slick with heat and utterly inviting, and he thinks he might explode if he doesn’t drive into her right this second—but he holds back, taking ragged breaths as he allows himself just another inch. She makes a frustrated sound, and he teases her mercilessly, pulling back for a moment before he pushes in again. He reaches out and palms her breasts over her bra as he nudges forward another tiny bit—and then he hears her beg, “Please, Draco, please”—and he sinks all the way in.

She feels incredible.

They remain still for a moment, fully connected and together in a quiet, comforting way that he hasn’t gotten to experience for months. He can feel every inch of her body against his, and at last, in this sensation, he finds the peace he did not know he was lacking. He tilts his head and presses a small, tender kiss to her temple, savoring what it feels like to be buried inside her; and she lets out a sigh that sounds exactly like the ones in his dreams.

She jerks slightly then, as if to jolt him into motion, and it brings him back into the present. He begins to move, slowly at first; then he picks up his pace, gripping her thigh with one hand to steady himself while he plunges into her over and over again. She cries out as she arches up from the desk, clasping her fingers over those of his left hand, and he can feel her pulsing around him as he takes her.

“Draco,” she gasps, as his thrusts become faster and rougher all at once. She begins to writhe uncontrollably against him, grinding against her desk as she moves; and either he is swelling inside of her or she is contracting, because she feels even tighter than before and there’s no way he can stop himself from coming now, and—

Her fingers squeeze his hand almost painfully as she surrenders to her climax, shuddering as she rocks against him in an increasingly erratic rhythm. He grabs her and kisses her feverishly, matching the motions of his tongue to his thrusts; and no sooner has he felt her spasms than he convulses violently inside her.

The pleasure hits him like a tidal wave. Electricity shoots through his every nerve, and he has the curious sensation of being on fire—and then all coherent thought is lost.

Drained and breathing heavily, he stumbles backward and collapses into her chair. She lifts herself up with trembling arms and turns to face him, her eyes still clouded with lust, and it is with awe that he takes in the sight of her: naked and glistening with sweat and glorious. A tiny chuckle escapes out of his throat before he can stop it, and her brow furrows in confusion at his glee.

Why did he not appreciate her more when he had her like this every day?

“Draco,” she says, her voice raspy and exhausted, “this has to stop.”

~

They don’t stop.

They sleep together every place imaginable: his flat, hers, his laboratory, her office, the rooms above the Leaky, the alley behind a Muggle pub one night when they’re both plastered.

He is always filled with dread at the end, worried that it will be the last time. It is in those moments that she is most beautiful—when she is lying next to him, sated and breathless, and he is gripped with the fear that they will never be back here like this again.

But they return—time and time again—and so often that he begins to hope that they have found one another again. She denies it, of course; she tells him there is nothing left between them. But then he’ll find her waiting for him outside his flat, or he’ll send her a meaningful glance during a Ministry meeting, and she’ll reveal that she’s not as strong as she would like to think, either.

~

He is still inside of her when she says, “We can’t do this anymore.”

Draco lets out a deep breath before pulling out of her and rolling away. “That bad, huh?” he asks, in a half-hearted attempt at levity.

“Stop it. I’m serious. We can’t keep doing this.”

He is silent for a moment, then asks, “Why not?”

“You know why.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Stop it, Draco.”

She gathers the sheets around her, covering herself; and he wonders how she can still feel self-conscious around him after all this time.

“I don’t want to stop,” he says, staring up at the ceiling and suddenly feeling farther from her than ever before. He counts the indentations in the paint, in an attempt to occupy his mind so that he doesn’t wait for her answer; but his thoughts are restless and he repeatedly loses track.

Her voice is strained when she replies. “Don’t make this harder than it already is.”

He closes his eyes and pictures the ceiling crashing down on him, along with the weight of the months he’s spent without her, and he suddenly wants her to stop talking. She is lying in his bed and dooming them aloud, and who the fuck does she think she is?

So he rolls back onto her and kisses her soundly, pressing her into the bed with the full weight of his body; and when she attempts to make protests he swallows them with his lips and tongue.

~

The memo is floating above at his desk when he arrives at work on Monday, and Draco is left dumbstruck.

He seeks Atkins out in his office in order to thank him, and Atkins ushers him in with a hearty wave.

“Good to see you, Malfoy. What can I help you with?”

“I just got the memo about the Shielding Potion,” he says, still dazed with triumph and amazement, “and I wanted to thank you for finally giving it your approval.”

“There’s no need—you deserved it. And it’s Granger you should be thanking; she’s the one who talked me into it. Told me it’d be fine as long as we restrict sales. But I didn’t want to waste a lot of government resources on regulations, so we’re just going to be giving it to Aurors for now, and we’ll see how it goes from there. All right, my boy?”

Draco cannot control the grin that stretches across his lips. “Granger talked you into it?” he repeats, and Atkins nods.

“Congratulations, Malfoy. Keep up the good work down there.”

He is practically walking on air when he saunters into her office, ready to swoop her up in his arms and kiss her the way she deserves to be kissed, like a proper saint—but as soon as she sees him, she stiffens uncomfortably in her chair.

“Shut the door,” she says quietly.

He kicks it shut with a smirk. “As you wish.” But when he attempts to approach her, she quickly rises and backs away from him.

“I thought I told you this couldn’t keep happening.”

He stops short and stares at her in bewilderment. “What?”

“Draco,” she says, sounding pained, “I told you it was the last time.”

“I came here to thank you about the Shielding Potion,” he says, feeling lost.

“Oh.” She turns away from him, waving a hand in the air dismissively. “That was nothing. It was the least I could do.”

He suddenly finds it difficult to breathe. “So it meant nothing?” he asks, and she does not respond. “You’re saying all this has meant nothing to you?”

“Please leave,” she says weakly, without looking at him, and he starts to grow angry.

“No,” he says, increasingly losing control over the volume of his voice, “tell me. Are you saying this has meant nothing to you? Answer me!

“That’s just the problem, isn’t it?” she exclaims, and when she looks back at him, he is surprised to see that her eyes are brimming with tears. “I don’t know what you want from me, Draco!”

“What do you mean, you don’t know what I want from you?”

“It’s like you don’t want me to move on! And I can’t keep doing this to myself—”

You’re the one who runs hot and cold so fast I can never keep track of what’s—”

“—you think you can just waltz back in whenever you feel like it, and you expect everything to be all right—”

I wasn’t the one who walked out!”

“That’s right, I did, because I couldn’t take it anymore! And even after all that, you still won’t leave me alone—”

“Don’t you fucking pretend that I’m the only one who still cares about this,” he hisses, lunging forward. “Because I’m not the one who showed up at my flat late last night after another unsatisfying pseudo-date with Ronald fucking Weasley.”

Her eyes widen at the mention of Ron, then narrow into a glare.

“Get out of my office,” she says, slowly and menacingly, but Draco’s always been one to tempt fate.

“What is it, Granger?” he asks. He can hear how obnoxious he sounds, but he still presses on. “Don’t want to admit to yourself that you could never be happy with him? That you need someone worse—someone dark, someone shameful? Don’t want your friends to find out that you’re fucking a former Death—”

Shut up!” she screams hysterically. “You bastard, you—you’re one to talk. You’re the one who hid me from your friends and family like I was some dirty little secret, like you were ashamed of me! You’re the one who didn’t want to tell anyone about us! You spent our entire relationship covering your tracks. You were so afraid of anyone finding out that you took Pansy to your family’s gala instead of me—that’s right, Draco, I heard—and now you’re accusing me of—” She breaks off, too upset to continue.

Hermione falls back into her chair, now openly crying, and clasps one hand over her mouth as if to stop herself from revealing more painful secrets.

Draco, who did not know that this was why she had ended things, suddenly finds himself at a loss for words.

“That’s not—that isn’t what—I went with Pansy as friends, not—”

“Get out, Draco. Get out!

“Wait, Hermione—”

“Fine,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks, “if you won’t leave, I will.”

And with that, she grabs her cloak and rushes out the door before he can stop her.

~

The night she told him it was over between them was the night of the Patils’ Quidditch party.

He hadn’t known that she was invited; and, from the look on her face when she saw him there, she hadn’t expected to run into him either. She was with her friends and he with his, and it irked him to see that she was sharing a loveseat with Weasley as they watched the game.

He didn’t know how to act. He had no idea whether she’d told her friends about him, and he felt strangely humiliated as he stared down at her and Weasley, sitting so closely side-by-side. She was looking up at him expectantly, as though awaiting his next move, but she did not acknowledge him—and why, he thought, should he have to be the first to say something? If anything, it should have been the other way around: the whole situation felt as if he had caught her red-handed.

So he quickly turned away, pretending he hadn’t seen them; and when Pansy made a snide comment about how she wouldn’t have come if she’d known Potter and his gang would be there, he found himself laughing along.

They left without exchanging goodbyes. But they made up for it later that same night, when she showed up at his flat with a grim expression for what she told him would be the last time.

He thought, then, that the incident had made her realize how different they were—how far apart their worlds existed. He thought that she had realized she could never explain this—what they had—to Potter or Weasley or anyone else that mattered. He knew that there were marks on his arm and his soul that he could never erase. So he let her go. Bitter and defeated, he let her leave without even trying to change her mind.

As it turned out, though, it wasn’t the last time.

He could never stay away for very long.

~

He goes to Adrian’s birthday party, but he can’t enjoy himself. He’s spent nearly an hour sulking over a glass of Firewhiskey at the bar when Blaise comes over to speak to him.

“You’re still hung up on her,” he says, and it isn’t a question.

When Draco doesn’t respond, Blaise sighs. “Just tell her you’re in love with her, Draco.”

Then he walks away, leaving Draco to stare down into his glass alone.

~

He rushes back to the Ministry and looks for her in her office, but she’s nowhere to be found. Feigning a work emergency, he asks several of her co-workers for her whereabouts and eventually learns that she’s dining at a restaurant in Diagon Alley.

He sees her as soon as he enters: she’s sitting by herself reading a menu, and he has barely made it all the way to her table when the words start pouring out of him.

“I fucked up,” he blurts out, and she gapes at him, startled. “I admit it. I fucked up, because I’m a coward, and maybe you’re right that I was afraid of people finding out, but I didn’t know I was hurting you because I thought you were afraid, too. And the worst part of it is that I was never ashamed of you, Hermione. Not the way you thought I was. How could I be? I just—I’m willing to work on it, okay? I’m not perfect, and I know I never will be, but I just think we could figure it out if you gave us another shot. And I know you don’t want to, and I know you’ve said no to this before, but I—I can’t keep going on like this. Without you. Okay? So… are you willing to try things again or not?”

She appears speechless. She opens her mouth to respond, then closes it, then opens it again—and still no words come out.

It is as she’s struggling to form her thoughts that his gaze travels away from her and he realizes that there are two place settings at her table. His eyes dart back up to her in surprise, but before either of them can say anything, he hears a voice behind him.

“Malfoy?” asks Weasley in bewilderment, and Draco runs out of the restaurant faster than he’s ever run in his life.

~

By the time he gets back to his flat, she is already there waiting for him.

The first thing out of his mouth is: “Are you dating Weasley?”

He knows it’s the wrong thing to say, but he can’t help asking.

She looks down at the floor. “I don’t know what’s going on between me and Ron,” she says, and his heart sinks down into his stomach.

“Are you sleeping together?”

She tilts her head to one side and responds, “Is that all you care about?"

Say no. Say no.

His throat won’t seem to open. She sighs and goes on. “No, we’re not sleeping together.”

“You aren’t attracted to him,” he says.

“He doesn’t hurt me like you do.”

“He can’t make you feel better the way I do, either.”

She doesn’t deny it, but she shakes her head and says, “It isn’t worth it.”

But she still follows him into the flat and accepts his offer of tea, and later, she falls asleep in his bed with all her clothes on. He watches as her chest rises and falls with every breath, and only when he’s absolutely sure that she’s no longer awake does he risk taking her into his arms and holding her. She is warm and fragrant and everything he’s missed; and when he finally drifts off, he sleeps more soundly than he has in months.

~

When he wakes, he isn’t sure whether he’s in a dream.

She’s snuggled closely against him, watching him carefully as his eyes open; and when he whispers, “Good morning,” she whispers it back.

“Are you real?” he asks, and she smiles.

“I think so.”

Experimentally, he leans forward and kisses her, and she does not disappear. Instead, she cups his face with one hand, tracing the lines of his cheekbones with her fingers, and her eyes are full of affection and contentment and some other emotion he can’t quite place.

So he asks her the question he’s been waiting to ask: “Can we stay here?” And when she nods yes, he’s absolutely sure that he must still be dreaming.

But, as luck would have it, he isn’t.