|This Guy Walks Into A Bar
Author: luckei1 PM
How do you know what you want? How do you REALLY know? DMHGRated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Draco M. & Hermione G. - Words: 12,902 - Reviews: 88 - Favs: 138 - Follows: 9 - Published: 07-22-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3674076
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or the wonderful magical world in which he lives. I'm just having fun.
Note: THANKS to my betas on this story: kazfeist and eilonwy! This story was a lot of fun, I hope you like it!
This guy walks into a bar.
"Just lie back and relax. That's it; how do you feel? Good, now take a deep breath…"
I'm walking through Knockturn Alley with Blaise. We're talking about nothing, heading to Borgin and Burkes to pick up a delivery for the Dark Lord.
Then we're inside, and Blaise nudges me, and points to the front counter. He gives me the 'go talk to her' look, so I look. And she's perfection.
She has jet-black hair, shiny and straight, which hangs to just below her shoulder blades, the outlines of which are visible through her robes. She's got chunks of bright red hair peeking out between the black, and I'm talking fluorescent red, not Weasley red. Candy-apple red, and yes, I'm familiar with crayons.
She's wearing all black, from top to bottom, and her robes are expensive. I can tell. Her skin isn't milky white, like I'd expected – it's a healthy shade of brown and I can't help but stare at her. When she tilts her head, I see a ring in her nose.
Blaise all but shoves me toward her, and it takes a couple of steps to settle into the nonchalant saunter I perfected in school.
Suddenly, much more suddenly than I'd expected, I'm right behind her and I can't think of anything to say. I can't think of anything to… anything. It's amazing, because she's basically the picture of everything I've ever wanted, at least physically, in a woman. So I'm at a complete loss.
"You gonna stand there all day, gaping like a giant lizard?" she says, and I blink because I know that voice. I'm still tongue-tied. She turns around and smirks, and I see that despite the prior sense of familiarity I felt, I've never met this girl.
"You're funny," she says, turning back to the front, and it's then that I start breathing again.
"Let's start over," I say, trying to ooze the confidence I didn't feel. "My name is Draco Malfoy."
She turns around again and crosses her arms, leaning back against the counter. "I'm everything you think you want," she says, an annoyingly superior look on her face.
I blink, unsure if I've heard her right, and when my eyes flash open again, she looks slightly different. I can't pinpoint how, but she does. Her smile, maybe; it's nicer.
"Raven Stewart," she says, and I'm sure I've misheard her before. Or imagined it. Am I seeing things? Or hearing things, as the case may be? She looks at me expectantly, and I look to see her hand extended. Feeling once again like a complete and utter moron, I shake her hand; she has a firm grip.
"Nice to meet you," I say.
Just then Borgin appears. He looks at me with distrust and a sneer, and I return the look in kind.
"Give me a moment, there, Malfoy," he says, and I can almost feel his dislike of me. And I can't blame him; I understand. I'd hate me too, if I were him.
I turn to walk back to Blaise, when Borgin addresses me again. "Oiy, Malfoy. I haven't got it yet. Come back tomorrow."
I glare at him hard enough to turn Muggles to stone, but calmly say, "We are not pleased, Borgin. Tomorrow. Or else."
He shudders, but nods. Blaise and I leave the shop.
"How'd it go with the girl?" he asks.
"Awful. I felt like a third-year trying to talk to a Veela."
"Tough luck," he says, slapping me on the back. "How about a drink?"
I nod and we head to The Greasy Monkey, a bar that makes the Hog's Head look like a hotel lobby.
Blaise and I sit at the bar and use Scourgify charms on our glasses before drinking out of them. I'm almost to the point of being nearly drunk when Blaise elbows me. Hard.
"Ow! Watch it!" I say roughly, rubbing my side.
"Where?" I say, and I knock my glass over when I turn around to look. Firewhiskey slowly drips into my lap, and Blaise is laughing so hard his face starts to turn red. Funny how sometimes things are so funny to some people, but the same thing is so very not funny to others. This is like that.
So I send her a drink and watch as she accepts it from the bartender with a smile, then takes a sip without even looking at me.
Blaise laughs again, and I scowl at him. "You gonna let that go, Draco?"
"What do you want me to do?" I ask, taking a nice swig from my freshly refilled glass.
"Go talk to her."
"Already tried that."
"Try again." Then he pushes me off the stool – pushes! I nearly fall on my face, but somehow I don't.
I send him another scowl, but head toward her table. I slide in across from her and she looks at me with a smile.
"Hey there," she says.
"Hey. Did you like it?" I ask.
I watch her, waiting for something – anything – like a thank you, or at least an acknowledgement that she knew the drink was from me. But I got nothing.
"Why are you here, Draco?" she asks.
"Where? This table?" She nods, and I squirm. Why can I not talk to her? Usually, I have no problems with women. The words just flow and I always know I've got the upper hand. But this one – well, I guess she was right when she said she was everything I thought I wanted. The exact picture in my mind, almost. But something just wasn't exactly right.
"I'm hoping to get a chance to ask you out," I say, and I'm surprised that I am able to get out an entire, coherent sentence.
She smirks and cocks her head. "How old are you?"
"Nineteen," I say, puffing up my chest just a little. "You?"
"Twenty-one. But I like younger men." She's studying me like a particularly interesting plant. "I've heard a lot about you, Draco Malfoy. I'm afraid your reputation precedes you. Why would I want to go out with you?"
I shift in my seat. This is the question I dread; why?
"There's so much more to me than you've heard," I say, but I can tell she isn't buying it.
"Well, what have you heard?"
"Oh, the usual. Rich, spoiled, arrogant… Death Eater," she whispers, leaning over the table as though she were afraid to actually say it aloud.
"That's all?" I ask casually, hoping she can't hear my heart pounding.
She shrugs. "A few other things, not nearly as important. So. Are you? Any of those things?"
I can only nod; they're all true.
She processes this, and plays with a straw. "Well, I can accept everything but the last thing."
I'm stunned. I can't even tell you how stunned, because there isn't a word that could adequately describe it. Suffice it to say, I'm now gaping at her.
"What?" she says with another slight shrug, and downs the rest of the Firewhiskey. As if it's nothing. "Do you think it's something to be proud of? Something you'd want to tell your kids someday? Come on, Malfoy, use your head."
It's then that I recognize the voice, and as I stare into Raven's violet eyes, they turn brown. Then the scene swirls around that pair of laughing eyes and there's a rushing sound, like the wind rushing into a vacuum, and then it
What was good? She was into Dark Magic, beautiful… I liked her straight black hair, that she had color in her skin… she was confident. And older. And what was bad? She didn't want a Death Eater—which I understand, but that's me. Also the nose ring and other piercing (oddly turned me off), she was almost
She was into Dark Magic, beautiful… I liked her straight black hair, that she had color in her skin… she was confident. And older.
And what was bad?
She didn't want a Death Eater—which I understand, but that's me. Also the nose ring and other piercing (oddly turned me off), she was almosttoo confident, a little too tall, and I could have done with some color somewhere besides her hair.
"Malfoy, pass the salt."
"Get it yourself, Potter. It's right by your elbow."
"It's less work for me if you do it."
Draco rolled his eyes and ignored Harry, who started to poke him with his fork. After a moment of silently counting to ten, and then to twenty, he said, "Potter, if you don't stop that this second, I'm going to rip that fork away from you and poke your eyes out with it."
"Ooh, scary," said Ron, laughing, holding his spoon like a microphone to Harry's face. "The big, bad, Death Eater just threatened you, Harry. What are you going to do?"
Harry took a deep, important breath, and looked at Ron very seriously. "Well, see, the thing with Death Eaters – even the cowardly ones – is that they're really just overgrown babies who never got to finish the biscuits from the box, and so they want the power to crush other people's biscuits."
"Brilliant!" exclaimed Ron, clicking his silverware against his glass of butterbeer.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Why do I associate with you?"
"Because most people have a strict, No-Dark-Mark policy?" Ron offered.
"Oh, and because we can poke fun at you and you never do anything about it," added Harry.
"Those are reasons you associate with me," he pointed out.
"Right," said Ron, slowly nodding his head. "I guess you spend every Thursday night in this Muggle bar, watching Friends with us because you like to mingle with the commoners."
"Still," Draco said, tossing back his shot, "one would think I could do better than you two."
"But you can't," said Ron cheerily. His face was red from the warmth of the room.
Draco scowled, but when he lifted his fourth glass to his lips, he smiled just before drinking. Honestly, they were idiots, but they were his idiots. In a completely non-slashy kind of way.
"Just remember. This is only supposed to give you concepts, generalizations. Not names and faces. Are you ready? Good. Take a deep breath…"
Blaise and I are standing outside a club, waiting to get in. We have to wait to be let in; it's that kind of place. Where the huge blokes with arms the size of tree trunks stand with their arms crossed – by some miracle – frowning, and letting people in as they deem them good enough.
Usually it depends on the number of hot women in the line. I don't even know why I'm there, but there we are, so we wait.
Finally, a guy scowls at us and lets us into the club. It's dark inside, and the music is so loud and harsh that I can't even hear Blaise yelling into my ear. It's the kind of music that makes you want to dig into your ears and rip out your own eardrum. At least, that's how it affects me.
I want to leave; I don't even know why I'm there, but Blaise pulls me to the bar. He orders a few weird drinks and pushes one into my hand.
"It's called a daiquiri," he shouts, "It sounded interesting."
I frown at the brightly colored drink and frown, then take a sip. It's sweet, like fruit. "Ugh, gross. Here." I hand the drink to Blaise who shrugs and drinks it in one go.
I shudder and move to the bar to order, and the girl turns around and it's Raven. With her black hair, red streaks, violet eyes, perfect skin. I'm surprised to notice there's no nose ring.
"Draco," she says, and she's chewing gum. I hate seeing people chew gum. "What'll it be?"
I blink—only this time, it's different. I don't feel dumbstruck; I'm just surprised to see her. There.
"Whatever's closest to Firewhiskey," I say.
She grins and fixes me something that uses alcohol from three different bottles. I look at her skeptically before taking a drink. It's good; warms me to my toes.
"Thanks," I say. She nods. "You work here?"
"Yup, way to notice."
She shrugs. "It pays good."
"But it's loud."
She smirks and points to her ears, turning her head so I can see something bright and orange stuck in them. And I'm terribly confused, because she can obviously hear me, but she's wearing some sort of ear-plugging device. Maybe it's some kind of charm…
"But it's a Muggle place," I say, and that's dumb too.
"So… you're cool with Muggles."
"Oh, yeah," I say with a wave. "I mean, mostly."
She smirks. "I've heard that about you too."
"Uh-huh," I mutter and down the rest of the drink. It burns a little this time.
"More?" she asks.
I shake my head. "No thanks."
"Hey, I'm on break as of… now," she says after a glance at her watch. "Want to dance?"
I hadn't intended to dance. I don't even know why I'm here. I hate crowds and loud places, so loud crowds are right off. But I look at her again, and yeah, she's hot, so… "Okay."
Only, she's all over me on the dance floor, and I start to get annoyed. Maybe it's the only child in me, but I need more space than she's giving me. Physically and mentally. I don't know how she is encroaching the second way, but she is. I can feel it.
Then her fingers travel down my arm, my left arm, and she slowly pushes up my sleeve to reveal the blackness beneath.
She stops moving—I do too, but the music is still pounding a beat that she keeps while tracing the lines with a painted black fingernail. She seems mesmerized by the Mark, and looks up at me with hungry eyes.
"What's it like?" she asks, and she sounds like she's talking to an unsuspecting, helpless prey.
"What's what like?" I ask, but I don't want to know, not really. Not with the way she's looking at me.
She leans up to whisper in my ear. "To kill someone."
My head splits. At least, that's how it feels, as if thousands of pounds of guilty weight and self-loathing have dropped right inside, pressing from every direction, toward every direction.
I don't even look for Blaise because I have to get out.
Then I'm out, and the air is crisp and there's that smell, the one of changing leaves and coming snow, and it feels cleansing. I'm panting, like I've run a hundred miles, but even with the air I can't stop the screams in my head.
I grab my head with both hands and push inward; but it doesn't work, so I try to yell louder than the screams, try to drown out the screams, and then there's a touch on my shoulder, and I jump. The screams stop.
It's Raven, and she's looking at me with wide, concerned eyes. Brown eyes.
"Draco?" she says timidly, and I can't believe she sounds like that after everything else, after everything she said to me.
"What?" I shout.
She recoils. "I – I thought that this was what you wanted."
"I don't know! That's – why I'm here, isn't it?" I'm shouting to the sky now. "I don't know!"
"I'm trying," she says, and I see tears in her eyes and I hate them.
"Just – leave me alone."
One tear falls, and I stare at it, watching it fall over her cheek and then my vision spins, focused around that tear and then it
What was good? Nothing. What was bad? Everything! The scene, her, the acceptance of me that way, the interest in… that part of me. It was too much. The daiquiri. She was too forward on the dance floor. All right… Wait—those brown eyes…they were good.
What was bad?
Everything! The scene, her, the acceptance of me that way, the interest in… that part of me. It was too much. The daiquiri. She was too forward on the dance floor.
Wait—those brown eyes…they were good.
"Come on, Malfoy! Here!"
"Just – shut up, for two seconds!" Draco yelled, smiling. He was clinging to a large, orange ball as though his life depended on him not letting it go. "What's that thing I can do now?"
"Dribble!" called Ginny.
He tried dribbling, but Harry easily stole the ball and ran down the court to put the ball in the basket for two points.
"This is a stupid game!" Draco yelled, running after him.
"You're only saying that because you're losing," teased Ginny.
"So?" he asked, grinning at her.
"So, you always lost at Quidditch, and you don't call it stupid," she returned.
Draco ran across the court and grabbed her by the waist. She squealed and tried to get away from him, but he was too strong, and he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. Ginny tried to sound indignant, but she was laughing too hard, beating on his back.
"Potter, your wife has a smart mouth," Draco said.
Harry grinned. "You have no idea. Anyway, put her down already, some of us are trying to play a game, here."
"Whereas you are just trying to play," Ginny kidded.
Draco set her down. "Just wait, Weasley."
She stuck out her tongue. "Can't wait, Malfoy."
"Oiy, Malfoy!" called Ron from the sideline. "Our go. Throw it in to me."
Draco ran to the side of the court and took the ball from Harry. Ginny was jumping up and down and waving her arms in front of him, trying to prevent him from successfully passing the ball. She looked so ridiculous that he started laughing.
"Come on!" shouted Ron.
"Maybe next time you won't ask me to play!" he called, then heaved the ball toward his teammate. Ron caught it easily and he moved toward the goal.
Draco trotted down toward them, Ginny walking a little distance away. "Even Hermione is better at this than you," she said.
"That's it," Draco said playfully. "You've been warned." He started running toward her, and she shrieked and ran away. He chased her all around the gym, not really meaning to catch her. She finally ran to Harry, who wrapped her up in his arms.
"Come on," whined Ron. "Why can't you ever just – play?"
"I don't want to! I always tell you that, but you never listen. I'm terrible at this game."
"You don't want to learn," said Harry, matter-of-factly.
"It's fun. And the three of us are good, and we'd like a fourth. So why not you?"
"Hermione likes to play, right?" he asked, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. His hair was sticking to his head in wet clumps.
Harry and Ron looked at each other, and Harry laughed. "Hermione? Are you kidding? She's awful!"
Draco rounded on Ginny, who was slowly creeping to stand behind Harry again. "Ginny said – never mind. So – okay, fine. Teach me."
"We have," said Ron.
"Well, I'll listen this time. And I'll try. Promise."
"Why were the brown eyes good?"
"Because they cared."
I'm in the middle of a wide-open field, and Blaise is there too. Only he's a little to my left. The grass is tall, and there are wildflowers growing all over the place. Lots of colors, red, pink, orange, yellow, purple. I know it should make me feel a certain way, maybe peaceful and serene and thoughtful, but it doesn't.
"Blaise!" I call, and wave him over.
"Yeah?" he says.
"What are we doing here?"
He shrugs, then points to a dot somewhere beyond us. "Maybe her."
I squint, trying to make out what I'm looking at. It's obviously Raven and even though she's far away, I can see something is different. I look at Blaise, and we start walking.
She has her back to us, her wavy black hair blowing in the breeze, and when we approach, she turns around. Her eyes are brown this time, not violet, and they still seem to care. She smiles at me. She's wearing a blue dress that looks like spring, and I'm shocked to realize how much I like it. She looks… like a lady. Almost in the way my mother looked like a lady, when she would smile.
"Hi, Draco," she says, and her voice is like honey. Or treacle. I'm immediately on my guard.
"Raven, this is my friend, Blaise."
She extends her hand to him. "Pleased to meet you," she says, smiling at him. There's something in the way she smiles, though, that makes me frown.
"So what are we doing?" I ask.
"Picnic," she says, pointing behind her to where a blanket is spread out on the grass and a basket is holding one corner down.
I scrunch my nose. A picnic? What's the point of that?
But Blaise is smiling at her like a million suns, so I trudge after her and sit on the blanket. She sits and starts handing out the food, and she's practically sitting on my lap. Then she pulls out a bunch of grapes and starts feeding them to me, one at a time. It's completely aggravating, so I stop her with a scowl. She frowns and pulls out a bottle of wine. She pours a glass for me, and it's dark red; for Blaise, it's a golden color; for herself, a deep blue.
She lifts her glass in a toast, then takes a sip. I'm cautious, but sip mine too. Blaise drinks his all at once, and I notice he can't take his eyes off her.
Raven sits beside me, so close that when I breathe, her hair gets in my nose. I sneeze, and she moves away slightly. Then she jumps on me, and kisses me. I'm so surprised that I do nothing at first. Her lips are sweet, like the daiquiri, and I'm just starting to respond when she pulls away. I look at her questioningly, but she frowns.
"Draco, do you like these shoes?" she asks and I looked at her feet. She's wearing a pair of dark blue flats with silver sequins. "They're all the rage in Paris this month, and I just knew you'd want me to have them." She grins at me and bites her lip.
"They're…nice," I say haltingly.
"Milly said she got a pair in red, but I really think the blue goes better with my eyes, don't you think?"
"Er, yeah," I say and I'm really confused.
"What did you think of Milly's dress last night, dear? Wasn't it horrendous?"
"I… I don't…" I trail off because I have no idea what to say.
Raven frowns at me and then looks at Blaise. He's still gawking at her and she sends him a scorching smile. He gets a glazed look on his face and she goes to him and she kisses him – and I'm sitting right there!
I stand up and throw the food, and the dishes, and the wine, and the glasses, and yell, but nothing. They just keep kissing, so I walk away. Then I'm in the middle of a forest, and it smells like the forest after a fresh spring rain.
I turn toward the sound of the voice, and there's Raven, still in the blue dress, her hair slightly imperfect.
"What?" I ask, irritably.
"I'm trying," she says, an apologetic tone to her voice.
I sigh and run a hand through my hair. "I know that. I – I just don't know what I want. I've never really met anyone that made me feel… complete. Full. Like I didn't need anything more." I start walking, and she walks beside me. "Why did you kiss Blaise?" I ask.
"You didn't give me enough attention."
"So why is that?"
"I look great, but I don't have much to say. You get bored with me easily, and even though you don't think I notice or care, I do. I can't forever be banished to the back of your mind while you pursue things to better yourself. I need attention, and love."
"I – I kissed you back. I don't understand."
"There were two things that happened here, one expected, one not. But they both had the same effect. I need all of your attention, and when it changed, even for an instant, I pulled away."
I'm confused. "My attention didn't waver."
"Didn't it?" she asks, and we come to a stream. She puts her foot in and giggles. "It's cold."
"No, it didn't," I say, but I remember a flash. Very brief, and I remember. "Oh."
"Right. Her." Raven turned back to look at him, arms crossed. "If you want to be with me, you have to be with me."
"But I don't even know who you are!" I say with exasperation.
"I'm everything you think you want."
I blink, because she's said that before. Which is the point of this, I know. But still. "I don't want someone who cheats on me," I say with conviction.
"Then you want someone different from me. I'm a pretty accessory to match your drapery and your carpets. My attention is easily drawn elsewhere, so you'll have to work very hard to keep it on you. Only, you don't want me to be all that smart, so we won't have to talk about anything."
"Oh." That's something I've thought about. My mother – I love her – but she was very much an ornament to my father. Someone to make him look good, and feel good about himself. I know my mother was hurt by his lack of attention, but she never cheated on him. Only, I can't be completely sure of that; I can't convince myself it's true.
"But, that's not something I want. Or even thought I wanted."
"You did; a little part of you did. So I'm here."
"And you thought of her. Who is she?"
I panic. "No one. Nothing, it – it was a freak occurrence. I have no idea why she popped into my head."
"Really. She's – an impossibility. I barely even like her."
"But you thought about her. She has brown eyes; maybe you like brown eyes."
I want to scream, because of all people, she showed up here. I look back at Raven, and she's the same, so that comforts me. Then I notice her eyes are blue. Like my mother's.
"I'm trying," she says, and she puts her hand on my arm and gives it a light squeeze.
"Am I impossible?" I ask.
She grins. "Nope. Stubborn, yes, and you've got a few blind spots, but you're not impossible. I'm actually enjoying this challenge."
Then her smile changes, and I know that smile, and I'm nearly sick, right in the stream, only just a part of me is. I can't even move, I just keep staring at that smile, remembering the last time I saw it, those perfectly shaped, slightly pink lips, and it happens – again. My vision spins, only this time I hear a voice as the spinning gets faster.
"I'm here," it says, then it
The good? Those lips, that dress…she really looked like a And the bad? She kissed Blaise! And…all the rest. Especially being so easily distracted, and I suppose that's because I don't find her very interesting to talk to.
Those lips, that dress…she really looked like agirl, and not just one of the guys.
And the bad?
She kissed Blaise! And…all the rest. Especially being so easily distracted, and I suppose that's because I don't find her very interesting to talk to.
"Over here, Hermione!" called Harry quietly.
She gave a little wave and walked down the lighted aisle to where they were sitting. She was late, and the movie had already started, so she had to crawl over a few people to get to where Harry was sitting with Ginny, Ron, Luna and Draco.
"Oops!" she said, then, "sorry!"
Draco scowled as she neared them. It only then occurred to him that the only open seat was between him and Ron, and she would sit there. He sighed and resigned himself to enduring her presence for the duration of the movie.
Hermione sat dramatically in the seat with her coat, scarf, hat, and gloves still on. It apparently hadn't occurred to her to remove them before finding a seat.
"Sorry I'm late," she whispered loudly to him.
"I don't care," he returned.
"Shh!" came voices behind them.
Hermione removed her hat, scarf, and gloves, elbowing him in the arm when one of the gloves proved difficult. She apologized, to the chorus of more "shhs" and a glare from him. She couldn't remove her coat without causing a much bigger scene, so she left it on. Finally settled, she looked toward the screen and crossed her legs and when she did, something caught Draco's attention.
He glanced at her and noticed that she was wearing a dress, the bottom of which was barely sticking out from beneath her knee-length coat, and a pair of strappy heels. But what had caught his eye was her shapely calf, half-hidden under her coat, but still very much there.
Draco blinked; Hermione rarely dressed up.
"Granger," he whispered, leaning over to her. "You're not wearing your uniform."
"What do you mean?" she asked with a frown.
"Your uniform – of ugly pants and boring shirts."
She turned to look at him and glared at him. "You're such a jerk, Malfoy," she hissed.
Hermione folded her arms and shifted in her seat so as to be as far away from him as possible. She then cast him one more malicious look before completely attending to the movie.
Draco smirked and slouched in his chair.
When the movie ended, they filed out of the row and gathered in the lobby.
"Hermione!" exclaimed Ginny, when she saw her, "is that the new dress?"
Hermione grinned. "Yes, it is."
"Let me see! Let me see!"
"Oh yes, please," added Luna in a tone that sounded as though she might have been asking for a repeat of the daily special. Not at all in the same manner as Ginny's request.
Still smiling but suddenly shy, Hermione slowly removed her coat. What was revealed was a peridot-green dress with dark green velvet trim on the bottom and at the waist that tied in a bow at her side. It was sleeveless with a rounded neck, and had a V cut that went halfway down her back, revealed when Ginny had her spin around.
Draco saw the dress, and registered that it was green, but then his brain went on a short vacation. All he could do was stare at her. She'd done her hair up in a mass of curls, held strategically in place atop her head with sparkly pins, and she was wearing matching jewelry. The shoes were in a muted silver, and their height highlighted the curve of her legs.
"Draco, do close your mouth, you look like a lizard," said Ginny patronizingly.
He shut his mouth quickly and felt himself turn bright red. Bugger! He immediately walked away from the group when Harry and Ron started laughing at him, and went to the snack bar to purchase a bottle of water.
As he waited in line, all he could think about was how pretty she looked. How completely unlike herself she looked, but it was most definitely her at the same time. He found himself thinking he wished she dressed like that more often, and he heard a small voice in his head prodding him to tell her his opinion.
He turned around and looked at her from across the room and found that she was emitting a kind of glow. No one else seemed to notice; maybe it was just for him.
How are you feeling?
I'm getting closer.
That's true. Now. Relax.
I'm in a house and Blaise is sitting on the sofa wearing black and orange. He grins at me and kind of waves. I look down and see that I, too, am wearing black and orange. I frown.
"Are you ready, Draco?" comes a voice from another room. I recognize it as Raven.
After a moment, she walks into the room wearing – no surprise – black and orange. Only, she's wearing a lot of it. Everywhere. It's in her hair, painted onto her face, and shouting from a large pin on her shirt. I see her hair in a ponytail on the top of her head held up by a bright orange… hair-holder-up thing. And her hair is blond. Not my shade, but blond. I scrunch my nose.
She smiles at me. "Don't like the hair?" I shake my head and she shrugs. "I'm trying."
"I know," I say.
"Anyway, are you two ready?"
"I guess," I say. Though I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to be ready for. Blaise stands up and walks toward the door.
"Quidditch," he says, and I get it now. We're going to watch the Chudley Cannons play, but I don't know why; that's Weasley's team. I don't really have a team, I just like to play. And fly.
The scene changes, and we're walking to our seats – box seats, right in the middle – carrying butterbeer and trying not to spill nacho cheese on people's heads. It's true, and I'm surprised that we have Muggle food. Not just nachos, but fish and chips too. And soda. I hate soda.
We sit, Raven between Blaise and me. I can't help but think that orange is not my color. At all. Raven talks with me before the game starts about the team and I'm impressed. She knows the game and her team well, and it shows.
Then the game is going, and it's one hundred to sixty, Chudley ahead. Raven is yelling and screaming nearly non-stop and despite the fact that we're outside, I feel like I'm in a very enclosed space. I'm getting a headache.
"Oh, come on! That's a foul!"
"Are you blind? He slugged the Bludger at him!"
"I cannot believe they took Anderson out and put Caldwell in. He's only got a thirty-four percent scoring record."
"Ooh, the Turner Twist, very nice; though her form was off on that last move."
The headache pain is constant, now two hours in, and I'm about to scream and the scene changes.
The three of us are on the ground of the pitch, and the stands are empty. There are three brooms, and Raven smirks. "Wanna fly?" she says.
My turn to smirk, because I love flying. "Sounds great," I say, and mount my broom. She mounts as well, but Blaise says he's going to watch for a bit. So Raven and I fly around and I chase her, but she's fast. So we race, and she wins some, and I win some, and she doesn't like it when I win, but I don't like it when she does, either.
Then I pull ahead in the score, and she says two more, and I say okay, and she wins them both, but I think she cheated. Somehow. Because she won by a lot. I'm annoyed, and she suggests we play one-on-one, but I say you can't play one-on-one, because you need at least two-on-two. To throw the ball around.
So Blaise joins us, but he turns into six Blaises, and Raven and I pick teams. Which is funny, because it's just Blaise.
The match goes fine, and it's amazing to be flying again – I think how I can't remember when was the last time I'd flown was, but it's been too long. Life is getting in the way too much—work, really. The countryside is amazing from high above it, and I almost get lost in it, but I see something catch the sun's rays and I know it's the Snitch.
I dive for it, and Raven pulls alongside me. It's like second year, when Potter and I were neck and neck, only this time I have to get it. It's so close I can taste it, but at the last second, she rams her broom into mine and I swerve so I won't fall, and she catches it.
We land, and there's only one Blaise now, and Raven has this huge, smug grin on her face. I can't help but scowl. I know I'm a Slytherin, and that it's assumed I cheat, but it still feels awful when it happens to you. And I hate losing.
"That's funny," says Raven, oozing with 'I beat you.' "Didn't you play for your house?" she teases, but it's not quite teasing. There's too much bite in her tone for it to be only casual teasing.
"Yes," I mutter, and she starts laughing. And it's clearly an 'I'm better than you' laugh.
"Oh, well, I guess I'm better than you then, aren't I?"
I grit my teeth and look at Blaise, who is picking at grass on the field.
"You beat me," I say.
"Noooooo," she sings, dancing in a little circle around me. "I'm better than you."
"No," I say, trying to stay calm. "This proves you beat me. In one game. Not that you're better than me."
"Ooh, someone's a sore loser," she says, and I hate that she's right. But she's a sore winner. I can win without coming off sounding like a spoiled seven-year-old.
I glare at her, and she stops smiling and smirks. "Well, guess that didn't work."
I blink, not sure why she switched so quickly.
"So you don't like the hair?" she asks, now back to her normal self. Though, for her, normal is whatever she thinks I want at that moment.
"No," I say, and Blaise laughs.
"It's too… familiar. Both my parents had hair the same color. It just – I can't."
"Okay," she says, cheerily. "How about this?" Slowly, her hair transformed into light brown, then a darker shade, until it was exactly her color. Her hair. And even though I'd guessed it, I still couldn't help but stare. It really is beautiful, and I must be blind.
My vision swirls again as I stare at the hair that is destined to haunt me. No one has hair like that, and I'm almost sad. Then, just when her hair starts to unfocus, the spinning
Good? Her hair – not the blond. I liked that she had a competitive nature and we were interested in similar things. Bad?
Her hair – not the blond. I liked that she had a competitive nature and we were interested in similar things.
Bad?WAY too competitive and a poor winner. She beat me at Quidditch and was way too much into the sport.
"You know the other night?"
"What night, Ron?"
"When we went to the movies."
Draco sighed. "Yes. What about it?"
"Hermione had a date. Before the movie. Just thought you'd want to know."
Draco scowled. And felt like he'd been hit in the gut with a Bludger. Repeatedly. "Why would you think I'd want to know that, Weasley?" he asked grumpily.
"Oh, come on. Because… you know…"
"What Hermione does is her business. Not mine. I see no reason why I should be concerned about her dating habits," Draco interrupted, with more confidence than he felt. "Last I checked, she's free to see whomever she pleases."
"Yeah, but – "
"Then there's nothing to talk about."
Ron was silent for a few minutes as he lined up his next shot. Draco was winning, but he'd hit two balls in a row, putting him down by only one. Carefully he aimed, minding the ball with the dark blue stripe, and then hit the cue. It bounced against the wall and rebounded into the solid orange ball, knocking it into a pocket.
"Yes!" Ron exclaimed. "We're tied."
"Fascinating," said Draco sarcastically.
As Ron lined up his next shot, a difficult one that spanned the table, he said, "She had a good time."
Draco shut his eyes and took four steadying breaths. "Good," he said when he trusted his voice again.
"That's why she was late." Ron shot and missed. "Bugger!"
"Temper, Weasley," said Draco smugly, examining the layout before him to find his best shot. When he saw it, he moved into position.
Just as he was about to shoot, Ron said, "She sure looked pretty, didn't she?"
Draco's shot went askew, but fortunately he didn't hit anything that would have forfeited his turn. He rounded on Ron. "I'm trying to concentrate," he hissed. And no, it wasn't his missed shot that had him so angry.
"Sorry," said Ron cheerily. "I didn't know that mentioning that Hermione was pretty would be distracting."
Draco glared at him. "Anything you would say would be distracting when I'm just about to shoot."
"Just – give me a minute, okay? No talking."
Ron nodded and Draco resumed his concentration. He sank the ball and smirked. "Two more." He moved to set up his next shot.
Ron sighed and looked at his watch. "Harry and the others will be here soon."
"Good. They can watch me beat you. Again," Draco replied smugly. He took his shot and sank it as well. "One more. They'd better hurry – this is going to be over quickly."
"Hermione's bringing him. You know, the guy from the other night."
Draco had one more ball to pocket before he tried for the eight ball, and he focused all of his attention on the line. He tried to pretend that Ron hadn't spoken, he really did. He pushed it away, as hard as he could, but without much success. Then, he imagined the ball was Ron's head. Perfect.
"Last shot, Weasley. Where were we again? You owe me… seven Galleons? Merlin, that's a lot of money Weasley. Do you even have seven Galleons?"
"If you win this one, yes, I owe you a lot. If I lose… next game – double or nothing."
Draco smirked. "Sure. I love relieving you of the burdens of excess. Corner pocket, right." He lined up the shot; it would be easy.
"Are you seeing anyone?" Ron asked casually.
Draco wanted to beat him over the head with the cue stick, but restrained himself. He merely blinked. "Kind of."
Ron's eyebrows shot up. "Really? I – oh, well – uh, that's good," he said, stumbling over his words. "Only, what's 'kind of' mean? You either are or you aren't."
"It's complicated. Now may I please have silence for this shot?"
"Sure. Oh – Hermione! Over here!" Ron yelled, waving his arms frantically over his head.
Draco closed his eyes and counted to ten before standing up straight. Hermione and some guy were making their way toward the pool table.
Hermione hugged Ron and introduced 'Gary.' Draco watched with amusement as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and pretended not to notice that Hermione looked stunning in dark, tight jeans, a black top, and black heels, her hair done up again.
'Gary' was one of those pretty boys. Perfect teeth, perfect cheekbones, perfect hair, perfect smile. It was nauseating, Draco thought. Then Hermione turned to him, and her smile faltered.
"Malfoy," she said curtly.
"Granger," he replied, giving her a small nod.
"This is Gary," she said.
Gary extended his hand and Draco accepted it, shaking once before returning to lean on his cue stick.
"Gary, this is Draco Malfoy."
"Pleasure," said Gary, smiling that perfect, nauseating smile.
Draco had an intense desire to reorganize his teeth, but he responded with, "Likewise."
"Malfoy was about to win the game," said Ron, clearly enjoying himself far too much.
"Oh, excellent," said Gary pleasantly, moving to examine the table. "I'd go for that one," he said finally, pointing to one of the middle pockets.
Draco frowned. "Why? The corner right is much easier."
Again, Gary flashed his teeth. "I like a challenge."
Draco nodded. "And I like to win." Then he leaned over and once again lined up the winning shot.
He'd started to move the stick when Ron said, "If you talk right when he's doing that, he gets really upset."
Draco stood straight once again and heaved an exasperated sigh. "Weasley, shut up, or I'm going to shove this stick down your throat."
Ron laughed. "My apologies. Please continue."
Draco refused to let anything else distract him this time, even Ron's stupid interruptions. He focused on the cue ball until everything else went blank. Then he pulled back on the stick, and then let it go.
"Pay up," he said smugly as the ball clunked into the corner right pocket.
"You bet?" said Hermione, surprised.
"Sure, Granger. I'll take his money any day."
"You don't need it," she protested.
"It's got nothing at all to do with need," he said. "It's about Weasley refusing to admit I'm better than he is."
"Don't worry, Hermione," said Ron. "It's double or nothing next game."
"No," said Draco. "I'm done. This will pay everyone's tab for the evening."
"I'll play for Ron," offered Gary.
Draco met Ron's eyes. He knew it would be a bad thing to play Gary. A very bad thing. And Ron knew it too.
"Go on, Malfoy," said Ron, grinning. "My arm hurts anyway."
Draco rolled his eyes. "I didn't poke you hard at all, you wuss." He turned to Gary and said, "Thank you, but I'm done for the evening."
"Are you afraid?" taunted Gary. "That you'll look bad in front of your friends?"
Draco saw Hermione look at him then, and when he glanced at her, her eyes were wide. Ron was about to burst, he was laughing so hard; he should never be allowed to drink more than two drinks. Ever.
"Not at all," said Draco, handing his cue stick to Hermione. "As it's your first time out with us, I'd really rather you not look bad in front of Granger. I'll beat you some other time."
Hermione accepted the cue and he could tell she was anxious.
"Now you have to play!" Gary exclaimed.
"Why is that?"
"You talk trash – you have to put up."
"Some other time."
"You afraid to play me?" said Gary, trying to goad Draco into playing.
"I'm going to see if the others have arrived," Draco said to Ron.
As he walked past the table, Gary grabbed his arm. "Why won't you play me?" he asked, no longer laughing.
Draco wrenched his arm from the other man's grasp. "I have a strict three game rule, and I used them up on Ron. Another time," he said, meeting Gary's eyes.
For a few moments, they simply glared at each other, then Gary finally looked away. "Another time, then."
Draco nodded and returned to stand by Ron.
"So, Draco's seeing someone," Ron said, obviously trying very hard not to laugh at how funny he was being.
Draco focused on an invisible spot on the pool table so he wouldn't think to punch Ron's in the nose. He could feel Hermione looking at him, but he refused to look at her.
"Isn't that nice?" Ron continued.
Fortunately for Ron, the others showed up then, saving Draco from having to throw him across the room.
"We're very pleased with your progress. As we promise, results in seven. And we may just beat that!"
"Don't mumble. Now, here we go again…"
I'm walking through London with Blaise and it's Muggle London. Blaise stops in front of a large, old building and I look at him questioningly.
He jerks his head, indicating the building and I follow the line. We're at a library. I scowl and follow Blaise up the steps. I count one hundred twenty steps to the front door.
We're inside now, and Blaise elbows me and points to the desk. Above it, there's a sign that reads 'Librarian'. At the desk is a smart-looking witch with brown hair pulled tightly up into a bun on the back of her head.
It's lighter, I notice, and I'm curious.
She's wearing glasses and has a pencil stuck over her ear. She's got on a simple white blouse tucked into a dark brown pencil skirt. I can't see her shoes, but I guess they're pointy and brown. She's beautiful, if a little too… tight.
Blaise says, "Go talk to her," and pushes me toward the desk.
The librarian glances up at me and quirks an eyebrow. "May I help you?" she asks in a voice that tells me there's a whole lot more to this woman than meets the eye. I can't say how I know that; I just do.
"Yes," I say with a true smile. "Do you have any books on magic?"
She smiles on one side of her mouth. "This is a Wizarding library. I'd say nearly all of the books are about magic."
I nod, feeling stupid. "Do you have a Muggle section?" I ask.
Her eyes twinkle and she smiles for real this time. "We do," she says, standing. "Follow me."
I do as she says, and see that her skirt ends just below her knees and she's got her calves. Lovely, shapely, and perfect. And her shoes are green velvet.
She leads me onto the lift and I can't help but want to kiss her. It's one of those moments. But I don't, because we just met.
"What are you waiting for?" she asks, looking at me. Daring me.
I swallow hard and urge the lift to go faster. Finally, we reach the fifth floor and she exits first, walking so that I notice it.
"Here you go," she says, stopping on the end of a very long row, looking perfectly proper. These three rows are our Muggle collection. Is there any subject in particular that interests you?"
"Raven?" I say.
"I evolve. You know that."
I shake my head and she softens. Her eyes turn from green to brown.
"Basketball," I say. "Do you play?"
"Me?" she says, giggling. Now she sounds like her. "No, I don't. I'm terrible."
I grin. "But I bet you know all the rules."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I am familiar with the game."
"Would you recommend a few books for me?" I ask, unable to keep from grinning stupidly.
"Sure," she says, and starts down the row. I follow her and she pulls out a few books and hands them to me. "The first are probably the best, as far as rules and playing and strategy. The others are about famous basketball players. For inspiration."
I thank her and drop the books and kiss her. Slowly she responds, and it's just like her. It's like home.
"I've missed you," I say.
"I know," she says, and pulls me back.
I don't know how long we stand there kissing, but when I look up, it's dark outside the windows. I panic and pull away.
"What?" she says, wounded.
"I – I have to go," I stutter, and I start walking away from her, down the row toward the lift.
"Why? Stay, Draco, please."
"I told you – she's an impossibility!" I keep moving, now I'm running down the row, but the lift isn't getting any closer.
She speaks and she's right beside me, but she's not moving and I'm sprinting. "Draco, why are you running?"
"It would never work!" I shout and try to run even faster.
"How do you know?"
"I just – do! Okay? I know! I can't be happy where I am. I always want to move on. I'm… never just content." I stop, out of breath, and double over, panting. "I just can't do it."
"You're only here for information, Draco. What you do with it is up to you."
I look at her, and I know she's telling the truth, but I can't help it; it still feels like so much more. As if I have to say right now what I want.
"You don't," she says kindly.
I stop breathing hard and stand up.
"Would you like a glimpse?" she asks.
I frown. "A glimpse? Of what?"
She smiles. "Take my hand. You'll see."
"Close your eyes."
"Now. Open them."
I do, and she's gone. I'm standing just inside the front door of a house. The door knob is still in my hand. I shut the door behind me and walk down the hall. It's a quaint house, but it feels… full.
I walk into a room and Blaise is sitting on the sofa. He stands and walks toward me. "Nice to see you here," he says with a warm smile, then exits through the door.
Then I hear sounds. Laughter. I follow it and find myself in the kitchen. There are three people sitting around a table – a small girl who looks to be about five, and a smaller boy, and her. It's Raven, but it's her.
She looks up at me and smiles and gets up. She walks to me and hugs me, then gives me a light kiss on the mouth. "Welcome home," she says.
And there's just something about her. "You look – pregnant," I say.
She grins mischievously. "Wonder how that happened." She kisses me again, with a little more force.
"I always thought I'd want three," I tell her.
"I know," she says. Then we're in the hall outside the kitchen and she's got me against the wall, kissing me as if I'd been gone for months. I certainly have no objections.
"I've missed you," she says.
"Me too," I return.
She pulls back. "I love you, Draco."
And I know it's true. "I love you too," I say with a defeated sigh. "Probably always will."
She's got a sparkle in her eyes and her smile. "How much do you love me?"
"More than anything," I say, more okay with the idea.
"Good," she says, and her face changes into the no-nonsense one I'm so familiar with. "Can you watch the kids for an hour? I need a nap." She kisses me quickly, and before I can even process what she's said, she's halfway down the hall. She stops and looks back at me. "I love you," she says, then mouths, 'thank you!' before disappearing into our room.
I take a deep breath and I can hear the kids still in the kitchen. I've never really dealt with kids, except that these kids are my kids, so in that respect I have. They're mine. I have to shake my head because it still doesn't sink in. Probably won't either, until I actually really do have my own.
I walk into the kitchen, and the girl, her name is Claire, is building something with her mashed potatoes. I sit where she'd been sitting and Claire looks at me.
"Hi, Daddy," she says and it warms me all though.
"Hey there," I say to her, and then I look to my son, James, who is mashing beans on toast with his hands. I ruffle his hair, and he keeps doing it. It's strange, but it feels like they're really mine.
"What are you making?" I ask Claire.
"A mountain," she says.
"It's very nice."
"Thank you. Mummy says we're not supposed to play with our food with our hands, but I'm using a spoon."
I smile. "Well, I think that's allowed."
"Dada," says James, and when I look at him, he's grinning and he's got ketchup all over his face. He looks so proud of himself, and something tugs at my heart.
"Want to see my room?" Claire asks, and I say yes. She stands up and takes my hand in her tiny one and pulls me down the hall.
"Hang on, I need to get your brother," I say and pick him up. I return my hand, more accurately my finger, to her and allow myself to be led to my daughter's room.
To my surprise, it's decorated in silver and green. My colors, not hers. Claire pulls me into the room and has me sit on the bed. "Read me a story, Daddy," she says.
She hands me one called "The Dragon and the Princess" and climbs onto her bed to sit as close to me as possible. I set James beside me, and he rests his head on my lap. I open the book and begin to read, and before I notice, it's nighttime and they've both fallen asleep on my lap.
She walks in and crosses her arms, smiling.
"So this is what it would be like?" I ask in a whisper so as not to wake my children.
She shrugs. "Could be. Is this what you want?"
I take a deep breath. Is this what I want? Do I want a wife, and children, and to come home to them every day, to play with my kids and read them bedtime stories? To watch my wife get older, to watch myself get older?
I look at her again. "You look so beautiful," I say, and I mean it. She smiles. "It's good to know you'll still be hot in ten years."
She laughs and comes over to kiss me. "So. Is this what you want?"
"Yes," I say shakily. "I'm not sure. I think so, but I told you. I can't be happy in one place for long."
"Life will always be changing, Draco," she says. "And maybe you can just go to a different place with her. You don't have to choose between the two."
And that makes so much sense to me. I can't believe it has never occurred to me before. It's so simple and I almost scream because I should have thought of that before. I should have known!
"Time to go?" she asks, and I nod. My vision spins, centered on my daughter's blond curls and then it
Bad: Me. But I'll work on that.
"I hate this game!"
Harry laughed. "Because you always lose."
"No, because it's ridiculous. And I do not always lose," Draco protested. "You play until one person owns everything. I'm quite certain I know more about such a thing than you do. This game can take hours! It's already been three!"
"And you're too impatient to see it through," said Blaise.
Draco exhaled loudly. "I'd prefer to spend my time on other things. Like making real money, for example."
Ron rolled an eight, and moved his iron onto Piccadilly, which was owned by Harry. And had four houses on it. He groaned. "What do I owe you?"
"One thousand, twenty-five pounds," said Harry happily. "Fork it over."
Ron counted. "Five hundred, six, seven hundred twenty, forty, sixty, five. Guess I'm out."
Harry greedily took all of Ron's money and added it to his own pile. "Just you and me, Malfoy, now that both Blaise and Ron are out."
"How about I just concede the victory to you?" Draco asked.
"What? Why? You've got a hotel on Mayfair!"
"So? I'm bored."
"Come on, Draco," said Blaise, returning to the room with snacks. "Finish it. Have you ever finished a game of Monopoly before?"
"No," said Ron, passing around fresh, cold butterbeers. "He gets bored. And quits."
"You have a problem seeing things through," Harry said as he rolled a two. "Blast. That's yours, Malfoy."
"Yeah, I know. Pay up, And I do not have a problem finishing things."
"Name one thing you've finished."
"School," he said simply.
"Two years late," Harry pointed out.
Draco scowled. "Yes, well, the War and all that. Couldn't be helped."
"Something else," said Ron.
"I finish books all the time. And most games, like pool. Weasley, you still owe me."
"Yeah, well. You know I'm good for it."
"Name something that matters," said Harry as he handed the dice to Draco.
Draco had to think about it. "Oh!" he said, snapping his fingers. "That charity thing last year. Start to finish."
Blaise rolled his eyes. "Hermione was working with you. Doesn't count."
"Why not? I still stuck with it."
Harry and Ron exchanged a significant look that annoyed Draco to no end.
"Come on, there must be something."
He sighed and looked from Harry to Ron to Blaise. "Fine. But this doesn't leave this room, okay?" The others nodded. "You know Granger's house-elf movement?" They nodded again, Harry's eyes widening. "I sort of… support her."
Ron's jaw dropped. "You're the anonymous donor?"
"You hate that stuff!" Harry cried. "Always make fun of Hermione for it."
"Right. She'd never suspect me." Harry, Ron and Blaise just stared at him. "What?"
"But… her whole idea, her project, would die if it weren't for that money."
"I know. Which is why I will continue to give it to her every month until her demands are met."
"So, forever," said Harry.
"The idea is that she'll be successful," Draco said firmly. "You should really be more supportive of her. She's got some great ideas."
"Technically, though, that's still not finished," Blaise pointed out.
"You've got to be kidding."
"Finish the game as a show of good faith."
"Fine," he said, exasperated and ready to go home. "Let's – finish the bloody game. So I can go home. And Potter, isn't your wife due home any minute now?"
"So she is," he said, rolling a seven.
Nearly two hours later, Draco had successfully taken over every property except Old Kent Road. Ron and Blaise were passed out on the sofas, and Ginny was sitting at the table watching.
"I'm out," said Harry, tossing his few remaining pounds on the table and yawning. "You win."
Draco grinned triumphantly. "And, more importantly, I finished something. Just don't ever ask me to play this game again."
"Good, Draco," said Ginny, patting his arm. "I think this was good for you."
He groaned. "I'm fine. I don't have a problem!" Ginny opened her mouth to speak, but Draco cut her off. "Do not say whatever it is you're thinking of saying, Ginny Potter. I'm in no mood right now."
She clamped her mouth shut and took a sip of her tea. "Fine. Harry, let's go. Get these boys out of here."
"So, Mr. Malfoy. It appears that our association is coming to an end."
"Yes, it does."
"Six sessions. And you say you don't need a seventh?"
"No. Thank you, though."
"You paid for it."
"I'm not concerned about that. I don't believe I will learn anything new from another session."
"I'd like to ask you a few parting questions then. We ask all our customers this same set, so don't feel as though we're singling you out or trying to pry. Would you agree to answer them truthfully?"
"Sure. Whatever you need."
"Wonderful. To start, do you feel that you learned anything about yourself? And if so, what?"
"Of course I did. Isn't that the point?"
"As for what I learned… I figured out what had been bothering me."
"Care to be more specific?"
"No, actually, if that's all right. I'd prefer to say it first to someone else."
"Oh, of course. Perhaps you'd be willing to come back for these questions?"
"Well, then number two. Would you recommend this service to your friends and family?"
"If I believe it would be beneficial, then yes, most certainly."
"What did you think of the interface we used?"
"Is it the same for everyone?"
"Well, no, we tailor it, of course."
"Then, for me, it was perfect."
"Excellent. Now, Mr. Malfoy. Here is your analysis, complete with the list of characteristics and their definitions, as well as examples of each."
"Thank you, but I don't think that will be necessary."
"Indeed. Well, perhaps you would take it nonetheless."
"Okay. Thank you. I mean it. This entire experience has been… just what I needed and truly enlightening. When I started this program, you told me the goal wasn't to give me a name or a picture. That I would receive general traits—honesty, intelligence, etc.—I wouldn't end up with a specific person, but I did. I think it's because I knew someone who happened to fit all these characteristics."
"Perhaps she helped to mold your preferences."
"I think so. Very much so. Once I realized that it was okay."
"Naturally, you had to get past your hesitations and reluctance. I'm very happy to hear that we were successful."
"Yes. Thank you again."
"You're welcome, Mr. Malfoy. Please do let us know if we can assist you further."
"I will. Good day."
Draco took a deep breath and knocked on the door of flat 210. He listened as footsteps approached, the door was unlocked, and wards were removed. Then the door opened.
"Hi," said a surprised Hermione.
"Hey," he said, giving her a tentative smile. After a moment of staring at each other, Draco noticed that she was wearing loungewear. Light blue pants with bears on them, a small T-shirt, and house shoes. Her hair was pulled up loosely, a good portion of it falling all over the place. "Is this a bad time?" he asked.
"You're in sleep clothes."
"Oh, no, it's fine. I was just about to start a movie."
He nodded. "Good. What movie?"
"Pride and Prejudice."
"I read that book."
"You did? Why?"
He shrugged. "It's a classic."
She smiled. "Yes, it is."
Draco said nothing to that, and started to feel awkward that he was still standing in the hallway.
"Would you… like to come in?" Hermione asked, apparently noting the same thing.
"You could watch it with me, if you wanted. I've got popcorn," she said in sing-song voice. "And I know how much you like popcorn."
Draco hesitated, but when he looked at her, he saw that she truly meant it. "I can come back another time."
"No," she said firmly, opening the door wide. "Come in."
After another moment of hesitation, he did, and she shut the door behind him. "Can I get you anything to drink?" she asked, heading for the kitchen.
"Butterbeer, please, if you have it."
"You're in luck. I keep a few bottles in stock. Just in case."
He swallowed hard and looked around the living room in her absence. It looked warm and cozy, with a comfortable sofa and big, colorful pillows. He rocked on his heels while waiting for her to return.
She did, with two bottles and a smile. She handed him one. "You can take off your coat, you know. I use the heat."
Draco nodded, feeling stupid. He took off his coat and set it in the chair. Hermione sat down on one end of the sofa, crossed her legs, and pulled a warm blanket around her. She set the popcorn bowl beside her and picked up the remote control to start the movie. Then she looked at him.
"Are you going to stand for the movie?" she asked with a smirk.
"No," he said, reddening. He sat stiffly at the opposite end of the sofa, staring at the television.
"Ready?" she asked.
Hermione hit "play," set the remote on her coffee table, and snuggled into her spot even more. Draco remained motionless, straight as a board in his seat.
All through the movie he couldn't help but think that he was there. At her place, watching a movie with her. It was hard to enjoy the movie when he knew that once it finished, he'd have to tell her why he was there.
There was a scene toward the end, where the eldest Miss Bennett received a proposal from her beau, and he noticed Hermione reach for a tissue. So he looked at her, and saw tears running down her cheeks, a pleasant smile on her face. He couldn't help it. He stared.
She noticed, because she paused the movie and looked at him. "What?"
He blinked and shook his head to clear it. "Nothing."
"No, what? You were staring at me."
He shifted uneasily in his seat and without looking at her, he said, "I – it's just – I was thinking – you've never looked more beautiful to me than right now."
Hermione's eyes widened and her lips parted in surprise. He still wouldn't look at her, and he wondered how long she'd look at him like that before doing or saying something.
"You can unpause it now," he said, pointing lazily toward the telly.
She nodded slowly and did as he'd said. But he noticed that she didn't snuggle into her blanket but sat rigid in her seat for the rest of the movie. When it ended, Hermione turned off the telly.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
It took him a second to realize what she was thanking him for his comment earlier. "You're welcome," he replied awkwardly.
More silence. Then she looked at him. "Draco?"
"Why are you here?"
He smiled and looked at her. "A few reasons. I wanted to see how you're doing, for one."
"Fine. Just fine."
"Good," he said with a nod. "Are you still seeing Gary?"
"No. Never was."
He sniffed. "I figured."
"Oh, did you?" she asked.
He shrugged. "He was completely not your type."
"Right, and you know this because…"
"I met him, remember?"
"Why didn't you play pool with him?"
"Because I knew if I did I would end up punching him."
"I'm serious! It was all I could do not to punch Ron, and he's my friend."
"Why would you have punched him?"
He looked at her a cocked an eyebrow. "Do you really need me to answer that?"
She smiled shyly. "No, I suppose not."
Hermione's cat jumped up onto the sofa and went straight to Draco, purring and rubbing his arm with her head. He absently rubbed her head between the ears, causing her to purr even louder.
"What's another reason?" Hermione asked.
"To see if you were seeing Gary. Or anyone."
"I'm not. But what about you? Was Ron telling the truth?"
"I'm not seeing anyone."
"But you were?"
"Then what was Ron talking about?"
"Never mind Ron. I'm telling you I'm not. I never was."
"Oh. Kind of like I wasn't really seeing Gary?"
"Kind of. Only different."
Draco sighed. "And, I came here to tell you that you were right about me."
Hermione looked at him with a sly smile. "Which time?"
"Ha, ha, very funny," he said. Then he turned serious. "You were right when – you said I didn't know what I wanted."
She stopped smiling and looked away. "Oh."
"I didn't. I thought I knew, but then you came along, and I wasn't sure anymore."
"Sorry to ruin your plans," she said sarcastically.
"No, don't do that. I'm trying to tell you – I know now."
She still didn't look at him, but he could tell she was holding her breath. "And?"
She let it out and shut her eyes tight, her forehead wrinkling.
"I'm sorry that it took so much for me to see that you're everything I could ever want."
Her eyes shot open and she looked at him, full of doubt and hope. "You – you mean it?"
"Of course I do."
Slowly she smiled. "What now?"
He couldn't help but smile back at her as he took a deep breath; he'd thought a lot about the 'what now'. "I want to be with you. I want to be with you… forever. If you want. If you'll have me back."
Hermione's smile lit her entire face, and she flung herself across the sofa to throw her arms around him, burying her face against him. He held onto her hard, half worried he'd crush her. "I missed you," he whispered, and she squeezed him.
She pulled back just enough that he could look into her eyes. "Me too. I've been waiting months for this, you know."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. You had precisely one month and twenty-eight days remaining until I stopped waiting."
His breath caught. "Then what would have happened?"
"I'm not sure, but I would've pounded it into you, literally, if necessary."
He smiled, relieved. "Good. I probably could have used it."
"I still might, you know. For what you did."
"I know. But Hermione, I had to see. I couldn't have been completely right for you if I hadn't."
She shook her head. "I don't really understand that, but you're here now, so I accept it."
"Hermione…I need you to understand what you're getting into. I panicked before; it could happen again. I still think I'm not nearly good enough for you.
And I'm still going to think sometimes that I can't do it, that I can't be what you need me to be."
She nodded, and said, "And I'm still going to tell you you're wrong."
"And I'm still not going to believe you. But… if you'll just put up with me, I'll get over it."
"I might someday feel like I need to leave."
She hitched her breath and looked at his eyes frantically. She started to speak, but he put a finger to her lips.
"Just come with me. Okay?"
Tears filled her eyes and she took a shaky breath. "Okay."
"I love you." He'd never said it before. He'd been too scared, too uncertain; he'd had myriad reasons. But he knew she needed to know it. "I always have."
She closed her eyes and a few tears fell, but when she looked at him again, she was smiling. "I love you too, Draco."
He hugged her to him, tighter than before, memorizing the moment. Her hair, her smile, her eyes. Her.
Then he unlatched her from him and pushed her back so he could look at her again. "Do you, uh, still have that green dress?"
She nodded, eyes sparkling.
"Good. You should wear that. Every day."
She laughed and hugged him again.
"Seriously. You were… stunning that night. I could barely think."
"I know. I could tell. It made me very happy."
"I'm glad I put you on their mailing list."