Disclaimer: I own nothing. Every recogniseable portion belongs to...well, obviously not me. Snippets have been borrowed from JK Rowling in order to procure this particular fanfiction. I do so love playing with her toys.

AN: In order to delve through a ridiculous case of writer's block...this little plot bunny jumped directly into my path. Hopefully things turns out the way I wish. As always, enjoy. *kisses*

The Dilemma

Draco Malfoy groaned once more and Blaise for one, had quite enough of his friend's dramatics. He disregarded the wizard in favour of perusing the delectable witches passing their table outside the small café. Personally, he wasn't a fan of allowing himself to be surrounded by Muggles, but Draco had insisted.

Apparently, there were numerous rumours swirling about the Wizarding World concerning his impending arranged marriage. Blaise shivered in revulsion. He couldn't imagine being trapped in such constraints. For the first time in his life, he was quite thankful his mother went through husbands the way others breathed air.

"Would you stop staring at anything with a set of tits and listen to me?"

"What's the point really? You refuse to even entertain the idea of telling your father to stuff it. What is it you'd like to me to do?"

"Are you insane? My father would completely cut me off and I'd rescind my inheritance as well. I'd be…poor." Draco swallowed the bile, which threatened to erupt and shook his head quickly. "Might as well be a bloody Weasley."

"At least the Weasleys can marry whomsoever they choose." Blaise shrugged, quickly losing interest. He was absolutely positive the willowy blonde in the corner was up for a shag.

"That's not the point. They're poor. I can't be poor. I might actually have to work for a living. I might even sweat. Even the thought of such a thing is revolting."

"I can't even comprehend your laments. At least you're on friendly terms with your intended." Blaise waggled his fingers at the blonde, enjoying her 'come hither' smile as he sipped some concoction called a cappuccino.

"Yes, but again, that's not the point. I swear, you're intentionally missing the point to irritate me. She's fine, somewhat attractive I suppose, but she's more like a sister than anything." Draco stared into nothingness, contemplating his lack of options.

"I don't know from what sort of you family you've erupted, but I don't make a habit of fucking my siblings."

"Ugh, don't remind me. It was a colossal error." The pale blond nibbled the corner of his pastry, satisfied with its explosion of apple flavour and crossed his legs.

"I can name more than a few colossal errors and it seems they've all centered around a certain…"

"Don't say it. Don't you dare. You swore, what the fuck kind of best mate are you anyway?" Draco inadvertently tipped over his teacup, clenching his teeth as the tepid liquid dripped onto his pristine dark slacks.

"The sort that puts up with your ridiculousness? I've kept your secrets and considering your father is Lucius Malfoy, I'm particularly proud of that accomplishment. He questioned me you realise?" The tall, burly, dark-haired wizard sighed as the object of his limited affections left the café with a sour looking bint.

"My father questioned you about what exactly?" Draco knew better than to draw his wand, considering their surroundings, yet the seething anger in his voice was almost palpable.

"You know how Lucius is, better than anyone. It seems he suspected you were enamored with a particular unsuitable witch. Don't glower at me, you bloody well know those are his words, not mine. I quite like the girl. I only befriended her for you and for once in my life, I'm satisfied with the results. She's really quite…" Blaise recognised the ire in his friends silvery eyes and instead of continuing his monologue, cleared his throat and sipped his lukewarm Muggle drink.

"I am not, nor have I ever been enamored with her. Curious perhaps, but that was simply due to circumstance. Even my father can't deny the fact it was easier to befriend her than to continue spewing forth the hatred of my ancestors." Draco's voice was low and controlled, but Blaise was curious to see his mate's reactions by pushing the matter.

Draco was nervous, anxious even and Blaise picked it up quickly. He observed the way his mate constantly plucked at his slacks, his grey eyes constantly on the move. They never stayed on any woman long enough to discern interest, which was curious where Draco Malfoy was concerned. He always had his eyes set on a beautiful woman, but then again, that was before.

"She speaks of you at times. She enquires as to your health and whatnot. I've allowed myself to be regaled with stories of your Hogwarts days and haven't minded in the least. She's easy to talk to, and if I were absolutely positive you wouldn't turn me into a great pile of dust, she would replace you as my best mate. In fact, I've discovered she's the first woman, witch or otherwise, I've actually befriended without wanting to shag her senseless." Blaise pursed his lips and waited for the expected outburst.

"How is she? Obviously, I can't ask her for a spot of tea, but it doesn't mean I'm completely heartless. It's more for her protection than anything." The venom had dissipated to the point of nonexistence and Blaise was quite impressed with the projected emotion in his mate's words.

"I am of the opinion she knows. She never asks when we're gallivanting about the Wizarding World. It's always a whispered question over tea, right here in this café actually. It's a personal favourite. She adores their pastries." Draco nodded, examining the crisp pastry carefully before nibbling another corner.

"She's always had exceptional taste." Blaise pretended he hadn't heard the blatant compliment and smiled slightly.

"Except for her boyfriend. Bloody witch has terrible taste when it comes to wizards."

"We're completely off-topic. We are supposed to be discussing my issues with marrying a witch of my father's choosing." Draco stiffened and grit his teeth, refusing to entertain the notion of his witch with such a simpering sop.

"She told me, in confidence of course, you kissed her once." Blaise winked at a delightful redhead, watching her hips sway as she walked passed.

"It was an accident." Blaise had to strain to hear the words and he was positive his mate was completely unaware of his pastry falling to the ground.

"She said the same actually. I would have believed her if her cheeks weren't the colour of a Weasley and her hands hadn't trembled."

"I don't want to marry Astoria." Draco stared at the smattering of flowers along the edge of the china plate as if they held the answer.

Blaise Zabini stared long and hard at the pensive blond. His lip twitched in excitement as the obvious answer to Draco's issues soared to the surface. He knew he was playing with fire, but as a Slytherin, such things never bothered him.

He also knew he would have to hold tight to a secret, which is what troubled him the most. Blaise disliked the idea, but in the end, he hoped it would be worth the sense of betrayal Draco would feel. He convinced himself it was for the better. Surely, even she would see things his way once she learned the truth. Blaise supposed he should be prepared for a hex or two and almost laughed aloud at the idea.

"Leave it to me. Don't ask questions, it's better that way." He gripped Draco's forearm, until the wizard in question met his sparkling dark brown eyes.

"This isn't going to end well, it never does when you say such things." Draco groaned and silently questioned his mate's motives. "Do whatever it is you do, what's the worst that can happen?"

"You wind up married to the Weasel and the Ministry discovers new magicks for homosexual reproduction?"

"You're Hermione Granger!" Hermione cringed, her steps slowing, while bracing herself for an onslaught of questions revolving around the war.

"Yes, I am, may I help you?" She turned slowly, expecting a bubbly blonde, instead staring into shockingly similar features.

"I'm sure you hear it all the time, but I've heard so much about you. I was much too young to have much to do with the war or any of that unpleasantness, but you were the talk of the Wizarding World for years." The brunette grasped Hermione's hands with an easy smile on plum painted lips.

Hermione's tight smile remained in place, used to such antics. She had never been one to revel in the attentions, but she tolerated them for the sake of propriety more than anything. She knew if Ron had accompanied her, he'd be fawning over the witch and sighed.

"Yes I suppose I was, though my role was peripheral at best. Harry Potter is the true hero, as he was the wizard to end…"

"Of course, but without you it would have been impossible, I mean you're absolutely brilliant. I can't imagine doing half the things you've done, which is exactly why I need your help." The dark eyes narrowed and Hermione straightened her back, instantly recognising the underhanded cunning of a Slytherin.

"I'd inform you I have an appointment, but I don't suppose it would deter you."

"I'm sure you're barraged every moment you step into Diagon Alley and I suppose I'm not much different than the others. However, I'm not beseeching you for monetary aid, or even proposing to introduce you to influential wizards, who can aid whichever cause you're currently supporting. This is personal. If anyone can help me, it's you." Hermione had to admit she was intrigued, though she didn't appreciate being waylaid.

The young witch was absolutely correct in her assumptions. Hermione was incapable of counting the number of times she was approached with 'investment opportunities' or had been introduced to pompous wizards who only sought to have her decorate their arm, while the Daily Prophet followed their every movement. She had easily tired of any and all Ministry functions, keeping her dealings to a minimum to avoid such moments.

"I'm sorry, your name?"

"How embarrassing, it seems I've forgotten my manners. Astoria Greengrass, pleasure to meet you." The young witch curtsied quickly before threading her arm through Hermione's and leading her toward the Leaky Cauldron. "I think it would better suit us both if we continued this conversation away from prying eyes."

"Greengrass, hmm I do believe I attended Hogwarts with your sister, Daphne."

"Please do not compare me to that wretched woman." Astoria frowned, waving quickly to Tom before stepping out into Muggle London. "Blaise told me about the loveliest little café. He swore by it actually and since I know the two of you are quite close, I thought it would be the perfect place to converse, if you're in agreeance of course." Astoria had a bounce in her step Hermione envied.

"As if I have a choice in the matter." Hermione muttered, allowing herself to be dragged along.

She allowed herself to be seated under an imposing umbrella, semi-grateful it managed to shield the floundering sun. Astoria looked to her with wide eyes as the waiter approached their table, tapping his Muggle pen against the small pad in his hand. It became glaringly obvious to Hermione the poor witch hadn't the slightest idea how to traverse the Muggle world.

"Cuppa English Breakfast Tea and Oolong, milk on the side as well as a spot of lemon. Astoria, are you peckish? They do a lovely cucumber sandwich here and the madeleines are absolutely divine." Astoria's head bobbed quickly and Hermione looked to the wearied man with a quick glare until he slowly sauntered away.

"How did you know what I prefer?" Astoria whispered across the table, her dark brown eyes constantly flicking in every direction.

"Malfoy once told me of the Slytherins propensity for English Breakfast Tea and I assumed." Hermione feigned ignorance when it came to Astoria's instant tremble and the subtle way she managed to hide the fact her teeth were buried in her cheek.

"You're well acquainted with Draco Malfoy?" Astoria neatly folded her hands in her lap and if Hermione wasn't mistaken, the witch looked as though she were poised to flee.

"We both happened to return to Hogwarts for our seventh year after the War. I was Head Girl and he was appointed Head Boy. It was impossible not to pick up a few errant facts when forced to work closely together." Hermione resisted the urge to drum her fingers on the mosaic table, instead concentrating on Astoria.

"Thank Merlin." She sighed heavily with relief before continuing, "I can't tell you how relieved I am, you see, my issue is directly concentric to Draco Malfoy, and it would have put you in a terrible position if you were actually friends." Astoria relaxed as much as a pureblood witch possibly could when situated in a completely unfamiliar environment.

"We were friends, but once we left school, I suppose it was best we didn't continue such endeavors. I can't imagine our situation going over well with his father." Hermione silently begged the waiter to arrive with their tea, so she could drink it quickly and depart. The last thing she wanted was to hold a conversation concerning her strange former relationship with Draco Malfoy.

"I'm sorry. I don't expect you to believe me, or anything, but I am. The ways of pureblood society are antiquated notions and demeaning quite honestly. I personally never thought I would be sitting to tea with a Muggle-born witch and yet here I am. Please, don't be offended. I'm nothing like my sister. I never understood the underlying hatred. We're all magical, why does it matter how it came about?" Astoria sighed, her eyes alight as they fell upon a perfectly unremarkable bloke.

"I truly believe we're going to get along just fine." For the first time that day, Hermione Granger relaxed and gifted her companion with a genuine smile. "Now, I do believe you wished to discuss an issue?"

"My parents and the Malfoys have come to an agreement. They plan to announce our perfectly arranged pureblood engagement within the next few weeks." Hermione breathed a sigh of relief when their tray of tea and sandwiches arrived, finally giving her hands something to do. "I don't wish to marry him."

"I would have thought it is exactly what you'd wish. If I recall correctly, you had quite the penchant for following Malfoy about." Hermione refrained from mentioning she knew of their intimate relations as it was unseemly.

"I know you're silently judging me and I don't even mind. I'd rather have my freedom than my dignity at this point. I was young, spoilt beyond measure, and hadn't quite learnt to form my own opinions. I wanted what my parents wished for me, until I grew up.

'Ms. Granger, I was fifteen. I'm well aware you had already accomplished much at that age, but I was coddled and I luxuriated in it. It wasn't necessary for me to think, my mother was sure to do it for me. Once I was finished with my schooling, I learned the truth behind the War. I was grateful to have come across your book, without it, I'm sure I never would have learned a thing worth importance from my mother. They were more than willing to allow me to follow in their footsteps and produce little blonde pureblood grandchildren who violently spewed the same hate they propagated. I want more." Astoria stirred a plentiful dollop of milk into her tea, staring deep into the honeyed eyes of the witch she believed was capable of altering her future.

"Tell me what you'd like. I don't know what you'd like me to do about your impending Betrothal Contact, but I'm curious to know what you would like." Hermione squeezed a wedge of lemon into her tea and nibbled the corner of a cucumber sandwich.

"I'm not sure, but I want to do something meaningful. I don't have passions. I've never had passions, but I want them. I want more. I want to meet a wizard with ridiculously brilliant red hair and freckles covering his face. I want to watch him bumble about in his nervousness because he's just so completely captivated with me. I want to meet his family and maybe he'll have the sort of mum who loves to be a mum and she'll love me too. I want to feel as if I have a real family. I know it's not much and it probably sounds absolutely ridiculous to you…"

"If you know of me, then I'm sure you know all about Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. As sure as you're Slytherin, I'm also positive you know I've been dating Ron for years." Hermione wasn't angry, or jealous or anything other than genuinely interested in aiding this particular witch.

There was something about her, Hermione found endearing. She had an innocent sort of quality, which was refreshing when faced with the copious number of witches and wizards who were only to eager to boast of their liaisons.

"I know, oh, you think…no no. I've always had quite the obsession with red hair. I don't know what it is, but it really stirs my blood. I know Ron Weasley is yours, I wasn't implying anything. I just had a little fantasy and I suppose it mirrored life in a way, but…listen, I really need your help. I can't bear the thought of sleeping with Draco Malfoy again. I don't wish to live in the Manor or anywhere else with him. I don't wish to have children with him and not because he's horrid, he's not. I suppose you already knew that. I need to be free. I can't do what my sister's done and marry the first wizard my parents decided met their approval. I can't be given away, sold really, and trapped in a life where I can't breathe. Please, you've got to help me." Astoria was on the verge of tears and it broke every rule her mother had ever attempted to instill in her.

It was unbecoming to show emotion. One never cried in public, or at all if it could be helped. Always put forth your best effort, regardless of your personal feelings on the matter. Never leave your house, without being perfectly coiffed and manicured. Smile when appropriate, but never show your teeth.

The rules were endless and Astoria had never fit the mould. She hadn't wanted to be just another perfect little pureblood. How she managed to be Sorted into Slytherin was anyone's guess once they got to know her.

"I don't understand what you think I can do. I'm not particularly well versed in Betrothal Contacts and I certainly am not capable of arguing the merits of freedom to pureblood families. I suppose I could speak to the Minister on your behalf if you wish. He does happen to be a close personal friend, but knowing him as I do, he has a tendency to allow the Sacred Twenty-Eight to do what they will, as long as it doesn't fracture the Wizengamot law's." Hermione frowned, her thoughts sifting through the numerous laws safely filed away in her overactive mind.

"The Minister? You know the Minister on a personal basis, and you'd willingly seek his aid for me? What if he speaks to my parents? I can't imagine the row which would ensue from such a thing. Isn't there anything else? I don't mean to seem ungrateful. I am. I am so unbelievably thankful you've taken the time to listen to me in the first place." Astoria wrung her hands, her mouth gaping upon catching the eye of a wizard over Hermione's shoulder. "Bollocks, I'm completely fucked."

"If you can get me a copy of your Betrothal Contract, I can do a bit of research. I'm quite adept at such things and perhaps there is an obscure bit of text, which can release you from familial obligations without bloodshed or disownment. You have to keep in mind it's not my area of expertise, but I'll do that best I can."

"There's the Granger I know, offering to do research and using words which would give any bloke a headache." Hermione twisted in her seat easily spying the burly girth of Blaise Zabini.

"There's the Zabini I know, come to scour my café until they haven't a scone left to serve." Blaise chuckled amicably, waiting while Hermione stood, before hugging her tightly. He overlooked the instantaneous tightening of her limbs upon viewing his companion.

Blaise had been insanely curious to observe Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger in the same vicinity. He had quite honestly waited years for this moment. It seemed whenever there happened to be a Ministry function, they avoided each other as if they would contaminate the others airspace.

"Granger." Astoria squinted, contemplating the impassive expression etched into her intended's face, yet coming away with nothing at all.

"Malfoy." Blaise and Astoria exchanged a glance filled with mischief as Draco's lips barely brushed Hermione's knuckles.

Hermione didn't allow him to linger over her fingers, withdrawing as if she were burned. Her actions intrigued Astoria. It seemed her intended, and her only hope, had quite the sordid history, if their stilted interactions spoke truth. Astoria smirked, the Slytherin wheels turning quickly, wondering how much convincing it would take to lure Blaise into yet another scheme.

"Draco and I were just heading to dinner, why don't you join us?" Blaise looked down at the tiny brunette near his elbow and winked.

"I-I couldn't possibly, I was supposed to meet…Ron an hour ago and I was waylaid, by a lovely tea with Astoria." Hermione jutted her chin forward, refusing to glance at the grey-eyed wizard she knew was carefully studying her profile.

"That owl looks a bit dodgy…" Astoria mumbled, frowning heavily as a small gray winged beast flew erratically toward Hermione's head.

"Bugger." Hermione glanced to the now cloudy sky, squinting as the last vestiges of sunlight shone in her eyes, while she attempted to spy Pigwidgeon.

No matter how many times she suggested Ron purchase an owl adept at delivering mail, he had angrily refused. It seemed he had grown quite fond of the ruddy owl and she secretly wondered if he enjoyed needling her. Ron scoffed at such ideas, claiming love for the beast, but every Weasley knew it was Ginny who truly adored the bird.

She stepped backward in order to avoid the flapping wings and would have fallen, if not for the quick, sure hands of a certain Slytherin. He set her on her feet, easily snatching the bird from the air and removed the rolled parchment tied to Pig's foot. He disregarded Blaise's curiosity, in order to hand Hermione her letter.

The Slytherin trio observed Hermione's shoulders sag, while her brown eyes skimmed the hastily scrawled words. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. Draco recognised her upset, seeming he had been the cause of it for many years and waited.

"I-I, well…" Hermione faltered, suddenly unsure.

Astoria didn't waste a moment and quickly snatched the parchment from Hermione's hands, scanning the barely legible words. She frowned, handing it in turn to Blaise, who scoffed, before shoving it toward an almost unwilling Draco Malfoy. His lip twitched with derision and a quick roll of his eyes.

"Granger, he's cancelled plans for dinner in order to gad about with his Quidditch mates? It's obvious he's done it more than once considering your birthday was weeks ago." He shook his head, crumbling her letter.

"It's Quidditch season, he's busy." It didn't surprise any of the Slytherins to hear her defend her careless boyfriend.

"As you no longer have plans, I do insist you accompany us. We're loads more fun than sitting in front of the fire having a bit of tea surrounded by books anyway." Blaise winked and while Hermione sputtered, it's not as if she could refute his words.

"Come on then, it'll be lovely." Astoria batted her long dark eyelashes and while Hermione wished to laugh at the witch's antics, she found her endearing.

"I suppose I could, but…" Hermione raised her eyebrows and glared at Blaise.

"Oi, Malfoy, bring her along. She refuses to Side-Along with me. I can't imagine why…"

"Liar. You know exactly why!" Hermione shoved him, in a good-natured sort of way and Blaise laughed heartily.

"Yes, yes tell us all about it over dinner, I'm bloody starving." Astoria stamped her small, heeled foot, highly disgruntled upon feeling as if she were an outsider.

"There's an Apparition point just around the bend, come on then." Blaise tucked Astoria's hand into the crook of his elbow and led her down the emptying street.

Hermione blinked, aware she was left behind with Draco Malfoy while Astoria swayed her hips, chatting amicably with Blaise. She swallowed hard, set on watching the pair, but she could feel Draco stepping closer.

"Come on Granger, it's best not to keep Astoria waiting. She'll never shut up about it and I for one do not wish to listen to her insipid whining." Draco lightly grasped her elbow, but Hermione turned to him so suddenly, her hair whipped across his face.

"I don't have to come. I-I'm alright with being on my own. I don't mind, really and…" Draco smirked, refusing to even entertain the idea of sending her away. He dropped his eyes to the wooden buttons of her overcoat and tugged her long wool coat closed.

"You haven't buttoned yourself, Granger. There's entirely too much chill in the air, you'll catch your death and where would Astoria be then?" He chuckled lightly, shoving the wooden toggles into their buttonholes and normally Hermione would be insulted, but for some reason she found it charming and a little sweet.

Little did they know, Blaise and Astoria hadn't Apparated away. Instead, they hovered near the edge of the Muggle café, surreptitiously observing Draco and Hermione. Astoria elbowed Blaise more than once, astounded by her intended's behaviour.

"Do you see how close they're standing?" Astoria's hissed whisper buzzed in Blaise's ear and he had half a mind to swat her away.

"I have eyes woman."

"Are you sure they didn't have some sort of relationship in school? He's buttoned her up. He fucking smiled. Draco doesn't smile."

"At you…"

"Shut up. She's blushing. I wish I could hear what they were saying." Astoria rubbed her hands up and down her arms, wishing they're hurry up.

Hermione refused to look up at him while he buttoned her coat, instead concentrating on his nimble fingers. She held her breath when his arms brushed against her ears in order to free her lustrous mane. It was easier to keep her eyes set on the silver buttons of his black overcoat than to risk a glance into his grey eyes.

"Remind me why we're no longer friends." Draco ignored the plethora of Muggles decorating the street and lowered his forehead to hers.

"Your father." Hermione breathed, blinking slowly. She realised her hand laid over his heart only when the gentle thump increased.

"How long has it been, Granger?" Hermione knew he was risking quite a lot speaking to her so candidly, even if they were in the midst of Muggle London.

"J-just over two years." Draco wrenched the clasp from her hair, dismissing her indignant gasp in order to draw her loose curls over her shoulder.

"I always preferred it like this. You never wear it this way anymore."

"I know. We really should go, it's impolite to keep them waiting." Hermione artfully tucked a wave behind her ear, refusing to acknowledge the warm breath tickling her ear. She couldn't afford to have such thoughts, not again.

"I don't live at the Manor any longer. I've a house near Lyme Regis. I remembered you speaking of it once and…" Hermione gasped, absolutely shocked he had not only vacated his ancestral home, but also chosen to reside amongst Muggles.

"Malfoy, I live in Lyme Regis, the fossils are absolutely amazing and…"

"Granger, we could be friends I think, I mean things are different now and…" Draco tossed his arm over her shoulder as he forced her to walk toward the Apparition point.

It took her aback, thrusting her into the memories of her last year spent within the castle walls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It hadn't taken them long to rekindle their friendship and they'd often walked the corridors with his arm casually slung over her shoulders.

They'd laughed. They'd teased. They'd studied until the wee small hours of the morning. She encouraged him to study harder, and he forced her to lighten up by stealing her schoolbooks. They had formed the sort of friendship Harry and Ron could never comprehend, but it was the sort forged in heart and soul.

Except that was then and this was now…and everything was different now.

"I'm with Ron now. You're set to marry Astoria. Everything is different now. We might have had a chance then, but with your father…" Hermione sighed, willing her voice not to break, "clinging to his pureblood ideals and the Wizarding world being completely war ravaged and prejudices high, well, I suppose we'll never know."

"Granger," Draco sighed, yet it was more of a growl and halted their progress. "Just for tonight. I know it's still dangerous and we can't go back, but you were my friend, my best friend, but if you ever repeat that, I'll deny it. I'm…I'm asking please, just for tonight, let us be what we were." Hermione steeled herself and looked up into his eyes.

Once upon a time, those eyes would have been her undoing. Stormy summer grey flecked with the brightest hints of sky blue as they bored into her, examining every line, every freckle, willing her to acquiesce to his request. It would have been tortuously effortless to toss caution to the wayside, and for once, she did.

"Just for tonight."