A/N: Show of hands, who didn't see this coming? Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you're all having fabulous holidays and that you all have safe and happy New Years. Peace and Love. xx-Kitten
Wrapped in Red
Nineteen months after the end of the war, Draco Malfoy walked into the Leaky Cauldron pub beside Theodore Nott and scanned the room with his eyes. Christmas Eve was one of the biggest nights of the year in this place, he'd been told. Everyone flocked home from all corners of the Earth to spend the holidays with their families and the whole place was packed. He could see the flash of unmistakable red hair that undoubtedly belonged to the Weasley clan, dispersed throughout the pub, and he found himself scanning their group with his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of the witch he'd been thinking about for longer than he cared to admit.
Draco himself thought it was a bit ridiculous, if he was being honest, but then he'd only recently been let off a year-long house arrest, which had followed a six month stay in Azkaban. Who was he to complain about the idea of catching up with people when he'd been essentially a recluse for the past year; Theo one of his only visitors?
"You see her anywhere?" Theo asked quietly, glancing at him.
Draco shook his head.
"You see Potter anywhere?" he asked in a low voice.
"Not even looking," Theo replied gruffly, "He'll be with Granger, though. He always is."
"When you say things like that, I know you still fancy him," Draco drawled at his best friend.
"I don't," Theo denied, but his cheeks turned the faintest shade of pink and Draco knew the truth.
Try as he might – and Merlin knew, Theo had tried – he didn't seem able to shake his crush on Potter. Draco knew the feeling. He'd been trying since third year to stop fancying Granger, to no avail. If he was being honest, he'd accepted that he was likely always going to have a thing for her at this point. Hell, most of the nights he'd spent in Azkaban had been filled with thoughts of the little curly haired witch. Be they wretched memories of seeing her tortured before the promise ring he'd put on her finger had dulled the effects enough to still have her scream, but not so much as to shatter her mind under Aunt Bella's wand; or memories of the way they'd spent New Year's Eve together, simply sitting, talking softly and lightly touching, Draco had relived them all.
He'd come tonight with one idea in mind. He wanted to see her. He hadn't in almost two years. Sure, there were pictures of her in the paper quiet often. The rebuilding of Hogwarts, where she'd almost single-handedly restored the library and re-catalogued all the books while everyone else handled the rest of the castle. Her return to the school to complete her final year and to study her NEWTs while Potter and Weasley joined the Auror program. Theo had kept him informed about her during that time – one of the few others who'd repeated the year and thus one of the people she'd been forced to associate with semi-regularly.
The papers reported on her other activities too. Her brief romance with Weasley that had died in the arse before it could even really begin – something he'd smirked over when he'd seen their break-up story in the Prophet. Her entry into the Ministry workforce, taking a position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures office. Draco had followed it all avidly, but there was no satisfaction in watching her ten seconds of forced smiles or scowling glares in Daily Prophet photographs. Not when he could still see that promise ring he'd given her, glittering upon her finger. Skeeter had tried to do an article about the ring, in fact, mid-way through this year when Granger had been interviewed about her new position in the Ministry.
Rita had, of course, made something much bigger of the whole thing that it actually was, but from then on there had been a weekly bet running in the Prophet gossip section about just who had made Hermione Granger a promised and given her that ring. More still speculated on whether it was an engagement ring. Any number of lads had been stepping up to claim that they'd given it to her in the hopes of securing her hand in marriage. Draco had laughed at all of them. Particularly when there'd been an explosive row recorded between Granger and Weasley a week after the first article, where Weasley had been heard accusing her of having the ring since Christmas of their sixth year, of lying about its origin into her life, and of playing him by dating him when she was clearly promised to someone else.
He'd laughed long and loud when he'd read that, especially when Granger had been recorded telling Weasley he was thicker than a concussed troll not to have noticed that she wore the bloody thing on her right hand, not her left, thereby disproving it's origin as a betrothal ring. If she knew the promises Draco had made when imbuing the ring with the protective magic that had allowed her to keep her brilliant mind under Bella's torture, she might not be quite so firm about just what it represented.
When pressed about it, the witch would only say that it had been given to her by someone who would not appreciate having it known that he was responsible for it.
Draco had nearly written to her with the intent of begging to differ, when he'd read that particular notion. But he hadn't. He'd kept his distance and kept to the terms of his parole after being released from Azkaban. Now, however, he was free and he wanted to see her. Fuck, what he would give to press her up against the nearest flat surface and ravish her, but he wouldn't. Not unless he was sure of his welcome. Which he doubted very much would be forthcoming.
"I need a drink," Theo muttered to him while Draco continued scanning the bar for some sign of his curly haired Limerence.
Nodding along with his friend, Draco followed Theo as he weaved his way over to the bar and ordered them both a whiskey. He was sipping it and still searching for her when he finally spotted her. Leaning against a walls across the room, she sipped her drink and looked like she wanted to be just about anywhere else. In her hand, she clutched a glass of what looked like eggnog, and her hands were bare of gloves. The emerald and diamonds set into the ring he'd given her glittered and winked in the light of the pub, catching his eye and making him smirk.
Fucking hell, she looked good.
The thought hit him like a kick in the chest. She looked beyond good, if he was being honest. Her curls were all in a mess, beginning to frizz thanks to the relative warmth of the bar thanks to the tightly packed bodies all emitting heat within the confined space. Tumbling down her back longer than he'd ever seen them, she'd swept a good portion of them over one shoulder. She was dressed modestly for a girl who probably knew she would be in the spotlight.
Wearing a plum coloured cocktail dress paired with black tights and heeled black boots, she had either chosen to don, or been forced into a Santa hat that was sitting slightly askew atop her head. The ensemble made his mouth water and Draco's hands twitched with the sudden urge he had to run them over her fine feminine form. The last time he'd seen her in person, she'd been gaunt and haunted, her eyes bruised with lack of sleep, her face and body skeletal in the middle of a war.
Now, well… now she'd regained all the beauty and deliciousness of youth and just enough weight to show off all those tantalizing curves.
"Found her," Theo smirked, following his gaze, obviously having realised that Draco had not been listening to whatever he'd been blathering on about.
"Mmmm," Draco hummed appreciatively.
"Ah, shit. Look who she's with," Theo muttered.
Draco honestly hadn't noticed anyone with her. Hell, he might as well have been alone in the whole pub with her, if not for Theo's voice intruding on his suddenly lecherous thoughts pertaining to the curly haired witch he was so enamoured with.
Dragging his eyes from the woman, Draco spotted Potter standing right beside her. Similarly wearing a Santa hat, the spectacled saviour of the wizarding world looked like he'd rather be just about anywhere than right there at that moment too. Indeed, he looked like he was muttering to Granger about the idea of leaving the pub.
"Cheerful pair of sods, aren't they?" Draco smirked.
"They'll probably leave before the hour is up," Theo grumbled, his eyes raking over Potter with decided heat.
"What makes you think so?"
"They're being hassled by those reporters and photographers because Weasley is making an arse of himself with Bones," Theo nodded toward the red-haired wizard who made up the final part of their little trio.
Indeed, he was making an arse of himself. He'd pulled the small former-Hufflepuff witch into his lap where he was seated upon a barstool and appeared to be attempting to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That, or he was attempting to strangle her with his tongue alone. It wasn't pretty, but the reporters were lapping it up like cats with cream.
"In other words, the likelihood of cornering the two of them to talk to them just went from slim to none?" Draco sighed, raising one eyebrow at his best friend.
"Oh, I had no plans for talking," Theo muttered, his cheeks turning pink, "Nope, I was just going to admire from a respectable distance whilst wrestling with my self-loathing."
"I don't know why you get so bloody funny about it, Theo," Draco rolled his eyes, "It's not like your old man is around to give a shit which way you swing. And the only other people you associate with are me and Pansy."
"Imagine her face if she knew," Theo retorted darkly.
"Yeah, because the woman routinely going down one both of the Greengrass sisters is going to care that you crave one particular bloke?" Draco snorted.
"Shut up," Theo hissed, stomping on his foot over the idea of having anyone overhear them.
"You worry too much, Theo," Draco informed him, still smirking, "Now, stuff your ideas about perving and not talking to the git and help me plot how best to 'accidentally' bump into them when they're on their way out of the pub."
Theo looked annoyed for a moment.
"Got it," he muttered, smirking suddenly before leaning over and beginning to whisper his plan to Draco.
Hermione sighed and laid her head on Harry's shoulder, leaning against the wall of the Leaky Cauldron and watching Ron attempt to swallow Susan Bones whole.
"They're making me nauseas," Harry complained quietly.
"Me too," Hermione sighed.
"You want to get out of here?" Harry asked.
"Don't you usually use that line when seducing women into bed with you?" Hermione snorted.
"Don't be ridiculous," Harry rolled his eyes, "We both know I'm not that smooth. It's more like, 'So, um, do you like toast?' while the poor witch stares at me trying to figure out how someone can actually manage to function while being so far from adept at instigating a hook-up."
Hermione giggled, recalling the time when she'd actually overheard Harry trying to sweet-talk Jessica Finnegan into going home with him by asking her how she liked her eggs.
"Maybe you've been practicing in front of the mirror?" Hermione giggled.
"I'll spank you if you keep giggling at me, witch," Harry warned.
"You wouldn't dare!" Hermione gasped, shocked at his words.
"Wouldn't I, Hermione?" Harry challenged, raising one eyebrow before grinning at her wickedly.
Hermione began to laugh all the more at the very idea of Harry clutching a paddle or some such device of divine torture.
"Let's just go home," Hermione laughed, linking her arm through Harry's.
"Have I mentioned lately how pleased I am that you decided to move in with me?" Harry asked, "I kind of like when you call it 'home'."
"You just got tired of rattling around that monstrous house all by yourself after Ron moved out," Hermione rolled her eyes, letting Harry steer her through the crowd towards the exit.
Harry grinned at her, "You sure you don't want to stay? There's more than one bloke in this place who'd love to talk you out of your knickers tonight, you know?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at the very idea.
"I am not doing the walk of shame on Christmas morning," Hermione informed him.
"Well, where's the fun in that?" a voice drawled out of the darkness when she and Harry stepped out the doors of the pub and into the Alley.
Harry's hand dove for his wand instinctively, but Hermione found her eyes dropping closed in shock at the sound of a voice she was sure she knew too well for not having heard in it almost two years.
"Malfoy?" Harry asked, his eyebrows lifting when he pointed his wand in the direction of the voice before realising who it was.
"Potter," Malfoy nodded and Hermione opened her eyes slowly, butterflies beginning to riot in her stomach.
Gods, she hadn't seen him in nineteen months. Not since the end of the war and his subsequent trial.
"What are you doing here?" Harry asked, surprise evident in his voice, "And is that… Theo Nott?"
Hermione lifted her gaze to look in the direction of the two wizards who both seemed to be leaning against the wall of the pub, standing in the snowy alley and puffing on pipes. The sight seemed so utterly alien that a small giggle escaped her.
"Remembered by Harry Potter," Theo drawled wickedly, "What an honour."
"Oh, bite me, Nott," Harry rolled his eyes, "What are you two doing here? I thought you were still on house arrest, Draco?"
"Out on good behaviour, Potter. I do hope we're not interrupting anything? Seemed like you two were negotiating the terms of Granger's surrender?"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other, mirrored expressions of abject horror crossing their faces over the very idea.
"Urgh!" Harry said inarticulately.
"That would be disgusting," Hermione declared, unable to take her eyes off Draco when she looked back at him.
A year confined to his house had obviously done him some good after his stay in prison. She'd seen photographs in the paper when he'd been re-tried and released on parole. Back then he'd looked as bad as he'd done during the height of the war. Now he looked much like the Draco Malfoy she recalled snogging in sixth year. All sleek blonde hair that hung in his eyes, pointed features, silver eyes glittering with something she could never quite name and that Malfoy-patented smirk.
Theo Nott laughed at their reactions to the idea of shagging one another.
"Take that as a no then?" he laughed, "What's the matter, Potter? Don't you swing that way?"
Hermione smirked to herself when Harry nearly dropped his wand in surprise. She was the only person who knew Harry's little secret about swinging whichever way took his fancy. Of course, he'd never swung any way but the witches way, no matter how he'd admitted to Hermione whilst drunk over Easter, that he'd been having hot dreams about a bloke.
"Cat got your tongue, Granger?" Draco asked her quietly and Hermione suddenly felt heavy.
Gods, he was actually there. There and talking to her and smirking that wicked smirk in her direction and suddenly Hermione's lips were tingling as they hadn't since he'd snogged her goodbye before throwing his life away and letting Death Eaters into the school.
"Just a little surprised to see you walking around free, Draco," Hermione replied quietly, watching out the corner of her eye as Harry recovered and began verbally sparring with Nott, who seemed to enjoy antagonizing her best friend entirely too much.
When Theo offered Harry a puff on his pipe, Hermione was surprised as Harry took it and puffed.
"You don't seem pleased about it," Malfoy noted quietly, somehow managing to manoeuvre himself between her and Harry as Harry was drawn into conversation that looked and sounded and awful lot like flirtatious banter with Theo.
"I… Honestly, I'm a little bit shocked to see you," Hermione admitted, looking bravely up at Draco.
A thousand thoughts ran through her head as she stared at him. Anger with him for what he'd done that day so long ago, using an Unforgiveable on her to try and protect her and keep her from interfering with his plan to let the Death Eaters in. Relief that, after all this time, he seemed much the same as he'd been that New Year's Eve she'd spent with him. Confusion over the fact that there were butterflies in her stomach and tingles in her lips and a strange weakness in her knees simply at the sight of his face and the sound of his voice. She wanted to slap him. To scold him. To scream at him. To snog him senseless like she'd done only a few times before.
"It's been a while," Malfoy nodded his head, tipping it slightly ever so slightly as he regarded her curiously.
"I… erm… uh?" Hermione frowned when words seemed to fail her, her fingers suddenly twisting the ring upon her finger that he'd given her – a nervous habit she'd yet to kick.
"Articulation is such an admirable quality," he teased lightly and Hermione found a genuine smile of amusement pulling at the corners of her mouth.
"I have many of them," Hermione replied, finding her tongue, "I like to include swottiness, bossiness and a perpetual scent of books lingering on my skin among them."
"Admirable indeed," Draco smirked at her, "You forgot being a know-it-all and this mess."
He reached out slightly and tugged very gently on one of the loose curls dangling over her right shoulder.
"I didn't want to overwhelm or seem conceited," Hermione replied, grinning in return.
"Ah, yes that certainly wouldn't do," he chuckled quietly.
Hermione stared at him for a moment before glancing past him to meet Harry's gaze, finding him smiling in her direction just the tiniest bit. Looking back at Malfoy, Hermione raised her eyebrows at him.
"So…?" she said, fingers still twisting the emerald on her finger.
"So," Malfoy replied, "You never answered my question."
"Your… what question?" Hermione frowned, recalling in vivid detail that he'd once asked her if she though they could ever work. She recalled telling him that maybe they could've, in another life.
"I asked you to forgive me," he reminded her very softly, his smile slipping away and leaving worried grey eyes and a slight frown in it's wake, almost as though he were bracing for her rejection.
"For cursing me?" Hermione clarified, "Or for letting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts before running off with them?"
He sighed at her words, obviously thinking she was about to list his many other misdeeds, faults and wrong-doings.
"Both?" he asked, "And for everything else that followed?"
Hermione opened her mouth, her own brow furrowing before she glanced down at her hands where her left hand fingers continued twisting the promise ring he'd given her around and around and around.
"I understand if you can't, Granger," he said in a low voice.
"I… no, that's not what…. Um…" Hermione sighed, her head jerking back up to find him still watching her intently, "I figured it out, you know?"
Malfoy raised his eyebrows in silent question as he continued to stare at her. Hermione held up her hand indicatively, showing him the promise ring.
"What you promised. I figured it out," Hermione told him.
"Oh?" his lips twitched.
"For a while I thought it was that you were going to be the one to kill me," Hermione whispered, "But then I didn't lose my mind when Bellatrix… and I just…. Realised."
He was still watching her, those silver eyes that so often haunted her dreams fixed upon her own brown pair, boring into her and making her feel like he was looking into her soul.
"You promised to protect me," Hermione whispered, "And imbued this thing with Merlin only knows what kind of protective magic that meant she couldn't hurt me as much as she intended and couldn't take my mind from me."
One side of his mouth quirked up in a half-smile at her words.
"And?" he asked.
"And? What do you mean, 'and'?" Hermione asked, "Is this your arrogant way of expecting gratitude? I can't tell."
"No, I was waiting for you to continue detailing just what it is that you think I promised with that thing," Draco smirked.
"There's more?" Hermione frowned at him.
He actually laughed at her, causing Theo and Harry to look over from where they both leaned against the wall of the pub now, passing the pipe between them and trading banter. Hermione idly realised that Harry was flirting with the Slytherin boy and had to hide her grin.
"Did you think I went to all the trouble of giving you a Promise Ring just to protect you?" Draco asked, "I could've done that with any kind of jewellery, Granger."
"I… you…. But…" Hermione eyes went wide as she glanced at the ring upon her finger, noting that at some stage while she'd been showing him and explaining her theory, he'd taken her hand and begun toying with the ring.
"Again with that articulation, Granger?" he smirked at the way she sputtered, "You're making quite the impression, love. Have you put it together yet? Or should I spell it out for you?"
"You…?" Hermione felt like her heart might be pounding hard enough against her ribcage to break right through and burst out of her chest.
"I really need you to forgive me, Granger," Malfoy told her quietly, sliding the emerald ring off her ring hand ring finger before catching her left hand.
"Why?" Hermione whispered, her eyes darting between his hands upon hers and his eyes as he watched her.
His smirk was wicked when he paused, the tip of her wedding finger sticking through the circlet of the promise ring, just waiting to glide down the length of the digit to meet her knuckle.
"Because otherwise it's going to be really awkward having promised my heart to a woman who loathes me."
~O~O~O~O~O~ THE END ~O~O~O~O~O~