Chapter Eighty-Three: Surprising Developments
It was probably nothing. It probably was just a walk. It wasn't like Draco needed a coat to walk around outside in the dead of winter. He was a wizard. There were charms.
In the end, she decided not to ask again. She didn't want to seem crazy (and honestly, she was beginning to feel a little crazy). Nothing had changed in their daily lives; he didn't seem different or distant or otherwise distracted. The sex was still fantastic. The conversations were still engrossing.
There was nothing to worry about.
As Hermione turned towards Flourish & Bott's, Ginny grabbed her elbow and hauled her back. "No. No. You're not getting him a book for Valentine's day. Was that seriously your first choice?"
"What?" Hermione demanded, hotly. "I think he'd like it."
Ginny fished the Prophet out of Albus' stroller and rolled it up, whapping Hermione on the nose with it. She squeaked and reared back, eyes crossing as she looked down at the paper, which Ginny was now brandishing threateningly at her. "No," she ordered, drawing it out like Hermione was a naughty puppy who'd peed on the floor. "That's a bad Hermione. No."
Lips thinning, Hermione shoved the paper out of her face, her nose wrinkling sourly. "Well, what would you suggest, then?"
Ginny smiled, eyebrows bouncing a bit. "A massage… some chocolates – I mean, his sweet tooth is his one defining feature, aside from that neon hair, right? Or some sex toys. Oh! Yes! Sex toys! Let's get you one of those vibrating rings—"
"My God," Hermione intoned, loudly. "Please shut up."
"Oh, wait, actually, some lingerie. Remember that red lacy thing I got you for your honeymoon?" Grinning wickedly, Ginny clapped her hands. "Let's get you something in green! Oh, he'll love that. Slytherin lingerie." She shimmied her shoulders suggestively.
Hermione was already shaking her head. "No. No. I'm not spending all afternoon in that dusty old shop trying on bits of lace with you, again."
"Oh, come on, I've seen it all before."
"I'm aware, as I recall, you kept barging into the changing room demanding to 'see the goods' to determine how much support my breasts would need," she grit out, eyes narrowing a bit. Ginny didn't even have the decency to look half-ashamed, just shrugged carelessly as if to say, What else was I supposed to do?
"Well, on the upside, you didn't need much. They were very perky. You have good pre-pregnancy breasts. Bouncy." Ginny cupped her hands in front of her chest and mimed it.
Swallowing a bit of a gag, Hermione turned away from her. "Oh, God, stop. Let's just go to the sweet shop."
Ginny wheeled Albus along after her, merrily taunting her in a sing-song voice. "Enjoy them now. As soon as you splort a baby out—"
"You don't need to make up new verbs, Ginny, okay, there's plenty of disgusting ones at your disposal," Hermione groaned, miserably. "For God's sake—"
"I'm just saying, they get all saggy and sad," she continued, blithely. "I mean, we're lucky, inasmuch as that men don't seem to notice or care as long as they get to squeeze them to their hearts content, but it can be a bit depressing to realize that your old lacy things don't quite do the job, anymore. You have to call in all these reinforcements, and it's this whole to-do just to get your cleavage looking sprightly again—"
Smoothing her hands over her face, Hermione muttered, "This conversation has been going on—forever. And ever. I just wish it would stop. I just don't know how to make it stop. How do I make you stop?"
"Not to mention the mess a birth makes of your woo-hoo area," Ginny added, with a forlorn sigh.
"Ugh! God. No! Please," Hermione snapped, pleading. "God. For Christ's sake."
Smirking in satisfaction, Ginny gestured her into the chocolate shop. "Remember that time he practically bought out Honeydukes? He had Crabbe and Goyle carry all of his loot back to his dorms in big Santa sacks on their backs."
Hermione snorted, a bit fondly. "Yeah. I remember wondering if his parents truly approved of him spending all of their money on that nonsense. I guess, in retrospect, they had so much they probably didn't even notice the tab he'd built up. Just a drop in the bucket. You know, he is so lucky they seem to have good teeth in the family, because he would have been up to his eyeballs in cavities by graduation," she added, enviously. "Lucky sod."
Squinting at the display case, Ginny snagged one of the free samples on the counter. "I bet they get their teeth straightened and hardened by the family healer, or something. They're too straight. They're fashion magazine straight."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Hermione admitted. Vanity did seem to be a core Malfoy trait. Smiling at the shopkeeper, she asked, "What would you suggest for Valentine's? Do you have, uh, a box for it already?"
The woman smiled. "Of course," she said, in accented English. French, from the sound of it. "I have a three-tier heart box. I'll be right back."
As she headed into the back, Hermione caught Ginny reaching for a fourth free sample and slapped her hand away. "You could at least pretend that you were taught some decorum growing up," she murmured, lips pursing. "You'd better buy something, all that free chocolate you're taking."
"It's a sample! It's supposed to be free," Ginny defended, sniffing.
The French woman returned with a positively massive box – heart shaped, and dusted in pink and gold with a filigreed rose emblazoned across it.
"Perfect," Hermione sighed, with a wry smile. "Just, any assortment is fine." Knowing Draco, he'd finish it by the end of the week – at the latest. She'd seen Draco pour plain honey directly into his mouth one time after dinner. It was a marvel he wasn't nauseous literally all the time.
As the woman began to fill it up, Hermione stared at Ginny unblinkingly until the redhead sighed theatrically and grabbed a little box of fudge. She mimicked Hermione's judgmental expression as she placed it on the counter. "There. Stop it."
They both paid, and Hermione picked up the box with a faint blink. It was heavier than she'd expected.
"I can't believe these four little pieces of fudge were ten sickles," Ginny seethed as they left the shop. "They'd better be charmed to send me right into orgasm at that price."
Hermione shook her head, equally amazed. "Well, they are 'fine Parisian chocolates.' I guess you get what you pay for. Give me a piece."
"You can buy a piece. Five sickles."
Her jaw dropped. "You're price-gouging me, your closest friend?" she gasped, indignantly. "Besides, this stupid Valentine's gift would put me right in the poor house if Draco wasn't paying half the rent. As if I have five sickles for you."
"Business is business," Ginny informed her, primly. "I make the supply, I demand the price."
"You are the worst. Gross and greedy and mean," Hermione whined. "Give me a half of one, then."
"Hnngh," Hermione growled, clutching her dumb massive heart box to her chest. After several seconds of walking, she whipped her hand out and snatched the fudge up, making Ginny squeal in outrage as she sprinted down the street, laughing.
She shrunk the box and hid it in her sock drawer. Draco was curious by nature and poked around quite a bit, but he seldom went back and re-poked at places he'd already thoroughly investigated, so she figured most boring places within the flat were safe. With Valentine's Day only a few short days away, she wanted it to at least be a surprise (since the gift was a little uninspired).
"Hey, I'm heading to Pansy's to grab one of my scarves she stole," Draco called, from the living room. "Want to go?"
Hermione yanked off her work blouse. "Does she know you're coming?"
Laughing wryly, Hermione shimmied out of her skirt next. "You're such a prat. Sure, I'll go. Doesn't she hate unannounced visitors? In fact, don't I remember you telling me that the last time you dropped by unannounced, she hexed the bones in your arm into jelly?"
He meandered into the bedroom as she peeled her stockings off, his eyes instantly drawn to the motion and darkening a touch. Miraculously, he sounded perfectly normal when he answered: "Sure, but, to be fair, her flat had just been burglarized a few months prior. Poor timing on my part. I used to drop by all the time right after graduation; it was the only place we could really be free from our parents."
Balling up the stockings, she tossed them into the hamper and sat on the bed to rub the weird post-nylon feeling from her legs. "What would you guys do?"
Dropping beside her, he smoothed his arms over her other legs to "help." Helping, in this instance, pretty much just meant that he was blatantly feeling her up. "Drank, mostly. Talked. Got very drunk and talked too much, essentially," he murmured, a little distracted as he traced his fingers up her inner thigh.
Sucking in a breath when his fingers hit the line of her knickers, Hermione mumbled, "Aren't we going to Pansy's?"
He shot her a smile, the half-smirking one that made her heart skip a beat or two (the same one that she slapped off his face back at school, it was a marvel what time did to a person) and let his eyebrows bounce a bit. "If she's there now, surely she'll be there in an hour." Leaning in, he traced his tongue along the shell of her ear. When she shivered, he chuckled a bit. "Playing coy still?"
Swallowing a smile, Hermione fell backwards onto the bed and dragged him along with her. "Absolutely not," she returned, unbuttoning his shirt with deft fingers.
The smell of his potions work – always the faint aroma of crushed thyme, but now with something slightly citrus-y, a little floral – became more vibrant as she tore his shirt off, like it was imbedded directly into his skin. He sank against her, nibbling along her neck and collarbone as his hands roamed all over her body hungrily. He pushed her bra up and closed his teeth over her nipple, eliciting a moan.
"You reek of potions," she managed, breathless.
He sucked her nipple, hard, and it pebbled in the chill when he released it and looked up at her. "You love it."
She did, but damned if she'd ever admit it. She was willing to bet any amortentia would smell like this – earthy, resinous, the faintest hint of floral citrus.
"It's leagues worse than my sunscreen."
Draco froze and lifted himself up onto his arms, eyebrows raised incredulously. "First of all, I know you're lying, and second of all, that is beyond all doubt the absolute worst thing you've ever said to my face, and you spent most of our formative years calling me a ferret."
Curling her hands around the nape of his neck, she grinned up at him. "I did not. Ron and Harry did."
"I am certain you did," he grumbled, as she applied steady pressure to his neck to try and make him sink back down. "Ninety-nine percent."
"Far from certain, then," Hermione retorted, and shifted gears to push him onto his back. Straddling him neatly, she leaned down to kiss him, languid and heated. She'd heard that as the years wore on in a marriage, the quality of sex would diminish – as would the quantity. At the moment, she really hoped that wasn't true.
He gave up arguing, his fingers digging into her arse as he pulled her hips down against his. She could feel the hard length of him beneath his pants. "Clothes off," he ordered, after a few more minutes of kissing.
"Merlin, you are simply the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, especially me—" He got her bra off and threw it off the side of the bed, clawing at her knickers until she finally laughed and rolled off him.
They quickly divested themselves of everything else and slammed together, both vying for the top spot. Draco eventually won, pressing her into the mattress as he kissed his way feverishly down her body, landing between her legs with the air of someone who very much knew their way around. Hermione threaded her fingers through his hair, looking down at him with satisfaction; his hair was always immaculate, and she always made a point to muss it at some point (he'd be irritated later when he realized).
Her moans filled the small bedroom, and then she was coming apart and he was crawling up the length of her to steal another kiss. The taste of herself on his lips gave her a heady feeling, and she cried out as he pushed into her, already over-stimulated from the orgasm.
He drank in her whining little sobs of pleasure like a man lost in the desert, and came in record time. Nothing these days beat the knowledge that he'd turned Hermione Granger into a puddle of bliss.
They showered before heading to Pansy's. The Floo was still open after Pansy's last party, so they spilled out into the foyer without a problem. It was very quiet, with only the little porcelain dog witnessing their entry. It seemed disapproving, somehow.
Draco didn't seem bothered, stuffing his hands into his pockets and sauntering through the front room towards the dining room, where he suddenly stopped.
Hermione barreled into him, swallowing a curse. "Draco, what—"
As she leaned around him, she saw Pansy Parkinson sitting stiffly in her chair, looking quite guilty – or maybe just embarrassed. The reason for this became apparent when Hermione's brain sluggishly realized that she wasn't alone, and was, in fact, having tea with—
"Luna?" she asked, bewildered.
The dreamy blonde smiled. "Hermione! I had a feeling I'd be seeing you today," she said, rising to circle around the table and wrap her in a hug.
Stunned, Hermione returned it uncertainly and glanced sidelong at Draco, who apparently hadn't even recovered from his initial surprise. He was just staring at Pansy, whose embarrassment was quickly turning to irritation. "Hi, Luna. I didn't know you were in town."
Pansy's arms crossed as she leveled a sincerely terrifying glare at Draco. "I suppose you've forgotten how to owl ahead?" she demanded, her voice icy.
Swallowing a bit, Draco glanced at the window. "Oh, is Hercules not here, yet? I thought—"
"Save it," the petite brunette snapped, rising abruptly from her chair. "If you're here for that ugly scarf, I have it in the other room. Hurry up!" Her back was still rigid as she turned to sweep out of the dining room, although Hermione didn't miss the tell-tale flush dusting her sharp cheekbones.
Luna released Hermione to hug Draco, who patted her back awkwardly.
Pansy's voice struck from the other room like a whip. "Draco!"
"Shite," he whispered, the faintest wince touching his features as he escaped Luna's hug and rushed to follow Pansy, his shoulders a little hunched against the scolding he knew was headed his way. As he disappeared, Hermione turned wide eyes to Luna.
Luna just smiled benignly, and Hermione finally broke the silence with, "Ssssoooo… how long has… this? Been going on?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "No, Luna, tea here, with Pansy – since when are you two friends? Do you two… have you been talking? I just – you never mentioned anything," she managed, stumbling a bit over her words. Because really, she didn't know what she'd just walked into. Was this tea between friends?
Was it more than that?
Luna smiled brightly. "Oh, we've been corresponding by owl for some time now! I finally came back to town yesterday. I was going to visit you next!"
Corresponding by owl. Pansy. And Luna. Hermione's mind tried to wrap around it and went promptly blank.
Shaking her head a bit to try and clear it, Hermione toyed with the idea of asking if this was just friendship. After several stops and starts, she murmured, "I didn't know you two were…"
"Flirting?" Luna asked, brightly, and Hermione choked on her own spit. "Oh, yes, for some time, now. It's hard to tell for most people, I think. Not a lot of other people flirt by being mean to one another. She's very different."
"Yes, she is," Hermione agreed, slowly. "So are you two-?"
Luna waited a beat, and then supplied: "Dating?"
"No, not yet. I don't think she realizes that I know she's flirting. She doesn't seem to think I'm very observant," the blonde explained, in the same cheerfully absent tone she always used. "But she's quite nice to talk to, when she doesn't have an audience. She's kind, deep down."
Hermione's mind took her back to that moment on Harry's porch so many months prior, when Pansy had excused herself from the party to smoke. Pansy's long pause and then quietly sincere "Thank you for inviting me" echoed in her head for a moment. "Yeah," she murmured, thoughtfully. "She is a little nicer without the audience. What about the nargle infestation?"
"Practically gone!" Her face brightened exponentially. "I was surprised, myself. She must really be trying to make some changes. I'm so glad for her."
"So you… like her, too?" she tried, cautiously.
Luna nodded, but whatever she'd been about to say was interrupted by Draco and Pansy re-emerging from the other room. He had his scarf in one hand and looked thoroughly chastened, while Pansy continued to look quietly furious at the unexpected intrusion. "I thought it'd be funny," he muttered to her by way of defense, and grimaced when she shot him a laser-like glare.
"Well, you have your scarf, so I expect you'll be returning home for dinner," Pansy commented, her voice even and calm, like the dead of winter.
Hermione grabbed another quick hug from Luna and forced a slightly-uncertain smile. "Of course. So sorry to interrupt. Enjoy your tea." She grabbed Draco's elbow and quickly turned to speedwalk back towards the Floo. Dropping her voice, she hissed, "You have the worst ideas."
"You were completely on board with it ten minutes ago," he defended, in a furious whisper. Grabbing the box of Floo powder, he quickly ushered them both back to their flat.
Once on the other side, Hermione waited several beats and then exploded: "Wow, oh my God, oh my God!"
"Pretty much," he agreed, still looking a little shell-shocked.
"We have to go to Harry's right now. Ginny is going to pee her pants. I have to owl Ron and Susan," she realized, eyes still wide with the revelation of it. "They're not going to want to miss this. Oh, my God!"
"Woah, woah," Draco argued, grabbing Hermione shoulder to tow her back to him. "This is… a private matter for Pansy and we've already got a black mark against us. I don't think we should be giving her more reasons to stay angry at us. I don't know if you've seen her truly angry, Hermione, but it is quite intimidating and I'd really rather avoid it." He even looked a little panicked at the idea, eyes wide and somber as his fingers dug into her shoulder.
Hermione pointed back at the Floo. "That wasn't her being 'truly angry'? She looked ready to cut you in half," she scoffed.
"It gets worse!" he promised. "Believe me. No shouting it to all your friends."
She groaned. "Ginny is going to kill us if we keep it a secret and suddenly Pansy and Luna are dating and we knew it all along. Who are you more scared of?"
"Pansy," Draco said, immediately, with a scoffing laugh. "By a wide margin. She will burn our entire building to the ground and salt the earth, and not feel so much as a twinge of guilt. What's the worst Ginny will do? Make bogeys fly out of our noses? I'll take the bogeys."
Putting her hands on her hips, Hermione stared at him. "You'll take the bogeys," she repeated, incredulous. "Pansy is almost certainly not that frightening."
"If Pansy comes after me, I will not hesitate to use you as a human shield."
Squawking indignantly, Hermione groaned and turned to stomp into the kitchen. "This is so unfair. Finally I have gossip that isn't about me to share, and I can't even share it. Also, Ginny is going to set my hair on fire if she finds out I knew."
"So don't tell her, and act surprised," he suggested, calmly.
Throwing her hands up, Hermione huffed, "What about Luna's personality has suggested to you that she can keep a secret?"
Crossing his arms mulishly, he insisted, "No gossip. Promise me."
Sighing, Hermione dropped the kettle onto the stove. "Fine," she agreed, with a faint whine. "I swear, if this was one of my friends, you'd gleefully run to your little Slytherin cabal to spread it around. I bet you'd even owl Theo."
"Well, your friends are about as threatening as a bucket of tadpoles, so yes, that is a strong possibility."
"I hate you."
His arms closed around her from behind as she fussed with the tea bags, face digging through her hair to find the skin of her neck and press a hot kiss to it. "You love me." She grunted stubbornly, and he gave her a little squeeze before adding, "And I love you."
"Hngh," she managed. His fingers dug into her ribs and she shrieked, tossing the teabags wide as she tried to clamp her arms down. When she couldn't twist herself free of the tickle-attack, she screeched, "Oh, my God, I love you, too! Stop!"
The barrage halted immediately. As her laughter died, he tightened his arms around her, content to just hold her while they waited for the water to boil.