"Her voice left the flavor of honey and gunpowder on the air." - Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn


At the age of twenty-six, Draco wasn't exactly happy to admit to anyone – least of all himself – that the best thing that could have happened to him in his life was somehow befriending Ginny Potter. She'd dragged him, quite literally kicking and screaming, into her circle of inane friends, the least objectionable of which was Ginny herself.

To recap the scoreboard:

Ron Weasley: Obsessed with the Cannons even though they're pure garbage. Distracting freckles. Obnoxious hair. Has a nasty temper that is ridiculously easy to incite. Unlike his sister, though, he forgives and forgets almost instantaneously, which keeps baiting him from getting boring. Disgustingly nice and feels the need to compliment people who may look "down," even his former nemesis, Draco Malfoy. Unerringly loyal and stands up for you in a coffee shop that declines to serve former Death Eaters, to your utter mortification. As if you needed defending from a Weasel! Final score: 2/10.

Harry Potter: Goody-two shoes, probably the most obsessed with morality of the whole bunch. Takes forever to make a decision, even on mind-numbingly simple shite like ice cream flavors. Could spend forty years looking into the stupid ice cream case and not know what he bloody well wants. Always a sarcastic little twat right when you don't need him to be. Can't turn off his little "inner Auror" telling him that there's something shady going on at the Death Eater Ranch, aka Malfoy Manor. Probably uses that as an excuse to visit, because he's as subtle as fifty bricks to the face. His round-about way of socializing may have turned out alright if he'd been honed by seven years of Slytherin, but he's been Gryffindor-ized, which, on the up-side, does make him an amusing target to drop suspicious hints around. Will say self-deprecating things to make you feel better, a trait which you can't decide is annoying or endearing. Makes pretty good eggs in the morning after a drunken night out. Final score: 4/10.

Hermione Granger: Know-It-All. The absolute height of insufferable. Always correcting everyone on everything, without even the barest hint of social grace. Probably wakes up at night in screaming sweats over the very idea that someone in the world is still mispronouncing "prerogative." Her sheets feel like they have a thread-count of seven. Hair gets stuck in your mouth if you roll too close to her after falling asleep. When you ask her out on a proper date after a few drunken late-night encounters, she refuses on the basis that it's "too weird" and "wants to keep things simple." Refuses to be alone with you at all after this, even though you got along perfectly swimmingly prior to asking her out – almost as good as you get on with Ginny, actually. Has freckles on her nose. They look appalling. Hands always stained in ink. Clothes always wrinkled. Well below your standards and yet she refuses to date you. Final score: -1,000,000/10.

Of course, Hermione's well-laid plans to never be alone with Draco ever again were mislaid when Ginny asked them both to babysit the boys, explaining that it was a two-person job. Given Hermione's expression when she arrived, Draco was willing to bet that it had never been a "two-person job" before this.

But who was he to question the mother's methods?

Draco eyed Hermione from across the living room. She was avoiding his gaze expertly, giving her undivided attention to the one-year old Albus to the point that it bordered on ridiculous. The kid was one. The most attention the little slug needed was making sure he didn't fall down straight onto his head, for Merlin's sake. Instead, she'd spent the past forty-five minutes trying to teach the babbling Pottergoblin her name.

It didn't escape his attention that doing so left him with James to contend with, who at the age of three was already working Draco's last nerve. He'd be lucky to make it to his first year of Hogwarts before Draco put him outside with the rest of the trash.

"Granger," Draco said, charming James' stuffed teddy bear to sail into the air and float around the room. He watched the toddler stumble after it, laughing. When he was sure that he wasn't going to run straight into a sharp corner, he turned to look at Hermione, who was staring resolutely down into Albus' little gremlin face. "Granger."

"What?" she muttered, a brief scowl crossing her face.

"This is going to be a long evening, if you refuse to even look at me," he pointed out, his eyes narrowing. It had been nearly a month since their last bed-encounter, and three weeks since he'd tried to ask her out to dinner. The fact that he was once again the one making the friendly overtures was patently absurd and more than a little infuriating. "What, have I finally scared you straight?"

It was hilarious, how easy it was to rile her up, even a decade later. He watched her bristle and straighten, turning a narrow glare onto him that might have scared the literal piss out of him if they'd been back at Hogwarts. She wasn't exactly an idiot with the wand, after all.

"That you can even briefly entertain the notion that you're frightening is laughable," she said, flatly.

He ground his teeth together. "Look. What's the matter, really? We were getting along great. I ask you out to dinner, and you suddenly flip your switch on me, and now you're back to hating me? Why? Was asking you out so unforgivable?"

She fidgeted uncomfortably, her eyes dropping away from him again. "Do we have to talk about this right now?" she asked, testily.

"As opposed to when? Don't try and pretend like there's some 'better time' that you're waiting for," he drawled, unimpressed. It was at moments like these that he could not, for the life of him, imagine how on Earth he found her even remotely attractive. "We were friends. If you don't want to date, then fine, but is it unreasonable to expect that we can return to that former friendliness?"

Hermione hesitated, perhaps recognizing her own failings in that moment. Her jaw tightened for a moment as she inhaled, and then she shook her head. "No, of course not. I… Of course we can."

His eyebrow lifted. "Really?"

She nodded. "Yes. And to be honest, I've missed our little chats, anyway."

He had, too. But he wasn't going to ever admit it. "Well, I'm an accomplished and engaging conversationalist, so that's to be expected." She groaned, and he fought back a tiny smile. He'd missed that noise; he'd come to think of it as that special little frustrated noise that only he seemed to be able to really draw out of her. Impulsively, he fell back on one of the games they used to play with each other, before things got awkward: "Tell me a secret."

Hermione stared at him, her eyes wide. For a moment, she paled a bit, and she looked down at Albus, looking torn. "That old game?" she tried, weakly.

"Come on," he cajoled. "You liked that one. So, go on. Tell me a secret."

She swallowed, and he watched her spend a moment carefully fixing Albus' shirt so that his belly no longer showed. The seconds stretched, and for a moment he was afraid that he'd ruined their momentary truce. Just when he was about to tell her to forget it – that they didn't have to play that game, after all – she said:

"I'm pregnant."

Draco stared at her, speechless. He even lost his concentration, and the stuffed bear that had been floating gently around the room fell and hit James Potter right in the face. The toddler fell backwards on impact with a grunt that neither of them really registered.

She looked up at him, looking worried and tense and– afraid. "Say something," she said, lowly.

He opened his mouth, although he wasn't sure what he could say. Thankfully, James seemed to register, at that precise moment, that he had fallen and that this was not, in fact, a very pleasant experience. His enraged, tearful scream filled the room, and Draco bolted to his feet, his nerves having already bested him. He could feel the blood draining from his face as he cast Hermione a guilty glance before crossing the room to scoop the squealing little piglet up.

"Come on, you barely took a tumble," he muttered, although he was more than happy with the distraction. He took James into the kitchen (for no discernible reason except that it was away from the living room) to check his head for bumps. "Quit screaming," he ordered, brusquely.

When that didn't work, he tried, "Want ice cream?"

The screaming stopped abruptly, and James squinted up at him, his eyes shining in his puffy, red face. Of the few words James knew with absolute certainty, ice and cream were definitely up there in terms of importance.

Sighing with relief, he pointed at James in a silent order to stay put as he turned to the freezer. As soon as he'd turned away, he grimaced a bit. He wished Hermione hadn't dropped that bomb on him so suddenly, because he would have loved to have the opportunity to offer her money to wipe the snot off James' face. Draco Malfoy did not wipe snot. Especially not given the rate at which James produced it.

"Don't you dare give him ice cream," Hermione's voice sounded from the kitchen doorway, stern.

"You hear that, James? Your Aunt hates you and wants you to never have ice cream," Draco said, not pausing even for a moment as he got down a little bowl. He dug around for a spoon as she made huffy noises from behind him, ignoring the way his heart felt like it was going to explode. She was pregnant.

And she'd told him because it was very likely his.

"That's not what I said– listen, Ginny said no sweets," she reminded him.

"James, Aunt Hermione says 'no,'" Draco said, louder, and was rewarded with a murderous shriek from the toddler in question. He opened the freezer and reached in for the tub.

The freezer door closed hard on his wrist.

"Ow! Bloody hell, Granger," he hissed, trying to yank it free.

She glowered at him from where she was leaning against the freezer door, Albus tucked against her arm. "Ginny said no," she said, sweetly, with a saccharine smile that filled him with more cold terror than her earlier glare ever could have. "And Malfoy?"

"What?" he snapped, finally managing to free his arm. He rubbed it, shooting her a baleful look.

"It's yours, and I'm keeping it. So, you know, at some point we should probably discuss that," she said, coolly. She reached around him with her free hand and put the spoon and the bowl away. "Of course, I'm more than happy to have you completely uninvolved, but something tells me that you're utter shite at actually staying uninvolved. So. Instead, let's discuss boundaries."

He scoffed, incredulous. "Boundaries. Boundaries? I can't have a child out of wedlock, Granger. I'd have to marry you, if my parents ever found out."

"So then they don't find out. That's easy," she informed him, crisply. "Since I can't imagine that you will agree to stay away, I can offer you the title of 'Uncle Draco.' Would you be alright with that?"

He stared at her, dropping his aching wrist down to lean against the counter. "What? No!"

"So you would agree to stay away?" she asked, confused.

"No," he ground out. "If you're having it, that makes me a father, and that's my bloody title, then, isn't it?"

"You can't be the father, because then your parents would do something evil and corrupt to get us married!" she pointed out, scowling. "Or they'd just kill me off to avoid having a half-blood enter the family. Either way, I'm not having a lot of fun imagining those options."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Don't be so melodramatic," he groaned. "If anything, they'll be more irritated that it'll be so obvious the child was conceived before the actual ceremony."

"Right, I forgot, you purebloods live in the magical realm of the early 1600s, where all of society was at its prime. Also, please refrain from discussing the wedding as if it's a foregone conclusion, because I'd rather eat a bucket of slugs than marry you."

Well. Ouch. Draco just stared at her, sobering.

Remorse crossed her expression immediately as she capitulated. "I didn't–"

"No, don't take it back now," he said, summoning a grim, tight little smile. She flinched at the expression, and he reveled in it. Because if she was going to take potshots like that, then he was going to damn well enjoy making her feel uncomfortable over it. "That's how you really feel about it, right? Merlin knows how you Gryffindors so enjoy wearing your emotions on your sleeves. Although, do try not to hammer the point in so hard. I've been reading 'I hate Draco Malfoy' off of your sleeves for years, now. I've quite got it memorized, so don't worry about having to remind me every thirty seconds."

He stalked past her, scooping James up. It was about time for bed, anyway. He was too angry to even notice all the snot the little sprog was wiping on his shoulder.

"Malfoy," she sighed, following him. "Come on, you know I didn't mean it like that."

"What I wouldn't give for an in-depth treatise on how you meant it," he muttered, sarcastically. "I simply can't wait for that part."

She made a frustrated noise. "Look, it was just– it's just sort of automatic, you know? It's not really– I'm not sure how to explain it," she admitted.

"Clearly."

"Malfoy," she groaned. "Look, I'm sorry that I said it like that, alright?"

Silence.

"Malfoy." She dogged him up the stairs and into the room that James and Albus shared. As he put the toddler to bed, she nestled Albus into his cradle, kissing him briefly on the forehead. "Malfoy," she tried again, while she was pulling the blanket over the baby. "Malfoy?" This one was as they left the room and headed downstairs. "Malfoy!"

They were in the living room when she snapped, "Oh, for God's sake, Draco, will you turn around?"

And he did.

Whipping around, he stepped up to her. Her eyes widened almost comically as she stumbled back, half-tripping over nothing before catching herself against the wall. He didn't relent, ruthlessly invading her space as he leaned his elbow on the wall, too, right beside her head.

She swallowed when she looked up at him. She forgot, rather frequently, how tall he'd gotten since Hogwarts. He was as tall as his father, these days. Usually, Draco didn't manage to look quite so imposing.

But he could call upon that inner Malfoy austerity when he needed to.

Just like now.

"Why not me?" he asked, simply. His eyes were icier than usual, his jaw set in a firm line. He ground his teeth together, making a muscle jump in his cheek. "You'd rather eat slugs? Really," he said, his voice flat.

She pressed against the wall, and her eyes dropped from his. He snapped, "Look at me when you're insulting me."

Her gaze swept back up, in shock, and locked against his.

"Answer me," he commanded, lowly. "Why not me?"

She swallowed again, lifting her chin a bit and feeling her spine straighten instinctively, as it always did whenever she felt even vaguely threatened. But when she opened her mouth to answer, she found she wasn't sure what to say. After a moment, she managed to force out: "Does the why really matter?"

"Are you saying you don't have a reason?" he demanded, somewhat accusingly.

"Of course I have a reason!"

His eyebrows shot up, expectantly. "Then what is it?"

She just stared at him, frozen. He realized that while there was certainly a reason – hell, it was probably a good one, in her mind – she couldn't bring herself to say it. A smirk formed as he realized that there weren't really a lot of options, there; Hermione Granger didn't tend to keep her opinion to herself, except in the case of a few very sore subjects, largely pertaining to the war.

"It wouldn't be…" He pushed the elbow he'd pressed against the wall up, forcing the sleeve down from his wrist and baring the Mark. He turned it towards her, tauntingly. "This nasty little number, now, would it?"

She turned her face away from it, her jaw set.

"Ah," he breathed, his face clearing in understanding. "I see."

"You really don't," she snapped.

He reached up, tracing her jaw with his finger and lifting her chin up to face him again. "What's the matter, Granger? Don't want your kid to have a Death Eater for a father?" he asked, a hint of bitterness lacing his tone. "Or are you just worried about the looks you'll get, when you're out and about with me? I never pegged you for shallow."

She glared up at him. "Don't insult me," she enunciated, through her teeth. "If you think I give a rat's arse about that stupid–"

"I think you do." His voice cut through her sentence like a whip, and she flinched from the severity of it. Draco regarded his Mark with cool, almost unattached contempt. He'd really come to hate the thing, over the years. There was no way to remove it, and he had really tried.

Thing was, without a big, bad wizard for the thing to represent, it ended up just looking like a bloody stupid tattoo. Like a mistake he'd made during his freshman year at Uni.

Or while drunk.

And since the snakes no longer moved, as cold and dead as the man they'd bound Draco to, there wasn't even a vague sense of malevolence to the thing, either. All that remained when he looked at it was a bad taste in the back of his throat. All it represented was a hundred and one stupid mistakes.

When he looked in the eyes of those strangers in Diagon Alley, he knew that's all they saw in it, too. All they saw in him.

And, well, hell.

Hermione was supposed to be different. Ginny certainly had been. Even Ron had thrown off the yokes of house loyalty and had viciously defended Draco in public. Harry simply grew cold when he saw Draco being "unfairly" mistreated. Apparently his stance on bullies hadn't changed, even when the tables turned.

Draco realized, then, that Hermione had never done any defending. She hadn't stopped Ron or Harry, and he'd always supposed that it was about the same as joining them.

In one swift moment, though, he realized that he was wrong.

"You know, given that I've shared your bed a handful of times," he said, quietly. "I think we've reached a point where I deserve your honesty. I know it's not something I'm usually clamoring for, but given the situation, I think I'll make an exception."

Her eyes closed, and she leaned her head back against the wall, thinking. "Okay," she agreed, softly. "Just… give me a second."

Draco examined her as she thought. She had tan skin, the faintest dusting of freckles on her nose. Her hair was a godawful eyesore. Her lips were too generous – disproportionate. Her eyebrows were unkempt; he could tell that while she plucked the strays, she'd done nothing to ever try and shape them. On the few occasions that she wore make-up, she did it badly, her eyeliner wobbly and her mascara clumping. She couldn't wear so much as a thin layer of chapstick without chewing and licking it off.

She was not classically pretty, not like his mother or any of his ancestors. Not like the other purebloods he knew.

Yet, unmistakably, he was drawn to her – to her rustic appearance, her country-ish, blunt mannerisms. Her intelligence, even, although if he were being perfectly honest with himself, he found it daunting about as often as he found it compelling. He found himself wishing she'd open her eyes while she was thinking. He'd always liked watching her face as her ridiculous brain zipped from thought to thought.

Her eyes opened, and she startled a bit when she realized just how close he was. "Listen," she said, in a low whisper. Like she was ashamed. And maybe she was. "I know you've changed, and I'm really happy for you. I know I should forget, but it's hard."

Draco swallowed, his throat feeling slightly bruised. This was going to hurt, and suddenly he wished he hadn't asked. He wished he'd just accepted 'Uncle Draco' and been done with it.

"I find it really hard to look at you," she said, her voice beginning to shake a little. "And force myself to not be reminded of what happened. What you did to me all those years. What you let your aunt do to me, in your house. I can say with absolute certainty that I have no desire to have any sort of conversation with either of your parents – ever. Is that the kind of wife you would want?"

He was silent, and she continued, her eyes downcast. "I just… can't see us making each other happy, Draco."

His inhale was a little shaky as he regarded her, drawing back slightly when he realized that he was probably crowding her far too much. He should have known that at some point, all of his (and his father's) life choices would turn around at the most inopportune moment and really bite him in the arse. His friendship with Ginny was not the redemption he'd always imagined it to be, after all.

He could win a thousand battles, but the war had been a foregone conclusion from day one.

And he really, really wasn't prepared for how much that hurt.

"Hermione." His voice was a low rasp, and she was so startled by the use of her given name that she looked up at him, her eyebrows drawing sharply together. He wanted to tell her that she'd get lines if she kept frowning like that. He wanted to tell her that he wouldn't mind if she did.

"I know you can't see it," he said, slowly, tasting the words as he said them. Sincerity had never come easy to him, and he fought down a grimace when he realized what a sop he sounded like. "And I'm not saying you should try, or that it's right for you to try, or that I even deserve you trying. But." He swallowed, and realized his fingers were tapping against the wall, betraying his anxiety. "I would ask that you consider giving me the opportunity to convince you that it's possible."

Her eyes were wide, and he saw a flicker of fear in them – not because of him, thank Merlin, but at the realization of just what he was asking – and how much humility had been required to ask it.

Draco Malfoy didn't do humility, and he suspected that Hermione didn't like the idea that she might be important enough to him for him to reconsider that ruling. It was a big responsibility, after all, being the most important person in someone's life. Not everyone was cut out for it, and he was sure that of the list of people that were definitely not cut out for it, he and Hermione were contending for the top spot.

But maybe that was why it worked.

"Can you do that, for me?" he finished. "And if you say no, I'll let it go, right now. If you try it out for a week, a day, an hour, and you decide no, then 'Uncle Draco' I shall be. I promise."

She chewed the inside of her cheek – an adorable habit that had replaced her obnoxious hand-wringing during a crusade to make herself more of an enigma at work – and let her eyes dart around the room, considering every possible angle of his offer. Finally, they landed back on him, and she exhaled everything in her lungs in one big gust, almost resigned.

"All right," she said, lowly. "I can try."

Shock warred with relief, but eventually relief won, and he smiled. Tentatively, she smiled back.


The end (?)


This one-shot was started for the drabble challenge that was floating around tumblr - the one where you got a pairing and a quote to include in the story (this one was Dramione and "Tell me a secret" and also "I'm pregnant"). After some of my followers asked me to keep going, I added two more parts to finish it off into what you see here!

Thanks for reading!