Draco stretched his legs out and admired his shoes. Polished, pointed, perfect. When he looked back up, Blaise had fixed an amused roll to his eyes and Draco huffed out an exasperated, "What?"
"You're impossible," Blaise said. "The war has been over, you're the darling of society, forgiven all your sins, and all you care about is clothes and gambling."
This wasn't the first time Draco had heard some variation on that complaint, though usually it came from his mother. "It's not gambling when it's the London Exchange," Draco said. "It's business."
"Find a girl," Blaise advised as he stood up, continuing his unpleasant transformation into Draco's mother. He showed himself out before he could add a request for grandchildren to the tedious conversation and Draco shut the door behind his friend with irritation creeping along his skin. He supposed his mother and his friends were not wholly wrong. He was young, wealthy, and it was time to find a wife who could socialize and mingle and who would look pretty on his arm. He pulled a quill out and began to scratch out a list of qualities a wife would have to have.
"Pretty," he said to himself. "And polite. From a family where she'd have learned how to handle mingling."
The last thing he wanted was to be taken in by nothing but a pair of pretty eyes. Not that he'd settle for anything other than a classical beauty, but this beauty would need to know her place, would need to be able to move gracefully through the halls of power. She would have to know who to flatter to help him rise even further, she would have to know who to cultivate. His parents would have to like her. She'd have to be so much more than just a pretty face. He looked down at his list and nodded. He was supposed to go to a cocktail party that very night, a fundraiser for a wholly appropriate charity. He'd spent 250 galleons for his ticket. Any girl there was sure to be the right sort.
. . . . . . . . .
"Who let you in?"
Draco had barely made it inside the door of the restaurant, and certainly hadn't been handed a drink yet, when he saw the unpleasantly familiar bushy head of hair that could only belong to Potter's sidekick. Hermione Granger twisted her mouth in displeasure that echoed his own when she saw him. At least she'd dressed appropriately, but her hair remained absurd.
"I was invited," she said, the words stiff and strained and he knew with vindictive gloating pleasure that she wasn't comfortable in this kind of society. Before he could deliver the cutting put down she so richly deserved, she added, "I suppose you had to buy your ticket?" and he was left with his mouth gaping open.
She smiled and the malice didn't get any less as she snagged two champagne flutes from a passing caterer, handed him one, and said with mock sympathy, "I know not everyone just gets invited to these things and your ticket price really is going to a good cause."
He used the drink in his hand to buy himself time to think of a response. All he came up with was, "The Malfoys have always been charitable."
She snorted at that and, when he demanded to know that horse-like sound had meant, began a diatribe on the way that, yes, his family showed up on donor lists for all sorts of charities, but it was only so they could buy themselves political influence and had he ever given so much a knut without considering how it might also benefit him?
The stridency hurt his ears, but he couldn't let an accusation like that pass unanswered, so he began ticking off the many, many things he and his had donated to, using his fingers to make each point, and insisting she explain how, for example, the St. Mungo's Annual Appeal for Werewolf Treatment could possibly do any of them any good. "People hate werewolves," he said as he held out her chair at the table where the caterers were already passing out the limp salad that proceeded the inevitable chicken. She sat down and thanked him automatically before going on again about just because his family was clever in their charitable giving didn't mean they were disinterested. They argued through the salad. They argued as they agreed the chicken and rice lacked any flavor. They argued as the white cake with frosting too sugary even for Draco's sweet tooth plopped in front of them. She sneered at he raised his paddle to bid on the hideous auction items churned out by children at some primary school. When he won the paper mache bead necklace, made in the worst shade of blue he'd ever seen, she demanded to know if he planned to give that to his mother for her birthday.
Draco eyed the unfortunate bit of jewellery and tried to imagine his mother wearing it. His mind failed to paint that picture. It was unthinkable. Hermione's smirk grew broader as if she'd somehow won something because his mother had taste, and he turned and said, with every ounce of gallantry he could muster, "I was hoping you would deign to take it as a token of how much I've enjoyed our evening together."
The look of stunned disbelief on her face kept him smug and happy until, as he turned out the light in his bedroom, he realized he'd spent the whole night arguing with the horrid witch and thus hadn't met a single appropriate potential wife.
Well, the next Friday was the Annual Hogwarts Alumni Ball, and there would surely be someone there who would be the kind of wife a man like himself required. Someone polite. Someone deferential. Someone pretty.
Someone not like Granger at all.
. . . . . . . . . .
This year's the Hogwarts Alumni Ball was raising money for the library special collections, and, stung by Granger's accusation he only donated money when it could benefit him, Draco had given the school half a dozen priceless volumes for the library and stipulated they could only be noted as having been given by an anonymous donor. Granger could choke on her self-righteousness because, obviously, he was the better man.
He had high hopes for finding the perfect wife at this event. Hogwarts had become very liberal in its definition of 'alum' and all the girls whose parents had whisked them off to Beauxbatons as soon as war started brewing had been invited. "All our former students are part of the Hogwarts family," McGonagall had written in the combination invitation and fundraising appeal. "Not just the students who spent their final year of formal education with us." He'd heard that Sally Anne Perks was going to be there and he'd seen a recent photograph of her. Puberty had been very kind and Draco was wholly certain he could charm her into a first date, and once he'd managed a first date, how hard could a second be?
With this excellent plan in mind, he arrived at Hogwarts for the Ball and looked around to try to spot the fetching Miss Perks. Instead, he saw Hermione Granger. She had her hair up in some kind of thing with tendrils that escaped down to dance along the lines of a neck that could fairly be described as 'swan-like'. She had fastened that hideous blue craft project around that swan-like neck, and it was such an aesthetic assault he had to comment.
"What," he demanded, poking at one of the blue lumps with a manicured finger, "is that?"
"Excuse me," she said to the nobody she'd been wasting her time with as Draco waited to expound upon the ways she had accessorized poorly. "It's a necklace, Malfoy. I happen to like it, and it went with my dress."
He eyed the robes she had on and managed a bit of a pro-forma sneer but the truth was she was quite correct. The necklace matched the blue silk skimming over her curves. Before he could turn to go back to his much more important search for Sally Anne, Granger complained no one was taking her suggestions to reform the curriculum seriously. The school continued to just flounder along, she said as she took his arm and steered him to a book she picked up off a table and waved in his face. He managed to make out it had the horrifyingly dull title of A Brief Analysis of the Decline in School Performance with Statistical Tables as she waggled it. "For example," she was saying, as he dodged a particularly vehement textual wave, "no one should be using a Hippogryff with students, no matter how lovely it's behavior might be with the professor."
"I beg your pardon?" Draco wasn't at all sure he'd heard her correctly.
She glowered at him. "Not that the way your parents reacted was acceptable, you understand. Putting an animal down for acting like an animal in a stressful situation is not okay, but you shouldn't be using dangerous animals in classes. Having a student attacked because a teacher underestimates the risk should be reason enough to change things."
Draco hadn't had anything to drink yet, and his head was already spinning. She continued to go on about how she'd been writing lengthy tracts on this very issue and she had even self-published a small pamphlet, but no one would take her concerns seriously. By the time he had a fortifying glass of champagne in one hand and a small plate laden with passed starters in the other, he found he agreed with her, and not only because she seemed rather offended he'd been hurt as a child.
"Well," he offered, just to be courteous when she stopped talking long enough for him to interject his own ideas, "I'm sure you had some difficult experiences with Care of Monsters as well."
She had. She listed them in great detail as the band started and it was much too awkward to extricate himself from her clutches, so he set his drink down, and took hers out of her hand and passed it off to a caterer, then led her to the dance floor. By the third dance, she was flushed, and her eyes sparkled, and he caught sight of that wretched Theo Nott with a girl who had to be Sally Anne hanging on his every word and his heart sank. He'd wasted another evening with Granger, who, yes, could dance prettily, and, yes, looked surprisingly good in her robes, but she simply wasn't an appropriate wife. She snorted during the speech about the ineffable benefits of a Hogwarts education. She nudged him with her elbow and rolled her eyes when Sybil Trelawney made a short, meandering speech about building up the Divination book collection. He smirked back at her, pleased they were of one mind about the old drunk, and then watched her as McGonagall offered thanks to a 'donor who wishes to remain anonymous but how has gifted Hogwarts with some truly remarkable volumes to kick off the fund drive for the library.'
Her eyes got a pleased sparkle and she clapped with delight at the news before admitting with a sigh that she just loved books. Draco watched the way one freckle at the corner of her mouth pulled upwards when she smiled and wondered if she knew how enchanting it was. It was certainly more enchanting than the shepherd's pie someone had apparently decided would remind them all of their student days. It did. It reminded Draco how he used to wait for the care packages his mother would send because the food at Hogwarts was so bad.
Given how Granger poked at hers with her fork, she seemed equally put out. "It's better than the chicken," Draco said, which made her smile again, and made that freckle move, and he kept up a steady stream of banter during dinner just for the pleasure of matching wits with her and seeing that smile reward him when he'd said something especially clever.
As he hung the white scarf on a hook for the elves to clean that night, Draco considered it had been a wholly pleasant evening, far more so than he had expected. He hadn't managed to connect with Miss Perks, but if she were dull enough to find the ever-silent Theo interesting, she probably wouldn't have a good fit for him anyway. He needed a wife who could keep up with him. Marriage was too long to be bored.
Well, there was a teacup auction his mother was hosting for the Ladies' Aid Society the following weekend. Surely his mother, of all people, would have only invited appropriate and clever women, and she'd already informed him he would be manning the auction table for her. He'd meet every unmarried, young woman from a good family in one afternoon. It would be efficient, and he'd ask his mother to arrange a meeting with whichever one took his fancy.
Pleased he'd found a solution to his wife problem, Draco went to bed thinking about Hermione's Granger's freckle.
. . . . . . . . . .
Draco stood behind the ticket table in the main foyer of Malfoy Manor with a smile on his face that had become more and more pained as the afternoon had worn on. His mother had assigned him to ticket sales, ordering him to charm the name of the buyer onto every hand painted square of parchment she had decided to call a 'ticket'. Each one cost ten galleons and as each witch took five, or ten, or even twenty, Draco took her coins and enchanted the ticket to read her name.
He supposed it was a good way to learn the names of every wealthy witch in Britain.
He was just so bored.
By the fifteenth young witch, he wanted to press an ice-pack to his throbbing head. They giggled. They battled their lashes at him, which looked like nothing so much as if they'd gotten dust in their eyes. They simpered.
It was all so predictable and dull. Was it possible not a single witch from a good family in all of Britain had enough wit to count out her own coins? He knew he was wealthy. He knew he was attractive. He knew, despite the war, that he still counted as 'a catch'. He just hadn't quite realized until this long and tedious afternoon how much he disliked the way all of that turned witches, and their mothers, into sycophantic toadies. Simpering sycophantic toadies. He'd wasted so much time with Hermione Granger at all the events he'd gone to since he'd decided to find a wide he hadn't spent any real time with eligible girls. By the time Granger arrived, he was too grateful for someone - anyone - who wouldn't coo at him that he didn't stop to wonder who had invited her or why she'd agreed to come.
"Granger, " he said as she stepped up to the table, coin purse in hand. "It's on the house. How many do you want."
She leaned over the table and fumbled her way through cheek kisses. "Malfoy," she said. "How lovely to see you. I'd have thought you'd have found a way to avoid this little event."
He made a face, screwing his mouth up in much the same way he did when he bit into a sour orange. "Mother," he said. "I was quite drafted, but one doesn't argue with her." He began to charm her name onto tickets. "Will five do, Granger?"
"I was really only going to get one," she said. She sounded embarrassed and he was shocked to see a faint flush growing up her neck. "Ten galleons is a bit steep, but I felt bad turning the invitation down, and, well, I didn't bring - ."
He charmed her name onto ten, silencing her before she could explain about her tedious and unimportant poverty. "Really," he said, "it's my pleasure. Just try to come back and talk to me so I don't have to spend any more time than necessary listening to Astoria Greengrass explain how very good her French is in her painful accent." She seemed about to argue, but her name was already on the parchment squares, and he shrugged as though that meant it couldn't be changed, so she did that thing where she smiled at him, and then she headed into the fray of Narcissa Malfoy's party.
He watched her, craning his neck to see her go up to the table with all the trivial little items his mother had set out. The point wasn't to actually win whatever old book or linen handkerchief you bid on. The point was to be seen winning it, showing you'd contributed to the cause du jour. Most of the auction winners wouldn't even bother taking their prizes home. One mermaid figurine made an appearance every year, and never left. Hermione hesitated at the table before she dropped all ten of her tickets into the cup in front of the book.
Draco smiled. She was so easy to predict. Just give the woman an old book and she'd be happy. He'd never have to wonder what to get someone like her. And she'd read them too, and probably argue every point. The crowd swallowed her, scores of women eager to talk to the clever and pretty war heroine in her sensibly fashionable green robes. He so admired how she'd turned what had had to have been hell into personal influence. She hadn't gotten her Hogwarts curriculum reform through, but he was sure it was merely a matter of time.
The girl at the table in front of him coughed and Draco refocused his attention on selling the overpriced tickets. Clarice Selwyn bent over so low he could look down her robes as she spelt her name, and he flicked a quick look at the clock to see how much longer he'd have to endure this.
. . . . . . . . . .
By the time the last witch had left, Draco's headache had gotten much worse. He packed up the tickets, and snagged a half-drunk mimosa and drank it as if that would help. The mermaid figurine had been left behind again and he picked it up and weighed it in one hand. It was heavier than one would expect, and the more closely he examined it, the uglier it was. "You're never going to get rid of this," he said to his mother.
She wrinkled her nose as if the statuette smelled unpleasant before she waved a hand at him and told him to stop fussing with the debris, that the elves would get it. She lowered herself into one of her armchairs and lay her head back. "Remind me why I do this every year?" she asked.
"Your deep concern for endangered magical species?" Draco asked. He settled down on the floor at her feet, mermaid still in his hands, and sighed. "Mother," he began. She made an encouraging sound. "It seems I should get married."
She made another encouraging sound as if this was pleasant but unimportant news. As if she had not spent the past several years making suggestions both subtle and not that he get on with it and provide her with grandchildren. Draco glanced up and recognized the politely bland expression she wore. It meant, 'At last you have come to your senses.'
"There were a number of lovely young ladies here today," she said, still bland.
"I made a list," she told her. She raised her neatly plucked brows in a polite question. "Not of names," he added. "Qualities a wife should have."
She might have muttered, "Patience," under her breath, but he couldn't be quite sure. He fished the list, now folded and unfolded many times, from a pocket and handed it to her. She read it with all due solemnity, and then said, "You seem to have left a few things off."
"I didn't want to be too particular," Draco said.
Narcissa squinted at him the way she had when he'd done something especially stupid as a boy, then pulled a pair of spectacles out of nowhere and slid them on to her nose. "'Beautiful. Demure. Polite.' And I see you added in, 'clever'."
"Well, yes," Draco said.
"The younger Greengrass girl is all of those things," Narcissa pointed out.
Draco thought about Astoria and looked around to see if there were any other abandoned drinks he could down. "She simpers," he said.
Narcissa nodded as though that made perfect sense. "Of course," she said.
"I want a wife as perfect as you are," he said. He did adore her, despite having been made to do ticket sales at this party.
"Demure?" Narcissa asked before being overtaken by a fit of coughing. Draco half-rose to find her something but she gasped out that she was fine, she just needed a moment and he settled back down. Once she had regained control of herself she asked, "How about the Selwyn girl?"
Draco pictured Clarice leaning over the table towards him, her ropes falling open so he could see right down to her navel, and shuddered. "I wouldn't call her demure," he said. "Or clever." She did, he had to admit, have excellent taste in lingerie.
"How about that little friend of yours from school," Narcissa said. "The one you prattled on about who had the audacity to have higher marks than you?"
"Granger?" Draco twisted his mouth at the very idea. "She's… I hardly think you'd approve of her," he said.
Narcissa closed her eyes and leaned her head back and for a moment she looked very old and Draco was reminded that she had lived through not one but two wars, seen one sister cast out, another die, and had hosted a monster in her home without ever letting a stray thought slip. Her hand betrayed a momentary tremor as she took off the spectacles and folded them up and slid them away again, and her skin seemed suddenly as fragile as tissue paper. "I want very much for you to be happy in your marriage, Draco," she said. "Perhaps in all your scheming to survive, then to prosper, you have forgotten that you, also, have the right to be pleased with your life."
"I don't know what you mean," he said. "Are you feeling all right?"
She lay a hand along his cheek and he leaned into the cool, dry flesh. "Be happy," she said. "Add to your list that you should look for her when you walk into a room, that you should smile when you see her, that you should want to smooth her road and make her way easy, that she should be your champion."
Draco looked down at the mermaid. Some idiot had glued tiny gold balls in for eyes, giving the thing a demented glare. "I can't even find someone from a good family who's demure and pretty and doesn't make my head pound." He set the mermaid down, stood up, and kissed the back of his mother's hand. "I should go look at the day's business reports," he said.
She nodded. He was at the door before she said, "Draco," making him turn obediently around. "I will approve of anyone who makes you happy."
He stared at her for a moment before nodding and going back to his office to drink a pain potion and read the international Muggle papers. Business, or gambling, as Blaise put it, required a hand in each world if you wanted to do well, and he'd long ago decided he was going to do very well. Compared to fixing a broken Vanishing Cabinet, understanding the intricacies of business was child's play. He opened Les Échos and pushed the wife problem away. There was a charity Quidditch match in two days, and he'd surely find someone attracted to the way he sat a broom.
And, given how she showed up at everything, Granger was sure to be there. He could ask how she'd enjoyed his mother's party. Just to be polite.
. . . . . . . . . .
Granger wasn't there. The witch has the gall, the poor judgement, the impertinence to not go the St. Mungo's Annual Pro-Am Quidditch Tournament. Really, it was just proof that she had no idea how to behave. Everyone came to this. Everyone. Draco smiled as politely as he could at Astoria Greengrass who said something that might have been 'bonjour' and might have been 'faire l'andouille'. Her governess really had let that bit of instruction slide. He kept up conversation - in English - before the match and hoped she didn't notice the way he kept looking over her shoulders to try to spot that ridiculous bushy hair that simply couldn't be hidden.
He spent far too much of the game itself squinting into the crowd trying to find Granger and not enough of it looking for the Snitch. The same fortune that favors fools, however, blew him a kiss and just as he spotted Potter - not flying this year and thus why Draco had a chance to play Seeker for once - and that awful ginger Weasley he'd married, the Snitch darted in front of him. He blinked at it twice, grabbed it from the air, and then looked again at Potter. The man was cheering for him, but Granger was unmistakably not present. She'd have been right there if she were.
Such a disappointment.
Blaise found him after the match and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Nicely done, Malfoy," he said. "First time they let you play Seeker and you grab the Snitch in almost record time."
Draco shrugged. He found it oddly hard to focus on what should have been a moment of triumph. Blaise started to ask him if he were okay before studying his eyes and starting to snicker. "Who is she?" he asked. "I take it she wasn't here today?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Draco said. He shook off Blaise's hand and stalked off through the crowds to the locker room so he could shower and go home. He had papers to read and reports to file and invitations to sort through. He had a busy life. He had a successful life. More than he ever would have thought. More than he deserved, really. He rinsed off the sweat of the game and tucked the Snitch away in his bag. He nodded to Potter on his way out. He ignored the way Blaise and Theo leaned their heads in and whispered like a couple of old biddies having tea. He had a good life.
He was fine.
He didn't need anyone. The whole idea of finding a wife had been ridiculous. He'd been goaded by Blaise and his mother and her desire for grandchildren. He'd just… get a Pygmy Puff. He'd get a Pygmy Puff and name it Clem and he'd be fine.
. . . . . . . . . .
For an hour Blaise tolerated the way Draco kept scanning the room while they talked. At last he said, "Which is why Pansy and I have decided to make our great love known by having a naked wedding in the Ministry atrium."
"That's nice," Draco said. He looked down at the wine glass in his hand. "Do you think I could get a better vintage? 300 galleons to get into this bloody soiree and they serve us swill like this."
Theo snickered and nudged Blaise with his elbow. "Do I get to be best man?"
"Absolutely not. Your endowments aren't impressive enough for naked weddings."
Draco blinked at them both. "What?" he asked.
"What?" Blaise mimicked. He made a show of staring around the room. The Weasley girl was obvious enough, and hanging on Potter's arm. Theo's blonde oddity was arguing with someone by the punchbowl. All the obvious candidates were present, making their dutiful appearance at another war memorial, so he couldn't quite figure out who Draco had been searching for. Unless…
"Holy shite," he said. "It's Granger."
Draco's posture went from slumped to alert, and he ran a hand through his hair.
"Hermione came?" Theo squinted at Blaise. "She told Luna she had to work late tonight. Something about how someone had misfiled a thing and now she was behind schedule?"
"No, you idiot," Blaise said. "She isn't here. Malfoy fell for Granger. That's who he's been looking for all night while he pretended to listen to us."
Theo reached over and patted Draco on the arm with a gesture so condescending the man narrowed his eyes and tried to shoot daggers from them. Blaise could barely control his laughter. He'd hoped it would be someone good but this was more than he'd dared hope for. "She's not coming," he said. "She's got better things to do than hobnob at yet another pointless charity function."
"I have not fallen for Hermione Granger," Draco Malfoy said stiffly.
"Good," said Theo, "because the woman has the face of a horse."
Blaise looked shocked for a moment, before he smirked and added, "And she's not that clever, really. One of those people who gets good marks at school but that's it."
Draco's shoulders stiffened and he ground his teeth together but said nothing.
"And," said Theo, "you know."
"The Muggle-born thing," Blaise said in a stage whisper. "Just not done."
Draco's face began to grow redder and redder and his fingers tightened around the stem of his wine glass until his knuckles became white.
"But it's not an issue," Theo said, "because, as you said, you haven't fallen for her."
Draco took a deep breath.
"I heard she's with Victor Krum anyway," Blaise added.
"You are both despicable," Draco said through gritted teeth. "Hermione Granger is delightful, and witty, and a lovely woman."
He set his wine glass down on a passing tray with such decided thoroughness the caterer stumbled and glared at him, but he had already turned and was stalking away from his friends and out the door. "Like I care what you two think," he muttered as he snatched his outdoor robes from the coat check and tossed a galleon down into the tip jar. "Lousy, inbred snobs, the pair of you."
Left behind, Theo pushed his tongue against his teeth and considered the departing Malfoy. "If Hermione really seeing Krum?" he asked Blaise.
Blaise snorted. "Krum's gay," he said. At Theo's surprised sound, he smirked and added, "I should know. And he can be in my naked wedding with Pansy without embarrassing himself."
Theo took a sip from his drink and said, "Fuck you," without any real heat, then asked, "Does he even know where she works?"
Blaise shrugged. "Damned if I know," he said. "Not my problem."
. . . . . . . . . .
Hermione bit at her lower lip and pushed the memo she'd been drafting away with a frustrated grunt. She'd been at this all day, trying to get a week's worth of work into just a few hours. If she got her hands on Zachariah Smith, she might just kill him. It was probably good he'd disappeared, off to another one of the endless charity events that seemed to make up the whole of her adult life.
With that thought, she picked up the invitation to this evening's event. It wasn't the sort of thing she could have ever afforded. Do-gooders didn't do very well as she had learned since graduation, and being a war heroine didn't pay the bills. It certainly didn't pay her way into one swanky affair after another. Usually she was just as happy to skip them. Bad food, bad wine, bad speeches. She'd been a bit sorry to miss this one, especially since Narcissa Malfoy had paid for her admission in a move Hermione found shockingly lacking in subtlety for the woman. She would have liked to have seen Draco again.
She laughed at herself for that. She wasn't sure when he'd gone from being 'Malfoy' in her mind to 'Draco', but he had. Maybe had been when she'd realized she looked forward to matching wits with him; maybe it had been when he'd ignored a party full of girls flashing their bras at him to watch her all night. Somewhere in there, though, they'd moved to first names.
She set the invitation down with a sigh and pulled the paperwork back toward her. She'd get this done. Work first.
When the door opened she looked up, expecting to tell the janitorial staff not to bother with her office, that she'd be here late, only to see Draco Malfoy standing there.
"How did you get past security?" she asked rather stupidly. Her brain seemed to have disconnected from her mouth because she couldn't fathom what Draco Malfoy was doing here, in her office, looking sinfully good in dress robes. He had an outer cloak draped over one arm and he looked around for a place to put it and she gestured weakly toward a chair piled with books she'd meant to return last week.
"You weren't at the party," he said. The coat settled over the arm of her ratty chair with the elegant drape of expensive wool and her fingers, irrationally, itched to touch it. She was sure it was soft.
"I had to work," she looked down at her proposal to mandate something she couldn't even remember. Plants, and poisonous things, and imports of some sort. Or was this the one about carnivorous books? When she looked up again, Draco was on his knees and holding a tiny box out at her.
She sat down and missed her chair, hitting the floor of her office with a loud 'oof.'
He scrambled around the desk and tripped over a stack of folders and landed on both palms in front of her. The box skittered forward, coming to a rest against her ankle. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said. She tried not to cringe with embarrassment. Who missed her chair? She felt utterly stupid. The box obviously wasn't what she immediately assumed. She'd read a few too many novels where, when the hero handed a small box to the woman, it was a proposal. She and Draco didn't know one another nearly well enough for that. The box probably had some thing she'd left behind at his mother's teacup auction. She couldn't think of what it could be, especially with the way he was licking at his bottom lip and staring at her uncertainly.
"Are you sure?" he asked on his hands and knees in front of her, his face inches from hers. "That sounded like a pretty bad fall."
"You fell too," she said.
"I did," he agreed.
"Are you okay?" She wished he'd stop licking at his lips like that. It made it very difficult to focus on how she should stand up, help him up, find out why he'd come by.
"I think so," he said.
Their noses bumped and he swore under his breath and then his lips were on hers and she tasted wine. The folders stacked by her desk fell all the way over and all their contents spread out over the floor and some part of her brain knew that she'd really hate that on Monday morning when she needed to find something but the rest of her didn't care because she was kissing Draco Malfoy, prat, ferret, elitist and, she was pleased to discover, talented in ways she hadn't considered back in school.
She shoved the manila folders and their sheets of parchment out of the way and that broke the kiss apart.
"Hi," he said.
She thought she'd stop breathing. She thought she'd never felt her heart beat so hard in a life that had been filled with things that had scared and thrilled her. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came. All she could do was smile at him like an idiot.
"You skipped the party," he said. "I missed you."
"They're all the same, those parties," she said. She'd moved forward and the box he'd tried to hand her had ended up lodged under her thigh and she pulled it out and squinted at it. "Boring, I mean."
"They are," Draco said. Neither of them seemed to know quite what to say. Sitting on the floor of her office on a late Friday night kissing Draco Malfoy robbed Hermione of her usual skill with words, and he seemed equally adrift. Should she kiss him back? Ask how the event had been? Before she could decide he asked,"Are you going to open it?"
She fumbled with the box. The lid didn't want to come off, the clasp seemed stuck, and when she finally pried it open she really did stop breathing for a moment. Her heart moved, somehow, to her throat where it sat there in a lump she couldn't swallow around, all while the diamond glittered up at her.
"Do you like it?" he asked, and she could hear the tremor in his voice and knew that under that lay a maw filled with nothing but fear that she'd throw it back in his face.
She didn't know how to answer. The ring almost fell to the floor when she took it out of the box and held it out to him. "I know you're thinking we barely know each other," he said, the words the answer to an argument she wasn't making, "but we have since we were eleven. I don't come with any other surprises, Granger. It's just me. Good at things that don't matter, bad at things that do, not good enough for you. If you - "
"I think tradition calls for you to put it on," she said before he could say any more.
He almost put it on the wrong finger, and the band felt weird once he slid it on. She'd never liked rings. They always felt like a fetter rubbing at her but this one felt right. It felt like being held.
"Do you like it?" he asked again.
She glanced down at her hand, and then up at his pale, pointed face. "Well," she said, "it's not a bright blue papermache necklace, but I suppose it will do."
. . . . . . . . . .
The chirping sounded got quite loud when the sun came up, and Hermione pulled the pillow over her head with a groan. "What is that?" she demanded.
Draco felt a twinge of guilt, but a very small twinge. Mostly what he felt was smug satisfaction. "I didn't mention Clem, did I?" he said, trying to summon regret to color his tone. "I have this pygmy puff. She's very cute."
Clem chirped from his dresser and Hermione made a noise that might have been a muffled laugh.
Draco stretched his toes out so they brushed against hers and lay down, feeling very pleased with himself. It wasn't every morning a man woke up next to perfection, after all.
Well. It hadn't been until now. He supposed it would be going forward.
One more reason to be pleased.
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N - This fic started as a game on tumblr called "fics I won't write" in which people sent me titles and pairings and I wrote the summary of a story. This particular one caught my interest and wouldn't let go, so I ended up writing it. Fans of Georgette Heyer will notice the nod to Sylvester. If you have read Rebuilding, of course you know Clem.
I hope everyone enjoys its fluffy silliness.