26 years, 00 months, 00 days

Draco Malfoy is ruining his wife's twenty-sixth birthday. That fact saddens him but it certainly doesn't surprise him. After all, he's ruined her birthday in the past.

Repeatedly.

Last year, on the day she turned 25, he ruined it obliquely. Even now, he can't remember what his wife and his mother were arguing about that day. Perhaps they were battling over his wife's "charmingly plebian" clothing (his mother's words). Or maybe it was over the Malfoy house-elves' "penchant for petty theft" (also his mother's words). Whatever infuriated the two women, he only vaguely tracked their conversation, focusing instead on the book he always opened whenever they started sparring.

By the time his attention drifted up from his book, it was too late. Instead of the happy resolution that usually followed their fights, he found two sets of eyes glaring. At him.

Well? his wife had demanded. Which of us is right?

His gaze darted between the two of them a few times, before he settled upon: Both?

That answer earned him two equally indignant huffs, two different tongue-lashings, and one night on the sofa in his own flat.

His wife's twenty-fifth birthday, however, paled in comparison to her twenty-fourth. He'd planned a delightful trip for that day, full of picnics and chartered boat rides and endless shagging. None of which occurred, of course. Instead, his-bride-to-be turned 24 inside a Bulgarian jailhouse, where she defended him and his idiot friends in a hearing about his…over-zealous stag night. (How Theodore Nott smuggled a case of firewhisky and an enchanted fourteenth-century cannon into the World Cup, Draco will never know.)

Her twenty-third birthday was both wonderful and horrifying, and her thirteenth birthday still makes him shudder. He honestly hasn't had one good showing in the fifteen years he's known her. And today – on her twenty-sixth birthday – he's bollocksing it up just as nicely. In the middle of mountain forest, no less.

"Dammit," his wife grits out, bending down to vigorously rub the ankle of her right hiking boot.

He leans over to slip his hand under her arm. "Here. Let me—"

"No."

The word comes out sharp, and she swats his hand away from her. Hissing in pain, she hobbles over to a nearby tree stump with her right boot raised off the forest floor. Draco hesitates, fluctuating somewhere between hurt and frustration. He settles – stupidly, he knows – upon the latter.

"Fine," he snaps. "Go pout, then. See if I give a damn."

She drops onto the tree stump, props her right foot upon her left knee, and levels him with a blood-chilling glare. "I'm not pouting, you prat. I'm injured. Should I summon a dictionary so you can read up on the difference?"

"Did you actually pack a dictionary?"

If it's possible, her gaze goes even colder. Her voice is low and dangerous as she asks, "Want to come over here and find out, Malfoy?"

Draco fights the urge to shiver. Last names are his thing; Hermione Granger only uses them when she's angry. Truly, deeply angry. And why shouldn't she be? This whole day was his hare-brained scheme.

It's been a disaster every year, he said last night, curled up with her on their sofa. I'm tired of ruining your birthday. This year, I want to do something good for you. Something different.

And "different" is certainly one way to describe this day. "Disastrous" might be another. Or perhaps "utter shite." Why he chose to gift her with a Portkey to the Alps, for a day of hiking through the woods, he can't recall. Temporary insanity, he guesses. Or Malfoy hubris, if he's being completely honest.

He winces as Hermione unlaces her boot and pulls it off delicately. Beneath the water-resistant rubber is something that only vaguely resembles an ankle. She begins to roll her wool sock downward, whimpering when the fabric brushes her swollen skin. The flesh there has already turned purple, and it's blackening swiftly.

"Oh," she whispers, at the sight of it. "That's not good."

After that, Draco doesn't think. He just points his wand at his wife's ankle and casts, "Ferula."

Hermione cries out, almost loud enough to cover the sound of her tendons snapping back into place. Her face sags in relief, just before she shoots him another outraged glare. She opens her mouth to berate him but he waves her off.

"I know, I know," he drawls, dropping to one knee in front of her. "It was yours to heal. And your Ferula is much better than mine."

With a tenderness that belies his tone, he lifts her mended ankle and strokes the fading bruises with his thumbs. "And I know it was my fault this happened in the first place."

Draco feels the soft slip of fingers beneath his jawline, tilting his head up. To his shock, she's smiling down at him when he meets her gaze.

"I'm sorry," he blurts out, before she can argue with him. "I'm an idiot."

Hermione nods in mock solemnity. "You are."

"You deserve a good birthday for once."

"I do."

"And hiking was a horrible fucking idea."

She moves her fingers from his jaw to his cheek. "Now, I didn't say that, did I?"

"You…didn't?"

"I didn't."

"You don't hate this?"

"I don't."

"I...didn't fuck up?"

She laughs. "The jury's still out on that one, I'm afraid. We have at least three hours of hiking left to find out. Knowing you, that's ample opportunity to insult me a few more times, or at least find a Bulgarian cannon to ignite."

Draco blinks in surprise, and then he grins. "Give me time, Granger. Give me time."

"I always do. And it's 'Malfoy,' Draco. For two years, come October."

"Damn right it is."

He's still grinning as he moves to put her gear back on. They're quiet as he works, his long fingers re-lacing her boot while she traces patterns on his cheek. When her fingertips brush the point of his chin, he feels his heart flip.

"Your hair," he says, without looking at her. "It's enormous, you know."

A few silent seconds pass, before Hermione makes a happy sort of sob.

"Your chin is too sharp," she whispers.

"We grew into them."

"We certainly did."

Suddenly, her perfect mouth is on his, and he realizes that maybe he hasn't ruined anything after all.


24 years, 1 month, 12 days

"A Halloween wedding is just weird, Granger," Draco declares.

Hermione smiles in that maniacal way she knows he only pretends to dislike. "I'm weird. And just in case you missed the last three hours of our lives, Draco, my last name is Malfoy now. Not Granger."

In response, he tugs her more firmly against him, so close that she can almost feel the buttons of his dress robes through the thick lace of her gown. She leans back and ducks quickly under his arm – the one that's raised with hers in a formal, First-Dance pose. She does so to tease him; to rattle that perfect stance of his. But Draco has had years of pureblood training in the ballroom, compared to her paltry month. In one swift move, he spins her further under his arm and out into a pirouette. The swish of her heavy white train barely muffles her gasp of surprise.

The moment Draco pulls her back into his arms, Hermione swats at his chest with her free hand. "Warn me next time before you do that, will you?"

"And ruin my fun?"

"Your fun? What about my dress? This floor is probably filthy. I'll have to perform at least three different charms just to clean my hem."

"I don't know why you're complaining, Granger. That dress weighs about forty stone – do you know how much effort I had to expend to make it twirl like that?"

"How much effort you—? I'm the one wearing this monstrosity, Draco."

He leans close to her ear and whispers, "Not for long, Granger."

They swoop by a table full of relatives, and it takes every ounce of her willpower not to shiver visibly in delight.

"How many times do I have to tell you?" she sighs in faux annoyance. "It's 'Malfoy,' now."

His lips pull into that old, familiar smirk. "Damn right it is, Granger."

"Damn right," she agrees, and this time she's the one to pull him in closer. They continue to sway for a few more minutes, until she leans back again.

"I have something for you."

Draco grins wickedly. "Here, Granger? In front of all our guests?"

She gives his robes another playful smack. "No, that's for later. Right now I want to give you this. Or give it back, I should say."

She reaches into a hidden fold of her gown, removes a small square of fabric, and tucks it into the breast pocket of his robes. With a curious smile, he pulls the fabric out to inspect it…and freezes.

There, in the middle of an age-stained white handkerchief, is an elaborately embroidered "M." Draco runs his thumb across the green threading as though it's enchanted.

"You kept it," he whispers.

"I did. It was my 'something borrowed' today."

Hermione watches those strange, pale eyes of his as they cloud over with shame, gratitude, fear, happiness, and, finally, love. She recognizes all the emotions that cross his face – she just knows him that well.

"No, Granger," Draco rasps, as he pulls her fiercely to his chest. "This was never 'borrowed.' It was always yours."


23 years, 00 months, 00 days

He's burnt the roast.

He's burnt the fucking roast, and he's pretty sure the entire goddamned night is ruined.

Draco paces around the tiny kitchen in their new flat, inventing as many new combinations of swear words as he can. He's just come up with "Merlin's sodding fuckery" when his gaze darts to the enchanted clock above their front door. And then he really begins to panic.

She'll be home from the Ministry in ten minutes. Ten, short minutes. And the roast is burnt, the potatoes look pretty dodgy, and the champagne won't stay cold, no matter how many cooling charms he casts on it. He could have picked up takeaway like a normal boyfriend, but no – he had to pull a Malfoy tonight and fucking ruin her birthday. Again.

"Mother-binting twat!" he shouts, throwing a scorched tea-towel into the sink.

"That's a new one," a soft voice calls from behind him. "I rather like it."

Draco spins around and blinks rapidly at the entrance to the kitchen. The birthday girl stands there, trying to rearrange her Floo-ruffled curls.

"I just created it," he states, for lack of anything better to say.

Hermione smiles. "It's not bad. But it needs a little something more. Like, 'mother-binting twatface?' For an extra bit of oomph at the end, perhaps?"

He nods dazedly. "That's…perfect, actually."

"Just one of the many reasons you keep me around." She sniffs the smoke-filled air and then arches one eyebrow. "Dinner, I presume?"

"Roast beef tenderloin. With gorgonzola sauce and fingerling potatoes."

She inclines her head to the bottle on their counter. "And champagne?"

"Lukewarm champagne. Some French vintage that's resistant to cooling charms. Apparently."

"Impressive. And for dessert?"

It's then that Draco realizes his biggest error: in his rush, he left "dessert" on their kitchen island. Not one yard from where she's standing right now.

Her eyes land on the island at the same time his do. Draco makes a dive for "dessert," but she's quicker. In less than three seconds, Hermione has scooped up the small, robin's-egg blue box off the island.

"Don't you dare!" he shouts, but she's already yanking the white ribbon from around the box and opening the lid.

In the warm light of their kitchen, the gold band looks so much smaller – the ruby so much less impressive – than when he bought the ring last month. Hermione is staring down at it with an unreadable expression and, suddenly, he feels the urge to vomit. Nausea as much as tradition drives him down to one knee.

She meets his gaze, and he's horrified to see panic in her eyes. With a shaking hand, she thrusts the ring at him like it's cursed. He takes it from her and thinks, absently, that he should probably run now. To somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe Antarctica is nice this time of year.

Before he can rise, however, Draco feels the press of her hand on his shoulder. He settles back onto his knee and glances up to find tears in her eyes.

"I shouldn't have opened it," she whispers.

"No. You shouldn't have."

"I ruined everything, didn't I?"

He snorts. "I'm pretty sure that's me you're thinking of, Granger."

Her face droops in misery, but only for a heartbeat. Then she starts to smile in that crazed way that both thrills and terrifies him.

"Wait," she says breathlessly. "Wait right there."

She runs out of the kitchen and into their sitting room. He hears the whoosh of their Floo and then hears another, second whoosh.

"Honey, I'm home!" Hermione calls from the sitting room. "Just got in from the Ministry. Hell of a day. I called Cormac McLaggen a twatface, if you can believe it."

"Did you, now?" he asks, thoroughly confused as to what's happening. "How did he take it?"

"Like the mother-binting twatface he is," she calls back. "Now, I'm going to take off my shoes and coat – slowly – while you…um, 'wrap up' whatever you've got going on in the kitchen. Which is a total surprise to me, since I just got home. Obviously."

It finally dawns on him what she's doing, and Draco smiles. He tucks the ring back into the blue box and quickly rewraps it.

By the time Hermione returns to the kitchen, he's charmed the wrinkles from his slacks and the stains from his shirt, and he's holding the box out to her like a prize. By the time she's wearing that small, Gryffindor-red ring on the fourth finger of her left hand, she's crying again.

"From happiness?" he asks.

"Actually, from all the smoke off the burnt roast," she teases. But her kiss tells him otherwise.


22 years, 8 months, 4 days

He's funny.

She wasn't anticipating that. Or…maybe she'd just forgotten about that part of him, during the course of their long, circuitous history. Either way, he makes her laugh now. All the time, and often when she least expects it.

Like when she's had a horrible day at work, or a War memory comes sneaking up on her, or she's grown pedantic because she's not sure what else to do. Whenever something unpleasant happens, he's there, with a hand on her waist and a whispered quip in her ear.

Oddly, it's just what she wants. Even more shocking, it's what she needs.

Only one person in the world would have ever thought she'd need Draco Malfoy. So sometimes – when Draco makes her laugh, just before he kisses her – Hermione sends a silent "thank-you" across the years, to that strange, bushy-haired little girl who had it right after all.


22 years, 3 months, 17 days

"Dear lord, Granger – you're shite at this."

The Wizard's chessboard between them crackles loudly as his queen slides into place next to hers.

"Checkmate," Draco declares, and he folds his arms behind his head in the casual pose of a victor.

Hermione scowls at him and then down at the board. "Did you charm it to make that sound when you won?"

"I don't know. Maybe it just does that whenever someone wins four games in a row."

"It's done that every time you've won. Not just this game."

With his arms still tucked behind his head, he shrugs. "If you say so. To be honest, I can barely hear the crackling of the chessboard over the raucous cheers of triumph in my head."

"You would be the type to cheer yourself on."

His laugh is incredulous. "I 'would be the type,' Granger? You've known my 'type' since we were eleven. I hardly think I hold any surprises for you."

Hermione's scowl disappears and she regards him curiously, like he's an experimental potion or one of her precious textbooks. It's a keen, analytical look – not one you'd give to a potential boyfriend. But if he's not mistaken, there's something else in her stare as well. Something…soft at the edges. Sweet, even. Something that makes his heart thump harder.

"What?" he asks. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Because you're wrong, I think."

Despite his uneven pulse, Draco smirks. "Wrong? I'm never wrong, Granger."

Never admittedly, anyway.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," she says. "I hardly expected to be on a first date with you, much less a third. Yet here we are."

"Eating Muggle takeaway and playing Wizard's Chess at your flat."

"You're the one who bought me the board for Christmas. After only one date, no less."

"Yes, well. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake."

The right corner of her mouth lifts slightly. "Are you regretting your choice of gift, or choice of date?"

"Neither, of course." Bravado practically oozes from his denial. But when Hermione quirks one eyebrow, he sighs. "Alright, fine. I might be - somewhat, maybe – afraid that you find tonight…boring."

"I'm Hermione Granger: 'boring' is my middle name."

"I thought it was Jean," he says automatically, and he feels his face redden.

Hermione blinks several times. Then both corners of her mouth lift. "See, Draco? In some ways, you're very much a surprise."

Now his heart really starts thudding. He drops his arms and leans forward across the board. Close enough to see the faint blush upon her cheekbones and the widening of her pupils. He could be wrong, but she looks like she might…like she could really….

Bloody hell, does she actually like him? Could he actually be that lucky? Is the world not the complete and total disaster he assumed it would be, after the War? More importantly, does his breath smell? Is his hair out of place? What exactly does she taste like?

His thoughts are still chasing each other like dogs when suddenly, Hermione leans forward too. She stops a few centimetres from his mouth and, just like that, he's forgotten how to breathe.

"Your eyes," she says softly. "They're pale grey, but there's a ring of darker grey around the irises. Did you know that?"

"No," he manages to gasp. "But I know yours are brown."

She hesitates, only for a second, before placing her lips on his. It's a chaste kiss, but his heart is pounding so fast he's fairly certain he's dying. Which would be a shame, really. Because she looks sort of…pleased when she pulls away.

"Like I said," she murmurs as she settles back into her chair, "you really are a surprise, Draco Malfoy."

"He clears his throat, mostly to cover his shock that she kissed him. She actually kissed him. "As are you, Hermione Granger."

"How so?"

Willing his hand not to shake, he lifts his wand to reset the chessboard. "Well, for starters, someone as brilliant as you shouldn't be such utter shite at Wizard's Chess."

Her laugh sounds perfect. Like magic, if he's being honest.

"That's a bit unfair," she argues. "We need at least one more round to confirm whether or not I'm truly abysmal at this."

Draco doesn't even bother fighting a smile. "And what will the terms be, for this new round?"

"Are you asking what the winner will get?"

"Yes."

Draco's eyes dart, involuntarily, to her mouth. Hermione, smart girl that she is, catches him. Those pretty lips of hers curve into a grin that rivals his.

"Oh, I'm sure we'll think of something, Draco."


22 years, 3 months, 00 days

Hermione gives Harry a quick peck upon the cheek before settling across from him in their usual booth. Their favorite diner is packed to the rafters today, with patrons and winter coats and shopping bags crammed into every available millimetre of space.

"Good lord, it's hot in here." She pants theatrically as she removes her own coat and starts fanning herself with a laminated menu. "Why are all these people encroaching on our sacred space? Don't they know I like to eat my lunch in peace?"

"Last minute Christmas shopping, I expect."

"Think so?"

"Well, it is for me." Harry grins sheepishly and hefts his own canvas bag, full to the brim with what looks suspiciously like knit. Hermione gives both him and the bag a disapproving frown.

"I guess we're all getting scarves again this year, then?"

"Again? Did I get everyone scarves last year?"

She can't help but laugh. "You did. But I'm sure they were in different colors. Please tell me you did something special for your girlfriend, at least."

His expression brightens, and he digs through his bag to remove a small box. It's robin's-egg blue and wrapped in a white, silk bow.

Hermione gasps. "Harry, is that...? Are you finally going to...?"

"I am. Christmas morning, at The Burrow." He frowns at the tiny box with a touch of uncertainty. "Do you think that's too much? To do it in front of everyone?"

Hermione pauses to consider his question. A crowd will be watching, certainly. Arthur, Molly, Percy, Charlie, Bill, Fleur, George, Angelina, Ron…and herself, if Ron isn't acting too "uncomfortable" that day. She thinks about how Ginny's face will look when she opens the blue box and slips on the item that waits inside. Then Hermione imagines the joyous shouts that will fill The Burrow, and how everyone might forget about the empty chair at the dining table. For a few hours, anyway.

Her eyes begin to burn, and she reaches across the tabletop to grasp Harry's hand – the one that isn't holding Ginny Weasley's undoubtedly perfect engagement ring.

"It'll be great, Harry. That's what I think."

"Do you promise not to cry?"

"Absolutely not."

Smiling, Harry stows away the box. "What about you? All done with your Christmas shopping?"

Hermione lifts one shoulder in a way that manages to be both offhanded and smug. "Since September."

"Of course you are."

"Surprised?"

"Of course I'm not. So…you won't be rushing around like the rest of humanity for the next few days?"

"Nope."

"And…you aren't terribly busy at work?"

"Well, there's a bit of mess with the anti-pixie-hunting legislation that I'm trying to push through, but my afterhours are pretty free and I haven't really…."

Hermione trails off when she notices the cagey look that has stolen over her best friend's face.

"Potter," she warns, "where exactly are you going with this line of questioning?"

"I'm just seeing if you're free this Friday night. That's all."

"Why would I need to be free?"

Harry flinches. Actually flinches. "Because you might…technically have plans."

She lets loose a sound that can only be described as banshee-like. "Harry James Potter, how dare you set me up on a date with that man without even asking me first!"

His hands fly into the air, as if to protect his face from the hex she's preparing to lob at it. "We've been talking about this for three months, Hermione."

"And I've been saying 'no' for three months."

"Yes, but your resolve seems to have wavered lately."

"It has not!" she shrieks.

"It has, too. Just last week you admitted that you no longer feel the urge to throw your teacup at his head, whenever you pass him at work."

"Deciding you don't want to maim someone and desiring to date them are two very different feelings. You should know that by now. Or have you been taking cues from Ron's emotional playbook again?"

With that, Harry's wince softens into something that too closely resembles pity.

"It's been over a year, Hermione. Almost two, in fact."

She begins fiddling with her fork. "Your logic is really off today, Harry. Just because Ron and I broke up two years ago doesn't mean I should go on a blind date with…with Draco Malfoy, of all people."

"It would hardly be a blind date. You've known the bloke for eleven years."

"And hated him for ten years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days."

Harry's cheek dimples. "So you're admitting that you didn't hate him on the first day?"

Hermione tosses aside the cutlery and folds her arms across her jumper. She's still furious, but there's also a measure of defeat in her frown.

"No," she sighs. "I didn't hate him on our first day at Hogwarts. You know that – I've told you."

"Yes, you have."

"But that one day doesn't erase years – years – of general twattery on his part."

"Of course it doesn't," Harry concedes.

"Then tell me again why I shouldn't just stand him up on Friday?"

"Because that would be a jerk thing to do?"

Hermione gives him a very clear 'So what?' look, and he shakes his head.

"Malfoy's been a huge asset to the Auror department this year," Harry says. "He and Finch-Fletchley argue like an old married couple, but they're great partners. They even go out for pints every Thursday."

"I hardly see how a blossoming career in the Ministry makes him date-material."

"He's changed since the War. A lot. He's not the same prat he used to be."

"So you say."

"I do. He's become sort of…pleasant, actually. In his own sarcastic way. He's funny, believe it or not. He makes the whole department laugh, all the time – not at anyone else's expense, either. And sometimes he's…noble, even. Look at what he did for Seamus four months ago."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she drones. "So someone fired a stray curse at Seamus and Malfoy dodged in front of it. So what?"

Her tone is defensive, but she knows Harry can hear something else in it: the slightest, most insignificant, teensy-tiniest hint of begrudging admiration.

"So it put him in St. Mungo's for ten days. Ten days, Hermione. It's the longest an Auror has been knocked out of commission – second only to Mad-Eye – without dying. And that's not even the first time he's done something like that. I think Malfoy feels like he has to make up for how he behaved as a kid."

"Damn right, he does," she grumbles.

Harry shakes his head. "You don't think that. I know you don't."

Hermione just shrugs in response, and Harry smiles faintly. He's seen victory enough times to sense it in the air.

"I'd even go so far as to call us friends now," he says. "Malfoy and me, I mean. And I wouldn't want you dating anyone but a friend. Besides, Malfoy might be the only person I'd consider almost as smart as you."

When Hermione shoots him a glare, Harry laughs. "Come on – I said 'almost,' didn't I?"

"Horseshoes and hand grenades," she mutters under her breath.

"What?"

"Nothing." Hermione sighs again and drops her arms onto the table. "So you've officially stated your case on why you think I should date Malfoy. But what on earth makes you think Malfoy would want to go on a date with me?"

Harry's cagey expression returns. "Because…because….Shit. Can't you just trust me on this one?"

"Not in the slightest."

Harry mimics her heavy sigh. "Look, I promised him I wouldn't tell you this, but…he's the one who's been pressuring me to ask you out for him."

"That's…that can't be…."

"Ah, but it can. I think his exact words were: 'Please, Potter. It has to be you. If I ask her on my own, she'll launch a teapot at my head.'"

Hermione barks out a surprised laugh. "Teacup, actually. But…why?"

"He likes you. Full stop."

"I doubt that. He's probably just having a laugh."

"I thought so, too, when he started dropping hints six months ago." Harry holds up a hand to stop her impending tirade. "I know, I know. I haven't been bugging you about this for six months. Because I had to see if he was genuine or not."

"And he convinced you?"

"Yes," Harry says plainly. "He did."

"How? How on this great, green earth could Draco sodding Malfoy have convinced you to convince me to date him?"

"Well, it started with him asking about you and Ron – whether you two were still together or not. I swear, when I told Malfoy you'd been single for over a year, his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Then he kept bringing you up at the oddest times. Like, 'You know who would have information on Uruguayan Dark Objects? Granger would.' Or, 'Maybe we should consult Granger on this case. I hear she's really talented with counter-curses.' I mean, he did this all the time. To the point where it became a bit of an inside joke around the department."

"I'm a joke in your department?"

"Not you – Malfoy's interest in you."

"Oh, that's much more comforting, thanks."

Harry waves a dismissive hand at her sarcasm. "Remember three months ago, at the Leaky Cauldron, when Seamus asked if you knew anything about Boggart containment-trunks? And Malfoy's face turned neon pink?"

"That's just because Neville threw up on Malfoy's stupidly expensive shoes."

"No, the projectile vomiting happened later. Seamus tortured Malfoy before that."

Hermione shifts nervously in her seat. "Huh. Okay. So Malfoy talks about me, and he's been begging you to set up a date. That's not proof that he actually, truly likes me."

Harry smiles in triumph. "Ah, but he does. He said so himself. Out loud. To everyone."

She can't deny her own flush of shock. "He did? When?"

"That same night, at the Leaky. After you and Ginny left to carry Neville home, we all proceeded to get even more pissed. Everyone, including Malfoy."

"And?"

"And you know what Seamus does when someone's defenses are down, don't you?"

"He goes in for the kill."

"Exactly. Seamus slaughtered Malfoy that night. As a gift."

One of Hermione's eyebrows arches so high, it almost hits her hairline. "A gift?"

"Yeah. I think it was Seamus' incredibly weird way of thanking Malfoy for saving his life. The minute Malfoy started slurring, Seamus pounced. He didn't let up until Malfoy admitted how he felt about you."

"And how, exactly, is that?"

"I believe the words 'beautiful' and 'smart as hell' and 'arse like a fucking angel' may have been uttered. Repeatedly."

Hermione feels the sudden need to flee. Like, now. But in a stroke of perfect timing, the waitress chooses that moment to finally deliver their tea and usuals – ham on rye for Harry, and tomato soup for Hermione.

"So," Hermione says, once the waitress has left, "how did Ron react? To Malfoy's declaration of…of…that?"

"I believe the words 'go for it, mate' and 'careful, she's got a mean stinging jinx if you piss her off' were uttered. Repeatedly."

Hermione hums a thoughtful sound and tucks into her soup. Because she's hungry. Not because she needs at least four or five spoonfuls to work through the turmoil inside her brain.

Eventually, she sets down her spoon and gives an exaggerated sigh. "Fine. I'll meet him on Friday. But I won't enjoy myself."

"Of course not."

"And I intend to wear Gryffindor-red, from head to toe."

"Of course you will."

"Or maybe Ginny's old Quidditch uniform, if you guys still have it."

Harry chokes on his tea. "Um…I'm not sure that's the wisest idea."

"Why not?"

"Well, have you seen Quidditch pants? They're rather…tight."

The corner of Hermione's mouth lifts. Just a bit.

"But haven't you heard, Harry? I have an arse like a fucking angel, and a mean stinging jinx if Malfoy tries to touch it."


20 years, 4 months, 10 days

Draco reaches for the purple tulips at the exact same moment someone else does. Like the gentleman he's trying so desperately to become, he pulls his hand back and turns to the other customer in the florist's shop.

"Sorry, Miss, I didn't mean to—"

His words cut short, the second he sees who was also reaching for the bouquet.

"Granger," he drawls. "What a surprise."

"Yeah, an unwelcome one."

She gives him a Slytherin-worthy sneer, snatches the tulips from their bucket of water, and stalks away from him toward the front counter.

His legs must operate independently from his brain now, because they start following her without his consent. He doesn't want to talk to her. He really doesn't. But dammit if something about her just…stirs him. Something he doesn't understand.

He never really has.

"Who are they for?" he asks her retreating back. "Little Ronnie Weasel?"

Hermione halts, spins around on one heel, and glares at him. "No, they're for me, you prat."

Draco barks out a laugh. "You're buying yourself some tulips, Granger? Really?"

"I've had a bad week. Which apparently just got worse."

"Oh, poor girl," he croons. "Did someone check out your favorite book from the library before you could?"

"Who would you give them to?" she taunts, waving the flowers in front of his face. "Pansy Pug-Face Parkinson?"

It's surprisingly mean of her, and he recognizes the immediate regret in her eyes.

"Maybe I'll give them to one of those Greengrass girls, instead," he teases. "I hear the younger one is quite flexible, and I'm awfully keen to—"

"Ew," she groans. "You're disgusting."

She moves to leave and, for some unfathomable reason, he panics. She can't leave. Not yet.

"Shame, shame, Granger," he says frantically. "I haven't seen you in – what? – almost two years, and that's how you talk to me?"

Hermione turns and flashes him a saccharine smile. "Oh, it's only been eighteen months, Malfoy. Remember? I saw you at your trial. For War crimes."

His face darkens for a moment. Then it sags.

"I never thanked you, did I? For testifying on my behalf."

That certainly rattles her. She doesn't speak, but those magically-adjusted front teeth of hers dig into her bottom lip.

"Shit," he groans. If her reaction is any indication, he definitely didn't thank her.

"I…I only did it because you were a minor," she says. "And I believe in a fair justice system. One that doesn't incarcerate children who act under duress."

"I understand. But I still should have thanked you. So, belatedly: thank you, Granger. You and Potter saved my life."

Hermione's mouth opens and closes silently. Then she frowns down at the flowers.

"Who are these for?" she asks. "Really?"

"My mother. It's her birthday tomorrow."

To his utter surprise, Hermione hands him the bouquet. He takes it automatically, staring in amazement as she reaches for a random cluster of flowers to her right. She doesn't break eye-contact with him until her fingers close around the stems of several roses.

Immediately, she hisses in pain and yanks her hand back to reveal a few dots of bright, arterial red on her palm. Without thinking, Draco pulls his wand out of his coat pocket and casts an Episkey. The scattering of cuts heals instantly, and he wipes away the blood from her palm with his thumb.

Slowly, very slowly, she raises her gaze to his. For the first time in his life he understands the phrase 'Eyes as wide as saucers.' Hermione Granger's pretty brown eyes look like they may pop right out of her pretty face.

"The roses," Draco says, by way of an explanation. "They haven't been de-thorned."

"Apparently."

They stare at each for a long time – long enough that he loses track of his heartbeats. Then, ever so softly, Hermione says, "Your chin is still too sharp, you know."

His heart clenches, and he shoves the tulips back into her arms.

"My mother doesn't even like purple," he mutters. "My mistake."

He runs out of the shop before she has the chance to respond.


18 years, 7 months, 13 days

The battle is over. She's covered in blood, her parents are God-knows-where, and Fred is dead. But the battle is over.

And by some unexpected, illogical miracle, they've won.

The Weasleys are huddled together in one corner of the Great Hall, and Hermione knows that she'll join them soon. Harry has disappeared, probably seeking some desperately needed peace, and she knows that she'll find him soon, too. But right now, all she wants to do is wander around the wreckage of her school like a lost dog.

So that's exactly what she does.

It isn't until her third lap around the Great Hall that she notices him. He's probably been sitting there this whole time, but truthfully? She hasn't bothered to look. Not for him.

Yet there he is, whether she wants to see him or not. He's curled up in a corner, platinum head lowered and shoulders moving rhythmically. It looks as though he's sleeping, and the thought makes her so bloody angry that she stalks over to him.

When she gets close enough, however, she realizes that Draco Malfoy isn't sleeping – he's sobbing, silently and alone.

"Crying because your side lost?" she asks. His head snaps up, and she sees clean white tracks through the soot on his face.

"Because of Vince, actually." His voice is thick from tears but surprisingly calm. "He died."

"I recall. So did Fred Weasley."

"I recall."

They stare openly at each other from across a few yards – from across a chasm, if she's being honest – before her gaze darts down to his hands. In one of them, he's clutching a familiar, hawthorn wand.

"Where did you get that?" she demands.

"Potter gave it back to me. Right after he killed that crazy old bastard."

"Crazy old…? Don't you mean your master?"

He shrugs dispassionately. "Whatever you say."

She studies him: the thinness of his face, and the sharp jut of bones in his hands. His hair has the dull sheen of malnutrition, and his lips are so cracked they're bleeding. Everyone looks like hell today, but Draco Malfoy looks like he hasn't eaten properly in months.

"You're too skinny," she states bluntly. "You should probably eat something."

Draco snorts. "I don't think they'll be serving Hogwarts' feasts in Azkaban, Granger."

"Azkaban? Why would you go to Azkaban?"

He answers with only a wry smirk.

She feels something surge inside her. It's not protectiveness, necessarily. But it's close.

"You're a child," she protests. "A minor."

He gives another snort, one that induces a prolonged coughing fit. As he hacks up a cloud of black dust, she just stands there, staring at him in horror until the coughing stops.

"A minor?" Draco finally croaks. "You think they'll care that I'm a minor? That he threatened to kill me and my parents? Not likely."

"They should," she insists. "Your age matters. It matters, dammit."

"Tell that to the Wizengamot."

Hermione doesn't respond right away. Instead, she looks at the ruined Great Hall behind her. Her friends – and just a few of her enemies – are going to have to recreate this school. This whole world.

"I just might, Malfoy," she whispers, without looking at him. "I just might."


15 years, 3 months, 6 days

If Draco doesn't escape Pansy right this very second, he vows to kill himself. He means it – a swan dive off the Astronomy Tower, or maybe an Avada to the head. At this point, the Great Unknown is preferable to one more minute with Pansy Parkinson.

Pansy has been complaining – no, the correct word is bitching – about Hermione Granger. All night. For the entire. Sodding. Yule Ball.

Her dress, Draco: it's too tight.

Her hair, it's probably fake. Do you think she's wearing a wig to cover up that horrible rats' nest on her head?

Her skin – her skin can't possibly be that dewy. I'm calling glamour, Draco. It's got to be a glamour.

Long after Granger and the Idiot Twins have disappeared from the party, Pansy rants about the one girl Draco does not want to think about tonight. And he just can't take it anymore.

With a polite cough and a strained tap on Pansy's shoulder, Draco excuses himself from the crowd of Slytherins.

"Too much firewhisky," he jokes, which is a total lie, because all he wants right now is a stiff drink. As he ducks out of the Great Hall, he pats the small silver flask in the front pocket of his robes. It was a gift from his father on his fourteenth birthday – inappropriate, Draco knows, but he's not going to complain about weird Malfoy traditions that let minors do all kinds of illegal things.

Draco climbs a few flights of stairs to the third floor, where he finds himself a suitable, tapestry-cloaked alcove. It looks like the perfect place to drink, avoid Pansy, and think about anything but Granger's arse in those blue dress robes.

He's just slipped behind the tapestry and pulled the flask from his pocket, when he hears a sniffling whimper. Someone else is in there with him.

"Oh, fuck me," Draco mutters and then casts a Lumos overhead. He nearly falls backward at the sight of Hermione Granger, sobbing quietly in the far corner of the alcove. Their eyes meet, and she stiffens.

"Malfoy? What the hell are you doing here?"

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"What does it look like?"

"Weeping like a bloody child, that's what."

She flinches as though he's slapped her, but she recovers quickly enough to thrust her chin into the air.

"You can't drink on school grounds. I should report you."

He sneers, even as he hides the flask behind his back. "Why, so I can have a shitty night just like you? What happened? Did the Weasel finally go and snog someone hotter?"

To his horror, that imperious little chin of hers begins to wobble, and her face crumples in upon itself. Faster than you can say Nox, she's crying again.

"Maybe," she moans. "Maybe he did."

Fuck.

The word doesn't make it past the filter between Draco's brain and his throat. The filter that's been fully operational since the second day of their first year at Hogwarts – the filter that he's always treasured.

Until tonight, apparently.

He wavers, horribly uncertain for a moment, before he pockets the flask, reaches elsewhere in his robes, and drops something onto the stone floor. Hermione's sobs taper off, and her eyebrows draw together in confusion.

"What is this?" she asks, gingerly touching the piece of white fabric lying between them. Her fingers ghost across the green "M" embroidered upon the cloth.

Despite how shaky he feels inside, Draco snorts. "It's a handkerchief, Granger. What, do Muggles just let snot stream down their noses like bloody animals?"

"We have facial tissues, actually."

"Facial what?"

"Disposable pocket squares. You use them, and then throw them away."

"Well, that's...just wasteful."

"Yes, actually. It is."

She turns those brown eyes up at him, and he feels his heart do something wild and wonderful and terribly familiar inside his chest.

"Why?" she asks simply, and damn her, he knows exactly what she means.

"Your hair," he gasps, as though he can't help himself. "It's enormous, you know."

Her mouth drops open in shock. Before he can say something he'll regret – something else, anyway – he darts out of the alcove and into the dark, Christmas night.


13 years, 00 months, 00 days

Draco Malfoy is the last person she wants to see, standing right in front of the section of books she needs to peruse.

What is he doing in the library? Hermione thinks. He probably can't even read, the inbred git.

Despite her sour thoughts, she hesitates. Unsure of whether she should run off, or storm over to those books as if she owns them. Like any good Gryffindor, she opts for the latter.

"Move," she says, by way of a greeting.

Draco is so startled by her appearance, he nearly jumps. Which is downright gratifying.

Unfortunately, Draco's perma-sneer returns all too quickly.

"Why should I move?" he demands.

"Because you're in my way."

"No, you're in my way."

Hermione scoffs. "How am I in your way? You're the one standing in front of the Goblin History section like a baboon."

His sneer deepens. "You're in my way just by being here in the first place…Mudblood."

There it is again: that proverbial bucket of cold water he threw on her, just a few days ago on the Quidditch field. And just like last time, she refuses to cry.

"My grades are better than yours," she jeers. "So there."

"Because you're a kiss-ass."

"No, because I'm better at magic than you are."

Draco sucks in a sharp hiss. "Take that back."

"No."

He stares at her for a long time, lips curled in disgust and eyes glittering with fury. He looks for all the world like he hates her. And yet…and yet….

"Why?" Hermione asks, her voice so soft, she can barely hear it. "If you thought that about me, then why did you—?"

"I didn't know back then," he snarls. "If I'd have known, I wouldn't have—"

"You wouldn't have? Honestly?"

The anger in his eyes gutters and then extinguishes, like a flame. In that moment, Draco looks at her with bare-faced longing and confusion and fear. With the face of a twelve-year-old boy who has just asked himself, if only for the length of heartbeat, whether he's been fed a pack of lies.

Like any good Gryffindor, Hermione goes in for the kill.

"Today's my birthday, you know. I'm thirteen now."

Draco blinks at her. "Happ—"

The word cuts off at the exact second he remembers who she is. Who he is. His mouth shuts with an audible snap.

She smiles at him, anyway. "I happen to like your sharp chin. Just so you know."

Longing and confusion and fear flicker across his face again. Immediately followed by another nasty sneer.

"I wouldn't have," he insists. "Just so you know. I wouldn't have."

As he flees, she almost believes him.


11 years, 11 months, 13 days

Despite the fact that it's September first, the corridors of the Hogwarts Express are stifling hot.

Draco hadn't expected that. Whenever he imagined his very first trip to school, he'd thought only of pumpkin pasties and hot cider and warming charms. Not itchiness and sweat and body odor.

Of course, the latter might have something to do with his present company.

Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle are still hulking on either side of him, and he can practically feel the waves of stench rolling off of them. At this point, he doesn't care what his father said: he has to lose these two warthogs, if just for a few minutes.

He slaps his hands loudly onto the knees of his slacks.

"Well, gents: I'm off to the loo."

Goyle makes to stand, but Draco gives him his most derisive look. "Feel like giving me a hand, do you, Goyle?"

Goyle and Crabbe stare at Draco, then at each other. In an uncharacteristically bold move, Crabbe clears his throat first.

"Mum and Dad said I should stick with you, everywhere you go—"

"Including the loo?" Draco sneers. "Did your parents actually tell you to accompany me to the loo?"

"Um…no?"

"Well, then. If they didn't expressly tell you to accompany me inside the loo, it's a pretty safe bet that you don't need to, isn't it?"

"Um…maybe?" Goyle says, scrunching his nose in confusion.

"Quite. And it further stands to reason that, unless I ask to be accompanied, you needn't do that, either. Yes?"

"Um…yes?"

Both of the mountain-sized eleven-year-olds now look thoroughly lost. Which was sort of the point. They should be puzzling over Draco's words for at least ten minutes, and he takes advantage of their mental fog by slipping out of their train compartment. Alone.

The hallway outside is a cool miracle. He closes his eyes, leans against the door of his compartment, and sighs happily. The breeze running through the train feels as close to magic as anything he's ever known.

"Do you like it?" a small voice to his left asks.

It startles him so much, his eyelids wrench open. He finds himself staring into a pair of disconcertingly pretty brown eyes. They're so wide, so luminous, that he half-wonders whether their owner isn't fully human.

Magic, he thinks dazedly. Then the girl blinks, and the spell is broken.

But not entirely.

Despite her huge mop of frizzy brown hair, and the front teeth that poke a little too far over her bottom lip, there's something…enchanting about her. Something that makes him smile, for reasons he doesn't fully understand.

"Do I like what?" he asks.

"My modified cooling charm," she says with a toothy grin. She lifts her wand to cast another one, and that perfect breeze blows through the corridor again.

"Isn't it wonderful to finally cast spells?" she sighs. "I feel like I've been waiting ages to do them."

"All my life," he agrees, and she giggles.

"Yes, it does seem like that, doesn't it?"

He inclines his head toward her wand. "Vine wood?"

"Yep. With dragon heartstring."

He holds up his own. "Hawthorn. Unicorn hair."

She makes an impressed sound. "Unicorn. You must have a very good heart."

He laughs at that one – it's probably the first time someone has ever said that to a Malfoy.

"That was a nice charm you just did," he offers. "Very advanced for a first year."

"Thanks. What are some of the spells you know?"

In response, he points his wand at his palm, mutters an incantation his mother taught him, and watches as a transparent frog made of smoke appears in his hand. His heart does an unfamiliar, flippy-thing when her eyes widen in delight.

But all of a sudden, her face falls.

"Frogs," she mutters. "Damn the luck."

Draco shakes away the smoke-frog in embarrassment, hoping he didn't screw something up with the spell…or with the girl. But she doesn't seem to notice his discomfort as she sighs heavily.

"I nearly forgot," she explains. "I'm looking for my new friend's familiar. It's a frog, you see. Named Trevor."

"The frog's name is…Trevor?"

"Apparently."

"Do you have a description of this frog?"

"Erm…no. Aside from it being small, green, and easily lost inside a giant train full of kids."

"Well, that's…not much to go on, is it?"

"Not really, no."

He tries not to snort and fails. The girl shoots him a sharp look, but then a small, irreverent snicker follows it.

Emboldened by the sound of her laughter, Draco leans closer. "Maybe we could just replace Trevor with a chocolate frog?" he whispers.

"You know, I'm not entirely sure Neville would notice."

"Wait, 'Neville?' And Trevor? Exactly how many frogs are we looking for?"

The girl laughs louder. "No, Neville is the boy. Trevor is the frog."

Draco feels a surge of some strange new emotion. If he didn't know better, he might call it jealousy. To cover up the tightening in his chest, he shrugs and flashes the girl a smug smile.

"We could just Accio Trevor, you know. If Neville hasn't tried that already."

The girl blinks rapidly. "Accio? What's that?"

He opens his mouth to describe the spell, but she suddenly holds up her hand and bounces on her toes.

"Wait," she says. "Can you explain it to me on the way to the loos? I'm…well, to be honest, I'm kind of dying over here."

Draco can't help but laugh. "That's a weird thing to admit to a stranger, you know."

"I'm weird. But we aren't really strangers anymore, are we?"

He studies her for a moment.

She is weird. Very. With her monster hair and bucked teeth and already-mastered spells, she's nothing like the young witches he's grown up around. But there's something wild and free about her that feels, inexplicably, like that cool breeze she sent drifting through the hallway.

"No," he says. "We aren't strangers anymore."

Her shy grin makes his heart flip. Instead of talking, he gestures for her to follow him down the corridor toward the loos. She falls in silently beside him and, after a few steps, she reaches out to take his hand. His heart flips again. Repeatedly.

"Will you come find me?" she asks. "Once we get to Hogwarts?"

"Of course, if you're sorted into Slytherin."

"And if I'm in a different house?"

"Then…maybe."

"That's a very Slytherin thing to say."

"Thank you."

She giggles. "How will you know where to find me, though? It's an awfully big school."

"You're kind of hard to miss," he drawls.

"How so?"

"Your hair is enormous, you know."

"Well, your chin is too sharp."

They pause to exchange glances, and he finds that they're both grinning at each other like fools.

"Hey," he says. "What's your na—?"

The sound of the whistle drowns out his question, and the train pulls to an abrupt stop.

"Last stop, Hogsmeade," a magically-enhanced voice booms throughout the corridor. "First years, make your way to the carriages."

"Damn," Draco moans. "I have to go find Crabbe and Goyle."

"Why would you have to go find communicable diseases?"

"You have no idea how close to the truth you are on that one."

He drops her hand so that he can return to his compartment, but then he hesitates. What does he say to her now? How does he just…leave?

"Go on," she says, giving him a small push. "We'll find each other again. I'm sure of it."

Draco smiles and, in that second, he doesn't care how happy he looks. "You're right: we will. After all, we're both awfully hard to miss."

As an answer, she points to her hair, and he points to his chin. They exchange final smiles and then they both turn away toward their respective compartments. And just like that, their new lives begin.


a/n: I'm not formally participating in any DHr advent, but this is my little offering nonetheless. The playlist for this story includes "Skinny Love," by Bon Iver, "Agape" by Bear's Den, and...*gulp*...Kelly Clarkson's "Ready." DON'T JUDGE ME! This work was inspired, in part, by JDPhoenix's lovely "Moments to Build On," which you should definitely read. Also, kudos to anyone who catches the super vague reference to my favorite Dramione writer (and double kudos to the fanfic story thereby referenced).

I hope each and every one of you enjoys a relaxing holiday season, whether you're celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or just your beautiful selves!