A/N: Started this a while ago while listening 'Pretty Woman' by Robbie Williams and the brilliant MrBenzedrine encouraged me to write it on. And while it demanded a small pause from writing 'Tickling' (don't worry, the next chapter is all planned out), I had much fun writing it! By the way, this is going to be a two-shot. It's not an original plot, I must admit, but I wanted to write something more cliché than I usually do (reunion story next? ;)).
Thank you, A., for sharing your Christmas with me, for encouraging me to pursue this, for making this wonderful cover for me! THANK YOU! *hugs and kisses*
"Ginny, you can't be serious!" Hermione sent her unruly curls flying in an attempt to express her attitude towards her best female friend's plans.
"Pleeeease, Hermione! It's the only evening this month I could arrange my parents to take care of our rascals, and it's Harry's first free Saturday since he got promoted!"
"Well, shouldn't you spend the evening alone with you husband then instead of forcing me to go out practically naked?" The brunette pointed to the, for her liking, much too sparkly, much too tight, much too short blue dress Ginny brought and needed her to wear.
"To fall asleep in front of the TV at half past eight? No, thank you. We both agreed it has been ages since we went out for a little bit of partying with our dearest friends."
"That's because you had a baby six months ago, Ginny, do you remember? Albus? A cute, smiling bundle of joy? And you've got a toddler, too: James." Okay, maybe her voice was laced with a tad of sarcasm here.
"Merlin, Hermione, we simply need some hours outside of nappies, tripping over toys, and breastfeeding discussion with other mothers, you know?" But Hermione didn't know. For her, Ginny and Harry lived the perfect live: a happy and loving marriage with two adorable children. Everything she wished for, but fate simply didn't have in store for her yet. Her relationship with Ron had exploded in a big, public fight over something silly some years ago, and from then on, she had been married to her job. Her career soared, and she held the position as the Head of the Department of Law Enforcement now, whereas her love life was not only a dry spell, but practically non-existent. Ron had been able to move on, having proposed to Padma Patil a while ago, and their friendship had been restored.
"Alright," she gave in begrudgingly, only to add, "but why is it a place that sounds like a cesspool of iniquity?"
"Because, my dear under-shagged friend, 'Bond' is the exclusive wizarding club -if you believe the press and the gossip all around." Now that Hermione couldn't deny -the under-shagged part that is. Not that she'd ever admit it.
Huffing, she submitted to her friend. "But no setting me up with some stranger this time!" The redhead grinned and produced her wand to run it over Hermione's hair, shoving the dress into her arms at the same time.
"I wouldn't dare!" Knowing Ginny, Hermione didn't really believe her.
"Wow, Hermione, you look –wow!" Harry was lost for words when he spotted his friend at the front door of the club.
"Very articulate, Mister Chosen One. Why are you Head Auror again?" She hugged him. "This is all your wife's doing." She gestured to her figure. Ginny made her look like some nymph with her blue dress and matching peep toes, her hair cascading down her back in lush rivulets. A bit of jewellery and a hue of makeup to 'enhance her natural beauty' (Ginny's words) completed the outfit. She couldn't decide yet if she liked to feel this sexy, or if she wanted to hide under a rock –not that she could bend that far without showing her flimsy underwear around.
"One of the many reasons why I love her!" Harry pulled Ginny into his arms, kissing her straight on the lips. They were really a match made in heaven, Hermione registered for the millionth time. She greeted Ron and Padma who had just arrived at the club.
The group was let in without problems (being popular had its rare perks) and they secured themselves a table in a booth in the back of the dimly lit club. Hermione observed the posh interior: modern but warm and filled to the brink on this evening. The place really was popular among the younger wizarding population, for she spotted some familiar faces. Harry and Ron took off to the bar to fetch drinks for all of them, while the girls settled down around the table.
"How's Albus? Has he started teething yet?" Padma asked Ginny after settling down in the booth.
Ginny shook her head firmly, "No talking about children tonight, Padma! I want to feel free for some hours, and Hermione needs someone to talk about something else than work."
Padma nodded, "Sure. I always thought she has to let loose from time to time."
"Hey, I'm right here!" Hermione scowled -she wasn't a nun! Though, her life had been a bit sparse in the wizard sector for the past few years and before that –she hadn't exactly been adventurous when it came to men. Maybe it was time to change that.
"Yes, Herms, you are here, and my beautiful wife is here, and Padma and Ron-" Harry spoke from behind her, drinks in both hands. "-And look who we ran into!" Hermione couldn't believe her eyes when Harry and Ron stepped aside to reveal the one man that had a subscription on ruining her days at work: Draco Malfoy.
Surprisingly, the pureblood heir had made his peace with Harry and Ron after the war. It seemed escaping a life sentence in Azkaban or a ban from magic on hair's breadth did wonders to childhood grudges. Ron even mentioned at one of the Weasley family dinners that 'Draco is an alright guy most of the time', which equalled a declaration of eternal friendship coming from the redhead. The relationship between Hermione and the blond who, according to Witch Weekly, 'hadn't found the witch he could share his family's burden with yet', was –difficult to say the least. He was the Head of Finance and Control, and it was not uncommon that the monthly meeting of the Department Heads ended in a screaming match (well, Hermione was screaming, he was drawling sarcastically) between the two of them. For the life of her, she simply couldn't understand why he needed to question every single item of her budget. Probably because he had a sadistic streak. Or simply because he could. Why did he work at all?
And why did he have to look so damn attractive in doing so?
Hermione could admit (but only in her darkest hours) that the blond was more than a little handsome, evident right in this moment: the room was only dimly lit, but still she could see his eyes sparkle. He had filled out nicely after school, not too bulgy or anything. But, taking only a very short look at his body (possibly because he didn't wear his Ministry robes for once), Hermione could make out muscles in all the right places. By Circe, was the man hot! Didn't change his overall idiocy, though.
The -unwelcome- addition to their evening smiled politely in greeting at Ginny and Padma, but when his eyes met hers, Hermione felt very warm of all sudden. He had the tendency to make her feel naked with one smouldering glance, even when fully clothed and robes buttoned up to her neck. Only she wasn't exactly 'fully clothed' at the moment, but wore the revealing dress her friend had forced her into. She couldn't help to notice that the usual intensity of his stare felt different somehow; while he wanted her to strip off her finances on a work day, he looked as if he wanted to strip her of- her dress? Nah. Not possible.
"Hermione." He tilted his head slightly.
Funny enough, despite their differences, she was the only one of the Golden Trio who called him by his first name and her by hers in turn. Ron and Harry remained with his last name, while her interactions were much friendlier. Must be a male spleen.
His eyes stayed locked with hers until Ron cleared his throat awkwardly. "Well, we ran into him, and he was alone, and we thought he could tag along -right, Harry?"
Her two boys had never been the epitome of subtlety and secrecy, despite hunting dark wizards all day. Hermione could smell twenty miles against the wind that something was foul.
"How sweet of you, boys!" Padma squealed. "I'm sure we can fit him in if we all slide together." Hermione didn't normally hold a grudge against her ex-boyfriend's fiancee, but this time she made an exception.
"I'm not that convinced, Padma. It's already quiet crowded with the five of us." That and she didn't want Draco to sit down with them.
"Nonsense, Hermione, the more the merrier!" Ginny stood and somehow it turned out that the only available space could be made next to Hermione. Something was definitely going on.
"So, what brought you here, alone, on a weekend?" Hermione's best girlfriend inquired.
"Actually, I didn't intend to be alone. I was to meet Theo and Blaise here, but, somehow, they didn't show up." Draco's voice was tinted with anger at his two best friends leaving him high and dry. Or not so dry, considering he held a glass of whiskey in his hand.
"Zabini and Nott? You've evolved friend-wise since Hogwarts days, I must admit. The two of them seem to have their wits together," Hermione voiced, forcibly being part of the conversation. Not that she had much to say about recognising his presence. He didn't exude the homey scent of Harry or the familiar, more intimate scent of Ron. Draco Malfoy smelled unique. Alluring. Safe and dangerous at the same time. His scent invaded her brain, categorizing him as attractive, virile male and potential mate unasked. She desperately wanted to put some distance between her and the Malfoy heir, but she couldn't, for Ron was sitting directly next to her. Why didn't someone expand the bench magically? Oh, yes: party experience and all.
"They have. They manage the Malfoy family business for me, and quite successfully at that. Theo just made a deal with an important business partner in Egypt who is going to provide the potion branch with some interesting and potent ingredients."
Padma leaned over Ron's lap, evidently curious. "But why don't you manage the company yourself? I mean, from what Hermione here told us, you have quite a talent for numbers."
The brunette felt soft, expensive fabric scraping over the bare skin at her knee and thigh when Draco turned towards her at Padma's words. "Has she, now?" His next words were spoken much lower, only for Hermione to hear. "I wasn't aware you were so interested in my talents." She'd never admit the pleasant shiver running down her spine caused by the tone of his voice. Louder, he replied, "I felt I needed to put some distance between my father's old ventures, but at the same time, I didn't want to give up the fortune. And Blaise and Theo are doing a fine job of restructuring and expanding the business while I can do what I like."
His lips curled into a barely detectable smirk when Hermione muttered under her breath, "Which, unfortunately, includes riling me up at any given opportunity."
From then on, the conversation developed nicely between the group of six, although Hermione ignored the blond wizard next to her successfully. However, on some point, her range of potential conversational partners ran thin, because Ginny had shamelessly started snogging her husband, and Ron had pulled Padma on his lap and was currently making out with her. Ugh. She loved her boys dearly, and she had slept with both of them (not a nice topic to breach with Ginny after the war), but she really didn't need to see that. She checked her escape routes -only to realise there wasn't any, she was trapped between two couples and Draco, who seemed the lesser of two evils all of a sudden.
"Soooo, Egypt?" she began her first try at a normal conversation with her colleague. He nodded, mildly amused.
Uncomfortable pause with disgusting slurping noises in the background. The git knew exactly how much she despised the situation.
"Have they discovered something of interest that they aspired the deal?" she tried again.
"Yes, they have." His amusement was more evident now. He was the definition of infuriating in her book.
"Care to indulge me? I'm trying to make some small talk here!"
He featured a full blown smirk now. "Since you asked so nicely. It's actually quite interesting: they discovered a papyrus about the use of honey in magical salves and draughts."
The witch's interest was honestly piqued. "That's fascinating! There are many theories on how honey influences the characteristics of potions, but there haven't been any scientific proofs yet!"
Draco made an approving noise. "That's why I commissioned a research project on that matter. My guess is that honey influences only certain ingredients, like herbs or leaves, but won't affect faunal ones."
Hermione felt herself leaning towards him, inquiring, "So you go with Paracelsus' theory, but what about Galen's paper on the change of potion recipes with non-magical substances?"
She had no idea how long they exchanged opinions or discussed controversial points; all she knew was: this was the fun she strived for. An highly intelligent, intense back-and-forth, fast and creative. And with Draco Malfoy of all people! She noticed their glasses had been refilled twice after Draco's gesture towards the bar, and the kissing. Recently, the fumbling noises around them had come to a halt.
"Blimey, hasn't anyone told these two that this isn't a library?" Ron piped up, staring at their -now interrupted- talkathon. Raising one of her eyebrows, she retaliated, "Hasn't anyone told you it isn't your bedroom, either?" Her friend blushed unbecomingly, "Uh, it's- huh…"
"Mh, I thought so, Ronald."
"My dear brother is right, we're in a posh club, let's go dancing!" Ginny spared Ron of giving an answer and pulled Hermione up. She tried avoiding to step on Draco's feet when she shimmied herself out of the booth -only to stumble over both of them, losing her balance and being stabilised by two warm hands on her hips. Damn heels. "Careful, Hermione," Draco's voice resonated behind her. "We won't have your pretty outfit ruined, right?" Damn hands. Damn voice. He held her until she had climbed from the booth successfully, not without one hand gliding over the small of her back when he let go of her.
Padma followed them to the dance floor, and the three women joined the crowd of people swaying to the music. Hermione wasn't what anyone with eyes called a graceful dancer, but she had an instinct for rhythm. After all, beat followed a logical pattern, and this was something like a second skin to her.
The three women easily hogged the limelight -and for once, it didn't matter to Hermione. She felt beautiful in her dress and enjoyed the music taking over her senses. They danced for what felt ages, and Hermione began to tire when she noticed a man, leaning at the bar, who all but undressed her with his eyes. She gave him a once-over in turn and deemed him quite good-looking; brown hair, dark eyes, an athlete's built. He winked at her then and started to walk over to her, obviously with the intention to dance with her. Just when she wanted to say something, another male stepped into her line of view; or, to be precise, right on the verge of her personal space.
Her nose recognised him before her eyes reached the unmistakingly grey orbs. Draco, of course -he just had to come and ruin her party mood and maybe the once-in-a-year (or half-decade) chance to get laid if she played her cards right.
Before she could voice her dismay, the blonde menace spoke to her, "He's not the right guy for you, trust me." She looked at him, demanding an answer. "He's dumb as it get's. Christian Pewter, chaser, playing for the Chudley Cannons. Was hit by a bludger quite hard two months ago, and it destroyed the last bit of intelligence he had."
"Who says I'm not only interested in good looks?" Hermione replied stubbornly. Now it was his turn to raise his perfectly arched eyebrows, as if asking, 'Are you kidding me?'
"Alright, maybe I enjoy an intellectually challenging partner. But they are so hard to come by."
She didn't like the wicked spark her words ignited in his gaze. With a smirk, he reached for her waist and pulled her towards him. She responded automatically to his sways and started dancing along, decidedly ignoring the things his proximity did to her body. "Okay, I have an intellectual challenge only for you: why did Blaise send me a message on my mobile, asking 'Harry, has the Eagle landed yet?' "
The witch didn't show how impressed she was that Draco (pureblood extraordinaire) knew how to operate a mobile, so she replied instead, "Oh, you mean other than to recommend Blaise the user's manual?" This time, his smirk was accompanied by a chuckle. He twirled her around in his arms and brought her back flush against his front. She would have fought not to revel in his demanding physical presence had it not been for her friends, which were directly visible for her after the turn. Like isopods diverging when the rock above them is turned, all four of them hastened to appear occupied instead of staring at Draco and her, causing Harry to spill his drink over Ginny's dress in his haste.
Suddenly, things fit together in Hermione's mind and she gasped, "They're setting us up!"
Draco's laugh made the small hairs on the back of her neck stand. "100 points to the lioness. I suspect Zabini and Nott are equally behind this, and not for the first time today. They've been asking weird questions last time you showed up in my office unannounced."
She remembered that particular day. It had been the first day of her period and her assistant had eaten her chocolate reserve. The note from Draco that he didn't approve of the new wand holsters for the Auror division caused her proverbial cauldron to boil over. She had stormed into his office without knocking, her wand blazing.
"'Don't you think Granger's bum looks exquisite in that pencil skirt?' Theo's words."
She had no control over the heat that rose on her face. "And what, pray tell, did you answer?"
"That I was too bloody distracted by deflecting the curses you threw at me to have taken an interest in your behind."
"I'm not hexing you at the moment. Yet." Where did this come from? His hands wandered down from her waist to the curves of her arse. And squeezed it. Hermione made a surprised gasp. He had the perfect grip.
"Now I have an answer for him," Draco whispered into her ear.
"Which is?" Hermione wasn't very proud at how breathless she sounded.
"That Theo has an eye for exquisite goods."
"Huh. Thanks, I think." She had to clear her throat. "What do we do with the meddling folk we call friends?"
His smirk became positively devious, and it made long forgotten synapses fire in her brain.
"How much Slytherin is in you, Gryffindor Princess?"