A couple of weeks ago, I came down with a bad cold, took some NyQuil, and had the idea for this fic just before falling asleep. So glad I remembered it when I woke up!

Still have a New Year's-type fic in my back pocket, which I'll probably save for closer to that time of the year. Until then, enjoy this silly little Christmas-themed oneshot. Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think! :)

I don't pretend to own Draco, Hermione, or any of their Ministry pals. Just borrowing them for a bit, for no profit but the warm, fuzzy feeling I get when I write them together.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hermione straightened her dress, leaning in towards the mirror one more time to check her lipstick. She didn't see why she had to attend the Ministry's silly holiday party—she had much more important things to do, like her actual work. But she'd been coerced. Not a single one of the other witches and wizards was going to stay in the office—with only a select few remaining on call—and she'd been threatened by her supervisor against skipping.

The dress was Gryffindor red, short and strapless, with a giant silly bow at the waist. Ginny had called it a "throwback," said it looked amazing on Hermione's figure. Hermione was pretty sure Ginny was just living vicariously through her, now that she was beginning to show and couldn't squeeze into a dress like this.

"Knock knock?" Harry entered her office. "Gosh, Mione," he reacted to the dress.

Hermione turned around, rolling her eyes. "Your wife made me wear it."

"On that note, I'm also under strict orders to be sure you're not wearing sensible shoes." Harry pointed at her feet.

Hermione was wearing black flats. They didn't exactly match the red satin of the dress, but they certainly were comfortable. "Oh, Harry, really."

"If I don't fix this, she'll kill me as soon as we get there," Harry said, pulling a parcel out of his work satchel. Inside were red heels, the same red as the dress and too high.

"If I don't wear these," Hermione motioned meaningfully to the shoes she was already wearing, "I'll kill myself just walking down the stairs out of the bloody Ministry."

Harry pushed the shoes into her hands. "They're charmed. They'll fit and they'll be stable. Gin's an expert at these things."

Hermione sighed and took the shoes, huffing down into her office chair to put them on. As she straightened up, she glanced at a small stack of paperwork just off-center of her workspace. "Ah, Harry, you know, I'm not really ready; I wouldn't mind if you went ahead and let me catch up…"

"Nice try," Harry said, crossing his arms, "but no dice. Besides," he waggled his eyebrows mischievously, "I think a certain wizard would very much miss seeing you there."

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," Hermione said airily, standing from the desk and crossing to get her coat off the rack, trying to hide her blush.

"I suspect you fancy letting him see you in that dress as well…"

"Don't be ridiculous."

Harry offered Hermione his arm, much too ceremoniously, and waited.

"Fine." Hermione sighed hugely and joined her friend. He was right—Ginny had fixed the heels so that they were bearable to walk in—but it was still all very silly. She'd had to waste twenty good minutes of work time at the end of the day just getting ready—never mind that most of the Ministry had taken a half-day in order to prepare for the affair. Hermione resolved to Floo back to the office as soon as she had satisfied the requirements of making an appearance.

Harry and Hermione were greeted by none other than George Weasley. It seemed they'd Flooed straight into what was becoming a coat room—some old stuffy room in some old stuffy house owned by some old stuffy somebody.

"Evening, George," Hermione said, blushing slightly as she removed her coat. Even though she was a grown woman, she wasn't comfortable flaunting her body like this, especially in front of her best friends' brother. She ducked her head to fluff at her hair, embarrassed.

"Evening! Harry, Mione. Ginny's just arrived. She made a beeline for the bathroom—it's out this door and to the left."

"Right," Harry replied, dropping off his bag and his own coat. "So what tricks should we be expecting tonight?"

"I've got a special surprise for the party," George said, a twinkle in his eye.

Hermione looked up from where she was carefully folding her coat. "That doesn't sound good."

"I call it—'heat-seeking mistletoe.' Get you right in the holiday spirit! But ignore it for too long, you'll be hit with, shall we say, a surprise…"

"Wonderful." Hermione cut her eyes to Harry, conveying just the opposite.

"Mione, it'll be fun," Harry insisted. "Now don't you dare Floo out of here. Ginny will want to see you as soon as she's out, and you know if you leave too early you'll upset her. And you know the first rule of pregnant Ginny—"

"'Don't upset pregnant Ginny.'" Hermione recited in unison with Harry, giving him a weary look.

.

Hermione had snuck into the ballroom as best she could in a flashy red dress—she'd already received compliments from several witches and one joking wolf-whistle from a quickly apologetic Ron Weasley. "Oh, is that your wife there?" Hermione had pointed, just beyond his shoulder. Ron had nearly jumped out of his skin, whirling around, "I didn't mean it—" only to see that there was no one there. Hermione had rolled her eyes and moved on toward the refreshments, realizing suddenly that she'd skipped lunch and it was now half-past her usual dinner hour.

Of course it happened that she was loading up a plate with treats when Draco Malfoy appeared in front of her. She'd looked up and there he was across the table—still in his work khakis, dress shirt, and tie, but with the addition of a striking Slytherin-green blazer. He was plucking a single olive from a tray with his bare fingers. When Hermione opened her mouth—she wasn't sure why: to admonish him? To say hello? To confess the depths of her affection? (certainly not that last one)—he popped the olive into his own mouth, brought a finger to his lips in a "sshh" gesture, and winked. And then he'd stepped away, rejoining a conversation he'd been part of just moments before.

Hermione's face was glowing like a fireplace when Ginny and Harry spotted her. She'd brought her dinner to a standing table in the corner, far away from where she'd run into Draco.

"Oh, I knew it was perfect!" Ginny clapped, gesturing to Hermione's ensemble.

"I-I find it… a little loud," Hermione maintained.

Ginny was about to respond when something whizzed between them, settling in the air between Harry and herself.

"Oh, this must be George's mistletoe," she said, looking up at the hovering ball of greenery. It flitted back and forth, alternating between the space above her head and the space above Harry's head, encouraging them.

"Don't want to suffer the consequences, now, do we?" Harry asked, leaning toward his wife.

Hermione concentrated on finishing her plate as her married friends kissed a little too long for a public space. When they broke apart, the mistletoe—apparently satisfied—whizzed off to find another couple.

"You'll be expected to mingle, you know, Mione," Harry reminded her.

"I expect to talk to you at eleven! On the dot!" Ginny added.

"What's at eleven?" Hermione had glanced around for a clock, confused. "Have I forgotten—"

"Gin's just saying you're not allowed to Floo out of here," Harry clarified.

"Oh, honestly!" Hermione threw up her hands. "I'm a grown woman. I can do as I please!"

The next few actions occurred both in slow-motion and in an instant: Hermione whisked her empty plate and fork from the table (not that that made any sense at all, as this was clearly the type of party where the dishes magically cleared periodically with no assistance from the guests), whirled around on her heel (not that that was a good idea, because even with the stability charm on the shoes that didn't discount sheer dumb effort causing some sort of accident), and took one step straight into another person (not that it could have gotten any worse, but this movement was accompanied by an absurd strangled shrieking sound). The plate, the fork, and Hermione all free-fell, with only the grace of the other person saving her at the last moment from causing a scene.

Magically suspended just centimeters from the floor, Hermione let out a breath and looked up—straight into the amused smirk of Draco Malfoy.

He raised an eyebrow. "Granger."

"Ah," Hermione said. Not that that was even a word.

Draco lowered his wand gently so that Hermione's body made contact with the floor. The plate and fork landed also, quietly, though the fork skidded off under the tablecloth of a nearby standing table.

"Sod it all," Hermione muttered as she reached for the plate.

"I had hoped I'd bump into you, though not quite so literally," Draco drawled, bending down to retrieve the fork.

As Draco leaned under the tablecloth, Hermione heard something sail through the air. She looked up—the heat-seeking mistletoe was circling the air above her head, then heading straight for—

No. No no no no no.

Draco didn't see it, and Hermione intended to keep things that way. Covertly, she whisked her wand out and sent a puff of air at the mistletoe, knocking it off course. It headed for her again and she blew it back harder, sending it off toward the larger crowd. Just then Draco emerged with her fork.

"I'm—this is ridiculous, Malfoy, so let me apologize," Hermione said as she stood, feeling the heat return to her cheeks.

"I think if you leave your plate, it'll be cleared momentarily," Draco gestured to the table, still looking amused.

"Of course," Hermione shook her head at herself, dropping the dish on the table. "Er—big Christmas plans?" She smoothed at her skirt, trying to put herself back into office-mode. She tried to imagine that she and Draco were just chatting in the hallway between their departments or making small-talk in the magical lift.

"Not really," Draco shrugged. "And you?"

"Well, my parents are on holiday in Australia—they're nearly retired, so I suspect they're doing some house-hunting."

"No Weasel family Christmas?" Draco pressed.

"Well, Ginny and Harry will of course be there, but…" Hermione glanced backward at the wider room, checking to see if anyone was near enough to hear. Sure enough, Ron was just a small group of people away, laughing awkwardly. Hermione saw that Draco had followed her eyes and gave a small shrug.

It wasn't as if she missed Ron; they were still friends. But it felt odd to be the designated ex-girlfriend at family Christmas—even if her other two best friends were the same family.

Draco nodded, his expression softening. "Some of the old families still hold a ball at New Year's. Of course I receive their invitation…"

Hermione gave him a small smile to show she understood. Draco's public refusal of his betrothal to Astoria Greengrass had caused a real stir among the pureblooded families, to the point that it made the Daily Prophet. It had been the first real conversation she'd had with Draco at work—he'd made a point of coming to her office to speak with her, to be sure she understood he had fully rejected the old ways and the prejudice he'd been raised to believe. Hermione had been touched and a little confused by this admonition—until the papers raised speculation that Draco (still a public figure, with all his parents' money now at his fingertips) had arranged the whole thing as a publicity stunt.

That had been a year ago at least. Now she and Draco were friendly at work—though never enough for her to call him anything but "Malfoy." He was rather witty, really. And had good taste in clothes, which were always impeccably tailored. And was learning to cook, apparently, based on what he'd been telling her lately. And smelled like evergreen and soap and sometimes good cologne. And—

"You won't be working through Christmas, now will you?" Draco raised an eyebrow, startling Hermione out of her reverie. "Couldn't you be persuaded to—take some time? Maybe go out for a bite to eat, or enjoy a coffee?"

Hermione was answering before she'd fully heard what he said. "Well, you know me, I always prefer to get work done."

"Hm." As Draco not-so-subtly dragged his gaze down her figure, Hermione replayed his words in her head. Was he—was he asking her out? But—certainly not. She was sure she was as red as her dress when his eyes returned to her face—he's just a playboy, really. That's why all of this is ridiculous. No sense in trying. All Draco said, with a tiny, tight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, was, "Pity."

He gave her a curt bow, "If you'll excuse me." Once again, Hermione was startled by a whirring sound near her ear. She glanced around and located another ball of heat-seeking mistletoe circling her head, turning off its course and heading straight for—

"Quit it!" Hermione admonished the thing, reaching up with her hand and simply batting it off in another direction.

Draco, who was partially turning away, looked back, his eyebrows furrowed. Hermione lowered her hand slowly. She could not possibly be any more mortified. "I—er—wasn't talking to you. S-sorry. Good evening, Malfoy." And with that she high-tailed it out of the room and down the hallway to where Harry had said the bathroom was located.

.

This is fine, Hermione thought, fanning her face in the coatroom. I'll just stay in here for the rest of the party. I'll pretend I'm looking for something in my purse if anyone comes in. And when it's time to go…

She gazed longingly at the fireplace. It would be too easy to Floo back to the Ministry. She could watch the clock—be sure to be back well before 11, to convince Ginny she'd been there the whole time. She didn't much care to stick around after the scene she'd made with Malfoy—she'd had too much of his company for one night as it was, in order to adhere to her strict personal guidelines—

"Hermione! Were you just arriving? Come, come!"

One of the other department heads had stopped in the doorway to the coatroom, shooing her toward the ballroom.

"Ah—I was just getting something from my purse, but thank you, I'll come back in," Hermione lied, giving the coatroom one last longing glance. At least, with other coworkers to occupy her, Hermione wouldn't accidentally run into Malfoy again.

And so she mingled—quite successfully, if she was allowed to offer herself some congratulations. She was feeling more confident in the dress now, especially when asked about her own work, so that more than half an hour passed in enjoyable professional conversation. In time, though, her interlocutor was interrupted by some heat-seeking mistletoe. "If you'll excuse me," he'd chuckled, "I must find my wife. I hear these things get a bit nasty if you don't comply."

The conversation began to fizzle. People dispersed. Hermione felt unmoored, dreading the possibility that the room would come to be used as it was intended—that is, for dancing. As she inched her way among the outer parts of the crowd, she passed two old classmates who were not-so-subtly discussing the finer points of none other than Draco Malfoy.

"—that old slither-in joke? I heard that was because of him."

"Don't be silly!" the other girl giggled.

"I'm not! You remember the rumors—I heard he's got three girlfriends now, one for each part of Britain, and that's what he's doing on all those 'work trips.'"

Hermione felt a little twinge in her chest—she'd heard those rumors, too. She knew that Malfoy was dedicated to his work; he got far too much done to be making secret romantic liaisons as often as the rumors said he did. But no matter how decent he'd become, how charming and occasionally flirtatious he was at work, she knew a Slytherin when she saw one. The flirting and smooth-talking just proved he was most in his element when trying to manipulate people. Which is exactly, she admonished herself inwardly, why you have guidelines.

There was a cutoff Hermione imposed on herself. The parameters were a bit nonspecific, but dependent on the situation she always knew when she'd reached her limit. After the war nearly everything felt precarious—everything but work, which was familiar, something she could throw herself into. It was part of why Ron had left her—he'd said she'd grown chilly, and she couldn't disagree. Where Harry and Ginny threw themselves at each other with renewed passion, Hermione had pulled back, trying in general to love a little less—to hurt a little less. Draco was danger, but even as she threw herself into her work, she clearly wasn't doing a very good job of keeping herself away from him.

Hermione had nearly gotten out of range of the two girls in conversation when she overheard one more remark. "Well I heard that Malfoy Manor is still chock full of dark magic, and one day—"

Hermione turned on her heel. "Don't be stupid," she said, dropping all pretense of having not heard them talking. The girls—a Ravenclaw and a Hufflepuff whose names she couldn't remember—looked surprised, if not a little offended. "It was the ruling of the Wizengamot after the War that Malfoy Manor be stripped of all its dark artefacts. Draco was entirely cooperative, and you both know it. All the former—" She stopped herself from saying "Death Eaters," aware that in her frustration her voice had climbed in volume. The girls eyes' widened even more. "It's hard enough for people to get on after the War. Nobody deserves—"

"I can speak for myself, thank you, Granger," a voice drawled from behind her.

Well. That explained the expressions on the girls' faces.

Hermione froze, resisted turning around, and gave the girls one last look. They took their leave immediately, one of them stammering an apology.

"Granger."

Draco was still standing behind her. Hermione took a breath, counted to three, and turned around to face him.

"I apologize if I—I've… I don't even know what," Hermione said immediately. Draco's face was carefully blank, one eyebrow lifted ever-so-slightly. She dropped her hands, which she suddenly realized were clenched into fists. "I'm having a very… off evening."

"Well," Draco said quietly, dropping the eyebrow and pursing his lips. There was just a hint of emotion to his face, one she couldn't read.

But so much for figuring that out, because of course it was at that moment that the damned heat-seeking mistletoe found the two of them again.

Draco looked up as it whizzed between them, distracted, and Hermione froze, too mortified to do anything about it.

"This is—?" Draco pointed upward.

"Ah, something ridiculous of George's invention," Hermione said, trying to sidestep the mistletoe. It didn't lose her, bobbing back and forth between her head and Draco's. "It's been—er, following me," she laughed nervously, taking a step to Draco's other side. The mistletoe didn't miss a beat. "Oh, bugger," she said quietly, taking her wand out to zap it away again. But as soon as she raised the wand, the mistletoe unleashed its wrath and began pelting her with small red pellets—its berries.

"Ow! Ow! Stop!" Hermione hissed at the mistletoe, which showed no sign of letting up. The berries vanished the instant they touched her skin, but not before delivering a significant sting, not unlike a good pinch. She tried to deflect them with her arms, but of course then they just hit her there instead. "George—you—moron!"

Hermione went to hide behind Draco, who quickly moved in the opposite direction. "Don't put me in the line of fire," he admonished her, though it was clear from the sound of his voice that he was also laughing.

"At least you have sleeves!" Hermione replied, grabbing for his arm. Her intention was to yank him back in front of her, but as she stepped in toward him the mistletoe's assault stopped. They both looked up: it was hovering expectantly over their heads.

"Oh, good," Hermione said, letting go, only to be pelted anew with berries, this time at a faster pace.

Draco stepped in toward her this time, putting both of his hands on her bare shoulders, and the mistletoe halted again, waiting.

"Malfoy," Hermione said through gritted teeth, "if you would please escort me out of the ballroom—"

"Right away, Granger," he smirked.

As long as they stayed close enough together, the mistletoe simply followed them overhead without incident. Still, Hermione Granger leaving the main room of a work function on the arm of Draco Malfoy wasn't exactly the kind of thing that went unnoticed. As they made the excruciatingly long trip around the room, Hermione felt eyes on her, heard the beginnings of whispers. But she held her head high, as if this was entirely normal, as if they weren't being coerced by some damned enchanted mistletoe. She took solace in the fact that she was close enough to smell his cologne—many men wore it unsuccessfully, but Draco's was absolutely delicious.

Once they had made it into the hallway, Draco took the lead. "I believe there's another room just through here—" he pushed at a door to the left of the coatroom. They found themselves in another dimly-lit parlor, empty but for the two of them.

"Right," Hermione said, turning to face Draco, keeping a hand resting on his arm. Above them the mistletoe bobbed up and down amicably.

"What's it—?" Draco pointed one finger up, raising an eyebrow.

"He calls it 'heat-seeking mistletoe.' Warned there'd be a nasty surprise if you kept refusing it." Hermione chewed her lip, trying to figure out how to trick the thing.

"'If you kept refusing it'? Just how many—"

"Three's the charm. Or the opposite, apparently," Hermione replied.

"Well." Draco's hands went back to her shoulders. It had happened all too quickly earlier, but now Hermione was hyperaware of the heat of his skin against hers. One of his thumbs traveled over to idly circle against her collarbone, and Hermione prayed that he couldn't somehow feel how her pulse was rapidly accelerating in response to his touch.

"Miss Granger," he said quietly, stepping into her personal space. "If you'd like to get rid of this mistletoe problem, I'd be…" Draco's eyes dropped to her lips, then back up to meet her gaze. When he continued, his voice was gravelly and even more hushed, "…happy to help."

Hermione glanced up at the mistletoe, then back to Draco. There were no predetermined guidelines for this situation; and with his hands doing that thing on her bare skin there was no time or brain space to invent them. She swallowed as his face inched ever closer, blood pounding in her ears, and barely breathed her answer: "Please."

The kiss was soft, impossibly gentle but slow. Draco pressed his lips to hers, cupping her face with one hand, lingering. As he pulled away Hermione temporarily lost her mind and all good sense and brought a hand to his lapel, tugging him back down for more. The second kiss was searing; once Draco had been invited back for more he wasn't as careful, pushing into her mouth with his tongue and then practically devouring her—or maybe she had done that to him, or maybe both ways—it wasn't very clear. What was clear was that Hermione felt electric, or maybe on fire, or maybe like she might collapse, but whatever all of this was it was very, very good.

When finally she broke away, catching her breath, Draco didn't let her go far—one hand at her back and the other carefully threading into her hair. "Well that was unexpected," he chuckled, his voice low.

Hermione began to realize, with growing dread, what she had done. Having a colossal crush on Malfoy was ridiculous enough, but now that she'd shown her cards, she wanted nothing more than to melt down into the floor and disappear forever. There was no way this meant to him what it secretly meant to her, and as such she'd never be able to speak to him at work again, not to mention what Harry and everyone else must've thought after they made their very public exit from the ballroom—

"Hermione! What's this I heard about the mistletoe—?" George took that moment, as they stood in each other's arms, to swing open the half-closed door to the parlor. Hermione jumped, taking several steps back from Draco, looking horrified.

"W-well it did the bloody thing you wanted it to!" She pointed an accusing finger at the ball of mistletoe, which was now floating menacingly in her direction as she distanced herself from Draco. Draco looked stunned—maybe even a bit angry. But Hermione couldn't focus on that.

"But—you're not covered in glitter."

Hermione, who was reaching for her wand and trying unsuccessfully to back away from the mistletoe, stopped moving and looked slowly up at George. "What-did-you-say?" she enunciated carefully.

"Glitter," George said, scratching at his head. "If you refuse, three times, they shoot glitter. It's attracted to skin and clothes and doesn't vanish for twelve hours. Brilliantly annoying, isn't it?"

"Stupefy!" Hermione cried, pointing her wand at the offending mistletoe. "Accio vase!" A tall, cylindrical vase that had adorned a nearby table flew into her hand. In one swift motion, she trapped the stunned mistletoe under the column of the vase just as the charm wore off. In retaliation, the mistletoe bobbed up as high as its glass prison would allow and shot a berry at her. The berry made a small tink against the glass and promptly vanished.

"Now—what's that?" George stepped closer to examine the mistletoe, watching it shoot angry berries at Hermione. "That's—ooh, that's some brilliant spell work here. I wonder who—?"

Hermione, dissatisfied with his answer, turned indignantly to Draco, who was unsuccessfully trying to quell his own laughter. "You!" she shrieked, striding toward Draco.

Draco just laughed, doubling over.

"You did this!"

Draco was immune to her ire. Hermione smacked him on the arm.

"Ow, Granger, watch it," he protested, still laughing.

"Not funny!" Hermione shrieked, smacking him again.

"It bloody is," Draco replied, trying to wipe tears out of his eyes. The fully ridiculous part of her noticed that she hadn't seen him laugh like this in a long time—perhaps ever, really. His laughter was genuine, the crinkle of his eyes infinitely charming. "But you've got the wrong man."

"So this is all just some joke," Hermione said, her voice changing.

Behind her, George was waving his wand at the mistletoe, trying to tame it, muttering spells; but presently he announced in a loud voice, "I'll just be going," and quickly exited the room.

All the work Hermione had put into curbing her emotions went completely out the window. The way Draco laughed at her—on top of the way he'd kissed her, the way he'd looked her up and down—made it all too clear what his intentions had been. No wonder he'd winked, no wonder he'd tracked her down three times already. She'd become just another game, another conquest in Malfoy's long list, and she couldn't have felt more foolish.

Angry tears pricked at her eyes and venom dripped in her voice. "Well, you got what you came for, didn't you," she practically spat at him. Her wand was in her hand before she knew it, before she was even finished speaking; but the way Draco blanched when she pointed it at him gave her just enough good sense to pause, if only for a second.

The mirth drained from his face, and he straightened himself up to his full height, raising both palms delicately in surrender. The nearly-blank look he gave her had a hard edge to it, and his voice when he spoke was clipped: "I'll take my leave, then."

"Go," Hermione commanded, her voice low and angry. She pointed her wand at the doorway, and Draco went, dropping his hands on the way out.

Nearly immediately after Draco had moved out of the doorway, Harry stepped into it. "What in Merlin's name was that?" he asked Hermione, still sending a confused look in the direction Draco had taken. "Bah!" he exclaimed when he saw Hermione's wand hand pointed at him, raising his hands in surrender just as Draco had.

A few angry tears fell in Hermione's relief to see Harry, and she swiped at them, letting her wand hand fall. "Oh, that bloody git enchanted the bloody—"

"The mistletoe?" Harry grinned.

"W-what are you smiling for?" Hermione asked through her tears.

"It was me."

There was still amusement on Harry's face, mixed with concern over the fact that she was crying, but all the same Hermione had to replay the sentence she knew she'd heard multiple times over before she could comprehend it.

Harry spoke over her stunned silence, quickly. "Mione, it was for your own good. Gin and I have seen the way you look at him, the way he gets on with you, and really we much prefer you moony and human to always buried in your work—"

"Harry Potter!" Hermione shrieked.

Harry winced, spelling the door closed to cut down on the volume. "Really, Mione—"

"You—you don't know!" Hermione went off, tears flowing again. "Harry, you don't understand just—that I don't just—" She threw her hands up in the air, lost for words. "Draco doesn't date. He sleeps around. He flirts. He's never serious."

"You're wrong," Harry said cautiously, taking a step toward her.

"Oh, am I? As a male you may not hear the rumors, but I can assure you that under that perfectly-coiffed exterior, Draco Malfoy is a snake."

"And I can assure you," Harry crossed his arms, "that under that… 'perfectly coiffed-exterior,' as much as it pains me to say it, Malfoy is sincere."

"And how would you know?"

"We went for drinks," Harry shrugged.

Hermione was so confused she forgot to be upset, even if for just a moment. "You—you 'went for drinks?' Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy just up and went for drinks—?"

"I didn't like him snaking around your office so much," Harry explained, "and we have inter-office Quidditch coming up, so I invited him out for a round, asked him what his intentions were."

"Harry!"

"—There may have been some Veritaserum involved."

"Harry!" Hermione's scandalized exclamation was now more of a squeak.

"What? Mione, you're like my sister," Harry insisted, scratching awkwardly at his hair. "I know you can take care of yourself, but since you haven't any brothers of your own, I did the thing that I've learned brothers do—I snooped."

Hermione opened her mouth.

"And!" Harry stopped her from speaking, plowing on. "And it turns out Draco has some real feelings there, deep down in his cold, cold heart."

"Really," Hermione said blandly.

"All those things you said—he's not like that anymore. He doesn't date around, no—he doesn't even sleep around. There's nothing around about it. There's only one woman he's pursuing right now, and she spends most of her time trying to escape human interaction in order to work."

"Like he'd tell you."

"Veritaserum."

Hermione crossed her arms, trying to gauge whether or not she believed Harry.

"Mione, if you really don't want to be with him, I really am sorry. But based on the way you're reacting, I don't know if that's right either. I take it he didn't get around to asking you to a proper dinner?"

"He—" Hermione paused, rewinding to an earlier point in the evening, to the invitation she'd brushed aside—"Oh, bloody hell," she whispered under her breath, tears threatening again.

"I'm sorry, Mione," Harry was saying, but Hermione pushed past him.

"I—I have to find him and apologize—tell Gin I'll see her soon?" she called back to Harry.

"Right," Harry said aloud to the room, empty but for him and the mistletoe.

.

Hermione just happened into the doorway of the coatroom as Malfoy was disappearing through the fireplace. "Draco!" she called out to him, but he was already gone.

She rushed to follow him. The fireplace had only temporarily been hooked up to the Ministry, for the purposes of the party, so there was only one place he could've gone. In just a few moments she was in the lobby of the Ministry, watching Draco's dark-coated form disappear around a corner up ahead.

"Draco!" Hermione called out again.

Draco stopped walking but did not turn around.

Hermione rushed toward him, trying her best to run in her heels. "Draco, I've made a mistake."

When he turned to face her, his expression was that old familiar sneer—one she hadn't seen in a very long time. It almost made her recoil. "Well, Granger, I'm not a mind-reader but I had suspected you felt that way. Not to worry; I won't be calling the presses about Perfect Granger snogging the filthy Ex-Death Eater."

"N-no," Hermione reached for him, but when he looked down at her hand with distaste, she withdrew it. "I—Harry did it; he enchanted the mistletoe and I'm sorry I didn't believe you."

"I'd like to remind you," Draco said stiffly, a little of the malice leaving his expression, "that I asked for your consent."

"A-and I know," Hermione tried to plow on, waving away what he was saying, "I know you talked to Harry."

Now Draco's expression went completely blank. He raised one eyebrow, ever-so-slightly, and asked cautiously, "And what was it that he told you?"

"Basically," Hermione took a step closer to Draco, who allowed it, "that I could trust you."

Draco regarded her evenly. Hermione swiped at her mostly-dried tears, certain that what little makeup she'd put on was a total disaster.

"Be careful there, listening to Potter," Draco's voice was low. He swallowed visibly; Hermione watched his Adam's apple. "His track record's not so good on my end."

"Please," Hermione glanced at the floor nervously for a moment before looking back up at him, "give me another chance, and this time I'll try not to make an arse out of myself?" She stepped delicately back, raising her wand above her head to conjure a ball of nonthreatening, non-heat-seeking, other-than-the-fact-that-it-was-flying ordinary muggle mistletoe.

They both glanced up at where it hung in the air. When Draco looked back at Hermione, she shrugged delicately and attempted a smile. "Your call."

In three quick, long strides Draco was upon her, kissing her with all the passion from before, his hand in her hair and at her back and his lips and his tongue, teasing her bottom lip with his teeth, growling her name as she kissed back—"Hermione"—and making her feel weak in the knees. She returned his kisses in kind, opening for a moment the dam of her personal guidelines and allowing the true depth of her feelings for him to show. The truth was she'd loved Draco from afar ever since he'd turned down Astoria Greengrass, ever since he'd come to her office in his full sincerity just to be sure she understood the implications. She'd relished every tiny moment of flirting, every joking jab that she could return in kind, every moment she'd been able to observe him undisturbed—Draco was incredibly intelligent, in spite of who he'd been in school; and now that they weren't child soldiers on opposite sides of a messy war, Hermione had allowed herself to appreciate him as a physical specimen as well.

"Hermione," he was saying again, and she ran her fingers through the back of his hair, reaching around to muss his fringe as he kissed down her throat and all along her collar bone.

"A-HEM!" someone coughed.

It took both of them a moment to realize it had been neither of them. Hermione had her back to the fireplace they'd Flooed through, but Draco regarded their observer evenly over Hermione's head, nodding professionally and waiting for the footsteps to fade away before looking down at her again.

"So another chance," Draco raised an eyebrow, his hands returning to her shoulders. "Dinner? Coffee? Or, if you're really feeling adventurous—" he leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose, "you could watch me make a fool of myself in the kitchen. Can't guarantee anything edible out of that last one, but—"

"All of the above," Hermione smiled up at him. "All of it."

"Hm," Draco made a show of looking her up and down in her dress again, making no attempt to cover his leer, to which he now added a suggestive smirk. "Well, Miss Granger," he grinned at her blush, "be careful what you wish for."