"Caramel macchiato, venti, skim, extra shot, extra-hot, extra-whip, sugar-free." Draco Malfoy didn't look up from his phone as he rattled off his order. He'd been texting his father all morning, furious that the college wouldn't change his room when his next-door neighbor kept playing the same song on single repeat. I'm sure he's selling drugs, he typed in. They can't want a drug dealer in the dorm. Can't you mention that?
Only drugs could explain liking Phil Collins that much.
"Name for the cup?"
"Huh?" He looked up at that and the barista frowned back at him. She had the cup in her hand and the worst hair he'd ever seen.
"Name for the cup," she said again with strained patience.
"Don't you know who I am?" he asked, momentarily stupefied. He was in here at least three times a week. Usually the staff called him by name, asked how he was. This girl just tipped her head forward and twisted her mouth into what was probably supposed to be a customer service smile. It wasn't.
"I'm afraid not," she said.
"Draco Malfoy," he said.
She scrawled something nearly illegible on the cup and he went back to texting his father. I shouldn't have to live next to drug dealers, he typed in, hitting the letters with extra force as though that could convey how very, very upset he was by all of this. I can't study.
Then I suggest you find another place to do your work, the phone replied. Draco resisted the urge to throw the thing against the wall. What was the point of having a senator for a father if he wouldn't fix things?
When he picked up his drink, bad-hair barista had spelled his name wrong. DRAKOE. Great. Just great.
"Iced half-caff ristretto, venti, 4-pump, cinnamon, dolce soy skinny latte." Draco pulled his book out of his bag and tried to find where he'd stopped reading as he waited for bad-hair coffee girl to run his card. He didn't know what had possessed him to sign up for a class about critical theory and romance novels, but he'd been regretting it since he'd seen the syllabus. What sort of insane professor expected people to read two books a week? And he had to do it. If his grades fell, he'd hear about it all summer long. You have an obligation to your family, his mother would say. If you are screwing around in college, it makes me look bad, his father would say.
Had either of them ever had to read Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park in the same week? He didn't think so.
"Name for the cup?"
"Draco Malfoy," he said. "DRACO. I was in here yesterday."
She shrugged. "All you blond trust-fund boys look the same to me."
"You wrote my name on the cup," he said, ignoring that she'd spelt it wrong. "Did you forget already?"
She put her hand over her name tag and smiled at him. The expression made her look clever and a little bit mean. It made her look attractive and that was wrong. He shouldn't be attracted to the bad-hair coffee girl. "What's my name?" she asked.
He swallowed hard when he realized he couldn't answer.
"Exactly," she said. "Name for the cup?"
"Draco Malfoy," he said, slouching down. When she wrote it down he squinted at the nameplate on her apron. Hermione? Who the hell saddled their kid with a name like Hermione?
On the upside, he wouldn't forget it. She couldn't pull her little name tag covering trick again.
He took his drink and sat down in a leather chair by the back window and sullenly began to annotate Jane Austen. He should have taken the poetry class for his lit credit. That would have had a lighter reading load.
"Quad grande, non-fat, extra hot caramel macchiato," he said.
Bad-hair Hermione marked his cup and eyed the book he hadn't finished yet. It was making him crazy. What did this dumb Fanny girl see in Edmund anyway? And what was going on with the Antigua thing? And Mrs. Norris reminded him uncomfortably of his snobby aunt.
"I don't really like that one," Hermione said cautiously. "Not my favorite of her books."
"Mine either," he muttered. Pride and Prejudice had been more to his taste. He held out his card and she swiped it.
He was back in the leather seat he'd started to think of as his before he realized she hadn't asked his name this time.
Maybe he was coming here too often.
But the Phil Collins.
He pulled out his phone, planning to text his father to demand he do something – anything – about his housing situation when he glanced back up at Hermione. She was wiping down the counter and the sun had hit the curls of her hair and he decided that this chair was more comfortable than the god awful wooden desk chair the school supplied in the dorms anyway.
He'd keep coming here.
For the chair.
"Venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, extra shot, light ice, no whip," Draco said.
Hermione looked at the book he had in his hand this week as she marked his cup. Books. Professor Sinistra had decided that since these were so short they could read four. Four books. In one week. Did she think they didn't have any other classes?
"A Serpent among the Rocks?" Hermione's voice sounded dubious and he didn't blame her. He'd considered tearing the cover off because it was painfully embarrassing to be seen reading this. A woman wearing a dress his mother would condemn as both trashy and impractical seemed to have half fainted into the arms of a man wearing even less than she was. He'd expected porn from the cover.
Just one more way this class had let him down.
"It's assigned reading," he said.
"Oh," Hermione said. She used a tone he knew too well. It was the you're-an-idiot tone. He usually heard it from his friends. He had heard it from his friends about this class. "That class."
Yeah, that class. That notorious class about fluffy books that turned out to be a nightmare of critical theory and heavy reading load. He'd never worked so hard in his life. "It was supposed to be an easy A," he muttered.
The look she gave him was deeply pitying. He'd have been offended if he hadn't already come to the conclusion he'd been so, so wrong in all his assumptions. Aurora Sinistra thought staying up all night long reading was what everyone longed to do and the book was just the beginning. Then came the essays about the book. Sometimes, as in the case of Mansfield Park, there were essays about the essays. And the discussions in class got heated. Last week Pansy had stood up, announced she hated the patriarchy and it should all be subverted and destroyed, and stomped out. In stilettos. He dreaded – positively dreaded – the class arguments that were sure to be coming on these Harlequin romances.
He had no idea what he would say. He had a bad feeling anything he said would set Pansy off and she'd spend the rest of the class letting him have it. She might call the damn press. Senator's son a sexist pig. He could see the headlines now.
He needed help.
Hermione looked at him. "Is there anything else?" she asked.
He realized he was holding up the line, but he didn't care. She was a lifeline. "Do you ever, uh, read these?" he asked.
She looked horrified and he wanted to sink into the floor. Of course she didn't. But then she answered, sounding equally uncomfortable, "My mother did, and sometimes on holiday I was bored enough I picked one of hers up. So, I mean, I have."
He met her eyes. Raw desperation was seeping out his very pores. God, he hoped she couldn't smell it. But he couldn't get a bad grade in this class. He just couldn't. "Do you understand why people read them?" he asked in a tiny whisper. Could you tell me, he meant. Could you give me just enough to say to get full credit for class participation?
"Oh, just stop for the day," said the other barista. "Christ, you've been going non-stop since ten. You covered Parvati's shift. It's probably not even legal for you to still be working."
She took her apron off and followed him to his corner. She sat in his chair; he pulled over one of the hard chairs from the tables. He didn't say anything. She plucked the book out of his fingers as thought it might be covered in some kind of contagion, flipped through it, and set it down with a grimace of disgust. "Her name is Ebony," she said.
"That's a color," she said. "Not a name."
"His name is Stone," he offered. He knew it wouldn't make it better but it made her mouth twitch in a smile that he immediately wanted to see again.
"Stone," she said.
"Stone Richardson," he said.
She paused for a moment, then let out a gasping laugh. "Stone the DICK'S SON?"
"Yeah," he said.
"Jesus." Hermione sighed. "Look, setting aside all the basic grossness of how you're asking a woman you barely know to explain your homework to you – "
"I'd be happy to pay you," he said as quickly as he could.
She narrowed her eyes.
"Or take you to dinner, like a date," he said even more rapidly.
"I don't date people I tutor," she said.
"But do you talk about books on dates?" He tried to turn on the charm. The way his voice almost squeaked at the end suggested he'd failed. She also didn't melt the way Ebony did in the book, or the way Blaise's endless parade of cheerleaders and sorority girls did.
He sank into the uncomfortable chair. "Sorry," he muttered.
"No," she said. "It's… dinner. I want to go home and get… de-coffeed."
"Understood," he said. He'd have agreed to anything. If he didn't get a good grade his father would kill him.
"And we talk about other things too," she said. "Lacrosse. Do you like lacrosse?"
He looked at the woman and began to slowly smile. "I played varsity lacrosse at my prep school," he said. "You could say I like it."
Dinner went well.
Talking about the books went well.
Dessert went well.
Walking back to his dorm went well.
Everything went well until he got out of his bed to make them both some coffee because he still had to annotate A Serpent among the Rocks and read a whole book about reading romances and she'd mentioned she had a bunch of math she needed to work on.
She was double-majoring in math and political science and she had opinions about public policy and economics.
Hermione rolled over in his bed and set one arm behind her hair as he plugged in the coffee maker. "Two sugars?" she asked as he got down the mugs from his shelf.
"Black and sweet coming right up," he said.
Just then the music began, stabbing its way through the cinderblock walls. Hermione sat up in shock and, when the volume went up even more, grabbed a copy of Ragged Dick and threw it at the wall as hard as she could. "What the hell is that?" she asked. She had to yell to be heard.
"My neighbor," he yelled back. He'd thought he'd explained this situation but apparently he hadn't managed to convey just how very bad it was.
"Phil Collins?" she asked in disbelief. "What did you do to them? Why do they hate you?"
That had never occurred to him but now that she mentioned it, it made sense. Phil Collins as a weapon. God, she was smart. And pretty. And that hair was amazing. Had he ever thought that hair was bad? He was idiot. He couldn't wait to tell his father about her and her ideas and how bloody smart she was.
He bent over to kiss her, and she was so receptive to that he began to think he might convince her to ignore the music until the song began again. She threw a rude gesture at the wall and then grabbed her phone. "No one should have to live like this," she said. "I'm texting the Dean. She owes me."
Draco Malfoy began to laugh. Why did that not surprise him?
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N - Thank you to the-nerdiest-witch-bitch,for-witchcraft-and-wizardry, torrilin, and moonlightmasquerade for beta reading at the drop of a hat. They are the best.