The Commoner's Guide to Bedding a Royal
Summary: Objectively speaking, Hermione Granger knows Britain has a monarchy, just as she knows Prince Draco (the grandson of the current King of England) is probably off somewhere living his royal life in total unrelation to hers. Seeing as she isn't delusional, she doesn't really expect to be his friend. She doesn't expect anything that comes after, either. Dramione, modern royalty AU.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and claim no profit from this work. Credit where credit is due, Joanne Rowling. Additionally, while the story is inspired by the romances of Prince William and Prince Harry, all of the accounts/characterizations herein are fictional. While I have read The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan and this story does share the same premise, it takes several different turns after the initial set-up of chapter one.
a/n: This story is a continuation of the one shot of the same name from my Amortentia short story collection. It is based on something of a mash-up of the Wills and Kate/Harry and Meghan romances (with a few extra influences) and is intended to be a fairly light-hearted comedy. I've made some changes to the world, of course, which will become clear over time.
As ever, I can't wait to start another story with you, and hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Spontaneity
May 19, 2018
The Royal Suite at the Goring Hotel
Draco and Hermione: A Royal Love Story
By Rita Skeeter
While many of us here in Britain have been captivated by the blossoming romance between His Royal Highness Prince Draco of Wales and his American sweetheart, Miss Hermione Jean Granger, very few are privileged to know the true story about how the young couple met. A fairy tale from the very beginning, it was love at first sight when Draco took notice of Hermione, the daughter of hardworking American parents eager to give their only child the education they had both been denied by curses of circumstance. At the time, Hermione had risen to the top of her class at Stanford University in sun-kissed, tropical California, and was granted acceptance as a foreign exchange student to Hogwarts University. Needless to say, the effervescently pretty Hermione, along with several would-be hopefuls who'd learned of Prince Draco's enrollment, was lucky enough to come across the dashing young royal in her classes—though her academics were, of course, her primary concern.
Both fastidious, intensely dedicated students, Draco first caught sight of Hermione's luxurious silken curls in his English Literature class at Hogwarts, and from there, a whirlwind courtship between two intellectual equals began. It is said by their peers that Draco was enamored with Hermione from the start, and as anyone close to him would be quick to confess, the prince has known with absolute certainty from the moment he laid eyes upon Hermione that she was meant to be his wife, his confidante, and ultimately, his Queen.
Stop. Stop reading. This is absolute rubbish. Yes, I said rubbish, even though I'm an American and apparently a peasant, too (my parents are dentists, and certainly not 'cursed by circumstance,' but sure). Two months ago Rita Skeeter was openly calling me 'the frizzy colonial upstart,' and now this ABOMINABLE TROSS has been released? Let me tell you, it was hardly the fairy tale she claims. It was only a fairy tale in that I did occasionally want to saw off my own effervescent toes.
In reality, the British press has been absolutely ruthless. Even Draco, despite his signature capacity for appearing collected, has been known to have a cold sweat or two over what his father (yes, that would be HRH Lucius, Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, in case you were wondering) calls a 'truly abysmal union.' Absolute certainty? What a joke. What an absolute forking joke. What utter motherboarding nonsense. I don't think Draco was ever really certain; not even when he was down on one knee, struggling beneath a diamond the size of New Zealand while I shouted the last of my once-beloved profanities. Was he certain he loved me, at least? Oh yes, definitely, I trust that. I trust that absolutely, or else I would have gone positively flanking insane by now. But was he ever certain that his country would accept me? That's another matter altogether, which is what makes this whole Rita Skeeter book bollocks to the highest degree of bollockery.
Do you want the real story? Maybe you don't, as it's a bit of a mess, despite what Rita so feverishly insists. I'm a bit of a mess, actually, and frankly so is Draco (no matter what the newspapers would have you believe), but considering I'm sitting here in a haute couture wedding dress staring down the barrel of a truly earth-shattering scandal, I'm sort of in the mood for truth; so maybe you, like me, have no choice in the matter. The thing is, once upon a time, I fell deeply, inescapably (tragically) in love with a man and subsequently had to learn how to be the consort of a prince, which mostly meant learning that truth may only out on occasions less frequent than bank holidays. But for once in my gourd-drammed life, I want to say something real—so here's what really happened, in all its terrible, awkward, humiliating glory.
Here's how I, the Colonial Upstart, accidentally bagged myself the most eligible man in Britain.
August 30, 2010
Well, there was no escaping it. Hogwarts was a castle. A castle with many stairs, and Hermione, a girl with many suitcases, was encountering the first of her very many problems. She eyed the staircase, frowning, before glancing down at her bags, wondering if it would be possible to carry one of them on her back. Apparently there wasn't anyone around to help; hazards of arriving before term officially started, she lamented internally.
"Excuse me," came a voice behind her. "Are you by chance trying to grow an extra arm?"
She turned, startled, to find a tall young man standing there, his lips curled up in something of an arrogant (albeit playful) smirk. He was dressed somewhat formally (more formally than anyone at Stanford had ever dressed, aside from the tech fanboys who lived in Sperry boat shoes and those slightly-too-short coral-colored shorts) and looking at her with amusement. His pale blond hair was swept off to the side, a hint of strands falling across his forehead as if he'd just popped in from some sort of high-class sport on horses, and he was cute. Very cute.
Hermione, on the other hand, was very not, given that the messy bun piled atop her head was much more a show of convenience than fashion. Luckily, she was also very distracted, and therefore unable to focus on how cute or not-cute either of them happened to be.
"Is that an option?" Hermione asked, frowning slightly at her bags. "I'm beginning to think I miscalculated. I sort of just got out of the cab," she explained, gesturing vacantly over her shoulder, "and didn't really think to bribe the driver into helping."
"Well, for future reference, extortion always works," remarked the blond, his accent as airy and crisp as the unseasonable breeze outside. "Though we do consider ourselves a country of gentlemen. Perhaps you might have heard?"
"You're the first I've met," Hermione replied. "Countrymen, I mean," she amended, waving a hand around the empty courtyard, "not gentlemen."
His smirk curved up slightly. "Is that an accusation?"
"Gentlemen do carry bags, don't they?" she prompted, and he chuckled, sparing her a genial shrug.
"Well, I suppose I have something to prove, then," he determined, hoisting her duffel bag over his shoulder and taking the larger of her suitcases, "on behalf of my country, that is. I'm Draco, by the way," he added, shoving the bag over to extend his right hand. "And you must be some sort of foreign succubus, seeing how you've talked me into manual labor. You're the exchange student, I take it?"
"Hermione," she confirmed, giving his hand a quick pulse of pressure before picking up the last of her suitcases, "and yes. I just got off a plane, actually—though I can't imagine what could be giving me away," she remarked drily, wondering if she shouldn't have checked for sweat stains. The Stanford t-shirt she'd opted to wear on the plane wasn't exactly flattering so much as it was… old. And vaguely ill-fitted. She gave herself a testing sniff as discreetly as possible before turning her attention back to him.
"Hold on, isn't Draco the prince's name?" she asked, abruptly registering a hazy sense of recognition. She fuzzily considered she might have seen the name plastered on a tabloid or two while standing in line for groceries, though she was fairly confident the British prince was older. He certainly looked solemnly regal in all the pictures she'd seen. "Coincidence or namesake?"
"I believe it was a very popular choice the year I was born," Draco remarked, gesturing ahead as a series of stairs branched off in several different directions. "So, which dorm?"
"Um—" She glanced down at the informational packet in her hand. "Slytherin?"
"Ah, excellent," Draco said, beckoning her ahead. "The dorms are down under the lake. I take it you're filling Tracey Davis' spot, then?"
"Yes," Hermione confirmed with a frown, "I think."
"Well, you'll like your roommate," Draco assured her. "Daph's great. The good kind of posh," he added as an afterthought.
"The good kind?" Hermione echoed uncertainly.
"Yes. Pansy is, of course, the bad kind. She's a very dear friend," he informed her, "and Blaise is much, much worse. He's also disastrously charming, so do be careful."
"Ah," Hermione said, momentarily dizzied. "Who else should I know about?"
"Well, there's Theo," Draco supplied thoughtfully, guiding her through the winding old corridors of the castle. "He's one of those old-money-nobility types. We all have a bit of a wager going as to whether he and Daphne will kill each other or get married."
"Sometimes they're not mutually exclusive options," Hermione remarked, following as he made his way to a set of enormous iron doors.
"Well, I'll put you down for both, then," Draco said with a cheeky grin, pausing to pull a set of keys out of his pocket. "Sorry," he said, shuffling through a set of them, "security's a bit tight down here."
"I see that," Hermione commented, as he finally seemed to jimmy the old door open, gesturing her inside. "Any particular reason?"
"Oh, none, I'm sure," Draco replied casually, pointing up a set of winding stairs. "Yours and Daph's room is up there. People sometimes study here," he explained, gesturing to the still-empty seating, which was about what Hermione had expected. The other students would be arriving en masse in approximately two days, according to the administrative guide at Hogwarts; Hermione, however, had wanted to acclimate in advance. "More often the library, but this can be nice on occasion. Convenient, at least."
"I take it you're in this dorm too?" Hermione asked, following him as he briskly took to the stairs. The common room, as it appeared to be, was lit by a large, warm fire, and provided a strange, almost eerie view of the lake. "I suppose I should have asked—"
"Yes," Draco said. "It's the only one successfully bulletproof, I think."
"Bulletproof?" Hermione echoed. "Are you some sort of secret agent, then?"
He laughed. "Only a little," he assured her, and paused beside a door, knocking twice. "Daphne," he called, sparing Hermione another small grin, "I have a parcel for you."
The door swung open, revealing a breathless girl dressed in perfectly-fitted jeans and a worn Hogwarts t-shirt, her long auburn hair pulled back in a high ponytail that swung down over her shoulders.
"Is she here? Is she—oh good," the girl apparently called Daphne exhaled, looking over Hermione with glowing approval. "Look at you, you're real! And already putting the crown to work," she joked to Draco as Hermione paused, startled. "And to think, we're considered the imperialists—"
"Wait a minute," Hermione said, blinking with confusion at the reference. It seemed jet lag had vastly limited her cognitive skills. "You're actually… the Draco?"
"Oh balls, she doesn't even know," Daphne sighed happily to no one in particular, ostensibly delighted. "You're a real live person, aren't you?" she asked Hermione again, tugging her inside before glancing over her shoulder. "Draco, set those down, you look positively ridiculous. Was there no one else to help with the bags?"
"I haven't a clue, Lady Daphne," Draco replied grandly, letting Hermione's duffel bag slide gracefully from his shoulder to the floor before setting the suitcase down beside it, "but it's certainly been an honor serving as ambassador on behalf of my country, Miss…?"
It took a moment before Hermione realized he (him, actual Prince Draco, whom she probably should have recognized but didn't, because who ever expects the actual prince to be wandering around?) was waiting for an answer.
"Oh, um. Granger," she supplied, wondering now if she was supposed to have curtsied. "And you, uh. Prince, um—"
"Draco will be fine," he assured her, looking mischievously pleased. "And don't bother about gratuity. Just be sure to leave a little extra on your taxes," he suggested, "or I'll have to charge you with treason, and frankly, who has the time?"
"He's joking," Daphne assured Hermione, rolling her eyes at Draco. "Still coming out for drinks with us this evening, Your Royal Highness?"
"Have an engagement with the Prince of Darkness, actually," Draco replied coolly, as Daphne made a sympathetic face, "along with your sister, who's been ringing me nonstop about, I don't know. Dresses, I suppose, or possibly hats—"
"Ah, I'd forgotten about that dinner," Daphne said, deflating slightly. "I suppose that means Theo and Harry are out too, aren't they? I'd hoped they'd come meet Hermione tonight," she lamented, flashing Hermione a look of apology, "but I suppose duty calls—"
"Unfortunately duty not only calls, but veritably drags," Draco lamented, before suggesting hopefully, "Tomorrow night? Before term starts?"
"Oh, of course," Daphne confirmed, warm again. "And I can ring my sister for you, if you want," she offered, as Draco made a face of obvious relief, "but do tell Theo to wear a better jacket this time, would you?"
To that, Draco scoffed. "You tell Theo to wear a jacket—"
"He doesn't listen to me!"
"He only listens to you—"
"Actually, you know who he'll listen to is—"
"—Pansy," they said in unison, and then gave gloriously dazzling peals of laughter, both clearly in on a joke Hermione had yet to understand.
"She'd scare the knickers off anyone," Daphne explained to Hermione, who abruptly realized she'd been staring between them with something equal parts curiosity and bemusement. "You'll meet her later. Though, try not to look her in the eyes when you do."
"Yes, you'll almost certainly turn to stone," Draco said, and then offered her a nod. "Until next time, Miss Granger—"
"Oh right, um, bye…" Hermione trailed off, uncertain what to call him, and he laughed again, consummately tickled.
"Draco," he reminded her. "Just Draco, unless we're at a ribbon cerem- ah, hold on, seems it's too late for you to handle this for me, Daph," he mused to her, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and holding it to his ear. "Yes, hello, you've reached Draco Wales," he said into it, sparing Hermione a wink and Daphne a wave before ducking out of their door frame. "Astoria, I'm joking. Half the job is elaborate theatrics, you know this—"
"Well," Daphne said, letting the door fall shut in Draco's absence and turning to Hermione with a smile. "I see you've met the future King of England, then?"
"Does he really just—wander around like that?" Hermione asked, slightly dazed, and Daphne shook her head.
"No, almost never, actually, but term hasn't officially started, so…" She trailed off with a shrug before permitting a long exhale, offering Hermione a brilliant, lovely smile. "I have to say, it's such a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, and you," Hermione said, recalling with a start just how apprehensive she'd been about her roommate up until minutes before she'd walked in. The benefit of having accidentally bullied the nation's heir into carrying her bags was that she'd temporarily abandoned her nerves, but now she was here, finally, tucked into an old dorm room with a girl she'd just met and hoped to live harmoniously with for at least the next four months. "It was so nice of you to send me a letter before term started—"
"Ah, I was worried you'd find it dreadfully formal, but it's my breeding, I'm afraid," Daphne told her, ushering her further inside the room and gesturing to the fixtures. "Desk, bed, vacant floorspace for aerobics and interpretive dance," she joked, giving Hermione the grand tour. "My grandfather would absolutely have a heart attack if he knew the positively shameful plebeianism I'm living in," she added with a light-hearted shrug, "but I suppose that's the benefit of him being dead."
"Are you—" Hermione hesitated. "Um. Nobility also?"
"Only barely," Daphne said with a laugh, "though it's enough for my sister to formally date Draco with Prince Lucifer's approval, it seems. Of course, who knows how long that'll last—"
"Lucifer?" Hermione asked.
"Oh, sorry, bit of a slip on my part," Daphne sighed, scolding herself. "Prince Lucius, though Draco and Harry both call him—well, you heard, I hardly have to repeat it—"
"Harry?" Hermione echoed. "As in—"
"Henry, Duke of… whatever he's duke of these days," Daphne said, frowning. "Grimmauld now? I think? Everyone calls him Prince Harry, which is of course not remotely accurate, but it helps Draco to not have all the focus from the press, so—ah, I'm rambling," she lamented, cutting herself off with a shake of her head. "Apologies, you must be tired. Are you tired? I can show you around the school," she offered, and then frowned. "Unless you'd prefer to rest, in which case I could rustle up some tea? Unless you don't drink tea—"
"Daphne," Hermione exhaled, half-laughing. "I'm fine. A tour would be great," she added, as Daphne's expression lit up with pleasure. "It's really nice of you to offer."
"Tracey and I weren't particularly friends," Daphne explained tentatively. "But I suppose I'm quite used to having a girlfriend around, given my growing up with a sister, so…" She trailed off. "I'm rather hoping to have another go at it. If you're up for it, that is."
Hermione wished she could express the degree of relief she felt at this, a highly vulnerable offering from a pretty rich girl who could have so easily snubbed her. Daphne would have made the most popular girls at Carondelet look like absolute trolls, and yet she was far kinder than any of the girls Hermione had gone to high school with.
"I'm an only child, personally, and I always thought it would be fun to have a sister," Hermione assured her. "Besides, my last roommate wasn't much to compete with. Actually, she stole my underwear, so—"
"You're joking," Daphne said, looking horrified. "She thieved your knickers?"
"She thieved my knickers," Hermione confirmed solemnly. "In fairness, it was for a Take Back the Night rally, but still—"
"Well, I don't know why I'm trying so hard, then," Daphne noted, looking smugly pleased. "At the very least, I can confirm I possess my own knickers and have no particular desperation for yours."
"So it's settled, then," Hermione said, holding out a hand and forgetting all about the prince who'd carried her luggage. "Friends?"
Daphne accepted with a luminous smile. "Friends."
The Hog's Head wasn't quite as nice as the Three Broomsticks, Daphne explained, but it was at least quiet enough that nobody was going to have a fuss about all of them being there. Draco wouldn't be there, she'd reminded Hermione, but photographers would still try. It was apparently not a particularly well-kept secret who the prince's inner circle was.
"He grew up with Pansy," Daphne clarified as they each ordered a pint of richly brown beer Hermione was sure would be much too thick to go down easy, "and Harry, obviously, and Theo, but—ah, rats," she sighed, the beer slopping over the glass and onto her wrist. "Honestly, one of these days my coordination will improve—anyway, what was I blathering on about?"
"Theo," Hermione supplied, and a voice behind her chuckled.
"Well, I do love to know you're talking about me, Greengrass," remarked a lanky dark-haired man, his mouth quirking up in something of a half-smile. He offered Daphne a wink in greeting, and Hermione abruptly remembered the wager Draco had so carelessly mentioned to her. "Discussing my unconventional attractiveness, I take it? Perhaps my ebullient charm?"
"More like your incestuous family tree," Daphne replied, turning to roll her eyes. "Hermione, this is Theodore Nott. Theodore, Hermione Granger."
"Ah, the new Tracey Davis," Theo said as Hermione gave his proffered hand a perfunctory shake. "And also, never call me Theodore. That's my father's name, as Greengrass here knows perfectly well. She lives to torment me," he remarked, flashing Hermione a conspiratorial grin.
"It's not my primary vocation," Daphne assured Hermione, "but really, everyone should have a hobby. Even though using your given name is hardly a torment," she informed Theo, with a particularly challenging glare.
Theo, meanwhile, took Daphne's beer out of her hand, permitting himself a long, obnoxious sip before replacing it. "I meant that dress you're wearing," he remarked quietly, and though Hermione caught a momentary degree of widening from Daphne's eyes, it was quickly obscured by the entrance of another, much noisier body to their right.
"Ah, is this the new Tracey Davis?" asked a spectacularly attractive dark-skinned young man, whose overall appearance was hindered slightly by a v-neck cut nearly below his pectorals. "I thought you were coming from California," he remarked with a bemused frown, as Daphne cleared her throat, shoving her beer into Theo's chest and nudging him away.
"Just have that, Nott, it's got your germs on it now—and Blaise, you mustn't be such a glorious idiot," she scolded him firmly. "Why wouldn't she be from California?"
"Well, shouldn't she be, I don't know—more tan? Or more blonde?" Blaise asked irreverently, before turning back to Hermione. "I don't suppose you had class on the beach, did you?"
"I go to Stanford," Hermione said, stifling a laugh. "It's not exactly beachy."
"So does that mean you don't surf to school?" Blaise asked, looking disappointed, and Hermione was about to open her mouth to inform him that first of all, surfing wasn't a mode of transportation, and second of all, what did she just say, when yet another person joined them—or was about to join them, though Daphne pulled her aside in warning first.
"That's Pansy," Daphne explained, gesturing to a slender young women with one of those elegant long bobs Hermione would never be able to pull off, the sharp raven tips of her hair slicing against the defined line of her clavicle. "She's got about six names and none of them are worth hearing all in a row, but suffice it to say—"
"She's about one or two major flu epidemics away from the throne," Theo supplied, "and if you ask me, she's in desperate need of coitus."
"I—sorry, what?" Hermione asked, as Daphne gave Theo an alarmingly ferocious glare of disapproval.
"She's really not so bad when you get to know her," Daphne clarified hurriedly. "The problem is just that she, um—"
"Detests when people are talking about me behind my back," Pansy inserted coolly, joining them with something of a disinterested scowl. "You're new, then," she noted with a sniff, acknowledging the air around Hermione before glancing away at nothing.
"The word Daphne was looking for was 'bitch,'" Theo whispered-declared to Hermione, and Pansy rounded on him, obviously less than amused.
"Theodore," she said, and he instantly blanched. "Did you wear the jacket?"
From Blaise: "Yes. Didn't you see the pictures?"
From Theo: "For the record, I only wore it because it complimented my singular muscularity."
From Daphne: a wordless scoff, though Hermione caught her looking.
From Pansy again, impatiently: "You're going to have to learn to follow instructions, Nott."
From an indignant Theo: "Why? I'm not the one trying to bed a prince—"
Pansy, irritably: "Good thing, too, because at this rate, you certainly wouldn't succeed."
Blaise, delighted: "Another crushing blow from Lady Parkinson! What is that, twenty points?"
Theo, pouting: "I thought this was about my jacket, not my flaws as a human."
Pansy: "It's about both. And anyway, you're not the Daily Prophet, Theodore, don't make this about Astoria—"
"They're talking about my sister now, unfortunately," Daphne whispered to Hermione, who was very much amusing herself watching Pansy and Theo have something of a highly British standoff, neither quite challenging the other. "Tonight was Astoria's second public event as Draco's, um. Female friend," she murmured, and this time, it was Theo who scoffed.
"Ridiculous, the whole thing," Theo informed Hermione. "The whole 'relationship' is a sham. I mean we all know Prince Lucif-"
"Don't," warned Pansy, tartly.
"His Royal Highness, the Prince of Darkness," Theo amended irreverently, "is practically falling over himself with approval. He tried to force you on Draco when he first started here," he reminded Daphne, pointedly taking a sip of his beer as her gaze cut guiltily to Hermione's.
"And here you made it sound like you were hardly aristocratic at all," Hermione commented playfully, sipping at her own beer. It wasn't quite as bad as she expected, but more importantly, she was perfectly able to drink it despite not being twenty-one for the next three weeks. That, at least, tasted satisfying.
"Well, I certainly have no interest in being with a prince," Daphne said firmly. "Besides, Draco and I didn't even meet until university, so it's hardly like I'm in with the rest of you," she pointed out, gesturing to the others as they exchanged clannish grins (except for Pansy, who made more of a pursed and-don't-I-know-it face).
"How about being with someone prince-adjacent, then, Daph?" Blaise asked her, nudging Theo with a wink.
"Theo's not remotely prince-adjacent," Pansy scoffed, coming to Daphne's rescue. "At least four dozen people would have to die before he came anywhere near the crown—"
"Well, I'm not a coward, if that's what you're saying," Theo assured her.
"That's treason," Daphne informed him.
Theo shrugged. "People have really gone soft on treason these days," he remarked, taking another sip of his (her) beer. "If I can't pluck the crown up from a battlefield, what's even the point of having it?"
"My opinion exactly," came another voice. "Of course, I suppose that's due to being the spare."
"You're hardly the spare," Pansy said, rolling her eyes, though even she managed to look a little affectionate as the latest member of their little circle joined in, giving his ruffled black hair a shove from his face. "And what are you doing back so early? One of these days you'll have to put the incessant knavery to bed—"
"Along with the rest of Britain," Theo remarked, grinning.
"Ah, that's ten for Nott," Blaise said, scribbling it an imaginary notepad as the person Hermione suddenly realized from her minimal tabloid exposure was Prince Harry (in reality only a duke, as Daphne had mentioned, though in general Hermione was finding herself a bit swamped with ambiguous British succession lines) shifted to throw an arm around Pansy's shoulder, smacking a loud kiss against her forehead.
"Hello, Lady MacBeth," he told her, sparing her a roguish grin. "Besmirching my good name already?"
"Much as I love that extremely flattering comparison," Pansy said drily, "never call me that again. As for your good name, I'm besmirching nothing you haven't irreversibly blackened," she corrected, sliding out from under his arm and giving him a nudge in the ribs. "I'm merely commenting you're supposed to be at a state dinner."
"They don't need me," Harry said. "Besides, I don't see you asking Theo why he's here—"
"You both left Draco alone with that dreadful bore?" Pansy realized, appalled.
From Daphne: "That 'dreadful bore' is my sister, Pans."
From Theo and Blaise: "She knows."
From Pansy, haughtily: "I know."
"Draco's fine," Harry assured Pansy. "He and the Prince of Darkness were getting along swimmingly when I left. I believe they successfully exchanged one or two words? One of which may have even been a pleasantry."
"But was he doing the thing?" Pansy prompted apprehensively. "You know. The smile thing?"
From Theo: "The thing where his smile doesn't reach his eyes?"
From Blaise: "Where it looks like his soul has evacuated his body?"
Theo again: "A bit like he's died somewhere on the inside?"
"Yes, that," Pansy said.
"Oh, definitely," Harry confirmed, nodding. "Very much so to all of the above."
"Right, yes, he's miserable," Theo contributed, "but it's not as if the press is going to know that, which is what I assumed your main concern was."
From Pansy, at a growl: "You're all impossible."
From Blaise, Theo, and Harry, in spirited unison: "We know."
"Oh," Harry said, his gaze suddenly landing on Hermione's with a jolt. "Well, hello—didn't see you there."
"She's not a topiary, Harry," Daphne said.
"Well, maybe if she were, he might have noticed her sooner," Theo suggested, giving Daphne another nudge. "Harry loves a good topiary."
"Shut up," Daphne sighed.
"I'm Hermione," supplied Hermione, as Harry slipped from Pansy's side to stand next to her at the bar. "I'm the new Tracey Davis."
"Who?" Harry asked, frowning.
"Oh, Harry's not in Slytherin," Daphne explained to Hermione, reaching over to give Harry's cheek an affectionate pat in greeting. "He just pops by to visit when he feels like antagonizing Draco."
"Which I often do," Harry added with a grin. "Though I suppose now I can pop by to antagonize you as well," he commented, slipping almost effortlessly into a low tone of flirtation as he spared her a slow, sidelong glance. "Lucky me."
All at once, Hermione realized why it was Harry's face she recognized from the tabloids. He was the one always romancing some actress or model or another, and while she might have otherwise been flattered by the attention of an obviously handsome man, part of her withered a little at the idea that he might have selected her, the naive little American girl, as yet another notch on his bedpost.
Luckily, to Hermione's immense relief, Daphne smacked him in the arm with her clutch.
"Ouch," Harry said, with a radiantly childish scowl. "What's that for?"
"Leave the poor girl alone," Pansy cut in, her expression souring. "The last thing she needs is to be forcefully ushered out of your disease-ridden bedchambers."
Hermione, who wanted to point out that was hardly the trajectory of the evening, determined it not worth the effort as Pansy's gaze collided with hers, the sharpened arch of a single brow enough to caution her to silence. Something that was either disapproval or Chanel No. Five seemed to seep from every single one of Pansy's perfectly-sized and blemishless pores, leaving Hermione feeling more than a little bit inadequate.
"Ignore her," Daphne advised in Hermione's ear, pulling her towards the bar. "She's just outrageously protective of Draco and Harry—not that you can tell. She's sometimes very lovely, but—" She paused, considering it. "I'd say her personality is about a fifty-fifty split between natural venom and a very, very strange form of showing affection."
"Is she interested in…" Hermione paused. "Either of them?"
"Hm? No, no," Daphne said, half-laughing. "No, I don't think she relishes the idea of being thrown in the spotlight. Nor do I, truth be told," she admitted with a grimace. "My sister is another story, of course. Like Theo said, I don't think it'll last with Draco, but I suppose she's having fun for the time being."
"Where does Harry go to school, if not here?" Hermione asked, regrettably hazarding a glance at where he'd joined Blaise and Theo near the impromptu dance floor. To her dismay, he was watching her with a rather fox-like look of amusement, his messy hair giving him an unruly halo from the light refracting around his face.
"He doesn't," Daphne said. "He's in the army, actually, which is where Draco wanted to be as well, only…" She trailed off hesitantly. "Well, you can't really be too careful with the heir to the throne, can you? Whereas Harry's a cousin, so he can really do whatever he likes."
"Seems he often does," Hermione remarked, and then struggled to hide an enormous yawn, covering her mouth with sudden, jolting exhaustion. "Yikes," she managed, feeling her eyes water. "I'm so sorry—"
"Nonsense, you must be tired," Daphne said at once, looking feverishly concerned in a way that nearly delivered Hermione to delirious laughter. "We can go immediately, of course. I suppose I forgot all about the jet lag—"
"Greengrass!" Theo called, toasting her from afar as he and Blaise made their way onto the dance floor. "Are you coming or what?"
"No, I'm—" Daphne gestured apologetically to Hermione. "We're just leaving—"
"NOOOOOOO," Blaise howled, as Theo flashed a set of mopey puppy-eyes at her. "MINUS TWENTY POINTS—"
"So sorry," Daphne sighed, angling Hermione towards the door despite being unable to resist a glance over her shoulder, unsuccessfully feigning disinterest. "It's just that we haven't seen each other all summer—but we'll see them tomorrow anyway," she reminded Hermione, forcing a casual reassurance, "so it's fine, really—"
"You stay," Hermione told her, struggling to withhold another vastly cavernous yawn. "Seriously, I'll be fine. I'll get some sleep tonight and try again tomorrow," she offered, as Daphne frowned hesitantly.
"Are you sure?" Daphne asked, concerned. "It's not a problem, really, I'll just tell them that—"
"No, stay," Hermione insisted, giving her hand a squeeze. "I'll be fine! The walk will do me some good, honestly. Have fun," she said, dodging both the curious glance from Harry and the unnerving stare from Pansy as she turned towards the door. "Seriously," she added with a laugh as Daphne's expression turned pained with conflict. "Breakfast tomorrow?"
At once, Daphne's face brightened. "Oh yes, defin-"
She broke off with a shriek as Blaise picked her up with an arm around her waist, gracelessly hauling her backwards. Satisfied, Hermione gave an exaggerated wave, shaking her head before turning to the door and hiding yet another oppressive yawn.
Hermione had only just finished fussing with the keys when she realized the yelling she thought she'd imagined in some sort of exhaustion-haze was both very real and very much coming from inside the Slytherin common room.
"—don't know what you want from me. You told me to bring her, so I brought her. That doesn't mean I'm interested in this going any further—"
"You need to be serious about your reputation, Draco," came a harsh male voice in reply. "With you holed up here at Hogwarts the press has nothing to do but speculate about what sort of wildly irresponsible decisions you're making—"
"And how is that my fault?" Draco's voice countered. "You're the one who told me I had to come here. Harry's already been in the military for almost three years! He's already an officer, and I'm—"
"You have a responsibility as my heir," returned what could only have been Prince Lucius' voice. "You cannot simply flit around turning your life into a spectacle for public consumption. The people want to see you in a committed relationship, with someone appropriate—"
"I'm twenty years old!" Draco shouted back. "What exactly does it prove about my capacity to rule by flashing Astoria Greengrass around like some sort of… of fancy cufflink—"
"She comes from a good family," Lucius cut in impatiently. "You're friends with the elder sister, are you not? How hard can this be?" When there was no answer, he pressed, "I had no idea being asked to stand beside a beautiful girl was such a dreadfully unpleasant chore for you, Draco—"
"I just want one thing in my life to be real," Draco begged his father, "and I certainly have no interest in getting married anytime soon! Look what happened to M-"
"Do not," Lucius said sharply, "bring her up right now."
Hermione crept forward slowly, trying to ease her way into the room. Unfortunately, this did not work even remotely, as she stubbed her toe on one of the spindly table legs and abruptly doubled over, muttering a string of quiet obscenities under her breath.
Immediately, the two men snapped into place. In a matter of seconds, both had adopted identical expressions of neutral impassivity that could only have been the result of decades of practice. Hermione, however, having had no such lifetime of rehearsals, tried and failed to bite back a pained grimace, awkwardly attempting to straighten.
"So sorry," she offered, cheeks almost certainly flushed with equal parts ouch-throbbing-toe and yikes-this-is-awkward. "I, um—I'm so sorry, I was just heading to my room, and—"
"No need to apologize," said Lucius, in the sort of tone that suggested exactly the opposite. "Draco, you and I will discuss this later. I presume I don't need to ask you to keep this to yourself?"
It took a moment before Hermione realized he was talking to her. "What?"
"I'll need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement," Lucius began loftily when Draco stepped forward, shaking his head.
"Father, it's fine," he muttered, tone gruff with displeasure. "She's going to bed, not to run off and speak to the press."
At that, Lucius turned to his son, obviously irritated. "Draco. How many times must I tell you—"
"I won't say anything," Hermione cut in quickly. By the look on Lucius' face, she could see he was not often interrupted, and certainly wasn't pleased about it now. "Your son is my friend," she said, giving Draco what she hoped was a supportive glance, "and I have no interest in sharing the details of his personal life."
Rather than help the situation, however, she seemed to have conspicuously hindered it. Lucius' eyes narrowed, falling on hers with rigid opposition.
"Who are you?" he demanded accusingly.
She opened her mouth, but Draco spoke for her.
"This is her dorm, Father," Draco pointed out, "and we're the ones intruding. And seeing as Hermione's just arrived today, I imagine she's rather in a hurry to go to bed. We won't keep you any longer," he assured her, giving her an apologetic look as he added, in a tone of princely finality, "My father was just leaving."
At that, Lucius' eyes narrowed again, trapped by the necessity of anything resembling manners. He spared a final glower at his son before turning to exit, pausing briefly beside Hermione.
"If you breathe a word of this," he said, and didn't finish. She supposed he wasn't in the business of needing to complete his threats.
"I wouldn't do that to him," she replied simply, and then managed to collect herself enough to bow her head, realizing she was probably required to show some courtesy, even if she felt none.
Lucius made something of a noncommittal noise and strode out of the room, letting the door shut behind him.
The moment he was gone, Draco finally let out a breath, shaking his head.
"Well," Draco said. "I don't suppose I need to tell you that you just met Prince Lucius, do I?"
Hermione winced, and Draco fell into the sofa behind him with a sigh, leaning his head against the cushions. For a moment, she hesitated, wondering if there was something she should say, but when he didn't move, she opted to take a step toward the stairs, quietly making her way back to her room.
Draco's voice paused her. "You faced him rather gloriously, you know." She froze, and he gave a little hum of something like amusement to himself. "I expect he'll hold it against you for some time."
"I—" She hesitated. "I'm not sure whether an apology note would help the situation."
At that, Draco chuckled, though there wasn't much energy to speak of in the sound. Hermione waited, her hand still on the banister; suddenly, she couldn't quite remember how tired she was and simply stood frozen in place, uncertain what to do next.
He solved it for her. "Did you really not know who I was?"
She turned slowly, making her way to the sofa as Draco's eyes fluttered open, regarding her with something that looked to be equal parts frustration and jagged, cut-open misery.
"I promise," she said, "I really did not know who you were."
He nodded. She had a feeling there was more coming, so she settled herself on the coffee table opposite where he sat, figuring it wouldn't cost her too much to listen.
"You know, it's funny," Draco said, proving her right. "The last spontaneous thing I did was carry your luggage. Before that, it was the time I climbed up a trellis outside my mother's childhood home and broke my arm." He swallowed. "I was five."
Hermione bit her lip, waiting.
"I suppose it's incredibly selfish to complain," Draco continued, "as there are so very many lives harder than mine. And so many who envy my life, I'm sure. It seems a very stupid thing to feel so much resentment when I have so many privileges, and it makes it worse, really, that it's such a selfish problem to have," he admitted softly, glancing up at her. "It makes it hard to breathe sometimes, knowing that nothing I do comes without strings, or without responsibilities, or even with the benefit of my choice. In the end, everything I do is measured and premeditated and preapproved by my father or my advisors or my grandfather—and my god, I want to kiss you," he suddenly said, and she blinked, startled. "I want so badly to kiss you, I wanted to kiss you when I saw you this morning, only I can't, because even now I'm thinking to myself that I won't want to stop at a kiss, but I certainly can't go any further, because would that really be fair to you? Would it be fair to subject you to constant scrutiny and horrible invasions of privacy and can I even—could I even do it? My father would disapprove; my grandfather would certainly never allow it. You're an American, and you've only just arrived, and that's to say nothing of your feelings, which could be—"
He swallowed hard, coming to an abrupt, screeching halt. "Which could be," he exhaled slowly, "that I'm a conceited prick who just said all of that without even wondering whether you might have any inclination to kiss me, too."
Despite her captive breath, Hermione astoundingly managed to exhale.
After perhaps a minute.
Maybe less, if she were flattering herself.
Either way, she managed it.
"It would be a pretty bad time for a kiss," she eventually said, clinging to whatever bits of her sanity had not been swallowed up by transcontinental travel, or by what was unquestionably the single strangest day of her life. "Considering you have some sort of girlfriend-type situation, don't you?"
He grimaced, baring his hands in his lap. "So it would seem."
"That, and you're upset with your father," Hermione noted slowly. "So, probably looking for a rebellion, I imagine?"
"A reasonable conclusion," Draco replied, shrugging.
"And," she finished, drawing her thumb carefully over her bottom lip, "we've only just met. We could hardly be friends if we kissed now," she told him. "Pretty awkward, don't you think?"
"That's true," he agreed, and this, unlike his other commentary, he seemed to genuinely mean. "And I do want to be your friend."
"As do I," Hermione returned. "So probably no kissing, for all the reasons listed above."
"Right," Draco exhaled, nodding. "Right. We should probably never kiss, in fact," he determined, looking briskly certain. "It would make things so difficult, really. And I do need friends," he lamented, faltering slightly. "I think many people speculate about my relationship with my father, but—" He waved a hand to where Lucius had been. "Nobody's actually seen it."
"Understandable," Hermione confirmed. "So, we're agreed, then."
"Yes, definitely," Draco said, propping himself upright with a nod. "No kissing."
"No kissing," she confirmed. "But we can definitely be friends. I don't have to treat you like a prince, you know," she hurried to assure him, hoping the offering sounded slightly less stupid than she suspected. "I mean, to be honest, I'm not totally sure how I would even go about treating you like a prince. I have no idea how to curtsy," she admitted. "I don't even know your proper title."
"True," Draco said, looking pleased. "You know nothing about me or my family, do you?"
"Everything I know about the British monarchy stops at 1776," Hermione promised firmly, as his mouth twitched up in a smile. "Believe me, I have absolutely no clue who your third cousins are. Even if Daphne did try all evening to educate me."
"Well, that's a relief," Draco remarked, chuckling. "So I suppose I can really be whatever I want with you, can't I?"
"You can," Hermione promised again. "Largely because I won't know the difference either way."
"Well, that's marvelous," Draco declared, smacking his palms on his thighs and rising sharply to his feet. He was wearing a tuxedo, Hermione realized, with all the trimmings; the cummerbund, the cufflinks, the whole nine yards. He was unforgivably handsome in it—in all of it— and the firelight danced with a glow around his face, making him a painting come to life; like a portrait, like a fantasy, like a daydream.
"So. Friends, then?" he prompted, holding out a hand for hers.
She rose to her feet, accepting his grip. "Friends," she assured him, giving his hand a squeeze.
He didn't let go.
Neither did she.
"What do friends do in California?" he asked, a bit breathless.
"Hug, I suppose," she said, dismayed to find her voice a horribly distracting rasp. "I, um. Here," she offered, reaching her arms up and giving him a perfunctory hug.
He leaned in, holding her for a moment. He bent his head, his chin pressing into the line of her shoulder, and she felt his cheek against hers, warm and comforting. He had a masculine smell, all sage and cedar. The tux material was stiff, but not scratchy. His arms around her waist were both anchored and weightless; perfectly complementary shapes. Part of her hoped he wouldn't lean away, but after a moment he released her, sparing her a nod.
"Right," he said, gaze fixing on hers. His eyes were a blue so pale they were grey, sharp and strange, and wholly signs of warning; the sky before the rain. "So, friends, then."
"Friends," Hermione said again. "Definitely friends."
He didn't step away.
Neither did she.
"Please don't tell the press I'm such a dreadful liar," were the last words she remembered him saying before her entire brain was swallowed up by delirium, his lips falling to hers with a sense of lawlessness that came from desperation; from the knowledge on both sides that if it could have possibly been avoided, it would have been, if not for a paralyzing impossibility to deny. His hands fell to her waist with the perfect synchronicity they'd had before, but now with urgency, with pressure, with direction, until she was stumbling with the backs of her knees against the table, snaking her arms around his neck to keep herself aloft.
There was no reason for him to be a good kisser. She imagined no girl on earth would have told him if he were doing it wrong, and therefore there was no plausible reason he should have any talent for it whatsoever, and yet the reality was that he—him, an actual prince, with his actual royal tongue in her hopeless colonial mouth—was criminally skilled, and she—a commoner who would be spending no more than four months in his country—had never been kissed so breathless in her entire god-almighty life. He fit against her perfectly, and she molded faultlessly into him, and what sort of joke was this, that he would be here and be him and she would be there and he would be her friend and really, truly, could they honestly be friends? Could anyone be friends who kissed like this? Could anyone exist apart from someone else after knowing this, all of this and everything, was what they were together?
His hands slid under her shirt and crept up to her ribs and she very nearly moaned in his mouth yes, yes, do it, definitely do it, don't stop, but they heard the fumbling of an old key in an ancient lock and sprang apart, Draco turning away sharply as Hermione pressed a hand to her too-warm cheeks, almost collapsing again on the table.
"Draco," came Pansy's voice, and Hermione didn't have to look at her to know the look on her face was admonishing at best. She did anyway, and immediately regretted it, feeling her face heat as Pansy's gaze slid past her to land disapprovingly on Draco. "You're back early."
"Pans," Draco said in greeting, nodding vaguely. He was looking furiously away, awkwardly adjusting his stance like a child avoiding a scolding. "Dinner didn't go particularly long."
"Mm," was all Pansy said.
"I should, um. I should go," Hermione said hurriedly, launching herself for the stairs. She didn't even bother saying goodnight to Draco, which was probably rude, and it occurred to her that maybe she shouldn't have turned her back on him (was that an archaic rule? Was it even a rule?) but she was too busy making her way to her dorm room, fumbling once again with the unfamiliar keys.
She paused as a set of footsteps sounded behind her, followed by the sound of a throat clearing.
"He's a job," Pansy said, and Hermione froze, turning slowly over her shoulder. "He's a job," Pansy repeated, folding her arms over her chest, "and you're unqualified to hold it."
"He's—" Hermione hesitated. "It's not like that. We're friends."
"You'd better hope that's all you are," Pansy said simply. "He's one of the most scrutinized people in the entire world, you know. It bothers him, and that's even knowing he was born into it. But you," she mused, flicking her disdainful gaze over Hermione's face, "I'm not sure you could handle it. I'd advise you to keep your distance."
"I didn't ask for your advice," Hermione said, stiffening slightly, and Pansy let out something of a tiny, disinterested scoff.
"He'll never marry an American," Pansy said. "His wife will be some insipid, well-born idiot like Astoria Greengrass, and I absolutely do not encourage you to let him pretend differently."
Hermione bristled. "I'm not trying to marry him—"
"No, certainly not. But do you think he can have a casual girlfriend?" Pansy asked pointedly. "Do you really think the Prince of Wales gets to have flings? No. Stay away," she warned again. "I'm not interested in watching him get hurt, and certainly not by someone like you."
The last bit was said with considerable derision, and Hermione, who suddenly remembered how thoroughly exhausted she was, only permitted her mouth to tighten as Pansy took a step back, sparing her a tiny shrug.
"By the way," Pansy said casually, "I suppose I didn't mention it earlier: Welcome to Hogwarts."
Then she turned down the corridor, disappearing into her room.
He's a job, and you're unqualified to hold it.
I never forgot those words, which was strange to me at the time, particularly because I was (back then) in the habit of discarding nearly everything Lady Pansy Parkinson-Six Names said to me. Not to mention that I was tired, exhausted, mentally adrift and, unfortunately, still fairly exhilarated from being transcendently kissed by the man I would later fall madly, stupidly, desperately in love with—and still, despite all those things, I never forgot those words.
In retrospect, it's probably because somewhere, somehow, I always knew they were true.
a/n: Thank you (and also shame on you! But thank you) to all those who asked me to extend this one shot from Amortentia. Chapter two will post next week. Thanks for being here!