Hermione tensed as the two words, spoken in a low whisper, reached her ears. "An apology isn't necessary, William."
She heard the sound of the party inside get louder before the door shut. Relaxing once again, she stared at the beautiful sky, a plethora of reds, oranges, pinks, and even purples as the sun began to set behind the mountain across the lake. The view was the only positive thing about this silly party.
Really, she should have known better. It was her own fault for accepting the invitation once Bill told her he planned to attend. To think, going to a party simply with the hopes of impressing a boy. The very idea was ludicrous. For twenty-six years, she had never lowered herself to playing such silly games, not wasting time with relationships when there was work to be done. She'd dated a few times, had even had two casual affairs that had never moved beyond satisfying physical urges, but she'd never felt like this before.
Butterflies in her stomach, sweaty palms, stammering and blushing like a first year whenever he smiled at her, thinking about him naked doing the most naughty things to her body, and acting like some foolish little girl instead of a mature woman of nearly twenty-seven. It had happened gradually, this infatuation for her best friend's oldest brother and her partner at Gringotts.
He'd always just been Bill. Sexy, older, charming, and highly intelligent. When she was a teenager, she'd not paid much attention to him. He was someone she admired, respected, and thought was attractive, but it had never been more than general admiration. When she'd accepted an offer to work for Gringotts, one of the few companies that didn't give a knut about her bloodlines (something she had never considered being a hindrance to her future, especially after Voldemort was defeated, but discovered kept her from many available positions even if it was never said exactly I why /I they chose halfbloods and purebloods over a Muggleborn), she'd been pleasantly surprised to find herself paired with Bill. He'd become her trainer, mentor, friend, and partner.
They'd been working together for five years now, and it was only the last six months that she'd finally acknowledged her feelings for him had changed, developing from platonic admiration to this horrid ache and want that would never be satisfied. Tonight had proven that without a doubt. He thought of her as a little sister, someone he needed to protect, not someone he could ever want or desire or love.
When he'd originally mentioned the party, while they'd been researching the Curse of Nzid that was their current project, he'd said he hoped she'd go and he'd see her there. She'd stupidly thought that maybe he was as shy as her about these sort of things, despite the constant stream of redheads and blondes that seemed to wander through his life when he had time to date and shag, and had convinced herself that he meant to meet her. When she'd arrived, after painstakingly taking far more time on her appearance than she had in the past ten years, she'd felt as if someone hexed her when she found him with another brainless blonde.
Hermione had considered leaving, but she'd been dressed up, wearing a Muggle dress that she now thought was far too tight and made her look like a tart, so she'd gotten a drink. After discovering a delightful companion, an intern who was far too handsome and had the same taste in men as her, she'd begun to enjoy herself. Then Bill had ruined it. He'd found her near the stairs, laughing with Ryan, still sipping her first drink, not even a half hour after her arrival.
To say she was shocked when he'd try to put his robe over her shoulders, muttering that she shouldn't have left her flat barely dressed, and then proceeded to snarl at poor Ryan, telling him she wasn't that sort of girl and he could go find someone else to chat up, well, shocked didn't begin to cover it. She'd shrugged off his robe before proceeding to tell him in a harsh whisper that she didn't need a father or an older brother and for him to go back to his slag and leave her alone.
That's when she'd sought privacy on the balcony, losing herself in the sunset as she tried not to dwell on impossible dreams. Hermione wrapped her arms around her chest, her hands moving over her skin, the air beginning to chill as the sun went down. It was a beautiful evening. The lake was large, surrounded by mountains, and the sky was gorgeous with vivid colors. It was far too romantic to be standing out here alone.
"I was a prat, Hermione."
Turning around, unable to hide her surprise at finding him there, she found Bill standing close, his eyes unreadable as he looked at her. Keeping her voice calm and firm, she remarked, "I thought you left. Went back to the party and your date."
"Cynthia isn't a date. I just ran into her after arriving. Hermione, I didn't mean what I said. I don't think you look like a tarted up slag," he said quietly, taking a step forward. "I think you look…Fuck, I can't keep doing this, Hermione."
"Doing what?" she demanded, annoyed and fed up with his bewildering behavior.
"Pretending that I'm not standing here right now thinking about kissing you to find out how you taste!" he finally growled out, his fingers moving through long red hair, pulling it free from its leather strap.
Her annoyance faded with his words, a confused expression crossing her face. Drawing her bottom lip into her mouth, she looked at him, noting the muscle in his cheek twitching, the one that always did when he was doing something that scared him. She saw the shift in his position, defensive, as if he were expecting attack. His fingers were in his hair, something he only did when he was being flirtatious or he was nervous. His blue eyes were slightly narrowed, thinking hard, trying to solve a problem that was eluding him.
"Bill," she said softly, trying to keep herself from hoping, "why did you come out here?"
"I had to apologize," he said simply, finally looking at her. "My behavior in there was uncalled for and rude. I have no excuse for embarrassing you like that, and I hope you accept my apology. I'd hate for this to ruin our friendship."
"Friendship," she repeated with a sigh. "Right. Can't ruin our friendship, can we? It's fine, Bill. You were just looking out for me like Ron or Harry would. I understand. I think I should probably go home anyway. I'm not one for parties, you know?"
"Why did you come tonight?" he suddenly asked, his eyes studying her as intently as he studied their research.
"I thought it sounded fun," she said weakly, dragging her bottom lip into her mouth once again as her eyes looked away from his, unable to lie to him directly.
Hermione closed her eyes when she felt rough fingertips against her jaw, his accusation a low purr that caused her cheeks to flush. "Bill, please don't," she whispered, knowing she couldn't handle him touching her so intimately and continue to pretend all she felt was friendship.
"How can two people so smart be so bloody stupid?" Bill asked quietly, his thumb moving over her cheekbone in a gentle caress. "How long?"
"I don't," she started to deny before moving her face against his palm. "Six months, give or take. I'm sorry, Bill. I never meant for it to happen."
"Hermione, love, what am I going to do with you?" He laughed huskily, continuing to move his hand against her soft skin. His other hand raised, fingers tracing her full lower lip. "I don't know when it happened for me. I mean, well, I've felt like something might be there for a while now, but it wasn't until tonight that I realized what. I was so jealous, seeing you with that smug intern, and I knew then what I'd been trying to deny for months."
Opening her eyes, she looked at him, not sure she believed that this wasn't just a daydream. "We shouldn't be doing this," she said softly, trying to remain logical. "You don't know how you feel and I'm not even sure how I feel beyond this infatuation and desire. We're colleagues, friends, and practically family so there's so much to lose if this is just, uh, lust or something base."
In reply, Bill lowered his head, letting his lips brush gently against hers, their noses rubbing and their foreheads touching. His tongue moved along her lips lightly, his teeth tugging on her bottom lip, sucking it into his mouth. His hand moved from her cheek, fingers tangling in her hair, pulling her head back as his other hand moved down her back to rest on bare skin above her arse.
"Bill, there's no going back," she warned in a low rasp, not able to say anything more because he was pulling her against him, his tongue sliding into her mouth. Moaning softly, she forgot about the future, surrendering to his kiss. Her hand moved into his long hair, so soft against her skin, urging his head down to deepen their first kiss.
"I don't want to go back," Bill said confidently, reminding her that he was more than old enough to make decisions about his life, his lips swollen from kissing until they had to part to breathe.
The sun was nearly behind the mountain, the sound of the party distant, her eyes looking deep into his. She wanted to ask questions, to find out if this meant what she thought it meant, to know he was aware of the risks of beginning a relationship. But, when she started to speak, his mouth quirked into a smile and he put his finger across her lips. "Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?" he teased before kissing her once again.
Whimpering softly, she pressed closer, touching his back and shoulders as she continued gripping his long hair. For once, she didn't even care that she didn't have all the answers.