A Matter of Great Importance
A/N: All characters belong to JK Rowling.
Hermione Granger was pissed.
Not upset. Not angry. Pissed.
Since her temper was about as legendary as her grades, most people knew to avoid her when she came into sight with that particular look on her face, spitting and snarling under her breath. With flushed cheeks, sparks shooting from her eyes, her hair sweeping out like a mane on all sides, she made quite a sight as she stomped down the corridors of Hogwarts. Barely even aware of the students warily giving her a wide berth, she finally reached the entrance to the Head common room.
"Illuminati!" she barked, clenching her fists, as Lady Constance hastily swung open to admit the Head Girl.
"That . . . that imbecile!" Hermione seethed, blindly marching up the spiral stairs to the common room. "That complete cad!"
"Bad day, mudblood?" a malicious voice inquired from her left, momentarily snapping her out of the fantasy of strangling a certain redheaded moron.
Biting back the numerous profanities threatening to escape her, Hermione turned around and glared witheringly at the Head Boy. "Malfoy, I could not be further from the desire to be in your company right now," she ground out through gritted teeth, "so if you would be so kind as to sod off, I would be very much obliged."
The pale, striking young man raised an eyebrow at her from his lounging position on the couch by the fireplace. "My, my," he remarked snidely. "You're reverting to your primitive instincts more and more. I'm not sure whether to scratch your belly or give you an anti-rabid charm."
"And I'm not sure whether to shave that stupid blonde helmet off your already thick head or leave it alone, letting you continue to think it actually suits you," she retorted, lifting her chin up and whirling around to head towards her bedchamber.
She could mentally picture him reaching up to stroke his head defensively, an affronted frown on his already sour features. For the first time since breakfast, a small smirk grew on her lips as she heard only silence behind her before slamming the door.
Stripping off her school uniform and opting for loose sweatpants and a t-shirt that was a far too small for her, Hermione thanked the founders of Hogwarts once again for enforcing the Heads' right to separate bedrooms. And now that she was alone, she had an entire Sunday afternoon to devote entirely to homework, studying, and inwardly seething about one stupid comment.
"Crikey, Hermione, do you ever consider getting a life outside of books?"
It wasn't the first time somebody had made some kind of jibe about her obsessive thirst for knowledge. But when her supposed best friend Ronald Weasley decided to take a shot, even though he often joked about it more than anyone, it was sometimes a little more than she wanted to take.
Being Head Girl was not easy, on top of seventh year academics, attending every Quidditch game involving Gryffindor, and helping the Order keep Harry Potter safe when he seemed to actively pursue danger at every given opportunity. Death Eater activity had almost tripled in the last few years now that Voldemort was getting stronger. Sometimes, the last thing Hermione needed was her best friend (she snorted) telling her how much of a nerd she was.
So she may have overreacted a little.
"HOW DARE YOU, YOU INSENSITIVE, UNGRATEFUL PRAT! YOU NEVER COMPLAIN WHEN I MARK YOUR HOMEWORK FOR YOU, OR WHEN I LET YOU COPY MY NOTES, DO YOU? LET'S SEE HOW YOU MANAGE WITHOUT MY HELP FOR A CHANGE!"
. . . Okay, so maybe she overreacted a lot. Still, he didn't have to respond the way he did.
"Uh, Hermione, maybe you should go take a pill for that . . . er . . . lady problem of yours. I think it's starting to act up."
Tactless jerk. It wasn't even that time of the month!
After all these years, Ron still amazed her with his sheer lack of intuition sometimes. Harry –dear, sweet, sensitive Harry- knew almost right away whenever she was upset or more stressed out than usual. Ron, on the other hand, had to be screamed at or beaten over the head with a book to get the message. Sure, it put a strain on their friendship, and it was probably the main reason why their tentative little relationship had eventually fizzled out, but Merlin! He should know her by now!
It was nearly seven o'clock when a knock on her door interrupted her studying. She froze and stared at the entrance for a moment. There was only one person who could be in the Head common room at the moment, though why he would be calling on her at this hour was beyond her.
"Granger, quit gawking like the slack-jawed cow you are and open the bleeding door, would you?"
Rolling her eyes, Hermione went to see what Ferret Boy's problem was.
"What do you want?" she asked stiffly, not opening the door all the way. He was still in uniform, but kept only his slacks and white dress shirt, having removed his tie and vest some time ago.
"Well?" she demanded, when he simply looked at her. "Did you want something?"
His eyes took her in from head to foot before her question suddenly seemed to sink in. "I, uh . . . came to ask your opinion," he stammered slowly, tearing his gaze away from her body.
Even through her shock, she had the sense to blush as she remembered that she was still wearing her drastically undersized t-shirt.
"All right," she replied suspiciously, folding her arms across her chest.
Putting the Malfoy kick back into his demeanour, Draco straightened his posture and cleared his throat.
"How, in your sacred opinion, should I start wearing my hair?"
Hermione stared at him.
When it became clear that she had indeed heard those exact words, and that he looked perfectly serious, she was unsure how to respond.
"I . . . uh . . . what?"
He sighed impatiently. "You implied earlier that this style doesn't suit me, so I'm here to find out what you had in mind."
"You . . . you actually care what Ithink? You, Draco Malfoy, are asking for my advice?" Hermione asked carefully.
"Are you going to continue wasting my time like this, or are you going to give me a response?" he asked sharply, starting to look distinctly uncomfortable. "And I don't care what you think," he added. "I'd just like your input. Is that such a horrendous crime?"
"But . . . but why ask me?" she asked. "Why not ask Pansy, or one of your friends?"
"Because," he informed her, glaring with distaste, "Pansy would tell me pretty much whatever I want to hear, so I can't depend on her for honesty. Bullstrode is more masculine than I am and probably knows as much about hair maintenance as a Blast-Ended Skrewt. All the girls I could think of were too simpering, too clueless, or too frightened of me to tell me the truth. I can't ask any of the guys because they already think I'm effeminate, and this would just be icing on the cake."
A very slow, amused smile crept onto her lips, which he studiously ignored.
"So," he concluded, "that pretty much just leaves you. Plus, you're a lot closer than the Slytherin commons, so it's more convenient than anything."
Probably the last thing Malfoy had been expecting was to have her burst into laughter, clutching her stomach and leaning against the doorframe for support. "Draco Malfoy," she gasped, blinking back tears, "do you mean to tell me that you have spent theentire evening deciding who to ask for styling tips?"
He scowled at her. "Well, at least I give a damn about my appearance," he shot back petulantly. "The closest you've ever come to using a hairbrush was that time you grabbed one from Brown to smack the Weasel over the head. You should be flattered that I am taking such a risk in asking you anything at all about hair care."
Smothering the last of her giggles behind her hand, the Head Girl shook her head at him and tried to regain her composure. Already she could feel the analytical critic in her taking over. She was Hermione Granger, after all.
"All right, I'll see what I can do," she grinned, leaving her doorway to pace around him. He remained perfectly still, his expression guarded. "Well . . . I'm no professional-"
He sneered. She pretended not to notice.
"-but I think the first thing we need to do is wash out all that ridiculous gel."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes at her but she paid no mind, leading the way to the conjoined bathroom they shared. She stood by patiently as he bent over the sink, refusing to acknowledge the fact that her gaze roamed more than once towards his backside.
For the first time, now that Malfoy was actually being tolerable if not still a little bit pompous, Hermione actually started to understand why nearly every female in her grade had sighed with envy when she was announced Head Girl along with him.
Not that he wasn't an arrogant, selfish, foul little git with absolutely no spine, and probably a Death Eater in training. He was still very much a Slytherin, down to his trademark sneer. He just happened to be a very good-looking one, and she struggled to reason with herself that it was not her fault for noticing.
"If you are done admiring my arse," he said abruptly, righting himself and fixing her with a dry smirk that caught her completely off guard, "I'd like to know the next step."
She had not realized how long his hair actually was until the dripping wet locks were plastered to his face and neck, sending small rivulets down his marble white throat to disappear beneath his collar. His bangs, when pushed out of his frost-coloured eyes, nearly reached his jaw. His perfect beautiful jaw. And when did he get those flawless cheekbones?
"Right. Next step," she murmured, transfixed all of a sudden. "Very long. Wet. Got it."
He waved a hand in front of her face. "Granger? A coherent response would be nice."
Snapping out of her reverie (where the hell did that come from?), Hermione forced her pulse to slow down with limited success and managed to stammer out,
"All right, well . . . actually . . . it looks rather good like . . . like that."
He gave her a sceptical look and turned to inspect it in the mirror. "But . . . It's so unkempt. It looks like I put no effort into it at all."
That's the point.
"Well, you asked my opinion," she reminded him, watching his reflection. "And I say that it looks nice when it's down and natural. Dry it and then see how it looks."
Shrugging fluidly, he breezed out the bathroom towards his room, no doubt to use his wand for a quick dry spell.
As soon as he was out of sight, her hand flew to her chest and she sagged against the counter.
"Bloody hell," she whispered. "Get a grip, Hermione."
It was already difficult to conceive how something as trivial as hair care led to the first actual civil encounter with the person who infuriated her more than anyone. She did not need to complicate things by envisioning those stray water droplets coursing down his neck over and over again, or that tight arse beckoning her from under those fitted slacks.
Snap out of it. You're just dealing with some lingering emotions from your fight with Ron. That's all this is . . . tension. Emotional and physical tension. A lot of physical tension.
Her cheeks felt warmer than usual, so she hastily splashes cold water on her face. She was patting herself dry on a soft red towel when Malfoy came back, his hair completely free of any restricting product. He looked rather displeased, even though Hermione felt that he must surely notice how wide her eyes had gone, how sharply she inhaled through her nostrils.
"Way to go, Granger," he growled. "I look fluffy, thanks to your stupid advice."
"Malfoy, dry and unhampered with grease is not exactly the definition of 'fluffy'," she sighed, wondering how on Earth he could think such a thing.
"It swings about whenever I so much as turn my head, and it keeps falling into my eyes," he grumbled, his scowl deepening.
"If this whole thing bothers you, then by all means go back to spending hours in front of a mirror plastering every last strand against your skull," she said, holding her hands up agreeably. "But before you do, just take a stroll around the grounds for a while and see the difference it makes."
He pursed his lips and then checked his reflection one more time. "Fine," he sighed, flicking a tress out of the way. "If you really think it looks good, then I guess I have no choice but to trust your judgment. Compromised as it may be."
"Hold on a moment, let me see if I can't arrange it a certain way," she suggested, moving around in front of him. She hopped up onto the counter so that their heights were even, wanting to get a better look at him.
Of course, the minute their level eyes met, any and all articulate thought seemed to be sucked right out the back of her head. She had not stopped to realize that her new seat demanded that he stand right between her knees so that the inside of her thighs brushed against his hips.
He bore a mask of acute alarm, an expression she had not seen him wear in many long years since he mastered the art of shielding human emotions.
Swallowing invisibly, Hermione reached up and ran her fingers lightly through his hair, letting it fall a little bit away from his eyes. It was so much smoother to the touch than it looked. His eyes felt like shrapnel.
"There," she said shakily, withdrawing her hands. "What do you think?"
He didn't move.
When he stood rooted to the spot, achingly close with his gaze locked firmly on hers, a shuddering electrical force passed through them. A dawning awareness of each other that seemed more earthly and tangible than matters of blood and heritage ever could be to two hormonal teenagers with years of pent up frustration and mutual fascination.
She was about to look away, her face burning with shame and confusion, when he suddenly took her by the chin and forced her to meet his eyes again with surprising gentleness. A plea, an invitation, a command – she couldn't be sure what it was, and the look on his face suggested that he didn't quite know either.
To both their surprise, she was the one who closed the gap. Leaning in just as he opened his mouth to speak, she captured his lips with hers and slipped her arms around his neck to trap him in place. He stiffened with shock, and for a few tense seconds she could practically feel him engaged in an inner war with himself, with the clashing instincts raging inside him. His hand dropped down to the curved valley between her breasts as though to push her back, but seemed to hesitate.
Hermione glowed with an emotion she couldn't quite name when it finally relaxed, sliding down from her chest to her hip while the other hand slid up to the back of her neck. Suddenly bolder, having quieted the instincts that demanded he stop this right the hell now, he growled into her mouth and yanked her forward across the counter top to position her more intimately against him. Then his hands started to roam as though by their own accord, and explored parts of her that nobody else had ever gotten access to before. The sheer audacity of it send shivers up her spine, raising every hair on her body and making her tremble almost uncontrollably. He felt it, and tightened his hold on her as if he feared she would break apart in his arms.
Later, she would speculate that it had to be the single most irrational, foolish, illogical, completely uncalled for thing she had ever done in her life.
She knew it was stupid, wrong, could never possibly lead to anything beyond this one impulsive surge of passion. They were such different people with such a bitter history, that even if they wanted something to happen, the chances were slim to none. She could sense in some subliminal way that his hold on her was all the more fiercely possessive because he might never get to touch her this way again.
It's just a kiss, she told herself weakly, without any shred of heart, and it's only for now.
She nearly whimpered out loud when he finally drew back, gasping for air, eyes hazy and face flushed. He stayed where he was, filling the space between her thighs with his hands having claimed virtually every square inch of her from the knees up. Her fingers had messed up his hair, and she could not deny that he had never, ever looked so good to her as he did now.
"I think," he said in a warm voice that thrilled her down to a place she had never been very in touch with – so to speak – "that you and I are both going to be in a lot of trouble."
Before she could piece his words together, he was kissing her again.