Disclaimer: I own nothing except my ideas and characterizations. JKR and Co. own everything else. I, sadly don't make money from this.
A/N: This story is pretty much about the journey from nothing to something. Thanks to Deliriously Withdrawn, Guard of the Heraldi, and kazfeist for beta-ing this piece. Rated M for one smut scene...and some language.
Word count: 15,643
Japanese Blossoms: A Short Story
It was a stereotypical, storybook winter wonderland in Diagon Alley.
The wind was swift and chilled as it swept across the snow-covered street. It was three days before Christmas and the last minute shoppers ran rampant from store to store, snatching up last minute gifts for family and friends and acquaintances; carollers were out in full-force, singing and spreading the Christmas cheer to anyone within audible range. Children were laughing and playing in the snow, hot chocolate was dispensed at alarming rates, witches were chatting, and everyone seemed happy, full of holiday cheer.
Draco Malfoy pulled the collar of his jacket up around his neck, trying without avail to keep the cold out.
He'd only been back in town after a business trip in beautiful and warm Cairo for three days, but knew he'd never readjust to the cold. With his head lowered, he walked down Diagon Alley after lunch with Harry Potter and his wife, Ginny. He didn't feel like being the third wheel anymore than the next bloke and after feigning fatigue and a few apologies, he had made a clean escape.
His hat shielded his face from the frigid wind and Draco found he was eager to reach the Apparition point.
Step after step led him to where he wanted to be and he quickly Apparated back to his suburban London flat.
Upon arrival, he dusted the snow off his coat before he hung it on the cherry wood coat rack. Draco blocked his Floo, started a fire, made a cup of tea, and settled in his favourite chair in front of the window with a book. He inhaled; the scent of Japanese blossoms faded more and more everyday.
Instead of reading, he found himself looking out the window.
The snow came down harder.
There really wasn't anything in the world quite like it. When it snowed in London, it seemed that everything turned into this amazing shade of white, and suddenly everyone was a tiny speck on the pavement, and everything was clean and so much more alive. He saw the wind blowing through the trees from outside his window, heard the howling as it rattled the shutters against the brick of his flat. But of course, the window, which hadn't properly worked in almost a year and they just didn't have the time to fix, wouldn't open, so he couldn't feel the snow.
Draco only wanted to feel the snow when he was not in it; typical, but it made sense to him.
Weather was always better when you weren't in the elements, she thought otherwise.
So he couldn't feel it, but she wasn't there to see it.
He tore his gaze from the window just long enough to glance at the phone, the chiming grandfather clock, and finally the gentlemen's dual time watch she'd gotten him three birthdays ago before he determined it was too late to call her. It was 6:46 PM London time, which meant it was 3:46 AM Tokyo time: the middle of the night…or the next morning. She would've called it a night an hour ago after working all evening on business. There was no way he was going to wake her up when he knew she was a workaholic and barely got any sleep anyway.
It didn't matter that he wanted her sleeping next to him, because she was kilometres and kilometres away.
With a heavy sigh, grey eyes moved back to the window where he found himself wondering just how he'd got to the point in life where he knew her so well.
The snow fell and the wind blew and the trees swayed and the blond man with a heavy heart just stared.
Draco supposed it was fitting that the beginning of their story was at the end of another.
When he had been a child, his mother had an unhealthy obsession with Muggle Greek mythology and used to read countless bedtime stories about Olympian gods and the crazy things they did and the underlying lessons they taught and how good always triumphed over evil. The latter seemed to be true in almost every book he read and was true in real life as well.
On May 2, 1997 good prevailed and Harry Potter defeated the Dark Lord. Draco Malfoy figured he was lucky to spend the first anniversary of the final battle outside of prison; he was damn lucky he never went to prison in the first place. His father wasn't so lucky and his mother was under house arrest until the following year.
Because of his age and situation, Draco got off relatively lightly; all he had to do was sit for his NEWTs and work a decent job…both of which he did with little fuss because pride wasn't everything and he was grateful to be alive.
In fact, his entry-level job as a lowly Ministry researcher of outdated and old spells was the only reason he even attended the anniversary celebration, dressed in expensive robes, rather than spending the night in his flat, discovering the many wonders of movies-made-for-television. He was bored and restless and if it weren't for Harry Potter, he would've left.
The two former enemies had formed a tentative almost-friendship after the war. Draco ran into him the first day on the job: the day after he completed his NEWTs. Harry was fresh out of Auror training and in his interview with Witch Weekly, he stated that he was ready to "get his feet wet in the dark wizard catching business", but that morning Draco Malfoy ran into a panicking Harry Potter.
(September 4, 1997)
"Keep the change," he told the older woman in the Muggle shop after he'd purchased a cup of coffee.
She nodded and smiled prettily, but was missing a tooth in the front and Draco was suddenly eager to get away.
After a polite smile, he turned and that was when he had spotted Potter, sitting at one of the tables, pale and frozen in his chair. It was obvious the Boy Wonder was nervous. He'd seen Potter maybe three times since the war ended, but he always wore a relieved look when someone asked him how he felt about defeating the Dark Lord; it was the same relieved look Draco wore the instant the Dark Lord fell to the ground, dead.
Draco didn't know why, but he approached instead of retreated, "Potter."
Eyes pierced into his and his voice was clipped and cool, "Malfoy."
He probably didn't have the stamina to add the maliciousness in his voice.
"Nice weather we're having, huh?" Draco always had difficulty with small talk. He never was the type that beat around the bush; he hit low and hard and retreated before the person could recover. It was his method of survival, especially in those days when no one wanted to associate with him because of his sins and the sins of his family.
Harry looked at him strangely, "Uh—yes, it is."
"First day as an Auror?" more horrible small talk.
There was a small pause before he replied, "Dreadfully."
Draco smirked and spoke haughtily, "Who would've thought the great Harry Potter would ever be nervous about something as insignificant as his first day of work?"
He frowned, "You're still an arrogant prat."
"Some things in life don't really change."
"But sometimes," Draco sipped his coffee, "some things do change…you don't have a reason to be nervous, Potter."
"And why's that?" his tone was defensive.
"Fighting a few dark wizards who are running around master-less, that's nothing compared to fighting and defeating evil incarnate."
Harry Potter was silent for a few moments before he spoke again, "You have a point, Malfoy."
Arrogantly, "I know I do."
His first instinct then was to laugh at the fallen hero, but war and death and a year in the presence of the most frightening being in the universe had softened and changed him a bit.
Just a bit.
But that bit was enough for him to buy his panicking old enemy a coffee and a pastry. Draco didn't know why he stayed after Potter had calmed down, didn't know why he started talking to him, and didn't know why he laughed at his jokes and stories from Auror training. But Draco did all of that.
Harry was different from what he thought growing up, a humble and an overall decent person. And when they went their separate ways half an hour later, there was a mutual agreement between them to meet at a small restaurant they both were familiar with in Muggle London for dinner to vent about their first days.
It was the start to a strange almost-friendship.
The party was in full swing by the time Harry found Draco in his favourite place…
(May 2, 1998)
"Sulking in the corner, Malfoy? I thought you were above such lowly activities."
"I don't sulk, Potter," he argued indignantly, glaring up at his almost-friend; the haughtiness was apparent as he spoke, "I'm merely admiring the atmosphere…from the corner. I thought you'd be too busy getting your arse kissed by Shackebolt and the whole goddamn Ministry to even notice me. I'm surprised no one has tried to snog your shoes yet."
There was a humoured snort before Harry took the empty seat next to him, "I wouldn't say that so soon, nearly twenty-seven house elves tried as soon as I walked in. Rather embarrassing. Ron was—"
"Ah, how's the Weasel?" It was no secret that despite the almost-friendship between him and Harry, Ronald Weasley wasn't a member of the Draco Malfoy fan club. They only refrained from hexing one another to bits because of Harry.
Ignoring the fact that Draco still called Ron 'the Weasel' was standard in their almost-friendship and Harry never got offended or defended his best friend's honour because Draco was only being himself and it seemed rather pointless; Ron still called Draco 'the Ferret'. "Ron's elated…" Harry smirked, "He's proposing to Hermione tonight."
A blond eyebrow shot up in humoured surprise at the mention of his other almost-friend.
Their almost-friendship began twenty-seven days after he and Harry started meeting for dinner after work in Muggle London. She joined them on a Friday, in her pinstriped navy business suit after a long morning in classes at a Muggle university and a long afternoon at the wizarding law firm where she worked as a researcher.
Hermione Granger, he came to realize after nine minutes in her presence where she rattled on nonstop about interesting magical information that only he seemed to understand and about her classes that Harry seemed to understand, was unlike any woman he'd ever known in his life.
Although she could be a bit annoying and a real zealot, he found her oddly refreshing as a change from the pampered, silly witches he'd been around all his life. She was real…and quite impressive.
Draco quickly learned that she was more than the brightest witch of their age and a war hero. She was an avid vegetarian, a philanthropist, a humanitarian; she went to peace rallies in Muggle London, did volunteer work on the weekends, fed the hungry and worked shifts at homeless shelters when she could, and still was interested in house elf equality. She did yoga every morning with the rising sun and had once camped out in a pecan tree for a week when she was ten to stop it from being cut down. That tree still stood. Not to mention, she went to college at Oxford and double majored in political science and history just so she could secure a job in a London law firm with both Muggle and magical clients.
They would've hired her without the extra schooling, but she insisted she had to be well rounded.
She, clearly, was a force to be reckoned with and Draco wondered then how in the bloody hell she ended up with an oaf like Weasley, who worked with his brother, George, to develop more products for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes until Quidditch tryouts started. All Weasley wanted to do was settle down, marry, and be a working man while his wife tended to the children. Hermione Granger was not that kind of woman; in fact she made it clear she had little hopes of settling down and being a good wife. Draco secretly hoped she never would settle for that kind of life; it would be like clipping the wings off a bald eagle. She was better than being just a wife and an incubator for Weasley spawn.
At that thought, Draco chuckled and shook his head, "I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that proposal."
Green eyes glanced at his almost-friend, full of curiosity, "What's that supposed to mean?"
As he thought about it years later, he didn't expect to get that wish granted, but the fates had other plans.
He had planned to work that weekend, using his free time during his visit to the Manor. Draco slipped out the ballroom fifteen minutes before speeches began to retrieve his work from his tiny office. The big research assignment at that time was an old memory charm that was minor, reversible, and didn't destroy the person's mind after multiple uses; the Manor's extensive library was the perfect place to find books about outdated spells, hexes, and charms.
After rounding a few corners in the corridors of the empty Ministry, he paused before turning another corner when he heard voices.
(May 2, 1998)
"Thanks for the offer, but no," was an emotionless response from around the corner.
Draco knew that voice immediately and inwardly he gave a little cheer for being the fly on the wall. It was always a good day when a Weasel didn't get what he wanted. He took a few stealthy steps, ensuring that his presence wouldn't be discovered by either party. This was something he didn't want to miss and he cursed himself for not bringing popcorn to this event—it was sure to be a thriller.
"No?" came an aghast and shrilled voice that bordered on angry.
And he knew that voice too; a sneer marred his features.
"My answer is no," she stated calmly.
"Hermione…is that all you're going to say? No?"
Draco rolled his eyes.
"What more is there to say, Ronald? You asked me to marry you, I said no. It's really simple, you see."
Draco tried not to chuckle at her smart-alecky answer. It was typical Hermione.
"B-b-but why not?" Ron stammered.
He couldn't see him, but he knew his face was bright red and he was shaking with rage.
"I told you time and time again that I'm not ready to settle down and get married, not now, and certainly not for a long time," he heard the fervour and sternness in her tone. "I specifically told you that I'm not ready to give up my career to have children, I'm not even sure if I want them to begin with…and after telling you all this, you still have the gall to propose…and then you have the nerve to look surprised and angry by my refusal. Did you honestly think I'd change my mind?"
There was a little movement, "I thought you loved me."
"And I do."
"So marry me."
"So you don't love me?"
"I said I do, Ronald."
"Then accept my proposal."
"No," her voice sounded a little edgy, "I'm not going to marry you. I'm not even twenty for goodness' sake! Not only am I too young to be a wife, but I'm too busy. I'm not like you, Ronald; I want too much to settle down now. I want a career, I want to live and travel the world, I want to build my name up—not as Harry Potter's walking encyclopaedia but as Hermione Granger, and I'm not going to get that if I marry you now."
"That's not fair—"
"Oh? It's not?" now she was angry, "Ron, the second I marry you, you'll want a baby…the second we have a baby, you'll want another one. The next thing I know, I'll be knee-deep in children while you're running around the world, playing Quidditch and living your dreams and I won't get the chance to live any of mine. That right there, Ronald, that isn't fair."
"Love is about sacrifices, you told me that."
"And that's true, but the only person who'll make sacrifices is me and that's not fair—"
"I love you…and if you love me, 'Mione, you'll sacrifice your aspirations for me."
That almost made Draco jump from behind the corner and hex the git.
"H-how dare you? How dare you use love against me?" Hermione's voice echoed off the empty walls, shrill and livid. "If you loved me, Ronald, you wouldn't ask me to sacrifice myself for your cause. You wouldn't ask me to give up my dreams and hopes for you. If you loved me, you would wait for me; you would sacrifice some of your dreams for me. Love is a two way street, a push and pull…no one should give more than the other and you're asking me to give you everything and I can't! I can't! I just can't!"
Draco knew she was crying; it was evident in her voice.
"I have dreams! I'm a person, too, Ron! I'm not some vessel that just tends to every one of your needs! You can't ask me to give it all up for you! You can't ask me to give up my career aspirations for your greater good!" she screamed through tears.
"You don't even have a career, 'Mione! It'll be ten years before you even get one! How do you expect me to wait ten years for you?" Ron shouted back savagely; he was probably screaming in her face. "You're just a student and you do research on the side for a little money, how is that the jumpstart to an amazing career? It's pathetic, that's what it is. You're wasting your time with silly little fantasies."
"H-how c-could you even say you love me in one sentence and say something like that in the next?" her voice trembled as she sobbed. It was silent for the next minute; all Draco could hear was the sound of her cries and his hard breathing. That was, until everything went dreadfully quiet and Hermione spoke, voice hardened yet soft, "You're right."
"Yes, you're right, but it looks like we both don't have something."
"What do you mean?"
"Right now, I don't have a career…and you—you don't have a girlfriend."
Ron promptly detonated, "What! I can't believe—"
Draco decided it was the perfect time to make a grand entrance and casually strolled around the corner, hands in pockets. Hermione spun around and Ron shot daggers, both shocked by the intrusion. He took in her relieved and teary face and Ron's angry one before he asked in a nauseatingly calm voice, "Everything okay here?"
"Everything's fine, Malfoy, move along," Ron dismissed, "We're having a discussion."
"Oh, no we're not," Hermione said strongly, "The discussion is over, Ron, goodbye."
And she walked away, gracefully. Ron stormed off in the opposite direction, bumping Draco in the shoulder, hard. He thought about hexing the git, but instead, he waited for the livid man to turn the corner he appeared from before he walked after the brunette. Draco found her sitting on the edge of the Fountain of Magical Brethren, crying in her hands. When he stood in front of her, Hermione looked up at him, tears cascading down her cheeks, "I know you heard the whole thing."
He didn't ask how she knew, figuring he'd been careless, "Yes, he's a selfish git and he's not worth it. You were smart to refuse him."
A ghost of a smirk appeared on her face.
Draco realized that was the nicest thing he'd ever said directly to her. It made him a bit uncomfortable.
So he changed the topic, "Speeches start in a few minutes."
"I refuse to go back."
He held out his hand for his almost-friend and she accepted, letting him pull her to her feet, "That makes two of us…where would you like to go?"
"Anywhere but here."
Looking back on that night years later, Draco realized life, as he knew it, was over. Change occurred and while it was nothing drastic or visibly evident, nothing was ever the same again. He just knew he should've walked away from Hermione that night.
It would've saved him in the long run.
Well, if he'd been thinking, he would've listened to her argument against marriage and noted them in his mind. If Draco had been reasonable, he would've left her crying in front of the fountain. If he had used logic, he wouldn't have Apparated them to the park down the street from his flat where they sat on swings and talked until park security asked them to leave. If he'd used anything else, he definitely wouldn't have let her sleep in his bed while he took the couch.
His sheets smelled like her, like Japanese blossoms, even after he had washed them twice.
Draco eventually bought a new set.
In the months following the sudden breakup of Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, which had been a huge scandal in the wizarding world, the almost-friendship between her and Draco blossomed and flourished into a full-fledged friendship. Friendship, he found, was different with Hermione Granger. With Harry, their almost-friendship ended at daily dinners and a few jokes…with Hermione, it went further.
Draco didn't know how she found the time to plan little get-togethers with her demanding schedule, but he found himself getting invited to game and movie nights with Harry and Ginny: two people he tolerated. She introduced him to Muggle sports like bowling, skiing, and golf, all of which he was terrible at, initially. She took him to the movies and chuckled at his fascination with everything, saying it reminded her of her first time in Diagon Alley.
Not one to continuously take from someone, Draco found himself reciprocating her actions. He took her to a wizarding art exhibit she wanted to attend but couldn't afford the tickets and paying a flying instructor to give Hermione lessons for six weeks when she mentioned that after watching them fly for years, she had a desire to learn the art.
And one night a week, they found themselves sitting on swings in Bessemer Park, where it all began, talking.
(December 1, 1998)
The first thing she said when she opened her door was: "Surely you're not serious about wearing that…." she gestured to his crisp, black robes early that Saturday morning.
Draco already was in a poor mood after her brazen 5 AM wake up call and regretted ever expressing mild interest in her volunteer work, which led to her inviting him to help build homes for the Homes for Humanity foundation. He took in her casual appearance: jeans, tennis shoes, and a navy Oxford sweater; her bushy hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her head was covered with a plain blue baseball cap.
He felt ridiculous for his choice in clothes. "I didn't know what else to wear," he grumbled.
With a smile, she pulled him into her flat by his hand, "I'm sure you can fit some of Harry's—"
An eyebrow rose and a smirk graced his pale features, "Potter has clothes at your flat?"
Of course she ignored the suggestive tone of his voice, "Everyone has clothes at my flat; they've all stayed here a few times," she pointed out haughtily.
The words, "Weasley, too?" were at the tip of his tongue, but he didn't let them slip out. Draco knew that despite their harsh ending, she still cared for him and it hurt to even speak of him. She had an excellent poker face, but he knew it hurt her to see him shamelessly and deliberately gallivanting around with women in front of her; she spoke about it sometimes at Bessemer Park. A bit annoying, really, but she didn't have anyone to talk to except him and Draco fully understood what it was like to not have anyone to talk to.
Ginny was his sister and Harry was his best friend; both begged her to patch things up and end the nonsense, but Hermione voiced that she refused to settle or cave into his demands. Moreover, the more he demonstrated his lack of maturity, the less she wanted to reconcile…the less she loved and respected him.
Deep down, Draco thought she initially may have been more forgiving had her pride not been mortally wounded by his words. First and foremost, Hermione Granger was a conceited being. It was one of the attributes he liked most about her and one of the many attributes they shared.
The vain woman hunted for a pair of jeans through the immaculate guest closet that served as a highly organized lost and found full of shirts and pants and even shoes; soon enough he was dressed appropriately in Harry's jeans, one of her Oxford shirts that was too big for her, and she transfigured his shoes into tennis shoes. Draco felt utterly ridiculous and considered throwing a fit, but Hermione's words when he walked into her kitchen silenced him:
"You look like a Muggle."
Apparently, that was a compliment.
As their friendship continued to flourish in the months following, Draco found they were a lot alike (more than he had ever cared to admit in years past): both were intelligent and stubborn, serious, enjoyed reading and researching, could spend hours in front of the television and loved movies, had a low tolerance for stupidity and foolishness, and were experts at pushing one another's buttons. All she had to do was mention his old pure-blooded mentalities and his father and he flew into a rage and Draco could reduce her to tears with a few well-placed jabs.
Everything about their personalities, scrambled up and mixed together were the perfect ingredients to a volatile, yet cohesive friendship where he learned lessons about apologizing and the concept of loyalty.
The months stacked up, one on top of the other, and Draco, who'd never been loyal to anyone in his entire life outside of his family, found his loyalty being captured by Hermione Granger.
He didn't even notice.
So he spent a couple of Saturdays volunteering with her, let her barricade herself in his study when none of her friends cared that she had a big exam, let her drag him to her favourite vegan restaurant where he kept his face calm and treated himself to a juicy T-bone steak after he dropped her off, and let her rant about the woes of being a house elf even though the topic bored him to bits. He supposed that was what true friends did.
Years later, as he thought about it, he realized she was knocking down his walls and setting up shop in his life.
He definitely should've left her at the fountain, but the older Draco knew that the hole he had been in at that point in life was so deep that he couldn't have crawled out if he tried….
(October 12, 1999)
"What an ugly day," he peered up at the sky in the field about three miles from the Burrow where Sunday dinner was probably happening without them. His words were met with silence and together they stood and watched the sky, as it grew darker and darker. Never in his life did he ever think he'd be there, with them, as an invited guest.
So far it'd been a bloody disaster.
Ron was a git, as usual, and tried to hex him the moment he and Harry walked in the door.
It took a well-aimed disarming spell from Hermione's wand to stop him, which launched a nasty argument amongst 'The Golden Trio'. Two on one; Ron yelled at them both for being friends with a Death Eater and Harry yelled back that Draco was not a Death Eater. Potter defending him rendered Draco silent, but what really shocked him was Hermione's loyalty to him as she yelled, "He's no more of a Death Eater than I am!"
The battle raged on.
Draco and the rest of the Weasleys stared helplessly, but he didn't get involved until Ron sneered and called her a, "stuck-up, heartbreaking, soulless, conceited, delusional bitch". For some strange reason, he didn't stop to think how ridiculous his insult sounded. No, the next thing the redhead knew he was sprawled on the ground after being pushed by an angry blond. He stared at Draco with wide, furious eyes. However, before Draco could whip out his wand and curse him into a stupor, Hermione grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back outside where they walked.
It was a tendency they shared, to walk when in a fit of rage.
When he was passed over for the promotion as head researcher after almost two years on the job, he walked around the track at Bessemer Park twenty-seven times while she silently kept up in stride. When she got her first B plus on a paper in Theories of Political Analysis, she ran nonstop for 23 minutes and he kept up.
It was a routine they were comfortable with.
Once the anger disappeared, they talked about everything besides what made them angry in the first place. It was pretty cathartic. But that day he wasn't angry to begin with (but rather happy he pushed that git…and regretful he didn't get a chance to curse him) so it seemed fitting that he spoke first.
Draco didn't expect to finally hear a small, "I rather like it," from the shorter woman next to him.
"Is that why you stopped?"
The blond shrugged lazily, "I guess we all have our quirks."
She peered over at him, "What's yours?"
"Besides being utterly dashing?" he flashed the infamous conceited Malfoy smirk.
There was a faint smile that graced her lips; his unfailing arrogance had always made for a good laugh. It felt nice, pleasant, and practically…well, intimate to be there with her, with the open field and the rumbling skies and the wind blowing. She loved the smell of nature and he liked the way she smelled.
"Oh, and let's not forget the well-acknowledged truth that I'm completely irresistible," his arrogant grin spreading. Draco liked joking around with her; he didn't do it with anyone else. After all, he had an image to uphold and she was good at keeping secrets.
Hermione couldn't hide the humour in her voice, "I could've guessed all that. Is that it?"
"You really want to know, Granger?"
She shrugged, "If you don't mind."
"You're not a spy, are you?"
There was a small snicker, "And if I were?"
"You'd have to torture me for that kind of information."
Hermione punched him in the arm. Draco made a weird sound that sounded like a hybrid between a yelp and a gasp. He glared, "I can't believe you did that. You might've left a bruise on my flawless skin."
She shrugged, "I figure if I can't bruise your ego, I can bruise your body…besides, you said it was going to take some torture. I decided to deliver; apparently it doesn't take much. It's no wonder you made such a horrid Death Eater. Well, that and your lack of passion for their cause."
He shook his head at her reasoning and was silent for a long time, staring up at the still darkening sky.
She really did have a point; he was a shoddy Death Eater for those very reasons mentioned. He grew up believing pure-bloods were the top of the pecking order and everyone else was scum; yet they followed a half-blood. It didn't make sense. And then there was the fact that once the incident in Sixth Year happened, he didn't give two Knuts about 'their cause'; he just wanted to live to see his next birthday. Finally, Draco shook his head and muttered, "I'm allergic to tomatoes."
"Really?" Hermione sounded rather surprised.
"Yeah, I break out in awful hives that don't go away for weeks."
"So, no pizza, no ketchup, no pasta…how do you manage to live?"
"You can't miss what you've never had."
"You don't even know what you're missing."
Draco let out a deep breath like he'd just revealed the biggest secret of his life, "I'm so glad to finally get that off my shoulders."
"I'm sure it's been weighing you down for years," she replied dryly, but there was laughter in her eyes.
"You have no idea."
Draco didn't go so far as to say that that was the day he fell in love; that was ludicrous and cheesy at best, but that day definitely was the spark…only he didn't know the match had been struck. Not until it was too late…not until it was a bloody inferno.
But he was getting ahead of himself: another tendency of his.
Over time he learned to read her; he spent enough time around her to notice the little things.
Draco knew that when she was being secretive, she blushed…and after that afternoon in the field, he realized she blushed a lot when they were together. When troubled, she paled. Hermione was so pale when Ron announced his engagement to Lavender Brown that Christmas; she almost looked transparent. However, she kept her poise and grace and congratulated the new couple on their engagement, chatted about wedding plans and inquired about a date so she could have ample time to take the day off. Everyone expected her to fall apart, but she stunned them all—even Ron. But Draco, was the only one who knew that she promptly fell apart when they got to Bessemer Park six hours later. Draco was the one who spent an hour holding her as she cried in his chest.
For the life of him, Draco couldn't get the smell of Japanese blossoms out of his clothes.
When angered, Hermione did a lot of things, ranging from uncontrolled wandless magic (only when at her pinnacle of rage) to simple glaring. He got a first row view three days later when she set canaries on Ron when he asked her if the reason she wasn't upset about his engagement was because she was Draco Malfoy's possession.
Draco purchased a Pensieve straightaway and frequently dived into that memory whenever he needed a good laugh.
He knew that when she was afraid, she put on a wonderful front of bravery. When she nearly got mugged on her doorstep after a study session in the library late one night and had to hex the mugger, while Harry and Ginny freaked out, she remained impassively calm. Draco knew, however, that she never went to that library again at night and spent a week at his flat, researching new wards to place on her flat before she felt safe enough to spend the night at home.
Begrudgingly, he slept in her guest bed her first night back. She thanked him by making a tomato-less pizza.
When she felt playful, she laughed and danced around the room, re-enacting the few minutes he spent as a ferret, much to his annoyance. One time he tried to re-enact the time he hexed her teeth to grow, but she didn't like that one much. When she was sincere, she stared into his eyes as if she were pleading with him to see her sincerity. He knew that when she was anxious, she pulled at her hair. When she was deep in thought, she chewed on her lower lip.
Draco could go on and on until Christmas about all the things he knew about Hermione Granger.
As she changed and matured, he found he did the same because of his constant proximity to her. But, only around her did he show the calmer, deeper, and more subdued part of his personality; the part that she had unknowingly invoked. She made him want to be a better person and for that, he was.
(April 6, 2000)
"For Merlin's sake, Granger," he barked from her bedroom, highly annoyed, "Are you coming out or are you planning to drown yourself in that bloody sink?"
It was the day of Weasley's wedding to Lavender Brown and Draco was Hermione's 'and guest' because she needed support to get through the day and that foul, redheaded git didn't even bother to invite him; not that he expected an invitation anyway, but it was rather uncouth of him. Nevertheless, he wanted to get a good seat for this train wreck of a wedding that as of two days ago wasn't even happening because the bride and groom were fighting…intensely. He only hoped they would—the bathroom door opened and he saw her heels before he actually saw her.
And when he did, Draco nearly fell over. Hermione stepped out in a stunning, azure, strapless, knee-length dress that clung to her tightly at the top and swayed at the bottom with every step she took. Her hair fell in perfect curls, just barely touching her shoulders. Right down to the freckles on her shoulders, everything about her was utterly amazing. To his horror, he realized that she looked amazing everyday. She gabbed on about something as she stepped into her shoes and Draco only managed a few grunts.
It was the first time he saw her as a woman, as something other than slightly barmy Granger—something other than one of his best friends.
And though he never admitted it, Draco Malfoy was scared shitless.
"Malfoy, are you ready?"
Daydreaming grey eyes snapped back to attention and found her standing right in front of him: too close. He saw the small amount of makeup on her face and her clear lip-gloss; the fact that she was slightly tanned from last week's homebuilding adventure was just as obvious as the semi-confused look in her eyes. Even though she was confused, she still looked beautiful. What was wrong with him? Did he like Hermione?
"Malfoy?" He nearly jumped at the feel of her hand on his as she entwined their fingers. Hermione was always touchy-feely, even with Harry, although not as much now that he was dating Ginny. She gave his hand a little squeeze.
Were her hands always that warm? Did they always tremble in his? Did her touch always send a shockwave through his body? Did he always feel hazy and confused when she was that close? Did his heart always race? Did he always want to snog her senseless? Did she always smell like that? Were her eyes always so bright? Was the scent of Japanese blossoms always so intoxicating? Did he always like to see her smile?
She touched his cheek, concern written all over her face. It gave him the answer to all his questions.
"Malfoy? Draco? Are you alright? You look a bit pale—well, paler than usual."
That snapped him out of his trance. He stared at her briefly and without thinking, reached over and brushed a few loose curls behind her ear. For a second, her eyes flickered shut as if lost in her own dreams, but they opened quickly and Hermione smiled.
Merlin, she was beautiful.
Merlin, she smelled amazing.
Merlin, he liked her.
"Yes, I'm ready. By the way, you look like a Muggle."
She smiled like she knew what he meant even though he didn't say it and Apparated them to just outside the Burrow. She never let go of his hand and the traumatic thought of the day was: he didn't want her to.
Neither the bride nor the groom showed, but as they danced together on the floor during the 'reception' and she chattered on about her classes, Draco found himself fused to every syllable. Each time a song ended he'd used stupid excuses to keep dancing (he'd kick himself later, but right then he didn't care) and she smiled and agreed. After the third straight dance, she didn't even try to walk away, not until Harry cut in. As he watched her and Harry dance some ridiculous jig, Draco realized he really didn't care about the Weasel's misfortunes. Silently, he admitted to himself that he was happy the wedding wasn't between the Weasel and Hermione.
"Draco?" Hermione spoke softly a few hours later as they sat in their field three miles from the Burrow.
Her shoes were off and she had conjured a large blanket for them to lie on. He stared at the sky and tried to will away the feelings he had for the woman whose head rested on his chest and arms were around him. He tried to ignore how comfortable he was with her so close and how natural it felt.
There was a small pause, "I—I, uh, nothing."
Draco couldn't get the smell of Japanese blossoms off his suit, but that time, he didn't try.
The Weasel's botched wedding was the start of a new chapter in the life of Draco Malfoy, full of harrowing realisations and frighteningly new feelings. By then, the spark that had been lit the previous year burned nicely in his chest. It wasn't quite the inferno that it was years later, but not completely extinguishable either, although it wasn't for lack of trying.
At that time, more than ever he wished he would've left her at the fountain where it all started; before he got in over his head with her. More than ever he was confused. Surely he couldn't date Hermione; there wasn't a possibility that she saw him as more than Malfoy: friend and confidante.
So he did what any self-respecting man would—he pushed her away.
For six gruelling months, he kept his distance, feigned exhaustion when she wanted to spend time with him, and claimed he was too busy when she wanted to go to the movies; anything to stay away from her. He blocked her flat from his Floo network, remained aloof and distant during their telephone conversations which made her end them quickly, avoided Harry or Ginny in fear that she would be there, and didn't show up for Weasley dinners.
Harry was livid by his poor treatment of her and beat down his door until he forced an explanation out of him (at wand-point), nodded understandingly, and then left. Neither of them spoke of that night, not even after the years had passed, but Harry always had an annoying 'I know your secrets' smile on his face every time he saw him; Ginny, to his horror, wore the same smile. Draco pretended not to care what that was about.
At that time, Draco was so desperate to remove Hermione Granger from his life that he resorted to dating women who looked nothing like her, but quickly found he wasn't interested in just any beautiful face. No, he was beyond being attracted to a woman for her physical beauty. It felt wrong to hug another woman, they just didn't fit right. And each date left him with much to be desired, and after two months, he stopped trying.
When Hermione came by his flat, when he couldn't turn her away, he sat in the seat furthest from her and said nothing. She still smelled of Japanese blossoms and it was intoxicating and torturous; he wanted to jump her every time the smell inundated his senses. After the third night of being ignored, she left without saying goodbye and didn't come back. He thought he'd be relieved that he'd gotten rid of her after two months of trying, but that wasn't the case.
The harder he rebelled against his own feelings for her, the faster the fire grew and the more it spread; it was like a deadly forest fire or something. It just kept spreading and spreading. The more he pushed her away, the more he wanted her. It was some of the worst torture he'd ever experienced.
Draco didn't sleep well during those months. He had dreams about her. Sometimes they were pornographic, sometimes they were sad, but for the most part he just dreamed that she stared at him with sincere eyes that begged to know what she had done wrong.
He took to pacing instead of sleeping because sleep was highly overrated.
In the two years of their friendship, he'd gotten so used to her quirks and habits and her presence. He was used to her calls to wake him up, volunteering with her, and sitting next to her in the movies and letting her steal his popcorn when she thought he wasn't paying attention. He was used to her shitty vegan restaurants and her crusade against all that wasn't right or fair in the world. Draco knew her schedule by heart and was used to the fact that on Thursday nights he knew not to call her because she was always studying for her Friday morning quizzes. He was used to her popping by his office with lunch for them between classes and work just to say 'hi'.
And when she wasn't there, it felt odd, different—like something was missing in his life.
After three months of ignoring her, he considered writing her and apologising with little explanation; he'd resort to demanding forgiveness if he had to. After four months, he considered calling her just to hear her scream at him. After five months, he considered banging on the door of her flat, just to see her face. And after six months, he nearly pulled his own hair out in frustration. The madness had to be stopped, but as usual she beat him to the punch.
(September 14, 2000)
If he weren't completely and utterly exhausted from lack of sleep that Friday night, he would've asked who it was before he opened the door—and he would've brought his wand. If he really used his head, he would've ignored the door. But alas, he didn't do any of that and on his doorstep stood a fuming Hermione Granger.
Draco was surprised she didn't conjure the canaries to sic him.
"I want answers, Malfoy," she started heatedly as she barrelled into his flat and slammed the door behind her. Even though she was half a foot shorter than him, Hermione stood her ground and glared up at him boldly, "So if I have to hex your body parts off limb by limb until you're nothing but a head, I'm going to get the answers I want tonight."
And she sat on his couch and didn't move, tapping her foot impatiently. The exhausted Draco Malfoy took to the armchair, across the room, still unable to coherently think when she smelled like Japanese blossoms…and he damn for sure didn't want to tell her that.
Hermione's next words came out as a rigid demand, "Talk."
The years and her friendship matured him, but he was, is, and will forevermore be Draco Malfoy and he was nobody's trained dog. He was not going to talk, sit, or roll over for her and the sooner she understood that he was not like that Weasel, the better.
"No," was his stern, cold reply.
The first hex burned and instantly set his temper ablaze.
"What the fuck did you do that for?" he snarled and jumped out the chair. Before he knew it, he was stomping across the room towards her, which wasn't what he wanted.
Hermione instantly shot out of her seat, not intimidated by his is towering presence, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you lost your hearing along the way. Forgive me. I'll repeat myself, even though I hate to do so. I specifically said I'd resort to hexing body parts off until I get answers!"
He felt dizzy thanks to Japanese blossoms and yelled in frustration, "You never asked a bloody question, Granger!"
She shoved him in the chest hard, but he didn't stumble, "What did I do, Malfoy? What happened? Why the hell are you ignoring me? Why the hell has it been six months since we've seen a movie together or even shared a meal?"
Obstinately, he folded his arms and looked away from her pleading face, "That's none of your business."
The second hex burned more, but not more than the fucking forest fire in his chest that housed rising anger. Draco nearly attacked her the Muggle way and had to quickly convince himself that he didn't hit women, no matter how insufferable they were. No matter what they smelled like…no matter how captivating they were…no matter—oh there he went again.
She demanded, "Tell me!"
"Get out of my flat!"
"I'm not leaving!"
"I'll call the police!"
"Call them! Go ahead! I'll give you the number and everything!" Hermione exclaimed as she shoved him again, "But, you have to make it to the phone first." She gestured to the telephone across the room, sneering almost cryptically as she twirled her wand in her hands menacingly. He found her extremely attractive when she wore an evil leer.
Damn that woman. "Get out," he snarled.
Damn that stubborn, insufferable, beautiful, barmy woman. "What does it matter to you, Granger?"
She sounded desperate, "I sat and thought about it and I don't know what I did. I just want my friend back; I just want to know what I did to make you hate me," her eyes lowered to the floor and her shoulders shook.
Merlin, she was crying. Her tears were another one of his weaknesses that he didn't know of until right then; Draco hated more than anything to see her cry. He looked around for a full minute before he sighed deeply and muttered, "Granger, I don't hate you."
The lowered head snapped up and he saw tears in her eyes. She shoved him again, harder, "Tell me how—"
That time when she touched him, something in his head fizzled and snapped. He couldn't take it anymore.
With a low growl, his fingers gripped her arms and pulled her close to him; eyes stared and burned into hers . Heat, all he felt was heat; it inhabited his brain, shut it down, and compressed against everything…there was no outlet and no escape. He couldn't think straight as the heat ran through his veins, tingled the tips of his extremities. It was an odd feeling, but not a bad one. He could live with it.
And then his lips were on hers.
Initially, as he kissed her with such a passion he was sure he bruised both their lips, Draco was terrified…not that he'd ever admit it. He was afraid of the feelings he had for her, of himself, of her reaction, and of all the little moments that led them up to that moment. But it all fizzled away when Hermione pulled back breathlessly, searched his eyes, smiled with swollen lips, and pulled his lips down on hers again.
Draco compared his relationship with Hermione to a Muggle children's story about a little engine that could because they went through so much together in their first year.
First was the death of his mother two weeks after they started dating. Draco had known she was sick even though she never admitted it, but he thought he had time: time to fix their tattered relationship; time to tell her how sorry he was; time to get to know her and time for her to get to know him for the man he'd become along the way. He quickly learned that death waited for no one.
That loss shook his world unlike anything else and after her grand, publicised funeral that was attended by nearly everyone in their world it took Harry and Hermione four days to extract him from his room while he grieved in private. But while Harry went home every night, she loyally stayed outside his bedroom, probably reading when she wasn't trying to comfort him through thick walls.
(September 30, 2000)
"…Luna once told me that the things we love always have a way of retuning to us…"
"…If you think I'm leaving then you have another thing coming. I'll sit out here until you open that door…"
"…Draco, please open the door, I just want to help…"
"…I'm sure your mother wouldn't want you to shield yourself from the world…"
"…She loved you, Draco. She wouldn't want you to be miserable…"
"…If you're worried about being alone, you're not. I'm with you. I'm not going anywhere…"
In the middle of the fourth night, he opened the door and true to her words, there she was, sleeping on a pile of schoolbooks, next to her closed laptop. With a sad smirk, Draco picked her sleeping body off the floor and carried her to his bed and fell asleep knowing that she was with him through whatever. It made him feel a bit better.
Second was the oaf Ronald Weasley, who found out about them via pictures from his mother's funeral where she held his hand and stood beside him, dressed in black, like a good girlfriend.
He showed up at her flat two days after Draco rejoined civilization, livid and screaming, pointing fingers and hurling accusations. Draco was too tired and was still in grief mode to argue and just numbly sat on the couch while she picked him to bits.
(October 2, 2000)
"If you think you can just show up here and think I'm going to end it with Draco just because you showed up with a newspaper clipping, screaming like a bloody banshee then you've got another thing coming, Ronald!"
"He's not good enough for you!"
"And I'll be the one to decide that, just as I did with you," she fumed, folding her arms.
"But it's Malfoy—"
"He's sitting right here, don't talk about him like he's not here!"
"Last I checked, you were dating and/or screwing Rachel, not me. We aren't together, we haven't been in over two years, and you have no right to talk about who I choose to date."
Ron pointed to the blond man who just stared at the fire, "He's not even taking up for you!"
Hermione sneered coldly, "Why don't you read the article you threw in my face? His mother is dead, Ronald! His mother is gone so forgive him for not hexing you out the window for merely being in his presence; forgive him for not acting like typical Draco Malfoy!"
Draco looked over at the mention of his name and he wasn't sure if she knew she didn't have her wand because she pointed the cheese-covered mixing spoon she was using to make tomato-less vegetarian lasagne at the oaf savagely. It was kind of humorous.
"So you leave him alone or I'll beat you down with this spoon!"
"You can't be serious about dating him, you can't."
"Run along," she dismissed him with a wave of her mixing spoon, "Run back to your whore-for-a-moment, my mind is made up. Yes I can and yes I am very much serious about dating him and you can either get with the program or stay the hell out of my way."
She looked sexy when she defended his honour and Draco had the desire to snog her senseless when she slammed the door behind him…so he did.
The third thing that happened was the wizarding world's reaction and the brief fallout that ensued.
Harry, Ginny, and all but one of the Weasleys supported their relationship very openly. Whenever anyone asked, they all said they were happy for the new couple, that Draco was a good person, and that they were good for each other. The problem was that people couldn't see past the fact that an ex-Death Eater was dating the wizarding world's perfect, golden girl.
(November 6, 2000)
"You're too good for him," the manager of the restaurant said one night when they were out having a quiet dinner. She'd just asked the couple if they needed anything else, just to be nosy in their conversation, Draco supposed as he replied with a shake of his head. He wasn't at all shocked when she said that; people had been harassing him for nearly a month at that point.
Draco Malfoy was about sick of everything; he'd lost his mother, he was still trying to settle the estate and get used to an aunt and little cousin who had let bygones be bygones and popped back into his life after years of estrangement. Not to mention, people were harassing him about his relationship with Hermione constantly. They couldn't even eat in peace.
"And you should mind your business before I mind it for you," was her haughty and threatening response.
It was quite clear to him that nobody told Hermione Granger what to do. He'd have to remember that.
"Well," the woman looked offended, "You—"
"Finish that bloody sentence," he snarled callously, "and not only will I have your job, but I'll shut this god-forsaken restaurant down so fast your head will spin." Draco shot another nasty glare at the horrified manager and looked across the table at his wide-eyed girlfriend, who looked rather impressed, "Let's go and spend my Galleons somewhere more worthy than this dump."
Draco helped Hermione into her coat, made sure all the buttons were done, and that her hair was out and resting gracefully on her shoulders.
He took her by the hand, turned to the jaw-slackened manager, and hissed, "You'll be hearing from my solicitor in the morning."
A month later, the restaurant shut down. Nobody messed with Draco Malfoy again.
The fourth thing that happened in their first year was life.
Things in his life went from quiet to hectic in a matter of months. He finally was promoted to head researcher, which kept him in the office more than he ever cared for. In addition to that, he still was in the process of settling his mother's estate and deciding whether he wanted to keep the Manor, his aunt was a bit clingy after their reconciliation, Harry and Ginny got married, and he had Hermione.
As usual, she was running around like a chicken with her head chopped off and still she made time to see him even when he didn't do the same. He didn't understand that he was taking her for granted until she nearly left him.
(March 27, 2001)
"Damnit, Hermione! Open the bloody door!"
They'd been fighting nonstop for weeks and he was exhausted. Fighting with her was like fighting with a child; no punches were thrown, but there were always tantrums, always moments of silence, and doors always got slammed in the process. More often than not, there were tears on her part. And he still hated her tears.
"Go away Draco!"
"I'll break down this damn door!"
"I need to be alone!"
He went against his better judgment, unable to suppress his exasperation with the entire situation, Draco rolled his eyes, "No, you don't, you need to talk to me about whatever the hell is wrong with you."
"Whatever the hell is wrong with me?" she shrilled angrily and threw the door open, "Whatever the hell is wrong with me?" she repeated, face red from tears and anger. She slapped him, hard, "I have been nothing but good to you and you can't even appreciate that. I have to hunt you down to find you—"
Draco's face stung, "I'm busy, Hermione, damn!"
She slapped him again, harder; that time he stumbled a bit, "And you think I'm not?"
He was about two seconds away from hexing her; instead he grabbed her hands so she wouldn't hit him again because he wasn't sure if he could take another one without retaliating, "You knew the second I took this job—"
"It's not about your bloody job!" Hermione struggled against him, "It's about you and me; we're falling apart."
"No we're not. We're still here."
"I won't be here much longer if you keep taking me for granted. I surprise you at work and you brush me off and say you're too busy. I rush here after work to cook you dinner and you come home hours late, I suggest we go out with Harry and Ginny or even alone and you're always too tired. You haven't kissed me in weeks, you haven't held me in nearly a month, and I'm tired of coming in last place to everything. I'm tired," she finished with tears running down her cheeks.
All the incidents she mentioned flashed in his mind. He did reject her, he had denied her, he hadn't touched her, and he was guilty of everything of which she had accused him. Draco felt like an utter arse for the way he had treated her. It hadn't been his intention to put her last.
"Do you not want to be with me anymore?" Hermione sniffed, "Just say it and I'll leave. I'll go and I won't waste your time."
He kissed her with the hope that she could feel his apology because, after all, actions spoke louder than words.
They made love for the first time that night; it was slow and drawn out and he took his time apologising with every touch and every caress. And as they bathed naked in the afterglow, she whispered in Draco's ear that she forgave him. That's just the kind of person she was: forgiving. He wasn't sure if he deserved her, but now he didn't regret following her to that fountain nearly three years before.
When he woke up the following morning to the smell of Japanese blossoms and her smiling face, Draco silently thought to himself, I could definitely get used to this. And as he watched her naked form as she slipped out of the bed and into the bathroom to take a shower, he felt something shift inside of him. When she peeked out the door and asked for his company with a seductive smirk on her face, he was in the bathroom in a flash.
"Do you want to know how I knew you were around the corner the night I broke up with Ron?" she asked him as she cuddled against him in bed, exhausted from two rounds of lovemaking in the shower.
Of course, he didn't answer because he wasn't sure if he wanted to know.
"It was your scent. You always smelled like the library and subtle cologne. I smelled it the instant I said 'no' and I knew you were there. I was going to run to you if you hadn't come around the corner."
Her words rang in his ears for minutes, hours, days, and even years after that moment.
There was a small contented sigh from Hermione as she shut her eyes and inhaled deeply, "You smell like my favourite place in the world…you smell like home."
And that was when Draco fell in love with Hermione Granger.
Of course, he was ignorant to his own feelings for many months and as he stared out the window at the falling snow years later, he couldn't understand how he had missed it.
Perhaps it was a good thing Draco hadn't realised it; undoubtedly, it would've messed up the slow and comfortable progression of their relationship because it would've slipped at some point. It would've made watching Hermione stand by Ginny's side in a frilly red dress as her maid of honour a bit awkward because Draco would've spent the entire time stressing about whether or not she wanted to follow in her friend's footsteps.
He hoped her opinions didn't vary from when she was proposed to last. Merlin knew neither was ready for such a long-term commitment. Draco was content with dating her, content with Friday nights out on their swings in their park, content with hand-holding and lovemaking, content with learning how to be a good boyfriend and a better man for himself and for her, content with surprising her after class with lunch and massaging her back after a hard day; Draco was content with making sure she never felt taken for granted.
The rest of their first year together flew by with only a few sparse fights, little drama, the introduction to her overbearing parents that went okay, and a few dozen fights with the Weasel git, but Draco didn't give two shits about the jealous ex-boyfriend. Fuck him. The better man won and nothing was going to change that.
But he knew that nothing could stay the same forever; it went against the laws of the universe.
(May 13, 2002)
Draco reached beneath her and braced his arms on her back. Then he spread his legs wide, burying himself deep inside of her, not moving, just resting there as he slowly, gently pulled her up until she was sitting on him.
"Hermione," he told her huskily, face inches from hers, "Take everything you want."
Gratefully, she needed little urging. She leaned into his large hands as she rose and fell on the full length of him. It was deeper like that, a more profound feeling for the both of them. Take him. Draco didn't need to tell her twice.
Her long curly and frizzy hair fell over both of them as she moved on him rapidly. Everything was suddenly about pure impulse now, his flesh on her flesh, her skin rubbing against his, gratification and strain built and mounted on them both.
Draco heard himself moaning, trying to hold back as she quickly got the hang of riding him. Her hips moved proficiently, so much that his neck suddenly bent back as if it offered itself to her and she accepted it, sucking his skin with her ravenous tongue, and gripping his shoulders and back.
Hermione plunged again and again, relentlessly, crying out against his skin, clawing at him with those nails that caused him pleasure and pain. Draco didn't have to do any work; she did it all as she drove herself down onto him wildly and held on just as tight.
The feel of her was fucking amazing.
The scent of Japanese blossoms and sex was overwhelming.
Her teeth chattered as if she were trapped outside in the middle of a blizzard with nothing on and he knew she was close; they always chattered right before she came. But she was a stubborn thing; as much as she needed release she waited for him and slowed the undulation of her hips.
Too damn courteous; she was too damn nice. She thought of everyone before she thought of herself and Draco wanted to break her of that, just a little bit.
With a growl, he drove himself up hard, making her gasp and eye him with hazy brown eyes.
"Don't fuck around. Take what you want," Draco firmly told her again.
Brown eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but she resumed her original speed and before he knew it, her teeth were chattering again and she looked hesitant; he couldn't stand it. Before she could protest, Draco reached between them and rubbed her swollen clitoris. Her cries became desperate, she gasped for breath, and she rode him with short hard strokes. He couldn't hold back for another second, not at all.
Draco heaved upward as she came crashing down, lost in a sea of orgasm, and he lost himself with her.
He didn't realize Hermione had clawed the hell out of him until much later, but he was too content to care.
After he rolled them over so he was on top, he smirked down at her flushed face, leaned forward, and whispered, "Happy graduation, Summa Cum Laude."
She grinned, very proud of herself and her accomplishments, "Thank you very much, but did you really have to start the celebration by tying me to the bed by my graduation cords? I think I'm going to have rope burns."
That arrogant Malfoy smirk crept on his face, "You weren't complaining."
Hermione chuckled, "Do I ever?"
Draco kissed her and wiggled his hips just a little; he liked the feel of him softening inside of her and the soft moans she gave off. She lifted up and deepened their kiss, cutting off the movement of his lips. When she pulled away, she started the conversation that changed everything, "I have a question."
"Do you love me?"
"Yes," and though it shocked him to hear himself say it as if it were the most natural thing in the world, he knew it was true.
It all slowly went downhill after that night.
While Hermione started law school that summer and her new job at the firm of her dreams as a clerk, he was promoted again as the second to the head of the researching department. They were two incredibly ambitious and busy people trying to make a relationship work. For a while, with a lot of help and trying on both their parts, it did work, really well.
The second year of their relationship, they were still going through adjustment issues.
Hermione moved into his flat and he cleared out half of his closet. She didn't nag Draco about his lack of organisational skills nor did she lecture him about the horrors of meat-eating; and he didn't kick her bloody cat around when it clawed him for cuddling with its mistress on the couch the night after she moved in.
They argued ferociously that year because they weren't used to living under the same roof. He came home drunk after an argument once and told her he wanted her to leave, that he missed living alone and he wanted his damn life back. Needless to say, she got upset and stayed with Harry and Ginny, who had just had baby James, for a few days before he bottled his pride and apologised.
They broke up a few times that year, but it was never permanent because they loved each other.
(June 29, 2003)
"Why are you back?"
Hermione set her suitcase down after spending the weekend with Harry and Ginny after another cataclysmic, dish-breaking, door-slamming scream-fest that she started over—he wasn't sure what she started that particular fight over. "Maybe I came back because I realize I was wrong," she answered bravely.
Draco just snorted.
"Maybe," she continued, "maybe I came back because, if you're not too angry with me, I'd like to start making more memories to preserve in your Pensieve: memories that occurred outside this living room." She slowly slipped her arms around his waist and he cursed himself for inhaling her scent. He cursed himself for missing the smell of Japanese blossoms on their sheets.
"What do you say, Draco?"
He eyed her, "Maybe I'm too tired to answer right now."
She nodded, "Its fine, we've got loads of time. I guess we'll take it memory by memory."
There was a small sigh that escaped his lips, "I'm not convinced."
"You'd be a fool if you were, but, like I said, we've got time. I figure I've slammed enough doors for awhile."
Draco laughed dully, "You've slammed enough doors for this lifetime and the next. I think we both have."
"So let's start new lifetimes."
He rolled his eyes, "What the hell makes you think we get more than one lifetime?"
"No reason," Hermione smiled and it was enough for the last bit of anger to evaporate, "But we have time to decide, right?"
Of course, he gave her a smug answer, "Yeah, until you or I decide it's time to slam another door."
"I thought we said that we've slammed enough doors."
He said nothing.
She squeezed him a little and he hugged her back, "I am sorry, you know," Hermione whispered.
"I am, too."
In the third year, they were comfortable together.
He still volunteered with her and gave money to the Muggle charities that she endorsed, she still did her 'the day Draco was turned into a ferret' impression, he still frowned, and she didn't like it when he re-enacted the day her teeth grew past her chin. They still dived into his Pensieve and still laughed at some of his memories. Draco still attended dinners at the Burrow and learned that kids were creepy—or maybe it was Harry's son who was creepy.
In that year, he even came to tolerate Ron, but that was only after the man started dating strange Luna (after three failed engagements, two botched weddings, twenty-four failed relationships, and one pregnancy scare; luckily for him, she was faking it). It was a good year for them. Not one dish-breaking scream-fest in twelve months: a record.
(September 20, 2004)
"So when are you going to make an honest woman out of my little girl?" Hermione's dad asked.
Draco nearly choked on his drink.
They were out for Hermione's birthday and so far the mood at the table was tense at best, but he didn't expect it to go swimmingly well. Not only were her parents extremely controlling, the restaurants they selected for dinner didn't exactly fit into Hermione's no-animal-products diet.
They were sitting in a steakhouse.
Obviously they were trying to send Hermione a message, loud and clear, that they didn't care for her lifestyle. It was no surprise that the relationship between his girlfriend and her parents was strained, but it was for reasons he didn't know. He thought it probably had something to do with her use of a Memory charm on them in the last year of the second war. She wouldn't confirm or deny his accusation and he didn't want to push it or her.
"We haven't really talked about that." Draco replied honestly.
"Draco," her mother leaned forward a bit, "What do you think of marriage?"
"Honestly? I know nothing about it," he sipped his drink, "My parent's marriage was arranged and if the war in our world hadn't happened, to be honest, I'd be in an arranged marriage myself." It was a frightening thought at best.
"That's different. What age did you think you'd get married at?"
Draco blinked at her in confusion. "Is there a proper time limit, like one of those windows of opportunities that'll close if you miss it?"
"Well—there's always a proper age. It'll give you enough time to have kids and—"
He blanched, "Kids? Oh no, I'm not having kids. They're dirty, smelly, they have sticky fingers and I can't figure out for the life of me why their fingers are so bloody sticky. They're obsessed with stickers and digging their fingers, and other horrifying objects, into their noses. No thanks, I'll pass on that until it's absolutely necessary."
For the first time since they sat down, the woman next to him snickered.
Her parents looked horrified.
The birthday girl, clad in a wonderful silk emerald dress he'd gotten her months before but she never worn, didn't stop snickering for a few minutes and he was a bit relieved; there had been an almost permanent frown on her face and he didn't think he had the stamina to wipe it off later on in the bedroom.
Fifteen minutes before the dreaded marriage conversation, he had had to stop Hermione from stabbing her dad with a steak knife when he ordered a T-bone steak for her while they left the table for a quick pep talk outside the bathrooms where he promised mind-blowing sex if she behaved. When the waiter placed the offending piece of meat in front of her, Draco had never seen her so livid. Hermione was actually speechless and shaking and he quickly sent it back to the kitchen in exchange for a garden salad that she didn't touch.
So, it was definitely good to see her laugh.
Draco hoped it would be the last time he'd have to see her parents for a long time.
In the fourth year, he was damn sure he didn't want to spend his life with anyone else.
She graduated from law school and became a full-fledged solicitor for her dream firm and he was promoted to the head of the researching department after his boss had retired. For the first time since they started dating, they finally had control over their schedules. Only some, but it was enough for them to manipulate their time so they could spend more of it together…well, when they weren't travelling for business. Still, they fell into a routine that year; a routine Harry said was similar to his and Ginny's; and they were married.
It planted the seed in his head and for the first time in four years, he thought about what it would be like to marry Hermione. Initially, it was a disturbing thought because he immediately threw children in the mix. When he had deleted the children and just left it as the two of them and Crookshanks, who was more on friendly terms with him, it seemed a bit more pleasant—but not really different from their current situation.
(May 2, 2005)
Crookshanks purred from the bed as Hermione adjusted his silver tie that matched perfectly with her silver dress.
"You know, I really hate going to these second-war anniversary celebrations," he grumbled moodily with a scowl on his face, "I only go because you promise sex if I stay on my best behavior and refrain from hexing any git who stares at your arse."
Coyly, she smirked, "And don't I always deliver?"
The sneer morphed into a smirk, "Always."
An arrogant smile flashed across her face, "Now come on, Harry and Gin are waiting in the living room with Ron and Luna," she petted the purring cat lovingly, "Bye Crookshanks," and then she went to the door and called out that they'll be ready to go in a minute. Ron called back that the Portkey was leaving in five minutes. The celebration that year was going to be at Hogwarts.
The cat looked at him as if he were waiting for Draco to pet him. "Don't even think about it, bloody fur-ball."
Crookshanks purred lower.
"I don't want your hair all over me."
Another low purr.
"Quit purring at me like that!"
Crookshanks purred again.
"For the love of—"
"Draco, stop arguing with Crookshanks and come on," Hermione scolded humorously.
He patted Crookshanks' head awkwardly and followed his chuckling girlfriend out.
In the fifth year, he woke up one morning and wanted change.
And that brought Draco something close to the present.
He stared out the window and realized the snow had picked up outside with no sign or reason of slowing; he was rather glad to be inside. If Hermione were here, he'd be out there with her in Bessemer Park and they'd throwing snowballs at each other until their lips turned blue.
But she wasn't.
With a heavy sigh, Draco moved away from the window and gazed at the velvet box on the kitchen table for a long time before he opened it. The sparkling, clear diamond almost mockingly stared back. It was surprisingly simple for his taste; a simple stone set on a platinum band. He knew she wasn't one for gaudy jewellery and when he had asked her, she had told him she liked it….
(Two months ago: October 8, 2006)
They both were packing.
He was leaving that night for Cairo, Egypt for an extended researching convention and she was leaving the next morning for Tokyo, Japan—just one of the many business trips she'd been on in the last year since she started working in the international department of the firm. She hadn't even been home for two days before she was packing again, but he couldn't complain because he'd been away a lot, too.
The proposal slipped casually from his lips as he packed extra shorts and sunscreen per her suggestion.
Everything went silent.
Draco looked up, eyes locked on his wide-eyed girlfriend.
Her response to his proposal: "That was unexpected."
"What kind of response is that?"
She looked at him oddly and dropped some files into her briefcase, "Oh—you weren't kidding?"
Draco's eyes narrowed, "Since when am I the type that makes jokes about marriage proposals?"
Hermione snorted, "Never, but you don't even have a ring."
"As a matter of fact, I do," he pulled the box from his pocket and handed to her.
She popped open the velvet box and looked at it for a minute, "It's very me: simple and elegant. I love it."
"Would you like to answer the question?" Draco asked, trying to hide his nervousness.
His girlfriend sat on the bed and he sat with her, packing abandoned, lovemaking postponed, "I don't know."
"I'm not asking you to marry me tomorrow, I'm not asking you to give up your dreams, and I'm not asking for you to stay home and have my children. I'm not asking for any of that. I'm not even sure if I want them; they have sticky hands." He referred to James, the Potter's three-year-old son, who liked to touch his face with sticky hands and he had no idea where they came from. It was utterly disgusting.
She chuckled, "I know you would never do that to me, but it's a big decision and I need time to think about it."
Draco could live with that answer, even though it hurt his pride that she didn't accept immediately.
All was silent for a while.
"Do you love me?" her voice was meek and almost broken.
He knew that the question held a double meaning and he looked over at his teary-eyed girlfriend, "I'm not mad at you, and yes, I do." They were not the couple who said, 'I love you honey.' 'Oh, I love you, too.' It was always said in question form. He didn't know why or who started the tradition after the first time, but it was easier for him to answer her question rather than say 'I love you' without making it sound sappy and she probably knew that. "Do you love me?"
That was the last time they had really spoken to each other.
He left her naked and sleeping after a slow and passionate lovemaking session, their last until Christmas when she would return, and almost twenty-four hours passed before she called him from Tokyo, voice garbled. She tried to yell over the background noise, but it just gave him a headache so he yelled at her to write him and hung up.
And she did. The owl dropped off her letter later that night.
She told him that she had a running list of pros and cons of marriage and so far the cons were winning.
He told her that he wasn't going to pressure her into doing something she didn't want to do.
She asked him what made him think she didn't want to marry him.
He reminded her about the cons winning and the fact that she didn't say yes when he had asked.
That letter had launched a six-week international fight that led right to the last one that said she had extended her business trip to the end of January because they both apparently had some things to think about regarding their relationship. Draco didn't know what the hell she was talking about, but didn't write her back to find out.
So there he was, alone in their flat that still smelled faintly like Japanese blossoms and he regretted everything he had written that had made her want to stay away from him. He closed his eyes and inhaled the scent that had almost become synonymous with Hermione Granger. Draco probably should've known that her repressed fear of marriage was going to be a problem; he'd seen what had happened between her and Ron, although he had been a real moron about it, trying to manipulate her feelings and setting ultimatums. It was a real Slytherin thing to do and if he were dealing with one, it might have worked. Sadly, he was dealing with a very proud Gryffindor.
There were better ways to handle a situation like that and Draco's kept the pressure off her and made him appear in a positive light. He waited.
There had been this constant pressure on Hermione to marry before thirty and he didn't understand why. Her parents pressured her ruthlessly, the Weasleys did it subtly, Ginny did it blatantly, and now he did it. For that, Draco was sorry. And as sappy as it sounded, he just wanted her back. A few minutes later, he shook his head in amazement. For once, in their five-year relationship, he was the one who needed more attention…and it was an odd feeling that left him rather cool inside.
Draco wanted to be angry at her for the physical distance that had stretched between them this past year. He wanted to be angry for the lack of effort on her part to rectify their international argument because dammit he'd had a good point. He wanted to be piqued at her cell phone for acting up her first week in Japan; and he wanted to be furious at the messages she left on his machine when her phone did work because he was already angry at himself for not being there to answer her call, even if she only had enough time to say 'hi'.
He loved Hermione, more than he loved himself, and he hated it. Because loving her these days meant missing her and missing someone was never fun. Of course, he couldn't tell her that he did either of those things because then it felt like he was guilt-tripping her into staying in Britain, something he didn't want to do because she was out there, living her dream and travelling the world.
Draco felt rather silly that he sometimes found himself wanting to go with her.
And there he was, staring at the phone; he almost slapped himself for his juvenile, sappy behavior. It'd been so long since things were so complicated. Before their international argument, they'd been emotionally closer than they had ever been, and he'd never missed her quite as much as he did at that moment.
But then it rang.
For a moment, he thought he was hallucinating…but it rang again.
Convinced it was Harry or someone along those lines, he answered, "Hello?"
The phone was crackling, there was a lot of wind in the background, but he knew it was her. He sat on the couch, wearing a stupid smile on his face, but he didn't care, "Hermione?"
He could hear her petulant sigh and her speak to someone he couldn't hear before she returned to him, "I know I should be sleeping, but I'm lonely."
"Believe it or not, I am too."
"Why do you think it took us so long to say that?"
"How's the weather at home?"
"Oh man, I'm not there to kick your arse in a snowball fight."
He snorted, "I think your memory of our snowball fights are a bit distorted from all the snowballs you took to the head."
"Oh, ha, ha. I see you've acquired a sense of humour in my absence."
"Perhaps. How's the weather in Tokyo?"
"Cool, but not terribly uncomfortable," she trailed off awkwardly. If he had half his sense, he would've asked her to elaborate because he was sure that she was lying. There was a small pause while she spoke to someone he couldn't hear. When she came back, she randomly asked, "Hey, do you remember that summer we spent in Portugal and we spent all day on the beach?"
"Which time? The day I got sunburnt or the day you spent crying over the whale that beached itself?"
"The former. Don't even remind me about the latter," he heard her shudder.
"I remember that time," he chuckled at the memory and remembered it vividly. She looked like a kid the way she ran towards the water, took two steps in, and ran all the way to the beach towel he laid on, shrieking about it being cold. He'd been more than happy to toss her in the ocean before carrying her back into their beach house where they made love in every part of the house. "Good times, well, besides the sunburn. Why did you want me to think about that?"
She chuckled lowly and spoke dreamily, "In my mind, that's where we are. Together."
There was a small pause. He heard a bit of light movement in her background and he figured she was padding around her hotel room: a boredom tendency of hers. There was a small knock on his door and Draco could've killed the person on the other side. He'd blocked his Floo because he didn't want anyone to bother him. With a heavy sigh and an annoyed grunt, Draco spoke, "Hey, hold on, I'm going to hex whoever this is at our door," and he sat the phone down without hearing her response.
She'd probably tell him that violence didn't solve anything and he'd tell her that it always worked in Slytherin.
Draco grumbled all the way to the door, wand brandished. However, when he finally swung open the door, he didn't have a chance to breathe. All he saw was a flash of navy before he was enveloped in a strong embrace, smelling strangely of—Japanese blossoms. When he peered down and saw his girlfriend's frizzy brown hair sticking out the back of a baseball cap, Draco found he was speechless for two reasons: she was back and her lips were firmly attached to his, snogging him passionately.
"Hermione?" he said once he found his voice; it was full of disbelief.
Brown eyes peered up at him; she was flushed and beautiful and she smiled so widely, he thought her jaw was going to crack, "Umm, surprise?"
"What—I thought you weren't going to be back until the end of January. Where are your bags? What—" he took in her appearance: a navy 'I heart Tokyo' long sleeved t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes.
Immediately, Draco pulled Hermione out of the cold and into their flat, kicking the door closed behind them, "You don't even have a jacket on! What were you—" she cut him off with a long kiss that did little to satiate him; no, that was going to take a lot of snogging and a lot of sex. He hoped she didn't have jetlag too badly.
When she pulled back, her cheeks were flushed.
"How long do I have you?" Draco wondered almost in a growl.
She didn't answer him; instead, Hermione led him to the couch. He followed, because deep down, Draco didn't believe she was really in their flat, hand in his, nothing; she really wasn't there. He sat and she curled up in his lap, asking, "Where's Crookshanks?"
"In the bed." He always slept there when she was gone.
At first he resisted, but after a while he let the little fur ball have her spot. Spoiled ball of fur. Hermione chuckled at something and wrapped her arms around him. Before he knew it, they were snogging passionately; he didn't even consider breaking the kiss until he was moments from asphyxiation.
Damn he missed her.
Damn he loved her.
Damn…even though he wanted to, he didn't care about marrying her.
"Tell me," he started, "tell me how long we have?"
"How long do you want?"
"Eternity, but I'll settle for whatever you can give. Forget the proposal. We don't ever have to get married."
"Eternity it is."
Draco was floored, "Huh?"
"I spent three days trying to get a new Portkey after I postponed my last one and when they wouldn't authorize one, I tried to make one on my own. When that didn't work, I decided to do it the Muggle way and went to find a flight, but nothing was going to London because of the terrible storm. So I arranged my things to be shipped home next week and then I flew to from Tokyo to Hawaii, Hawaii to Dallas, Dallas to New York, and New York to Paris. From Paris, I rented a car and drove four hours to the ferry. I landed in some town I've never been to in my life and drove straight into London…just to tell you that I called my job and told them that if they ever send me anywhere for more than a few days, again, I'll quit…oh, and yes."
Draco blinked, utterly confused and still reeling from her adventure to get back to him, "Yes? Yes what?"
She just smiled, "Yes."
Now he was getting frustrated, "What the hell does 'yes' mean?"
"Draco, I'm terrified of settling down; there's always been so much that I wanted to do and I'm so afraid I'll live a life that's unfulfilled if I let any opportunity pass me by. I'm terrified of marriage as a whole and I don't think I'll ever get over that fear…but as cheesy and hackneyed as this may sound and it makes my ears bleed when I think it, what terrifies me most is living this life or any other life without you."
"So what are you saying?" he leaned forward just a bit. Draco knew what she was saying, but he wanted it to hear it come from her own mouth.
"I'm saying yes, I want to be your wife."
No more words were spoken; he didn't need them. He smiled, picked her up off the couch, carried her into the bedroom, kicked the cat out, and shut the door.
After all, actions spoke louder than words.