Author's Notes: Originally written for the DMHG Fic Exchange on LiveJournal, reveals for which went up today.
Operation Cheer Up Granger
(But Don't Die Trying)
Draco Malfoy was not really the social sort. Oh, he had pretended to be whilst growing up under his parents' rule, being perfectly handsome and perfectly charming at all the various parties and balls and other Pureblood-elitist rendezvous which he had been forced to attend. But behind that perfectly gleaming smile, he had always stored away several desires that were quite the opposite of what he expressed—many of which had related to fleeing the scene and hiding for the rest of his life, and another of which may or may not have involved bludgeoning someone to death with a crystal punchbowl.
In his adult life, therefore, once Voldemort had gone off and got himself killed, and Draco was allowed to be out on his own, he became a kind of high-end recluse, enjoying the luxuries of life without encountering the idiots that inevitably came with it. He kept up a correspondence or two, neglecting them occasionally when he decided they had become too habitual; and he made a point of ignoring charities (and parties and balls and other Pureblood superiority fests), locking away his money for himself (and to spite anyone who asked for it). Surviving the war hadn't made him any less selfish, after all.
It had, however, caused him to make an unexpected exception to his anti-social rule: every Monday since the war had come to an end, Draco found himself Floo-ing to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, inexplicably seeking the company of Harry Potter.
That was, in fact, what he happened to be doing at the very same moment Hermione Granger decided to burst through the front door.
Her back was to Draco at first, since, upon her arrival, Potter had hurried to greet and usher her into an adjoining room; but the incomprehensible frizz of her hair, coupled with her modest-yet-matronly choice of clothing—he hadn't known sweaters the color of cat-spit were still being manufactured—gave away her identity within seconds. It was funny, he thought, how predictable she could be, for this was exactly how he had always imagined she would look. Granted, he had supposed it would take at least a decade for her to get there, not two years—as that was how long it had been since he had last seen her, which had been at their graduation from Hogwarts—and it wasn't as if he had 'always' thought of her, either—he was simply prone to occasional fits of boredom, just like everybody else.
But still. The fact that she had actually ended up like this, and (to top it off), he assumed, was just as annoying as ever—she had burst through the door, after all; honestly, where was the fire?—was a source of unadulterated glee. Without a second thought, he left the kitchen table to meander into the sitting room, crossing his arms and leaning nonchalantly against the doorway when he reached it. Their backs were still to him.
Granger seemed to realize that someone else was there, though not exactly who, and she broke off from whatever she had been saying before to exclaim, "Oh! I didn't realize you had company, Harry."
"Er, yeah," Harry nodded. "It's okay, though, he won't—"
"Mind?" Draco suggested, arching a brow.
Granger started, recognizing the voice. "W-what?" she stammered, not turning around to look at him. "Malfoy?"
"Don't sound so horrified, Granger. It's not like I've just murdered your cat."
"Harry, what on earth is Malfoy doing in your house?"
Draco smirked in amusement. "We're friends now, didn't Potter tell you? It is a bit ironic, I know…"
"But… but…" She struggled for words. "How have I not known? And how did this—this—?"
She might have received an explanation from either one of them, had she not chosen that particular instant to stand up, turn round, and finally look at Draco, as if to confirm that he actually existed in the same room as she; for this, of course, was the first time in two years that he had seen her face. And it was in that instant that he was struck by a single, mind-boggling, apocalyptic thought that made his arms slacken and his smirk transform into an expression not of arrogance but of shock:
Hermione Granger was pretty.
Draco began to panic. She didn't look any different, didn't seem to have changed in the slightest regard—for all she appeared, she could've been eighteen years old and wearing Hogwarts robes, a Gryffindor scarf tossed lightly around her shoulders. But there was something in the angles of her face, the curve of her lips, the brief softness of her eyes, perhaps, that caused his mouth to go dry.
She shouldn't have been pretty, or even remotely attractive.
Except that she was.
Draco tried to take a step backward, but only found himself stumbling against the wall. Potter was standing now, a look of confusion about him as he glanced back and forth between his two guests. When Granger blinked, Draco could have sworn that the gesture looked mildly coquettish. Even as she placed her hand upon her hip, she seemed to caress the gentle curve there, her fingers light and teasing—
He shook his head.
"What is wrong with you?" Granger demanded, seeming to echo his own thoughts.
But she was already picking up whatever she had brought with her from the sofa.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said, hastily moving toward the exit once she had finished. "I—I can't stay, not with—well. I'll owl you later. Good—goodbye."
And to Draco's amazement and Potter's apparent disappointment, she nearly threw herself out of the house with as much force with which she had entered it.
Once she was gone, Potter put his head into his hands and sighed.
"What?" Draco asked, recovering now that Granger was out of sight. "It's hardly my fault."
Potter seemed to ignore him. "I don't understand what's wrong with her," he muttered. "She's been acting so weird lately. A bit skittish, really. Nothing she has ever makes her happy anymore, and I've no idea why. It's like she's depressed, or something."
Draco snorted, considering it. "Depressed?" Granger had always been a full-of-herself know-it-all; she wasn't the type to succumb to things like depression. Pressure, perhaps, and stress, because she had as much of a hero complex as Potter, and a habit of attempting to do everything at once to go along with it. But not depression.
"I told you, it doesn't make sense."
It had to be something else, and Draco was surprised to realize that he was curious. What could have ever caused Granger to become so very un-Grangerish? It made the world seem a little unbalanced; Granger was supposed to be Grangerish, and that was simply a fact of life. (She was also supposed to be ugly, but he let that matter slide in favor of more important ones.)
And if that had changed, what would change next? Would the ground and the sky switch places? Would trees suddenly sprout legs and frequent shopping centers? Would Ron Weasley become Minister of Magic? The catastrophic possibilities were endless.
Potter sighed again. "I just wish I knew how to cheer her up," he said, "or that I knew someone else who could. I hate seeing her like this. She's my best friend."
Oddly enough, though Draco Malfoy was not in any way best friends with Hermione Granger, he couldn't have agreed more. It was time to set the earth back into its orbit.
Everybody loved birthdays, Draco reasoned. At least, they loved their own birthdays. No one actually enjoyed watching acquaintances or total strangers receive mountains of gifts and affection; it was a part of human nature. But nobody, except for maybe Potter or Great-Aunt Callidora, could deny that their own birthdays brought them at least a minute amount of cheer.
Draco hadn't the faintest idea of when Granger's birthday was, but whether it had passed or was still yet to come, he was determined to force her to celebrate it. He would stuff chocolate cake down her throat if it came to that—though he sincerely hoped it wouldn't, since she was probably still quicker at doing magic than him, and he really wasn't noble enough to die for a cause.
How he would manage this would be, in his opinion, nothing short of a stroke of genius—if he could, of course, be so modest as to say so.
Phase One of Operation Cheer Up Granger (But Don't Die Trying) was thus as follows:
He would owl her anonymously, telling her to go to the park a few minutes from her house (a discreet and casual interrogation had led Potter to accidentally reveal her address). She would then wander about, confused, looking for the man in the red top hat, who she would never find. Just when she would begin to think that she had been cruelly tricked into taking a walk (very, very cruel), she would stumble across a picnic table laden with an elaborate birthday cake, various party favors and delicious snacks, and a sign that would read, in bold, sparkly letters, HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANGER! (or HERMIONE, though he felt slightly uncomfortable at the thought of calling her by anything but her surname). Granger would be overcome with surprise and happiness, all the while looking very delightful and pretty, and the world would return to normal.
Yes, it was a brilliantly clever plan, and no part of it could ever go wrong.
Something was wrong.
His noteHermione Granger,
Come to the park at noon and look for the man in the red top hat. A surprise will be waiting for you.
had been sent hours ago, yet it was past noon, and Granger was nowhere to be seen. From his place behind the thick trunk of a tree, Draco frowned. Could it have been lost, perhaps, never reaching her? He doubted this; his owl was almost as clever as himself, and had never failed to deliver something before. Had Granger simply ignored it, then?
Draco's frown deepened, and he glanced over at the picnic table. Flies had madly begun to swarm about the cake, and vanilla ice cream was dripping quietly onto the ground. Even the sign (he had gone with her full name as a compromise) was sparkling with less fervor.
It was no wonder, then, that she had become so depressed, if she always ignored anonymous notes from people trying to wish her a happy birthday. No sense of adventure—or gratitude.
Suddenly, however, he caught sight of someone heading briskly along the sidewalk toward him. Someone with incomprehensibly bushy hair and a lavender-colored sweater that might have looked nice on a person twice her size. Someone like Granger.
Perhaps her clock had only been broken.
Draco settled himself flush against the tree, attempting to stay hidden until the last possible moment. He could hear her footsteps growing louder and louder as she came ever closer…
And went past him?
He stuck his head out from behind the tree. Sure enough, she seemed not to have noticed the excessively-decorated picnic table, nor the sign that happened to be bearing her own name, and was continuing onward, her gaze upon the ground.
Flabbergasted, Draco chased after her, waving his arms wildly as if attempting to land a hippogriff. Yet still she did not notice.
Finally, he caught up to her, and grasped her shoulder roughly, giving a bellowed, "GRANGER!"
Granger shrieked, and in an instant, pulled her wand from her pocket. Draco only just managed to scamper to the side as she sent an orange jet of light at the place in which he had just been standing.
"Arrgh!" he cried, slightly out of fear.
Granger blinked, and seemed to recover herself, discovering the identity of her alleged attacker. "Oh. It's you."
Draco straightened, nervously eyeing the sidewalk—a small patch of which was emitting smoke. She really was quick.
"Yes," he drawled with a subtle hitch in his voice. "It's me."
"What do you want?" Her tone was no friendlier than it had been yesterday.
But then again, she wasn't any less attractive, either. He tried to push the thought from his mind.
"Didn't you get my note?"
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "You didn't send me a note."
"Yes I did. It said to look for the man in the red top hat. You must have got it."
Comprehension dawned. "Yes, I did get a note that—that was from you?" She looked utterly taken aback. "I thought someone was stalking me." She narrowed her eyes. "Or are you?"
He narrowed his eyes as well, looking shifty. "Of course not."
"I should certainly hope as much. Now tell me, Malfoy, what do you want? I'm rather in a hurry."
He stared at her. "You didn't come here for your surprise?"
"Certainly not!" she exclaimed. "One generally doesn't follow the instructions of psychopaths. I'm hardly as stupid as that!"
"Er…" Draco hadn't thought of that. The note had sounded rather nice at the time that he had written it, nothing at all like the creation of a potential serial-killer. "I've something to show you."
"A surprise?" she inquired dryly.
He ignored her. "I suppose you didn't notice it, but it's on that picnic table back there."
Granger rolled her eyes, but all the same, proceeded toward the picnic table in question. Draco felt a sensation of accomplishment welling within him as she went. Any second now, a smile would unfold across her face, joyful tears running down her cheeks…
"What is this?"
Draco beamed at her. "Happy birthday!"
Granger shook her head, looking at him strangely. "My birthday was two months ago. I suppose you really aren't stalking me, otherwise you would already know that."
He faltered. "Happy belated birthday?"
She stuck out her hand, placing the back of it upon his forehead. Her skin was cool. "Are you ill?" she asked.
He scowled petulantly. "No. I'm attempting to throw you a birthday party."
"That's what I meant. Are you—that is, have you been given any medication recently?"
"Have you forgotten to take any—?"
"Granger!" he snapped.
"Look Malfoy, I don't know what you're trying to do—"
"I'm throwing you a birthday party—"
"—but I've told you, I don't have time for it. Please leave me alone."
Before he could protest further, she Apparated away, muttering something beneath her breath about writing to St. Mungo's at once.
Phase One: complete—complete and utter disaster.
Draco had never shopped for his own food before, and had therefore never been to a supermarket—that was what house-elves were for, after all. But this was where Granger went every Wednesday afternoon at five o'clock after work—or so he had been told accidentally by Potter (such slip-ups seemed to happen quite a lot, now that he thought of it).
Supposing Granger to be the obnoxiously nutritious sort, he had taken his post by the fruits and vegetables, and was now hunkered down beside a display of tomatoes, occupying his time by debating which category they would fall into.
Today's plan was less complicated than yesterday's, as he had decided (after chasing away a pair of St. Mungo's healers) that that must have been part of the problem. Phase Two, therefore, was only to make Granger laugh, preferably by enchanting assorted edible items and forcing them to do amusing things. There was something inexplicably hilarious about tap-dancing potatoes, Draco had always thought, and it was not something easily resisted.
Periodically, he poked his head up to see if Granger had entered the store, and though the last twenty times had been in vain, the twenty-first time brought him a bit more luck; just as he had suspected, she seemed to have made a beeline for the fruits and vegetables, and was currently comparing the merits of two different types of grapes.
Perfect, he thought, and gave his wand a subtle flick.
Instantly, the grapes unfastened themselves from each other, and shot out of their containers, bouncing about in the air in a circle of red and green. Granger's eyes widened, and her hand flew to her mouth in surprise, stifling a gasp that, he supposed, would have otherwise been very loud. After several moments, she looked about wildly, searching for the instigator.
Draco ducked down, giving his wand another flick. This time, the grapes should have sprouted limbs and faces and started doing the tango with one another. Judging by Granger's muttered "What on earth," they must have been doing precisely that.
He pursed his lips. She wasn't laughing yet, but he still had one last thing…
He flicked his wand a third time, and in a unified, falsetto voice, the grapes screamed, "I'VE GOT A LOVELY BUNCH OF COCONUTS—"
Draco swore to himself. That wasn't what they were supposed to sing! He waved his wand violently.
"THERE WAS A GIRL NAMED ANNIE, SHE HAD A VERY PRETTY FACE—"
"HEY THERE LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD—"
Draco beat his head against the crate holding the tomatoes, causing one of the vegetable-fruits to splatter upon the floor beside him and leave a stain on his shirt. How ever had he managed to graduate Hogwarts with such dismal skills?
Oh, right. He was Lucius Malfoy's son.
"You," seethed a venomous voice. "You are stalking me!"
Draco started. There standing before him, of course, was Granger herself, purple juice in her hair and down her front. Her ears were being verbally assaulted by what remained of an army of green grapes, which had moved on to Christmas carols. Her skin was tinged with the red of fury, and her mouth had twisted into a snarl, but for a moment, instead of looking utterly run-down as she had before, there was something alive about her, and she was so… so…
She was so going to murder him. Draco gulped. He was supposed to be saving his own life, not ogling her!
"SEE HOW THE ELVES, TIPTOEING ELVES—"
"—PUT ON DISPLAY THIS HOLIDAY—"
"—CHRISTMAS IS HERE, THEY MUST PREPARE—"
"—MERRY, MERRY, MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMAS, MERRY, MERRY, MERRY—"
"OH MY GOD, THE GRAPES ARE SINGING!"
Simultaneously, Draco and Granger whipped their heads around. A woman with multiple chins stood pointing at the grapes, finger quivering, her beady eyes nearly popping out of her head. Fellow customers began to turn and look at her.
Granger swore loudly, and briefly, Draco was too impressed to comprehend the gravity of the situation. But it was only for a trice, as Granger soon began shaking him by the shoulders.
"Have you any idea," she cried desperately, "how much trouble we're in? This is a Muggle supermarket, Malfoy. Muggle! You've just violated the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, Clause—"
"There are Muggles here?" Draco interrupted, gaping at her. He hadn't counted on Granger infiltrating Muggle supermarkets; he had just assumed that she would buy food from wherever it was that other wizards bought it.
Draco hated Muggles. They scared the hell out of him.
"We've got to get out of here," he stammered, panic rising.
Someone else had begun to scream, and Draco was vaguely aware of the fact that an old man had passed out near his foot.
Granger looked appalled by the suggestion. "No! We can't run away! Aurors will be here any time now to—"
"Yes, Granger, that's why—"
"—and you can explain!"
"I won't need to explain if we don't get caught!"
"You prat, that'll make us fugitives!"
"There's no way for them to know—"
"Muggles use security cameras!"
"FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LAAAAA!"
Granger clapped her hands angrily around a group of the offending grapes with a sickening squish. Draco shuddered, and the many-chinned woman fell to the floor.
"They'll know it was us!" Granger exclaimed. "They'll know, and they'll—no! They'll know it was you!" Her eyes were suddenly bright. "They'll know it was you, because they'll have seen it on the security cameras. I'm not going anywhere! I've got nothing to run from. And you're staying here!"
Overcoming his revulsion at the grape massacre, Draco jumped to his feet and grasped her wrist roughly. "Come on, Granger."
"Let go of me, Malfoy!"
Draco ignored her, pulling her toward the exit.
"Think of—arrgh!—your future heirs!"
Draco shifted his other hand slightly, but continued to drag her until they were safely outside. Then Granger wrenched her wrist free and slapped him as hard as she could, his cheeks stinging doubly in the chill November wind. The grapes that had bothered to follow them fell silent.
"You're such an idiot! A fantastic idiot!" she screeched at him, beginning to circle like a carnivorous bird intent upon devouring him as viciously as possible.
"So you've told me," he smirked in spite of himself.
"Be quiet, just—shut up!"
Her palm seemed dangerously close to his cheek again, so he did.
"I don't know what's wrong with you, Malfoy," she continued, "or what you're trying to accomplish, or why you're bothering to stalk me, but you've got to stop! If this is just residual, childish bullying from our years at Hogwarts, it's stupid, and I don't want to have anything to do with it! We're not children anymore! I've grown up, and it's about time that you did, too."
"I'm not bullying you!" he spat.
"Yes," she insisted. "Yes you are. You're harassing me, and poking fun—"
"How about yesterday, when you went on and on about celebrating my birthday?"
"That was hardly poking—"
"My last birthday was horrible, I'll have you know! A complete disaster! And I don't need to be reminded of it!" Her chest heaved as she glared at him, and he was again reminded of the difference between this Hermione Granger, and the Hermione Granger he had met on Monday; this Granger was almost like the old Granger, not quite so un-Grangerish, not quite so downtrodden.
But at the mention of birthdays, the un-Grangerish Granger began to resurface, and the vibrancy of life promptly faded from her expression.
"Please, Malfoy," she began. "I won't turn you in to the Aurors if you'll just leave me alone. Please."
Draco felt something catch within his throat, but managed to choke out stubbornly, "Why should I?"
Unexpectedly, Granger's shoulders slumped, and she turned from him, digging the heels of her hands into her eyes—but not before he could see that she was crying.
Crying! Hermione Granger, crying! Granger, who had a Professor McGonagall-like no-nonsense policy, who had ignored taunts of Mudblood for at least seven years of her life. The world was spinning faster and faster off course.
"I can't… I just can't deal with you, Malfoy. Not now."
Draco gazed at her back a long minute. Then—
Its ending outweighed what little success there had been before.
The headquarters of S.P.E.W. were located in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures at the Ministry of Magic. Draco had never visited the specific location himself, not having an interest in house-elf rights or, indeed, magical creatures in general, since he had been mauled by a hippogriff in his third year at Hogwarts. Even so, he made certain to hold his chin up and fix a sneer upon his face as he made his way through the Ministry, acting as if he owned the place. It was the only way to get around without people stopping him to ask questions, or to stare; he hadn't made a public appearance—especially not there—in quite some time, and everyone was bound to have assumed that he had been eaten by wild Crups within the past year, or some such.
He exited the lift upon reaching level four, and was directed from there to the right, and then to the left, and finally straight ahead into a tiny, private archipelago of offices. A shabby wooden desk rested at what appeared to be the start of the cluster, bearing the words Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare across its front.
Behind it was Granger. This time, her sweater was Gryffindor red.
She glanced up at his approach, and the look of dismay about her was so deep that it was almost painful. Draco pretended not to see it.
"You promised to leave me alone," Granger whispered, gripping the edge of the desk until her knuckles turned white. "You said you wouldn't bother me anymore…"
"I'm not here to bother you," he informed her. "I'm here to make a donation."
He gestured to the visitor's badge pinned to his chest—DRACO MALFOY, elfish benefactor—and withdrew a heavy velvet sack from his robes, placing it upon the desk before her. "Three thousand galleons for S.P.E.W. in the name of Draco Lucius Malfoy."
She gaped at him. "You can't be serious. There—there can't be three thousand galleons in that—that…"
"Magic, Granger," he said curtly. "Now, I don't give away my money lightly, so I expect something useful to be done with it. Though I suggest you start by replacing that desk—it looks like it's about to fall apart."
"You can say thank you now."
"Three thousand galleons?"
"And if that doesn't put a bloody smile on your face," he growled, "you're hopeless."
With that, Draco swept dramatically away, making sure his cloak gave an extra-crisp swish as he went. (There were things one learned under the tutelage of Severus Snape, after all.)
Once out of the direct line of her sight, he flattened himself against the wall of the hallway, peering round the corner. Granger looked to be in a state of shock, repeatedly muttering "three thousand galleons" to herself.
Three thousand galleons was quite a lot of money, to be certain; but the sum had hardly made a dent in his Gringotts vault, and so he hadn't felt any measure of sadness in parting with it—and Mother was always telling him to be more charitable during the holidays. Granger, on the other hand, while not nearly as impoverished as Weasley, had probably never seen such an amount (all at once, at least) in her life, much less for the benefit of her little "spewing" operation.
He took another look at her. She was no longer muttering to herself, fortunately, yet neither was she smiling.
Well. She was, but it was faint, and all wrong.
Draco blinked. Since when had he become an expert on Granger's smile?
It must have been when he'd realized that she didn't show it anymore. She had always smiled at Hogwarts—well, not always, but often enough. He had never taken much interest in it, especially after she'd had her teeth shrunk, and there was nothing more about it for him to make fun of. But he could remember it, somehow, from some time when it had actually drawn his attention…
He struggled to recall.
Just then, he felt something tug at the sleeve of his robe. Draco looked down, bemused to find a tiny old man—probably part goblin, if not a full-out midget—staring at him from behind enormous spectacles.
"Excuse me sir," the midget squeaked, "but have the nifflers got loose again?"
Draco arched his brows, temporarily distracted from his thoughts. "What nifflers?"
"The nifflers," the midget stated ominously, as if that explained everything. "I thought you might be hiding from them. You're wearing an awful lot of shiny things, you know."
"Er…" Draco paused. Nifflers were likely a better explanation than the truth. "Yes," he coughed. "The nifflers got loose again."
"Blast!" the midget cried, the volume of this exclamation causing Draco to jump. "I'll have to call Bert down again, the careless wart. Probably caught up in that mistletoe fiasco with everybody else. 'Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee needs all available help,' ha! They're just trying to steal my department employees, is what…"
The midget meandered off, uttering threats to nobody of immediate consequence. Draco, however, had hardly noticed the absence, for he was suddenly struck by a particular memory.
The Yule Ball. That was where he had seen Granger's smile, the smile he had been subconsciously using as a comparison. That was what had made him utterly speechless when he had seen her that night. It hadn't been the fact that she'd straightened her hair, or that her dress had fitted her with perfection; it had been that when she'd smiled, Viktor-sodding-Krum leading her to the dance floor, she had lit up the entire Great Hall.
Only when that smile appeared would he know that Granger had got over whatever was afflicting her.
And everything would be right.
Whether or not Phase Three had been victorious was something that he entirely forgot to think about.
True to his word, Draco did not seek out Granger on Friday, though she was likely to spend the entire day looking over her shoulder as a result. He did not consider this, however, as his mind was already occupied with other matters; he simply did not have the capacity to also realize that he might be causing someone else slight unease—even if, of course, it was ultimately his goal to accomplish just the opposite.
He spent the entire day thinking; thinking, and not being able to think of anything remotely useful—wondering what color Granger had chosen for her Sweater of the Day didn't count. Phase Four of Operation CUG (BDDT), if things continued as they were, would forever be undefined. Granger's spirits did not pick up at the prospect of cake and ice cream and sparkly banners, nor did they improve at the sight of enchanted grapes. She could not even bring herself to fully appreciate a donation which was sure to have saved her cause from being abandoned in the near future.
What could cheer her up?
Draco obviously did not excel at making people happy. He had spent the greater part of his life making people unhappy, in fact, and had never before felt such a pressing desire to do otherwise.
Staring up at the ceiling from his bedroom floor, he chewed at his bottom lip. He really ought to have left this whole CUG (BDDT) business to someone more qualified. Someone Granger actually knew, and who she cared about. Someone like Potter.
But Potter had failed, hadn't he? He was about as dense as Weasley when it came to females, even if the female in question happened to be one of his best friends.
Draco suddenly paused mid-chew. Potter had still noticed, though, even if he hadn't a clue as to the cause. He would remember when it had started.
Draco rolled over, Summoning a quill and parchment.
It was nearly midnight when Potter's letter arrived…
'When did Hermione start acting depressed?' Why do you need to know? You're not badgering her again, are you?
I guess it was a couple months ago, though. Round her birthday.
Please don't do anything stupid.
And by the time Draco had Apparated to Granger's house, Saturday was underway, and the pieces of the puzzle had begun to put themselves together.
"GRANGER! GRANGER! OPEN THE DOOR, GRANGER!"
Draco pounded fiercely upon Granger's front door, shaking the whole of the building as he did so. He would wake the dead if he had to, so long as it got Granger out of bed. When there was something on Draco's mind, something pressing, patience took little precedence.
After five minutes, a soft glow of light pooled out of an upstairs window, and he could hear someone inside padding down a flight of stairs.
"GRANGER!" he shouted again, for good measure.
"Who is it?" a voice demanded, peeved, from the other side of the door.
"Who do you think?" Draco shot back.
The door swung open. "Malfoy, what are you doing here? It's midnight!"
"Apparently," he muttered, eyeing her rumpled nightdress, bleary eyes, and the truly frightening tangle of her hair, before he suddenly remembered himself.
"I want to know what happened on your birthday," he said.
"What?" Granger stifled a yawn. "You honestly couldn't have waited till the morning to ask me?"
"It is the morning."
"Well, in that case, I don't want to talk about it." She crossed her arms.
"I know. But that's why I'm here, and I won't go away until you tell me." He crossed his own arms huffily, exaggerating her gesture.
She sighed. "Why do you even care? It isn't as if it matters—"
"Of course it matters, Granger, because it's what's turned you into a dejected old hag with nothing better to do than blubber and mope about."
Though her eyes had been unfocused before, this statement certainly sharpened them with alarming rapidity.
Draco gazed back at her, undaunted, as if challenging her to do something extremely rash. "You heard me," he said, waving his hand to casually brush it aside.
Granger scowled. "That's hardly an incentive."
"I should just leave you out here."
"I'll wake the neighbors." He took a deep breath, preparing to continue shouting at the top of his lungs.
Granger clapped her hand over his mouth just in time. "Hurry up then," she hissed, moving aside so that he could pass through the doorway.
Once the door was securely shut behind him, he nearly swooped down upon her—another Snape trick well-learned. Impressively, Granger stood her ground.
"I was seeing someone, and he broke up with me on my birthday," she said. "End of story."
Draco felt a snarl building in his throat. "No," he snapped. "There's more to it than that, there's no point in hiding it!"
"I'm not hiding anything!"
"Yes you are! Because what you're not is the type that gets so utterly, bloody pathetic when she's dumped!"
It was so stupid, the concept of Granger being in such a state of decline because of a bloke. Mental. Illogical. She was better than that, wasn't she? More stable?
"Then maybe I'm not the type of person you believe I am."
Draco threw his hands into the air. "Seriously? Seriously, Granger? I've had just about enough of this shite. What the hell did this prick say to you? What's wrong with you, Granger?"
She clenched her fists. "What's wrong with me?" she repeated. "I'll tell you what's wrong with me: everything! Everything's wrong with me! I'm never good enough, or pretty enough! I'm just Hermione Plain Jane Granger, and I'm sorry I've not been clipped straight out of a magazine! I'm sorry I can't look perfect like everybody else!"
Her eyes were wild, and she was panting slightly.
Draco blinked. "That's it?"
Now she truly looked hurt. "That… Yes, Malfoy. That's it. That's the big fat secret, that's what's turned Know-it-all Granger into a—what was it?—a dejected old hag. That's what's been dragging her into a state of pathetic melancholy. That's it."
"But Granger…" He almost felt like laughing at her absurdity; and had he been thinking straight, he might have choked upon what came next. "Granger, you're… beautiful."
"Don't say that!" she moaned miserably. "It's not true, and you very well know it!"
He shook his head. "You," he began slowly, "are a fantastic idiot."
"Do you ever even bother to look in a mirror? It's not that difficult, trust me."
"Not all of us are raging narcissists, Malfoy. Some of us happen to be realists."
"And clearly, you're not among their number! Merlin!" He took her shoulders, drawing her closer in a sort of crazed desperation. "You're more than just mildly attractive, Granger, and you sure as hell shouldn't need me to tell you that!"
"You're wrong," she murmured quietly, repeating it as if it were an oath. "There isn't anything beautiful about me. There never has been, and there never will be. It's simply who I am. Hermione Plain Jane Grang—"
"Oh, for the love of—"
Draco rolled his eyes, pulled her against his chest, and kissed her.
"Your hair's blue," Potter observed astutely as Draco stepped into Grimmauld Place.
"Yes. Yes it is."
"And it's Sunday," he remarked with equal perceptiveness.
"How very astounding."
Potter frowned, suspicious. "Why are you here?"
Draco dropped onto the sofa with a sigh. "Oh, please. It isn't as if I have to wait till Monday to drop by."
"No… but you always do, anyway."
He shrugged. "What can I say? I'm feeling different today. My hair is blue, after all."
"Er… and why…?"
"Granger hexed me."
Potter started. "Hermione? What for? And when did you see her?" He paused. "You did something stupid, didn't you?"
"On the contrary… I snogged her within an inch of her life."
"Don't sound so upset. She had it coming."
"She had it—Draco! She's completely messed up right now! How could you—?"
"I think you'll find her slightly improved."
Potter ran a hand through his hair. "You didn't Imperius her, did you? Or poison her, or anything?"
"That would worsen things a bit, don't you think?" Draco smirked.
"She even smiled, Potter. Smiled."
Potter snorted. "I expect it was right after she turned your hair blue."
"Well, naturally. But after I snogged her a second time, she decided against retaliating—"
"Urgh. I really don't want to hear this."
"Grow a spine, Potter, it's not like I stayed the night." His expression brightened. "I did, however, buy her a new sweater…"
Potter laughed. "How generous of you."
"I thought so." He didn't bother mentioning the three thousand galleons.
Potter's laughter eventually faded, and was replaced by a thoughtful sort of grin. "She really smiled, though?"
"I've never seen anything like it," Draco nodded. "You know?"
"I reckon so."
They sat in contented silence for some time, mulling over memories and various other things that popped into their minds. And Draco, when he could finally hold it in no longer, uttered a victorious "Mission accomplished" to no one in particular.
He would leave Potter to figure that one out later.