Written at a pinch-hit for the hp_secret_santa exchange on LiveJournal. Story title belongs to Dar Williams—big shock, right? Thanks to my betas, lj user=inadaze22 and lj user=pokeystar!! Section headings inspired by "Friends." Summary taken from "Orange Coloured Sky by Natalie Cole.

Road Buddy

The One Where They Meet … Again.

It happens just the way it does in movies. The woman is walking along one wall of a building, her nose stuck in a book, and the man is walking along another wall of the same building, his arms laden with important papers from his place of work. He's walking quickly, not paying attention to what's around him, and she's slowly meandering toward her destination, likewise absorbed.

They near the corner at the same moment, and a spectacular crash ensues, sending the woman sprawling and scattering the man's papers.

"Bollocks!" curses the man under his breath. Ever polite and courteous, trained with impeccable manners since his youth, he reaches out a hand to help the woman stand. "I'm terribly …."

Meanwhile, the woman is scampering to right herself, quickly gathering the papers that are all over the ground. She is also talking. "Oh! I'm so sorry! I was so engrossed in this chapter that I wasn't …."

It is at this moment that the man and woman finally look at each other. Their eyes meet, and for a fraction of an instant register nothing but surprise. Then her eyes narrow and her lips purse, and she stares at his proffered hand as though waiting for its inevitable withdrawal so that she can remark upon his rudeness.

A wall slides behind his eyes, and he, too, glances at his hand. However, good manners—and a stubborn desire to show her up—win out over repulsion, and he extends his hand toward her by one inch. She frowns, and a smirk graces his features.

"Malfoy," she says, the word full of wariness, distrust, and skepticism. Hesitantly, she places her hand in his and allows him to help her to her feet.

"Granger," he remarks lightly, pleased with winning this little battle. The way her hand feels in his, however, is most disconcerting, and when she is upright, he releases her hand as though stung. Because really, that's how it felt, as though a hundred tiny bees pricked his hand in the places where hers touched it.

He scowls at the implication and resolves to bury and ignore it.

A hundred different questions should have popped into her head, but as she stares at Draco Malfoy, only one presents itself.

"What are all these papers?" she asks.

It is in this moment that he becomes aware that a few of the pages he had been carrying with him were being carried down the street on the wind. "Bollocks!"

Hermione watches him dart after one of the pages, reaching for it, only to have the wind catch it again. Then she Summons the pages with a flick of her wand and enjoys the snarl on Draco's face when he realizes he could have done the same thing instead of running around after his pages. Now they were even.

While she waits for him to walk back to her, she glances at the top page in her hand.

"It's a report on the Perth economy," he says, snatching the parchment away. "For my father. I don't know why I'm telling you this."

The moment arrives when the man and the woman realize they had reached a fork in the road. They stand, not moving or speaking, neither ready to move first. To meet so unexpectedly halfway across the world from where they're from seems fortuitous. Serendipitous. Neither is ready to walk away from such a potentially important moment.

The man's reason is one he doesn't want to acknowledge, but when he thinks about walking away, his hand tingles.

The woman is simply curious; she wants to know everything about why the man is in the same place that she is. If she walks away, she knows she'll never the get the chance to find out.

They are both incredibly stubborn, but one is bound to break. The man decides he can live without knowing more about the way the woman has affected him. After all, he doesn't want it, doesn't welcome it, especially with her.

It's the woman who can't let go.

The One Where They Have Coffee.

The young man is sitting in the designated coffee shop, a slight scowl on his face. He is early, but then, he is always early. He's been sitting there for nearly twenty minutes, his thoughts in turmoil, and very nearly leaving at least seven times. His thoughts are centered on two questions he keeps asking himself over and over: why did I agree to this, and why did I actually show up?

Itsy Bitsy's Coffee and Tea is a quaint little shop in the middle of wizarding Perth. It's ideally located at the corner of the two main thoroughfares to attract a large patronage and currently has no tables available. He keeps getting glares from parties of four for taking up an entire booth by himself, but he's waiting for someone and glares back.

Meanwhile, the young woman is pacing outside of Itsy Bitsy's, asking herself the same two questions as the man. She could easily walk away, not put herself through … dealing with him. He is an unknown; he is unpredictable, and in general, she prefers tangible facts and hard truths. This man … well, he might just throw a little chaos into her life.

As she thinks this, she stops, realizing a little chaos might be exactly in order. And the curiosity that prompted her to agree to this meeting propels her through the door.

Hermione sits ungracefully in the seat across from Draco. "Malfoy," she says pleasantly.

"Granger," he grumbles, scowling at his tea cup.

Silence settles between them, and awkwardness grows exponentially. A waitress comes and takes her order, and when her cup is placed before her, Hermione starts fidgeting and speaks to break the strange tension. "So why are you in Perth?"

Draco fights with himself about responding. He is hesitant to allow this to go any further, so he glances at the door, trying to decide if he cares what she would think of him if he simply got up and left without a word. He finds that he does care, just a smidgeon, but it's enough.

"I'm working for my father," he replies.

"Those papers," she presses, like trying to squeeze a few drops from a lemon. "What were they for?"

Draco sighs. "He is considering expanding into Australia, and I came here to do research on the economy."

"How long have you been here?" she asks, folding her arms and leaning on the table. Interested.

"Nearly a month," he replies dully, staring at the handle of his teacup, at the joints where it connects to the cup.

"I'm surprised we haven't bumped into each other sooner," she remarks. The conversation is difficult, as she supposed it would be. It reminds her of pulling teeth, and that makes her smile to herself.

He shrugs. "I've been rather busy, sequestered in only a few locations in the city. The other day was my first to really explore."

Hermione nods and waits to let him continue, but he sips from his tea and says nothing more. She feels the awkwardness creep in even thicker.

Draco feels this too and reluctantly reciprocates her question when the space between them is almost too thick to breathe. "How about you?" he mutters. "Why are you here?"

She exhales in relief and a little shock. "I came to Australia to fetch my parents after the war."

For the first time that day, interest flickers across his face, and he sits a little straighter. "Your parents? But … why?"

Hermione sighs; of course he doesn't know the story. It's not one she particularly wants to tell, but anything is better than impenetrable silence. "After sixth year, I-I modified their memories and sent them here."

Draco's eyes widen in astonishment. He's so surprised that he doesn't try to mask his reaction for a few seconds. "You modified their memories? Why?"

The change in him is so rapid, so complete, that Hermione can only stare at him as though she'd never seen him before. Gone is the general affect of being indifferent, bored, in pain at being where he is. Instead, he seems genuinely … interested. Engaged.

"To protect them," she responds automatically. "So they wouldn't be a target of Voldemort, used to get at Harry through me."

He flinches at her use of the name but otherwise ignores it. "You modified their memories? After sixth year? That's very advanced magic."

Now she shrugs, feeling heat creep into her cheeks. He is staring at her intensely, skeptically. It's unnerving. "It was simply a matter of studying the spells," she replies, almost defensively. "I believe the education at Hogwarts is somewhat limiting. A first-year student is capable of much more than the curriculum requires."

Draco is now fully attentive, leaning forward slightly in his seat. "Oh? What do you mean?"

Still surprised at his level of interest, she shrugs. "I'm not saying the system doesn't work well, only that it's been so rigid for so long that no thought is given to the actual capabilities of the students. For example, potions." Now she leans forward even more. "I believe just about anyone can complete a potion by following the directions to the letter."

He nods. "Agreed, but that's not what the class is about. In order to be capable in the subject, you have to understand the ingredients, know what they do, so you can anticipate how they'll react with other ingredients."

"I'm not disputing the need to know all of that, it's just …." She trails off, momentarily hesitant before rushing through her next words. "In my second year, I successfully brewed Polyjuice Potion. Yet it isn't taught until sixth year. It's more complicated than, say, Pepper-Up, but not harder."

Once again, his eyes widen. "You brewed Polyjuice? In second year?"

She nods, self-conscious, her cheeks burning again.

Draco looks at her, and for the first time, he thinks he really sees her. He's always known that she was smart; it was an undisputable fact. But it had always been a nebulous thing, rephrased by his father so that it sounded evil, an aberration, unnatural. Hearing about it now, from her lips—plump, lightly glossed lips—is … brilliant.

But she's more than just intelligent, he can see this in her eyes, and he suddenly wants to know more about her. In that instant, he wants to know everything.

Changing the subject, he turns his cup halfway on the saucer, so the handle points toward the window instead of the rest of the shop. "That brought you here," he says. "What has kept you?"

Hermione doesn't know what to make of the change in his demeanor. Part of her wanted to go back to the discussion about coursework; she'd felt a strange impassioned fire threaten to burn through her as they'd talked.

She fidgets with her cup, wrapping her hands completely around it. "I found them—easily done, since I'd put a tracking charm on them—and reversed the memory spells. They retained the memories of their time in Australia, however, and had started a dental practice and made friends. They wanted to stay."

She glances up at Draco to find him watching her. The way he's looking at her is slightly disconcerting, and she isn't sure why.

"You still haven't answered the question," he remarks, his tone patient.

"It's … different here," she continues. "Away from England and the post-war atmosphere. It's freeing; I found I could relax here, breathe easily. England—home—was suddenly a stranger, and I couldn't shake the feeling it was following me. I enrolled in secondary education in Perth. I've one year left before I'm finished."

He smiles wistfully. "That's great. For what subjects?" he asks, relaxing even further.

"Potions and Arithmancy," Hermione replies. "I could teach, but I'm leaning toward research."

Draco gives her a half-smile, unable to comprehend why he's enjoying himself. "Really? Anything specific?"

The woman shakes her head in disbelief and sets about answering the man's question. Just like in the movies, the image pans out as she speaks. An hour passes, then two, then four, and before either of them knows what's happened, the sun has set and their stomachs are in desperate need of filling. They've managed to spend the entire afternoon in pleasant company and conversation.

This time it's the man who presses for another meeting, though he dare not call it a 'date'. The woman refuses to even think the word as she agrees.

A tentative, almost reluctant friendship settles in their hearts as they part, though neither wishes for anything to change.

The One Where He Leaves.

It's two weeks before we see the man and woman again, and in that time they've met for dinner three times, lunch four times, and on seven occasions just to spend time together—though the word 'relationship' has never been uttered.

On this day, the pair meets for lunch and afterwards, goes for a walk in a nearby park. The setting is idyllic: a beautiful spring day, blue sky, big puffy clouds, the sun shining, flowers blooming, birds chirping, and laughter all around.

Hermione is eating a Bertie Bott's Ever Flavour Lollipop as they stroll beside a duck pond. Draco has been quiet the entire time, and he walks with his head down and his hands in his pockets.

"I'm thinking of getting fish," she says, more to break the silence than anything.

He looks up, blinks, and nods once before returning to stare at the ground. "Sounds nice."

Hermione stops. She doesn't want to pry, as she's not sure if they've reached that point in their friendship, but she knows something is wrong. Draco is usually very controlled; he has never before allowed the buried-deep emotions to interfere with what he shows her.

Draco stops too and sighs. He knows that she knows something is amiss, and even though he wishes he'd never have to tell her, he does.

"I'm leaving," he mumbles, kicking at a patch of grass that has grown up between the cracks in the sidewalk.

"Oh." She doesn't look at him and focuses on a group of kids playing football nearby. The fact is that she's known this would happen eventually; Draco was only supposed to be in Perth for a while, gathering information for his father. She just hadn't expected the reality of his departure to carve out a hole inside of her. "When?"

"Day after tomorrow," he replies, following her gaze to the football players.

"Got everything you needed, then?" she asks, trying to keep her affect flat.

He nods just as one of the kids scores a goal.

"That'll be nice." She forces a smile at the kids cheering on the field. "I'm sure you'll be glad to get back to your routine."

Draco nods again, absently. He's thinking about Quidditch and where he left his broom in the Manor. He's thinking about diamond rings and a black-hearted woman. Mostly, though, he's thinking about Hermione eating a lollipop beside him and the fact that he has finally found something he wants.

Swallowing hard, he mumbles his assent, though he can't chase the frown away.

"Aren't you ready to get back to England?" she asks, hoping for some indication that he doesn't want to leave. Until now, she hadn't really thought about him being gone; he had become a part of her life very quickly and surprisingly easily, and she simply can't imagine him not being there.

"Not exactly," he replies. "This … hiatus … has been nice."

Well, that's something, she thinks, though she can't help but feel like she's doing all the work to get answers out of him. "Hiatus from work?"

"That and … other things." Draco is avoiding the cold, hard truth, but he can't help it. He doesn't want to discuss anything that might dissolve what they have, even though he knows it must come to an end. No, not that, he realizes; it must change. This gives him some hope.

Hermione decides that he's avoiding something too, and pushes for him to just spit it out. "There's something—or someone—you don't want to go back to?"

Now he looks at her, and instantly decides it was mistake. Her eyes are guarded, and he misses the way they usually are: open, blunt, and thoughtful.

"There's a someone," he finally admits, retuning his gaze to the patch of grass on the sidewalk.

"I'm confused," she says. "If you don't want to go back to someone … then don't. It seems simple."

Draco chuckles wryly. "It would seem you're right. But it's not."

Like a firecracker exploding, she's angry. "That's rubbish."

He is oddly calm when he responds, surprised that he isn't returning her fire for fire. "Have you ever read anything by Jane Austen?"

"Of course," she huffs indignantly.

"The wizarding world is much like that world," he explains. "Steeped in tradition, classes, rules. My parents have worked to secure me a match, and there's little I can do about it."

"But there's something," she argues. It's not that she wants him to pledge his devotion to her that instant, or to run off and find an official to join them that afternoon, she just hates the way the people of the wizarding world are so reluctant to change.

"Yes," he admits, "there's something. But I would have to be sure. Let's walk again."

Draco doesn't wait for her response and starts down the path once more. After a few feet, he glances back to find her rooted in place, her arms crossed over her chest and a frown on her face. "I'm walking," he tells her.

Their … relationship, or whatever, was sudden, surprising, and unbelievable. There were some nights he'd lain awake, wondering if it was really real. One minute, he'd been plodding ahead, gathering data and statistics on the economies of various cities around the world. The next, he'd developed something for the one woman from his childhood he would have bet a million Galleons against.

Being away from England had been good for him; he'd been able to finish growing up, finalizing his own beliefs on the world. While there was something to be said for tradition and lineage, it didn't really matter in the every day, real world. Besides, muggle-born witches and wizards had magic in their ancestry at some point; it wasn't as though they simply sprouted up by … magic.

Hermione watches him walk away and considers her options. She can follow him, continue their argument that isn't likely to end well, force him to tell her that he's had a good time, a pleasant diversion, but in the end, she's just not good enough for him, could never be good enough. He might not use those exact words, but they would be laced with whatever words he did use, inseparable.

If she left, though; if she walked away without another word, she could keep their time together capsulated, compartmentalized, defined as something nice she experienced. A rare friendship, like a supernova, shining bright for an instant before dissolving into nothing but iron and stone. And memories.

She could handle that, she realizes. She is strong, and she has left things in her past before; she could do it again. The question remains, however: would she grow to regret this decision?

When he looks back, she knows the answer. Still, she is stubborn, and hates the fact that he has given her no choice but to run after him like some love-torn dipsy.

Resolved to make him pay at some point, Hermione starts after him, grumbling as she hurries to catch him.

"You can never be sure," she quips as she falls into step beside him.

He picks up as though there had been no interruption. "As certain as possible, then. I'd need certain guarantees."

A smile escapes onto his lips, and he sends it to her, locking his gaze with hers for an instant. The fact that she is there, still beside him, makes him happy. Really, honestly, indisputably happy. This thing that has happened so fast makes his heart pound and his throat close when she'd around. He had all but abandoned the hope of ever feeling this way, and here it is—here she is.

"I'm afraid guarantees are just as rare as certainties." Hermione returns the smile, unable to stop herself.

"The contract is crafted in such a way that it makes it very difficult to achieve such guarantees." Draco's mind is whirring now with hope. It has been planted and is taking root, spreading through his being like fibrous lightning. "Normally, I wouldn't have left her side from the beginning until the completion, therefore making it nearly impossible to develop attachments to another woman."

Hermione's heart leaps at his words, but she scolds herself and pushes down the excitement. It's been mere weeks that she and Draco have been friends, and it's impossible to be certain about anything in such a short time. They haven't even kissed, for Merlin's sake!

"Only with a pure promise of devotion from another can the arrangement be broken," he says with finality. "Those don't exactly grow on trees, now do they?"

"No," she whispers.

Draco stops suddenly, realizing the very thing that Hermione had only moments before, and grabs her wrist to stop her too.

"What—" she starts—

He cuts her off by pulling her to him, their bodies colliding softly as he wraps one arm around her waist. In the same motion, he threads his fingers through her hair, cupping the back of her head. Her eyes are wide with surprise and anticipation as he lowers his head, gently pressing his lips to hers.

It happens the way it does in movies. Hesitant at first, then escalating in intensity. Two hearts pounding, thrilling to the new sensations, heat and fire racing through their blood. Everything around them disappears, all sights and sounds, and the world narrows until it contains only them. Time slows, every detail is memorized, and every touch is catalogued.

The way he rubs his thumb on her cheek—the way she presses closer to him when he deepens the kiss—the way his hand splays on her back, as though he wants to feel every part of her—the way she knots her hand in his hand when he nibbles on her lip.

Their first kiss is electric. It nearly consumes them.

The One Where They're Apart.

"Excellent work, Draco," says Lucius. "I've gone through every report, and I must say, your thoroughness and attention to detail will serve you well in the business."

"Father, I—"

"We'll be meeting with the Board in a few days. I'd like you there," Lucius continues.

"Father, I—"

"Your mother tells me she and Daphne have selected the china and crystal," he interrupts, his tone almost interested. "They need you to give your approval. And for some reason, Narcissa wants you to select the silver, though I can't imagine why."

"Father …." Draco pauses, wondering if it's his approach. "I—"

The corner of Lucius's mouth lifts in the barest hint of a smirk. "Speaking of your intended, she was here last night. She stopped by to inquire about your return. Isn't that thoughtful?"

"Father!" he shouts.

Lucius chuckles to himself, clearly amused. "Speak, Son."

"I-I met someone." He has to blurt it out as quickly as possible, else he lose his nerve.

The amusement disappears, and Lucius turns a hard eye toward Draco. "I do hope you mean that you made a number of promising connections with potential business partners on your trip."

"Not exactly." Draco holds his breath.

Lucius heaves a dramatic sigh. "Well, do go on."

"I don't want to marry Daphne," Draco says, a sense of doom settling on his mind while a feeling of freedom captures his heart.

"All right," says Lucius, drumming his fingers on a pile of parchments on the desk. "Assuming we are agreeable, there is much to be done. We would be guilty of breaking the contract, and as such would have to pay reparation. I suppose that can be taken out of your salary." He nods to himself. "Yes, it'll be costly, but easy enough. Now, who is the girl, and how do I contact her family?"

Now came the part he's been dreading the most. He has a safety net, but there's no way to know how Lucius will react. "She … she's muggle-born, Father."

Lucius goes very still, his fingers frozen mid-thrum. His jaw tightens and his eyes narrow. "I see," he says quietly.

So quietly that it frightens Draco. "I wish to know what would happen, should I go through with this."

Lucius is very quiet for a few long, long minutes. Draco watches the minutes hand move five spaces before his father speaks.

"I'm sure you've heard of your mother's sister," he drawls.

"Andromeda," Draco states.

"Have you ever met the woman?" Lucius asks.

Draco shakes his head, dread welling in the pit of his stomach.

"There's a reason for that," says Lucius, picking up a letter opener and running his fingers along both sides of the dull blade.

"You'll disown me."

The elder Malfoy inclined his head very slightly.

Draco knew this would be his father's response, but to have it given so emotionlessly, so coldly … it stings. Good thing he has a plan. It's not that he would never consider giving up everything for a woman. He and Hermione aren't in that place yet, and he needs a contingency should they never reach it.

"I see," he says evenly. "Then I won't be marrying Daphne."

For just an instant, Draco sees doubt and concern cloud his father's eyes. He sits up in his chair and pulls out a blank piece of parchment. Inking his quill, he says, "As you wish. I'll write to her father at once."

"I won't be marrying … the one I want, either." He keeps his tone casual, as though he made such life-altering statements every day.

Lucius frowns. "I'm not sure I follow. If you won't be marrying your Mudlood, then you'll marry Daphne."

"I will dissolve the agreement with Daphne, and I will live with …. Oh, sod it all. Hermione Granger," he huffs.

Draco watches his father process what he's just told him. As his face turns red, Draco knows he is beyond livid. Not only is Hermione Granger the witch in question, but Lucius understands the implications of what Draco has said. In the wizarding world, to a strict pureblood, the only thing worse than marrying a muggle-born is not marrying at all, but living as though joined in wedlock. It would be the ultimate disgrace for Draco's family; his mother would take it especially hard.

"I see," Lucius ground out. "Is this the way you want it?"

"This is the way it must be," Draco replies. "You've forced my hand."

"Fine. So be it. But there will be consequences," Lucius practically spits.

"Of course, Father." Draco gives his father a smug grin. He doesn't need a hundred million Galleons to live; a million a year should suffice.


Hermione hasn't been in England for over two years, and she finds that she's missed it. Everything is warm and familiar. She stayed in Australia because she could almost be anonymous there.

Now, however, enough time has passed that people aren't staring openly at her as she makes her way through Diagon Alley. She cannot show up at the Burrow without something for Molly, so she buys a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine before Apparating to the Weasley home.

Molly answers the door, as Hermione expected, and stares in astonishment for an instant before crying out in joy and embracing her.

"Oh, Hermione, dear!" she cries. "It's so good to see you! How have you been? How are you eating? How's the weather? Do come in, dear. Would you like some tea?"

Hermione laughs.

George and Percy enter the room, arguing about some Ministry policy until they spot Hermione. Then George whoops and runs to her, picking her up and spinning her around.

"Merlin, Hermione, but you're a sight for sore eyes!" he exclaims as he sets her down. "What are you doing here?"

"I've come for a short visit," she replies, laughing and oh so happy to be with her dearest friends.

"Brilliant!" George grins.

"Are … Ron or Harry around?" Hermione asks.

"You're in luck," says Percy with an air of superiority. "They're in the back garden trying out a new broom Ron just purchased."

Hermione smiles at Percy's tone. It's nice to know some things never change; Percy will always be pretentious and pedantic. "Thank you," she says, heading through the house to the back door.

She finds her oldest friends near the door, huddled around the new broom. She hasn't seen them for nearly a year; they visited her the previous summer with Ginny. It had been a bit awkward, as Ginny and Harry had recently broken up, but that had quickly passed.

Harry's hair is longer, shaggier than she's ever seen it, and she wonders if this is a reflection of no longer being with Ginny. Ron's shirt fits him more snugly in the arms then she's used to. This makes her smile.

It doesn't take them but a few seconds to notice someone is there. Ron looks up first and breaks into a huge grin. He swats Harry on the arm and jogs over to her, wrapping her in a hug much like the one George gave her.

"Merlin's beard, Hermione!" he says into her hair. "We didn't know you were coming."

"I know." She gently pulls away, only to be enveloped by Harry.

"It's good to see you," Harry remarks when he lets her go.

Hermione smiles warmly, a swell of love and friendship threatening to burst through her skin. "I've missed you both so much. Tell me everything that's new."

They spend the next hour getting caught up. Harry is very seriously dating Luna, who prefers his hair a bit longer, and has been for nearly a year. He blushes when Ron mentions settling down and refuses to respond, though Hermione sees the glimmer of happiness in his jewel-green eyes.

Ron has been seeing Pansy Parkinson for a couple of months, a fact which makes Hermione's jaw drop when she hears it.

When she inquires about Ginny, Harry mumbles something incoherent. Ron chuckles and informs her that ever since breaking up with Harry, his little sister has been heavily pursued by one Blaise Zabini. She'd put him off for months, but his charms and dogged determination got to her eventually and they've been dating for six months or so.

They talk about Hermione's schooling, Ron and Harry's jobs, Hermione's parents, and everything that's happened with the Ministry and the Order since the last time they were together.

Eventually, the conversation lulls a bit, and Ron elbows Hermione. "You've heard all about our social lives. What about you? Any special blokes from Down Under?" He winks at Harry.

Her insides flip with nervous delight at the thought of Draco. "Actually, that's what I'm here to talk to you about." Both Harry and Ron's eyes drop to her hand, which she self-consciously hides. "I'm not engaged," she huffs. "But … there is someone."

"Let's hear it," says Harry.

"Promise you won't get mad?" she squeaks.

"No!" exclaims Ron jovially. "We reserve the right to protest, should we feel the need."

"Hear, hear!" echoes Harry.

"All right." She takes a deep breath. "There's … someone. At least, there's the possibility of someone. We aren't quite together yet, at least not technically, as he's still engaged, or was, as of this morning."

Ron is frowning when she looks at him. "Engaged?"

"I don't like this," chimes Harry.

"It's not what you're thinking," she argues, immediately defensive. "It's not like he's been cheating on her with me. We just met up one day, unexpectedly, and started spending time together. It grew into something more, and now he's here to break the engagement."

"Wait," says Harry. "He's here? Here as in England?"

Ron lets out a low whistle. "Tell me it's not him."

"Him who, Ron?" she asks, even though she knows.

"Pansy Floo'd me earlier in a tizzy because Daphne Greengass—remember her?—arrived at her flat sobbing in hysterics because she'd just been unceremoniously dumped." Ron is staring at her, his eyes scrutinizing her face.

Harry gasps. "Wait! Greengrass! Wasn't she …? She was with … Malfoy?"

Hermione blinks. "I-I don't know, he never mentioned her name."

Ron nods furiously. "It was the biggest news of the year. Made all the papers. Pansy was supposed to be the maid of honor, and now she's rather put out at losing her title."

"So it's … him then?" Harry asks, shaking his head. When Hermione nods, he chuckles. "That's really something, Hermione. Do … do you love him?"

Her eyes widen. "No!" she cries. At the bewildered looks from her friends, she continues. "I-we've only been spending time together for a few weeks. We're not even together!"

"Then what's all this about?" Harry presses. "Why did he break his engagement?"

"Because," she replies. "He can't very well date me while he's engaged to someone else, can he?"

"I thought you weren't together," Ron remarks, confused.

"We're not," she assures him. "Yet. It's … complicated. It was an arranged marriage between him and Daphne."

Ron's expression relaxes, and he nods knowingly. "Ahh. Well, that's understandable then."

Harry throws up his hands. "I'm still a bit lost. Do you like him, Hermione?"

She feels her cheeks pink and she smiles. "I do. Quite a bit, to be honest. You don't mind, do you?"

"Naw," says Ron, throwing an arm around her shoulder and giving her a squeeze. "Malfoy … well, he's … he's all right. Seems to be making an effort. A half decent bloke."

Hermione smiles and throws her arms around him in a hug. "Oh, I'm so glad to hear it! He's told me some of what he's been doing, though reluctantly. Almost as if he doesn't want anything to tarnish his reputation of sodding wanker."

Harry laughs loudly. "Wouldn't want people to think well of him. Tragedy, that. Yeah, Hermione, he's all right. I don't go out for drinks with him, but I no longer have the urge to hex him every time I see him, either."

"And I have been out for drinks with him," adds Ron. "He always gets the tab. Can't be all bad, right?"

"Besides, Ron can't talk," says Harry. "He's with Pansy! Ten times more annoying than Malfoy, any day."

"Hey!" Ron punches Harry in the shoulder.

"Thank you," says Hermione, smiling at her friends in turn. "This means the world to me."

The One Where He Comes Back.

The woman returns home before the man does. He has much to put in order, while she has a life she can't put on hold. Weeks pass with only a short, bland letter from him, and she begins to wonder if he's ever coming back, if she didn't just imagine everything. Maybe whatever they felt only existed in that period of time and even if he does come back, nothing will be the same. Maybe he'll realize he's made a mistake. Maybe she will.

She begins to settle back into her life, and during the day, she barely notices that she misses him. There's a dull ache that she can almost ignore.

But it's never really gone, and at night, it hits her full force, as though it's going to make her pay for trying to forget it. She wonders how he could have so easily become part of her life, how after spending only a few weeks with him, his absence is the worst kind of longing and pain she's ever felt.

It's three in the morning when she's awakened by a knock on the door. Heart pounding, she grabs her wand and pads quietly through the house where she lives, alone with the fish she bought two weeks before.

The visitor knocks again just as she nears the door, and she when peers through the peephole, her heart nearly leaps out of her chest.

Hermione hurriedly unlocks the door and takes down her wards before throwing open the door. He's standing on the other side of the threshold, looking tired and worn but entirely corporeal. He's no dream.

When Draco sees her, hair wild and untamed, he knows that the weeks of torture he endured at the hands of his parents and his ex-fiancé were worth it. She's wide awake, but there are still pillow lines on her cheek and forehead, and he smiles at the sight of them.

"Hermione," he says, breathing her name the way he breathes air.

She can't help but smile back. "Draco!"

They stand looking at each other for a second more, and then he closes the distance between them and wraps his arms around her. Wants to hold her for as long as she'll let him.

"You're here," she whispers. "You're really here."

He nods in the space between her head and neck, and he feels her hand in his hair. "My timing isn't good, I know," he starts. "Nothing for it, though. I've got to get back on Australia time."

"Why?" she asks, pulling away to look him in the eye.

"I'm moving here. For a while. See how things go," he replies, brushing a stray curl out of her face.

"You mean it?" This feels just so right, and all of her worries, her concern over things moving too fast, her questions, her doubts, disappear in that moment. The most impossible thing has happened, and there isn't a thing she can do about it. Nor would she, if there was.

He nods, and then takes her hands in his. "I've been through a mess, but I don't want to think about it right now. Plenty of time for that later. Right now, I want three things to happen, not necessarily in this order. I want you to go back to bed; I'll see you tomorrow."

She starts to protest, but he cuts her off with a finger to her lips. "Not in this order," he repeats. Hermione nods and he retracts his hand. "Next, I … I want to ask you out. On a date. Properly."

She waits for him to continue, but he's looking at her expectantly. "Was that your question?" she asks, chuckling.

His cheeks pink and he scowls, which only makes her laugh harder. "You get my meaning. What'll it be?"

"I want you to ask," she insists playfully.

Draco's scowl deepens. "Don't push it." He takes a deep breath. "Will you go out to dinner with me?"

"Absolutely," she replies. "Name the date and time. What's the third thing?"

Now he smirks and pulls her tight flush to him. For an instant, she looks shocked, and he laughs. "Well, I'll take that, too, if you insist, but I really just wanted a kiss."

Hermione gasps, feigning indignation, and gently tilts his head down to meet his lips with hers.

The story ends with another searing kiss, one that will forever be burned into their memories. It ends like many stories, with great hope and possibility.

The man and the woman are setting out on a journey that many take. It is a long, hard road under the best of circumstances, and this couple has many obstacles yet to overcome. But with a true companion, the road is worth traveling.


Prompt: Something AU maybe , like they meet up after war in a different country. Maybe they meet up somewhere, like a cafe, after finding they are living in the same place. A nice love story. Like PG-13 to R, I dont even think it will need to go that far. Situations you would not like to see:- Not too OOC Draco, and not too fluffy...eew. Not too much angst.