The first chapter of the first fanfic I ever wrote. This is it in its original, unedited form. I've written a lot since, both fanfic and original novels. I've even become a published author. But it all started here.

I still love this pairing and this story still defines the way I see them together.

Clearly, but depressingly, I own none of these characters - JK Rowling has that privilege.

Enjoy. LL x

Hermione Granger perused the bookshelves of an almost deserted Flourish and Blotts with her usual intense and focused manner. She was searching for a very specific title which had eluded her for weeks and she had heard that someone may have sold an old copy back to the shop. Her cheeks were slightly flushed with frustration at the owner's inability to keep it back for her rather than return it to the maze of shelves which lined every wall and corridor. She had after all, specifically asked him to. Other people's incompetence never ceased to amaze her, and it seemed to be getting worse as she got older.

It was nearly four years since she, Harry and the others had defeated Voldemort. Four years since her imprisonment and torture at Malfoy Manor. The world was now a safe, happy place, largely thanks to her. Yes, she had suffered, but it had been worth it. Now it was all over. Life was good.

So people kept telling her.

Her reputation had secured her a good job at the Ministry, working closely with Kingsley Shacklebolt, still Minister of Magic. The public adulation and interest had initially been intense. The media circus, parties and functions, even she had to admit, had been fun. Ron especially had enjoyed it all and it made her believe that they had grown even closer. The social whirl had at least helped her cope with the persistent fingers of darkness which poked at her, invading her waking hours and haunting her dreams. But after a few months, public interest had waned, and although the respect and admiration of her fellows remained and she still drew glances and whispers in Diagon Alley, life had returned to relative normality.

She and Ron had settled into what she thought must be a typical life as a couple. They had, in the last few months, finally moved in to a small flat together. However, his job as a Quidditch consultant and occasional player meant he was away a lot, and Hermione's workaholic tendencies were still a source of frustration for him. But on the rare occasions they did take time to be together properly, it was good. They were still happy, Hermione affirmed.

As she scrutinised the shelves her head twinged and her eyes blurred. She rubbed them distractedly, reminded of yet another disrupted night's sleep. Closing her eyes wearily, she rested her forehead briefly against the shelf. She had not had an unbroken night's sleep for as long as she could remember. Not that she necessarily wanted one. As much as she longed for it to take away her exhaustion at night, sleep was an unsettling time, inevitably disturbed by the darkest of memories and nightmares. She dreaded the night.

She had been looking for the book for at least three quarters of an hour in the various locations it could have been, with no success, the shopkeeper being distinctly unhelpful. The precious lunch hour the Ministry granted her was fast disappearing and as her stomach groaned petulantly, she realised with annoyance that she would have to eat something before returning to her desk. Her weight loss had been noted by friends and workmates, and commented on almost spitefully by Ron. However, sense made her agree with them and pride made her want to silence them. She had a hectic afternoon ahead of her and needed food. She had often wondered why being a witch did not allow one the power to avoid hunger, fatigue, desire, and other human frailties. Life would be so much simpler without them. "Yeah, but boring as hell," Harry would have countered no doubt. She smiled slightly to herself.

Hermione sighed and let her hand drop from the shelf she was scanning. She would have to abandon her quest for now. She had only been in her job for eight months and had done little but impress. She had no desire to allow any bad habits which would inevitably be noted to creep in. Tardiness was frowned on in the department and her ingrained respect for authority died hard. In any case, she lacked the energy or inclination to concentrate further. She bent down to gather her things.

She was distracted by the clatter of the doorbell and a voice talking loudly, echoing suddenly and intrusively into the silence of the shop. Her headache intensified and she sighed at other people's insensitivity. But as the voice pierced her psyche, she stopped dead. A cold chill froze her to the spot.

It was a voice Hermione recognised all too well. A voice she had not heard for nearly four years; that of Draco Malfoy.

"My trial period is nearly over. It will be impossible for them to refuse me a position after this, as you well know."

Hermione could not move. A wave of nausea swept over her and she clung to the shelves, her head swimming. She cursed herself for reacting like this. The Malfoys had disappeared from the public eye for nearly two years after the war. They had been spared Azkaban due to their apparently genuine repentance, validated by Harry himself, although it was rumoured they were kept under close Ministry surveillance and were on a programme of 'rehabilitation' of some sort. But recently it was clear that they were re-emerging into society, having been spotted at several high-profile functions, albeit rarely, if ever, together. Hermione realised it had been only a matter of time before she would meet Draco, and was shocked and angry with herself for not being better prepared mentally. Closing her eyes she let out a silent curse. Why did it have to be now? She needed to get back. Did it have to happen at a moment when she neither had the time nor the emotional fortitude to deal with it?

She contemplated waiting, but time was slipping away rapidly and she had no way of knowing how long Draco would be. She resolved to walk out, greet him briefly but politely if they passed and move on. Composing herself enough to stop her head from spinning, and taking a deep breath, she slung her bag over her shoulder and hurried down the stairs, holding her head as high as she could.

Draco saw her almost immediately, his look of discomfort fleeting but clear. His expression was replaced almost immediately by a shadowy reminder of his old sneer, but Hermione noted it had lost most of its arrogant bitterness. Draco owed Hermione and her friends his life. Common courtesy was the least he could offer.

"Granger. It's been a long time." The words were pulled out of his throat, but were spoken with integrity.

"Hello, Draco. Are you well?" Hermione found herself meaning the question. Her use of his first name surprised them both. She made an effort to look at him and as she met his cold eyes, she saw that they had lost the malicious spark they had always exhibited at Hogwarts. It had been replaced by a grey emptiness that she found less aggressive but equally disconcerting.

"Yes. Very well. I am about to start a consultancy job at Gringott's on the foreign currency desks." His voice was full of mock confidence, but although the tone reminded Hermione of the old Draco, it lacked any of its former conviction or assurance. Malfoy continued as forcefully as possible, "It was promised me when I was still at school. It has been nearly four years now since..." He left his words hanging. Neither of them wished to be reminded of the events of that time. He glanced away. Silence enveloped them both briefly, but heavily. Then he lifted his eyes back to Hermione. "How are you?" Hermione sensed a genuine query in his voice.

A riot of emotions flooded her. This boy ... man ... who had tormented her throughout school, and then been so nearly responsible for her and her friends' deaths, suddenly and unexpectedly so close; his physical proximity triggered her darkest memories. But looking into his eyes and seeing the life gone out of them, her sense of decency could not abandon her and she felt just as acutely the pain he must have gone through, was evidently still going through. Time had passed.

Forgive and forget. Forgive and forget. The words echoed in her head, sounding hollow and clich├ęd, but appealing to her ethical code nonetheless. She straightened up and spoke as clearly as she could.

"I'm very well, Draco. Thank you. You are looking ... fine ... I must go ... get back to the Ministry. Perhaps we'll meet again soon ... Goodbye."

It was not enough to stem the tide of desolation that was welling up inside her. She needed to get out. The memories now flooding her senses were suffocating her. She backed away from Draco towards the door, panic rising inside her.

She was stopped abruptly in her progress by a tall, solid, immovable object, causing her to gasp and jolt forward. She spun around to see what had impeded her exit. Her eyes fell on the blackest, most finely-tailored robes she had ever seen and she breathed in deeply in shock. A smell filled her senses, making her head spin more wildly. It was a deeply sensuous smell of musk and aromatic spices. A smell so intoxicating, she instinctively grasped the robes in front of her for support. She unavoidably inhaled deeply once again, trying to clear her head of the swirling dizziness that engulfed it, but inadvertently taking in more of that scent, that scent she had only previously encountered in times of the deepest peril, pain and despair. The scent, and the robes that she was now clutching, could belong to only one wizard. The wizard present at her own torture and agony, complicit in it all. The wizard she had hoped never to see again.

The inevitable loomed over her. She raised her head, up past the solid torso, the broad shoulders, slowly but ultimately towards the gaze she knew she would meet. She looked straight into the frozen grey eyes of Lucius Malfoy.

I still adore and appreciate all reviews and thank you all for taking the time to write something. I will try to get back to you all personally, although that is not always possible these days due to time restrictions.