Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter and I don't make any money with this.
Warnings: Post-DH, EWE.
A/N: Written for ldymusyc's request for the Halloween Trick or Treat Fest at luvlikerocketz The prompt was Hallowe'en means costumes, but those wings aren't fake. This is officially the longest ficlet ever and apparently it's taking me quite some time to finish it.
Titles and lyrics are from the song The Space Between by The Dave Matthews Band.
Thanks go to the lovely Withdrawnred, for beta'ing the chapter.
Chapter 5 – The Bullets In Our Firefight
In the second week of December, the Ministry hosted a Christmas party for its employees. Strictly speaking, attendance wasn't obligatory. However, it was strongly encouraged to mingle with one's co-workers every once in a while, so Hermione had let Ginny drag her to go shopping for new dress robes a few days earlier and now Apparated into the already filled Atrium, wearing ridiculously expensive, yet beautiful, burgundy red robes.
She blamed the robes for the fact that she had been at the Atrium for less than a minute when an already inebriated Ernie McMillan walked by, patting her bum as he passed her. It took Hermione only a second and a quick spell to deal with Ernie, and then she went on to search for her friends.
However, a quick look around told her that none of her friends were there yet, although she did spot Draco, who was standing a bit to the side, frowning at those few who were brave or drunk enough to dare to approach him. Ignoring his grim demeanour, Hermione walked towards him.
"Hello, Malfoy," she greeted. "How are you?"
"Does it ever feel to you like the Ministry is doing nothing but throwing parties these days?" Draco asked sourly before draining the champagne flute in his hands. He handed the empty glass to a nearby waiter and grabbed another one.
Hermione shook her head, smiling. "Oh come on, lighten up. There have been two major wars in less than three decades. People need a good party every once in a while to cope with the horrors they've been through."
"You mean people need the alcohol that is being served at these parties to help them forget." Draco raised his glass in a mock salute and took another large gulp of champagne.
"You know, compared to you even I am a party animal, and I usually prefer a good book and the quiet of the library," Hermione replied, taking a small sip from her own glass.
"You wouldn't like parties either if the drunks were constantly trying to grab your wings," Draco said, shuddering. His feathers rustled noticeably with the movement.
"Well, Ernie McMillan just tried to grab my bum. Does that count?" Hermione asked, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
"Is he still alive?" Draco asked, a wicked gleam appearing in his eyes.
"Of course. Don't be silly," Hermione said haughtily.
"Come on, Hermione. You can tell me. What did you do to him?" Draco gave her a knowing grin.
"I might have charmed the back of his pants to be see-through. I imagine right now the entire staff of the Ministry of Magic, plus assorted guests, are admiring his bare bum," Hermione grudgingly admitted. "But he totally deserved it," she added as an afterthought.
"Of course," Draco agreed. He turned around to see if he could spot McMillan, but all he saw was a cluster of laughing witches and wizards, who were openly pointing at someone near the Fountain of Brethren. Draco correctly surmised that McMillan was probably on the other side, oblivious to the fact that he was the reason for all the laughter of his colleagues.
"You are truly devious, Granger," he remarked.
"I am not," Hermione immediately said, indignantly.
"Whatever you need to believe."
McMillan's unfortunate run-in with Hermione seemed to have improved Draco's mood somewhat. He was no longer glowering at everyone and everything and slowed down with the champagne. He refused to join the general merriness of the Christmas party though, preferring to stand by the sidelines. Hermione couldn't blame him. There were quite a few witches eying him speculatively, and most of them weren't exactly their age.
"One of these days, Granger, you will have to explain to me what it is with witches and the damn wings," Draco said, annoyed.
"I really don't know," she admitted. "But I would have thought you'd use that particular aspect of having the wings to your advantage."
"Oh really?" Draco asked, looking slightly green. Hermione followed his line of sight and saw a group of three middle-aged witches, with heavily applied make-up charms, who were staring hungrily at Draco. She laughed.
"Maybe not exactly with them. I was more thinking of witches a bit closer to our age."
Draco shrugged. "It's weird."
"Weird?" Hermione asked curiously.
Draco tore his eyes away from the crowd and looked at Hermione seriously. "Having anyone come near the damn wings just feels very strange. Intimate somehow… and vulnerable. I don't like it."
"Draco, I'm so—"
"Seriously, Granger," Draco interrupted, "if you apologise one more time I'm gonna start ripping out my feathers. I like having you grovel at my feet just as much as the next Slytherin, but enough is enough."
Hermione laughed again. "You really are impossible."
"So you keep telling me." Draco shrugged, and they continued to sip their champagne in strangely companionable silence.
"Have you seen the Minister?" Draco asked after a while.
"Not yet," Hermione replied. "Why?"
"Because once he has seen me and knows I attended this stupid party, I'm going to Apparate straight home."
Hermione shook her head disapprovingly. "One, you shouldn't Apparate, considering the amount of champagne you've imbibed. Two, you're expected to mingle at these party, not flee as soon as the Minister has seen you. And three, don't you think you're being a bit melodramatic?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you are an obnoxious know-it-all, who takes too much pleasure in lecturing others?"
"Yes. Has anyone ever told you that you are a drama queen, who thinks too highly of himself?" Hermione shot back, not in the least bit phased by Draco's caustic tone.
"No, drama queen is actually a new one. Nobody has ever called me that as far as I can recall." Draco had to laugh despite himself.
"Maybe not to your face," Hermione replied, laughing as well. A while later, she spotted Harry and Ginny and excused herself to go and greet her friends.
Draco watched her go and then refocused his attention on the champagne, keeping a watchful eye out for the Minister. But it appeared as though Kingsley Shaklebold believed in being fashionably late, and Draco was forced to endure several more painful minutes in the company of his colleagues. He rather thought he should get paid overtime for his efforts.
The Minister remained absent, and Draco continued to drink champagne. He had officially lost count of how many glasses he had had, although Draco was sure that he had hit the double-digits a while ago and he was beginning to feel the effect of the alcohol coursing through his veins. The edge of his vision was getting fuzzy, and an artificial calm settled over him, relaxing him. Draco blamed the influence of the champagne, and indirectly the unpunctual Minister, for the events that transpired next.
There were several people, or really several groups of people, at the party, Draco did his best to avoid. For example, he avoided contact with most of his male co-workers because Draco feared that their tendency to forgo common sense in favour of openly goading him would one day make him do something that would earn him an extended vacation at Azkaban.
Also, since he had acquired the wings, Draco desperately tried to avoid direct contact with any witch over the age of thirty, who wasn't kept on a tight leash by her husband or boyfriend, or those witches who were so ugly that they had neither. Witches younger than thirty, especially the pretty ones, were slightly more tolerable, although Draco had been speaking the truth when he had told Hermione that due to the wings he felt uncomfortable getting close to anyone. However, he would need to get over this aversion to physical contact at some point unless he wanted to end up a hermit, and thanks to the champagne, Draco was beginning to think that maybe the Christmas party was the right time to work on that.
Unfortunately, the champagne made Draco also forget that it was unadvisable to let down his guard even for just the smallest moment when one was within hostile territory, surrounded by enemy forces. He later thought that this would have never happened when the Dark Lord was still around. Champagne or not, that had been a time where everyone was careful at every given moment. They also didn't throw many parties back then.
But peaceful times make people complacent, so Draco was just eyeing a pretty brunette, who he thought worked at the Department for International Magical Cooperation, when he was approached by members of yet another group of people he wanted to avoid at all costs.
"Oh, Draco, I was hoping we would run into you here."
Draco turned around slowly, dreading the sight before him. "Mother. Father. I didn't know you would be here as well."
If he had known, he wouldn't have come.
"Oh, we've been personally invited by the Minister, my dear. He was so impressed with my new charitable foundation for the welfare and support of Muggle-born orphans," Draco's mother explained. She was smiling brightly, and Draco had the uncanny feeling that she would have hugged him if such behaviour were condoned by the Malfoy family code of conduct. Malfoys didn't hug, however, and so Narcissa restricted herself to looking at her son with affection.
She might have been slightly put off by the wings as well. Draco suddenly realised that he hadn't seen either one of his parents since before Halloween. Although they had no doubt heard about this new addition to his physique. Nevertheless, both of his parents were now eyeing the wings with varying degrees of distaste.
"They should break the Mudblood's wand for daring to poison a Malfoy," Lucius growled viciously.
"She didn't poison me, it was an accident," Draco replied angrily, instinctively choosing to defend Hermione for the sheer sake of opposing his father. "And be careful what you're saying. We're standing in the middle of the bloody Ministry of Magic."
"You watch your tone with me, boy," Lucius snarled.
"Lucius, Draco, this is not the place for this," Narcissa injected mildly. She patted her husband's arm consolingly and sent a pleading look towards her son.
Draco took a deep breath to calm himself and then downed the rest of his champagne. Unfortunately, neither the oxygen nor the alcohol were helping his frazzled nerves. The artificial calm that had lulled his senses earlier was long gone, chased away by the rage that was coursing through his veins.
"I would not have thought that my son would let himself be ridiculed in such a way," Lucius said, disregarding his wife's pleading looks.
"Why not?" Draco asked derisively. "It's not like there is any respect left for the Malfoy name after all the things you have done."
"You forget that it was you who betrayed everything our forefathers stood for," Lucius said. "It saddens me to know that my only son has grown up to be such a coward."
"Coward? That's rich, coming from you, Father."
Draco had reached his limit. Several hundred witnesses be damned, he would not continue to stand there and let his father abuse him. He was just about to grab his wand, when a hand on his arm halted his movements. Confused, Draco looked to the witch that had appeared at his side and was holding onto his arm with a determined touch.
"Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy, it's so nice to see you here," Hermione proclaimed, a fake smile etched onto her face.
"Likewise, Miss Granger," Narcissa replied, without missing a beat. His mother had always been a good actress, but Draco couldn't be fooled. He knew what she really thought of the likes of Hermione Granger. But he also knew that Narcissa would never say anything that could tarnish the family's reputation. Hermione seemed to have reached the same conclusion and continued smiling.
Lucius remained quiet. His lips were contorted into what Draco supposed was meant to be a polite smile, but it looked rather like Lucius was smelling something particularly revolting. There was no way Hermione could mistake his facial expression for politeness.
Still, Granger carried on as if she never noticed the Malfoys' displeasure at her being there.
"I've heard so much about your new charity project, Mrs. Malfoy," she said sweetly. "I cannot tell you how impressed I am. You are doing so much good for those poor Muggle-born orphans."
Draco looked at her in astonishment. Her excitement for a foundation meant to support lost causes was not surprising at all, but she must have known that his mother was only doing it to curry favour with the Minister and to restore the family's tarnished reputation. Yet the girl who he knew to be the worst liar in all of greater Britain looked at his mother with nothing but sincerity. Draco was impressed.
"I always strive to help those of lesser fortune," Narcissa replied daintily.
"An admirable trait of character," Hermione proclaimed, beaming at Draco's mother. If it wasn't for the tight grip she retained around his biceps, Draco would have feared Hermione had been doused with Amortentia and developed a romantic inclination towards his mother.
"You are too kind, Miss Granger," Narcissa chirped, although Draco noted gleefully that her smile was beginning to look strained.
While Draco recovered at least some of his good humour seeing his mother being forced to play nice with Hermione, the irony of the situation seemed to be lost on Lucius. All pretence gone, he was staring at Hermione with pure hatred.
Draco steeled himself. There was no way that he would let his father attack Hermione. But he needn't have worried. For all the false cheerfulness, Hermione still seemed to be aware of the explosiveness of the situation.
"Well, it was very nice to talk to you," Hermione stated kindly, but with determination. "However, I fear you must excuse us now. Draco has promised me a dance, and I intend to collect."
Draco had hated all sorts of public dancing long before his wings had made dancing painfully awkward, and never in his whole life had he so much as hinted that he might wish to dance with Hermione Granger or anyone else for that matter. But he was so glad to finally escape the presence of his parents that he willingly followed Hermione onto the dance floor.
Taking one of her hands with his own and putting the other hand onto her hip, Draco dutifully began to guide her through the motions. Hermione remained quiet, following his lead for once.
"Why did you just do that?" Draco finally asked.
"It looked like you were about to duel your father, so I thought it'd be best I intervene. After all, if they do finally throw you into Azkaban, I will have to do all our work by myself."
"Well… thank you."
"Did you really just thank me?" Hermione smiled.
"Don't make a big deal out of it, Granger."
"I just never thought I'd see the day when Draco Malfoy voluntarily expressed his gratitude to anyone, let alone to me."
"Gratitude might be a bit too strong a word."
"Oh no, I think saying 'thank you' is officially an expression of gratitude."
"I already regret saying it, you know."
"Doesn't matter, you still said it." Hermione grinned up at him.
Draco shook his head. "You're impossible, Granger."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment." Hermione laughed.
"As you wish," Draco said, shaking his head once more. Her laughter was infectious though, and eventually he gave in and joined her. They stood together on the dance floor, still swaying to the music, and laughing like a pair of carefree children. Draco couldn't remember the last time he had felt that cheerful.
Until he looked up, past Hermione's smiling face, and saw his father staring daggers at him. When Lucius noticed he had caught Draco's attention, he turned around swiftly and strode out of the Atrium, Narcissa trailing in his wake. Draco felt the laughter die in his throat. He let go of Hermione.
"Is everything all right?" Hermione asked, looking concerned.
"Yes, of course. I just managed to once again disappoint my father. These days I achieve that without even trying," Draco replied.
"He didn't like seeing us dance together, huh?"
"I imagine not." Draco snorted.
"I thought you didn't care to gain your father's approval anymore?" Hermione asked carefully.
"You're right. I don't care." It didn't occur to Draco that now that his parents were gone he could have stopped dancing with Hermione. On the contrary when another song began, he put his hands around her waist once more and started slowly swaying to the music.
"I'm sorry your relationship with your parents is so difficult," Hermione said after a while.
"It is what it is," Draco replied, shrugging. "By the way, I was very impressed by your lying skills. For a moment there even I was starting to think you really liked my mother."
"Well, the foundation she has founded is incredible. In the end it doesn't really matter why she is doing it, just as long as the orphans receive the support they so desperately need."
Draco shook his head. "Your penchant for lost causes really amazes me."
"We can't all be sarcastic cynics, Malfoy."
"I'll have you know that being a sarcastic cynic is the only thing that made me get through this insufferable party. But let's look at the bright side. Lucius obviously hasn't enjoyed the party either, so he might want to stay away from all Ministry functions for a while. With a bit of luck, I won't run into either one of my parents for months."
"You aren't even going to visit them on Christmas?" Hermione asked, sounding shocked.
"Merlin no!" Draco exclaimed, shaking his head almost violently. "Why would I volunteer to spend several hours with them? I just barely stopped myself from hexing my father in public right now, there's no telling what I will do when there are no witnesses around."
"What are you going to do on Christmas then?"
"Probably nothing," Draco said, shrugging.
"You can't just do nothing on Christmas."
"Who says that? Is there a rule I'm not aware of?"
"No, but it's just… people shouldn't be alone on Christmas. Why don't you go to Snape's house?"
"Severus spends every Christmas getting drunk on Muggle booze and cursing his dead relatives. I wouldn't want to intrude on that."
"Then what about Pansy and Blaise?" Hermione asked.
"They are planning to go away this Christmas. Some tropical island, I think. I'm certainly not going to play third wheel."
"Well, then you should spend Christmas at my house," Hermione said impulsively.
"You want me to spend Christmas with you and your family?" Draco asked disbelievingly, coming to an abrupt halt and looking at Hermione incredulously.
"Well, it would just be me and my parents," Hermione was quick to assure. "They know about magic, so you wouldn't have to watch what you say, and there would be no need to disillusion the wings… I mean, if you wouldn't have a problem with visiting a Muggle home… Oh and Harry is invited, too… who you don't really like…" Hermione trailed off.
"You haven't really thought this through, have you, Granger?" Draco asked bemusedly.
"Not really, no," Hermione admitted. "But the offer still stands. If you want to celebrate Christmas with us, you're welcome to come to our house."
"Well, I would assume it beats spending Christmas all alone."
"No, not why should I come. Why did you invite me?"
"I told you, nobody should be alone on Christmas."
"But why would you care?"
"Well, we're somewhat friendly, aren't we? I just think it would be horrible if you wouldn't have anywhere to go, is all."
"What's your ulterior motive?" Draco asked suspiciously.
"I don't have one. I just thought it would be the nice thing to do."
"People never do something just to be nice."
Draco looked searchingly at Hermione for a moment. She met his gaze steadily.
"Okay," Draco finally said.
The song ended and Draco stepped back.
"I think I've stayed long enough at this ridiculous party," he announced.
"You're not going to Apparate home, are you?" Hermione asked critically.
"If I say yes, will you try to confiscate my wand?" Draco asked.
"Most definitely," Hermione assured him, and Draco had no doubt that she meant business.
"I guess then I will be taking the Floo," Draco sighed, shaking his head. "Sometimes you really are a nuisance, Granger."
"Not Apparating while inebriated is part of the standard safety protoc—"
Draco interrupted her rant by bending down and pecking her on the check. "I know, I know. Good night, Granger."
He turned around and strolled towards the fireplaces. But one look at the cramped, soot-filled fireplaces, and he decided that maybe a walk home was the more favourable route. So he squeezed himself into the telephone booth and went up to Muggle London.
At that time of the night, the streets were deserted, but Draco still cast a Disillusionment Charm on his wings, lest he encountered any wayward Muggles. On his way home he tried to figure out just how exactly he had managed to get himself invited to celebrate Christmas with a bunch of Muggles and Potter of all people. Even more puzzling was the fact that he had accepted said invitation, and Draco couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the champagne wasn't to blame at all for that decision. He even thought it was rather nice that Granger worried about him being alone on Christmas.
That really was a disturbing thought.
Draco felt a headache coming on, so he decided that fresh air or not, he really had had too much champagne to try to figure out the whole Granger mess that night. The rest of his way home, he amused himself by mentally composing a Christmas card for his father.
Unfortunately I can't be with you and mother this Christmas because I prefer to spend the holidays with Muggles, Harry bloody Potter and the queen of all Muggle-borns.
I wish you a miserable Christmas, an unhappy New Year, and may the continuous disappointment in your only son cause you to develop an ulcer so bad no mediwizard can cure it.
Draco thought it had a rather nice ring to it.
Draco awoke the following day feeling like he had gone ten rounds with a rampaging mountain troll and lost. In addition to his hangover, he had a crick in his right wing because apparently he had not been able to make it all the way to his bedroom the previous night and had fallen asleep on the couch in his living room. Also his ears were ringing.
Belatedly, Draco realised that the shrill ringing in his ears was not a by-product of his overindulgence of champagne but rather his doorbell. Groaning, he pulled himself into an upright position and stumbled towards the door, opening it.
"Hello, mate. You look like hell," Blaise greeted him cheerfully.
Feeling no need to dignify this greeting with an answer, Draco turned around wordlessly and staggered towards the kitchen in search of a Hangover Potion. Blaise trailed along.
"I didn't see you at the Ministry's Christmas party last night," Blaise chatted on, not in the least bit perturbed by Draco's lack of response. "But that's no surprise. That place was packed. I think every witch and wizard in England showed up. Bloody good party though. Did you see McMillan? He made a rather interesting fashion choice, don't you think? Of course, he claims he didn't know the back of his trousers were see-through when the Minister asked him about it."
Draco uncorked the vial of Hangover Potion he had found in the cupboard above the sink and downed it.
"To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of your visit, Blaise?" Draco asked once the potion had taken affect and the herd of Hippogriffs in his head had decided to stop stomping all over his brain.
"Do I need a reason to come visit one of my oldest friends?" Blaise asked innocently.
"This early in the morning, yes, you do," Draco retorted.
"Mate, it's past noon." Blaise replied, pointing to the clock on Draco's kitchen wall for emphasis. It read two-fifteen pm. Draco blinked in surprise.
"Just tell me what you want, Blaise, so I can go back to sleep already."
"Had a little too much fun at the Christmas party yesterday, eh?" Blaise asked slyly, no trace of innocence left.
"I don't know what makes you think that. I hated every minute of that dreadful party," Draco snapped. Realising that there was no getting rid of Blaise anytime soon, he turned to the stove to make some tea.
"Really?" Blaise eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Cause Pansy says she saw you dancing with Granger and you two looked like you had quite a lot of fun."
"Is that what this is all about?" Draco asked while reading the cups for the tea. "Pansy saw me dancing with Granger?"
"Well, you might understand that we were a bit surprised about that. First you two are making Halloween costumes together and now this. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you used to hate the mere sight of her?"
"She just helped me escape my parents, is all," Draco said.
"Right. And how are Lucius and Narcissa these days?" Blaise asked.
"Who cares?" Draco asked, putting the sugar bowl on the table with just a tad too much force.
"You are just a fountain of information today, aren't you?"
"Sorry. I guess you will have to go back to Pansy and tell her that I didn't say anything useful at all."
"Do you like making my life miserable?" Blaise asked, taking the cup of tea Draco offered.
"It has its merits." Draco smirked.
"You know if I go home to Pansy without anything juicy to report back, she'll just visit you herself and bug you until she get's the whole story," Blaise threatened.
Bugger it all, but Draco knew that Blaise was right. "But there is no story," he insisted nonetheless.
"Tell that to Pansy." It was Blaise's turn to smirk.
"Fine." Draco sighed. "How about you tell her that I am invited to spend Christmas with Granger and her family? Does that qualify as 'juicy'?"
"You are going to spend Christmas with a bunch of Muggles?" Blaise didn't even attempt to hide his astonishment.
"And Potter apparently," Draco added. In for a Sickle, in for a Galleon. Blaise and Pansy would find out one way or the other anyway. They weren't Slytherin for nothing.
Blaise stared at Draco for a full minute before speaking again. "Just out of curiosity, if you were terminally ill, you would tell me? Right?"
"I'm not sick."
"Maybe you've hit your head? Repeatedly?" Blaise asked in mock concern.
"I'm perfectly fine, thank you. Stop making a big deal out of this," Draco snapped.
"Okay, okay. Don't get your knickers in a twist," Blaise relented. "If you want to spend Christmas with a whole bunch of Muggles, that's fine by me. What kind of gift are you getting Potter?"
A/N: Please review.