There was no white Christmas in London that year. Just a bitterly cold one that made Hermione question just why he wanted to meet in a park today, of all days. She shoved her gloved fists into the pockets of her thick coat and gravitated towards the swings. Unsurprisingly, Draco was late. He always had difficulty escaping the Manor on Fridays and holidays. On the other hand, it had taken very little effort on her part to leave the Burrow.
"Harry, I'm going out for a couple of hours. If anyone asks, I—"
"—went home to change after James threw up on you? Okay."
She started to walk out, but stopped when Harry laid a hand on her shoulder. "What?"
"Tell him I said 'Happy Christmas'."
She wasn't sure how or when he found out, but he went from giving her dubious looks to covering for her without fuss. And as she waited, Hermione wondered why she'd never told him. It wasn't like she was meeting up with Draco Malfoy for a clandestine rendezvous, or anything of that nature.
They just met and talked.
It was a tradition they'd started nearly eight months before, the day when she was supposed to have married Ron. The details were muddled, but she'd bumped into Draco in Diagon Alley minutes before she was set to walk down the aisle, still wearing Mrs. Weasley's old wedding robes and itchy veil. Hermione had been a mess of drunken honesty, and Draco had been so humoured by her loose lips and humanity that he'd allowed her to hide out in his flat until the next morning … only if she kept talking.
"I don't want to be the second coming of Molly Weasley. I don't want to wear this horrid dress and recreate his parents wedding. I don't want to marry Ron! I want—I don't know what I want."
"Uh-huh…" he poured her another Firewhisky, looking absolutely fascinated.
"And I've known this for a long time," Hermione ranted on with bleary eyes and a bad taste in her mouth. "I've ignored it because I know he loves me and he could give me a comfortable life, but—" She hiccupped. "Is it strange to love someone and hate them at the same time? To feel so much … something … that it's almost revolting to meet their eyes because of everything it says about you? That's why I left. I couldn't take feeling like that for the rest of my life."
"That makes no sense. Have another drink."
She drank the Firewhisky like water, numb to the burn. "These feelings don't come on all of a sudden. They're like a nasty, ickle virus."
"Really?" Malfoy drawled with a hint of humour in his voice.
"Yes! One minute everything is fine, and the next thing you're running out of your wedding—there were signs! And I ignored them!"
The next day, when she was sober and finished giving reasons and breaking hearts, she'd met him at the top of an abandoned Quidditch pitch where he'd smoked and she'd watched until she could no longer hold her question in:
"Why did you help me?"
Silence stretched as Draco considered his answer. Then he exhaled a leisurely puff of smoke. "If you meet me tomorrow at the top of the London Eye, I'll tell you."
But he never did.
It became like a game. They would meet, discuss every inane topic in the universe until she asked a question that was—she figured—too personal for him to answer, and he would reply with a meeting place for the next day and a promise to answer her question then. No matter how many times she told herself that she would no longer play his game, Hermione still found herself sitting next to him every night, watching him blow rings of smoke into the sky. It wasn't until she'd started meeting him without expectation and talking without reservation that he began talking back.
Draco, she'd learned, wasn't as open as she, so during those rare moments when he did speak, she absorbed everything. He never divulged anything too personal, but it was always enough. And the more he talked, the more she respected him. The more she respected him, the more he trusted her. The more she trusted him, the more he started to grow on her.
On the hottest night of the year, they met at an ice rink. Hermione knew from that point on that Draco planned their meetings with much more care than she'd originally thought. She also learned that he could skate almost as well as she could.
"Astoria taught me," he answered as he glided in circles around her like a shark with his hands clasped behind his back.
"I didn't know that pure-bloods were in the business of learning Muggle sports."
"She was always the black sheep in her family." With that, he skated off.
Hermione briefly wondered if his grace on the ice was innate or learned. The former, she concluded enviously as she watched him speed confidently around the rink. It took several minutes for her to reacquaint herself with the ice, but Draco had taken to it like a duck to water. When he lapped her for the second time, she narrowed her eyes and tore after him.
"Why did you two break up?" she asked breathlessly once she caught up to him.
"That didn't take long."
"For you to revert back to asking questions that are none of your concern. I thought we were past that."
"Sorry, but—" She smoothly drifted in front of him and turned around, skating backwards with ease. "I don't think I'll ever stop being curious about you."
When Hermione started to turn around and speed away, he grabbed her hand. "And why is that, Granger?"
"Perhaps it's the same reason why you're holding my hand."
Draco paled and released her.
"What excuse did you use this time?"
Startled, she jumped to her feet and spun around. Hermione found a pristinely dressed Malfoy standing behind her. "You startled me!" He looked like he'd just walked out of The Great Gatsby with his slicked-back hair, formal gloves, and black dress robes. The sight of him wasn't enough to calm her racing heart.
Immediately, Draco started removing his gloves. "I can see that."
"How was the gala?"
"Very dull. I couldn't get out of there fast enough." He tucked his gloves into his pockets and, while he fixed his hair back to its usual style, he absently asked, "How was Christmas dinner with the Weasleys?"
Hermione shrugged and sat facing him on the swing. "It was quite normal, actually. Ron brought his new girlfriend. Everyone was waiting for me to have a clinical breakdown. I think they forget that I was the one who left him."
Draco pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. Soon, her frosted breath and his exhaled smoke were mingling in the crisp, winter air. "Because you haven't started dating anyone else, have you?"
"If you count our daily—"
She frowned. "Well, no."
Draco took one, slow drag before he reached into his pocket and produced a box. "I figured as much. Here. This is for you." He extended the box out to her. When she didn't immediately accept it, he added, "It's a Christmas present."
Hermione knew it was a Christmas gift, but accepted the box with a horrible guilty feeling in the pit of her stomach. When she'd done her Christmas shopping, she'd seen at least four things that made her think of Draco, but hadn't bought any of them. Just because they met everyday didn't make them the sort of friends that exchanged gifts. Truthfully, she didn't know what sort of friends they were. In fact, Hermione didn't consider him a friend at all.
"Don't worry about getting me a gift in return."
"Am I that obvious?"
"I can hear your train of thought over here. It's quite loud."
Hermione weakly chuckled before pulling at the ribbon and opening the box. Inside, there was something she didn't expect. It was a card. Not a gift card or even a Christmas card. It was a business card.
Daphne Greengrass' business card.
"What is this?"
"She's the best magical matchmaker in London. Naturally, she's completely booked with clients, but I managed to convince her to take you on … even though she despises me. Her office is in—"
"You bought me a matchmaker for Christmas? This has got to be the worst Christmas gift I've ever received!"
"You need to find someone to shag," he said bluntly, plucking the cigarette from between his lips. His comment was followed by a ring of smoke. "I figured that since I could, I would help you along in the process."
Hermione didn't know what to say to him. Since that night on the skating rink, they'd had this same conversation all too often. It was as though they were on the verge of something incredible, something wonderfully frightening and yet right, but neither one of them was willing to take that final step. Yes, she was just as guilty and afraid as Draco, but at least she was willing to admit it. Hermione only knew that she getting too close to his heart because Draco kept trying to push her away.
Well, she wasn't going to let him.
A thrill of anticipation and nervousness shot through her as she made the decision.
"Or, instead of being presumptuous and stupid, you could—" She took a deep, vulnerable breath, "Do it yourself."
He didn't respond immediately. Instead, he took another puff, his eyes scanning the horizon and everything underneath it but her. "You're not as funny as you think you are."
"Who said I was trying to be funny?"
"I did, because you're not being serious."
"Maybe I am."
Draco only rolled his eyes and walked off in the opposite direction, leaving the swing to bounce erratically on its chains.
As she followed him, all Hermione could think was that she should have expected his reaction.
"Maybe I am being serious."
Draco turned around abruptly with a look of annoyance on his face, cigarette between his fingers. "Or maybe you're full of shit."
Hermione stepped closer to him. "And how do you figure?"
"I know you," he exhaled slowly, and the smoke billowed up into the evening air.
She arched an eyebrow. "You say that like knowing me is such a bad thing."
"I never said it was bad. You're just different, is all. You're too much of an innocent romantic to want anything like that, especially from me."
Hermione felt her anger rising at his judgment, felt her fists clenching at her sides. Draco knew the things that many hadn't bothered to learn, but in that moment, she wholly believed that he didn't know her at all. "You're right. I don't want to be used and disposed of, but I'm not innocent. Far from it."
Draco inhaled deeply. "But you're not corrupted."
She stared at him, wondering just what went on in his head. Hermione quickly realised that she should've wondered what didn't. "Like you."
He gave her a twisted smile. "Well, no one ever said that I was corrupted. A bastard, yes, but not corrupted. But now that you mention it, sure. Like me."
Rolling her eyes, she took the cigarette from his fingers, studying it closely. "Who are you to tell me that I'm not corrupted? The war could've easily corrupted me." And it had, in a way.
Draco didn't answer her question. "You don't even know how to smoke it. Give it back."
Hermione felt a surge of power at his childish words. "Give it back?"
"No, throw it on the ground and stub it out. I just love it when I can only smoke half of one. I'm wasteful like that." He rolled his eyes. "Yes, Granger. Give it back."
Smiling wickedly, she lifted the cigarette to her face. Hermione placed her lips exactly where his were. She could almost taste him there as she inhaled deeply, then slowly exhaled to increase his awe and her own entertainment. "No." When she glanced over at him, Draco's face was priceless. Hermione smiled carelessly, trying to emulate his earlier movements with the same amount of indifferences and detachment. "Maybe I want to smoke the rest."
Draco snatched the cigarette from between her fingers. "You don't know what the fuck you want. You never have. That's the reason why you left Weasley, why you never moved on, and why you meet me every night."
Raising her head indignantly, she folded her arms. "Maybe I meet you every night because I do. Know what I want, that is."
He groaned a pillow of smoke into the darkening sky. "I don't buy that for one minute."
"Only because you're too afraid."
The look on his face was surprisingly petulant. "I'm not afraid. Just uncertain."
"And extremely mulish."
"You like me, Draco Malfoy. More than you'd care to admit, but you do." When his jaw set and his body tensed, she knew that she was right. "What I don't understand is why you would rather give me a matchmaker for Christmas than step up and give us a chance! You would push me onto someone else simply because you're uncertain? What are you so uncertain of?"
"Me?!" Hermione shouted.
"Yes, you," Draco replied edgily. He took a drag before exhaling another ring of smoke. "You were right in your assessment about my feelings, Granger. However, I know you, and I know that all I would do is corrupt you."
"You don't know that. Maybe, in time, you'll figure out that you don't know me as well as you think. Maybe you'll learn that I'm full of surprises. And maybe, just maybe, I might be the one to uncorrupt you."
And she plucked the offending object from his fingers and stubbed it out on the grass like she should have done a hundred times before. When Hermione looked up, his eyes were dancing with amusement.
"What?" She frowned. "I've always hated that you smoke."
"Sort of hypocritical coming from you."
"That was to prove a point. It doesn't change what I want or wish."
Draco shook his head. "You ought to know better than to waste your wishes on me."
"I do know better, but I want to waste my wishes on you." Without hesitation, Hermione stepped even closer, officially invading his personal space. But he didn't push her away, only watched her and breathed a little deeper. Encouraged, she slipped her hand into his and felt him trembling slightly. And Hermione finally understood how little his uncertainties had to do with her.
Uncomfortably, he extracted his hand from hers. "Isn't Longbottom available?"
She shook her head, inching closer. "He's married."
Draco exhaled, murmuring, "I'm sure there are plenty of good wizards around."
"If I wanted 'good', I would've married Ron," she told him in the hope of easing his reservations. "I don't want good, I don't want comfortable, and I don't want easy. I want you."
She reached for him again, gently. Draco's chin was smooth and shaven as Hermione lifted her lips to kiss him. His lips were slightly chapped from the cold, but the fire between them burned brighter than the red embers on the end of his dying cigarette. As her hands slid to the collar of his robes, fisting them tightly, Draco's found her waist and pulled her against him. He feverishly returned the kiss, but pulled back slowly. For several moments, they stood there, clinging to each other like the smoke that still lingered in the air.
When she lifted her eyes to meet his, Draco was staring at her with an intensity she'd never seen before. Before he could speak, she pressed a finger to his lips. "Perhaps we can be good for each other."
The look on his face was indiscernible, but his murmured words gave her all the hope she needed.
"Perhaps we can."
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of JK Rowling. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Hi everyone, remember me? I--well, I can't even apologize because I'm crap at updating anyway. This was written for Dramione Advent (the prompt was Christmas Presents) while I was suffering from a nasty case of the flu (which is why I've been so slow with updating and even writing). Anywho, I have to give a big thanks to everyone who helped me out, the list is really long. I gotta thank pokeystar and somandalicious for helping me fix the end, ayane_tsurugi for helping me with the summary, and floorcoaster for betaing this…oh, and not setting me on fire about my abysmal comma usage and my icky grammar.