THE END IS NIGH! But don't stock up on bottled water and canned goods just yet. I was referring only to this story...
Draco's decision to go home had led to more than just a clothes change. He had showered, shaved, restyled his hair, shined his shoes, changed his underwear, brushed his teeth, flossed and then brushed his teeth again. Someone, somewhere, had once told him that Hermione had a thing about teeth...
So Draco arrived at the restaurant with clean teeth and fresh breath, but empty handed (a choice he now regretted). He also arrived late.
Hermione, evidently, was running even later.
He had been a full two minutes late, she was now approaching double that.
It was a nerve-wracking wait.
Malfoys, as a rule, were not often kept waiting... They weren't often nervous, either (unless in the presence of a Dark Lord – or Aunt Bellatrix... that Crouch Jr. of the Bouncing Ferret incident came to mind as well). And, as a rule, Malfoys did not, under any circumstances, mix socially with Muggleborns.
But Draco broke the rules.
He was a rebel against the system that had produced him.
He was the 'Bad Boy' Malfoy.
Of course, all Malfoys were, by nature, 'bad' (to understate things). But Draco was different. Just bad enough to cut it as a Malfoy, but never quite as bad as his parents had hoped.
Draco was the poster boy for moral ambivalence.
That last thought was enough to put a smirk on his face – he half wanted to lean against the wall in the approximation of a moody and troubled delinquent, but he was already seated. And, anyway, good posture was more important than posing… but only just.
He could have made a rather good delinquent, actually, had his parents not so insisted that he stay in school. But then, Draco had always been very good at just about everything he put his mind to... except being bad. He'd failed quite miserably at that.
It had been his very first (albeit unwitting) act of defiance against his parents...
All of which served only to completely obscure the issue at hand:
Hermione was now exactly five minutes late...
Five minutes was a long time to entertain worries.
Draco knew he should have picked her up from her house. He should have arranged to meet sooner after work. He should have called over the Floo to double check, to reconfirm... just to see her face.
He should call now to see what was keeping her...
No. He should just go home, pour himself a stiff drink and give up because Hermione Granger was standing him up.
No! He should call her and demand to know the reason why – other than his luck running out – he was being stood up.
He should… get a grip.
Draco sighed, this had been so much easier over the Floo.
Maybe it would be a good idea to buy flowers, after all?
Hermione looked good. She had changed her clothes too many times to count (27 times if you did count) and she had finally returned to the first dress she had tried on. Which, of course, had also been the first she rejected. It was a classic cut that hugged curves but covered flesh. It was subtle in an alluring manner. It was perfect, in a way that had only become obvious through the failings of all her other clothes.
It was also her last resort.
And it had taken her a long series of breathless moments before she had found it again, lying twisted and mixed up with other articles of discarded clothing. She'd also managed to lose her shoes and bag at the bottom of the pile of rejected outfits.
Somehow she had managed to finish dressing.
After all that fuss and bother, it was no surprise that she had arrived late.
Not that it mattered...
Because Draco was late too:
Seven and a half minutes late.
Hermione knew this because she kept checking her watch at thirty second intervals.
It was ridiculous to be feeling as nervous as she did – Hermione was certain she had been calmer and better composed during the siege at Hogwarts – but she couldn't help worrying. This was a date, hardly life and death, yet...
Eight minutes... and counting.
What was ridiculous is that he had been the one to ask her out. And now he was the one who was late.
Draco had asked. She had just said yes. It was his fault.
He had badgered her ruthlessly, in a cute way; harassed her constantly, in a flattering manner; asked again and again, but in a way that made it so hard to say no. Her resolve hadn't lasted long. Eventually, she had given into his charm and agreed (though she'd told Harry and Ron she consented to this only so she could get a call through without Malfoy tying up her phone and Floo – about the reason he was calling her constantly she remained emphatically mute).
If this was all a joke, some mean-spirited stunt, she would kill him…
She'd kill him anyway... He was nine minutes late.
She'd gotten dressed up. She was wearing uncomfortable (but stylishly so) shoes, she had done her hair and makeup, worn perfume… even brushed her teeth twice (on account of the nerves) and he was late.
Well, bad luck, Draco Malfoy!
She looked good and he was just going to miss out...
So, she'd been stood up? No biggy. It wasn't the end of the world.
She'd get out of the cold, go somewhere, a little bar someplace nice, and have fun. Maybe call the girls and see if anyone wanted to join her. If that failed, she'd call Harry and Ron and they could go somewhere not so great. The boys tended to get intimidated by establishments she would describe as 'nice'.
She would leave and it served him right.
Hermione Jane Granger waited for no man (...for longer than fifteen minutes)!
By her watch that meant Draco still had five minutes more...
Half an hour if he called to say he would be held up.
Forty minutes if he begged. But no longer than that… unless he had a really good reason.
She had her self respect, after all.
Hermione was twenty five minutes late… or she was standing him up. Flowers or no flowers, she wasn't coming.
Either way, Draco Malfoy was done waiting.
The wait staff inside the restaurant (whose job description involved waiting) were starting to give him pitying looks. Clearly, there was something wrong when people working menial jobs felt inclined to offer a Malfoy sympathy.
He was leaving... then he would be leaving nasty messages on Granger's Ansaphone... and then maybe a carefully worded letter via owl post.
Draco doubted he had the energy or emotional stability to confront her face to face over the Floo… Maybe later – after he'd exhausted his current supply of Howlers, at any rate.
Revenge fantasies had always made him feel better. And they'd be the only fantasies he would allow himself to involve Granger in from now on.
She was fully thirty five minutes late by the time he had put on his coat, scarf and gloves and was ready to leave.
The woman at the coat check stand was looking at him strangely, probably because he had taken so long... and she did even more waiting than the other staff, which didn't make Draco feel better. He'd checked the clock twice, not particularly eager to leave just yet, but certainly not waiting for Granger.
He was definitely leaving. Granger wasn't coming, he was sure of that. Especially now, after the maitre d' had informed him that no, no one had rung for a Draco Malfoy (or a D.M., Dirty Pervert, Santimonious Git or Ferretface). No, there had been no Floo calls from any women asking to leave a message for a dinner companion. No messages. No owls, either. Patronuses were a very uncommon form of communication, Mr. Malfoy. Perhaps he wished to speak with the manager?
That information confirmed all his suspicions. Forty minutes and still a no show… he was leaving now. Now.
Just as soon as the second hand ticked past the twelve.
Draco was out of the door forty five minutes after the time he had arranged to meet Hermione.
The knowledge that he had waited at all, let alone that long (the last ten minutes had really just been to check he had everything still in his pockets and double check that no one had called for him), was cringeworthy… even if he, the waiters and the coat check girl were the only ones who knew... And the maitre d', the manager and any of the diners who had overheard his inquiries... but that could only be a relatively small number because he had only yelled part of the time.
By the time he left, Draco had well and truly broken that Malfoy rule about waiting, only he didn't feel like such a bad boy.
Standing on the street outside the restaurant, he glanced up and down the Alley (because really, he couldn't sink any lower in his own estimation at that point), hoping to make out the figure of a small, bushy haired figure hurrying his way…hopefully, wearing a St Mungo's gown and battling a particularly ill-timed case of dragon pox or something equally life threatening.
He could forgive lateness on account of that near death experiences...
Or obliviation, maybe? It would explain why she hadn't had someone else call him for her.
Maybe he should wait just a little longer...?
Wait, that brown hair. Not bushy, but perhaps the right shade – if he squinted. She was about the right size too, but wearing a thick cloak so it was hard to be exact.
The woman was moving in the wrong direction though, away from him, so it couldn't be her.
He would go home and start composing the first in a series of rhyming Howlers to...
Draco had been wrong, he could hate himself more. This need of his was pathetic.
The brunette figure turned, her eyes wide and mouth pulled tight in a pale face.
No reason to construct a Howler and yell into space as it recorded his voice when she was standing a few paces in front on him... Shouting might just make him feel better about all that pathetic waiting around in a way that a tumbler full of firewhisky probably wouldn't.
There was a word for that: "catharsis".
Draco took a deep breath.
Hermione beat him to the punch, however.
"It's no use. You're too late, Draco."
It was a slap in the face just as he had been winding up to deliver his own punch.
Her voice was small and tired, but it carried the distance, her tone no less cold than the frosty wind whipping both their scarves around their faces.
"What?" He exhaled his breath in a rush.
"Did you expect that I'd jump for joy just because you deigned to show up? Well, guess what Draco, you're straight out of luck."
(Blast! But, really, he knew that already.)
"I waited for half an hour, Draco! More - almost forty minutes! I'm going home!"
"Now just you wait a minute here…" He'd gone for an authoritative tone and missed completely, it was a whine more than anything.
"I'm going home now. Don't call me. I won't call you. It's better that way for us both. Good bye." Hermione turned and started heading off again.
"No! I was going home! I was going to shout at you! I deserve that moment of righteous indignation!" He was yelling to her back.
"Get over yourself." She didn't even turn to deliver that ice-barbed statement. Another metaphoric slap and he had yet to land a blow of his own...
"But I was waiting for you! You didn't show. I waited forty five minutes – forty FIVE!"
Hermione took exactly three steps and then stopped. She turned very slowly, "I was five minutes late."
"You couldn't have been," he scoffed. "I was waiting that whole time, watching for you."
"Is that so? You were nowhere to be seen when I showed up. What were you doing - riding a broom ten metres up and staring at the stars while waiting for me? Well, I was at ground level, Draco. And I waited for 40 minutes at ground level."
"Of course not!" Draco couldn't risk flying in the dark any time soon, without his Malfoy luck it would be tempting fate with photos of cracked skulls and saying 'bet you can't give me one of these, nah nah nah nah'. He was unlucky, not insane. "At exactly 7:32 I was sitting at the table I reserved for 7:30, inside the restaurant where I agreed to meet you. Where were you until," he checked his watch, "8:29?"
"I was right here. You said we would meet 'at' the restaurant… that means outside."
"No. I said 'in', which means… 'in'. What kind of crazy person stands around outside (sorry, stands "at") in weather like this?" He mocked. As if to prove his point, the wind blew hard and lifted a few of the curls in front of her face. "You can't expect me to believe that you waited for forty minutes and didn't check inside once?"
Hermione straightened, as if offended. "There are such things as warming spells, you know!" She sniffed, rubbing at her nose, which had turned a rosy red from the chill. "You mean you waited for forty five minutes and didn't think to look out the window?"
"When I said I would meet you in the restaurant I didn't think I'd have to look for you outside!"
"You said 'at'!"
"I said 'in'. And anyway, what kind of person takes 'at' so stupidly literal?"
"You know," her voice dripped with sarcasm, "you've already called me stupid and crazy in the space of a minute. You want to add ugly and make it a trifecta?"
Draco was silent.
They stood, breathing deeply from shouting, their breaths producing small white puffs against the dark night. When he did start speaking, it was in a low, calm and slightly hoarse voice. The hoarseness was definitely on account of all that shouting. Heartfelt sentiment had nothing to do with it... he was still a 'Bad Boy', after all.
"I don't think you're stupid or crazy and you're certainly not ugly. You look beautiful…" he cleared his throat, "you look lovely every day, but especially so tonight."
"Thank you," she replied quietly.
"In or at... It was just a silly mix up that could have happened to anyone."
"We had our wires crossed," for the first time that night a small smile graced Hermione's features. He couldn't help but grin back at her, even though he had no idea what she was talking about.
"What's a wise crust?"
"It's a Muggle – nothing, never mind."
"So, um…" Draco was reasonably certain he was blushing. Stuffing his hands in his pockets awkwardly was about as 'Bad Boy' as he could manage at that point. "Do you want to try this again some time?"
There was a pause. Just a short one. Perhaps Hermione sensed that Draco had done enough waiting that night.
"How about now? We're both here at the restaurant, like we agreed." Hermione's smile became stronger at that point, indicating that she was joking around. All the same, Draco recognised her refusal to concede the point.
Clearly, diplomacy was up to him.
"Indeed we are. It was a good thing we made that clear. It could have caused a lot of confusion otherwise."
"I'm sorry I was late."
There was another pause.
"Were you worried?" She asked quietly.
"No one stands Draco Malfoy up and lives to tell the tale, so not really." He paused in thought, "Well, maybe a little. Just that, since we agreed to meet at the restaurant out here in the cold, you would catch a chill if you had decided to dress in the manner to which I have become accustomed. But since you decided on clothes tonight there was clearly nothing to worry about... Were you? Worried, I mean."
"Oh, terribly. I thought you had walked past a mirror on your way here and hadn't been able to tear yourself away. I was about to call a search party in case you had gone too long without food and water."
"That would never happen. I wouldn't want to waste this handsome visage on such a small audience. Looks like this must be publicly appreciated, it would be a crime for me to hide them away. Deprive thousands of the... the... eh...uh" he sneezed several times in a row. "Come one, let us mutually appreciate each other inside the restaurant. I'm freezing my bollocks off standing here."
"That would be very sad, wouldn't it?"
"For you and me both, trust me."
It was hard to tell if she was blushing when her cheeks and nose were already red from the cold.
"In all seriousness, I was worried. I thought, maybe he's changed his mind. Maybe he isn't interested any more. Maybe I looked better over the Floo than in real life. All these silly little worries just crowded my head out..." Hermione's gloved hands rubbed at her already rosy cheeks. "Maybe I should have worn less clothing."
"Maybe you should have come inside out of the cold?"
"I probably should have. It was really freezing out here." She shivered, as if to make the point clearer that she had suffered.
"You know..." Draco paused, weighing up his options, "you could Obliviate me if it makes you feel better. I'll hate to forget the whole," he waved his hands in the air evasively, "...thing, but I would hate it more that you feel under some sort of pressure because of it. I give you my permission."
He closed his eyes and waited for a word, waited for a flash of light, a sensation, anything that might signal the erasure of a memory that he would never even know was once there. Waiting for a word, then the blissful emptiness of the spell, but he heard nothing more than the wind and the soft crunch of her footfalls in the snow.
"Before I forget," with his eyes closed, Draco missed her smile at the double meaning, "may I just say that you really did look gorgeous? Fresh out of the shower, still sprinkled with small drops of water so your skin was so bright you appeared to be glowing and your hair was sleek and dark from the water. It was this brilliant picture of contrast. You looked... luminous. And before you start with any more maybes, there's more to you than just a glowing gorgeousness. Anyway, blank slate..." No reason why he couldn't get one last double entrendre in. "Wipe me clean, baby."
The cold tip of what could be either a wand or a finger tapped his forehead lightly and traced a trail down the side of his face. Hermione had yet to say anything and he kept his eyes closed. He knew she hadn't performed the spell – he could still remember – and she still looked lovely in his memory.
Before he quite knew what was happening, Hermione had stepped up on her tiptoes, he could feel her small weight press against him as she pulled his head down far enough to plant a kiss on his lips.
It was cold. And it was short, no more than a quick brush of her lips against his before she stepped back, but her eyes shone and a huge smile beamed up at him when he finally opened his own eyes to look down at her.
It seemed that some of Draco Malfoy's good luck was still hanging around...
She made as lovely a picture in reality as she had in his memory; the contrast of the brightness of her eyes and her cheeks glowing from the cold, set against the darkness of her hair and the night and the paleness of her skin and the snow. She was lovelier even, because she was smiling.
Draco touched a finger to her lips, "Mmmmm, frostbite. Come on Snow White. Let's get you inside and try to thaw you out a little."
Hermione punched his bicep, hard. That was, his bicep was hard - any punch of hers wouldn't make a dent to the tightly bunched muscles, Draco assured himself.
"And warm up those bollocks of yours." It was an attempt to have the last word as she let him, aggrievedly rubbing his upper arm, hold the door of the restaurant open for her.
A month worth of suggestive Floo calls should have taught her the danger of playing one-upmanship with a Malfoy.
He stood behind her, and a light shiver that wasn't all to do with the cold ran down her spine as he bent to whisper in her ear, "already raring to go, my little Snow Bunny."
As the maitre d' showed them both to Draco's old table, Hermione's face was practically flaming with embarrassment, even though the rest of her was still stiff and half numb from the cold.
Draco made sure to pat Hermione's bum as the wait staff looked on, flashing a big smile at them as if to say, 'I win. I have a great job and I get the girl. Draco Malfoy pities you. And don't you forget it.'
Hermione turned back to glare at him before they were seated.
"Keep you cold hands to yourself, Jack Frost."
"Still feeling frigid? No matter, Ice Queen. You'll warm to the idea soon enough."
"So now you're adding frigid to stupid and crazy?" She baited him.
"We already went over this, you're neither stupid nor crazy. As for frigid... fear not my Abominable Snowwoman, I will be your anti-freeze."
"Anyone ever tell you to quit while you're ahead?" Hermione grumbled. "Snow White was at least mildly cute, from there you called me frigid and now you're saying I'm a monster."
"Aw, don't leave me out in the cold..." Draco rearranged a cheeky grin into his very best hang dog expression. Except that as a Malfoy his expression was styled after a much more noble and refined beast. Yes, he thought, I am a Beast, which makes Hermione... "my little Artic Fox."
She could only think of just how suggestive Draco could make that last word sound. Her throat suddenly felt tight, she swallowed, licked her lips.
"You really are incorrigible."
"And you're a slow learner - adorable. Sound it out if it's causing you trouble: AD-OR-AB-LE."
She laughed, "Only sometimes"
Draco could be happy with that.
"Enough of the time to save my neck."
There was a short silence as they opened their menus.
"This is my first time here, do you recommend anything? ... to eat?" Hermione amended "...I mean food."
He laughed. So close.
Her eyes sparkled even in the low light of the room and he had heard the note of amusement in her voice, at him and at herself. At them together – in and at.
She was a quick one. Hermione was fun and she let him get away with more than he had expected... She had only hit him this once, and not anywhere she could easily bruise, blacken, break or disfigure. He counted himself lucky. He might have been the one who ended up missing their date while convalescing in St Mungo's if he hadn't been lucky.
There you go, he thought, still a lucky bastard. And then the part of him that didn't do much thinking at all suggested, let's push that luck and see how far it gets us.
"I make a mean fry up for breakfast," Draco answered casually. "You should try it."
Hermione lowered the menu and raised her eyebrow.
"I can cook!" he defended her unspoken accusation. "Why, I'm offended that you doubt me. I absolutely insist that you come over to find out for yourself. My honour won't be satisfied until you do."
Her menu flipped shut and a second eyebrow joined the first.
"Of course I have a sense of honour!"
She cleared her throat.
"Oh. You mean the food here? You had only to say. The fresh sardine is good to start. If you prefer pasta, however..."
"Oh, no, the sardine is just fine... but I think, right now, the waiter wants to take our drinks order."
Draco turned to the man and rattled off an intimidating sounding name and year. Hermione recognised it as red wine, but nothing else. It could be vinegar for all she knew, but having a limited recognition of vintages or blends she would profess to enjoy it, vinegar or otherwise.
As soon as the server had left, she turned back to her dinner companion.
"What I meant, Draco, is that I rarely wake up in time for breakfast on a Saturday. What can you cook up for lunch?"
And, Hermione thought, that is how one breaks the ice...
There you go! World saved from Armageddon - worries abated! That's the end of that ... for the time being. Thanks go out to all. I'm sorry to say the Extra-Special Appreciation is for reviewers only. Hope you enjoyed it!
--I didn't even realise I hadn't capitalised the title at the beginning. Shock. Or all the little line breaks had disappeared. Horror. And I left the 'g' out of vinegar. But you can all sleep easy at night, it's fixed now--