It was a blustery night in mid-November when Leslie Greengrass edged her way cautiously from the pub she'd been sitting in. She'd taken her leave the minute she'd set eyes on the pale blonde hair and cool features of Draco Malfoy—not because she feared him, quite the opposite, but because things were going to get very ugly…very soon.
Draco slid onto a stool at the bar and looked imperiously at his surroundings. The pub's clientele wasn't particularly impressive, though it was a good deal better than the Hog's Head, or any one of the dodgy looking dives lining the lesser alleys. Draco had become accustomed to the atmosphere and was beginning to take in the patrons seated near him; he had given cursory glances at a couple of witches and wizards before his gaze locked onto the rather bushy hair that could only belong to one witch.
Before he could stop himself, Draco had hastily moved from his stool and made a beeline to the ex-Gryffindor.
"Granger," he said haughtily.
She turned to look at him, and he noted that her eyes were glassy and she looked exhausted. "Malfoy?" she asked after a moment.
"Astute as always," the blonde wizard sniped before seating himself next to her.
"What are you doing?" she asked hesitantly.
"Taking a seat next to an old school-mate so that we might catch up."
She noted the sneer planted firmly on his face, but made no comment. In fact, she turned back to her drink and ignored him completely.
After several tense minutes in which nothing was said, Draco finally caved and spoke. "Why are you alone in a pub?"
"I'm celebrating," Hermione said in a flat, dull tone.
"Celebrating? You look and sound as if you're in mourning. What are you celebrating?"
"I've finished the adult N.E.W.T. program; I'm fully qualified now."
"You've been fully qualified for a while now, I suspect," Malfoy said sagely; she did not respond. "Then why do you look so miserable? Were your marks not up to scratch?"
She looked at him sharply—he knew perfectly well that she had most likely achieved the highest scores that program had ever seen. "They were fine," she responded tightly. They lapsed into silence again, but it didn't last long. "When did you get back?" Hermione asked.
"About three months ago," he replied honestly.
"I heard you'd gone off to Canada, of all places."
"Keeping up with me, eh, Granger?"
"They tried to find you when your parents…"
"I didn't need a ministry owl to tell me my parents had been murdered by Voldemort," the blonde wizard spat acidly.
"I'm sorry," she said. He sneered at her despite the fact that it had sounded sincere.
"I don't need your sympathy."
"You don't have it," she said, suddenly turning much cooler toward him. "My parents were killed as well, only about a year after yours were." Draco said nothing. "So you don't have my sympathy, but I do know how it feels to fail someone and have them die as a result."
Draco felt his ears turning pink; he suddenly felt the urge to flee—the situation was getting unbearably uncomfortable. He'd only meant to get a rise out of her, and here they were talking about their murdered parents…
"It's been interesting, Malfoy," Hermione said as she got up to take her leave. He could tell that she'd been well into her cups, though she didn't stagger. She did not wait for a response from Draco before turning on her heel and striding confidently from the pub. She had hardly gotten out of the door before he skidded up next to her.
"Where are you going?" he asked without preamble.
"That's not helpful, Granger. I don't know where home is."
"Not far off," she said, never breaking stride.
"Tell me why you look so unhappy."
"I've just come from an engagement party," she said bitterly.
"Is he marrying the Weaselette?"
"Of course," Hermione spat with an uncharacteristically hateful expression.
"Why does that bother you?" Draco asked, though he suspected that he knew at least part of the answer.
"It doesn't matter," she muttered off-handedly as she turned a corner.
"Tell me. I want to know."
"Why on earth should I? We despised each other for six years, and haven't seen each other for another three—what makes you think I would tell you anything at all?"
"Because you're dying to tell someone, and telling me is virtually no risk to you."
She glared at him nastily and remained silent until she reached the ornate door of a high-rise. Hermione paused and turned to her tag-along. "Quid pro quo," she said finally. "You want answers? You give answers."
Draco swallowed nervously—he wasn't sure he wanted to know that badly…
"Take it or leave it, Malfoy," the brunette witch said as she entered the building. Cursing under his breath, Draco caught the door at the last moment and followed behind her. Ten minutes later, he was somewhere he never thought he would be—seated on Hermione Granger's settee with a cup of tea.
"Where were you, really?" Hermione asked him as she sank into an armchair. "You vanished for three years—what have you been doing all this time?"
"Why do I have to go first?" he said with a slight tone of annoyance. A glare silenced him. "I was in Canada, for the first few months. Then I went to various parts of the Americas for nearly a year, then to Switzerland, Australia, back to Canada, and now here I am."
"It wasn't horrible," he replied honestly. "I took odd jobs and mainly stayed in muggle communities."
"Are you glad to be home?"
Draco looked pensive, "I'm not exactly sure where home is…now, my turn. Why are you upset at Potter and the Weaselette marrying—and I want details." Draco noted that she hadn't rebuked him for calling the Weasley girl "Weaselette."
Hermione sat stoically silent, as if lost in thought. Finally, she uttered one word…"Harry."
"You love him," Draco said.
"I hate him," she hissed. Draco was sincerely taken aback at the venom in her tone. She had been attached at the hip to that bespectacled fool for nearly a decade, and Gryffindors were a loyal lot—he must have done something particularly loathsome.
"What did he do?"
Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but promptly snapped it closed. "It was a mistake—I can't tell you, I can't tell anyone."
"Tell me," Draco said, more forcefully than he'd intended. This business was intriguing him far too much for her to stop now.
She took a deep breath and he watched as a tear traced its way down her pale cheek. "I was alone with him for a year and a half while we searched for horcruxes."
Draco nodded; the horcrux hunt had become common knowledge. "Where was Weasley?"
Hermione snorted, "Off sulking. His mum forbid him to come with Harry and I, and then he tried to keep me from going."
"I assume that wasn't an amicable break-up."
"It wasn't," Hermione confirmed. "I was with Harry day in and day out for a year and a half."
"I can guess what happened," Draco said in an attempt to be helpful.
"It wasn't like that," she snapped. "The last six months were nearly unbearable. The tension was dreadful, we were terrified, tired and usually injured, and I was pathetically in love with him."
"He didn't feel the same way?"
"I didn't pluck up the courage to tell him until the night before he faced Riddle."
"He said he felt the same way…"
"For heaven's sake, Malfoy, must I spell it out for you? What do you think happened? We were scared witless and thought we were about to march to our deaths the next morning."
"Was it wonderful? Did he profess his love and vow to marry you?"
"Hardly," she sneered. "We'd been in a state of perpetual exhaustion for years, and that night we just snuck into a deserted spare room and had a quick tumble."
Draco's eyebrows shot toward his hairline, "Come on, Granger," he said disbelievingly. "You're not the type to go for a quick tumble."
"Up until that point I hadn't gone for a tumble at all," she said bitterly. That made Draco choke on the sip of tea he'd been taking.
"Merlin, Granger!" he barked as he cleared his throat. "What happened after that?"
"We battled and won, but not without losses." Draco nodded solemnly, "I was injured and taken to St. Mungo's."
"How long were you there for?"
"Four days, and on the day I was released, Harry came to escort me back to headquarters. He said we needed to have a chat…"
Draco had a good idea how that chat had gone, but for good measure, he said, "What did he say?"
"Everything you'd expect—the pressure of the war; loved me dearly, but only as a friend or sister; he didn't want to hurt me, et cetera. He took up with Ginny almost immediately, and that was six months ago."
"Do you really hate him?"
"No," she said as a few tears slid down her cheeks.
"What about the Weaselette?"
"I know I shouldn't," Hermione began, "but sometimes I catch her looking at me—and she's always got the most infuriating smirk on her face, like she knows."
"Bint," Draco said unrepentantly. It was no secret that he'd never liked the redheaded chit.
Hermione laughed a rather cruel sounding laugh, and Draco couldn't help but realize that this whole bitter affair had likely changed Granger a great deal. "It feels good to finally tell someone…even if it is you," Hermione said at last. "What are you thinking?"
"Honestly?" he said as he rubbed his chin absently. "Who needs enemies when you've got friends like that."
Hermione nodded, "I imagine that's something you know a great deal about."
"It is," he confirmed. The pair lapsed into silence once more, though it wasn't unbearably uncomfortable as it had been. "I'm sorry," Draco said after a few minutes.
"Whatever for?" she asked, genuinely perplexed.
"The only sex you've ever had was with Potter—which is bad enough, but then it wasn't even particularly good…"
She eyed him sharply, "I never said that's the only sex I've had."
Draco rolled his eyes, "I'm not buying that, Granger."
"That's your choice," she said prissily.
He laughed at her. "You're not the type for a quick tumble, Granger. If a man wants to get into your knickers, he'd best submit a nine-foot long essay on his worthiness, methodology, and intentions—complete with diagrams and letters of reference."
She smiled ruefully, "I deserve that, I suppose."
"Maybe, but you don't deserve what Potter did."
"No, I don't."
"What about the Weasel?"
"Ron? We hardly speak anymore. I'm fairly certain he assumes something went on between Harry and me—which he would have assumed regardless, the jealous git."
"I'm afraid you're better off. You know I never thought much of the company you kept."
"You never thought much of me either, Malfoy."
"True," he admitted with a sly smile, "but I can't object to the company you're keeping at the moment.
She laughed, and the laugh was clear and free; devoid of the bitter edge it had held earlier. He let the tinkling quality of it wash over him; he was reminded of his mother.
"You're staring at me," she said tactlessly.
"You laugh like my mother laughed." She made no reply, but merely nodded in reply, She understood how things could catch you unaware and overwhelm you. Draco drained the last bit of tea in his cup before rising and making his way to the door. "Tonight has been…far less taxing on my nerves than I would have believed, but I'm afraid I must be going."
She walked to the door and opened it. "It hasn't been unpleasant," she allowed. He smirked at her.
"Just to be clear, are you accepting applications for a quick tumble, or is it strictly relationship only?" The mischief was dancing wildly in his eyes, and Hermione wanted to laugh.
"That, Malfoy, is a carefully guarded secret."
He smiled in what he clearly thought was a charming way, "Do I have an advantage because I've already been through part of the interview process?"
She looked at him with a mock-stern expression, "You'll just have to submit an application like the others, I'm afraid. Good night, Malfoy."
"Good night, Granger."