A/N: So, this is going to be incredibly OOC (but then again, to my faithful readers, I believe that disclaimer is unnecessary? Right?) but I couldn't sleep the other night and ended up writing this. This is also only going to be a few chapters (2 or 3, tops) so enjoy!
Sometimes Hermione Granger could spend hours staring at frost on windows. All of the funny little crystallized patterns; they reminded her of how she used to look into the lenses of the cheap, plastic kaleidoscopes she used to get at all of the parties she used to go to when she was younger. Not as colorful, but still as curious.
"Sweet, there's a man at the door for you. Says he knows you from school."
Her mother says this with a look on her face that tells her perfectly well it isn't one of her usual "men that are with her but aren't really with her", like Harry and Ron. She puts down her coffee and book, her newly piqued curiosity making her simultaneously self-conscious, so she smoothes down her sweater as she exits her parents' kitchen.
When she sees who it is, sitting on her parents' couch – the same one she had thrown up on when she'd gotten the stomach flu one winter when she was nine – she freezes right where she is and doesn't come any closer. Her mother offers him some tea and he declines, polite albeit still distant, his cool eyes skimming all of the interesting Muggle trinkets and Muggle inventions that crowd her humble little Muggle home.
"Well, I'll just be upstairs," her mum tells her, giving her a look that said 'I have no idea who this is, and you'd best well tell me later' and 'You never told me you knew any boys this handsome!' before she silently walked up the stairs.
She crosses her arms. A defense mechanism, she'd once learned. "It's New Year's Eve, Draco. Am I supposed to believe you've just gotten severely lost on your way to some glamorous party?"
"Funny you say that, Granger," he says, and she is once again reminded of the way that he has never called her by her first name, always by her surname – except under extenuating circumstances, whatever those might be – and she's never asked, even though she's always wanted to. She was just always afraid of being thought of as petty, or to let him think that she wanted him to call her by her first name. Which she obviously didn't, she was just curious, that was all – except of course, that would never fly by him.
Draco Malfoy had lived his whole life thinking everybody was either in love with him or wanted to be him, and there was no way she was going to egg that sort of nonsensical way of thinking on.
"Because I sent you an invitation to that so-called glamorous party, and you never RSVP'd," he continued, looking at her with those cool gray eyes of his. They're incredibly unnerving, she observes to herself, like pale little stones in a creek of cold yet clear running water. Even more unnerving when she saw even the most remote hint of warmth in them, but she wouldn't think about that right now, no, she wouldn't.
"So I've come here to personally collect your RSVP," he says. He had spread himself out on the couch like he owned it, his long arms covered in an expensive black coat spread out, his knees covered in expensive trousers jutting out in the front.
"Ever consider the fact that maybe I didn't RSVP because I didn't want to?" she says.
"Well, it's simply impolite, Granger, to just show up at a party without RSVPing—"
"Because I wasn't going to go?"
He looks at her. "But you always go to my parties."
"Correction: I went to one party," she says, a little stiffly. She remembered this party. It was his 21st birthday party, and she had showed up to the famous Malfoy Manor with a book she knew he would despise (a funny little book titled 'The Idiot's Guide to Being a Decent Person') and probably would never read but nevertheless needed it. She had been to many parties before, but never anything of that caliber. Expensive champagne and liquor spouting out of marble fountains, twinkly lights everywhere, ice sculptures of dragons (tacky, and she would tell him so), glowing rich girls that brushed by her without ever really noticing that she was there. It was not as uppity as she thought it would be – rich Purebloods grouped up and talking about business or art – but was exactly the kind of party a rich 21-year-old boy would have. There was a live band and lots of people nudging past each other, laughing and talking above the music.
The entire night of that party, she felt misplaced and sipped her drink, never really quite knowing why she had come. Maybe because her name had been on the envelope and it seemed important at the time, and maybe because, sure, a little part of her had been curious to see what all this fuss was about his parties. That night didn't disappoint as far as grandeur, but it was like a peephole into a life she was so far removed from, it was almost like watching an old television show from the 1950's, or flipping through the pages of a book of fairytales.
Her life was not as sparkly, considerably lacking in the ice sculpture department, and definitely never encountered marble fountains of champagne. She was contemplating all this, nibbling on a chocolate-covered strawberry, and half-decided on leaving, when he showed up beside her.
"You came," he said to her. His glass refilled by itself, golden and sparkling fluid rising to the top.
"I RSVP'd," she said. Suddenly she wondered if the invitation had really been meant for her, but the way he looked at her let her know it had. It really had. "This is great," she said, as someone edged in between them, grabbing a plate of chocolate-covered food, before disappearing. "Amazing, really."
"My mum likes to plan parties," he said to her, coming in close enough, talking above the music. She froze. It had been a long time since she'd been this close to him – an entire year, actually. You would think that because they were in a house full of people it would make the contact less personal, less intimate, but it felt exactly the same. A little part of her, inside, began to vibrate and glow, like lit fireflies in a jar.
She'd stayed away, despite his want of communication, because at the time she thought she'd known what was good for her. He was not one of those things. When she'd RSVP'd to his birthday party, it was like giving in. One last time, she'd told herself, and then you can forget. You can face him and see for yourself all of the chits hanging off his arm, and finally get over it. It was incredibly mental that way. She needed to have her hopes all personally dashed before she could finally look on the other way.
As they stood there, she waited for a girl to come by and snatch him away. A pretty girl, with long legs and perfect hair, exactly the kind of girl that rich handsome boys went for, thus proving the symmetrical nature of their world.
"I see you've brought me a gift," he said, glancing down at what she was clutching, and then he grabbed her hand and began to lead her through the crowd. "Come on."
She opened her mouth to protest, but it was lost with the cacophony of the people they passed. He guided her as they zigzagged past expensively dressed people, who – from the nudge – looked at her curiously but went on with their business. He took her up an enormous flight of stairs, where she counted at least 3 couples making out, and then to the upper part of the Manor, where the noise disappeared, and so did the people. They were alone, and it made her even more conscious of the way he was tightly gripping her hand.
Finally, he let go, and he walked into a room, where she followed. It was a library. An obscenely large library, with books that stretched to the ceiling – not just any kind of books, but the old kind, her favorite kind.
"You are incredibly cruel to bring me in here," she said to him. She knew he was watching her so she tried not to seem so impressed.
He shrugged. "It's quieter in here. Now where's my present?"
She couldn't help but smirk a little as she handed it to him. He took it from her and tore the corner, ripping off the gift wrap and staring at the cover. "'The Idiot's Guide to Being a Decent Person'? Very clever, Granger."
"I just worry about you, that's all," she said to him, as she began to peruse the nearby shelves with her eyes.
"But I don't have to be decent. I've got money."
"Money doesn't last forever. It's got to disappear sometime."
"Then you obviously haven't looked into my Gringotts vault."
She traced a book's spine with her finger, thinking to herself that he hadn't changed at all. But had she really expected him to change? What was a prerequisite for change, anyway? Some important or moving event in your life, to make you realize hidden truths about yourself? And what would a kind of event like that entail for someone like Draco – running out of hair gel, perhaps?
"I'm surprised Potter and Weasley aren't glued to your side," he said, a bit snidely.
She kept her eyes on the books. "They don't know I'm here. But what about you? Where are the throngs of women I hear you supposedly plow through in the course of one night?"
" 'Plow through'? Merlin's crack pipe, Granger, you've become even more lewd than I remember."
"It's the truth, isn't it?"
He didn't answer her. "Tell me about how you've started to use 'plowing through' as part of your vocabulary, I bet that's very interesting." He thought for a minute. "Or better yet, tell me about all the plowing you've been doing."
"That is highly inappropriate."
"The term 'plowing through' is highly inappropriate, and that didn't stop you. Come on, Granger. You haven't answered any of my owls and it's my birthday. Humor me a little."
Draco Malfoy sat there and watched her. She was wearing a sexy black dress, modest in the front but scooped low in the back, and it did things to him, watching her bare back. Didn't she know that a woman's back was one of his favorite parts of a woman's body (besides the obvious, of course)? Had he ever told her? Probably not. Nevertheless, she could have shown up in a potato sack and he would have been happy to see her. But it was probably important to point out that he was happier seeing her in this gorgeous black dress scooped low in the back that he could see the three little moles near her dainty spine, the ones that formed some kind of invisible triangle. The more he stared at it, the more he wanted to touch his fingers to it, like he'd done so, once so long ago.
He told himself not to go there, had set up the DO NOT ENTER mental tape to that part of his memories, but it was impossible, especially with that backless dress of hers. She was here, she was here, he kept telling himself, and he had debated either ignoring her existence completely (just like she had done him, with his letters) or taking her up here, to his gigantic and romantic library, and pushing all of the right buttons. Obviously the latter won out, and now he was here, trying to memorize the sight of her bare back as she eye-fucked his books. What a sexy back it was. It was pure torture.
He didn't really want to hear about all of the plowing she'd been doing. He said it to test her, to push her a little, to make her angry enough to see if he still affected her. That was all he really wanted. That, and to hear her say, "I haven't plowed anyone, Draco – at least, not since you."
He still thought about that night – more than he would ever care to admit. He had been in love once in his life, and he had done enough thinking to be almost sure it had been with her. It was that young kind of love though, that naïve kind, the kind he endlessly fought against because she didn't fit into the image of the sort of woman he thought he would end up loving (blonde, maybe Swedish, and a good three inches taller and a good breast cup larger, as well as considerably less Muggle). He loved her and he spent most of the time trying to un-love her, which was the unfortunate part, and which she later caught onto, and consequently stopped all further communication.
For awhile though, it had been good. She and him. They. Them. And while it was true he had "plowed" through a decent amount of girls since then, they left him feeling empty afterwards, and he could never fight off the urge to shower and scrub himself clean after they left. Sometimes he wouldn't think of her (those were the good days) but most often he would. Random things about her, like how she was wearing her hair right this moment, what new old book she was reading, if she was letting a man kiss her, if she ever thought about him while she was being kissed, if she still hated him, if she threw out all of his letters without even reading them, or whether she read them and then tucked them away in a box underneath her bed. He missed little things about her too, like the sound of her shallow breathing as she slept, and the way her hair would smell after a shower (like brown sugar and lilies), how she was oddly ticklish at her ankles.
As she turned around, he wished he could tell her all of that. All of the things he couldn't bring himself to pen down on paper and send, he wished he could tell her, on the night of his 21st birthday party, with a hundred people downstairs getting drunk and happy in his honor. It was pathetic what his life had come down to, but he was helpless to the tide just like anyone else.
"While I'd be privileged to be the girl that confesses all of her dirty little secrets to the birthday boy," she said dryly, in that Granger way she always does, "I'm going to have to politely decline." And then she started to shift her feet, and he knew she was going to leave. "Look, I'm going to call it a night. Thanks for inviting me. Oh, and happy birthday."
Hermione was leaving because he had started to look at her that way again, exactly the way she had always wanted to be looked at, but she was escaping from the emotional quicksand that she knew would soon open up underneath her.
"Granger," he said, just as she had turned around and began heading out of the library. He had stood and walked on after her.
Draco looked at her, those murky brown eyes of hers and her unknowingly teasy pink lips, and suppressed the urge to latch onto her and never let go. He got her here, she was finally here, and now he was just going to let her go?
But he did, and he had. "Thanks for coming," he said to her, half-hoping she would catch the subliminal one-word message hidden underneath ("Stay"), but he guessed she didn't, because she only nodded and said goodnight and walked away, out of the manor, and out of his life.
He was left wondering what else could have happened if he had been brave enough to really say what he felt ("Stay"), which of course wasn't new – not for him, nor for the rest of mankind.
And now he is here, a year later, sitting on her couch, after having crossed completely foreign territory, and she can't quite figure out why.
"Why are you here?" she sighs, narrowing her eyes at him. "Who are you hiding from now?"
"Nobody. I just wondered how you were. I wanted to see you, see if you'd gotten married yet or had become a nun." (Subliminally: "I missed you, I had to see you right this second, or I might die.")
"As you can clearly see, I am still unmarried and have not sent myself off to a convent. Is that it?" To her, all of this reeks of bullshit. She knows very well he has an agenda and is dithering about, sitting on her throw-up couch, and she has no time for this. She hadn't even had time to brush her hair a little.
"You don't have to pretend to be so unhappy to see me," he remarks. "We're friends, aren't we? A little?"
Just before she can answer that, her mother pops her head downstairs. "Hermione, we've got to leave soon." And then, glancing at Draco, "Perhaps your friend might want to come. Draco, do you have someplace to be tonight? We've got a lovely New Year's Party we're heading to and wouldn't mind some extra company. Over time these family parties get to be so boring, full of the same people. We need some new blood to spice things up."
As Hermione hears her mom rattle on, she feels something sink inside her like a dead weight. Especially when she sees that mischievous little twinkle in his eye, telling her exactly what she most fears.
"No, really, Mum," she insists - a little petulantly, she'll admit. "He's got his own party, and I really don't want to drive—"
"I'd love to, if anyone wouldn't mind," Draco says, and with a triumphant smile, her mother disappears back upstairs to get ready.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asks him.
"Well, I think I'm going to a lovely party with a friend, but if you disagree, then I'm sure you're about to tell me."
"This is my Uncle Ned's annual New Year's party," she hisses at him. "This is tradition. Muggle tradition, Malfoy, full of Muggle people drinking and saying things they don't mean and having a go at singing badly on the karaoke."
"Like I said. That sounds lovely. Not at all beneath me like you're hinting."
She scoffs. "What happened to your party?"
"It's not until later. And besides, it's my mum's party," he says, nonchalantly. "Now go on, get upstairs and get yourself sorted. I'll wait here."
"You are unbelievable," she says to him, but she marches up the stairs anyway, her heart like a hummingbird in her chest. Un-fucking-believable, she thinks to herself, Draco Malfoy in my parents' living room. But stranger things have happened, haven't they? Yes, of course they have. She knows so because she'd been there for that, too.
Every year Uncle Ned's New Year's party is the same. Once her Aunt Peach had tried to spice things up by bringing in a little Mexican cuisine in the form of tamales and that had been a big hit, and was therefore put on the New Year's party menu permanently, or at least until the world ran out of tamales, whenever that might possibly be. It was always a little comforting that way, if not a little misleading, having the same New Year's party as the old year ended and the new year officially began. Every year she would have varying shades of the same pre-New Year morning and post-New Year night – except this year, of course, when Draco Malfoy fatefully came knocking on her door.
She keeps her eyes on the icy, wet road as he sits quietly in the passenger seat. It is his first time in a car and he is fascinated by everything about it. The weird Muggle strap fitting uncomfortably across his chest, a bizarre contraption supposed to protect you from flying out in case of an accident (he had only ever seen pictures in his Muggle Studies textbook, of which she was his tutor), the inhuman humming coming from some kind of heater vent, the blinking lights and strange little words on buttons, the buttons (Merlin, the buttons!), how adept Granger seems to be at "driving."
He watches her drive with a delicate kind of carefulness, and he thinks to himself, Is there anything she isn't good at? If you stuck her in a cave deep down in the earth for two months, would you eventually come down to see that she had quickly figured out how to mine diamonds in the most efficient way? And had also somehow discovered how to cancer?
They aren't talking so she turns on the radio. Christmas songs are still playing and she almost changes it to another station but decides against it, for no particular reason why.
"You're fucking with me, aren't you, Malfoy?" Except it isn't a question, so she doesn't ask it like one.
"However do you mean, Granger?"
"I mean," she says, as she smoothly turns into a street, her blinkers clicking, "your life suddenly bored you so you decided to come down here – how did you even get my parents' address, anyway? – and make a mess out of my life for your pure amusement."
He looks at her and wonders when she had become such a cynic, so he asks her. She gives him a passing dry look.
"I'm not a cynic. I know you."
"I've forgotten I'm sitting with Hermione Granger, All-Knowing and therefore All-Condemning."
She tightly clamps her lips shut. "Just be on your best behavior."
Please please please let this night end quickly, she thinks to herself. With him disappearing off into the night, forever, occasionally to be wondered about but never to be heard from again.
She parks down the street and deeply sighs to herself, staring at the backs of her parents as they walk inside the house, her dad with the pot of chili in hand and her mum with a platter of quiches. Her Aunt Marsha, who is manning the door, spies her waiting in the car and waves warmly, before squinting to see who she has in her passenger seat. Aunt Marsha then grabs Hermione's mum, asking her a question – no doubt about the pale man sitting beside her, in her tiny car – with an intense look of curiosity.
"Everybody's going to think you're my boyfriend," she mutters, slumping just a little in her seat.
"Are they really?" he muses. "Why is that such a terrible thing, exactly?"
"Because you're not," she finally says, shoving her keys into her coat pocket and getting out of the car. He calmly does the same. "And I'm going to hate the questions and innuendo."
For a minute he relishes the idea that today, no matter how adamantly she denied any sort of romantic entanglement with him, everybody would be somewhat unconvinced. He knows it's going to annoy her (a perk) but also because, if a roomful of dentists and barristers and the occasional nosy housewife could see it, why couldn't she? That they should give it another go, he means. That they could be meant for each other. Maybe not for forever, but at least for now. He would settle for that.
"Come on," she says, motioning to him with a look of deadness in her eyes. But he knows her better than that. He looks down at her hands, fidgeting, opening and closing into a fist, beside her hip. He still makes her nervous, and that is a good sign.