Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Isn't that just the worst?
Well hello! I wrote you a fluffy little one-off this afternoon because I think my longer stories might be trying to murder me. Seriously, I think I'm going to kill off my drafts and start fresh. I don't know why I'm trying to write something gigantic. I love to read long stories, but honestly, I have the attention span of a tadpole when I'm writing. I think I'll just stick to what I know.
Oh jeez, am I still talking?
"You're trying too hard."
"Trying too hard to what?" Hermione said, attacking her lunch savagely with her fork. She would make that salad wish it had never been born. Created. Whatever. Verbs were so dumb.
"Too hard to pretend that you're not bothered by the breakup, Hermione," said Harry with a sigh, leaning back in his chair at the Leaky Cauldron.
Hermione stabbed a curl of arugula with the precision and calculated furor of a warlord. It disappeared into her mouth. She chewed it carefully before responding – something that Ron never did.
"This salad tastes bland," she said, ignoring his statement. "Could you pass the salt?"
"Stop avoiding this conversation," said Harry.
"Stop hoarding the salt," she snapped, standing up and grabbing the shaker herself. "Honestly, who does that? It's bad manners."
"I'm sorry for being miserly with the precious salt," he said, rolling his eyes. "Now will you please talk to me about this?"
"There is nothing to discuss, Harry," Hermione said, aggressively dumping salt onto the wilted greens. "We grew apart. I'm fine with it."
"You were together for six years, Hermione. You were engaged for Merlin's sake! How can you be fine? You've barely spoken about it and it's been two weeks - "
"I'm fine!" she insisted somewhat desperately, salting her plate now as well as most of the table. "I've found a new flat already. I move in a week, so you'll have your couch back. We've divided our possessions. There's bound to be an adjustment period, but it will all sort itself out. Everything will be fine. I'm fine."
Hermione bit her tongue, resisting the urge to keep repeating "I'm fine" until she started to believe it. Otherwise she would never shut up. Relationships weren't supposed to fall apart after six years, were they? Weren't people supposed to be more in love the longer they were together? She had believed that once. But no, apparently the longer you stay together, the more symbiotic you become, and suddenly you feel like you're in some sort of incestuous, co-dependent atrocity. After six years of being with Ron, she felt like she was dating herself. He seemed to feel the same way. For whatever reason, the fact that they were clearly not meant to be didn't dull the pain one iota. It fucking stung.
Down one fiancé, one house and six years of her life, but at least she had her salad. Too bad it tasted crummy. Nothing that a little salt couldn't fix! Shake, shake, shake…
Harry's hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.
"Stop, 'Mione. Just stop," he said, looking at her plate with alarm. There was a thick coating of salt adorning the salad, enough to make it look as though a small hailstorm had passed over their table. "You've ruined your lunch."
"I meant to do that," she seethed, pulling her wrist from his grip. Nobody was going to tell her how to season her food. To prove her point, she loaded up her fork and took an enthusiastic bite.
She promptly fought down the urge to vomit.
"How is it?" Harry asked, dryly.
"Crunchy," she managed to say. "But delicious." She hoped her response was clear – she had lost feeling in her tongue. After delicately setting down her fork, she proceeded to drink her entire glass of water, and then Harry's as well.
"Water is good for you," she said, trying to ignore the amused look on Harry's face.
"So is dealing with your feelings," he said, cocking an eyebrow.
"I've dealt with them, Harry. I shouldn't have to fall apart to prove it to you."
"Hermione, you're obsessively salting your lunch. You need to fall apart. You haven't even cried yet."
She shot him a death glare. "And I don't plan on it. The food is just bland. I'm fine."
Harry made a frustrated sound and fidgeted with his glasses. "You need to stop saying that. You're in denial is what you are. Look 'Mione, I've got to run. My lunch break is long over. Sorry. I'll see you for dinner at my place?"
"You don't need to feed me, Harry," she said, trying not to feel hurt that he was leaving so soon. "I'm perfectly capable of finding my own dinner."
His eyes flitted over to her plate and he cleared his throat. "Right," he said. "Of course. Well, I'll see you later, regardless."
Hermione watched him walk through the pub and then disappear into Diagon Alley. She sighed heavily. Why couldn't his lunch break have been longer? She hated being alone these days, but with Ron out of the picture, Harry was all she had.
Now her only company was a droopy salad and an empty glass. That, and a broken fucking heart. What a useless trio of things.
"He's right you know," said a voice from behind her. "And I don't say that lightly."
She whipped around in her seat, scandalized that someone had been listening in. A blond head of hair was facing away from her, perched on a pale neck atop broad, sculpted shoulders.
"I'll have you know that we were having a private conversation," she hissed at the stranger.
The stranger turned around and met her gaze. Familiar grey eyes met her brown ones. She groaned.
"Lovely," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Just what I need."
"I'll have you know, Granger, that despite my best efforts, I find it very hard to block out your piercing voice, especially when it's right behind me. Believe me, I've tried."
"Draco Malfoy," she said, wearily. "To what do I owe the misfortune?"
"I believe you mean the pleasure," he said, standing up and taking Harry's seat in one smooth move. "But enough about that. Let's talk about you." He set down his teacup with an air of finality, stirring the liquid with irritating slowness.
"Talk about me? Since when do you want to talk about me? Why are you sitting here? And what do you mean Harry was right?" Hermione said, flustered. The last thing she needed right now was Draco Malfoy sitting across from her pretending to be chummy. What she needed was a proper lunch.
"I mean just that – he's right when he says you're trying too hard. Even I can see the front you're putting on, and I barely look at you," he said, licking his teaspoon and then putting it back into the cup.
"I'm not putting on a front! I'm fine!" she babbled, feeling her cheeks heat up. "So it didn't work out. Worse things happen at sea. I'm fine, you know, totally fine…"
She absently picked up the salt shaker again and continued salting her salad while she talked, hoping that her words would keep away the flood of tears that were hanging around like vultures behind her eyes. Fucking vultures. What ridiculous birds.
"… Harry thinks I'm just repressing my feelings but I'm not you see, I'm really not, because I know not all relationships survive and people move on and sometimes you just have to deal with it…"
She began flipping the greens over with her fork while the other hand shook white flakes over every remaining piece of colour on her plate. Draco watched her with wide eyes.
"… And besides, I can deal with it, you know? I'm a grownup. I fought in the War. So what if I can't make it work with Ron? I've dealt with much worse, and I'm strong, and…. And I'm strong and I…"
She choked up and cleared her throat, determined to keep talking if it killed her. She would not cry here. Not in front of him.
Draco grabbed the hand that was clutching the salt shaker. The shaker was empty now; everything was on her plate, making her arugula glittery enough to bring to a disco.
"Hermione, calm down," he said.
Tears began to escape down her cheeks as she stared at him, shocked into silence at the sound of her name. He gently removed the shaker from her hand and placed it back on the table. Her fingers tingled from where he touched her. She kept her hand very still, trying to process the strange behaviour of the man sitting across from her. He wasn't supposed to be like this. He was supposed to be rude. He was always rude.
Perhaps if he made fun of her heritage or said something mean about her hair she would be willing to forget his momentary lapse in personality. She readied herself for an insult of epic proportions.
"Nobody expects you to be invincible, you know," he said.
Her defences deflated.
"I've ruined my salad," she said quietly, succumbing to the emptiness that she had been fighting for years. She hadn't just ruined her salad... She'd ruined everything. She knew things had stagnated with Ron. Hell, things began to stagnate three years in, and she still hung on for dear life. They were supposed to be together. It's what everyone expected. So they just... Stayed. Past the point of feeling like flatmates. Past the point of no attraction, of finding every conversation to be a grating, twisting argument waiting to explode. It needed to end, but it still felt like such a loss. Like she was failing at something she was supposed to be great at. She could have married her best friend, a War hero and a good man. Someone she loved.
But she couldn't do it. And now that she was relieved of the burden, she was free-falling with the grace of a bulldog on a trampoline.
"Why are you doing this, Hermione?" he said, gently, glancing in the direction of her plate. She stared at him blankly. Again with her name. He needed to stop that; it made him seem sympathetic and warm. Her feelings were getting all confused.
"Nothing tastes good anymore," she explained, sounding wet and congested. The tears continued to run down her face as if she had issued them an open invitation. They dripped off her chin. "Tastes like… Tastes like sad." The fact that her statement made no sense only made her cry harder. "So sad," she sobbed, covering her face with her hands.
"It's okay to be sad," he said, carefully removing her hands from her cheeks and holding onto them. He was serious now, no more teasing looks or arrogant smirk on his face. He ran his thumbs across her knuckles. "Sometimes you have to feel sad to be able to feel happy again."
Hermione sniffled and stared at their intertwined hands.
"My hands are wet. They're making your hands wet," she said. Perhaps that would make him realize he was, y'know, holding her hands.
"It's okay," he said, still fixing her with an intense gaze. "I don't mind."
"My hands are touching your hands," she said dumbly. He would figure it out soon, and then he would run away screaming. This was Malfoy, after all. Wasn't it?
"It's okay," he said again.
"You hate my hands," she stated, figuring she might as well go for broke. Apparently she needed to remind him of how much he detested her. The poor boy was all turned around.
"I really don't."
"You're being very weird, Malfoy," she said, sounding suspicious and congested all at once.
"Could you call me Draco? This last name thing seems awfully impersonal," he said. If he was joking, he wasn't showing it.
She stared at him mutely. He wanted her to call him Draco? What next? Hagrid wanting to open a belly dancing school? Ron wanting to become a vegetarian? What was going on here?
"Does extreme salt intake cause hallucinations?" she asked, genuinely curious.
"Why didn't it work out with you and the Weasel?" he responded, ignoring her comment.
"We sort of… We sort of became the same person. We loved each other, but we couldn't be together romantically anymore. There was no fire."
He nodded somberly, still rubbing her knuckles. "I see. So you're saying it would be better if there was a little more… Conflict?"
She shrugged, accidentally tightening her grip on his hands in the process. "I guess that would have helped. Or maybe not conflict, but passion, you know? We were just so blah. We didn't challenge each other at all."
"Hmmm," he said. "So you need someone who fires you up, basically."
"Suppose so," she said.
There was a heavy pause.
"You know, you tend to get pretty fired up around me," he said.
A much heavier pause hung in the air.
"Malf – Draco, are you suggesting that we… Uh… Date?"
He appeared to consider her question. "Well, now that you mention it, it would certainly be a step up from the Weasel."
Hermione stared at him.
"You're seriously asking me this. You're not just being cruel." She meant to ask it as a question, but instead it came out as a statement.
"I'm being very serious," he said.
She looked at him carefully. He had, frustratingly and predictably, gotten very handsome with age. He had always been cute, but his formerly pointy features had matured into a lean, smooth, chiseled collection of hot. His hair was parted in a tousled mess that screamed "I didn't style my perfectly styled hair." Didn't he know how annoying his attractiveness was? Wasn't he a gangly teenager not that long ago?
"Why in the name of all that is holy would you want to date me?" she whispered, convinced she was high. This wasn't really happening. Draco Malfoy was not caressing her hands and suggesting that they give that whole relationship thing a go. They weren't even friends. They had avoided each other quite comfortably since the War and it had worked out just fine, thankyouverymuch.
It was his turn to shrug. "Well, you've always been quite a looker, for one, as much as I might have tried to convince you otherwise. You have an actual brain underneath all that hair, secondly. And after that episode with the salt, I guess you could say my suspicions have been confirmed."
"What suspicions are those?" she asked.
"I've just felt for a long time that we complement each other really well," he said, evasively. "Couldn't actually find out if I was right because of the Weasel, you see. Didn't think you'd give me the time of day."
Hermione's eyes drifted over to Draco's teacup. His spoon was sitting upright in the middle of the liquid, unassisted by the cup itself.
Upon closer inspection, perhaps "liquid" was a generous word for the tea.
"Your tea is nearly a solid," she remarked, dazedly.
"Oh, yes, that it is," he said, looking at the cup.
"What's in it?" she asked, cautiously running her thumbs over his knuckles. He had soft skin. It felt nice.
"Sugar," he said, grinning at her.
She smiled back, timidly.
"What problems does the sugar hide, Draco?"
"I'd be happy to tell you all about it over dinner, Hermione," he said. "What do you say?"
She paused for a second, remembering that she had told Harry not to cook for her tonight. She had told him she'd find dinner on her own. Turns out, she had been right.
"I think that sounds lovely," she responded, wondering if, perhaps, things weren't so ruined after all.
Because really, in the end, it was just a matter of taste.