'I'm tired of saying that I won't get lost ever again,
Who knows, maybe I will...'
-Record Collector, Lissie
It had been an easy decision, one that Harry and Ron would – and most definitely did – say was too easy for her to make. But Hermione Granger wasn't one to give up, not on anything.
She wouldn't give up on her friends, her parents, and she most definitely would not give up on her education, something which she valued so highly.
She had been offered a very comfortable position in the Ministry by Minister Shacklebolt himself, a position which was spectacular for someone so young with its promotional prospects. It had been the deciding factor for her to return to school.
She knew, although Kingsley was a close friend and meant well, he had given her the position at the insistence of Harry. Both he and Ron had been snapped up for top Auror jobs after a miniscule amount of training, and Harry had wanted Hermione with them on their next adventure. He hadn't understood when she'd told him that they had to go on without her, that she wanted to be hired for what she knew not who she knew.
Harry had argued that Kingsley knew her very well, knew that she was one of the most brilliant minds in the country, but he hadn't gotten anywhere with her on that front. Hermione had been insistent.
So there she was, on the Hogwarts Express, thundering into Scotland and towards her second home. Though, she supposed, it was her only home now.
Her parents, though she refused to give up hope, had been lost to the Obliviate she had cast and were quite happy in Australia, going on without her. She had tried to reverse the Memory Charm but without success. There were still Healers in St. Mungo's working on their case.
She thought about them often, especially when she lay wide-awake at night on her bed, next to Ginny's, at the Burrow. It had become her shelter once the war ended, everyone's lives going back to normal except her own.
A knock brought her out of her silent reverie.
She turned as the compartment door slid open, a smiling redhead standing in its place.
Ginny caught her up in a welcome hug, and Hermione greeted her back.
The other girl didn't sit. "Sorry, got to go. Just thought I'd say hello before we get there. Why didn't you come with us to the station, by the way? Mum would have loved to see you off."
Hermione was just about to answer her, saying how she'd tell her about it all later and that the short answer was she'd gone by her parents' house before it was to go back onto the Muggle market, when a girlish voice called out to the redhead from down the train corridor.
"Sorry, Hermione," Ginny told her, smiling. "I'll see you at the Feast."
Hermione didn't have a chance to say anything else before Ginny was gone in a flash, shouting back to her friend, leaving the compartment door open and empty.
Her friend's shortness didn't deter her though, Hermione still felt a sense of relief to be returning to Hogwarts and there wasn't much to diminish that. She knew Ginny had her own group to be with.
Hermione heard the distinct heavy rattle of a trolley heading towards her. She stood and pulled out the galleon she'd put in the back pocket of her jeans for this very purpose.
She looked left up the corridor as she waited, gently leaning her right shoulder against the doorframe. She could see a full compartment, brimming with younger students so much that some were standing in the doorway, and as she turned her head she caught a glimpse of Ginny's unmistakable red hair, everyone converging on it.
Hermione wondered when Ginny had become so very popular, but didn't wonder long because she heard the squeaking of the trolley heading her way and turned to look.
A familiar shape with its blonde head of hair was standing just inside of the compartment to the right of hers. Hermione felt her eyebrows lift.
Lazy grey eyes met hers, Draco Malfoy's lip quirking at the corner as he looked at her.
"Granger," he greeted civilly.
He was deftly flipping a golden galleon between his fingers, just as she was turning hers over in her palm. He looked her up and down, but said nothing. He was taller than she remembered, and definitely not as emaciated.
"I didn't know you were coming back this year," she told him, trying not to tug at her plain sweater with all its little bobbles of fluff self-consciously.
Her funds had been hit hard by the war and the going away of her parents – in fact, she was living off of a sum the Ministry had paid her for all her efforts during the war, and it was not a very large amount of money. But it was obvious Malfoy, for all his family's troubles and his parents' trials, was far from penniless, with his dark grey suit and his crisp white shirt. His shoes looked extremely expensive.
It all made Hermione feel very, very awkward.
He said nothing as the aged trolley lady appeared. He bought a pumpkin pasty and disappeared back into his compartment.
The wrinkled woman in her pale pinafore beamed at Hermione. "He was a bit out of sorts, wasn't he? What would you like, dear?"
She bought a small bag of boiled sweets for the journey and resolved not to eat them too quickly. She wanted to be able to spend something at Honeydukes later in the week, after all.
The train ride passed more slowly than usual, and she knew it was because her two best friends were absent, off chasing down the last of the Death Eaters and new Dark wizards. She missed them, and as another hour ticked by without Ginny reappearing she began to miss the youngest Weasley as well.
Hermione wondered who else would be returning to Hogwarts along with herself and Malfoy. She hadn't really had time to ask Neville, or anyone else for that matter. She'd hardly seen anyone but Ron and Harry for weeks.
The lights of the station greeted her when she next looked out of the window from re-reading the latest Daily Prophet. There was the usual drivel about Harry and Hermione being more than friends despite his latest 'romantic entanglement' with Ginny Weasley, and Hermione was glad for the distraction.
She threw the paper into her dark leather messenger bag and put the empty paper bag from her sweets in the bin as she left the compartment to stand at the window in the corridor. Hermione watched the steam roll up and down, swirling in the evening breeze, as the train pulled into the station before coming to a complete stop.
She waited for all the other students in the carriage to go before her, all of them rushing to get out.
She felt his presence at her back before she heard him.
"Are you going to get out?" Malfoy said somewhere near her ear.
The last stragglers threw themselves through the open door and out onto the platform, Hermione quickly following after them into the cold air. Malfoy strode past her towards the carriages even though her own pace was quick.
She waited to one side as the Second Years went first getting onto the Thestral-drawn carriages, then the Third Years, and so on, and she looked for familiar faces as she waited, anyone she might know from her own year.
There was only Malfoy, standing at the end of the same pebbledash wall she stood at, arms crossed over his chest with his eyes on the last carriage as it rolled towards them.
Once it stopped, the Thestrals pausing on the dirt track to let them on, Draco turned his head towards her at the sound of her approach.
"Looks like it's just you and me this time, Granger."
Hermione didn't know how to read him, so she simply didn't and instead climbed onto the back of the carriage, Draco following.
The ride was smooth, with only the occasional bump, and it allowed silence to reign without being awkward. He sat across from her, eyes on the hill they were climbing towards the twinkling lights of the castle that could be seen through the trees.
Hermione didn't know where her words came from. "Are we going to fight?"
Draco's eyes slid to her, his brow dipped curiously. "Are we going to fight?" He parroted. "When have we not?"
Hermione didn't shrink under his gaze. "I want this to be a new year."
Her words were brave, and bold, and she was sure they were someone else's because how could she, Hermione Granger, be saying this to Draco Malfoy?
"I want it to be peaceful now," she told him, and there was a hint of something in those silvery orbs that flashed with recognition at her words.
The moment passed long before he spoke though, the wooden carriage creaking and rocking softly around them.
"You want peace, Granger?" He said. "Well, I won't ruin it for you. We'll stay out of each other's way, alright?"
It was a fair offer, but Hermione didn't have time to tell him that she hadn't meant for them to avoid each other completely, just avoid confrontation. She knew he wasn't the same boy he'd been before – no, the war had changed him just as it had changed her. The Thestrals stopped at the tall stone archway at the top of the incline that led into the castle, and Malfoy was off of the carriage and passing through the arch before she could do anything more than mouth at the empty air.
Hermione wondered if everyone she talked to from now on was going to leave before she had a chance to say what she wanted to.
It turned out 'Eighth Years,' as McGonagall had dubbed both her and Malfoy in a short meeting with them both before the Feast, were not required to attend any classes unless they thought they specifically needed to and the Library was open to them twenty-four hours a day.
They also had one tower for their own personal use, complete with bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchenette, as well as a common area. McGonagall, who had been appointed Headmistress after Snape's death and had continued from then onwards, told them that they were both excellent students who she knew didn't need coddling, hence them both coming back to Hogwarts of their own free will.
It had been more than a shock to Hermione, who had thought that her timetable wouldn't change one iota except to allow time for her examinations, but once she had sat down at the Feast afterwards, watching the year's Sorting and eating alone, Ginny with her friends further up the table, she could see that it was preferable.
Hermione was alone for the year, save Malfoy, and though she knew Ginny would not ignore her completely, it would be best to act like the person she was. Hermione wasn't a real student anymore, she was grown, she'd seen and done so much, and after a few more moments' thought she found solitude was the next best thing when her friends were not with her.
Following McGonagall's instructions, after delaying in the Library for an hour or so to pick up some light reading, Hermione found the door to the Eighth Year tower with ease. It wasn't in plain view like Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff tower, or very hidden like Gryffindor or Slytherin, but simply tucked away down a dead-end corridor on the Seventh Floor.
When she trailed up the spiralling staircase beyond the door, which closed itself behind her with a soft snap, she found it lit by floating candles above and moonlight through the arrow slits all around.
A portrait of a small boy stood proudly at the top, the gilded frame shining.
He looked at her suspiciously, a furrowed brow along with dark blonde curls and wide blue eyes. He wore a sweet little grey uniform, something similar to the one the boys at her primary school had worn.
His frown dropped suddenly and he smiled. "Hello!"
Hermione couldn't fight her own grin. "What's your name?"
"Cassius," he chirped. "You seem nice. I thought you might be like the boy in there now."
Hermione rolled her eyes, shifting her bag full of books on her shoulder. "Malfoy's always been like that. Don't pay him any attention."
She heard a voice from within. "I can hear you, Granger."
The boy beamed. "Granger? Is that your name?"
"You can call me Hermione," she told Cassius, and the little boy looked beyond pleased.
"Oh," he suddenly said. "I have to ask you a question."
"The password?" Hermione grinned. "Umbellularia californica."
The portrait swung open to reveal a warm and well-lit room, with tapestries hanging down the light stone walls and a wide bay window opposite a grand fireplace at which Malfoy sat, jacket unbuttoned and a glass of Firewhiskey in hand.
"Thank you," she told the little painted boy.
"See you soon!" Cassius said before closing the portrait behind her once more.
Hermione headed over to the opposite wingback from Malfoy, setting down her book bag to the side and enjoying the fire that was burning brightly in the grate.
"So much for staying out of each other's way," Hermione said – she was hoping it was in a bright sort of way, but judging by Malfoy's look she failed.
"I didn't ask to be neighbours with you, Granger." He swallowed the rest of his drink, standing and putting his empty glass on the mantle. "But it doesn't mean we can't keep to what we said."
He disappeared up a few short steps to the left of the fireplace and then through a wooden door. She could tell by the noise it made when it slammed shut that it was his bedroom, warded against entry. The other side of the fireplace had something similar, and the door was ajar just enough for Hermione to see that Crookshanks lay on her delivered trunk at the end of a large and lush four-poster bed.
Hermione took up her books and followed Malfoy's example, retiring for the night.
The next morning passed strangely, full of nothing but cups of tea and reading. There hadn't been any lessons Hermione had wanted, or even needed, to attend, and so she revised, and read, and before long she was bored.
She took the steps down into the common area and went for her cloak slung over the arm of 'her' wingback. McGonagall had said something else to both her and Draco: they were free to visit Hogsmeade whenever they pleased, and Hermione needed fresh air.
She took the staircase from the dorm, saying a cheery good afternoon to Cassius, and trailed along the Seventh Floor corridors until she met the moving staircases. They switched and swapped around her, Hermione stopping pre-emptively on occasion in her cool and practised way.
Soon enough, she was out of the castle, leaving through the back gate, the wards trembling around her as they let her pass through safely. The dirt track she walked was peaceful when there weren't any other students on it, and she enjoyed the soft crunching of the crisp dirt beneath her shoes.
That was another thing she was grateful for – her own shoes. Allowed to wear her own clothes, Hermione didn't have to worry about finding the money for new robes. Her old ones were long lost, and even if she did find them she knew they wouldn't be in very good shape.
Her jeans and blouse beneath her cloak were more than welcome anyway, especially when they meant she didn't have to wear all that itchy wool or those thick school jumpers.
The tall, pointed roofs of Hogsmeade were a welcome distraction, and as Hermione made her way across the cobblestones to Tomes and Scrolls, she found another.
Draco Malfoy, dark cloak on and visible crisp shirt beneath it, exited the Three Broomsticks. And he wasn't alone.
With him – and, even in her head, Hermione emphasised the 'with' – was a tall, willowy sort of girl, with very long eyelashes, visible even from across the street, and very dark hair, and who seemed incapable of balance in her insensible shoes.
"I didn't know there would be cobbles," Hermione heard the girl tell Malfoy acerbically, as she clutched at his arm.
Malfoy said nothing, and as the couple made their way down the street towards the Hog's Head, which had been (sort of) refurbished by Aberforth with his war reward, Hermione couldn't help but laugh.
It was obvious what they were doing, what the girl was for, essentially, because no one 'stayed' at the Hog's Head, as the girl kept talking Malfoy's ear off about, unless they were short on galleons. And Malfoys were never short on galleons.
His head turned as she laughed, her curls flying about her face in a sudden breeze as she didn't bother to cover her obvious amusement. Malfoy's eyes caught hers dangerously, and then he turned away, pulling along the teetering girl behind him.
It was much later, as Hermione sat in her wingback by the low fire in the common room, reading a small book on poison identification, that Malfoy returned from his trip to Hogsmeade, looking tidy but slightly...worn.
It made her grin.
"I know what you're doing," he told her in a gruff tone. "Laughing behind your bloody book. I don't see what's so funny, Granger. Just because I can get some sex and no one will go near your fussy knickers with a Nimbus."
Hermione raised her eyes from the pages of her book and looked over at Malfoy, finally realising that he was, indeed, drunk.
"Are you alright?"
She didn't know why she asked, but she did, and once the question had left her lips it was too late to be silenced.
Malfoy dropped into the chair opposite, the fire lighting his confused scowl. "Am I alright? Put your bleeding heart away before you lose it. I've only had a couple."
"A couple dozen is more like it," she said, watching as he blinked at her lazily.
"Why did you laugh?" He asked, ignoring her comment.
"Just now or earlier?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows at him. "I think it's obvious."
Malfoy watched her from beneath his fair brow. "Spell it out for me."
She rolled her eyes and went back to her book. "I laughed earlier because you seemed so eager to get her away from prying eyes, but you were going to Aberforth's. It was obvious to anyone who cared to look what you two were going to be doing."
"And just now?"
She smirked, looking up once more. "You look like you've played Quidditch for twelve hours and lost."
Malfoy just brushed her words away, like water off of a Grindylow's back. "This is what the result of a good shag looks like, Granger. But, of course, you wouldn't know that. Have you ever let that bushy mane down and let someone get at your precious virginity?"
Obviously liquor loosened his lips, because he'd been all for ignoring her very existence until now. They were toughing something out, and Hermione wasn't one to let Draco Malfoy get the upper hand with anything.
She tilted her head at him. "Why do you want to know?"
Malfoy made a noise and shifted, looking at the fire and back, and again, before saying, "I don't care. It was just a question."
"Does it bother you?" She finally asked, after a lull. "Does it bother you that I'd rather read or go out on the Grounds than have meaningless sex and drink myself stupid?"
Malfoy's brow had risen with each word until she was finished and then it promptly dropped very low again.
"I don't care," he told her again, louder. "I just think the stick up your arse might!"
Hermione gave a sigh, pulling herself out of her chair and taking the steps up to her room, but not before looking at Draco once more and saying,
"If you think that's all there is to me, then I'm sure you were right when you said we should stay out of the other's way."
And for the first time, since she had seen him in his new state, he sneered. He looked just like he had all those years ago, when he had known what she was right from the off and hated her for it. It made her sad.
"I know what there is to you. I see you," Malfoy told her sharply. "I see that tatty jumper. I see the way you rub those little coins in your pocket, hoping they might suddenly decide to have it off and multiply. I see the way you look for the post, and the way there's never anything from your friends. I see the way you look at the littlest Weasley, just begging for her to talk to you. You are alone. You are poor. You are pathetic."
She merely closed her bedroom door behind her.
When Hermione stepped into the common room the next morning, she wasn't worried about coming face-to-face with Malfoy, whether sober or still pissed. He hadn't said anything that she hadn't thought herself, and though he might have liked to think him her biggest tormentor, his words didn't cut her deeply at all.
She'd come to terms with her life, her family and her circle of friends, and she knew that one day, if she worked hard enough, she'd be free to do anything she wanted. She didn't need fame, or recognition.
She only needed to be happy. And she wasn't happy yet, not with her rubble-strewn life.
Hermione found Malfoy had managed to get himself up and into his room, judging by his banished cloak lying at the foot of the steps to his room and his bedroom door sitting ajar. She decided the evidence was enough for her to sate her misplaced sense of responsibility and promptly left for the Library in her jeans and blouse.
The corridors were heaving as she navigated them, but the crowds parted for her.
Faces of all kinds stared at her, expressionless, slack, until the shock wore off and they twisted in all sorts of expressions. Some were awed, some were wary, and some...some were full of contempt.
They whispered as she passed, and Hermione continued walking, completely and utterly at a loss.
She found the Library unusually empty when she passed through the grand doors. Madam Frobisher, Madam Pince's replacement, was sat at her long and immaculately clean desk. She eyed Hermione warily.
But Hermione didn't pay her any attention, instead choosing to wander towards the back of the enormous room, through the tall bookcases, to the back table she liked to sit at when she was alone. It was a small round table, two chairs placed at it, and it sat in the corner, right beside two windows.
Hermione threw both windows open before sitting silently, taking in a cool breeze as she considered why everyone at Hogwarts that she had come across in the corridors had been cold and distant or overly aggressive towards her.
She knew about the lies that the papers printed about their trio, and especially about her, but had everyone really taken that all to heart? In the year that the war had ended and Hogwarts had started a new term, had Hermione's quiet living allowed people to think she was hiding, and that, therefore, the rumours were true?
She ran a hand through her hair, just as a voice came from behind her.
"I thought you might be here."
She didn't bother turning. "It must be so annoying for you for me to be so predictable."
Malfoy's voice was quiet when he spoke and she could hear his throat scratching. "Look, Granger, I..."
He came into view from behind her, coming around the table until he could kick out the chair opposite and sit in it. The view of the Grounds was obstructed by his head and she had no choice but to look at him.
Her tone wasn't cold, just neutral, detached. He rubbed his stubble-speckled jaw with the side of his thumb, obviously not pleased with how unconcerned she seemed about whatever he had to say.
She looked at him properly. His hair was ruffled, sleep-creased, and his face looked a little flushed with warmth, and she realised it meant he'd only just gotten up. The first thing he had done was to come and find her.
Hermione gave him her full attention.
His grey eyes were dark, lidded, and he looked so very tired. His lips were turned down at the corners, and his shirt and trousers had been haphazardly thrown together.
"I was knocking on your door," he told her.
"I wasn't there," she replied factually, and she saw that old flash of annoyance in his eyes.
"Obviously." He seemed to check himself. "I'm... I didn't mean to say those things last night, Granger."
Hermione pressed her palms flat to the table top. "It's said that a drunken person speaks their mind, speaks their truth. Have you ever heard that, Malfoy? I don't mind the truth," she told him. "In fact, I frequently seek it out. So, perhaps it would have been nicer not to hear those things, but really, not even that deep down, you did mean to say those things."
Malfoy's face was carefully blank for a moment, before he spoke. "Fine. I didn't want to say those things."
"Why? You meant them."
His lip twitched in annoyance, breaking his mask. "Alright, Granger. Enough. I meant them! I've wanted to tell you you're a stuck-up bitch for years. Satisfied?"
Hermione let out a breath through her nose.
Malfoy leant forwards across the table towards her, as if to convey confidentiality. "I think you don't know how to be normal, how to have fun, and sometimes I wonder if you'll ever learn."
She couldn't help the curl of her lips. "I think you'll never learn to stop looking at people in terms of their wealth. So it seems we're both destined to be disappointed in life."
Malfoy sat back at her amusement, expression glaringly confused. "What's wrong with you?"
She thought about the whispers, the lack of friendship, the lack of family, the lack of anything in her life except living to pass her N.E.W.T.s, and she answered him honestly.
She thought about her concern on the train that he might suss her out, might make the new school year difficult for her if he found even a chink in her armour, but she needn't have worried. It seemed that the year was going to be difficult as it was, and she realised that Malfoy didn't even tip the scale anymore.
He seemed to eye her a little more closely. "It's the looks, isn't it?"
Hermione frowned at him. "Looks?"
"The looks they give you in the corridors, the Great Hall, the bloody bathroom, for Merlin's sake." His grey eyes were clear for a moment, shining. "It's the way they don't see you as a person anymore, just a walking shape of shoddy newspaper print and fucking gossip."
Hermione's fingers tapped out a disjointed rhythm on the table top. Of course he knew what it was like, but did she really see this going where she thought it was? Were they creating some sort of patchwork alliance?
Malfoy leant forwards again, halting her hand with one fingertip to her knuckle. "You'll get used to it, Granger. Welcome to pariahdom."
Then, he was gone, leaving Hermione to contemplate the latest tyre-squealing turn of events.
They were both sat by the fire in their common room, Malfoy working through an essay he had picked up from a Seventh Year Transfiguration lesson, judging by the title, and Hermione writing a letter to Ron.
She had no idea what to tell him – she'd been sitting staring at the parchment in front of her for at least fifteen minutes – and she couldn't even begin to write his name. It had been like that for a while, a tentative sort of force pushing her both away from him and back to him.
Their romance wasn't really a romance, their relationship little more than their friendship had been, but he'd still been there for her during the time after the war. She had snuck into his room from hers in the Burrow late at night when the silence had gotten too great, and they had cuddled, or kissed, before falling asleep together.
But her last night there hadn't been nearly so chaste, when they'd known that they wouldn't see each other for a very long time, and it was that – that late-night fumble in the dark – that was keeping her from writing to him.
What should she say? Should she act normal, loving, what? Should she pretend that it never happened, or act like it meant nothing?
They hadn't discussed it, they'd just let it happen, and in the scuttling back to her room she hadn't once considered the ramifications of giving one of her best friends her virginity.
She looked up from her daze of thoughts to see Malfoy's eyes on her.
"You know," he began casually, "if you think any harder, I might see smoke in a minute."
She ignored his comment. "How do you do it?"
Hermione didn't consider asking him about his love life to be wrong at this particular moment. The unspoken truce they'd made last week, in her mind, allowed Hermione her curiosity and an answer to her problems.
"Do?" Malfoy continued with his essay, eyes on his magically suspended scroll of parchment hovering above his lap.
"The casual thing," she answered. "The sex without the attachment."
He glanced at her. "Thinking of walking on the wild side, Granger?"
She waited for his answer. Malfoy half-sighed as he continued to scratch away at the parchment with flawless, inky script.
"Do you want a set of rules from me?" He asked. "If you do, you're out of luck, because there aren't any rules. It's easier than you might think, Granger. You just don't confuse affection and sex, and you're all set."
Hermione lifted an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," he stressed, glancing up, "you have sex with people that you want to have sex with and you don't have sex with people that you don't want to have sex with. End. No post-script."
"You mean it's all physical? Everything?" She queried.
Malfoy threw down his quill and sat back in his wingback, obviously resigned to the conversation. "Yes, of course it is. That's what you asked me, isn't it? Sex without the attachment?"
"Yes, but," Hermione frowned harder, "I mean, you don't even like the girls you sleep with?"
"Not even a little?"
Malfoy looked like he wanted to roll his eyes at her. "I find them tolerable, that's it. If they don't irritate me and I find their body attractive then I sleep with them."
"What about those that you like, that you have affection for?" Hermione asked.
"I don't sleep with those ones."
She stared for a moment. "Not at all?"
"No." Malfoy smirked. "Not even a little bit, Granger. If I like someone, then we become friends."
"So, there's no overlap? You've never slept with someone you liked, a friend?"
Hermione was a little bit baffled. "I don't understand."
"I see that," Malfoy said, a scoff. "What your little virginal brain can't comprehend, Granger, is that I will not fuck anyone I have respect or affection for. My body and my mind are separate entities. My body needs a body to satisfy it, and my mind likes to choose other minds to share things with. No overlap."
She came to the crux. "Why not?"
"Because that's love, Granger, and love doesn't exist."
So, if Malfoy was right, then Hermione had committed the cardinal sin: she had slept with someone she had affection for, and who she respected. Was that why everything between them was so...well, wrong and awkward? Was that why she couldn't rightfully say she loved Ron, because what they had done wasn't right for them, because it wasn't love?
"Say I committed an overlap," she postulated, causing Malfoy to smirk and sprawl regally in his chair.
"Oh, yes? Little Miss Granger not so virginal after all?"
She ignored him. "Then would this overlap mean I could never go back to what I had with him before?"
"No, you can't," he told her. "If you've given him both then you've given him too much. It's called putting all your dragon eggs in one basket, Granger, and you'll go mad if you keep trying to give your heart to every bloke you fancy yourself in love with."
Taking Draco Malfoy's advice was not something that Hermione Granger was known for, or, in fact, had ever done before, but as she considered the state of her relationships and life in general she knew that she had to take a firmer grasp or she'd end up as barmy and tear-sodden as Moaning Myrtle.
She knew she loved things too easily, gave her heart away too quickly – it was just her nature to – but she also knew she could change and that taking a leaf out of the jaded Draco Malfoy's handbook to survive public scrutiny, isolation, and gossip would be a good choice to make given her current circumstances.
Malfoy seemed to sense the change in Hermione and the firming of her resolve. "If you find someone attractive, you sleep with them. If you find someone likable, you make their acquaintance. It's easy."
Easy, she thought, would be good for her.
Hermione was walking to Hogsmeade the next day with Malfoy when she finally sought to question him closer.
They trailed side-by-side down the track to the village, and it was all peacefully quiet before she spoke.
"Who was she? The girl you were with in Hogsmeade."
Malfoy's flashed his teeth at her. "I wondered when you'd ask. I met her in London a while ago, told her I'd owl her when to meet and where. She knew what I wanted."
Hermione was silent in thought for a moment, before Malfoy spoke again.
"That's another thing, Granger," he told her seriously. "If you want it to work for you, you need to choose people that you won't see again. No one from school, no one you work with, and no one you might just 'bump' into."
She nodded. "Alright, but then how do I meet people outside of school and Hogsmeade now, when we can't leave?"
"Holidays," Malfoy answered, as if it were obvious. "Holidays, and strangers passing through. Say you sit next to some bloke today in The Three Broomsticks who you like the look of, you talk to him and find out he's only staying for the night – he's a candidate, isn't he?"
"We're talking about all this as if I actually need to do this," she suddenly said, stopping in the middle of the dirt track. "I don't think I do. I mean, it's a good set of rules to live by, Malfoy, and maybe I'll need them one day, but I don't need them now."
He stopped too, his long black coat tight around him as he pulled it in by the pockets at the front, his hands shoved deep, away from the cold air. He turned, his light hair flipping lazily in the breeze. He looked...inquisitive.
"Are you sure?" Malfoy asked her, tilting his head. "Are you sure that you don't already need to separate your needs? I know you're lonely for similar intellect and interests, but are you sure that's it?"
She frowned at him beneath her woollen hat, burying her chin further under the warm protection of her matching scarf.
"What do you mean?"
Malfoy stepped closer. "Do you never feel that little grip of coldness? Something aching? A need for warmth or something different?" He came even closer, his breath warming her face. "You went through the war, same as me, Granger, and I can't live without feeling someone beneath me. Don't you ever need someone fucking you?"
Hermione stepped back, shocked out of her sudden daze. "No!"
"Never?" Malfoy pressed once more.
She paused, cheeks hot despite the cold, and she couldn't give an honest answer. She'd thought, even just a moment ago, that she didn't need that intimacy to feel level, but now she was unbalanced and it was just from Malfoy's hot breath on her skin and his tall, lean body close to hers.
She did need intimacy. She did need comfort. She'd just been looking in the wrong place, turning to Ron for something that should have been provided by someone less attached to keep her life uncomplicated. Instead, she'd made it worse.
In that moment, she really did see that Malfoy had everything down pat.
"That's what I thought." He smirked at her silence. "Go to the pub, try and pick up a bloke, and then decide if it's all what you want. Oh, and don't forget to flash the legs a bit. It's what we look for in a good shag." He was off then, down the track and calling back over his shoulder. "Don't spend too long there afterwards! Slughorn's essay is due in today."
Hermione hadn't forgotten they'd both chosen to complete the Hogwarts Potions Master's latest lesson and consequential homework, but she had forgotten the due date. But it was complete and sitting on her desk in her room, and she knew that she wanted to see Malfoy's advice through instead of handing it in early.
Turning at the next fork in the path, she headed down to The Three Broomsticks as Malfoy continued on to the shops.
She couldn't put on her clothes fast enough. He was watching her from the bed.
"Do I at least get to know your name?" He asked, the light bed sheet strewn across his body.
He was good-looking, attractive, with short close-cropped dark curls and bright blue eyes. His body was compact, muscled from work, and there was a light sheen of sweat across his skin, highlighted by the fire in the room, his pub room for the night. It was already getting dark.
She had to smile to herself as she pulled on her shirt and jeans, along with her coat, scarf, hat, and shoes, that he didn't know who she was.
"No," Hermione told him, buttoning her coat and thinking it was a good thing she hadn't worn fiddly robes.
She heard him sigh as she made sure she had her wand and things. "Shag me and leave, is it? After something as good as that?"
She didn't turn. "That's exactly what it is."
Hermione left, aching and stretched in such good ways, and returned to Hogwarts Castle, absently wondering when she had last felt so free and powerful. She couldn't even remember.
Once she'd handed in her essay to Slughorn personally, smiling like an utter fool with the endorphins still roaming her pleasantly tired body, she made her way up to where she knew Malfoy would be waiting for her in their common room.
Cassius met her at the door. "Hermione!"
She gave the little boy a silly grin. "Hello. How are you?"
"My mum's got me some sweets a few paintings across the castle." He beamed. "You look happy. Are you in love?"
Hermione took a simple and sweet breath. "No, I'm not."
And she felt so good about that.
She recited the password, Cassius let her through with a chirpy goodbye, and she met Malfoy at their wingbacks, Firewhiskey already in his hand.
"So?" He asked, taking a draw of the dark amber liquid.
Hermione sat and warmed herself by the fire, Crookshanks leaping up on her lap for a petting as she did so.
"I did it," she told Malfoy, "and I enjoyed it."
He grinned. "Of course you did, Granger. The fussier the knickers, the harder they come."
Hermione gave him a blatant expression of distaste.
He shrugged. "It's true. So, who was the man?"
"I don't know," Hermione said. "He was a bit older, and he was attractive, and he was using Hogsmeade as a stop-over."
"Looks like he met the criteria." Malfoy saluted with his glass. "You can be taught, it seems."
Hermione opened her mouth and asked a question she hadn't thought to before. "And it's good, isn't it? I mean, you don't regret living like this? I don't want to commit to not committing only to find more pitfalls than the other way."
Malfoy watched her for a moment, eyes bright and clear. "No, I don't regret it, and I don't think I ever will."
Hermione sat at the stone table down by the boathouse, under the large and half-full maple tree there. She knew that soon enough the leaves would all fall, but even then she knew she wouldn't relocate. She loved the lapping of the water at the shore's grassy bank, and the owls swooping down over the lake from the Owlery a little way off.
Her books were spread out around her, the sun hidden behind light cloud above, and she wondered where Malfoy was. He had said he would meet her there to discuss the latest Seventh Year assignment that they were interested in.
She'd found, in the month and a half spent back at the castle and living in such close quarters, that Draco Malfoy really had changed. He had always been intelligent and hard-working in school, but he'd never been polite or a conversationalist when it came to work, in fact he frequently saw to his being left alone.
But Hermione had broken through that, Malfoy now working with her on many things, especially Ancient Runes which he unusually found fascinating and happened to be Hermione's best subject by an inch or so.
She hardly noticed when a soft shadow swept across the pages of her book.
She looked up, startled, to see an unfamiliar boy in Ravenclaw robes standing to the side of the stone bench she sat on. He was heavily set, with a low brow and dark blonde curls. His hands were meaty and clenched where his arms were crossed across his broad chest.
Hermione frowned at her name not being a question or a query, more like an accusation, and so she said nothing.
"My father's Lowood, Rowan Lowood, and you had him tortured," he told her.
She stared. She didn't know him or his father, and she had absolutely no idea how she could have had anyone tortured.
He smirked nastily. "You haven't got a clue, have you? You don't even know what you did in the war!"
Hermione found her voice. "I'm sorry, I don't know what–"
"Sorry?" He sneered. "He worked at the Ministry on security until you broke in and got out without a scratch on you! He was Crucio'd, you know, and now he just sits at home and stares out the window. And you're sorry? You're not sorry!"
He pulled out his wand, short and made from dark, dark wood.
"But you will be," the boy promised, and Hermione had just enough time to pull out her own vine wood and cast a Shielding Charm before he sent a nasty Slicing Hex shooting towards her in a flash of bright purple.
As it was the power of it sent her off of the bench and skidding across the grass. She hauled herself up from a tangle of limbs and grass-stained denim, and took a stance that she remembered so well.
The boy cast, cast again, and kept casting as Hermione blocked.
She wanted peace, she wanted quiet, and above all she didn't want to remember that almost sulphuric smell of deathly magic.
"Stop it," she told him, breathless and unwilling to fight back.
He sneered again and shot straight past her defences, narrowly missing her bare arm. But he hit her side, her blouse splitting and blood staining the thin and soft material.
Blood and magic and...and it was all too real, all too familiar.
"Stop it!" Hermione screamed.
Again and again and again he cast, until she couldn't take another hit against her weakening shield and her power was strengthening for an attack on his, leaving her defences for a reflex offensive.
She cast a Stunner first, and when it missed, she went with something a little more powerful in a bolt of sickly yellow. It missed, shattering against his charm.
And then a shock of blue came from nowhere, hitting the Ravenclaw in the back and sending him sprawling across the grass in a flutter of his long school robes.
Draco Malfoy stood over him in his rolled-up shirtsleeves and dark trousers, disgust curling his lip. "Little shit."
McGonagall had been shocked to hear the story when she had summoned Hermione and Malfoy to her study, and so very angry when she had found out why Hermione had been defensively duelling against a Fifth Year.
Malfoy's charm had been a Freezing Spell, something similar to the common Petrificus Totalus, and Madam Pomfrey had been able to successfully cast the counter-spell. She had then, apparently, re-cast Malfoy's charm, as the boy had thought he was still in the heat of battle with Hermione and had near tried to kill her.
Rabid, she'd described him to the Headmistress in front of the two Eighth Years. Rabid.
Hermione had caused someone to become rabid.
She thought about this in front of the low fire in the common room, Malfoy sitting across from her and looking thoughtful.
Hermione decided to ask him a question. "Why did you help me?"
Malfoy didn't bother looking affronted as he might have once done. "Your bleeding heart will be the death of you, Granger. He was ready to cast Unforgivables and you were prancing around with Protego. Someone had to make it a fair fight. How's your side?"
Hermione instinctively put her hand to her middle where her long pyjamas hid smooth, healed skin, thanks to Madam Pomfrey.
"Fine," she murmured. "Thank you, for stepping in."
Malfoy only acknowledged her words with a nod. "We still on for tomorrow?"
Hermione gave a broad smile. "Hogsmeade in full swing? Of course."
Hermione received a one-page letter that morning from Harry, who wrote to say he was travelling with Ron and a team of Aurors around Scotland to scour hideouts for missing Death Eaters and that he missed her. He said nothing else about Ron.
Malfoy had scoffed at Harry's short sentences over Hermione's shoulder before she could hide the parchment from him.
"Eager to tell you things, isn't he? Saint fucking Potter."
Hermione said nothing about his attitude, merely asked a question, a common occurrence these days with him. "How long has it been?"
He knew what she was asking. "Too damn long. Annabelle was the last, the one you laughed at, but the street party will show some fresh faces for me to choose from."
"What about me?" She asked, unembarrassed.
Malfoy scoffed again as they finished their morning cups of tea and then began to pull on their cloaks. "You've been doing well enough on your own! At least one every other week or so."
Hermione fought a scowl. "You know that's not true."
Malfoy grinned. "Yes, but it's fun to see you trying not to hex my bollocks off for making you sound like a slut."
They sat at a corner table in The Three Broomsticks so they could see everyone who came and went. Malfoy obviously had his eye on a blonde at the bar, and Hermione was keeping check of a tall official-looking sort of man in long black robes.
The street party celebrating All Hallows' Eve was still sounding loudly outside, whizzes and bangs intermingling with wizards and witches singing old folk songs and drinking Firewhiskey and Butterbeer.
"We need to stop looking like we're together," Malfoy told her, and Hermione laughed into her mug of Butterbeer.
"I don't think that's a problem."
"Why?" Malfoy frowned.
Hermione frowned right back. "Well, we're not exactly cosy, are we? We're not even friends."
Malfoy looked at her strangely for a moment before shaking his head. "It doesn't matter what we think, it's what it looks like to them. Don't you want to come tonight, Granger?"
She ignored him and picked up her drink, taking herself over to the small table the man she'd had her eye on sat at. He looked up at her, a little merry and definitely keen.
Hermione accidentally reconvened with Malfoy that night, three hours or so later, on the stairs of The Three Broomsticks.
He eyed her rumpled dress and bare legs, which had previously been covered by tights, and asked, "Good one?"
Hermione eyed his loose top button and his crinkled trouser legs. "It was alright. You?"
He tilted his head side-to-side. "So, so."
"She looked it," Hermione said thoughtfully. "All the smiling was telling. She wanted more than tonight, right?"
"Yes." Malfoy grinned. "You're getting better at this."
Hermione grinned back as they made their way out of the pub and onto the lamp-lit cobbled street.
"And your bloke," he began as they made their way back up to the castle, passing through the forest's edge, "did he try too much?"
"Pushed me around a bit. I had to hex him in the end. That's why I was leaving."
He was frowning when she glanced at him. "I could tell by the way he dragged you up the stairs, had half a mind to hex him myself."
They were quiet for a moment, the forest around them gloomy and peaceful.
"Does it ever change?" Hermione asked him.
Malfoy was slower to answer than he had been before with her other questions on the subject – they both knew what she was talking about. "No. Never. That's why we're doing it, Granger, because it's something we can control."
She nodded silently, knowing how freeing it really was to take the most important aspects of her life and keep them firmly out of other people's hands.
She changed the subject, smiling. "That boy, Michael Lowood, he's one of Ginny's friends."
Malfoy let out a soft bark of laughter.
"Yes, she hasn't spoken to me since."
"Or before," Malfoy reminded her, grinning.
Hermione nudged him playfully in the side with her elbow, ignoring his smile while her own beamed as they trod the dark path.
The next morning Hermione was waiting outside of the bathroom, dressed in her pyjamas and clutching her towel, when something changed.
Her fist met the door in three sharp knocks. "How long are you going to take, Malfoy? I need to be in Potions in twenty minutes! You don't even have lessons this morning!"
The water abruptly shut off inside and she heard cursing. Hermione waited as the lock of the door clicked open and the knob turned under Malfoy's hand.
The door swung open, and there he was, red in the face and dripping wet, a blue towel slung around his hips.
Water ran in rivulets from strands of his light hair down his cheek, his neck, continuing past his chest. His skin was flushed from the heat of the water, and it only served to outline his Quidditch-honed body further. There were muscles were Hermione had only seen flatness on others before, and scars where pure white flesh should have been.
Malfoy bared his teeth at her. "Have the fucking bathroom then, Granger! Or are you going to stand there looking gormless all day?"
He pushed past her, pissed off, warm and wet, and smelling of sandalwood. Her mind thought hardly anything of it, but her body? Her body wanted his, from the cut 'v' of his hips to the scowl on his face that she knew wouldn't go away for the rest of the morning.
Everything had changed. At least for her.
Eight months had passed since All Hallows', and the last week had been full of exams for the Seventh Years and the two ostracised Eighth Years.
Every day had seen Hermione growing closer to Malfoy in some new strange way, and she had to admit, each day she found him more and more attractive. Every day she thought about his words, his advice, his code, and she found herself thinking that they could never be friends but, perhaps, if he thought of her anything like she was thinking of him then they could have that one concession of a night together.
Outstandings were dished out to both Hermione and Malfoy in all subjects, and they celebrated with a glass of Firewhiskey on their last night by the fireside, both sat on the hearth and feeling merry.
It was then that Hermione realised that they would never see each other again. Malfoy was keen on possibly travelling before taking up the reins of some family businesses and investments, and Hermione was determined to be something she didn't quite know yet. She was thinking of dabbling, spending her days however she wanted and working in any way she liked.
She'd already bought a cottage just outside of York for that purpose actually, where she had her own Potions laboratory and a large room she was going to dedicate to her books and scholarly interests. She had fixed it up during the Christmas holidays, but had otherwise spent her time at Hogwarts either alone or with Malfoy.
Harry and Ron were busy across the globe, and Ginny was unforgiving. In the end, it turned out Hermione only had herself and those she chose to share herself with. Malfoy was the one exception.
Hermione looked at him, fire-lit and dangerously dishevelled, and she decided she would share tonight with him.
"We'll never see each other again," she told him, hardly casual, lifting her half-empty glass to her lips.
Malfoy's eyes were shrewd and glowing. "No, never."
"I wonder," she murmured, "if there isn't room for something tonight, before we leave in the morning."
Malfoy stretched, his long and leanly muscled body creating a warmth deep in her belly. He began taking off his shoes and socks, before unbuttoning his dark blue shirt and standing to take it off in a swirl of material. Hermione caught on.
She pulled her blouse over her head without unbuttoning it, unzipping the side of her skirt as Malfoy undid his belt buckle with a soft clink that only served to make the knot in her belly clench pleasantly.
She rolled off her skirt and tights. He pushed down his trousers and underwear. Hermione wasn't shy in being the last to undress, hooking her thumbs under the edge of her knickers and slipping them down until she could step out of them.
Malfoy looked at her, long and intensely, and Hermione could practically feel his eyes as they looked over her legs, her shoulders, her neck, her stomach, before caressing her small breasts and the tended-to apex of her thighs.
She looked at one place of his only, and she felt herself tighten again.
His cock was not the largest she had ever seen, but it was perfectly in proportion to his body. The sight of it didn't make her cringe as it had with others before him, and it certainly didn't disappoint her, as had been the case before as well. It was hard, growing the longer she looked, and it was cut, the flushed head protruding in a way that made her want to touch it, stroke it, and definitely taste it.
Malfoy's gaze caught hers. "Yours or mine?"
She didn't bother answering him, just started towards the steps up to his room and pushed open the door. He was on her as soon as she was inside, the door slamming behind them as his hands found her flat stomach and then each roved different ways.
His cock was hot against the skin of her back, and his hands left her breathless, squeezing her nipples one minute and gently parting her thighs to get at her pussy the next.
Malfoy's lips found her ear beneath her curls. "Just for tonight, you're mine."
Hermione only half-heartedly noticed the photo frames on the mantle over the fireplace, and neat desk with full bookshelves on the wall above it. But she drank in the sight of his bed, done in full silks and bright reds.
He lifted her up and threw her down into the centre of the soft sheets, crawling up her body and parting her legs. Malfoy kissed her, from ankle to navel, and made sure to pay attention to the skin between her breasts.
"So soft," he muttered, and Hermione gasped as she felt the soft prickle of stubble against her breast.
The before-unnoticed scratchiness of his chin set her body on edge, so alert for his every kiss and nip, his tongue driving her wild as he sucked at her collarbone. She writhed beneath him, bringing him down to her, their bodies flush, before wrapping herself around him and canting her hips for his to meet them.
Malfoy's eyes met hers as they panted, breaths mingling as Hermione slid a hand between them and took his cock in her fist. She squeezed. Malfoy's mouth fell open, his eyes nearly sliding back, the whites flashing before his gaze met hers again and even more fiercely than before.
She pressed his tip to her clit, gasping, before guiding it home and pulling back in invitation. Malfoy was never one to decline.
His first thrust stretched her, and his second had her perfectly full. After the first two, she stopped counting, lost in the snapping rhythm of his hips and the softly eager canting of hers to match.
He gripped her like he needed to, like he wanted to, and, in turn, she never looked away from his burning grey eyes. He didn't kiss her. He didn't need to. But, in that moment, Hermione wished he would. She wanted something desperately lazy and undeniably sweet, but she knew that Malfoy wasn't the one to give her that.
They'd set down a rule: one night. Hermione had never been one to break the rules.
She had her own code now, similar to Malfoy's but with one crucial difference: she would live with her mind separate from her body, but the heart she was protecting, the one she had been pretending didn't exist, had come to belong to him.
It was strange to lie beneath him, accept his breathy moans and whispered nonsense, and know that she loved him, and that once it was over she would go back to her room and pack to leave in the morning.
Perhaps Malfoy had it wrong, perhaps it was better to leave her heart with him, never to be seen again, than it was to act like she never had one in the first place. At least with him unknowingly carrying it, he could never damage it. A little secret, invisibly kept upon his person.
He kissed her jaw, sliding a hand down between them until a fingertip met her aching clit. Hermione broke without a word, pressing herself so closely against Malfoy and gripping so tightly around his cock as she shook. One last hard snap and he was coming too, her name a moan on his lips.
She gasped his name back as her bliss reached its numbing peak. "Draco!"
They rocked together, before stilling completely, breathless, boneless, spent, and damp with sweat.
After a few silent seconds, his hand slid around to her hip, circuiting up her body as she watched him curiously where he still lay between her legs. His gaze remained on his hand. His fingertips slid up her thigh where it rested hooked over his hip. His thumb stroked her kneecap, his hand stopping there, warm and gentle, and he met her eyes.
Malfoy gave her a half-smile, something she hadn't really seen before. It was usually all or nothing with him.
Neither of them said thank you like they might have to their usual one-night-only bed mates. It made Hermione grin.
She untangled herself from him as he knelt on the bed, silent, still, and watching, that strange smile still curling one corner of his mouth. She kissed his cheek as she slid off of the bed, before flexing her legs and making for the door.
"Good night," she told him softly.
Malfoy– Draco echoed it.
Hermione shut the door behind her, picking up the clothes strewn about the common room and draping Draco's over his wingback. She took hers to her room, closing the door and putting down her clothes, before crawling into bed as she was.
He was in bed, alone, when he realised it.
The day had been spent in various meetings, Flooing various people, and promising various things. After a year of doing similar such business, Draco Malfoy was finally righting his family's tarnished reputation for good political and business sense and filling his Gringotts vault to its previous amounts.
His body had called for relaxation in the form of something soft and feminine with curves to match. Draco had visited a girl he met earlier that week, at a conference he was never likely to attend again, and had been about to suggest wine at his flat and then move straight on into the real reason he had Flooed her, when he'd realised he was just too tired.
He had called it off, Flooed home, and crawled into bed. He'd lain there, wondering how he could be too tired to fuck a pretty girl but still couldn't sleep. Then it had hit him, like a bolt from the Gods.
Draco had been in a whirl of working and sleeping, too tired to think about much else other than restoring his glory, and the one day he had had time to release some well-deserved steam he...he just couldn't.
Why? Granger was why.
He winced at the realisation. Draco hadn't seen, spoken to, or heard of Hermione Granger in all the time he had been free of Hogwarts' confines. He worked hard, yes, but hard enough so as not to hear anything of her? He doubted it.
She'd gone dark after school, after that...that amazing night, and Draco knew it was the reason he couldn't touch another woman. He was sure that if she had lived the high life, flown straight into the upper echelons of the Ministry as she was favoured to do and been in every newspaper he cared to cast a glance at he would have been able to move on.
But she hadn't, she'd disappeared, and it left him almost feeling...bereft.
He knew why she wanted him that night, because they were never going to see each other again, but she didn't know why he wanted her. He wanted her for more than her body, had done for quite a while, and it was that want that had built from the first time he had seen her in her wingback in their common room at Hogwarts, wearing those tiny summer shorts and reading Descartes.
They weren't friends, they weren't enemies, and it had been that not knowing that had allowed him to consider the possibility of more. Everything had been so clear cut before Granger – he had friends and those he respected, and then he had those that he fucked. Granger had gained respect, and trust above all, and then she had asked him to blur his lines.
He was sure he hadn't blurred hers, that he was still just the boy who she had grown up with and then fucked the last night of school, but she had caused him to make the one error he had told her not to if she were to follow his advice.
He wanted her for mind and body, and it was as he lay there and realised this that he knew he had to find her, if it was just to make sure that she was alright.
Connections were something that the Malfoy name ensured even after the war. Connections were unchanging and irrevocable – it was why Draco valued them so highly. And his connections in the Ministry allowed him to find Granger's home address.
It had been a last minute decision to fly out to her, but once he had glanced at his disused Firebolt III he had wanted to feel that rush. The landscape was a smear beneath him on his broom, passing by so quickly that once he was out of London and heading to York he almost missed the landmarks that lead him to Hermione's small country cottage.
There had been a photo of her house attached to the Ministry file his connection had given him, a photo which had been taken from the Daily Prophet under Romilda Vane's gossip column. Vane had taken over from Skeeter a month or so ago, so Draco knew the photo was recent.
He could even see Hermione in it, past the square little window in the light brick cottage and looking worriedly at whoever was taking the photo. The photo hadn't come with its article, but the caption said enough. 'Hermione Granger seeks refuge after Ministry failure,' it read, and it was enough information for Draco to know that she was licking her wounds and in need of companionship.
He was sure she wouldn't find that in her absentee Gryffindor friends. She needed a Slytherin.
The little wizarding village of St. Bodkin's was alight under Draco's broom as he slowed and then descended, before touching down on the village green. He took his broom in hand as he dismounted and then passed across the road, down the small country lane leading to number 18, Hermione's house.
The cottage was dark, inside and out, and was surrounded by a rough sandstone wall. The wooden gate, which opened beneath Draco's whisper and wandless magic, was small and ornate, leading to a straight little path that was lined on either side with deadly nightshade. The flowering plant with its small black berries seemed to glow in the dim moonlight, and it lit Draco's way until he reached the small front porch.
He knocked without any ado.
No noise came from within to announce Hermione's coming, the door was simply shut one moment and then open the next. Blazing white light filled his eyes and a wand was waved before him.
"Get out of here!"
"Bloody fuck, Granger! I might in a minute, if you don't lower your wand!"
The light disappeared after his name was spoken, disbelief weighing it heavily, and he had to blink a time or two before he could see her.
She was just the same as before, if a little thinner and more careworn, but, he supposed, it was midnight, and he doubted anyone looked their best when they were called upon at that time of night. But still, he could see she was just as pretty as always, with those mad curls and that straight little nose of hers.
Gods, he wanted to shag her right there in the doorway.
Draco noticed her blank expression. "Can I come in?"
She hugged her cardigan around her tighter, lips coming together in a soft purse as she tugged a curl or two of her hair behind her ears self-consciously.
"Of course," she said. "Come in. Come in."
Granger ushered him inside, taking his broom out of his hand and tucking it just inside the door. She lit the lights once the door was shut behind them, and once his eyes had adjusted he found a comfortable home.
There were armchairs of different patterns, various framed photographs, and mismatching ornaments galore. The fire behind the grate jumped up as Granger walked over to it, highlighting the form of a small animal.
"Where's your menace of a cat?" Draco asked, and Hermione gestured for him to sit in the armchair opposite hers.
"He died," she told him. "I have Thad, now. Couldn't bear to get another cat, so Luna suggested I get a dog."
The white highland terrier snuffled in its sleep.
Draco sat without preamble, his cloak surrounding him blackly. It felt wrong to be in Granger's sitting room while she was so normal-looking and he felt as if he were sitting too straight and acting too uncaring.
He looked at her again, closely. Her feet were bare, slim, and they reminded him of when he'd savoured those last few moments of owning her skin for the night. Not that she was a possession, no, she was too good for that, but for those minutes she had been only with him, and it had been something he had thought back on time and time again.
"Why are you here?" Granger asked him, voice soft and husky. "Not that it's not nice to see you."
He gave her a confident smile. "I daresay it is nice to find me on your doorstep at any time of day, Granger."
Her return grin was reluctant but heartfelt, he could see that.
"Always so bigheaded," she said, smiling.
He shifted. "I'm here to see you to answer your question, if that wasn't already obvious."
Granger sat back, curling her legs up beneath her in the chair. She didn't bother telling him to hurry it up. She looked tired.
"Before I get to that, though," he murmured, "Can I ask why I was set upon at your door?"
"Romilda's been hanging around recently, trying to find out about my getting sacked from the Ministry. She wouldn't believe me when I told her I handed in my notice."
Draco frowned. "You worked at the Ministry?"
"As an Unspeakable," she replied, yawning behind her hand. "And, no, I can't tell you what I did, but I can say it's not worth its enforced secrecy."
Draco dropped it. "Is that all you've been doing?"
She looked a little more awake at his interest. "No, I've been working on some theories, combining some old magic with more contemporary problems. It's all very boring, Malfoy, but you can look at my notes, if that's what you're here for."
He fought rolling his eyes. "I'm not here in the middle of the night to ask you about your bloody theories, Granger."
Granger's eyelids dropped heavily. "Well, it's not like you're here to sleep with me, so what can it be?"
He froze. He had never stilled so quickly before, and now he knew how paralysing it was. He could only sort of stare at her.
At his silence, she blinked at him. "You are?"
His bound tongue broke free. "No! Well, not...erm, not just–"
"You know," she said thoughtfully, her lips curling in a smile, "I've never seen you speechless before. Come on, then, what is it?"
He blinked. "I thought we'd just established that?"
She blinked right back. "You're here, in the middle of the night and after a year of not having any contact, for a fuck?"
"Well," Draco winced, "When you put it like that it makes me sound like a complete shit."
"I don't think we're debating that," Hermione said. "Why, Malfoy? Haven't you got anyone else?"
He forced a growl back into his chest. "You're getting the wrong end of the broom about this, Hermione."
She suddenly paused in her getting up out of the chair and stalking towards him. "What?"
"What?" He blinked – he felt like he was doing that a lot recently.
Her fingers flexed at her sides. "You called me Hermione."
"I've called you that before," he defended.
"Only once," she whispered.
He knew it was time to just come clean.
"Fine," Draco sighed. "I'm here to ask you to please come to dinner with me tomorrow night – I suppose it's tonight now – and then lunch the next day. Maybe continuing on in that pattern, if you're not doing anything?"
"You came here at twelve in the morning to ask me to dinner?"
"Well." He smirked, throwing off his cloying cloak. "Sex wouldn't go amiss, either."
Granger– Hermione stood and stared at him, dark eyes wide and hair looking even more crazed than usual. He stood to meet her, running his thumbs down her arms until they met her hands.
"But you're breaking the rules," she told him quietly, lips barely moving. "We've already slept together."
"I told you, there are no rules, and even if there were I broke them a long time ago, Granger," Draco told her. "I've committed an overlap with you, and I couldn't give a flying fucking Hippogriff."
A smile, breaking from the corner of her mouth and spreading to the other corner across her soft red lips, appeared on Hermione's face, and she had one request for him.
A shock of nervousness crackled in his chest but he ignored it and bent his head to hers, their lips meeting without any kind of trouble. He sighed against her lips. His first kiss and it was with Hermione Granger, the woman with the fussiest knickers he'd ever come across.
Her tongue touched his before she broke away, leaving him desperate and wanting.
"What?" He panted, his mouth closing in on hers but she avoided him. "What?"
"Do you want to be friends with benefits?" She asked him, and he growled aloud.
"No. Bloody hell, Hermione. What do you need? My signature? Give me a quill and I'll write you a declaration of fucking girlfriendship. Now, kiss me again," he demanded.
She acquiesced with a beautiful smile, before pulling him upstairs and shedding that tatty old cardigan on the way.
"Who've you slept with?" Draco asked her suddenly, pushing her down onto the bed and tearing at his clothes as he refused to part his lips from hers.
Gods, she felt good. So soft and warm and right. This was what he had been missing, and for a very long time. He didn't give a damn what his parents or Potty and Weasel thought. She was with him now.
"What?" Hermione frowned up at him as he pulled off her pyjamas to reveal creamy flesh.
"Who have you slept with?" He asked again, louder, enunciating. "It's a simple question, Granger, or can you not cope with what I'm asking you?"
She glared, pulling him down to her and rolling them both over before slipping down his body and taking him inside her perfect clutching cunt.
He near-shouted his pleasure as she grinned above him before saying, "None. I haven't slept with anyone since you."
"Good," he moaned, holding her hips as she began to ride him. "Neither have I."
They both came quickly, he with Hermione's teeth against his Adam's apple and her with his thumb pressed hard to her pretty little clit. She lay across him once they were spent, both of them panting into the warm air of her dimly-lit bedroom.
"So...no more...no committing?" Hermione asked, her short breath hot against his damp neck.
Draco hummed low in his throat. "No more no committing. No more pariahdom."
She fell asleep against him, smiling, and Draco couldn't help but follow her.
Author's note: More to come on this front in the form of another O/s or M/C? Maaaybe (: