We Were Never Here by phlox
Beta Readers: twist, prior to the dmhgficexchange, then a super-human re-beta by eucalyptus, which whipped this story into shape. A humble thank you to them both!
Title comes from the lyrics of "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver, the song submitted with the prompt. My recipient dropped-out, so this was presented to the pinch-hitters instead. The prompt from which I wrote will be posted at the very end.
Her head fell back against the wall with a thump. She reached for him, blindly fisting the collar of his shirt, her arm flung around his neck. As he moved in close against her, she got her first full breath of him. Greedy for it, she pushed her face into his neck and inhaled.
He gripped her thighs, tugging, digging his fingers in, and she wrapped her legs tight around him. Lifted higher in his arms with a heave, her head bounced hard against the wall. A slightly hysterical giggle bubbled up and out of her as she thought, oh, that's going to leave a mark.
A button from his shirt went flying with a yank. Her hand dove under the fabric, smoothing up his collarbone and into his warmth. She watched him as he ran his fingers under the elastic of her knickers, pulling them to the side. This moment was her favorite; the instant he felt her for the first time and knew how ready she was for him. His expression was always a mixture of so many things; pleased, aroused, devious, awed, and more than a little smug.
It was like everything Draco. It was everything Hermione loved, everything she'd missed.
Her breath caught as he positioned himself and slid into her. He looked up to her from under heavy lids, something indiscernible joining the mix in his expression. Time seemed to stop in the gray of his eyes as he readjusted, then pushed in to the hilt. Her head fell back again with a thunk, and her gasp turned into another breathy laugh.
"What's funny?" he whispered roughly, biting down hard on her earlobe.
She shook her head, her breath coming harder and faster then as he started to move. She'd never understood how Draco expected her to be able to hold a conversation during sex. As his own laugh huffed against her cheek, she realized rendering her speechless was probably the point.
She wondered suddenly where they were, though she didn't really care. There was never room for conscious thought with him. After his first kiss, it was always a blur of stumbling, touching, and disrobing until he filled her. She would be lost, untethered, until he found her and anchored her to a world that was only him.
His hands on her arse, he rocked her against him with short strokes. He was tender, always, at first. Her head lolled as she rolled it up from the wall. Pushing her chin into his head, she dislodged him from where he'd buried himself against her neck.
He pulled back and met her look, and he was... so beautiful. Sweat about his hairline, cheeks flushed, he had that rare, open expression on his face. His eyes shuttered slightly, and he moved to press his forehead to the other side, to hide himself again.
Hermione wouldn't have it. Dragging her hands from his shoulders to grasp his jaw, she held him in place. She wanted to see him as well as she could feel him. She wanted it all, as usual, and she could never figure if he couldn't give it to her, or if he simply wouldn't.
His brows furrowed as he looked up to her hair. Rhythm faltering momentarily, he fumbled to free his right hand and bring it up to her head. Muttering unintelligibly, he plucked at the combs and pins holding her hair in an updo.
In short work, her curls were freed and falling to her shoulders. Draco's eyes darkened, and a thrill shot through her. She loved him like this; wanting her, needing her, desperate for her. No mask of his could ever hide this from her.
His hand dove into her hair. He palmed her scalp and made a fist, yanking her head sideways as he captured her lips with his. He swallowed whole the moan that fought its way out from deep inside her. Hermione had never found the words to confess how much she liked when he took control so completely, but she suspected he knew.
Dragging his hand from her arse down her thigh to grip and yank, he pushed impossibly closer, pressing her hard up against the wall. His thrusts then became rough and urgent. Held fast between Draco and the wall, she took the brunt of each plunge in and out. It felt like he was trying to force his whole self into her, head to toe; to burst through her ribcage and crush her heart.
That heart of hers was suddenly fit to burst, trying to hold on to herself, to Draco, to this fleeting experience. She bit his jaw, running her teeth up the solid muscle that ran down the side of his neck to his shoulder, committing the earth-and-salt sweetness of him to memory.
God, she loved the taste of him, the smell and the feel of him. Hermione knew about chemicals, knew about pheromones and the biology of attraction, but it still felt like magic. It still felt to her as though all other men in the world were some foreign substance that disagreed with her.
There was a very nice man from International Magical Cooperation who had bought her a very nice dinner last week and had placed what should have been a very nice kiss on her lips at her front door. It had tasted bitter and wrong and had left her with a feeling of dread deep in her stomach. It had been the same with Ron and with that funny Muggle boy the summer before sixth year. She hadn't known the taste of Draco then, though, and had just thought something must be wrong with her.
Well, now Hermione knewthere was something wrong. As she drank from his mouth like he was a full meal after a week's fast, she could only hope it wasn't pathological.
Hermione supposed she would have to analyze what this all meant, for her and for them, but she'd have to think about it later. Later, when there wasn't that brilliant feeling building inside her. Later, when his arms weren't tightened around her and his urgent moans weren't filling her ears. Later, when Draco and his scent and all the emotions that came with him were far away from her.
The world went blurry around the edges then and she exploded. Draco swallowed her scream, ever the one to be most aware of their surroundings at times like these, forever conscious of the world outside the cupboard door. Hermione gave herself over to it, held safely in Draco's arms, only vaguely aware of his kisses growing sloppy and his hips erratic until she breathed in his own groaning finish.
They were still for several moments before his slipping hold jostled her. She had a brief moment of panic where she thought she might tumble to the ground, but then his balance tipped sharply forward to brace himself against the wall. His forehead hit her collar bone as he slumped against her.
She came back to reality slowly, aided by the huff of Draco's breath at her breast and the slickness of his skin under her fingertips. Looking about, she remembered, oh, right – they were in the storage cupboard. Why on earth would the Ministry need this many paper clips on hand in any one place?
It was only a moment before Draco straightened. He watched himself slide out of her and stepped back, grabbing one of her elbows to steady her as her feet returned shakily to the floor. The moment more awkward than they'd experienced, Hermione scanned the room for her shoes while he buttoned his trousers. When she turned back to him, he was giving her a steady look.
Raking his fingers through his hair, he pushed the damp strands back from his forehead. With a gentle smirk, he said, "Well, that wasn't so bad, now was it?"
Taken aback, she said, "That was never a problem, Draco." Inexplicably and absurdly, considering the situation, she blushed. "That always... worked between us just fine." She buttoned up her blouse. Spotting a high-heeled Mary Jane on top of one of the many reams of parchment stacked against the wall, she headed for it.
"Come now, I distinctly recall some complaints." He tried for a flippant tone, but it was undermined by his emphasis on the last word.
Hermione sighed. She was feeling too good, and she wasn't ready for that to fade yet. She saw her other shoe behind Draco's foot and reached around him as he stood stiffly watching her. Grabbing hold of his arm to steady herself, she put them on each foot and straightened in front of him.
"Then you weren't really listening," she said softly. She studied him to see if he trusted her sincerity, but the shutters had come down, and his expression was closed once more. Swallowing her disappointment, she summoned what pins and combs she could. She had begun to repair her updo when his hand closed over her own.
"Leave it down." His voice was rough. He cleared his throat and seemed to push the rest out. "I... It's nice like that."
He missed her incredulous look as he pulled on his jacket and reached for the door. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I won't be consulting with the department anymore. I was accepted into Gringotts' curse-breaker internship. I start next week."
Hermione's stomach dropped, and she listened dumbly.
To her shocked silence, he shrugged and admitted, "I submitted to their branch in France under a pseudonym. I was able to get my foot in the door." He spoke casually, but he couldn't hide the flush of his cheeks. "So, I was just dropping off the paperwork with Nelson. I'll be out of the country for a while and then... I won't be back here."
"Oh. You'd said... Right." God, she sounded like an idiot. She took a breath. "So, that's great, Draco. I'm— You should be really proud of yourself."
He nodded. Looking down at his hand gripping the doorknob, he pulled open the door. She jumped out of the beam of light that afforded a clear view to anyone in the hallway. But as Draco turned, standing in plain sight to all who happened by the storage cupboard in the fourth corridor on Level Two, her rebuke caught in her throat.
"So, tell me again, Hermione... what didn't work, then? Between us, I mean."
She was pretty sure her heart stopped as he glanced back at her. She opened and closed her mouth, little squeaks escaping over exhales as she tried for words she couldn't conjure. There were answers to this question; she'd slept and eaten and lived the reasons for their breakup for months. Suddenly, though, none of it seemed big enough. Being with him like this, she couldn't for the life of her recall what issues between them had seemed so insurmountable—
Well, aside from who they were and the world around them and how they fit in it. Only that, Hermione thought bitterly.
Her answer was wholly unequal to the moment. "Don't you remember?"
At his surprised laugh, the comicality of the question struck Hermione as well. For a fleeting moment, the connection flared between them, and its flame warmed her to her bones.
The soft amusement in his eyes only partially covered the regret. "My mind's a blank, Granger."
The door closed behind him with a soft click, but it was like a gunshot against the pounding of her heart.
"Stop saying that. It's clearly not fine."
"It is if I say it is, and I'm saying it, so it's fine." She slammed the drawer of the filing cabinet, adjusting an armful of files that were almost more than she could hold.
Draco felt the flutter of an impulse to offer help, but it was easily suppressed. She never accepted it, anyway. The files nearly toppled out of her arms as she landed gracelessly back in her chair, rolling back slightly into the wall behind her desk, jostling the pictures hanging there. The two-year-old front page of the The Prophet depicting Draco stiffly shaking hands with Potter, over and over for all eternity, tilted sharply in its frame. He would have been happy to see it fall and lodge itself behind the cabinet, never to be recovered, but it regrettably stayed put. Hermione loved that picture, and would never hear of taking it down.
He stifled his scowl and rubbed the tips of his fingers back and forth over his forehead, thumb pressing into his temple. "I didn't mean to go over your head. In fact, I didn't actually go over your head, so there isn't any reason for—"
"Bloody hell!" Draco slammed his hands down on her desk, glad that they were the only ones in her office. Granger never took lunches, so she could be counted on to be alone at this time of day. This was, of course, key information to have when you had to visit a place surreptitiously (or when you knew you'd have to prepare for a scene). "Stop it. I know how much it pains you to not have your hand in orchestrating my every move—"
"Orchestrating!" She stood, hugging the folders to her chest.
"—Asked me about the Rookwood chest, and I told him that I could probably handle it, so what's the problem?"
"You knew how much I wanted to see the inside of that house! You deliberately—"
"No, I didn't!" His tone stunned her to silence, her eyes wide. "Nelson decided that I was actually capable of doing something on my own, without you, and you just can't fathom that I can accomplish anything without your help!" He took a deep breath. Draco hated losing his temper, hated telegraphing his emotions in any way, so he purposefully lowered his voice and continued, "Look, I got all the way there and inside, through the locks and to the manuscripts, and all without unleashing any Dark Lords or killing any beloved headmasters, so perhaps the boss's faith in me wasn't misplaced."
Her mouth opened and closed, trying to form a response her brain couldn't manufacture.
"Now... Nelson asked me to share copies of the runes with you for cross-referencing with—"
"I have faith in you."
She said this so softly that Draco considered pretending he didn't hear it. He didn't like the look of her right now, clutching those damn files to her chest like a bloody shield.
"I've always... I don't think you can't do anything without me. I mean..." She shook her head, flustered. "I think you can. I never intended for you to feel like you couldn't, or that I thought any less of you—"
The oxygen left her lungs like a slowly deflating balloon, her eyes wide and glued to his. It seemed like at least a minute before she pulled in air again.
"Okay," she said, finally dropping the files to her desk with a thud.
The air was too heavy for him. Though he'd needed to get that off his chest for a long time, it was not what he'd come for. "Listen, you were right about the family signature. It was built into each level of the locks." Draco smiled as her eyes lit up; he knew not even a fight could distract Granger from academic intrigue. "Nelson says he has a few things coming up for me and I'll still be coming to the bi-monthly meeting, so... I'll see you around."
Even to Draco, that sounded lame and insufficient. She let him exit on it though, and for that he was grateful.
She stood just inside the doorway of her flat, a fistful of the red satin train of her evening gown in one hand, a pair of silver three-inch-heeled slingbacks in the other. The lights were on, and Hermione knew who was there by the contents of the cardboard box sitting open on the table in her lounge. She remained frozen as Draco came through the door from the bedroom, the toothbrush in his hand to join the rest of his belongings in the box. It was a collection of the things he'd left here and there at her place over the past year; as a chronicle of their relationship, it was woefully inadequate.
Draco was unsurprised to see her. He glanced at his watch and raised an eyebrow. "Early again? I thought you'd be out late tonight, but you seem to be forming a habit of leaving early."
Hermione dropped her shoes and shut the door. "You're decided then."
He looked taken aback. "You decided."
"I asked. I just wanted to know what you were feeling..." She hated that her voice sounded shaky. "I can't believe you're doing this tonight."
A flicker of emotion crossed his face. Good.
"Well, I know how you love symmetry," he said softly.
Hermione couldn't say that he'd been outright avoiding her in the past week, not obviously so. She had seen him at two meetings and at one bit of work with him off-site, and all of it had been handled with cool politeness and efficient retreat. Draco had been evading her in myriad ways for months though, and his long, slow exit from her space had been nearly imperceptible until little was left of him even when he was there. She was surprised that there was anything here to collect; it seemed like everything should have vanished along with him.
He cocked his head to the side, his face inscrutable. "You're looking... fetching tonight, Granger."
She rolled her eyes at the comment, assuming, as usual, that he was teasing. She had worn Gryffindor red, with her hair loose and curly down her back, not thinking she would see him tonight. He seemed to dislike it when she wore it down, if the way he delighted in making fun of it was any indication. But that was in such sharp contrast to the side of him that seemed to desire her almost uncontrollably. His lengthy stares and frantic need for her made her feel irresistible, and it helped to soothe most of the hurt feelings she bore from his little remarks. She couldn't reconcile these different aspects of his nature though, and she'd stopped wanting to try.
Knowing your boyfriend wanted you wasn't much help when it seemed like he was trying his hardest not to.
He held himself too far back from her, and she could never grasp him from where she was. Her mum had asked her once: if you were to pull a turtle from his shell, do you really think he would thank you for it? People built their armor about them for a reason, and they didn't generally appreciate those who tried to drill their way inside. There was so much he kept to himself; all the regret and the wounded pride was eating away at him from within. But Hermione was hurt too, and she couldn't soothe his pain if she couldn't reach it.
Crossing to the table, he dropped the brush in the box, sealing and shrinking it to carry. Not knowing what else to do with herself in this painfully ordinary moment, she looked about the room to see whether he'd got all he came for. Her eyes lit on the antique music box on the mantle and her heart clenched. It enjoyed pride of place between the picture of Harry, Ron and herself at the leaving feast first year, and the case holding her Order of Merlin, First Class. The box automatically played whatever song she wanted to hear.
"Cheer up, Granger," he said, going to the fireplace. "It'll be like it never happened."
She watched as he grabbed a fistful of Floo powder, and her reverie broke as she came to a hasty decision, blurting, "Malfoy, your family's music box. You should take it with you."
When he turned back, his expression was shuttered. Shaking his head, he said tightly, "That was a present."
Hermione rushed forward, reaching over his shoulder to take it from the mantle. She stood half a meter in front of him and held it out with both hands as he stood poised to leave. It seemed suddenly important that he take it with him; she didn't feel like she should have it if they were through. "I couldn't, Draco. You should—"
"It's yours," he said, simply and firmly, his eyes soft on hers.
"But... it's so valuable. It's too much—"
"Consider us even then," he murmured, and then he was gone in a burst of green.
It was weeks later when she finally understood the compliment, even longer before she could warm her heart on it.
"Are you upset?"
"It seems like you're upset with me."
His pulse had yet to slow, the sweat had yet to dry, and his cock had yet to soften. He turned his head toward her. "I seem upset?"
"Could you please talk to me?"
She took a deep breath, and Draco's heart stopped. Apparently, it was going to be one of those conversations.
"I feel like you're just not really here with me lately, when we're... together." Hermione was lying there stiffly, giving the water-damaged ceiling all of her focus. "It's as though I could be anyone, or like I'm with a stranger..."
A burning coal settled in the pit of his stomach. "Right. If you're not satisfied—"
She sighed. "Draco, that's not what I'm saying."
He sat up and pushed himself back to lean against the headboard. "No, really, Granger, why don't you give me some pointers? You could maybe even set me up for some on-the-job training."
"Right." She nodded. At that, she finally made eye contact, and her confidence puffed her up. "This is about your reassignment."
He looked at her incredulously. "This isn't about anything! You brought it up. You push... You get an idea in your head, and it doesn't matter what the reality is, you just—"
"I didn't have anything to do with the decision, you know," she said, with infuriating calm. "There just isn't as desperate a need. We've done our jobs too well, really."
He let out a huff of air, got up and picked up his pants. "Yes. So you've said." He knew it was impossible to stop Hermione once she was off on whatever she'd decided was the issue. They'd had this conversation more times than he'd already cared to, and Draco couldn't face going into all of it again.
"Nelson said you could be kept on as a consultant, and I filed notice for you with the Auror's department, so it's going to be fine with your probation."
"You think of everything," he ground through his teeth, his back to her. Zipping his trousers, he looked about for his shirt and tried to get control of the anger starting to burn in his chest.
It didn't much help to remind himself that she meant well when she was treating him like one of her bloody projects. At times, Draco felt more like a house-elf than a man; much less her man. More and more lately, he was feeling like he would never get out from under the suffocating weight of her good deeds.
When he turned back around, she was sitting with her knees to her chest, the duvet pulled up, her arms wrapped around her legs. "Listen, Draco. I feel like you're fighting it. Like you don't want things to change."
"What is it that will change, Hermione?" Draco located his shirt and snapped it up off the ground. "You'll be you, and I'll be me, and it will all read so beautifully in the papers: Hermione Granger, adopting the reformed Death Eater and domesticating him like a Kneazle. Always one to take up a cause, that Granger."
Confusion twisted her face. "How do you figure that? This is about not having to hide our association. We could bring our relationship out in the open." She paused, her voice losing some of its strength as she asked, "Don't you want that?"
"Oh? And just who am I, this person you're associated with, in the eyes of the greater wizarding public?" he said, holding his arms open wide. "What does anybody know about me or what I've been doing the past couple of years?"
Her brow furrowed. "What do you mean? Why does that matter?"
He dropped his arms heavily to his sides and let out a bitter laugh. "Exactly. What does it matter?" he muttered.
"Why should you care what they think of you, Draco? You never have before."
"I don't care what they think," he said angrily, "I care how I'm perceived. If you want to roll us out like one of your campaigns, then I should be able to control some of the story."
Hermione looked stunned. "This is ridiculous," she breathed.
"Yes, so you've said."
Falling back to lean against the headboard, she shook her head. "This has nothing to do with any of that, does it? You just don't want people to know about us."
Draco stopped searching under the duvet for his shoes and straightened to look at her. "Now you're being ridiculous."
"Am I? You fight every idea I come up with to help us to go public. I can't help but think you're... ashamed—"
"I'm not the one who hasn't even told her own parents, Hermione. I don't have to make nice with an ex-boyfriend just so no one suspects anything!"
"What am I supposed to think, Draco?" Her voice was impossibly small, and it was making him inexplicably annoyed. "If you'd just be honest with me. If you don't want to do this anymore—"
"I definitely don't want to do this."
"I mean us." She looked down at her hands and fiddled with the blanket. "I feel like you're slipping away, and I don't know how to reach you lately."
"Don't be dramatic. I'm right here, Hermione, I'm always here." He saw his other shoe across the room and headed toward it. "You need me here more often? Perhaps you could work out a schedule with my mother."
"You're not here," she said firmly, and then more softly added, "You're not happy, and I'm... not happy."
Draco's stomach twisted at that, and a deep sickening feeling lodged there. He couldn't make anyone happy. There was no use being here. He straightened, a shoe in each hand, and barely breathed, waiting for her to continue.
"Maybe with this change coming, with us not working together, you could see..." She took a deep breath. "You could see what it is you want."
"For fuck's sake, Granger," he said, exhausted. "What do you want from me?"
"I want you here! I want you to stay... But you're just unhappy, and when you're with me it makes me feel like I'm nothing... I mean, if you're not attracted to me—"
"Not right now, I'm not," he said coldly. Someone had replaced Hermione with this whinging mess of a girl who was chipping away at the small bit of pride he had left, and she wanted him to make her feel better? For a split second, he thought the fire had ignited in her eyes in response, but she wasn't about to storm out of the room when she was completely naked under those covers.
Hermione sat up, the duvet held to her chin in her fists. She looked small and scared and he despised it. "Draco... If you're not willing to do the things you'd have to do for us to be together, really together... then I can't see what I mean to you." She took a deep, shaky breath. "I can't believe I mean anything to you."
It was time to go, he decided. There was no time to put on his shoes, he'd just carry them through the Floo.
"Well, Granger, as usual, you seem to have it all figured out. You don't need me for this," he said, and left for home.
She'd read once about Korean Wedding Ducks. Traditionally carved from wood, one each representing the Bride and Groom are presented to the couple during the ceremony. After the wedding, they are placed prominently in the couples' home, their positioning – being placed so by either spouse – from then on symbolizing their marital state. Ducks pointing nose to nose show a couple living in harmony; tail to tail signifies they are experiencing troubles. Apparently, if during a fight one of them points to the ducks, it is to remind them of the peaceful wedding they shared, thus ending the quarrel.
Hermione had been reminded of the ducks when Draco had started spending nights at her flat, bringing his toothbrush along with him. On the counter in the loo, his brush had lain next to hers in a variety of configurations that certainly signified something: touching, spooning, and overlapping. On notable occasions, they would seem almost curled together, top to bottom, each brush nestled against the other's handle. She had kept her amusement to herself, but took quite a bit of fun in seeing how they landed, especially when she'd untangled herself in the middle of the night for a trip to the toilet.
Now, in the dim light from over the mirror, she stood staring at one blue brush, bristles worn to where they curled outward and flattened from the center, lying with its back to the back of a green one, showing very little wear and tear from its months of use. About ten centimeters of cracked tile separated them.
She looked out into the darkness of the room beyond where Draco lay sleeping and thought of symbolism, and creeping spaces between, and the immutability of their positions.
"I disagree with your reasoning."
"I just explained my reasoning."
"It doesn't follow that I can't disagree with it."
"Draco, I was just giving the pros and cons of each. Which one would you rather?"
"I don't actually care, as long as it's not the pub."
"You don't have a preference between Indian and French?"
"No. You choose."
"...Okay... I just..."
"Nothing. I'll... How about the curry then?"
"Right. Of course, maybe we should..."
"Hermione, I really don't care."
It was a rare sight. Hermione was half-dressed, perched on the side of his satin-and-brocade covered bed, pulling on her silk stockings. She'd had a presentation at work and was in her best, which included (always to his delight) garters. She was rarely here at the manor, but his mother was gone for the week, and Draco was tired of traveling by Floo back and forth every morning. It was comfortable here, being the one lounging underneath the covers, watching her walk around looking for her clothes.
"What are the plans for Christmas Eve then?" she said, buttoning her blouse.
"I've got to go to Pansy's for the day, but I can get out of there by ten if you want to meet up and spend the night."
She hopped around on one leg, putting on her shoe. (Yes, very nice to be the one watching.) "I go to Mum and Dad's for the night and stay 'til morning. What about afternoon on Christmas Day?"
"I'll be here all day with Mum. There will also be some family friends, so..." They shared a look of understanding. "But that night—"
"I have plans with the Weasleys," she said hurriedly, giving him a warning look. "I'm there for Christmas dinner every year."
He sat up, forearms resting on bended knees. "So, afterward. I'll come over later and bring—"
"I'll be spending the night." She turned, putting on her earrings as she walked toward him. "It's tradition."
"Really," he said tightly, "you can't break the tradition of spending the night with your ex-boyfriend?"
"Hardly. I wouldn't call Ron an 'ex.'"
"Well, based on the behavior I observed from him last week, I'd have to say he wouldn't call himself an 'ex' either," he said sourly. Pulling up the covers roughly, he began rooting around for something near his feet.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Day after, then. We could spend Boxing Day together."
His voice was muffled as he spoke with his head under the duvet. "Mum has official charity functions that day." Head popping out, he continued, "She needs an escort."
She made a growling noise and stalked over to her handbag at the foot of the bed, flopping down with huff. "You could make time Christmas afternoon. Your mother doesn't need to have you all day."
He squirmed about, pulling his pants back on under the covers, but his eyes never left her face. "I can't leave my mother— I won't leave her alone on the holiday. You could always invite me to join your family," he said pointedly.
Sighing, she rubbed her forehead. "I've told you; it's really complicated explaining any magical... things or people to them now, and anything involving memory charms..." She looked to him and said pleadingly, "I need you to understand this."
"I do," he said, giving her a look before rolling to his side and opening a drawer in his nightstand.
Chastised, she snapped, "This would all be unnecessary if you'd just let me help with the internship. We'd be able—"
"Here." He crawled down the bed and perched next to her on his knees, holding out a weighty package about the length of his hand. "If we were perhaps going to be able to coordinate before New Year's—" Her eyes lit up at the mention. "Sorry, I co-host a party with Blaise every year." She slumped, cradling the package in her lap with both hands. "As it is, I think you should just take this and open it when the mood strikes."
"Happy Christmas, Hermione."
She'd waited until coffee was on the table and dessert was ordered. It was his favorite restaurant – his favorite Muggle one anyway, since they couldn't be seen together, they'd never been to a wizarding one – and she'd worn the dress he'd complimented her in the most, and put her hair up the way he liked it. He was beginning to get suspicious, she could tell, as he eyed her curiously the few times she giggled uncontrollably at his jokes. Hermione Granger didn't giggle, as a rule.
"Right," he said, placing his cup gently back in its saucer. "I could keep talking about the proposed law for the protection of Knockturn Alley merchants, or you could tell me why you're grinning madly and ignoring every word I'm saying."
"Am I grinning?" she said with another of those giggles which were beginning to annoy even her. When Draco sat back in his chair, arms crossed and the challenge clear, she turned and pulled a thick envelope from her handbag and laid it on the table in front of his coffee. Only his eyes moved, looking at the envelope and back up. "Open it," she said, clasping her hands on the table in front of her to keep from reaching over and doing it herself.
Brow crinkled in confusion, he opened the envelope and unfolded what was a thick, multi-paged application, as well as two signed letters on Ministry letterhead. As he flipped through the packet, his forehead smoothed to leave his face completely expressionless.
Impatient, her hands darted across the table. "See, it's the application for the apprenticeship, which just needs your signature, and letters of recommendation from Nelson and myself, so you're set to turn it in for the deadline for next session in two weeks."
He'd surrendered the papers to her excited demonstration, the palms of his hands sliding back to push into the edge of the table, fingers gripping, the tips turning white. Sounding merely curious, he said, softly, "And why did you decide to do this?"
Hermione was taken aback. She'd thought he'd be surprised, but he had a blank look that she'd never encountered. Trying to transfer some of the excitement she felt, she said, "Well, I was at Gringotts last month talking to Bogrod. Miraculously, he doesn't seem to hold a grudge for that business during the war, so I thought that maybe if I came to some sort of understanding with him, I could convince him to convince the board to consider you! It's nothing for sure, mind you, but when I talked to Nelson and he was all for putting in for you—"
"You thought the situation called for another rescue mission from Hermione Granger, did you?" The tone of his voice was cold as ice and very polite.
"Wh— Draco, it's all you need to get into the program. You've wanted to do this since you—"
"Yes, and I explained to you that it was impossible."
"But it's not impossible! Nelson's recommendation is going to carry a lot of weight. There aren't many people more respected than he in the Ministry or throughout even the goblin community."
"Except perhaps you, maybe?" The danger in his voice was clear. It made her wonder if doing this in a public place had been a fortuitous idea.
She leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands reaching out toward him. "This isn't about me, Draco, but it could be about us. Have you thought about what it could mean for us if we weren't working together?" She looked about the restaurant, and lowered her voice, saying, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we didn't have to skulk about in Muggle places and keep secrets from our friends?"
"I don't need you to explain it to me," he said stiffly. "I'm quite capable of thinking, and strategizing, and functioning on my own. Surely on a more basic level than you, but quite adequately. Certainly there must be someone else in need of your charity. One of the many Weasleys, perhaps?"
She sat back, crossing her arms. "Draco, you're being ridiculous. It's just selfish to care about how it happens when there are things more important than your bloody pride."
His eyes bored into hers, anger, finally, in his gaze. Just then the check arrived, and Draco gave it only a cursory glance as he reached for his wallet. She fidgeted, antsy to resolve the fight, wondering if she could still save the evening and make him receptive to her idea. He pulled out a wad of bills and put them on the tray, sliding it to the edge of the table.
"Hang on, Draco," she said, reaching for her bag with one hand and the bill in the other. "I invited you tonight, I should get this."
Placing his hand over the lot, his expression froze her. "I insist," he said. He stood to pull out her chair, and from behind her, his voice sounded distant. "You can owe me. Just this once."
Draco cursed as he stumbled from the Floo, unable to bring himself to care about the soot he was tracking onto the rug. This was not shaping up to be his best day.
The Prophet was running a story about the history of Death Eaters in which he and his father were mentioned by name. Blaise's owl had bitten him when delivering the post (almost certainly on the orders of its master who was probably tired of being ignored). He'd gotten egg yolk on his trouser leg at breakfast, too busy trying to soothe his mother to get the food safely to his mouth. He'd spent a half hour trying to calm her down, and had no time to change. Now he was late, unkempt, and soon to be unhinged if he was going to have to have a fight with his girlfriend (a term, by the way, which he had no intention of using aloud).
His mum's complaint was as valid as Blaise's; he'd been unavailable for months. He hadn't been home for more than a night at a time for as long as he could remember, and what little time he did devote to them was only when Granger had unbreakable plans. Narcissa had accepted his working with Hermione rather easily, their actual friendship slightly less so, and the knowledge of his relationship with her with tight acknowledgment. But she was alone in an empty manor most nights, her husband away for the foreseeable future, and much of her social circle decimated by the war. Draco knew she needed his company and, in theory, he had no problem providing it.
If he could only control his need to spend all his time with Hermione, he would be able to keep everyone... well, mostly happy.
He'd assumed that this desire would fade somewhat with time. It had changed, certainly, as it was no longer the hot, grasping want he'd had for her at first, but had morphed into something deeper that he wasn't keeping in check. Draco could neither abide nor afford to be out of control; his position was too precarious in the community and with his friends. Keeping secrets from the majority of his acquaintances while trying to build a reputation with the few in power willing to help him advance was too much to deal with. He'd handled it lately by not doing so at all, and it had to change.
It just wasn't reasonable or rational to feel this way about a person, to crave them so constantly. If she couldn't accept that he needed his space and was going to demand his time in return, then she wasn't being reasonable herself. He'd just have to be strong and resist his need for Hermione the best he could. It would probably wear off if he just didn't give into it so often.
What wasn't helping his resistance, however, was seeing her standing before him now, arms crossed and foot tapping. Her hair was a gorgeous loose mass of curls, and she was wearing that plaid skirt he liked; it was just reminiscent enough of the Hogwarts uniform to make his blood boil. This wasn't going to be easy.
Eyeing the skirt, he sighed affectedly. "Promoted ourselves to Head Girl again, have we, Granger?"
She pursed her lips, her hands fluttering self-consciously over the skirt. "Fancying ourselves the rumpled professor, Malfoy?" she said with a light smile, eyeing his untidy appearance.
This was disastrous. She was bringing all kinds of naughty imagery and daydreams of role-playing to mind.
He scowled inwardly and smirked outwardly, making one last attempt to simplify his day. "Can you at least get that untamed mess up and in check? I know we'll be making sure the Wimpoles won't actually remember our appointment with them, but I still have a reputation that will suffer, albeit temporarily."
Hermione shook her head, looking down as she gathered it up in a ponytail with her hands, murmuring a spell that would hold it in a band. When she looked up, the smile was gone. "You're a charmer of a boyfriend, Malfoy, you know that?" She played it for sarcasm, crossing the room to kiss him lightly on the mouth.
He licked his lips, sniffing at her scent as she turned away, and thought that perhaps if he made it home just early enough tonight for dessert, his mum wouldn't complain. As Hermione made her way to the Floo, he realized with a start that she'd just called him her boyfriend. Aloud.
"I didn't say I would go."
"Draco, you explicitly implied that you would."
"Hermione... that doesn't even make sense."
"It does! You do this. You make it seem like you're alright with something, not wanting to have a fight about it, but then when it comes time to go, you come up with some reason why you can't do it."
"I happen to think an alternate engagement is a perfectly reaso—"
"Millicent's Midsummer Soiree? You could come up with something better than that. I think I deserve better."
"She's renowned for them. Her ice sculptures are legend in some circles."
"Circles of hell, I'm sure."
"Hmm. I can see whatever-it-is some other time, surely."
"No, you can't. It's a one-night engagement at the movie house, they only show classic films once a month, and I thought long and hard before coming up with 'The Big Heat,' which I think you'd really like."
"Well... I really like the name. What is it about then, 'Heat?'"
"Stop. I'm angry at you and... hurt. And— no, I'm not letting this go because it's the third time I've mmmrmrfrh— See, this is just exactly what I'm talking about, trying to get out of a figgghugh... Uhhhmmm."
Hermione hurried back from the loo, feet bare on the cold floor, and flipped the corner of the duvet up just enough for her to dive back under it. As she was trying to settle on her side, his arm reached out immediately to grab her, pulling her tightly against him. She pushed back into him, her bum nestling in the cradle of his pelvis and legs, humming at the perfect fit, the perfect warmth, the perfect comfort.
He gave a sleepy groan into her hair, and the hand flat on her stomach began to move. She smirked. She knew instantly the moment he discovered what she'd done and waited for him to wake up enough to comment. It took approximately ten seconds.
His blond head made an appearance in the corner of her vision as he leaned up on one elbow. She giggled, mostly from nerves, turning her head to look at him. It was dicey to have to maneuver this kind of a day so early in a relationship, but this had been her best idea.
His eyes barely open enough to take her in, Draco scowled down at the cotton camisole and pajama shorts she'd returned to bed wearing. Without a word, he shifted and rocked her so she was laying on her back, himself over her. His hands slid up and made quick work getting rid of the offending clothing; Draco had a tendency to treat any fabric covering her as the enemy.
"I was thinking we could go to the park today... You know, the one two streets over that we saw last week?" She leaned forward and raised her arms, helping him remove her top. His hands came down on both sides of her shoulders, his arms straightened to study her from high above. "There's a street festival happening on one side, so there should be lots to see." He bent his arms, slowly descending to kiss her lips lightly. From there, he traveled her neck, her collarbone, then settled on his forearms for an extended trip south. "I used to love to go to the street fairs when I was a kid. My dad once told me that the people were all circus performers in disguise, and they had to hide themselves during the day behind these booths." Draco raised his head at this, his eyebrows raised. "I'm not sure why he told me that. Dad was always making up weird and unnecessary stories. He told me once that the woman babysitting me was the real Mary Poppins; the woman on which the movie was based. He laughed himself silly when I asked her if I could ride her umbrella."
Having resumed his exploration, Draco had only a perfunctory humpfh to offer that tale, his breath tickling her stomach. Reaching her waist, he pulled himself up to kneel between her legs, hands smoothing either side of her thighs, eyes roaming the skin he'd traversed.
Hermione blushed, still a little new to his matter-of-fact regard. "After the park, I thought we could get some curry, and maybe go to a movie?" He snorted at this, as she'd yet to be successful in getting him to try that Muggle curiosity. His hands slid to her waist, fingers dipping inside the elastic of her shorts to pull them down, her legs coming up as he wrestled them off. He caught her left shin in his hand, bringing it up to kiss the inside of her ankle. Returning upwards, he proceeded to kiss back to her center, draping her leg over his shoulder as he went. "Well then, you choose what we're going to do tonight because we haven't had a Saturday off in so long that I refuse to waste it—"
His growl ended as a groan. He was silent, but his heavy breath on her thigh was unmistakable. She fiddled with the hair on his right forearm and looked at him shyly. His gaze was frozen on the white cotton g-string she'd charmed to say "Happy Birthday Draco' in magenta sparkles.
"I just thought... what can you get the man who has everything, right?"
Draco dragged his eyes up to hers, amusement in his eyes, wearing the wicked smirk that made her stomach flip. "Indeed," he said, and dove in.
"Why are you here?"
He had stopped listening to her at least ten minutes ago. She was babbling, flitting about the parlor in a floor-length plum-colored evening gown, and there were so many things wrong with this picture that he could hardly focus on whatever it was she was going on about. He'd gleaned that it had to do with her multitude of friends, and what they'd worn that night, and who had brought whom to the fete, and some such rot about great, mournful speeches causing everyone to break down in tears.
But at his question, she stopped abruptly and turned from where she'd been fingering the music box on the mantle that she always gravitated toward when they were in this room. She looked at her hands smoothing down the skirt of her dress and said, "I told you, Dean was talking about Yorkshire, and I was reminded about getting a head start on the research."
His face scrunched up in confusion as he tried to recall the thread of that topic, but realized it was unimportant. It was bollocks anyway. "So you left this glorious party, at which you were apparently having a smashing time, to come here about the Barrington case? I was having a fine evening myself and have no burning need to be entertained, so I repeat: why are you here?"
"Why weren't you there?"
Straightening his legs and pushing back into the sofa, Draco spread both arms out over the top. "They say turnabout is fair play, but it certainly isn't good conversation, Granger."
She shifted hard to one side, popping her hip to the right, hand dropped to lay upon it in overdone annoyance. When she flipped her hair over her shoulder, he found himself unaccountably incensed at the state of it: long, straightened, frizz-controlled to a glossy sheen, and falling easily about her bare shoulders. He must have been scowling at it because her brow furrowed, and she patted nervously at it.
"Wouldn't you have liked to be a part of it?"
"Not particularly," he said dryly. "Why should you think I would?"
She looked down, playing with the fabric of her skirt, pulling up the layers and letting them fall. "Well, I'm a part of it, you know." She shot him a shy smile then looked away. "It would have been nice if you'd been there too."
His eyebrows shot skyward. "Oh, really? You thought it would have been nice if I were hanging out with you and your mates at the First Annual Anniversary Gala? What, would I have talked Quidditch with Potter and Weasley?" He snorted (he could admit) unattractively.
She rolled her eyes. "It wouldn't have been so dramatic. You know Harry doesn't care—"
"Oh? And Weasley, then?"
Hermione was silent, but her face took on that sour expression she got when she suspected she'd lost a point.
"Granger, what you thought is that it would be nice if I were, essentially, someone else."
"No, it would have been nice if you were at the gala." She tossed that blasted hair. "You've earned the right to be there." Her chin jutted in that ridiculous pose she used when taking a stand.
Suddenly, all he saw was red as he launched himself from the sofa and walked briskly toward her. She lost a bit of that confidence, retreating half a step. He was absurdly pleased by it, but could see her quickly reminding herself to hold her ground. He was soon toe-to-toe with her, and the blood buzzed in his veins.
"Granger, I don't give a fuck about earning anything from those wankers who did nothing but sit on the sidelines, who sacrificed nothing, lost nothing, but who have since done nothing but broadcast the most vocal opinions about all of it. They sit there in their official robes, they scratch with their quick-notes quills, the bastards stare at me from behind their counters, and they don't have— can'thave the slightest clue of... It sickens me."
The short wisps of hair that floated out from her hairline were buffeted by his every blustering breath. He paused and watched them move for a moment, and when he spoke again, it was softer. "Besides, according to them, I've earned nothing. Nothing I've done actually exists officially, does it? And we all know that nothing has happened unless it's reported in the bloody Prophet. So, I'm sorry, but history hasn't actually been rewritten to look just like your shiny, new version in that Pollyanna imagination of yours."
She narrowed her eyes and regained that half a step. "I haven't rewritten anything, Malfoy. As a matter of fact, I have a crystal clear view of the past. I learned at the age of eleven all about having to earn my right to... just be in this world, and it was you I learned it from, so don't—"
"Exactly," he whispered. "So why are you here?"
Granger just looked at him, wide-eyed, barely breathing, but her face open and unashamed. He realized two things in quick succession: one, he was standing very close to her and had backed her up against the mantle; and two, they were seriously in danger of having a moment. Draco was the type who would walk to Hogsmeade and back in the rain rather than experience one of those, so he dispensed with it in the most efficient way he could imagine.
He kissed her. She must have figured out what he was going to do almost before he did, because she crashed into him at the same time, causing him to overbalance. Draco tipped them so sharply that he had to palm the back of her head to keep her from cracking it open on the edge of the mantle. His other hand gripped the rim of marble to regain their equilibrium, and his fingertips jostled the music box there so that it teetered and resettled with its lid open. The tinkling sounds of "Clair de Lune" began, and she released a delighted laugh into his mouth.
The kiss was like everything Granger, feisty and thorough and brilliant. His hand dove into her hair, not how he wanted it to be, but still where he wanted to be. Grabbing a closed handful and yanking to angle her properly, he groaned when she bit his lip in response.
He pulled back to look in her eyes; they were dark and unfocused but burning into his own. Experimentally, he yanked again and at her answering moan, he said, "Well, this mess is good for something, isn't it?" Her eyes slid shut, and her head fell back to receive his lips once more.
Draco hadn't intended to shag her on the leather couch of his family's parlor in full view of Great-Grand-Aunt Belvina's portrait. But every time he tried to stop (not really in earnest, mind you), she would pull him back, unbutton or unzip something for him, unclasp something on herself, and he was lost. Until, when sliding into her, he looked into her eyes and was found.