'Have you had enough?
Are you tough?
Are you broken?
Hit me where it hurts...'
–Son of a Gun, Motion City Soundtrack
He isn't the type to do this, but, as he's found before – time and time again – desperate times call for desperate measures. This is something he's taken to heart over the years, what with the Dark Lord's downfall, his family's dishonour, and his current social pariahdom.
He doesn't need to marry – in fact, he could well do without some harpy-like bint clinging to him for the rest of his life – and that isn't why he's sitting in front of this reflectionless mirror. No, he wants to know if there's someone – anyone – out there meant for him, before he does something that will wreck any chance of future happiness.
His reclusive habits are more out of self-preservation than enjoyment of the house he lives in, and most days he can't even go down to the bottom of the garden for a quick smoke because some witch or wizard is hiding in the bushes, trying to snap his picture or spy on his "persistently Dark ways."
He had decided the other night, after Banishing Romilda Vane from his begonias, that he needed to know whether it would ever get any better, whether there was something he could be doing to take his life out of the stasis it seemed to persistently remain in.
And so he, Draco Malfoy, went to his father.
The elder Malfoy had been quiet at first, but once Draco had started on the Firewhiskey at two o'clock in the afternoon, his lips had loosened in obvious concern.
"There's a ritual," he had told him. "It's performed on the first night of...union in a marriage, to see if the witch will continue to be a suitable match. It is an ancient and practised form of divination, but it can possibly be used...in other ways."
His father had told him how, if used in the more common manner, a mirror in the ritual would drip red for the prosperity of the match, and black for...well, mainly murder and deceit, but his father had rushed over that part as if no Malfoy had ever married unsuitably.
Draco had also been told that using the ritual for his own purposes, to find that one witch, would most likely be a fruitless endeavour as for the mirror to work it required blood. In the common ritual, it was virgin's blood – which he had wrinkled his nose at and taken another gulp of Firewhiskey – but in Draco's ritual his own blood would have to suffice and see if another's called to it.
It was flimsy magic at best, but he considers divination to be the weakest of pursuits anyway, so who can say it isn't worth a go?
He's already put his wand to his fingertip and drawn five drops of blood, letting them fall into the small metallic well beneath the ancient gilded mirror. His father had shown him down into the bowels of Malfoy Manor, opening a room he had never known existed in his childhood home, before telling Draco to signal when he was ready for the door to be opened and then proceeding to lock it behind him.
The mirror takes up nearly the entire wall opposite the door, and the room is such an odd shape, so obviously built around its contents, that there is hardly enough space for Draco to stand comfortably, let alone sit. Which he is doing, cross-legged, so he doesn't spill any blood outside of the miniscule well built into the flagstones beneath the mirror.
A Healing Spell clears the cut from his skin, and then he waits, staring up at where he should be able to see the reflection of the door behind him but merely sees darkness.
He waits, letting his blood "call" – his rolls his eyes at this, at himself for doing something so decidedly ridiculous as trying to find his soul-mate.
This, this is what I have been reduced to.
And yet...he can't help but want to know, want to find that one person who will understand him and make him... He stops himself before he breaks out in Gryffindor colours.
He glances down at the well to see if anything has happened to his blood, and finds that it's gone, vanished without a trace, and he's just about to knock on the door and growl out to his father that his Pureblood rituals are a load of troll dung, when a flash of red catches his eye.
There, on his knee, bright against his dark grey trousers, is a single red petal. He would guess from a rose, but the shape isn't heart-like enough for him to be sure.
In his periphery, he sees a ripple sweep across the surface of the mirror, but when he glances up it is still once more.
Years playing Quidditch have given him Seeker's ears, eyes, and reflexes, so he doesn't miss the sudden subtle shift between black and dark brown that the mirror makes. And as he watches, the surface loses its glossiness and seems to become lighter, browner... redder.
It's so quiet, the air so thick in the small stone room, that Draco immediately loses his breath, leaving it hitched somewhere between his chest and his throat. His heart picks up its rhythm.
He watches as flowers creep from the mirror's rippling surface, winding around the frame, finding their place among the faded gold, and some soft red blooms falling to the floor. Some flowers float into his lap, looking like a sort of orchid now he can see the petals together in their whole, and some flowers shed their petals, raining them down on him slowly, gently.
Draco sees something stir behind their fluttering flowers, the emerging orchids. A shape, forming from the deep, deep red surface, presses towards him, slowly pushing its way out and forcing his heart to keep its manic pace.
Pale fingertips emerge, finding the frame, clutching it at the sides as slender knuckles and fingers follow. Toes curl around the bottom of the mirror, peeking out of the dark and following with white skin and slim ankles. A head, covered in riotous golden-brown curls, moves from the mirror, and then there are forearms and calves and shoulders and knees and thighs...
His father hears him. "Draco? Draco? Are you–"
"I'm fine," he mutters, loud enough.
Merlin knows he doesn't need Lucius Malfoy seeing what, or whom, is emerging from the mirror he is trying to see his soul-mate in.
Oh, there are hips. Perfect hips, on a body so full and curvaceous, a body which presses towards him, a smile on a set of sinfully pink lips, a pair of flashing golden eyes greeting him. Breasts follow, pale, full, with wide rosy nipples...and then the figure stops. Across her most intimate area, the mirror's dark surface remains, but Draco is far too distracted to pay any attention to that right now.
He looks up at her. She looks down at him, her hand cast forward. She holds out a perfect red bloom, and Draco doesn't have to force himself to take it. She smiles again, delicate eyebrows arched invitingly, and retreats.
Within moments, the flowers and the ghost of Hermione Granger are gone, leaving nothing but the bloom in Draco's hand. The mirror is flat and black and glossy once more.
Draco reaches back, his shirt rustling loudly in the echoing silence, and knocks on the door three times. The bolts are thrown back, grinding in his ears, and a large hand clamps over his shoulder.
His father looks down at him, Malfoy-silver eyes dark with worry. "Son..."
Draco lets out a breath through his nose, keeping the solitary flower tightly between his fingers, before answering. "I'm buggered."
His house isn't a particularly large affair by Malfoy standards, but Draco finds it more than satisfactory. He had liked it once upon a time, thought it to be something that he could utilise as a twenty-year-old bachelor to its fullest potential, but now five years have passed he has realised that the only action his capacious bedroom and sprawling four-poster have ever seen has been a very sad affair indeed.
Oh, he's had his fun, sneaking out after dark, picking up girls while wearing a Glamour, always going back to their beds, but as himself? No. No one will go near him with a Firebolt.
So, he wonders as he sits on a stone bench in his garden, how is he meant to get Hermione Granger?
At first, he'd believed the mirror to be wrong, but once he'd thought it through a little more – coerced by his desperate need to be happy and to clear the black clouds continuously gracing his blonde head in a grim halo – he didn't see why he couldn't give it a go.
Worth a shot, right?
It is, he had decided, but how is he meant to get her? He really doesn't see her as the type to be ruthlessly seduced, and ruthless seduction is his greatest asset. So, what does that leave him with? Honesty? Courting?
For Merlin's sake, he should be above such...plain ways of attracting a woman's attention, but when it comes to Hermione Granger there isn't much else he can do. She's too smart to just fall into bed with him, and far too experienced in his ways – jaded, some would say – to just accept that he would like to go out with her.
And if it's something else he's found out about people's opinion of him, it's that he must always have an ulterior motive, as a Slytherin, as an ex-Death Eater – he must always be looking for a leg up.
But he isn't. He's looking for a way out, a way to get rid of the dirty looks and attempted shake-downs when he cares to venture out of his Warded walls. He may have had ideals once, thrust on him from birth, but they had been shot down long ago, and even fiercer had been the re-conditioning by the Magical community.
He is nothing. He is filth. He is evil. He has been ostracised for the good of humanity.
It's sickening, he thinks, to know he's changed but to not have the chance to prove it, and, once again, this leads him back to Hermione. If she is capable of making him happy, of turning his life around, then he must do everything he can to get her, and to absolutely not fuck it all up.
He has pride, but so does she. He won't grovel, and she won't accept anything less than absolute honesty. It is one of the thinnest edges to walk, and there's nothing to catch him if he falls.
Draco crushes the cigarette he had been smoking beneath his heel.
Rule number one: No smoking.
He hadn't expected getting close to Granger to be easy, but he certainly hadn't thought he wouldn't be able to get to her at all. It seems her personal life is as off-limits as his, and trying to reach her from home wasn't working at all.
Draco ventured out a time or two, to see if he could find anyone willing to talk to him, maybe get him her address to owl her, something. But, once again, his reputation as a bastard got him nowhere and he was forced back home and into the scotch.
The next day, after early-morning vomit-pyrotechnics and with one magnificent hangover, came a breakthrough: her work address.
As it turns out, Granger's championing of creature rights and hopeless causes isn't done via the Ministry. No, everything she does, every case she takes, every piece of legislation she attempts to pass is done privately, through her own law firm. This is Draco's saving grace, because if he can't approach her like a normal human being, then he can approach her as a poor, downtrodden underdog in need of legal aid. Which, admittedly, he is.
Yes, he has his own representatives, lawyers, family connections and the like, but they can be dismissed with a simple Floo call, and with no one else in the way, surely Granger will take his case?
What is my case?
He sits at his desk, quill in hand, ink at the ready, shirt already stained with black splotches from all the times he has screwed up a letter addressed to Miss Hermione Granger and then Banished it to the waste paper basket across the room in his study.
And slowly, an idea forms.
He's sweating – at least he thinks he is, since he's too numb to tell – and his hands are a little shaky, but he hides them well in an outwardly-cool clasp behind his back, something he's learnt from both his father and Godfather.
He's dressed in his finest Muggle suit. He knew robes would be too cloying at this moment outside of Hermione Granger's office door. He really pats himself on the back for this decision, due to the heat of Granger's secretary's office – the woman really must be daft if she thinks it's still too cold as she applies another Warming Charm to the room with a flick of her wand, eyeing Draco distrustfully as she does so. But he stays put, even as the new, thick wave of warmth threatens to singe his eyebrows off.
His tailored dark grey suit, his crisp white shirt, and an extra Shining Charm on his black shoes keeps his confidence at an acceptable level, even as he watches the second hand on the clock above Hermione's door pass the six and head into 'she's bloody late...she's not here...she doesn't want to see me' territory.
Just as he begins to worry the signet ring on his finger behind his back, the door to Hermione's office swings open and the woman herself stands in the doorway.
She's just as glorious as her counterpart from the mirror – maybe even more so because he knows she's real this time – but she is definitely not as...welcoming. Her eyes do not glitter for him, her lips do not contain a secret smile, and her hips, though wonderfully shown off in a black pencil skirt, do not send their siren call out to him.
Draco knows, without a shadow of a doubt, he has his work cut out for him.
"Mr Malfoy" – he doesn't correct her, yet – "please, come in. Sorry to keep you waiting."
He gives her a tight smile. "Not at all."
She directs him to the chair on the closest side of the large mahogany desk, the collar of her light pink blouse fluttering in the breeze coming through the open window to the right. His mouth waters at the sight of her bare collarbone.
Her office is tidy, professionally decorated, with the bare minimum of personal items, and so it does seem she really keeps the two parts of her life entirely separate. Even more work for him, he thinks.
A part of him wonders whether he's doing the right thing, chasing after the virtuous Gryffindor when he knows nothing about who she is now or how she feels about him, but if he has even the slimmest hope of future happiness, he'll take the chance.
He sits when she does, across the desk from him, and she gives him a tiny smile in return: his first victory.
She really is gorgeous, he thinks, with all those dark gold curls and even more golden eyes. She's tamed here, in this space, this setting, but he can just imagine what she's like in the morning, tumbling out of bed, sleepy and yawning, barefooted...
He clears his throat, stumbling from his daydream. "Sorry. Yes?"
"I said that your case is quite straightforward." Granger tilts her head at him. "Do you really need meto represent you? You could take this up with the Ministry by yourself."
Brass tacks already, I see.
He shifts and clasps his hands together in his lap. "The problem is I can barely leave my house without being hounded, and, to put it quite bluntly, the Ministry don't give a flying Hippogriff about me or my problems, let alone me wanting to go abroad."
Granger sits back at this, eyebrows high. "I did a little research after I sent you my reply to your letter. The legislation you were convicted under states that someone will be appointed to you to review your case every three months and assess whether your rights should remain restricted or should be returned. That includes visiting other countries."
"Yes, well, that's news to me," and it is.
She's quiet for a moment, tamed curls framing her face delicately, the cool breeze tingeing her cheekbones pink, and then she says something he's been hoping for all morning.
"I'll look into it further and if I find that's true then I'll take your case."
His heart seems to hammer dimly in his chest. "Thank you, Gr- Miss Granger."
Her lip quirks and she sits forward, her arms coming to rest on the desk. "Can I ask you something?"
Draco opens his hands to her in a gesture of go ahead. The breeze feels good on his hot palms.
"Why me?" Granger asks. "I'm sure with your money and connections you could afford someone much more prominent."
Since he's already been so painfully honest so far, he doesn't see the harm in giving her a little more. Another quirk of her lips would be reward enough.
"You're the best. Not to mention with my...reputation," he swallows, "I need someone sure to be unbiased."
A frown crosses her face at the second half of his sentence. "I'm still not sure that explains why. How are you to know I can be completely unbiased towards you, considering our history?"
He makes to take his leave, standing and straightening his sleeves before taking a slight bow towards her. He's nothing if a gentleman these days – being a social pariah has taught him that much.
"You're fair, Hermione, no matter the past. Good afternoon."
Draco leaves, ignoring the scowling secretary who mutters 'pig' under her breath as he passes, and curses himself for using Granger's given name so soon. He whirls away through the green flames of the Floo, muttering his address so the secretary can't follow if she ever had the idea, and hears something that makes him smile as the room pinwheels away from him in the blackness.
"Bloody hell, Olivia! Are you trying to bake a cake in here? Cancel those charms! We're trying to help people, not tan them."
News of his case comes quickly from Hermione, and the matter of her fighting his battle against the Ministry with him has already been settled in the space of a few days
He's still in his pyjamas when the news reaches him, his doorbell being the messenger. Pushing his hair out of his eyes and keeping his wand-hand at waist-height, he opens his front door to find the woman herself.
"How on earth did you get past my Wards?" He demands before he can check himself.
Hermione gives Draco a sunny smile, reflecting the beautiful morning going on above her halo of crazed curls.
"Not to question your abilities, but I found it easy."
Draco has to grin at the lack of smugness in her voice, because of course Hermione Granger knows just how brilliant she is, and no, she's not conceited about it.
He suddenly realises, as she glances down, that he's just in a pair of striped pyjama trousers while she's in full robes.
He turns away from the door, mutters something about her coming in for tea, and completely misses the light blush that graces her cheeks as she catches sight of the broad expanse of his back.
After putting on a shirt and making some tea, Draco sits with Hermione at his kitchen table. It's a wonder he's not more surprised at her sudden appearance, but he did drink rather heavily last night and it is too early for him to really function properly.
"Well, I really just came to tell you that it's all sorted," Hermione says from behind her full china cup, taking a sip.
He nearly spits his drink across the table. "Sorted?"
"Mm," she hums. "Yes, I went to the Ministry the day after our meeting and talked to some contacts. It took much longer than I thought it would to get down to the bottom of it all, but in the end it turned out that your case worker lost someone to one of the Lestranges and decided to take it out on you. I personally reviewed your file with three other parties and had you signed off. Your record was flawless. You're a free man."
And though Draco's stunned at the failure of his plan to spend some late nights working over his case with Hermione, courting her over legislation and dusty documents, and the success with which Hermione gave him his freedom back, he manages to thank her most insistently. His hand takes hers and he hopes she can feel how grateful he is.
For the smallest moment, there's something there, in her eyes, but then it's gone and she slips her hand out from under his and stands.
"Thank you for the tea, Draco. I'll see myself out."
He watches her go with a heavy weight lifted from round his neck, only to be replaced with a marginally lighter one.
What am I to do, now?
His answer comes three weeks later when, after buying a property out from under the Ministry's eye in Wales and moving into it, Hermione sends him a letter. (How she got his new address is a mystery to him.)
At first he's not sure what to make of it – a joke? – but then he decides that it's a serious invitation. An invitation to her birthday celebrations. At her home. A private party.
Draco takes the letter and keeps it, putting it in the topmost drawer of his desk, in pride of place among the correspondence there. He is unusually and sickeningly touched, and not a bit ungrateful.
He has learnt to take the good with the bad, the rough with the smooth, but Hermione Granger's birthday party is testing him.
He'd taken all morning to choose the right clothes – dark, laid-back, no tie – and all day to make sure he's looking his best, shaved and clean and coiffed. But his usual practise of taking confidence from his outward appearance is failing him, because Hermione Granger's private party is just that – a private party.
Her friends are in attendance and only her friends, and each single one of them has never passed a single word between themselves and Draco without it being in anger. None of the people inside her house, as he smokes on the terrace, are pleased about his invitation.
Hermione's been such a good host, cooking and keeping everyone plied with lots of fine wine, but she's been absent for the most part, busy keeping the party running. He doesn't want to bother her with his petty problems, because this is her party and he doesn't want to ruin it. Even if he doesn't think she should be cooking for her own birthday or waiting on her friends hand and foot.
The opaque glass-panelled door behind him opens and Potter steps through. Draco worries the cigarette between his fingers with his thumb absentmindedly.
The dark-haired man beside him takes a look out on the dark and chilled London night, his glasses reflecting the odd streetlamp and lit window in the distance.
"She told me she was going to invite you, you know. Didn't think she'd actually do it. But, I suppose, Hermione always does surprise you."
They haven't spoken since Potter saved his life from the Room of Requirement, and Draco is at a loss for what to say.
"You don't belong here," Potter tells him, but Draco isn't offended because he knows the truth of those words. "And that's a shame."
That sends him reeling for a moment, but he recovers quickly. "You can't be serious."
But Potter looks it. "We were just kids on different sides of the fence. Now there is no fence. I don't like you, Malfoy – and I'm sure it's mutual – but if Hermione trusts you, then I trust you. Even if I'm the only one."
Potter's looking back through the crack he's left between the open terrace doors and Malfoy can see the two youngest Weasleys, Longbottom, and Lovegood hashing something out between them in hushed voices, all hunched together to keep their conversation private. He hears his name, the youngest Weasley sneering as she says it, and he turns away.
"Thanks," is all he can say, and he sees Potter nod before the Gryffindor disappears back inside.
Even with this fabulous new development that he can't really seem to wrap his mind around, he doesn't want to stay any longer and create awkward silences between the firm group of friends. He's like a sickly animal the rest of the pack want to be rid of, but won't stop dogging them.
Draco closes the terrace doors from the outside and takes off down the stone steps leading to Hermione's back garden. He finishes his cigarette, continuing to flout the first and only rule he's made so far to better himself for Hermione, and crushes the last of it beneath his heel in the damp grass.
He makes sure to pick it up before leaving, so as not to litter Hermione's spotless greenery. He Disapparates with a sound crack.
Draco's in bed, he thinks. But upon opening his eyes he finds himself still in his casual party clothes, sans shoes and socks, clutching an empty glass tumbler as he lies stretched out on his settee.
He doesn't have long to contemplate his position or his foggy state, because the thing that woke him up, the insistent banging on his front door, starts up again.
Draco puts the tumbler on his coffee table and staggers to the door, palming his wand and opening the door to find an adorably sloshed Hermione Granger on his doorstep.
"I've imbibed," she tells him, her mouth drawn into a suitable moue.
"I can tell."
She's wearing what she had been earlier that evening when he saw her for that scant hour she spent out of her kitchen and eating the dinner she slavishly prepared, but her clothes are rumpled.
"You disappeared," Hermione says, taking on a sober tone that is instantly negated by her lazy blink and how she has to obviously refocus her gaze on him.
"Yes, I did."
"You didn't tell me you liked my dinner."
Her frown is even more adorable than her confusion, and Draco smiles.
"It was a masterpiece, Granger, and I would have told you so if I'd seen you for more than a moment tonight."
"Yes," she hums. "I was rather busy."
"Did you get yourself here?" He asks, brow dipping. "I thought you were too sensible to travel drunk."
"I'm not that drunk," Hermione insists. "I just wanted to see why you left."
He ignores her question and asks his own. "Why did you do the celebrations for you own birthday?"
"Because no one else would've," she tells him, and the painful honesty of it is written all over her flushed cheeks.
"Come in." Draco ushers her inside. "Well, I'm not letting you leave until you can at least walk straight. It's a miracle you got here in one piece, Hermione."
He shows her into his living room and to the settee before the low but bright fire. He wonders what she thinks of the place, whether it's too castle-like - which, he admits, the outside sort of is – or too homely (messy) on the inside. She's probably too drunk to tell.
Hermione sits and immediately asks him a very important question.
"Did you get me a gift?"
Draco sits and turns his face to hers, smiling. Her question is playful, her smile is even more so, and he knows she expects him to say no.
Out of his pocket he pulls a plain, thick envelope and puts it on her knee. "I was going to Owl you them tomorrow, since I didn't have a chance to speak to you tonight."
Her eyebrows are high. "I'm intrigued."
She slips her finger beneath the flap of the envelope, breaking the red wax seal, and pulls out its contents. Her expression is priceless.
"No one's ever given me something like this before."
Draco knows it, but he says nothing, enjoying her reaction to the tickets too much for words. It had been a stab in the dark, but it had obviously hit its mark.
"I love visiting galleries," she murmurs, seemingly to herself. "Sometimes I...I buy a few paintings to put up at home."
"I saw," he replies. "I'm glad I did the right thing."
Hermione looks up. "You did. Everyone else got me books."
Draco can't help but laugh at this. "They still think you're fifteen."
"They do," Hermione says seriously. "I love books, but..."
"You love other things, too?"
"Exactly." Her eyes have suddenly changed. "Draco?"
Hermione seems to shift a fraction closer, and he is overwhelmed by how lovely she looks in the firelight. And lovely is not a word he uses often.
"Am I too drunk to kiss you?"
The question comes out of the blue, and he represses everything he wants to instinctively do, instead letting only a few words spill out.
"It wouldn't be right. Not like this."
She looks up at him. "That's not a no."
"I won't kiss you back," he says softly, though it's the painful opposite of what he actually wants to do. "You can make your own decisions."
Hermione nods and Draco's body is suddenly split between excited anticipation for her kiss and dread because he won't be able to return it. But instead of leaning in, she leans back.
"You're a gentleman, aren't you?" Her tone is nearly accusing.
Full of declining and empty excitement, he slumps back and lets out a half-snort. "I try."
"You are," she says, softer. "You're nothing like that boy who used to hate my blood and call me names."
Draco grimaces. "I'm still me, Hermione."
"You're smashed," he summarises. "You're talking nonsense. Get some sleep and we'll talk about this in the morning. Alright?"
Draco doesn't wait for her to agree, just helps her stand and leads her upstairs to his bedroom. He opens the first door on the landing and steps inside, magically lighting the wall-lamps. He tidies his bed and retrieves some more comfortable clothes, before turning around to say goodnight to find Hermione perched on the edge of his bed, smiling.
"It's a lovely room," she says, eyes on the dark floorboards, the patterned wallpaper, and the framed paintings and drawings he himself has collected over the years.
Draco didn't bother bringing his four-poster with him to his new house, instead buying a smaller bed and pushing it into the corner with the large window where the headboard should be. The sun warms him in the mornings, and it's something he enjoys.
Hermione's eyes stray to the bookshelves behind her, lining the higher parts of the wall above the bed, filled with all sorts of books. She reaches out, running her fingers down a few of the spines, and he knows he will never forget this moment. Even though she's drunk, and she's not thinking clearly, she still feels safe enough to come to him, his domain, and put her stamp on his things. He likes that.
He passes her an overly large shirt and a pair of old Quidditch jodhpurs. "Here. Goodnight."
And Draco leaves before he can do anything stupid.
He spends the night on the settee, and it's comfortable enough, but he stills rises early, shaking off his hangover, to make breakfast and catch Hermione before she inevitably runs out on him.
Boiling the kettle and toasting some bread, he doesn't hear her come in behind him while he reaches for the jam on the side.
Draco turns, eyebrows high. "You're as quiet as a mouse." He sees her direct line of sight lingering on the pale white scars lacing his torso and sides. "Ah."
"I didn't see them when I surprised you last month."
"You have to be in the right light," he mutters, plating the toast and pouring the tea before sitting opposite Hermione's place.
He looks at her properly and finds she isn't wearing her pretty flowered dress or her thin woollen cardigan. She's still in his things.
Maybe she wasn't going to run?
"Can I ask about them?" Hermione enquires.
Draco watches her stir her tea. "It was a long time ago now. We don't need to go over it."
"That's not a no," she says, smiling, and he can't hide his smile either.
"No, it's not."
She eyes him for a moment, and then leans forward. "Was it... Was it Harry? In the bathroom?"
Draco's silence on the subject is enough of an answer. "Like I said, a long time ago."
Hermione's brow creases. "I know he feels guilty about it still. When he did it, he..."
Draco stops her with a glance. "I was going to give as good as I got."
He sees her look at his chest again, and then his forearm where, under a Glamour, his Mark still rests. He hates to look at it most days. His father even refuses to acknowledge his own anymore.
Hermione's confusion is evident. "I thought..."
A twitch of his wand and the spell melts away, leaving swirls and lines and the carving of a madman. It's not black anymore, not since Voldemort fell, and it's not the faded grey yet that his father had promised it would turn to. No, it was stuck in between, this sickly greenish hue, and it revolted him as much as the actual meaning of it did.
He saw Hermione flinch out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps they would never move past this moment, in which case wasn't it better to get everything out in the open now?
"I've been told I snore sometimes, and that I can hog the covers, but I am naturally larger so I think this is a bit of an overstatement. I tend to overspend no matter the occasion, and I'm finding it hard to give up smoking. Whisky's my drink of choice, but I'm planning on pouring my liquor cabinet down the sink at some point today. I can't go anywhere without people spitting at me, and I've been banned from most reputable Wizarding restaurants."
Hermione looks back at him like she knows what that all meant. And then she opens her mouth.
"I only asked for a kiss, Draco."
"I know." He bites back his anxiety. "I want more."
She watches him, has a little of her tea, puts jam on her toast, and then says, "I can't do this right now. I'm sorry I came here in the middle of the night–"
Her lip curls upwards slightly at his interruption. "Still. I know it put you out. And I know you gave me a lovely gift and that I wanted to kiss you, and you have been such a gentleman...but this isn't the right time. I've only just begun to see you in this...light, and I'm so busy with work at the moment... Listen to me! Reeling off excuses!"
Draco stops her again. "It's fine. I understand." He manages a smile. "If you ever need a weekend in Wales, then don't hesitate to come back."
Two weeks have passed since Hermione left Draco's breakfast table to get dressed and Apparate home. Two weeks of just Draco and his painful realisation that it might never happen and that he was so close.
The day of the London exhibition comes and goes, and he hears nothing from her, not even a note telling him whether the tickets he bought her were worthwhile or who the second person that accompanied her was. He just hopes it wasn't Weasley, but rumours have been flying since the Golden Trio came under public scrutiny, and, well...he wouldn't be surprised if it was that ginger-haired buffoon that she took.
It's a Tuesday and Draco is planning a holiday for himself, scattered maps and pieces of parchment spread across his coffee table.
He wants peace and solitude, but he wants sun and sand, too, and latter always means people, whether Wizarding or not. But then, perhaps, a Muggle break is just what he needs with his newfound freedom – create himself a 'holiday' persona for a week or so, romance a few local beauties...
And there is the sting. He wants Hermione, and once a Malfoy makes their mind up about something it gets done.
His doorknocker sounds, interrupting his musing, but when he opens the door, there is no one there.
Draco begins to raise his wand, instantly on alert, but his Wards are strong and steady and there's only one person who could have gotten through them and placed a parcel on his doorstep where the brown paper-wrapped item sits. But he still casts a Diagnostic Spell over it, just in case.
He takes the thing inside once the item checks out, kicking the door shut as he does. It's weighty and large enough that he almost trips over carrying it into the sitting room. He puts it down on top of his holiday plans and severs the string with his wand.
The paper practically falls open, wanting him to see its contents. Once unwrapped, the image that gazes up at him pulls a surprised sound from his mouth.
There are many different brush strokes, in varying shades of blue and green and red and... It's a garden – a beautiful, flowering garden – with tall trees at the very bottom and hedges surrounding the lush grass, with lilacs and bluebells and forget-me-nots. But behind one of the wild parts of the hedges, he can see pale feminine feet as if a woman sits just behind. The sky is vivid and he can almost hear the sound of bees in the flowers.
It is truly beautiful, and it calms him.
He notices a card tucked beneath the frame.
To cheer up that dreary house of yours.
Well, at least he knows what she thinks about the house.
In the following week, a lot of effort is made.
Draco's cigarette breaks become less frequent, the lack of booze in his house cures those pesky hangovers that have been plaguing him, and fresh paint is introduced to the, as yet, untouched rooms of his new house, the only room he's bothered decorating at all being his bedroom.
It is as he's painting the downstairs sitting room a brighter green than had previously been on the walls, he hears a voice call through the hall.
Draco turns just in time to see Hermione's head of curls come around the corner, and then he remembers the door was already open to let out the paint fumes.
He's managed to keep paint off of the floor and ceiling with Repelling Charms and applying the paint to the walls magically, but he knows he's gotten it all over himself. Which is why he can easily interpret Hermione's grin – he looks stupid.
"I've never seen anyone go this far to display House pride before," she tells him, stepping into the room in her light summer dress.
"Yes, well," he glances down at himself and the paint there, "Slytherins are particularly enthusiastic."
Her smile is electric. "Mm."
"So, not to say it isn't nice to see you, but is there a reason for your visit?" Draco asks, and he surprises himself with the aloofness he manages.
He obviously surprises Hermione as well, because her smile drops a fraction or two.
"I came to see you."
"Yes, just to...see you."
Draco doesn't know if she's implying friendship or more, but he knows he'll take either – he is a Slytherin after all. "So. Holiday in Wales, is it?"
It goes well, at first, because he's eager to spend time with her and, for some reason, she him. So they paint the walls during the day and Hermione sleeps in the spare bedroom Draco finished off before her arrival at night.
But then, as a couple of days creep by, he realises that actually their relationship being what it is (unlabelled) is torturing him more than her absence was. Because every smile over breakfast, or candlelit glint over dinner sends a signal, and these signals clash with everything else Hermione tends to do.
He's so confused by her latest thing – picking paint spots off of his clothes, while he wears them – that when he reaches up to paint a high angle and her nail runs over his shoulder, he can't take anymore.
Taking her guilty hand in his, Draco turns sharply and looks down at her. She has pale yellow paint on her cheeks and her lips are flushed red from the warmth of the room and their hard work, and...Merlin, he wants her.
"Please," his voice is nearly strangled, "stop playing with me."
Hermione's eyes grow wide, but he cuts in before she can utter a single thing.
"If you don't want this, me, then stop acting like you do, because it's just cruel, and you are too good to be cruel, Hermione."
It seems for a moment that he's stunned her, and her reply doesn't dissipate his worry of a slight malfunction on her part by him calling her out.
"Spin me," she demands again, even softer. "Like...a twirl."
Thinking it best to simply acquiesce, Draco loosens his grip on her hand and lifts them up above her head, turning her slowly. Hermione shuts her eyes as she spins, those black lashes brushing her paint and freckle-speckled cheeks, and then he turns her back to him, so quickly that her eyes fly back open as she comes chest-to-chest with him.
The room is so bright and he is so near that he sees her dark pupils swallow the bright irises surrounding them. His breathing becomes heavy, the atmosphere of the room bearing down on his shoulders, and he knows, as his eyelids lower, that she can feel that pull of him to her too.
The kiss is searing when they finally meet, pent-up frustration and anticipation bursting free in one glorious moment. Draco's hands come around Hermione's waist, pulling her to him, as he presses for more.
Her fingers climb his neck, tugging at his hair, and it rips a groan from his chest. Her tongue meets his, tentatively, and this is how he knows it's not just the passion of the moment clouding any doubts she might have about him, them. Because she knows what she's doing, she's conscious of it, and he doesn't feel the need to hold back everything he wants to show her.
He has never felt so vulnerable, and never so sure he's on the right path, following in the wake of the right Snitch.
Draco ignores the excitement burning low in his stomach and kisses Hermione. He kisses her like she knows how he feels and how far he's come, and when the mounting tenderness becomes something he's not entirely ready for, he breaks their embrace and hugs her.
He thinks the last embrace he might have initiated was when he was six and went running to his mother with bloody knees.
But Hermione doesn't laugh, doesn't say anything, she just sighs and tucks her face into his neck, warming him. She's not a delicate little thing he can't hold – she's curvy and real, and he wants nothing more than to know that she likes holding him just as much as he does her.
Her scent is bewitching, soothing his thundering heartbeat, and when she breathes in deeply against his neck, he thinks it might be the same for her.
"Are we going to say anything?" He asks lowly.
"When you first came into my office, I tried to be a bitch."
Draco swallows a smile. "You failed."
She hums – a blissful noise. "I know. I always used to have this little...thing for you, but I thought seeing you in the war...when you were so pale and drawn and – you were evil, Draco... I thought it was gone, but then you came asking for my help and...it all just came flooding back. And now it's grown."
Deciding that she's initiated a quid pro quo truth exchange, he tells her something he hadn't planned to at all.
"I was going to kill myself."
Hermione stiffens against him, and as she turns her face up to his, he sees her expression is horrified.
Draco runs a hand down her arm, attempting to soothe her. "I don't know how I was going to do it – maybe get in trouble with the Ministry, do something stupid, or smoke and drink myself to death – but I just knew the isolation was killing me even more slowly."
Her eyes flick to the window, taking in the wide open plains his house sits on. "You haven't exactly chosen anything better. You haven't got neighbours for five miles!"
"Hermione, I mean I didn't have any happiness – nothing – and not to lay anything at your feet but you're the sole reason I'm still here."
She looks like she's about to crumble. "What?"
"Even if you turn me down," he stresses, "I will carry on, because you've given me something. You've helped me. Now the only thing I want is you."
Hermione tips her head, staring down at the floor and their bare feet. "That's a lot of pressure, Draco."
"I assure you," he tips her chin back up, "it isn't. I'm just making myself clear. You are not bound to me. That's the beautiful thing about this, Hermione – it is no one's choice but yours. I just want you to know that if you think you want any of this, that I will treat you like the brilliant and free woman you are."
The first thing that comes from her mouth is, "I need to think about it."
He knew she would say this of course, because Hermione Granger thinks through everything. So Draco nods.
"Go home. Think about it. Owl me when you know."
At this, she looks horrified. "Owl you? I think you deserve a bit more than that, no matter the outcome. I'll visit for lunch this Friday – one-thirty?"
"I'll be ready." He smiles.
He is ready actually, when Friday rolls around four days later.
The table is set, the wine is cooling, lunch is sitting on his finest plates under a Stasis Charm until Hermione arrives, and...well, that's the problem: no Hermione.
It's two o'clock, and while he imagines she may sometimes run late because of work, the emphasis she put into her words about showing up for this particular arrangement has him concerned.
So, after making sure the lunch and his Wards are secured, he Apparates from the bottom of his sprawling garden, straight into Hermione's.
"Oh, bloody fantastic! I bet that's Harry now, isn't it? With my sister! Trying to help you break this off! Well, I'm not leaving!"
If Draco didn't come prepared for something being amiss, he wouldn't have been able to duck the flower pot that comes sailing down on him from the outside ledge of one of the upper windows, as it is roughly pushed open.
Ron Weasley's red face appears. "Go away, Harry! Me and Hermione can sort this ou– Malfoy?" The ginger-haired dunderhead looks amazed. "What's he doing here?"
And then comes Hermione's voice, high and reedy. "Ronald...will you please just leave?"
Weasley disappears from the window but his shouting does not cease, and now it is obvious what is going on.
Draco has trodden on some toes he hadn't been sure existed or not, but if this blow out is what it looks like then Weasley has lost and Hermione has chosen him.
His giddiness is only rivalled by his worry.
He takes the stairs up to the terrace three at a time and nearly blows the door off of its hinges in his haste to get inside and upstairs. Thankful for Hermione's tidy and organised style, he manages to find his way upstairs and into her bedroom where the brawl is happening. And that aggravates him even more.
What the hell are they doing in here?
The answer becomes obvious as he stands in the doorway and watches Weasley tear through Hermione's wardrobe, pulling out old shoeboxes, letters tied into neat little piles, and a few small canvases.
Hermione sits on the end of her bed, staring at Weasley's back like she might just set it aflame with only her eyes.
"Am I going to Hex him or are you?" Draco asks, edging over to Hermione.
She jumps and hisses, "Draco!"
Weasley continues his violent rummaging.
"You didn't show up. I was worried," Draco tells her. "So? You or me?"
"It'll have to be you," Hermione replies, showing him her empty hands. "He took my wand."
With a flick of Draco's wrist and a sharp bolt of red light, Weasley falls unconscious and face-first into a pile of old clothes.
"He took your wand?" Draco growls. "What the bloody hell is going on here?"
She runs a hand through her mussed curls. "We had this...agreement, after school, that once I was settled in my career we would finally, you know, have it all out and see if we wanted to settle down."
Draco gives her a hard look. "You could have told me."
"I never thought I would find someone else," she returns, standing and going to Weasley to search his pockets. "I thought I had it all sorted. And then you come along and you're so bloody perfect, and I try to keep my distance but..."
She finds her wand with an 'aha' and turns to him. "I told Ron I want to be with someone else and he just can't understand that I never said yes to him, that I'm not breaking a promise or...whatever. And then he asked why, and I just had to tell him that someone knows me better, knows what I want better."
"So he had to prove it," Draco finishes. "Right?"
Hermione nods. "He got angry when he couldn't tell me my favourite colour, or my favourite singer, or...even why I have paintings hanging on the walls."
Draco frowns. "I don't know much of that."
"No," she sighs. "You don't. That's Ron's reasoning, not mine. He thinks to be better for someone than someone else you have to be able to cite every detail about them. He doesn't think about actual feelings or how people fit together."
"We fit, do we?" Draco smiles, going to her and running his thumb over her wrist.
Hermione returns it. "I've decided we do. At least, for now."
"Good enough," he returns, before smirking. "For now."
After tidying up Hermione's house and throwing the unconscious Weasley into the flowerbed outside, they take off back to Draco's and finally have that lunch. Except it's a little more like dinner.
Hermione moans around her fork and Draco tries to ignore his reaction to the noise. "My God... How do you know how to cook this well?"
"Would you believe me if I said my father?"
Her eyebrows hitch up high. "Definitely not."
"Ah, well," Draco says. "Natural talent, then."
Hermione's smile is tempting. "Mr Malfoy? Really?"
He nods. "Every Sunday. Of course, it's to give the House Elves time to polish the silver."
He laughs as Hermione attempts to kick him in the shin under the table.
They finish their meal, Draco bringing out an apple crumble for desert, and then seem to find themselves under a more serious mood. Hermione and he are sitting so close, just watching each other, the flickering candles around them showing that the wine is untouched so the blush on her cheeks must be all her own.
Her spoon is put upon the table. "When did you first know you wanted me?"
Draco doesn't bother formulating his answer – he knew it would all come out anyway.
"When I gave up the cigarettes, I knew it was serious. When I saw your ghost, I knew I wanted you."
Hermione doesn't even really start. "Ghost?"
"Hm. I went to my father, to see if he had any ways of predicting future happiness, and there was this mirror...and you came out of it, you see – your likeness at least – and I...I fought it. I fought this, but then I saw you in your office, so tame, and I knew I wanted to see you tumble out of bed first thing in the morning." He takes a cleansing breath. "It all sort of spiralled from there."
Hermione gazes at him a few moments before speaking. "Is this your way of getting me into bed: chat me up about how you want to see what I look like in the morning?"
Draco shrugs. "It's true, for what it's worth."
Her lips curl upwards. "No one's ever said that to me before."
And then she's up, out of her seat, coming around towards him, and pulling Draco out of his chair.
"I like to snack in the middle of the night. My hair can be unmanageable first thing in the morning, and tickly. I tend not to think before I speak on occasion, but I alwaysthink before I act. And I will have to commandeer at least half of your bookshelves."
"We can put more up," he says dazedly as she leads him upstairs and into his bedroom.
"I love this room," Hermione tells him, turning around and closing the door behind them. "Oh..."
She's seen the painting she bought him, hanging beside the curtained window, and she's smiling.
"I thought of you when I saw it," Hermione tells Draco, pushing up his black jumper and white t-shirt. "I thought it might cheer you up."
"You said it was to cheer the house up."
"Yes, well, same thing really, isn't it?"
He leans into her, as he undoes her blouse, and puts his lips to her ear. "You brighten up everything."
And it's true. Just look at what she's done to him.
Hermione grins into his kiss, tugging at his trousers, and he laughs as she pushes him back onto the bed.
"I'm bossy as well," she tells Draco, climbing over him and sitting squarely in his lap.
His hands come down on her hips, enjoying every inch of her that is pressed to him. He knows he's grinning stupidly.
"I think I can handle that," he says.
Hermione's bra goes missing instantly in a quick display of wandless magic, and while she looks down, her expression a mixture of puzzlement and being impressed, Draco makes short work of her skirt, unhooking the side and unwrapping her like a present. The knickers she's wearing just might be the gift.
"Did you wear this just for tonight?"
Hermione smiles. "Well, the bra matched while it was still with us."
Draco slowly pulls the soft champagne-coloured lace down her curvy hips and slim thighs, letting her wriggle and kick them off once they reach her knees. And then, there she is – bare – how he's only ever seen her once before.
Her nipples call to him, rosy and placed on such perfect handfuls of silky pale skin, and he answers their call, trailing his mouth up her sternum and then over her beautiful breasts.
She is a vision, kneeling over him, her hair spilling every which way and her hands clutching at his shoulders as he explores her body.
"So perfect," Draco mutters as his fingers travel to her soft thighs, exploring between as Hermione gasps above him.
And then she's throwing a wandless spell herself, turning out the lights and opening the curtains to the wide and white moon beyond.
Moonlight throws her in sharp relief, and her beauty is magnified by a thousand.
"You look like marble in the moonlight," she tells him, kissing his neck, his chest.
Draco turns her over. "Marble can't move like I can."
Hermione grins at his confident tone. "I daresay it can't."
The joking isn't over, it's just tucked away for a moment while they watch each other, their hips aligning naturally. Draco wonders how it can be so easy, so comfortable with Hermione, and though he won't be breaking out the 'I love you' anytime soon, he knows one day he will, if everything works out alright.
She gives him the smallest of nudges with her legs around his hips, and he kisses her as he follows her direction, holding himself taut as he presses inside her. She's so soft and yielding, so tight and wet around his cock he knows he's not going to go straying, let alone finding another like her at all.
He kisses her and holds her tight, squeezing her thigh on every push and stroking her clit on every pull. She comes apart so quickly from this he barely has any time to feel smug, because once she's recovered she's urging him on, lust-glazed eyes gazing up at him as her mouth tells him to comecomecome.
And he does, like he's still green, but, with Hermione, he imagines he always will be a little.
They lie in the moonlight, tangled beneath the duvet, and look up. Hermione notices it first, reaching up to pull it down off of the lowest shelf on the wall above them.
The red flower he had been given, put under a Stasis Charm, sits in her hand, and Hermione lifts a delicate eyebrow as it suddenly turns a violent shade of green, from the tips of the petals to the centre of the bud.
"Orchids are my favourite," she breathes. "Especially the green."
Draco pulls her more tightly into his hold and presses his face to hers. "I like them too, only red."
Author's note: So I had this idea a while back and I've finally come through with it. Better late than never, right? Thanks for reading!