This story was originally published by Bedelia, the first nine chapters are entirely her work. Unfortunately, she is unable to continue the story and offered it up for adoption. I LOVE this story and jumped at the chance.
Chapter 10 onwards are my words, working from the plan that Bedelia gave me, and having her read each chapter before it's posted.
I really hope you continue to enjoy this.
"I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul."
- Pablo Neruda
Chapter One: Small Talk
19 September 2002
Sighing, Hermione rolled over in bed. No matter what position she tried, lumps riddled her mattress and her sheets chafed like sandpaper. Neither side of the pillow provided the soothing coolness she sought. Forget elusive; sleep was impossible. She should have taken Luna and Neville up on their offer of going out instead of putting them off until the next day. Spending a peaceful evening reading at home and going to bed early to catch up on much-needed slumber wasn't turning out as she'd imagined.
The sensible thing would be to take some Dreamless Sleep Potion or send an owl to her friends, but she hadn't refused Ron to go around being sensible. Which meant she certainly shouldn't sit at home with insomnia on her birthday, for heaven's sake. Groaning, she threw her blankets back and stormed to her wardrobe. After yanking on trousers, shoes, and a cloak, she Apparated to Diagon Alley with a resounding crack.
The Leaky Cauldron was almost empty. A few tipsy patrons lurked in corners, but they paid Hermione no mind as she entered the pub. Tom glanced up from wiping the bar with a damp rag to give her a curt nod.
A man with familiar platinum blond hair sat at the bar, bent over a tumbler of Firewhisky. After a brief internal debate, Hermione decided to join him. The war was long over. Surely they could find it within themselves to talk like any other former classmates. She'd spoken up in his favour at his trial, after all. It was about time they buried the resentment and loathing of their childhood and started behaving like civilised adults.
"Hello, Malfoy," she said with more confidence than she felt as she perched on the creaky, wobbling chair to his left.
"Granger." He raised an eyebrow at her as if to ask what she thought she was doing, but she just shrugged and ordered a Firewhisky of her own.
"How have you been?" she said.
The eyebrow rose higher. "I've been well."
Instead of returning the question, he returned to his drink and traced a pale finger along a crack in the dark wood of the bar.
"Hmm." Hermione scrambled for something else to say. She refused to allow her attempt at polite conversation to descend into awkward silence so soon. "Think it's going to rain?"
Draco laughed. "Are you actually so starved for company that you're sitting here and trying to talk to me about the weather?"
"I guess I am. Is that a problem?"
He cocked his head to one side and studied her, as if searching for the answer on her face. "I suppose not. Where are Potter and the Weasel? Shouldn't they be tagging along after you, scowling at me and protecting your questionable virtue?"
Flinching, she downed the rest of her drink. It stung her throat, roughening her voice. "Harry is on his honeymoon at the moment."
To her relief, he didn't mention her omission of Ron. Turning his attention towards the entrance to Muggle London, he scoffed. A few women who had been in the year below them at Hogwarts — Hufflepuffs, Hermione thought — slipped through the door.
"Oh, that's just brilliant," Draco said. "Hope you're adept at Noise Cancelling Charms. If not, your ears are going to start bleeding in about an hour."
"See that ginger girl? The one who just came in? Well, when she gets a few pints in her, she starts thinking she's one of the Weird Sisters. I swear, even a banshee would cringe at the sounds she makes."
"Oh, come on. She can't be that bad."
"Care to bet on that?"
"That depends." She narrowed her eyes. "What do you get if you win?"
"Hmm. I reckon your first-born child should do."
She laughed. "Oh, please. Like you'd want my first-born. If I tried to pay up, you'd shout at me for soiling your hands with my half-blood spawn."
"Well, you're famous. Think of the price it'd fetch in Knockturn Alley."
"Okay, hold on there, Rumplestiltskin. There will be no pawning my future children in Knockturn Alley or anywhere else."
"Muggle fairy tale. Never mind. The point is: your price is far too steep for a bet about singing."
"You haven't heard her yet." With a lopsided half-smile, he motioned for Tom and ordered a bottle of Ogden's Finest. "All right, then. A drinking game. You have to do one shot for every person who leaves because of her."
As it turned out, Draco hadn't been exaggerating. The instant the woman's voice started slurring, she sauntered over to the large wireless set in the corner and began singing along with every song she knew (and even a few she didn't). By the time she rested her head on a table and fell asleep — to the apparent relief of everyone, including her friends — Hermione had to drink four shots.
"Okay," she said, swaying on her chair as a pleasant, warm sort of fuzziness blanketed her mind. "Your turn." Craning her neck, she looked around the pub. To her delight, one of her former dorm-mates had entered whilst she was preoccupied with the Singing Wonder. "I bet you can't successfully chat up Parvati."
"Mhm. If she doesn't proposition you in some way or tell you to fire-call her within fifteen minutes, you have to do as many shots as I did."
"Hardly seems fair. We fought on opposite sides of a war. She's not exactly going to be inclined to shag me, is she?"
He let out an inelegant snort of laughter that was so unlike his usual dark chuckle, Hermione wasn't sure it really came from him.
"What's next?" he said. "Are you going to dare me to talk to her?"
"Is that what it'll take to give you a dose of courage?"
Grinning, he took a swig of Firewhisky straight from the bottle. "No. I've plenty of liquid courage on hand. Watch and learn, Granger."
She watched, but all she learnt was that Draco's cheeks flushed when he was frustrated. Or perhaps it was the intoxication; she couldn't tell. Either way, Parvati wasn't having it. At the seventeen minute mark, Hermione caught his attention and tapped her finger against her watch. Draco sulked his way back to her side.
"I feel a bit bad about subjecting Parvati to that," she said with a giggle once he'd downed his required four shots. "I'll have to send her an apology note, even if it was funny to watch."
"Could you even hear what I said?"
"No, but I knew she wouldn't be interested."
"She's a lesbian."
The funny, snorting laugh made another appearance. "You little cheat." Pausing, he stretched his arms overhead until his back popped. "So, is there trouble in paradise, then? Is that why you're here, getting pissed with me? Don't think I didn't notice when you dodged the Weasley question." Pouring another two glasses of Firewhisky, he placed one in front of her. Hermione accepted the drink in spite of the smug aura that billowed from him and threatened to choke her with irritation.
"He wants to get married," she said. "I don't."
"Ever? I never figured you for the type to live in sin." His gaze moved over her in a way that she would have described as "appraising" if it had come from almost anyone other than Draco Malfoy.
"I want to get married eventually, just not right this second. I think we're still too young. I want to get established in my career first — maybe travel a bit."
"And he wants you to forget about all of that and start popping out more babies than he can afford?"
Shaking her head, she kicked the leg of his barstool. "Really, Malfoy. He isn't poor now, and you know it. But yes, he would like to start a family very soon." Recalling the explosive fight that ended their relationship made her mouth twist into a grimace. "Yesterday would be preferable to him, actually."
Draco's expression transformed from a not entirely unpleasant smirk to a bitter frown. One more drink, and alcohol made his speech thick and slow. "He and my parents have that in common," he said.
It was her turn to be smug. "Eager for grandbabies, are they?"
"You don't know the half of it."
"Mm. If I don't settle down soon, it's an arranged marriage for me."
"An arranged marriage? Are you serious? Of all the antiquated, absurd traditions...ugh. That's horrible! You should be free to marry whoever you like, or marry no one, if that's what suits you."
He chuckled. "Getting my inheritance suits me, so I'll go along with their plans. That includes marrying the right sort of girl, taking over the family business, and having at least one male heir. They'd rather I get that last part out of the way as soon as possible, just to be sure it's done."
Stunned, Hermione let out a long sigh. How could he be so nonchalant? His sudden rigid posture and the clenching of his jaw was proof that he was about as ready for marriage as she was. Even more surprising was the pity churning in her stomach. She wanted to march up to Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy and lecture them on the importance of letting their son make his own decisions.
Yeah, that would go over well.
"Your life shouldn't be planned out for you," she said, punctuating her statement with a jab of his shoulder. "You should be able to do something unexpected, like work as a painter or marry a half-blood you love madly."
"You're lecturing me about spontaneity? When was the last time you did something unexpected?"
"Well, I turned down Ron's marriage proposal last week. That seemed to shock quite a few people."
"Pfft. I doubt it shocked anyone who realises that he doesn't deserve you."
Hermione stared at him as though he'd claimed Gregory Goyle was a genius. "Now that is unexpected. Did you just pay me a backhanded compliment?"
"Well, I have been drinking quite a lot." Pausing, he wiped a water spot from the rim of his half-empty glass. "Don't expect it to happen again."
"Oh, of course not not. Hmm, so that doesn't count as spontaneous?"
"More like finally coming to your senses."
"It was horrible, actually. I felt so bad, but he knew I wasn't ready for—"
"Oh, hush up. Wait. I know. I am sitting in the Leaky Cauldron on my 23rd birthday, having a reasonably civil conversation with Draco Malfoy. In my pyjamas, no less. You have to admit that is unexpected."
"Hardly. It was only a matter of time before you tried to chat me up."
"Yes, it's a wonder I didn't swoon at the sneering and name-calling years ago."
Draco's responding chuckle cut off as comprehension dawned on his face. "Wait," he said, his gaze flickering down to her clothes. "Pyjamas?"
Casting a furtive glance around the pub, she opened her cloak just wide enough to let him see. Draco let out a loud, genuine laugh when he saw her nightshirt. Whimsical penguins in purple stocking caps and ice skates decorated the baby blue cotton.
"I was trying to sleep when I got the idea to come here," she said. "I wasn't really expecting to interact with anyone."
"Okay, I will grant you that I didn't expect the pyjamas. It would have been more shocking if it involved something a bit more pleasing to the eye, though." Taking her empty glass, he let his fingers linger on hers. "That horrible shirt is exactly the type of thing I'd expect you to wear to bed."
"I was sleeping alone, you prat. Comfort was the goal, not seduction."
Draco's voice became a low, sensual rumble that she had to lean in to hear. "Tsk. Sleeping alone on your birthday. What a horrible waste. Perhaps you should remedy that."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
To her dismay, her body's reaction to his words was not entirely negative. No, judging by the familiar clenching in her abdomen, she rather liked his insinuations.
It's the alcohol, she thought. Firewhisky goggles.
"What do you think it's supposed to mean?" he said.
For lack of an adequate response, she remained silent. As he stood up, he chucked a few Sickles onto the bar to pay his tab.
"Well, I should probably head home. Later, Granger. Happy birthday." Leaning down as if to kiss her cheek, he placed his lips next to her ear.
"Meet me outside in five minutes," he whispered. His warm breath smelt of Firewhisky and mint. Hermione couldn't recall him ever standing so close to her before. She wasn't sure she had ever even touched him prior to that evening — aside from the slap in their third year, of course. As he moved his face along her jaw, every tiny exhale from his mouth ghosted over her skin.
With a wink, he backed up and sauntered out of the pub.
As she watched the seconds tick by, Hermione mulled over everything she knew about Draco. He was a Death Eater. He hated her and had once wanted to exterminate her for no other reason than the crime of being born to the wrong sort of parents. He'd tried to kill Dumbledore. These thoughts should have been sufficient to put a damper on any stirrings of passion, but her traitorous mind drifted to Harry's retelling of the events on the Astronomy Tower. Draco wasn't ever really going to go through with it. He was just a scared kid, in over his head. And at Malfoy Manor — he hadn't wanted her to die then, had he? He'd been so reluctant to identify her, Harry, and Ron.
And hadn't she intended to put their past behind them when she chose to approach him? Start fresh?
This line of thought is stupid and bound to land me in a heap of trouble, she thought. Definitely not being sensible now.
Before she could stop herself, she stood up and walked outside. When she was in a clearer frame of mind and rightly horrified by her actions, she could rationalise her behaviour by blaming the alcohol.
The crisp night air woke her up after the stale, smoky atmosphere inside the Leaky Cauldron. Water from a recent rainfall slicked the cobbled surface of Diagon Alley and shimmered in the dim yellow light of the streetlamps. She caught a glimpse of Draco's bright hair just a few metres from the pub. Belatedly, she wondered if she should be wary of him. He could have been setting her up for some sort of trick.
She didn't get a chance to finish her cautious thoughts. All of a sudden he shot her a predatory smirk and stalked forward, pulling her body against his.
"What the hell?" she said in a breathy voice. "What are you doing?"