"I still don't understand why you wanted something so small," he muttered, moving the last box in.
Hermione stood looking around at their flat – apartment. They had nearly adjusted to the American slang over the last year.
"It's central," she said, "for starters. We can both get to school without needing a car."
"I'd like a car."
She laughed. He hadn't lost the youthful exuberance for all thing muggle. Unfortunately, try as he might, he hadn't mastered all the basics yet either. Their driving lessons were progressing . . . slowly. On the other hand, she'd gotten quite adept at repairing fenders with magic.
"We'll just wait on that, shall we?" she said, taking a short lap around their studio apartment.
"It's very small," he said.
She grinned, thinking of his reaction to his dorm room.
"It's perfect. It's a great location. I love the building," she spun in a circle, looking up at the old brick walls. "There's so much history here."
He snorted. "Nothing in America has all that much history."
She waved him away. "Snob. It needn't be a thousand years old to qualify as history."
"We haven't got that much that old anyway," he said, strolling over to their bed. It was approximately three feet from their kitchen, and ten feet from the little bathroom with its tiny shower.
"One year," she said. "If you want to move in a year, Draco, I'll happily let you choose."
They stayed three. By Hermione's last year in her program, and what should have been Draco's senior year, they had made it a cozy little home.
Hermione knew Draco wanted something bigger. He wanted a place with a studio, with light and space. She couldn't fault him. Though he technically majored in Science, he spent at least as much time in art classes. Most people would have started to worry about graduating on time, but Draco was in no hurry. His friends had connected the dots and started slagging him off for being a trust fund baby. He didn't seem to mind too much.
She looked around at the old brick walls, the window boxes she herself had planted and tended. A small sketch – a thumbnail of her, glass of wine in hand, the first night they slept there – hung not far from her old Hogwarts painting.
A tiny table sat in the little kitchenette, a product of one of Draco's woodworking classes. She could remember hundreds of breakfasts and dinners, a smattering of lunches and Saturday afternoon teas. They might be planning to move to a bigger place, but Hermione had no intention of giving that table up.
She looked at her watch. She needed to go, if she wanted to meet Draco in time for the exhibit. He dragged her out to at least one a month. She always tried to convince him to stay in, to take it easy after yet another long day, and somehow he always persuaded her to go. She never regretted it. Even the time when the artist painted the audience. That had been an odd one, but thinking about it still brought a smile to her face. If only for the consternation she had felt at the time.
Tonight's was in a house, oddly enough. Draco had given her the address, but needed to arrive early to help out. It must have been a student from one of his classes.
The student shows were the worst. And the best. They ranged from pretentious to shocking, but the youth, the creativity, the enthusiasm they brought to their projects – even when they pretended not to care at all – made it worth her while.
She gave their apartment one last look, wondering if she could talk him into staying another year. She didn't want to end up in some expensive penthouse, without a drop of originality or warmth. She planned her argument in her head as she walked, mentally ticking off points. She knew he loved it too, that would be the ace up her sleeve. Draco had an unexpected nostalgic streak.
He had kept the art book she gave him for their first Christmas. The sketchbook stayed in his collection, filled almost exclusively with drawings related to them. He didn't generally segregate his work, but he seemed to reserve that book for them alone. He even had the pencils set aside, more decorative than utilitarian, at this point. If she asked, he could probably pull out every gift she had given him over the years.
She doubted she could manage the same. She didn't have his nostalgic streak, nor his sense of romance. She did have every piece of art he'd ever made her. She didn't think she could part with any of them, even if they broke up somewhere down the line. Her hand rose, closed over a necklace he had made in a metalworking class.
She kept odd things. A piece of a shattered glass she threw at him, during their first big fight in the apartment. She wanted a reminder of how not to conduct a relationship. She had kept the bag from the takeout place, where they got food the next night, as well. She could remember that conversation, remember clearly how both of them had tried so hard to listen instead of shout.
She came to a stop, realizing she had walked too far, and backtracked a few blocks. She had missed the place entirely. The sign for the exhibit was so understated, it might as well have been nothing. She shook her head at it, then took a second look, impressed by the craftsmanship. The sign had been carved of wood, the words Bound and Boundless etched into it.
She wondered what she had to look forward to inside. She pulled out her cell, double-checking the address. She texted Draco to let him know she was there and started up the steps.
She took a moment to appreciate the place. It had a porch dominating the front, and balconies coming off the upstairs. She had grown to like American architecture, especially the older sort. She appreciated the posts – just a bit too casual to be called columns – that held up the porch. She liked the large bay windows, looking over the yard, and the shutters she'd seen on the upstairs windows.
She nearly knocked, it felt so much like a personal residence. At the last moment, she caught herself, and stepped confidently through the door.
A young man in black and white waited in the entryway. "Hello," he said. "You're here for the exhibit?"
Hermione nodded, wondering vaguely if he was the artist. She had learned not to ask. "I am," she said. "I'm actually looking for my boyfriend. I think he was helping out. Draco? Do you know him?"
The boy nodded. "I think he's just in there." He pointed toward the next room. Hermione smiled and thanked him and stepped through.
The room was empty except for Draco, who was looking up at a painting. He glanced over at her and smiled. "Hi."
"Hey." She cocked a thumb back toward the greeter. "You might suggest they put out some other signs. I know you guys like to be classy, but you're not going to get a lot of people like this."
He grinned and held out a hand to her. "I'll let them know."
She walked over, took his hand, and joined him in front of the painting. "This is interesting," she said. "Kind of dark."
It looked as though the artist had removed all light colors from his pallet. A house rose, hostile and menacing, beneath a stormy sky.
"Do you think?" he asked, looking back at the painting.
"I guess," she said, cocking her head. "I mean, there's nothing really scary about the place. It has a kind of, dignity to it. Sort of. But I definitely wouldn't want to live there." She turned to him. "Speaking of. I was thinking, maybe we should stay in the apartment another year. We've got a few more weeks to sign a new lease . . ."
She broke off at his look. She couldn't quite read it. Unsurprised, perhaps?
"There's so much history there, for us," she swung their joined hands, cuddled in toward his chest. "I don't know if I'm ready to give it all up."
"Who says we'd be giving it up?" he asked, walking toward the next painting.
This one was more her style. A wall covered with books. Each looked pristine, in perfect condition, as though they had never been handled. The harder she looked at the painting, the less she liked it.
"You didn't tell me much about this guy," she whispered. "The artist. Is he depressed?"
Draco smiled, unoffended on behalf of his classmate. "What makes you say that?"
"I don't know," she said, shrugging. "These paintings seem lonely."
"Hmm . . ." Draco nodded, considering her take. He usually responded that way. In the beginning, she had been insulted, thinking he didn't value her opinion. Then she realized he did. He valued it enough to listen to it, mull it over, add it to whatever his own reaction had been.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"These certainly don't seem happy," he agreed. "Hard to judge the painter by the painting, though. We've all been unhappy from time to time. Artists take a thought, a moment, an idea, an emotion, an image. They freeze it in time and let us make of it what we will." He shrugged. "If they pick a sad one, it doesn't necessarily make them sad."
"I guess," Hermione said. "Hopefully he did a few happy ones too," she added, pulling him along. "God. I feel bad for him. Are we the only ones here?" she made sure to whisper, now fairly certain the boy who greeted her had been the artist.
"We're a bit early. Hopefully it'll pick up."
The next painting was almost too much for Hermione. It was expressionist, she guessed it was called. Modern, which she still hadn't learned to say without a sneer, no matter how much Draco argued for it.
Colors slashed across the canvas, warring with each other. Red pooled at the bottom, bloody and grotesque. Even the yellow that crept across the painting looked sickly, putrid.
"Please tell me this gets better," Hermione muttered, pulling him along. "And we are not buying one of those. I don't care how much you want to support him. Not unless you want me to use it as kindling."
She paused. "If we do move, we should move somewhere with a fireplace," she said, glancing over at the one in the corner. "I've wanted one ever since Sarah and Josh moved into their place. But. I don't want to live that far out. It's absurd how much they pay, and they still have to commute almost two hours!"
"Alright," he said, guiding her along. She stopped at the next painting. This one looked almost human, like a reflection in shattered glass. Each piece showed a fragment of a face. Or perhaps a different emotion. Pain, hate, terror, relief. She struggled to define each one, with all the noise in the painting. She started to move on, paused, looked back. She stepped closer.
"Do you like this one better?" he asked.
"No. Maybe. I don't know. It's confusing."
"Yes," he agreed.
"Huh," was all she said, before they stepped into the next room. She breathed a sigh of relief at her first impression. "So that was his dark phase, then. Thank God."
Draco chuckled. "Indeed."
She stopped in front of the first painting. Legs. Two legs, one crossed over the ankle of another, a chair leg obstructing part of the view. She smiled. "I like this much better."
"Do you?" Draco teased. "I never knew you liked to look at women's legs."
She laughed. "I'm full of surprises."
He squeezed her hand, stroked his thumb over her knuckles. "You've already given up all your secrets, Miss Granger. I know you inside and out."
She didn't bother to dispute it, but simply walked to the next painting. Hands. That was it. Two hands entwined. One pressing the other into sheets, it appeared. Red sheets. "Very sexy," she said.
"Mmmm . . . You sketched something like that, back in school. Do you remember?"
He laughed. "I've sketched lots of things like that. You're by far my favorite subject."
She rose on her tiptoes to kiss him. "If we were still in the first room, I'd suggest we slip away. But he's growing on me."
She walked over to a watercolor of a lake, in spring. Greens dominated the picture, some pinks and purples dotting the landscape. The lake had a darker hue, just a bit threatening. Nothing like the first room, though. And the blue sky and whisps of clouds curtailed the effect.
"You could buy this one, if you want," she said.
"Not the hands?"
"Somehow I think I'd feel a bit uncomfortable, when my parents came, serving them dinner with a painting like that hanging over them."
"What about in the bedroom?"
"That wouldn't be suggestive at all," she grinned at him and tugged him along.
The next painting was a girl, standing at a stove. Hermione might not have even recognized herself. Her hair was pulled back, nearly contained. She didn't spend a great deal of time looking at her own profile, so she could have missed it, but for the surroundings. Her home. At Christmas. Their first Christmas.
She turned to him. "Draco."
"What about this one?" he asked, with a slight smile. "Should we buy it?"
"Draco. This is yours? Are they all –" Her hands shot up to cover her mouth, her gaze swung to the room behind them. "Oh my God. I'm so sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry for. I think you hit the nail on the head with each. It's not insulting to tell an artist he makes you sad, or frightened, or uncomfortable, if that's what he was trying to convey."
She shook her head. "No, no. We should go back. I'll look again."
He laughed at her and pulled her toward the next one. "I'd rather not. I don't like them any better than you do."
"Draco . . ." she knew she sounded near tears. "I-"
He pulled her in, kissed her sweetly. "Have nothing to be sorry for. Come on. Or do you not want to see the rest?"
She pushed him. Then she shoved her hair, and perhaps a few tears, out of her eyes. "How could you not tell me? And you didn't even advertise it! You have so many friends who love art. This place should be full."
"They might come later," he said. "I wanted to walk you through. Just us."
She took a deep breath, trying to get control of herself. This was so him.
He stopped in front of the next painting. It made her nearly as uncomfortable as the first few had, but for very different reasons. It was her. Just her, shoulders to head, every curl, every eyelash painted in perfect detail. She exhaled slowly. She hated studies of herself. She had thought she'd broken him of the habit. But she couldn't stop looking at this one. He'd painted her with light and love the same way he'd painted the house with dark and enmity.
She glanced back toward the room they'd left, suddenly wanting to dissect the shattered image. What could she find in the pieces of glass he had painted?
He smiled, and she had no doubt he knew exactly what she wanted to do.
"Why don't we see it all the way through?" he said, leading her toward the stairs.
His dorm was there, a Christmas party, a ballgame, her little apartment from her first year. Then they went into a bedroom, empty but for the paintings on the walls. Their apartment, her hanging a picture, the window box, them – together – at the table. Three Christmases, three New Years.
She wanted to linger at each painting, but he towed her along. He paused outside the next room. "I decided to try my hand at an installation," he said, before ushering her in.
She laughed out loud. It was an office, almost a parody of the one she had at work. Her eyes widened at the additions: a cauldron, a shelf of spellbooks, a broom.
"Draco! What if they ask questions?"
"I'll tell them it's a commentary on the modern woman."
"Being a witch."
"And reappropriating the term," he add dryly.
She laughed at that. He'd befriended too many women's studies majors over the years. They would accept it without question. They would probably praise him for it, for seeing that they'd been characterized as bitches and witches, for what? Being powerful? Being studious?
"You might actually be able to pull that off."
She took a turn around the room, amazed at the effort he had put into it. The furniture looked antique. The books, though his friends needn't know, were practically straight out of her own collection. She shot him a suspicious look. She would need to make sure he hadn't scavenged any of them from her stores. Same went for the cauldron.
He just smiled and pulled her along into the next room. She paused, breath catching. An installation again, the theme more obvious. Parenthood. One corner for a newborn, complete with a crib, a mobile, a rocking chair. The next had bunk beds, little easels and paintbrushes, a toy box. The next a twin, a desk, school books, a chemistry set. She did a double take. Leaning closer, she confirmed her suspicion. He had used the chemistry set she'd given him for their second Christmas, the one he'd nearly burned down their apartment with. The box had black scorch marks in several spots.
She shot him a surprised look. He didn't usually risk sentimental items, or set them out for the public eye.
They continued on to the fourth corner, and she had to laugh. A bottle of cheap vodka peeked out from behind an old teddy bear. College brochures lay scattered across a desk, SAT results buried under them.
"This is actually kind of amazing," she said, trying not to think too hard about him, and her, and the possibility of kids. They had discussed it, of course. His uncertainty had nearly destroyed her, so sure he'd morph into his father. It was hard not to say anything, standing in a room with a crib, but she had learned not to press the issue. He needed to believe he would make a good father. Perhaps when their friends started having children, when he got to play uncle for more than just Teddy Lupin the few times he saw his aunt, he would realize what she already knew. He would be great at it.
He smiled and led her through to the next room. She looked around, baffled. It didn't have any paintings, but it didn't seem like much of an installation either. An easel sat in the middle of the room, paint brushes and paints arrayed on a table next to it, a slim glass case not far away.
He let her hand go and walked toward it. She wiped her palm on her pants, thinking it had gotten sweaty somehow. She closed her other hand, realized it was dry. Draco had been the one sweating.
She watched him open the case, remove something and turn back to her. Then he dropped to one knee, and held the ring up.
She was nodding already, hands covering her mouth, trying to see him through her tears. "Yes."
"Will you marry me?"
He laughed, relief and joy clear in the sound, and rose to take her hand. He slipped the ring on it and pulled her into an embrace. "I had a whole speech."
"I was going to talk about how I wanted to make a future with you," he nodded toward the easel. "That I didn't know what was in store, but I wanted to spend it with you."
"And the room . . ."
"And raise children with you," he said.
She cried even harder at that. "You didn't say you'd changed your mind."
"I never said I wouldn't," he said. "I was just scared. But I'm not scared anymore. I know we'll be good at it."
She stayed wrapped in his arms, breathing in the moment. Then a thought occurred to her. "What was with the office? The witch one."
"Oh. I thought you should see how it would look, if you had a home office here."
She laughed. "Needed to fill a little extra space?"
"Wanted to make sure you wouldn't make me sell it right after I finally got through escrow."
She pulled away, stared at him. "Escrow? You bought this?"
"You've been pointing out houses you liked for four years, Hermione. This one seemed perfect. I saw a for sale sign one day, wanted to at least get a bid in before it got snapped up."
"You bought it?"
"Well, yes. I can sell it, if you'd rather. I know that's the sort of decision we should make together. But I would have needed a good bit of time here, to set all this up. Renting would have been a pain. And, if you don't like it-"
"I like it."
"But if you really look it over and would rather something else, I can always call it an investment property."
"How many bedrooms is it?" she asked. "I can't remember. It's all fuzzy now, because of the happy."
He kissed her again, lifting her and spinning her around. "Because of the happy?"
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Draco Malfoy."
He seemed content to just hold her, but she was busy building a future in their house. "How many bedrooms?"
"Four upstairs," he said. "One down. There's a finished attic and a finished basement as well."
"Will you be able to have a studio?"
"The attic would work well. I'd need to put in a skylight, but it shouldn't be too much work."
"Is there a kitchen? I don't remember a kitchen."
"I didn't know how to work it into the theme," he said. "We can go look at it, if you want."
Hermione was busy counting. "Four upstairs? We've only seen three."
He actually blushed at that. "Well, I thought, just in case . . ."
She laughed and dragged him out of the room, having no trouble at all finding the fourth bedroom, the master, with its massive bed and hundreds of roses.
When she woke, she pulled on one of his shirts, smiled at the slippers he'd thought to bring, and started out of the room. She found him at his easel, a sketchbook next to him. She picked it up, flipping through while he watched her. He'd done thumbnails of the night, her reactions. The painting on the easel was her face, tears in her eyes, hands over her mouth. She knew the word she'd been saying at the time. A resounding yes.