Author's Note: This was written for the DramioneLove Valentine's Day fest on Livejournal. There were some amazing fics written so go over and check them out. Thank you to RZZMG for running the fest and to Captainraychill, for not only enriching us with her beautiful fics, but also for submitting a prompt that I was itching to write. And the biggest thanks to Poppyxxxx for betaing this for me despite being swamped at University.
The prompt for this was: To profit on Valentine's Day, romantic (and possibly enchanted) carriage rides have been arranged between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Just how did Draco and Hermione end up in a carriage together and what happens once they're there?
Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" is the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. This work of fiction/art was created entirely for fun, not for profit, and no copyright infringement is intended.
The Valentine's Auction
Hermione wasn't sure how she'd been coaxed into doing this. She peeked out through the velvet curtain one more time and gulped as she saw the mass of people already sitting and waiting for the auction to begin.
"It'll be all right, Hermione, you'll see."
"That's okay for you to say, Harry, you have someone out there ready to bet on you and your ridiculously large bank vault at her disposal to make sure she wins!"
Her best friend couldn't help the smile that dawned soppily on his face. She didn't even have the heart to grudge him his happiness – even when she was faced with whatever leery wizard (or witch), was ready to put Galleons where their mouths were. He had already sacrificed so much for the good of wizard-kind. Not that she hadn't but, sadly, she didn't have a special someone sitting out there waiting to make sure she didn't end up with a lecherous pervert as a date.
So instead of glaring at him, she pouted. "I don't know how I got roped into this."
"The same way all of us did. We allowed Professor McGonagall to sweet talk us into this whole venture."
Hermione nodded her agreement.
Hogwarts was officially broke. The repairs to the castle after the Great Battle had been extensive and had swallowed up the reserves the school usually kept. This meant that there was no money to fund the students who needed financial help to go to school there as well as the everyday running costs of the school itself. The Headmistress had been holding fundraising events since the beginning of the school year to raise much needed cash and this Valentine's Day Auction was her latest stunt. Professor McGonagall had been really pleased with the idea and had no qualms in ruthlessly roping everyone she could into the scheme. Even Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, was being auctioned. But the piece de resistance had been getting Harry to agree – which he had done on the proviso that Ron and Hermione had to be auctioned, too.
Well, that was okay for her two male friends. They'd both planted their girlfriends in the crowd with instructions to win at all costs. But Hermione was single and was worried that a couple of the sleazier wizards were going to bid on her. She'd overheard a wizard of around fifty tell his friend that he was planning to win "that pretty young filly, number 9." In her mind it should be illegal for him to even be allowed to put his hand up – she was only nineteen for goodness' sake. But then again, she was putting herself through this for a good cause. Hogwarts meant the world to her.
"Don't worry, Hermione, maybe there's a dashing young bachelor out there just waiting for his chance to 'win' you."
She rolled her eyes at Harry. "Now you're being ridiculous. Things like that only happen in trashy romance novels."
Her friend pushed her aside to peak out at the Great Hall. "Look! I was telling the truth."
"What?!" she asked, shoving him back out of the way to get a look at handsome man he'd spied.
"Goyle's turned up," he said with a mischievous wink.
She gave him a withering look. "There's nothing dashing about Goyle."
"Maybe he was cursed to be a troll and needs a kiss from a princess to return to his true form of Prince Charming."
"That was a frog, Harry. And I'm not a princess."
"You're the Gryffindor princess – or so I've heard."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "If you're not careful I'll Confundus Ginny. There are plenty of witches out there who want to go on a dark, romantic carriage ride with the great Harry Potter. Who knows what they could do to you in that situation?"
Her friend paled a little as he sized up how real her threat was. He obviously came to the conclusion she wasn't serious. "Nah, you wouldn't do that to me! I know you've been practising your hexes in case that dirty old perv from the Goblin Liaison Office 'wins' you. You wouldn't wish the same on little old me."
Before she could say something scathing back, they were both ushered away by a flustered Aurora Sinistra. The auction was due to start and they needed to go on in the same order they were featured in the brochure.
Hermione looked on jealously as Ron and Harry were both engulfed by their victorious girlfriends. She still was in the dark as to who had won the date with her, as the winning bidder had been hidden behind the large bulk of Hagrid. She hadn't even managed a glimpse when everyone had turned to see who had won. Some of the shocked faces had not reassured her. It was bound to be someone hideous.
The carriages started to roll around to the entrance and in other circumstances she would have been charmed. Instead of scary Thestrals, matching horses from pure white to glossy black pulled them, the silken reins being charmed to drive them down to Hogsmeade and back for several hours. Each carriage came with a picnic supper supplied by various sponsoring companies.
Her carriage pulled up and she looked around, confused as to where her date for the night was. She shrugged as no one appeared and got into the carriage. If they didn't want to turn up, that wasn't her problem. There would be all the more food for her.
The interior was lit with a dozen or so fairies, who fluttered prettily around the roof. There were sweet smelling posies of flowers hanging down and filling the carriage with an intoxicating smell, but Hermione wasn't taking any of that in. Instead, she was staring in horror at the person who'd made a winning bid on her.
"You!" she exclaimed in surprise.
There was a shrug of the shoulders and a small nod of acknowledgment.
"What can I say, Granger? I'm deeply and madly in love with that wiry bush you call hair."
She narrowed her eyes at his sarcastic tone. She wasn't sure that she wouldn't have preferred the pervert from Goblin Liaison to Malfoy.
"Oh please! Don't even try that."
He chuckled briefly. "You want the truth?"
"It looks good. My family aren't exactly thought highly of at the moment."
That was an understatement. The Malfoys were in the doghouse. They may have managed to keep themselves out of Azkaban thanks to Narcissa's actions in the Forbidden Forest but that didn't mean that the public was willing to forgive them.
"And you think bidding on a Muggle-born is going to change that."
"Don't be stupid, Granger. Utilise that brain that I know you possess. Of course not! But it doesn't hurt, especially when the Muggle-born in question is Harry Potter's best friend."
Hermione wasn't sure whether to be hurt or not. Despite her pessimistic view of this event, she had secretly hoped to find some romance. Being won for her P.R. qualities was not something she found flattering.
An awkward silence fell between them until she burst into giggles, which increased as Malfoy looked put out and slightly scared at her reaction.
"Sorry," she said. "This is just so weird. I never thought I'd find myself on a romantic, fairy-lit carriage ride with you of all people."
"It has its amusing points."
She bent down and rummaged through the picnic basket desperate to find a drink to try and make this whole thing more palatable. She came up trumps as nesting in a cooling vest was a bottle of pink champagne. She found two champagne flutes placed near it.
"Want some?" she asked as she offered an empty glass to Malfoy.
"Why not? Alcohol can only make the next few hours go by more quickly."
Sticking her tongue out at him, she wedged her glass in between her legs and waved her wand to open it. The sparkling wine fizzed up and she only just managed to get it in position over her glass in time to stop it spilling everywhere.
"You're so elegant, Granger," Malfoy said dryly.
"Shut up! I'd like to see you try and do this in a small, moving environment."
"That's what I have house-elves for," he replied snootily.
She rolled her eyes. Some things never seemed to change.
She glugged half her glass back before turning to look at him once more. She hadn't really seen him properly since their sixth year, but he looked better than he had then. He'd gained some more weight, but the eyes remained shadowed, almost as if he had regrets. She realised that she knew absolutely nothing about him anymore.
"So, what are you up to these days?" she asked, never one to enjoy silences.
He eyed her curiously. "Are you really interested or just looking to pass the time?"
"A little bit of both," she replied as honest as always.
"I volunteer at the War Orphans Foundation."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.
"It's just such a typical Malfoy move. You need to rebuild your reputation so what do you do? Volunteer at a charity that you know will make people view you in a better light."
"For someone who prides herself on being open-minded and compassionate, you're very quick to judge."
She took another gulp of champagne. "I think I have good reason for being sceptical where your family is concerned."
He shrugged, almost as if acknowledging that she had a point. "It's part of my sentence. I have to give something back to the community, otherwise I find myself going to Azkaban for three years."
"Oh!" she said.
"Yes, exactly. Oh!" he said, scathingly. He turned to face her now and she was surprised to see emotion on his face. In fact, he looked impassioned.
"That's the problem with you and your little merry band of Gryffindors. Everything is always black and white in your world."
She could feel a stir of anger develop in her gut. "That's rich coming from you. You're so narrow-minded that you automatically thought that I should be killed, or enslaved, or who-knows-what, just for existing. For you, the world is divided into unworthies such as Mudbloods, Blood Traitors, half-bloods and the deserving, the pure-bloods. Which is the biggest pile of rubbish I've ever heard considering I had no control over magic. It chose me – not the other way around."
All she could hear in the quiet aftermath of her rant was her panting breaths. She stared at him and he didn't look away. They held each other's eyes almost as if they were truly seeing each other for the first time. There were no friends, no professors, no family or colleagues to step in the way to distract their thoughts from each other and the tension began to rise in the carriage.
It was broken by one quiet word.
"What?" she asked.
And he broke eye contact with her and turned to gaze out of the window into the dark night. "That was my view. But I think I'm allowed to grow up considering the last couple of years."
"Have you really? Practically the first thing you told me tonight was that you bid on me because it'd make you look good."
"I didn't say I'd completely changed."
"I say you haven't changed at all."
She found this whole conversation confusing and the fact that she couldn't get a good read on Malfoy was adding to her bewilderment. His actions didn't really suggest any big chance in his views. Oh sure, he might not be loudly proclaiming that he couldn't breathe the same air as a dirty Mudblood, but he appeared to still be an opportunist. However, his words suggested that his opinions had changed somewhat and she wished she could give him the benefit of the doubt – but it was Malfoy.
"Then there's not a lot I can say to convince you otherwise."
His sudden move towards her had her cringing back into the corner, but instead of the physical assault she expected, he bent down at her feet and picked up the champagne bottle, pouring more into both their glasses. He leant back into the corner of the carriage and observed her closely. She wanted to squirm under the scrutiny but refused to give him that pleasure.
"How about we start again?"
His offer took her by surprise. "Start again?"
"Yes, instead of rehashing old grievances and acting in the way expected by both of us, why don't we pretend to have never met before? Maybe I bid on you out of pure whim or because you were the best-looking girl in the catalogue. Something along those lines."
She thought it over for a brief moment. It would be weird but the suggestion was tempting. She didn't really want to spend all night fighting and bickering over the past.
"Okay," she said.
He smirked at her and held out his hand. "Draco Malfoy. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss-"
"Hermione Granger," she said. "But you already know that from the auction."
His smirk morphed into a smile. "I can't put one past you."
"I have been known to be rather intelligent."
They looked at each other and laughed.
"This is weird. I mean, this whole thing is like some alternate universe."
"Uh, uh, uh!" he scolded. "Remember, we don't know each other."
She rolled her eyes but continued to play along. "Of course. So… er… Draco, what do you do?"
"I volunteer at a charity for the war orphans. I guess it's what the Muggles would call a Gap Year."
Hermione choked on her sip of wine. "What would you know about Gap Years?"
A flicker of annoyance flashed across his face and she fully expected a nasty retort to come flying out of his mouth, but he seemed to realise that she was asking out of genuine curiosity and not trying to make a dig at him.
"I take a Ministry run course called The Pureblood Redemption Programme. It's basically designed to teach us all about Muggle lifestyles."
She leant forward slightly, her interest piqued. "Would you mind telling me about it? I remember Kingsley running bits of its design past me. He wanted me to get involved but I wanted to concentrate on taking my N.E.W.T.s. And, to be honest, trying to change the mind of bigoted purebloods didn't really appeal to me. I'm tired of fighting."
"It's fine, I guess. There are things about it that are good but most of it is just prosy and boring. You know, the usual: Muggles are just like us, blah, blah, blah."
"But they are," she said with a frown.
"Not really. There are a huge amount of differences. I thought you of all people would be aware of that."
"Well, yes, but that's because we've been separated from them for so long that we deal with things differently.
"But the way they deal with things is opposite to us. From how they treat the sick to working environments."
"That's the major things where magic gives us an advantage or where they've developed advanced technology to help them in things that we can use a wand for. But in aspects of life, we're pretty much the same. Sure, there are some cultural differences due to the fact that we use magic and the fact that the magical community has been cut off from Muggles since the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was signed, but we speak the same languages as the Muggles whom we share a country with, we have similar education systems, we share holidays like Christmas, and we tend to fall in love and marry in the same ways. I could go on."
He smiled at her. "You know, Shacklebolt was right. You should've got involved in this programme."
"Is that a compliment?"
"I guess it is. But you explain things in a way that the people running the course don't really get. A lot of them are Muggle-borns too, but none of them have ever challenged me they way you just did. They just tend to nod along and agree that there are huge separations."
Hermione groaned at that. "That's so frustrating. The whole point of the programme is to break down barriers not re-enforce them."
"No, I don't think I'm doing them a justice. They certainly don't teach us that everything we've been taught regarding Muggles was right, but I don't think they have the same talent as you in highlighting the similarities."
She blushed a little, taken aback by his kind words. "Did it work in changing your mind?"
"Maybe. It's given me something to think about."
"Good," she replied. "Thinking for yourself is all I ask. So, tell me something you like about the course."
"I like the entertainment side of it."
"Really?" she asked, surprised. She thought Malfoy would be all snobby about it.
"Yes, really. They have come up with some really good programmes. At first we were all sceptical about having television shows that we have to watch every week. To be honest, I thought they'd be absolutely rubbish but I really enjoy the series they gave me and I also watch some of the others, including with my parents."
Hermione's eyebrows rose. She was struggling to imagine the Malfoy family settling down for an evening in front of the T.V.
"Let me get this straight, you've all been given programmes that you have to watch?"
"Yep, and we have to give presentations on them to show that we actually are doing our homework."
"What programme was assigned to you?"
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
She gave an amused laugh. "They make you watch Buffy?"
"Granger-" he started to say.
"Tut, tut, Draco. I thought we were new acquaintances."
It was his turn to roll his eyes. "Sorry, Hermione. It's not that strange a programme to give me. Besides, it sounds like you watch Buffy, too?"
"I suppose not but I can't imagine you sitting down and enjoying it."
She thought about and the answer she came up with wasn't that flattering to him but she wasn't going to shy away just because she might hurt his feelings. "I don't know. I didn't think you had much of a sense of humour or would appreciate that about it."
"See, that's where you only know one side me. I enjoy a good laugh as much as anyone. How come you watch it?"
"One of the first things I did when the war was over was get in contact with some Muggle friends. Obviously, they all watch telly, and, so not to look even stranger than I already did, I went to my local video shop and rented as many of the popular T.V. shows as possible. Buffy is one of mine – and my friends – favourites."
"I wasn't hugely impressed at first. Theo got the X-Files to watch and that sounded much better than a girlie show, but it's humour – and the introduction of Spike – has won me over."
"Spike?" she said questioningly, wrinkling her nose. "I much prefer Angel."
Although thinking about it, she could see why Malfoy liked Spike so much. They had certain characteristics in common including a biting wit and generally prattish persona.
"Of course you do. Pansy is the same. She goes on about his perfect brooding presence. He's boring if you ask me. Too much angst."
"Is the whole of Slytherin House signed up to this?"
Malfoy looked at her scathingly. "What do you think?"
She bit her lip. "Okay, so it was a stupid question. So, do you watch the others programmes as well?"
"Not Pansy's. She's got some stupid soap opera, EastEnders or something. It's rubbish but she's hooked. I like the X-Files and my father's programme."
"E.R. It's amusing to see how Muggles treat the injured. No wonder so many of them die in accidents. It's practically barbaric."
"I'm not sure that's what you're meant to be getting out of it."
Malfoy rolled his eyes once more. "I know, I know. Father already had to give a presentation about the solutions Muggles have come up with treat disease, accidents and illness without magical properties."
She couldn't suppress the smile that broke out.
"What?" he asked her.
"It's just the course seems to be pretty well run. I like that they've put thought into what programmes would suit each of you and what you could gain out of it."
"Not sure they gave too much thought to Pansy's programme. They just decided she's a girl, she likes gossip and drama, so gave her a soap opera."
She shrugged. She'd never been into melodrama of soaps and wasn't about to defend their existence or purpose. However, she was fascinated with his reasoning the allocation of programmes. "Why do you think they gave you Buffy?"
He gave her a knowing look. "It's all about destiny and being unable to escape a burden that has been placed on you by accident of birth or fate or whatnot. It's obvious that they're trying to get me to look at Potter in a more sympathetic light."
She'd never really thought of Harry and Buffy as similar situations but it was interesting that he'd drawn such parallels. "Has it worked?"
He smirked and filled her glass up again. "If he looked as good as Buffy then it might. But he's a scrawny, speccy git, so not really."
She laughed and hit him lightly on the arm. "You're incorrigible! So if Harry was, say, Harriet, you might be more inclined to like him."
"I wouldn't go that far, Gran… Hermione. He'd still be Potter."
"Harry really isn't a bad person. You'd like him if you gave him a chance."
Malfoy's right eyebrow rose but he settled on changing the subject. "So, Hermione, what do you do?"
"I work at the Ministry-"
"Predictable," he said, interrupting.
She pursed her lips. "If you'd let me finish. I work at the Department for the Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures."
"As I said, predictable."
"What's predictable about that?" she said huffily.
"You had that house-elf society thing in our fourth year, right?"
"You were always bleating on about how mistreated they were, so it's obvious that you were going to waste all your potential to be something so much more exciting by going to work in that deadbeat department."
Hermione frowned. She certainly didn't consider her aspirations as a waste of anything. She was doing precisely what she wanted and she was going to make a difference in how less fortunate creatures were treated by the magical community. For him to label her career move 'deadbeat' was annoying and so Malfoy-ish it was infuriating.
"There's nothing wrong with the path I've chosen. I'll be doing something worthwhile and improving the lot of those who need help."
"But you're basically pushing paperwork. You could have forged a career as an Unspeakable or a Healer where you could spend your time pioneering treatment or discovering new magic."
"But this way I get to legislate for better welfare for magical creatures. I'll change lives even if it's just working behind a desk."
He shook his head sadly. "Such a shame, Hermione."
"You only say that because I'm going to free your house-elves," she said teasingly.
"Good luck changing centuries of tradition."
"Oh, I'll change it. Don't doubt me."
He smiled, almost admiringly. "Maybe I shouldn't. If Hogwarts taught me one thing, it's that you and your two moronic friends manage to get away with the impossible."
"No, it's not the impossible, it's called refusing to settle for the status quo."
He picked the bottle back up and refilled her glass.
"Haven't we finished all the champagne by now?" she asked.
Malfoy held it up and to her surprise it was almost full.
"It's one of those self-filling bottles," he explained. "You pay for a certain amount but instead of having to go and get new bottles, the liquid refills the original bottle."
"How come I've never seen one of those before?"
"They're expensive. Your exposure to the wizarding world has been Hogwarts and the Weasleys. Well, Hogwarts is a school so there is no need for alcoholic bottles like this, and the Weasleys wouldn't be able to afford it."
"And how did you know what it was then?"
He smirked. "Not only am I wealthy, but it was my contribution to the picnic baskets."
She couldn't keep the surprise off her face, although she really wanted to, knowing that Malfoy had said that to shock her.
"Professor McGonagall asked you to contribute to the event?"
He scoffed. "My family might be persona non grata at the moment but we still have money. Of course McGonagall asked me to contribute. She personally invited me to the event, knowing that I'd bid on one person being auctioned. Doubt she thought it would be you, though."
"It was a bit of a surprise."
"Didn't you have someone planted in the audience like Potter and Weasley?"
She wished she could reply with a yes and not sound like a sad, lonely young woman who had been left behind by her two best friends, but then he'd ask awkward questions about why the plant hadn't made the winning bid and the fact that the only person bidding against him right at the end had been that creepy Herbert Meldrew from the Goblin Liaison Office, and she'd rather he'd think she had no one than someone old enough to be her grandfather.
"No," she said baldly.
She took a large sip of champagne and looked up at Malfoy. She studied him for a few moments, giving herself time to really take him in. He was much more attractive than she remembered. Her memory of him was all sharp angles and pointy features that seemed to match his not-so-pleasant personality. But now as she gazed at him, he seemed to have grown into his features, leaving the gawky, gangly teenage boy behind. His face was still angular but it was a lot more masculine. His jawline was chiselled and, whilst his nose was still pointy, it was beautifully straight and gave his face classic definition.
"I just haven't," she said, a little defensively.
"I thought you and Weasley would end up together."
"That ship sailed a long time ago."
And it had. Despite sharing one kiss in the heat of battle, they'd waited too long to try and move their friendship into something deeper. They clung to each other in grief in the traumatic few weeks following Voldemort's fall, but once friends and family were buried and they had a moment to take stock, they realised that they preferred friendship over anything else. Ron had started working with George and Hermione had attended Hogwarts for a 6 week intensive N.E.W.T. course. By the time she'd taken her exams, Ron was already together with Padma Patil.
"I find it hard to believe that there's been no one since."
She shrugged. "There hasn't."
He scoffed and the look he gave her sent shivers up her spine. She'd never seen his eyes look anything other than cold and indifferent but now there was a warmth in their depths. It sent her blood cascading through her body and her heart started pounding heavily.
"Are all your colleagues blind?"
She blushed a little. She wasn't used to receiving this kind of attention. Well, not since Cormac McLaggen, but that been creepy and disgusting. This was tingly and exciting and she could get used to it. It felt as if she was special in some way.
"Oh, well. Their loss is another's gain," he said.
There's one thing Hermione wasn't and that was stupid. He was flirting with her, implying that it could be his gain. She wasn't too sure about how she felt about this but before she could analyse the situation, she found herself responding.
She put her hand on his right arm and brought her eyelashes into play, aiming to look a little coquettish. "Maybe I haven't met the right man yet?"
His eyebrow rose at her words and a small smile played on his lips. Oh God, was she actually flirting back? She quickly pulled her hand back as if stung and peered distrustfully into her almost empty champagne flute. How much of this stuff had she drunk? That had to account for her reckless, out-of-character behaviour. It's not like she had eaten anything either.
She unceremoniously handed Malfoy her glass. "Here, take this. I'm going to look to see what food we have. I haven't eaten since lunchtime and it's not good to drink on an empty stomach. We'll have the most horrendous hangovers tomorrow," she garbed nervously, confused by her prior behaviour.
He took the glass from her and sat silently, that small smile still present and watched as she rummaged through the basket.
"Ah, perfect, here's a baguette. That'll soak up the alcohol. Ooh, there's a selection of French cheese. That'll be yummy."
She unearthed a couple of plates and some knives and started to organise a selection of delicacies on each plate. She handed one to him with a fake smile and proceeded to take a large bite of bread spread with Roquefort.
"Mm… that's just what I needed," she said as she finished her mouthful.
The silence from the man next to her continued. She looked at him and saw that he hadn't touched any of his food and was just gazing at her.
"What?" Hermione asked.
"It's not the end of the world if you flirt with me."
The blood rushed into her cheeks. "I was not flirting with you."
"Sure, of course you weren't," he said with patent disbelief.
"I wasn't," she argued.
"It wouldn't be a disaster if you were."
"Yes it would. You're you. It's ridiculous to think that either of us would be attracted to each other. Besides, it was just the alcohol talking."
"I thought you hadn't been flirting with me. And why would the attraction be strange?"
"I wasn't, but if you misconstrued that I was, then it was the alcohol. And come on?! Me and you? That's insane."
"But I'm not drunk. And you're a pretty witch, why would it be crazy if I thought you were attractive?"
She sent him a confused look. This was getting a little out of control. Alcohol infused flirting was all well and good but anything further was just too much. She decided to ignore his question.
"I didn't say you were but I'm a little tipsy. Too much champagne and not enough food and I say stupid things when I'm tipsy."
"So you were flirting with me."
He didn't ask this as a question but stated it as if it were fact. She could feel the blood spreading from cheeks to engulf her whole face and spread down her neck. He'd twisted her words until she'd pretty much admitted what she hadn't wanted to: that for a brief, insane moment, she had been flirting with him.
"So what if I was? It doesn't mean anything and was just the alcohol talking," she muttered unhappily.
Hermione stared down at the plate sitting on her lap but quickly looked up in shock as she felt one long finger brush down her hot cheek. Malfoy was looking thoughtfully at her and she couldn't tear her gaze away from him.
"Is it such a bad thing to admit flirting with me?"
She shrugged a little petulantly. "I don't know. You're Malfoy. We're meant to fight and hate each other."
"Hasn't this evening taught you that if we leave our pasts behind us and just concentrate on each other that we actually get on pretty well?"
She thought back to their conversation. Despite her misgivings on first seeing who was in the carriage, she'd enjoyed herself. She found his views interesting and was fascinated with how he analysed things. She never thought she'd hear the day when she heard Malfoy express admiration for anything Muggle or when he could sit for a couple of hours next to her without throwing horrible insults around.
"I guess," she said. "But it feels strange."
He laughed. "Yes, it does, but no more weird than the past couple of years. In fact, I'd rather experience this strange than the previous one."
"Oh, I agree. This is at least a nice strange."
And there she went again, opening her mouth before thinking and admitting feelings that she wasn't too sure she was comfortable with.
She jumped a little as Malfoy tucked an errant curl behind her ear.
"It's softer than I would've thought," he said reflectively, playing with it.
She rolled her eyes. "What? As opposed to the wiry bush you claimed to find so attractive earlier on?"
He smirked a little. "Yeah, sorry about that. Old habits die hard."
"And when in doubt, you can always fall back on the hair jibes."
He looked at her contemplatively, as if he was sussing something out. "Can I tell you something?"
Hermione pursed her lips. This felt like they'd reached a cross roads. If she said yes, then something between them would change forever. "Why not?"
"I don't want to scare you."
"Malfoy, I'm a big girl who has been through a war. I doubt anything you have to say will scare me."
"Oh, I don't know. This might send you running for the hills."
"Just spit it out."
"I lied when I said I bid on you to improve the Malfoy reputation."
"Why would you lie about that?" she asked confused. It wasn't as if the untruth had endeared him to her.
He raised a hand, stopping the next question she was about to ask. "Please, just let me finish."
She nodded and kept quiet.
"You know earlier when I said I mockingly said I'd bid on you because you were the best looking girl in the catalogue?"
She nodded once more, not wanting to disrupt him with words in case it put him off whatever he was going to say.
"Well, it wasn't too far from the truth. I didn't actually plan to bid on anyone. I was going to give McGonagall a large donation but that was it. But then, as I was waiting for the auction to begin, I saw you peeking out of the curtain and I was taken aback by how pretty you looked. I never really thought of you that way but it was undeniable. Then you came out on stage and looked so anxious and it was fairly adorable. I fully expected you to have someone planted to win you as Potter and Weasley did, but as the bidding started to get serious, and your friends dropped out, I realised that you didn't, so I decided, on a pure whim, to start bidding. It would have been a travesty had you had to go on a date with that dirty old man from the Ministry. And I felt rewarded when you looked so relieved when he didn't win. But your face when you got in the carriage and saw me, made me realise that you didn't really view me as a better prospect, so I made up the lie about bidding on you to improve the Malfoy fortunes. You were so hostile towards me that I found myself falling into insulting you once more."
Hermione remained staring at him in shock at his confession. She hadn't expected anything like this, and her heart skidded at the implication of it all. Malfoy found her attractive and had bid on an impulse to make her happy.
"But then you came up with the suggestion to pretend we didn't know each other," she said stupidly.
He chuckled. "I must admit I was quite proud to have that idea and it seemed as if it was going to be the only way we were going to be able to talk normally. And I was interested in what you were doing. I also wanted you to see that I wasn't the same Draco that you'd gone to school with."
"Well, you managed to show me that you had changed. I like what I saw tonight, and whilst the champagne did give me some Dutch courage, I would've wanted to flirt with you anyway," she confessed.
She might as well throw that out. There was nothing to lose anyway. They had gone from light-hearted flirting to admitting to a mutual attraction. She wanted to see where this was going.
"So, can I do what I've wanted to do since you batted your eyelashes at me?"
"And that is?"
She gulped. Perhaps this was going a little too fast. Just over two hours ago, if anyone had asked her about Malfoy, she would've scoffed and called him a spoiled little brat with a blood superiority problem, lucky to stay out of Azkaban. But now he was asking to kiss her and, despite it all, she wanted him to.
She nodded a little hesitantly before dropping her eyes down shyly.
"Don't look away," he said. "I won't if you're unsure."
She raised her gaze once more and saw that he was as anxious as she was feeling. "No, I want you to. But I don't know, isn't this a little too fast?"
"Possibly," he said with a shrug. "But if the war taught me one thing, it's that we should seize moments like this. I'm not going to waste the rest of my life worrying about what I should do or what is due to the Malfoy name. That kind of thinking made me follow a psychopath and nearly got me killed. I'd rather do what I want to do and right now, I want to kiss you."
"When you put it that way, you make it seem as if I'll regret not taking you up on this offer."
Some of the old swagger infused his face, but it wasn't malicious or irritating. "What can I say, Granger? Kissing me is an opportunity you'd be an idiot to pass up."
She laughed. "I thought I was Hermione now?"
Malfoy cupped her cheek with his hand, his thumb ghosting across her cheekbone. "Hermione, I'm going to kiss you now. I suggest you pull away if you don't want this to happen."
She contemplated it for a moment, but the uncertainty mixed with desire in his eyes made her mind up. She was going to live for the moment and damn the consequences. So what if he got out of this carriage and turned back into the jumped up prat she detested? At least she wouldn't be constantly thinking about the what-ifs.
Hermione nodded at him and he closed the gap, softly touching his lips to hers, giving her the opportunity to pull back if she had second thoughts. Her hands moved up to encircle his neck and she pulled him down so his lips settled against hers more firmly.
Twenty minutes later, the carriage slowed down and Malfoy lifted his head. She pouted a little at the loss of contact.
"I think our date is over," he said.
She looked out over his shoulder and saw the lights of the castle coming closer into view. "So, it is," she said and sighed wistfully.
She climbed off his lap and patted her clothes back so they were neat once more. She looked over at him and giggled when she saw the state of his hair.
"I seem to have destroyed your hair," she said, tugging a short lock playfully.
"It was worth it."
"I'm not sure you'll say that when you see it."
He leaned down and whispered in her ear. "You could have pulled all my hair out and it would've been worth it."
The carriage rumbled to a halt, and she paused with her hand on the door handle.
"Where does this leave us now?" she asked.
"It's up to you but I'd like to see you again – preferably in a setting where you don't have to give me your time because I won you in an auction. Perhaps for dinner next weekend?"
She leaned back in to give him a quick kiss. "I'd like that."
She jumped out of the carriage, a spring firmly in her step, and saw her friends waiting for her by the steps into the castle.
"I don't need to ask if you had a good date," Ron said, his eyebrows raised at her dishevelled hair and swollen lips.
"I take it your mystery date wasn't Herbert the Pervert," Ginny said smiling at the cat-who-got-the-cream smile on Hermione's face.
"Unless Mr Smelldrew has more appeal than we credit him for," Padma said with a cheeky grin.
Hermione suppressed her desire to gag. Kissing Herbert Meldrew did not figure in any of her plans in the future – unlike a certain blond.
"No, I had a date with someone infinitely more appealing than him."
Her friends craned their heads around her to see who was getting out of the carriage, and she giggled at their shocked expressions when they saw it was Malfoy.
"Malfoy! You snogged Malfoy!" Ron shouted.
Lingering groups of people turned towards them at his loud voice.
"Ronald! Could you have said that any louder? I don't think they heard you in Hogsmeade," she snapped.
"Sorry," he said. "But Malfoy?!"
"I know," she said with a disbelieving giggle. "But it was worth it."
Ginny's eyes lit up. "I want all the details. Is he a good kisser? How did you even get into that position? Come on, Hermione, spill!"
She looked once more over at her shoulder, giving Malfoy a little wave before Ginny and Padma grabbed both her arms and dragged her into the castle.
Harry and Ron looked at each other, before shrugging their shoulders and following. They weren't too adverse to getting all the details either and working out just how this happened.
At the top of the steps, Harry turned to face his childhood nemesis once more and saw the blond, his hands in his pockets, staring a little wistfully after the bushy-haired brunette, who'd already disappeared from sight. He blinked a little at the other man's expression. It was practically pining and so unlike the former Slytherin's usual facial expressions. It was a strange turn of events, but if Malfoy was what Hermione wanted then he wasn't going to stand in her way. They'd won the war so prejudices would be broken down.