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The View From Here

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The View From Here

He listened to her ramble happily as they made their way through the elegant lobby of the five-star hotel the Ministry had put them up in. He was used to it by now. She liked to recount the events of the evening, like she used to go over exams as soon as she’d finished them back at school. Not that he had ever been on the receiving end of one of those monologues, but he’d caught snippets of them in the corridors all the same. How ironic that the tendencies that used to cause him to sneer in disdain all those years now caused his lips turn up in a soft smile.

This was their eleventh assignment together, and the buzz around the atrium was that they were the new “power couple,” due to the joint endeavors that had breathed fresh life into both of their respective departments. He didn’t mind the moniker in the slightest, just rather wished it wasn’t solely work related, but he’d take what he could get. His realization several months prior, that he had unequivocally fallen for his co-worker, had hit him like a stunner out of nowhere. She had been casually telling him about the end of a short-lived dating relationship with a bloke from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and he found himself overcome with relief. It had taken him an entire weekend’s worth of self-evaluation and deep examination of the facts to admit that yes, he really did have feelings for her. That discovery caused a bit of a panic and no small amount of self-depreciation, since he was absolutely certain she didn’t currently, nor ever would, think of him as anything more than a cohort. But again, he would settle for whatever she was willing to give. At the moment, he was given a close-up view of Hermione Granger in all her post-endeavor-success-glory, and it was wonderful. Her eyes sparkled as she gestured animatedly, recalling the productive conversation she’d had with Mr. What’s-His-Name from the Department of Whatever-It-Was, and the newly formed alliance they (because she always included him in their wins) had achieved.

The fact of the matter was that Draco, as the second in command of the Ministry’s Potions Research and Testing Facilities, was sent along on these assignments to talk up the new techniques and advancements being made in the labs. Hermione, being the First Undersecretary in the Department of International Cooperation, was tasked with charming potential allies into joining their venture. And charm them, she did. Every event they had attended over the past two years in this manner had been similar; garden parties, multi-course dinners, evening galas, even an extravagant luau last month in Hawaii. In every atmosphere, she glided about, effortlessly conversing with anyone and everyone who wished to cross paths with the Gryffindor Princess. She hated that title, always had, but was willing to tolerate it to forge new paths for the good of the Wizarding World. Although, on this particular evening, he thought the title of Slytherin Queen would have suited better, seeing as she was dressed in a gorgeous, deep emerald, floor-length gown that fit her perfectly. He’d found it increasingly difficult not to stare after her as she’d flitted around the party like an elegant hummingbird, pausing for brief moments here and there.

They had a bit of a playbook they followed on nights like this one. They would arrive together and immediately seek out their hosts to compliment them on the stunning venue, and express gratitude for being invited. (Said invitation was typically procured by someone, in some department back home, who had some distant friend/relative, who knew some random guest, who could suggest to the host that it would be wonderful if a member of the Golden Trio could attend.) That accomplished, they would split up and mingle with the other guests, eventually honing in on the people they were specifically there to interact with. Often times, these dignitaries had no idea this wasn’t simply a random coincidence, and were halfway through a very intriguing and persuasive dialog before they knew what hit them. The goal was always the same; to get another foreign Ministry to align themselves with Britain’s to further the development of new, improved, more readily-available potions. The partnership would give Britain’s Ministry access to the accepting country’s natural resources for ingredients, and in return, the adjoining Ministry would receive updates and information on new potions as they occurred, as well as a bargain on the final product. The strengthening of international relations was an additional bonus. It would seem like a win-win all around, but it was amazing how protective most Ministries were about virtually everything, and it took much convincing to get them to even consider the opportunity laid before them.

As a result, Draco and Hermione had agreed that these social events were not the place to launch a full-on sales pitch, or to squabble over details of the arrangement. They simply were meant to introduce themselves and share some general, yet impressive information about their endeavors. Baiting the hook, so-to-speak. Once they had both had an opportunity to lay the groundwork with their intended audience, they would mingle with other guests for a bit, and shortly make their way to a previously agreed-upon spot. Typically, after meeting up, they would again seek out their hosts to say goodbye, and make an exit. On this particular evening, they had been briefly held up right as they had reached the doors by a man they had both spoken to during the course of the evening, but who had not been their priority. He admitted to overhearing Hermione’s conversation with the Minister of Croatia and wanted to offer his card as he was one of the primary potions ingredients purveyors in the country, and would be happy to speak with them further if they wished.

They had both thanked him profusely and promised to contact him soon to set up a meeting. This last-second stroke of good fortune had Hermione practically dancing down the steps and out onto the sidewalk. Draco couldn’t help but chuckle at her unbridled enthusiasm as she clutched his arm and chattered at lightning speed about what a partnership with that particular ingredient supplier could mean. He could almost hear her brain whirring and was amazed her mouth could keep up with the torrent of ideas spilling out. He nodded and hummed in agreement the entire four-block walk back to the hotel, and was glad to be the one paying attention to their surroundings, because he was sure she would have smacked into at least two lamp posts, and would also have continued to circle around in the revolving door instead of stepping into the lobby, had it not been for his gentle tug in the right direction.

Now, he found himself zooming up in the lift to their two-bedroom suite on the top floor. The very first time they had traveled together, they had been put in two separate rooms, on two different floors, which made it rather inconvenient for reviewing notes and discussing plans. Upon returning from that trip, Draco had made sure to request this particular type of accommodation for all their assignments moving forward. They typically stayed for at least two nights and attended two or three events, sometimes with entirely different guest lists, and sometimes with overlapping ones. Either way, it required discussion ahead of time, and the suite gave them a sitting room in which to accomplish that, as well as separate bedrooms and bathrooms, to allow for privacy.

While Draco’s initial reasoning for the upgrade had been completely logical and business-related, the perks of it were quickly revealed. Their shared space allowed him a glimpse under the polished, professional demeanor Hermione wore day-in and day-out at the Ministry, to the slightly quirky, much more relaxed version he only witnessed in brief social situations. Just as they had established familiar patterns and routines during assignments, there were standards to their arrival, pre-event meeting, and post-event wind-down, as well. For example, he had learned that Hermione liked to unpack – the Muggle way – immediately upon checking in. It took her a solid thirty minutes to hang her clothes in the closet, place all her toiletries in her bathroom, and complete a thorough inspection of every cabinet and drawer in her rooms, as well as in the kitchen and living area. The first time he’d witnessed this, he didn’t have a clue what she was doing, but when a seemingly-typical cupboard door opened to reveal a mini-fridge stocked with tiny bottles of liquor, he decided her investigation made perfect sense.

He, on the other hand, would simply wave his wand and have his belongings put themselves away, not wanting to waste time on such mundane tasks, choosing instead to venture out to the ever-present balcony to check out the view. Draco had done quite a bit of traveling over the years, and enjoyed taking in the landscape of a new place, even though the novelty had rather worn off. There were only so many mountain vistas and city skylines one could observe before they seemed to blend together. Eventually, he’d make his way back into the common area, where the hosting Ministry would normally have left some sort of welcome gift; a fruit basket, a tray of pastries, a box of gourmet chocolates, or even a wine and cheese platter. On one occasion, a beautiful vase of locally-grown tulips in an array of colors had been left with a very nice note, which Hermione had perused and responded to with a roll of her eyes and a sniff of disdain saying she “couldn’t eat flowers, for Merlin’s sake.” Draco had laughed outright at her annoyance and had insisted on ringing for room service so her afternoon snack cravings could be appeased. She had protested, but the blush on her cheeks and the beaming smile that followed gave her true thoughts on the matter away, and he made a mental note to do more things that would garner that reaction.

After her half-hour of settling in, the two would convene at the coffee table, notes spread out before them, to finalize their agenda for the evening. They learned early on that they actually worked very well together, a fact that Hermione was less surprised by than Draco. She admitted she’d always known he was just as smart as she was, with an equally quick wit, and a similar logical thought process to her own, so why wouldn’t they be well-matched. To say he’d been shocked by this announcement would be a gross understatement, but he did his best to hide how pleased he was to hear it. He had always known she was brilliantly intelligent, and an extremely powerful witch, but had simply never been allowed to admire those qualities during their schooling. In the early years since leaving Hogwarts, their paths had scarcely crossed. It wasn’t until he’d taken his current job roughly four years ago, that they’d started running into one another. At first, it was just at random inter-departmental meetings, or in the Ministry cafeteria, but eventually it started happening outside of work as their social circles began to overlap.

In a series of events he would never be able to fully account for, Draco had found himself becoming work acquaintances and then actual friends with Harry Potter. The Bespectacled One had joined the Auror Department just months after the Battle, and was solidly entrenched in the bullpen by the time Draco entered Ministry employment two years later. They often found themselves in the lift together, at first making stilted polite conversation, until one day when apparently the “daring, nerve, and chivalry” couldn’t be contained any longer and Harry asked to meet him for lunch. He’d agreed, more out of shock than anything else, and by the time the last chip had been eaten, they had put their past grievances firmly behind them and decided they could be grown-ups about this and move forward. He didn’t realize it at the time, but supposedly this pact now meant he should expect an invitation to anything and everything his former nemesis was connected to: birthday parties, holiday gatherings, weddings, Friday nights at the Leaky, pick-up Quidditch matches, all of it. At first, Draco balked and made excuses, but eventually Harry wore him down and, although he would never admit it to anyone, ever, he found he quite liked being included in this way. He’d even buried the hatchet with Weasley, which should probably merit some sort of award, but he would accept the glowing smile of approval he’d received from Hermione that day as reward enough.

By the time he and Hermione had been partnered for their first international liaison, he had been attending Potter-related events for well over a year, and had engaged her in multiple conversations at the Burrow, and even a few heated debates across the pub table. He enjoyed their witty banter, and viewed the spark in her eyes when she was just about to get on her soap box as a challenge. They had long left their adolescent antagonisms behind and purely bickered for the sheer enjoyment of it. The first time he had acquiesced to her knowledge on a topic they had been discussing at length, her mouth had formed a perfect “o” and her eyes had blown wide open. She’d been silent for over a minute, simply goggling at him. He jokingly pointed out that if he’d known all he had to do to render her speechless was to admit she was right about something, he would have done it years ago. That had shaken her out of her stunned haze, but he’d felt a distinct shift in their relationship at that moment when she smiled and winked at him as she got up from the table.

As the months went by, he found himself looking forward to their trips more and more. Spending time together, away from work and friends, allowed them to learn things about each other that they otherwise might not have. Case-in-point, he knew she preferred to have a solid two hours to get ready before an evening event. Typically, she would take a long soak in the tub with a book before working whatever magic she deemed necessary on her mass of curls. She’d once explained to him that taming her hair often stressed her out, so spending some time relaxing beforehand was helpful. He’d wanted to tell her she didn’t need to tame anything about herself, but couldn’t quite choke out the words while his mind was still fixed on the image she’d unwittingly presented to him of her in the bath. He also knew how she liked her tea (honey and a splash of milk), her coffee (black with three sugars), and her biscuits (shortbread with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar). He had learned that when she was deep in thought, she would chew on the end of whatever pen/pencil/quill she had on hand, and that when she was worried or nervous, she chewed on her bottom lip instead. He knew she didn’t like wearing heels, and would much prefer jeans and t-shirts, or even more so her pajamas, to evening gowns. He found her absolutely stunning whenever she emerged from her room, dressed to the nines for the event ahead of them, but what drew him to her even more was the fact that she truly didn’t know how exquisite she was. Her confidence came from within, and the elegance she carried herself with had nothing to do with her physical being, but everything to do with her enormous heart, her unparalleled intelligence, and her passion for the things that mattered to her. Draco had never been so impressed or enamored with anyone before and was at a complete loss as to what to do about it.

It was a familiar routine that they were embarking on at the moment: the one where they returned to their suite and she would immediately start removing her uncomfortable shoes and magically-placed hairpins. Just like clock-work, as soon as he closed the door behind them, he watched as she headed towards her room, stopping before she even got halfway across the living area to remove her stilettos, thus causing the hem of her gown to trail on the floor. By the time she reached her bedroom doorway, one hand was already tugging at her elaborate up-do. He chuckled to himself and went to his own room to change, before making his way to the kitchen to prepare mugs of tea for both of them to drink while they made notes regarding their evening for their supervisors. True-to-form, just as he was walking towards the couch, Hermione emerged from her room in her usual oversized sweatshirt, flannel pajama pants, and fuzzy socks. Her curls were loose and tumbling down her back, and she’d removed her makeup, and for the umpteenth time, Draco was struck by how naturally beautiful she was. He had become so accustomed to her features over the past few years, and yet each time she presented herself to him this way, his heart lodged in his throat and he had a massive urge to scoop her up into his lap and simply hold onto her. He tried to blame it on the fact that everything about her attire screamed “cuddle me” but he knew it wasn’t just that. For Salazar’s sake, if he wanted something to snuggle, he had a plush fleece blanket on the bed that would suffice. It was her. He simply wanted her; to be as close to her as humanly possible. He wanted to bury his face in her soft, vanilla-scented curls; to wrap his arms around her and never let her go.

Draco was not a touchy-feely person, nor was he prone to bouts of wistfulness or romantic notions. He was pragmatic and reserved, although hanging out with a previously-intolerable number of Gryffindors for several years had definitely softened him around the edges. He prided himself on not being ruled by his emotions, and could count on one hand the number of times in his adult life thus far when he had not thoroughly considered a course of action before taking it. To say that he found these random, yet increasingly more common, moments of impulse disconcerting was like saying blast-ended skrewts were slightly yucky. Every time it happened, he questioned his sanity and had to take several seconds to school his thoughts and his features into his trademark cool-calm-and-collected stance. Thankfully, Hermione hadn’t seemed to notice these odd intermissions, so when he sat down next to her on the couch and handed her a mug of steaming tea, she simply thanked him and immediately launched into a recap of what they did and did not need to include in their reports.

This particular trip was slightly longer than usual; four days, to be exact. They had portkeyed from their Ministry that morning to the hotel in Dubrovnik, and had already completed their first task. The next day, they were expected at an afternoon tea, hosted in the expansive gardens of a world-renowned herbologist in Makarska, followed, they hoped, by an invitation to dinner with the same wizard. Surprisingly, Sunday was without assignment, and when Draco had questioned the anomaly, it was explained that since they were to attend a gala in Bari, Italy on Monday night, it would be easier to simply apparate from their hotel, than to portkey back to Britain for one day, only to take another one the next. While this rationally made sense to him, it made him slightly apprehensive. He had never had any extended amount of downtime with Hermione before and he was more than a little nervous about it. He had popped into her office a few days ahead of when they were to depart to ask if she’d noticed the lapse in engagements. She had, of course, and said perhaps they could do a little sightseeing. Before he could ask if she had any ideas, a memo had flown into her office, summoning her to an urgent meeting and she had rushed past him, smiling apologetically and saying whatever he wanted to do would be fine. They hadn’t talked about it since, and he figured it would be polite to give her a head’s up now, before they turned in for the night.

As they started clearing their notes away, he mentioned that he thought it would be interesting to visit the nation’s capital of Zagreb on Sunday, where he had learned they could tour many of the historical buildings and ancient cathedrals. There also were walking tours to take, countless shops and places to eat, and a large public park and flower garden to visit. Hermione seemed thrilled with all of his suggestions and decided they should get an early start Sunday morning so they could fit it all in. Her enthusiasm was contagious and he found himself genuinely excited about their plans, although still slightly anxious about spending the entire day together without any work to focus on, or any friends to create a buffer. He sincerely hoped she didn’t get tired of him, or that he didn’t do anything stupid like profess his undying love for her. That would put a stopper in their work-partner-chemistry, undoubtedly. Refusing to dwell on what could potentially go wrong, he instead turned his thoughts to the assignment they still had to complete on the morrow.

Afternoon teas were a familiar occurrence for him, having grown up in Pureblood society, but it was definitely not his favorite way to pass the time. His saving grace when forced to attend one for work, unsurprisingly, was Hermione. Her experience with High Tea was much less formal than his, and it was endearingly amusing to watch her fiddle with the delicate cups and ridiculously tiny sandwiches. The first time they had suffered through a tea together, she had immediately demanded upon leaving that they go to a pub and get huge, greasy burgers and pints of ale. That had been a first for Draco. He had never before eaten something that required him to roll up his sleeves, or use multiple napkins. He had been mildly horrified when a plate containing a tower of beef, cheese, grilled onions, and bread had been plunked down in front of him, along with a caddy containing pointy-ended bottles of so-called “toppings.” He’d watched in fascination as Hermione had taken the top bun off, squirted something red and then something yellow on it, and placed it back on, using her palm to squish the entire mess down into something she could almost fit in her mouth. Her first bite elicited a muffled groan as grease dripped messily down the side of her hand, and she’d closed her eyes in obvious enjoyment. That had done it for him. If this culinary monstrosity could cause such a reaction from his work-crush, he wasn’t about to pass up the experience. And he wasn’t disappointed. He wondered briefly if Muggles put some sort of addictive substance in their food because he had never devoured a meal like that before. He couldn’t put it down; he literally held it in one hand until it was completely gone, even while using his other to eat chips, drink ale, or reach for another napkin. They had slowly dragged themselves back to their hotel that evening, weighed down by the ridiculous amount of food they’d ingested, and he had told her he would happily try any other Muggle delicacies she wanted to introduce him to. It was one of his favorite memories with her so far, and he desperately wanted to make more.

Saturday morning in Dubrovnik dawned bright and cheerful, beckoning the pair out to the balcony for their morning coffee and pastries. Hermione curled up on one of the cushioned lounge chairs with a book she’d brought along, and Draco slouched comfortably in his chair next to the table, perusing the morning paper. They had chatted amicably while they ate and had now settled into a comfortable silence, broken only by the turning of pages, and the far-off sounds of the streets below. More than once, he snuck a glance at his partner around the edge of his newsprint, admiring the way her curls danced in the gentle breeze and enjoying the facial expressions that crossed her features as she read. He noticed how dazzling the city looked with the sunlight reflecting off the rooftops, the sky a clear, cerulean blue. He felt completely at ease, as if he found himself in this exact situation all the time, and had a fleeting thought regarding how nice it would be if that actually were the case. He could get used to this; sharing quiet mornings with the wonderful witch next to him. He enjoyed their spirited discussions, too, and appreciated her honest opinions and interesting perspectives on any and every topic they’d broached so far. He was curious to see what today’s assignment would bring, seeing as very little information had been collected about their afternoon host, so they hadn’t had much preparation to do. They had enough practice in similar circumstances to waffle their way through if necessary, though it always left them both a little apprehensive to start off short-handed.

Several hours later, they approached the gates of the elaborate gardens, having been escorted there by two ethereal-looking creatures who were much bigger than fairies, but smaller than humans, and seemed to be almost translucent. Hermione had met his eyes in wonder as the silent beings gestured them towards the stone pathway that led to the heart of the expansive grounds where they found roughly fifty other guests already assembled. As they made their way over, Draco snuck another glance at her and smiled appreciatively. She had chosen a pale pink, tea-length dress with a full skirt that was patterned around the bottom with a border of darker pink, white, and lavender hued flowers. Her hair was pulled back on the sides, the curls hanging in glossy ringlets down her back, and her earrings were tiny white roses. She looked like a breath of spring and it had taken all of his self-control to keep his hands in his trouser pockets, instead of wrapping them around her waist as he’d very much wanted to. Instead, he’d settled for telling her she looked lovely and mentally cataloged her radiant smile for later recollections. Snapping back to the mission at hand, however, Draco realized after a short yet intentional gaze around the garden, that their host was nowhere to be seen. He informed Hermione, and they moved on to the second step in their plan of action, separating and mingling with the other guests and trying to gather information on their elusive herbologist.

After barely half an hour, they reconnected in front of a peaceful reflecting pool with a surface covered by gigantic water lilies. As it turned out, their host had been called away on a family emergency, and rather than cancel the tea, he had left instructions for his staff to proceed as planned and simply inform his guests how very sorry he was to have missed them. Hermione suggested they stay for the actual tea, taking the time to scout out another potential alliance, and then make an exit as soon as they were able, and Draco agreed. He chuckled wryly as they settled into their seats at a round table with six other guests and saw the look of dismay that briefly crossed his partner’s face. If possible, the tea cups were even daintier and more fragile than normal, and the cookies, cakes, and sandwiches were positively minute. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one cucumber sandwich would have easily fit inside the bowl of a tablespoon with room to spare. Polite society dictated that such foods should be eaten in multiple bites, but he wasn’t quite sure how that was supposed to happen. He felt, more than heard, Hermione heave a sign of resignation next to him as the delicate plates were passed around, and bit the inside of his cheek as the miniscule cracker with soft cheese and herbs she’d chosen fell face-down on her plate. He slid his eyes to her and saw her scowling at the offending appetizer and gently nudged her knee under the table with his own. Her eyes flew up to his and he quirked his lips in a conspiratorial smirk, which she responded to with a sardonic arch of her brows. They both turned their attention to the guests on either side of them, and undertook what remained of the task before them that afternoon.

As the gathering came to a close, they bid their tablemates farewell and headed back to the apparition point in town. They discussed the limited information they’d been able to compile, and he could tell Hermione was disappointed that they hadn’t been completely successful with their assignment. Throwing caution to the wind, he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and suggested they take advantage of their evening off to find the best restaurant near their hotel and rack up a substantial bill for the Ministry. It wasn’t their fault their host had been absent, and that as a result their hoped-for dinner plans had been abandoned, right? The glint in her deep brown eyes gave away her appreciation for the idea even before a beaming smile spread across her face. She nodded decisively and hooked her arm through his as they continued on their way. A quick stop at their hotel’s concierge provided several options that seemed to fit their desired objective for the evening, and after a brief discussion, they asked the clerk to make a reservation at one that boasted the best seafood soup and an unparalleled view from their outdoor dining terrace. As Draco changed for dinner, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that this was not just a meal between coworkers. This wasn’t burgers at the pub, or lunch in the Ministry cafeteria, or even a five-course meal at a gala they were given the job of attending. This was, dare he say it, possibly a date? Granted, he hadn’t officially asked her the way one would typically ask a girl out, but he had suggested it, and she had said yes…. He wondered if she viewed it differently as well, or if he was alone in this boat.

As per usual, he was standing by the door of their suite, waiting for her so they could head out to dinner. He looked up as he heard her door open, and his earlier queries about how she saw this evening were immediately answered. She had changed out of her floral, garden party frock into a black, form-fitting dress that was held up by thin straps, and reached to just above her knees. Her hair had been pulled to one side in a low ponytail, with several curls sprung free around her face. She’d changed her earrings to gold, dangling ones, and had even put on the strappy high heels she always complained about. He found himself simply staring at her as she approached him, unsure of his abilities to form intelligible speech at the moment. He’d thought she looked amazing in every single dress she’d ever worn when they’d gone on assignments, but she had put this one on for him and he had to believe there was a reason behind it. She stopped directly in front of him, tilted her head to the side and let her eyes wander the entire length of his person before meeting his gaze and stating that he looked “very nice,” with a coy smile tipping her lips. He finally croaked out that she looked gorgeous and turned to open the door for them, gesturing that she proceed.

The rest of the night followed in the same vein and was most definitely a date, even if that detail was left unmentioned. He held every door, pulled out her chair, offered his arm, every gentlemanly nuance he could produce was on display. They decided on the outset that they would leave work talk off the list; that for once they would simply focus on aspects of their lives that the other might not be familiar with. They sat at their table, on the edge of the patio overlooking the sea, for hours; far longer than the other patrons around them, but their waiter didn’t seem in any rush to see them leave. They shared stories of their childhood, including many humorous accounts of their Hogwarts days that they’d never known about each other. Hermione told him about her desire to one day work in legislation, particularly to effect change for magical creatures of all sorts. Draco admitted to a long-time love of certain Muggle authors and musicians; something neither his parents nor his housemates had ever been aware of. They talked about places they had traveled, and places they wanted to go, and as they finished the last of their dessert, the topic turned to previous relationships and the qualities they looked for in a significant other.

Hermione had just finished telling him about a horrid blind date that Ginny had set her up on last year, clarifying that she didn’t mind so much that the bloke was an avid Wimborne Wasps fan, but that it seemed to be the only topic he was capable of conversing on. She wanted someone who could engage in a variety of discourse, and allowing her to formulate her own opinions on such matters was of equal importance. Draco was finding it increasingly difficult to not simply list every quality about her he admired and declare that she was absolutely, positively his ideal woman. He loved that she knew her mind and wasn’t afraid to speak it; he didn’t want some shrinking violet who constantly demurred to her partner’s leading. He loved how passionate she was about the things that mattered to her, and her desire to bring more light into the world. He loved the sparkle in her eyes when she was teasing, and the way her magic crackled in the air around her when she was fed up, and how she could think quicker on her feet than every single one of the higher-ups at the Ministry. He loved her laugh, he loved her riotous curls, he loved her warm, expressive eyes….he loved her. He had never allowed himself to actually formulate that thought and it caught him off guard as he sat across from her, mesmerized by the way the candlelight danced across her features. She had stopped talking and was simply gazing at him, searching his face as if trying to solve a puzzle. There was a tiny crease in her brow, her eyes were slightly narrowed, but her lips were still upturned in a small smile.

She took another sip from her almost-empty wine glass and set it back down, her eyes never leaving his. She placed her hand more than halfway across the table, palm up, as if in invitation. He looked at it and back up at her. The crease was gone, her eyes were wider and held a question in their depths as they flickered down to her hand and back up to his face. His heart was pounding like a stampeding hippogriff and his mouth suddenly felt dryer than a desert, but this was the chance he’d been waiting for and he’d be daft to let it pass him by. Gently, he placed his hand on hers, and they shifted simultaneously so that their fingers were intertwined. He knew his brain had turned to a clichéd pile of mush when the first thought that crossed it was how perfectly they fit together. Neither spoke for several minutes, but simply sat, studying each other in a peaceful yet intimate way. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore and he leaned forward in his seat, reached his other hand across the table and with barely a whisper of a touch, ran his finger down the side of her cheek, eventually twirling it in a loose curl by her neck. He told her she was beautiful, that she amazed him, and that he wanted more than anything to have the chance to show her just how much she meant to him. He held his breath as she took in his words and felt like his heart might burst right out of his chest when her glowing smile gave him the answer he’d been longing for.

They spent the rest of that night talking and sharing secrets about long-held feelings and moments of revelation. Their whispered confessions were accompanied by soft kisses and trailing fingers as they learned more about each other than either had expected, or even dared to hope for, just hours earlier. Though both would be loath to put it in such an overused, greeting-card sentiment, it truly did seem as if the world had righted itself and the missing puzzle pieces had been found. When Sunday morning greeted them on their cloud-covered balcony, Draco wrapped his arms around the incredible witch in front of him, smiled as she hummed in contentment, and decided that the view before him was the most breathtaking he had ever seen.