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Precision and Patience

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Hermione wants everything to be perfect.

Quiet carols play from the Wizarding Wireless, floating through her flat as she strings up garland and other decorations with flourishes of her wand. The tree is positioned strategically within the kitchen, twinkling fairy lights wrapped through its evergreen branches. A sprig of mistletoe hangs innocently from colorful lights that decorate her kitchen ceiling.

That’ll be hint enough, she thinks. Everyone knows the purposes of mistletoe; surely, he’ll see it and understand her intentions.

She takes care with her outfit today. Something festive but muted so as not to scare him off. She doesn’t want to overdress, and certainly, she doesn’t want him to get the wrong idea if she’s underdressed. Hair’s bound in an elastic, a simple golden necklace hanging over the collar of her mulberry sweater—the one he’d given her for her birthday earlier that year.

All the ingredients they’ll need for the annual departmental cookie bake-off lie on her counter, untouched. She’s read recipe after recipe; She’s even pestered all her friends who love to bake into giving her advice. For some reason, she’s told Malfoy she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen. Which means she also needs to get rid of all the evidence suggesting otherwise.

Polystyrene containers are tossed in the bin. She hides the stench of take away with floating cinnamon-scented candles, and hot cocoa kept warm with a heating charm.

He’ll never have to know the lengths she’s gone to impress him. Not that she’ll ever admit to anyone that’s what she’s doing.

Hermione simply wants to make cookies with him.

Confessing her feelings will come after. If she can glean his feelings from their time together.

She’s sure there’s something there; if his lingering glances and subtle flirting is anything to go by. But then, she’s not sure if that’s just how Draco is with everyone in the office. And she doesn’t want to get her hopes up. He’s chosen to be single this long despite the number of witches who throw themselves at him regularly.

Nerves coalesce in her belly as doubt seeps in. How has she not considered that perhaps he just wants to be single? Has she misread the whole situation? Would he see her silly attempt at yuletide seduction and make her the laughing stock of the office?

As her doorbell rings through the house, Hermione’s stomach jumps into her throat. This is a terrible idea. Maybe she shouldn’t answer the door. Make him think she’s forgotten about their plans to make cookies— what a ridiculous plan , she chides herself. The bell goes off again, and she decides against pretending not to be home.

Smoothing out her jumper, running a hand over her hair, and folding her lips in to ensure optimal lipstick coverage, Hermione swings the door open with a small smile.

And then she balks.

She knows Draco’s tall, but somehow he looms in the door frame a full head higher than her. With a pristinely pressed shirt underneath an unbuttoned wool, black cloak. His lips curve at the corners as he holds out a bottle of red wine.

“I, er… wasn’t sure if this was a Muggle occasion that merits a gift for the hostess, so…” Gesturing vaguely to the bottle, his cheeks tinge pink as he holds it out for her to take. “Wine. For you. Or us, if this is also an occasion for drinking.”

“It’s a lovely gesture, Draco.” Hermione takes the wine and opens the door wider for him to enter her home. “Thank you. Please, come in. It’s… well, not much, but it’s home.”

He stands in her foyer for a moment, just looking around her small flat. While she knows it’s not as big as he’s used to, Hermione’s still proud of it. From the sparse decor to the massive, overstuffed bookshelf built into one of the walls, it’s hers. She’s taken care to add flairs of the holidays on the various surfaces, and she delights as Draco steps further into the room and inspects little figurines she’s placed on the edges of her shelves.

“My parents collected those,” she says, explaining the little scenes on display. “We’d place a new scene each year, and then we’d sit down on Christmas Eve to make up a story of the scene.”

Blushing at the juvenile love of making up stories with her parents, Hermione fights off a nervous frown and steps beside Draco. “Like this one.” She touches the porcelain polar bear sitting beside a fishing penguin. “His name is Cotton, and he’s made friends with the penguin so that they can share the fish he catches. There’s more to the story, obviously, but… I guess it’s silly.”

Draco straightens beside her, his eyes serious as he tilts his head to the side. “It’s not. I wish I’d had such fond memories of my parents around the holidays.” Clearing his throat, he turns from her to look at her small, potted Christmas tree. “Are you aware that Nargles infest these trees?”

Hermione laughs. “You’ve spent too long working beside Luna.”

“She’s certainly something.” The slight laugh curling through the rueful tone sends a jolt of something pleasant coursing through her. She’ll never tire of the way Draco laughs, always as if he’s sharing a secret with only her.

Silence lingers between them as they watch the magical scenes play out in loops.

“Well, I suppose we should get to baking, yes?” Leading him through to the kitchen, she points at the chair. “You can hang your cloak on the back of the chair here. I’ll chill the wine for later. Until then, I’ve made hot cocoa.”

“It’s a lovely tree,” he says, gesturing after hanging his coat. He takes in the decorations around the kitchen, his eyes lingering above where the mistletoe hangs.

“Thanks.” Hermione fights the heat rising to her face. “I have everything set up for the cookies over here.”

Standing a large index card against the wall in front of them, Hermione explains the steps to making cookies. The confidence in her voice is entirely fabricated; for all she knows, their cookies will end up inedible and burnt. She pulls a bowl in front of them and lists the ingredients they’ll need as Draco lines them up in the order she reads.

“This says we start by mixing all the dry ingredients,” Hermione says, grabbing a measuring cup and the large bag of flour Draco’s opened for them. “Would you like to scoop and measure, or would you like to mix?”

Draco reaches a hand to the back of his neck, massaging the skin there until it turns red under the pressure. “I didn’t want to tell you this when you offered to teach me how to bake cookies for the party,” he says hesitantly, watching her from the corner of his eye, “but I’m quite the savant with baking.”

Plucking the measuring cup from Hermione’s hand, he packs a level scoop of flour, and in a flurry of movements, all the ingredients are in the bowl. Hermione’s jaw hangs open, watching in utter fascination as he moves with confidence she certainly doesn’t have in the kitchen.

“How in the world did you learn to bake?” she demands, an accusation filled with wonder.

Shrugging, Draco’s lips turn up in a smirk. “It’s similar to potions—requires the same type of precision and patience. You’ll find I’m quite precise and patient when I need to be.”

The words, while innocent, sent a flush of blood to pool at her cheeks. “I… am not,” she confesses, feeling the heat of the admission climb her spine. “I have no idea what I’m doing with this—I’ve never made cookies before. Well, I’ve never made them when they weren’t pre-mixed.”

She feels like a right knob, knowing he may see right through her guise of teaching him to bake cookies and that he’ll rightfully guess why she’s invited him here this afternoon. But he calms her with an easy smile.

“I suppose this means you'll need the teaching today then, eh Granger?” He tosses a playful wink in her direction and reaches to the cuff of his shirt. Slowly plucking the button and taking care to fold the material until it's a thick bunch just below his elbow. He does the same with the sleeve on the opposite arm until all she can see in her haze of excitement is his strong forearms and the thin blue veins running along the insides of his arms. “Right. Hand us that whisk.”

Hermione does as she's bid and hands the silver contraption to Draco. “Don't we need to add the eggs and—”

He shakes his head, swirling the whisk around the bowl. “Mix the dry ingredients first, then slowly add the rest. Opposite to potions, where the base is liquid.”

“Right.” Hermione crowds his space, careful not to knock his elbow, and watches as he expertly cracks an egg in one hand and allows it to fall into the bowl. “Did you just... crack an egg with one hand?”

The way he watches her from the corner of his eye sends an electric shock skittering up her spine. “As I said, precision and patience. It's best to mix the ingredients as we add the wet items into the batter. More efficient to leave one hand free to do the whisking. You’d be surprised at the number of things I can get done with one hand.”

Swallowing hard, Hermione opts to say nothing at all. Surely he couldn’t be flirting. Not over eggs and cookie dough.

His long fingers wrap around another egg. Cracking it against the edge of the bowl, he splits it one-handed again, and Hermione is utterly fascinated. She continues to watch him, offering no help whatsoever as he carries on, mixing and then scooping neat little balls on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. He sets the oven, and while it’s preheating, Draco leans his hip against the counter.

He stands a head taller than her easily, tilting his chin down so he can catch her eyes. “Fancy doing some festive shapes?”

“Shapes?” she squeaks as a reply. “I don’t have any cookie cutters, unfortunately.”

Raising a single brow, that impossible smirk is back on his face as he transfigures her whisk into a set of festive shapes—stars, trees, and wreaths. “Problem solved. Let’s use the rest of the mixture and roll it flat to cut out the shapes.”

Draco flours the rolling pin and the work surface as if it’s something he does all the time. He hands her one of the cutters, and his eyes sparkle as he flattens the dough into a thin square. It’s at this point, overwhelmed by the ease with which Draco moves around her kitchen and bakes without a recipe card or an instruction manual—yes, she has one—that indignation fires inside her belly.

“Are you messing with me?” she asks, clenching her hand around the cutter.

“Excuse me?” Draco presses his tree shape into the dough. “You think, what exactly? That I asked you to show me how to make cookies and then came here completely prepared to enchant you with my baking knowledge?” He turns to face her, a smug little grin tugging at his lips. “Don’t know what you’re talking about, Granger.”

A splutter rises up within her. She’s not entirely sure what possesses her to reach her fingers into the bag of flour and curl her fingers into it. One second she’s damning her bright red cheeks, and the next, she’s wiping a long streak of white along Draco’s cheek. He has the audacity to appear shocked it would come to this, his perfectly soft-looking lips opened in an ‘o’.

“You cheeky witch!”

What comes next shouldn’t surprise her, and yet, as Draco dips his hand into the flour and covers the side of her face and hair in flour, an affronted gasp crawls its way from her lungs anyway. She stares at him for a full beat, and then it’s all-out war in her tiny kitchen with the pair of them battling to cover the other in streaks of flour.

Before Hermione knows it, she’s full-on belly laughing along with Draco as they chase one another. He’s got her cornered behind her table, faking her out by jolting left but going right. Screeching as she tries to zip by him, she’s caught around her waist by his flour-covered arm, and then the noise dies from her throat.

Pinned between Draco and the biting edge of her counter, Hermione swallows around a thick knot in her throat as she glances up at him through long lashes. Magic crackles around them. Her eyes descend to his lips, where his tongue slips out to wet them. Gaze moving slowly back to his, she finds him staring openly at her parted lips.

“We should finish the cookies,” he says in a gruff voice. Clearing his throat, he unwinds his arms from around her and takes a step back. “That is if you’re amenable to a ceasefire?”

Lifting her chin and trying her best to adopt a tone of indifference, Hermione agrees to a ceasefire. They get back to work, popping cookies in the oven and chatting while they bake. She discovers Draco is quite the chef and has even directed his house-elves to Hogwartsto work at the school once he’d mastered the kitchen in his townhouse. She explains how she’s been living off take away and tea for the better part of a year. More than all this, though, Hermione learns that she’s perfectly comfortable in his presence—even if it’s simply companionable silence.

When the cookies cool, Hermione helps Draco fill pipe bags with frosting. They’re through almost all of the cookies when she accidentally drops a glob of green on her finger. Bringing it to her mouth, Hermione licks the sugary icing from her finger and, despite herself, makes a soft noise of appreciation in the back of her throat. Her sparkling eyes meet Draco’s before his gaze falls to her lip.

“You missed a bit,” he whispers, reaching a slender finger to her bottom lip and swiping away a minuscule dot of frosting. Torturously slow, Draco brings the drop to his lips and licks it clean. Never once do his eyes leave hers.

Heat floods Hermione’s cheeks. Voice sticks in her throat. “Thank you.”

“Stop looking at me like that.” His voice is but a breath between them.

Unwittingly, her tone matches his. And though she thinks she knows exactly what he means, Hermione wants to hear him say it. Wants to know they’re on the same page. Explicitly. “Like what?”

“Like you’re waiting for me to kiss you.” Somehow he’s impossibly closer in her tiny kitchen, his feet bracketing hers. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice the mistletoe? That you’re wearing the necklace, I gifted you? Or, I wouldn’t see those bloody sexy glances you’ve been sending my way all afternoon?”

She hasn’t been as subtle as she thought, then. The feel of his body heat is stifling, pouring off him as though he’s channeling the cooker. Still, he hasn’t tipped his hand. He’s all dark looks and a gruff voice.

The patience he spoke of earlier, maybe he’s waiting on her. For a definitive answer.

Well, she hadn’t been a Gryffindor for nothing.

Reaching her hands to his chest, Hermione curls her fingers into the soft placard of his shirt and steps carefully onto her tiptoes. She can’t reach his lips on her own, so she tugs him down by the shirt.

When their lips meet, she feels him sink into the kiss. His hands circle her hips, and he’s lifting her up until her bum is perched on the counter, and he’s stepping between her legs. There, underneath the mistletoe and the colorful lights, Draco mutters “ finally ” and obliterates every hesitation Hermione’s had about whether or not there’s something more between them.

Hermione wraps her hand around his neck, pulling him closer still. With his thumb on her chin and his fingers on her jaw, Draco swipes his tongue along the seam of her lips. The feel of his velvety tongue against hers makes her thighs clench around his legs, and then they’re gone. Lost in the feel of each other. Descending into breathy noises, desperate exploration to parts of each other they’d never known before.

A timer goes off, but as Draco pulls away, she holds him steady. She’s not ready for this to be over yet, not ready to look him in the eyes and have the conversations that would follow. Placing a series of chaste kisses to her lips, he smiles as he unwraps her hand from around his neck and places it in her lap.

“We’re not done here,” he says as if knowing it’s everything she needs to hear.

Draco grasps his wand, turns off the oven, and floats the cookies somewhere Hermione can’t see. Tossing his wand onto the counter, his hands are back on her in an instant, his lips pressed into the hollow between her jaw and her throat. When he looks her in the eyes again, there’s a glow around him that hadn’t been there before. She thinks it mirrors her own.

“So…” Hermione chews on her lower lip until Draco urges it free with his thumb.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you for so long.” He runs his hands along her jean-covered thighs, and it’s as if someone lights a match in her belly. “I suspected you fancied me, too, but you’re always so bloody professional. I almost thought you really wanted to show me how to make cookies today. Until—”

“I did want to show you how to make cookies,” she demands earnestly but falters under the skepticism that meets her words.

Draco arches a single brow. “Are you done denying that you’ve invited me over to seduce me?”

Running her hands along his chest, up around the back of his neck, Hermione wraps her fingers into the roots of his hair. “It worked, didn’t it?”

His trademark smirk climbs high on his cheek. “Precision and patience, Granger.”

And they’re kissing deeply again. Without holding back. No guise of professionalism. Just Granger and Malfoy, snogging beneath the mistletoe until the sun sets and snow begins to fall.