It had started with one of their semi-regular disagreements. She'd wanted to attend the Christmas party at Grimmauld Place as a couple; he'd insisted that he wasn't ready to go public with their relationship. It was a discussion they'd had over and over in the months they'd been dating.
But this time, the argument had twisted inside her. In the end, they'd shouted at each other, going from disagreement to fight in the space of an inhale, and she'd stormed out.
Now she'd been in this short-term rental for nearly a week, only emerging long enough to pick up food or necessities. When she returned that day from a shop, she'd found a voucher slipped under her door.
Hermione stood in the cramped galley kitchen, eating a pork and apple sausage roll straight out of the package, and examined the voucher. One free drink from a cafe in Memory Mews. Good for one day only, the nineteenth of December.
That day. She considered dumping the voucher in the rubbish, but it wasn't as though she had much else to do. She'd never heard of Memory Mews but even if the coffee was terrible, it was someplace other than Sainsbury's, where the man at the deli counter was starting to smile just a bit too wide every time she went in.
She stuffed the voucher into her pocket, slung on a coat and stuffed a hat over her hair, grabbed her keys, and headed out.
Memory Mews was two stops away on the tube, down a narrow passage between two chain shops. In the cafe, Hermione stood back from the counter, head tipped up to read the chalkboard menu. The cafe was quiet, almost empty, but the steam nozzle of the espresso machine hissed as the lone barista frothed milk.
She'd just decided on a caramel latte when she heard her name called. She glanced around on the off-chance there might possibly be another Hermione in the cafe, then stepped up cautiously. "Here?" she said to the barista.
He dusted his hands on his brown apron. "Your voucher, please."
She eyed him warily before putting the voucher on the counter.
He smiled broadly and pushed a tall paper cup to her, the lid on the counter next to it. Hermione stared at the design poured into the foam: a lion's face, powdered cocoa forming the mane. She held her breath as a memory struck her.
They'd gone to a cafe in Venice, tucked into a narrow alley off the Grand Canal, stone steps leading from the water straight to the entrance, where a lion's head was carved over the door. The tiny woman serving their coffee greeted them both like long-lost grandchildren, bustling from counter to table with a plate of empty cannoli shells and a pastry bag to fill the cannoli on the spot.
At their hotel, they'd lounged on the balcony overlooking the Grand Canal and watched the sun set, then made love in the moonlight streaming into their suite.
Hermione took a deep breath, shaking the memory away, and sipped the latte. It was caramel, with a hint of brown sugar, exactly how she liked it.
She popped the lid onto the cup and looked up to ask the barista how he'd known, but he was gone. On the counter, sitting atop a note that read 'for you', was a small silver charm shaped like a notebook, detailed down to the pen strap on the side and the elasticated band holding it closed.
She should head back to her flat, she thought, but the charm reminded her that she'd noted a stationery shop next to the cafe when she walked in. It couldn't hurt to take a peek inside.
Hermione tucked the small charm into her coat pocket, finished her latte, and headed next door.
The door of the shop was nearly hidden behind ivy. Hermione stared at the shop window and the display of planners, marbled paper desk sets, and elegant fountain pens. She pushed the door open, a cheery bell announcing her presence. The smell of paper and ink filled her nose and she couldn't stop herself from touching the stacks of leather notebooks she passed.
At the counter, an elderly woman with half-moon glasses smiled, then set a flat box in front of her. "Miss Granger. Blue is your favorite, correct?"
Hermione nodded slowly, not understanding the point of the question and too confused to even wonder how the woman knew her name.
The clerk wriggled the lid up with a pleased hum. "Our classic B6 traveler's notebook, leather cover in Egyptian blue. Includes dot grid, lined, and blank inserts, a twenty-four month calendar, and a task tracker. Plus a special addition of a 'to be read' insert, custom-printed. And of course, the embossed monogram."
Hermione looked down, chewing on her lip. The traveler's notebook was exactly what she would have purchased for herself, if she'd thought to spend the money.
She'd seen one much like this in Tokyo, when Draco took her to Shibuya. They'd held hands and scrambled across Shibuya Crossing in the blaring neon light, laughing as they dodged tourists with cameras and a pack of ganguro girls. Draco had indulged her as she spent over an hour in one stationery shop, looking at washi tape and fine-tipped markers, at stamps and ink and notebooks in every size. She'd finally walked out of the shop with just one roll of sleeping cats washi tape, but she'd thought about the traveler's notebooks for days later.
The shop clerk put the box lid down and tied a grosgrain ribbon around it, then slipped the box into a tall blue bag. "Happy Christmas, Miss Granger."
"Oh! No. No, thank you," Hermione said. "It's beautiful, but I can't take this. It's far too expensive."
"It's a gift," the clerk replied. "Paid in full." She handed over another silver charm, a box with an enameled scarlet red ribbon. "Next door," she said to Hermione's inquiring look. "You should go. You'll love it."
"Trust me," the clerk said. "You'll understand once you're in."
Next door was a small confectionary boutique. Hermione stood in front of a glass case full of row after row of chocolates: truffles, bars, squares, bonbons, and more. A tall man in a blue Oxford and a white apron walked out of the back room and smiled at her. "Hermione? Welcome."
She nodded in greeting, never taking her eyes off the case. The free coffee had been one thing, the free traveler's notebook something entirely different. She was beginning to suspect that every shop in Memory Mews had something for her, and if that was true, she knew who was behind it. She suspected she should be rather irritated about being sucked into his plan while they were still technically fighting, but—
The chocolates looked so delicious.
She looked at the chocolatier. "Please tell me I get to pick and mix," she said.
The man laughed. "Indeed," he said. He plucked a rectangular box off a stack behind him, put a liner on the bottom, and added a set of dividers. "Twelve pieces, anything from the case."
"Raspberry heart," she said, almost before he'd finished talking. "The mint square, two of the caramel darks, one each of the champagnes, the cocoa-dusted bonbon, the spiced ganache, and, hmm. What am I up to?"
Hermione leaned closer to the case, looking from tray to tray. "I can't choose," she said.
"If I may suggest?" At her nod, the chocolatier indicated three trays at the bottom of the case. "Tiramisu, candied orange, and key lime."
"Done," she said.
The man put the chocolate box into a bag and set it on the counter next to a silver charm and a single chocolate in a small paper cup. Hermione took the chocolate and popped it into her mouth, stifling a pleased groan as the taste of caramel spread over her tongue and brought another memory forward.
In Brussels, they'd admired the Gildehuizen in the plaza and strolled through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, stopping to taste the chocolates in every shop in the elegant arcade. Hermione had barely had room for dinner at the Taverne du Passage. They sat at a table outside the restaurant, watching the shoppers pass by, and Draco had sat with his arm over her shoulders, whispering filthy desires into her ear in low and fluid French.
They'd been surrounded by people, and the only one she noticed was him.
She slipped the chocolate box into the blue bag over her arm, thanked the clerk, and examined the new charm. It was a small, cut-glass bottle, and the shop next door was a perfumery.
Inside, the shop smelled of spice and sweet. In the center of the narrow room, a round table carried dozen of identical glass bottles, each with a paper label. Bergamot, juniper, vetiver. Lavender, rosewood, tonka.
She picked up one bottle labelled "Immortelle - Helichrysum italicum", carefully worked the narrow stopper out, and took a sniff. She caught hints of honey and rose, a whiff of chamomile, and something that reminded her of fresh straw.
A tall woman in a crisp black jumpsuit came out of the back room. "Welcome," the woman said in a Spanish-tinged accent. "We have for you one bottle of fragrance. You may create your own blend or select the one prepared for you."
Hermione sniffed a couple of more bottles before holding a bowl of coffee beans to her face, clearing the scents from her nose. "I don't know anything about perfume," she admitted. "Just that I like some smells and I don't like others."
The woman smiled. She brought a bottle out from behind the counter and spritzed a long piece of cardstock. Waving the card in the air, she inhaled deeply. "Peach blossom and lavender," she said. "The heart is a blend of Damascene roses. The final stage will leave you with sandalwood and ambergris. This is a scent for a strong-willed woman."
Hermione leaned closer, not expecting much, then grabbed the woman's wrist and took a longer breath. "Oh my god," she said. "That's amazing. It smells like—"
She blinked back tears. "It smells like the weekend we spent in Bulgaria. We went to the Valley of Roses."
They'd taken a private tour, their guide driving them through the valley well before dawn up to a vast field of roses outside an oil distillery. They'd picked roses with the dew still on the petals, and learned how to press the flowers to extract the oil. As the sun dropped that evening, they'd enjoyed a bottle of wine from an ancient winery, the smell of lavender surrounding them.
The woman nestled the bottle into a box filled with strips of tissue paper, closed the lid, and set another charm on top.
Hermione added the box to her blue bag and examined the charm, a little silver tea cup, the rim picked out in the thinnest strip of gold. "Next door?" she said, looking at the perfumier.
The woman nodded. "Feliz Navidad, Señorita Granger."
The tea shop had her smiling before she'd even approached the counter and the young man behind it. "Let me guess," she said. "Black tea with a hint of fruit flavor."
The clerk grinned. "Apricot and peach," he said. "Ceylon, loose leaf." He set a squat round tin on the counter. The lid had a dragon facing a lion, each with a front foot resting on the pages of an open book.
"The Cotswalds," she said as she touched the tin. "We went to the Literature Festival in Cheltenham. We hired a cottage and we curled up on the sofa in front of the fire. We had a beautiful peach tea and then he read to me."
Hermione opened the tin and took a sniff, the smell bringing back the memory of that trip: the creak of the leather on the sofa, the pop and snap of the logs in the hearth, the soft rustle as Draco turned pages, the slow and gentle thud of his heartbeat beneath her ear.
They'd never made it to the bedroom that night, she remembered. The sofa had been long enough for them to stretch out together. He'd wrapped one arm around her, gently stroking her hair as he held the book up, his deep voice lulling her to sleep.
Hermione took the tin and placed it gently in her bag, then looked at the clerk. She expected him to hand her another silver charm, but this time she was given a miniature clock on a red ribbon, the face no bigger than her pinky nail.
She curled her fingers around the clock and gasped as the air around her squeezed.
She landed on Westminster Bridge, facing Big Ben. Snowflakes danced gently in the light of the tall streetlamps. Hermione looked around, scanning the faces of the people hurrying past. There was no shop or vendor to give her another charm and no one seemed to be interested in approaching her.
She furrowed her brows, turning east to look at the London Eye and County Hall. It was the same spot, she realized. The previous New Year's Eve, Draco and she had stood in that spot to watch the fireworks. He held her against his chest, his hands on her stomach, and rested his chin in her hair, a small charm around them both keeping them from being jostled by the tightly-packed crowd. At midnight, she'd turned to kiss him and he'd whispered, for the first time, that he loved her. In the midst of hundreds of people, it had felt as if they were the only two souls in a quiet and private space.
Private, she thought suddenly. No one looking at them, no one questioning them. No one intruding. Just him and her and the way they fit together. All of their trips together, all of the moments they'd shared between them, had been about them.
Draco, Hermione, and no one else in the world.
Hermione closed her eyes, her hand slipping into her pocket to feel the small collection of charms. Someone touched her shoulder and she jumped, spinning around.
Draco stood behind her, a gift box in his hand.
She stared at him for several heartbeats, her mouth working without any sound. She shook her head, full of disbelief, but the action made Draco blink and look down, his face falling. "Right," he said, putting the box into the pocket of his heavy black coat. "I see. Give me a couple of days to pack and you can have the flat if you want—"
She dropped her blue shopping bag and threw herself at him, almost knocking him into the green balustrade. "You idiot."
Draco caught her up, both arms wrapped tight around her. He stared down at her face, his eyes full of wariness. "Is that 'Draco, you idiot, why did you bother with all this' or 'Draco, you idiot, none of this makes any sense' or maybe 'Draco, you idiot, all those memories hurt' or—"
"No," she said, sliding her arms around his neck. "None of it. None of that at all. Every last one of those gifts reminds me of some of the most wonderful times I've had in my life because every last memory was something I did with you."
"Then why am I an idiot?"
She smoothed his brow with her thumb, watching his eyes. "I was calling myself an idiot," she said. "Because I realized something. I thought you were keeping our relationship secret. But that wasn't it. That's never been it. You wanted to keep our relationship private. Without everyone watching us or questioning us or waiting for us to fail."
He pressed his lips together and nodded. "I didn't realize you thought I was trying to hide things between us. I love you, Hermione. I'm not ashamed of you. I only—" He sighed. "I only wanted time for us to be sure we were going to work before we let everyone else stick their noses in."
"I understand. Now." She brushed a few snowflakes out of his hair and went up on her toes to kiss him. "And if you still need time, if you're not ready, I understand that too."
He smiled against her mouth before lifting his head, a pink flush across his cheeks that had nothing to do with the cold. "Well," he said slowly. "That—" He laughed under his breath. "Now you tell me."
He released her and stepped back, gesturing her to turn around.
In the golden light of a streetlamp, a group of their friends from Hannah Abbott to Blaise Zabini stood clustered together. Hermione stared, mouth open, at their broad grins and wide, excited expressions. Pansy stuck two fingers in her mouth and wolf-whistled; Bill nudged Fleur and pointed, eyes widening. As one, the entire group went silent.
Draco looked up at her from one knee, his hand in the pocket of his coat. "Hermione, I—"
"Yes! I will! I accept!"
He laughed and drew out the gift box he'd tucked away earlier. "Don't you want to hear my speech? I worked on it for ages."
She bent over him, both hands on his cheeks, and kissed him until a roar went up from their friends. "As long as that speech included the words 'will you marry me', I don't need to hear it," she whispered. "Because I'm not changing my answer."
"Actually, it included the words please marry me. But close enough." He stood, popping the box open. Hermione pulled off her left glove and Draco took her hand, sliding the dark ruby ring onto her finger. "I love you," he said. "And I am absolutely ready for every damn witch and wizard in England to know about it."
"Good. Let's make it official." She threaded her arm through his and picked up her shopping bag, leading him over to their friends beneath the streetlamp. "This Christmas, I thought I might be accepting a party invitation with my boyfriend," she said with a wide grin. "But change of plans."
Draco smiled. "We'll let you decide who gets to be the first to send an invitation to my fiancée, instead."
Another roar went up and their friends surrounded them with congratulations and smiles. Hermione went up on her toes and kissed Draco as if he were the only person in the world.