Draco challenged someone, anyone, to find a class more useless than Theoretical Potions.
In hindsight, he should not have saved this particular course for last on his list. The final hurdle in a several years-long endeavor to achieve his Mastery in Potions.
Because Theoretical Potions was dragon shite. They didn’t even brew, just discussed various ways one could brew. Such endless possibilities, the Professor-Whose-Name-Draco-Could-Not-Recall insisted and then wasted his breath and Draco’s time by pontificating on how and why various ingredient substitutions could affect a brew, and forcing the class to diligently take notes and calculate all the ways this might occur in the reality of a cauldron.
Draco spent many an evening wishing for an owl notifying him of a class cancellation because unfortunately this instructor had pontificated himself to death. Or drowned in a cauldron somehow. Theoretically. Of course.
But he was so close to his end goal; Draco crossed off another interminable class in his mental calendar. Just one more evening of suffering through a lecture, then a final evening of presentations, and then he’d be free.
Draco occupied his attention during this particular session by reliving a recent conversation. A stimulating, challenging academic discussion that only grew more impassioned as they consumed more champagne.
“Right, of course, but that’s all in the standard recipe for the Elixir to Induce Euphoria. I’m saying you should try a different stirring method if you’re swapping in crushed, dry leaves.”
“You mean to say Hermione Granger is in favor of disregarding the exact instructions set out in a text? I never thought I’d see the day.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a bit of experimenting, I find it makes for a better potion-maker. I’m trying to be more open-minded these days. About more than just potions.”
The shuffling of feet past his desk roused Draco from his stupor. He’d survived his last torturous lecture, praise Merlin. Theo waited for him by the door. At least the classes ended pleasantly enough: with a routine meet-up at the pub so they could whinge to Blaise over drinks.
“How’s the paper coming?” Theo asked after they’d settled into their regular table.
Draco raised an eyebrow. “It’s due in two weeks.”
Theo shrugged and took a thoughtful sip of his first beer of the night. “I started mine two months ago. Think I’ve got it in good shape.”
“Bit keen aren’t you?”
“It’s worth most of our grade.”
“And? I’ll pick my topic this weekend. Maybe.”
“You seem far too unbothered about the length.”
“Should I make a cock joke right now?”
“Forty pages is no easy feat, mate.”
Draco paused with his glass halfway to his mouth. “I’m sorry, how many pages?”
“As in four-zero?”
“I knew you hadn’t read the syllabus.”
“Forty pages, Theo. Forty.”
“You’re also my critical friend and you’ll be looking over mine as well.”
“I’m your what?”
“My critical friend.”
“No, you’ve made that bit up. That sounds like some backhanded compliment that I’m meant to be flattered by.”
“Go read the fucking syllabus you twat.”
Drink unfinished, Draco tossed some gold onto the table and apparated home.
Draco memorized that fucking syllabus.
The ways he was supremely fucked amounted to thus:
- Forty pages on a topic he hadn’t chosen.
- A thorough review of twenty articles supporting said unchosen topic.
- A presentation of the conclusion of said forty pages with twenty references on an as-of-yet unchosen topic.
- Theo hadn’t been pulling his leg for once in his annoying life and Draco really had to function as his “critical friend” and provide feedback on Theo’s work prior to giving the presentation.
Draco closed his Floo. After notifying his mother he had not died, and no she did not need to send one of the Manor’s elves, he just needed to write his final paper in complete seclusion and could feed himself just fine.
He notified Blaise that he could not play in that weekend’s pick-up quidditch match because of this gargantuan paper.
He then spent a fair bit of time finding ways to blame others in his life for this current predicament.
All of this was Theo’s fault, for encouraging them to go for this stupid mastery together.
Actually no, it was Blaise’s fault, for distracting him with quidditch and things like friendship.
Actually no, this was all Pansy’s fault. Pansy who had to go and marry Ron Weasley of all the bloody wizards and pop out the most adorable, angelic child Draco had ever seen in his life, thus merging their friend groups into something regular and irritating, constantly serving as one giant social distraction to things Draco should be paying attention to, like his coursework.
Which meant Draco had one more person to notify of his disappearance from society for the next fortnight.
“I won’t be at brunch on Sunday,” Draco informed Pansy.
“Mmhmm, yes I’ve heard all about your little lack of reading comprehension.”
“Your support is much appreciated. Now go get Violet so I can apologize in person.”
“She’s asleep, you idiot, she’s not even two.”
“Oh, what time is it?”
“Five minutes to midnight.”
“But I’m her godfather.”
“For the last time, Potter is her godfather.”
“But I’m her favorite. She literally pointed at me and said so.”
“Draco, she’s just learned that word. Everything is her favorite. Earlier today she pointed at one of Ronald’s socks and said ‘favorite.’”
“Whatever, just tell her I'm sorry.”
“Of course, any other witches I can apologize to on your behalf? Ones who might be missing your company and will no doubt ask me eight hundred times where you are?”
Draco gave her a two-finger salute and ended the Floo call. His thoughts definitely did not need to be distracted by that particular fool’s dream.
Because he needed to pick a damn topic. He twirled his wand around in his hand absently. Hawthorn with a core of unicorn hair.
“I’m the first in my family, on either side, to wield one with unicorn hair.”
“Just one more way you’ve set yourself apart from them.”
Focus. Concentrate. But all he could think about for some reason was a conversation he’d had with Granger where his throat tightened and she’d laid her hand on his arm.
But his wandering mind had at least not led him too far astray. He clung to that idea thread and summoned every text he could find from his personal collection on the properties of unicorn hair and its advantages in potion making.
For the first few days of his self-imposed isolation, Draco gathered every text, tome, and scroll he could find to support his decided-upon topic of how and why one should vary the lengths of unicorn hair in brews.
When he’d completed the resource cataloguing phase of his torture in pursuit of personal educational glory, he had a pleasing pile of research collected in front of him. This pleasing feeling lasted for all of a minute when he remembered he now had to read through all this bullshit, analyze it, and then wring forty pages out of it. Fuck.
But reading through the research wasn’t as arduous a task as Draco had initially anticipated. Especially with the surprisingly prolific papers he kept coming across.
Draco eagerly made separate piles, impressed with the writing and actually interested in the theories and hypotheses being put forth in these academic journals.
He was so focused on getting across the material he hadn’t paid proper attention to the identities of the works’ authors and chuckled as he set the final source down and noted, “Hermione J. Granger” listed as the first author. What a charming coincidence.
His amusement was short-lived.
As Draco put quill to parchment and recorded his final list of meticulously curated citations, a disturbing pattern began to emerge concerning the authorship.
Granger, H., et al.
On almost every fucking one.
Draco let out a hysterical laugh. Theo would never let him live this down.
Because of course this impressive breadth of research on a topic they both enjoyed discussing in person would mean she’d done her homework. And not just homework, but solid, concrete, ground-breaking research on wand properties, cores, and their uses in potions both as separate ingredients and as a contributing factor based on the brewer’s wand.
No, there had to be another way. There had to be more research out there. How could he not have noticed this at all during his literature review?
Probably because he’d only been sustained by candy and energy-boosting potions for days on end, not bothering to keep a proper sleep schedule either.
He really should not have been surprised by this information. Granger was a celebrated Healer and researcher, of course she’d be published in just about every academic journal and textbook available. Before she’d progressed in her career there’d been a pathetic paucity of work in the topic Draco had chosen. It was too late to pick a new research topic to pursue at any rate.
Shock gave way to frustration as he, of course, could not find any acceptable substitute for her brilliance. Like the witch herself, her work was unmatched. Each and every time he thought he might have found an alternative, her name just cropped up again.
It got to the point where Draco had conversations with himself.
“This critique of van Borgenson’s bullshit is subtly scathing… I think they just implied he was inbred... wait who wrote this... fucking Granger.”
“What an excellent resource… Granger again, damn it all.”
“Let’s see… intriguing opening section, clear hypothesis, impeccable methods, engaging discussion, bold conclusion, airtight citations… of course this was written by Granger, seriously how are we still surprised by this?”
A form of hysteria took hold in the following days. Draco, feet propped up on his desk, started holding imaginary conversations with his, apparently, favorite author of healing potions theory.
“Good point Granger, yes thank you, that will fit nicely in the third section.”
“Granger, what the fuck? Why didn’t you point this out earlier in my writing? I’ve got to entirely redraft because two of these data points make no sense.”
“No, you’re right, that’s on me, obviously, of course I should have double-checked the data before attempting final calculations for that adjustment to a Calming Draught.”
“Do you think we could stretch this for a few more pages?”
“Can you believe Theo? He’s got 82 pages. Eighty-two, Granger. Not even you would have gone that overboard. I bet half of it is absolute bollocks to pad the word-count.”
“Critical friend, my arse.”
“Shit, his paper is quite good, if a bit bleak. Merlin, I certainly don’t want to be alive in 2089 if his projections are correct. Flobberworms are projected to evolve into winged beings by then, can you imagine, Granger? No, I’d prefer to be dead, I think, than risk that hellscape.”
Draco had to send off his cobbled together draft to Theo for feedback as well. His “critical” and supposed “real” friend sent back a most unhelpful message.
“I mean, this is all well and good of course, given the topic you chose, but mate, you realize you have to present this? Out loud?”
It would at least amuse Theo. Theo, who had some insane idea in his head about Granger fancying him. Pansy had also latched onto that idea with annoying fervor. But Draco didn’t like existing in the shadows of hope and always brushed off their irritating insistence.
Because while Granger always seemed eager to chat, she said the strangest things to him when initiating conversation, especially lately.
"I am forever cursed to never see a band more than eleven times. They always break up before I can hit number twelve."
“That is, um, a lot of concerts. I didn’t realize you were so enthusiastic about music.”
“Oh yes, I really enjoy concerts in my free time. There’s a new band I was hoping to see next weekend.”
“Oh. Well hopefully they don’t break up before you get to go.”
Theo had interrupted this conversation with an incredulous snort.
“There are many upsides and perks of farmers markets, if one knows what to look for.”
“I’ve never been to one.”
“Oh, then you’re really missing out! There’s an excellent one in Godric’s Hollow, actually. Harry and Ginny don’t get out as much as they used to before James so I often go alone now. I was planning to go this Saturday.”
“Good luck in your, um, solo shopping endeavor.”
Pansy had passed by with a muttered, “Oh for Merlin’s sake this is getting ridiculous.”
And every time Draco tried to approach her first, he inevitably said something profoundly stupid.
“That picture on your wall of the men walking across a road. Are those ancestors of yours?”
She glanced between him, the picture then back to him again. “Um no. Those are the Beatles. They are a band and that’s an album cover.”
Potter had laughed at his expense for a solid two minutes.
“So, Granger, do you… like healing?”
“Of course! Are you planning to go into healing too?”
“No, just dabble in Potions I suppose.”
“Oh, but potions work is at the heart of healing, you know, especially with the work I do on antidotes and poisons. So that’s not a career path for you once you obtain the Mastery?”
“I mean it could be, maybe just in brewing research. Imagine if we were colleagues and you had to see me all the time.”
“That’d be… well I’d like that very much I think.”
Weasley had groaned into his own hands, covering his face. “I don’t even know what I hate most about this.”
Besides, they’d all gotten it wrong. Granger was a very direct witch. If she wanted to move beyond awkward-bumbling-friendly acquaintances then she’d surely have just asked him out by now. It’d be too great a risk to their current equilibrium for him to make an advance.
“She was giving you the most obvious openings,” Theo would always insist.
Draco pushed all of his idiotic, misguided friends out of his mind. He had to focus on wrapping up this embarrassing dissertation that had turned into a forty-plus page fawning fan letter to all the published research of Hermione J. Granger.
As the sun rose on some day that ended in Y (Draco had quite lost the ability to tell the days of the week apart), his ink-smudged hands held a revised draft of his final paper for Theoretical Potions.
He wasn’t sure of the last time he showered or ate a proper meal, but he was sure that he’d completed this accidental tribute to Granger’s entire career.
His weary mind and bleary eyes read through his paper once more. A reluctant smile broke through. Gods, she really was brilliant. And it had been quite the interesting and engaging journey through her writing. So if he’d had to suffer these insane, intense hours of traversing text and tome, then at least it had been a captivating journey.
It might have been the lack of sleep. It might have been months of pining. It might have been the entire bucket of candy he’d consumed, but Draco came to a decision.
He’d witnessed firsthand how almost every one of their friends had come to find fulfillment in either a career or a romantic partner. Draco wanted a piece of that for himself. Just from the brief brushes of alone time they’d spent together he could feel that incendiary blaze within his blood. The one that meant a spark that couldn’t be contained. Being with her was evading darkness by basking in the light she could offer.
He’d conquered this mammoth feat in under two weeks, and so riding the high of this personal success, one of the first things he planned to do with his freedom from this abominable course was to ask Granger on a date.
But first he had to survive his final presentation.
By a masterstroke of luck, Draco scored the very first presentation slot. Which meant he just had to plough through this now, then he could sit back, relax, and zone out for the rest of the time. He’d use the remainder of this last class to dream up ways of asking Granger to dinner. Should he do this by owl? No, maybe take her aside at their next get-together? The weekend was only a few days away, he could surely convince Pansy to host something small on short notice.
Professor-Whose-Name-Draco-Did-Not-Fucking-Care-to-Know called Draco forward to deliver his final assignment. After these next few minutes, this obscenely boring instructor would be a footnote in Draco’s academic success.
Draco stood tall at the head of the class and took a deep breath. One, two. He was about to launch into his own public undoing for Theo’s entertainment...
“Oh but before you begin, Mr. Malfoy, just wait a moment. My surprise for the class is here today!”
Professor-Who-Wanted-to-Be-Avada-ed-By-Draco gestured to someone just outside the door.
“One of my most favorite former pupils finally agreed to grace my class with her presence! And on presentation day no less!”
Hermione Granger walked into the classroom.
An inconvenient flutter took place in Draco’s chest. Granger surveyed the room and gave shy, humble smiles as the entire group turned to stare at her. She finally noticed Draco and beamed at him and gave him a small wave of encouragement.
Theo let out a burst of laughter that he hastily tried to cover with a fake cough. The irritating sound wrenched Draco out of his haze of giddiness at the mere sight of her.
He then remembered the task he was now going to perform in front of a live audience. A live audience that included Granger. He shot a panicked look at Theo, but that traitor could only hide his laugh behind a hand.
Draco felt his face burn as if it had been kissed by fire. Could he simply toss his paper at Professor-Are-You-Fucking-For-Real-Sir on his way out of the room and just accept whatever barely passing grade the old codger wanted to give him?
No, he couldn’t do that. He’d come this far. And with Granger sitting in the back row, her warm eyes alight with curiosity and keenly interested in Draco’s presentation, he’d look like a lazy, entitled idiot. Hadn’t he worked too hard to overcome that initial impression? She’d been so wary of him, and rightfully so, when Pansy began dating Weasley, and they’d quickly declared a cordial detente for the sake of both their friends.
No, he could not, would not, return to that bratty persona she remembered from their traumatizing school days.
His fate signed and sealed by the work in his hands and the determination in his soul, Draco launched into it.
He had to say her name in the fourth sentence.
“...which may lead to substitutions of lesser ingredients. The trouble with flobberworms, according to Granger, et al….”
He couldn’t look up. He had to keep going. If she reacted at all to hearing him say her name, to hearing him dissect and analyze and ultimately praise her entire body of work as it pertained to his theorized findings, he didn’t want to know.
It only got worse the longer Draco continued. That sinking feeling grew worse in his gut as he nobly bore this live breakdown of a man’s sanity. A sacrifice of his dignity and pride at her altar.
“As Granger, et al noted in…”
“Three reasons for this particular ingredient substitute, as discovered by Granger…”
“If one is using a rebonded wand, according to Granger, et al…”
Granger, Granger, Granger, Granger.
In an unending echo of utter embarrassment.
The presentation parameters were between five and ten minutes. Draco’s clocked in at seven minutes and twenty-four seconds.
It would have been less mortifying for him to lay on the floor for that amount of time and make dying whale noises.
He wrapped up with a final two mentions of her name in the last paragraph. Merlin.
He finally looked up from his parchment.
Theo had a fist stuffed in his mouth, and actual tears coming out of his eyes as he choked on muffling his own uproarious laughter.
The rest of the class ranged in facial expressions from dumbfounded (“you serious mate?”), to smirking schadenfreude (“good luck walking that back, Malfoy”) to pitying (“Oh you poor, unlucky soul, wands up for you.”)
Professor-Who-Draco-Wished-A-Most-Painful-Death-Upon looked delighted. Draco decided to just bank on that goodwill and marched to the back and dropped the paper in his lap.
“I’m going somewhere to be violently ill probably, grade it as you see fit,” he muttered. He chanced a look at Granger. She only met his panicked gaze with wide, shocked eyes. He didn’t dare look any longer at her to see if that would change, would morph into something like sympathy or possibly a rejection.
He strode out of the room and stalked down the hall. His head twisted this way and that, looking for somewhere decent to have a proper mental meltdown.
Just as he’d decided to simply apparate home and empty the entirety of his liquor cabinet down his throat, he heard rapid footsteps approaching.
Granger. Of course.
Apparating away now would be the cowardly option. He’d done that enough in his life. He stood tall as she caught up to him and prepared for an onslaught of ire, derision, or something equally as terrible.
She smiled up at him. Fuck, was she going to make fun of him about this for the rest of time? Would he be the butt of her jokes and mocked at every social gathering for the next five to seven years? Perhaps Draco could become a hermit, hide away for the next few years and emerge after his twenties were over and he could start with a clean slate for the next decade. Cheers to thirty, he’d hibernate until then.
“Care to explain?” she asked.
“I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.”
“I mean, it’s a bit unorthodox but I suppose it’s better late than never and I say ‘yes.’”
“It’s a pretty unique way to grab a woman’s attention. You really read all my research?”
“Yes, of course I did.”
She looked around wildly, searching for something. When her eyes landed on a supply closet, she jerked her head towards it.
“In here. Now.”
Draco thought she was entitled to pretty much whatever she wanted at this point and dutifully followed.
As the door shut behind them, pitching them into complete darkness, Draco quickly lit his wand.
“Granger, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were—”
She forced him to stop speaking.
Technically, her lips forced him to stop speaking.
She’d kissed him.
And like her research papers, she was really going for it. As thorough in her exploration of her field as she was of his mouth.
He very much approved of her methodology here.
Introduction: consisting of an audacious play on her part in having their lips meet was an excellent start. Draco’s Hypothesis: he would very much enjoy her deepening her kisses and thought if he took the lead in this direction, that it just might turn out favorably. Methods: he swept his tongue lightly along her bottom lip and then past her parted lips. Conclusion: it was enjoyable as fuck and earned him a moan. Discussion: not possible at this time as his mouth was rather occupied. References: this exact moment in time with Granger’s hands clutching the front of his robes and returning his kisses with equal fervor and pressing her small body into his. Acknowledgments: this study was made possible by Granger’s boldness and Draco’s descent into idiocy via his two-fold failure of reading comprehension (the syllabus and her name as author).
Why was she kissing him?
He broke away with a harsh gasp, but Granger decided that meant she should move down to his neck and throat.
“What—Granger—wait—why—is this happening?”
“Pansy said you were shy when it came to this sort of thing so I just kept giving you hint after hint but I didn’t want to pressure you if you weren’t interested in me. And I thought, I don’t know, somewhere down the line you’d buck up and ask me, but this was so clever.”
“Showing me how you appreciate my work, that you’re actually interested in my academic pursuits. Again, it’s a rather unorthodox way to woo a woman, but gods, this was better than flowers.”
“I have absolutely no idea what I’m meant to have done.”
She backed away and looked horrified.
“Wait, that wasn’t on purpose? You didn’t do all that as some sort of grand romantic gesture?”
He’d really like her to return to kissing him. Agreeing to her hopeful question would probably have worked. Except it would have been a lie.
“Ah no. I had no idea you’d be here today and it was probably the most mortifying moment of my entire life.”
She stared at the floor with a flaming face. “I think I’ve just one-upped you.”
She tried to push past him and lunged for the door handle, but Draco snagged her wrist.
“I can think of worse things than being accosted by a gorgeous woman in a supply closet.”
Her hands dropped when she registered how he’d described her.
Her eyes searched his face, and he silently begged her to piece it together. All those parties, galas, and get-togethers where he’d shown up without a date. All those times he actually volunteered to help with the cleaning up at Pansy’s because she always stayed too. All the lingering touches, the lasting looks, the soft-spoken conversations about their pasts.
They’d both felt incomplete for a long time now. Drifting along, but possibly, hopefully, drifting toward each other.
“So would you—?”
“Did you want to—?”
They both let out laughs at their apparent eagerness.
Draco cleared his throat. “Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?”
“All right,” she agreed. “But first—Nox—I’d rather we continue our prior silent conversation.”
The supply closet door remained mysteriously locked for another twenty minutes.