In his defence, Draco never actually asked for any of this to happen.
It’s not his fault he’s being sued for something he didn’t even do, thank you very much.
It’s not his fault the only lawyer available to defend him on such short notice had been Hermione sodding Granger.
It’s not his fault that she’s insisted on installing herself in his office to pour over every piece of paperwork in his possession that bore his signature.
It’s not his fault that he’s too stubborn to get up and leave her to it. It’s his office, after all, had been since the day after his stupid trial finished. He’d be buggered if he was going to move now.
It’s not his fault she brings breakfast with her each morning – crisp, hot, buttery croissants and strong coffees – and insists on sharing, as though she had bought too much by accident. Like she’d honestly believed she’d eat two monstrous croissants and drink near on a litre of coffee on her own.
“It’ll only go in the rubbish.” She prods him with a smile and flushed cheeks. “You might as well.”
It’s not his fault she’s so bloody touchy-feely, either. A brush of her hand, a flick of her hair, a bump of her shoulder when they’re sitting side-by-side. A side effect from having Potter and Weasley as friends, perhaps, but then she’ll blush and forget it ever happened. She’s out to drive him mad, he’s sure of it.
It’s not his fault she opts to wear clothes one might call demure, but he knows the truth: those tight little pencil skirts, the blouse with the first two buttons undone to reveal a creamy sliver of skin, the sheer tights held up by the suspender he can see whenever she bends over or crosses her legs. He’s never loved Muggles more than when he sees her in their clothing. There is nothing at all demure about Hermione Granger’s work attire, and he fucking loves it.
It’s not his fault she’s so easy to talk to. Granted, it hasn’t always been that way. He had still been firmly rooted in his poncey, ‘holier-than-thou’ ideologies when they met again for the first time since the war, and she hadn’t been any better. After a hasty apology and a mutual truce, Draco is sure he’d never had a more freeing conversation with another person all his life. They can discuss anything: politics, literature, theatre, academia, through to the content of the cartoons printed in that morning’s copy of The Daily Prophet.
It’s not his fault that, since their friendship blossomed, she’s taken to telling him all about the disastrous dates she’s gone on. It takes everything in him not to take her in his arms, kiss her breathless, and tell her he would do it so much better if she’d allow it.
It’s not his fault his waking moments are now filled with daydreams of him returning home to Granger, to meals and warmth and kisses and arguments he’s sure would set him alight, if only because Granger is so bloody passionate about everything she does. But more than that, too; the dreams he’s had most recently have scared him with the intense desire he’s felt for such silly, domestic things.
It’s not his fault, either, that every day, little by little, he is falling further and further in love with her.
What the fuck is he meant to tell his fiancée?
Scratch that – what the fuck is he meant to tell his mother?
Tuesday, April 8, 2003
Draco’s knee bounces beneath the table, hitting the underside of his desk with each jostle. He wishes it were nerves. Nerves are good. Universal. Nerves mean you’re onto something. Nerves, in his experience, mean you’re less likely to make an arse out of yourself, they’re a catalyst to something more and an obstacle to overcome. No, what he’s feeling is anticipation. Full on, butterflies in his belly and heart in his throat want. Anticipation, he’s learned over the years, is what makes you fuck up. Anticipation has you too busy wanting something to see what’s in front of you. Anticipation is what made him lose himself after half a fucking thrust when he lost his virginity not to Pansy, but to sweet, shy Tracy Davis when they were fifteen.
He knocks over a vial of green ink, then one of red. He sighs and siphons the liquid back up and into their original bottles with a lazy wave of his wand. He rearranges his quills in order from tallest to shortest, then by colour, then by frequency of usage. The pile of paperwork delivered earlier that morning by his secretary goes untouched as he waits. And waits and waits and waits.
Eight-twenty now. He taps out a disjointed, listless beat with his wand. He’s almost got a rhythm down between the wand and his bouncing legs that sounds kind of like the newest Weird Sisters single when his door flies open. Draco shoots up from his slack position to near military straightness as Granger sails on through as though it’s her that owns the entire bloody building and not him. She smiles at him as she crosses the room to his side of the desk, precariously balancing on outstretched hands and arms the bags and Styrofoam cups of her preferred café, and Draco feels his pulse start to rocket.
“Chocolate-filled croissants today,” Granger announces in lieu of an actual greeting or heartfelt apology for her lateness and making him worry. She reaches over his shoulder, brushing a spot just beneath his ear, and drops a warm paper bag in front of him. “They didn’t have the regular kind today.”
“Don’t ever apologise for chocolate.” Draco snatches the bag up and takes a generous bite. Bits of it flake onto his desk as he lets out a low, appreciative moan. “Fuck, Granger.”
She watches his moment with the pastry with a look of amusement. “How long have you had a fetish for dessert pastries?” she questions, smirking.
He swallows, then dives in for another bite. Then another and another. “A fetish for chocolate, actually,” he corrects once it’s all gone.
“Interesting.” She takes a black takeaway cup from a tray and passes it over. “Belgian hot chocolate. I thought I’d keep in theme this morning. Be careful, it’s very hot.”
Granger crosses her arms over her chest and looks between him and the cup, a tiny smirk tugging at her lips. He quirks a brow and takes the cup in hand. He can feel the scalding steam rising up through the tiny little hole in the lid.
“You would watch me burn my mouth for sport, Granger?”
Her eyes glint as she replies, “It would be for the collective good of us all if you were unable to speak, Draco.”
Draco pulls off the lid and takes a sniff of the contents, his eyebrows furrowing with distaste. “This is dark chocolate.”
She blinks, as slow and deliberate as an owl. “Yes?” she confirms, the upwards inflection at the end turning the word into a question. “Is that a problem? I heard it on good authority that you have something of a chocolate fetish.”
“Dark chocolate is foulness, Granger.” He clips the plastic lid back on and pushes it away with an air of finality. “Disgusting.”
“Oh?” She sounds nearly offended. She crosses her arms, pushing the swell of her breasts up even higher. “I suppose you’re one of those poncey types who prefers white chocolate, then? Matches your stupid blond hair?”
He quirks a brow and grins at her version of an insult. “White chocolate isn’t even legitimate chocolate, Granger, as you well know. And I happen to prefer milk chocolate.”
The look of offence melts to one of outrage. “But milk chocolate contains so much sugar!”
“And it tastes fucking wonderful! Dark chocolate tastes like regret, like the chocolatier left the sugar and milk out by accident.”
Granger arches a brow and crosses her arms, observing him critically. “I thought an eighty-five percent dark chocolate from Côte d’Ivoire would be deemed more acceptable for your refined palate.”
“Having a refined palate doesn’t mean I lack taste buds,” he snarks back. “Most of the supposed haute cuisine my mother insists on funnelling down my throat is intolerable at best. Merlin, the menu for my wed –”
Draco drops the sentence with an almost audible snap.
“The menu for what?” Granger presses.
“Pardon me, Granger, I meant my weekend,” he corrects himself, mentally patting himself on the back for that clever bit of avoidance. “I only meant that my mother has taken a liking to cooking in the years since the war, and her ideas of what tastes good vastly differ from mine.”
She doesn’t look at all convinced, and for good reason, too; the day Narcissa Malfoy wilfully took up cooking her own meals would be the day Draco took to associating with Potters and Weasels for chit-chat. Still, she asks, “That bad?”
“Ghastly.” He nods vehemently. “Almost as bad as this brew you’ve brought me.”
He takes the hot chocolate cup again and removes the lid. Twisting in his chair, Draco tips the dark, milky contents into the large fern behind him. Granger watches with wide, horrified eyes.
He doesn’t look up or respond until every last drop has been emptied into the soil. A long moment passes in silence before he looks up again. Granger’s arms are still crossed, and the glare she’s giving him could wither a houseplant. “I would have found someone else who wanted that since you had such a problem with it. That wasn’t fair.”
He holds out a hand for her to shake. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Draco Malfoy; Slytherin.” He draws back his hand to gesture at her uneaten croissant. “Are you going to eat that?”
A wicked glint enters her eye. She removes the pastry and sets it atop the bag. Delicately, she tears a steaming, fragrant portion off and hold it to her lips. She stares right at him as she licks languidly at the chocolate, moans, and sensuously takes it into her mouth, caressing it with her lips.
The display is downright filthy, indecent and fucking incredible.
Another bite and he’s hard. A sigh and he’s steel.
When she’s finished, she’s flushed, wide-eyed, and has a stray smear of chocolate on the corner of her mouth. It takes every ounce of restraint he has in him not to pull her over the table so he can lick it off for her.
“Merlin’s balls, Granger,” he breathes. “What in Salazar’s name was that?”
She dabs the stain away with a napkin procured from the empty bag. If it’s at all possible to be jealous of table linens, he’s mastered the art of it at that moment.
“I’ve no idea. Payback, I think, though I’m not entirely sure what for.” Her tone is shy, like she’s only just realised what she’s done. “You just… provoke me, Draco.”
He leans forward expectantly, like the fate of everything hinges on the answer to his next question. “Is that good or bad?”
She meets his eyes and holds his gaze, his brave little lion girl. “I’m not sure yet. More good than bad, though, I think.”
Draco’s heart gives that familiar little stop-start in his chest, and his stomach falls even further. His eyes catch the glint from his platinum cufflinks, an engagement gift from Astoria, and he didn’t know it was possible to feel so much guilt. There is surely a special spot in Hell reserved for people just like him, but fuck it all if he just doesn’t care any more.
A swift surge of defiance pumps through him. Why should he have to be miserable? Why can’t he grab onto the one fucking thing in the entire universe that makes him happy and hold onto it, even if it’s only for a short while?
He twists his sleeves so the cufflinks are well out of view, and curves his lips into his most wicked smirk and says:
Monday, April 14, 2003
His mother’s gentle, tinkling laugh fills the parlour with a sweetness that makes Draco feel ill.
“Your wedding will be the event of spring, Draco,” she says, clapping her dainty hands. “You mark my words!”
Draco grimaces, though he hopes for his own sake that it looks like a smile, and nods along. He feels Astoria set a hand on his forearm and give a gentle squeeze. He glances down at her beautiful, smiling face and feels a heavy pit of dread sinking in his stomach. While he doesn’t love Astoria, easy companionship and comfort had never been an issue between them. Now, sitting pressed at the shoulders on a tiny loveseat while his mother hammers out their wedding with very little input from either of them, Draco ponders a fantasy where he takes his broom and streaks away into the sunset and never has to look at her again.
He is a horrible, despicable human being. Once, such a fact would have given him great pleasure. Being a horrible, despicable human being had been what he did better than anyone. Now, he wonders if he shouldn’t just hand Astoria the knife to lodge in his back now, to save her the trouble of having to do it later.
“Are you all right?” she asks in a whisper, in that sweet, considerate way of hers, but it’s unnecessary; his mother isn’t paying any attention to either of them. She’s already gone off on some new tangent about flowers or petit fours or some other rot he has no intention of listening to.
“I’m fine,” he assures her, and he really should be – he could do a lot worse than Astoria Greengrass, after all. She has the wealth and status to wrench his family out of the mire they’ve become stuck in since the conclusion of the war, even with his father two years dead, and the combination of both their genes would result in particularly beautiful children.
Only he’s not fine. At this rate, he never will be fine. And while he could certainly do worse than Astoria, there’s a whole world of room to move up.
When his mother announced that the betrothal contracts, signed by both the Malfoys and the Greengrasses on behalf of their children – when he was charging after house-elves with sticks and Astoria was still a tiny, squalling thing at her mother’s breast – would be going ahead now that Astoria had turned twenty-one, the finality of his situation hit him with all the force of the Hogwarts Express at top speed.
It’s all over. He’ll never be able to tell Granger how he feels. Not without inviting the collective scorn of the most prominent women in his life.
Instead, he’ll be condemned to a life of silence, tethered forever to a woman he only feels moderately companionable with. Astoria is hardly an unpleasant woman to be around, but the idea of till death do us part with her is enough to send a cold trickle down his spine.
The idea of any sort of life without Granger warming the corners makes him shudder.
He always did have a flair for the dramatic, but somehow things feel more serious this time. More real.
“Draco, darling.” Narcissa looks up from a folio filled to the brim with photos of various lilies and turns a tender eye on him. He strains his neck looking up so fast, blinking his eyes as though coming into a bright light.
“Are you well?” she asks, the tenderness of her gaze turning critical. “You look pale, dear.”
No, he’s not well at all. Draco feels close to suffocating. Not even any actual bloody lilies in the room and their thick, saccharine scent already threatens to overwhelm him.
“I need some air,” he croaks. Before either woman can object, he bolts from the loveseat and darts through the open French doors into his mother’s immaculately maintained rose garden.
The air outside has the same light, floral scent as Granger’s perfume.
The scent of roses is overwhelmed by the cloud of sticky bergamot his mother favours. Draco scrunches his nose and turns to face her, schooling his expression into one more appropriate for a deferential son, because that he most certainly is.
“Are you all right? Astoria tells me you’re feeling unwell?”
He shakes his head. “A mild headache, Mother. Nothing to be alarmed about.”
Her eyes widen with sympathy. “Have you taken a potion?”
He waves her off. “I’ll have Pesky bring me one soon.”
She pauses for a long moment, studying him like he’s just another picture in her sodding wedding folio. “Something is troubling you,” she murmurs.
“Mother, really.” Draco sighs. “There is nothing troubling me besides wedding jitters. You know well that the renewed progression of the contracts was… sudden.”
She narrows her eyes, unconvinced. “Come back inside, then,” she tells him, turning back up the steps and beckoning for him to follow. “You and Astoria need to make a decision on the flowers.”
Draco levels her with a sceptical glare. “And why exactly is my input required?”
“It’s your wedding, too, Draco.” She tuts. “Of course you should have input on all the decisions.”
“Just not enough to override the bride. It’s her day, after all.”
His smile is grim and tight as he follows her back. “Of course.”
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
It’s no longer the companionable silence he’s become used to over the past six months. His relationship – friendship? Partnership? Who the fuck even knows – with Granger has disintegrated to the point of uselessness since the news of his engagement broke on the front pages of every wizarding publication known and unknown.
She hasn’t brought breakfast for either of them in days, citing long lines at the café she visits, and she hasn’t attempted to touch him in weeks. Yesterday, she had brushed up against his shoulder by accident and tensed up as if she was afraid to draw attention to herself, before she scurried back to her seat without a word.
He watches her out of the corner of his eye. She’s sitting at the side of his desk now instead of opposite, as far away from him as it’s possible for her to get, her shoulders held tense as she skims her eyes over the stack of documents before her. He’d wanted to protest when she sat herself there earlier that morning, but the hard, pursed look on her face like, she’d been sucking on a lemon, had been enough to shut him up.
“Could you pass me the forms for April this year, please?”
Her tone is brisk, professional and lacking in warmth, like it had been when she first started working with him. Then, he’d been lucky to get even two words of a question out before she’d bare her figurative fangs.
Now, it’s strange, though not in a way that’s unfamiliar; they’ve regressed to how they were as schoolchildren. Maybe if he riled her up enough, she’d punch him on the nose again. He hadn’t minded it as much as he’d pretended back then; he’s certain he wouldn’t mind it so much now. Now, it’s strange in a way that’s uncomfortable, a routine disrupted. He doesn’t know if he’s seeing clearly for the first time or if the view is being obscured.
Draco watches her for a long moment, tapping his foot against the side of his desk. He sighs, then leans towards the tall filing cabinet, pulling open the lowermost drawer and extracting the necessary files, passing them over without a word.
“Thank you.” She snatches them from his hand, deliberately avoiding his fingers.
“You’re very welcome,” he drawls with the same forced formality.
Another hour passes in silence before Draco decides he can’t take it any more. He tosses his quill on the desk and announces, “For the love of all that is good, Granger, relax! If you hold yourself any tighter you’re liable to shit out a diamond.”
The air turns frosty when the full-force of her glare is levelled at him. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
“Well, pardon me for wanting to help you win this rotten case,” she huffs. “I’ll have you know Hephaestus Corps have made new accusations against you and Malfoy Limited. You can add defamation and libel to the laundry list of charges they’ve already levelled against you.”
Draco shuts his eyes and sends a silent curse to whatever pit of hell his father is currently dwelling in for leaving him with such utter bullshit to contend with, and to himself, for ever thinking that getting a leg over Nigel Hephaestus’ oldest daughter, Antigone, when he was nineteen would ever result in anything other than a giant kick up the arse from her borderline insane father.
“I didn’t steal their fucking designs,” he mutters to himself. “I’ve never said a damn word against them.”
Granger’s eyes soften. “Unless I find any evidence to the contrary in these last documents, I’ll be able to prove that for you. Really, Draco, it’s best to just let this blow over.”
“Right, however bloody long that’ll take.” He slouches in his seat and blows upwards to displace his fringe where it’s fallen in his eyes.
“It won’t take long at all,” she assures him. “I told you, there are only two months of forms left to go over, then your litigation. I should be out of your hair within the month, possibly sooner if all things go smoothly.”
He freezes with his quill hovering an inch above his parchment, a steady drip of ink leaving wet splotches over the box requiring his signature.
He opens and closes his mouth, wrestling with words that won’t make themselves heard, before settling on, “A month?”
“A month.” She nods. “Or possibly less. Then I can get started mounting your defence. You won’t have to see me ever again outside of court before long.”
She ducks her head and resumes whatever it was she was doing before, but Draco can’t find it in himself to move. Something in his chest seizes tight, and before he registers what’s happening, his quill has snapped, the inked point skidding across his desk and leaving a splattered mess in its wake.
“Are you all right?” she asks, blinking at the mess before waving her wand over it, cleaning it with silent charm. When he doesn’t reply, she snakes a hand over to rest atop his. “Draco?”
“I have to go.” He stands, stalks towards the door and out into the reception space, leaving his wand behind. He feels the weight of Hermione’s curious gaze on him as he moves, but he doesn’t bother looking back, and she doesn’t say a word to stop him. He’s not entirely sure he’d even listen to her even if she did.
Draco takes the stairs from his eighth-story office in leaps and bounds. Once on the ground floor, he throws open the glass doors and steps out onto the path. He darts across the road to the small park he can see from the top floor of his building, the grass a nearly glowing shade of green, and dotted with wooden benches in varying states of disrepair.
He falls onto the cleanest bench he can find and holds his head in his hands, drawing in deep breaths that are laced with the scents of autumn, of dried cracked leaves and cinnamon from the nearby cafés.
It’s getting ridiculous. All his life, Draco has been a master of keeping up appearances, holding up façades, tamping down anything inconvenient he might feel, burying it all in the deepest recesses of his mind where it can’t hurt anyone. He fists his hair and tugs viciously; why the fuck can’t he do it now?
At some point, sooner rather than later, he knows, he’s going to have to make a decision.
He has an idea. It’s risky and a damn long shot, but it has to be enough. It has to.
And he knows that it can’t fucking wait any longer.
He darts through the entrance foyer to the parlour, where he finds Astoria perched delicately upon a chaise with a book in her hands,
“Draco,” she greets him over the top of her book. He can just make out the worn title embossed into the pale-blue leather, Ulysses, a purchase made on Granger’s recommendation. Lots of things in his home have been purchased on Granger’s recommendation, now that he thinks about it: another small library’s worth of books; a computer and scanner to keep his paperwork in order; an assortment of ballpoint pens. Even the decision to buy a car he couldn’t possibly begin to justify had been her idea.
“You’re home early,” she comments, her tone distracted. “Is everything all right? Did you and Miss Granger have another disagreement?”
He barely hears the second part of her sentence as he blurts out, “I don’t love you.”
Astoria regards him with the same sort of look she gives small children and the elderly, neither group she has a particularly good rapport with. “Yes. And?”
Draco’s voice catches in his throat. He manages a small splutter that only barely resembles speech before waving his hand for her to continue.
She quirks a brow and sets down her book. “Of course you don’t love me. And don’t think so highly of yourself as to imagine that I simply must be swooning over you.”
Draco blinks, once, twice. “What?”
Astoria smiles then, twisting the wave of her golden hair over her shoulder. “It’s an arranged marriage, Draco,” she says. “And a pure-blood one, to boot. I’ve known for ages that, unless I was extremely, uncommonly lucky, the best I could ever hope for from a husband was friendship. Anything beyond that would be a dream.”
Three, four, five times. “You aren’t in love with me?”
She rolls her eyes. “Draco, you’re wonderful, really, but you aren’t that fantastic.” She gives him a critical look. “You really thought I was in love with you?”
“Well… yes. You primp and simper like you must be, and you’ve certainly made yourself quite comfortable in my home.”
“Men,” she mutters. “You in particular. So arrogant.”
“We’ve known each other since the cradle, Astoria. You’re not allowed to be shocked by my arrogance now.”
“Oh, but the levels you take it to are astounding, Draco. Absolutely astounding.”
“Astoria, darling, as charming as you are, I have no desire whatsoever to marry you.”
“Nor do I have any desire to marry you, you pompous arse,” she coolly replies. “Yet here we are.”
“So, what do you propose we do?”
Astoria sighs. “What can we do, Draco? Those contracts have been signed since we were infants.”
“By my father and yours on our behalf, before either of us had any sort of understanding of what we’d be entering into,” Draco states emphatically. “My father is dead, and yours actually feels more than passing indifference towards you. You could stop this!”
She quirks a perfectly groomed brow. “You think I can talk our way out of this?”
Draco nods. “Bat those blue eyes of yours and simper like the pretty puppy I know you can be and you’ll have him eating out of your hand.”
Her pretty face scrunches up. “That was a strange analogy.”
Draco runs a hand though his hair, already mussed beyond hope from the stress of the day. “It was.”
Astoria sighs. “I don’t know if I can do this, Draco. Can’t you just take a mistress like a normal pure-blood husband and be happy that way?”
He knows she’s joking, but he can’t help flinching at the insinuation. His father’s numerous infidelities had been a massive source of pain for his mother. He’d sworn to himself when quite young that he’d never be anything like his father, that he’d always treat his wife with the respect and reverence she deserved.
“If not for me, Astoria, then do it for yourself. Surely there’s someone else you’d much rather be with?”
Her cheeks bloom with the perfect, pink blush he’s only ever seen on a porcelain doll.
“There!” he crows. “Please, Astoria?”
He’s never fallen to his knees to beg for anything, but he’s seriously contemplating it now.
He sees when she relents, the exact moment her shoulders slump in a defeated sigh. “I’ll try, Draco,” she says. “But I can’t promise anything. Since Daphne ran off with that Hufflepuff girl, Father has been quite set on my abiding by my contracts.”
“I’m not asking a miracle of you, Astoria. I only ask that you try.”
“On the contrary, Draco,” she says as she stands and moves towards the fireplace, “that is exactly what you’re asking of me.”
She tosses a handful of powder into the flames and disappears in the swirl of emerald. Now, there is little else for him to do but wait.
“Go to her,” she whispers in his ear.
He pulls back to find her grinning, looking happier than he’s ever seen her.
No one needs to tell him twice. He squeezes Astoria tight and kisses her firmly on the lips. There will be time for questions and clarification later, for her to tell him everything that happened to make them both so happy. She spins – practically floats – out of his arms as he runs towards the fire, not willing to waste another second.
He darts up the staircase and pulls up short at the foyer leading into his office. Perched at his receptionist’s desk, and looking for all the world as though he belongs there, is Harry Potter.
“Evening, Malfoy,” Potter greets him without looking up. He tosses a domed glass paperweight filled with odd beads and sequins suspended in resin between his hands. “Astoria said I’d find you here.”
Draco pauses and tips his head. “Since bloody when are you and Astoria on speaking terms?”
“Since she expressed an interest in working in the Auror offices, and I told her we’d work something out for her. Now, we need to –”
There are still a million other questions Draco would like to ask, but he bites them all back and says, “Potter, I don’t have time –”
“Hermione can’t hear us.” He waves a hand towards the door. “I’ve taken care of that. Besides, I think we need to talk.”
Draco’s eyes narrow. “Do you now?”
Potter frowns and sets the paperweight down. “I do, and believe me, Malfoy, I don’t want to be doing this any more than you want to listen.”
Potter pushes himself out of the deep chair and stands in front of Draco, but he only comes up to Draco's chin, and any attempt to appear intimidating is beyond him
“Say what you’ve come here to say,” Draco says, looking away to yawn. “I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“I know why you’re here.”
“Aside from my working here, owning the building and so on?”
His face clouds over then, and a flash of something dark not often seen on the Chosen One’s face passes over it. “I’m here to tell you that if you do anything – anything – to hurt Hermione, I will personally see to it that your life becomes Hell. You’ll think your sixth year was a bloody cakewalk in comparison. I’m Harry Potter: it’s quite within my abilities.”
Draco bristles at the mention of that hellish sixth year, and doubts very much that anything Potter could threaten him with could live up to the utter horror that was that year. “Granger’s a big girl, Potter, and it’s quite within her abilities to reject me and knock me on my arse if that’s what she wishes.”
Potter scowls. “I know. But she won’t. Even when you were a huge git to her, Hermione still thought good of you. She still does now.”
“Don’t ever show her that that trust in you was misplaced, Malfoy,” he snaps. “I’m not the only one who’ll come after you if you do.”
Draco is quiet for a moment, then nods solemnly. “I promise.”
“Good.” He takes a step back and gives Draco a wry smile. “Good luck, Malfoy.”
Before he leaves, Draco asks, “Potter?”
“Why did Astoria tell you to come here?”
He shifts and casts his eyes down, his expression turning from warning to sheepish. “She didn’t exactly. She came by after she saw her father, and…”
“She visited you?” Draco repeats. “Why, pray tell, did Astoria visit you?”
Potter’s expression changes again, flushing deep red. “We’re… friends.”
“And what else, Potter?”
“Look, whatever happens now between you and Hermione is your problem. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat... invested in it going your way.”
Draco groans. “You’re the sod Astoria’s interested in, aren’t you?”
Potter’s eyes brighten like he’s just won the lottery. “She said that?”
Draco scoffs. “Spare me your schoolboy crush, Potter.”
“I like Astoria,” Potter admits, sounding every bit the smitten third-year. “I’ve liked her for a while. I never would have tried anything with her engaged to you, but now…”
“Now she’s fair game?”
Potter blushes. “I wouldn’t have worded it like that…”
“Listen to me well, Potter: if you hurt one hair on Astoria’s head, or if any part of her is damaged on your watch, I will hunt you down and break your neck with my bare hands, and damn whatever your adoring public thinks.”
There’s a moment that passes between them, a begrudging kind of respect that’s both new and immensely annoying.
He’s not sure what he expected. A handshake, maybe, or perhaps they’d continue to glare at each other like they have since they were eleven. But it wasn’t for Potter to chuckle and shake his head, like the threat was something ludicrous. “I won’t.”
Potter takes his wand from where it was stowed in a holster on his thigh, flashes another grin, and Apparates away.
Then, silence. There’s nothing but the strangest blend of calm and apprehension, coupled with a flurry of butterflies in his stomach. More overpowering, though, is the urge to kick down the door and make good on all the declarations and promises he made in the privacy of his mind, when he didn’t think they’d ever amount to anything.
He pushes the door open on its silent hinges and sure enough, she’s still there, still bent diligently over her paperwork, paying him no mind at all.
He clears his throat. “Granger?”
“Draco!” Granger jumps in her seat and holds a hand over her heart. Her hair is wild around her head, her fingers and cheeks are marred by smudges of ink, and her robes are in a harsh state of disarray. She looks an utter mess and still his heart kicks up at the sight of her. “You scared me. Where did you go? You’ve been gone for hours.”
“I needed to be outside.”
Her nose twitches, and fuck it all if it isn’t the most adorable thing he’s ever seen. “For six hours?”
“I… yes.” He coughs and moves closer, resting his hands on the edge of the desk. “You didn’t have to stay, you know.”
“I know,” she answers, her tone clipped. “But I had work to do, and that work was here. It only seemed logical that I stay.”
Her shoulders are squared and tense again, and her eyes take on that same unfeeling gaze she’s been levelling at him over the past week. “Granger, if I’ve done something to upset you –”
“Draco, really, there’s no need to apologise,” she cuts in, not bothering to look up. “I’ve… no right to be upset with you.”
“But you are upset?” he presses.
She’s silent for a long, tense moment before she retrieves a small bag from her feet. It must have an extension charm on it, because Granger reaches her arm up to her elbow into it and rearranges files, inkwells and countless other things in it to make room for the flotsam that’s covering his desk. “I’m not upset,” she says eventually, her voice tight.
She makes for the door, but Draco positions himself in front of it, blocking her way.
“Yes, you are.” He wants to grin, wants desperately at that moment to be triumphant. “You’re jealous.”
“Draco.” A tinge of pink on her cheeks accompanies the warning in her tone. She pushes him out of the way just enough to let herself through. “I really need to leave.”
He reaches out and takes her upper arm. “Not before you hear what I have to say.”
Her eyes glaze over as she shakes her head and wrenches herself from his hold and continues forward. “Draco, please –”
“I’m in love with you,” he blurts out.
She falters, almost tripping on the mat in front of the door on her way out. Her movements are stilted as she braces her hand on the doorframe and turns to face him. “What did you say?”
“I’m in love with you,” he says again, the words coming easier this time. He wonders if, now that they’re out, they’ll continue to spill so easily, like they can’t go another second without being said. “I think I have been for a while.”
“But… Astoria? Your wedding?”
He wants to laugh, but holds it back for the moment. “Astoria has prospects beyond me, I assure you. Neither of us wish to marry. Each other, I mean.”
“But you will,” Granger says, frowning. “It’s required of you. You and she are contracted.”
He pauses for a moment, his brow furrowing in puzzlement. “How on earth do you know about that?”
“It was mentioned in the Prophet.”
“Fucking vultures,” he mutters. “Look, Granger – Hermione – please.”
“Please what?” she cries. “What do you want from me, Draco?”
“I want to know exactly what it is you feel for me, Granger,” he states, his tone calmer than his stomach and his mind. “If you can look at me and tell me you feel nothing, I will walk away and we can chalk this up to temporary insanity or some other such thing.”
“You’re getting married!” she yells, brandishing her hands and arms like weapons. “Why are you even speaking like this, Draco? It’s pointless.”
“Because Astoria and I aren’t engaged any longer!”
The only sound in the room is that of their heaving breaths.
“What?” she whispers.
“I left this afternoon and had a very enlightening chat with Astoria. We agreed that neither of us harbours any sort of desire to marry the other. I may have convinced her to talk to her father about breaking the contracts and, as far as I can tell, she was successful.”
“I… I don’t understand.”
“That would certainly be a first,” he teases. When the look of shock on her face still doesn’t settle, he tells her, gently, “I’m not betrothed any longer, Granger. I’m free to do as I wish with whomever I wish.”
“You broke your wedding contracts for me,” she whispers.
“It wasn’t all me. And believe me, Granger, we haven’t even begun to skim the surface of what I would do for you.”
There’s a tense moment in the silence that follows when he’s certain he’s scared her off. She nibbles at her bottom lip, worrying the plump, soft skin to an enticing shade of darkened pink. In the quiet, his mind wanders, creating ever more realistic scenarios where he steps forward, like one of the Byronic heroes in those horribly clichéd bodice-rippers that Pansy favoured years ago, and takes Granger’s lips between his own to do the nibbling for her.
“I don’t… I don’t know what I feel for you,” she eventually says, her voice tired. “You make me think and do things I would never consider. You make me feel things I wasn’t entirely certain I could feel, and certainly not as voraciously as I do! I thought I had you boxed, Draco: pure-blood, snobbish prat, hazardous to one’s sanity. But I can’t box you anymore. I have no clue where you fit.”
He gapes at her and blinks, an altogether unattractive expression on anyone. “What in Merlin’s name does that mean?”
“It means you confuse me, Draco!” She tugs on the frizzy ends of her hair. “I don’t know what to do with you! You make me feel like an idiot and… I hate it. I hate it so much!”
He gawks as she paces the long line of his office, muttering under her breath in rapid-fire French. He’s spoken perfect French for as long as he’s spoken perfect English, but even he can’t get a handle on what she’s saying, only picking out the odd profanity he knows she’d never spout in English. His cock twitches to life and presses painfully on his zip; her cursing in French is a far bigger turn-on than it should be.
Then she’s turning and fumbling for the doorknob. She’s got the door open and a foot out before any blood comes back to his head. Another surge of heat rushes through him, arousal and a spike of anger tinting his blood.
“Stop, Granger,” he bids her in his most commanding tone.
He doesn’t expect her to listen, but she does, halting in the open doorway before stepping back into the office and slamming it shut.
“What, Draco?” she says, sounding exhausted.
“You think you’re the only one who turns into an idiot?”
“Have you seen me at all these past few months, Granger? I don’t think I could be anymore hopelessly adolescent around you. You question your intelligence when you’re with me? I question my fucking everything!”
She scoffs. “Oh, so having feelings for me is such a chore?”
“You certainly don’t make it easy!”
“Neither do you!” she bursts out. “You’re a moody, temperamental bastard and there is no good reason on this earth as to why I feel the way that I do.”
“Do you understand at all the effect you have on me?” he hisses through clenched teeth. “Why else do you think I’ve been in such a foul mood lately? I don’t want you to leave!”
The look of shock that crosses her face is nearly comical. “You don’t want me to leave?”
“I just said that, you daft girl!”
“Don’t you dare call me daft!”
“I just did!”
Somehow, the space between them has reduced to little more than a foot. He can feel the heat rolling off her, her deep, panting breaths curling against the exposed skin of his neck. He stares down at her, wary, waiting for her to make the next move.
“Now what?” she whispers.
The space between them narrows, from twelve inches down to ten, nine, eight. The heady scent of roses still clings to her, as intoxicating as ever. “Now, Granger? I think I’d like to know exactly what these unwelcome feelings you have for me are.”
“They annoy me,” she stubbornly states. “And they’re distracting.”
He rolls his eyes. “Once more, Granger, and less abstract this time, if you wouldn’t mind.” He closes the space even more, seven inches, six, five. Leaning in to her ear, he whispers, “How do I distract you, Hermione?”
A pronounced shiver runs through her. She doesn’t speak through the defiant set of her jaw, and her eyes glitter with that familiar tenacity.
“Come on, love,” he coaxes, the endearment falling from his tongue. “Tell me.”
“You touch me,” she whispers, so quiet he might have imagined it.
He hums and allows himself a hopeful grin. “How do I touch you, love?”
He moves a hand through her hair and his lips over her cheek, never landing anywhere long enough for the caresses to be considered a kiss. He hears her let out a sigh and shakily reply, “You… oh, Draco, you…”
“Do I touch you like this?”
His free hand carefully maps her torso, climbing the curve of her waist and ribs to settle just beneath her breast. At her soft moan, he creeps higher still and toys with a pebbled nipple over her shirt.
“Draco,” she whispers. His name, he decides, has never sounded so good, coming out of her mouth in a sigh and ending on a moan.
She’s barely finished with the ‘o’ of his name before moves his hands behind her neck and crushes his lips to hers, pulling her close so no light can pass between them. He takes full advantage of her gasp to thrust his tongue between her lips and meet hers. His world narrows to nothing more than the feel of her lips on his, her skin beneath his fingers, the pull of her fingers in his hair, the melody of her sighs and breathy little whimpers that fill his ears.
“Fuck me, Granger,” he whispers against her lips. “Fuck, I’ve wanted this for so long.”
She nods, imperceptible but quick, eager. “Me, too. I’m not going anywhere.”
He guides her back against the desk until she brushes the inconsequential shit that covers it away and sits down. Draco releases his hold on her neck and moves his hands down to her knees, encouraging her legs to lift and wrap around his waist. He lets out a groan at how hot she is, even through the layers of fabric that separate them. He can’t help but rock his hips gently against her covered centre, feeling himself swell and strain against the fabric of his suddenly too-tight trousers.
“Draco,” she whimpers when he nibbles a path along her neck. “Maybe… oh, god… maybe we should…”
He knows she’s right. Sighing, he releases a laboured breath against her neck and drops another kiss on that shivery spot behind her ear before he pulls back. “Yeah, probably.”
She smiles up at him, and the difference between the flustered, beautifully rumpled woman in front of him and the cold, indifferent woman of only a few short minutes ago is astounding. She is absolutely stunning.
Granger blushes and mumbles something he can’t hear, and he realises he’s said that out loud. His own cheeks burn as she starts to re-button her shirt, though he doesn’t remember unbuttoning them to begin with. She presses her hands to his chest to push him back enough so she can slide from the desk and smooth down her skirt.
“So, Granger,” he says after they’ve taken a moment to straighten themselves out. His breathing is still shaky, and he can detect the slight hint of uncertainty in his tone. “Dinner?”
There’s a dangerous twinkle in her eye that he’s sure spells his imminent demise, but he can’t bring himself to care.
“Actually, Draco, I’ve been having the most insistent cravings for chocolate croissants.”