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 The usually-familiar kitchen table seemed foreign as the anxious witch sat down. Fine china was in front of her place, accompanied by patinaed silverware and an all too-fancy-goblet full of white wine. Her attractive host sat across from her while a floating serving spoon shoveled linguine onto her plate.

 

The two of them had shared meals together a number of times, but it was always in between reading and cleaning up a very specific brand of Bartholomew's messes. This time, the Wampus cat was at their feet, sleeping soundly. Without distractions, the scene seemed much more romantic than was intended.

 

"This is delicious, Draco."

 

"I know."

 

Several moments passed before Draco said anything else. "You think Potter is going to blab about our little run-in with him today?"

 

"He'll probably tell Ron and Ginny." She groaned. "Hopefully not, though. I wouldn't worry about Ginny, but Ron, he might—well, he may not take it very well."

 

"What? Are you worried he might get jealous and try to hex me or something? I'd like to see him try." He stabbed at his pasta and flared his nostrils. "Not my bloody fault you left his sorry arse."

 

"I don't remember telling you about that." Her voice was quiet, and all of a sudden, she was not quite so hungry anymore. Ron was the last person she wanted to talk about.

 

"Oh, please," Draco scoffed, swirling a pile of linguine around his fork. The stabbing method clearly had not worked. "It hardly takes a genius to do the Arithmancy. The both of you were always peppering the front page of the Prophet, then all of a sudden, there are no more pictures of the two of you snogging in public and Weasley is getting caught pissing in alleyways like the animal he is."

 

She sighed and put her hands in her lap. "Yes, well, he was pretty put out by the whole thing."

 

"Obviously." He snorted. "Kicking himself for acting an ass because he knows he can't do any better."

 

Hermione's heart fluttered in her chest, but she beat the feeling down as best she could. "Was that a compliment, Malfoy?"

 

"Not really. Superseding Weasel is hardly an accomplishment." He took a large bite and chewed thoroughly, swallowing before he continued. "I am curious what made you come to your senses, though. You and that imbecile have been googly-eyed over each other since we were in school."

 

"Honestly, I suspect you may be able to figure that out yourself." She used her fork to push her food around her plate. It was a nervous habit she had ever since she was a child.

 

"What? Couldn't agree on your favorite book? Let me guess: his had lots of pictures and was written in colored ink."

 

Hermione chuckled and found herself eating again. Somehow, he helped her feel at ease, despite the awkward conversation. "That isn't too far off, actually."

 

"At least you keep better company now." He smirked.

 

"Better? Is that the word for it?" she poked, a playful smile on her lips as she pointed at him with her fork.

 

"Well, more handsome, at least." The blond finished his pasta and dabbed his lips with the loose kerchief he had wrapped the silverware in. "And more intelligent."

 

Hermione could not disagree with either statement, but she was not about to let Draco Malfoy think that she found him handsome. The very thought made her shudder. "More intelligent than Ronald Weasley? Sure, I'll give you that."

 

Draco chuckled and took a sip of wine. "I'll take it. I have a feeling that bears more significance to a swot like you, anyway."

 

"And why does that matter?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow as she swirled her last bit of pasta around her fork.

 

"So, it's true, then." A sly grin was on his face. "You're attracted to my brilliant mind."

 

Suddenly, she went crimson in the face. "I never said that!" she exclaimed, pounding a fist on the table in protest.

 

"It was implied."

 

"It was not!" Hermione's silverware clattered against her plate as she piled it on with more force than necessary. "Merlin, you're insufferable!"

 

"I'm insufferable?" he repeated, incredulously. After he murmured a quick spell, the dirtied dishes cleaned themselves and found their way into their respective cupboards, leaving them only with their goblets of wine. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "In fifth year you threatened Weasley with a Knee-Reversal Hex because he couldn't name the thirteenth headmaster of Durmstrang."

 

Her face only reddened more. "You heard that?"

 

He shrugged. "Umbridge had me spying on all you lot."

 

"How did you remember, though? It's been over a decade."

 

"Hard to forget the look on Weasel's stupid face." Draco snickered. "'Bloody hell, Hermione! Not my knees!'" His impression of the youngest Weasley boy involved adopting a rather nasal, squawking tone that Hermione had to admit sounded quite close to the awkward teenager she remembered.

 

Before she could suppress it, she was giggling like a madwoman. "He sort of did sound like that, didn't he?"

 

"Sure did. Surprised him and Pansy didn't have a go at it. They're quite the mental match." He finished his wine. "Suppose he didn't have the money to land a chance with that one."

 

Confused, Hermione asked, "Weren't you always with Pansy? Second year and on, I thought you two..."

 

"Oh, Merlin's arse, no! Friends, sure, but—well, let's just put it this way: Pansy passed her classes because I spent as much time helping her as you did with Weaselbee and Potter. All that time was destined to give her...ideas," he sneered. "I had about as much interest in Pansy as I did Filch and his cat."

 

"Wow, so you were in love with her," Hermione toyed with him.

 

A soft chuckle emitted from his lips before he finished his wine. To her surprise, the sound left her stomach in knots. Certainly, his laugh had not had such an effect on her.

 

"Good one, Granger."

 

She cleared her throat, hoping that the burn in her cheeks was not easy to read under the candlelight. "Well, I suppose I ought to head home. I can give Bartholomew his last feeding for the day."

 

Draco frowned as she stood. "I was going to have another glass of wine in a moment. Will you not join me?"

 

"Er—no, I don't think so," she murmured before summoning a raw steak from the ice box. The steak bled into Bartholomew's food bowl after lightly flopping into it. "Thank you again, for dinner."

 

His forehead crinkled with confusion, but he nodded, nonetheless. "It was my pleasure. Have a good evening, Granger."

 

"You too, Malfoy."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

If Hermione had told her fifteen-year-old self that she would one day be spending every day with Draco Malfoy, willingly, she would have scoffed at the notion. Yet, as she steeped her evening tea, she found herself missing their good-natured banter. Her apartment in Cadsfordshire was just so painfully empty.

 

In the quiet of the late nights, she found herself practicing potions without the judgmental stare of her partner. At first, it felt like she was getting away with something each time she peeked inside a book for further instruction. Then, some part of her felt guilty. The past several nights, she had not used any books at all. Smiling to herself, she wondered if Draco would be proud.

 

"Bloody Malfoy," she scowled, realizing how silly it was to care about his opinions.

 

Several drops of flobberworm mucus later, she was staring at a glimmering yellow elixir that would have impressed even Severus Snape. Satisfied with herself, she bottled the Bull-Waddle Potion and shelved it amongst the dozens of other bottles and vials. The cupboard was a rainbow any potioneer would envy.

 

Unlike the grand furniture at Draco's cottage, the couch in Hermione's living room was far from comfortable. It was stiff with little wear and itchy fabric that carried the smell of a chemical she couldn't quite place. For many, the sofa was where they spent most of their time. Hermione, on the other hand, much preferred her small office and her deep-seated desk chair.

 

No matter how much she readjusted herself, there was not a cozy spot on the cursed cushions. After emitting a final, frustrated scowl, she heard a tap on her window.

 

A darling long-earned owl was pecking fervently at the glass, an envelope clutched in its tiny feet. Rarely did owls other than Harry's visit her, as she had all but fallen off the grid since she stopped working and ended her relationship with Ron. She was a mess of nerves, shock, and glee as she stepped away from the dreadful couch and opened the window.

 

She accepted the envelope and patted the bird thankfully on the head, but as soon as she tore it open, a groan fell from her lips. How coincidental that she and Malfoy had just been discussing the sender.

 

Hermione,

 

Hope this letter finds you well. Sorry if you don't recognize the owl. I had to borrow Neville's. Oxyl has been seeming a bit under the weather, but I think he's faking it to get out of flying. Ruddy bird.

 

Neville's house isn't all bad, though I do think our old place was better. He has bloody plants everywhere and it's hard to remember which ones might try to attack me, but I think I've gotten pretty good at memorizing the ones that'll leave a nasty rash. Learn from your mistakes, am I right?

 

Speaking of mistakes, just wanted to say sorry for how out of hand things got. Was hoping we could meet for tea soon.

 

Always yours,

Ron

 

P.S. The owl is a bit of a git. Give him a biscuit before sending him back or he'll never leave.

 

The inevitable had finally happened. Months after the two of them split, Ron was sending her owls, begging for her forgiveness—again. Hermione, of course, knew that he would contact her eventually. Their codependent pattern never failed.

 

Admittedly, she had been hoping to speak with him, eager to carry on the long friendship that she cherished so dearly. There was only one problem. Ronald Weasley did not want to carry on a friendship at all. His intentions were clear in his signature, because it was the same way he had signed every other post-breakup letter that he sent to her. Always yours. Then, they would meet for tea, they would make amends, and they would pick up right where they left off.

 

As Hermione turned the letter in her hands, trying to think of an amicable response, she realized that the circumstances were, perhaps, not coincidental at all. Just earlier that day, Harry had caught her at Flourish and Blotts with Draco Malfoy and Ron was one of the only two people that her friend was likely to inform about the encounter. While Harry was not the type to pry, he tended to act rather irrationally when it came to the blond Slytherin.

 

"Harry Potter, you absolute buttinsky."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Blue eyes hurriedly ran across the words. He had waited for the letter's arrival for days, though it felt much longer. One, two, three times, he read it. Life had grown quite strange for the redhead, and he had hoped that the message contained some level of normalcy.

 

It didn't.

 

Ronald,

 

How lovely that you are staying with Neville. I can't think of a better roommate for you. Of course, I know you'd prefer Harry, but it would likely get a bit uncomfortable when Ginny visited. I'm sure you agree.

 

Thank you for apologizing. There are things that I am sorry for, as well. Unfortunately, I've been quite busy and I don't think it will be the best time to meet for tea. Perhaps in a few months when the wounds aren't as fresh, you, Neville, Harry, and myself can go for drinks. I haven't been to the Hog's Head in a long while. Aberforth would be delighted to see us.

 

Wishing you the best,

Hermione

 

He didn't know whether to be angry or disappointed. As a mixture of both set in, he sat down to pen his response. Harry had told him not to mention her fling with their childhood bully, but his emotions spoke louder than his best friend’s advice.

 

Hermione,

 

It's a good time for you to be gallivanting about with Draco Malfoy but not to have tea with me? He's a git! We always end up getting back together. Surely, you aren't going to let MALFOY be the reason we don't?

 

Honestly, have you lost your bloody mind, Hermione? He's a Malfoy and you're a Mudblood. You can't possibly think you're a good match. Bloody hell, woman, I thought you were smarter than this. Does he have a big knob or something? I just have no idea what you see in him. He's MALFOY.

 

Guess you always have had a thing for shagging the enemy, so maybe this is no big surprise. First Krum, now Malfoy. Next thing we know, you're going to be the Knockturn Alley trollop.

 

When you stop being an idiot, you can find me at Neville's.

 

Ron

 

The words were harsh. He knew it, but he was too livid and hurt to care. Instead, he sealed it in an envelope, offered the long-eared owl a treat, and sent him away to deliver the rude message.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Buried nose-deep in Rearing Rare and Dangerous Creatures, a platinum blond wizard sat upon his sofa, legs crossed and his favorite pet lain across him. He was not surprised when he heard the same soft crack! he heard every morning. In fact, the sound brought a subtle smile to his face.

 

"Morning, Granger. Coffee is on the table." He gestured the green-and-silver mug she had grown accustomed to using. The Slytherin rather enjoyed that she was using a mug with his House colors.

 

"Rearing Rare and Dangerous Creatures?" she asked, frowning as she began unpacking her bottomless bag full of tomes. "I've never even heard of that book. Where did you find it?"

 

"Knockturn Alley."

 

Hermione sighed, dropping her books onto the coffee table with a loud thud. "Yes, I suppose that is where we'll be finding any information we might need outside of basic potioneering. Come across anything helpful?" She gave Bartholomew a light push. After a notably reluctant roar, the Wampus cat jumped down and settled onto his favorite rug while the witch plopped onto the sofa beside Draco. "I'm particularly interested in what we're supposed to do once he starts walking on his hind legs." She peered over his shoulder, her hot breath tickling his neck. "I imagine he'll be quite a menace."

 

"Hind legs, I can handle. It's the hypnosis that worries me," Draco mumbled, shifting in place. He felt Hermione move with him, seemingly eager for the human contact. "Are you even listening to me or are you too busy trying to feel up on me?"

 

"I'm not trying to feel up on anything." A sentence that she would have usually scowled came out meek and tired.

 

He glanced over at her, noticing that her eyes were red-rimmed and her bushy hair was somehow unrulier than usual. "You look a right mess."

 

"Gee, thanks, Malfoy."

 

"No, really. What's going on with you?"

 

"Nothing," she asserted, her gaze focused hard on the lines of text. "Last I checked, we're here for research, not chit-chat."

 

 He frowned, but knew how to take a hint. Pressing her would get him nowhere. "Well, I haven't found any chapters on Wampus cats in particular. All I've found mention of was some bloke named Abel Treetops who—"

 

"Claimed he domesticated them, but they were actually engorged Kneazles. Yes, I know him."

 

"Right. So it looks like we may not have much to go off of, but I've been finding some other information that may translate." He flipped back several pages until he reached a chapter entitled "Hungarian Horntails and Why They're Terrible Pets".

 

Hermione trailed her fingers along a moving illustration of a Hungarian Horntail that appeared to be breathing fire upon a man that had it leashed. She lay her head on Draco's shoulder. "Well, at least he can't incinerate us."

 

Draco chortled and skimmed the page until he found what he was looking for. "Yes, here it is. 'A Horntail is among the worst of the dragons to try and keep in captivity. Slashing claws and large teeth can easily be tamed by blunting charms but there is no ethical way to stop a dragon from...' and the rest really doesn't matter. Blunting charms. Should've been obvious before, honestly. I've never had to learn one, but I figure they would be simple enough. Easier than filing the bastard's teeth down..."

 

The brunette was nonresponsive to her partner's findings. Instead, she stared at the page, unblinkingly, the whites of her eyes only growing more bloodshot.

 

"Granger?" He frowned, moving his neck just enough to give her a good look without disturbing her place on his shoulder. "Granger, what the hell is wrong with you? Did someone lay some sort of nasty hex on you this morning?"

 

She shrugged. "No."

 

"Then what in Merlin's bollocks is your problem? You come in with more books than I can count, ready to work, and five minutes later, you look like you saw a bloody dementor."

 

"It doesn't matter," she grumbled, closing her eyes.

 

"It bloody well does if you can't get any work done!" He pulled away from her, drawing his pale brows together as she simply let her body slump into the sofa. "Merlin, witch!"

 

She sighed, straightening herself and laying her head back to look at the high ceiling. "Well, if you really must know, Malfoy, it's Ron."

 

Draco narrowed his eyes and slammed the book shut. "You aren't actually back with Weasel, are you? I can't have you getting distracted—"

 

"I assure you, he will not be a distraction," she scoffed, crossing her arms. "He sent me an owl a few days ago after Harry ran into us in Flourish and Blotts. Harry put him up to it when he saw us together."

 

Draco cocked an inquisitive eyebrow, entirely certain that there had to be more to the story. Granger was hardly the type to get worked up over mere contact, especially when she had already expected it.

 

"He wanted me to have tea with him. It's—well, he didn't say it but he always does that when he's trying to patch things up. I told him it wasn't a good time and he sent me a rather nasty letter last night. Mostly along the lines of 'you have time for Malfoy but not me?' and the classic 'have you lost your bloody mind, Hermione?'—not to mention the fact that he called me a Mudblood!" The woman was seething. "Harry gave him the impression that you and I are having...relations."

 

The blond wizard sniggered. "Weaselbee thinks we're shagging? Oh, that's grand."

 

Hermione whacked his upper arm. "It's not funny!"

 

"Oh, it bloody is! There was no turning Potter off that idea, was there? Must be having some strange fantasies, that one."

 

"Draco!" the witch scowled.

 

"And did you say Weasel called you a Mudblood?" Draco cackled. "I hope he wasn't suggesting he's superior to you. I'll take a Mudblood with brains over a Weasley any day."

 

"If that was supposed to be a compliment, it wasn't a very good one," she growled, crossing her arms again. Then, a small smile grew on her face. "I am better than him, aren't I?"

 

Draco's laughter slowed and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, squeezing in a way that many could have described as affectionate. "I've told you as much before. I would rather spend the rest of my life looking at that stupid bushy head of yours than get within ten feet of that ginger rodent even for a second."

 

Hermione opened her mouth as though she wanted to say something, but instead, her smile grew wider and she summoned one of her half-dozen tomes. "You know, I found something too." Wandlessly, she used her magic to track down the page she was looking for. The pages turned on their own. "Ah, yes! Take a look at this."

 

The blond comfortably watched the text her finger was tracing as she curled back into his side. Perhaps, it was just to make it easier to share their findings with each other, but something about her being so close made his heart swell. He would never admit it, but even disheveled, his schoolboy crush still gave him an anxious feeling that he couldn't describe.

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