All characters and canon situations belong to JK Rowling and Warner Brothers and I make no money from the writing of this story.
I Dare You to Be My Valentine
(Part II of the series 'This Year')
"What are you doing, Granger?"
That innocent enough question was leveled at Hermione Granger by Draco Malfoy as he walked down the long hallway on sub-level four of the Ministry of Magic one cold and blustery February morning.
Hermione looked up from her place on a bench outside the outer offices of the Minister of Magic. "Oh, hello, Draco. I didn't see you there."
"And apparently you didn't hear me either," he mumbled. "I asked you what you were doing, sitting there all by your lonesome, outside the Minister's office." Without invitation, Draco sat down beside her.
"I'm waiting to see the Minister," she said, absentmindedly, pulling on a string dangling from her pretty, red jumper.
Draco curbed the urge to roll his eyes. "I did figure that out for myself, but what I meant, for it wasn't a rhetorical question, but a question in fact, was WHY are you sitting on a bench outside the Minister's office… no…" he held up a staying hand, "let me be even more specific, as I can see you answering that query in a vague way. What are you waiting to talk to the Minister about, Granger?"
"Nice way of ending the sentence WITHOUT making it end with a preposition – adding my name at the end," she said with a smile.
"I admit, that wasn't my intent, but thank you anyway," Draco drawled with his own smile. He leaned back, crossed his legs at the ankles, and said, "But I can't be easily distracted by a mere compliment. Answer my question."
Hermione wrinkled her nose (in that adorable way that usually made Draco's head spin) and said, "That always works on Ron and Harry. They are easily distracted."
"I'm sure they are, but I am not. Do I look as stupid as Weasel or Pothead?" Draco waited for her answer with baited breath.
She seemed to actually ponder her answer for longer than Draco thought she should. Finally, she said, "No, you don't." She sighed. He smiled. She stood. Being a gentleman, he stood as well.
"I don't know why I'm here," she finally admitted, going to stand by the opposite wall across from the bench. She leaned her back against it and looked down at the faded tile floor below her. "First I received a message from Harry telling me there was an important meeting for me to attend in the conference room on sublevel seven. I went down there and the room was dark and deserted, but still, I waited for over half an hour. When no one showed, I headed up to Harry's office, only to be stopped by a messenger stating that I was to meet the Minister at his office. I walked down here and when I went to his assistant, the woman told me to wait out here. That was twenty minutes ago. The longer I wait, the more worried I become."
"Why are you worried?" Draco leaned his shoulder against the wall. He turned to face her. Up close, he realized how incredibly lovely she was. It was a bit disconcerting.
"I'm worried because… well… all sorts of reasons!" She threw her hands up in the air. "What if they want to fire me? What if he wants to talk to me about that last amendment I worked on? What if they want to demote me, because the amendment wasn't made into law?"
"What if he wants to tell you something good?" Draco urged. He had to admit, she did look very worried. She was wringing her hands in front of her, her breathing was a bit erratic, and she looked to be on the verge of tears or worst.
"If he wanted to tell me something good, he wouldn't make me wait for twenty some minutes!" She pointed her finger at Draco's chest. "I tell you, Draco, it's something bad. I can feel it in my bones. And the longer I wait here, trying to figure out what in the world Kingsley could want with me, the more flummoxed I get!"
Draco pushed away from the wall, took two steps to the right until he was in front of her and asked, "Flummoxed? That's a word my grandmother would have used. Flummoxed." He was a bit flummoxed himself. He didn't like seeing her flummoxed or upset in any way. An upset Granger was surely not a happy Granger, and an unhappy Granger wouldn't dare be his friend, let alone his Valentine.
Because, the thing was, Draco had an infinitesimally, tiny, almost non-existent crush on the woman standing before him. It started some time during school, grew during their years together at Uni, became a bit stronger when he started working at the Ministry last year, and was now, what he would call a slight, infinitesimal, tiny, little, almost nothing of a crush.
Who was he kidding? He loved the blasted woman and she barely knew he was alive, and now she was flummoxed and he was to blame.
He needed to defuse the situation immediately.
Walking around her, he said, "There are a whole host of modern words at your disposal: Jumpy, panicked, on edge. Good old-fashion words like: Anxious, worried, tense, apprehensive and nervous. Being the smart woman that you are, however, you picked the most arcane and archaic word in your brain, you found the word 'flummoxed' and did not find it wanting, so you used it." He winked at her. "Good girl."
"Flummoxed is both arcane and archaic? I had no clue," she regaled back to him, smile in place.
Making crossroads with the task of 'unflummoxing' her (as if THAT was a word) Draco felt his heart skip a beat when she smiled at him. Her smile sent a jolt right through his chest into his shriveled up, little, black heart.
It was his fault that they were both here today. It wasn't just any old day in February. It was February 14th, also known as Valentine's Day and Draco had planned to tell her his feelings today. Therefore, he called in a favour, asking old Scarhead himself to make sure Granger found herself in an empty meeting room, which would not really be empty at all, but it would be filled with roses, champagne, and Draco Malfoy himself. He would tell her how he felt, she would (he dared to hope) offer her the same feelings in return, and all would be right in his usually wrong world. Potter held up his end of the bargain, ensuring Granger was in the meeting room at precisely one o'clock in the afternoon, but Draco found himself late, because as par for the course regarding everything in Draco's life, nothing ever went to plan.
He started toward his destination, the meeting room in question, only to be held up when he got an urgent message from his mother. A man could hardly ignore an urgent message from his mother. So he was forced to go the The Manor, just a pop in really, to see what his mother needed, only to find out that the only thing she needed was to tell him that she was tired of waiting for grandchildren and would he kindly hurry things up and find a wife!
He wanted to shout, "I was working on that very thing," but since a man also didn't shout at his own mother, he merely said, "Yes, Mother," and started to leave.
However, that untidy conversation led to a whole host of other problems, as his father then stopped him before he could leave to reiterate what his mother had to say with his own, 'you need to get married, son' talk and all Draco wanted to do was tell the old man, "I can't even get a date for Valentine's Day if you don't let me leave this house immediately!"
Finally, he extracted himself from his familial bonds, only to find out that Granger was no longer where she was supposed to be, and the meeting room empty. Hence the reason he had to ask old Kingsley to call Granger down here.
He immediately changed his plans and dashed down here, where he was going to tell her she was pretty, and then ask her out for a date, (since the date he had planned for lunch went awry), hoping she would then fall into his arms and he would kiss her senseless.
Apparently that wasn't going to work either, because it was evident to even a man like Draco Malfoy that she was nervous and anxious and would probably not find anything about this whole mess the least bit romantic. Even as these thoughts mulled around in his head, she was still fidgeting and there was a most unattractive frown line forming between her brows.
She would probably shout and become angry with Draco for taking up her time, scaring her, etc, etc. etc.
He was the one that was flummoxed now.
Draco sat back down on the bench and patted the space beside him. "Come and sit down, Granger. I'll keep you company while you wait for your meeting, and perhaps keep your mind off all things unpleasant."
She regarded him with a dubious look in her eye, but to his surprise, she plopped down next to him. He eased a mite closer, until their arms were touching. Her hands were still clasped in her lap, so Draco reached over with one of his and said, "Stop it." He didn't know what else to say, because all he could think was that for all intents and purposes, he was now holding her hand, and frankly, he had no intention of letting go.
Her gaze went from their joined hands (resting on his thigh) to his face. Her beautiful face was a mask of confusion and expectation. She finally said, "May I be honest with you, Draco?"
"I don't usually subscribe to honesty, but I understand it's important to good, moral people like you, so go for it," he urged, shifting slightly on the wooden bench to face her.
She waited a few seconds and then said, "I find myself being slightly enamored with you… and before you make fun of my choice of words again, I'll revise it myself by saying that I'm infatuated with you. I have been for a while now, and the real reason I'm anxious has nothing to do with my meeting with the Minister and everything to do with the fact that I had planned on telling you that very thing today, of all days."
Draco's mouth opened, but no words escaped.
She continued, "You see, I finally plucked the courage to tell you, just in time for Valentine's Day. Oh, it's Valentine's Day today, by the way. Did you know?"
Draco nodded, still incapable of speech.
She held his hand in both of hers now, turned to face him on the seat, and continued. "I had a special lunch planned. You always take your lunch at one, and I always take mine at one thirty, so I had planned on asking you if I could join you today, and I even had a rose I was going to give you, and then, well, I was going to ask you to be my Valentine, and I know it's all so silly and won't you please, please, say something before I continue and make an utter fool of myself?"
Draco's tongue felt thick, his mouth felt dry, and his head felt full of cotton batting. He had so much he wanted to tell her, yet he could hardly believe what she had just told him.
And apparently, she wasn't done. "That's why I feel so out of sorts, because just as I was heading toward the cafeteria, I was told by Harry that I was to report to a meeting. I went to the room he said, but no one was there. Then I got the message to come here, and all I kept thinking was that I missed my chance and I would have to wait a whole year for next Valentine's Day." She smiled. "You know, to ask you to be my Valentine." Her smile slipped a bit. "Because I couldn't hardly ask you to be my Valentine on Easter, right? That's just plain silly."
"Easter," Draco repeated.
She dropped his hand and stood quickly. "This is all so very mortifying. I just dared to ask you to be my Valentine and the shock of it has left you speechless, while on the other hand, I can't seem to shut up and will you please, please, just say something?"
"You were going to ask me to be your Valentine?" Draco stood and walked directly in front of her.
"Probably not in so many words, for that sounds ridiculous, but I was going to give you the rose at lunch, make witty repartee with you while we ate, and then I would have invited you to dinner for tonight, which just happens to be Valentine's Day."
He finally smiled. "Where would we have gone?"
She placed a hand to her face to hide an adorable blush that stained her cheeks. He reached for her hand, pulled it down from her face, and then moved his own hand up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. He watched in rapt attention and asked again, "Where, Granger?"
"I don't know. I was planning to leave that to you." She tucked her chin down and stared down at the floor.
"Because I was, but of course, going to accept your invitation," he said, smile still in place. Hermione quickly looked up at him.
She misinterpreted his question and smile, thinking his statement was sarcasm, for she said, "Of course you wouldn't have. How stupid you must find me about now."
She started to walk away, but he reached out, grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. Urging her to the wall, he stood in front of her, his hands on either side of her body, caging her in, and he said, "I'll repeat that, Granger, so you won't come to the wrong conclusion again. I would have accepted your invitation."
"You would have?" she asked, blinking in surprise.
"I will," he reiterated.
"You will?" she quipped.
"I shall," he relayed. "Honesty being what it is, I guess it's my turn. I planned to ask you the very same thing today, but nothing went as I envisioned."
"You were going to ask me to be your Valentine?" she inquired, cocking her head slightly to the side, while placing one hand on his chest.
He leaned his head close to hers, almost until their cheeks touched, and he whispered into her ear, "I was going to dare you to be my Valentine, and being the brave woman that you are, I know you would have accepted the challenge."
Pulling back, he stared deeply into her dark, bright eyes. They were both quiet for a moment. He couldn't believe his luck. His attraction to her wasn't one sided. Their feelings for the other were reciprocated. He gathered her into his arms, brought his hand up to cup her cheek, and placed his lips upon hers.
He felt slightly adrift, as if the floor was being pulled out from under his feet at the same time that the hallway was spinning. He held her tighter, she placed her hands around his neck, and he deepened the kiss. His tongue stole into her mouth and she gasped, tightening her grip around his neck.
It ended too soon. They stood in each other's arms, gazed into the other's eyes, and found that they were both breathing hard and erratically.
"Will you be my Valentine, Hermione Granger?" Draco finally asked. "Be my Valentine for today, tomorrow, and perhaps, if you're so inclined, and I'm lucky, for the rest of our lives?"
"I thought you would never pluck up enough courage to ask me, Malfoy," she responded with a grin. "The answer is yes, if you'll do the same for me."
"I'll think about it," he teased. "Right now I think I'm too flummoxed from that incredible kiss to think straight, let alone answer your question."
She slapped him on the chest and said, "It's a perfectly good word, you know."
"That it is, my one and only Valentine – that it is."
(Go to The Maple Bookshelf to read part three of my series 'This Year', called 'In Like a Lion'.)