Happy Birthday to Princess Cait: Canadian edition, my most treasured Alpha, aka In Dreams! I'm a day early... why? Because I was a day early last year so this is like our thing :P

Special thanks to mcal for jumping in as Alpha! Thank you, my friend, for talking me down.

I had no time to beta sadly so special thanks to LightofEvolution for every other story... I wish you were awake tonight lol... Therefore, all missed commas are on me

He isn't sure how or where or much of anything really, but he knows he has to find her.

Draco Malfoy, normally unruffled as he stalks the halls, is frantic. Looking into classrooms, left and right, he is becoming desperate. Where is she? Hogwarts is big but it's not that big...

Months after the end of the war, name cleared because he acted under "duress" (a muggle term he has recently learned to be very grateful for), Draco has pretty much everything he's ever wanted. Alright, sure, his family coffers are a little less full than before, but there is a level of wealth that if you lose "a lot" you still have an obscene amount, and the Malfoy family is firming set at that level.

Lucius and Narcissa, somehow free and cleared of all charges, are on an extended holiday as Draco returns to finish school. The general tone at Hogwarts, and in fact the wizarding world at large, is celebratory and forgiving, even Draco finding the bulk of students to be civil at the very least.

So everything is coming up roses except for one thing: He can't find his witch! Last he saw her, she was taking breakfast in the Great Hall. Some other witch in his house was nattering on and on about... whatever. He doesn't fucking care. Nattering about something, and none of it important. She'd been awfully put out when he got up to leave, but doesn't she understand that he has something to do? Something that really matters?

Because, what really matters is that he has never told Her how he feels! How can he live with himself if another holiday, another year goes by, and his emotions are left ambiguous and vague? He's tried to show her in subtle ways, but she deserves more than that. She deserves everything.

If given the chance, everything is what he will give her.

He turns yet another corner, almost ready to give up hope, when he nearly runs into her and her friends.

"There you are!"

She looks at him with wide eyes. Those beautiful chocolate eyes… He could be lost in them.

"You were looking for me?"

She sounds surprised. Of course she is. How awful he's been, letting her believe she is anything but a goddess.

"I always look for you," he answers, still approaching and not stopping until he is completely in her space.

Her irritating friend says, "Oi!" and something else equally plebeian, but Draco doesn't care. Achingly gentle, he cups her face in his hands, stroking his thumbs over the bones of her cheeks, just underneath those perfect eyes.

"I can't go another day without telling you what you mean to me," he says softly, searching her gaze.

"I… what I mean to you? Malfoy, what are you-"

He can't wait any longer. It's rude, he would suppose, but he cuts her off with a kiss. A kiss that is as divine, as delicious, as he had known it would be. Their first kiss. The significance feels like it both weighs him down and sets him to flight.

The friends are "Oi"-ing and fussing, but Draco doesn't care. It's only when he feels a meaty hand on his shoulder that he pays them any heed.

His head whips around and glares at the red-head who dares lay his monkey paw upon his person. "Take your hand off of me, Weasley. Now."

"Get away from her, Malfoy!"

The other one jumps in, all righteous and scarred, Potter stands a united front with his cohort. "Back off," he barks and then turns his gaze on Draco's witch. "Hermione, are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she says, and when Draco looks back she is eyeing him suspiciously.

"Granger, I'm sorry if I've startled you. I just couldn't wait another moment. Please, can we speak more… privately?"

He drops his hands from her face and watches her mind whirl. She glances from Draco to her friends and then finally agree. "We can talk."


-"can't trust him"-

-"stay where we can see you"-

-"wants to do something awful"-

-"up to something"-

-"filthy hands on you"-

-"can say in front of us"-


Draco was about to jump in and deny whatever nonsense they are accusing him of considering. How dare they even imply he would harm his witch? He hadn't had an opportunity to protest when Granger jumped in and put a stop to their shouting with a much louder one of her own.

She turns to look at him and gestures down the corridor. "Lead the way."

With a grin, Draco leads her around the corner and in to an empty classroom. He opens the door for her like the gentleman he is, then nearly makes to look back to Potter and Weasley. They are probably on their way to murder him, but Draco is too distracted to really care. He closes and wards the door, a dreamy and smug smile still sitting on his lips.

"And just what was that all about?"

Granger. The mild irritation that was her friends is over quickly, and he only has eyes for her. Draco crosses the room in two long strides leans his body against hers, trapping her between himself and the stone wall.

"I apologize," he breathes out, feeling unsure why anything but her mattered, even for a moment. "I should never have let them come between us."

"Come between us?" He confusion gives way to annoyance; he watches her face scrunch into a scowl. "What in Merlin's name are you talking about, Malfoy?"

"Draco," he corrects. "Please, I like when you call me Draco, love."

"Draco? When do I ever call you that?"

He has to think for a moment, the answer seeming a bit out of reach. When does she call him that. Oh, yes, just last Tuesday…

"In the Prefect meeting. When you were reading the roster, you said my name, and I thought my heart might explode."

Her small hands push against his chest, and he finds himself stumbling back a step. "What sort of game is this? Did one of your friends put you up to this? Parkinson? I saw you talking at breakfast, and she was giving me some evil looks."

"I don't play games with you, Hermione." He nearly swoons, hand covering his heart as he is so affected by her name on his lips. He is helpless but to say it again. "Hermione… Your name is beautiful. Poetry." He is back in her space in one step, begging with his eyes that she will not push him away. "You are beautiful. Do you know how I've wanted you?"

"No," she drags out with a breath, looking stunned and unsure. That's his fault, he knows. He's not made his affections clear. She likely doesn't trust him with her heart.

Draco shakes his head at himself, stepping back in to her. "I'm so sorry, Hermione. I've been so foolish." He says the last very quietly, and then presses his lips to hers once more. She stiffens, and it breaks his heart.

Gently, coaxing, begging with soft consideration, he pillows her bottom lip between his own, flicks the barest tip of his tongue against it. Just a taste.

Unfortunately a taste is all it takes to make him ravenous. He goes back for more, and more, and Merlin, fuck, more. He's moaning before he realizes it, swallowing her own little sounds down his throat. He has her pressed again into the stone wall, and has just the barest thought to realize it might not be comfortable.

He lifts her from the floor and deposits her with care atop a desk to his left. She squeaks a bit in surprise, but doesn't really pull away. Stepping into the space between her knees, Draco looms over her, hands on her jaw to tilt her face upward, and devours her.

He is in a daze, lost to her, acting on instinct. His hand travels from her jaw to her waist, pushing up slowly until he is brushing the underside of her breast. Does he dare? Would she allow…?

Taking a chance, he cups her with reverence, groaning into her mouth. She makes no protest, and so he swipes two fingertips across her peak, trapping the hardened tip between the digits and pinching lightly. The sound she makes is enough to nearly send him over the edge, and he ruts against her apex, seeking her perfect heat.

It's only then that she stops him, pulling her lips away. "Wait. Draco, wait."

Inelegantly, he mutters something like, "Wha?" as he tries to duck back in for another kiss.

She pushes against his chest just enough to keep his mouth from hers and looks up at him with those molten eyes. "Draco, stop."

Focusing on her, Draco listens to her command and searches her face. She's flushed, chest heaving, eyes bright. Her lips are red and parted as she pants in deep breaths. So fucking gorgeous. Tempting…

He closes his eyes hard, trying to focus. He's still enraptured by her, unable to think, but trying to hear her protests out of respect for his witch. Why is she making him stop?

"I can't just…" She looks lost, which makes Draco very unhappy.

He puts just an ounce of space between them, just enough to show her that he is listening, and brushes a couple of errant curls out of her face. "What is it, my love?"

"It's… Malfoy, wha-"

"Draco," he corrects again, patiently.

"Draco… what are we…? I'm not about to… to… have intercourse," she whispers, "in an empty classroom."

"Don't worry," he soothes, "I've warded the door. No one will interrupt us."

Her shove is harder this time, taking him by surprise. Then her wand is leveled at his chest. "Let me out."

Oh, it's agony. Draco sees her fear and distrust and it makes his heart hurt, a dull pain in his chest. "Hermione, please."

"Let. Me. Out. Unless you were going to take me by force. Is that why you warded me in? I dare you to try." She straightens her wand even closer, right in front of his heart, in emphasis.

"No! No, please… Hermione, please. Don't you understand? I love you."

He can see the effect this seems to have, her body physically swaying. It's powerful, how he feels; to that, he can attest. His love is enough to bring him to his knees, and he's glad she feels some part of that too.

Straightening up, he sees determination steel her features and her resolve. "I'm not sure what this is about, Malfoy, but we're done here."

She starts to turn, and he panics. He's not used to panicking but that's what happens. Dropping to his knees, he reaches up and takes her hands. "Please, please, don't leave. I love you, Hermione, more than I can ever say."


He doesn't have it I him to correct her again. He's pleading with his eyes, with his thumb caressing the back of her hand. She looks confused and torn. Could she not know how she feels about him? Is her own heart unsure?

"Fine. If you want to continue," she waves her hand around as if to gather the moment for consideration, "whatever this is, then you can do so tomorrow in Hogsmeade. I'll likely be at the Broomsticks at noon."

With that she tears her hands from his and flies from the room, leaving draco broken hearted on his knees.

Hermione races down the corridor, the taste of Malfoy still on her tongue and heart beating hard in her chest.

What the bloody hell was that?

As she approaches the more populated parts of the castle, she slows her pace and tries to breathe in tandem with each step. Why did she even invite him to see her tomorrow? It's not like they are friends, and she certainly doesn't believe his declaration.

The entire moment was so bizarre, leaving her a mix of anxious, suspicious, and, quite unfortunately, aroused. What could possibly be his motivation? A joke? Was someone watching? Waiting for her to succumb so they could ridicule her? That theory doesn't make any sense after the way he has otherwise behaved this year. Back from the war, Malfoy has been much more reserved, no longer openly taunting other students. Oh, he's still sarcastic and snarky and snotty and all sorts of things, but not remotely the bully he used to be.

And as for the two of them specifically? Well, he's hardly spoken to her. There was that odd day they were partnered in potions, but it had gone relatively well. Yes, she had watched his jaw clench when her name was read along with his, but he hadn't openly protested. She had taken that as a win, and they'd worked well, if a little quiet.

So why, then, if she doesn't believe his motives, did she let herself get so swept up? Hard not to, she would suppose. He's a handsome wizard, poised and angular and, now that he's stopped acting like a spoiled child, fairly sophisticated. She noticed when they were partnered how his hands had moved so deftly as they prepared ingredients for their brew. It was hard not to watch, then, how his hands move at other times. His table manners are impeccable. Hermione knows her mother would be quite proud to see him, fork and knife in his hands, cutting small individual bites, elbows off the table, chewing slowly and with purpose.

She'd glanced at Ron on one of those occasions, seen him shoveling some sort of potato mash/corn/gravy concoction into his mouth with one hand, a chicken leg held in the other. She'd nearly gagged.

Well, it won't do to dwell on the 'why' or the 'how' of the entire affair. It's over, and, now that she called his bluff, she's sure it will never happen again. Disappointing thought, if she's honest, but Hermione Granger lives in reality and fact, and the fact is, the idea of Draco Malfoy being in love with her is fucking stupid.

Will she even go to Hogsmeade? She supposes she should, or she might always wonder what might have happened. Galleons to doughnuts, he doesn't show up, and since she expects as much she won't even be disappointed.

She won't.

Hermione reaches Gryffindor tower, makes excuses to her friends about needing to study, and holes up for the rest of the day.

Morning is a dull and sleepy affair for most of Gryffindor. Students have been staying up late, sneaking alcohol into their dorms, and generally taking advantage of the peace and joy of the wizarding world. Much of the staff have been a bit lax with rules, and even Headmistress McGonagall seems to be a modicum less stern.

Not entirely, but Hermione would swear she saw her with her top button undone at dinner two nights ago.

The consequence of course is that half of her House is completely hung over many mornings. She weaves her way through the bodies, draped over chairs and calling out oaths never to drink again or urges to keep going.

"Hair of the dog! You'll feel better with a shot of Whiskey!"

"Merlin, I think I threw up my socks last night."

"Never. Drinking. Again."

Hermione thinks it serves them right. A glass of wine with a meal is one thing, but this… She just doesn't see the point. Feeling smug, she leaves through the portrait hole and continues to an early breakfast, hoping to find Harry and Ron.

She's not disappointed, sliding onto a bench across from them, and finding them in good spirits.

"I'm glad to see you two were smart enough not to over-indulge." She sniffs, punctuating her opinion.

Harry grins at her, but counters, "Nah, we're just smart enough to stock up on Hangover potions."

Ron laughs and Hermione rolls her eyes, not truly all that put out. It's then that a bench is pushed back roughly, scuffing the floor and making quite a ruckus in the low-populated Hall. Draco Malfoy is stomping out of the room, eyes downcast. Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass try to stop him as he passes them by the door, both reaching to take an arm, but he shrugs them off forcefully and continues on his way.

Ron snickers. It's a sound Hermione knows well. Not his boyish, jovial laugh, no; this is reserved for pleasure in the misery of others.

"What's wrong with Malfoy?"

She looks to Harry, expecting less snide and more of a factual answer.

Her friend leans forward, voice low. "He was raving before you came in. Apparently those two," he tips his head toward the two witches looking toward the open door where Draco has just vanished, "slipped him a potion. Amortentia or something, I suppose. Wanted to see which one he really fancies."

Hermione feels the color drain from her face. It's worse than she thought. Maybe. Maybe not worse, but certainly not better. She thought maybe Draco was having a laugh. Now it turns out he was coerced, basically drugged. How mortifying.

"Right," Ron jumps in gleefully. "But turns out he didn't go for either one of 'em. Snuck off with some slag to a broom closet instead. He wouldn't say who, but I guess those two cried all night about it. Probably explains that kiss he landed on you, eh?"

"How did you find all this out," she asks, trying to feign indifference.

Harry is back with more information. "He was yelling at Nott and Zabini about it. Something about those two really messing up his life. I guess he must really regret whoever was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Ron scrunches up his face. "Surprised he could find someone desperate enough to give him a go."

Well, that's quite enough of that.

With all the dignity she can maintain, Hermione rises from the bench. "I'm not really all that hungry. I think I'll just shower and get ready for the day."

"Coming to Hogsmeade with us?"

She considers her friends. It's a pretty safe assumption Malfoy will avoid her now, so really she has no reason not to go. On the other hand, she's not feeling she will be great company. Was she the only one Malfoy approached? Did he find some other witch after her, a bit more willing? With a sigh, she relents, "I suppose for a bit. Could use some parchment."

"Predictable," Ron comments, but it's said fondly, and so she chuckles.

As long as she avoids the Three Broomsticks, she doesn't have to feel like a fool. As long as she's not waiting for him if he happens by, she won't look as pathetic as she feels.

Draco has no idea what to fucking do about all this.

Theo has been trying to talk him down for the better part of an hour, and Draco knows he's getting frustrated. Well, join the fucking club, Theo; lots of frustration going 'round.

"Just go talk to her."

Draco groans and screws his fists into his eyes. "I just… what am I supposed to say? I basically assaulted her-"

"Doesn't sound like she protested over-much."

"That's not the point! I had a plan," he emphasizes. "First was her Birthday gift, then invite her to the Samhain ball, then I ask for her permission to court her. You don't just… writhe against a witch you want to declare for!"

Theo hangs his head in his hands for a moment, then looks back up. "Well, obviously that plan's all bollocks now, isn't it? Make a new plan."

He's quiet for a moment, going over their interaction from the day before. Truthfully, he's gone over it quite a lot. Reminiscing the feel of her, the taste… It made for a rather uncomfortable night but really delicious dreams. But the most important thing he needs to be considering right now is if he should be planning to meet her.

This isn't how this was supposed to go. He's been harboring interest in the witch for years, a full on crush since sixth, and absolute infatuation since this past September. He never thought he could just go for her, that she might respond, yet she had met his advances with rather passionate consent. Was it real? Was she caught up in the moment? Did the potion somehow influence her as well? Some sort of residual effects. Pansy did say she messed it up.

No huge surprise, really. She's a garbage potioneer.

No one else, not one soul, had known about his one-sided love affair with forbidden fruit before yesterday. Now the entire bloody school probably knows. He should have kept his voice down at breakfast, but when Zabini told him what they'd done, he lost his mind. All that careful scheming to win her over, out the window for a quick snog in the classroom. Merlin, she must hate him.

"Maybe if I apologize."

"You're rubbish at apologies."

Draco scowls. "Unhelpful, Nott."

His friend shrugs. "Pretty on-brand for me. But really, if you want to apologize, you had better get to it. I've seen that one when she's carrying a grudge. You might not survive the hex if she's too worked up."

Nodding, Draco agrees and bids Theo a good day. Now, to find Granger and beg forgiveness. Shouldn't be too hard, right?

Draco has been scouring Hogsmeade for an hour. He started, of course, at the Broomsticks as planned. It became apparent that she wasn't coming very quickly. Known as being punctual with a capital Punch, there is no way she's simply running a bit late.

Which means she's avoiding him, and that is just not alright.

After searching various shops, pubs, and restaurants, Draco has resorted to looking for other Gryffindors. He thought he had too much pride to do this, but it turns out his pride took a walk once he got a taste of her. Maybe he was under the influence of a botched potion, out of control and not completely himself during the event, but there is nothing wrong with his memory. After moaning to Nott for most of the morning, Draco decided he wasn't going to alloy Pansy and Greengrass to botch up his path forward.

He's a Malfoy, and he gets what he wants.

Assuming he can find it that is.

When he spots Potter and Weasley, he knows he's completely hopeless, because he only feels relief.

"Potter!" He calls to the wizard and picks up his pace, gaining on them as they trudge down the street. "Potter!" he calls again, this time catching their attention. They both turn with a frown, Weasley's being particularly sour.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" They stare him down, arms crossed over their chests.

"Granger!" he barks, then amends, "I mean, is Granger here?" Well done, Draco. Super elegant. Subtle too.

Love is making him stupid.

They exchange a look, and Weasley works out a slow and questioning, "Why? What's it to you?"

"Because I need to talk to her," he sneers back. He'd meant to be polite, but fuck this guy and his suspicions.

"She's around," Potter offers vaguely, shifting his weight from one foot to another.

Draco pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a calming breath. At least he knows she's here.

"Right. Around. Where around, Potter?"

He shrugs. The fucker shrugs and smiles just a little, just enough for Draco to know he's being a complete cock on purpose.

"Nevermind," he mutters. "I'll find her myself."

As he walks away, he hears the redheaded wonder ask, "You don't think she's the one...?"

Potter quickly says back, "No. No way."

Draco smirks for the first time all day.

The one place he hasn't tried is Honeydukes. It seems obvious enough. What student doesn't love to pick up some sweets at Honeydukes?

Hermione Granger, that's who. You can accuse Draco of many things, but one thing no one can deny is that he is observant.

And Granger has been holding his attention for more than a little while. He noticed it years ago, but the witch in question very rarely consumes sweets. He poked around a little to find out why. Surely she can't think her figure anything but divine? No, he learned, it's her parents. Apparently muggles have some wacky notions about teeth healing that requires one not to use their teeth on certain foods, sweets amongst them. Draco, addicted as he is to all things chocolate, has every intention of breaking her of that restriction once she is his. There's magic for that, silly muggle girl. It makes him smile fondly just thinking of it.

Back to the topic at hand, he's tried everywhere else, so what would it hurt to look in the sweets shop? With a deep breath, holding on to a tiny shred of hope of finding her, he pushes through the door. Draco flings a quick spell at his shoes to remove any dirt and then looks around, searching for her tell-tale mass of curls. He doesn't see her immediately, but the shelves are tall, and she's a petite thing. Aisle by aisle, he stalks the store from left to right, looking down each row and feeling crestfallen with every empty view.

Finally, in the second to last row, there she is. Knelt down and looking at a display of truffles imported from France, she doesn't notice his approach.

He stops and looms over her, taking in her image, then clears his throat. When she looks up, she's so startled that she gives a little squeak and falls from her crouched position onto her bum.

Draco laughs a little, thinking how adorable she is, and she glares back. He quickly offers his hand. "Alright, Granger?"

"Fine," she bites back, reluctant as she accepts his hand. "Did you need something, or just come to have a laugh at my expense?"

Once she's righted, Draco backs away and denies, "Never. Not anymore, at least."

"Oh, I see. You've had your fun then."

The look she is giving him is far angrier than he'd expected, and so he frowns. "I actually just... I wanted to apologize."

"Oh. No, that's… You don't need to apologize, really. It wasn't…" He watches as her ire cools, and she clears her throat to start again. "The responsibility for what happened isn't yours at all, so really there's nothing to forgive."

"There is," he argues, stepping forward. "I'm appalled by my behavior, influenced though it might have been."

"No harm done," she says, but Draco very much disagrees. The way she's acting now, skittish and distrusting, is a lot of fucking harm if anyone would like his opinion.

He steps forward a bit more, hoping she doesn't bolt. She looks like she nearly could. "I appreciate your kindness, but you have to know that behavior was unacceptable. With you especially."

"With me?" she questions, her expression going a bit dim. "With someone else, more acceptable then? Someone not me?"

He doesn't quite follow. It sounds like she's saying the same thing he is, but somehow it's also very different. He nods anyway, not following his instinct. "Never you," he says again, assuring her of her value, but instead of being assuaged, her eyes turn glassy and she moves to skirt around him.

"Excuse me," she mumbles, and nearly runs for the door.

Granger? Granger! Hermione!" She ignores him and is gone before he can realize what happened. Should he wait, see if she calms down and returns?

No. if he has learned anything from Pansy Parkinson over the years, it's that a witch in distress wants to be chased, even when she doesn't admit it. Without any more hesitation, Draco crashes through the door and out onto the street. "Hermione!"

He catches sight of her just as she turns a corner and takes off in a run.

She gets it; really she does. The pureblood thing… At least he was polite about it. Apologetic, even.

Hermione doesn't agree with the pureblood agenda, obviously. She believes in worth based on merit and striving for your own place in the world.

But human history is littered with examples of purposeful breeding. He must feel obligated to continue the tradition. Traditions are important; they have value.

She gets it.

Doesn't mean it won't sting for a bit.

She makes it to the outskirts of Hogsmeade, walking at a brisk pace, before he catches her. Why he bothered to follow, she doesn't know, but the entire affair is making her agitated.

She has been ignoring him calling her name, but when his hand lays on her shoulder, she spins in place and barks out, "What?"

He stares at her, dumbfounded, then finally asks, almost to himself, "Why are you so angry?"

"I'm not angry," she denies immediately, instinctively, though she sounds very much like she is. "I'm just ready to get back."

"I don't understand. You said you forgive me, now you can't even look at me. Did you think I don't mean it?"

"No, no. I'm sure you are quite sorry it happened. Let's just not talk about it, alright. I understand. And, if it makes it easier for you, I won't tell anyone. No one…" She swallows hard, staring at a place over his shoulder so she doesn't have to meet his eyes and finishes, "No one has to know."

Malfoy cocks his head at her. "I appreciate that," he says, and it's a fresh sting; his gratitude feels dirty.

"If that's all then?"

The look on his face is confusing. Disappointment? Hermione shakes her head, irritated at herself, and turns to go.

"I know it's early," he blurts after her, "but in case you find yourself… busy? On your birthday?"

She turns back and he's holding a package in his hands.

She sighs with regret, further discouraged. "You don't need to buy me a gift to apologize, Malfoy."

Hermione is no stranger to receiving luxuries to make up for emotional disconnect. Her mother is the queen of that trick.

But he shakes his head and denies the accusation. "It's not. I'd already bought this. Weeks ago."

"It's tomorrow," she argues back, like it's important he realize it's the wrong day; like he hasn't already said he's early.

"I know, but tomorrow I'm sure will be spent with friends. This felt like a better moment. Just us."

He shrugs, suddenly looking at a loss for words. He's never looked so boyish as he does right now, not even when he was truly just a boy.

"Why?" She can't help but ask, and then clarifies. "That is, why even give me anything? I'm not… not someone you associate with."

He steps closer and agrees, gently, "You're not. But I'd like you to be."

Hermione scrunches her face in confusion. "You would? But I thought...Earlier, you said… I don't know what you said, exactly, but certainly implied that I wasn't worth considering."

Confusion seems contagious. Malfoy squints his eyes in thought. "I don't know how you came to that conclusion, but it wasn't my intention. Hermione, you're…"

He groans, tilting his face to the heavens. "This was so much easier under the potion," he laments.

"Yes," she agrees drying, "love potions tend to make everything easy."

His face snaps back down and gazed at hers. "Love potion? Where in Merlin's name did you hear that?"

She gives him a sympathetic look. "Sorry, I'm not usually one to gossip, but your conversation at breakfast was… loud."

"You weren't even there," he points out, slightly petulantly.

"No, but Harry and Ron heard the whole thing."

He answers a bit and shakes his head. "Forever cursed by The Boy Who Lives to fuck up my day." She starts to argue, not appreciating his attitude toward her friend, when he continues earnestly. "Not a love potion, Granger, a truth serum. It was supposed to be like Veratiserum, but Parkinson cocked it up and made it truth compelling instead of truth telling."

"Truth?" She says, knowing deep down she sounds lost and a little slow.

"Truth," he reiterates, and punctuates, "compelling."

"So you..." she hedges, leading him and feeling her heart pick up its pace.

He moves forward again and is close enough to touch. "So I searched the entire ruddy castle to find you, compelled to tell you what I've been harboring for months. Years even."

Hermione searches his face, eyes roving from his grey gaze to his lips, to the strands of blond hair falling over his brow on one side.

"I had a plan," he confesses softly. "I worked it out. A birthday present, so you'd consider me, then I would invite you to the ball. If I was fortunate, that would be enough. I could begin a proper suit. If not, the holidays were next. Perhaps a kiss for the New Year."

How can she possibly believe him?...after everything? After the slurs and threats and his choices during the war. He must see her distrust, because he reaches forward to take her hand in his, tentative and unsure.

"Would you like to open your gift?"

She's startled, having forgotten about the small box in his hand. "Right. I... yes. Thank you," she breathes out.

He holds the box between them, and she removes her hand from his, almost reluctantly, to accept it. She box is wrapped separately from the lid, so she only needs to lift the top to access whatever waits inside. Hermione can't seem to take her eyes off his face until his own gaze flickers down. She follows his line of sight to the open box and finds a key inside.

She looks back up, more confused than ever. "A key? Please don't tell me this is the 'key to your heart'," she says with a touch of humor, and is gratified when he laughs just a little.

"No," he says, and she starts to relax before he adds casually, "You won't need one of those. It's open to you."

Merlin, this wizard. Hermione is not the swooning type, but if she were...

"This is a portkey to the Malfoy family archives. It's located in our property in France, and we keep all of our first edition tomes there. Copies at the manner, of course; our library is astounding... But all of the truly remarkable items are there. This is your open invitation. The elves keep it hospitable, and this key will work for you innumerable times. I thought it might be useful for research, and, maybe, I can accompany you sometimes?"

She's stunned. Completely at a loss. "This is-"

"Please don't say 'too much', Granger. It's nothing, no cost to me. A completely selfish gift meant only to allow me to spend time with you."

"You're serious," she realizes. Unless this is an elaborate plot to separate her from civilization so he can murder her, and no way is Hermione that paranoid.

"Completely. Will you accept it?"

"Yes," she says without hesitation, and he grins.

"You realize, I'm part of this package? Will you accept me? In some capacity?"

This time she pauses, wanting to give them both enough respect to truly consider what he's asking. When she nods, his smile broadens into something devastating. "Yes, I think I'd like that."

With no warning, he scoops her up into a tight embrace, lifting her feet off the ground. One leg pops at the knee and she feels both ridiculous and pleasantly lightheaded at the cliche she has just become. When his lips seek hers out, she allows him to take what he wants and claims a piece of him for herself.

He returns her gently to the ground and eventually eases the kiss into something delicate. "Apologies," he mumbles against her mouth. "I had meant to do this in a gentlemanly fashion."

Sneaking a quick peck before she speaks, Hermione assures him that she has no need for a gentleman, and that he is free to pursue her with the same passionate interest he's shown so far.

He does, kissing her again and leading them back toward Hogsmeade with his arm around her shoulder and a bit of cocky self-assurance in his stride. When they come upon Harry and Ron, the pair having been looking for her, she tucks herself against him in declaration.

"You alright, 'Mione?" Ron, bless him, furrows his brow, not quite understanding what he's seeing.

She looks up at the face of, so it would seem, her suitor. "Quite," she says. "I'll tell you all about it later."

'Later' turns out to be a bit longer than anyone realized. Draco somehow manages to keep Granger occupied for the rest of the day and late into the night, finally letting her go near the witching hour. He expects sleep to come fast and hard, exhausted as he is.

Unfortunately, when he makes it back to Slytherin dorms, he has a Nott to contend with.

"I take it your apology was accepted," he tosser says with a smirk.

"It was," Draco answers with haughty dismissal. "Get off my bed."

Theo is lounging quite comfortably but sits up with a roll of his eyes. "You don't share well."

"Only child. Now, fuck off, I'm dead on my feet."

"Tsk tsk… How do you expect to share Granger with her two little shadows?"

"I'll survive," he answers vaguely, not really thinking it's Theo's business. They talked about it, he and Granger. Draco swore to give his all at civility (though he's not sure how much he can honestly expect that to be) and she was delightfully understanding. Such a sweet witch he has. So accommodating. She'd accommodated his hand right up her shirt, in fact; the promise of more on the horizon. Oh, the things he will do to her. Dirty, beautiful, intimate things-

"Hey." Two fingers snap in front of Draco's face. "Merlin you've got it bad. Anyway, I actually had a point. I can't do much for the redheaded one, not willing to, but if you need someone to distract Potter…" he leers, hooking at thumb at himself, "I'm your wizard."

Draco is dumbstruck. "I… You know what? It's too late for me to unpack everything that just happened in the past five words. Good night, Nott."

Dragging himself into bed, he pulls the surrounding drapes closed, Theo chuckling softly from his own place across the room.

He dreams of his witch, hoping she's thinking of him.

Morning brings much of the usual fair. Bathing and dressing and making his way to the Great Hall, the glaring difference being that Draco makes a straight path to the Gryffindor table the moment he arrives, Theo on his tail.

"Morning, pretty witch."

Granger looks up and smiles at him, perfect white teeth behind her lovely pink lips. "Draco."

"Can I invite you to try out the snake den this morning?" He offers his hand, hoping he's not making a fool of himself. Will she follow? Does she trust him that much?

With only a cursory glance at her friends, she accepts his hand and leaves her place.

"'Mione!" The Weasel looks put out and Potter has a slight scowl, but before anyone can really react, Theo plops himself onto the bench.

"Don't worry, Gents. We'll have an even exchange today. Your lioness can visit with my dearest friend," he gestures at Draco, all dramatic flourish, "and you can have me, lovable snake that I am."

They look at him in question for only a moment before Weasley shrugs and goes back to his plate.

Draco smiles at Hermione and takes her hand. "Come on, then. I'll introduce you to Blaise, the second of my two idioic friends."

"The least charming amongst us," Theo pipes up. "I'm quite delightful."

As if to punctuate the point, Draco watches him throw an arm over Potter's shoulders. The other wizard goes a bit stiff, but Theo looks back at Draco and Hermione with a wink just as they walk away.

"Is he alright with them?" Hermione asks, nervous for her lions.

Draco snickers and pulls her close, whispering low, "I think he has a thing for Scarhead," and laughs even harder at the look on her face.

Oh, she's so much fun.

Draco settles in, knowing he is going to enjoy the rest of his Hogwarts experience, hand in hand with this witch that he always knew was made for him. A truth he didn't need a potion to tell, but is aware that it sped up the process.

He raises his glass, toasting Pansy Parkinson as she scowls from across the room.

"To you," he mouths, then kisses Hermione Granger quite soundly.