Happy Birthday, In Dreams! As always, one day early (though I was pushing it a little this year lol... barely made it!) This story is unbeta'd, unalpha'd,
unomega'd... It's raw, is what I'm saying, and I only had time for one round of edits so, Dreams (and everyone), sorry about any errors lol
In the aftermath of battle, Draco is singed, sore, and clinging to his mother on the steps outside Hogwarts. Hermione Granger gives him a glance. When he tries to convey something with his eyes, something like 'I'm sorry', she just turns away.
On September 2nd, Hermione Granger gives Neville Longbottom a book.
"Well," she says, flopping down beside him on the 8th year common room sofa, "I was abroad over the summer, and I missed your birthday."
His cheeks go pink as he sputters, "You didn't have to do that. We've never really exchanged gifts or anything."
Waving off his protests, Granger gestures to the small flat package.
A book no doubt. How predictable.
"I just think, this year more than ever, we should all celebrate as many good things as we can," she says, and it sounds like there is no emotion behind it at all, but the shaking of her hands belies the truth. "Go on, open it."
It is, indeed, a book. "Serpents and Shrubberies: 101 Ways Snakes Improve Your Garden."
There is a beat of silence, and then Longbottom laughs. Irritatingly and honest, he guffaws like a lunatic until tears prick at the corners of his eyes. Granger joins in eventually, a sort of relief collapsing the stoic nature of her face until she is in an absolute fit as well.
"What's this?" Terry Bootlicker is curious. Then Mandy Broccoli-or-whatever is in the game. The remaining Ravenclaws shuffle over, and suddenly what had been a comfortably quiet room is stifling with the war torn remains of Draco's 8th year.
With a huff, he gathers his book and parchments and stomps from the room. Even fucking Blaise is leaned over the back of the sofa, making quips about Longbottom and his snake killing tendencies.
Too fucking soon, if you ask Draco Malfoy. It's all too fucking soon.
Sounds of laughter follow up into his private bed chamber and he throws a silencing ward over the door. Fucking Gryffindors and their brave stupidity, and now he has to live with them.
Maybe Azkaban wouldn't have been so terrible.
On September 3rd, Granger gives Hannah Abbott some muggle nonsense.
"They're cosmetics. I heard you telling Mandy you hate having to pull out a wand to refresh your charms. I thought you might enjoy trying the muggle way. Maybe you could incorporate both in your routine." She shrugs and Hannah gives her a winning smile.
"Thanks, Hermione. Is this for my birthday?"
Granger nods. "I know it was in August; sorry it's late."
And so it begins what becomes an annoying habit. Granger spends the next few weeks being magnanimous and generous and basically sticking herself right in the middle of everything. And here Draco thought Harry Potter was the attention seeker. He sneers at her a lot, making a big show of leaving the room whenever she's holding court.
And on her own birthday, of course, it's a fucking fiasco. After the fifth gift is presented to her, another sodding book (does no one have any unique fucking ideas?), she breaks down into sobs, 8th years clustered around her in comfort.
But all Draco can hear is her sobs devolving into screams of, "We didn't steal it!" and he has to bolt for the door before the panic overwhelms him.
On October 12, she pulls Blaise aside and hands him a small package. He grins at her in his usual way, and takes it with thanks. "I wasn't sure… I mean, I wanted to give birthday gifts this year but I didn't know if you would accept it."
"War's over, Granger," Draco's housemate tells her. "So what is it?"
She nudges at the package. "Open it. If you don't like it, you don't have to wear it. Just maybe lie and say you do," she adds with a chuckle, self-deprecating but pleasant enough.
Draco isn't sure he's ever seen her use humor other than biting, angry snark aimed at himself. Blaise laughs lightly in turn as he tears the paper from a flat box and lifts the lid. "A scarf?"
She blushes. Granger seems to do that a lot this year. "I like to knit. Keeps my mind occupied."
With a bit of flourish, Blaise removes the scarf, a rather elegant combination of chocolate and cream, and wraps it around his neck. It's not perfect, a bit tight in some places, lumpy in others, but the way Zabini is smiling at her it may as well be Vicuna wool.
"Happy Birthday, Zabini."
Draco slams the door to his room.
In potions class that November, Draco is paired with Granger for a partner project.
"Let's just get this done," he says, unsure why exactly he's so angry. When they were paired, he had been sitting in his favorite spot, the one table in the room with only one chair. Granger on the other hand was laughing it up with Theo Nott and Zabini seated behind her and one of the Patil twins to her left.
After Slughorn announced their pairings, she had offered a little wave to her adoring fans and made her way to Draco, only to realize she would have nowhere to sit.
He'd made a big show of moving back to the table she had vacated, Patil having already relocated to sit beside Longbottom.
"Right. I'll just get the ingredients while you prepare the cauldron." She says it like a question, but is up and on her way to the supply cupboard before he can answer. Draco doesn't appreciate having orders barked his way. Especially by annoying little swots that can be polite, can be forgiving, to everyone under the sun except for him.
By the time she returns, he's worked up into a bit of a lather.
"So first, why don't you crush the wings while I-"
"I'm not your house elf, Granger," he bites out, cutting her off. She stops talking immediately and her eyes flash with something like disappointment. What? She thought he would just roll over to her whims? Well, the rest of the school might be worshiping at the shrine of Saint Granger, but Draco doesn't appreciate being talked down to.
"Just because you're supposed to be some kind of hero doesn't mean you can control me too."
"I wasn't trying to-"
"You crush the wings. I'll slice the roots." And he snags the paring knife from her hand to do just that.
She mutters something about just trying to organize the project, but Draco isn't listening. She has time to laugh and carry on with every other git in his house, spouting unity and forgiveness, but does she ever even give him a glance? Fucking hypocrite. Draco knows there won't be a handmade scarf for his birthday. Or a thoughtful personal gift or an inside joke. So if she's not going to pretend, neither is he.
The rest of the project is done in silence. It's a wonder they are able to accomplish a workable potion, but somehow it comes out perfect.
"Well done, indeed! If I'd known how proficient you would work together, I'd have paired you weeks ago!"
Draco sneers after Slughorn turns away and grabs his satchel with as much force as he can. Granger seems to shrink in on herself as he storms past.
The holidays are lonely. Draco returns to the manor, but his parents are quiet. House arrest does not agree with their proud and entitled constitutions. He sees them for Christmas dinner, a somber affair, but little else. When he does come across his father, Lucius is stumbling, a tumbler of whiskey permanently in his hand.
Narcissa hides her indulgences a little better, but Draco knows the signs of potions use when he sees them.
Two days later, he kisses his mother's cheek and shakes his father's hand and makes his way through the floo, arriving in McGonagall's office a full week before term. His visitation with his family was allowed by the Wizengamot for five days.
Fucking Theo gets a painting.
"I went to this muggle class with my mother over the hols. Everyone just drinks wine and tries to paint something together."
"Are those buses? Those little red things in front of the buildings?" Theo is squinting at it, turning it sideways and back, and Granger fucking blushes.
"They are. I'm not sure mine turned out very well, but you were telling Blaise you wanted some muggle art to irritate your father. What could be better than a muggleborn painting a cityscape?"
His answering laugh is more joyful than Draco has ever heard. "Granger, that's brilliant. Maybe this summer you can visit the manor and see where I've placed it."
Draco clenches his fists.
"Your father will hate that," she says with a laugh that very much sounds like an agreement.
Draco slams his door so hard it bounces back open. He slams it again for good measure.
In February, Draco half expects Granger to receive an owl carrying a ring, or at least some meager fake jewelry. When nothing arrives, he throws out his theory casually to Theo.
"No, they didn't last the summer. Weasley refused to come back to school and Hermione thinks working at the joke shop is an easy way out. Told him they want different things in life."
Draco is stunned. Not so much that the love affair of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger came to a great failure of an end, but that Theo seems to have a lot of detailed information.
"Not that she's kept it a secret. You'd know that if you did anything but snap at her."
"Oh, fuck you, Theodore. As if that little princess wants anything to do with someone like me."
"Someone like you?" he asks, face clouding. "What, a Death Eater's son? Slytherin? Pureblood? Yes, she's been a right monster to everyone like that. Except me. And Goyle. And basically everyone else. Ever think maybe it's not her, it's you?"
And Theo leaves him alone after that. They don't speak for three days.
When Draco finds him in the library days later, he sits down beside him and they exchange the kind of look only the oldest of friends can. A look that says, you're not right, and I'm not wrong, but you mean more than the rest. By dinner, they speak as if it never happened and Granger isn't mentioned again.
Mandy gets a potted plant that apparently Longbottom helped cultivate because it was her mother's favorite. Justin Finch-whatever receives a voucher to some new restaurant in Diagon. "They specialize in Thai fare. I know how you love tom yum." Greg has a basket from Honeydukes owled in during lunch, full to the brim of their imported goods. This time, he's the one that blushes as Granger gives him a smile.
Weeks and months roll by, and suddenly it's June and the year is nearly over.
On the morning of his birthday, Draco is particularly angry. He knows he is unlikely to receive any gifts. His mother isn't allowed to owl the school, Theo already treated him to an evening out on their last Hogsmeade excursion, Blaise doesn't believe in gifting to other wizards, and Goyle… Well, Goyle gets a pass because he's lucky to tie his shoes each day, less likely to remember the date.
At breakfast, Draco flinches when an owl drops a package right into his porridge. Looking around the hall no one seems to have noticed, partially because there are very few students in attendance. Most of his classmates don't eat quite this early, which is how Draco likes it.
He snaps off a bit of sausage for the owl and sends it on its way before casting a cleansing charm on the package.
It is unmarked and wrapped in white butcher paper, tied with twine.
Deciding he would rather open in private (what if it's a death threat?), he finishes his juice and makes his way back to the 8th year common room. It is also mostly empty, only Abbott and Longbottom playing a round of chess. They don't look up as he passes by.
In his room, Draco sits on the edge of his bed and looks over the box. Revealing charms do not detect any sort of hex or curse, so he feels confident enough to tear back the paper.
Under the paper, inside a flat box, is a simple silver frame holding a photo. The strangest photo he's ever seen.
It's of his family, the three of them in Diagon. It's from maybe five years before. His hair is longer, falling in his eyes just a little. His father had hated that look, but his mother told him he looked charming.
Pansy agreed and let him kiss her behind the gazebo at the manor that summer.
In the photo, Lucius is imposing, Narcissa is elegant. They are every bit the wealthy and beautiful family they used to be. Static, inert, there is an eerie quality to seeing this moment of time, just one second of life captured, trapped in a silver prison forever.
Yet, it's also a luxury to see them like this. Not a formal portrait or sanctioned photography for The Prophet or other publication, they look like he remembers them day to day. Not posed, not expecting anything, just walking through Diagon together, a united front.
His father has his hand laid lightly at his mother's low back, an intimate gesture of affection that is rare to see from his parents, and it is captured here. Narcissa has her hand slightly raised, referring to something off camera that has Draco's attention. He wishes he could remember what it was.
The longer he stares, the more Draco realizes what a profound gift this is. He feels choked, eyes turning wet and breath coming quick. This is his family. Everything of who they once were all contained in this one mundane moment. Mundane but fucking perfect. Before everything changed. Before the Dark Lord invaded his home and his father languished in a prison cell then turned to drink, his mother lost in a haze of potions.
And who could have known how much he needed to see that there were good days before the bad? Could this be from his mother? Perhaps she found a way, through threats or bribes, to send him a piece of his family and heritage on this birthday.
But it's unlikely, and Draco knows it. Narcissa Malfoy is in no position to threaten or bribe anyone, trapped as she is in their home, and she's too far gone most days to even think to do so.
In reality, this is a muggle photo, and Draco can only imagine one source.
He scoops up the discarded paper, looking for any sign of the giver, any signature or card enclosed, but there is nothing.
His eyes dry as he ponders more. It was her, he's sure. So what does she expect now? Is he to be one of her sycophants like Theo and Blaise and all the rest of them. She didn't have time for him all year, but now she does this one thing.
This one truly incredible, thoughtful thing.
He could scream with frustration. Does he thank her? Does he just ignore it and leave Hogwarts behind in a matter of weeks, possibly to never see her again.
Maybe it wasn't even her after all. It's just a photo; could be from anyone, right?
He's not sure how long he sits there, staring at the photo, students passing by his door, no one stopping to greet him or give well wishes. He has all but decided to simply put the photo away and ignore it for the rest of term, to ignore her right along with it.
But she walks by his open door right at that moment, not even sparing him a glance, and instinct makes him angry all over again.
"Granger!" She turns to look in his room, and he's off the bed stalking toward her. "What is this?" He brandishes the frame, holding the image close to her face.
Her spine straightens as she pushes her palm against the frame, moving it from her personal space. "A gift. Obviously not one you appreciate. Happy Birthday, you great arse."
And she stomps away, leaving him there furious and sputtering before he follows behind.
In the common room, she is slipping on a pair of shoes by the door. Draco notes that the chess game has ended and no other students have lingered. He is alone with Granger.
"Where did you get it? Were you having us followed? How long have you had this, hiding private images of my family?"
"Merlin, you really do jump to the wrong conclusions. I had it by accident. At least, your family being in it was an accident."
Draco furrows his brow, confused and still trying to find how he's being tricked. Is she making a fool of him somehow? "Where did you get it then?"
He watches her sigh and slip off the shoe she just put on. "Just a moment." And then she grumbles all the way back to her room, "not like I needed breakfast I suppose…"
She's gone for no more than a minute before returning, a large book in her hands. Granger thrusts it at him, her fingertips holding one page in place. "Here." He reaches his hands out on instinct, and she flips to the marked page the moment the book is balanced across his hands.
One delicate finger points to a large photo on the left page. "See? There you are."
He looks closer. The image at first glance, seems to be of Granger and what he would presume are her parents. A couple looking rather out of place in muggle attire is posing for the camera, smiling, unmoving. The man has his arm around the woman and Granger stands in front of them, shorter than both.
Draco starts to ask what he's supposed to be seeing, when he notices where she had pointed a moment ago. Behind the Grangers, the Malfoy family is walking by, the image the same as the one in his silver frame. Draco now sees where his mother was indicating as young Draco's eyes are on Granger. And just like that, he remembers the day clearly. Narcissa had made a comment about muggles invading their lives, subtly bringing influence into the Wizarding streets. Draco remembers thinking they didn't look so strange really, beyond the style of clothes.
The perfect moment with his family is a little tarnished after that, realizing how imperfect they have always been.
"I noticed some of my family photos had images of other people in the background. So I took it to a muggle place that can manipulate photography. They were able to crop out my family and make it an image of yours instead."
He looks up at her explanation, horrified to find that the lump is back in his throat. He can't speak, and he's not sure if she realizes that or not, but she fills the silent void once again.
"I know you can't see your family much until their sentence has ended, and I wasn't sure how many photos you would have that aren't large formal portraits."
She lowers her voice a little. "When my parents were away during the war, sometimes it felt like I'd never see them again and my memories were all I had. I didn't dare keep too many personal things on me. I would have killed for a photo like this. Just a candid image, one they hadn't expected. Something that was really them, you know?"
Her thoughts echo his own, and Draco realizes just what a thoughtful gift this was. More than a scarf or cosmetics or even a painting of a muggle street.
"Fuck, Granger," he rasps, voicing breaking a little. He says it without meaning to, overwhelmed. He imagines his eyes are glassy and his voice reverent.
And there it is, the blush.
He shakes his head and mutters, "You'll do anything for anyone, won't you? Even someone you hate."
He didn't really mean for her to hear that either and certainly not to answer, but she does anyway.
"I don't hate you. I never did. I don't much like you a lot of days," she adds with a chuckle, "especially when you're snapping at me, but I reserve real hatred for a very special few."
"Like Umbridge?" he quips without thinking, and she laughs a little once again.
"Most definitely. You can't even hope to compare to her."
The following silence is exceptionally awkward, quite jarring after that brief but pleasant exchange. Draco finds he would prefer to return to something more amicable.
Clearing his throat, he asks, "So when did you decide to do this?" He holds up the photo book a little higher before closing it and handing it back.
"Oh I found that while I was moving my parents back in August. I had to find someone to print your copy before the Express left and then my father owled it over for me when it was ready."
Draco is shocked to say the least. At her forethought, her planning, at the effort to which she has gone for his ungrateful arse. "You had this all year?"
"I had most of my birthday gifts figured out. Except Theo; I had to come up with his on the fly, but it worked out."
"I didn't expect you'd give me one," he confesses in a moment of honesty. His memories trail back to after the battle, to the moment that she wouldn't even look his way.
"I almost didn't," she admits. "Didn't sign it either, you'll notice." Granger's gaze wanders the room. "I thought you might rather have it if you thought someone else gave it to you."
The looks she gives him is incredulous. "Well… Because I'm a muggleborn. I wasn't sure about a lot of you in Slytherin, but everyone has been really kind."
It seems like a perfect moment for a lot of things: apologies and regrets. Truths. It seems like a time he should say how sorry he is for everything. For the war and the torture she suffered and even his poor attitude during their brief stint as potion partners. It would be the moment to tell her he doesn't think less of her, doesn't see her as inferior, that he has found respect, at first grudging and now overwhelming, for her intelligence, her bravery, and her kindness.
But Draco thinks he needs more time, more trust, to lay himself that bare, regardless that it's all true.
So instead, he hedges with, "If you've not had breakfast, we should go. They won't be serving much longer."
"Oh! Yes, thank you, I got distracted… Anyway, I hope you like the photo."
She rushes back to her room presumably to deposit the photo book, and then rushes back out toward her shoes. Halfway through sliding her foot into the left one, she stops. "Are you coming? I doubt there will be too many students left but if you don't want to eat alone…"
Draco gapes at her, considering a response. She's inviting him to eat with her? Does he say he's already had his breakfast? Or that he can just sit at Slytherin?
Her eyes are bright and earnest, and Draco finds himself starting to grin.
"I am quite famished," he lies. "Should we sit at the empty Slytherin table? Or Gryffindor?"
"Whichever one has blueberry scones left," she answers with a smile, sliding into the rest of her shoe
Draco, he would like you to know, fucking loves blueberries. "Excellent plan." He follows her from the room, hand itching to rest in a gentlemanly fashion at her lower back. But he hasn't earned any liberties yet. He will start with the apology, maybe over breakfast, and see where that takes him.
Happy birthday. Maybe it will be, at that.