”Ah... Should have seen that coming. But aren't they afraid that big, bad Draco Malfoy might do something to their precious friend?”
Hermione turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised. She gave him the once-over and a crooked, devilish smile. ”They have no need to worry about me. See, I could do you with my eyes closed and my hands behind my back, and they know it too.”
”Oh, really? Think you can do me?” His grin reached from ear to ear. ”Bring it on.”
”Oh, I will. You won't even know what hit you,” she smirked, rather a lot like he used to do. Then she turned back to the dishes.
He couldn't wait to be alone with her again.
During the couple of days that followed their ambiguous conversation in the kitchen, Hermione found that Draco's eyes were on her all the time. He wouldn't say much, but there was a knowing smile playing on his lips when she looked back at him. Every now and then he would raise his eyebrow in challenge – he was clearly waiting for her to show him what she was capable of.
She was still a bit shocked about the audacity she'd shown. Normally she wasn't the type of person who would let such indecent comments slip out of her mouth, and yet she had told Draco Malfoy she could do him with her hands behind her back. She supposed she should have been ashamed, but she wasn't. So she had said something that could be interpreted as lewd. Big deal. No one even knew besides herself and Draco. And it wasn't like she had meant it that way, it was just a warning not to mess with her too much.
The bit of humor was affecting in other ways, too. Hermione had noticed that Draco had been looking at her with a newfound respect after the comment – at least when he wasn't busy sporting his 'bring–it–on–I–know–you–want-to' expression, that is. That wasn't often, but still.
”Hello Granger,” Draco greeted as he sat down in an armchair next to the one Hermione was currently located in. ”How are you doing today?”
”Fine, thank you,” she replied. There was something other than her well-being on his mind, she could tell from the innocent look on his face. Most likely it had something to do with either the Harlequin book or the conversation they'd had in the kitchen. Or both.
It was funny, really, how well she had learned to interpret what it meant when he looked at her a certain way. Sure, most of his looks gave away his intention of teasing her, but she also knew it wasn't a bad kind of teasing. To be honest, some of his quips were actually quite funny. It was the type of humor she liked but didn't get to enjoy much. Their witty banters felt refreshing, for she didn't have to explain herself or her words like she often had to with Harry and Ron. Ginny was better at it than the boys, but not as good as Draco. There was also something about him that made her excited in a whole new way whenever they talked. She wasn't exactly sure what it meant, but she kind of liked it.
”I noticed that a certain book has been returned to the book shelf.”
She smiled to herself – she had known he would notice. ”I was wondering when you would bring that up.”
”Well, the cat is on the table now. How was your reading experience? Enjoyable?” Draco questioned with a smirk.
”It was actually quite educational, as you suspected a few days ago,” Hermione told him. ”I daresay I learned I couple of new things, in theory at least.”
”I'm sure you learned all kinds of new ways to...do things.”
She shook her head a bit at his amusement, rolling her eyes. Even though he was making her smile, he would soon have to find new jokes. He was running out of ways to approach his favourite subjects. Unless something came up, she would have to start thinking about sacrificing herself to give him something new to talk about. A small, dirty-ish quip would surely be worth the trouble if he could make her laugh because of it. Of course she wouldn't say anything unless it was absolutely necessary... She wasn't that kind of girl. Ahem.
* * *
The second week of the safe house system had begun and it was time to switch houses. Harry and Ron had left for the new house earlier than Draco and Hermione, even though Ron had agreed to the arrangement quite reluctantly. At the moment Draco and Hermione were in the lobby with two Order members. Their bags were packed and they were ready to be transported.
”You know, I'm really glad we got out of the Manor. I never knew you were such a great girl,” Draco said as they waited for the port key to activate. ”You really are something.”
Hermione looked at him, surprised. He seemed to genuinely mean it. She gave him a delighted smile.
”You're not too bad yourself,” she admitted. She suddenly felt funny and had to turn away to avoid his gaze. She really hoped he wouldn't notice, but he did.
”What's that, Granger? You're not blushing, are you?” You could just hear the smirk.
”Of course not,” she mumbled, not looking at him.
Draco raised his brows in a doubtful manner, still smirking.
”I'll get back to you on that,” he winked at her cheekily.
”Get ready now, it's almost time,” one of the Order members told them. ”Hold on tight.”
All four put a hand on the shiny black men's shoe as it started to emanate a blue light. Before Hermione felt a tug behind her navel, an arm snaked around her waist. She looked at Draco questioningly.
”He told us to hold on tight,” he murmured.
She had to close her eyes as the port key worked its magic, but she could feel the strong arm around her and smell the somewhat intoxicating scent that came from Draco. She hadn't noticed how good he smelled until then. Before she could give her discovery another thought, they had reached their destination. They had a welcoming committee, too. Ron glared at Draco angrily when he saw how close the blonde was to his friend. Wearing a rather smug expression, Draco lazily let go of Hermione. He took his bag and disappeared up the stairs to get settled in his new room on the third floor.
Hermione, instead, had to spend some time assuring her male friends that everything was alright and the young Malfoy had only wanted to make sure the port key didn't leave her behind. She didn't really believe it herself, either, so it was no wonder the boys were suspicious. Harry let go of the subject a lot before Ron, who wanted Hermione to promise she wouldn't stand next to Draco the next time they traveled by port key.
When she went to Draco's room later that evening, she was in a bad mood. She had barely closed the door behind her before scowling at the boy sitting on the bed.
”I hope you're happy now.”
”I didn't know you cared so much,” he smirked mockingly.
”I was talking about that little stunt you pulled when we got here, you dimwit,” Hermione snarled. ”Do you have any idea how long it took me to calm down Harry and Ron?”
”Let me see... We've been here for almost five hours and you haven't come to see me before this, so... I'd say it took you about four and a half hours.” From the look she gave him he could tell she didn't appreciate his humor at the moment. ”Look, you just need to tell your watchdogs to back down. You shouldn't have to explain yourself all the time.”
”I know,” she sighed and sat down next to him. ”It's just so frustrating. I don't even know why I like being in your company, but I do, and you have to keep provoking them all the time. And I haven't heard you complaining about being around me, either,” she added quickly as Draco opened his mouth to speak.
”True,” his lips curved into a smile. ”But you can't expect me to just stop bothering them, I've been doing it for the most of my life, and – what are you looking at?”
”There's something in your hair.”
She reached her hand to get rid of the mysterious thing, but he startled and dodged her hand.
”Draco, what are you doing? I'll get it off a lot faster if you stay put,” Hermione told him.
He had an amazed expression on his face as he stopped moving. ”You called me Draco."
”Well, it is your name,” she rolled her eyes even though she was a bit surprised, too. She stretched her hand out again and wasn't interrupted this time. ”Is it okay if I call you that?”
”Yeah,” he said, but twitched uncomfortably at the same time.
Hermione frowned. ”If you don't like it, I can still call you Malfoy.”
”No, it's not that, it's just...” There was a small tinge of pink on his cheeks. ”Normally I don't let other people touch my hair.”
Hermione stopped what she was doing and gaped at him. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. ”You don't – I mean – uh... I'll just try and be quick.”
Draco watched her facial expressions and sighed. ”Go ahead, laugh at me.”
”No, it's not that, I totally understand,” she said quickly. Her lips were twitching, though. ”Everyone has parts they don't let random people touch. Although I don't think hair is that common to have on the limitations list... But don't worry, your hair is safe now. I got that thing off. How did you get a sticker in your hair?”
She didn't wait for an answer, but got up and left the room instead. After the door had closed behind her, Draco could have sworn he heard her giggling to herself.
* * *
He woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a muffled cry. He sat up abrubtly, looking around with alertness. He listened carefully and soon heard the voice again. It came from the room next to his – it had to be Hermione. He got up, took his wand with him and was soon at Hermione's door. He didn't bother knocking, but closed the door behind him so that the others wouldn't wake up.
”Lumos,” he whispered.
Hermione was lying on her bed and clearly in pain. Tears were falling down her cheeks as she moaned something totally incomprehensible. Draco sat down on her bed, took hold of her arm and shook her gently.
”Wake up, Granger,” he told her. ”Wake up!”
She stirred a bit but still didn't wake up. Draco was starting to panic. What if she didn't wake up, what if she just died in his arms? He shook her even more strongly.
”Granger – Hermione – please wake up!”
She trembled violently for a moment and suddenly opened her eyes wide, taking in rapid breaths.
”Merlin, you scared me! Are you alright?”
”Draco...? Is that you?” Her voice was barely a whisper.
”Yeah, it's me. Everything's alright. It was just a bad dream,” he said softly.
”Oh, Draco,” she breathed, sitting up and flinging her arms around his neck.
She started to sob uncontrollably. Draco wasn't quite sure what he should do, but his arms went around her nevertheless.
”Are you alright?”
”It was the worst dream ever,” Hermione managed to mumble in between her sobs. She needed a moment to compose herself before she could go on. ”I was back at the Manor and the Death Eaters were after me... They were going to r-rape me... And I looked everywhere for you, but you weren't there, I couldn't find you anywhere...”
Again she burst into tears. Draco let her cry against his shoulder for a while before he quietly asked, ”You were looking for me?”
She sniffed before lifting her head and answering. ”Yeah. I knew you were the only one who could save me... But you weren't there.” She sniffed again.
”I'm here now,” Draco said, giving her a comforting hug. ”I'm right here looking after you.”
”Draco... Could you please stay here? I don't want to be alone.”
”Yeah, of course I'll stay,” he smiled.
They settled down on Hermione's bed. She placed her head on his chest and he wrapped his arms around her. It was only a matter of minutes before she fell asleep, and Draco listened to her steady breathing for a while before he was sleeping too.
* * *
They woke up to a series of loud bangs on the door.
”Hermione!” Bang, bang! ”Are you awake?” Bang! ”We need to talk to you!” It was Ron.
”What the hell,” Hermione muttered sleepily before calling out a little louder, ”What is it?”
”Oh good, you're awake! Can we come in?”
”Give me a minute,” she answered, moving into a sitting position. Draco was still lying next to her, rubbing his eyes and giving her a smile.
”It's Malfoy,” Ron exclaimed through the door. ”He's not in his room and we've searched the whole house, we think he's gone back to the Death Eaters!”
That made Hermione's jaw drop. The confusion was quickly replaced by a very different feeling, however. She got up and headed to the door.
”Ron thinks, not me, I never said anything about –”
Harry stopped talking in mid-sentence as an infuriated Hermione Granger yanked the door open.
”RONALD WEASLEY! You can't always assume the worst of people! I am going to kick you!”
”Wow, 'Mione, calm down! Why are you yelling at me? You should be yelling at Malfoy, he's the one that's gone missing without saying a word!”
”But he hasn't gone anywhere,” Hermione sighed. ”He's right here in my room.”
Ron furrowed his brows. ”What are you talking about? He can't be there,” he stated, getting past Hermione and into the room.
He soon realized he was wrong, but totally forgot about it – the sight in front of him was something he just couldn't take. A half-naked Draco Malfoy was sitting on Hermione's bed, his hair all messed up, wearing a pair of pyjama pants and no shirt. If Hermione had been paying attention to that detail, she would have noticed that Draco looked rather delicious in that state.
”WHAT IN THE NAME OF MERLIN ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?”
”Ron! Stop shouting, you idiot,” she ordered, stepping in between Ron and Draco, who had stood up.
”I WANT AN EXPLANATION FOR THIS,” Ron yelled, completely ignoring the commandment.
”You might want to shut up,” Draco snarled at Ron, his eyes narrowing.
”Draco, please don't,” Hermione pleaded.
”Don't worry,” he gave her a crooked smile. ”I won't start a fight. For your information, Weasley, Granger had a nightmare last night. I woke her up and she wanted me to stay here, so I did.”
”Why didn't you wake me up? I would've stayed with you,” Ron looked at Hermione with furrowed brows.
”Oh Ron, why would I wake you up when he was already here?”
”I don't know,” he shrugged.
Harry had stayed in the back the whole time, but now he came closer and put a hand on Ron's shoulder. ”Come on, Ron, let's go get some breakfast.”
Ron glanced at Draco one more time, but followed Harry downstairs nevertheless. He didn't even try and persuade Hermione to come with them, and she was happy about it. She sighed again, shaking her head.
”I should go,” Draco muttered, heading to the door.
”Draco, wait,” she pleaded. She didn't want him to leave like that – he would probably stay in his room sulking the whole day, reminding himself of just how much and why he had used to hate the three of them. It had seemed like he was starting to open up and she didn't want it to go to waste.
He turned around to look at her. ”Yeah?”
”I'm really sorry for all that,” Hermione sighed. Again. ”Ron loses his temper quite easily.”
”I can see that.” He didn't look at her.
”Yeah... Well, anyways, I wanted to thank you for staying with me. It really helped.”
His face softened a bit. ”You're welcome.”
”So, um... I think I'll get dressed and go get some breakfast. You'll probably want some time before you come downstairs?” He nodded in agreement. ”Well, I'll see you when you're ready then.”
He left her alone and headed to his room. She sat on her bed for a while, trying to get her thoughts straight. Then she got dressed, mentally prepared herself for lecturing Ron and went to the kitchen.
Harry and Ron were both there, eating toast and drinking tea. Ron gave Hermione a sheepish look when she sat down and took some toast. She decided to go easy on him as he already seemed to be sorry for his actions.
”Ron,” she started, sighing as she sat down. ”I don't know where to start.”
”How about I start and say that I'm sorry? I didn't mean to upset you.”
”I know you didn't, but that's hardly the point. This isn't about you making me feel bad. This is about you not respecting Draco one bit,” she told him. ”You guys don't really know what it was like to be at the Manor. You have no idea how hard it was for me. I went through a lot of pain, and he helped me. When we had left the school, he was there for me when I needed it. Can't you just give him some credit for that?”
”I just don't trust him,” Ron muttered. ”And since when have you called him Draco?”
”That is none of your business.”
”Well, I don't like it. He might have been nice to you, but I haven't seen any of it. He'll always be an annoying ferret to me, and I won't –”
”You won't what?”
Draco had just walked in. Ron didn't bother to answer him. Instead he gave him a glare and got up, signalling he was leaving the kitchen. He looked at Harry who was still sitting and clearly avoiding his eyes.
”Are you coming, mate?”
”Umm, why don't you go ahead. I'll be there in a minute.”
”Whatever,” Ron grunted and stormed out of the kitchen.
Draco raised his brows as he watched the situation, seemingly interested. He didn't comment, however. He sat down next to Hermione and took some toast, too. She gave him a small smile.
”Malfoy,” Harry said, shifting uncomfortably on his chair. ”I, um, I'm sorry for Ron. He gets a little carried away sometimes, especially when it comes to Hermione.”
”I've noticed,” Draco commented dryly.
”Yeah...well...he has a bad temper,” Harry said. It seemed he'd had his share of being polite to Draco, for he got up and made to leave the room. ”I should probably see how he's doing.”
Draco shook his head when the other boy had left the room. ”I don't get you Gryffindors. You can't leave your friend alone for one minute if you think there's something wrong with them? Jeez, I bet that's annoying.”
Hermione smiled at him, her eyes twinkling merrily. ”You'll get used to it.”
A/N: I have a question for you readers. When it comes to Draco and Hermione's possible relationship, do you think it's going too fast? If you think of the psychological side, is the progress believable? I'd really love to hear what you think.