The cobbled stone of Diagon Alley was hot beneath a baking summer sun, and Hogwarts students, old and new, were busy buying spellbooks, wands, pets, and other items. As witches and wizards of all ages, shapes and sizes, rushed by, Draco Malfoy watched them dispassionately, his feet propped up by a table and his blonde hair lying about his shoulders. In times gone by, he might have been busy tormenting the first years, instead of waiting at some café - for a Gryffindor, of all things - but times had most certainly changed.
Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour (under new management) was teeming with business, Galleons seeming to flow across the counter almost as rapidly as the cones fell to the pavement; the next generation didn’t seem to possess much in the way of hand-eye coordination. Smirking to himself as yet another future Griffindor wailed with regret, a paint-like streak of pink ice marking the place of the demise of yet another frozen delicacy, he bided his time. He was waiting for one person, and one person alone. Even as he was thinking this, a now-familiar voice rose up out of the clamour.
Swivelling his head around to meet the question, Draco found himself confronted by the girl for whom he’d been waiting most of the day. Hermione Granger, a disapproving frown marring what he considered to be a particularly pretty face, was eying him with some displeasure. Putting his hands behind his head, he gave her an arrogant smile.
She stared at him for a few moments, then sighed and shook her head, seating herself opposite him and glaring pointedly at the soles of his shoes until he removed them from the table. Once he’d done so, she lifted her eyes to his own.
“Sometimes I really don’t understand what exactly it is I’m doing with you, Malfoy.”
He grinned, and raised his eyebrows. “Want a reminder?”
She narrowed her eyes, her cheeks pinking delightfully. She still hadn’t quite mastered not reacting to his suggestiveness. “Not right now. I’m feeling a little distracted.”
“Busy at the Ministry?”
“You could say that.” she sighed, kneading her forehead gently. “Lots of paperwork, mostly. You’d be surprised how little we actually get done.”
“Sounds tough.” he replied, in an amused voice, receiving a wry smile in response.
“I wouldn’t say that. It’s… very quiet.”
For a while, they sat in contented silence, just listening to the passers-by. With the Dark Lord gone, the magical world seemed to have entered a golden age; the sense of hope was palpable, and despite there still being a lot to clean up, people were optimistic about the future. As Draco looked around, he noticed a young, blonde girl nearby who was twirling a wand in her hand ambitiously, her eyes shining with pleasure. When she waved it through the air a little too extravagantly, she dropped it, and was promptly scolded by her mother. Amused, Draco returned his attention to the girl opposite him; Granger was currently rummaging through her bottomless bag, her eyes narrowed with concentration.
“Looking for something?” he prompted, and she glanced up distractedly.
“Yes… hold on…” she rummaged some more, and then her eyes lit up. “Ah! Here it is!”
And she pulled out of her bag something Draco hadn’t been expecting; a small phial containing a clear liquid. Leaning closer in interest, Draco realised that he recognised it – it was his phial of Hufflepuff’s poison. Incredulous, he glanced up at Granger, who was looking at him sheepishly.
“You stole my potion?” he exclaimed, and she blushed lightly.
“Of course not!” she replied indignantly, “It must have been with your personal belongings when they were brought to the hospital wing… I remember having a look at it, but I suppose I must have been tired because I put it back in my bag.” she went redder. “You aren’t… angry, are you?”
Draco stared at her for a few seconds, then curled his lip deliberately. “Typical muggle-born, stealing from us purebloods…”
“Oh, shut up…” she rolled her eyes, but was unable to keep a smile from lifting the corners of her mouth. When she looked back down, he was grinning too.
For a short time, they both observed the phial, watching the calm undulations of the liquid within. The glass sealing it inside glittered in the sunlight, and after a while Draco leant back, attempting to blink away the bright spot the refracted light had burnt onto his eye. Above, the sky was a slate of immaculate blue, without a cloud in sight, and he squinted towards it happily, glad to be outside. When he grew bored of relaxing, he lowered his eyes to Granger once more, seeing that she was still staring into the phial, a small frown on her face. She seemed almost to be transfixed by its clarity. He watched her for a few seconds, and a faint smile turned the corners of his mouth; he thought he knew what she was thinking.
“It could have been different, couldn’t it?” he said quietly, and she glanced up, seeming slightly surprised. His smile drew a wry grin of admission.
“Yes.” she said simply, and Draco thought he almost heard a hint of sadness. He sighed.
“If I hadn’t poisoned Weasley’s drink… all this might not have happened. The Dark Lord might not have been defeated, I might not have had the courage to leave the Death Eaters, and maybe even…” he paused, and looked away, unwilling to contemplate the thought, a faint chill running up his spine.
“That would have happened.” Granger said quietly, after a few moments, “I know it.”
Giving her a slight smile, he nodded. “Maybe.” he looked down, the urge to tell her something else suddenly rising up compellingly. “Listen, Granger…” he hesitated. “I- I just want to say… I’m… grateful that you had the time for me. I- well… I think it made a real difference.”
When he looked up, her eyes were shining. “It is a strange thing to think about, isn’t it?” she said softly, “Everything could have been so different. I’m glad it happened the way it did.”
Draco grinned faintly. “So am I, Granger. Still, in all seriousness…” he paused once more, feeling heat in his cheeks that wasn’t a direct result of the sun above. “I don’t think anyone else could have done for me what you did. I’m not sure where I would be if you hadn’t been there… probably lost and alone, on the wrong side of history…”
When he’d finished speaking, he noticed that Granger was blinking rapidly. After a moment, she ran a sleeve across her eyes swiftly, and then spoke in a higher voice than usual.
“I’m sure you- you’d have got there eventually. I think it was in you all along.”
Considering it for a moment, Draco smiled again. “Well, whatever the case, I guess what I really mean to say is that I love you…” he hesitated, struggling with the name as he always did. “Hermione…”
Her mouth fell open in surprise, and for a moment Draco was worried, but then her eyes shone with happiness and he felt reassured. Beaming, she opened her mouth, and then, suddenly and abruptly, burst into laughter.
“Hey!” Draco said loudly, wounded and surprised; it hadn’t exactly been the response he’d been hoping for.
She shook her head, struggling to control herself. When she finally, seemingly after a monumental effort, managed to subdue her giggles, she was grinning widely, mirth dancing in her eyes.
“Sorry…” she let out another small laugh, “it’s just… only you would have no trouble with those words, yet still struggle over my name.” she giggled again at the dark expression he threw her way. “For what it’s worth, I love you too, Draco.”
He scowled at her, and folded his arms, intending to make it clear that he was not amused by her observation. “Remember I told you that my father always said that mudbloods were poison to pureblood families? Looks like he was right. You’re my poison, Granger. I’ve never been this sappy before.”
“Personally, I think it’s an improvement.” she said, eying him challengingly.
“You would…” he muttered, while secretly agreeing.
Again, they sat in silence for a while. Looking at her, he watched her hair stir in the wind, admiring the way some of the more adventurous strands drifted occasionally quite close to her lips. Meeting her eyes with his, he smiled faintly. She really was quite beautiful. He held her gaze until she broke it, looking down at her lap self-consciously and blushing. When she looked back up, she gave him a trembling smile which only thinly veiled her happiness. She held up the potion phial once more.
“I suppose you’ll be wanting this back then?”
Looking at it for a moment, he found himself shaking his head. A thought occurred to him, and he smirked.
“No, you keep it.” he gave her a pointed look. “I don’t need another poison.”
And, judging by her expression, that had been exactly the response she’d wanted.
A/N: So, that's the end of it all! I'd really appreciate it if you could write a quick review to tell me what you thought of this chapter or the story as a whole - let me know what I'm doing right/wrong! It might be a while before I write something of this sort of length again, but it's likely that I'll post a bunch of shorter tales :P anyway, thanks for reading the whole thing! I hope it was alright :)
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