“Malfoy,” I say the name slowly, almost as if it were a question. My eyes trace his features again, and this time I can see the vague outline of his father in the contours of his cheeks and the strength of his nose. However, Narcissa’s beauty is more prominent in his sharp jaw. I don’t recognize the eyes. They have changed somehow, from his Hogwarts days. I struggle to unearth my old disgust for him, but I come up blank.
“I really should be going”, he mutters apologetically, placing the last of the books into my arms. He turns to leave.
“Mal-Draco, wait,” I stumble after him, my books wobbling precariously. He turns back, confused.
“It’s just,” I stammer over the mountain of books, “ Well, we should, you know, catch up or something. It’s been a while.”
He stares at me blankly. After an unbearable pause, he speaks.
“Hermione,” he pauses, “Don’t feel obligated to be nice to me.”
His words are deliberate.
“The things I’ve done- the things I did- they’re not exactly deserving of forgiveness.” He finishes with resolve, lips pursed and brow furrowed.
Unwittingly, my mouth moves into a small smirk.
“Who said anything about forgiveness, Malfoy? I was just trying to get someone to sit by me at the Leaky Cauldron so I don’t look like a loner.”
He thinks for a moment, then smiles.
“Well, if you want my services,” his face becomes serious, “you’d better be buying.”
With that, he grabs half of my books from my arms and struts towards the bar.
When I finally catch up to him, Draco is seated at a corner table, reading one of my books with a pint in hand. I march up to him and clear my throat. He quite deliberately finishes the page he’s reading, folds over the corner, and looks up.
“Well, it took you long enough,” he matches my glare with a solemn look, “Please, sit down.” He gestures at the table. As I unload my books, he smiles up at me through the tops of his glasses.
“I took the liberty of ordering us the finest mead in the house, seeing as you’re paying. I hope you don’t mind.”
“You know, it’s customary for the man to pay when he’s out with a lady.” I retort. He grimaces.
“What?” I ask.
“It’s just- I think I just heard ten thousand feminists turning over in their graves.” He smiles even brighter than before, “Really, if you think about it, I’m just helping you realize your cause.” He takes a long and deliberate gulp of his mead and sets it back on the table with a grin. “Absolutely delicious.”
I shoot him a look.
“I’m pretty sure the feminists didn’t start their movement for your benefit, Malfoy”.
I take a sip of the mead. It’s delicious, just like he said. And, by the taste, probably ridiculously expensive. A thought occurs to me.
“Anyways, now that you’re spouting muggle history, I have to ask: what happened to you? I heard something about South America, right after the war...” I trail off, waiting for an answer. He’s mid-gulp, but swallows the mead quickly.
“The States,” he answers, “My parents went to Brazil, but I wanted to see the States, and I wasn’t forced into hiding like my father.”
His mouth twists involuntarily. He hadn’t meant for that last part to slip out.
“But what about you? Everyone knows you were the brightest witch of your age. You even beat me at a few subjects. What fabulous life have you got going for yourself, then?”
“Not fabulous, really,” I reply, startled at my own honesty as I speak the words, “I’m the Undersecretary of Muggle Relations at the Ministry. It’s a dream job, really. Great people, great hours-”
“-And yet, not as great as you want it to be,” Malfoy cuts in, studying my face. I don’t bother to contradict him. “ I thought you were an Auror.”
“I was, right after the war, but after a two years, we rounded up all the remaining Death Eaters and they downsized the department. The ministry needed people to fill -vacated- positions after the war, so that's where muggle relations came in. Anyways, the aurors deal with mostly with teenage pranks nowadays.” I chuckle at that last bit.
“What was that about?” Draco asks.
“Nothing really. Ron’s the head of the department now, and he always talks about the lack of interesting people to arrest. He’s going to go wild when he learns you’re back, just warning you.” I smile at him. He smiles exasperatedly back.
“So you and Weasley, then...” He states, his voice lifting at the end into an almost question.
“Just friends,” I respond.
He looks surprised, “But I thought, well, everyone thought-”
“We tried for a while,” I cut in, “But it didn’t work out. We’re better as friends.”
I pause, hoping my voice is more convincing than it feels.
“Oh, Harry and Ginny are married as well. Match made in heaven. She's just had her first now, after her stint with the Harpies. They named him James. He's absolutely adorable.” I ramble on, hoping to move past the topic of me and Ron, but this new, pensive, sweet, funny and extremely sexy Draco Malfoy is apparently very bad at taking hints. Or completely insensitive.
“I really thought it would be you and Weasley,” he ponders aloud, much to my dismay. I try to steer the topic in another direction, but he ignores me.
“Actually, if I think about it, it sort of makes sense.”
“You and Weasley breaking up.”
I heave an exasperated sigh, but I’m curious all the same.
“Well, you as a couple never really made sense. You’re both stubborn. That’s never good in a relationship. You’re smart. I never got the impression that he was particularly endowed with brainpower-” I start to protest, but ignoring me seems to be a habit now “-really, though, think about it. Besides, he’s a ginger.”
I stop mid-protest, confused. “He’s a ginger?” I let out an involuntary giggle, “That’s your great theory for why Ron and I didn’t work out?”
“Yes,” Draco’s sticks his nose into the air and looks at me over the top of his glasses, “My students have informed me that in the Muggle world, gingers are seen as soulless instruments of this thing they call the Devil. Therefore, my very logical conclusion is that you, not being either soulless or the devil, are entirely incompatible with Ronald Weasley.”
I burst out laughing.
“That is a very logical conclusion. How did I not notice before?” I ask between fits of giggles.
“Well”, he says, smirking, mead in hand, “I’ve become a very logical man.”
I pause for a moment as something dawns on me.
“Wait. Did you say something along the lines of ‘my Muggle students’ or was I just hallucinating?” He gives me a knowing look, stands up, and swings his coat over his shoulders.
“I have to get going. It was a pleasure, Ms. Granger,” he pushes his chair in, “Thank you for the drinks”. He grins, and turns swiftly out of the Leaky Cauldron, as I sit, stunned, in my chair. I was so involved in the conversation that my pint sits on the table, almost full. I drink it quickly , and call Tom over for the bill. He looks at me strangely.
“I’m afraid the man with you already paid, Ms. Granger,” Tom says when I ask how much our drinks cost. I smile slightly. Draco Malfoy, a true gentleman, I think, who would have guessed.. With my head buzzing, I gather my books and start home.