Going to clog up my front page with this post. I figured I might as well have something to show for my long absence, yes? I’m really proud of this, it’s been advertised by a Featured Reviewer on Hawthorn & Vine, and I think it’s gotten the most single-chapter reviews out of anything I’ve ever written, including the Dragonverse Hetalia fics and Close Every Door.
Title: This Little Indulgence
Recipient: Patty/ thewordmap
Disclaimer: In its use of intellectual property and characters belonging to JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Bloomsbury Publishing, et cetera, this work of fiction is intended to be transformative commentary on the original. No profit is being made from this work.
Author Note(s): Written for the DMHG Fic Exchange, Darkest Before the Dawn. Took two spoken lines from the books, so this isn’t even entirely mine. I included a scene from one of the books; however, I did not have the book with me during the whole writing period, so forgive me any inconsistencies. Thanks very much to my betas, pips_n_chiaw, especially for all that moral support!
Summary: They were practical and they were efficient, and together they could almost be beautiful. But for all their planning, it was never meant to end like this.
Hermione Granger had always been known as an infinitely practical person.
It was this practicality, in fact, that so differentiated her from her peers. When the other girls her age obsessed over the latest fashions and Witch Weekly, she chose comfortable clothes and kept up with current events. When the boys tended to dive headfirst into reckless situations, she was there fighting along with them, but taking care of the basic things essential to survival that they often forgot about. She liked credit for her achievements, but did not hesitate to work in the background when it would take away unwanted attention. Practicality was present in all aspects of her life, and it had saved her on numerous occasions.
This wasn’t to say that she wasn’t averse to the odd indulgence now and then.
She threaded slender fingers through his sweat-slicked, darkened hair. The fire was warm in this room, too warm. She murmured a quick spell and the temperature lowered somewhat- she was never without her wand, of course. Not anymore.
Malfoy grinned, expression feral in the dim flicker of the cooled flames, and whispered a quick thank you before descending upon her again, laying chaste kisses along the underside of her jaw. He bit at her suddenly, harshly, and she humoured this eccentricity without much protest. It was nothing a simple charm couldn’t fix, after all.
“Careful,” she muttered teasingly nonetheless, pleased to see him pout a little before reassuming his usual smirk. “Taking one too many liberties there, aren’t you, Malfoy?”
He didn’t reply, but only looked at her, then moved down to rest his cheek against her chest and stretch further out on the sofa. She slid her hand through his hair again, and watched the dancing fire for the rest of the night.
If this is indulgence, she thought hazily as she drifted off to sleep, I may never go back.
They weren’t in love. It was obvious in their actions, the way they talked, in their work, and if anyone happened to suggest that they were in a relationship, nobody would have believed them.
Their partnership was practical, and it was only natural that they would have gravitated towards each other. But for people such as them, things reserved for cold days and late nights and Floo calls on a whim were not enough. They needed trust, understanding, companionship, reliability, and they ate these things up greedily. It was not truly love, and not entirely friendship. It was more than the simple mind could comprehend, but it was them.
Although, sometimes, one could almost believe that they were more than that.
It was common for them to lie like this, sprawled over Hermione’s sofa and each other while waiting for their dinner to finish cooking. Periodically Malfoy would get up and check on the food, sometimes tasting and sometimes stirring and sometimes fixing. He was far from the best cook in the world, but he was satisfactory enough and he enjoyed it once he forgot the fact that he was essentially doing housework. Hermione rather suspected his lack of imagination with his dishes was due only to his treating them like potions. Otherwise, he could have passed for a regular Molly Weasley.
She stifled a giggle at the mental image, and propped her head on her hand when Draco untangled himself from her yet again to check the spaghetti sauce. “There’s something to be said about your perseverance,” she said quietly.
“Well, if I don’t keep trying, I won’t get better, right?” He tasted the sauce, frowning. “Was I meant to dice the garlic or just slice it?”
She sighed, and it was almost fond. “I suppose dicing would have increased the surface area and made the flavour stronger, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s not exactly life or death.”
“But if you don’t treat things as life or death, you never put all your best effort into it. Like in Potions.” He looked contemplatively at the bubbling pot. “Or perhaps in potions, life and death-”
“Oh, don’t go pretending to be all philosophical now, I know better than to believe you,” she said in mock irritation, earning a laugh.
Finally he pronounced their dinner as ready as it could be, and he began to set the table as Hermione double-checked that the Floo was down and the Apparition Wards were up. One could never be sure when a friend would turn up unannounced, especially there was something to hide.
She sometimes wondered whether it- they, he– was worth the effort. But perhaps Malfoy was right. She had been in dangerous situations since she was eleven- she could continue with their little life-or-death games a bit longer.
There were days when they took it slow, when the work and the normalcy just became too much. They curled up on Hermione’s sofa- their favourite spot- or on the floor of Draco’s newly-bought, barely furnished flat, not saying a word. It was a partnership of convenience, after all, and mutual silence was still infinitely better than being alone. There were days when they were both soft and lazy and flung into separate ends of the room, unwilling to make the effort to come closer.
This was not one of those days.
Really, Hermione thought as she was shoved against a wall and pinned there with his weight and his stare, this should be illegal. And it probably is.
She surged forward, impatient and rough, and caught his mouth with her own. There was a heady rush that came with kissing Malfoy, a hint of darkness and danger, and a touch of madness as well. She chalked it down to adrenaline, cataloguing every action and reaction, because this was not an emotional fling; oh no, they were too smart for that trap. They were practical, they were efficient- and oh God, were they efficient, she thought as the kiss began to stray past their usual boundaries and she grew weak in the knees.
Malfoy pulled away to catch his breath, pressing his forehead against hers momentarily, and her sight was filled with distorted steel before she closed her eyes and surrendered.
“Funny how we always end up like this,” Malfoy commented, a smile playing on his lips as he sprawled himself face-down on the floor, making himself comfortable. “It’s like we have this default relaxing pose that we’re cursed to do at every opportunity.”
Hermione snorted and shifted, settling the slight swell of her stomach more comfortably in the dip of his back, lying perpendicular to him. “Yours is rather masochistic,” she replied, propping up her book to see better. “Or are you such an old man that you need a bit of weight to relieve your back pain?”
“Or maybe you’re just so evil that you like draping your fat self over innocent people and forcing them to take your weight.”
She laughed and smacked him on the side of his thigh with her book, ignoring his indignant protest. “You know those comments don’t work on me.”
“Hence my saying them.” Malfoy folded his arms and laid his chin on them, looking across the floor into seemingly nothing. They contented themselves with this silence for a while, before he started shifting uncomfortably. “Oi, get up, I can’t breathe.”
“Oh, alright.” She rolled lazily over onto her back, still pinning him to the ground, but now lying on his knees.
“I’ll be nice. Now shush, I’m trying to read.”
“Is it Hogwarts: A History again? I swear, you stalk everyone in the school. They should remove the self-updating charm just for you.”
“It’s for work, actually. A Study in Servitude: the Psychology of a House-Elf. Radical book. Terribly hard to find, but worth it.”
He hummed in acknowledgement and fell silent. Several minutes passed, in which Hermione scanned the book for relevant information- submissive nature part of the natural psyche, blind subservience unique to this magical creature, inherited or affected by environment?– and felt a cruel twist at the thought of Dobby. She would right every wrong done to his kind. She would climb and climb until she could make a difference. Maybe something in international law- yes, she’d like that.
Malfoy shifted beneath her, and she sat up to relieve the pressure on his legs. He twisted around to kiss her lips, and she parted them obligingly, not in the mood for arguing today.
“You’ll get there eventually,” he told her, and she cocked her head to the side.
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
He grinned. “You were reading your house-elf thing, and your breathing went quicker and you got more agitated. I’m not an idiot, Granger. I can put two and two together. You’ve always been an ambitious witch. You want to make a difference.”
“Not yet, maybe. But soon.”
“Climb the promotional ladder. Nice, very practical; earn their respect first to increase your chances. As I said, you’ll get there eventually.” His smirk was wide and arrogant. “But not today; you’re with me today.”
She laughed and pulled him into another kiss.
“I’m marrying Astoria Greengrass, by the way.”
The tone was light, conversational, and Hermione choked on her toast as the words sank in. “Astoria Greengrass?”
“Yes. You know, the tall one with the curls?” Malfoy continued buttering his own slice of toast, not bothering to clarify his rather vague description. “You should know her, she’s not that much younger than us.”
“Daphne’s sister. Right?”
“That’s the one.”
Of course. She hadn’t expected this, but she should have. It was far too large an oversight by her usual standards. Malfoy was marrying someone else, of course it wouldn’t have been her, they’d agreed nothing would come of this, and damn it, he wouldn’t even look at her-
The realisation hit her like a punch to the gut; she’d become too invested, too involved in this little skeleton of a relationship that wasn’t even meant to exist. It was raw, it was painful, and she wanted to hurl her plate at the wall and curse and curse and curse.
She bit into her bread viciously, trying to ignore the furious, sinking feeling in her stomach as she thought of Astoria and Malfoy, of the end of their own relationship. A savage thought swept into her mind, like a light for a lost man- she never has to know, I’m good at keeping secrets– but she stopped herself. She wasn’t a home-wrecker, and never would be.
And if this was the punishment for her indulgence, then by God, she would take it with dignity.
She blinked away the wetness- stupid, stupid– to raise her head; their eyes met across the table and she smiled.
This would be the last time.
The flat was dark, like it was all other times, and neither had thought to make this more special than usual. Why should they? The last was the same as the one before, and the one before that, and the one before that. It had never been guaranteed that they should have a next, after all, only statistically likely. The change in probability (now zero, or at least close) shouldn’t have had an effect.
But emotions were irrational, as Hermione knew all too well, and you couldn’t pack them into convenient little boxes for whenever you wanted them.
They were exhausted, brought down by the events of the day and the problems at work, and normally this was when they would curl up beside each other and rant about it all, knowing they were listened to and understood. They had made a half-hearted attempt, at best, and Hermione felt a pang of regret at the idea that they could not even seem to make the effort.
She could tell him as much. She could open her mouth and let it all spill from her lips, the anger, the regret, the jealousy- God, the jealousy– and watch him soak it up like a sponge, drill the words into him until it pounded in his veins and he never ever forgot her. She could make this special. She could pretend, just for now, that they were star-crossed lovers pulled apart by fate and not their own stupidity, not her stupidity.
But that would happen if this were truly a farce. But it was real, all too real, and she couldn’t bear to have him burdened with that knowledge and that responsibility. He deserved a new start and a beautiful wife, without the reminder that out there, there was Hermione Granger, who still cared. Who maybe, possibly, loved.
But she couldn’t resist asking; she never could. “Do you like her?” she whispered quietly into his hair, threading her fingers through it as she often did.
Malfoy hummed. “She’s tolerable. I could have done worse, but she’s certainly nothing to lose my mind over.”
“Good,” she murmured. “That’s good.”
“Does it bother you?”
She could tell him this. “A little.”
“It really shouldn’t,” he said, stroking her cheek, and her breath caught in her throat. “You should know better than that.”
It was ambiguous, it was confusing, but Hermione couldn’t ponder on it as Malfoy had crushed his mouth to hers in that instant, ravenous and desperate like a dying man. And this was it, just one of the moments that built up this fallacy of a relationship, the point where she would open her mouth and forget their rationality and it would be raw and glorious and only for them, and they would lose their minds and never regret.
Not this, she thought in satisfaction as she let herself go. She’ll never have this.
The invitation came in the post one morning, all gossamer silk and heavy parchment. She couldn’t say she hadn’t been expecting it, but it was still a surprise to see it, addressed to her. She looked for resentment in the swirling letters, looked for bitterness and apology -and maybe, perhaps, love, but that was a silly notion and she threw it out of her head.
She found nothing.
Instead, a small slip of parchment fell out of the elaborate card, unscented and plain, with ordinary black ink arranged in the hasty scrawl of a schoolboy. Some things never changed.
I don’t expect you to come, the letter said, as jarring and to the point as its sender often was. I just thought you might appreciate the invite.
She was tempted, oh how she was tempted not to accept and to spend that wedding day holed up in her room, reading stories or doing something productive. Perhaps she could get to work writing down ideas for house-elf rights; God knows she had better things to do than watch Draco Malfoy get married.
Her world did not revolve around one man, no matter how badly she had miscalculated. But she and Malfoy had had something, no matter how fragile or meaningless it had been, and they had been there for each other, damn it, and she would be there for him. Emotions be damned; she wasn’t a teenager anymore.
Swallowing back the lump in her throat, she went to her closet to decide if she had anything to wear.
There was the expected rush of emotion as she stepped through the barrier of Platform 9 3/4, hand-in-hand with Ron. She swallowed down a lump in her throat, and caught sight of her husband through the corner of her eye. He looked quiet, for once, contemplative; he squeezed her fingers and she smiled.
But now was not the time to be nostalgic. She let go of Ron’s hand to fix her daughter’s wild red hair, smoothing the curls behind an ear. “Behave yourself, Rose,” she said, firm but kind, getting a mischievous grin in return. “I mean it, I don’t want to be getting any letters about your behaviour.”
“Too late,” Ron said in amusement. “She and Hugo have already made plans for her to be sent back. They’re exactly like us.”
“Excuse me?” Hermione huffed, crossing her arms at her husband. “I don’t recall us ever planning our adventures in advance. I was always dragged into yours and Harry’s little escapades.”
Ron laughed and leaned in to kiss her softly. “Yeah, well, we couldn’t have done anything without you.”
She felt a grin tug at the corners of her lips, and she let it stretch her mouth in a large smile. “Stop being a bad influence on the children.” Nevertheless, she leaned up to kiss him quickly on the cheek. “I love you anyway.”
His face lit up, as it always did when she said those words, as if it were a surprise even after all these years. She smiled fondly at him, and almost didn’t hear his embarrassed reply over the sound of their children yelling a greeting to their cousins who had just arrived.
“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, reaching to wrap her friend in a hug.
Harry greeted her warmly, and turned to Ron who had leaned in to whisper something in his ear. Directing her attention elsewhere, Hermione scanned the crowd for nothing in particular, when a flash of blond caught her attention.
It was Draco Malfoy, pale and sharp as ever, accompanied by Astoria and their son, who was the spitting image of his father. Hermione closed her eyes and breathed deeply. God, even after all these years. Things were tentatively getting better between them at work, but seeing him and seeing her– Astoria even looked like her, something she could never forget, only taller, prettier, more glamorous, and perhaps that was what made her feel like her world was being pulled out from under her feet.
“So that’s little Scorpius,” Ron commented, breaking through her thoughts. “Make sure you beat him in every test, Rosie. Thank God you inherited your mother’s brains.”
“Ron, for heaven’s sake. Don’t try to turn them against each other before they’ve even started school!”
As soon as the words left her lips, Malfoy’s head snapped up, and he caught sight of her. His lips were parted slightly, as if he were about to speak, and she felt her stomach drop again.
She cursed him for still doing this to her. Her children didn’t deserve it, Ron didn’t deserve it, and she loved them too dearly to ever consider leaving. But Malfoy was standing there, oblivious to the roiling frustration in the pit of her stomach, as if nothing had ever happened between them. As if they had never known each other in that silent, unspeakable way, when they knew each other’s thoughts and habits and raw weaknesses. As if the past fifteen years spent apart was the only piece of history they had ever shared.
God, it would be so easy to walk up to him now, talk to him about work and office parties and little Scorpius and Rose starting school, just to hear if he’d say her name in the same way still. If he felt the way she did now, or if he’d forgotten what indulgence was.
Temperance, she reminded herself as Draco broke their gaze and nodded at Harry.
Then he turned his face away, and their eyes met over the noisy crowd. And for them, that was enough.