The new visitors' center outside the front gates of Hogwarts perfectly reflected the current headmistress, in that it was comfortable, but not cozy, inviting one to sit and have a scone and cup of tea, but not overstay the welcome. Hermione arrived there after her visit with Ron and requested a few minutes of Headmistress McGonagall's time.
Meanwhile, Draco sat miserably in his Muggle Studies class, a surprise elective for a seventh/eighth year Pureblood, though he'd surprised people a great deal throughout the year, with his friendliness and willingness to help younger students. This week, however, his classmates felt that he'd reverted to his old, surly self.
They wondered if it had to do with that duel he'd fought the previous weekend with Ron Weasley. No one knew exactly what it was about, though there was speculation that it involved a girl because of the things they said during the fight. It was all quite confusing, but with the dour expression on Malfoy's face, no one dared ask him about it, and his best mates were mum as well.
He bolted from his seat and out the door when the professor released them. The girls who surreptitiously tailed him noticed that he jostled people in the corridor and that his shoulders seemed to be set with hostility. Then he stopped.
Those who passed in front of him saw a change, as a smile slowly crept across his face until it was as bright as the sun shining in the windows, then he hurried to the entrance of Professor McGonagall's office.
The students in the vicinity of the office could report that the headmistress frowned at him and said, "I won't tolerate a public spectacle, Mr. Malfoy."
His attention was all on the brunette with McGonagall—that Granger girl, the one who was such a chum of Harry Potter. Could she have been who he and Weasley were fighting over?
A couple of passers-by heard Malfoy assure the professor that he'd conduct himself appropriately and McGonagall went back upstairs to her office. Then someone said that he said, "Come with me." He turned around and Granger followed him into the Great Hall and the doors shut behind them. What happened then was a mystery to the onlookers.
Just inside the door, Draco turned and grabbed Hermione and peppered her with kisses. "You're here."
Her initial response was just as joyous, but then, she realized she didn't like that triumphant tone in his voice. She pulled away from him and flashed her brown eyes in admonishment. "You shouldn't have fought him."
"Hmph, he challenged me...and beat me," Draco pointed out. "Did you look at him like that when you went to see him?"
She quirked an eyebrow. "How did you know I saw him?"
Draco shrugged. "You would see the one that you're leaving behind first. If you'd chosen Weasley," (he rolled his eyes at the ludicrousness of the idea) "you would have come to me directly, not gone to McGonagall first about coming back to school."
The Great Hall was set up for lunch, with the four long tables for the Houses already in place. He moved to the Slytherin table, his black school robe somehow adding to his cockiness as it flared around him. He twirled and sat on the bench, leaning lazily against the table. "I'm your last stop," he said with a smirk, "because you're staying with me."
She stared in open-mouthed astonishment at his arrogance (and accuracy) and sneakily flicked her wand. The Slytherin table scooted back a little, knocking Draco off his balance and high horse simultaneously. She laughed at his surprise.
More humbly, he ran a hand over his blond hair and said, "I'm sorry, Hermione. I'm just so happy you're here." He patted the space next to him. "Please, come sit with me."
She took the seat with her arms crossed, determined to not make this easy for him.
This one time he wisely kept his hands to himself, letting his eyes embrace her instead. "I'm sorry for accepting his challenge and hurting his poor little hand with my wicked wand. Do you care at all that I'm the one that went into the icy water? I got a chill," he said, adding a sneeze for emphasis.
She shifted her eyes toward him slightly and he saw her secret smile, knowing she was biting the inside of her mouth to keep from breaking out in a big, forgiving grin.
"Madam Puddifoot has closed shop and is doing every magic reveal charm and spell she can think of to work out how Weasley was able to retain the image of us."
Hermione sighed. "Clothilde."
She looked up at the blue ceiling, streaked with a light yellow, like the sky and sunshine outside. "I was using the ladies to remember couples," she explained slowly. "When Ron came in, Clothilde liked him, so she communicated with his Uncle Bilius, who recently died. Bilius preserved the memory for him."
"How could she have liked the Weasel?"
Hermione wrinkled her brow in mild irritation. "You really must stop disparaging Ron so much. He's quite lovable and appealing to any number of witches."
Draco controlled his facial muscles with difficulty to keep from wincing at that. "Alright, I won't insult Weasley anymore, if you promise never again to subject me to your praise for him, particularly saying you love him. I don't take that well."
"Agreed," said Hermione, uncrossing her arms and turning her body to him.
He put his arms around her. "You outfoxed Madam Puddifoot and forty years of enchantment." His voice held a note of pride. "You really are extraordinary."
She sighed with contentment and he answered with his own exhale.
"So Clothilde betrayed me. How are the rest of my ladies?"
"They've gone now. They recognize my decision."
Draco's smile could be heard in his tone. "To be with me."
Hermione looked up into his face. "Don't make me regret it."
The doors opened just then and hungry young witches and wizards began filing in for lunch. Draco and Hermione moved to sit at the ends of their House's adjoining tables and held hands in the space between.
"What shall we do tonight," Draco asked, "to celebrate your return?" He dug into the food that appeared on the table with gusto.
"I haven't returned yet."
He looked over at her with a frown. "But I thought..."
"I'm moving in tomorrow, so I can start classes Monday. Do you have plans for the weekend?" she asked with a sultry smile.
Draco grinned. "If I did, they just became irrelevant. I want to spend the whole weekend with you, and I have the perfect place."
She rolled her eyes. "The Come and Go Room?"
He shook his head, grinning wider, "We've outgrown that. I have somewhere else in mind."
He turned toward her and crooked his finger for her to lean closer. With his lips pressed against her ear, he whispered, "The Shrieking Shack".
She raised her head and wrinkled her nose. "Eww, Draco, that place is horrible."
His eyes clouded like smoke. "Do you think I would plan and be excited about something for us that was horrible? I've worked on it since the beginning of the school year, hoping I could show it to you."
Hermione bit her bottom lip and leaned closer. "I'm sorry. I should have had more faith in you...and your aesthetic sensibilities," she added with a smile and gentle jab to his ribs.
He raised one corner of his mouth in a half-smile and with the thumping of her heart, she knew she wanted badly to kiss that mouth. "Will you walk me to the front gates?"
They rose together and strolled toward the entrance of the Great Hall holding hands, ignoring the buzz around them.
Ginny Weasley stared with unhappy acceptance; Draco's friend Blaise Zabini subtly ran a finger down his cheek, congratulating his housemate for achieving what he knew was Draco's years' long goal.
The students from Hufflepuff noticed that Malfoy lowered his head for Granger to whisper in his ear then they both laughed.
Some of the witches at Ravenclaw's table claimed they saw his hand graze her bottom just as they reached the entrance.
The doors closed behind them and those left in the Great Hall wondered what was happening on the other side.