Breaking The Rules
Glaring red numbers flashed from 7:59 to 8:00 a foot away. Hermione's eyes flew open, punctual to the second, as if her brain had been wound up and set. Like clockwork. She thought of all those times her friends had teased her about being a machine, about not being quite human. It was lucky they didn't know about things like this.
She stared at the plaster freckles of her popcorn ceiling for two seconds. Three. Then her lashes touched back to her cheeks and she sighed. It was that day. The dreadful day. The commercialized, rose-and-violet, two-dimensionalize-your-relationship-to-fit-it-into-the-box-of-corny-stereotypes day. A reminder of all the stupid, girlish daydreams, shattered crushes, and artificial relationships of her youth and she loathed it.
That ruddy man had better not try and pull any funny business.
She crinkled a hand through the cotton candy nest of her hair and pinched the sheets between her toes with more violence than toes should've been able to produce. It took her a minute to remember for the umpteenth time in her life that national holidays were national holidays, and no amount of channeling her inner adolescent at a family thanksgiving would change that. Grunting, she flipped the concentrated glare of her mental eye to the still-untested fledgling she had too many suspicions of. Surely, she thought, he wouldn't go against her very strict warnings.
Hermione rolled over. A foreign book stared back at her.
Right. The foolish naivety of optimism.
A growl ripped her crusted lips apart, slightly muted by a tinge of expectancy. She tilted the book over the nightstand's edge to get a better look at the cover. Colloquialism and Callibort: A Glimpse into the Everyday Lives of Great Witches and Wizards in 18th Century Britain. One pounding pulse slapped against her chest cavity. No. It couldn't be… yes. Her eyes found the gold letters printed inconspicuously underneath. Fifth Edition, it was. The newest version- not even released yet. How on earth had that devil…
She flipped open the cover and found a square of pale mint, slightly fragrant paper tucked inside. Pretentious git. Using scented stationary to- ugh, and it was monogrammed! Lovely.
Hermione skimmed it. 'Know you said to treat the day like any other… had to do something… at least it's not cliché…'
"You're obnoxious, Malfoy," she muttered, but she was smiling. Then she spotted the last line. Not a line at all, really, but random letters, numbers. A code.
He knew her too well.
It only took about fifteen minutes to crack it, so clearly he hadn't been trying very hard. Looked like the King of Mind Games was losing his touch. The end result read simply, 'Leftmost kitchen cabinet.'
"Cryptic and eloquent," Hermione huffed as she slid her feet onto the ice of the bedroom floor.
In the cabinet, she found a copy of Jane Eyre in flawless condition perched between two glasses. A traitorous hand fell across her heart. The note inside related how Draco had noticed one of her favourite books was absent from her collection and had naturally been 'appalled by this horrendous circumstance and resolved to remedy it at once'. This was followed by another code. He had left her a gift chain, the stubborn sap.
The third present was a gorgeous and probably very expensive velvet-clad journal, for her to 'write their story in… or her story. Whichever.' It was very touching, impertinent as the gift's presence was. And then- gracious, how much had he spent on her?- another code.
This one took her an entire forty minutes to work out, as opposed to the previous twenty. Once it was solved, Hermione was directed to what had to be the most uncreative spot ever- under the middle cushion of her sofa. Except, when she lifted the threadbare green slab and peered beneath its foamy-hole specked, dust cluttered underside, she found-
"Hogwarts: A History?"
She turned it over, then back again. Wondering if maybe that would morph it into some other book. This didn't make sense. She owned Hogwarts: A History- not just owned it, owned every edition of it. In existence. Why would he have gotten her something he knew perfectly well she didn't need? Maybe it was a joke. Because he'd heard Harry and Ron rant about her spewing its contents so much. It would be like Malfoy to end something romantic this way.
Hoping to see another note for clarification, Hermione peeled the cover back.
She dropped the book in surprise.
At least, what had once been a book. The pages had been hollowed out to create a compartment, which held something sparkling and gem-encrusted- i.e., something extremely Malfoy-ish. She lifted it out to get a better look. It was a hairclip- not a plain, plastic, dollar band, but a swan-like patrician contraption that was somehow magnificent and simplistic at the same time. It was set with opals, light, curled into two elegant peaks at the ends, and altogether far too good for Hermione.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
Hermione whipped around, banging her knuckles against the sharp edge of her coffee table and consequently jabbing her palm with the clip. Pain flowered across her hand.
"Ow, Godric, what the hell-"
She narrowed her eyes at the warning-ignoring prat smiling down at her.
"Malfoy. How on earth did you get into my flat? And where did you even come from? I've been over my whole house this morning, and I didn't see- oh," She groaned and covered her eyes with one hand. "Oh, please tell me you weren't in my laundry basket."
He had the nerve to laugh, which made a tizzy of movement erupt in her stomach despite herself.
"First off, your wards were ridiculously easy to get through." He interrupted her indignant "they are not" with "For someone who's seen you bypass them a million times. Second, disillusionment charm. Anyway." He chewed at his lower lip, nervous, he was so cute. "The clip. Do you like it, or…?"
She answered Draco first with a massive, tackling kiss, which sent the taste of coffee and peppermint and home that she never got tired of racing across her tongue, then a slap across the face. Now it was his turn for an "ow, what the hell".
"I told you not to do anything special, you wanker!"
He rubbed at his cheek sheepishly, only spreading the redness.
"Yeah, yeah. We both knew that wasn't happening. I mean, obviously it's a stupid day, but… it's… it's the celebration of…" He cleared his throat. "Of love, you know, and it's our first, so I just had to…"
"Do something, yes. I read your first note." Hermione found his discomfort around the topic amusing. He was so acclimatized to avoiding everything and anything involving emotions that even now, he looked like he was choking on a fishbone whenever he brought them up. Not that this dampened her irritation. She folded her arms. "But Draco, this is too much! I-" she spread the arms she'd just folded, "I can't accept all this! I didn't get you anything, and it all must have cost so much…"
"Well, not to be a jerk, but money's not exactly a scarcity for The Littlest Malfoy."
"Yes, but- but, I mean, look at this thing." She held up the hairclip. "It looks like it's worth more than everything I own put together! And oh, I adore it, but it won't go on me… I'm too plain, and my hair's so… so… well. Besides, there's no way it would all even fit in there."
Keeping his eyes on hers, Draco slipped the clip from her fingers, making the newly bruising skin of her hand spark with warmth. How was it so easy for him to affect her like this?
"It'll fit," he said, sliding the same fingers through her hair to pull it back, needing to do so quite a few times to get it all into one fistful. A shiver raced through Hermione at the sensation. He latched the hairclip onto the thick, jumbly knot and, to her shock, it stayed there on its own.
"How…? That shouldn't be possible," she mumbled, reaching a hand back to feel for herself.
"Well, darling, there is this thing called magic. You don't think I'd know how to shop for jewelry in the Muggle world, do you?" He tucked a loose curl behind Hermione's ear, taking the sight of her in. "As for not going on you… stupidest thing I've ever heard. You look completely stunning. I knew you would, that's why I stooped to getting something so, erm, conventional as my final gift."
Hermione smiled and slid her hands onto his and up his arms, and this time he broke into goosebumps.
"Well, thank you," she said, warmth finally lacing her words. He smiled back. Then she traded hers for a pointed look of warning.
"But no more Valentine's tosh for the rest of the day. Alright?"
"Oh, not another thing."
Draco held her eyes seriously with the air of swearing to a solemn oath for half a second before flicking his wand and levitating a huge platter of food that had previously been hidden from sight on top of the armoire into view. The full aroma of bacon, eggs, and fresh pastries, no longer magically concealed, hit Hermione's nose with the force of a truck. She glared at the rose sitting innocently on the tray.
"After breakfast, of course."
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