Liking

by Lara Wilson

Perched on the edge of the tub, hands clenched around the porcelain side, Hermione stared desolately at the three little sticks sitting on the bathroom counter.

All bright pink.

After a minute of wishing them to turn blue, she turned away, unable to look at them any longer. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes and she squeezed them shut.

This couldn't be happening.

They weren't even a couple.

~~~~~

Pressed against a brick wall in a darkened doorway in Knockturn Alley, her skirt hiked around her waist, her legs tight around his, she bit her lip to keep in her moan of illicit pleasure. The wickedness of their surrounding, their being together at all, heightened her desire, and she moved with him, hands gripping his shoulders, ignoring the bruises forming as he fucked her hard. Eyes open, she watched the emotions on his face--anger, desire, need, hunger, frustration, deep, deep want.

When they were together, when he was inside her, he lost control of the aristocratic mien he wore at all other times, and became the young man she'd both hated and secretly desired at school, before they chose sides and war took away any possibility of a future.

Or, so they'd thought.

There was never any proof that Draco did anything more than protect his mother from his father. No proof that he became a Death Eater or fought on either side. He remained neutral and quietly moved the family fortune out of Gringotts where it could be seized by whichever side won, and never said a bad thing about his father.

Nor a good thing.

When Lucius fell, Draco managed to keep him from dragging down the rest of the Malfoys, and took Narcissa to the country to recover from the loss of her husband.

It was nearly a year after the war's end that Hermione ran into him in Paris where she was a liaison from London's Ministry of Magic to the corresponding agency in France. The hostility of their younger days had mellowed even before the start of the war, so very cordially they'd had tea together and talked of inconsequential things.

Draco had walked her to her flat, began to wish her farewell, and the next thing they knew they were on the floor in the entryway tearing at each other's clothes.

The passion between them shocked them both, and they'd made no plans to ever see each other again.

But one taste wasn't enough and now they met whenever they could. He ran the family business from the Wiltshire manor and she lived in the heart of London, working for the government, but they managed to find time.

They never spoke much, never shared anything of themselves other than the physical, but they both knew something else was growing there in the darkness as they pounded their bodies together.

~~~~~

The ringing of the phone jerked Hermione back to the present and she rose on surprisingly shaky legs and left the bathroom. Harry was on the line, and she forced herself to be her normally cheery self as they made plans for dinner and a movie on the coming weekend.

Hermione spent the rest of the week doing her job, doing her normal household chores, researching the latest spells gone wrong, and not thinking about the pink sticks. She refused to acknowledge them, and, since Draco never sent their secret owl to arrange a meeting, it was easy to put it aside and focus on the present.

When she arrived home Friday evening, a small dove gray owl waited for her at her window, and her heart both sank and leapt into her throat. With trembling hands she removed the message and unrolled the scroll of paper.

It wasn't from Draco.

To her shock, it was from his mother.

*****

Hermione tried not to fidget as she waited at a private table at Claridges. She still couldn't believe that she had been summoned to a Muggle hotel by Draco's aristocratic mother. She hadn't even known Narcissa knew she existed. The owl had only given her a time and place so she was left fretting over what the older woman wanted with her.

Finally, a good fifteen minutes late, Narcissa swept regally into the tea room and straight over to the table where Hermione sat. She wore Muggle clothes--but a high cut above Hermione's simple tartan skirt and sweater bought at The Scotch House--and seemed comfortable in them, unlike so many other so-called pure-bloods.

"Thank you for meeting me, Miss Granger," Narcissa murmured as the garcon seated her and discreetly withdrew.

"Mrs. Malfoy," Hermione acknowledged, biting back the questions that hung on the edge of her tongue.

Before they could open a dialogue, tea was set before them with an array of sandwiches, biscuits and cakes, and Narcissa gracefully poured for both of them. As she stirred a sugar cube into her cup, she gestured to the food. "Please, eat your fill. You need to keep up your strength."

Hermione's eyes shot to the other woman's but saw nothing there but an innate coolness. "Why did you want to meet with me?" Too nervous to eat, she did manage a sip of her tea.

Narcissa nibbled on an anise biscuit before answering. "I know you carry my son's child, Miss Granger."

Shocked, Hermione nearly dropped her cup. "How?" she hissed in confusion. "No one knows. I've not told anyone, not even a doctor or healer."

"From the first moment you were...intimate with Draco I have had a monitoring spell on you. For some reason I have been unable to discover, it transferred from him to you, unobtrusive, and only for the purpose of informing me if there was any danger to you or any physical or emotional stress to you. This has never happened with any of the others Draco has been with, so there must be something special about you."

Cheeks flaming, Hermione started to rise to her feet but Narcissa caught her eyes and that gaze held her still.

"I did not spy on your relationship with my son."

"There is no relationship," Hermione snapped, angry and embarrassed.

"And yet..." Narcissa trailed gracefully off and sipped her tea. Hermione squirmed in her chair. "May I ask what you feel for Draco?"

Hermione thought about it for a moment, but knew the answer all along. It would be so much easier if she felt nothing, but that had gone out the window after their first night together, although she'd never let on to Draco that he had begun to mean something to her. Still, she wasn't quite certain just what she felt for him and she told Narcissa that.

"I have been watching Draco closely since he began his liaison with you. Do you know he has not been seen with any women since then? Before you he was quite the playboy. I despaired of him ever settling down." Again, there was a pointed look at Hermione's stomach that made her squirm.

"Mrs. Malfoy, Draco and I....we...There's nothing there but..." She trailed off, blushing as she gathered the strength to lie, "I feel nothing for him."

"You lie very poorly." There was a hint of satisfaction in Narcissa's voice. "I suggest you tell him the truth the next time you see him. Maybe you will be surprised."

Hermione shook her head in confusion. "I don't understand why you would care. I'm Muggleborn, nothing in your eyes, worse than nothing. You can't possibly want me and Draco to be together."

The coolness in Narcissa's eyes turned to ice and she straightened her already straight shoulders. "Do not prescribe my husband's beliefs on me, Miss Granger. While I would prefer that Draco have formed an alliance with another of the pure blood houses or at least one of the aristocratic ones, I want him to be happy."

"You don't even know me. How could you know if I'd make him happy?"

"Because he's desperately unhappy and I think it has everything to do with the stagnation of your relationship and not that it exists at all." The ice fled and Narcissa leaned forward, almost pleading, "Please tell Draco how you feel and about the child. Give him the chance to be happy with you."

Hermione could only stare stunned as Narcissa set down her empty cup along with several crisp pound notes to pay the cheque, then rose to leave as gracefully as she'd arrived.

*****

She didn't immediately seek out Draco. First she had to decide if she wanted the child, and, after two weeks of contemplation and worry and a growing love, she chose to keep the baby. That decision made, her thoughts turned to telling Draco, and another week passed, making it nearly a month since they'd been together.

That was surprising, and while subconsciously she was hoping he'd make the first move to see her, negating the need for her to do so, she wasn't that much of a coward.

And Draco deserved to know.

Hermione was convinced that Narcissa was wrong about Draco caring for her, but she couldn't keep the fact of his impending fatherhood from him. She just wasn't that kind of person.

So, one early Sunday morning she sent an owl and waited.

*****

Curled on the sofa that evening before a warm fire, she tried to distract herself with the latest mystery by Dorothy Cannell and a cup of herbal tea--giving up regular tea was going to be a hardship but she was determined to do everything right for this baby. When the doorbell chimed, Hermione nearly jumped out of her skin, then set down the cup and book, and unfolded her long legs. Padding in sock feet to the door, she opened it, figuring it was Harry or Ron dropping by.

Elegantly dressed all in black, Draco stood there, the only thing of color his eyes that held far more emotion than usual.

"How did you know where I live?" was the only thing that came to her mind.

"You're listed in the Muggle directory. May I?" He gestured to the hallway behind her and she stepped aside for him to enter.

"I thought you'd send an owl and we'd meet as always," she babbled as she closed the door and followed him into the sitting room where he stood in front of the fire pulling off his gloves.

"I've grown tired of dark alleys and attics."

Two spots of color flared on her cheeks. "Is that why you haven't contacted me in a month?" She knew that sounded petulant, but she couldn't help herself.

"I was thinking. I'm no longer happy with what we have."

"You're dumping me?" Her eyes sparked as well.

"What is there to dump?" he snapped back. "Illicit meetings? Hot and empty sex? Is that really what you want for your life?"

"Well...no. But...we can't. I mean, there can't be...I'm not..."

"You don't care about me," Draco finished for her, his voice flat.

"I didn't say that. But can you say you care anything for me? I mean, before the war we'd learned to get along to a certain extent, and we learned to be cordial with each other, but is there even any liking?"

The cool demeanor began to slip and Draco dropped his eyes, his fingers fidgeting with his gloves. "I like you. I've always liked you, even when I despised you."

"I'm a Muggleborn."

"Yeah, I know. If you weren't..." His eyes lifted to hers and blazed with emotion. "I would have had you as my own years ago, while we were still in school. I wanted you so badly, I think your own feelings on the matter wouldn't have stopped me from claiming you. That you were Muggleborn was the only thing that stopped me. That prejudice took a long time to die."

"I would have kicked your ass back then if you'd made a move, Draco."

A ghost of a smile flickered on his lips. "Undoubtedly. So, yes, I like you, Hermione."

She hesitated for a moment, long enough to see the fear creep into his eyes, before alleviating it. "I like you, too, despite my best efforts you've crept inside me. It's...it's been more than just sex for me for a long time."

Relieved, Draco pointed to the sofa. "Should we sit? Why did you summon me? To tell me you like me?"

"Not really," she replied as she sat down and he joined her, keeping about half a foot between them. Knees turned inward, they faced each other, both slightly awkward as they realized they might have a relationship after all. Hermione took a deep breath before continuing, "I've known for a while now, but wasn't sure how or even if to tell you, but then you deserve to know, even if we have nothing to do with each other any more, which doesn't actually seem likely after the liking you talk, so..." She blew her breath out and clenched her hands around her knees.

"That was entertaining. I didn't know you could babble," Draco said lightly.

She glared at him. "I was planning to tell you and then expected you to walk away. You're still free to do so."

The lightness left him and he frowned. "Tell me what? And I'm not going anywhere now that you've admitted you like me, too."

"I'm pregnant," she blurted out, color rising in her cheeks again.

Draco stared at her, stunned.

"Um, Draco?"

"I...how? No, I know how, I mean...Oh."

"I know it's a shock. It was a big shock to me, too. I was using birth control spells, but sometimes if you're not concentrating right they can slip and...I'm sorry."

"You don't want the baby."

"I didn't say that," Hermione protested. "I mean, I'm not sorry about that. I'm sorry...well, for lots of things, but not the baby."

They fell silent for a moment as the knowledge sank into Draco. Hermione carefully watched his face, wondering what he was thinking.

If he cared.

The sudden tears that sprang into his eyes shocked her, as did the trembling hands that reached for hers and drew them to his lips. "You're carrying my child...and you like me." As the tears fell silently, he drew her close and buried his face in her hair. Hermione started to cry as well, and held him tightly.

*****

Later, composed, they sat together, hands clasped, and talked about more things than they'd ever discussed in all the years they'd known each other. Neither spoke of love--neither was ready for that--but they decided to be together for real, openly. Date and see if there was something real between them. And Draco insisted on being a father to her baby, and Hermione saw him hesitate and then shake his head, and knew he'd been about to ask her to marry him.

It was too soon for that, and she was glad he realized that, but she was surprised at the warm glow that flared inside her at the thought of being with him always as his wife.

Once the barrier had broken and they'd admitted to having feelings for each other, there were so many possibilities.

"I have an odd feeling that my mother will be amenable to our relationship," Draco murmured at one point.

"Why do you say that?"

"She's been asking me lots of pointed questions about my dating life and the future of our line and other things. Sometimes I wondered if she knew about you and my feelings for you but how..." He broke off at the grin on Hermione's face. "What?"

"She did know. Some spell. A month ago, she asked me to join her for tea and tried to get me to admit that we had a relationship. At the time we really didn't, but she gave me a lot to think about. Have you really been seeing only me for the last six months?"

"Outside of you I've been what's the term? A wallflower."

She smiled and hugged him. "So, your mother sort of played fairy godmother."

"She'll never admit it."

"She wants you to be happy."

Draco smiled into her eyes. "I am."

"Yeah, me too. Of course, now I have to tell my friends who will probably turn you into a ferret again."

"They can try," he joked and then kissed her. "You'll protect me."

Hermione laughed. "Can't have a rodent for the father of my baby."

"But a snake's okay?"

"It is to me." Rising to her feet, she tugged him with her. "How about we see how much we like each other in the comfort of a bed for the first time."

Draco smiled and nodded and let her lead him out the door.

End

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