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Originally Posted: November 28, 2008

The address can’t be correct. Hermione looks at the parchment in her hand then back at the numbers above the door across the street. It’s a restaurant-- a small, Muggle Italian restaurant in the middle of a busy area of London. It’s the Muggle part that surprises her the most. No, that’s not entirely true. The letter surprises her more than the location.

When she realizes that she’s been standing in the rain for several minutes while staring at the door, she shakes her head and crosses the street. While there’s a part of her that suspects this is nothing more than an elaborate prank, she knows that Malfoy is unpredictable, so she can’t simply dismiss this meeting. She certainly isn’t here because she’s intrigued and curious. Not at all.

She enters the restaurant and runs her hand through her damp hair. There's no need to look in a mirror to know that it’s tousled. Rain always makes it curl and expand into a mess. It just had to be raining today; now she has to deal with Malfoy while looking like a drowned puffball, while he likely looks pristine and perfect in that infuriating way of his.

The hostess interrupts her glance around the restaurant and leads her to a booth in the back. She sees Malfoy straighten up as she approaches and doesn’t miss the amused smile that crosses his lips when he looks at her hair. He hasn’t even spoken, and she’s already in a foul mood. After she sits down, the hostess hands her a menu and then leaves. She scowls at Malfoy and opens the menu.

“No ‘hello’ or ‘how lovely it is to see you’?” Malfoy smirks. “I’m deeply offended, Granger.”

“Why are we here? I expected—I don’t know, a dark alley or deserted shop. Not a quaint little restaurant.”

“You’re very odd,” he points out. “You’d prefer a dusty old shop or smelly alley to this?”

“I didn’t say what I’d prefer. I was merely stating my surprise at your choice of location.” She frowns at him above the top of her menu. “And I’m not odd.”

He arches a pale brow. “I would dispute that claim, but it would only lead to you storming out of here when proven wrong.” At her glare, he smiles and closes his menu. “As for my choice of location, you like Italian.”

“Why are we here?” she asks again. She can’t deny that she likes Italian, so she focuses back on the main issue. Draco Malfoy choosing a restaurant for their meeting doesn’t make any sense. She needs more information so she can analyze it properly and determine what he’s plotting.

“It’s lunchtime, and I’m hungry.” He rolls his eyes when she continues to stare at him. “You’re really more trouble than you’re worth,” he mutters as he signals for a server. After they order, he purses his lips. “Why are you here, Granger? I think that’s the question you don’t want to answer.”

“Your letter claims that you have a copy of Sloughton’s Charms Theory, which I’ve been trying to find for months,” she reminds him. “The only way I could get the book is if I met you today. At least, that’s what you said.”

“I know. I wrote the letter.” He smiles smugly. After the server brings their drinks and leaves, he gives her a skeptical look. “You’re here for a book? Really?”

“Yes, really.” She reaches for a breadstick out of the basket and rips off the end. She can’t slap the smile off his lips, so she takes it out on baked goods. Bloody hell, she’s pathetic. “It’s blackmail, you know? I could casually mention it to the right people, and you’d wish that you’d been more agreeable.”

He snorts. “That sounds more like blackmail to me. I was merely being persuasive.” He takes a breadstick and dips it into garlic sauce. “Your threat is weak. Not even Potter could find any laws that I’ve allegedly broken.” He bites off the end of the breadstick and licks sauce off his lips.

She blinks and looks at the table when she realizes that she’s been staring at his mouth. Again. This is so very wrong, and she knows that it’s better if she just leaves. Still, she needs that book. That’s the only reason she even agreed to meet him, after all. It certainly has nothing to do with the tension that’s been developing between them since they started working together on a charity project months ago. She can’t deny that there’s an attraction, but she doesn’t plan on doing anything about it. Besides, it’s Malfoy, which means it’s pointless to even think about.

“Ahem.” He clears his throat and taps his fingers against the table. “Should I be jealous that you find a table more interesting than me?”

“Funny.” She looks up and frowns. “How do you see this as being persuasive? You sent me a letter saying that you have something I need for work and that the only way you’ll let me borrow it is if I meet you today at this address. That’s not persuasion.”

“It is.” He looks at her intently. “I’ve invited you out for a meal several times, but you always refuse with vague excuses that never sound sincere. I think that you want to accept, but you’re too worried about who we are and what people might say. This gives you an excuse to say yes so that you can justify it to yourself.”

“Why would you want to give me an excuse?” she asks before she can stop herself. He isn’t necessarily wrong about her refusals, but she finds it difficult to believe that he wouldn’t just give up.

“Why not?” He obviously doesn’t plan to answer her question. He takes a sip of his drink but doesn’t look away from her. It’s disconcerting to be stared at like that, and she can’t help but shift her position. He smiles slightly. “You’ll get the book at the end of lunch, Granger. Until then, try to relax. It’s just lunch.”

Just lunch. It’s more than that, though. She’s not stupid. Even now, she’s not sure if she wants to hex him for all this or kiss him because his lips are so distracting. The attraction hasn’t gone away despite her best efforts, and the worst part of it all is that she actually likes him and enjoys spending time with him. It scares her, in all honesty, but she isn’t about to admit that to anyone, much less him.

After thinking about it a while longer, she glances at him. She doesn’t expect to see the flash of vulnerability on his face as he watches her, but it’s there. Maybe she’s not the only one who feels scared about all this. For some reason, that realization makes her feel better, and she slowly smiles. Right now, she decides to stop questioning everything and just enjoy the meal.