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Love and Forgiveness by HarryGinny4eva
Chapter 3 : Chapters 6 - 7
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 11


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Disclaimer: Many thanks to JK Rowling for her wonderful works. They are hers and hers alone. I have only borrowed her characters for a while and built my own little fantasy around them. There is no pay involved for me in doing it.

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Chapter 6
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“That was delicious. Seriously, you’re a good cook.”

Hermione laughed, “Thanks, but it was just chicken and potatoes. No big deal.”

“Well, it is to me. The only muggle things I have mastered are the stereo, blender and coffee pot,” he laughed with her.

Dinner had been pleasant and easy. Blaise was surprised to note that it was the first ‘date’ he had had in a long while where he enjoyed himself despite the fact that he wasn’t going to be hitting the sheets at the end of it. Not only was Hermione easy to look at, but she was funny, charming and could tell a great story.

For Hermione’s part, she found Blaise to be easy to talk to and it amazed her how well they got along. As soon as she had hung up after inviting him over, she had panicked. She had been instantly unsure as to what to make, what they would talk about, and what to wear. And, she hadn’t known whether it was to be a real date or just two pals getting together. Hermione had never been good with men and considered herself to be a horrible first date. Her nerves usually took over and she either retreated into being a walking encyclopedia, thereby embarrassing herself and her date, or, she couldn’t think of anything to say at all, and bored them silly. Since the purpose of this date had been to get Draco off of her mind she didn’t want to blow it.

Blaise had flooed in on time holding a bottle of wine that he had immediately opened and poured. Thirty minutes into the date all her apprehension had disappeared. His personality, easygoing manner, interest in her apartment and all her appliances, and jokes about getting to see her bedroom later had worked to relax her; just as he had planned. It had helped that neither had mentioned Draco.

Over dinner they had discussed everything from The War and The Fall, to the people she was still in touch with, to their schooling. It had been easy and the time had quickly gone by. And, his thirst for information from home was partially quenched.

“So, you don’t cook at all?” she asked.

“Nope, D does a bit, but I’m hopeless. I thought I could master the scrambled egg thing, but it’s simply a shame what I do to those poor baby chicks.”

He noticed that she opened her mouth to comment, but then seemed to think better of it. He assumed it was because he had finally mentioned the proverbial elephant in the room. But, he figured he would let her talk about Draco when she was ready. He knew she was using him as a distraction, but since he was having so much fun with her, he didn’t mind. They got up from the table and he watched her flick her wrist and make everything disappear. When he followed her into the kitchen he saw her turn on the machine she used to wash her dishes and couldn’t help but laugh.

Blaise leaned back against her counter, “So, let me get this straight, you make dinner like a muggle, but clean up like a witch. You walk to work and take that underground train thing, but apparate to your friends’ houses, and you want to teach Transfiguration, but plan to make your students do library research. I don’t get it. It’s like you can’t figure out if you want to be a muggle or a witch.”

“Or, maybe,” she laughed at his confusion, “I just want to make sure I master both parts of myself. I spent too many years kind of ashamed of being muggleborn. It was like I was trying to hide who I was. Now, I get to relish in both. Is that too weird?”

“What? No! It’s kinda cool actually. I mean, we’ve lived in this city for over four years and I haven’t seen most of it. At first, we just hung out at magical places, which we could apparate or floo to, then as we got more comfortable, and honestly, the girls got harder to find, I realized I needed to branch out a bit. I go to all kinds of places now, but I still haven’t seen most of the city from outside.”

At her confused look he continued, “I mean, I still only really go places I can floo, portkey or apparate to. It feels weird to admit, but I guess I just don’t have the bravery streak you Gryffindors are so famous for.”

She laughed with him, not a him, but kept her back to him as she asked, “What about, Malf..., uh Draco? Does he get out much?”

He almost shouted, “Finally,” but held himself in check. “Well, it took him a long time, but he proved to be a lot braver than I am. His first trip out was to a library our second year,” he laughed in memory.

“There was some assignment we had and he couldn’t find the book he needed in the university library. Our professor told him he could find the book at the muggle library that was near our loft. You should’ve seen the panic on his face,” he grinned. “You would have thought she had told him he had to go back to Azkaban. It took him almost 3 hours to psyche himself up enough to walk out of our door. Especially, when I flat out refused to go with him. I admit I was panicked that we would never find our way back. D was only gone about a half hour, and he came back at a dead run, but he did it. We drank ourselves into a stupor that night. After that I think he started to enjoy going out there. Now, he runs or takes these long walks and stuff. He keeps saying I should join him. Maybe I will sometime.”

Before she could stop herself Hermione found herself saying, “I run, too. Maybe we can all meet up sometime.”

Blaise saw the color drain from her face when she realized what she had said, and refused to let her back out of it. “Sounds good. I might feel a bit braver with the two of you on either side of me for protection. We can even go to lunch or something afterward.”

“Oh, um, okay, yeah, sometime, yeah, we should do that,” she replied.

He wanted to laugh at her sudden nervousness, but acted very serious when he said, “But, I must ask you a question, Hermione.”

Her eyes flew to his, “Uh, yeah?”

He grinned and said, “So, where do you live?”

Hermione had been expecting him to mention Draco again, and felt the breath rush out of her lungs in a whoosh at his unexpected question, “What? Huh? Here.”

Laughing he said, “Okay, but where’s here?”

“Oh,” she giggled, “You are currently on the West Side of Manhattan, 56th and 10th to be exact.”

“No way!” he exclaimed and ran out of the room.

Hermione followed in time to him see pull back the living room curtains and say, “Well, if that doesn’t beat all!”

“What?” she asked as she joined him at the window.

“See that really tall brown building about four blocks up?”

“Yeah, what about...,” then it hit her. In her shock she didn’t even notice her next slip, “That’s where Draco lives.”

Blaise decided not to correct her, “Yep, top floor. That light is probably...hey, hold on a second.”

Hermione was so entranced by the fact that she had lived all this time only a few blocks away from him...them, that she didn’t hear him pull out his cell phone. But, her head jerked up when she heard him talking.

“Hey D. ... Because I didn’t feel like getting in the fireplace and getting all dusty... Get over it already, man, it’s just a phone, you’ll get used to it when you use it more. ...Oh yeah, do me a favor. Open the curtains in the main room and flash the lights. ...Because, I wanna see something. ...Just do it will you? ...(heavy sigh) Fine, yes. You happy? ...Okay, hold on.”

Hermione’s eyes bugged out when he looked down at her and said, “D says to tell you hello.”

“I...uh...I....hi,” she stuttered her gaze flying to the window as if she could see him from there.

The lights blinked on the top floor twice and she heard Blaise laugh behind her, “Cool! I can’t believe we live so close to each other! Thanks, D. ...Okay, see ya later.”

“How funny is that, so close?” he asked and looked down at her. He actually laughed at the look on her face, a mixture of shock, interest and a bit of fear. “Hey Hermione, I do hereby solemnly swear to not become a peeping tom.”

Hermione reminded herself to breath and tried to laugh with him. But, she was a little busy having yet another inner battle.

Blaise new she had reached her limit for the night. She wasn’t even mentally in the room with him any longer. But, being Blaise, he had to try and see if he had a shot, even a slim one, before he left.

He walked back to the sofa and retrieved their glasses from the coffee table. With a flick of his wrist he turned on the stereo to a soft jazz station and returned to her at the window. He got her attention, handed her the glass of wine, and moved in close enough to invade her space. Then, with his back to the window, he held her eyes captive as he smoothly closed the curtain.

Keeping his voice at his most seductive, he said, “So, we had dinner, great conversation, we’re having drinks, there’s music, and just us. Any ideas on how we can spend the rest of this perfect evening?”

“Uh, Blaise, um...”

He moved in and stilled her words when he said against her lips, “I have one.”

Oh my! Well. This is...this is...nice. I mean, good! No, I mean nice. Damn! Here I am kissing the sexiest man I know and I can’t even get turned on a little?! I mean, it’s not like he can’t kiss, he can. But, where the heck are the...the...okay I’ll go with butterflies and figure out a better word later. I felt more than this when Draco had his hands on my waist the other night. Damn damn and double damn! I don’t want to hurt Blaise’s feelings, but how do I get out of this gracefully? I invited him over. It had to seem like I wanted him. I mean who wouldn’t want him? What is he doing with his hand?! No, no, no.

“Blaise, wait!” she practically screeched. Then she held herself in check rather than leap out of his arms. “Look, I, um, like you, I do. But, um, I think we should, uh, maybe, just like, be friends. You know what I mean?”

Being a man of experience, he knew when a woman wasn’t into things. And, she hadn’t been. But, he had found himself enjoying kissing her nonetheless. The figure she had begun to get in school had blossomed into a well-rounded woman’s. But, he acknowledged that she would be considered very average by most standards in both height and size. Her chest was a little more than average, but not anything crazy. No, it was her lips and taste that got him. Full and warm, with a taste that was a mix of the wine and woman. It had intoxicated him for a moment and his hands had started roaming before he thought better of it.

He realized he had to save face, their budding friendship, and her potential whatever with Draco. So, resting his forehead against hers he smiled into her eyes, “Yeah, that’s probably for the best. I think I’m starting to like you too much to ruin things by rocking your world. Then we couldn’t be friends.”

It seemed to have worked because she smiled at him and lifted her head away, “Rock my world? Oh please!” She continued with a light laugh as she pulled away from him, “Someone thinks he’s THE wizard, doesn’t he?”

“Well, that’s what they all tell me,” he joked back.

Hermione was pleased that things seemed to have passed quickly and without too much awkwardness, so she flopped back on the big chair next to the sofa and said, “So, now that we know you aren’t going to be seeing my bedroom any time soon, young man, sit and talk to me some more.”

“Sure, but only if I can have some coffee,” he smiled at her.

For the next hour they talked and laughed. It was like they had both agreed to let the kiss pass as if it hadn’t happened. Hermione filled him in on more of the people they had known from school and he told her more about the few people he had heard about over the years. Finally, Hermione excused herself to finish straightening up the kitchen. While she was gone he flipped through the latest edition of The Daily Prophet.

When she came back out, he told her he had to go, since they both had to work the next morning. Hermione walked with him over to the fireplace and told him how much fun she had had.

“You know, I don’t know what made me call you, but I am glad I did.”

“Well, I am, too. I really had a nice night. We’ll have to do this again soon,” he answered.

“Yep, but next time, you have to help me either cook or clean,” she laughed.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you just want to see my burnt egg specialty,” he came back. Then he reached out for a hug and she stepped into his arms easily.

“Thank you for a really good night, Blaise. It was relaxing and fun. And, I needed it,” she told him truthfully.

He kissed her on the temple and then pulled back and took some floo powder before he answered with a grin, “Same here. And, I am glad we didn’t do anything we would have regretted.” He watched her nod in agreement as he stepped into the fire. But, before he shouted out his address, he winked and added, “Besides, I think D would’ve killed me.”

It was a good two minutes before Hermione closed her mouth and stepped back from the fireplace.

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

Friday during lunch Hermione’s cell rang. The teacher she was assisting had given her an hour off, while he had taken the children out for playtime, so she answered.

“Hey Gin!”

“Hi! Can you hear me?!”

“Yeah, Gin, stop yelling,” Hermione laughed.

They had had the same beginning to each phone conversation to date. Harry and Ginny had gotten the cell phone a few weeks before so they could reach Hermione whenever, wherever, now that she was on her own. Harry took to it easily, of course. But Ginny had trouble understanding how it worked and always felt she had to yell, since they were so far away. She was getting better, but she still tended to speak slowly for the first few minutes to make sure she was clear.

“Seriously, just talk normally, girl.”

“Okay, sorry. Can you talk now?”

“Yeah, I’m on a break.”

“Good. So, what’s new? I feel like I haven’t talked to you in forever.”

“It’s only been a week,” Hermione laughed. “You guys just left Sunday.”

“I know, but you’ve had a lot change this week and I want to know everything.”

How does she know? What does she know? Nothing! There’s nothing to know! I don’t even know!

Hermione tried to keep her voice neutral, “Change?”

“Uh, yeah! Duh. You’re living on your own for the first time. You got to setup and decorate your own place. You started your new job.”

Hermione laughed in relief, “Oh, yeah. Well, I love, love, love my flat. It’s not really big or anything, but it’s perfect for me. And, I did end up making the second bedroom an office. I can’t wait for you guys to see it without all the boxes and stuff.”

Ginny cooed, “I can’t wait. I would floo over there tonight, but Teddy will have loads of homework for me to check, Harry’s on assignment this week, and Mom can’t watch Jamie and Albie tonight, so I need to stay here.”

“Oh, where’d he go?” Hermione asked while doodling on her desk calendar pad.

“Another Ministry retreat. You know the one where they meet up with the other European ministries to talk politics and stuff.” She then laughed, “Harry always complains about all the boring meetings he has to sit through, but I know he likes it. They always have a huge Quidditch match and you know how much he loves that.”

Hermione laughed, “Yeah, I do. So, have you heard anything from Ron?”

“Nope, not a word. He and Georgina should be back sometime Sunday though. I would guess they’ll call when they get home. At least I hope they do. It’s going to be so weird for Ron to be so far away.”

“I know, but I’m kind of excited to have some family here. And, he’s only...” Hermione said.

“And, he’s only a floo away. I know, I know. Harry keeps saying the same thing,” Ginny laughed. “So, how’s the new job? Killed any of the little buggers yet?”

“Oh stop. I love it. I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. I mean I went to a normal muggle school for primary, so I didn’t know how much magic there was for kids. It’s actually fascinating and a lot of fun. I mean to see them learn to control their magic is so cool, Gin.”

Ginny laughed and teased, “Yeah, sure it is. You just wait until you have some of your own running around the house mistakenly blowing things up and changing the colors of your furniture.”

When Hermione laughed Ginny continued, “So, what else is new? Have Zabini and Malfoy left you alone since the wedding?”

“Well, um...not exactly.”

“Spill it. Do I need to come over and start hexing people?”

“No, nothing like that,” Hermione laughed. “It’s just, well, I kind of, um, hadasortofdatewithBlaiselastnight.

“I’m sorry, what did you just say?!”

“I had a sort of date with Blaise last night.” Hermione heard the silence on the other end of the phone and asked timidly, “Gin, you still there?”

She heard the chill in the younger woman’s voice, “I’m here. But, since you don’t sound like you’ve lost your mind or been imperiused, I am forced to ask, what you were thinking saying yes to that...that...well, you know I mean which I can’t say because Jamie is here in the room with me!”

Thank goodness for small favors. At least she can’t completely lose it on me now. Might as well go for the gusto.

“Well, actually, I asked him over to my place for dinner, so it wa...”

“You WHAT?!”

“Gin, calm down, please. It wasn’t like a real date anyway. Just two people getting together to share a meal.”

“Yeah right. Zabini just wanted to sample your cooking skills. What where you thinking?! All he ever wants is one thing!”

Hermione felt attacked despite the fact that she knew she would have reacted the same way had their roles been reversed. Heck, she would have reacted the same way without the role reversal two weeks ago. But, things had changed.

Which is why she didn’t soften her flippant reply, “I was thinking that we are both twenty-two year old single adults who are allowed to spend time together if we want!”

“So, what? You chose the Duke of Sleezerin as your meal companion? I didn’t think you were that lonely, Mione. Sheesh! At least you didn’t sink as low as to ask out their Prince!”

She winced at the venom in Ginny’s voice and answered, “Oh grow up! We’ve been out of school for a long time and we’ve all changed, Gin. Even Draco!”

“Oh, so it’s Draaaacoooo, now is it? What? Are you planning to sleep with him next?”

“Ginevra Weasley Potter! That was uncalled for! And, for your information I haven’t slept with anybody. Blaise and I had dinner. You know, with food, drinks, conversation. That’s it!”

“Okay. Fine. Sorry. Look, I have to go feed Jamie and get Albie up from his nap. I’ll, um, talk to you later, I guess. Love you. Bye.”

The phone went dead before Hermione could reply.

Shit!

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

“Dammit!” Hermione screamed into her apartment as soon as she shut the door. Then she finally allowed the tears she had been fighting for the past few hours to fall.

She was so confused. And, she didn’t even know why. Nothing had happened between Draco and her...yet. And, she wasn’t even positive she wanted anything to happen. And, the dinner with Blaise had been innocent and fun. Why did one conversation with Ginny make her feel like she had done something wrong?

And, what if she liked being friends with Blaise? What if something did start up with Draco? Would Ginny stop speaking to her all together? And, Harry? Ron? Oh Boy. Ginny was the most rational of the bunch and she hadn’t even pretended to try and think about being okay with their, for all intents and purposes, innocent night. Should she put an end to it all now and just let Blaise know they couldn’t be friends? And, Draco, what about her new thoughts and feelings about him? And, what had Blaise meant the night before? Did that mean Draco had said something about maybe being interested in her? Why should she have to end something before it even began?

“Why is life so damn hard all the time?!” she cried into her sofa. When she finished taking her frustrations out on her couch, she sat up and wiped at the remaining tears. It was then that she saw the message light on her answering machine.

“What, Gin? You couldn’t even call me back and talk to me. You had to leave me a message?” she said into the air. “What? Now, you’re sorry? Why? Did you just finally realize that people can grow up and change? Maybe even him?”

Satisfied with having yelled at her friend even though no one had heard her one-sided conversation, she hit the play button.

“Um, hello, Hermione. It’s me, uh Draco. Malfoy. Look, I was wondering...well, Blaise said that you run, and so I thought we could, um, maybe, uh, run together, maybe. Tomorrow, if you want to. Run that is. Together, I mean. But, if you don’t want to it’s okay. I understand. I do. But, if you do, you can owl me, us that is. Blaise would go, too, of course. Or, you can call. I have a cell phone. Or, you can just call Blaise back if you want. So, um, yeah, okay. You don’t have to call if you don’t want to go. But, since you run anyway, I thought...we could...uh...Dammit, Blaise this is stupid! She’s never going to come anywhere near me! How can I erase this thing so she doesn’t hear me rambling? ...What?!” beeeeeeeeeeeeep

Hermione fell back onto the sofa she had just vacated once again in tears. But, this time the tears were of laughter.

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

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Chapter 7
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Hermione couldn’t have said if it was the earlier call with Ginny and her upset over it, the voice mail from an obviously nervous Draco, or her own basic interest and curiosity, but at least one of the three made her want to return the call immediately. But, since she rarely did things on impulse, the previous night’s date with Blaise being a glaring exception, she decided to give it some time and instead went to make herself some dinner. A call from Beth later while she cleaned up the kitchen had helped calm her nerves considerably.

It was nice to have a person to talk to who didn’t have a long history with everyone concerned. And, Beth had encouraged her to call him. As she had said, people changed, right? After talking to Beth, Hermione found herself standing at her window, staring over at his brown building. It was so strange to have two friends with such different attitudes toward her interest in getting to know Draco better. While Ginny was stuck in the past, in their history, in the pain he had caused all of them, Beth only knew the man she had met a week ago and the Hermione she’d known for the past three years. Hermione knew there was no way she could really make Beth understand the full breadth of their turbulent past, no matter how much the other woman wanted to understand. But, she couldn’t deny that she herself had grown up, changed, and let much of it go. So, Beth’s words helped her decide to take a chance.

“Well, here goes nothing,” she laughed to herself. She went into her office and sat down to write the letter.

Dear Dra...no. To Mr. Draco Malfoy? No, too formal. Hello Draco? Simple and informal without being too weird. But, wait, should I write to just him? Blaise is coming to, right? Okay, how about...

Hi Guys,

I got your message and...

And, what? Burst out laughing? Can’t tell him that, now can I? he he he Okay, uuuummm

I got your message. As a matter of fact, my friend Beth and I were planning to go running tomorrow morning, if you are both available. We usually go pretty early though, so we will leave it up to you two to let us know what time works best for you. Owl or call to let me know when and where to meet you.

Oh, and Beth has offered to make everyone lunch afterward, if you are interested.

Hermione

Nice. Nothing weird. Talks to both of them. Leaves the quaffle on their pitch, so to speak. Perfect. Now, to get Snoop’s owl.

Hermione apparated to Snoop and Ron’s new apartment. It had been her job to take care of their plants and pets while they were gone. So, she figured Snoop wouldn’t mind her using the bird, even though Ron would blow his top if he knew the reason.

“Okay, Article, I need you to take this to Messrs. Malfoy and Zabini. Then come back to my place, okay? I’ll give you a treat when you get there. Now, off with you.”

She watched the bird become a dot on the horizon and apparated back home to wait for their reply. She was happy Beth had suggested joining them, that way if they didn’t show, Hermione wouldn’t feel like she had been stood up, and if they did show, she wouldn’t get overwhelmed by her own panic. With Beth there she would be able to stay relaxed. And, Beth could make conversation with anyone, so there wouldn’t be a lot of conversation lulls at lunch.

Hermione flopped onto the sofa and reached for the remote just as Article swooped into her apartment. She glanced quickly down at the bird’s legs, but saw nothing.

“Oh, well,” she said sadly to the bird, “I guess he changed his mind. I tried though, right?”

Article hooted and nipped her finger gently, as if he understood and she laughed, “Thanks for your support.”

After she had given the bird some water and a few treats, she flooed him home.

It was a few hours later while she watched television hat her phone rang. Being deep into the show, and having given up on the guys, she assumed it would be Beth when she answered, “Hola Chica! Tell me Josh Duhamel is not the sexiest thing on two feet.”

“Uh, well, people tell me I’m not too bad to look at,” a deep voice laughed.

“Malfoy?!” she exclaimed as her feet hit the floor and she shot to her feet.

He laughed, “Yeah. Um, hi, Grang...uh, Hermione.”

“Hi. Sorry. Hello. Um, I thought you were Beth.”

“I should hope so,” he laughed again softly. “But, people don’t usually mistake me for a girl. And, who’s this Josh person?”

“Just a guy from a show we both watch. So, um, I uh, got your message.”

She relaxed a teeny bit and smiled at his groan, “Oh man. Sorry about that. I just, uh, didn’t know what to sa...I mean, I wasn’t sure if you would want to...crap! There I go again.”

She held back a laugh at his nervous rambling. It actually steadied her a bit to know that he was as nervous as she was.

“Well, did you get my note?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, Blaise got it while I was out flying. Sorry it took me, us, so long to answer. Blaise is here, too.”

“Hey sexy thing!” she heard from somewhere near Draco.

She heard Draco’s exasperated growl and giggled, “Tell him hi back.”

“She says hi,” Draco repeated. “So, anyway what time do you two usually go?”

With his attention back on her and her nerves still in overdrive, Hermione couldn’t stop her rambling, “Well, on weekends we try to get out around seven. Then, we go back to one of our places and get cleaned up and eat. Like a brunch, I mean. Nothing too fancy or anything. After that we usually go window shopping or something. But, of course we can go later, if that’s better for you guys. And, you don’t have to shop with us or anything. I mean, you are welcome to join us though...”

Her rapid-fire words were interrupted by his light laugh, “So, I’m not the only one, huh?”

“What, huh?” she asked as her thoughts scattered.

“If I remember correctly, you only ramble like that when you’re nervous,” she could hear his smile through the phone and caught the light teasing in his voice. “And, since you heard my message, I think you already know where I stand.”

She took a deep calming breath before she answered, “Yeah, I guess. Is this as weird for you as it is for me?”

“More, I would think,” he laughed a little. “But, we can talk about it more tomorrow. So, the fountain at the park a good place to meet?”

“Sure. What time?”

She assumed Draco put his hand over the phone because she could hear their suddenly muffled voices in the background. Then Blaise was on the phone, “Babe! Are you trying to kill me?”

The nerves she had been experiencing while talking to Draco vanished as Blaise’s voice washed over her and she finally sat back down on her couch.

“Hey, Blaise,” she laughed. “What do you mean?”

“Tell me D is kidding please,” he begged. “I mean it’s bad enough that I am going out in the city for you two, and running, which I hate, by the way, but seven am?! That’s just cruel.”

Hermione decided she would analyze the ‘for you two’ part later and said, “Well, I said we could go at whatever time you guys wanted to go.”

“What? D, she said we can go later. Come on, please. How about nine? Hermione?”

The pleading in his voice had her giggling, “Not a morning person, huh?”

As his harrumph, she continued, “Okay, nine it is. At the fountain by the park.”

“Okay, I can do that. Thanks, I think,” he laughed. “Running, what the hell am I thinking?!”

Hermione decided to let him know his messages had gotten through and joked, “Helping two people with a really long history and who are completely and totally socially inept?”

He laughed with her, “Man, am I a good guy! Well, I am going to have to go get my beauty sleep, so I am going to say goodnig...What?”

Again a hand muffled the phone before she heard, “Oh, well, night Hermione. Hold on, okay? D wants to say good bye.”

She heard a door close before she felt the thrill of nerves slide back over her at the sound of his voice, “Hermione?”

“Uh, yeah?” she asked.

“Thanks.”

Her brow puckered in confusion, “For what?”

“For giving me a chance,” he said softly.

“Oh, well, I,” she took a breath. “Draco, I thank you, too, then.”

“Okay, well then. I guess I’ll see you in the morning then?”

With a smile on her face she sighed, “You sure will. Good night.”

“Night, Hermione.”

She jumped up and squealed like a giddy school girl who’d just been asked out on her first date. Then, realizing how silly she looked, even though she was alone, she fell back across the sofa with a large smile of wonder on her face.

What a difference a few years makes, huh?

Quickly, before the feeling could fade, she grabbed her phone again and called Beth.

“I feel like a teenager again,” she giggled.

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

Hermione smiled into the morning sun as she ran beside Beth. As usual, Beth had been right in suggesting she join the three for the run. The first ten minutes of stretching would have been done in absolute, uncomfortable silence, if she hadn’t shown up and started chattering away. She and Blaise kept the conversation light and forced Draco and Hermione to relax a little. They even participated in the debate on how long to run, each of the three claiming they could go further, until Blaise had finally begged them to put a time limit on it. By the time they had set off in the park, a much more companionable silence had taken over. The guys jogged in front of them and the girls followed behind, as they enjoyed the gorgeous view presented to them.

The contrast between the two men was startling as they moved together, like they had done this forever. Where Blaise was darker and bulkier, Draco was lighter and more streamlined. Blaise ran all out, as if he had a race to win, while Draco ran with an easy confidence and a more measured step. Hermione also took note that the image of Draco in her head differed greatly from the man moving so fluidly in front of her. She had always thought him too pale and a bit skinny, but years of Quidditch and running had given him a finely cut physique, with broad shoulders, strong arms and a narrow waist. She realized as her eyes traveled up his well-muscled legs to his tight little tush, that he also had an even light tan.

A quick glance over at Beth had her blushing when she realized she had been caught staring at Draco’s rear.

“What can I say, it’s cute,” she laughed softly.

“What was that?” Blaise called back.

Beth laughed, “Nothing. Just admiring the view.”

The laughter bubbled up in the women until they had to step off the path to get their breath back. Blaise took this as a sign that his torture was over and doubled back to fall dramatically at their feet.

“So, we’re done?” he asked hopefully.

Draco glanced at his watch and then looked around to see how far they had gone, “Well, there’s only about a quarter mile back to the starting point, so we’re almost there B.”

“Aww, poor baby, Blaise. Out in the big bad city, with muggles and the like, AND being forced to exercise, too? What awful friends you have,” Hermione teased the man at her feet. Then she reached out to help him up, “Come on Big Guy, think of what those legions of women would say if they saw you like this.”

Beth giggled, “Well, having a good looking man at my feet isn’t such a bad thing, Mione.”

Draco and Hermione laughed when Blaise bounced up and winked at Beth, “Oh really? Well, I guess I will have to show off my more manly side from here on out. Race you back to the start?”

Beth looked down and said, “I don’t know, my ankle...”

Blaise bent down to examine the offending body part, “Oh, let me...”

And, Beth was off and running.

“You cheat!” Blaise yelled as he took off behind her.

Draco laughed and looked at Hermione who shook her head and smiled, “You guys never learn.”

He simply shook his head with a smirk and then inclined his head, “Shall we?”

With a nod she fell into step beside him.

When they reached the other pair they found them slumped together on the edge of the fountain.

“I would have won if you hadn’t grabbed me,” she laughed.

“Well, I couldn’t let you beat me. How would that have looked? I would have lost all my man points!” Blaise laughed.

Beth giggled, “Well, you didn’t do too bad for your first run.”

Hermione started her cool down stretch and asked, “So, what’s for brunch?”

“Sandwiches. Do it yourself style,” Beth answered. “Is that okay with everyone?”

Hermione bent over and touched her hands to the ground, “Fine with me.”

Blaise stood and stretched, “Finally, something I know how to do.”

Beth turned to Draco and burst out laughing. Blaise and Hermione looked over at him and Blaise joined her when they caught Draco staring at Hermione’s butt.

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

“Damn, that stings, Hermione!” Beth screeched when Hermione had completed the cleansing charm that they all agreed would be faster than 4 separate showers.

“My turn,” Draco said as he stood in front of her.

Hermione smiled up at him for a moment before she murmured the words of the charm and tapped his shoulder with her wand.

When he didn’t flinch Beth asked, “So, it gets easier the more you do it?”

Blaise stepped forward so Hermione could repeat the charm on him and answered, “No!” as the sting hit his skin.

Hermione then repeated the charm, tapped her own shoulder and let out a soft, “Eee.”

“Well, at least it’s not just us muggles that have to suffer,” Beth laughed.

They all moved over to the kitchen to starting putting together a light brunch.

Hermione started to pull out plates and silverware, while Draco took the things she pulled down and placed them on the table. Blaise leaned against the counter and admired the view of Beth bent over in her fridge, “So, tell me. How did you two meet? And, how are you so okay with all this magic stuff?”

Beth glanced back and saw where his eyes where, “You sure won’t find the answers there,” she quipped. “Here, take these.”

Blaise took the condiments from her and continued his train of thought, “Well?”

Hermione began the story, “Well, I went for a walk one day a little after the start of second year. I needed a break. Some days Snoop kind of made me tired.” She laughed in memory, “It was like living in a constant interview for a while there. Anyway, so I went out for a walk, and there was a big, beautiful building full of brand new books!”

Beth shook her head and laughed as she spread mustard on her bread, “Only Mione.”

Draco joked, “Some things never change,” and earned himself an elbow in his side.

Hermione poked her tongue out at her friend and continued, “So, I went in to the book store and before I knew it I was begging for a job. I didn’t need the money, but I was told I got a discount on all purchases.”

“I got to be her trainer,” Beth jumped in. “We had all the same shifts, so we were together like every waking moment for a while there. We got to know each other pretty well and started hanging out together on weekends and stuff, but she would never invite me over, no matter how often I had her over here.”

When the men looked to her, Hermione defended herself with a grin, “Well, I lived in a University apartment. I couldn’t very well explain away the owl, fireplace to nowhere, potions, cauldrons, and a roommate that could disappear and appear at will. I thought she would think I was a wacko.”

Blaise joked, “Well, I always thought you were kind of wacko and I knew you were a witch.”

Hermione tossed a potato chip at him, “Ha ha ha. You are so funny!”

They all retreated to the table and Draco poured ice tea for everyone as Beth continued, “So, anyway, one day I decided to follow her to see what was going on. I had begun to think she was in the Witness Protection Program or something. And, I knew she lived near me and the store, because she always walked to and from work. So, there I am following her, when she ducks into an alley. I took off running to catch up, but when I got there she was gone.”

“I wasn’t ducking her. I didn’t even know I was being followed,” Hermione laughed.

Draco smiled over at her, “Finally let your guard down, huh?”

She knew that he was talking about all the years she had spent in panic mode, and smiled at his understanding, “Yeah, I guess I had.”

Beth winked at Blaise and smiled at the obvious link between the two opposite her, “So, for about a week, I kept it up, each time running down the alley to search the streets on the other end. Finally, I figured I should just get to the alley first. Imagine my surprise when she showed up, walked to the middle of the alley, looked around as if checking for something, and then disappeared.”

“I still can’t believe you got up the nerve to come see me do it again!” Hermione laughed.

“What?” Blaise asked.

“Yeah, the next day, I got there before she was supposed to come to work. I knew what I had seen, but I still couldn’t quite believe it. I wanted to see if it had been a figment of my very active imagination. I was there for about ten minutes before she just popped up in front of me.”

Draco leaned forward a bit, “And, you weren’t scared or anything?”

“You know what? No. Honestly, I’ve always believed there were a lot of strange things in this world that can’t be explained by science and such, so no, I wasn’t scared. To tell you the truth, I think Mione was a lot more scared than I was,” Beth laughed.

“That’s for sure,” Hermione concurred. “I was running late for work because of a late class, I apparated to my normal place and was about to take off running when she hops off a dumpster and says, as calm as you please, ‘Can you teach me how to do that?’ I about had heart failure.”

“Seeing as she had no choice anymore, Mione had to come clean with me. So, we both called in sick to work, and I got to see my first witch’s apartment. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Hermione shook her head, “You guys would be surprised how many people out there just don’t care.”

“And, I must say, there are times when having a witch or two on your side can be really helpful,” Beth smiled at Hermione fondly.

“Like when?” Blaise asked.

Beth blushed and answered, “Well, that’s a story for another time.”

Draco got the feeling they were touching on a subject neither Beth nor Hermione wanted to elaborate on, so he decided to change the topic.

“So, what is you do, Beth? For a living I mean.”

“Advertising copywriting. And, you guys?”

Blaise answered, “I got my degree in marketing, but I still don’t know what I want to do yet. Luckily, I have the time and money to figure it out.”

“B’s going to be an eternal student, so he never has to get a real job,” Draco joked. “My degree is in forensics. I know that would shock most of the people who knew me,” he risked a glance at Hermione, “but, I found I liked the research work. And, loved being able to solve mysteries.”

Hermione thought she understood where some of his drive came from. Without thinking she placed her hand over his on the table and asked softly, “And, it doesn’t hurt to get to fight for the good guys, huh?”

She gets it. Okay.

He smiled at her and turned his hand over so the two could join, “No. No it doesn’t.”

For the next hour they sat around and talked. Hermione was relieved that the conversation never really lulled and she found Draco to be easier and easier to talk to. It pleased her greatly to find out how much they had in common, from music, to foods, to authors. And, it thrilled her when he slung his arm over the back of the sofa they shared and idly played with the ends of her hair.

By the time the men stood to leave they had already agreed to another running date. And, Blaise had decided that he and Draco were going to host a party the following weekend for Draco’s birthday. Beth tried to be subtle, but failed miserably, when she, out of the blue and very awkwardly, asked Blaise to help her take the trash out before they left.

They ran out together each holding on to the same one bag of trash, and left Draco and Hermione standing together each with an amused smile on their faces.

“Well, this is awkward,” she finally laughed into the silence, unable to meet his eye.

Draco laughed, but stepped forward to her. When he stood close enough for their bodies to almost touch he said softly, “Please don’t hex me, but I’ve been wanting to do this for the past week and a half.”

She looked up just as he lowered his head and their lips met. An instant shiver ran down her body and back up, and she sighed as he moved closer and laid his hands on her hips. With a slant of his head he deepened the kiss a fraction and Hermione’s hands lifted to his chest. His appreciative groan at her touch warmed her to her toes.

Draco decided that ending the kiss ranked way up on his list of things he hated. But, he knew neither of them would want to go too far too soon, so he pecked her lightly one last time and looked down into her dazed eyes.

He wasn’t sure what would be the best thing to say, so he stayed quiet and just enjoyed looking at her. He loved watching the play of emotions across her face as she assimilated and dissected the kiss.

He let out a surprise bark of laughter when she finally focused her eyes on his and sighed, “I just kissed Draco Malfoy.”

When she beamed up at him and didn’t pull away he asked playfully, “So you aren’t planning to hex me then?”

“Not after that,” she answered with a grin.

They were interrupted from further conversation by the return of Beth and Blaise. And, a few hugs later the girls were left alone.

Hermione noticed a slightly dazed look on Beth’s face as she leaned back against the door she had just closed. With a knowing look she asked, “Beth, you okay?”

Beth swallowed and nodded, “Damn, that man can kiss!”

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’


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