Chapter 26 : Breaking the Barrier
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Stop picking on me
-Stupid Cupid by Connie Francis.
Hermione quickly fluffed her hair in the mirror that stood in the Malfoy Manor foyer. Draco’s hand slipped around her waist as it did so very often, and Hermione smiled up at him endearingly. They were going to go re-meet her friends just as she had proposed.
Hermione was wearing her hair down, letting her curls spill over her shoulders and down her back in a carelessly beautiful nature. She had painted her lips a deep red, and her nails to match. Draco had dressed himself casually, for a Malfoy, in a baby blue button down top and black slacks.
“You’re sure your friends want to see me, right?” He said with a laugh, moving his chin down as if expecting a kiss.
“Of course they do!” Hermione replied, moving her head away, also laughing.
Draco turned his head away from Hermione and checked himself out in the mirror, straightening his back and tilting his chin to the ceiling slightly. Hermione smirked and hit into his side.
“You look fine, don’t worry about it.”
“Just fine?” He looked back to the girl on his arm and smiled a large, toothy grin. “That’s really too bad, you know. I was going for devilishly handsome this morning.”
“Are you ready, Casanova? Or do you need another hour to primp?” Hermione was excited to see her friends again, and was especially glad that Draco was in such high spirits.
“Alright, I’m ready.” He said decidedly after straightening his shirt and pushing a piece of hair back into place.
“Are you sure?”
They landed airily on a gravel pathway with the Potter house just a little ways ahead. Hermione, in her excitement, laced her fingers through Draco’s and pulled him towards the front door, not even noticing how he eagerly accepted her hand, and looked at her in confusion.
The front door opened and Harry came running down the path to meet her. His footsteps created loud crunches against the gravel, and it sounded the exact same as it did back when they were eleven and running to Hagrid's hut. Hermione’s hand fell from Draco’s and she emitted a gleeful shriek as Harry, upon meeting her on the path, threw his arms around her waist and hoisted her up and into the air, spinning them around in circles.
Once Hermione’s feet were back on the ground, Harry put his hands on her shoulders and looked her over as if it had been years.
“Merlin, Hermione, I haven’t seen you in ages!”
“I know and it’s so good to see you again!” Hermione smiled and the two embraced once again.
“You have to come to visit more often. James keeps asking where Aunty Hermione is and when you’ll be back! He was so excited when he found out that you were coming today.”
“Oh, has he really? What a darling. I would have come sooner, but alas, I was stuck in Malfoy Manor with no one to talk to except Draco here.”
That is when Harry turned to Draco and offered him a welcoming smile. Hermione watched happily as the two men shook hands, and Draco returned the greeting.
“Merciful heavens! Hermione Granger, you come give me a hug this instant!” Hermione looked up and saw Ginny standing in the doorway. She was extremely pregnant, and had her hand underneath her stomach in order to support the weight.
Hermione burst into a grin and flew down the path towards Ginny and James. The boy came from beside his mother and reached his arms up, laughing as Hermione scooped him into her arms and kissed him four times on the forehead.
“I missed you, cutie.” She said as she put James back onto his feet and crouched in order to see his face.
“I missed you too, Aunty!” He laughed and Hermione’s heart ached. He looked so much like Harry.
She kissed him again before standing and embracing his mother. Ginny hugged Hermione back without restraint, although Hermione was gentle due to the baby.
“Draco!” Ginny called once Hermione had pulled back. “It’s so good to see you!”
Hermione stared at her friend with her features drawn together in a careful mixture of confusion and thankfulness. Ginny, upon seeing her friends expression, threw a wink and hurried down the shallow, concrete steps as Draco came towards the door with Harry.
Ginny wrapped her arms around him, and Draco hugged back cautiously. “It’s so good to finally have you here, Draco.” Ginny smiled and led the men towards the front steps.
As Draco neared James, the boy hid behind the door and looked at his father for approval of the blonde man in the blue blouse. “This is Draco.” Harry told him.
“Uncle Draco,” Ginny corrected. “You don’t have to be nervous of him.”
James nodded but still looked a little frightened as his parents, Hermione, and Draco all entered his house and made their way into the living room. He followed his mother, and held onto her knee with his small, grubby fingers.
“Ron will be coming by Floo any minute now,” Ginny babbled as she led everyone into the kitchen. “Does anyone want chocolate chip cookies? James and I made some this morning.”
“Sure, thank you.” Draco took two from a cookie tin as they walked through the kitchen, and passed one to Hermione.
“We haven’t had anyone over in a whole week.” Harry started. “Usually Luna and Ralph are over every few days to give us the details on some new mythical creature lead.”
“Those two are adorable.” Hermione said, thinking back to Luna’s forest wedding and the long, shimmering white dress she had worn.
“Oh, they are.” Ginny continued to lead them until they had arrived in the living room, the fireplace sitting on the far wall, and several floral chairs and a light wooden table in the middle of the room. “Now, as I said before, Ron-”
As she spoke a thud came from the fireplace and green smoke filtered into the room. The boyish ginger stumbled forward, his clothes slightly rumpled, and a large smile plastered on his face.
“Damn, it’s good to see you.” He said as he walked towards Hermione and gave her a long hug. After pulling away he hugged Harry, Ginny, James, and then gave Draco a good natured handshake.
“I’ll get us all something to eat.” Ginny settled James on her hip before leaving back the way that they had come, leaving the others to settle into chairs and pick up conversation.
And thankfully enough, conversation went well. Everyone got along, and unusually enough Draco and Ron got along splendidly. Ron brought up Hogwarts, Draco sung ‘Weasley is Our King’ and after that the two fell into an involved discussion on Quidditch, a conversation Ginny jumped into with enthusiasm.
James was on the floor with several toys, and seemed quite content. Hermione watched Draco and her Weasley friends talk and laugh over Quidditch players, broom brands, and other like things.
Once the others were fully involved in the conversation, and Harry seemed sure that they were not listening to anything else, he slid his chair slightly closer to Hermione’s. Both of them made sure that their friends were not alerted by the sound, but none of them were.
“Why have you and Draco not broken up yet?” Harry asked quietly, his eyes flickering over to the others and double checking that they were still occupied with Quidditch-talk.
Hermione looked at Harry for a moment, but decided that it would be unfair to hold back from him. She had to be able to trust him, it would be unfair to him if she did not. Especially since he had trusted her with everything.
“Neither of us have given it any thought.”
“Does that mean you two are for real now?”
“No, definitely not. I’m just in no rush to end this.”
Hermione’s eyes flicked to Draco’s, and thankfully he was still very interested in whatever aspect of the game they were talking about now.
“I have a feeling that our friendship will stop when the facade does, and I don’t want that to happen.”
Harry turned his head away and seemed to be mulling this over. He opened his mouth, and watched their friends for a moment before speaking. “If you truly cared for each other you would continue to be friends.”
“I don’t think so.” Hermione paused. “I can’t see Draco coming over or writing a letter ‘just ‘cause’ once I’m gone.”
Harry chanced a look over at Draco and, again, seemed to be seriously thinking over what he was about to say before actually saying it. “I hate saying this because he is still Draco Malfoy, and although everything is in the past, I still am not completely over it, but I can tell that he will not be quick to give you up.” Harry turned back to look at her. “And, Hermione, I just want you to be happy like I am with Ginny. I just want you to find that. We’re not seventeen anymore, we’re twenty five. I just want you to have happiness without any complications because we don’t have forever.”
Hermione stared back at him. “Oh, Harry. Thank you.” She wasn’t sure what exactly to say to that. “I wish it were that easy.”
“It will be fine.”
That was the last thing said in the conversation, because after that Ron announced that it was time for him to be heading back home, and Hermione and Draco agreed that they should be getting back to the manor.
To Hermione's delight, Ron, whilst saying his goodbyes, even hugged Draco.
“You can keep him.” Ron told her before stepping back into the fireplace. “He’s alright.”
Hermione and Draco said goodbye next, before apparating back to Malfoy Manor. Although before they even had a chance to orient themselves, a voice unfamiliar to Hermione greeted them.
“Oh, you two are finally back!” Hermione and Draco turned slowly at the sound, to find a plump, short woman with sandy hair, that reminded Hermione of Gildeory Lockhart's, pulled up in a tight bun at the back of her head. An obviously expensive and extravagant hat sat atop her head, large feathers sticking up every which way. She had a tiny, pursed heart shape mouth and big, blue eyes that reminded Hermione of Astoria's.
Hermione turned her head towards Draco who was staring at the woman, looking just as, if not more, confused than Hermione. He looked dumbfounded and did not return the greeting.
“The Greengrasses came shortly after you two left for the Potters. They’re staying here for a while.” Narcissa spoke with obvious distaste, as she walked into the foyer through one of the archways. She was wearing an entirely black evening gown made of what looked like spider webs. “A week at the most. They are removing one of the black magic infused portraits from their house at the present, and so for the time being they are staying here.”
Draco looked at his mother and shook his head slightly as if to tell her he would not have it and to make them leave at once. Narcissa shook her head, her black spider earrings bouncing around her ears, silently telling him that they have no choice in the matter.
“Yes and it is so nice to finally see you again, Draco!” Mrs. Greengrass waddled up to Draco and patted his cheek, although with some difficulty due to her height. “It’s been far, far too long. You know the-”
“Augusta, darling, Draco and Hermione just got home. Let them rest while I show you where Bertrand and yourself are staying.” Narcissa drawled in the excellent, pure-blood way.
The woman agreed, and let Narcissa lead her up the stairs and away to one of the many guest bedrooms. Draco, when they were both safely out of earshot, heaved a sigh and raked his hand through his hair. His eyebrows were drawn together, creating a slight crease across his forehead, and his mouth was pulled into an awkwardly shaped frown.
Hermione put a hand on her arm when she heard him curse under his breath, and was about to ask what this all meant, when there came light, rapid footsteps on the stairs. Hermione and Draco both looked up to spot whoever was coming towards them, and Hermione felt bile rise in her throat when it was none other than Astoria Greengrass herself.
The little blonde stopped midway and smiled brightly at the two of them before hurrying down the rest and almost skipping towards them. She was wearing a soft blue tunic dress, and white fairy-like slippers. Her hair was done in signature blonde shoulder-length ringlets, and Hermione realized that this pretty little thing was not going to let her be happy with Draco if she could help it.
“Draco! Hermione!” She said excitedly. “Oh, it’s so good to see you two again, and so soon!”
Neither Draco or Hermione shared in the girls enthusiasm.
“A pleasure.” The words fell off Draco's lips simply and effortlessly.
“I have a problem.” Astoria told them, pouting. “I cannot find my bedroom, but apparently it is beside Hermione’s.”
Hermione opened her mouth to explain the route, but Astoria got there first. “I apologize about stealing Draco, but I need him to show me where to go.”
Astoria clutched Draco’s arm, and pulled him towards the staircase, just as she had done at the ball. Draco let her lead him, but seemed limp and almost apologetic himself.
“If your room is right next to mine, wouldn't it make more sense if I showed you-” Hermione tried to argue as she stood alone in the middle of Malfoy Manors foyer. The realization of how dangerous Astoria really was, hitting her with undeniable force.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” Astoria interjected.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it, I’ll take Astoria.” Draco said, letting Astoria slip her arm through his own.
Draco and Astoria went happily up the stairs, without a look back. Hermione realized she couldn’t even go to her room now without it looking like she was following them, and that would just be a sign of jealousy and would give Astoria far too much power, and so Hermione decided to go to the library, instead, in order to get her mind off things.
It took her quite some time to find the library, and only flipped through a few books before she got impatient and realized she wasn’t about to get her mind off of things anytime soon, and that she would be happier in her bedroom with her own books and belongings. Anyway, Draco and Astoria would have been long to her bedroom and back by now, no matter the amount of dilly-dallying, and so the hallway would be clear.
And of course she was right, the hallway was barren. She was still relieved to find it so, and quickly strode towards her bedroom door when something caught her elbow. Hermione whirled around, expecting Lucius or Narcissa, but instead finding Mrs. Greengrass.
“Hermione Granger!” The woman cooed. “We didn’t get to properly meet earlier. I’m Mrs. Greengrass, as you know.”
The womans mouth curved into a very happy smile, and her eyes lit up and looked horribly like blue, plastic marbles. Mrs. Greengrass extended her hand for Hermione to shake, and Hermione did so but cautiously.
“I can’t believe it is only now that I am meeting you! Quite funny isn’t it? Our lives have been so influenced by one another but it’s not until years after the war that we actually meet.”
Hermione was startled by the woman and her sudden, flippant talk of the war. “Uh, yes. Quite.”
“I find it quite funny that we should be meeting in Malfoy Manor. Who would have guessed you and young Draco would have gotten engaged, seeing as you and your friends ruthlessly murdered his friends and family! Funny how life works.” Mrs. Greengrass still seemed extremely happy, as though this was just average conversation, and not something horribly uncomfortable.
“Funny is not the word I would have used,” Hermione answered, angered. She could feel her chest rise with an immediate desire to take the woman down a peg or two. “And I’ll have you know that my friends died as well, and the war would never have had to happened if you’re people-”
“Hermione, Augusta.” Draco’s cool voice came from the right and both females turned their heads.
“Draco, Draco, Draco!” Augusta Greengrass exclaimed, waddling over and planting two fat kisses on either of Draco’s cheeks. “It’s good to see you again, and properly this time!”
Draco smiled. “Yes, it’s so good that you’re staying with us.” He turned to Hermione. “And I was looking for you.”
“Did you know everyone once thought my little Astoria would marry Draco?” Mrs. Greengrass started. “And then he goes and asks you! It was quite the shocker, I do tell you! Astoria and he were such a good pair. Shame how things work out, but you two will be quite happy I’m sure. If she doesn’t drive you half mad, my boy.” She said with a laugh that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Draco laughed as well and Hermione looked at him in shock. “Yes, it is funny how life works.” He said with a crooked smile.
“Have you seen Daphne or Queenie? I don’t know where their rooms are.” The short, plump woman went on.
“No, I haven’t.”
“What a shame. What a shame it’s Hermione beside my Astoria instead of you, hm?”
“I wouldn’t call it a shame, Augusta-”
“Yes, yes, I suppose you’re right. Is she in her room?”
“No, she left after I took her there.”
“Oh, Merlin. That girl. Well, I should probably go and find her. I have a few things I need to speak to her about.”
“Yes, and Hermione came up here in order to go to her room and probably does not want to be detained much longer.” Draco said with a smile.
Augusta looked at Hermione as if she was sizing her up. “I guess it is getting on. I think I’ll retire soon, myself. Draco, will you help me find Astoria?”
Draco raked his hand through his hair. “Awfully sorry, Augusta, but I need to talk to Hermione alone for a minute.”
“I sure hope there isn’t any trouble in paradise!” Augusta grinned. “What with my Astoria coming and-”
“No trouble at all.” Draco argued sweetly. “But you really should find Astoria, who knows where she has gone. Probably lost in one of the many hallways.”
Mrs. Greengrass suddenly widened her eyes. “Oh, you’re right! I should really get to finding her. I’ll see you two in the morning.”
After another minute of saying goodbyes, Augusta headed down the hallway in search for her daughter, and Draco turned to Hermione, a smile playing on his lips. Hermione opened her mouth to speak but Draco put a finger to her lips and slyly opened her bedroom door from around her. Hermione stepped into her room, and watched in mild confusion as Draco stepped in after her and closed the door with a light bang.
“We can talk safely in here.” He said once the door was securely closed.
Hermione walked a little further into her room. “I don’t know how you can stand that woman!”
“Years of practice.” He said with a sigh as he took a few steps in her direction. “She’ll be here for a week or so, so you should learn to keep your mouth shut.”
“I could just go back to my apartment.” Hermione muttered in aggravation.
“And leave me alone with them?” Draco laughed playfully. “No you can’t!”
Draco had gotten closer now, although his presence was very much a good thing at that particular moment, and although Hermione had come to her room to read, she was glad to have him with her.
The candles along her wall flickered and created a warm glow against the cream of her walls. Everything about her room at this moment reminded her of warm vanilla sugar and sweet hot chocolate in front of an open fire.
“I suppose your right.” Hermione said. “And what was it you had to talk to me about?”
“Oh nothing,” Draco admitted. “I just wanted to get rid of her, honestly.”
Hermione wandered to the end of her bed and slumped backwards onto the soft duvet, exhaling loudly as she did so. Draco followed her and sat carefully on the edge, obviously unsure with his action.
“So why are you staying, and not going to your own room?” Hermione made sure to ask it simply, so that he would not feel badly about sitting with her.
“Because I am scared to leave, in case I get caught by one of the five Greengrasses.”
“Five?” Hermione opened her mouth in shock.
“Yeah, five.” Draco nodded solemnly. “Augusta, Bertrand, Daphne, Queenie, and Astoria.”
“This is going to be a long week.” Hermione said, drawing out the ‘long.’
“Oh, I know.”
Draco was still sitting painfully rigid on the edge of her bed, and Hermione couldn’t help but be amused be this. She would think he would have gotten comfortable by now, since he usually does, but he looked almost nervous.
“If you’re staying you should take off your shoes and relax a little, I don’t bite.”
Draco laughed and fell back beside her, slipping his shoes off in the process. He crossed his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling with a small, crooked smile hovering on the edge of his mouth.
“Is all Augusta said true?” Hermione asked after a moment of silence.
He chuckled dryly. “Painstakingly true.”
“Then why didn’t you two get married?”
“We were young. Too young, and that’s about it.” He shook his head and exhaled slowly. “Just young fools.”
“Then why didn’t you two wait?”
Draco suddenly turned his face to the side in order to see her, the same smile still peeking around the corner of his lips.
“How about I ask the questions for once?”
“What about you and Ron? Why didn’t you get married?” He asked almost too quickly, as if it had been sitting on his tongue for a while now.
“For the same reason, really.” Hermione told him. “We were young and things got in the way. Obstacles we couldn’t overcome, or at least not together.”
“Were you ever engaged?”
“Yes, just out of Hogwarts.”
Draco’s eyebrows rose and he turned onto his side, his elbow resting against the pillow and propping up his head. His eyes watched her profile, taking in every dip and curve as if it alone was something wonderful.
“So have you lost your virginity?”
Hermione's cheeks immediately began to blossom. “What sort of question is that?”
“Just answer it.” He teased.
“Well, no. I have not.”
Draco’s playful smile lowered into a smirk, and Hermione, too, turned onto her side in order to face him.
“And what about you?”
Hermione saw him give her the most amused look she had ever seen him give, as if this is all a big joke to him. They were only inches apart, and Hermione held her breath.
Hermione frowned in disgust, and Draco began to laugh as if her obvious disapproval was the funniest thing he’d heard in months.
“Why didn’t you do anything with Ron?”
“At the time I wanted to wait until we were at least engaged before going very far. And then we just never did once he proposed, and we ended soon after...”
Draco smiled cheekily. “Well, we’re engaged. Would you, you know?”
Hermione laughed and shook her head. “Oh, yes.” She said sarcastically.
A moment of silence passed before Draco began again, “I apologize for asking this, but were you and Harry ever a thing?”
“No, never. He is like my brother.”
“Alright. Just no one in Slytherin was ever sure if Reeta Skeeter was onto something with that article during our fourth year or not.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Oh right, that.” She paused before continuing. “Do you ever regret this whole thing? The engagement and whatnot?”
“Do you still have feelings for Astoria?”
“I’m not sure.”
“If I wasn’t here and this whole thing didn’t happen, would you get back with her?”
“Probably.” Hermione did not respond, and Draco bit his lip and looked down at the pillow. “Would you get back together with Ron?”
“No. That door is closed.”
“Do you regret being with Ron?”
“No, I don’t regret being with him, and I don’t regret ending it, either. We weren’t made to be more than best friends but I have so many good memories from that portion of my life that I wouldn’t give it up.”
Draco nodded, his eyes suddenly raising to meet hers. His hand extended and carefully he tucked a stray hair behind Hermione's ear, his hand dropping and resting on her jaw line.
Hermione’s breath hitched and uneasily she placed a hand overtop of his, and cannot help her eyes from flickering to his lips if only just for a second. Although he obviously noticed and leaned in close. So close that Hermione was sure he could hear her heart pummeling through her chest.
Her eyes fluttered to a close and for a second she could feel his lips brush softly against her own. It felt like sparks were erupting somewhere deep within her, and a tug almost like that of apparation pulled at her stomach.
Suddenly Draco rose from the bed just as the door swung open, a curly haired blonde with an angelic face standing in the doorway. She wore a flowing white nightgown and a lace hair ribbon.
“Oh, Draco! I didn’t know you’d be in here.”
Hermione watched in disbelief. She did not know that things like this even happened in real life.
“I came because I did not know the way to the bathroom.”
“There should be one adjoining your bedroom.” Draco said coolly.
Astoria’s cheeks quickly went an adorable pink and she looked away in shame. “I am so embarrassed! I didn’t even see. How foolish of me. I-I’ll be going now-”
“No, let me show you.” Draco said, walking towards the doorway. “So that this doesn’t happen again.”
The two exited and closed the door quietly behind them. Hermione fell back down onto her bed, and breathed out sharply, wondering if the barrier between friendship and something more had finally been broken between her and Draco Malfoy.
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