Draco had seen Hermione let go before, but never with such ferocity. Only the quick charm he cast under his breath kept the other patrons of the small uptown restaurant from witnessing the unexpected display. He watched, stunned, as she berated his parents for their continued blood prejudice as if they were misbehaving schoolchildren. The evening of thinly veiled contemptuousness had, apparently, worn her nerves short, for she refused to stop her tirade long enough for them to get even a word in edgeways. It was as if she had bottled in her frustration for so long that she just had to get it all out.
And he didn't blame her; they really had been behaving abominably. He had thought that they would have accepted – or, at least, resigned themselves to – his girlfriend after the twelve months they'd been dating, but he had clearly misjudged the swaying power of his happiness. They claimed that they wanted him to be safe and happy, especially after the war, but even that wish, apparently, had its limits.
I should have waited longer, he thought, but I really did think that seeing us out together would change things.
"Hermione," he murmured, intending to intercede. He hadn't before, knowing that Hermione was more than capable of holding her own in an argument and that she could use the catharsis of letting her anger loose, but he was aware that his parents would never let her words change their minds. The only person they would even consider genuinely listening to was him; they might pretend to engage with her, but it would all just be a show to placate her while they tried to gather enough information to later unravel the fabric of their relationship.
But she ignored his quiet interruption, instead barrelling on like an enraged jyorpas. "This obviously isn't going to work," she almost spat out, pulling her cardigan off the back of her chair as she abruptly stood. "You're not interested in giving this a chance, and I have too much self-respect to sit here while you continue to insult me under the veil of polite enquiries."
She tossed some galleons onto the table to cover her half-eaten meal before striding out without looking back once. The restaurant's other patrons looked over at that, watching the muffled scene with blatant interest. Draco wanted to follow her, but he held back in the hopes of hearing his parents' initial reactions first. While he knew that Hermione wouldn't have gotten through to them, part of him longed to be proven wrong, and that part tethered him to his seat. Besides, Hermione knew better than to try to Apparate home in such an emotionally volatile state, so he could spare the minute or so it would take to get the gist of their feelings.
"Gryffindors are always so hypersensitive," his mother mused, her voice as light and unconcerned as if she were commenting on the weather, as she watched the young witch storm out. "I don't know how anyone can tolerate their company for extended periods of time. It would take more patience and determination than even I possess."
Draco frowned. A thousand retorts were on the tip of his tongue, but, restraining himself, he calmly replied, "When you get used to their uncompromising sense of nobility and altruism, it's actually quite refreshing. You don't have to worry about layered mind games and manipulations with them; what you see is, for the most part, what you get."
Disgust contorted both of their faces for a brief instant before fading into feigned amiability once more. It was so fleeting that most people would have assumed they'd imagined it, or that it had been a reaction to a stray itch rather than their beloved son's words. It was still more than enough, however, for Draco to confirm that they didn't see candour and selflessness as admirable qualities in the slightest. They were relieved that Potter had defeated You Know – Voldemort, but they still detested the very traits that had pushed him to do so.
Lucius' fork paused halfway to his mouth as he peered down at his son's plate. "How is the fish, Draco? You haven't eaten much of it. Is something the matter with it?"
The young wizard's gaze was incredulous as he looked between them. His mother was watching the exit with a look of polite curiosity on her face, while his father was chewing his food and peering at Draco as if Hermione had never even been there, as if her unfinished plate were just a garish table decoration that they should do their best to ignore.
"Excuse me," Draco said as he too rose, pulling a smattering of galleons from his pocket and dropping it onto the table beside Hermione's, knowing that his parents would take it as a grave insult. "I would say I've lost my appetite, but I can't be bothered with false courtesy right now, seeing as how neither of you seem to care about it anymore. The truth is that I'd just rather spend the evening with my girlfriend."
He ignored their protests – about the money and about his departure – as he hurried out of the building. When he burst out of the shop's doors, however, he skidded to a halt. Hermione wasn't waiting for him. He had assumed that she would have understood that he would want to say a few words to his parents before leaving, but perhaps she had grown impatient. He looked around frantically, instantly regretting his decision to hang back now that it came to catching up with her again. The knowledge that she could easily take care of herself didn't stop him from worrying about her. When her rage broke, it often gave way to sorrow, and he didn't want her to be alone – or, worse, with friends who still didn't understand why she bothered with his parents – with that.
Catching a glimpse of her familiar brown hair disappearing around a distant corner, he started sprinting down the street. Hermione Granger wasn't athletic, but she was a naturally fast runner, and the war had only further honed that. Fortunately, the years he had spent training for Quidditch still gave him an edge, so he steadily gained ground on her. "Hermione!"
Bitterness flared within him as he followed his girlfriend through the street. His parents wanted him to be happy, but only if that happened within the contexts and limits they'd set out for him. In their minds, it was impossible for him to find true and lasting joy outside of that. Even the sight of their melancholic son openly laughing and flirting with a girl he loved wasn't enough for them to accept that she might be good for him.
He let out a breath of relief when he finally caught up to her. From the path she'd been taking, it looked like she had been aiming for The Three Broomsticks before getting spooked by the crowd and ducking into a forgotten side street to avoid all of the people. When he found her, she was standing just out of sight from the entrance, huddling in on herself as she struggled to fight her tears. She was sobbing quietly, the sound drowned out by the chatter of the nearby group.
Rubbish and cigarette butts were scattered across the ground, and they crumpled under his feet as he strode over to her and encased her in a tight hug. She stiffened, her hand creeping towards the secret pocket he knew contained her wand, before relaxing at the sound of his voice whispering her name. "Hermione," he said again, just as quietly, "you know they have no idea what they're talking about. They're just talking shit. It's what they always do; it has nothing to do with you."
He repeated the last part a few times as he stroked her hair, waiting for her breathing to calm down again.
"I know, and it's not that," she finally replied, clenching his black dress shirt in her hand as if it were a stress ball. "I didn't expect them to suddenly change their minds about me. It was just that it reminded me of how little I fit in with your family. I always assumed I'd get along with my partner's family, and vice versa, and that we'd be one big happy extended family, as sappy as that might sound. But my parents don't know either of us exist, and yours are never going to like me, and that hurts."
His hand tightened in her hair when she mentioned her own parents. Despite their efforts to retrieve them, they hadn't been able to find the couple, let alone restore their memories. "I don't care what they think," he told her, not knowing what else to say.
"They're your parents," she muttered. "You might not care now, but – "
"No. I don't care what they think. Hermione," he whispered, his soft voice belying their putrid surrounds, "I love you."
"I know," she replied, but he could see that she didn't.
"So screw what my parents think. Nothing I've done has ever been good enough for them, and I'm over fearing their rejection. If they don't accept the people and things I choose to spend my life with, then they don't accept me, and I'm tired of being around people who want me to be someone I'm not."
"That means a lot to me," she admitted, "and you know I love you too. But, Draco, they're still your parents. They still matter to you, and I know their opinions do as well. Don't… Don't do something you'll regret just because of this. I'm glad I did what it took to keep my parents safe, but you know how tough it is for me to know they're out there and not be able to talk to them. Please don't push yours away over something like this."
Draco couldn't argue with that. He was no longer willing to live his life by another's standards, but that didn't mean he didn't care about whether or not his parents were proud of him. And he certainly didn't want to cut them out of his life entirely. Besides, he was well aware that they both adored him, even if they thought he was making a mistake by being with Hermione.
In that moment, he made a decision that he knew she would think would fall under the 'regret' category. He had been seriously considering it for a few weeks, but he had wanted to talk it through with her before making such a major decision. Right then, however, he didn't care anymore. They had been jumping into everything headfirst since the day they first decided to act on their burgeoning feelings for one another, so he might as well do it here as well.
Draco had always imagined he would know a witch's intentions before asking her that question. It didn't seem worth it to put himself through the stress unnecessarily, and his female friends had insisted that it wasn't fair on them to spring it on them like a booby trap, so he had resolved to discuss it with Hermione first. But he knew he was ready for it, and he was willing to take the risk. What she decided and when she decided it was up to her; all he could do was ask and hope.
"But yours matter more," he reasoned. "And you're my family, too, kind of. Or, at least, I want you to be my family. And I don't mean that in a peripheral way; I mean that I want you to be the centre and the focus of it."
The silence of the empty streets seemed almost haunting as she levered her upper chest away from him so that she could meet his gaze. Her eyes were red from crying, but she stared at him intensely as she slowly asked, "Pardon? Are you saying what I think…"
"This isn't a spur of the moment thing," he reassured her. "I've been thinking about it for a while now; I just haven't had the chance to bring it up with you yet. With that in mind, I understand if you're not ready, or if you need time to think about it first. As nice as an instantaneous response would be," he added with a wry smile, "I'd rather you be certain."
"If you don't get to the question soon, I might start thinking you want to do some kind of creepy vampire blood ritual – which, by the way, I will never be ready for."
He was too nervous to laugh, but he let out an amused breath before glancing down at the ground. "Drat. But, if that's out, I'd better skip to the backup question, then. I would kneel, but the ground is absolutely disgusting here. Still, I love you, Hermione, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want youto be the place the circle of my family starts and ends. My parents have a place in my life, but I want you, and them, and all of the world, to know that you're the most important person in it. Will you marry me?"
"This is sooner than I would have imagined possible," she said, water welling in her eyes for a completely different reason, "but yes. I love you too, Draco, and I – I want this too. I want my days to start and end with you, always and forever."
He leaned in and kissed her, slow and sweet and savouring. "I don't have a ring," he admitted once they'd pulled apart for air. "I thought I'd buy one once I'd checked if you were even interested in marriage."
She beamed at him. "That's even better. Given your style, I'd probably end up with something extravagant if you went alone. At least, this way, I can make sure it's not quite so… obvious."
"I'll have you know I have excellent taste," he protested.
"In music and books and linen and things like that? Sure, your taste there is exquisite. When it comes to jewellery, however…"
He rolled his eyes. "If you're going to mock my taste in jewellery, can you at least do it somewhere clean? This place is a dump. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if it were a dump."
"Should we pretend you proposed somewhere more romantic?" she asked, a small teasing smile upon her face.
He hesitated, before shaking his head with a mischievous smirk. "We might as well tell our friends the truth, and I think I'd like to rub it in my parents' faces as well. I might leave out the mess, but they'd hate to think that their little charade might have pushed us into it. We can work out what to tell everyone else later."
"We could just refuse to say anything," she said as she stepped back and threaded her fingers through his. He enjoyed the warmth that radiated out of her hand, heating his cool skin like a glove.
"Let's go home." So screw what my parents think, he repeated to himself, running the words through his head like a mantra. This is what Hermione and I want, and that's all that matters.
A/N: Disney Lyrics Prompt Competition – prompt: "The fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all!" (Frozen)