Hermione jerked, her face shooting up from her hands to meet the hesitantly concerned expression of Draco Malfoy. At any ordinary time she might have corrected his use of her maiden name, even though she was still known by it professionally. But this was not an ordinary time.
She sniffed deeply, wiping the tears from her cheeks forcefully, and then under her smarting eyes with a little more care, struggling to her feet from the corner of the library bookshelves and wall she had jammed herself into.
"I'm fine," she replied with as much steadiness as she could muster.
Draco raised a disbelieving eyebrow. He knew the true extent of Granger's strength – all too often he had been the one trying it to the point of tears in the past – and he knew that as an adult, having been through all she had in the war, nothing less than the most devastating of personal news could reduce her to such a state.
"I hope your parents are well?"
Hermione blinked, the oddness of the civility drawing her out of her misery faster than her own efforts to do so. "Yes…thank you."
"Only I thought…" Draco felt the words peter out, and he gestured a little towards her state. He wasn't used to consoling people, least of all Granger. "I've seen you coming in here more often recently," he added awkwardly by way of a roundabout explanation to the questioning bemusement in her eyes. "You…you read to calm yourself." He swallowed thickly. Merlin, why had he started this? Why couldn't he have just left her alone to her tears like a dispassionate stranger?
Hermione was staring at Malfoy, hardly able to credit that she was hearing what he said. To be noticed at all by Malfoy was curious and confusing enough, but for him to have actually observed her habits acutely enough to make the comments he had made defied comprehension, not to mention the fact that he was here, now, speaking to her, trying to comfort her.
"Yes," she said lamely when it appeared that he had talked himself to a standstill. "I…the books…they give me a respite." And the library doesn't remind me of Ron.
Tears welled up at the thought, and the emotions that Malfoy's unexpected intrusion had managed to derail and suppress returned in a howling deluge.
Draco's eyes widened as Granger's glazed over with tears once more, heartache and pained betrayal filling them with a force that left him winded.
Hermione turned away from him, hiding her face in her hands once more as though she could shield herself from the hurt leaking out from the cracks in her heart. She didn't doubt that Malfoy was regretting getting himself involved in what he'd probably think was her pity party. In the past she knew he might have done so to further distress her, but she didn't know him now.
She heard a rustle of fabric, what little relief the idea of his leaving her alone eclipsed by the perplexing sorrow at the thought of his departure. Her confusion was short lived, however, interrupted by the appearance of something white entering the corner of her blurry vision, and she blinked and wiped away her tears to focus on the crisply laundered linen handkerchief that a pair of slender pale fingers proffered.
Hermione's breath caught for a moment, stuck in her throat by a combination of the choking knot of her repressed feelings, and a sudden overwhelming surge of gratitude for the simple gesture.
She tried a strained, "Thank you," slowly reaching out to take the square of linen, and the long fingers retreated once it was in her grasp.
Draco stood, watching, unsure what else to do, so remained silent as the suppressed sobs continued to shudder Granger's shoulders, her head dipped, her face buried in his handkerchief. He could just see the edge of his silver monogrammed initials beneath the fall of her hair, and could hear the stuttering pants of her breathing as she fought to gain control over whatever grief had assailed her. Eventually a faint whimper escaped her.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
Hermione turned to him, touched refusal in her red-rimmed eyes. "You don't even know what's wrong."
"But I know that something is wrong."
Hermione's lips trembled at that and without a second thought she had stepped into his arms, her face crumpling as she buried it in his shoulder and sobbed her sad, sorry heart out.
Draco slowly brought his arms around her, one hand coming to rest on her shoulder, the other against her back. Six years ago he wouldn't have even contemplated doing such a thing. But six years ago he had been a very different person. Suffused with hate and indoctrinated with fear. A boy who thought himself a man, forced to take a life or lose his own.
He had watched Granger, idly, when she had also returned to do her seventh year and sit her N.E.W.T.s. Draco had agreed with his mother that he would need all the formal qualifications possible to help him get a job once he left Hogwarts, what with things as they were. Not that he needed a job, but Draco had been certain he'd go crazy if he simply stayed at the Manor all day.
Since then he'd seen Granger occasionally, usually just out and about, in passing. It cheered him that she didn't glare at him or pointedly cross the street in Diagon Alley whenever they crossed paths as others did. She more than anyone had cause to resent him, and yet he dared to think she understood, and perhaps even forgave him. Which was more than could be said for that husband of hers. For some reason seeing the announcement of their engagement and then later their wedding in the Prophet had made him sick. She was wasted on Weasley. She'd even been wasted on Krum.
He'd noticed her coming into the library about a year after her marriage. He was fairly sure she'd never seen him amongst the shelves or at the tables, and he had been deeply relieved never to see the horrendous red flame of Weasley's head follow her in. Sometimes Potter came, or the Weasley girl – often when Granger had seemed cross and out of sorts. He was no lip reader, but their apparently heartfelt conversations did not always seem to have happy endings.
This past month or so her visits had become so frequent that he had wondered whether she had not simply taken up residence in the library. She was almost always in whenever he came to return or borrow a book, and a miserable expression had made itself at home on her face.
He'd never thought to do anything about it until today. He'd seen the redness of her eyes, even at a distance, seated at his usual table, which he had changed some months ago to one that better afforded a shielded view of her favoured seating. He had ignored the questions blossoming in the back of his mind about exactly why he wanted to see more of her. Even so, a lengthy internal debate had stalled his progress after her earlier, the vast majority of him quite convinced she would not welcome his intrusion of all peoples' in the slightest. And yet here he was, comforting her, with her shaking form in his arms, and her stricken face in his shoulder, her tears soddening the fabric of his suit.
Draco considered what his next move ought to be. Should crying females be left for an indefinite period of time? Did they simply dry up if given the opportunity to do so? Or ought they to be interrupted? If so, what should he say? What were the comforting phrases and platitudes people pulled out in these situations?
He opened his mouth, not yet sure what was going to come out, and was forestalled by Granger turning her face to the side just enough to surface.
"He wants a divorce." Her voice was husky with tears and wretchedness, and a quiet little whisper, as though saying the words too loudly would break her apart.
"I always knew he was a fool."
Hermione stilled in Malfoy's arms, her hot cheek still pressed to his chest. Any other time she would have chided her comforter for the insincerity of such a statement. The implications it carried of their good opinion of her vastly outweighed any considerations of affront on Ron's behalf. But this was Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. A man who would have considered every interpretation of his words before he uttered them. A man whose opinion of her had been one of the most hurtful and damaging things she had experienced growing up, which had nevertheless taught her her own resilience. A man who she knew, in that moment, to be utterly out of his depth, and to speak with absolute honesty. The only man she could truly contemplate sharing such a moment with now that it had happened.
She waited a few breaths for natural indignation on Ron's behalf to rise, as it had every time she had discussed the matter of their increasingly troubled relationship with Harry and Ginny, but nothing came. Harry had not been impressed with Ron's behaviour – they'd argued like cats and dogs over the most ridiculous things, like why he always left his wet towel on the bathroom floor, or how she had stacks of books all around their bedroom because the shelves were already three deep, until Ron had simply stopped engaging. Ginny had flat out taken Hermione's side, stating point blank that her brother was an idiot if he couldn't see what he had in her, and that she should stop trying to reconcile their problems as it was clear that Ron wouldn't be able to, no matter how much or how genuinely he tried.
It had pulled her in two directions. Part of her truly loved Ron, and yet part of her knew that she didn't love him as she should, and nor did he her. When they weren't arguing they were nice together – sweet was what people always said. But she wasn't sure if 'nice' and 'sweet' were the words she wanted to describe her marriage. Shouldn't there be more? But what more was that? Was there even a more – was she chasing some figment of her imagination, dissatisfied and determined to believe that there was some piece the puzzle of their relationship was missing, that, if they could only figure it out, would make everything else fall into place?
But even then, she wasn't willing to so summarily give up on their short-lived marriage. Ron had tried as well. When she wasn't cross with him she truly saw and acknowledged that. But his heart simply wasn't in it, and at last, Hermione let herself realise that neither was hers. It had taken Ron to step up and stop their endless humpty dumpty cycle, to save them both the grief of time and a life wasted trying to salvage something best left apart. He'd been the mature one, speaking the hard truth that neither of them had really wanted to face despite the fact that it had been staring them in the face for so long.
Hermione closed her eyes, letting out a deep breath, feeling her lashes crinkle and scrunch painfully as she pressed her lids tightly together.
Draco felt something akin to terror flooding his veins at her lack of reaction. Granger hadn't drawn away from him at his words, which was at odds with the extremity of her emotions, and yet all grief on her part seemed to have ceased as though the tap of it had been abruptly shut off.
"I think…I think I want one too."
The quiet thoughtful words stilled the concerned beating of Draco's panicked heart. He shifted very slightly.
"All this time I've been holding on, and it's made neither of us happy." The realisation percolated gently through Hermione, bringing with it a calming balm of relief. "I guess I was doing it for the wrong reasons…guilt…fear." She slowly rubbed her cheek against Malfoy's lapel as she thought, absently savouring the smooth grain of the fabric. "It took Ron to realise – and to do the right thing. The hard thing that we both wanted but perhaps were too scared to say." She sighed deeply, letting out the pain as she rolled her head to press her nose and forehead to Malfoy's chest, eyes closed as she inhaled. He smelled like crushed caraway seeds – a hint of spice mixed with the aniseedy scent of liquorice – and the faintest tang of fresh citrus. "I've been a fool," she murmured.
"What will you do?" Draco ventured. Granger's epiphany, the suddenness of it, had knocked him for six.
Hermione stole a last breath before drawing away from the comforting darkness of Malfoy's chest and meeting his steady grey eyes, filled with a degree of uncertain awe and unconscious hopefulness. She felt the latter warm her slightly from the inside. "Talk to Ron. Make sure we're on the same page. I don't want him to think he's hurt me."
Hermione considered a moment. "No. You know, I don't really think he has. Not the way I thought; not now I really understand. I suppose the tears were more from the shock of hearing what I really needed to hear. And mourning the relationship we both thought we'd have. But time and effort can't bring back what never was."
Draco blinked. "You're astonishing."
Hermione allowed a slight smile, noticing and correctly interpreting the respectful amazement in his voice. "And you're damp." She gave him an apologetic grimace as she regarded the damp patch of his chest and shoulder. "I realise you offered me your handkerchief for my eyes, not your suit." She withdrew her wand, and with a flick, Draco's robes were pristine once more.
"What's a few tears when you have magic?" he grinned very slightly, not yet sure whether levity was appropriate.
Hermione smiled properly at that. "Not something I'd ever have expected to hear you say." Not an experience I'd ever expected us to share…or for such feelings to arise…
Draco's expression rumpled with bemused reflection. "No…" he agreed. "Nor I." He met Granger's forthright gaze. "What will you do after?"
A hint of mischievous sparkle entered Hermione's eyes at that. "Well I'm rather curious to discover the tale behind your observations of me."
Draco raised an eyebrow, encouraged by the light dancing in her eyes. "What makes you think there's a tale, Granger?"
Hermione snorted. "You're you, Malfoy. There's always a tale."
Draco smirked. "Speak for yourself. Who was it who decimated a toilet in our first year fighting a mountain troll?"
Hermione raised her brows expectantly.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Fine. But another time. You've got a Weasel to put out of his misery."
Hermione punched him in the arm. "He might be my ex soon, Malfoy, but he's still my friend!"
Draco sighed and rolled his eyes dramatically. "Gryffindors."
Hermione imitated his expression. "Slytherins."
"Very mature, Granger."
Hermione stuck her tongue out at him, eyes twinkling.
Draco cast his eyes skywards. "So," he said nonchalantly, "fancy a Butterbeer sometime?"
Hermione restrained her smirk, shrugging carelessly, "Sometime," then smiled.
Just a little oneshot. The first HP fic I've ever done actually. It's taken me a surprisingly long time to really get into my stride with getting my Potterhead on, but this was kinda the start of the Dramione slippery slope for me, and I'm currently sitting on about twenty other chaptered fics that I've begun. ALL DRAMIONE. So keep a weather eye out on the horizon for them trickling through. XD
Anyway, just wanted a little something looking at Draco and Hermione starting to get together. I don't really go in for Ron bashing, so I tried to keep as much of that out as possible. Yay for Draco fancying her from a distance for a few years. And for not being an arse.
I hope you enjoyed it :)
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