Disclaimer: All recognisable characters blah belong to JK Rowling blah
The best thing about leaving is coming back.
There are only so many times in life when one feels absolutely carefree. The wind floating between strands (or tangles) of hair, the sun shining on bright and smiling faces, not a care in the world... actually, maybe a few minor cares.
And this magical moment was being ruined by Hermione Granger who was just... sitting there. Draco secretly wondered if she was like this in nursery school. In his mind's eye he had a four-year-old Hermione—with her wild hair, wearing sober blue dungarees and pristine trainers—standing alone in the middle of a recreation ground, small and big groups of children scattered all around her.
Draco figured himself to be about the same. He would never really talk to anyone and instead would patiently wait for someone to talk to him. His parents always thought that it to be entirely too ironic. It was a repeated instruction to not to speak to any of their important guests unless he was spoken to, but that was a rule blatantly ignored as he would sit at the feet of these much older fellows and jabber on happily about being the next Dark Lord, or, at the very least, the richest man in the world. He had always felt more comfortable around people older than he and that always left him thinking if all children were like that.
He glanced at Hermione who was sitting in the passenger seat beside him, wrapping a strand of hair (that she was able to liberate from the seemingly floating mass atop her head) around her finger. No, not all children, he thought. Only the special ones.
"How much are those thoughts worth? That I may be able to buy them," he explained upon seeing her perplexed expression. "You've been irritatingly silent the entire time."
"Heaven forbid that you ever think about things," he replied because he honestly couldn't think of anything better to say and that usually demanded that his answering with something horrible inane.
But she smiled then and Draco figured that perhaps sometimes being stupid was all right.
"Seriously though... is it serious?"
"I..." And it was this moment's hesitation that Draco had the answer to his question. "No, nothing serious." It was obvious that she was lying. Through her teeth! "Nothing serious at all!"
"You do know that your right eye twitches when you lie, don't you?" This, of course, was a lie unto itself as Malfoys were never big on things like logical reasoning and fair arguments. They were more of the... clean underwear types.
She laughed in return and Draco was annoyed to realise that he was being distracted from his mission by flashes of pearly white teeth.
"At least say something. I'm telling you now that hearing sounds that don't mean anything will get tiring at some point..." He made a left and a row of identical perfect upper-middle class Tudor houses appeared before them on both sides. "And I just may reciprocate—except with more sexually suggestive sounds."
Because sexually suggestive sounds were another thing that Malfoys were big on.
"You're disgusting, Malfoy."
"Nothing I haven't heard before," he answered off-handedly. "Now tell me what's bothering you or else." Draco was quite proud of the threatening tone that he had managed. Firm yet... gentle.
"You know how in Hogwarts everyone accused me of being a know-it-all and being bossy... and what else was it you all called me?"
The question was blatantly rhetorical.
Perfectionist, uptight, officious? He smiled. Really, he had no control over his mind sometimes.
Thankfully, Hermione didn't notice. No, she looked downright grim. Perhaps, this whole 'predicament' wasn't entirely groundless.
"This is the side of the family I got it from."
Sure, in the months that Draco had known Hermione's parents he found that she greatly took after her mother (something she would vehemently deny). It did not occur to him that perhaps Dianne Granger had taken after someone else as well... or that there was actually an entire clan of fusspots somewhere north of London.
It was in that bright and shining moment that Draco realise what exactly was bothering the Miss Hermione Granger.
She was worried that he wasn't going to like her family and he could see where she was coming from. He felt a small tinge of guilt knowing that he had yet to introduce Hermione to his mother when he had already met most of the family (and will soon complete the family tree in a few minutes). But they were too different.
Draco mentally shook his head.
All right, they weren't that different.
"I'll love them," he promised and it was true. He was going to love them even if it killed him. "I'll bet my life that they're great."
Hermione let out a rather unladylike (and therefore manly) snort. She was very much the least feminine female that Draco knew and he wasn't the. "I wish I were half as confident as you."
"It takes the rare Malfoy gene to be this confident."
"I think perhaps confident is the wrong." Hermione tapped an index finger against her temple. "Arrogant is more like it."
"Ha. Ha. Ha. Christ, you're hilarious. I seriously can't stop laughing. Ha. Ha. Ha." He smiled, though, without malice which completely ruined the sarcasm.
"We should play a game."
"Not the 'let's see what we can make road kill out of' game."
He could see Hermione's raised eyebrow from the corner of his eye. "That was your idea," she pointed out. "I'm just an innocent passenger."
"More like the backseat driver from hell."
"I am not a backseat driver—Turn right here!"
Draco very much enjoyed the moments wherein there was no need to prove his point. Coincidentally, that particular moment was one of them.
"I think that if I delved into the depths of the abyss—also known as your armoire—I'd find all sorts of leather and whippy painful things, you dominatrix you."
He was practically giddy in wait of her reply.
"I'd find dusty skeletons of former girlfriends—or really just girls because relationships are entirely too difficult for you to handle—rotting away."
He didn't even have to make use of peripheral vision to know that she was smirking at him. It almost made Draco regret having smirked at her all those times in the past. Almost. Barely really.
"Skeletons don't rot. And you know what else doesn't rot?"
"What?" Draco sort of (mildly really) delighted in the hesitation he heard in Hermione's voice.
Hermione gasped. "Ooh... that's evil even for you." It was a little in awe that she said it, which made Draco think twice about feeling guilty.
"Aren't allergies weird?" Hermione asked all of a sudden as if the conversation had not been random enough and needed to be adjusted to suit her tastes.
"Weird? On what level of weirdness are we talking here?" Draco knew he shouldn't entertain these thoughts of hers but they never proved to be harmful to his wellbeing—well, not that harmful.
"There are levels?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, I figure there are—Do I take a left here?"
"The next corner," she replied automatically.
"So I figure there are about five levels. The first is the lowest, which is pretty much, 'oh, that's pretty weird' weird. You know, ho-hum like and such," Draco explained like an Arithmancy problem with Hermione listening in equal seriousness. "Then there's level five weird and that's 'oh bloody what the hell' weird... just mind-boggling weird."
"Perhaps I shouldn't have said weird then." Hermione decided after a moment's thought. "Aren't allergies interesting?"
"Interesting? On what level of—"
"Shut up and turn left."
"So demanding," Draco complained but only after he followed her directions.
"You say that even though you enjoy the luxury of being able to pick the instructions you wish to follow." She sounded decidedly put out. But Draco was in the habit of hearing Hermione be put out by a lot of things: a film, an album, a book. It wasn't that she was overcritical really. It was more of... she was too... well, all right, critical.
There are worse things, he reasoned. Although a part of him secretly disagreed.
"So allergies?" Draco prompted even if he wasn't all that interested in what she had to say and that felt weird. On a level three kind of weird—'almost enough to make you worry but just enough to make you wonder' weird.
"Are you allergic to anything?" Hermione asked because her conversation introduction obviously needed audience participation.
"Squid," he answered and he was annoyed that she even bothered asking something she already knew. He rubbed his left palm against the denim of his thigh to wipe away the sweat that had suddenly appeared.
"Right, but... what if—" Her hand floated in the air carelessly. "You've never had squid? If you've never eaten squid then you wouldn't be allergic to anything."
It was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. He smiled. It was painful but he deemed it necessary. He followed it up with a chuckle and even slammed his right palm against the steering wheel. It glistened beautifully with even more sweat which just succeeded in making it disgusting.
He shook his head. "Are we near?"
"Yeah, looks it," she replied, giving the directions haphazardly written on an array of mint green Post-Its (that were currently pasted together which made it approximately four metres long) the once-over.
"All right..." He shifted a little in his seat. "You were saying?"
"That was it actually."
"I get what you mean, though," he stammered in a valiant attempt to repair the broken conversation. "About allergies and..."
"And not knowing you have allergies?"
"And?" It was at the repetition of a former reply that made Draco realise that he was being teased.
"And... isn't it that way with everything? Like fear? You can only claim to fear something once you've faced a situation that forced you to recognise it. And even knowledge!" He was amazed how much feigned interest he could muster. "You don't know that you know something until you know or don't know about it..."
"That last part was sort of... blurry. But I like the fear part."
"I know, but, well, I get you."
"I know," she replied. "Another left here and then it's the fourth house on the left."
Draco really did know. He did because he was currently scared to tiny petrified pieces. He didn't occur to him that he would become agitated with the prospect of meeting the rest of Hermione's extend family. He had, after all, met her parents and that had been a pleasant enough encounter that led to a number more encounters (one of which was not to be spoken of by mutual agreement).
But there he was. Draco Malfoy. Scared of Muggles. Scared of Muggles because... he wanted them to like him.
Oh, Merlin. What Would Merlin Do?
She laughed. "Allergies are fears."
He laughed, too. Merlin would have probably laughed it off.
'Allergies are fears' was sort of funny. And it did make some sense...
"Allergies are kind of like love, too..." he mused.
He pulled up alongside the kerb.
Would you rather go back in time or see into the future?
Would you rather be with someone beautiful and stupid or ugly and witty?
Would you rather read a book or watch a film?
Would you rather be wrong or right but proved wrong?
I'd really rather have vanilla than chocolate.
"So you didn't think—"
"That it would be this hideous?" Hermione finished with obvious exasperation in her voice. Her hand seemed to drip with green as the reality of it was that Hermione was gripping apple green chiffon. "I knew it was hideous. I mean, I saw the pictures and everything... However, now that I'm seeing it in person, now that I'm actually holding the scratchy fibers against my skin—I feel so sad. This is... depressing, Draco. I've never known a piece of clothing to be depressing but this takes the misery cake."
In point of fact, it almost scared Draco to death when he first saw it. Fairly thought it was on the brink of turning more alive than it appeared and just devour the entire family, he did.
Draco figured he should keep his guard up just in case.
"It has ruffles," Hermione moaned. She sat down on the only available armchair in the bedroom they were ensconced in. Her fingers traced the green satin that held the ruffles together and the disdain was evident in the way her hand trembled. "And it isn't even the small, cutesy, non-flamboyant ruffles. They're big and garish and they sting the eyes."
Rather tired with the topic of ruffles, Draco reached out and took the offensive garment from her hands and placed it on the bed. "It's not that bad..."
It was that bad.
"It has redeeming qualities..." Draco continued, though he had yet to distinguish what they were exactly.
Like what, Draco?
"It isn't all green." Which was true.
Hermione stared at him, both eyebrows raised in question. "I'm aware that there is one other colour. However, I wasn't aware that it would be a redeeming feature."
"Would you rather it be all green?" Now that was actually a difficult question and he couldn't blame Hermione for taking a moment to look at the dress to decide.
"Well, given that," she began slowly, though her eyes were still trained on the piece of clothing laid out on the bed, "the only other colour is fuchsia..."
Oh. So the hideous colour had a name.
"Well, if anyone can make apple green and fuchsia satin and chiffon look good..." He sounded like a poofter. "It would be you?"
There were stars in her eyes. "Really?"
Draco seriously doubted it but he nodded anyway. "Of course. You're my girl and my girl could never look bad." Of course, once upon a time, he had told Pansy those exact same words and... he had been ever so wrong...
After a few more moments of assurance that Hermione would look absolutely stunning (pouf!), they made their way downstairs to join the rest of the family for a late lunch. The earlier introductions were littered with pregnant pauses that gave birth to even more bursts of silences that made the already awkward situation even more awkward. It quite reminded Draco of the first time he tried French kissing on a girl. That memory brought more embarrassment than nostalgia.
Hermione had, of course, tried to fill the untimely demises (plural!) of the conversation with something. Unfortunately her definition of something made up weird noises. Draco wasn't very much surprised...
"Oh, it's Hermione and her boyfriend!"
And that was what made the entire conversation awkward. Apparently this where the stubborn gene came from as it was irritating to have to explain repeatedly that though they are quite close and though they are of opposing genders (and once it was established that yes, both he and Hermione were straight) and though they were both undeniably good-looking and available (Draco thought himself more so than Hermione) it made perfect sense for them to be together.
However, contrary to what Hermione had been implying, her mother's side of the family wasn't the hell-spawned people that he had been led to believe. In fact, they were a pleasant lot and would be more pleasant had it not been for the sterling fact that these people loved to argue. They most certainly loved to win said arguments. What was most amusing was that Hermione seemed to be the perpetual loser of these arguments... which was perhaps the reason why she had detested him meeting them in the first place. She probably thought that she'd look less intelligent as compared to the rest of the family—something that Draco didn't deem important. Besides, she had much better taste than her cousin Gertrude (with her none too subtle inclinations for the nasty!) which, in his humble opinion, did matter.
Hermione immediately stepped away from Draco, her hand leaving the crook of his arm. "He isn't my boyfriend, Aunt Helene," she explained through what were presumably gritted teeth. "Draco is one of my closest friends..."
The woman, who looked to be in her mid-forties, couldn't be mistaken as anyone other than Hermione's relative. Apparently, the hair problem was a family thing... She had Hermione's easy smile, though, and there was an elegance about her that Draco instantly appreciated.
"He's your date to the wedding, isn't he?" Aunt Helene prodded as if 'He' wasn't even there.
Thus, 'He' decided to pass the time staring at white vase with much mustered enthusiasm.
"And friends don't date, do they?"
That did it. Draco's attention was riveted on Hermione's face as it showcased so many nameless expressions. He was insanely curious as to what she had to say. It was only a plus that he was witnessing what was an uncommon occurrence—the utter defeat of Hermione Granger.
"How is Uncle Gregory?" Hermione asked instead, choosing to completely ignore the question volleyed to her earlier. "I don't think I saw him earlier when we arrived."
Hermione's aunt smiled and turned to Draco, taking his hand in hers and shaking it. "I'm afraid we weren't as properly introduced as I would have preferred. I'm Hermione's Aunt Helene, and you are Draco, am I right?"
Draco could only nod in reply.
"What an unusual name Draco is. Does it mean anything?" And without warning, Aunt Helene placed her hand on his recently vacated arm and began to lead him toward the double doors to their right.
He eased one door open for the older woman as his mother had convinced him a long time ago that he was indeed a gentlemen and as such, must always open doors. As soon as they stepped in, the cheerful conversation that had been evidently taking place prior to their entrance came to an abrupt stop. Draco was instantly worried that perhaps the rest of the family was not as accepting of him as Aunt Helene.
It was the chorused, "Oh, it's Hermione and her boyfriend!" that made him think otherwise.
"Do sit here, young man!" an elderly man whose left hand rested on a simple cane (as all canes seemed to be relatively simple when compared to the memory of his own father's cane) and right knee was occupied with a small girl of about four with a bright smile smeared with honey.
Draco could hardly believe that this was the family that Hermione was telling horror stories about. He walked over to the head of the table and sat down on an empty chair.
"Now what are your intentions?"
"Your hair is the same colour as corn!" The little girl squealed with laughter at her observation and handed him a sticky bun.
He took it graciously, thinking that it would be better to have sticky hands than to have to answer sticky questions.
Apparently, Hermione thought the same and decided to veer away from the not too established topic.
"Aunt Grace?" she said timidly from her place between her father and Aunt Helene. "I was wondering where I was going to sleep tonight."
Draco loved secrets. In Hogwarts he practically thrived on them, knowing when there was a particularly juicy one up and about just by smelling the air. And despite the air being filled with the scent of turkey sandwiches, salad dressing and tea, Draco knew that there was a secret in the room.
"Oh, didn't Francis already show you to your room?" was the innocent answer.
Hermione frowned in thought. "He did but I thought Draco..." And then the truth of the situation finally dawned on her as she replied, "I suppose I can always sleep on the sofa in the living room."
"I'm sleeping there!" someone volunteered after Draco noticed some jabbing action coming from that direction. "I, erm... love that sofa."
"So who sleeps in your bed when you sleep on the sofa, Francis?"
"Gregory and I have been sleeping in Francis's room as your parents and your grandparents have taken up the other guest rooms. The inn is booked to the brim for Iain's family and the wedding guests from out of town." Aunt Helene raised a fragile teacup to her lips and took a small sip. "We really haven't any other choice in the matter. If we did, I wouldn't be sleeping in a room whose walls are plastered with Manchester United posters."
Draco was about to open his mouth and say something (although what that something was, he wasn't quite sure, but he was sure that he was beginning to feel pathetic just watching the earth open up and eat him) when Dianne Granger decided to open hers.
"Hermione can sleep with us if she wishes to. Or Christopher and Draco can take a room and so that Hermione and I can stay together..."
Blinking a few times didn't help change the reality that Hermione actually took a moment to consider this. Draco was beginning to think that it wasn't just for propriety's sake that she was going through all the trouble of finding separate accommodations. Perhaps she just didn't want to stay with him and for the life of him, Draco couldn't imagine why.
He caught the stern look Mr. Granger gave the Culprit of Ill Suggestions and felt oddly relieved.
"Don't treat Hermione like a child, Dianne. She's an adult; she can handle herself." He turned to his daughter as he said this and grinned. "Right, Hermione?"
Hermione smiled weakly and nodded. "Right, dad."
The obvious anxiety that Hermione felt disturbed Draco and he wanted to ask her immediately about it. However the whirlwind of activity that followed immediately after (such a male bonding, otherwise known as getting his arse kicked in football) led to him being able to talk to her only after the late supper they had following the wedding rehearsals that Gertrude insist that they have.
Draco was brushing his teeth as he watched Hermione move around the bedroom from the bathroom mirror. She seemed to be contemplating the bed which made him roll his eyes. He wouldn't be surprised if she suggested they transfigure the king-size into two smaller beds, but if that was what she wanted...
She ought to bloody explain herself!
Bugger it. He was going to ask. "There something you wish to tell me?"
She turns around, hands on her heart. Her eyes are on his reflection in the mirror. "What?" she asks softly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean with the whole, 'Oh my God! Draco and I can't share a room! I'll die!' deal..." Draco winced at the slight hurt he heard in his voice.
"Don't be unfair, Draco. I didn't say that."
No you didn't, he thought. But you didn't have to...
"You know what? Just forget it." Because people were better at forgetting than they were at explaining what they felt.
"No, let's not, Draco. Because we both know that neither one of is capable of just forgetting. We don't do forgetting."
"What the—What's going on?" His toothbrush was hanging out of his mouth.
"I'm sorry... I just... It was never anything against you. I don't even know why I was so persistent with it. I suppose I was just desperate to change the topic because, well, you know... And it sort of became a lot bigger than it was supposed to and things got out of hand and..."
Hermione sat herself at the edge of the bed and sighed. She looked like a small child waiting to be tucked in and Draco felt a small tug at his heart.
She is just a little child looking for someone to tuck her in...
And so was he.
He gargled quickly, wiped the drops of water from his chin and stepped into the bedroom.
There was defiance in her eyes when she replied. "What now?"
Draco didn't wait for her to come to him; he was too intelligent to wait around for something that wouldn't happen. He sat down beside her and draped an arm about her shoulders. He smiled when Hermione laid her head on his shoulder.
"Your mum ever read to you before going to bed?"
She shook her head. "That was my dad. He was in charge of storytelling in the evenings," she explained, her voice still soft and Draco found out that soft had different textures. "Mum was the captain of the mornings... drawing back the curtains and all..."
"Want a story?"
"A story? Think you can manage a story?"
He stuck his tongue out at her. "It's easy enough!" he boasted and he couldn't help but push his nose against her hair that smelled of watermelon. "They all start off the same and they all end the same."
"I suppose... it's the middle part that gets messed up. I hate how everything is so obvious in to everyone but the main characters... can anyone be so oblivious?"
"Yeah... they can."
But Draco wasn't oblivious. At least, not anymore.
His heart soared.
Once upon a time...
There was a boy and a girl.
And they lived happily ever after...
Indeed, I took about as long as I could with this chapter, but it's finally here. So yay! It was difficult writing this chapter because I noticed how drastic (or perhaps not really as drastic as I am inclined to think) my writing has changed. So after rewriting this chapter over and over again, I began writing this version while simultaneously rereading the first chapter of this fic. Back to basics, so to speak, as I missed the simplicity with which I used to write. But change is inevitable (eeew—cliché!) and it was bound to happen as evidenced by my style which I have deemed irreparable so I'll just have to deal. Although on some level I suppose I'm content with it.
I've estimated about three or possibly four more chapters to go excluding an epilogue... my, my...
This chapter: I think I missed writing a lot of things that manifested itself in this chapter. One would be the profound lack of alcohol (ahem) and another would be the having Draco and Hermione talk about absolutely nothing. Nothing. They're talking about allergies and levels of weirdness... as I, myself, am of a level five weird.
Now before demanding that Hermione's mother be burned at the stake and die, wait until the end before you cast your judgments! Because she has ISSUES.
Hermione also has ISSUES. But you already knew that.
Draco. Draco knooooooows. Draco was always the wiser one! So pretty!
Next chapter: I lied. The garters and flowers are in the next chapter. The garter part will be delicious. Promise. ;) In fact, the entire next chapter may prove to be delicious. If you get what I mean!
Please review? I know that I haven't been a very good writer with the lack of updates but please try? Thanks!