Learning to Breathe
That he who many a year with toil of breath
found death in life, may here find life in death.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge
At nine o'clock on Sunday morning, Hermione and Mrs. Weasley met Ron in front of the Welcome desk of the hospital to take him back to the Burrow. Hermione couldn't help grinning slightly at the expression on Ron's face as he tried his hardest not to glance over at the Welcome Witch who, even at the start of her day, looked terrifyingly irritable. Ron looked very relieved when he saw that his mother and his best friend had arrived to take him home. Molly rushed toward him and threw her arms around his shoulders, smothering his face with kisses. Ron was finally able to break free when the annoyed Welcome Witch called Molly over and began shoving papers into her hands.
Ron walked over to the bench Hermione was standing next to and smiled softly at her, giving her hair a playful tug when he noticed her eyes had begun watering. Instead of the small grin he expected, her lips quivered a little and her eyes squeezed closed, causing two tears to escape. With his thumbs, Ron brushed them away, and then pulled Hermione to him in a tight hug. She sniffled softly against his chest for a moment and then pulled away, wiping at her face as she sat down on the bench. Ron watched her, and then sighed, sitting down next to her, waiting silently.
When she finished signing all of the release forms and hospital documents, Mrs. Weasley gestured that it was time to leave. As the two solemn teens made there way to the entrance of the hospital, Molly placed one arm around her son and the other around Hermione, guiding them through the window and out onto the dreary streets of Muggle London.
Ron fidgeted a bit as the three of them stood in front of the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron, waiting for Tom to return with the floo powder. Mrs. Weasley patted his hands and gave him a weak smile in an effort to relieve his anxiety.
"I'll floo in first, then you, Ron, and then you, Hermione." Mrs. Weasley ordered them as she watched Tom stalk back into the room with a small vase.
The old innkeeper held out his gnarled hand, the fingers stumpy and rather crooked. "Three adults. One sickle. Four knuts."
Mrs. Weasley paid him, muttering under her breath about not believing she had forgotten to bring a bag of the powder from the house and how expensive it was getting to travel anywhere. Tom just gave her a crooked smile as he offered the vase to her, allowing her to take a pinch and throw it in the fire. "The Burrow!" Hermione and Ron watched Mrs. Weasley disappear into the flames and were a bit startled when Tom thrust the vase right in front of Ron's face.
"Haven't got all day chap."
Hermione glanced around. The place was absolutely empty at the moment and looked cleaner than usual. She raised an eyebrow at the man. He ignored her look and waited impatiently as Ron took a pinch of floo. With one last look at the innkeeper, Ron stepped into the fire and called out to go to the Burrow.
Hermione nodded at him and took her share of the powder and threw it into the flames as she stepped into the fireplace. The warm green flames licked at her and she shut her eyes from the ash. "The Burrow!"
Feeling herself hurtling through space, she opened her eyes for a brief moment and immediately became dizzy as fireplace after fireplace flew past her. Finally, she stopped spinning, opening her eyes again just in time, and managed not to fall as she entered the Weasley's den.
Ron and Mrs. Weasley were standing next to the fireplace waiting for her, and as soon as they saw her, Mrs. Weasley muttered a cleaning spell and Hermione felt the grit and ash disappear from her body. When she looked up at the woman, thanking her, she noticed Mrs. Weasley tilt her head towards the door that led to the kitchen and dining room. Hermione got the hint and grabbed Ron's hand, dragging him to the staircase on the opposite side of the room.
"Come on, you need to change clothes."
Ron gave her a quizzical look. "Why are you coming when I'm the one who has to change?"
Hermione paused for a moment before answering him.
"Just…because. I, er-Oh, dash it, Ron. It isn't anything I haven't seen before."
Ron looked vaguely amused as Hermione tugged at his arm to follow her to his room. When they made it to the final landing at the top of the stairs, Hermione walked briskly over to the door she knew led to Ron's room and opened it, gesturing for him to go in before her. After he entered, she shut the door behind him and walked over to his bed and sat down, watching him.
"What? Are you going to watch me change?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and averted her gaze, deciding to look around the room instead. It was still as orange as ever, though the Chudley Cannons posters looked as if they were about to fall off the walls at any moment. On the wall next to his bed, he had cleared a space for photographs and Hermione took a few shaky breaths as she looked at them, most containing herself and Harry, or his family. She almost stopped breathing when she came across one taken in September on Platform 9 ¾. Hermione had her arms locked tightly around Harry's neck and they were laughing, while Ron stood off to the side as he watched them with an amused grin on his face.
Lifting her fingertips to the photograph, she traced the outlines of each figure, her breath hitching in her throat as they all turned to smile at her. The bed shook suddenly and Hermione turned to find Ron had joined her in looking at the picture.
Hermione wasn't sure what to say. Ron glanced at her and was surprised to see her expression had hardened.
"Hermione, do you want to talk about it?"
She fixed him with a scrutinizing stare, her arms crossing over her chest automatically as she shook her head. "We need to get back downstairs."
He watched silently as she lifted herself off the bed, opened the door, and left the room. When she disappeared, he pushed his palms against his eyes and lay back on his bed in frustration for a moment and then stood up and left his room, taking the stairwell that led to the kitchen.
Hermione plastered a smile on her face as soon as she saw the door to the kitchen swing open and Ron's long legs walking swiftly over the threshold. Behind her, the Weasley's shouted out "Happy Birthday," surprising Ron and causing his mouth to form a huge grin at the sight before him. A large cake sat on the kitchen table, eighteen long candles forming the border. Molly was smiling through teary eyes at her son, Arthur clapping him on the back as he made his way over to the group. His brothers stood off to the side, smiling as Ron blew out the candles-the twins laughing out loud as they relit themselves one by one. Molly gave Fred and George a look before cutting the wicks off the candles and throwing them into the sink, the twins giving their mother a reproachful look in return.
Ron looked gleeful as his mother started slicing into the cake, grinning largely when he was handed the biggest piece. Molly began laughing as she watched him tear into the cake—not even bothering to use a fork. Hermione watched the exchange with a wistful look on her face, longing to see Harry's and Ginny's reactions to his caveman habits of eating.
Sighing to herself, Hermione began eating her cake, realizing it was going to be a long night.
When Ron had eaten nearly half of the cake he announced he was full and was ready for the next bit of the party. Molly laughed at her son's statement but dutifully left the room, returning quickly with an armload of wrapped boxes. Arthur cleared the table in front of Ron to give him more room to open the presents.
Hermione felt her heart begin to race as she watched Molly relieve herself of her burden, setting the presents down on the table. This was the moment she had been dreading. This was the moment everyone had been dreading. Hermione wondered if she was going to be able to get through it with a smile on her face.
Her breath got shorter with each present he opened. Molly and Arthur had gotten him a new broom, the twins some stuff from their joke shop. Charlie had given him a pair of dragon-hide boots and gloves and Bill had given him a couple litres of Firewhiskey—a gift Molly looked quite disapproving of. Hermione saw Ron scratch at his cheek when he came to a small delicately wrapped package with Ginny's handwriting on the tag. Opening the tiny box, Ron smirked slightly when he saw what was inside. Hermione heard Mrs. Weasley gasp as he pulled out a silver ring and put it on his right middle finger, looking solemn as he read the engraving.
"What does it say?" Arthur asked as he leaned closer to look at the ring.
Ron smiled, his eyes glazing over slightly, "My big brother."
It was silent for a moment before George coughed suddenly and Hermione thrust two presents into Ron's hands, pointing to the one on the left. "That one is from me."
Ron smiled up at her as he began to unwrap the large box, his smile widening as he saw all the sweets inside. Before anyone could say anything he had already ripped open a Chocolate Frog Box and stuck its contents into his mouth.
"I thought you were full," an amused Bill asked from the other side of the room. Ron nodded, two chocolate legs poking out of his mouth.
After swallowing the candy, Ron looked down at the last present he had to open. It was obviously from Harry, wrapped haphazardly, snitches flying back and forth on the orange paper. Ron opened it slowly and gasped when he realized what it was. Ron put his hand inside the folds of the paper and pulled out a shimmering material. It was Harry's invisibility cloak.
Ron and Hermione were silent as they walked to Gryffindor Tower after flooing into Dumbledore's office. School would start up again the next day and they needed to get their rest. As soon as they passed through the portrait hole, Hermione walked swiftly towards the stairs leading to the girls' dormitory, not even saying goodnight to Ron, who stood watching the back of her head in aggravation.
The next day wasn't any different. Hermione maintained her distance from everyone she saw, only speaking when a professor asked her a question. Draco watched her from across the room in Potions, scowling when he noticed Ron glaring at him. Professor Snape cleared his throat and both Draco and Ron turned back around, facing the front of the class.
By dinnertime, Hermione was ready to go back to bed and she walked past the Great Hall, not even bothering to stop and get food for her growling stomach. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Draco walk up the staircase from the dungeons and without meaning to, fastened her gait.
Draco glanced in the direction of the quickly retreating footsteps and began following as soon as he realized who it was. He didn't know why he was following her, just like she didn't know why she started walking faster at the sight of him. Hermione turned down a dark corridor when she reached the fourth floor and stopped, waiting for Draco.
As soon as she saw him she grabbed him by the collar and pulled him toward her.
"Stop following me."
Draco looked surprised for a moment but then smirked down at her.
"I wasn't following you."
Hermione glared at him. "Look, Draco, I don't know why you're doing this, but please. Just leave me alone."
At that she took her hands off his collar and began running back towards the stairs, trying hard to ignore the fact that he was still watching her. By the time she got to the seventh floor and turned in the direction of Gryffindor tower, Draco was nowhere to be seen. Sighing, Hermione slowed her pace as she walked silently through the long corridor to the portrait hole.
The Fat Lady gazed at her through sad eyes as Hermione approached her. "Annie had edge," Hermione told the painting without looking up. Looking behind her one last time, she stepped through the portrait hole and made her way across the common room to her dormitory.
It was deathly silent in the seventh year girls' room. Hermione had the distinct feeling she was the only Gryffindor not downstairs eating dinner. It made no difference to her. She didn't want to talk to anyone, she thought as she changed into her pajamas. Huffing, she threw herself on her bed and pulled the curtains shut. She had already sidled under her covers and was about to shut her eyes when a sharp rapping came at the door. Groaning in frustration, Hermione threw the covers off her and yanked open the curtains. "Come in."
She watched as the door creaked open and suddenly felt her jaw drop in surprise when a blonde head peaked in. Hermione scrambled off of the bed and moved toward the door. "What are you doing up here? How did you even get up here?" she asked frantically as she pulled him into the room and locked the door behind him.
Draco smirked at the worried frown on her face. "No one saw me."
"Answer the question."
"Well, ever since I was a child I've had this amazing knack for climbing up slides." Hermione glared at him. "That, and I put a sticky charm on the bottom of my shoes."
"And the password?"
"You took it for granted that I stopped following you, which of course, I didn't, I only disillusioned myself. I was standing behind a coat of arms when you said the password, so I gave you a bit of time and then I followed you in."
"Why did you still follow me after I told you not to?"
"Look Granger, you have no authority over me. When have I ever obeyed anything you've said?"
"Well, after I slapped you, to begin with."
"One time. One time in the seven years that we've known each other have I followed an order from you."
"Does this conversation have a purpose?—because if it doesn't, I would really like to get back to bed."
"You don't need sleep."
"Oh, really? Then what is it that I need?" Hermione asked coolly, wrapping her arms around her aching stomach as it let out a loud growl.
"Well, food, for one," Hermione rolled her eyes as Draco continued. "And you need to stop acting woe is me and get on with your life."
"Listen to me, Granger. You've been moping around the castle all day. You won't talk to anyone—not even Weasley, and he's your best friend. I watched you in Potions today. I know you messed up the elixir we were working on. You never mess up. This entire thing has made you lose yourself. You're doing the exact same thing you did when your parents died."
"I told you to get out!" Hermione screamed, trying to force away the tears that had started to well up during the time he had been speaking.
"No. Every time there's a tragedy you close yourself off and you won't let anyone in. You're driving people mad, namely the professors, because of the way you're acting. This isn't you, Hermione. You know all you're doing is feeling sorry for yourself. People died, that's a part of life. You have to learn how to be strong and get over it."
"I am not feeling sorry for myself. It's called grieving. It's something that happens when someone or something you care about is ripped out of your life! And don't even give me that bullshit about how it's all just a part of life and to just get over it. I saw you. You were about to kill yourself when Dumbledore took your wand away from you. Stop being such a hypocrite for once in your life."
Draco looked struck at her words.
"Some people grieve when someone dies, Draco. Others, like you, ignore the fact that it ever happened and act like an arrogant git towards those they feel superior to."
"At least I don't go about ruining my life by slipping in my studies and losing whatever friends I have left by not speaking to them."
"Ruining my life? You're the one who joined the Death Eaters. You're the one who went about killing people for the hell of it. You ruined your life and those of the people you killed. Out of the two, I'd rather fall behind in my classes. I can't believe you have the audacity to come up into my room and tell me that I need to gather up the strength that I have and get on with life. You have never stood up for yourself. You either ignored it or let one of your henchmen do it for you. You have been a coward for as long as I've known you and now you're preaching to me about being strong. Fuck you, Malfoy."
Tears were beginning to fall down Hermione's face as she spoke but she didn't notice them.
"I am strong enough already. Your father killed my parents. I came back to Hogwarts after their funeral even though I was terrified of you and what you could do to me. I shut myself off to everyone because I didn't want to be the cause of anyone else's death. My parents didn't have to die. But because I was Harry's goddamned best friend, my parents were one of Voldemort's biggest targets. My parents died because of me, the least I could do was protect others who might have had the same fate."
Draco watched her intently as she sunk to the floor and leaned against her bed post, putting her hands over her eyes to hide her tears. She sniffled a bit and surprised him as she began speaking again.
"Did you know," she started, wrapping her arms around her legs and tilting her face up to look at Draco, "that I never even cried when I found out what happened?" Her face scrunched up a bit as she told him this and she blinked a couple of times looking down at the floor. "Not even at the funeral. It was like I was completely numb. I cared, but it was like all my emotions had shut down. I couldn't have cried even if I wanted to. I've only really cried once since Monday. At the funeral. I've felt completely devoid of emotion since then."
Draco walked toward Hermione and cautiously sat down beside her.
"You're crying now."
Hermione sniffed lightly, managing a weak smile. "I guess I am, aren't I?"
Draco nodded and brought his hand to her face and wiped at it, his fingertips lingering against her cheek as he pushed some of her hair behind her ear. Hermione hesitated for a moment but then slowly reached up and took his hand in hers, squeezing it gently as she pulled him closer to her. He watched her warily as he brought his other hand to rest against the nape of her neck, lowering his lips to hers, brushing them lightly together before pulling away to see her reaction.
There was a lot of conflict in her eyes and he began to stand, embarrassed, when she tugged harshly at his hand and brought him back down to the floor with her, her hands moving to the sides of his face, her lips hungrily seeking his. He kissed her back with force, dipping his tongue into the warmth of her mouth as soon as she parted her lips. His arms snaked around her waist and he pressed her to him greedily. He felt her hands shift to the back of his head, twirling his hair between her fingers.
She backed away suddenly, standing, her face flushed in arousal. Her eyes were burning with intensity and her chest was heaving as she fought to regain her breath. She motioned with one finger for him to stand up as well and he shakily rose, holding onto the bed post for support. She grinned thoughtfully as she pushed him gently to sit down on the bed.
He looked at her standing in front of him, somewhat confused at her choice of words.
"You've listened to something I've told you to do twice now."
Draco smirked as he watched her but remained silent, not trusting himself enough to speak. Hermione was standing in front of him, and he noticed they were eye level even though he was sitting. Apprehensively, Hermione reached out and began to undo his robes, her hands shaking harder with each clasp. To her relief, Draco helped her along by tugging the garment off and throwing it over the edge of the bed.
Hermione swallowed and Draco opened his legs a little as he pulled her closer to him for another kiss, her hands moving to his waist, tugging at the hem of his sweater vest and pulling away from him as he lifted his arms and yanked the clothing off his body.
Leaning into him again, she stole another kiss before she looked down and concentrated on unbuttoning his crisp white shirt. She smirked, realizing that the Hogwarts uniform required too many articles of clothing. When she had finally stripped him of his shirt she stopped to take in his form, reaching out with both hands and nervously placing them on his chest, delicately tracing her fingertips down his flesh, causing him to shiver.
Slowly, she leaned back in and kissed his collarbone, moving gradually down his chest and towards his abdomen, her eyes locked with his the entire time. Placing her hands on his thighs, she lifted her face to his neck, kissing it tenderly, then to his jaw, and finally back to his lips, catching them in hers.
Draco felt her hands inch up his thighs, grazing against his hardened erection as she began to fumble with his belt. Growling, he lifted her onto the bed with him, pushing her gently down against the pillows while he kissed her vociferously, shutting the curtains with a wave of his hand.
She moaned against his mouth, shivering as he moved his hands under her night shirt, his thumbs brushing harshly over her nipples. She gasped at the touch and he shifted slightly, pulling the cotton material over her head and leaning back in to kiss her tender flesh. He felt her shudder under him and grinned, his tongue flicking out and caressing the warm skin. Hermione's grabbed at the back of his head, running her fingers through his hair.
He kissed down her stomach, pausing at the waistband of her pajama pants to look up at her in a silent question, smiling when she nodded down at him. Easing between her legs, he dipped his fingers under the elastic of the red cotton pants and pulled at them, grinning in satisfaction as she lifted her bum to help him reach his destination. The pants slipped off her legs easily with one final tug and Draco pulled himself on top of her, kissing her lips softly, his tongue sucking at hers as he moved his hand down her abdomen and in between her legs, his fingers kneading her through the cotton of her panties.
Hermione ran her hands up and down Draco's back, squeezing his muscles and relishing in the way they quivered beneath her fingers. Her fingers followed the line of the waistband of his pants towards the front to that one button that held everything together, and with one flick of her thumb and forefinger, his world was hers. She unzipped his pants and then lifted her leg up, grabbing at the waist with her toes and urged them to come down, grinning innocently at the surprised look Draco gave her when he realized what she had just done.
Hermione felt his manhood twitch against her leg through his boxers and she flipped him over and straddled his knees as she eagerly pulled the interfering material away. Draco sighed as his penis sprang free from the fabric, the head glistening with precum. Hermione wrapped her fingers around the shaft experimentally and moved her hand up and down, realizing there was too much friction. Her thumb brushed over the tip, and she spread the fluid around before rubbing him some more. He groaned, flipping her back on her back and pulling her panties off with amazing speed before settling in between her legs.
He reached up, kissing her, his finger slowly caressing her folds, spreading her moisture around. Her hips lifted as he did this and he pushed a finger into her tight warmth, savoring the heat that enveloped him. Hermione gasped as he moved in and out of her. He worked at her for a couple of minutes and then added a second finger. He released her mouth, moving down her torso and added a third finger as he licked and bit at the hardened bud just above her slit. She panted suddenly at the sensation and Draco felt her muscles tense around his fingers as she exploded in a fit of wild ecstasy.
He smiled at her look of utter content and he moved back over her, positioning himself. Hermione looked into his eyes for a moment, obviously worried.
"I've never done this before," she said, her voice shaking slightly.
Draco nodded, whispering a contraceptive charm as he eased himself into her. When he reached the barrier he looked at her.
Hermione nodded, shutting her eyes tight. She felt him pull back a little and then push back in fast. She winced in pain as she felt the barrier fall away and Draco kissed her softly, staying still as he waited for her to get used to him. After a few moments her breathing became more controlled and she wiggled a bit, letting him know she was ready.
He moved slowly at first, giving her time to react to him. She soon got the hang of it and urged Draco to go faster, her nails digging into his sides with each thrust. He bent his head down, kissing her. It amazed him how much her kissing affected him. With each swirl of her tongue he felt himself twitch inside her and he knew his release would come soon. He smirked against her lips, reaching down with his hand to pinch that lovely bud of nerves and she shrieked into his mouth as she came, taking him into bliss with her.
Draco rolled off her but remained inside, holding her tightly against him. She sighed and kissed his chest softly, thoroughly exhausted. Reaching down, Draco grabbed at the blanket and wrapped it around their bodies. For once, sleep came easily.
Weeks later, Hermione and Draco stood in front of Harry's grave in Godric's Hollow holding each other tightly. Ron had taken the news of them being together rather well—well, well for Ron. He'd been a bit overprotective about it at first but he soon realized that Hermione had come back to life and there was no denying that Draco was the one behind it all. The rest of the school didn't seem to care. The war had changed everyone's point of views and what once seemed taboo really didn't matter much anymore.
Dumbledore was absolutely thrilled about their relationship—although he probably wouldn't be happy to know how it came about. The Weasley's were a bit apprehensive at first, but they had finally warmed up to Draco. Narcissa was absolutely thrilled her son had found someone and once she met Hermione, most of her reservations about her being muggleborn faded away and she welcomed her with opened arms.
Hermione knelt down next to Harry's grave, her fingers dancing through the grass that now covered it. She looked up at Draco and grinned. They had done this twice before. The first time, Draco had taken Hermione to Pansy's grave, the second, Hermione had taken Draco to her parents' graves. Harry's was the last one to visit and she smiled suddenly, thinking of all the memories she had of him. Draco watched her quietly, only moving when she waved for him to kneel down next to her.
"Harry, I would like you to meet the real Draco Malfoy. I don't believe you've ever met him, but I would like you to know he is much more obedient than the git you knew. Still a bit of a twitchy ferret though."
Hermione laughed as Draco tackled her to the ground and moved to kiss her, grinning as she noticed the muggle pinwheel she had put next to Harry's tombstone spin in the wind.
"He approves," she said smiling.