Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or any of the characters. This shouldn't surprise anyone, but I thought I would mention it anyway.
I think we're snowblind
we've had a hard time and we can't see where we are
She slipped out the door from Flourish & Blotts carrying a new—but rather unnecessary—purchase. The afternoon rush had hit Diagon Alley while she perused the bookstore and she narrowly missed getting run over by a sinister looking wizard as she stepped onto the street. Looking for the café where she had agreed to meet Harry, she navigated through the crowds with slight difficulty. Everyone seemed to be heading in the opposite direction as her and she found herself trying to avoid running down children and knocking people's bags out of their hands. It took much longer than usual to get to the small café right across from Gambol & Japes and when she finally spotted their multicoloured umbrellas, she breathed a sigh of massive relief. If the café was as crowded as the street, someone would suffer. Most likely Harry, since he was the sole reason she was here in the first place.
By what seemed to be a small miracle, a table in the corner had just been vacated and she pushed herself between tables, muttering excuses as she passed. Putting down her bags, she took a seat in the comfortable shade. It was mid-August and while the heat-wave had passed a week earlier, it was still a bit too warm for comfort. She leaned back, running both hands through her curls, wondering how on earth Harry had talked her into this.
She sighed, propping her elbow up on the table and rested her head against her hand. Who was she kidding? He had talked her into this because he was her best friend, and unlike certain others, she refused to turn her back on him because of who he bestowed his affections upon. Hermione firmly believed you couldn't choose who you fell in love with and she wasn't about to lose her best friend over an unorthodox romantic match. That, however, did not mean that she looked forward to this meeting.
When she first noticed Harry, he looked as if he was on his own and she frowned slightly before raising from her chair to wave him over. He noticed her immediately and began weaving through the other tables.
" 'Lo," he greeted, giving a crooked smile as a he drew up a chair. "Been shopping?"
"Just some things from the apothecary and a book." She pulled her bags off the table, placing them by the leg of her chair. "Isn't she –"
Her question was interrupted by the arrival of his girlfriend, who came with someone else in tow. Hermione looked at the two of them, her jaw dropping unattractively. Snapping her mouth shut, she turned to Harry with an eyebrow raised in question.
"Astoria," Harry's girlfriend said and held out her hand across the table while the guy she had brought along flopped unceremoniously into a chair.
"Hermione." Hermione took the hand offered and watched warily as Astoria took a seat.
A pressuring silence settled over the table as Hermione was too preoccupied taking in the absurdity of the scene in front of her. She would need a headache potion if she survived this day.
"Err, Harry," Hermione finally said, nodding her head towards the third wheel, so to speak.
"Oh, yeah," he exclaimed, as if he'd completely forgotten. "Malfoy's here."
She looked at him with a rather unimpressed expression.
"Yes, I can tell."
Astoria quickly turned to Malfoy, as if she too had forgotten about his presence.
"Oh, you should introduce yourself! I completely forgot."
"I hardly think Granger and I need to be introduced, Tory," he answered dryly.
Hermione drummed her fingers on the armrest, a distinct feeling of horrible awkwardness settling in her stomach. She wasn't the least bit prepared for this. Harry had asked her to meet him and his girlfriend to get to know her better, but there had been no warning that any member of the Malfoy family would be tagging along—or anyone else for that matter. There was a certain absurdity about the whole situation that made her want to jump from her chair and run down the street, not looking back. Not only did Harry have a new girlfriend who she had never had any sort of contact with, but he also seemed suspiciously unsurprised at the company his girlfriend had brought with her.
"Introductions are covered," she concluded, not looking in Malfoy's direction. "An explanation would be appreciated, though."
Harry and Astoria exchanged glances.
"My parents don't know," Astoria explained, her eyes mild as she looked towards Harry again. "I'm not sure how to break it to them. My family weren't, well...Death Eaters, but there were certain sympathies, you know?"
"They've been friends with the Malfoys since Astoria was a kid," Harry interjected. "We doubt they'll be impressed."
Astoria nodded at this and rolled her eyes.
"Besides, their plan has—for a few years—been to marry me off to Draco."
Hermione listened to the explanation with dawning horror. She leaned against the table and rested her head against her hand.
"Harry, you can't be serious," she said.
"Oh, I'm serious."
"Am I right in assuming that you two are pretending to be a couple?" Hermione asked, waving her finger vaguely between Astoria and Malfoy.
Astoria gave a hesitant nod. Malfoy seemed completely uninterested and couldn't even be bothered to look up from his inspection of his fingernails.
"Harry, this insane," Hermione exclaimed, shaking her head.
He sighed and looked slightly defeated.
"It's not as bad as it sounds. Malfoy only tags along if we're going out in public. Otherwise, he covers for her so we can hang out at my place."
Hermione still shook her head, wondering how Harry had managed to get tangled up in this mess.
"We'll go get drinks," Astoria said quietly, rising from her chair.
Malfoy remained in his seat, however, leaning even further back in demonstration.
"What do you want, Harry?" she asked, as she moved her chair to clear the path.
"I'll just have a Butterbeer," he replied; he looked at Hermione.
"Uh, hang on." Hermione rummaged through one of her shopping bags for the little pouch with her money. "Coffee: black; no cream or sugar."
Astoria took the coins Hermione handed her and stood next to Malfoy's chair waiting for him to rise. When he didn't, she began tugging on his arm.
"Draco, come on," she said, exasperatedly.
"I don't do servant's work. Bring me back some Butterbeer," he replied, looking unfazed by her physical attempts to move him from the chair.
"Oh, grow up." She yanked hard on his arm.
He reluctantly followed after her, but Harry and Hermione could hear him complaining until they had disappeared inside the café. The two of them sat in awkward silence. Hermione studied the crowds heading up and down the street past the little patio they were seated on. Whenever the crowd cleared for a moment, she could see the window displays at Gambol & Japes.
"You know this isn't going to make Ron any less agitated, right?" she said finally, turning to look at him again.
"I know and I don't really care," he said, shrugging. "If he can't deal with this, then there's nothing I can do."
His sombre expression portrayed something else entirely and her indignation started giving way to sympathy. He didn't look at her, but kept his gaze on the table where his finger traced the pattern of the surface.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" she asked softly.
She turned her attention towards the window of the café, glimpsing Astoria and Malfoy by the counter. The small-framed brunette was placing their orders while the significantly taller of the two kept loitering around the counter, prodding and fingering the items within reach.
"Yes." He looked up and gave a hesitant smile. "I suppose I'm just happy—for the first time in a long while."
Hermione sighed, tapping her finger lightly against her temple—a habit she had picked up without really noticing. Happy. There was a word neither of them had used excessively. The delirious happiness and glory of winning the war, of conquering Voldemort, had been lost long before they had time to appreciate it. All too soon they had been caught up by the losses, the traumas and the feelings they hadn't had time to deal with. She pursed her lips in thought.
"If she can manage to make you happy while Malfoy hangs around, she's got to be something, I suppose."
Harry laughed, leaning lazily back into his chair. A slight breeze pushed the hair out of his face and he hurriedly reached up to smooth it back down to cover his scar. Hermione gave an affectionate smile while watching his frenzied attempt to cover his tell-tale mark. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Astoria making her way back towards their table with slight difficulty. Behind her, Malfoy shuffled, seemingly careless that he was dropping scorching hot coffee onto nearby customers.
Hermione barely fought the urge to roll her eyes and focused her eyes back on Harry as Astoria placed the Butterbeer in front of him.
"Come on," she heard Astoria urge. "The coffee's going to get cold."
Malfoy muttered something incomprehensible in response before he all but threw the cup of coffee down on the table as far away from Hermione as possible. He leaned back in his chair and sipped to his Firewhiskey with a much too satisfied look on his face.
"Merlin, you're useless," Astoria said in distaste. She reached out to put the coffee in front of Hermione with an apologetic look.
Her brown hair slipped from behind her ear as she peered down into the now barely half-full cup.
"I'm sorry." She grimaced slightly and placed the cup down in front of Hermione.
"Don't worry," Hermione answered mildly, ignoring Malfoy and what she suspected was a satisfied smirk.
An awkward silence settled over the group again. Hermione was a talker; she appreciated the odd silence, especially when she spent time by herself, but awkward silences in groups were not something she cherished in the least. She shifted in her seat and picked up the cup, mostly just to have something—anything—to do.
"So, Hermione," Astoria said, her voice wavering slightly. "What do you do?"
Hermione swallowed a mouthful of coffee and enclosed the cup between her hands.
"I work with the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures," she answered, about to elaborate when Malfoy scoffed loudly.
This time she was caught off guard and forgot that she was currently in the process of ignoring him. Turning towards him, she raised a challenging eyebrow.
"What a pile of Dungbombs," he muttered, rolling his eyes.
Astoria's eyes widened in horror.
"Draco," she hissed in warning, a blush now tinting her cheeks.
"Well, it is!" he exclaimed, gesturing with his free hand. "Her 'job' is to frolic around with goblins and house-elves handing out jelly beans and promises embellished in gold. It's ridiculous."
"Draco, shut up."
Astoria's eyes seemed oddly blank and the lips that had been pursed as he spoke now trembled dangerously. Malfoy miraculously did shut up but this didn't seem to comfort Astoria. She sprang from her seat and stumbled over a chair before disappearing inside the café.
Harry turned to him with his eyebrows raised.
"Brilliant work, Malfoy," he said snarling, crossing his arms over his chest.
He looked as if he was battling with himself and Hermione was reminded about how uncomfortable he had been with a crying Cho. He turned slightly and looked to where Astoria had disappeared, but remained seated.
"I'll go," Hermione said hurriedly. "She's probably gone to the toilet."
Not in a million years would she sit out there alone with Malfoy, even if the alternative was Harry's crying girlfriend. She moved hastily from the chair, walking an elaborate detour around Malfoy to avoid the urge she had to dump hot coffee onto his crotch.
The inside of the café was impossibly warm and she vaguely wondered why no one had bothered to apply a cooling charm to the place. The sun shone through the windows, heating the small space almost unbearably. She walked along the counter, knowing the toilets were on the other side of the room. Without knocking, she pushed the door open.
"Astoria?" she asked, quite unnecessarily as she had already found the girl.
The small brunette was sitting on one of the toilets, her feet crossed on the lid. Astoria reached up and wiped a tear angrily from her cheek. Feeling an odd mixture of pity and discomfort, Hermione leaned against the doorframe of the stall, her arms crossed loosely over her chest.
"It's just Malfoy," was all she could think of saying in comfort.
Astoria gave a strange sound that sounded like a mix of laughter and a sob.
"I know," she said, grimacing. "I asked him to not be an idiot, just this once. I wanted today to go well."
"The success of today is in no way dependent on Malfoy," Hermione assured her. "It's like he's not even there anymore. He's just one of those annoying buzzing sounds in my ear; he's a minor annoyance, but nothing of major importance."
Astoria cracked a smile, once again reaching up to dry her tears.
"You mean so much to Harry," she said, fiddling with a button on her robe. "I don't want to be the reason he loses you."
Hermione sighed, her thoughts turning to Ron for a fleeting second.
"He won't lose me," she said intently. "He means a lot to me too."
Astoria looked up at Hermione, her eyes large and tear-filled.
"Will you spend more time with us?" she asked, her voice soft. "It would mean so much to him."
Damn. She had clearly underestimated this girl. Large eyes looked up at her under long lashes, begging for a positive response. Astoria's lips began to tremble slightly. The girl knew her tricks, that was for sure.
Hermione looked at her, searchingly. Was it really anything to think about?
"Yes, I'll spend time with you," she promised, reaching her hand out to pat Astoria awkwardly on the shoulder.
The other girl gave a beaming smile through her tears.
Hermione didn't doubt for a second that the girl had been truly upset, but she also knew that she had just agreed to something she couldn't go back on.
"Come; let me fix you up," she said, instead of dwelling on the promise she had just made.
Astoria moved from the lid of the toilet and stood calmly as Hermione reached for her wand. For a second she was certain she saw doubt in Astoria's eyes, but then the girl straightened up further and looked straight ahead. Hermione muttered a couple of spells under her breath, leaving Astoria without the puffy eyes and tear-streaked cheeks.
Putting a hand at her back, Hermione pushed her towards the door and the two of the exited together.
Ron looked up as she put her tray down and flopped down across from him at an otherwise empty table in the Ministry lunchroom. She pulled the tray closer and began to pierce bits of food lazily onto her fork.
"You look like shit," Ron observed, holding a half-eaten sandwich above his plate.
She looked at him under lowered eyebrows as she rested her elbow on the table, holding her fork up to her lips.
"No wonder you're single," she told him, closing her mouth over the delicious food.
She cracked a smile when he stuck his tongue out at her in response.
"You really do look pretty bad. What's up?" he asked.
She avoided his questioning gaze and reached for the bottle of water on her tray. While deliberating how much she wanted to tell him, she unscrewed the lid and took a small sip. Still holding the bottle in her hand she relented and looked up to face the question.
"I met Harry and Astoria yesterday," she admitted, watching him intently as his expression turned stony. The change was unnerving.
Ron took a large bite of his sandwich, chewing furiously.
"She seems quite nice, actually," Hermione told him, taking another bite of her lunch, "but cunning enough to make me promise to spend time with them regularly. She's a Slytherin for a reason, I suppose."
He kept eating in silence, not quite meeting her gaze. She should have been used to this lack of response when it came to the topic of Harry by now, but for some reason it still made her uncomfortable. It was always so difficult trying to decide if she should drop the subject entirely or just keep going, hoping he'd finally start talking about it.
"It's not that bad spending time with them," she clarified. "They're using Malfoy as a cover, which means that whenever I spend time with them I have to hang around him too."
Ron stopped chewing, his cheeks flushing.
"What do you mean they're using Malfoy as a cover?"
"Astoria's parents don't know, so she pretends to be with Malfoy. He tags along every time they go out," she explained, sighing. "Which I think is a horrible idea, but Harry won't budge on it."
His eyes had always been so expressive. Even if the expressions of his face showed no particular emotions, his eyes always spoke volumes to her. She could tell that he was most definitely uncomfortable, but there was just something else in his eyes when she spoke about Harry. Why did he have to be so stubborn?
"Why don't you just talk to him?" she asked.
Hermione had broken down. Having promised herself not to pester him about it, she hadn't asked him about anything regarding Harry at all since Harry and Ron stopped speaking. But he looked so...well, he looked downright sad. It seemed like the right moment.
He looked down at the table. She watched him with sad eyes, a bothersome lump lodging itself in her throat.
"I don't want to talk about Harry," he said after several moments of silence.
She was about to reply when he grabbed his tray and stood up.
"I need to get back to work."
Trying to suppress the lump in her throat, she pecked at her lunch without much appetite. This whole wretched situation was starting to take its toll on her. She wasn't trying to take sides, but she couldn't help but feel that Ron was being entirely unfair.
She rose from her seat and put her used dishes in their assigned place by the wall. Heading back towards her office, she walked slowly down the hall towards the lift, her steps echoing off the stone walls. She swallowed several times, the infamous lump in her throat not wanting to let go. There was an uncomfortable prickle behind her eyelids.
When she felt something wet against her cheek she bowed her head as someone passed her in the hallway. A toilet appeared on her right and she pushed the door open, darting inside. It was a weird sense of déjà vu, but this time she wasn't the one consoling. She sat down on the lid of the toilet in the second stall to the left, crossing her feet. Reaching up, she ran her fingers along her cheek, drying the tears.
Their once so close friendship had been non-existent for the past few weeks. She found herself pulled between Harry and Ron, both of them expecting her to take their side. It was proving exhausting to try to maintain a relationship with the both of them when none of them wanted to discuss the other.
She could understand both of them to a certain extent. Harry and Ginny hadn't worked out and then suddenly Harry was with Astoria. Hermione had come to wonder if Ron would had been angry no matter who Harry's new girlfriend was, as long as it wasn't Ginny. And Harry...well, he undoubtedly felt that Ron should stand by him no matter what he chose and that this was what he would have done. As for Hermione, all she wanted was for them to listen to her and see reason so they could become what they once were.
She stood from her seat on the lid and moved up to the mirror over the sink on the opposite wall. Her eyes were puffy and red; her cheeks were tear-streaked and flushed. She looked exactly like she had been hiding in the bathroom crying. Bringing her hand up to dry her wet cheeks, she looked at her mirrored self. No wonder Ron had called it off. She made a grimace at herself as her eyes welled up again.
That was the other problem with the entire situation. They were both so mad at each other that none of them noticed how much she was hurting. None of them noticed that she wasn't moving on. Neither one of them noticed that more than anything she spent her time alone in her new flat with the empty bed, wishing she was back home; because she couldn't call the new flat home. Home was their small, but cosy flat in the rather shabby part of town. Home was where Ron's shirts were littering the dresser. Home was where he moped in his Chudley Cannons robes after another loss. Home was not in her faceless, uncluttered, Ronless flat.
She knew Ginny would have noticed, but Ginny was out travelling the world after she and Harry parted ways. The only signs of life were the letters she sent by owl to a handful of them every time she changed locations. Since the letters were addressed to Ron, living at their old flat, she hadn't even been getting those lately.
The fact of the matter was that she was suffering alone. As long as Harry and Ron were fighting, then they would most likely remain oblivious to the fact that she was still in love with Ron and she didn't know how to get past his dismissal of their relationship. She moved her wand from a small pocket inside her robes and cast a spell to clean her face. For good measure she added a light touch of makeup to make sure no one could tell she spent the last part of her lunch break crying in the girl's room. She straightened up, raised her chin and headed back towards her office.
I know it's been quiet from me from a long, long time now. I've had a very, very bad case of writer's block and I have a terrifying number of incomplete oneshots and attempts at chaptered fics lying around on my laptop. All of them have died a horrible death for some reason or another: plot going no where, inspiration falling short, characters being off or just plain old sucking.
But I signed up for a fic fest on Livejournal called Hermione Big Bang, where the challenge was to write a 20 000+ word Hermione-centric fic. The result is this: Snowblind, a piece of Dramione that totals about 29,000 words. So it's not a large fic by any means, but at least it's something I finally finished!
Snowblind was not originally chaptered for the fic fest, so I've divided it into 8 parts, trying to cut it off in suitable places.
Title and lyrics from Rob Thomas' Snowblind.
I hope you like it :)