Well, not quite a year long wait, but still a rather long one.
Let's face it, none of you are surprised at this point.
Anyways, I will post my thanks later on in the day WITH THIS CHAPTER but I just wanted to get the chapter posted for all you lovely people. So without further adieu...
Sooooooo much thanks to these lovely human beings:
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Hermione never quite got over returning to Hogwarts after a Christmas break. As much as she loved her parents and her home, Hogwarts was always the place she returned to. When she was younger it had more to do with the literal magic of it all and seeing her friends once again. Christmas break was shorter than summer break, but there was always the knowledge that school was about to end rather than begin that had Hermione looking forward to Christmas. Not that she necessarily looked forward to the end of school. Yes she was bookish and – she liked to think – more mature than her fellow wizards and witches, but she was a teenager the same as anyone else. There comes a time when one just needed a break.
She didn't know what it was about this particular return from Christmas break, but she felt jittery. Maybe she was just excited to see Harry again since she only got a brief celebration at his awakening before he was whisked home. That was part of it, though, not the entire reason.
It was Draco. She may have sounded like a besotted fool, but she'd never really been in a relationship before.
She was allowed to be excited to see her boyfriend, dammit.
They didn't really get a proper goodbye before they parted ways. Her parents were there, as well as his. And no matter how much Draco said his mother was trying to be more open minded, Hermione figured seeing her son kiss a Muggle-Born might put her over the edge. Hermione knew how hard it was to get over prejudices, maybe not personally, but she'd grown up around close minded Muggles and knew of a few who struggled to change their ways. Also, considering Lucius reaction to Valerie, Hermione wasn't in any rush to be introduced as Draco's girlfriend.
She hadn't joined the others in the train on the way to Hogwarts. Instead, she had sought out the back of the train because she was feeling rather nostalgic. That was the last time she'd be riding the Hogwarts train after Christmas break and part of her just wanted to be alone. So she'd sat at the very end of the train, outside, for most of the trip just watching the land roll by. She'd sit with her friends for the actual last train ride.
She'd done the same thing with the carriage ride up to the castle, and while that had curbed her nostalgia for the time being, it provided difficulty in locating friends. They were in the Great Hall anyway, seated with one another. Harry and Ginny sat somehow closer than usual with Felix next to them. Ron was seated across from them, looking over at the Slytherin table. Hermione followed his line of sight and saw Pansy sitting next to Blaise, facing Ron. They were sneaking glances and small smiles at one another while Blaise and Valerie were in a heated discussion about something. With a hint of disappointment, Hermione noticed that Draco wasn't at the Slytherin table. She sighed. She'd wanted to see him when she got back.
"Looking for someone?" A voice murmured in her ear.
She threw thanks to Merlin for not jumping and donned a smile. She didn't turn around as she answered, "No one in particular. Just my prat of a boyfriend."
"I take offense to that, Granger," Draco said as he turned her around gently by her shoulder.
Her smile grew. "You should. It was meant to be offensive."
She wanted to kiss him, and judging by the way he kept looking down at her lips, he felt the same way. They'd talked about this, however, and they didn't want the entire school knowing and treating them like a circus act. Even now, people were staring.
Draco smirked in the way Hermione knew was a smile. "We'll have to continue this later, Granger. Particularly in a shadow filled corner."
She let her eyes roll at that and turned to walk away. "Later, Draco." He did smirk then.
She joined her fellow Gryffindors at the table, grabbing a cut of steak and some mashed potatoes from the center of the table.
"Where were you?" Ginny asked as Hermione poured gravy over her entire plate.
"I was just talking to Draco."
"I meant on the train," Ginny said, grabbing her cup. "I was looking for you, and Ron even managed to pry himself from Pansy to go looking for you."
Both girls look at the boy in question and see that his attention is still on the other side of the room.
Hermione hooked a thumb in Ron's direction.
Ginny shook her head and looked at her brother with an appalled expression. "I don't know. They've been rather…disgusting since Christmas. Staring at each other, cuddling all close. Being coupley. It's rather repulsive."
Ron, Hermione, and Felix all turn to look at the girl in tandem, all wearing a dry look.
"What?" Ginny asked.
Ron points to his sister. "You and Harry. That's all I'm saying." He goes back to staring at Pansy, ignorant of the angry blush on his sister's face.
Ginny chooses to not dignify her brother's point with a response, and continues to speak with Harry in quiet whispers, their hands clasped together tightly. Hermione allows herself a private smile at the two's closeness. She's glad to notice that Harry looks healthier than she'd seen him before holiday. She and Ginny exchanged letters during the hiatus, and Ginny was always pleased to note Harry's growing health. Ron of course didn't share any correspondence besides the obligatory "Merry Christmas" letter. Hermione was surprised when she received a letter from Pansy. It was brief, and more polite business than anything, but Hermione sent a letter back with her lips pulled up into a smile.
"How was your Christmas Hermione?" Ginny asked, pulling Hermione from her thoughts.
"Great," Hermione answered.
When Hermione didn't elaborate, Ginny sent her a look that said they'd end up speaking about it later. Ginny knew Hermione had more to say, but that she wouldn't share out in public. Not that Hermione was bothered by Harry, Ron, or Felix's presence, but the presence of the rest of the school made her force a smile, acknowledging Ginny's unspoken words.
It wasn't that her Christmas break was awful. It was just…awkward.
None of that mattered at the present moment however, so Hermione put any worries aside for spending time with her friends and enjoying dinner.
It was a nice dinner, and when Hermione left the Great Hall she was in a fantastic mood. She followed the crowd of Gryffindors to the common room and up to her room with Parvati and Lavender. Said girls were seated on Lavender's bed, talking amongst themselves. They both wave and welcome Hermione when she enters and go back to their conversation.
Hermione busies herself with organizing her things for a while. She unpacks everything and puts her stuff away. She grabs her toiletry caddy and heads for the bathroom when a thought crosses her mind. Hermione loves the private bathroom she shares with Parvati and Lavender. It's spacious enough for all of them, and they don't have to share it. But it doesn't have a tub. Not like the prefects' bath. The prefects' bath that she hasn't used once that entire year but has complete access to.
Hermione leaves the bathroom, caddy still in hand, and gathers her bathrobe and a change of clothes. With a wave at Parvati and Lavender, she makes her way down to the prefects' bath.
The prefects' bath is one of her favorite things about the castle. The large tub that can be filled with different soaps, the moving stained glass. The peaceful atmosphere. She used to use it almost every other day in previous years. It's telling how occupied her mind is that she hasn't even gone once this year yet. She'll have to rectify that, especially considering that this is her last year at Hogwarts and she won't get to use the tub after she graduates.
Hermione dreads it. In the past, it was one of the things she looked forward to most. Graduation, becoming an adult. But that was before the war, before Voldemort, and before she was forced to grow up far sooner than she should have.
She shook these thoughts from her mind. She didn't want to think about that, not after all the good this year. Even as she forced it from her mind, she felt the phantom sting of the blade digging into her arm and raised a hand to rub at it subconsciously. Hermione had gotten in the habit of keeping her arms covered, but she slipped up sometimes and rolled the sleeves up, or wore a short-sleeved shirt.
Over Christmas break, she'd made the mistake of wearing a tank top around her parents. At that point, it had gotten to where she could be around her parents for polite – if awkward – conversation. Her mother had been making dinner and Hermione started helping, pulling things down from the cupboards like old times. But she noticed her mother had stopped and was staring at her arm with a look of absolute horror. Her father had come in then, stirring her mother from starring and returning to preparing dinner like nothing had happened. Hermione didn't think anything of it until later, when she was passing her parents' room and heard her mother crying and her father's attempts at consoling the sobbing woman.
She wore sweaters for the remainder of break.
Hermione pushed any thoughts of her parents from her mind when she reached the portrait that hid the prefects' bath. She spoke the password, but it didn't open. Maybe someone was in there, but after a second, the door creaked open, and Hermione shrugged her way inside.
And promptly stopped dead in her tracks.
The caddy and her clothes nearly spilled to the floor in her surprise, but after fumbling with her belongings, she hugged them to her. Tightly.
"Granger?" Malfoy asked, his tone confused.
He had a towel in his hands, raised and ready to dry himself. Because he had been taking a bath. And he was naked.
So very, very…naked.
Blood rushed to Hermione's cheeks, making her face burn. Hermione stood, petrified – and she'd been petrified before, she knew what it felt like – and unable to move beyond staring in and clutching her things to her chest as if that would somehow shield her from the nakedness of the boy, the man before her. Because. There was no way that belonged to a boy.
Remembering herself, she spun around, stuttering something about baths and showers and oh god, why her? She was out the portrait before Malfoy could even finish calling her name.
Hermione was in a fugue state on the way back to her dorm. She may have slammed the door to her room because Parvati and Lavender gave her a startled look.
"Hermione?" Lavender asked, concerned. "Are you alright?"
It took a moment for Hermione to find her voice. She croaked out a, "Fine." Then promptly went to the bathroom and locked the door. With several spells. And sunk to the floor with her back against the sink.
Logistically, she knew people did things all the time. All the time. That's the only reason she existed, or anyone else for that matter. She knew the statistics of how many people were participating in certain activities per minute. But how in Merlin's name was Malfoy's…his…how the hell would that even work?!
Suddenly she felt more a virgin than she already was. Inexperience. Confused. It's not like she hadn't seen a- a member before. She'd seen pictures on the internet, watched videos when she was curious. Diagrams in books. But seeing it in person? That was an entirely different thing.
She really shouldn't have been freaking out this much. Merlin's sake, just a few weeks ago, she'd been in her bra making out with Malfoy in a dark corner. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized that it was a huge gap between taking one's shirt off with their significant other and going through with, well, sex.
Hermione thumped her head back against the sink cabinets.
Great. Now she'd have to break up with Malfoy. She remembered him telling her that he would wait and that the pacing was up to her, but she was freaking out from just seeing him naked. And it wasn't even on purpose. Who'd want to be with that?
There was a knock on the door and then Ginny's voice was calling out, "Hermione?"
Hermione waved her wand, unlocking the door and letting the other girl in. Ginny closed the door and walked over to Hermione, taking a seat next to her friend.
"Parvati and Lavender said you came into the room like a maniac and then locked yourself in here. Everything okay?"
Hermione shook her head, not looking at her friend. "I'd rather not talk about it."
Ginny took a breath like she wanted to say something, but remained silent.
"It's nothing bad," Hermione reassured her friend. "I'd just…rather not talk about it."
Hermione felt Ginny moving and looked to see Ginny nodding her head. "Alright. But you know you can talk about it with me. Anything."
They sat there a moment in each other's company. They were shoulder to shoulder and Hermione was glad she could silently freak out with the feeling of her friends presence.
"Would you rather talk about your holiday with your parents?" Ginny offered.
Hermione sighed. This wasn't something she wanted to think about either, but it was less stressful than the current problem at hand. Besides, she had promised Ginny she would tell her anyway.
"It wasn't bad. I just. Nothing's been the same since the war. Since it ended. I was lucky to have found them in Australia when everything calmed down, but they were just so confused and strange around me that I think I made it worse by running away to your house."
Ginny nodded again but didn't comment.
"They figured that there were dangers in this world," Hermione gestured to the open air, "but they didn't think I'd get caught up in a war. I didn't think I'd get caught up in a war."
"Have you talked to them?"
Hermione drug her knees in close to her. "They brought it up the day before I came back. Mum- Mum saw my scars." Hermione lifted her arm. "She didn't take it well."
"So they know?"
"Not everything. Not specifics. I couldn't."
Hermione turned to face her friend. "No, Gin. You don't get it. You didn't see the look on my parents faces when I restored their memories and told them the basics. Like they were afraid of me. And when Mum saw my arm, she left the room for a few minutes. My dad didn't see it, but I know my mum told her because he spent the remainder of holiday staring at my arm even though I kept it covered. How am I supposed to explain to them that I erased my existence for their safety? That I almost died, that my friends almost died?"
"Say it like that."
Hermione gave her friend a look.
"No, listen. You're afraid that they'll be disappointed or mad or whatever because you had to fight. That you had to do things that most people can't even imagine. But I know your parents Hermione, and I know how they feel about you. They're your parents. You're their daughter. They love you. And if they seemed afraid when you told them, I highly doubt it was directed at you. It's not every day you get your memories back and then told that your only child went off to fight in a war. A war you've heard nothing about in a world you barely know or understand. I think you need to just sit them down and tell them. Everything. Hell, I'm sure you could have my parents there with you if you think that would help. Or what's more, take Harry. I'm sure he'd love to talk to them."
Hermione looked at down at the floor. It was tiled. And white. Pure and simple, the way things used to be. She gave a humorless chuckle to herself. That was a lie. Nothing was ever pure and simple. She'd been fighting the war before she even knew it was a war. She'd seen Ron nearly die at 11, been petrified at 12, attacked by a werewolf at 13, and countless other things over the years. Her life had never been pure and simple. Now things were peaceful. Or seemingly that way. And Hermione didn't know what to do with herself.
"I'll try. Maybe when Easter break comes up," Hermione said.
Ginny nodded, satisfied.
Ginny got to her feet, offering her hands down to Hermione. "Come on. Ron and Harry are playing a game of exploding snap against Dean and Seamus. It's been a while since we've seen Seamus burn his eyebrows off."
Hermione smiled and took her friends hands.
X X X
Granger was avoiding him, and it was irritating. It'd only been two days, but Draco could tell. She was avoiding him. Any time he came in a room, she ducked her head down to avoid his gaze. And if she could escape, she did. She actually ran away from him. Twice.
Was he that inadequate? He wasn't muscled like Viktor Krum, but he was toned. He'd never gotten any complaints before. Was he too pale? No, Weasley was worse than he was, so that couldn't have been it. Maybe it wasn't his body as a whole but rather just one part of him. He glanced down to his lap. Had she found his bits to be a bit lackluster? Merlin he hoped not. He thought he was pretty average, and besides, he knew that size didn't really matter for most things and that technique was more important in-
A book came flying out of his peripheral vision and hit him on the side of the head.
"Stop having an existential crisis about your penis. It makes it very hard – pun intended – to concentrate on Charms homework."
Draco rubbed the side of his head and glared at Valerie. "I'm not having an existential crisis about my penis, thank you," he snapped.
A passing younger year froze by Draco and Valerie's table, staring.
"What, you've never heard the word 'penis' before? Move along," Valerie made a shooing gesture and the younger year ran off.
"Stop frightening small children. I thought you were supposed to be working against the scary stereotype?"
Valerie snorted as she turned back to her homework. "Says the teenage boy who is thinking with his dick."
Malfoy grabbed one of the Charms books from the pile on the table, opening it up to the most relevant chapter. "I'll have you know I'm considered an adult." Another snort. "Besides that, I'm thinking about my dick, not with it."
Valerie waved a dismissive hand. "You've got nothing to worry about."
Draco froze with his action of flipping the pages. "I beg your pardon?"
Valerie looked up from the pen she was chewing on. "I said you don't have to worry about it. Your dick is fine. A little more than fine, actually."
Draco felt the heat crawling up his neck and he tugged on his collar. "Just what- when have you- what?"
Valerie gave him a level stare. "You aren't the only one who's been obsessing over The Incident in Which Draco Malfoy's Junk Was Seen by His Girlfriend. And since I have yet to teach you assholes about mind blocks, I've been privy to yours and Hermione's inner turmoil. Vividly."
Draco gulped. "Yes, well…" He really didn't know how to comment on that.
"All I'm saying is to stop worrying about it. Your penis is fine."
There was the sound of a book being dropped causing Draco and Valerie to look over to see Felix standing by their table, wide eyed and slack jawed.
Valerie furrowed her brow. "What?"
Felix bent down to pick up the book with a curse, and raised with a disturbed expression. "Baring many, many questions about that last sentence, Draco you need to go talk to Hermione. Her emotions are all over the place and I think I might actually go insane this time because of it."
Draco let his forehead fall forward onto the book in front of him. "I don't even know what to talk to her about. I don't know why she's not talking to me!"
"Hence the 'go talk to Hermione' bit I just said," Felix said.
"It's not that simple," Draco said, the book muffling his words.
"Why not?" Felix asked.
Draco could hear the smirk in Valerie's voice. "Hermione got an eyeful of Draco's – what did you call them? – bits."
Draco sent her a glare.
"Ohhhhhhhh. That explains so much," Felix said, unconcerned.
Draco whirled to face the other boy. "What in Merlin's name does that explain?"
Felix sent him a leer. "I'm not having your conversations for you. Go talk to your girlfriend."
Draco didn't move.
In truth, he himself was just a tad bit worried over Hermione having seen him naked. Not because she had seen him naked – because according to Valerie he had nothing to worry about – but because she seeing him naked the first time had brought up the thought of "What about next time?" Draco didn't even know if there was going to be a next time. Or actually if there was going to be an actual time, for he did not really count the accident as Hermione having seen him naked.
He had a girlfriend, and for once it was with a girl he actually cared about. Someone he had feelings for. He'd been with girls, but he'd been with girls he had no commitment towards. A vigorous one night stand was nothing like, well, making love and quite frankly Draco did not know how to do that. How was someone supposed to have sex with someone they actually cared for?
He was also unsure of how to broach the subject of intimacy with Hermione. He didn't want to come off to blunt and appear as if he didn't care, but he also didn't want to be an anxious mess to the point that his message didn't get across.
The incident in the hallway had happened spontaneously. He hadn't planned on feeling up Hermione in the hallway. It had just happened. But Draco didn't want their first time – if there was going to be a first time – to just happen. He wanted to make sure that Hermione enjoyed it. Especially since it would be her first time at all.
"Draco," Felix started, "you don't need to be so worried."
"Let's agree to disagree," Draco said not unkindly.
Valerie blew out a puff of hair. "Look, if it will make you feel better, I'll go talk to Hermione. Make sure she's not dying from exposure."
Draco shot her a look.
Valerie merely smiled as she gathered her things. "This doesn't mean I'm having your conversation for you, Draco. You and Hermione need to talk about these things, face to face."
With a wave, she left.
Draco noted that Felix watched her leave with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"Do you plan on ever telling her?" Draco asked softly.
Felix snorted. "Which part? The part where I'm in love with her, or the part where I found out who my mate was and didn't tell her?"
"Either," Draco said, surprised about the latter bit of the information.
Felix didn't say anything.
"So you did find out who your mate was then."
Felix flashed a look over to Draco and then down again. Almost as if he was ashamed. Confusion washed over Draco. Why would Felix feel ashamed?
Draco didn't even know Felix was going to officially find out. Hell, he didn't even know how that process went. Did Felix not trust him? For some reason, the thought hurt more than he thought it would.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Draco offered.
It was a strange feeling. He'd never really asked that question before. He didn't need to ask Blaise or Pansy. If they wanted to talk, they would talk. And anyone else, well, he was Draco Malfoy. He didn't have time to deal with their petty problems. At least, that's what everyone assumed. He didn't exactly give off the vibe of warm and fuzzy. Felix was his friend though, and Draco had the feeling Felix needed to be asked. He was trying to be more open with people. It was one of the things Mr. Kidner had told Draco to try. He'd tried it with Hermione, but he felt that was different. Not necessarily good or bad, but different. Draco knew, though, that being open was a two-way street. He had to be interested in his friends' lives and offer help. And he did want to help.
Felix gave Draco an appreciative look. "I don't really know how to put it into words, so I'd rather just…sit here. Or something."
Suddenly, Draco saw himself as Felix. Sometimes he didn't want to talk or, as Felix had said, couldn't find the words for it. Pansy and Blaise understood that and sometimes, and would just sit with him to let him know they were there.
Draco nodded. "Alright." He could do that much.
X X X
Hermione was in the midst of walking when she managed to run into Valerie. Literally. It was her fault. After the Incident, Hermione had walked around with her head down to stare at the ground so as not to repeat the chance of something like that happening again.
"You okay?" Valerie asked, keeping hold of Hermione's upper arms to keep her steady.
Valerie gave her a look. "That's a bold faced lie, and we both know it."
Hermione figured she'd know. She and Felix. She felt guilty about it, too. She was projecting her insecurities and her friends were suffering for it. She knew how they both hated some aspects of their abilities.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said.
"Hey, none of that. With everyone else it's annoying, but with people I care about, I don't mind. At all." She swung an arm around Hermione's shoulder and steered her in the direction of the Room of Requirement.
"How'd you find me?" Hermione asked. She'd managed to avoid most everyone today. They were all worried about her, but she didn't really want to talk to them, not about her situation. Hermione felt like she was blowing the whole thing out of proportion with her reaction, and didn't want to annoy her friends with her petty worries.
Valerie smiled. "Really want to know?"
"Sniffed you out," Valerie said, tapping the side of her nose.
Hermione's eyebrows jumped in surprise. "You…can smell me?"
Valerie laughed. "I can smell everyone. One of the perks of being me. Well, sometimes it's a curse, but it comes in handy in cases like this."
"What do I smell like? If I may ask. Or do non-magical creatures smell the same?"
Valerie stopped to consider her. "No, everyone's got their own unique scent. Yours is honey. Honey mixed with the smell of a book. An older book that's been sitting in the library and it's…calming almost. Homey."
Hermione laughed. "I can understand the book, but honey?"
Valerie continued to walk. "Well, that's most wizards really. It's the magic. The wizards' brand of magic smells kind of sweet. Sugary almost. Again, the smell differs from person to person. For instance, Draco smells more like chocolate, the Weasleys smell like a fresh batch of cookies, and Pansy along with Blaise and Harry all smell like straight up sugar."
"Does the smell depend on magical ability or anything?" Hermione asked.
"No idea. Vampires haven't really figured out why some wizards' magic smells different from others. Veela's don't know either. I think it's just one of those things."
"Huh. What does Felix smell like?"
A small, private smile fell across Valerie's face. Hermione didn't think she was aware of it. "Like raspberries." Valerie looked up at Hermione and her smile became more generic. "Veela's tend to smell fruity. Although, I have heard before that a Veela's mate thinks their Veela smells like something they like. Almost like the Veelas are oozing Amortentia, so the smell depends upon the person." She chuckled. "I asked Felix if Vampires had a smell. He told me that Vampires tend to smell earthy. Not like dying earth or anything, thank god, but just outdoorsy. Apparently I have a distinct pine tree kind of scent. Felix's dad says they don't even need a tree for Christmas if I'm around." That private smile passed her face again.
They both shared a laugh as they reached the door to the Room of Requirement. It opened and Hermione was surprised to see that it was decorated like a coffee shop. Complete with several coffee makers, bookshelves along the wall, and a long bar with stools which were occupied by Pansy and Ginny. Valerie moved Hermione forward with the arm around her shoulder and sat her at one of the stools between the two girls. Valerie herself went around the bar and started fiddling with the machines.
"Well, damn. They're just for show, but you have to give the Room props for the aesthetic quality," Valerie said. With a shrug, she conjured up a few mugs and some tea from the cabinets. The water in the sink worked, so she filled each mug and with a wave of her wand, the water heated up. She finished by adding a tea bag to each mug and placed one in front of each girl.
"I don't suppose there's sugar?" Pansy asked.
Valerie looked around on the counter and found a shaker with the desired sugar and wordlessly passed it to Pansy.
"Milk?" Ginny asked.
Valerie stood back from the bar and peered around underneath. There was a small mini fridge surprisingly, but when she opened it, she could tell that it too was just for show as there wasn't any cold emitting from the open door. There was a half-gallon of milk in there, however, so she grabbed it and passed it to Ginny.
Hermione was becoming increasingly suspicious at the casual way the girls were just going about with their tea.
"You know, I wonder how the house elves keep things from going bad here in the castle since they don't have refrigerators," Valerie commented.
Pansy lifted her mug with a coy smile. "Magic," she said, and took a sip. Valerie flicked her cup in response.
"Maybe there's a portal to some arctic tundra deep in the heart of the castle and they stash the food there," Ginny suggested.
"All right, what in Merlin's name is going on?" Hermione asked.
Valerie shrugged and leaned against the bar across from the other girls and took a sip of her tea. "We decided that something is going on with you and since you've been avoiding everyone, we figured a surprise attack would work best. But a comfortable surprise attack, hence the décor." She waved a hand in gesture of the setting of the Room.
Hermione huffed. "There's nothing going on with-"
"Hermione," Valerie cut in, "I love you. But there is only a limited amount of times that I would like the visual of a naked Draco Malfoy projected into my brain. And since you are avoiding him worse than us, we figured we'd take away some stress with girl talk. So talk."
Hermione felt her cheeks redden, and could only stutter out nonsense in response. She turned to Ginny and Pansy. "You two know?"
Pansy nodded. "Draco told Blaise and I what happened after the third time you ran away from him."
"Blaise then told me to so that I could convince you to talk to Draco," Ginny added.
"And well I knew about it the day after it happened." Valerie shrugged.
Pansy nodded but then seemed to consider something and narrowed her eyes at Valerie. "Wait. You said that you had a limited amount of times you minded seeing Draco naked. Not that you minded as a whole."
Valerie stirred her tea. "Have you seen the boy?"
"Oh Merlin. Please do not let him know. It'll go straight to his head."
"Which one?" Ginny muttered into her cup.
Hermione whirled around to the girl. "Ginny!"
Ginny put up a placating hand. "Sorry Hermione. But you do have a nice looking boyfriend."
"Yes, and if you all could refrain from talking about his naked anatomy, I'd greatly appreciate it!"
Valerie put her hand on Hermione's arm. "Look, you're obviously upset about something. And you're not the only one who's freaking out. But you refuse to talk to Draco, so we three thought we'd ease you into the talk you need to have with him."
That got Hermione's attention. "Draco's…upset?"
"More so because you've been avoiding him, but you aren't the only one who's nervous about the next step in your relationship," Valerie said in a calm tone.
Hermione clutched her mug and looked down at her lap. "Oh."
The other girls didn't say anything, instead patiently waiting on Hermione to open up.
"I just, it's just…I'm not exactly experienced in this sort of thing. I'd thought I'd be a bit more ready the longer we dated. Seeing him...nude...reminded me that it's a very real possibility that he and I will be together. But I've never been with someone, not really, and Ron and I honestly didn't even feel that comfortable snogging."
"In Ron's defense, he didn't know how to go about any of this stuff either," Ginny said.
Pansy leaned back in surprise. "Ron was a virgin?"
Ginny and Hermione nodded. "He wasn't really all that emotionally attached to Lavender," Ginny said. "My brother may be a bit of a, well, guy sometimes, but he's not an utter bastard."
Pansy merely said, "Oh."
Hermione noticed Ginny give Pansy a look. "Wait. What do you mean 'was' a virgin?" Ginny asked.
It was Pansy's turn to blush and stutter.
"Oh my- I knew there was something different about you two!" Ginny exclaimed.
Hermione chuckled along with Valerie. "When did that happen?" Hermione asked.
Pansy shrugged her shoulders in a shy manner. "Christmas break?"
"Oh gross. No offense Pansy, but that's my brother." Ginny shuddered.
Oddly, Pansy turned to Hermione. "It doesn't bother you, does it?"
"Why should it bother me?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"Well, you and Ron did date."
Hermione gave Pansy a reassuring pat on the arm. "Pansy, there's nothing between Ron and I, not like that. That's why we broke up. Like I said, we didn't even really snog because it felt a little weird. I think of him more like my brother more than anything."
Pansy gave her a thankful smile, then turned to Valerie. "I take it you knew already?"
"I debated it. Your thoughts are a little more tightly kept than everyone else's, though, so I don't hear you as much. If I concentrated on you, I could've probably figured out. As things are, it's hard to tell if something is an actual memory or if you're just imagining things like a normal person. I take it you're strong at Occlumency and Legilimency?"
Pansy seemed to shrink in on herself a bit. "My, um, my parents had me practice quite a bit. You know. In case someone tried to find out our secrets or something."
A somber silence settled over the group for a moment before Pansy broke it.
"If it helps Hermione, Draco doesn't know what he's doing either," Pansy said, pushing the talk back towards Hermione and away from that of her dead parents.
Hermione gave the girl a look. "Draco's not a virgin."
Pansy shook her head. "No. But you're the first girl he's been in a genuine relationship with. He's had sex, yes, but he hasn't had sex," Pansy emphasized.
Hermione thought about it. "But wasn't he with Daphne Greengrass in Sixth year?"
"That was more of a business arrangement." Pansy gave an awkward smile. "Stress relief type of thing."
Oh. Right. Draco and Sixth year. It would make sense he'd need some sort of relief from that year, and she knew from reading that sex was actually great for relieving stress. She didn't blame Draco for trying to find something else to focus his mind on.
"Well…how exactly did you all go about it in your relationships? Did you just come out and start talking about sex?" Hermione asked the other girls.
Pansy took a drink of her tea. "Well. Ron and I didn't really plan for it to happen. It just kind of happened. But we talked things through afterward, to make sure of one another."
Hermione turned to Ginny. Ginny tapped a finger on her mug and pursed her lips, considering. "Harry and I. We, well, we started to have things happen once." She took a drink. "But we discovered we weren't exactly ready at that time, so we talked things through. We didn't want our relationship to just be, you know, a product of the ending of the war. We were both happy we were alive, but we didn't want that to be the only thing fueling our relationship, so we waited."
That made Hermione feel a little better. She didn't want to feel like a freak for not being ready for going there yet.
Ginny turned to Valerie with a thoughtful look. "You know, I don't even know if you've ever been in a relationship before, let alone had sex with someone.
Valerie shrugged. "I had a few boyfriends when I was human, if you could call them that. But I didn't lose my virginity until I became Queen."
"Oh?" Ginny asked, clearly wanting to know more.
Valerie gave her an amused look. "His name's Lincoln. We're not remotely in love, but I am very fond of him. He's part of my Monarch guardsmen, as well as a trusted advisor. He's also one of my closest friends."
"Lincoln…" Hermione thought. "Wasn't that the name of the Vampire you were with at Samhain?"
Valerie opened her mouth, but didn't answer for a moment. "Yes," she said after a bit. "Lincoln is technically considered my Consort."
"Consort?" Pansy asked. "That sounds, that sounds like it has a capital letter."
"It's an official title, yes," Valerie said. "When I first started out as Queen, people were rather reluctant to accept me, so my Chairmen suggested I take a Consort. It's kind of an old tradition with the Vampires."
"I didn't know you were seeing someone," Hermione said. She felt a bit guilty that she hadn't known, or bothered to ask.
Valerie shook her head. "Lincoln and I aren't together. We never really have been. His title as Consort is just that; a title. We haven't done anything since my first year as Queen, and even then it was very few times."
"But I thought –" Ginny started and then abruptly cut herself off. Ginny shook her head at Valerie's questioning look.
Valerie turned back to Hermione slowly, giving Ginny a lingering look.
"The point is, back then most of my time was spent trying to figure out how the hell I was supposed to be Queen. I was away on official business a lot, and Lincoln was a constant presence. And I didn't think I had a chance with anyone who wasn't a Vampire. Then add on the fact that people thought we were together anyway, we decided what the hell? We talked it out. And when we decided we weren't ever going to be IN love with one another but wanted to continue with the façade of him as my Consort, we talked about it then, too."
Hermione thought of the moment in the hallway. She was okay with how far they went, and it certainly seemed like Draco wouldn't have minded if they'd gone further. But he also said he wasn't going to push her into anything, several times in fact. And he hadn't. But she also didn't want him to feel like he had to do anything he wasn't ready for. They had talked about waiting, but they hadn't so much talked about what would happen when they WERE ready. Which was okay for some people, but Hermione knew herself. She needed to have things talked and known about in order for her to feel comfortable.
She knew losing one's virginity didn't matter to someone, and that was okay. But for her, she considered it a big deal. What would it mean? Would things be different after? She just didn't want to scare Draco away with the fact that she needed to know.
"If you're don't feel like you're ready, then don't rush into things." Ginny told her. "You have to make sure you're both comfortable. You need to communicate so that there aren't any misunderstandings. But don't let what anyone else expects affect your decision. You don't ever have to have sex with him if you don't want to. And if he has a problem with that, that's his loss.
She felt ridiculous for making it such a big deal. She'd thought she'd be more ready since they'd been dating for some time. Looking around at her friends, though, she knew she wasn't being ridiculous though. And if anything happened, they'd be there.
Hermione made her decision.
"Besides," Valerie started with her signature smirk. "Nothing could go wrong between you and Draco that was as bad as the time Felix lost HIS virginity."
Hermione laughed and both Ginny and Pansy leaned forward with vulgar interest.
"Oh really. What happened?" Ginny asked with mirth in her eyes.
"Well, it all started when Felix's dad got a business partner who happened to have a rather pretty daughter….."