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Chapter Three

Once Hermione got home from Harry’s secluded house she was shivering in fear and had to make herself a cup of tea to try and soothe her nerves. Hermione knew that she and Draco weren’t friends, but at least he didn’t make her feel threatened in a very personal way. She was ready to begin her research and be around him again.

Especially in his highly protected home.

She was going to keep what happened with Harry to herself, though, because she really didn’t have anyone to talk to about it and didn’t need Draco making her feel like an idiot about the whole thing. She did ask him something that may have alerted him to something being wrong, though, but she didn’t elaborate.

“Draco?”

He raised an eyebrow at her and she thought this must be his way of asking, “what, you annoying little bint?”

“If you don’t hear from me for a few days, please just apparate directly into my flat to make sure I’m alright.”

Draco put down the papers he was reading and gave Hermione a sharp look.

“Why?”

“Just do this one thing for me, okay? I’ll leave a note whenever I’m leaving, but if you don’t hear from me or I’m not around to come research, something has happened. You’ll have to go to my apartment to get the note that will always be on my kitchen table. I’ll change my wards to accept you.”

That’s how scared of Harry Hermione was; to ask Draco Malfoy to take it upon himself to enter her flat and make sure she was alive.

He was looking at her like she was insane, but she didn’t care.

“Who’s trying to hurt you, Granger?”

Hermione shook her head at him and threw herself back into her research, going over family trees from the families she had decided to track. They did this for another few days before she had finally had them all mapped out on a large piece of parchment, similarities from each tree pointed out with different coloured inks.

“I’ve noticed something,” Hermione started, carrying her large piece of parchment over to Draco, “Every family member that has branched out and married a half-blood, muggle-born, or even muggle, have had children with no problems. Look here, Harfang Longbottom’s son, Piers, married a muggle-born witch, and they have had four children without a single stillborn or miscarriage.”

Draco reached for the parchment with long fingers and studied it closely, inspecting all of the lines on five different family trees. “And it isn’t just with the Longbottom family either, so it seems as though our suspicions are right. Pure-bloods are being affected for some reason, but we just don’t know why.”

“It could be so many different factors, Draco. I don’t even know how we’re going to start narrowing them down.”

They got along so much better when they were researching.

Hermione looked defeated for a moment, but her vigour returned quickly and she grinned, almost startling Draco. “Luckily for us, I’m a fact person, so I’ll be able to narrow the factors down with time. Although I may need different books, and I know this is one of the biggest libraries in Britain, but I’ve noticed that there aren’t any new books here…”

“My father was the one who always made sure that the books were kept up to date, and with everything that I’ve been doing I just haven’t had the time.”

Hermione gave him a small smile, totally understanding. “I’m thinking about ordering in a few books. I have a few older ones on my shelves about Wizarding genetics, but I haven’t looked at them and I’ve been holding off so I could focus on the family trees. I was thinking I would check them out Saturday at the store sometime; I don’t want to take them because they’re the only ones I have and I only get orders in once every two weeks, so I’ll have to wait for the new ones.”

“Sounds good, if I’m not busy I’ll accompany you.”

Hermione had opened her mouth to answer when Tippy suddenly appeared in front of them, “Master Blaise is at the gates, Master Draco.”

“Thank you, Tippy, allow him entrance, please.”

Hermione watched Tippy disappear and turned startled eyes to Draco.

“Should I be here… when Zabini comes in?”

“Why not?”

“Well… I don’t know.”

“Granger, if you can spend time with me then I think you can handle Blaise. He was always indifferent to you, not brutal to you like I was.”

“I know I just… I didn’t know if he knew what we were doing.”

“He doesn’t, really. I don’t want to get his hopes up.”

“So isn’t he going to wonder why I’m standing here in your library?”

Draco pulled out his wand and did a complicated movement with it, causing all of the books they had been researching to fly back into their respective spots on the shelves. Hermione’s pieces of parchment all rolled themselves up and landed in the drawers of the desks, hiding them from view.

“We’ll just say that you’re here to hang out and we’re having dinner.”

Before Hermione could object, Blaise entered the library.

“Hey, mate, I was wondering what…”

His words died as soon as his eyes landed on Hermione, who was standing a little to Draco’s right.

“Granger?” He asked, incredulously.

“Good evening, Blaise,” Hermione said, trying to be casual but feeling somewhat anxious with this situation. Hermione and Draco weren’t friends.

They weren’t!

This would change that perspective to other people though, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She never answered Freya and Clementine’s questions about what she was doing with Draco Malfoy every afternoon, but her two employees had seen their interactions enough to be able to figure out on their own that Hermione and Draco hated each other.

Didn’t have supressed sexual feelings toward one another, like Freya tried to convince her two days ago.

Definitely not.

Hermione totally understood why Draco didn’t want to inform Blaise of what they were doing, since he had recently lost a child it would be so incredibly easy to get his hopes up. Neither Draco nor Hermione wanted to be the person responsible for breaking his resolve if their research didn’t pan out.

Blaise looked as though he had just been punched hard in the face, he was standing still, gaping at Hermione without blinking.

“What was it you were going to say, Blaise?” Draco asked, catching his friend’s attention. He turned from Hermione and looked at Draco, stunned.

“What?”

“You were going to ask me something, I think.”

“Oh! Yes, I was just coming to see what you were doing for dinner tonight, because Astoria went over to visit her parents…”

“We were just talking about dinner, actually. What did you have in mind?”

Draco was treating the entire situation like it was totally natural; something that happened on an everyday occasion, and Hermione could tell that seeing her there had totally knocked Blaise out of his stride.

Draco was an amazing actor.

“I- well, whatever you think is best.”

Hermione was feeling increasingly awkward, but Draco’s fluidity and attitude to the entire situation was helping Hermione keep herself together.

“Sure, let’s go down to the kitchens and see what the elves have in mind.”

Blaise jerked his head in an awkward manner and turned around, when his back was to them Draco grinned at Hermione, obviously reveling in the awkward situation at hand.

“Should I just go?” Hermione asked quietly as they were walking down the flight of stairs. Blaise was already in the hallway leading to the kitchens.

“Don’t be absurd.”

“I’m not being absurd! This is awkward!”

“Life is awkward, Granger, get used to it.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Hermione said weakly, fiddling with the bottom of her tank top that read “Are you kitten me right now?” and had whiskers and a nose on it. She was concentrating on not tripping over her black heeled sandals that had a large flower at the toes.

Draco almost snorted, and looked at Hermione like she was an idiot who needed to come up with better comebacks, but she was way too nervous for that.

“He’s already seen you here, so if you just disappear that would seem strange. We’ll have dinner and then Blaise will go and I’ll escort you home.”

“Tippy made roast with all the fixings,” the house elf said as they entered the kitchen, gesturing toward the formal dining room, since there was an actual guest here. Draco had already instructed the elves that when Hermione was around they would just eat at the nook, but he hadn’t said anything about other friends.

“I think I should just leave,” she said quietly, her stomach rolling at the thought of eating a meal in that room.

“Go ahead, Blaise. We’ll be right in.” Draco waited until Blaise was out of the room before turning toward Hermione, “If you leave now, Blaise is going to be suspicious, since I just told him ten minutes ago that you were here for dinner. I know you aren’t daft, Granger, so try and work it out in your head next time.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him.

“I’m not a child, Malfoy, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t treat me like one.”

“Then stop acting like one,” He said, holding the door open for Hermione to pass through, which she did with her head held high.

So much for Draco understanding Hermione’s hesitation to be anywhere near the dining room.

Ponce.

The group of three made small talk as the elves served them and Hermione did everything in her power to keep herself focused on her meal; she didn’t want to look around this room at all and cause any memory flash backs or anxiety attacks.

Blaise still looked flustered and continued to give Hermione strange looks and she caught him staring at her shirt more than once. Maybe he didn’t understand humour on clothes, but he looked confused and was staring at the whiskers regularly.

“I’m sure this is a little unexpected,” Draco started suddenly, and Blaise made a noise, “but Hermione and I have been friends for a while now.”

Hermione snorted in a very unladylike manner and Draco shot her a sneer, which she again tried to imitate.

“How? I mean how did this happen, no offense, Granger, but I hadn’t thought about you in years, and Draco hadn’t said a word about you either.”

“We just ran into each other one day,” Hermione started, hoping that speaking would distract her mind from the room they were in, “after that we decided to try our hand at a friendship, and so far it’s been really great,” she hoped she was convincing Blaise because she really wasn’t convincing herself. What she would really like to do is smack Draco upside his perfectly coiffed head before storming out of the house, at the moment.

“So… you’re friends?”

“Yes, Blaise,” Draco said, “friends. We hang out, have dinner, talk.”

Hermione tried to imitate Draco’s look of acceptance and hoped she was doing a good job, and then she thought she should maybe stop trying to copy his facial expressions, because that could very well be something that she may unknowingly project on other people.

She supposed they were kind of friends, so it wasn’t really a lie, even though they bickered more than anything else; she spent more time with him than she did with anyone else, so that had to mean something. Even though she sometimes found herself fantasizing about leaning in to kiss him, just to shut him up.

Only because he argued with her about everything possible unless they were researching.

That was definitely the only reason.

“Okay,” Blaise said easily, before turning the conversation to the latest Quidditch match, where apparently one of the Beater’s on the French team wacked a Chaser across the face with his beaters bat on purpose, knocking the Chaser unconscious and causing him to fall fifty feet from his broom. He was in the hospital.

Hermione rolled her eyes the second Blaise brought the subject up. Why were men only able to talk about Quidditch? She focused on her meal again, trying to keep frightening things out of her mind. She looked up after a few minutes of staring at her plate without moving at all, to see that Draco and Blaise were both watching her closely, Blaise staring at the whiskers on her shirt again.

“Sorry?” she asked, figuring that someone was asking her a question.

“I asked how Potter and Weasley are doing,” Blaise said, finally looking up from her shirt.

“Oh- I- well- they’re probably doing alright, I guess,” Hermione answered, now trying to keep Harry’s blazing, irrationally angry, emerald eyes out of her mind.

“Are you okay?” Blaise asked, sitting forward, “You just went really pale.”

“Fine,” Hermione squeaked, trying with all of her might to avoid Draco’s eyes, because as far as she was concerned, he was the one at fault for making her enter the stupid dining room to have an uncomfortable dinner in the first place. She was about to drown in bad memories and scary thoughts about new situations, and there was no one to keep her above water.

“Granger?” Draco said, and Hermione’s eyes snapped up to cool grey ones, watching her closely. “Get it together,” he said, not unkindly, and Hermione nodded while using all of her willpower to keep tears out of her eyes.

Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini did not need to see her cry.

The two men continued to talk about things that Hermione had no interest in, and after she ate a few mouthfuls of potatoes she found that she just couldn’t not look around anymore.

She was fine until her eyes travelled upwards toward the chandelier, and she really didn’t understand why the damn thing had such a negative effect on her; in all reality the floor should have been her undoing.

Tears started pooling her eyes, but she didn’t notice them because all she could see was the chandelier crashing down onto her prone position on the floor. Hermione saw Bellatrix Lestrange in the corner, cackling madly, while Harry and Ron stampeded into the room like Hippogriffs with their arses on fire. A small fight broke out and Hermione wasn’t very aware of what was going on around her, but she felt gentle hands lift her up and pull her out of the wreckage from the giant crystal chandelier that had just crushed her.

She gasped in pain from being jostled around, even though the person was trying to be gentle with her, but her bones were broken and there was nothing they could do but get her to safety.

Hermione’s hand jumped to her neck where the nasty scar adorned it, and she looked down to see what the pressure on her leg was.

Draco’s hand, to her surprise, was squeezing her thigh gently. She shook her head to rid her mind of the images invading it, and she thought she may have been imagining Draco’s soft voice in her ear.

“Ignore it,” he said quietly, “just look at me, Hermione.”

She started to take deeper breaths and lifted her eyes to meet Draco’s gaze.

“That’s it, just look at me and breathe.”

Hermione closed her eyes for a moment, and while they were closed Draco gestured at Blaise, indicating that he wanted everyone to get out of the room.

Her trembling slowed down and tears abated, and she was beginning to feel embarrassed about the circumstances. If they just hadn’t eaten in that bloody room, nothing would have been a problem and Blaise wouldn’t have her pegged as a nutter now; as he surely had.

Draco dropped his hand from her thigh, and Hermione was a little bit chagrined at the loss of pressure and the heat it caused in her body.

Only because it was so comforting.

Yeah.

Hermione realized Blaise wasn’t in the room anymore and Draco was standing beside her chair, obviously waiting for her to stand up.  She did, and Draco placed his hand on her arm, causing goosebumps to break out on her bare skin.

Not something she was expecting at all.

They walked in silence out of the room and into the adjacent kitchens.

“Is miss okay?” squeaked Flippy, another house elf that was employed at the manor.

“Bring her a Chamomile tea please, one lump of sugar and a small splash of cream. It should help calm her down.”

“What’s happening?” Blaise asked, obviously more than just a little confused, and slightly annoyed that he was kicked out of the room before the other two came out. He didn’t want to miss the action of Draco Malfoy snogging Hermione Granger.

Gossip of the year, right there.

“I’m fine,” Hermione sighed, gingerly accepting the mug of tea from Flippy the house elf.

“It’s that damned room,” Draco snarled, “I knew we shouldn’t have even tried to eat in there.”

“Well I don’t know why you forced me in there then,” Hermione growled back, her sudden change of demeanor catching both men off guard.

“What happened in that room?” Blaise asked, suddenly looking wary.

“It doesn’t matter,” Draco said shortly, and Blaise did not appreciate being spoken to like that by his best friend.

“Obviously it does,” he countered, not willing to just drop the subject.

“I was captured during the war and brought to Malfoy Manor, Zabini. The only room I remember in this house is that one, and that’s where Bellatrix Lestrange… had her way with me, for lack of better wording.”

“You were tortured there?”

“Yes, and for whatever reason, Draco thought it would be fine for us to eat there, even though I tried to refuse.”

“I was trying to help you get over it!”

Blaise winced and Hermione’s face reddened with anger.

“Get over it?” she repeated in a murderously low tone, her eyes narrowing.

Draco stood up suddenly and stalked away, his hands jammed into his pockets and his shoulders slightly hunched. Hermione thought it was a damn good time for him to leave the room before she lost it and exploded. Blaise stood to the side a little bit, getting out of Hermione’s direct line of sight in case she wanted someone to yell at, now that Draco had fled.

He could see the raised scar on her neck perfectly from this angle and winced a little bit, knowing it had to have something to do with the situation. Especially since her hand kept jumping up to touch it.

Draco came slamming back into the kitchen and strode forward angrily until he was directly in front of Hermione, and Blaise moved forward just as Hermione flinched back when Draco grabbed her wrist and flung her arm away from her neck.

“Stop it,” he growled, and then looked ashamed when he realized that both Hermione and Blaise thought he was going to hit her.

He held his hands up in surrender, both palms facing forward while he backed off a little bit.

“I wouldn’t hit you,” he stated dumbly.

Hermione shrugged, she didn’t have the energy to argue with him right now.

“I’m sorry I made you go in there, okay? I just thought that since you have already been in there once since you started coming around that it wouldn’t have been as bad this time. I was obviously mistaken.”

“I told you I didn’t want to.”

“I know that,” Draco yelled, and then turned his head to the side and said, “I know that, and I apologize,” much quieter, as though his loud voice had started him as well as everyone else in the room.

“Apology accepted,” Hermione said, smiling brightly because she could not remember a time when Draco had ever apologized to anyone for anything, other than their first contact with each other. “Prat,” she added, and Blaise laughed.

“Scrubber,” Blaise’s laugh cut off immediately and he stifled a gasp.

“Plonker.”

“Shrew.”

“Nancy.”

“Is this normal for you two?” Blaise cut in before Draco could reply.

“Yes,” they said in unison, and then both laughed and the air was cleared, while Blaise stood by and shook his head slightly.

They all moved to the breakfast nook, and when Blaise brought up the subject, because apparently he just had to know, Hermione didn’t feel too awkward or awful about explaining it to him.

“When I was captured I was brought here, like I said before, and I had the misfortune to meet Bellatrix Lestrange. She tortured me, and I’m not going to go into details about it, but she did.”

“And that bloody chandelier,” Draco cut in, and Hermione glared at him so he shut his mouth for once.

She was almost tempted to kiss him, again, and was glad when he shut his mouth on his own accord so she didn’t have to do it for him.

“What about it?” Blaise asked, looking incredibly curious. He directed his question to Draco so Hermione sighed and sat back, letting him pick up the story.

“It fell from the ceiling and my lovely aunt threw Hermione to the floor right underneath its descent, causing it to land right on top of her. I honestly wasn’t sure, by the time she had escaped, if she was going to live.”

“I wasn’t either,” Hermione said, “But Fleur Delacour worked wonders on me, because that’s where we fled to, and after a few weeks of pain and weakness on my part, I was set straight.”

“Fleur the Veela? I didn’t realize you were friends.”

“Well… she married Bill Weasley, so I was around her all the time.”

Blaise laughed, “Fleur married a Weasley?”

“She did. The summer of our sixth year and it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen. Anyway, she healed me, kept me safe and away from St. Mungo’s. We have a kinship, of sorts. Or used to, anyway.”

“You don’t see her anymore either?” Draco asked, realizing just how alone Hermione had been for the last few years.

“I haven’t seen any of the Weasley’s, other than the occasional visit from Ron and Ginny, in about four years.”

“It’s strange that you’re here, Hermione,” Blaise started, tentatively, “I was just telling Astoria that we would have to go to my ten year class reunion sometime next year and it would be strange to see everyone grown up. She made a joke about how you, Potter and Weasley were probably still inseparable.”

“I honestly don’t remember an Astoria…”

“She’s a few years younger than us but her sister was in our year.”

“Dora?”

Blaise laughed and Draco smirked, “Daphne,” Draco corrected.

Hermione snapped her fingers, “I knew it was something that started with a ‘D’. And how is she doing, Blaise?”

“She’s okay, she married right after the war, some half-blood who was a few years older than us; Theodore Wickham.”

Hermione met Draco’s eyes at this statement, and he gave an almost imperceptible nod, knowing what her questioning look was about.

Yes, Daphne has children, he seemed to be saying.

Hermione yawned.

“I’ll get you home,” Draco said quickly, standing up and going to her side of the table. She smiled up at him then, and Blaise was almost dazzled by the look passing between the two. He didn’t think that either of them realized the pulses of emotion they were laying out for the other so obviously, but he wasn’t about to comment on his friends relationships. Especially since Draco clearly didn’t even want Blaise to know that he was dating Hermione, for whatever reason.

They looked great together.

Hermione stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Draco like it was the most natural thing in the world, and Draco reciprocated, holding her tightly to his body and resting his chin on top of her head in a rare show of comfort. Blaise thought they were just randomly embracing before he saw them turn on the spot and disappear.

Hermione had obviously been spending a lot of time in the manor with Draco, and Blaise definitely had questions for the blond haired man.

First on the list?

How long have they been sleeping together?

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