Chapter Twenty:

"And now we're starting over again, it's not easiest thing to do. I'm feeling inside again, everytime I look at you..." Starting over again by Natalie Cole

"Where have you been? I thought you'll just be gone for a few minutes, it's been a bloody hour!"

Draco plopped down beside his fuming cousin, "I did what I came here to do," he replied smugly.

Luci's eyes widened in surprise, "You did? How did it go?"

"I saw her while I was taking my walk. I went to her and pretty much forced her to talk."

She blinked a few times and seemed to be digesting what he just said. After a few beats, a beautiful smile curled on her lips. "You did not!" she said, her voice full of glee.

"I just did," he confirmed.

"Let's toast to that," she said as she lifted her glass towards him.

He leaned forward and grabbed his goblet from the table, "To second chances," he announced.

She carefully tipped her glass towards him, "To love," she added.

He moved his goblet to his lips, his eyes straying towards Hermione. "To love," he repeated lowly.

"I think I should go home," Hermione whispered towards Ginny.

"It's still early," Ginny pouted.

She shifted on her seat, "I just - I can't stop thinking about Blaise. I feel so guilty; I'm no longer enjoying this party."

Ginny turned towards her, "Don't feel guilty about following your heart. You've waited for this for Merlin knows how long, you have every right to be happy," she chided. She then emptied her drink and placed it on top of the table, "I'll tell Harry that were leaving, give me 5 minutes," she said as she stood up.

She grabbed Ginny's arm, "There's no need for that; you two can stay. I'll just use the floo so I don't have to walk to the gates."

"Are you sure? I really don't mind, I'm sure Harry feels the same way too."

She stood up from her seat and threw the red head an assuring smile, "I'm 100% sure. You stay here, I'll go find Harry and Ron and tell them myself."

Ginny pulled her into a tight hug and kissed her cheek. "Goodnight, we'll talk tomorrow. Don't worry your pretty head about it too much; things would work themselves out - eventually."

"I'll try my best, goodnight," she said as she pulled away. She then spun on her heels and made her way towards her other best friends. She stopped at Harry's back and tapped him on the shoulder, "Harry," she called out.

Harry turned around, "Hey gorgeous," he said with a huge grin.

"I have to go, I'm calling it early. I already told Gin."

The grin on Harry's face vanished and was instantly replaced with concern, "Are you feeling alright? Did something happen?"

"No, everything is fine. I'm just tired," she replied. She then gestured towards the double doors, "I'm going to floo home, I'll talk to you soon," she added.

"I really can't convince you to stay?"

She took a step back and shook her head, "Nope," she replied.

"Hey, what are you two talking about?"

She turned her face to the side and saw Ron looking at her with furrowed brows, "I'm going home," she replied.

"This early? But we just got here," Lavender said just as she appeared at Ron's side.

She threw the other witch an apologetic smile, "I know and I'm sorry about that, I'm just really tired and want nothing more than to crawl under my comforter and sleep."

Harry wrapped his arm around her shoulders, "Signs of aging," he deadpanned.

Ron nodded solemnly, "You're right, she older than us, after all."

She slapped Harry's chest with the back of her hand, "Stuff it, wonder boy," she paused and turned her narrowed eyes at her other best friend. "You too, not a word," she added.

Ron copied Harry's stance and tucked Lavender to his side, "Fine," he replied.

"I better go," she said as she pulled away from Harry. "I'll see you guys soon," she said with a wave. She then turned on her heels and started padding towards the door, "Bye!"

Draco watched Hermione's back disappear from the door, "I guess she's going home," he said.

"Thank Merlin!" Luci exclaimed with an exaggerated sigh of relief. She gathered her dress with her hand and gracefully stood up, "We should head out too, these heels are killing me."

He tapped his hands on his thighs before jumping out of his seat, "Let's call it a night then."

Hermione's Flat:

The next morning, Hermione woke up with a loud tapping sound on her window. She turned to her side and buried her face into her pillow, trying muffle the annoying sound. When the noise didn't stop, she threw the covers off her body and stomped towards the window. She yanked it open and scowled at the owl, "Hold your tail feathers, I'm here," she grumbled. She untied the parchment off its scrawny leg and shoved some owl treats on the ledge. "There you go, thank you," she said moodily before turning on her heels. She stared at her rumpled bed longingly, "No sense going back now that I'm up," she sighed. She then took a detour to her left and walked out of her room. She threw the rolled parchment on top of the breakfast bar and grabbed her kettle. She filled it with water while trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes. She shifted towards the stove and placed the kettle top of it. She was reaching for her tea tin when her phone started ringing from living room, "What the hell is wrong with this morning? Why do people keep on bothering me?" she lamented. She let her arm drop and traced her step back to the living room. She slumped on the couch and grabbed the offending device, "Hullo?"

"Good morning!"

She winced and pulled the phone a fraction, "You really don't have to shout, Gin. I can hear you perfectly fine," she replied.

"Oh, I'm sorry, love. I'm still getting a hang of this fellytone. It's just so bloody weird hearing your voice without seeing you."

"It's telephone, not fellytone," she corrected with a chuckle. She then relaxed back on her perch and adjusted the phone closer, "So, why are you calling me this early?

"What do you mean? You told me last night that we'll talk today!"

She rolled her eyes, "Yes, I did, but I didn't expect to hear from you this early."

"Oh okay, did I wake you up?"

"The ruddy owl did, so you're good."

"An owl? From whom?" Ginny asked, excitement evident in her tone.

"I really haven't gotten the chance to check it yet."

"Open it - oooohhh, maybe it's from Draco!"

Her head snapped towards the breakfast, her heart pounding a little bit faster.

"Hermione? Are you still there - Hullo?"

"I - I haven't thought about that," she admitted.

"Well, what are you waiting for then? Check it!"

She lifted her hand and summoned the parchment with a flick of her wrist. She watched the letter zoom towards her with anticipation, her blood humming with excitement. She grabbed it mid air and started untying the string, "Wait, I'm opening it," she said.

"Hurry!"

She paused when she noticed the deep purple wax seal emblazoned with a "Z". She tucked the phone between her ear and shoulder and slowly unrolled it, "It's from Blaise, not Draco," she said as read the note.

"What did he say?" Ginny asked, her voice more subdued and borderline disappointed.

"He wants to talk to me," she replied. She folded the parchment and gripped it with her hand, "He's in Italy right now, but he'll be back by the end of next week - this is not good," she sighed.

"What's not good? Did he say something there?"

"Not directly, but he only goes to Italy when he's upset."

"Oh."

She let her head drop at the back of the couch and closed her eyes, "I think he heard us, I just know it."

"He'll find out about you and Dray, that's something you cannot shelter him from. Besides, he's a big bloke, I'm sure he can handle it."

"I know, it's just - he shouldn't have found out about it that way."

"It was his fault, he was eavesdropping. That conversation was clearly not for his ears, but he still listened," Ginny harrumphed.

"I know, but that doesn't make me feel less guilty," she replied sulkily.

"Well, there's really no sense dwelling on things we cannot change. Next week, you will go talk to him and lay it all out in the open. Blaise is a levelled headed man, I'm sure he won't judge you. He might be put off and a little bit hurt, but it was your business, not his. If you decided not to tell him about your past, then he cannot fault you for that. And to be fair, you didn't ask him about his past too, so I say breakeven."

She mulled over Ginny's words and found truth in them. They might be closer now, but that doesn't mean he has to be privy to her past relationships. And besides, he didn't ask, why would he expect her to tell him? She opened her eyes and sat up, "You're right, I'll just talk to him and explain what he heard," she replied with more conviction.

"Great, now, why don't we talk about something pleasant, are you and Dray back together?"

The corner of her lips automatically arched up, just as the butterflies inside her tummy made its presence known. "Not exactly," she admitted.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Exactly what I just said, we're not exactly together but we'll be trying again."

"Hmmmnnnnn..."

"What?"

"I'm just curious."

"About?"

"You love him and he just told you last night that he loves you too. You two waited for years, why on earth are you still torturing yourself by prolonging something that you both know is inevitable?"

She adjusted the phone as a sigh escaped her lips, "I honestly don't know, Gin. I want to, but for some reason, I can't help but feel that something is holding me back."

A few seconds passed with silence, "You're scared," Ginny said.

"I think I am," she blurted out. She then pulled her legs up and hugged it to her chest, "I gave my whole heart to him and he made me so happy, Gin. But when things fell apart, not only did he shatter me - he also took those broken pieces with him and left me nothing. I was beyond repair and I almost took my own life, that's how that love reduced me to. And as much as I am over the moon that he's back in my life, I can't just dive back into it because I can't survive another heartache like that again."

"Oh, sweetheart."

She placed her arm on top of her knees and rested her forehead on top of it, "I'm still a mess, I know it."

"You're not and nobody can blame you for being extra cautious."

She nodded, even though she knew Ginny can't see her.

"How about Blaise? Do you feel anything for him?"

She knocked her head to her arm, her eyes closed shut. "That's another thing; I think that's one of the main reasons why I'm trying to keep Dray at arm's length."

"Oh my Merlin," Ginny gasped.

"Before Draco came back, I know I'm feeling a tiny bit attracted to him. Blaise is a good man, Gin, and I know you know that too," she said defensively.

"I know, argh! This is all Draco's fault - that prat! If he didn't stay out too long and just found the balls to fix things with you, then you wouldn't be in this preposterous predicament," Ginny gripped, her famous Weasley temper resurfacing.

She let out a humourless chuckle, "It's my fault too. If I hadn't been a bloody coward and broke things off, then we would have been together for years."

"Yeah, but Draco should've tried his hardest and convinced you to stay, I bet you would've caved in."

"I highly doubt that, you know how I was then," she said dryly. "We're both stupid, I guess," she added.

"Understatement of the century," Ginny said with a laugh. "But don't worry; I'm quite sure that things would work out for you three soon."

"I'll keep that in mind, let's just hope that I don't lose my sanity in the process," she joked.

"Sane? Whoever said you were?" Ginny teased.

"Ha, ha, ha - funny, really," she said with thick sarcasm.

"Hermione Jane Granger and Draco Malfoy, the star crossed lover's saga - now playing," Ginny taunted.

She burst into fits of giggles, "You're crazy but I still love you."

"I love you too, now I have to go before my husband burns this place down with his cooking prowess."

"I won't keep you then, we both know how that would turn out," she replied with a giggle. "Thank you for brightening my day, you're the best."

"I know, what would you do without me?" Ginny quipped. "I really have to go, bye!"

"Bye!" she replied. She placed the phone back on the cradle and stood up. She was almost half way back to the kitchen when it rang again. She rolled her eyes and quickly walked back, snatching the phone from the receiver. "I thought you were preventing Golden Boy from killing you all, what now?"

"Well, I'd love to do that, but then again I don't live with him," a distinct male voice said.

Her heart started to cartwheel inside her chest, knocking the air out of her lungs. "I - I'm sorry, but who's this?" she asked, even though she already knew the answer.

"Forget about me already?"

"D - draco?"

"You're one and only," Draco replied. "Why do you sound so surprise?"

She sat down on the armrest of the couch, "How did you get my number? And most importantly, how on Merlin's beard did you know how to use the telephone?" she asked with a mixture of incredulity and delight.

"I have my ways."

"You mean, you have connections," she quipped. She wrapped her fingers around the cord to distract herself from letting her nerves take over, "So, err - what did you want?"

"Did I catch you at a bad time?" he paused and cleared his throat. "Are you not happy to hear from me?" he asked, his voice tinged with a bit of hurt.

"No and I am happy to hear from you, I'm just curious," she replied with a placating tone.

"Oh okay," he replied, his voice more relaxed. "I called because I want to ask you out on a date."

Her eyes strayed towards the window, "You want to have a date on broad daylight?"

"Yes, let's have BRUNCH."

"Really?"

"Really. Are you free today?"

A small smile curled on her lips, "What if I say I'm not?" she challenged.

"Is that true or you're just being difficult?"

"Are you pouting?" she asked with a chuckle.

"I'm not pouting and Malfoy's don't pout," he huffed.

"Whatever," she said between giggles.

"But we do know how to whine, having said that, Hermiooooneeeee, come on - let's have BRUNCH."

"That's an understatement, I could remember you saying," she pause to clear her throat. "My Father would hear about-"

"Hush! I don't want to be reminded of that," he interjected. "And just because of that, I won't take no for an answer. I'll be picking you up in an hour."

"Pick me up? You don't even know where I live."

"Like what you said, connections, love. I still have them," he chuckled.

"You really have to curve your stalker tendencies, it's really weird," she chided. She then stood up from her perch and turned her eyes to the cuckoo clock on the wall, "It's just quarter past 9, isn't that too early for BRUNCH?"

"We don't have to eat right away. We could just use the extra time to catch up; don't you want to spend time with me?"

She gnawed at her bottom lip and considered his words, "Fine," she blurted out after a few seconds. "Pick me up at quarter past 10."

"Yes, Ma'am. I'll see you in a few then?"

"Yes, now I have to go so I can prepare."

"Alright, I love you."

She cracked a large grin, "I know."

"What? No I love you too?" he whined.

"Geeze! You're so childish! I love you too, happy now?"

"I know you do, but I just want to hear it. I'm going to go now, bye!"

She waited for the line to drop before placing the phone back to the cradle. She plopped down on the couch, her head still reeling with what just happened. "I have a date with Draco," she mumbled before she grabbed one of the throw pillows to muffle her girly squeals.

Malfoy Manor:

"Why is my son so happy today?" Narcissa asked as she took her seat at the head of the table.

"Good morning, Mum. How's your night?" Draco asked, deflecting her question.

"It was wonderful, but enough about me, I'm asking about you. What got you smiling so beautifully this morning?"

Draco tried to tamp down his glee, but he's failing miserably. He grabbed his tea and took a generous sip, "Nothing, I just love mornings."

Narcissa raised a brow as she draped a napkin on her lap, "You're not a morning person, love, so just tell me and I'll stop badgering you."

He opened his mouth to refute her claims but he knew he was busted. He just moved the cup back to his lips and took another sip.

Narcissa chuckled at his display, "When do I meet her?"

He felt the tea go down the wrong pipe, making him cough and sputter.

Narcissa didn't seem daunted; she pushed a napkin his way before picking up her cutlery.

"You knew?" he asked, his eyes round with disbelief.

"Of course, I've always known that you were in love with Ms. Granger - for a long time, I might add."

"You knew it was her all along and you're not-"

"I don't care about her birthright. As long as she makes you happy, then that's more than enough for me," Narcissa said, cutting his questions off.

He stared at her mother for a while, "I can't believe this, how long?" he asked.

"Since your 7th year," she replied as she began adding honey to her tea.

"That long? How come you didn't say anything?"

Narcissa carefully placed the teaspoon on the saucer before reaching for his hand, "I didn't want your Father to know, so I didn't say anything - I was trying to protect you."

He squeezed her hand, "I'm just - wow."

Narcissa squeezed her hand back before pulling away, "I want to meet the woman who makes my son happy, so I expect an introduction sooner rather than later," she said with an air of command.

He threw her Mum a please look, "You'll meet her soon, Mum, I promise. Just give us a little time to be re-acquainted."

"Would you be mad if I start planning your wedding?"

"Mum!"

"Just checking, I'm not getting any younger, though, I would very much like to see my grandchildren."

"We just found each other for Merlin's sake! We're just dating!"

"Dating? You two would be walking down the aisle if I had my way," Narcissa huffed.

Flashes of Hermione wearing white flashed through his mind and if he's being honest with himself, he really liked it. He always knew that they'd end up together; he just didn't want her and end up scaring her away with a proposal. "Soon, but not now," he replied.

Narcissa smiled, "I hope so, perhaps I should invite Ms. Granger for tea sometimes," she said thoughtfully.

"I'll ask her, I promise," he replied. He then stood up from his seat, "We'll I should get ready, I'll be picking her up soon."

"You shouldn't let a lady wait, go on."

He walked towards her and planted a chaste kiss on her head, "Thanks, Mum. I'll go on ahead."

''Enjoy your date."

"I'm sure I will."

Hermione's Flat:

Knock . . . Knock . . . Knock

"I'm coming, hold on!" Hermione yelled. She hastily grabbed her bag from her dresser and dashed towards the sitting room. She smoothed the invisible wrinkles on her dress as she stalked towards the door, her heels clicking loudly on the hardwood floors. She took a deep calming breath and slowly pulled it open.

Draco stared at her for a minute, his eyes raking her from her head to toe. "Hi."

She smiled at him nervously, "Hi," she replied.

He cleared his throat, "You're beautiful," he breathed out. He then pulled the bouquet of roses he's hiding behind his back, "These are for you."

She looked at the blooms wistfully, "Bleeding heart roses, you still remember!"

His body seemed to relax with her words, "Of course, I remember. Do you like it?"

"I love it, thank you," she replied as she accepted the pretty arrangement. She then took a step back and gestured for him to enter, "Come in, I'll just put this in a vase and we can go."

He strolled into her flat with ease, "You have a beautiful home," he said as he padded towards the couch.

"Thanks, it's not much but I like it here - it feels like home," she replied as she filled the vase with water. "Would you like something to drink?"

"No, I'm okay."

"These are really lovely; it's been so long since I last saw one," she said as she slipped the last bloom inside the vase.

He hopped off his seat when he saw her heading his way, "I'm glad you liked them, are you ready?" he asked.

"Yeah, we could go," she replied as she tucked her wand inside her purse. "Where are we going?"

He threw her lopsided grin, "It's a surprise."

"I like that," she admitted with a small smile.

He offered his hand, "Shall we?"

"Let's go."

He pulled her flush to his chest and wrapped his arms around her waist, "Now we can," he winked before apparating away.

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