Seriously? Seriously? Of all people it had to be Draco. She quickly wiped her tears, rationalizing that once he realized who he was talking to, he'd go away. She turned, eyes probably still puffy, and said politely, "I was just getting some air." To her surprise he didn't recoil in disgust. Instead, he cleared his throat rather awkwardly. "It didn't quite look that way." Although he didn't look at her when he said it. And his voice was so soft she could barely make out the words. She took a few steps towards him. "I'm sorry," she paused, unsure of what to do, "I'm sorry, just…are you talking to me?" this time it was she who cleared her throat. Draco squinted. "No one else outside, is there Granger." He seemed to spit out the words as he mumbled. Hermione blinked a few times, still slightly confused at this sudden twist of character.
She crossed her arms. "Why are you talking to me?" she suddenly got suspicious. Draco leaned over the balcony, twisting his thumbs around over the edge. "I don't know the answer to that Granger. You're the smart one, not me." With a sudden burst of courage she leaned against the balcony with him, noting how this was the closest physically they had ever been. Except for the time she had slapped him a few years ago. "I'm not that smart." She whispered, though she did not know why. Draco exhaled. She looked at the sky.
"You look," he cleared his throat, "good. In that. The dress. You should wear dresses more often." At this she was completely taken aback. It must have shown on her face because Draco then chuckled. "You must think me daft," he said, again not looking at her, "tell me what you're thinking. I'd quite like to know."
She paused, collecting her thoughts. "My first thought is polyjuice potion. Perhaps you're just Harry trying to have some fun." Draco gave a nod. "Plausible," he said, "But Harry is inside dancing with Ginny." He motioned to one of the floor to ceiling windows on the far right. Hermione nodded to show consensus.
"Another thought is that you're here because you lost some sort of bet. This is all a ruse. Although that doesn't seem likely." She said.
"May I ask why not?" He leaned in, genuinely curious.
"Because you don't seem like the losing type." She explained simply. He gave a light chuckle. "Very well. Do go on."
"I suppose that only leaves one option. That you were genuinely concerned for my well-being. Although that sounds just as unlikely as the former."
Draco didn't say anything, and they stayed in quiet for a while, staring out into the gardens. "May I ask again, why this seems unlikely." When he said it he did not look at her, but kept his eyes out into the gardens, his hands clasped, hanging over the balcony. Hermione looked at him, somewhat shocked, and swallowed hard before giving her answer. "Because I'm a mudblood." The grimace on her face was undeniable, and her answer was cold, but soft.
She said it so quietly, and they stood in silence for so long, that she was unsure whether or not he had heard her. Either way she did not feel like repeating herself.
Draco winced at her words, and he wasn't sure whether or not he flinched, but it would have been impossible for her not to have felt him do so. They were, by now, only inches apart.
"I'm not quite sure what you're playing at Draco," her voice quivered despite her intentions, "but I hope," the tears welled up in her eyes and she panicked. Now would not be the moment to cry. She cleared her throat. "I hope,"
"I don't expect you to understand." He let out a huffy breath. "I don't quite understand it myself." He began, following the steps that led to the garden with his eyes. "But when I heard the laughter, and you rushing outside, something just felt off." He looked down at his shoes. "I know…" he cleared his throat. "I know you probably think I don't understand what that's like. To be honest I don't. No one has ever had the nerve to make fun of me. Other than yourself of course, and your little golden trio of friends. That's hardly a bother. What I mean is," he took a breath, and exhaled shakily, "I know what it's like to be insecure."
"Everyone's insecure, Draco." Her answer came out faster than she had anticipated. And she suddenly got the idea to giggle, being how he was supposed to be comforting her. Draco shook his head, as though she would never understand. "It's different. Being me. It's not…easy. You wouldn't imagine the expecations. A Malfoy." He gave a wry laugh. "A Malfoy. What need a Malfoy be insecure about?" he scoffed, turning away, staring hard at his hands, as though his life depended on it.
With much hesitation, and a few tries, Hermione put a hand on his shoulder. "Draco," she said. He didn't look at her. "I think maybe," she paused, "Part of it, maybe…maybe you're realizing that we're not so different. And maybe that's not such a bad thing." He gave her a quick glance, one she couldn't make out. "I'm not saying we'll ever be friends," she added quickly, "Nor that I wouldn't want to be." She cleared her throat, unsure of where her speech was going, "But maybe this is good. Sometimes you can confide to a stranger what you can't confess to a friend." Draco looked her up and down, completely silent. "Take a walk with me Granger."
The grandiose steps that led from the balcony to the gardens suddenly felt like the biggest obstacle in the world. Hermione had to hold her dress up to keep from tripping, and her heels echoed on the stone, proclaiming to the world where she was with each step. And something about that made her terribly nervous.
"I was a shy kid if you can believe it." Draco said suddenly, before they had even made it onto the path. Her glance urged him to go on as his foot hit the final step.
"I clung to my mother wherever I went. My father always seemed to frighten me a bit. There was always that fear of disappointment."
Hermione nodded gravely.
"I looked up to him. For most of my life that is. He was the epitome of a Malfoy man. That was supposed to be who I would become."
Again she nodded. Draco looked at her. "Well?" he snapped. Hermione nearly froze. "W-well what?"
"Your turn Granger. Go on."
She stumbled a bit, trying to get her thoughts in order. "I was quite the opposite I think. I clung to my father. I remember he would always carry me up on his shoulders." She giggled at the memory. "Things changed though, when I got older. My mother and I had more in common…as far as what a girl goes through. Women can be rather nasty to one another."
Draco urged her to go on.
"Well. No one has hair quite as curly as mine," she tried to laugh but it came out mangled, "and, well, being different and fifteen don't quite go together." She explained.
Draco nodded. They continued walking. Hermione commented on the breeze.
"I used to do the most awful thing." Draco said, as they paused to sit on a nearby bench. "When I was mad at my parents I would go around breaking things; vases, sculptures, the like."
Hermione listened intently.
"And then, when they would ask me about it, I would blame Dobby." He grimaced, the memory clear in his mind. "They knew it was me. That he hadn't done anything. But they punished him anyway."
Hermione looked at the ground. The mention of Dobby tugged at her heart.
"I still think about it a lot. I think it's because I regret it. I'm sorry about what happened to him by the way. He didn't deserve that. He didn't deserve much of anything he got." He added rather awkwardly.
"Dobby was one of a kind." Hermione said with a sad smile.
"I'm actually kind of sorry about what happened to everyone that day. Particularly you. What my aunt did…" his voice trailed off, "that was wrong." He said firmly, his face hard like stone.
"I appreciate that you recognize it as wrong." Hermione said carefully.
"I was a Death Eater but I had a conscience." Draco continued, as though he hadn't heard her. "I think Snape was that way too. And it wasn't easy. None of it was."
"I hated you." Hermione said sadly, as though her thoughts were still on Dobby. "For a long time." Her shoulders were slouched and she played with her hands on her lap. Draco stayed quiet, waiting for her to continue. "I didn't understand how anyone could hate me just because of the way I was born. Something I couldn't control at all."
At this Draco winced, but said nothing.
"But then things changed. It was after the day I hit you. I suddenly began to pity you. And I think it's because I realized you did have a conscience."
The wind rustled the trees, filling the silence. "Harry didn't feel that way though." She gave a short laugh.
"What's that like?" Draco asked.
"What do you mean?" she looked at him.
"Having such close friends like that."
"Shall we continue our walk?" Hermione said, getting up. Draco worried he had crossed a line, but got up anyway.
Hermione rubbed her arms. The temperature was dropping a bit. "It's…nice." She said, trying to find the words. "It's the sort of thing you read about you know? Having close friends like that. But it can get a bit annoying sometimes." She gave a laugh.
"How so?" he asked, noticing the goosebumps forming on her skin. She shrugged. "They're always there. Sometimes I just want some alone time. Luckily neither of them are too fond of the library." At this Draco smiled. He knew perfectly well the sanctuary that could be solitude.
"What's Slytherin like?" she looked up at him. He shrugged. "It's fine. If you like that sort of thing. We become close in a different way. We all know something is expected of us. But that makes it somewhat hostile." His voice tightened as he said this.
"How so?" she asked.
"No one will hesitate to move up in rank. You have to constantly watch your back. Which is why we don't have very many friends."
Hermione nodded. "I suppose that makes sense." She said quietly.
Draco stopped suddenly. "What were they laughing at?" he said, "When you rushed out. What did they do to you?"
Hermione gave a weak smile and looked down. "They weren't making fun of me if that's what you mean." She said. Draco had his hands in his coat pockets.
"It was strange. I guess…Harry and Ginny. They're so happy." She mumbled as a shiver went up her spine. Draco took off his jacket and placed it on her shoulders. She thanked him.
"And," he said, "You're not happy?"
She shook her head. "I have no reason to not be happy. It's not as though I'm constantly sad. And seeing Harry and Ginny…not to mention Ron and Lavender," she rolled her eyes,
"I never understood that."
"Understood what?" her full attention was on him now.
"Ron. Why he would let you go. I don't mean it like that or anything. I'm just saying. Lavender has an annoying voice."
Hermione gave a small smile. "Well, thank you, I suppose. But it's not that. Ron and I weren't good for each other." She explained. Draco nodded, feeling as though he should drop the subject entirely.
"I never understood why you were with Pansy." Hermione tried. Draco smirked. "Neither did I." They both laughed, for the first time, at the same time.
"We should probably be getting back." Hermione noticed, wrapping the coat tighter around her.
"Or we could walk forever." Draco said, staring at the little dirt path ahead of them. "I think we'd get rather hungry." Hermione said, also looking at the path. Draco chuckled. "Maybe, Granger. Maybe." Hermione turned on her heel, groaning as she realized how far they would have to walk to get back. Her high heeled shoes were starting to get to her. "You could just apparate, you know." Draco said, as though reading her mind. She smiled. "Good thinking," she said, then, looking at him, "I'll see you around Draco."
"I'll see you around Hermione." But she had already gone.
It wasn't until she reached the common room that she realized she still had Draco's coat on. Ginny was the one to point it out. "Now who does that belong to, Ms. Granger?" she said it a bit too provocatively for Hermione's taste. "None of your business, Ms. Weasley." She shot back. Ginny snatched the coat off Hermione's shoulders. "Whoever's it is, it smells delicious."
Hermione couldn't argue. It was something she had noticed as well. "Ginny, give it back."
"Oh come on Hermione this is fantastic! Now we can double date!"
Hermione snatched the jacket out of Ginny's hands. "No. We won't. It's not like that."
Ginny smirked. "It's most definitely like that."
Hermione gave a few grumbles and went up to her room. She tossed the jacket onto her bed and wondered how she'd go about giving it back to him.
She very well couldn't do it in class. Much too many people. She could always slip out later tonight, and drop it off in the Slytherin commons. That could work. No one would be up at that hour. Especially after a ball like this one.
So after everyone had fallen asleep, Hermione snuck out of her dormitory and made her way down the maze of stairs to the Slytherin dungeons. But before making it two steps into enemy territory, she was stopped in the halls by a large group. And Draco was with them. His eyes shot into a sort of panic as he realized what Hermione was holding.
Hermione's heart caught in her throat. She shouldn't have come. "And just what do you think you're doing here?" Pansy snapped. Hermione held out the jacket with slightly trembling hands. "It was out on one of the tables. It looked much too nice to just leave out." She cleared her throat.
"What makes you think it belongs to one of us?" Blaise asked.
"It didn't belong to anyone in Gryffindor," she began, "And it's quite high end. It must be one of yours."
Draco stepped forward and admired the tag. "It's mine." He declared. Pansy made a face. "You'll have to burn it now." She cackled. Draco nodded to Hermione, and tossed the jacket over his shoulder. Hermione watched as the group walked away.