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Chapter 5 : Touching The Past
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Four hours later, Hermione was still sitting in the same spot by her daughter's side, stroking her hair and trying to put her own exhaustion and - she had to admit it - Malfoy out of her mind. Rose had only just awaken and Hermione had given her the things she had been missing - books and sweets.
'Oh, Mum, thanks!'
'I had to smuggle it in,' said Hermione smugly, smiling, 'make sure the Healers don't catch you.'
'When's Dad coming?'
'He should be bringing Hugo with him any minute now,' answered Hermione. She closed her eyes for a moment as a wave of exhaustion threatened to overcome her. She knew that Malfoy was right, that she needed sleep; she was just too frustrated to listen.
As these very thoughts crossed Hermione's mind, Ron was just getting out of St. Mungo's grate with Hugo by his side, wiping off soot and making his way towards the ward. By the door, he met Malfoy. Hugo smiled, remembering the chocolate he had been given, but Ron's thoughts were far from friendly.
'Malfoy,' he said. Malfoy turned around, eyeing father and son.
'Weasley, good, you're here.'
'Fantastic skills of observation.'
'Can we leave the sarcasm behind?'
Malfoy had raised his eyebrows. Ron shrugged.
'Listen, Weasley,' said Malfoy, leaning in and speaking in a low voice. 'Tell your wife to go home and get some sleep, okay? She doesn't look too well.'
It was Ron's turn to raise his eyebrows.
'Hermione does what she wants,' he said slowly. Malfoy rolled his eyes.
'For Merlin's sake, Weasley,' he growled, 'be a husband and take care of your wife.'
It seemed as if Ron longed to punch Malfoy - but in front of Hugo, he could do nothing. He merely pushed the Healer out of the way and went into the ward. Malfoy sighed and returned to his other patients.
Rose did not stay in St. Mungo's for another night. At lunchtime, all the bones had grown back in her arm, replacing those which had been damaged, and she was eager to return to her house. Hermione and Ron agreed that the latter should take the children to Ginny, who would look after the kids, while Hermione went back to work. Her Head of Department was already cross with her for having to cancel so many appointments.
It was difficult getting through the afternoon. Her mind was full of thoughts of Rose, Ron and Malfoy. She did not know why she was suddenly so partial to Malfoy - but she knew it had something to do with the fact that he had been so protective of her when she had most needed it. It had been a long time since anyone had protected her like that - since anyone had comforted her. She had been used to being the head of the family, to having everything under control, and the second she didn't, things fell apart. But not at St. Mungo's. When she had broken down, he had been there. He had caught her in a moment when her world had come crashing down. She longed to see him again, and yet she dreaded it. She did not need another point of distraction, another reason to abandon her marriage - and that was all Malfoy was.
It was her half-day when she had her next fight with Ron. She had finished at noon and he had taken the day off especially so he could be with her. But she didn't want to spend the day with him - she didn't feel guilt or remorse for having these emotions, because she was still so angry with him. She blamed him for Rose's accident, and though he desperately tried to make up for it, she refused to let him.
'So, what d'you want to do this afternoon?' he asked hopefully. They were in their bedroom and Hermione had gone in the adjoining bathroom to change. The children were playing downstairs. 'I thought maybe we could go with Rose and Hugo to the park -'
'How original,' grumbled Hermione from behind the door. 'Rose is twelve, Ron, in case you didn't know - I doubt she thinks swinging on the merry-go-round is much fun.'
'Well, why not go see Ginny and Harry? Albus will be there and -'
'Ginny and Harry left for Godric's Hollow yesterday, Ron,' Hermione said irritably.
'You should know that, he is your Head of Department.'
A stab of annoyance prickled in Ron's face, but he let it pass.
'I'm trying here, Hermione,' he said in a low voice, 'but you won't let me!'
Hermione came out of the bathroom. Having changed from her business robes, she was now wearing a summerly green skirt and a white shirt. This didn't stop her from looking severe.
'Of course, now you're listening to me,' she said, 'now that Rose fell off her broom. Now you're trying.'
'How long are you going to hold that against me?' yelped Ron. 'I told you I'm sorry!'
Rage surged through Hermione's body. She felt a strange, savage desire to hurt Ron as much as he had hurt her. She picked up her briefcase and walked towards the door.
'Where are you going?'
'You just came back!'
'I have a housecall to make. Watch the children, will you? Make sure none of them fall off their brooms.'
She slammed the door and went downstairs, leaving the house as quickly and quietly as possible. Ron was right, she was not really trying; but then, she did not know if she really wanted to.
Hermione had Malfoy's file with her, and it was the first and only person she considered visiting. She owed him something after being so kind to Rose, and the only thing she could think of was a thank-you in person. Pulling out the file, she looked for his address, even though she was fairly certain that it was still Malfoy Manor. To her great shock, his address was not Malfoy Manor, but an appartment on the outskirts of London. Faintly surprised, Hermione Apparated to the building.
It wasn't nearly as imposing as Malfoy Manor, and for this, she was grateful, for Hermione had no good memories of the place. The complex was an expensive one, but Hermione still couldn't imagine Malfoy living in a flat. She went up a flight of stairs to the third floor, and knocked on the door on which was labled, The Malfoys, Henrietta, Draco & Scorpius.
After a few moments, the door opened, and there stood Malfoy, wearing an apron and holding a cloth in his hands, drying them. Surprise was evident on his face.
'Granger?' he exclaimed.
'Hello Malfoy,' Hermione answered, daring a small smile. 'I just came to thank you for the other day -'
'Come in,' urged Malfoy, and he stood aside. Hermione was reluctant.
'Uh - no, I don't want to impose,' she said.
'You're not imposing at all,' assured Malfoy, and he held the door wider still. Biting her lip, Hermione entered the small hallway, eyebrows raised in apprehension.
'Why the apron?' Hermione enquired, after an uncomfortable pause. Malfoy grinned.
'I was making Scorpius apple crumble. His mother does it better, but well -'
He shrugged. Hermione nodded in understanding. She fumbled with the briefcase in her hand.
'Well, I didn't really ever get to thank you properly for all you did for Rose,' she said. 'And also... Well, let's not pretend I was particularly all right that night either.'
'No problem, Granger,' he said, and he threw the towel over his shoulder. 'It was my pleasure. But now you're here, you might as well taste my apple crumble - and maybe we could discuss some of the divorce once Scorpius has had his portion.'
Hermione didn't really know if she should accept. She hadn't intended to stay for more than few minutes, to punish Ron, but the offer was tempting. Malfoy was eyeing her carefully.
'Come on, Granger. My apple crumble needs an honest opinion, and Merlin knows you've never minded being harsh.'
Hermione grinned and followed him to the kitchen, which was decorated the exact same way as the hallway - creamy beige and peach. The choice of colours surprised Hermione - she thought it sure to be decorated in green and silver, perhaps even resemblant to the Slytherin common room. Clearly, she had been as prejudiced as Malfoy, though she was fairly certain that Henrietta had had a hand in the decor.
Scorpius was sitting on a stool by the counter, reading a book. As Hermione eyed him more closely, she thought to herself again how much he looked like his father - the same pale features, the same air of concentration, the same blonde hair.
'Scorpius, Mrs Weasley is here to taste our apple crumble.'
Hermione started when she heard Malfoy call her 'Mrs Weasley'; it was very strange to hear him say that name with a friendly tone. Scorpius looked up and put the book aside.
'Hello Mrs Weasley,' he said, nodding.
'Okay,' said Malfoy, clapping his hands, 'Scorpius, you should know this - how many apples does your mother peel?'
'Eight,' said Scorpius. Malfoy exchanged a glance with Hermione.
'Poor woman, doing it all by hand.'
'She prefers it that way, though,' said Scorpius defensively.
'Right you are, son - however -'
He waved his wand, and within seconds, the eight apples were lying neatly by his side, skin peeled. Draco bit his lip and looked down at a recipe book. Hermione laughed, stood up, and threw on an apron.
'No, no, no!' said Draco hurriedly. 'You're a guest, don't you dare!'
'The quicker this is done, the sooner I can go home,' she said, and winked. Malfoy smiled, and together, they reached for an egg.
With Scorpius' help, who had watched his mother bake many times, they managed to whip together a somewhat less-than-fabulous apple crumble, which needed to stay in the magical oven for a quarter of an hour. To Hermione, the baking of a simple dessert was strangely comforting - it was something normal that she had not done in a long time, something that she had shared with another person without quarreling, and was proud enough to admire her work with Malfoy at the end of it.
'Well,' said Malfoy, untying his apron as Hermione handed hers to him. 'What say you, Hermione, that I give you a tour of the flat? Scorpius, d'you want to be our guide?'
'Not really,' said Scorpius, but he gave a cocky smile. 'Lockhart is waiting for me.' He pointed at the book he had been reading. 'He's something of a self-centered git, isn't he?'
Hermione couldn't suppress a laugh. Malfoy, too, was looking amused.
'It's just you and me, then, Hermione,' he said, and he inclined his head towards the door. Hermione smiled and they walked back out to the hallway.
'Keep an eye on our masterpiece!' Malfoy called out to his son, who waved.
'He's a great kid,' said Hermione, as they walked into the living room. Malfoy beamed at her.
'Thanks,' he answered. 'You can't imagine how proud I am of him. He's everything I wasn't when I was his age, and luckily nothing I was.'
'That's probably because he's got a better father.'
'Yes, dear old Lucius never was much of a role model,' sighed Draco. 'I think he redeemed himself somewhat in the end. He was just too much of a coward.'
'Malfoy, I've got to tell you... about Scorpius... Your wife - Henrietta - she'll probably want to bring your case to a Muggle court.'
'So... Well, this is a first for me. Most divorce cases I've had were wizarding - both parents were magical. If we go to Wizengamot, they'll surely give you custody, being the only wizarding parent. But if Henrietta goes to Muggle court, they'll probably give her custody. I'm not a specialist in those sort of cases -'
'I'm not giving you up, Granger,' he said firmly, and his tone of voice was so decided that Hermione dropped the subject. 'I'll talk to Hen. She's got to see reason. Scorpius can't go off to a Muggle school! He'd hate it.'
'We'll figure something out.'
Malfoy eyed Hermione for a moment, eager to change the subject. 'How's Rose?'
'She's better. Like I said, I was meaning to do something sooner - I hardly know what - but something to thank you, again...'
'I told you, there's no need,' affirmed Malfoy. 'It was my job. Anyway, she's a tough kid. It'd take a lot worse than that for her not to pull through. I can't say the same thing about her mother though.' Malfoy paused. Hermione had neither protested nor interrupted. 'Are you sure you're all right?'
'Why the hell is everyone asking me that question?' said Hermione angrily, and she stopped in her tracks. Malfoy, too, stopped walking. 'I'm not a six year old. I'm not some spoiled brat who's never had to fend for herself.'
'I know that -'
The question seemed to imply something more. Malfoy paused for a moment, wondering if he dared say what was on his mind.
'Every life needs improving. D'you think you get special treatment or something? That I'm only nice to you?'
'I didn't mean -'
'Of course you didn't. I know you, Granger. I may have despised you, we may have despised eachother, but I know an insecure woman when I see one, because -' he hesitated. 'Because I've lived through insecurity myself.' She didn't move. He sighed. 'Don't you see... Don't you understand that maybe I just... Granger, my wife left me. My marriage fell apart. I had no one. And I just - I just want to make sure that you don't feel like... like you have no one.' He shook his head, wondering if she had understood.
She turned away, her eyes oddly bright. They had hardly noticed that they had reached the living room; the walls were painted in the same soft colours as the rest of the flat, but they were covered in paintings and drawings, all by the same artist. She leaned over to observe one closely.
'Henrietta did them,' Malfoy said, his tone cool. 'She's an artist. Got her own art gallery. I kept teasing her about the people being still in the paintings. Never got used to it. But then, she never got used to them moving about in the Daily Prophet.'
Hermione straightened up and smiled warmly at him.
'I never would have imagined you living in an appartment. Too Muggle-ish for you.'
'That was before I met Henrietta, I guess. Or... before the War... before I saw my friends get tortured and killed... Anyway, when You Know Who died, the Ministry seized my property, didn't they?'
'Yeah, well... It had been Voldemort's Head Quarters for a while. When I was in Wizarding Law, I read up on it. They'll give it back to you eventually.'
'I don't want it,' Malfoy said fiercely. 'Too many bad memories.'
Hermione was pulled back into her first and only visit at the Malfoy Manor, in which Bellatrix had tortured her. She had used Sectumsempra right in front of Malfoy, who had merely stood there in shadow. She snapped out of the terrible flashback and saw that Draco was watching her closely.
'I never got to...' Malfoy gulped. 'That night, at my... When Bellatrix... and then later, in the Room of Requirement... God, Hermione, I was such a coward.'
Hermione sat down on the couch. Malfoy followed, his eyes almost pleading.
'I've no right to ask for forgiveness, I know I haven't, but just let me say that - that it was never my intention - I never wanted anyone to get hurt - least of all -'
He stopped talking, for Hermione had taken his hand and squeezed it comfortingly.
'That was years ago, Malfoy,' she said gently. 'Don't you dare even think about it. The circumstances were so different.'
But it seemed Malfoy was compelled to bring it up again, and he clenched Hermione's warm fingers.
'Do you - Did it - Do you still think about it ever?'
Hermione hesitated, reflecting the question. She had not even told Ron that she still had nightmares about Bellatrix's taunting leer.
'Yes,' she said slowly, 'I... Sometimes I dream about it.'
She felt Draco's hand carefully move over her forearm.
'May I?' he asked quietly.
Hermione was yet even more hesitant. She bit her lip, but Malfoy had such tenderness in his eyes that she could not refuse; she nodded.
As carefully and gently as if he had been holding a porcelain doll, he rolled up the sleeve of the thin cardigan she was wearing, so it stopped at her elbow. On her forearm were reminders of Bellatrix's awful work: scars that Sectumsempra had left, and that Ron had not been able to remove in the hours that followed their escape that awful night. Hermione breathed sharply as Draco ran his experienced Healer's hands over her otherwise perfectly smooth skin. He hesitated for a moment, but Hermione had uttered no protest; he moved his hands upwards, towards her neck and ran a finger over the scar that laid there, inflicted by Bellatrix's silver knife when she had threatened Ron and Harry to kill her. Hermione looked at Draco's face, which bore a grimace of many emotions; guilt, softness and longing. There was something so intimate about this moment that it left her quite breathless. Though there was really no need for it, he ran his hand up her arm once more. Goosebumps appeared on the spots Malfoy's hands had touched. He rubbed them away. A bolt of electricity ran down Hermione's spine. Draco looked up as if he had felt it too.
'It's a wonderful feeling,' he said slowly, 'that even the Darkest Art can't touch something so beautiful.'
Their eyes locked as Hermione decrypted his true message. She wanted somehow to let him know that she couldn't fill his longing, that she couldn't be his, not now, not ever, and yet she didn't even know if he really wanted her or if he was using her. She stood up, and the magic was broken.
'I better go,' she sighed. 'Ron's probably waiting.'
Malfoy stood up too.
'You haven't had your apple crumble yet,' he protested, and there was something helpless in his eyes, as if he were a child who had been disappointed.
'We'll share that piece the day you gain custody over Scorpius,' answered Hermione, reminding him why she was truly here, what their purpose was. He seemed to snap out of his reverie, and nodded.
'Take care, Granger.'
'Thanks for the tour. I'll show myself out - make sure Scorpius hasn't burnt the crumble.'
Malfoy watched her leave through narrowed eyes. In spite of everything, she had not learned to trust. He was angry at Weasley, angry at him for having taken away valuable qualities in so wonderful a person as Hermione. Because of him, she couldn't trust, she couldn't dare - but he'd help her retrieve those qualities. If only she'd let him.
A/N: Once more, I've included more than I was going to, but every time I tried to cut something out, the chapter seemed to be lacking in something. I was going to make the end of the chapter a cliffhanger, but I couldn't bring myself to be so cruel.
If anyone out there actually knows how to make an apple crumble, do forgive me if what I wrote it wrong... which it surely is. Eight apples: too much or too little?
Till next time!
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