Chapter 12 : The First Thread
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Hermione set her quill down on the table and rubbed her eyes tiredly, enjoying the quiet of her flat for a moment.
She’d moved back with Jack a few days ago, thankful for her parents’ offer for her to stay with them as long as she liked, but knowing that she needed to pick her life back up and learn to move on somehow. She’d decided to face each day as it came, unable to think of next week or the years to come without Ron by her side. So far the philosophy had worked.
Except for the first night she’d spent alone in the big bed Ron had been so excited to buy when they first had moved into the flat. She hadn’t been able to sleep, memories of nights past hanging in the air, threatening to smother her. She’d been thankful that someone had been thoughtful enough to remove any flowers or cards that had been sent to her, sympathizing with her loss. As if they’d ever suffered the same fate, she’d thought bitterly.
After hours spent lying on her back, sleep refusing to come, she’d gotten up to make some chamomile tea, hoping it would help her relax enough to send her into the sometimes soothing oblivion of unconsciousness.
As she’d been making the tea, her eyes had fallen upon an open cabinet, its door having been removed just a day or two before the accident because Ron had started a project of making it a mini-Dutch door. She’d felt the tears rise in her throat and had moved away from the stove, her feet bringing her passed that cabinet, fingers absently running over the exposed hinges. Her eyes had taken in the living room, a copy of a book on newborn babies turned facedown on the coffee table, exactly where he’d left it prior to going out for dinner; his ratty Chudley Cannons jumper thrown over the back of the sofa. God, how she’d hated that thing, making so many attempts to make it innocently disappear and failing each time.
But now…she’d picked it up and lifted it to her face, inhaling deeply, no longer swallowing her tears, tasting salt at the edge of her mouth. There was only a faint hint of him left. She’d lain on the couch, staring off into the darkness, thinking about her life with Ron, reliving the many good times they’d had. There had been so many following the War. Even then, they’d found moments of joy and happiness in that strife-ridden time.
She’d been startled out of her thoughts when Jack had cried out for attention. As she’d changed and fed him, she’d murmured praises on how well he was doing, waving his little hands and feet proudly. He helped her so much in this transitional time, when she could’ve chosen to go another, less survival way, he’d been her anchor. She’d fallen asleep sitting next to his crib, the only real connection left to Ron.
She’d spent the next day tidying up the flat. She didn’t want to get rid of Ron’s presence but neither did she want to be overwhelmed by him at every turn. She took it as a sort of healing process. The action of cleaning and re-arranging things somehow made this rawness in her feel better. Jack’s eyes had followed her every movement from his portable crib, bright eyes curious. She’d smiled a rare smile to herself, realizing that there actually was a small part of herself in him.
The day after that, she’d gotten a note from her boss, Gregory Earls, at the Printing Sheets, the publishing house she worked for as a junior editor. Curious as she was still on maternity leave, she’d opened it to find his condolences and an apology as well because he needed her to look at a manuscript from Darla Descart as the author wouldn’t work with anyone else but Hermione and they were down to the wire on printing. Darla apparently had decided to ignore the publisher’s frantic pleas to hurry. Hermione had smiled at the bestselling author’s diva attitude; that was Darla.
She’d been relieved to get something else to take her mind off of the empty days that stretched ahead and had sent back the note to get the manuscript from Gregory. It’d arrived that morning and she’d sat down after lunch to go over it. Now, three hours later, she found that she grew tired of the work more easily.
Looking towards the living room from her seat at the kitchen table, watching the sunlight stream in and catch the dust motes in their dance, she saw chubby fingers grabbing at the elusive things. The baby had woken up from his nap and somehow maneuvered himself out from under the shade she’d set up for him on the living room floor. His happy gurgles reached her and she smiled. Getting up from her seat, she kneeled next to his blanket and his head turned to her, his little hands still making grabbing motions.
“Alright little man, let’s go play outside.” She picked him up and went to get his baby carriage. Some fresh air would be nice.
Draco had forced himself to stay away from Jack. He realized that he’d been a complete jerk to Hermione and was able to admit to himself that he was not a little ashamed by his actions. It was just the type of thing he’d expected of his old self, the defensive Malfoy who’d had to barb his words with a serrated edge just so nobody could see how thin his skin really was.
His community hours at St. Mungo’s were coming to a close and Draco was surprised at the mixed feelings he had about this. Having never really held a job—mostly because he’d never needed to—the almost daily work was a somewhat novel experience. On top of that, he found that he actually liked the mundanity of having a place of work to go to. There was also the fact that the staff of the hospital never treated him with disdain or mockery, reactions he’d had to get used to after the fall of the Dark Lord.
Wrapping up his shift, he made his way down to the reception and nodded to the Greeting Witch who smiled back at him. His eye caught on a poster tacked up on the notice board next to her desk. Moving closer he made out what it said: Charlemagne’s Charity for Children! Help Those Who Can’t Help Themselves! Donate Today!
In the past, even after his wand probation was completed, he’d ignore such please for money. He’d been raised with the philosophy of the rich never supporting the poor for they did not deserve it, and it was one that he’d preferred to keep, figuring that if the needy really wanted something, they’d just do what everyone else did and get it. He almost went the same route today, except that a thought struck him, one that made sense for him and one that he thought would be acceptable to all those involved.
After all, everyone liked money.
Coming out of Gringotts, Draco looked around the Alley, satisfied with his plan, trying to decide if he would tell them now or later, when his eye caught on a familiar blonde head. Cursing underneath his breath, he headed in the opposite direction, hoping that Sybil hadn’t seen him. Since that terrible night where the bitch had tricked him, he’d avoided any owls, Patronuses; she’d even tried coming to his flat once but he’d ignored her knocking and Floo flares. There’d been one satisfying afternoon when he’d been able to dump a cup of cold water over her shocked face in the fireplace. One would think she’d have gotten the message by now.
He’d almost reached the Apparition point when he heard her golden voice, a voice that had captured his attention from the start but one that now grated his nerves. “Draco!”
He stopped, thinking. Maybe if he faced her now, really made it clear how they were over, she would leave him alone. But it wasn’t something he was going to do in public. He already had too much bad attached to his name, and now, when he’d finally done something right in the public’s eye, he didn’t want to change that. It was an advantage he hadn’t sought, but not one that he would turn away either. So revealing an affair in public with his dead best friend’s fiancée was not going to do.
Turning he caught Sybil’s eye and started walking towards a side street that didn’t have many people in it. She met him around the corner, her eyes bright and a satisfied smile on her face. He looked at her, waiting for her to speak, his own face stony. A fact that did not seem to register on her, apparently happy that he was speaking to her.
“Draco,” she purred, a small hand coming up to touch his arm. He tried not to flinch away in disgust, not wanting to show her any emotions. “I’ve missed you.” She pouted, looking up at him through her lashes, a look that normally heated his blood, but for entirely different reasons than now. “You never came back.”
He moved with a suddenness that surprised her, catching that stroking hand in his own and squeezing it in anger. She gave a gasp of pain that he ignored, a part of him satisfied that she was capable of feeling pain.
“You heartless bitch,” he gritted out, the simmering rage barely kept in check in his voice. “We’re over, done. Nothing is ever going to happen between us again. You fucking took advantage of me when I was blind drunk. It was a mistake. Blaise hasn’t even been cold in the fucking ground for two months and you’re already throwing yourself at me. Leave. Me. Alone.”
He threw her hand back at her, she cradled it with her other, looking back at him with eyes that shone with tears. He didn’t care about the reason for them. He turned to head back out to the main avenue. Along with the anger, came the less familiar feelings of shame and guilt. Even though Sybil was gross in her own actions, he needn’t have hurt her himself. He flexed his hand, trying to work out the feeling of sick satisfaction of having almost crushed her hand.
Sybil stared at the back of the tall, lean man as he disappeared between other patrons of Diagon Alley. Her hand ached and she cast a quick healing spell over it as her thoughts rolled over in her mind. There was no way he was going to get away with just leaving her to fend for herself.
He hadn’t expected to run into her so soon after he’d set his small plan in motion, but in his need to get away from Sybil quickly, he’d found himself further away from his flat than he’d intended, reappearing in a small alley off the side of a teashop he’d visit on the weekends. Shrugging his shoulders, he figured that the walk home would help clear his head.
Coming to grips with his past and trying to make a future where it wasn’t just about him was hard. There were so many sticky tentacles of his selfish and tarnished actions that could wound its way around the growing branch of actual vitality that Draco was trying hard to nourish. He regretted his actions with Sybil today and recognized that his sudden impulses would have to be checked. Just as he’d lashed out at Hermione the other day, so had he to Sybil.
Walking past a park, his eye caught on a lone woman on a bench, her foot rocking a baby’s carriage next to her. Hermione.
Feeling the need to make up for his behavior the other day, and having the means to do so now, he walked over to her, approaching her at an angle where she would see him before he was too close. As her face registered slight irritation at the sight of him, his light jumper which had felt just right for the spring weather now felt like a heavy parka, the heat of it stifling. He held up his hands, a gesture which meant “unarmed” and, while her expression didn’t change, she gave him a terse nod.
As he reached her, he gestured to the other end of the bench. “Could I have a word with you?” he asked, again the politeness he hadn’t really known he had, coming out. Again that terse nod.
He sat, feeling awkward and unsure of where to start. Looking at her profile, the lines of her face seemed tight, as if her body was trying to hold in much and could overfill at any moment. His gaze made its way to the open mouth of the carriage where a peaceful Jack could be seen. The baby’s head was covered with a blue knit cap and he was tucked into a matching blanket. At least someone doesn’t feel uncomfortable here, he thought wryly.
“I don’t think there’s anything you have to say to me.” The sharpness of her tone created jagged edges in the air. Draco stilled, not wanting to be pricked. He was aware that these next few minutes were really going to be his last chance to ever talk to Hermione or have anything to do with Jack.
“I was out of line the other day.”
Her gaze snapped to his, brown eyes so clear in their gaze, more lucid than they’d been than anytime he’d seen her since the accident. That was the look that was familiar to him, that analytical assessing she did. He met her stare calmly, knowing that what he said was genuine.
She nodded, accepting this. She glanced down at Jack.
“Because of that, because I know that what I said wasn’t okay, I wanted to make it up to you.” He took a second to gather his thoughts. “I opened up a trust fund for Jack today. It’s for him and it’ll be in your control. It’s not a lot right now, but by the time he’s ready to do something with it, he’ll be taken care of. As you know, I—my family has a lot of money, but so do I, just myself, and you’re sort of own your own with Jack right now, so I thought it would be…good.” He trailed off, his stumbling explanation not coming out the way he thought it would.
She was silent for a moment, not turning to look at him and instead focusing on the brave duck that had decided it was warm enough to come back to the park pond. When she spoke, there wasn’t that hint of censure he’d come to expect from her, but just a weary tone, like that of a professor who had explained something to a student over and over again.
“Draco, you can’t buy everything.”
He opened his mouth to respond and realized that he didn’t know what he was going to say so shut it and followed her gaze. A drab mother duck had made her way out of the brush along the edge of the pond, small chicks in her wake. The mother kept glancing back to make sure they were still following until she reached the water’s edge and then took to the water. One by one, the smaller ducks entered the water, no hesitation in their movements, their trust in their mother and their instincts implicit.
There was something to trusting one’s instincts. It was a lesson he had learned over time, honed to a fine edge in his gambling years, and one that he took care to follow now. She was right; maybe money wasn’t the solution but it would help. He didn’t know what she did for a living but being a single mother with a newborn child wasn’t going to be easy, no matter how much family she had. He ignored the sharp stab in his stomach at the memories that this thought evoked.
He cleared his throat, filling in the silence that had fallen. Ever since that night of the accident, he’d wanted to help make sure they were okay. It seemed this feeling extended beyond just making sure she and Jack lived that night but that they also had a future. There was a subject that would forever be between them, between his ability to help Jack or forget about it and somehow move on.
“That night,” he paused, as she stiffened beside him, “I—we were stupid. Careless and stupid and bloody rich assholes.” He gave a low self-deprecating laugh, no actual humor in his tone. Hermione didn’t say anything, though she relaxed a fraction.
“We’d both had too much to drink and Blaise—he and I, we fought over something that wasn’t worth it and he stormed off, drunk. I tried following, because, I don’t know, I thought maybe I could stop him. I don’t know. It just seemed logical.” He sighed and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, eyes watching the small line of ducks in the water.
“And then…Salazar, all I remember is pain and heat and the need to make sure everyone was safe. Seeing Blaise,” his throat closed up and it was a moment before he could go on, “and then you and Ron…when I realized you were pregnant and that I could’ve killed a life not even started, something changed. Especially after I met Jack. I would do whatever I could to make sure Jack was safe.” He closed his eyes for a moment before staring back out again, the spring breeze lightly ruffling through his hair, bringing soft sounds of trees rustling and other people enjoying the park. There were only a few clouds in the sky, moving with no urgency.
There weren’t going to be enough words for what he had to say next or anything that he could do to make this any softer or any more sincere than he knew how. He only hoped it would help her somehow. “I am so sorry, Hermione. I tried to get him. The car, the flames. It was too late.”
He didn’t look at her, not wanting to make her feel like she had to respond. It wasn’t like she could say It’s alright, Draco, I know you tried your best or Maybe next time, you’ll get him.
She concentrated on her breathing, a technique that she’d come to find helped her relax and not get completely caught in the maelstrom of emotions that was released each time her husband’s death was mentioned. She’d avoided newspapers, the telly, notes from acquaintances commiserating with her loss so that she wouldn’t have to be constantly reminded of what she didn’t have.
She didn’t know exactly why she’d let Draco sit next to her today and tell her about that night, but she had. And she found that his words, his apology, however sincere or insincere it was, actually helped. Maybe it was the guilt she could hear in his voice, the way his shoulders slumped in dejection or the fact that he was actually the only other person she could share that night with, the other survivor.
The deep breaths seemed to clear some space in her head, because even with her tentative touch towards that spot of her heart that would always ache, she didn’t feel like breaking down. She felt the tensions in her shoulders ease.
Next to her, Jack started making noises, the kind he made when he wanted to be picked up. Reaching down, she gathered him up with his light blanket and cradled him in her arms, rocking him gently, touching his button nose while his blue eyes stared up at her. They were always full of such wonder at this new world he’d come to be in.
Realizing she still hadn’t said anything after Draco’s apology, she glanced at him to find that he was looking at Jack, a small smile breaking across his face. The gentle smile turned his hard aristocratic features into something resembling human and she was taken aback by it. Without saying anything, she shifted Jack in her arms and offered the baby for Draco to hold. The man’s silver eyes moved up to hers in surprise.
She smiled, “If you don’t mind. I have to get his bottle from his bag.” She didn’t but she didn’t know what else to say to him. She didn’t want to tell him that she recognized his sincerity, that somehow a small thread of trust had started to weave its way around them, that she knew Jack really liked him. He was still almost a stranger to her but yet he wasn’t at the same time.
But, even if she didn’t say all of that, his eyes and his small nod as he took her son in his arms, seemed to understand it all. And that was another reason why she didn’t really need to say anything: they both recognized a sameness in two very different people.
I just want to take a moment to thank all of you who have reviewed this story and helped me with my thinking process, encouraged me to continue, deigned to even THINK of Draco and Hermione together. So a special thanks to ScorpiusRose17, forsakenphoenix, AnnaKay, DracoFerret11, Brittanique and justonemorefic for reviewing just about all the chapters and especially the most recent ones where most of my trepidations have occurred.
I’ve been chomping away at this story for awhile now so I feel like it’s about time I get it done, yeah? :)