Chapter 13 : Moving On
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The shopping bag slipped from her fingers and spilled its contents along the sidewalk. Diapers and baby formula rolled down the sidewalk. Blast. She knew she shouldn’t have left her charmed purse at home. She just hadn’t thought that she’d be getting so many things when she’d left to get Jack’s diapers but there had been so many things in the store that looked useful.
She sighed at her own sorry excuses as she shifted Jack in his over-the-shoulder carrier, making sure she had a good grip on him as she bent down to grab the fallen bag. Jack made a gurgling sound of pleasure at the swooping motion and Hermione couldn’t help but smile into his soft ginger hair.
A booted foot had stopped the runaway baby formula. She looked up at the boot’s owner as she picked the formula up and was mildly surprised to find the amused eyes of Draco. He wasn’t wearing the usual hat over his light blond hair and the sun created a halo-like effect around him which made Hermione grin. Draco Malfoy: angel. Ha! His eyes widened slightly in surprise and she toned down her smile to one of the usual politeness, feeling a little embarrassed.
“Hi,” she said looking down, ostensibly searching for the errant diapers while working on stuffing the baby formula into her bag, covering up her sudden awkwardness.
He didn’t respond right away, taking a few steps back to grab the diapers off the ground himself and holding it out for Hermione to take. She took it with a smile of thanks. He smiled back, clearing his throat and choking out a “Hello” in the general direction of Jack (who clapped delightedly) rather than herself. It seemed that she wasn’t the only one feeling awkward.
Over the past few weeks, Draco and Hermione had developed a pseudo-friendship, really more of an acquaintanceship. Except that it was a little bit more than that. Somehow. She gave herself a mental shake. Even in her head, she couldn’t qualify it.
It was just that when people had survived something as harrowing as they had, with him seeing her at her worst and seeming to understand, he didn’t qualify as a mere “acquaintance”. However, she also couldn’t quite bring herself to call Draco Malfoy her “friend”.
After that conversation in the park and the moment of peace that had settled between them, Hermione had been unable to see Draco as just that spiteful and awful boy he had been in their school days or the insouciant and arrogant man she had heard a little about in the recent years. Yet, she still couldn’t forget that last year of the war, when she had been in his house, when she’d realized that he was a Death Eater. Though his mother had come to Harry’s aid in the end and the Malfoys had served their sentences after their trial, she wasn’t able to shake off a lingering feeling of distaste at associating herself with him.
A small part of her told her she was being unfair.
Yet despite that, when he found her on her now daily walks in the park, she didn’t refuse his company, didn’t ignore him. At first, it had been awkward and not a little uncomfortable but as they’d never strayed back to that night and never gone far off the topic of Jack and the weather and the mundane, she’d been able to relax in his presence. In fact, a silent understanding had formed between them, to the point where she found herself expecting to find him at the park.
With the obvious affection he felt for her son and the careful way he handled the boy, he’d become more of a person to her than just a name and a classification. Draco had surprised her at times with his dry humor and his slightly jaded view of the world. She’d known the effects that that war had had on her and her friends and family. She hadn’t really thought of how it affected “the other side”. She’d known that he and his mother had been deprived their wands for several years and so had had to live almost like Muggles in that time period but it took her a little aback when he referenced muggle television shows or movies to fill in the silence between them. He’d noted her reaction the first that he’d done this and had just raised his eyebrows, a little smile on his face, enjoying the fact that he wasn’t fitting her mold.
She cleared her throat and faced the entrance of the Leaky Cauldron. “I was just heading to Diagon Alley,” she said, gesturing to the entrance.
In an unconscious movement, he tugged at the bottom of his jumper and turned to the entrance as well. “Me, too.”
Neither said a word for a moment.
They’d been meeting in a relatively anonymous location. A muggle park that wasn’t trafficked by a lot of their kind. Their friendship of sorts seemed to be limited there because now, with both of them about to enter the main shopping area for wizards, where they could be seen and be seen talking to each other, the awkwardness of those first few meetings had returned.
Oh, bother. There was no reason for anyone to think badly of her just because she happened to enter Diagon Alley with Draco. She was slightly ashamed of how she wasn’t able to shake off her prejudice and this feeling of mistrust. She took a step forward towards the entrance and was a little startled when Draco beat her to the door to hold it open for her. She nodded at him and made her way through the darkened interior, greeting Tom and making her way to the Alley entrance.
She paused, expecting Draco to help open the portal. Glancing at him, she saw that he was standing next to her, consternation on his face. He glanced at her, gray eyes embarrassed. “I didn’t bring my wand.” Her eyes widened slightly in surprise. No wand.
He saw the disbelieving look she sent him and inwardly cursed. He actually hadn’t been going to Diagon Alley but when he saw Hermione and Jack crawling around on the sidewalk, he couldn’t have very well just passed them by without helping. When she’d said she was going to the store district, he’d lied and said he was too just because he figured that she’d need a hand what with her own two hands being filled with bags and carrying a baby as well. He’d just forgotten that he hadn’t taken his wand with him this morning, running some errands of his own in non-wizarding London.
He could see her mouth opening to ask him about it, why he, a Pureblood wizard, wouldn’t have his wand on him, and moved to stave off her questions. He wasn’t going to share that part of him with her, despite their quasi-friendship. “Here, let me take those bags for you.” She handed them over without another word.
He saw her consider pursuing her curiousity and then mentally shrug it aside as she pulled her own wand out of her pocket and tapped the right bricks to open up the portal. Putting her wand aside, she made to take the bags back but he shook his head. “You’ve got your hands full enough with Jack there,” the baby’s head moved towards Draco at the sound of his name, “so I’ll just help you with these.”
Her brown eyes met his, assessing. She always seemed to be doing that, questioning his motives, not really ever able to just take him at face value of what he said. That bruised part of his soul throbbed once more and he had to ignore the impulse to just forget it, to stop trying to fit in with the people who cared more for others than themselves. He wasn’t going in that direction anymore. He’d seen where it would lead and he wasn’t willing to just throw away his life when he’d found that he really did like to help others. And helping Hermione and Jack seemed to fill that empty space of his existence that he hadn’t realized was there.
Having come to a decision, she smiled slightly. “Thanks, Draco. That would actually be very nice.” And with that, the slightly invisible barrier between polite acquaintances and a starting friendship was broken through. It seemed like an almost tangible feeling, this breakthrough.
Turning to the milling street, she started to make her way to Flourish and Blott’s. “I won’t be here very long though, just grabbing a few things for work.”
He fell into step with her. He found himself asking about her work and she answered his questions. The rest of the hour passed by with no further awkwardness. After her last stop in a shop, she turned to him, ready to take the bags back.
“I can bring this to the Apparition point for you,” he offered.
She put a gentle hand on Jack’s head, the baby having fallen asleep. “I won’t be able to Apparate with this little guy. Too young.”
“Oh, right.” He felt a little dumb for not having realized that.
“It’s okay. I wouldn’t have known myself if I hadn’t read it somewhere.” She put a hand on his arm, reassuringly. He tried not to jump at the contact.
Touching was not something he was used to unless it was of the amorous variety and they were definitely nowhere near that. He’d grown up with stiff formality and little to no affection of any kind from his parents. He’d seen how other families were with each other, at the Platform or even just in non-wizarding society, the easy affection that they had, the hugs and the casual touches that just communicated love. He hadn’t had any of that. So to have Hermione treat him that way…it was unexpected yet not unwelcome. But also not something he was used to.
She didn’t seem to notice the conflict within him. “I’ll just walk home. It isn’t that far.”
He shook himself. “I’ll help you with the bags.”
She started to protest.
“No really, it’s not a problem.”
“But I thought you had something to do here in Diagon Alley?” She questioned.
He opened his mouth, his mind already had a ready-formed lie on his tongue, but abruptly he changed his mind. Though he hadn’t played for this team before, he knew that lying, even the small lies, wasn’t necessarily part of the “good guy” code. “I didn’t really. I just said that because I saw you had Jack and all these bags and you looked like you needed help so…” he trailed off, hating the clumsy explanation. Malfoys were not good with awkward.
The smile she gave him was full of pleasant surprise and she shrugged with the shoulder that Jack’s carrier wasn’t slung over. “Well, okay then.” Her easy acceptance left him with an astonishingly nice feeling. Maybe there was something to this unselfish business.
After Draco had helped deposit her groceries and other shopping just inside her door, he’d left with a smile and a quick “airplane” ride to Jack who had laughed hysterically in glee. Hermione stared at the door after Draco left, a startling thought coming to her. Draco Malfoy was actually a likeable person. There was still that sardonic edge to him that she didn’t think he would be getting rid of anytime soon, but underneath that, he was nice. Such a boring word but she didn’t know how else to describe him.
She set about feeding Jack and putting him to play with his teddy bear in his mobile baby carrier while she made dinner for herself. She eyed the unfinished cabinet in the kitchen as she threw the vegetables to cook in the pot. The sting of tears in the back of her throat had lessened to a slight degree over the past few weeks but were still there. She wondered if they would ever stop.
Turning her gaze found the letter from the realtor lying open on the counter. In the months leading up to the birth of their child, Ron and Hermione had gone house-hunting, wanting to raise their child out of the city and in a place where they could call home for the rest of their children. A home that could be like the Burrow but theirs. Her mouth tightened in an effort to stem any tears.
She picked up the letter, looking it over though she knew what it said. There was a cottage they’d looked at, just twenty minutes out from London (even less with their magical means of transportation), which was now within Hermione’s price range. She’d dismissed the letter initially when it arrived about a week ago. She hadn’t wanted to leave the place she and Ron had made into a home. Except, in the days that had followed, she’d found herself unable to sleep in the bed that they’d shared, the memories still suffocating her in grief to the point where she’d taken to sleeping on the couch in the living room or in a chair next to Jack’s crib. She still broke down crying when a moment from her past was triggered; it could be that the kitchen sink clogged up every other day or that the toilet seat was always down when she went to the bathroom.
Jack’s baby talk distracted her from her thoughts and she looked at the baby as he shook his stuffed toy around, imparting wise words to the furry face. She couldn’t keep doing this to herself. She wanted to remember Ron, not feel crippled by memories of him and their life together. He wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have wanted to do all she could to carry on, to continue living and to raise their baby the best way possible.
Her mind made up, she summoned a quill and parchment to her. She would take the house. It was what Ron had wanted to do and something she still needed to do.
“Oi, I know you’ve got a winnin’ hand there, mate. Just give it up.” Mikael’s tone was rough but amused. He’d learned long ago that playing poker against Draco was more Draco letting Mikael win sometimes than any actual competition.
Draco grinned at his friend across the table, slapping down his full house. The cards seemed to shine at Mikael who made a sound of disgust and threw down his own hand. Two pairs. “Bah, you n’your golden touch.” The older man picked up the shot of whiskey next to him and downed it in a gulp. The man’s face was worn, showing evidence of too much smoking and alcohol, a well-experienced face, Mikael’s face was. His thick head of hair was mostly brown, shots of silver running up from the temples and peppering his hair. His skin and eyes were dark, harking back to the Arab roots he had.
Draco watched Mikael grumble into his cup as gathered the cards together. “You’re the one who asked me to play, old man. You already knew what you were getting into.”
“You could show m’some respect n’let me win once in awhile,” Mikael threw back at him.
“I do! I think you won…when was that? Sometime last year I’m sure.” He chuckled as Mikael tossed some poker chips in his direction.
“Sometimes I wish I’d n’ver showed you the game.” Draco knew that he didn’t mean it. In the years that he’d been Mikael’s right-hand man, he’d come to know that he was more bark than bite.
Though Mikael didn’t say it, Draco knew that he still thought of him as a good-luck charm to a degree. Mikael really had become that older mentor that Draco had lacked growing up. Not that he was necessarily such a great example, he noted as Mikael got up and belched on his way to refill his glass, but more the actual teaching and relating to life that Draco had never been able to get from his father. He snorted imagining his own father sitting down with him to play cards and just talk, about things not having to do with the family lineage or the previous glory of their lives.
“What’ve you been up to, young Drake?” Mikael asked, sitting back down. He was the only one Draco would let get away with calling him that.
Draco turned his attention to the shuffling of cards, the smooth sound of card on card a familiar and comforting noise. He hadn’t told Mikael about the car accident or the death of his friend, not feeling it appropriate as Mikael was only going to be in town for the day before he was back on the road for the next game he had scheduled. It had been some months since he’d seen his old friend so he’d taken him up on his offer of a game when Mikael called.
But he’d forgotten how well Mikael knew him. “You got somethin’ up your arse?”
Draco felt a corner of his mouth lift though the humor had gone out of him. “Something like that.” His hand came up to touch the faded scar above his eye. Glancing at Mikael, he said without preamble, “I was involved in a drunk driving accident and my best friend died. So did another man. His pregnant wife and myself were the only survivors.”
Mikael sat back heavily, his drink forgotten. “Bloody hell, Draco,” he breathed.
Needing something to distract him, Draco fanned out the cards in front of him. “She had the baby that night, after I got her out of the flaming car. I couldn’t get the other men.”
Silence settled between them, almost tangible in its weight. He always felt a little dazed when he thought about that night. It was never really that clear to him. Only the moments when he found the bodies and then Hermione. The rest of it was just a riot of heat, fire and pain.
“I’m sorry, mate. I’m so sorry.” The sincerity of the other man’s tone wasn’t lost on Draco. Mikael was always one to wear his emotions in public. Which was ironic considering that he made a career in having a poker face.
Draco met Mikael’s sympathetic stare and nodded. “That was almost five months ago. I’ve had time to deal with it.”
“And the woman? The pregnant one?”
Draco hesitated here. Mikael was the only other person whom he still spoke to that knew of Draco’s activities when he was wandless. He hadn’t missed the note of concern in Mikael’s voice. The note of caution that was there as well.
“She had the baby. His name is Jack. I—I’ve been helping them.” He couldn’t lie to Mikael. Not just because he was into the whole being honest thing but because this was Mikael, his mentor and friend when he hadn’t had any.
“Draco, ya think that’s wise? I mean after J—“
Draco cut him off. “Look, it’s not the same! It’s not like that at all. She’s—I’m—we’re not involved in that way. She just lost the man she’s loved since she was a little girl. I’m not about to jump someone like that!” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair, the short ends sticking up in the back. “I wouldn’t even if that was the case. We have a—a history, a bad one.”
Mikael knew nothing of Draco’s magical background and he wanted to keep it that way. After—he turned away from that line of that. “But she needed help Mikael. Her son, Jack—she wasn’t very good with him when she first had him. She was too caught up in her grief and I found myself there, helping.” He realized he was rambling. “We’re just friends.”
Mikael stared at him, his dark eyes taking in the changes he saw in the younger man. Not just the scar but the fact that he seemed to sit a little straighter, his eyes ablaze with a purpose a little higher than getting money or getting laid. Whatever had happened that night and since seemed to have a maturing effect on the lad. He’d been one bitter and wild boy when Mikael had met him and he appreciated the change he saw before him now.
“A’right, I get it. Didn’t mean t’offend. Just concerned, is all.” Mikael held his hands up in the universal sign of defeat. He watched as Draco straightened out the cards on the table. He felt that he wanted to acknowledge this changing young man. He liked this direction better than the one he’d seen him going in months before. “You’re lookin’ better, Drake.”
Draco paused in putting the cards back together again and met his mentor’s eyes. He saw what Mikael had seen in him, the small smile of approval crinkling the man’s face. He felt his shoulders relax. “Yeah, I feel like I am.”
How’d you like it? My main concern with this chapter here was the jumping of time that I did. I hope that the story isn’t seeming rushed at this point because I don’t want it to be. I’ve definitely gotten good encouragement in taking my time from various friends here. I appreciate any feedback on this! It's what feeds my poor starving artist soul.
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