Chapter 14 : Fragile Friends
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"Why is it that sometimes you seem to know more about Jack than I do?"
The question was directed at the man who currently had the baby high in the air above him. Jack's ginger wisps blew gently in the slight breeze that sought to lift the summer air as his searching fingers tried to reach Draco's blond hair. The man would move him just close enough so that he could touch his head before pulling the baby away again. Jack loved the game Hermione had privately named "Balding Draco".
Without looking at her, he replied, "It's a man thing." Jack seemed to agree, given his gurgle of laughter. Then again, it might be the fact that Draco was swooping him back over his head.
Hermione rolled her eyes but couldn't help grinning at Jack's pleasure. He'd grown so much in the past six months. When she let him play on the living room floor, he'd maneuver himself into a sitting position and even wriggle around somewhat across the small space she'd charmed so that he wouldn't be able to hurt himself. She was thankful that his tremors incident didn't seem to have any lasting effect on him. Overall he was a happy baby.
Sometimes Jack would get into crying moods or tantrums that she didn't know how to deal with. Just like the first time she'd seen Draco handle the baby when he was like that, it was Draco who was the one able to calm the crying child down. She hadn't told Draco this, wasn't planning on telling him either, but she had tried his tactics herself: the airplane ride, the Balding Draco game and even dropping her voice a notch in hopes that she could have a low timbre like Draco. None of these worked with her and she would just have to wait until her baby fell asleep.
When Draco was the one to do these things with Jack, he would immediately respond; quieting down or even smiling up at the man, adoration clear in his eyes. Hermione didn't doubt Jack's love for her, she could feel it any time she held the little baby, but there was a special bond between the man and her child that she wasn't able to fathom. It made her sad because she felt that this was the bond that Ron was supposed to have. She wanted to resent Draco, wanted to get him to butt out of such a private relationship. Then she would watch Jack and Draco interact and she didn't have the heart to do that.
She was ashamed to admit it to herself, now that she was awake to life once more, but Draco had been there for Jack when he'd needed that parent to bond with. She hadn't been. For some reason, the child had chosen Draco over Ginny and Harry and it was Draco who held that special spot in his heart. He loved his aunt and uncle as well (really, the baby loved anybody) but Draco and Hermione, it seemed, held "parent" status for him. It was a thought that both disturbed her but also didn't seem absolutely wrong to her. At least she wasn't alone.
She watched Draco bring the baby's belly to his face so he could make ridiculous and nonsensical noises. It was actually astonishing how well Draco got on with the baby. "How do you get along so well with Jack? Did you have a secret little brother or something?"
Draco stopped blowing on Jack's belly abruptly, bringing the baby slowly down to his lap. "No," he answered simply, yet the word packed such emotion in it. Hermione felt the change in his mood as if a sheet of ice cold wind had just blown through her though the season was turning warm. He didn't look at her, staring down at Jack as the baby looked around interestingly before finding his pacifier in the front of his overalls. His failed attempts at getting it into his mouth brought a sad smile to Draco's face.
She opened her mouth to ask him about his sudden shift in demeanor when she heard a voice call from down the street. "Hermione!"
Looking for the source of the voice, she saw Ginny making her way through the pedestrians to the small café she and Draco were at in a side street of Diagon Alley.
After that afternoon a couple of weeks ago where the ice had been broken, she'd gotten over her private prejudice of being seen with a Malfoy. She knew that the general society did not think highly of him or his family, especially after their very public trial, but at this point, she was prepared to hang society. Her son wanted to be around this man. And at least he wasn't a complete arse anymore. Draco had been surprised when she'd suggested that they grab some lunch here after their park visit that day but he hadn't asked her about it and had gone along.
As Ginny walked up to them, Hermione noted the slight widening of her friend's eyes at the sight of her and Draco. The look was quickly masked in a warm smile and friendly hellos. She kissed Hermione on the cheek and reached for Jack who went willingly into his auntie's arms. "How's the little boy? How're you?" she cooed.
This was one of the things Hermione liked about bringing Jack out. He always garnered such loving affection from anyone who saw him. While she didn't let just anyone pick him up, the fact that her son knew that he was loved made her glow with motherly pride. Plus, Jack just soaked it all up. He seemed so seated in the present, enjoying anything that happened around him.
After Ginny was done with her Jack-worshipping, she pulled a chair over to sit with them. She glanced at Draco from the corner of her eye. He seemed to get the hint and got up, saying, "I'll see if there's any pastries I'd like for dessert." He disappeared through the door to inside the café.
Hermione leaned forward in her seat. "Is everything alright?" she asked in concern, feeling that getting Draco out of the way suggested that it was family business they were talking about.
Ginny looked up from contemplating Jack who was busying himself with trying to catch the ends of her fiery mane. "Oh yes, everything's fine," she rushed to reassure her sister-in-law. "I was actually just about to visit you when I happened to see you here. With Draco."
"Yes." Hermione had caught the extra emphasis Ginny had put on the end of her statement. She glanced at the café window where she could see Draco inside, hands in the pockets of his khaki slacks, looking with concentration at the pastries on display. "I—you were right, Gin. He's changed. He's actually been a big help with Jack. He's actually…likeable." The word rolled off her tongue strangely. She'd thought it plenty of times since they'd started meeting up, but to actually say it out loud was something else entirely.
Ginny smiled, pleased at her friend's willingness to see beyond old prejudices. "I know. It's strange, isn't it? But people change." She then changed the subject.
"You remember when I told you at the beginning of the year that Harry and I'd have to do some needed preps work for the World Cup next year?"
Hermione nodded. Ginny was in the Department of Games and Sports at the Ministry, specifically as the Head Coordinator for Quidditch. She'd played four seasons with the Holyhead Harpies before she'd had to retire due to a wrist injury that hadn't healed up correctly. But she'd found her niche in the Department of Games and Sports so Hermione didn't think it was too much of a loss.
Since she had started working as Head Coordinator, Ginny had been working on increasing the British wizarding community's awareness of other countries' own communities through the friendly competition of Quidditch. She felt that this would help keep the peace that the world had found after the fall of Voldemort. The World Cup was an excellent event on which to promote friendly competition while maintaining good relations so she had been working with the Brazilian Ministry of Magic to coordinate holding the popular game in their country.
"Well, we just got clearance from the Brazilian Ministry to scout the location along with their own G&S people but the window is only open for the next month. So Harry and I are leaving next week with some of his Ward-Makers to at least finalize the location and start setting up the wards. We'll probably be about three weeks out." Ginny's tone was slightly diffident, a little worried how her friend would take having her only best friends leave for such an extended period of time.
Hermione didn't miss the note of concern in Gin's voice. She placed a reassuring hand on her friend's arm, just above Jack's head. The baby had been lulled to sleep by the conversation and the warm weather. "That's great news, Gin. You have nothing to worry about. I'm better now. You've seen that, haven't you?"
Ginny's face relaxed into a smile and she nodded. Her brown eyes showed relief at Hermione's support. "I know. Yes, you've been doing wonderfully, actually. I mean, look at him," she looked down at her nephew, love and pride evident in her face, "such a perfect little guy."
Hermione's hand left Ginny's arm to touch Jack's head in agreement. Of course, there was only just a little bias there.
Draco popped through the door, chewing on part of the chocolate croissant he held in his hand. He raised his eyebrows at the women, silently asking if it was okay to come back.
Ginny nodded and then gave a soft chuckle. "You saving that for later?" she asked, indicating the side of her own mouth.
Hermione looked back at him and saw the remains of chocolate before Draco wiped it off with an embarrassed swipe of his hand. He smiled in good humor though and sat back down. The rest of the afternoon passed in companionable chatter.
Draco walked home after having paid a reluctant visit to his parents whom he'd been neglecting in favor of Jack who was someone he wasn't going to tell his meddling and still deeply prejudiced parents about.
It was just another habit that he'd picked up in living the muggle life: walking. There were times when he resented it, usually when the weather was inclement (this was before he learned to drive) and then there were times like now, where he actually enjoyed just watching the streets and the sky above as he ambled along. He knew he didn't look like he was particularly enjoying himself, but hell, he never looked like that.
Making it to the building of his flat, he took the lift to his floor. When the doors opened, he saw a flash of blonde in the hallway and instantly thought of Jemima. He shook his head, clearing his mind. Jemima was gone. She wasn't ever going to come back to him. She hated him. He knew why his thoughts lingered on her though, as of recent. There was a part of him that sided with Mikael in his concern for him helping Hermione and Jack, but it was a part easily smothered by the rest of him.
Stepping out of the elevator, he dug in his pocket for his keys when he noticed someone standing in front of his door. Looking up from her bare legs to the light summer dress that artfully wrapped around her petite frame, he met the cocky smile and cold blue stare of Sybil.
He stopped where he was and let out a sigh of exasperation. "Really, Sybil? Does 'no' mean anything to you? Do I have to spell it out?"
Sybil didn't respond to his statement except for a slight tightening of her lips. Maybe earlier today, he might've taken some satisfaction in that reaction. Now, he was just tired from already having to deal with his anxious mother and his depressing father that he just wanted to go to sleep.
"You've been seeing someone else," she said, her voice rough with some sort of emotion that Draco didn't care to interpret.
"No, I haven't," he responded curtly. "Now, move." He stepped forward with his key, using his larger size to intimidate her into stepping aside. She moved, just barely but enough so that he could insert his key and open the door. He could feel his temper starting to ignite at her obstinacy.
"I can't believe you'd go after the woman whose husband you helped kill," she hissed venomously as he passed her.
Anger exploded in his mind at her words and he roughly grabbed her arm and pulled her through the door, pushing her against it as it slammed closed.
"What the fuck did you just say?" he yelled at her. He tried to keep the anger in check. He didn't want to hurt her. No, actually he did but he wasn't going to give into those dark impulses any longer. He'd been trying too long at boxing away that part of him to do that.
That cocky smile was back. God, she was sick.
"Draco," she crooned, pulling her shoulders up and lifting her chin a little, knowing just the angle to set off her features, "don't you think it's just a bit morbid to be messing around with a woman you basically widowed?"
His fists clenched. The bitch had actually repeated what she'd said. "What are you talking about?" he said in a low and icy voice. He knew what she was inferring about but he wanted to hear what her selfish mind had twisted it into.
"Oh, come on, Draco." Her tone was patronizing. "We've never been anything but honest to each other and you're too much like me to play dumb. Don't pretend that I wouldn't know about Hermione," she spat the name out.
"What are you doing?" He threw his arms up in frustration. "Spying on me? Don't you have anything better to do with your life? Some other man to suck dry of his gold? Nothing is happening with Hermione! Not that it's even any of your business!"
She folded her arms across her chest, one perfectly arched eyebrow lifting in skepticism. "Nothing? Then why do you meet with her and her baby almost everyday? Does she know what you've done, Draco? How can she allow you near her son?"
At the mention of Jack, Draco froze momentarily. Fuck. He didn't want her to know anything about that, about what that child meant to him. The woman wanted something, he'd bet his right arm on it. He knew that she'd accepted that they were over but now he also knew that she'd come up with a contingency plan.
Because she was right about them, how they were similar. Or how they had been similar. Selfish, greedy, into the pleasure of the moment and damning of any consequences. But he wasn't like that anymore. He'd learned in his weeks at St. Mungo's, in his time with Jack and now Hermione. He'd learned that he could be a little more than a bastard who took what he wanted; that he could do good.
And Sybil wasn't going to do anything to ruin that.
"What do you want, Sybil?" He strove to keep his voice cool. She was not going to see what Jack meant to him because she'd use that to her advantage.
She smiled a satisfied smirk, dropped her arms and walked toward him, a seductive sway to her hips. Just before she reached him, he gave her a chilly glare, a warning she smartly took and changed direction to head into his living room. Her delicate fingers caressed his black leather sofa before she turned to lean on it and pin Draco with her stare.
"I want money." At least she was being blunt.
"Yeah, I figured, but I don't know why you think I'm going to give you any." He'd stayed where he was and crossed his arms, settling into as imposing stance as he knew how. And he knew he could do Intimidating with the best of them. It'd come in use in his gaming days.
"Because, Drakey," he knew she dropped that in there to get a rile out of him and so he ignored the pet name, "if you don't give me 20,000 Galleons, I'll tell Hermione about why exactly Blaise was drunk and driving on that night."
His hands went cold.
"I don't think she'll want you around after that." She finished with a triumphant smile. She hadn't missed his reaction. She stood up straight, pulled down the hem of her dress so that it barely reached her knees and ran a hand through her hair, settling it back into its perfect waves. She made her way to the door. "But, I think I'll let you think about it, love. Call me." She gave him one last sultry look and then left.
He stared at the door, his thoughts racing. Hermione would kill him if she knew why Blaise was on the road drunk. She'd already had to overcome her hatred and prejudice from years ago to even allow him around Jack. And even then the only redeeming quality about him was that he'd actually saved her and her baby on the night of the accident. But if she knew about Blaise…
He finally moved, making his way to his living room and sitting heavily in a matching leather chair which creaked as he sat. Head in his hands, he stared at the wooden floor. He could make out his distorted reflection in the sheen.
There was no way in hell he was going to pay the bitch off. She'd just keep coming back for more. But similarly, he wasn't going to tell Hermione anything more than he'd already said.
He didn't know what to do.
Ah ha! Now we've got some action in here! Sorry for the cliffie but I'm definitely going to keep writing so no throwing tomatoes at me! As always, I love hearing your thoughts on this! I love you all!
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