Chapter 15 : Forged in Flames
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The corner of the coffee table sagged briefly as Draco tried to get a better grip on it.
“Be careful!” Hermione’s voice rang out at the other end of the table. Her dark hair was once again piled messily on top of her head, curly strands falling out. He wondered if she even thought about making herself look a little more presentable. His mind brought up images of Hermione in Hogwarts. The answer was no. He smiled inwardly, not wanting to rile her up even more than she was already. He’d somehow gotten roped into helping her move into a cottage she’d recently bought. He would forever remember after this that Hermione and moving did not mix well.
“Remind me again, why I’m helping you with this manual labor?” He couldn’t help the snotty tone he took on. He was half joking and half not. He wasn’t one to get his hands dirty too often. He’d done it at St. Mungo’s because he’d had to and then had liked it, but the process of shifting furniture and other minutia across kilometers of land was now something he could file under I don’t like.
“Because the rest of my family have lives and you don’t,” she replied shortly, as she angled the coffee table into the position she liked in her sitting room. She was definitely not in a pleasant mood. For some reason, Draco found this amusing.
“You also forgot your wand,” Hermione added. Draco didn’t miss the extra emphasis but neither did he respond. The reason for that was too personal and he wasn’t going to get into it with her.
In his playpen in the corner, Jack watched the two adults maneuvering furniture, lamps and books about with interest. He was away from any possible dangers but close enough to be kept an eye on.
Draco straightened as Hermione floated another box in from the moving van outside. As Hermione was distracted with opening the box and poking around it, Draco decided that a break was in order and ambled over to Jack. The baby saw him coming and smiled delightedly, holding up his arms for Draco to pick him up.
“Hey! I didn’t say we were done!” Draco looked at Hermione whose arms were on her hips and a very annoyed look on her face. Jack’s head had swung around at his mum’s voice but he’d apparently decided it was safer with Draco as he settled his head against the man’s shoulder.
He raised his eyebrows at her tone, his hand coming up to cup Jack’s ears. She rolled her eyes at his action and went back to rummaging through the last boxes, mumbling underneath her breath. He didn’t catch what she was saying but he was sure it was aimed at him and anything but flattering.
The cottage Hermione was moving into was small but a decent size. Two levels, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a kitchen and a front room which opened into a small dining area. The first floor was an open space that made the small house seem bigger than it actually was. He’d gotten a glimpse of it from the outside: pale-green painted wood and stone melded together to form the outer walls with intersecting gables, a large chimney and a bay window where the sitting room was. The word “quaint” seemed to be the only appropriate word for the Weasleys’ new home.
“So, you never really told me if you were accepting Jack’s trust fund or not.” She glanced up at him, a little surprised. It was out of the blue having been several months since the one and only time he’d brought the trust fund up. Since Sybil had visited him, he’d been thinking of ways to imbed himself in Jack’s life so that if Hermione blew up (which was an almost guarantee), he wouldn’t be able to be thrown out of the child’s life. There wasn’t much that he had going in his favor though, just that Jack seemed to love him and lots of money at his disposal. He wasn’t going to exploit Jack’s love so he was going to use what he had.
She straightened and came around her couch to lean against it, looking at him and Jack. “It was definitely generous of you to do that, Draco, but like I said earlier, money doesn’t buy everything.”
Does she know what I’m trying to do? He thought with sudden anxiety. She wasn’t a stupid woman. He knew already that her uptight morals wouldn’t allow for him to basically bribe her into keeping him around despite the crimes against her family but he really didn’t know what else to do. He needed Jack and Jack needed him. If the goal was good, then didn’t that mean how he got there didn’t matter?
He shifted the baby in his arms so that Jack rested against his other shoulder. Jack didn’t wake up, making an unintelligible noise as he settled against Draco. He knew that the baby was probably drooling on him but he didn’t care. His comforting baby smells bolstered Draco’s confidence. Jack needed me.
“I know. But you know me or at least my family. We’ve got too much money even after all the fines, taxes and such that I want to do something good with it. Besides it’s my money I’m using anyway so I’ll do what I want with it.” He hoped he didn’t sound as petulant as his words were.
She smiled a little at his tone. “I just don’t feel like we need the charity.”
Why did she have to be so stubborn and full of pride? He just barely managed not to roll his eyes. “It’s not charity, Hermione. It’s for Jack. You’re a single mother and while you’ve got a lot of family, it’s not like they’re rolling in the dough.” He tried to inject some humor into his statement as he didn’t want her to be insulted for calling the Weasleys poor even though they were. At least compared to his family.
She didn’t seem to take it as an insult, or maybe she just expected that type of statement from him. She took a moment before speaking again, “Okay, for Jack. But he isn’t touching it until he’s gone to university or started working for a couple of years. I want my son to learn how to earn money on his own and not be a trust fund baby.”
He caught the undertone of what she was saying and this time did roll his eyes. He wanted to childishly reply to her barb but withheld himself. “You’ll be in charge of it anyway. I put it in your name.”
At this she really smiled at him. “Thank you.”
He nodded, not used to accepting anyone’s gratitude. Her mobile ringing helped distract her from his embarrassment. Getting off the sofa, she took the phone out of her pocket, looking at the caller ID. “Oh, it’s my mother. Hi, Mum!” she answered.
After barely two seconds of being on the phone, he watched her face go white and she slumped against the sofa again. “Oh my god,” she breathed, a hand moving to cover her mouth. He moved to stand next to her in case she fainted. She was so pale.
“When?...You’re at the hospital? Which one?...I’ll be right over.”
Draco could only here one side of the conversation but drew in a breath at the mention of a hospital. He couldn’t help but feel sympathetic for Hermione who had already had enough tragedy in her life for someone as young as she was. He stood silently by as she finished the call and hung up.
She couldn’t believe what her mother had just told her. It was too soon. She had just started learning to deal with Ron’s death. She couldn’t handle another. That numbness that had been her life for the weeks following Ron’s death crept back to the threshold of her mind. It wanted in and she almost wanted to allow it. Almost.
She felt a touch on her arm. Dragging her gaze up, she met Draco’s concerned eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Taking a deep shuddering breath, she answered, her voice somehow having gotten rough in the past few minutes, “It’s my father. He just had a stroke and is in the hospital.” She closed her eyes, trying not to cry. She was done with crying.
“Oh.” He was uncomfortable and yet he tried to help. “Are you—will you go to the hospital?” he asked.
She opened her eyes which were wet with unshed tears. “I’d like to, except,” she paused and looked around, bringing a hand up to rub at her temple, feeling a headache coming on, “I only have the van for another hour before I have to return it and I’ve still got so many boxes to move. And I don’t want to bring the baby back to the hospital.” Her voice quieted on this last part. The hospital had just been pain for Jack in his short life, she didn’t want to keep exposing him to that.
Draco was quiet for a moment. “I’ll mind Jack and help unload the van so you can see your dad,” he offered, diffidently.
Hermione couldn’t help showing a bit of concern on her face. They’d become friends over the past few months but leaving him alone with son in her home wasn’t something she’d even contemplated. There was only so far she was willing to trust this man. And yet, as she looked into his eyes, she found something there. It was something she hadn’t even really known she was looking for, except she realized now that she had been seeing it now for some time.
It was sincerity and genuine friendship she saw and it nudged her into accepting his help. “Alright. Thanks.” They looked at each other, assessing and acknowledging what had just transpired. In the midst of tragedy and loss, they had formed a bond, a friendship that was actually worth something. That was worth it to both of them.
The next week fell into a different sort of routine for both Draco and Hermione. She had asked for his help the day after her father’s stroke and it had become a daily thing after that. She hadn’t needed to ask and he also didn’t mention it. He would stop off at her house after lunch while she would make it to the hospital and later to her parents’ house to see her father. It would be unnerving to her, this easy understanding that seemed to form between her and Draco, if she had the time to pay attention to it, but she didn’t.
She’d gone to see her mother and father at the hospital near Wapping on the day of her father’s stroke. By the time she’d gotten there, having to travel the muggle route, her father was already asleep with some medication. Her mother sat in a chair beside his bed, alternately watching the rise and fall of his chest and the IV as it dripped down to her husband.
Hermione had rushed into the room to embrace her mother, feeling almost like that weepy, bushy-haired girl she’d been. Jean had hugged her back, just as tight as she’d done when her daughter was little. They’d stayed that way for a moment before Hermione had pulled back.
“He’s okay, honey,” her mother had comforted her, pushing strands of her daughter’s curly hair back into the bun she had. “It was just a minor stroke, but we got here in time for the doctors to stabilize it.”
Hermione had let out a deep breath of relief, wiping away the few tears that had fallen. She’d stood up to take her father’s still hand as it lay on the blanket. “Will he recover fully?” she’d asked, feeling so very young, compared to the lines drawn across her father’s face, the slight lack of muscle tone on the left-side of his face.
Jean also stood up to put an arm around her daughter, leaning her head against hers, gray mixing with brown. “The doctors can’t say, but if he works with them and if we help him, he should be fine.”
Hermione had closed her eyes for a moment in thanks to whatever god was out there. They had stood there for hours, watching the man, both a husband and a father, sleep.
After the fourth day of being hospitalized, the doctor had deemed it safe to release Greg Granger into the care of his family, with weekly visits to the physical therapist to ensure he continued to retrain the muscles that had been affected. Hermione had been on hand to help her mother move her dad to their house, thankful that it was just a one-floor building. It would probably be the first time that she’d thought that, having complained mightily about not having any stairs when she was growing up.
Hermione had been torn between spending as much time with her parents, helping them through this rough patch in their lives, especially now that they were older and also ensuring that Jack was being cared for and not being neglected by his mother. Jean hadn’t missed the conflict in her, perhaps remembering her early days as a mother, and had assured Hermione that she needn’t be so worried about them. “We’re old and experienced, love, and have weathered a few tough times of our own in the past. We’ve even done well at raising a beautiful woman who ended up opening a whole new world to us. You don’t need to mother us, we’ll be fine.”
Hermione had put up a protest at this, not wanting to leave anything open for Death to come swooping in. She hadn’t said that but it was a thought always at the back of her mind. Jean had smiled and hugged her daughter and assured her that she would call her as soon as she needed help.
Still, Hermione kept checking back for the next few days. Greg hadn’t really been able to talk following the stroke and had really only been able to smile and hug Hermione, one-armed. She hoped that the paralysis would fade. And one day, about six days after he’d come home, he spoke. He’d asked for some water. Jean had nearly dropped the glass she’d brought into the room and Hermione had had to cover her mouth to hold back a sob that had just about escaped. She had hoped that he would be able to talk, had spoken in a positive manner about it. But there was some part of her behind it all that hadn’t really believed, that had doubted.
Not wanting to cry in front of her parents, she’d said bye to both of them and Apparated home. She could feel herself walking on the edge of a waterfall of tears. Somehow her father finally speaking after thinking that maybe he wouldn’t again had let loose that thin barricade she kept around tears she had stopped herself from crying over the past months. She truly thought she would be able to leave them there forever, and then now….
It was the sudden appearance of Hope that had gotten to her. After having everything ripped away from her half a year ago, she thought that life was just going to take one more person. That maybe it was just going to start picking them off, all the important people in her life, one by one, like a sniper in one of those horrible American movies. And then her dad had spoken. He’d asked for water.
She cried. She couldn’t hold it back any long. She was standing in the middle of her kitchen, barely noting the fact that dinner had been started on the stove, and she just sobbed. She brought her hands up to cover her face, dropping her wand in the process and just let herself go. She didn’t care that she was making noise. She didn’t care that Draco was probably somewhere in the house with Jack and he would see her. She was tired. She was emotional and she just needed to let it all out.
She heard footsteps enter the room and felt warm, strong arms surround her. And it had been so long since someone had just comforted her that she let herself be pulled into the embrace. She buried her face in his chest and cried. A hand smoothed her hair in a cautious but soothing motion.
It was some time before she was finally able to stop crying. A tissue had appeared in her hand at some point and she wiped it against her eyes and nose. They hadn’t moved from the kitchen or from their embrace and she wasn’t inclined to do so at the moment. Soon, she knew her analytical self would rear her head, but for now, she was just going with instinct. Sometimes, a hug was just what was needed.
After a moment, she pulled back. His arms dropped easily and he took a step back himself. She concentrated on blowing her nose and straightening her hair, unable to look at him now that she was thinking once more. She heard him clear his throat and noticed that he was at the other end of the kitchen now, leaning against the counter that divided kitchen from dining room. She threw her tissue away and looked up at him, from her safe spot of the sink. His face was a little pink and she was sure hers was too.
Hugging was not in the Draco-Hermione Friendship Booklet.
Finally, after both of them spent a very long and drawn out minute avoiding each others’ gaze, they made eye contact. He cleared his throat again, rolling down the sleeve of his dark blue shirt. She was embarrassed to see tear stains across the front. “Did he—did your dad—die?” He didn’t want to ask but he felt it would be better that she spoke about it rather than bottled it.
She smiled a little at that, remembering what exactly had set her off. “No,” she replied, running a sheepish hand through her hair, “he’s fine. More than fine actually, right now. He finally spoke today.”
He smiled in relief at her statement, glad for her. Then his pale eyebrows came together and his head cocked to the side in confusion. “Then why were you crying?” As soon as he asked, he felt he shouldn’t have. It’s not like he really needed to know. “Did he say something to upset you?”
“No,” she replied. She bit her lip, glancing away for a second before her brown eyes met his. “He asked for water.”
He stared at her.
She stared back at him.
And they both started laughing at the same time.
She didn’t really know why they found that so funny, but she didn’t care. Just as it had been so long since she had been simply held; it had been just as long since she’d just let herself laugh. And she appreciated him for being there for both.
Thank you again for continuing to read this story. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your feedback, especially if it’s just to tell me to continue! It really encourages me on this big endeavor of getting this novel completed. I haven’t ever written this much in one story. I’m more of a one-shot/drabble girl so to have something in my writing that I can call “novel-length” is so epic to me!! Thanks again and please do review (even if it’s short).
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