Chapter 1 : Scenes from a London Coffee Shop
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Draco stepped forward to claim his steaming cup from the barista behind the counter at Bea's. He added a bit more sugar and a splash of milk to cool it down, and moved to a small table inside the front door. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed the scene in the muggle cafe. Nervous couples on first dates, a mother reading a romance novel while absentmindedly pushing her buggy back and forth with her foot, and a few people pecking away on what Draco had learned were laptop computers. He had marveled at them the first time he'd encountered one, vastly more efficient than quill and parchment. But the best part of being here was that no one knew who he was. Disappearing into muggle London was a wonderful respite from the stares and whispers that followed him in places around Diagon Alley. Draco understood, of course, the facsination that followed the son of a Death Eater who'd just recently succumbed to the Dementor's Kiss, but it did wear on one after awhile. The anonymity that the muggle world provided him was something he took great solace. The irony of which, given his pureblood and prejudiced roots, was not lost on him.
So when he heard a woman's voice call out "Draco?", he snapped out of his wandering thoughts, wondering who on earth would know him here. Even his fiance, Astoria, didn't know about this.
He turned around to face an attractive woman smartly dressed in a muggle dress with knee high boots, topped off with a jean jacket and scarf. She looked incredibly familiar, but he couldn't quite place where he knew her from.
"Draco, it's me... Hermione."
Draco tried not to look shocked. It was the hair, he decided quickly. The bushy curls he had remembered were smoothed out into beautiful chestnut brown waves. He silently wondered if now that she was done saving the world, she had finally decided to pay a bit of mind to her appearance and mastered some basic grooming spells.
"Granger, is that really you?"
"Well, it's actually Granger-Weasley, now, but yes, the very same."
"So, the Weasel finally did make an honest witch of you," he drawled. "Congratulations, I suppose."
"Honestly, Draco, still keeping on with the schoolboy nicknames? Guess not much has changed."
"Oh, plenty has changed, Granger... sorry, Weasley..." Draco said, staring intently into his coffee cup. "More than just your last name, certainly."
Hermione had the decency to flush a bit at the comment, undoubtedly aware of the recent headlines screaming of his father's fate. Sensing the unease, she quickly changed tacks.
"You're just about the last person I'd expect to see out and about in muggle London, Malfoy."
"Draco, please," he supplied quickly, wishing for some space between him and his infamous last name.
"Draco, then," Hermione olbliged. "I didn't peg you for one that would deign to associate with the rabble."
Draco snorted. "Rabble? In a posh cafe that serves a spot of coffee at five quid?"
"I thought all muggles classed as 'rabble' for you, monsieur pure blood."
"I've come around a bit on that front," he mused. "What about you? I'm surprised to see you out and about in something other than your ministry robes, as I hear you're something of a rising star."
"Well," she said lightly, "there are those of us that do have to work for a living, Draco. But actually, I'm just on my way to meet my little sister."
"I had always heard you were an only child," Draco noted, confused.
"Not my actual little sister. My volunteer little sister."
"Afraid I still don't follow."
"After the war, Kingsley and I worked to set up a foundation," she explained. "The purpose is to help young muggle-born wizards and witches better navigate the challenges of living with a foot in both worlds. We match up Hogwarts students with adult muggle-borns who can help work with the family to understand what it's like, and help them build connections to wizarding families."
"Looks like the wizarding world really is changing, then. Congrats," said Draco, tipping his mug in her direction.
"Well, it's not much yet," she noted shyly, reaching to push her hair behind her ear. "But hopefully it can one day be something important."
As she smoothed her hair back, Draco noticed two things. The first, a sizeable wedding set loaded with diamonds. Being a War Hero must have been good business for the family coffers, Draco thought dryly. Before the war, the Weasleys barely had two knuts to rub together. That ring was certainly an indication that times had changed. The second was a scar that stood out pale pink on the skin of her neck, disappearing below her scarf. Draco felt a rush of shame, knowing that the scar was courtesy of his aunt Bellatrix. How could this woman even speak to him now, knowing what his family had done to her. But along with that rush of shame, Draco also felt strangely like he wouldn't mind kissing that scar... a thought that intruiged, confused, and to a certain degree, repulsed him.
Hermione caught him staring at the scar along her neck and busied herself with adjusting her hair and scarf to cover it back up. "So what of it, Draco? What ARE you doing here?"
He sighed heavily, wondering how much to share. But he felt like there was something he could trust in her brown eyes, knowing that if anyone would understand his predicament, it would be the brightest witch of her age, and a member of the Golden Trio, to boot.
"Sometimes it's an awful lot of pressure being me," he said simply. "I imagine you know what it's like to have a lot of whispers follow in your wake where ever you are." Hermione gave a sympathetic nod. Draco continued "And at least for you, and Potter and Weasley, those are whispers of adulation. In my case, it's pretty much universal revulsion. And what with all the business with Father recently, well..." He gave another sigh. "It's just a bit... much."
"I am sorry about your father, Draco. Despite everything, well, I know he's still your dad."
Draco snorted. "Right. The man who painstakingly passed on all his most treasured bigotry and idocacy."
Hermione was taken aback. "That's a bit surprising coming from the first man to ever call me 'mudblood."
Draco avoided her eyes. "I learned that from him."
"But it sounds like now, you've learned differently?"
"What, Hermione, did you think that being a bigot was a pure blood genetic trait? No, prejudice is something you've got to be carefully taught."
Now it was Hermione's turn to sigh. "Well, sad to say it sometimes goes both ways. It's not like the wizarding community has exactly been kind to those who may have been forced into certain beliefs since the war."
Draco gave a sarcastic laugh. "No, not exactly."
"Maybe by the next generation, they'll have it sorted," Hermione added hopefully. "And there won't even need to be blood questions, one can just BE."
"And be with," Draco mused, drawing a quizzical look from Hermione.
"I think..." Draco drew a deep breath. "I think, in another time, you're the type of witch my father would have respected, maybe even have wanted for me. Merlin knows you're a far superior talent than most of what the pathetic pureblood pool has to offer."
Hermione smiled. "Well, forgive me for saying that I never really considered whether I could be the type of witch that Lucius Malfoy would be fond of."
Draco returned her smile. "I understand. But I also don't imagine you'd ever considered if you're the type of witch that DRACO Malfoy would be fond of, either."
"Merlin, Draco, you loathed me when we were at school!"
"Well, you WERE a bit of a know-it-all," he smirked. "And you were quite too occupied with your school work and the Weasel to worry much about doing something with your frightful hair."
"Why Draco, you certainly know how to compliment a girl."
"But, he added, "seeing the grown up Hermione, well... perhaps I shouldn't have been such a pompous git in those days."
Hermione blushed a deep scarlet. "You've seemed to turn out not so bad yourself, Draco." She cleared her throat nervously.
"Speaking of who ends up with whom," she said, abruptly changing the subject to dispel the buidling tension, "you're newly engaged, yes?"
A flash of guilt passed through Draco. "Yes, in fact. To Astoria Greengrass. How did you know?"
"The name Malfoy might not be what it once was, but the engagement of the richest wizard in the whole of the United Kingdom still rates a mention in the Prophet's society pages."
"Ah, the Prophet. I'm sure you'll understand I haven't been in any great rush to read the papers lately. But yes, Astoria and I are set to marry in the spring. She's a lovely girl."
"I wouldn't imagine she's anything less. Congratulations to you, then, as well."
"Alright, then, well, I really ought to be going. Don't want to keep a muggle family waiting, after all..."
"Certainly, then, Mrs. Weasley. Good day."
Hermione headed for the door, before turing around hestitantly.
"Draco, would you... would you like to have dinner sometime?"
Draco sat up a little straighter, hardly believing it. The prim and proper Hermione Granger-Weasley, asking him out on a date on the sly? When she was married to the Weasel? Not to say that he wasn't intrigued...
"Ron would probably kill me for even suggesting, but I'd love to have you and Astoria round for dinner some evening." Oh, thought Draco. That's not what she meant. He found himself strangely disappointed.
Draco gave Hermione a smile and a shake of the head. "That's good of you, Hermione, but I can't think of a place in all of Christendom where I'm LESS welcome than at Ron Weasley's dining table."
Hermione sighed. "You're probably right. I just wish... I wish things were different, Draco."
"I find myself wishing they'd been different all along, Granger. But I'll hold out hope for the next generation, as you said."
Hermione smiled. "Yes, let's."
As she turned and left the cafe, Draco found himself watching her walk away. Get it together, Draco! he mentally scolded himself. She's a sodding mudblood! But even as he thought it, he knew he no longer believed it. The world had changed, and Draco with it. And if any son of his came home and told him he was in love with a fiery Gryffindor, well... he can only imagine he would be pleased.