Chapter 16 : Coward
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This particular chapter has been sitting on my computer for some months incomplete. I think it's turned out okay, but I've been out of the running so long, I'd appreciate any feedback. Even if it's cc. Thank so much for reading this story. It's actually quite close to my little writer's heart as I feel I've grown a lot in writing this so far.
And to anyone who's interested. I would say that this story was about halfway or nearly over halfway done. It depends if all the characters cooperate with me nicely.
I know I've said this already, but I really would like feedback on this story, even if you just drop me a line to let me know that you're still out there! Now, on with the show!
Chapter 16, Coward
The August night was warm, the heat from the day still lingering in the air, curling the ends of Hermione's hair even more than usual as she paused outside of the Burrow's gates. The eclectic house had been such a stable point in her life: a place to go to on holidays, a haven of safety in the middle of the War, a home away from home.
Since Ron's death though, she hadn't been able to call the place home. It was only now, six months later, that she had been able to make the trip to see the house. Molly and Arthur had visited her a handful of times at her parents' house or her old flat. It had only been a handful because of the discomfort that stalked their conversations when they ran out of things to say about the weather, the rest of the family or Jack. Hermione wasn't sure what the change was except, deep down, she felt that maybe they blamed her for their son's death. Analytically, logically, she knew that that couldn't be true, but still, their stilted conversations had no other reasoning to it.
She hadn't really seen the other Weasley relatives other than Ginny, the wound still fresh and sensitive to the touch. Seeing faces that echoed his just made it so hard to move on, to find that will to continue creating a life without him. Even with Jack, who had become her lighthouse in these past few months, the one who brought her back to shore when she felt herself being swept away on a tide of sorrow, she'd find herself overwhelmed at facing years without Ron. Slowly, those moments were becoming less, but they were not entirely gone.
Six months was a long time, though, to stay away from the family and she couldn't go on avoiding them. She didn't want to anymore anyway. After her father's stroke, she'd come to realize that she couldn't go on not being with her family, couldn't face the fact that maybe, while she was busy holding herself away, that one of those precious people could die.
She shook her head, trying to get rid of the morose feeling that always seemed to want to cling to her. Jack stirred a bit in her arms at her movement, still sleepy from his afternoon nap. She was here for Ginny's birthday party and she wasn't going to bring old Sorrow in with her. It was about time she left it behind.
Taking a deep and steadying breath, she pulled open the gate and stepped within the charmed boundaries of the family home. She shifted the bag with Ginny's present to her other hand while she made a last feeble attempt to flatten her hair against the heat. She hadn't gotten around to really doing more than keeping herself clean in the past few months; make-up and hairdressers falling to the wayside in the face of keeping herself together and making a life on her own and with Jack. She hadn't missed the looks askance that the always fastidious Draco would throw her sometimes when she just threw herself together. She didn't care though, she was only around Jack all day and occasionally him.
The kitchen door opened before Hermione was within three meters of it. Ginny's silhouette was outlined by the lights blazing from the kitchen and beyond, her hair lit up like a flame.
"Hermione!" Her hands came up in a welcoming motion. "Jack!" The baby seemed to be favoring sleep more than his aunt right now. Hermione wondered if Ginny had gotten to the firewhiskey a little early, her manicness suspect.
As Hermione approached her, she saw that the smile was just a little forced, the eyes just a little worried and realized that her sister was concerned about how this evening was going to go. Hermione smiled in reassurance, placing a calming hand on Ginny's shoulder. "Hey," she greeted. "Don't worry, Gin. It's good to be back with the family. I'll be fine." She looked beyond Ginny towards the open door to the living room where she saw most of the family had already gathered. "More than fine actually."
She didn't miss the relaxing of the redhead's shoulders as she was enveloped in a supportive hug. Taking a deep breath, Hermione moved into the living room. Everyone was there with the exception of Charlie who was in Romania and George who was on a business trip in America.
They all fell silent as she walked into the room. Hermione felt frozen, her heart taking a long time to sound its next beat. And then Molly stood up to move towards her and Hermione was swallowed up in warm embraces, friendly hellos and just a few tears.
The movement seemed to unfreeze the rest of the Weasleys who converged on Hermione and Jack. Jack woke up immediately and was instantly swept up into welcoming arms. The rest of the night passed in love and family. Though it was Ginny's party, she deferred to Jack who was finally introduced to his aunts, uncles and his five-year-old cousin Victoire. Hermione sat at the dinner table, looking around at all these faces, people whom she'd been with for nearly half her life and realized that she had a lot more than Jack to just live for.
Draco padded around his flat, checking the windows and turning off the lights, getting ready to turn in for the night. His eyes fell on the papers stacked neatly on his dark wood coffee table and he smiled. It was a smile that had been rare in his life prior to the accident but one which seemed to appear more often these days. The smile was one of pride.
Draco was familiar with pride, but one of a different sort; the kind that went with being of pure blood, of being rich and above the rest of the kids at school, of knowing that he had the winning hand in a game of cards or life. But this type of pride—the kind that came with doing something worthwhile with his life, something that actually helped more than just himself or his family—it was different but it was satisfying in a way that Draco couldn't have imagined.
He sat on the couch, picking up the papers from the table. He flipped through the sheets, not really reading them as he already knew what they were about but just because he wanted to feel the tangible evidence of something good that he'd done. His eyes focused on the signature of the Head Director of St. Mungo's.
It was an idea that Draco had gotten in his weeks at the hospital. The staff there were overworked and underpaid but happy in what they were doing for the most part. He'd come to form respect for the people who chose to work in a field that sometimes robbed one of having a life but gave one a career that left a look of completion on all the faces of those who worked there. They'd been certain in the good they were providing to the community.
He'd seen other volunteers like himself there, people who'd been assigned the work due to some infraction or another. A lot of them didn't have that look of satisfaction. They'd only come to the hospital because they'd had to.
He'd seen one such person, a Milton March, treat a patient's needs as if they were nothing and he'd seen the patient's despairing look when Milton had turned his back. He hadn't liked that look and he'd taken Milton into the corridor and gotten in his face about his attitude. Milton had thought Draco was overreacting until the Chief Healer on duty overheard the argument and, after finding the reason why, had sent Milton out of the hospital, letting him know that he was going to report it to the court. Draco had still been simmering about the man's irresponsibility.
The Chief Healer, Craig Forley, had turned to Draco with a gleam of admiration for the younger man and had clapped him on the shoulder, a friendly gesture. He'd made a simple statement to Draco that meant more to him than anything his own father had imparted to him in his years of growing up in that cold Manor. Craig, a man that Draco had only been around for a few short weeks and who Draco was likely to never see again after his community service was over, had told him, "Who said all Malfoys were bad?"
He felt a corner of his mouth lift at recalling the statement. Everyone said Malfoys were bad. Because they were. But maybe, his finger swept over the text of the papers in his hand, this Malfoy could be good.
The contract and agreement he'd been able to wrangle with St. Mungo's was a scholarship that funded the education and certification of those who wanted to have a career in medicine but were unable to afford it themselves. The granting of such a scholarship would be at the discretion of the hospital board. The only condition that Draco had stipulated was that the applicant would need to volunteer at the hospital for at least three weeks before the person could apply and before the board could make a decision. He thought it would be best if the individual really knew what they were getting into. It wasn't an easy job.
According to the papers, the scholarship was funded by an anonymous donor. While it would look good for the Malfoy name that a member of the family was showing generosity, Draco had not wanted to have his name connected to it. He felt that others would look at it and think that he was trying to ingratiate himself with the "good side" when he was really just doing this for himself in a way, because he wanted to. He didn't want to be judged or measured up against anything. He just wanted to help.
He sighed at the amount of mental maneuvering that seemed to accompany his every action. He didn't know how others seemed to be able to be kind and giving without any other thought of how this might look to others, did they have an ulterior motive in doing so, were they doing this just to have someone indebted to them, etc. These were all his thoughts that tagged onto any movement that could be deemed "selfless." This inner reflection was hard to get used to and sometimes he just wanted to ask Hermione – who seemed to embody "goodness" or, he thought wryly, at least "goody-two-shoes" – if it would get any easier but he'd always hesitated. The hesitation had mainly been due to his dishonesty with her.
His gaze slid to the crumpled note next to the scholarship papers. He didn't need to read it again to remember what it'd said:
I need to know today. Otherwise…
His eyes closed as his head dropped, the weight of Blaise and Ron's deaths sitting heavily on his shoulders. He hadn't forgotten Sybil, he'd just not known what to do about her and so had pushed aside her blackmail attempt while he'd helped Hermione as she'd dealt with her father's stroke. He'd half-hoped that Sybil would have moved onto her next mark by now. But the power of greed ran like blood through the woman's veins.
There really was only one solution to this mess. It had really been the only solution since Sybil had seen him two weeks ago, and would've had to happen anyway if Draco continued to be a part of Jack's life. He would have to tell Hermione himself and hope that she would be able to forgive him. With the decision made, the weight lifted slightly from him and he was able to breath a little easier than he had in months.
The late morning sun found Draco dashing about his flat in a mild panic. He'd woken up later than he had planned and the morning was over half gone. Having spent so much time with Hermione and Jack these past few months, he knew that the best time to catch her for a serious conversation would've been before the day really got going. Jack always seemed a bit subdued until after lunch, something that made Draco feel that the little guy would pick up the habit of drinking coffee once he was old enough.
He dumped the remains of his own coffee cup in the sink and thought briefly of setting the dishwashing charm before rejecting the idea. His own emotions were in more than the normal turmoil at the moment and he didn't trust himself wielding his wand. Jemima's terrified face flashed in his mind and his hands unconsciously clenched. He shook his head, trying to clear it. He did not need those memories surfacing right now.
He apparated in a secluded area at the side of Hermione's home where an ivy-covered wall hid this side of the house from neighbors' eyes. His fingers found the note from Sybil the night before. It wasn't exactly the talisman he would've chosen but it served to keep himself on the course he had set himself to last night. Hermione had been through enough in the past year and what he had to say—to confess—should come from him and not some stranger with a vendetta.
He moved to the front of the cottage and paused at the front steps. He gazed unseeingly at the pale green door. What were a few more moments of hesitation? He was about to do something he'd never thought he'd have to, in his years of growing up with Hermione, Ron and Harry. He also never dreamed of being where he was at now, twisted up inside because Hermione and Ron's son represented all that was good in Draco's life and, he felt his hands grow clammy at this thought, Hermione did, too. Since he'd been involved in these Weasleys' lives, he'd come to like Hermione herself and considered her a friend, one of the very few he had in his life. He did not want to lose that either.
However, he knew he would need to do this if they were to continue at all. If she threw him out of her and Jack's lives, then that was her prerogative, but Draco didn't need to take that lying down. He could fight to have himself heard, try to make it up to her and her son as pitiful as it would be compared to the loss of her husband, but he was damned if he was just going to let his cowardice continue to lay between them.
Taking a deep breath, he consciously relaxed his shoulders and stance, his fingers opening and closing slightly to get the blood flowing once more. As he ascended the first step, the door swung inward. Caught off guard, he froze. His blood ran cold when his eyes met the mocking blue ones of Sybil.
Her eyes widened slightly as she registered who'd come to visit Hermione just before her mouth settled into a smug smirk. She stepped all the way through the doorway, closing it quietly behind her, obviously not wanting the occupants inside to know who was there just yet. She made her way to him in a deliberate and sure manner that was enough to get feeling settling back into his body. The rage was slowly registering on him, not enough to move his horror-stricken muscles just yet but it was there.
"Hadn't expected to see you here, Drakey."
The oiliness of her tone and the abhorrent nickname was enough to overcome the last of his lethargy. Moving before either of them really registered it, he grabbed Sybil's arm and none to gently dragged her down the steps and to the Apparition point. She attempted to struggle out of his hold, but her efforts were met by the implacable anger that surrounded him.
Throwing her arm away from him, he spat at her angrily, unable to gather enough breath to yell, "What did you tell her, bitch?"
Sybil didn't answer right away, her hand coming up to rub at the spot where Draco had grabbed her. It seemed to always be coming to manhandling where Draco was concerned these days. She sighed, her skin remembering the sensuous of his caresses.
His sharp tone and shortened proximity caught her attention. She couldn't help the malicious tilt to her lips. Behind the fury in his gaze, she could see fear lurking there. Good, he deserved to have his heart broken like he'd broken hers. The thought brought her to the matter at hand at last.
"I told her, you coward! I told her!" she hissed back at him, compelled to keep her own volume low. Let the pathetic woman inside be surprised when her traitor lover came to greet her; caught off guard, she would lash out emotionally and not in the analytical way she was known for. "You don't deserve to be known as the 'hero' when you and I both know that that is not who you are. If I'm a bitch then you're a bastard for refusing to tell her that it was you that caused that accident. You're the one who killed her husband."
Despite himself, he flinched.
She didn't miss his reaction and moved in for the kill, her manicured nail hitting him in the chest to punctuate her next statement. "Don't think that just because you got rid of Ron that that means you can just move in on his life. His widow now knows that you haven't changed one bit from your old days and she is ready to take you apart. Live with that, you asshole."
She turned to go, feeling vindicated. It only lasted for a second as Draco got himself together and spun her around once more. His eyes had darkened to granite, his voice was low and frightening in its lack of emotion.
"You get yourself out of town by the end of this week and never contact me or Hermione or family, or I will tell every newspaper, owl and gossip in our world of your exact misdeeds when you were engaged to Blaise. My name is already ruined but yours, which has so far remained pristine, especially with your touching performance at Blaise's funeral, will be ripped to shreds and tossed into the gutter. You will never be able to get your next rich sucker or attend those social frenzies you call 'parties.' Hell, you won't even be able to walk down the street without having someone spit on your shoes. You get out and you never come back here again."
He turned away from Sybil, knowing she was enough of a coward that she would run and not come back, just as he told her. He didn't look back.
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