Chapter 18 : Changes
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Hermione finished her Christmas shopping with haste. She had not stayed true to form this year and was horribly behind on getting her shopping done as it was two day until Christmas. She had managed to find something for everyone on her list, including Draco.
At the beginning of her shopping spree she had no clue what to get the man who had everything. She had started the day with a little pep in her step but in the hours she had spent scouring and searching for the perfect item her gait could be described as trudging. Her toes were freezing, her legs were sore and even though she had brought along her small beaded bag, it was starting feel like a thousand pounds. She was entering the last store in Diagon Alley and had decided if she found nothing she would go back and get the elegant looking peacock quill for him. To her though, it seemed like such an impersonal gift to give him.
The shop was crowd, but not with people but with books, small knick knacks, and random animate and inanimate magical objects. She slowly perused the cramped space looking at each item, running her fingers over the binding on the old tomes. She took a few minutes for herself and opened a few of the books to feel the parchment and read the handwritten script. She knew she would be back to this store for herself in the future but she was disappointed as the back wall grew closer and still nothing had grabbed her eye for Draco. She was so frustrated and was about the leave when she saw it. It was tucked behind the counter, she knew it was a long shot but…
“Excuse me Sir, is that for purchase.” She leaned over and pointed at it. He looked shocked at her question for a few seconds before answering.
“I’m afraid it isn’t.” He replied solemnly.
“Could I look at it at least?” She asked. The elderly man stood from his perch and retrieved the item gently, before placing it before her. She could tell he cared deeply for it. Not wanting to offer him she was slow and deliberate in her movements. Gingerly, she brushed her fingers over the elegantly curved wood. She could tell it was old but the magic placed on it had preserved it nicely. She placed her fingers on each side on the lid and deftly lifted it upwards. The moment it was open, she felt a rush of air blow past her, tugging on the ends of her curls. She was transfixed by what had just happened. She heard the man whisper.
“Best my soul.” The words were so faint she barely registered them at all. He cleared his throat and this time Hermione looked at him. “You may have it.”
“How much would you like for it. Not one thing, it is yours.” He told her. She gapped at him openly.
“Is there something I should know about this?” She asked, feeling that there was more to this transaction than he was letting on.
“All will be revealed in time. I will wrap this up for you and then you must leave. It is closing time.” He picked up the box and turned his back to her. She wondered what the meaning was behind his words but the old man was handing her the package in a matter of mere seconds and ushering her out the door.
Hermione was headed in the direction of The Leaky Cauldron when a shady character caught her eye. It took second to realize why he looked so familiar. Seth was hurrying through the crowded streets. A thick scarf covered half of his face but she knew it was him. She couldn’t help but wonder what he was up to. She wanted to believe he was shopping but she knew that wasn’t true. It a split second decision she decided to follow him. He was almost out of sight and quickened her step to follow him. She wasn’t surprised when he turned into Knockturn Alley. She didn’t wish to be in that part of the town alone but she wasn’t going to give up that easily. She picked up her step and kept her nearly frostbitten fingers wrapped around her wand as she wandered the streets in pursuit of her “lovely” cousin, she thought bitterly.
Hermione watched him duck into the law offices of “Pearson, Sims, & Wood”. She remembered Pearson from her wedding. He had been there for the ceremony. She wondered what he could possible need from Mr. Pearson. She rummaged through her bag, grateful that she had never truly empty the thing. She felt for the item she needed and quickly pulled an Extendable Ear. She wiggled it underneath the door, it took a few seconds for get it in place but soon she heard the angry voice of Seth in her ear.
“What are you doing about this situation?” He growled.
“What do you what me to do?” a scrawny voice asked.
“We had a deal damn it! You told me you would handle it. You told me I had nothing to worry about.” Seth lashed out.
“I’ve kept a close eye on them. You are the only thing that has come close to splitting them up.” Said the other man, whom by now she assumed was Mr. Pearson.
“That was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time and I managed to do more damage than you.” Seth told him. Hermione thought back to the night she had meet Seth. “I didn’t even know who she was until my cousin waltzed in a spilt us up.”
Hermione had always wondered how Seth had found them that night. Apparently, it was an accident.
“Again, I ask, what do you want me to do?” Mr. Pearson asked Seth.
“I do not care. Just make sure that by New Years that they are over and done with or I’ll have to step in.” Seth’s voice dropped and he growled out the threat. Hermione felt a chill as the hairs on the back of her neck stood erect that had nothing to do with the cold winter air.
She didn’t like the sound of his threat and jumped as she heard a door slam. She quickly reeled in the extendable ear and was walking away as fast as possible. She heard a door slam behind her as she ducked around a corner and headed for Diagon Alley and the safety that it’s streets would ensure her. Her mind ran over the conversation with Seth and Mr. Pearson over and over again. She had no doubt in her mind to whom Seth was referring to in his conversation.
She wasn’t paying any attention to where she was headed as her mind was too preoccupied. She had managed to avoided a few scary characters in Knockturn Alley. She walked with her head low and didn’t pay much attention to anything around her when a hand reached out a grabbed her arm. She was so flustered she let out a small scream.
“Hermione?” She looked up to realize she had made it back to Diagon Alley and her eyes connected with a pair of concerned grey ones.
“Oh Draco.” She let out a sigh of relief and threw herself at him. She knew he was baffled by her reaction but wrapped his arms around her nonetheless. “Please, take me home.”
She knew she might be over reacting but that didn’t help her from shaking slightly. She felt foolish for letting Seth get to her, she had used up the bravery when following him. Nowadays, she preferred to leave the action to other people. Draco tucked her under his arm as he led them to the closest Apparation spot. She felt the familiar tug at her navel, it was almost comforting, if it hadn't been for the stomach turning sensation that acoompanied it, because she knew she was headed home. She let Draco lead her inside to the closest sitting room, where he ordered her to sit and requested calming tea be brought from Sprinkles.
“Hermione.” He finally said. She looked up, knowing she had to tell him that truth. His eyes held all the concern of someone who cared. It was an emotion she never would have expected from the blond in front of her. “Tell me what happened.” He asked.
She nodded and took a sip of the tea that had been placed in front of her a few moments prior. The second the warm liquid touch her tongue she could feel the tension slip from her muscles. The tea must have been spiked with a calming draught making it easier to gather her thoughts.
“Well, as you know. I had to finish up some shopping today.” She started.
“I know, you told me you would be back in a few hours. After 6 hours, I became a bit worried. I went to the Potter’s and to Rider’s Pub. You weren’t there. So then I went to Diagon Alley. You looked like you had seen an inferi when I found you.” Draco cut her off.
She wanted to glare at him for interrupting her but then she realized what he had said and her anger was softened.
“I apologize, it took a bit longer than I thought it would. But, after my final stop I was headed to The Leaky Cauldron to come home when I saw him.”
“Saw who,” he pressure.
“I was going to tell you, please stop cutting in.” She reprimanded. He held up his hands in surrender. She sighed before continuing.
“Seth was creeping through Diagon Alley. I thought he was acting a bit suspicious, so I followed him.” She saw Draco’s face changed and waited for him to cut in again but when he didn’t she continued. “I had a feeling that he was up to something, so I followed him into Knockturn Alley until he entered the law offices of Pearson, Sims, & Wood. I remembered that Pearson was at our wedding. I was able to listen in on the conversation thanks to the twin’s invention of the Extendable Ear. I'm glad I did because Pearson is in with Seth and is trying to mess up the marriage so you lose the inheritance.”
“That no good snake! Was that all that was said?” Draco asked. He could tell it wasn’t.
“Well,” She started but stopped because she started to wonder if she had interpreted the threat wrong.
“Come on Hermione, you wouldn’t’ve been scared out of your mind over that conversation.” Draco pushed again.
“Well, Seth told Pearson “To make sure that by New Years that we were over and done with or he would have to step in.” But the way he said it sounded…” She didn’t quite now the right word but it hadn’t been good. That was all she knew.
Hermione was suddenly angry, at herself, at Draco, and at the situation. This is what she had been avoiding. She didn’t want to care about anyone. It hurt too much when they were gone. She only accepted Draco’s proposal because he was the last person she could ever develop feels for. She hadn’t expected him to care or be nice, she wanted him to be the same stuck up, pureblood supremacy, arsehole he had been in school. Then something changed and it seemed almost that she could care for him. She had given herself to him on the beach months ago because he had been perfect, sensitive, and again she could use the word caring. The present situation showed her what she had been hiding from. Was she falling for Draco? Probably. Could she say she loved him, maybe someday, but that isn’t what she wanted from him. He had broken the deal, no strings-attached marriage became something more.
Draco could see the anger building in her, but it was his primary concern at the moment. His primary concern was that someone had threaten her and him. The worse part of this whole situation is that it had been Seth to cause the issue. He put his thoughts away for the moment and turned his attention back to Hermione. He looked her in to her eyes, he reached out to grab her hand and comfort her. He tried not to show his hurt when she pulled away. Then he saw it, something he hadn’t seen in months. His eyes bore into hers and he watched as the emptiness filled her eyes and the void was emotionless. He could feel her pull away from him and he knew he couldn't stop her. She got up to leave the room.
“Hermione?” He asked softly. He half expected her to ignore him and continue to walk from the room. She stopped but didn’t face him.
“Stop, This isn’t what we agreed to Draco. I don’t need some else to worry about. I can’t lose you too.” She continued out of the room and disappeared.
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