Chapter 1 : Of New Year's Resolutions
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For the Winter Writer's Duel 2013. Prompt #2. New Year/New Start.
"Explore the hopes and wishes of any character of your choosing."
The holidays were tough on some people after the war, Draco knew. But he wasn’t exactly sure why that for Hermione, it seemed like things got worse, not better with the passing of time.
That is, not until a casual conversation at work about New Year’s resolutions late one December night with a few coworkers. They had come to the end of finalizing plans for the company New Year’s Eve party being held in a high-rise loft in Tokyo, Japan that year.
The magical law firm they worked for got a kick out of celebrating the New Year in a different time zone, no matter the inconvenience it might be for people.
“I suppose Granger resolves to read more books in the new year than in the last,” Draco gently teased, knowing Hermione could hear him. He expected a rebuttal from her… perhaps something about him finally finding that decent personality that had eluded him all his twenty-four years of life.
But she only responded with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes and uttered, “Not quite,” as she moved through the threshold of double glass doors and out of the conference room.
“I would guess her New Year’s resolution is the same every year,” an older coworker commented looking over his bifocals after closing his briefcase.
“And what is that?” Draco asked only half interested, expecting another joke. But as the pepper-haired coworker spoke of a story that he had not heard before, Draco stood stunned. He honestly hadn’t known.
How could he not have known?
Equipped with this information, Draco could no longer look at her the same. He pitied her and felt partially responsible for her circumstance. In the coming weeks, it was all that he could think about.
So much so, that at the stroke of midnight that year, he didn’t kiss the pretty witch beside him as expected. Instead, his eyes were transfixed on Hermione’s across the room as he lifted his glass of champagne to her.
It was a peculiar gesture she thought… him not kissing his date and instead, eyeing her purposefully.
But she quickly surmised it was just a kind acknowledgement of the working relationship they had built in the previous year. Without thinking further, she acknowledged his private toast from a distance with a nod and by lifting her glass as well.
The two downed their drinks just after everyone else shouted, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
As Draco finished the last drop, he made his silent New Year’s resolution… to help her with hers.
But as the traditional song, “Auld Lang Syne” began playing, Hermione thought of the lyrics and couldn’t help thinking that maybe she shouldn’t have drank to his silent toast. Another moment passed and Hermione decided that she hated the song, especially, “should old acquaintance be forgot and never come to mind?”
Yes, she hated that song and never wanted to hear it again.
She set her half-empty glass on a nearby pub table and began hugging the many friends and coworkers surrounding her, seemingly enjoying the evening’s purpose and festivities.
But Draco kept his eyes on her as much as he could and saw right through her pretty façade to see her quiet pain.
How did he not notice it before? It seemed so obvious now… now that he knew what had happened.
The entire year had gone by with his New Year’s resolution acted upon with much privacy. But month after month, there had been no progress. He was no closer to solving her problem than she was.
The next New Year’s Eve party was held at yet another high rise building… this time over-looking Times Square in New York City. It had been one of the coldest in recent history. But the partygoers stayed cozy and warm near the floor-to-ceiling windows of the luxury hotel just above all the action below.
At the stroke of midnight, being quite aware of Hermione’s close proximity to him, Draco kissed his highly inebriated new girl as expected, but did not stay with her long. He turned to look for Hermione, hoping to maybe give her a friendly hug; one appropriate for two people that had worked so closely together on some of the toughest of cases. He wanted to wish her well. He wanted to use the New Year as an excuse to touch her… not by some accidental touching of the arm or hand.
For he had grown to care deeply for her and there was something else that concerned him. She came to New York alone, just as she had done in Tokyo the year before.
When he turned to find her, he caught a glimpse of her form leaving the vast party room while “Auld Lang Syne” played loudly and balloons were released from the vaulted ceiling. Everyone swayed to the music, cheered, and drank in celebration. But while everyone seemed to be having a good time, his only concern was for her.
After Draco passed his current girlfriend onto someone trustworthy enough to keep an eye on her, he left to catch Hermione. He knew she went in the opposite direction of the guest rooms and figured she wouldn’t actually leave the hotel because of the cold.
It didn’t take long to find her. She had found a dark, quiet spot in the uppermost balcony of the lobby.
When he reached her, he approached slowly. She was looking down, watching the people of Times Square through glass; her hands resting on a cold polished steel railing. With her black dress sparkling in spite of the darkness, Draco thought she was positively stunning.
And he wanted nothing in that moment than to slip behind her and give her a tender embrace that would take her pain away. But he was sure his touch would be unwelcome and he’d be accused of being drunk, which he wasn’t. But knowing that fact didn’t stop him from pondering it.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she commented, knowing he was there with her. “How a million people wait and wait for hours upon hours in the bitter cold for one single moment in time… and then scatter to the four winds so quickly just after the song ends? Why do you think they do it?” she asked in a hushed whisper as countless people rushed passed in a hurried grand exit, rivers of people flowing away from the center of the square.
He thought the question a bit rhetorical; everyone having their own reason for doing it. Some want to drink away the past and hope for a better future. Some think it romantic. Others tolerate it to appease someone else. Some were there for nostalgia. Some just wanted to create a unique memory. To each his or her own reason for being there and participating.
Removing his hands from his tuxedo pockets, he loosened his black tie then joined her at the rail, eventually leaning against it next to her.
“For me, I celebrate the night because every year that passes is another year away from 1998… the worst year of all of our lives,” he breathed. “I raise my glass in toast to another year’s distance apart from it,” Draco answered sincerely. “Although, in reality, it is never far behind. And I suspect that it will always be like that no matter how many years may pass.”
Hermione closed her eyes briefly and nodded her head in understanding.
“Time is supposed to heal all wounds… or so they say,” he added.
“Well, for me… every year that passes is a reminder of things unresolved from 1998. A failure if you will. So pardon me, in not wanting to celebrate it.”
Knowing that she was speaking of the annual failure of her New Year’s resolution, he didn’t press.
“The only true reason why I am here is because my presence is required of it. You know as well as I that my dedication to the firm would be wrongfully questioned if I skipped it.”
“Yes, I know,” he admitted regrettably.
“You should get back. It’s rude to leave a lady by herself at a party, you know,” Hermione said of Draco’s latest fling.
“Which is precisely why I will not be leaving you alone out here. Return with me. Stay until 1:00 or so at least and after that… well, just don’t be alone.”
When she hesitated, he placed a smooth hand over hers.
“Come on,” he urged with a gentle tug. “I need to check on my date and get her to bed before she passes out on someone. Now that would be rude.”
“She is quite lit. You really should date someone that can control themselves around liquor,” Hermione teased as she allowed him to pull her from the rail. “She’s making you look bad.”
“I know…” he sighed. “But running off at first chance makes you look bad.”
“I didn’t think anyone would notice.”
The air became serious and he let go of her hand at the last second to open the door for her.
When the two returned to the party, they found his date covered up by a colleague’s suit jacket and propped up against a column.
“Allow me to put her to bed. I’ll be right back.”
When Draco returned a few moments later, Hermione was expertly making her way around the crowd, attentively and politely wishing important people a Happy New Year and toasting to the firm’s success. He watched as she dazzled them with her welcoming smile and exceptional wit. She was a graceful professional, playing the part to perfection.
But she was acting, he knew. And Draco really had only one question. Where was Weasley? He had missed Tokyo and now New York, both parties meant for company employees and their significant others. Why had he left her two years in a row to go half way around the world to attend a party by herself? Idiot!
As Hermione made her way to him, her joyful façade faded and she returned to her melancholy self. There was no pretense with him.
She looked into his eyes and paused slightly as if she was going to bid him goodnight, but the words wouldn’t come. She wanted to leave the party, but not exactly his company. She wasn’t sure what to say. She wasn’t going to ask him to follow her, but if he did, she wouldn’t say no.
When she moved to leave without saying a word, he read her well and escorted her to her room.
As they walked, he thought of his growing feelings for her and how so much had changed between them. In time, they had grown closer. And he wondered if she could actually have feelings for him now. Did she care about him like he cared for her? The firm certainly would frown upon a relationship between two junior partners. And what of the girl sleeping in his hotel bed at that very moment? And really, would their past get in the way of any possible future?
She was vulnerable on New Year’s Eve, he knew. Beautiful, vulnerable, and alone… a dangerous combination for any other woman in his presence.
But above all, she was still with Ron. And Draco wasn’t interested in competing with him or being the reason why she would leave him. She would need to do that on her own first.
When they approached her door, she turned to him as if to invite him in, but he leaned in close and spoke first.
“Ron… is a fool for ever leaving you alone,” he said in a whisper as their lips nearly touched. They were so close, he could feel her rapid breath on his cheek. She moved to tilt her head to other side of his, getting closer yet, welcoming him even. But instead of kissing her, his temple went to hers to catch his breath. They moved ever-so-slightly, their cheeks now touching.
“Goodnight, Granger,” he finally said, withdrawing from her. “Happy New Year.”
“You too,” she replied taking out her keycard and opening the door, finally remembering to breathe.
It was the right thing, they both knew. Neither was upset… disappointed yes, but not upset.
The next time they saw each other, they continued their professional relationship and made sure to stay an arm’s length away from each other at all times. And if it weren’t for the occasional glance that held a little too long, it would seem that nothing happened at all… that they hadn’t shared an emotional connection or even physical attraction.
His New Year’s resolution remained the same. He would continue to use his private funds to secretly help her with hers.
The months came and went with no progress. But finally, in late October, there was a break in his private investigation. The team he had hired was getting close, but there was nothing solid just yet. Nothing that he could tell her.
And in November, when it was announced that the firm’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration would be set in Sydney, Australia, Hermione nearly fell out of her chair.
Draco eyed her carefully. He watched as her eyes lost focus and her mind launched to an Australian time zone. She sat there nearly dysfunctional while everyone else packed their things and snapped their briefcases closed. When they were finally the last two in the conference room, he voiced his concern.
“Are you alright?” he asked sincerely.
“Yes. I’m… I’m fine.”
It actually hurt him that she wasn’t willing to talk about it. She was so tense, she looked nearly frozen solid. And he didn’t want that. He wished she would relax and confide in him. But she wouldn’t.
“You can talk to me, you know. I don’t bite anymore.”
His comment made her look up briefly.
“There’s really nothing to talk about,” she attempted to reassure him.
But it was a lie, he knew. There was much to talk about. But she clearly wasn’t ready to talk to him about it.
He felt his heart sink in his chest a bit. After everything, she still didn’t trust him… or at least, still didn’t feel comfortable confiding in him about what hurt her the most personally during the war.
“Okay,” he nodded his head, leaving her alone.
She wore blue that night… a deep, dark blue that was nearly black. Her dress hung beautifully on her, with pretty straps that crisscrossed over her back.
It seemed to fit her mood, Draco thought. Her normal melancholy self this time of year had now appeared as a full blown depression; a beautiful spirit utterly deflated… quite blue, indeed.
She had gone to Sydney, Australia three days prior to everyone else. “Research,” she had told them truthfully. But her research had only given her more dead ends. She’d found nothing of importance, nothing that would help her find what she was looking for. It was nearly the same as five years earlier, minus Ron this time.
They had fizzled out and decided it best to stop being mere roommates and move on with their lives. It was sad, yes. They had been much more than friends, but there would be no marriage. And so, the only logical path was to accept it. After going through everything they had accumulated over the years, they let the lease on their flat run out. And with a long silent tearful hug one warm July evening, they both walked in separate directions, away from the home that they had made together.
And it was now a perfectly warm seventy degrees in Sydney, much like that sad July evening, and so very different from the cutting coldness of New York the previous year.
And it was also just fifteen minutes until midnight and Draco was nowhere to be found.
He was there somewhere, she knew. He had been at dinner earlier without a date; a fact that surprised her. He always had someone beside him. But where was he now? He was going to miss the countdown… not that she really cared. She was fine missing it… especially that awful song.
“Another year. Another year passed,” she thought with much turmoil in her heart, about to burst into tears. “It’s too late.”
“Come with me,” she heard a familiar voice say to her ear. “Come on,” Draco urged, taking her hand and bringing her to her feet.
As soon as they left the party, she wanted to know what he wanted and where they were going.
“What is it, Draco?”
“The clock is ticking. We must hurry.”
He apparated them to another hotel, one with a different view of the Sydney Opera House. But they weren’t there for the view of it or the fireworks that were about to blast from the barges of the harbor. In fact, they were probably the only two in the city looking away from it.
“What are we doing…?”
“Shhh… look,” he said opening a grand hallway curtain hanging from an enormous window that overlooked a crowd of people waiting for the stroke of midnight. “Step up… onto the ledge. Here,” he said, handing her a set of old opera binoculars.
“What?” she asked, irritated, as she climbed onto a wide window ledge.
“There,” he said pointing. “Second row on the deck… about eight people in. Is it them?” he questioned frantically.
“Who…?” she began asking. But she stopped silent when she saw the two people that came into focus; the two people she’d resolved to find every New Year since the war.
“You… you found them? You found them.”
Tears sprang from her eyes and blurred her vision at the bitter-sweetness of the moment. She dropped the binoculars from her face to see them with her own eyes.
She couldn’t believe it. She had worked so hard to find them for years and had come up with nothing at all and now, after all this time, it was Draco Malfoy that had found them.
She reached out and placed a hand onto the window glass as if to touch their faces that were within sight.
But the sad reality of the situation squeezed the very heart in her chest.
“They won’t know me, you know,” she choked a sob. “Too much time has passed to break the memory spell that I placed on them,” she whispered to Draco, her voice broken from the lump that had grown in her throat. “It’s too late,” she sobbed.
“But at least… you know that they are alright, that they are still happily together… and living in New Zealand apparently.”
“New Zealand?” she repeated as if incredible. It was why she could never find them in Australia. They simply weren’t there, but she had no idea where they had gone or if they were still alive… until now.
The final countdown to midnight had begun. She could see them mouth the words… “three, two, one. Happy New Year!”
She watched in complete silence as her parents kissed. And after a quick moment, their faces were lit up from the grand fireworks display that they were now eagerly watching.
“Happy New Year, Granger,” Draco said in a hushed, quiet tone, knowing that her New Year’s resolution for so many years was now finally resolved. He was only sorry that it hadn’t happen the year before. There was no way to save their memories of her now.
Peeling her tearful eyes from her parents, she pushed herself from the glass and motioned for him to help her down from the ledge.
And when he got close, she wrapped her arms around his neck. But when her feet touched the ground, she didn’t let go. Instead, she tightened her arms around him and without thinking a moment further, pressed her lips tenderly to his.
And what started as a kiss of gratitude, slowly and deliberately built into something much deeper as he tightened his arms around her and felt her melt into him.
Oh, how he wanted this.
He was so sorry for being part of the reason why she put the memory spell on them to begin with. And he was terribly sorry that he couldn’t find them a year ago.
Even now, there were actually three couples on that deck with their same names. He had no idea if they had the right people or not. He didn’t know if any of them would show after sending them all-expense-paid tickets to Australia. And he didn’t want to tell her about any of it in case his plan had failed.
When Hermione slowly pulled away from him, she returned her attention to the window, seeing her parents once more, not wanting to watch them go.
Seeing them, she instantly thought of a new New Year’s resolution.
“You have an address, right? Of where they’ve been living?”
“Yes,” he said, knowing they were the couple that came from the town of Christchurch.
“Then I want to go to New Zealand this year. And somehow, someway, reintroduce myself to them. I sure could use your scheming advice on how to do it. And…” she paused taking a breath while putting her hand to the glass, framing her parents faces one last time. “I would like it very much if you came with me,” she said with her back still to him, unsure if he would be willing to do such a thing.
He moved closer behind her and stretched out his arm so that his hand covered hers on the window.
“I promise to be there for you… every step,” he answered to her ear. “But why wait? Let’s start now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s run into them tonight. Introduce ourselves as fellow Brits and when they hear of what town you’re from, then that’ll get you three talking. It’s a start, Granger.”
At the firework’s end, her parents turned away from her and began walking into another building with several hundred other people.
“We can start tonight. Or we can wait.”
Watching her parents was like watching them slip through her grasp. She could hardly stand it.
She turned to him, this time with a magical gleam in her eye and something that he hadn’t seen in a very long, long time.
“Take me to them,” she said with a hopeful smile.
“Only if you help me with my New Year’s resolution.”
“What’s that?” she asked, knowing he was being quite lighthearted, nearly teasing.
“Spend more time with you.”
Hermione thought his resolution fit perfectly with hers. And she couldn’t remember how long it had been since she’d felt so light. It was as if Draco had breathed life into her lungs once more.
She was hopeful and very happy with the young man who was now holding her hand. Knowing that things might not go as planned with her parents, she took comfort in knowing that he’d be there for her no matter what.
“I’d like that very much,” she replied shyly. “Starting with meeting my parents. Let’s go…” she urged, not wanting another moment of time to tick away.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Song Credit: "Auld Lang Syne," a Scots poem by Robert Burns, 1788.
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