Chapter 13 : Dinner
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Ron Weasley sat in his small bedroom in the bedsit he had been staying in and sighed to himself. He had just written and sent his fifth letter of the week to Hermione, the first four of which had been returned to him by his owl, unopened. He didn’t understand it. He’d checked with Harry and he said she’d gone to stay with her parents, so he tried sending the letters to their address in Australia. Once again, the same thing happened, and the letters came back to him.
He knew he was pretty unreliable when it came to writing letters, but Hermione had always known that. Sure, he was in another country and he should have made the effort but whether or not he replied to her, Hermione sent him a letter at least once a week. He was getting worried. This was so out of character for her.
He stood up and paced the room, tripping over his old Chudley Cannons scarf which, along with most of his possessions, was taking up what little floor space he had. It wasn’t ideal living in such a small room but needs must, and his work didn’t pay well. Although he enjoyed working with Charlie and the dragons, he sometimes wish he’d stayed at home and chosen a job at the ministry like his friends had. The decision to move over here was not an easy one, but the grief he felt for his father and brother had proved too much and he wanted nothing more than to be away from it all. Of course he had never forgotten and there wasn’t a day that went by when he didn’t think of his family, but everything was simpler here. His love for Hermione had slowly ebbed away as he matured and he was finally able to let her go after two years in Romania. He had not only grieved for the family he’d lost, he felt like he’d lost her too. The war had changed her, and a relationship that he once thought would grow was no longer in sight. He had to accept that, and the only way was to be away from her.
The move had been effective. Almost a year ago, he’d met Elena at a small Inn which he often frequented. She had been sat alone, her blonde hair covering her face as she stared deeply into a book. Upon looking closer, he saw the book was called Dragon Care: The do’s and absolutely do not’s. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity, seeing this as too much of a coincidence to miss. He went over to her table and introduced himself. For once in his life, Ron Weasley had more knowledge on something than a woman. She was a trainee dragon hand, and would be starting at the Romanian Dragon Sanctuary the following week. They got on like a house on fire, and had been inseparable ever since. He hadn’t told any of his family or friends about her; it had been a long time, but he wasn’t ready for the Weasleys to descend on her just yet.
He thought back to Hermione’s previous letter and the suggestion of him taking a holiday. Maybe she was right. What with the anniversary of his father and Fred’s deaths next month, the wedding looming and the fact his sister was quite heavily pregnant with his best friend’s child, he had enough reasons to go home. His mother would be positively overjoyed if he did; he rarely got to see her and she was getting too old to travel so far, something he felt extremely guilty about.
Deciding it was time to return home, at least for a while, he packed his rucksack with a few essentials, took his wand from where it was resting on the single bed he slept in, and fled out of the door before he changed his mind and put this off even further.
It was hours later when Draco and Hermione awoke, next to each other, on his plush bed. It seemed the events of the day had exhausted them both. They jumped from the bed quickly, slightly embarrassed. Draco checked his watch.
“We’d better be getting ready. We have to be at Blaise and Pansy’s in just over an hour.”
“Where do they live?” she asked inquisitively.
“Overcombe Cottage. It’s on the outskirts of Devon, on the beach. A very pretty place, I’m sure you’ll love it,” Draco said.
“What should I wear?”
“Bloody hell, Hermione, you’re starting to sound like Pansy already! It’s only dinner, don’t worry about it. You’ll look nice in anything,” he said offhandedly, not realising his comment. Hermione stared at him, dumbfounded that he’s said something so complementary. Her cheeks reddened.
“That’s kind of you to say. I never thanked you for the clothes you bought for me, you really shouldn’t have,” she said.
“Every girl deserves new clothes, that’s one thing Pansy has taught me. It probably isn’t a good idea for you to go to Diagon Alley yourself at the moment anyway,” he said.
“Well, thank you. I’ll go and jump in the shower now.”
“Right. Meet me in the living room at 6.45 please. I think we’ll apparate tonight,” he said. She nodded and left.
He sat on the bed for a few moments, contemplating the way things were beginning to turn out. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine Hermione Granger living at the manor with him, much less falling asleep with him. It had been a shock to see her lying next to him but he’d lain awake staring at her for a while before she stirred. She looked so peaceful when she slept, it was almost as if the Rowle nightmare had never happened. Well, he thought, no one can sleep forever.
Stepping into the shower, Draco wondered where their journey together would take them next. There was no doubt about it, it was going to be dangerous. Rowle was relentless and if Hermione was what he wanted, he wouldn’t stop until he got her. He had to admit, although only to himself, that he was worried for her parents. It was far too much of a coincidence for Rowle to be spotted in Australia; why would he go halfway across the world if not for a reason?
Draco spent a little longer in the shower than he normally would have, lavishing under the scolding water before stepping out and wrapping a fluffy black towel around himself.
Hermione felt refreshed after her shower and had already applied a little makeup and charmed her hair into a stylish up-do. Even having asked Draco what to wear, she still hadn’t really had an answer. Deciding to go with simple and sophisticated, she chose a navy blouse and black pencil skirt. Feeling comfortable, she picked up her wand from the side table and stowed it away in a small black clutch bag.
Taking a final look in the mirror in the bathroom, she was pleased with the final result. The dark circles under her eyes were disappearing slowly and her cheekbones no longer protruded angrily from her face. She looked much better.
Walking out of the door and locking it behind her, she made her way to the living room. She was early, it was only half past, but she decided she’d wait there anyway.
Reaching the room, she walked in and sat at the emerald armchair which Draco usually frequented. The thick cushions almost swallowed her as she sat thinking she could so easily fall asleep here. Twiddling idly with a loose curl of her hair, Hermione realised how long it had grown recently. Her mother usually cut it for her. She felt a wave of shame as she thought of how little effort she’d made to see her parents since the war; it was difficult to be around them whilst she had such a heavy secret weighing on her shoulders. She had resolved never to tell her parents what had happened that day, it would be too much for them and they weren’t young anymore.
Just as she felt the tears welling up, she heard a snap behind her and turned to see Slinky. She obviously hadn’t realised Hermione was in the room as she pottered around with her duster, clearing the fireplace of any ash and debris that had escaped.
Hermione cleared her throat, “Hello Slinky,” she said.
Slinky almost jumped out of her wrinkled skin and for the first time Hermione noticed her age as she turned around to face her steadily. “So sorry Miss, Slinky didn’t realise anybody would be in here,” she turned to leave.
“No, please stay. It’s much more your right to be here than mine,” Hermione said.
“Nonsense Miss, you are a member of this household for as long as you will be staying here. Slinky is just a house elf,” she said weakly and turned to continue her duties.
Hermione was reminded of her S.P.E.W days. She had never seen Draco mistreat Slinky, quite the opposite. He had treated her with respect in the times she’d seen them together, which was surprising when she thought of the way Dobby had been treated in this household years ago. It was just another thing which had changed in recent years, she thought.
“Slinky, I think Mr Malfoy would see that differently. You are very helpful to him, I’m sure,” Hermione said kindly.
“Thank you, Miss,” she said with a smile, “Miss must not worry herself about her parents.”
Hermione blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Apologies, Miss, but we house elves see and hear everything that goes on in the Manor. But Miss must not worry, our magic binds us to keep the secrets of the household and anybody in it,” she said sincerely.
This worried Hermione greatly. There was no doubt now that Slinky and the other house elves in the manor knew her secret, which put her on edge. She hadn’t ever brought herself to tell a single soul and it was gradually being revealed to her that many more people knew than she had ever wanted.
“Please, Miss. Slinky does not wish to pry, but Slinky thinks Miss worries too much.”
Hermione laughed lightly. The house elf had no idea of the worries she had daily, but she was being very kind nonetheless.
“Thank you Slinky, it’s nice of you to care.”
She nodded and departed the room. Just as Hermione was about to check her watch, she heard Draco enter the room. She stood and he greeted her with a warm smile which caused her insides to constrict a little.
Shaking off the feeling, she said “Are you ready to go?”
“I am. But we must leave the manor in order to apparate,” he said.
“Why?” she asked.
“Nobody can apparate inside these walls, aside from the house elves. But of course you know, they possess different abilities to witches and wizards.”
She nodded, and followed Draco out of the living room. She realised she hadn’t ever entered the house via the front door, and hadn’t the slightest clue as to where it was.
They took an immediate right out of the living room down a very long corridor painted black. Several lamps flickered along the walls and Hermione felt suddenly nervous. It was more like a dungeon than a corridor. At the end was a great oak door, patterned with wrought iron markings. It was odd that the entrance to the house opened upon this corridor, she thought. It certainly wasn’t very welcoming, but then she suspected Draco didn’t get many visitors.
He muttered a few spells and the huge bolts on the door slid back. He held it open for her, gesturing for her to leave the house. Locking the door behind him, Draco followed her.
“Stay close. We must walk beyond the gates in order to apparate.”
She did as instructed, following close behind him. The high gates opened before them and once they had taken a few steps beyond them, Draco gripped her arm gently but firmly and with one twist of his body, they were soaring.
Pansy was in the kitchen preparing dinner. She had decided on a basic chicken and tomato pasta; she had no idea what Hermione ate but figured it was unlikely that she was vegetarian. She didn’t know many witches or wizards who were.
Blaise’s familiar arms wrapped around her waist as she stirred the sauce. She never usually cooked the Muggle way since it was much easier to use magic, but Blaise had suggested they make a bit of an effort since the night before had been rather disastrous on his part.
“Something smells good,” he murmured in her ear.
“Yeah, the sauce is nearly done. Everything else is ready, can you set the table?” she asked.
“I wasn’t talking about the sauce…” he smirked and laid the table in a split second with his wand.
They landed with a thud in the sand. Hermione brushed herself off and shook out her hair which was now full of grit and looked around. The scene before her was one of utter beauty. The tide was coming in and where they stood was on only a sliver of the beach that was left in this late hour. Along the coastline lay small, colourful cottages with shutters on the windows and as she listened to the whispers of the sea she longed to call one of them her own. Draco smiled at her silence as she breathed in the fresh, salty air. He knew she’d love it here.
“Draco. This is wonderful,” she gushed, turning to him.
“It is rather. Pansy and Blaise live in that one,” he said, pointing towards a grassy hill ahead of them. A solitary cottage sat atop it, surrounded by a garden of wild flowers which wound their way through the porch.
They began to walk in the direction of Overcombe cottage slowly, Hermione hanging back slightly. She didn’t want to go indoors when there were such sights to see. Oh what she wouldn’t give to live somewhere like this, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, she thought. They had to walk quite a length of the coast to reach Pansy and Blaise’s house so Hermione removed her shoes, letting the sand smother her feet as she walked.
“Draco, we need to talk before we get there,” she said, standing still now. He turned to face her once more, drinking in the sight of her. She had let her hair down so that it hung snugly around her cherub-like face in loose curls. One side was tucked behind her ear and she cocked her head to the side as she looked at him.
“I think we need to tell Pansy and Blaise that I know you told them about…” she trailed off and looked towards her sandy feet.
“You’re sure about this?” he asked.
“There is no other way. How can we even begin to make plans when there’s so much secrecy between us all? I’d rather everything were out in the open, it seems ridiculous to keep up this charade. They’re bound to let it slip at some point so we might as well save them the embarrassment,” she smiled.
“You’re right. It will be so much easier this way,” he said, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. He held on a second longer than perhaps he should, then turned again and continued on towards the hill. They were silent as they walked up the chalky pathway that ran up the centre of the hill and only when they got to the door did either of them speak.
“Thank you, Hermione. For making this so much easier for me than you could have.”
She nodded sheepishly and looked at the cottage. It was painted sky-blue with white shutters and on one side of the porch was a swinging chair. She could imagine spending nights somewhere like that, swaying slowly as she watched the waves roll and crash on the rocky cliffs ahead. Draco knocked on the door and was greeted by Blaise.
“Alright mate,” he said jovially, shaking Draco’s hand, “Hi Hermione,” he smiled.
“Hello Blaise,” she replied. She was determined to make an effort tonight since they had been so kind as to invite them both to dinner. She must admit, their help was going to be very valuable to Draco and herself.
Blaise held the door open for the pair and Hermione instantly felt a warm sensation travelling through her when she entered, which seemingly had nothing to do with the roaring fire in the corner of the room. She looked around. This was certainly not what she expected the interior to look like. There were wooden photo frames scattering ever surface of the living room, containing the moving figures of Pansy and Blaise. In every one of them they had smiles plastered lovingly across their faces and it was then that Hermione realised they were nothing more than normal people. No matter what their past misgivings, the couple were just normal people like her.
Pansy hurried over to her from the kitchen, which was directly connected to the living room with only a breakfast bar separating them. A delicious smell wafted along with her and she embraced Hermione gently.
“Hello sweetie, thank you so much for coming!” she said excitedly.
“Thank you for inviting us,” Hermione said.
“Hermione, would you like some wine?” Blaise boomed from the kitchen where he had summoned four glasses. She hadn’t even realised they would know what wine was; she had never drunk it in the magical world, only on the odd occasion in the Muggle world with her parents.
“Please. White, if you have it,” she said politely.
He nodded and produced two bottles, one of white and one of red. He poured two glasses of each and passed the white to Hermione and Pansy and he and Draco had the red.
“Dinner is nearly ready,” Pansy said and directed them to sit at the dining table which was covered in a rustic tablecloth, checked with yellow and blue.
“It smells delicious as always, Pans,” Draco cooed. He had obviously experienced her cooking before, Hermione thought. She hadn’t ever realised at school just how close the three were but it was nice to see. It rather reminded her of how her friendship with Harry and Ron used to be and made her miss them terribly.
Pansy dished them each a bowl of pasta and levitated a plate of garlic bread into the centre of the table.
“This looks lovely, thank you Pansy,” Hermione said.
“Don’t speak too soon. She’s been known to poison people before,” Blaise said, and he and Draco laughed. This earned each of them a smack to the back of the head, courtesy of Pansy. They were all laughing now as they tucked into their dinner.
Deciding there really was no point beating around the bush, Hermione said “Draco told me, you know. That you both know about…what happened at the battle.”
Blaise’s fork clattered to the table and Pansy’s mouth was agape, her forkful of pasta midway in the air. Draco simply looked at his food, avoiding eye contact with either of his friends. Eventually and unexpectedly, Blaise spoke.
“I’m so sorry, Hermione. About what happened, and about the way I treated you last night. I was out of order.”
“That’s quite alright. I’ve said this to Draco and I shall say it to you both now. If we’re going to do this, to find Rowle, there shouldn’t be any secrets between us. Draco insists that I can trust you and I hope he’s right. You have to understand that I have never told anybody what happened,” she said and they nodded sincerely.
“You can trust us and you can trust Draco. He never meant to betray you,” Pansy said.
“I know that,” she said quietly, and looked over to him. A look of shame was shadowing his pale face, a look she was becoming quite familiar with. “Let’s just enjoy the rest of the night shall we?” she said.
They all nodded in agreement and continued with their meal. A strained silence was present until they finished but once everyone busied themselves with clearing away the dishes, the atmosphere returned to normal once again.
“Draco and I will clear this all up. I prefer to do these things the Muggle way,” Hermione said and laughed at the look on Blaise’s face as he rolled his eyes. He and Pansy retired to their living room with another two bottles of wine. Hermione conjured a tea towel for Draco to dry up with and ran some hot soapy water into the sink.
“I’ve been thinking about something,” she said.
“Oh? What’s that?” Draco asked as he dried the first bowl she passed to him.
“It’s not right that Pansy and Blaise know and my own friends don’t. I think it’s time I told Harry and Ginny about what happened.”
Draco was quiet for a second as he contemplated what she was saying. He wasn’t quite sure why they needed to know but if it was what she wanted, he wouldn’t argue. Anything to make her feel better.
“Maybe. But don’t they think you’re with your parents? You’d have to explain that you’re living with me and somehow I don’t think that will go down well with Potter,” he said.
“Harry will just have to deal with it. I’m old enough to make my own decisions and I do not need his permission to do anything,” she snapped and began washing the bowl in her hand a little more vigorously. “I can’t keep hiding forever and he’s going to wonder why I’m not back at work soon.”
“It’s going to be hard, Hermione,” Draco said.
“You think I don’t know that? Please don’t patronise me. I’m just sick of lying to my best friends,” she said.
Draco passed her the tea towel as she drained the water from the sink. She dried her hands and closed her eyes. Draco placed his hands on her shoulders, prompting her to open her eyes and look into his. “I’ll be with you every step of the way,” he said, “whether you want me there or not.”
She laughed at him. When she thought of how things were a mere few weeks ago, how long it had been since she’d seen this man, she couldn’t comprehend the way her life was panning out. She trusted the man who had helped ruin her future. She enjoyed his company and she appreciated his protectiveness, something she hadn’t before been accustomed to. To her, Harry had always seemed too overprotective. The events of the war had taken their toll on him and he seemed intent on keeping everyone he knew out of harm’s way, with the undesired effect of making him controlling. Draco was different. He made a refreshing change.
They made their way into the living room where Pansy and Blaise sat curled up on the sofa in front of the fire, wine in hand. Draco plonked himself down in a vacant armchair and Hermione perched on the rug in front of the fire. She loved the sea air but it got very cold at this time of night, she realised.
“So, I suppose it’s about time we started making plans for Rowle,” Blaise said with a devilish gleam in his eye as he looked towards his blonde friend.
“Yeah. Any news on him?” he asked.
“None at the moment. I contacted the Australian minister to arrange protection for your parents,” Blaise looked at Hermione, “and they’re getting the best care possible. They haven’t been told that Aurors are following their every move in case they blow their cover.”
Hermione didn’t really like the sound of this. She imagined how crazy her father would go if he found out they were being constantly watched. Both of her parents had been very supportive when they found out she was a witch all those years ago, but sometimes it got a little overwhelming for them. She thought of them in their big house, paid for by their extensive pensions when they retired, and how much she longed to see them. It had been a few months since her last visit and they had begged her to come over more often.
“Well, we should have more help soon. I’m going to tell Harry and the others about Rowle, I think it’s time,” Hermione said and Pansy nodded solemnly.
“Yes, I think you’re right. How do you think they’ll take it?” Pansy asked.
“Badly, if I know them well enough. Thankfully Ron is abroad so I don’t have to tell him yet, he’d completely flip. I’m more worried about telling them about living at the manor,” she said.
They all laughed. Oh what Blaise wouldn’t give to see the look on Potter’s face when he found out she was living with Draco. That would be priceless.
The evening went on without much progress being made since the wine was flowing like a river, and by the time Hermione realised how tired it was, the clock on the wall said almost midnight. Draco watched her yawn quietly and stood from his chair, making their excuses to leave.
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” he said to them both.
“Anytime! We’ll have to do it again soon,” Pansy smiled.
“Yes, I’m quite surprised that I actually enjoyed myself,” Blaise joked, winking kindly at Hermione.
They hugged and shook hands respectively and Hermione and Draco left the house and strode into the icy sea air. Realising how stupid she’d been not to bring a cloak or jacket, Hermione shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Not unnoticed by Draco, he removed his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders, at which she smiled thankfully.
They walked in silence back down the hill of the cottage and along the shore towards the apparition point. Tired as she was, Hermione tried to make the journey as slow as possible; the time and temperature didn’t matter when she was in such a beautiful place, she thought. She stood still and looked out across the ocean, which was oddly still. She could still hear the faint swoosh of waves although she couldn’t see them, and thought it was a sound she could listen to forever. She hadn’t realised the tears that had begun making tracks over her slightly red cheeks, stinging from the cold, until Draco came over and wiped one away with a soft thumb. He said nothing, neither she. He followed her gaze far out in the ocean and reached down, clasping her hand tightly.
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