Chapter 2 : dul
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Hermione started. "Are you stalking me, Malfoy?"
She kept her gaze carefully trained on her Christmas shopping list and turned down the next aisle, trying to appear unaffected by his presence. After yesterday she'd hoped to avoid him for the foreseeable future. With time she was sure her mind would shove him back into the box in which he belonged – reformed childhood bully, parent of Rose's best friend, and occasionally appreciated conversationalist – rather than pondering over the possibilities that came along with his casual invitation.
"Do you truly think I'm capable of such a terrible thing?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at his faux injured tone. "Yes."
It should have been easy to manage, really. Their social circles rarely overlapped, which meant that months often passed without her seeing more than a glimpse of his blond head in a crowd. But here Draco was, following her around the new Quidditch shop – which she specifically went to because she knew he preferred the more established Quality Quidditch Supplies – with a familiarity which set all her senses on high alert. The juniper undertones of his cologne, the brush of his shoulder against hers as they navigated the busy shop, the warmth from his breath on her nape…
"I suppose I'll have to confess then," he said, interrupting her reverie as he reached around her to grab a container of broom wax off the shelf.
His sly manoeuvre gave Hermione no choice but to face Draco and his pleased smirk set her cheeks flushing. Her huff of frustration was only half-feigned as she crossed her arms and did her best to continue her nonchalant act. "Confess?"
"Yep." Draco tossed the wax in the air, catching it one-handed behind his back. Then he leaned forward, whispering into her ear. "I cast a tracking spell on your coat."
"Draco Malfoy!" Hermione punctuated her exclamation with a sharp smack to his shoulder. Several people turned to stare and the pink in her cheeks blazed a fiery red. After smoothing her ruffled hair and emotions, she lowered her voice. "Why would you do that?"
"I wanted to see you again." He rubbed his sore arm, pouting. "That really hurt, you know."
Dropping her list, Hermione stomped towards the store's exit. She could hear Draco calling her name, but she didn't wait for him to catch up. Once she was outside, she ran across the street, hoping to hide in the dense, holiday crowds as she made her way back to London. She wasn't even sure why she ran, since she wasn't actually angry with Draco.
But she didn't stop.
And she didn't look back.
I'm not ready, she thought as she wandered through the snow-covered city. It's only been–
Hermione stopped, the last vestiges of sunset rolling away to make room for the clear, cold dusk. The bridge where she stood overlooked a park surrounded by a community of red brick homes and she watched, rooted to the spot, as each house flicked their holiday lights on one by one. The small valley filled with a warm, cheery glow, and Hermione never felt so lonely in all her life. Unconsciously, her fingers moved to her left hand, trying in vain to adjust a piece jewellery which had been gone for quite some time. When she realised, Hermione dropped her hands and shook her head. She'd caught herself doing that more often than she'd like lately.
"It's already been a year," Hermione whispered as hot tears spilled down her chilled skin. "I should be over it by now."
"Doesn't matter." Draco approached cautiously from the other side of the bridge, hands raised as if he were dealing with a wild animal. One hand held a lined piece of paper. "I didn't mean to startle you, it's just you dropped this back at the shop and I thought you might need it."
"Tracking spell, remember?" Draco stopped a couple steps away and held out her list. When she took it, he turned towards the brightly lit houses, resting his elbows on the bridge's railing. When Draco spoke again, he was subdued, no trace of the shameless flirt she'd encountered over the past couple of days. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
Hermione tucked the paper into the back pocket of her denims. Then, after a minute of consideration, she joined him at the railing. "I suppose."
"Painful as well, yeah?" Draco gestured towards a couple of kids rushing to put the finishing touches on a snowman as their parents called them inside for dinner. "A reminder of how it's meant to be. Happy families, holiday cheer, and all that rubbish." He ran a hand through his hair, mussing the blond strands, and dropped his chin onto his palm. "It's what we're missing."
"Does it get any better?"
"Yes." Draco shifted towards Hermione, nudging her arm with his elbow to get her attention. "I'm not going to lie to you. Some days are still hard, even after all this time. But on the whole? Yeah, it gets better."
Her breath caught in her throat. "How?"
"You haven't figured it out yet, not even with this big brain of yours?" Draco chuckled and gently tapped her temple. "I'm disappointed, Granger."
Hermione frowned, but they both knew it was all for show. This time his flirting served the purpose of lightening the heavy mood, and she found herself grateful for it.
"Straight to the point then."
"Yes, please," she replied primly.
"I do what any wizard would do," said Draco with a shrug. "I cast a spell."
Draco nodded, lifting his head so the winter breeze blew fully through his hair, and closed his eyes. "Whenever things get too hard, I count – one, two, three." He raised his fingers, one after another after another, as he said the words again. "One, two, three. Slowly. Deliberately. With conviction, you understand. It has to have conviction. And then," he said, leaning in as if he were imparting a most precious secret, "I choose to forget."
"But how?" Fresh tears gathered in her lashes as her frustration grew. "That's what I don't understand. All I can do is remember."
"That's the easiest part. I think about the good things still in my life – Scorpius, my parents, the fact that Mipsy always knows exactly how I take my hot chocolate, in spite of her failing memory. And if all else fails... listen well now, Granger, this is the important part." Draco took her chin in his hands, forcing her to look him directly in the eyes. "I remember that tomorrow is a new day and pray to Merlin that it will be a better one."
"If you really believe that, then why do you still wear this?" Hermione placed her hand over Draco's and ran a finger over his gold band. "It's been three years, Draco."
The clip-clop of horse hooves on the bridge brought a sudden bout of self-consciousness to Hermione, and she stepped backwards out of Draco's grasp, wiping away the moisture from her eyes with her coat sleeve. A shiny red sleigh stopped in front of them, its bells jingling merrily. The driver, a rotund middle-aged man, hailed them with a wave and a smile.
"Hullo, sir. The name's Kristopher. Would you and the missus like a ride?" He pointed to the seat. "It's quite cosy, I assure you, and warm besides. I keep it well stocked in blankets and cocoa."
"What do you say, Granger?" Draco held his hand out for her. "Would you like to go on a ride with me?"
Hermione looked at the scene with longing and shook her head. "No." Shoving her hands deep into her own pockets, she sighed and watched the frozen puff of air rise and dissipate in the night sky. "One day, maybe. But not today."
Hermione walked away, her thoughts tripping over the implications of the gold on his hand, the empty space on her own, and persistent feeling of regret lodged deep in her chest.
(He’s not married anymore either.)
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