Despite his mother’s furious protests, Draco had said that he wanted to talk to Hermione too. It was still strange saying her name, after having sneered Granger all his life.
They had had several massive rows about it, and Draco had feared that his mother would throw him out, despite her earlier request begging him to stay. She was constantly threatening him with telling his father’s portrait the moment it would be finished. But the threat felt rather meaningless…
His father’s death had been a liberation of sorts. As much as he had loved him, he felt like he could truly be his own man now.
Draco had written back. The book remark had been a compliment. Perhaps she could find something others had overlooked. It had been a great shock for him as well to realize that it had been her all along, but since then he had done some serious thinking….
Draco had contemplated all the angles and had come to the conclusion that his fathers’ fears had been right all along. He had liked her for a long time already, but had been in extreme denial about it. The moment she’d punched him in the face had been one of the worst of his life, prior to the war at least. Draco had always assumed the memory was so unpleasant because he had been beaten by a Mudblood girl, and his friends had been present… as well as her friends…
But it probably had been because his chances of ever being with her had diminished significantly more after that…
He wasn’t going to admit any of that to Hermione, of course. Draco first wanted to know what she had to say…
And there was still the matter of the spell… What would she even want with a man that couldn’t bring forth life?
What would his father say about all of it once his portrait was finished?
Would Hermione ever accept all of them?
“Are you really going to go through with this?” Ginny asked as she watched Hermione putting on a new blouse. It was nice, but nothing too special. She didn’t want to look as if she was trying, not for him anyway…
They were going to meet for a coffee after work, but Draco had been called to an emergency at the last minute. Therefore, it would be tea in the park instead on a Sunday afternoon, in the only covert and very popular Wizard café in the park. Muggles could eat there too but wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary… That is: apart from the service being very swift, due to the house elves hidden away in the kitchens. It was one of the reasons why the café was very popular indeed.
“Yes,” she answered. “If only to discuss this whole awkward situation…. We can always talk about the case if nothing else…” She sounded a lot braver than she felt. What was she doing?!
“Harry said they still haven’t gone through all the books, but they will visit a few possible hide-out locations soon…” Ginny remarked. “Perhaps they will really find out more…”
Hermione grabbed her hand. Ever since Ron’s death, Ginny had been worried about Harry’s job.
She was worried herself, not only of Harry’s safety but also about the case itself. How would she respond if she found the people that had killed Ron? Would she be tempted to use one of the Unforgivable Curses herself? Hermione liked to think of herself as a good person, but she couldn’t deny wanting to see Ron’s killer hurt, fatally so, if possible…
Quickly, she put her mind to other things… This wasn't the time for gloomy, revengeful thoughts… She would need her wits about her for the meeting with Malfoy.
He was a little late. Hermione had already been there for a few minutes, wishing she had brought a book. She had been tempted to bring Pride and Prejudice but decided against it at the last minute. It could remind them both too much of that previous meeting…
After they had both greeted each other the waitress came to take their order, giving them both some time to adjust to this awkward situation. It was nowhere near enough time though…
“I still can’t believe this has happened,” Hermione finally giggled like a schoolgirl, her cheeks flaming red.
“Me neither…” Draco readily acknowledged. “Mother was dead set against me coming…”
“My friends weren’t too pleased either…” Hermione replied.
“And your daughter?” he asked, while thanking the waitress who came with the tea and cakes.
“I haven’t told her about this…” she said. “I figured there was no need… not until..”
“Probably for the best,” he agreed and the awkward silence returned.
Hermione wished she could be anywhere else in the world… She could apparate out of here in no time but that would defeat the purpose of their meeting…
“I ran into her a while ago…” he said.
“Who?” Hermione asked.
“Your daughter.. what’s her name? There was no mistaking that bushy hair…” he grinned.
“The family curse…” she agreed light-heartedly. “Rose definitely inherited my curls..”
Neither of them commented on the girl’s hair color, so clearly inherited from her father.
“What’s it like?” Draco asked. “Raising a child?” trying to keep the pain out of his voice.
That wasn’t a hard question and soon Hermione was sharing him all about her daughter… How proud she was of her, that she was smart and stubborn. That Rose absolutely adored the sea, water, and boats.
Draco listened quietly. She seemed much more at ease now, when she enjoyed the subject.
“I love the water too,” he said. “Sailing on the lake… Always had to make sure that I wouldn’t get sunburn though..”
“Oh, just like Ron…” Hermione said before she remembered who she was talking to.
Their careful avoidance of that particular subject now broken, Draco took a bit of a risk.
“Is Potter sure if… He said they had assumed Ron’s death was an accident, but they weren’t sure about it anymore…?” he asked her. When Hermione didn’t immediately respond but looked rather sadly at him instead, he quickly added…”Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked…”
“No… It’s alright.. We did find this spell, in one of your dad’s books… that can reveal someone’s blood status so they could have used that… but there’s no way to be sure…” she sighed heavily.
“I didn’t know that spell existed…” Draco said.
“I’m glad you didn’t!” she replied sharply. “It would have been extremely useful during the war…”
“For both sides…” he grunted but Hermione rolled her eyes as she gave her reaction: “You don’t really believe that! Our side had all sorts of witches and wizards…”
“Tell me about it,” he mumbled in return, “including these people.. These Jennings..” an angry glint appeared in his eyes.
“We don’t know if it was them for sure though…” Hermione said, and continued: “I have no idea how I would react if I’d found Ron’s killers…. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately…”
Draco felt like making a joke about her probably granting them clemency being such a goody two shoes, but stopped at the last second: this was her late husband they were discussing.
“One can never be sure about such things...” he said instead. “When I had to…. When the Dark Lord gave me his task… I couldn’t…” Shame crept over his cheeks. “I had always been boasting about wanting more responsibility but killing… It’s something else entirely…”
“Molly could…” Hermione let slip, clasping her hand for her mouth when she saw his face twitch.
“She killed my aunt, you mean…” he replied evenly.
“To be fair… she did threaten to kill Ginny…” Hermione said, not wanting to mention what Bellatrix had carved into her own arm. Both their arms would be scarred forever.
“It’s what happens in a war,” Draco shrugged. “People die…”
He hadn’t forgotten how Bellatrix put Voldemort over her own family, her own sisters…. Everyone.
“How are you?” Hermione suddenly got personal, nearly reaching for his hand, grabbing her teacup instead. “With your dad… I mean.?”
“His portrait will be finished soon,” he said. “I was rather looking forward to it, you know… seeing him again… but with my mother threatening she will tell him about you…”
“Oh..” Hermione didn’t know what to say to that.
“You see,” he said, wanting to get it over with, “they had been wondering about you all along…”
“Oh..” she said again. “Why?”
He smirked. “Apparently they read my fierce… ehm… rejection of you a little differently…”
“As in..” Hermione whispered, not wanting to say it out loud herself, rather hearing him say it.
“As in probably having a bit of a crush…” he said, his eyes staring intensely into hers.
Hermione blushed. “Were they right?” she wondered. “I never would have guessed if they were…”
“Me neither,” he laughed, “but in hindsight… maybe, yes… they were probably right…”
“But it was impossible… both of us being who we are…” she understood, biting her lip.
“Yes, and you were so clever, it was pretty intimidating…”
“I still am,” she smirked, “but, then, you’re quite intimidating yourself…”
“I don’t want to be intimidating anymore though…” he said. “Maybe in my job when dealing with a difficult patient… but not otherwise.”
“Not with me?” she asked, almost a little flirtingly.
“Not with you,” he stated, as he took the final bite of his cake.
“Draco…” Hermione said, as the waitress was clearing their table. “This is hard for me, as I imagine it is for you too,” he nodded solemnly, “so we have to decide what we want… If we want something..” she ended lamely.
“What do you want?” he asked her.
“Why do I have to answer first..?” she complained.
“Because I just told me about my crush on you…” he said, a twinkle in his eyes, but apprehension in his voice.
“Your crush in the past…” Hermione responded, finding it a bit unfair, but he didn’t save her, keeping silent instead.
“I want…” Hermione began, determined to get it right. “When I didn’t know who you were.. I thought you sounded pretty amazing apart from being pure-blood and far too uptight about it… and I really wanted to get to know you better…”
“But then…” he said.
“things changed, when I realized… You had always hated me, so why would it be any different now? Why should I trust you at all? I surely never could before… But, your letters… You did sound quite different… so I wanted to give you a chance…”
“You still haven’t said what you want…” Draco drawled, his eyebrows rising impatiently.
“I believe we still have things to talk about…” she answered diplomatically. It wasn’t the declaration he’d hoped for but Draco took whatever he could.
“I would like to meet you again as well,” he replied. “How about…?”
“Do you want to plan that now?” she said a little taken aback.
“No time like the present, right?” he winked cheekily.
“It’s a bit manipulative,” she said.
“Ah… too used to getting what I want, you mean..” he sighed. Hermione glared at him. Yes, he was. He was still arrogant enough to presume…
“How about Wednesday evening?” she heard herself say. “Quick dinner after work? I will need to collect Rose around eight-thirty, so say around six?”
“Your wish is my command,” he said.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “'Fine by me,’ would have done fine…” she laughed.