THE COFFEE SHOP
"See? He is again looking at her …"
"Wish it were me…"
Callous calculating orbs captured every bit of what it could, from the image of brown eyes, brown hair, and a cup of coffee.
Brown- that was annoying, brown-that was wild, brown-that was now history.
Similar to his black coffee's sour taste, she also held a bitter tale that he wished to put behind him every day, every night.
And every morning he failed himself, by coming to the cafe to drink a cup of something he was never fond of, by hiding in a seat that didn't go with his refined features, by looking at somebody who was not even aware of his existence.
Unknown to what he was searching for, some secret passages in his mysterious mind seemed to lead to her when nothing about it made sense.
Draco sipped the hot drink in a subdued manner, eyes not deserting a certain figure.
Whether it was the tartness or the strong scent, not a single thing harmonized with this ludicrous whim of his which centered on her, except the brown of the coffee.
And brown would always be her.
"One cappuccino, with cream and sugar."
After one of the waitresses leaved the coffee on her table with a practiced smile that she returned with ease, Hermione savored the coffee, favorite drink and favorite moment of her unanticipated days.
How come she cannot remember any other things in her life that might be favorite as well?
"My family was fighting against the death-eaters, and now…" somebody sniffed at a nearby table.
One year ago there had been a war, she recalled, yes. They said it was the war between the two strongest wizards, neither of whom survived. Good against evil, light against dark, or so she read in those magical newspapers. People killed, people fought, people vanished, people died. In the end it was the victory of good, with lots of loss and decease.
But where did she fit in?
A stable apartment, a teaching job in a reputed school of London, loads of accomplished certificates, what more could one ask for?
She did though. For friends. A family. Somebody. Anybody.
Anybody who could tell her why she didn't recall the war, why she didn't have a single memory of anything except a wizard school now destroyed, why she didn't have anyone to ask what went wrong, why she was living a life she herself was stranger to.
A midst these knowing tell-tale whispers & glances, anybody who would tell her why she was alive, why she was here, why she was all alone.
So she waited, she waited with the only thing she identified, a smoking hot cappuccino which bore a strong resemblance to what once had been, she waited and waited and waited for one voice to reach out.
She could not see him.
It was pouring.
Plus she didn't bring her umbrella today, again.
Just as she was getting ready to use her handbag, a hand came to view.
A hand, holding an umbrella. A handsome unknown face.
"You can take mine."
Another nameless addition to the faceless crowd.
"No thanks, I will manage."
All that changed when he brought her under the umbrella, in the rain, on the road, open to the world where she had been unaided just a minute ago, while walking side by side.
Somehow, she did fit in.
He didn't know why, but the decision was made, be it by instinct or tenacity.
At first she didn't even look at him. So he had to invite himself to be seated in front of her.
Her mere curiosity was a disappointment, as he was expecting something more outrageous, like he was used to…
"How can I help you, Mr.…?"
Not that she remembered, of course.
Faith. Courage. Innocence.
His gray eyes mercilessly riffled through her appearance that formerly described her with said adjectives, trying to dive deeper into the blankness she displayed with little knowledge that why he was even trying.
"Draco. Draco Malfoy."
Who could have thought one day the Slytherin prince would introduce himself to the Gryffindor mudblood?
"Hermione." The smile obviously didn't reach those eyes.
"Do I know you?"
Walk away. Be gone. Don't do this.
As easier as it would have been to listen to his brain, he just couldn't bear the empty look Hermione kept giving him.
It hurt. Damn him, and damn her for forgetting, but it hurt.
Did he see something flicker in brown orbs?
Then surfaced the question Draco decided to keep within himself.
"Did you know me?"
Replying to that however, felt a lot more appropriate than he thought.
"I couldn't forget."
She wished to die right then and there, wanting nothing more but to die as Fenrir Greyback tore his body, the boy she loved, to pieces, soaked in blood as red as his hair.
"Please! Don't kill him! RON!"
He was already dead.
And a piece of her heart died with him.
"How was I like?"
It's their second week in the cafe.
Of being together.
The reason that any rumors or pictures about them was prevented from being published in The Daily Prophet by any of the meddling reporters, was his part played as the secret agent for the Order, accompanied by the influence of his linage.
And he always put a silencio around their table, just in case.
"You were annoying. You were the insufferable know-it-all in our year, the over enthusiastic Head Girl, and the apple's eye of all the teachers out there," Draco couldn't help but make a face in that, "you had a bigmouth. You were a prude, & managed to get on everyone's nerves. Granger, I swear you pissed me off all the time…"
"Who is Granger?"
Could something worse than this happen provided that he told her who Granger actually was? Was it his place to take responsibility of the words? Was he even prepared for what could happen after she learned the truth?
But who else was there?
"Granger, was the brightest witch of our age." The brain of the Golden Trio, the fighter who selflessly sacrificed for a world where people like Voldemort & him lived, also the girl he fell in love with.
Hermione mulled over, "she must be amazing."
Draco silently nodded, that she would forever be.No matter who was there or not, and who might or might not be, for now he was all she had.
And all, he could be.
A war was the way to start, as well as ruin.
It had been both for the Order as they were starting to gain the upper hand, whilst suffering the loss of many.
Ron, Charlie, Tonks, George, Moody, and the list went on.
Hermione didn't understand whether it was sacrifice, or giving up for the sake of triumph.
How could she possibly win something after losing so much?
"Hermione, we need to do this."
The plan was to directly sneak in the hideout of Voldemort and attack him while he was weaker due to the obliteration of all the horcruxes, including Nagini which was killed by Harry during the last encounter.
Where they also killed Ron.
"Harry, I can't."
The strength which everybody, mainly he relied on, was crumbling. And he had nobody but himself to blame for that.
"I know we lost Ron. But…"
''And what if we lose you too?"
Harry didn't care, since he was also at his limits, but refused to crack till he brought that one wizard down who began this.He held her hand, "we can't afford to think all this now…"
She stumbled out of his reach, "but I can't afford to lose anything more! I can't afford to lose you too!"
The assurance itself sounded weak. "You won't."
"Ron, said that too." A broken smile escaped her lips, coupled with angry hot tears that she was too drained to control, despite the awareness how Harry detested her crying.
"Don't you trust me?"
"Do you? Do you trust yourself?" Not to die? Not to let anybody else die?
Harry gathered her tenderly in his arms, sucking up the well-known warmth he shared so many times before, secretly glad that she didn't get to realize how he always smelled her hair, her scent, a little bit of all of her in that one touch for all these years.
He had loved Hermione with every inch of his heart, but protecting her was the most important thing to be done in the middle of a war.
"I can't trust myself unless you do, you know that Mione."
"You have to. You have to come back."
She couldn't forgive himself if he didn't, as he wouldn't forgive himself if he didn't.
Just when he thought she was ready, her words stopped him dead.
"You are forgetting something."
Harry didn't even acknowledge what was about to come, "meet me downstairs when you are done."
But before he could reach the door a lock spell was cast.
"We already talked about that Hermione, and we didn't agree. End of discussion."
The grief was replaced with an obstinate fire in her brown pools, which meant trouble. "You didn't agree. But unless you do, none of us are leaving this room. Or this place tonight."
Harry didn't hide the agitation this time, "you have gone mad if you think I am gonna agree with this ridiculous idea."
"It is not ridiculous! I told you it's the best way to keep you safe from him!"
The enraged intensity that had been kept in check burst out.
"Using obliviate on you is nothing but a load of crap! What made you think I wanna be safe like that, huh? Stop being stubborn!"
Even so, her words held the harsh truth.
"It's our last chance Harry. You can't come on to him like that every day, nor can you expect all of us to make it without getting killed, or worse-captured. We know they want me as the bargain before they manage to get you."
"I won't let it happen…"
"Our plan is foolproof but we are still short in number, you think they don't know that? Why take the risk when we can play it safe? I can't let you ruin this scope we have because you are acting immature…"
Harry bellowed, "Immature? You think I am acting immature? Speak for yourself!"
"I might be stubborn, but I am not stupid, you know."
"I don't care! Just stop this nonsense and let's go."
"If you are not gonna do it, I will."
The obvious determination she radiated told him she definitely would.
"Don't you get it Harry? Don't you see how many are going to die if I am caught? Arthur, Molly, Ginny," her voice shook as Harry grimaced, "and everyone else because I know everything! I have planned this! They wouldn't kill just me, but the whole Order through me! And only I know where you would be if this plan fails. I can't take the risk to let them know any of it."
Ron was already gone, why was she doing this to him?
"Dumbledore died for this, for you. If he were alive, he would have done the same…"
That he knew, as the old wizard's words still rung in his head.
"You must choose, between what is easy, and what is right."
"We can do this Harry, we can."
He was long decided to live, for he was the chosen one, no matter at what cost.
"I know you will be back. When it's all over, we can try to find a way out to undo this spell, I know you can."
She was giving away her 17 years, her whole life to keep one person safe who was the reason she abandoned her family, the reason the boy she was in love with perished.
Why did he have to live while he couldn't stop snatching?
"I trust you Harry, we all do."
I love you, he screamed in his battered mind all over again until they formed at the corner of his eyes and dissolved, drop by drop in the hair of the body he tightly embraced.
They were entangled in blues, in each other.
"I love you Harry, I love both of you," mentioning Ron opened the fresh wound both of them were yet to recover from. Letting the brave front drop, Hermione simply sobbed in Harry's shoulder. "Please, don't die…"
His heart bled. Her heart broke. Not the boy-who-lived, not the girl who became the brightest witch, they were shattered souls who fought and lost, for the sake of love.
"Do it Harry."
He wished he could cling onto her a little bit more.
His grip on her tightened to the point of hurting, it still felt as if she was slipping away.
It felt like goodbye.
"So Malfoy, what are you doing in London?"
"And your family…"
"Long dead. I am the only child."
The smoke of their coffee mugs easily merged, one into another.
"I wonder how my parents were. I tried to track their record, but there's nothing. I don't even have a picture. Sad, isn't it?"
Draco was only able to bond with his mother in this whole world, even so, he found it cruel to imagine a life with no memories, be it of family or foe. Even the worst kinds were better than to have nothing.
"Did I have friends? Or a boyfriend, perhaps?" She had a somber smile, "can you tell?"
His hands balled into fists.
"You had everything." Once.
The surprise, the wonder, the keenness to believe was palpable and pleasant in the eye as Hermione marveled at what this familiar stranger said. "I had everything?"
His defense would not reveal how even today, she was everything he helplessly needed.
"You had love."
"I have a favor to ask."
Despite joining the Order, the taciturnity between Harry and him were constant.
"It's about Hermione."
"Granger? Give me a break, Potter…"
"She's been obliviated for tonight's operation as a safety measure." Harry averted his eyes. "If something happens to me, I want you to…"
Draco didn't wait to react.
"Hold it right there. You are saying she obliviated herself to …"
The words rolled distastefully in his mouth, "… to save me."
"To save you." Draco threw him a spiteful glare, "and you must be insane if you let her do it…"
"I did it."
"You obliviated her. You."
Harry didn't have the nerve to accept yet again.
"Do me a favor and …"
In a flash he was banged against the wall, a wand stuck at his throat hostilely.
"How could you? How could you be so selfish Potter? And they call me a traitor!" Draco roared in his stunned face. "Why in the world would you do that to her! She is your best friend, you asshole!"
Incapable of answering back to his awful accuracy, Harry also let anger take over. "As if you actually care! How does it matter to you?"
Because I love her. "Because she doesn't deserve this! Because she is sacrificing herself to save your ass and you don't deserve that!"
"I know that! But it's done." Harry hung his head. "It's done."
Two enemies drenched in the horror of the moment. Furious, feeble, forlorn.
Draco finally spoke.
"What do I have to do?"
Harry handed him an envelope.
"If things go wrong tonight, if I don't make it but you do," green eyes went hard, "and if she is there, give her this."
Draco didn't have the right. "What's in it?" But he had to know.
"Something that will tell her she was not alone."
Perchance that might be the moment when he foolishly made his mind that he was going to return from this mess, alive and safe, one way or another.
"Did you go into the war?"
"Did you kill…?"
"I had to."
"I was also there, right?"
"Did I kill to survive?"
Draco didn't pause.
"No. You were a fighter."
"Please come in."
Slightly smaller, but tidy and cozy, the place illustrated Granger in her old way. Watching a whole cabinet full of books was quite unexpected. Even when she didn't remember anything, she remembered books all the way, Draco inwardly scowled.
"I read when I am alone." Which she was all the time.
"Would you like some tea?"
A pair of gray eyes followed her while she was at it.
Draco remembered the potion class during Slughorn's time, where Potter never failed to amaze that old joker, much to his dismay. He remembered the humidity and the irritating sighs of the students, funny faces of Wesley and his fellow classmates, Pansy nagging, Crabbe - Goele bickering, and….
And what he remembered the most was Granger.
Just the way she was concentrating on making a cup of tea, he remembered her effort, her motivation, the way she was solely absorbed only in brewing as if nothing else mattered, her weighty breaths, her frown, her heated cheeks, beads of sweat that rolled down her jaw, throat, collarbone…
She was vivid, far more fascinating than those potions he was unable to give attention to.
He mutely accepted the hospitality, musing what made her bring him here. It was evident that Granger didn't recall a thing about anything Draco spoke, let alone believe him enough to share her address, not that he didn't know.
His face must have showed the assumed query, as Hermione sounded apologetic.
"I am sorry. You must be thinking why I suddenly brought you to my home when I can't even remember you," Draco tried to ignore the twinge of pain, "but it's been a while since I had any company. So I thought maybe it was a good idea, to spend some time like this."
"Did you mind?"
Did she know how long had he been waiting for this?
"Also, I wanted to be sure about something."
His eyes narrowed.
"Do you recognize these pictures? I mean, do you happen to know if there was someone else with me?"
There were photos. Photos of her. Alone in the middle, sitting, standing, smiling.
"It feels weird for some reason, I don't know why but…"
But he knew. He did know for sure that the two vacant spots to her left and right had been occupied, by the only two people who could make her laugh like that. It didn't feel weird, it just felt wrong to see her there without them.
Damn that Weasel and Potter.
To hear his name like the old times was a relief. However…
"If things go wrong tonight, if I don't make it but you do," green eyes went hard, "and if she is there, give her this."Since then he had carried it with utmost care & hatred, aware of the consequence it could create.
Draco traced the old cover in his pocket, deliberating as to why he could possibly hesitate. He just had to take it out, give her, & explain.
Hermione heaved a sigh, "I guess you don't know. Besides if I had people I knew, they would have come for me, right?"
Only if they were alive. Only if she didn't forget."I came."
No sentiment, no sensation, no feelings, she supposed it was her adversity that brought him to her. No matter what, no matter why, no matter how long he was here for, him being there was what made the difference.
A soothing smile lightly tugged into her lips, "yes. You did."
Draco uncomfortably clutched the paper. He was risking away her happiness, her certainty, to the urge of having her think that he was among them, the ones who left her, left the frame, left the world.
Despite that he realized if Granger smiled like that, if Granger wanted to smile like that, he would let her live in his lie just a little bit longer.
He could forever stay with her that way.
She was dreaming.
To be precise, she was having nightmares.
The fact that it was raining cats and dogs outside, as well as late, was what made Hermione offer that he stay the night. Declining would have been effortless, but he just agreed.
And thank Merlin he did, which was why he heard her nearly screaming in her sleep.
Without knocking Draco hurriedly entered the bedroom to wake her up.
"Don't…. Don't leave me…."
She was crying.
"Is that…is that you? Har..ry…"
Before he even realized what he was doing, he kissed her.
Draco kissed Hermione. Drinking in her misery, savoring the resentful delusions, his thirsty lips took from her eagerly in a rush, with the purpose to turn his back on the cuts and gashes both of them shared.
He felt fluttering her eyes against his cheek, and put her into deep slumber with a wand-less spell.
Granger looked like a lifeless doll, misplaced in his arms, adrift from his grasp to a restless somewhere he so frantically wished to reach.
"Don't…. Don't leave me…."He was not Potter.
It seemed that she didn't remember any of her dreams, what she saw, or said in them.
"I slept well last night. How about we order a breakfast?"
Totally oblivious to what ensued earlier, Hermione kept sipping her cappuccino under the scorching gaze of Draco.
He didn't mind that she had hardly any idea regarding how he tasted her, touched her, or accompanied her to sleep until morning for that matter.
Someday, she would.
"Don't…. Don't leave me…."
She looked like a reporter, but not recognizable to Hermione all the same.
"I am Olivia Skitter, a staff of the Daily Prophet magazine. Our weekly would like a cover story on your after war life."
Hermione wasn't sure where this was coming from. "I think you are mistaken. I am not Gran…"
Olivia offered a saucy smile, "but you are! You are the brightest witch of our age who fought alongside Harry Potter! Although it's said that since his death you went undercover…"
Brightest witch of our age?
But he said…
"Who is Granger?"
"Granger, was the brightest witch of our age.""Is it because of Harry Potter that you broke your ties off with the magical world?"
Harry? Nothing rang a bell, but she might have read something similar in a news. Now, what was it…
…It was the war between the two strongest wizards, neither of whom survived.
Hermione couldn't tell, but something was very, very strange about this whole thing.
And the next question stroke her hard.
"What would you like to say about your newborn romance with the 'ex' death eater Draco Malfoy? Is it true that you guys are dating?"
She stood up of her chair to tell this absurd reporter off, but could not as the door to her office was slammed open.
"Mr. Malfoy!" Olivia was glad, his showing up was going to put quite a bit of color on this bulletin that she was eager to write. "We were just talking about you…"
It was then that Hermione noticed how infuriated this young man was. Those usual cold eyes were flaming, flaring with a rage that she found unreasonable yet dangerous. He was speaking as evenly as he could, which was still not plenty to suppress the violent intensity his demeanor radiated.
"I said get out."
Olivia was not about to let go of such a scandal, "I am a reporter of Daily prophet Mr. Malfoy. You are not letting me do my duty."
"Olivia Skitter, was it?" The menacing tone connoted something troublesome. "You have been dismissed of your duties. You won't be doing them," Draco snickered, "for a while.""What do you mean…"
"What I mean is you are fired. For trespassing, for pursuing a forbidden issue, and," Draco bit off the words with fake patience, "for harassing my acquaintance. Now, off you go."
Hermione couldn't help but be sympathetic towards the girl who was about to cry. "But you can't do that! I was just doing my job!"
"And I think you have outdone yourself. Whatever, leave."
"You can't do this! You are not even my boss! You…"
Draco was careful enough to keep the words between him & the girl.
"Your boss works for me. I pay your magazine & your boss so that I don't have to deal with this shits," Olivia looked scandalous at his last reproach, "remember this & don't stick your nose where it doesn't belong."
"I, I am so…"
"…sorry? Too late. You can fuck off."
Hermione waited till the shaken girl left. She closed the door, thankful that none of her colleagues turned up.
"Malfoy! What was wrong with you!"
"What was wrong with you?" Draco sounded simply livid. "Why did you let a reporter come here?"
"I didn't know she was a…"
"It could have been a disaster!"
"Why?" She needed to understand what was so dreadful about it.
"Because she was talking rubbish…"
"She called me Granger. Miss Granger."He was going to kill that bint.
"What is it? What are you not telling me, Malfoy?"
Draco had to think before he said anything that should not have been said.
"Who is Harry?"
No way. "He is just a wizard. That's all."
Sure he was. But she had a nagging feeling that he was not just a wizard, as he put it.
"That girl said I left the magical world because Harry died…"
He was getting frustrated.
"What she said doesn't matter, does it? She is just a foolish reporter. She most probably lied."
"And you are not?"
Draco gritted his teeth. "Why would I?"
"Because you were not supposed to know I had an interview. Even I didn't know that. Because you sacked her using your authority, even if you could have called the security. Because you claimed it to be a trespassing when she was just asking me questions. And," Hermione frowned, "because you called me Granger too."
"Granger, I swear you pissed me off all the time…"
Screw him for slipping that up.
"You are not telling me something, are you?" What did he not want her to know?
"I told you all I knew, alright?"
"No. You didn't tell me who Granger is." Her voice didn't quiver as it was supposed to, reaching the realization. "You didn't tell me that I, am Hermione Granger."
She wasn't asking. It was a confirmation.
The atmosphere suddenly became unpleasant, as both of them were ill at ease.
"Why did you lie to me? Why are you still lying to me?"
Because for a second time he refused to let her get hurt.
Then again, he couldn't have kept it a secret forever. Regardless of the strong compulsion to bear the weight of her scarred past all by himself, maybe he forgot that she still ached inside, in search of memories that belonged to her and her alone, even though they were gone.
Draco brought the envelope out of his coat.
"I have something to give you."
The time had come at last.
Your reading this letter means I couldn't come back to you. I don't know what is going to happen to in this final battle, but I don't want to take any risk this time, so here you go.
You have been the first person beside Ron, the other member of our beautiful friendship of 7 years, who I trusted more than myself, and who accepted me as I am. You dedicated your knowledge, your spirit, your magic, to make me win a war that snatched Ron, snatched your parents. You fought with me, you fought for me, and you were also the one protecting when it should have been me.
Ron promised he would return, so did I. You couldn't forgive him for that, & you won't be able to forgive me too. But just like you have always been there for me & him, know that we will always be with you as well. Know that you have been the world to us, just like we have been to you.
You will not remember neither Ron nor me when you read this, but I want you to know that we loved each other with all our heart. I want you to believe in yourself like you always believed in us when nobody else did.
Live. For me, for Ron, for you.
Your Best Friend
Two boys, one with glasses and black messy hair, another with glowing red hair and freckles, was hugged by a brunette in what looked like a uniform. The picture was moving, quite odd and unnerving, but that wasn't what affected her.
It was those figures, those faces. The girl who she used to be, the persons who she had laughed with, who had laughed with her, the life she once had the luck to live with the people she loved.
It looked beautiful. It looked alive. She looked alive.
"The one with the scar is Harry. The Redhead is Ron."
She didn't hear him come in, but maybe he had been there all along.
"They were amazing, weren't they?"
"Not without you."
How could she have forgotten about this life that was a gift? How could they have let her forget? Having no sorrows to deal with, having no memories to reminiscence, was this the living she was now left to do?
"You are crying."
Hermione didn't bother noticing since when, and why.
"Does it matter? In the end I am alone."
Draco moved closer to her. "What matters is you are alive."
"I didn't want to live like this!" She didn't care that she yelled, that she wept, that she grieved. All she cared about was this sudden throbbing which tossed her into despair, an ache so demanding, so unruly that she wondered whether it was better not to be reminded, of the loss, of the love.
"I didn't want to be left alone! All I get is a, is a letter & a photo, when it's them I needed the most! They even took my memory…"
The fine line between what ceased to be, & what came to be was devastating.
"They took nothing. You gave it to them." Draco would never side with the scar-head, but he would call a spade a spade. "You let Potter take your memories because it was too risky, because it was a war & you were fucking stubborn. It was your decision to play the martyr because you wanted to keep all of us safe. You gave it up on your own Granger, just to save Potter."
She went that far to protect?
"I hated him too you know, I still do. But he didn't die by choice. He didn't leave you alone by choice." A heavy dejection washed over him. "The reason he is gone is the reason why we are here."
Hermione failed to throw the words away, for they held truth to the core.
"If you choose love, you must also get hurt. What you did for him and he for you, is nothing but that. Do not insult yourself by saying otherwise."
One had to face their future with their past.
And so she saw the picture, saw the bliss their faces glowed with. She held that old parchment, felt the emotions those words conveyed. Even if it was missing, even if it was gone, she now knew that it was not only an existence, but she had also lived.She knew that she had not been alone.
Brown eyes faced gray ones.
"Thank you, Draco."
He resolved to be frank. "I didn't do it for you or Potter. I was never that kind, Granger."
"Then why would you do it?"
"So that I could come back."
Hermione didn't have the time to dodge those hands that embraced her with solid firmness. He clutched her close, clinging onto her like a drowning man catches at a straw. Breathing her in he devoured the contact, aware of the thump-thump-thump that mixed with hers.
She felt like Hogwarts, she felt like home.
Draco placed a kiss on her neck, a promise to never let go.
"So that I could come back to you."
"Live. For me, for Ron, for you."
Hermione softly smiled.
She smiled at her past, at her future.
And that was a start.