Title: Wrought Iron and Gold - Rating: T - Couples: John Thorton/Margaret Hale (North and South)
Original Couple: Margaret Hale and John Thornton (North and South)
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns anything from Harry Potter; Elizabeth Gaskell owns North and South.
Summary: Hermione comes to realize that there’s more to a person than the mistakes he’s made.
Warnings:One or two bad words
Author's Note: Many thanks to lucillajoanna and ayboo_da_bish for beta-ing this on rather short notice. Title of the fic is taken from (or rather, is) the title of chapter 10 of North and South.
“See you later.”
“See you,” Hermione muttered at Draco Malfoy’s retreating figure. She sighed and rolled her shoulders, trying to remove the tension she felt whenever Malfoy spoke to her. He seemed intent on being friendly, which had raised alarm bells in her head when she’d first moved to Hogsmeade. She’d thought it was all an act to make the world believe he’d changed. Now, however, Hermione didn’t question his motives. She’d been in Hogsmeade for four months already and he hadn’t wavered, so she let her guard down somewhat. That didn’t mean she enjoyed talking to him; she didn’t like him and never would. Nothing he said or did could make up for the fact that she had been tortured in his home and he hadn’t lifted a finger to help. It irritated her to no end that he seemed to go out of his way to converse with her if he bumped into her on the street, or take his coffee with her if he saw her in the café.
Hermione was one of the founders of the Albus Dumbledore Foundation, the largest charity established after the second war against Voldemort. The charity had many different departments and provided support to the orphans, veterans, werewolves and other magical beings, as well as those whose homes or businesses had been destroyed. Thankfully, in the wake of the war, people were generous, and the Galleons kept coming in. The main office was in Diagon Alley, but Hermione had been reassigned to Hogsmeade, to establish an office there and to train the first employees, ensuring that the Galleons got to those who needed them most and that everyone who asked for help received it. She frequented Mrs. Goodbite’s cafe, unaware that it was the favourite haunt of a certain Draco Malfoy.
In all honesty, Malfoy didn’t seem too bad, but Hermione could never forget that he had been a Death Eater. She remembered the war that was fought because of people like him and their hatred for people like her. She didn’t doubt that he regretted his choices, but the fact remained that he made them in the first place. Who could do such a thing? How could he, even reluctantly, do what he did? Though Hermione didn’t think Malfoy deserved to go to Azkaban because he was forced into his role, she couldn’t help but curl her lip when she thought of how he had given in, done things he knew were wrong and had negatively impacted so many lives. The Dark Mark on his arm was a testament, if not to his beliefs, then a testament to his history.
Nevertheless, he was well-regarded in their little coffee shop community, but there was a certain undertone to the interactions of the other customers with Draco that Hermione couldn’t quite place. It was only recently that she realized it was respect and admiration, rather than fear, that caused them to lower their voices and sneak glances when he was around.
“He’s a good lad,” Mrs. Goodbite told her, coming around from behind the counter to sit with Hermione for a while. Hermione looked at her in confusion, and the older woman nodded towards the door. “Draco. I know you’re not convinced, but he’s a good lad. He used to work as an apprentice to another potioneer somewhere down near Glasgow, but he’d pop in now and again for a cuppa. It was only a year ago when he finally saved enough money to open his own shop here. I think his dream is to open a store in Diagon Alley, but this’ll do for him for now. Believe you me, he started from nothing, that boy.” At Hermione’s soft snort, she elaborated. “Well, of course we all know what family he belongs to and we know he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he came here with absolutely nothing - excepting his mother, of course, who’s now his responsibility. His reputation was in shreds, he couldn’t find any investors, and all of his capital was what he earned through his own toil. No one wanted to buy his potions, of course, especially with his name on them, but once someone’s tried one of his potions, they never go anywhere else. Quality, I’m telling you. Quality. His potions are the perfect colour, the smoothest blend, expertly brewed. Somehow he manages to mask the taste of the nastiest ones, too. He’s got quite a solid customer base now, I tell you.”
Much of this was a surprise to Hermione. Yes, she and Draco had been bumping into each other at Mrs. Goodbite’s for several months now, and she knew he was a potioneer but she had never thought to inquire further.
Her curiosity was piqued and, a few days later, she decided to visit his shop.
Malfoy’s Potions was bright and clean, and Hermione instantly knew what Mrs. Goodbite had meant when she said ‘quality’. Draco had obviously invested in his shop, and the modern interior made the customer instinctively feel that the potions were carefully and cleanly prepared. A house elf was mopping the floors, but Draco himself stepped out from his lab to serve her.
“Hermione.” He had started using her Christian name. It unnerved her somewhat, because she didn’t consider him a friend, but she’d been called worse names so she didn’t complain. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I was told you sell good potions and thought I’d try one,” she replied. “A fluidounce of Pepper-Up, please.”
He looked at her closely. “You’re ill?”
“Just a little under the weather. Nothing a good dose of Pepper-Up won’t fix.” She smiled tightly at him, not in the mood for small talk.
Draco nodded and turned to get a bottle of the potion from a shelf behind him. “Here you go,” he said. “I think you’ll like this.”
“Why?” she had asked suspiciously, studying the bottle. “Is it different from regular Pepper-Up?”
“Quite. This has less side effects- well, less steam coming out of your ears. There’s no loss of efficacy,” he hastened to add.
Hermione was impressed in spite of herself. Potions were like most things in the wizarding world - if they worked, wizards saw no need to improve them. That Draco was looking for ways to minimize side effects and improve the palatability was quite surprising, considering he was the epitome of a traditionalist wizard. “All right. How much?”
Hermione raised her eyebrows as she brought out her bag. She wondered how Malfoy made any profit, considering his prices were lower than the potions shop at the other end of the village. She knew their Pepper-Ups were priced at a Galleon and three Sickles. “Thanks,” she said, pushing the Galleon towards him and slipping the bottle in her bag. “See you around.”
The Pepper-Up potion worked perfectly without the side effect of steaming ears. Hermione had to admit that Draco knew what he was doing. He was obviously a good potioneer. It was a shame, therefore, that the choices he made in his youth blackened his future. It was unfortunate that being a good potioneer didn’t make him a good man.
It was only later that Hermione realized she had been right; one Galleon was the cost of the potion without the profit added. Draco had probably given the potion to her for as cheaply as he had dared, knowing she wouldn’t accept it for free. It was one of the many little things he was constantly doing for her, such as paying the last few Knuts for her tea if she didn’t have enough change, visiting her office to personally deliver the quill she had dropped when she was rushing through the street from one meeting to another, and remembering to send her a wand-care pack on her birthday. It was almost as if he treated her as a friend. But it couldn’t be, as he never smiled or indicated he was glad to see her. It was strange, and Harry and Ron told her to be wary, but there was nothing she could do about it. She didn’t encourage him, not wanting to be friends with him, wishing he would just stop bothering her.
Draco’s actions became a little clearer a few weeks later. Sunset was still relatively late in the Highlands, and darkness was just beginning to fall by the time Hermione left her office.
“Hey!” The sharp shout had echoed in the silent street, causing Hermione to jump and turn around. She knew that voice. It was Draco.
She gasped as she took in the situation. Half a dozen cloaked figures had gathered in front of Malfoy’s Potions, clearly intent on vandalizing the shop. Draco was at the first-floor window, using his wand to extinguish the flames eating up the sign of his store.
“Fucking Death Eater!” one of the men yelled. Another shot a spell at Draco which he only just deflected.
That galvanized Hermione into action. She quickly drew her wand and ran towards the men. “Stop!” The men turned to look at her, startled by her presence, and she hastily cast a Shield Charm as one of them reflexively shot a Stunning Spell her way. “Leave him alone!” She had to deflect two more spells before she finally stood between them and the shop.
“It’s Hermione Granger,” one of them muttered.
She glared at each of the men, daring them to attack her. “Leave him alone,” she repeated, breathing heavily. “He-” She was cut off by the sound of a door opening, and one of the men let out a battle cry. A curse whizzed past her but Draco deflected it before sending a couple of his own towards the attackers. Hermione growled, knowing nothing good could come out of this fight. She cast a Body Bind on the man closest to her, but it was six against two and before she knew it, a red spell was heading her way.
The next thing she remembered was waking up to find Draco’s face hovering worriedly above hers. “Fuck, Granger, what were you thinking? You should have just called the MLE instead of running into the fray.”
Hermione sat up, realizing she had been Stunned and that Draco had just woken her up. She was still on the ground outside his shop.
“Mother was already Flooing them when you interfered,” he continued, his cheeks pink with anger. “But instead of them coming and rounding up all the hoodlums, no, you had to get hit and they all Disapparated away like the cowards they are.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. When he opened them again he seemed to realize she still hadn’t said a word. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she lied, jerking away when he lightly touched her shoulder. Her head hurt and she was still in mild shock after the excitement of the last few minutes. Draco seemed about to object but they were distracted by the arrival of the MLE.
It was a long night. Both Draco and Hermione had to recount their stories to various MLE officers. Their wands were checked to make sure only the spells they had mentioned were actually cast. Hermione had eventually begged off and went home before the officers were finished interrogating Draco.
She would never admit it out loud, but there was a small part of her that couldn’t help but sympathize with the attackers. Nothing justified their actions, but Hermione could understand where they were coming from. Of course, she had defended Draco - she would have defended any one in his position. But she had secretly, guiltily felt glad that the men had escaped, thinking that perhaps all they needed was to get it out of their system and now that they had done that, they wouldn’t bother Draco again. Perhaps it would even do Draco some good, she had thought, to remember that serving time in Azkaban couldn’t repair all the lives he had affected.
Draco showed up at her office the next morning, his face pale but his eyes alive with a sort of nervous excitement.
“I want to apologize for the way I spoke to you last night,” he said, refusing her offer to be seated with a shake of his head and electing to pace in front of her desk instead.
Hermione was shocked, having never thought of Draco as the type to apologize. “It’s perfectly all right. It was a high-stress situation. Please don’t think any more of it.”
“I’d also like to thank you for your assistance,” he added, not looking at her as he continued his pacing.
“You’re welcome, I suppose, but your thanks aren’t necessary,” Hermione replied, thinking Draco felt uncomfortable and indebted to her. She tried to reassure him, never thinking that her words might have the opposite effect. “Really, you have nothing to be grateful for. I would have done the same for any man.”
He stiffened, finally turning to look at her. “Any man?”
“Well, anyone in your position, of course.”
“Of course,” he repeated softly, frowning slightly. Then he took a deep breath. “Nevertheless, I thank you. You helped me, perhaps saved me, again. I’ll never forget that you helped me get a lighter sentence. I would have spent more time in Azkaban if it weren’t for you.”
Flustered, Hermione tried to interrupt. “I didn’t-”
Draco held up his hand. “No, wait. I need to say this. You may disagree, Hermione, but I know I owe my freedom - if not my life - to you. Yes, I can see you protesting, but I know it. And what’s more, it - it thrills me to know that I owe it to you. To know that every step and every breath I take, free from Azkaban, every potion that I brew and sell, my new beginning and my new life - every single thing I now have is due to you.” His low voice trembled with passion; his grey eyes were intense as he stepped towards her. Shocked and speechless, Hermione could only stare at him. “You, whom I... whom I love,” he finished.
Silence reigned for a few moments. “You don’t love me,” Hermione said quietly, once she had found her voice. “You don’t love me,” she repeated more firmly as Draco protested, “and I wish you wouldn’t think that you did. Based on what you’ve said, you feel gratitude, and nothing more.”
“I know the difference between gratitude and love!” snapped Draco, his pale cheeks now red. He looked mortified by her response but proudly continued. “I’ve known you for years, Hermione, since we were first in Hogwarts. I didn’t like you before, but as we grew up I came to admire you. I still didn’t like you, but I admired and respected you. You, out of everyone, changed my views on blood purity. You were not only intelligent and extremely capable of using magic, but you were good and kind and compassionate. You still are. When you and Potter and Weasley helped me in front of the Wizengamot, I let go of the last of my dislike. When I began seeing you here in Hogsmeade I couldn’t help myself; I had to get to know you better, and the more I knew, the more my feelings grew. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. And last night, when you once again helped me-”
“Stop!” Hermione implored him, standing up, completely overwhelmed by the strange turn of events. No one had ever declared his love for her before, much less in such an impassioned way. It scared her more than she cared to admit. “I don’t want to hear any more. Malfoy, you can’t just come in here and tell me you love me. I’m sure you thought that my saving you last night was an indicator of my feelings, but it’s not. I would have helped anyone. I gave my testimony at your hearing because it was the right thing to do; I knew you were reluctant to reveal us at Malfoy Manor, and I knew you were forced into the war and it wasn’t what you expected at all.” She spoke ruthlessly, not intending to be cruel but not knowing how else to make her point clear. “And yes, I’ve been polite when we meet, but I never imagined we were cultivating a friendship - honestly, I still don’t like you, Malfoy.”
He drew back, having stepped closer to her during his earlier speech, and turned around, trying to master himself. “If you don’t like me, it’s because you don’t know me. In your eyes, I’m still a Death Eater.”
“Isn’t that what you are?” she challenged.
Draco didn’t reply. Finally, after several long moments of silence, he faced her. “I thank you for your time, Hermione,” he said coolly, his voice steady but his face still flushed. “I have only one last thing to say.” His eyes swept across her face before meeting her gaze intently. “You look as though it taints you to be loved by me. And maybe it does, maybe I’m ruining you by simply loving you. But I won’t stop. It’s... disappointing,” he chose his words carefully, “to find out your true feelings for me, but mine haven’t changed. But don’t worry - I won’t trouble you with my feelings any longer.” With a slight nod, he turned and left the room, leaving Hermione staring at the space he had occupied.
His words plagued her for weeks. As ashamed as she was to admit it, he was right. It disgusted her, to be loved by a Death Eater. She felt burdened as well, burdened by a love she didn’t want and couldn’t reciprocate. She wasn’t sorry that she had rejected him, but she wished he hadn’t loved her to begin with.
It did, however, force her to consider him in a different light. Was he truly so changed that he could love what he had been taught to despise?
They continued to run into each other in the small village. Hermione was too embarrassed to say much, and Draco was polite but distant. Hermione suddenly found herself wishing things could go back to the way they were before, when she and Draco were almost friends. Now everything was so complicated.
Things became even more complex when Hermione had to help Hagrid out of a tricky situation. The man was known to do idiotic things when he was into his cups. Like buy a dragon egg. Or in this case, a Golden Snidget egg. He hadn’t known what it was, he claimed, until it had hatched and he’d rightly panicked. Harry and Ron would have helped, but Hagrid hadn’t wanted to put them in a difficult spot as they were Aurors and should have arrested him. So he’d asked Hermione for help, and she couldn’t refuse.
Luckily she had a friend who worked on the Snidget reserve, a friend who happened to owe her a favour. It had been a nightmare trying to catch the bird in Hagrid’s hut without calling in Harry, but she knew that even if he could catch it in the same way he’d catch a Snitch, it would likely be crushed in his grip. So she’d spent an entire day researching the ways of the Snidget hunters and finally managed to safely capture the bird in a tiny cage. Hagrid had given it a teary goodbye, and Hermione was now in Hogsmeade, meeting her friend in a small alley near the train station, relatively far from the village itself. The streets were almost deserted, but Hermione took no chances and had disillusioned the cage and its contents.
“Richard,” she greeted with relief, “I can’t thank you enough for your help.”
The man smiled and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Will you get into trouble?”
Richard shook his head again. “I doubt it. I don’t want to pry, but how did you get it?” he asked as he took the cage from her.
Hermione made a face. “A friend of mine didn’t realize what he had won in a bet he’d made while drunk,” she lied. “He was horrified to find out when he woke up.”
“Right. Well, happy to be of service, then.”
“Thanks, Richard. Let me take you to tea some time, we should catch up one of these days.”
“Hermione, just to be clear, you don’t owe me for this. Let’s call it even. When we go to tea, we’ll be on equal footing. I insist.”
Hermione laughed. “Alright. Owl me about it. And be sure to bring Caroline.”
“Will do,” he promised, giving her a quick hug. “I’ll see you soon.”
With a small wave, Hermione turned around and exited the alley, already feeling much lighter than when she’d entered it with the Snidget. She stopped in her tracks, however, when she saw Draco Malfoy, of all people, walk past. He gave her an unreadable look, a small nod, and continued on his way.
Everything would have gone smoothly if it weren’t a piece of vandalism that had appeared at the Hogsmeade train station. The caretaker had arrived early the next morning to find the words DEATH TO ALL MUDBLOODS burnt into the wall of platform 1 with a cleaning potion so acidic that it ate right into the stone. Platform 2 received the same treatment with more profanities.
The act sent shockwaves rippling throughout the village. Harry and Ron took the chance to see Hermione and requested to be the Aurors assigned on the case. They inspected the station and began questioning the janitor. Once they were satisfied, they went to speak to their best friend.
"Can you think of anyone who might have done it?" Ron asked. He and Harry were sitting in Hermione's office, gulping down the coffee she had provided. "You've been here for a while now and must know some of the locals."
Hermione shook her head. "The obvious suspect would be Draco Malfoy, but I'm certain he didn't do it. It's not his style in the least. It's more probable that someone's trying to frame him."
"Are you sure? We're going to question him right after this. Jacobs - the station caretaker - mentioned his name as well, said he's the only Death Eater around these parts."
"As I said, he's the obvious suspect, but it's a little too obvious, don't you think?"
Harry and Ron agreed. "Jacobs said he thought he saw you around the station last night, in the alley opposite the exit. You didn't happen to see anyone last night, did you?" Harry asked.
Hermione stiffened. She hated lying to her friends, but she couldn't get them involved in the Snidget smuggling. She also didn't want to get Richard in any trouble. "I wasn't there. I didn't go out last night."
"Oh," Harry said, trading a puzzled glance with Ron. "He said he saw you and another man. Also said he saw Malfoy lurking around."
"No, I wasn't there."
Ron shrugged. "I guess his eyesight isn't what it used to be. It must've been quite dark by that time. He said the last train gets in from Glasgow at half-seven, so this must have been after then."
"All right. I guess we'd better go question Malfoy now," Harry said, getting to his feet. Ron followed suit.
"We'll see you before we leave, Hermione. Maybe we can grab lunch or something."
"Sure," she smiled, waving them off. As soon as the door closed behind them, she lay her head down on her desk and swore. She'd completely forgotten that Draco had seen her and Richard. Would he tell them? He had no reason not to say that he'd seen her. Of course, Harry and Ron would take her word over Draco's, but the fact that there were two witnesses would cast some doubt on her statement. If the case ever went to court, she might be named as a witness and would have to say, under Veritaserum, exactly what she was doing in that alley.
Of course, she could always tell Harry and Ron everything and they'd probably turn a blind eye to Hagrid's latest escapade. But she didn't want to put them in that position. The laws regarding Snidgets were very strict and precise. She wished she'd heard back from Richard; she'd no idea if he'd gotten the Snidget into the reserve without any problems.
Hermione barely got any work done that morning. She did her best to act normal when she met Harry and Ron for lunch, but she knew they could tell something was wrong.
"Did you interview Draco?" she asked, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt.
"Yeah, he claims he's innocent. You're right," Harry said, waving his fork dismissively. "It isn't his style. Most likely a set-up. He's been harassed a few times, had his shop nearly set on fire not too long ago. Most people we've spoken to seem all right with him. They said they'd be quite surprised if it turned out to be Malfoy responsible for this."
"And was he near the train station last night?" Hermione asked with some trepidation.
"Yes, he said he did walk by. He and Bernard Matthews, from the apothecary, had plans to meet at the edge of the Forbidden Forest to collect some potions ingredients. It was a full moon last night," Harry added. "We interviewed Matthews and their stories fit. They left relatively early because they had a lot of collecting to do, apparently."
"And did he see anyone who looked like me?"
"Nope. Well, we didn't really ask him," Harry said, thinking back. "Ron asked if he'd seen anyone, since Jacobs claimed he saw you but you say you weren't there. And he said no, he didn't see anyone."
"Quite curious, really," Ron said, finally looking up from his now nearly empty plate. "He seemed a bit surprised at the question. But I guess it is a bit strange. What would you be doing out at that time, after all?" He glanced down at her still-full plate. "Blimey Hermione, aren't you hungry? You feeling all right?"
“I’m fine, but not really that hungry.” Ron looked about to protest so she pushed her plate towards him. “More for you.”
He grinned at her. “Don’t mind if I do.”
The talk turned to Hogwarts and their former classmates who were now Professors, and Hermione chipped in occasionally. She was still thinking about Draco and how he’d covered up for her, wondering if it was because of his... feelings, for her. She felt unsettled at the thought, but more than that, was mortified that he now knew she was a liar.
Hermione hated lying, and she wasn’t very good at it either. But for the first time, when thinking about herself and Draco, the former Death Eater, she felt that she was the one who ought to be ashamed.
Not long after, she received notice that she was being transferred from Hogsmeade to Aberystwyth to set up another office of Dumbledore’s Foundation. She was initially relieved to be leaving, but as the day of her departure grew closer she began feeling sad. She had a lot of friends in the village and although she knew she’d return occasionally, it wouldn’t be the same. The day before she was supposed to leave, she went to Mrs. Goodbite’s to say goodbye. The kindly lady insisted that Hermione accept a free cup of tea, so she stood by the counter chatting with her and a few other customers. She didn’t miss when Draco entered the café, and she waited nervously for him to approach. He took a seat by the windows and waited for the others to leave before moving closer.
“Yes, today’s my last day.”
“I hear you’re going to Aberystwyth.”
“Yes. In Wales,” she added unnecessarily, trying to fill the silence. “I’ll be spending three to four weeks in London first, though.”
“That’s nice,” Draco nodded politely.
Hermione could feel the awkwardness increase by several degrees, especially when Mrs. Goodbite sidled off to leave them alone. She wanted to talk to him, to explain everything, to make him understand why she lied about being in the alley that day, to reassure him that Richard was just a friend and nothing more. She wanted to make sure he knew the truth. But she held her tongue and sipped her tea, afraid he would shrug and tell her he had long stopped caring.
“You must be pleased to be going back to London.”
“A little,” Hermione replied with a small smile. “But I’m also sad to be leaving. I’m not quite sure why. I guess Hogwarts - and Hogsmeade - have always felt like my second home. I’ve also made some good friends here. Granted, it’s not so difficult to get from London to Hogsmeade, but I know things will feel different when I visit.” Gathering her courage and downing the rest of her tea, she held out her hand to Draco. “Thank you for everything, Draco.”
He shook her hand, his expression unreadable. Hermione allowed herself to stare at him a moment longer than necessary, wishing she knew him well enough to decipher his gaze. “Take care, Hermione.”
She forced a smile and left. She didn’t look back.
Hermione didn’t return until a few months later, just before Christmas. She stood completely still at the cul-de-sac at the southern end of Hogsmeade, oblivious to the snow that had begun to fall heavily. Her attention was caught by the blackened storefront of one of the shops. The sign above the door was damaged beyond repair but she remembered it vividly – the large, bold letters that proclaimed Malfoy’s Potions. The shop, as well as the sign, was no more.
She’d read about it in the Daily Prophet but it hadn’t prepared her for the reality of seeing the ruined shop. They had finally gotten to him. They had destroyed everything he had worked for, everything he had achieved for himself. She remembered Draco Malfoy clearly, not only as the spoiled brat but also as the man who had taken pride in his hard-earned business. She remembered not only the child who used to insult her but the man who came to love her.
As she stood outside, gathering her courage, the blond himself came out from the store, levitating some boxes. He took them around the corner to where the rubbish bins were located. Hermione watched him, her heart pounding. It had been just a few months since she had seen him, and those months hadn’t been kind. Or perhaps it was the stress of the last few days, the destruction of his shop, that had him looking so tired and wan. Nevertheless, her eyes tracked him eagerly, thoughts and memories running madly through her mind.
She’d been sad to leave Hogsmeade, but if she was honest with herself she would have admitted that she was sad to leave him.
Her feelings towards Draco had slowly but steadily changed. Hermione had come to respect him even before he had surprised her with his declaration. He worked hard, a trait she had always admired. After their quarrel, she realized that she missed the conversations they would share over tea. He was never outright rude, but he gave her the distance she obviously desired. After the Snidget incident, when he had covered up for her - most likely without knowing why she lied - she worried about the loss of his good opinion. Hermione didn’t know why it bothered her so much when his good opinion wasn’t something she had ever sought, but it did. She wanted to tell him why she had lied, to justify herself in his eyes, but she held herself back.
It was only during the month she spent in London before heading to Aberystwyth that she discovered another hidden side to Draco. He was generous. She found out that every month he donated a decent amount of potions to all of the orphanages established after the war. This added up to a staggering amount of potions given free to the charity each year. Almost 40% of the potions needs of the orphanages came from Malfoy’s Potions alone. Hermione also discovered that he also donated a small amount of money each month to the Foundation. She wondered how he ever hoped to save up enough money to open a shop in Diagon Alley if he gave most of his money away.
Hermione quite regretted not giving Draco a chance while she was stationed in Hogsmeade. Although she hadn’t loved him then - and wasn’t sure if she loved him now - she could have given him a chance and gotten to know him better.
And now here she was, outside his shop, waiting nervously for him to come back around the corner. He’d been the victim of arson, and his entire shop had been destroyed. Hermione had heard that he was going back to being an apprentice as he didn’t have enough money to rebuild his shop; essentially, he was bankrupt. He had spent all his savings helping others, and now it was time for someone to help him.
His footsteps heralded his arrival, and Hermione only had time for a deep breath before he saw her. Their eyes met and he started, surprised. Hermione felt as though the world had narrowed down to the six feet in front of his shop, and she wondered why it had taken her so long to return to him.
“Hermione,” he breathed, slowly approaching her. “What are you doing here?”
Her carefully rehearsed speech had flown out of her head. “I heard about what happened,” she said. “I came to see you.” She wondered if he still loved her.
His mouth tightened. “Am I a charity case now?”
“This is a personal visit.”
Draco studied her, then seemed to relax. “All right. Would you like to go for a coffee?”
Even though she’d just had tea, Hermione couldn’t say no. “That sounds lovely.”
He smiled slightly, looking relieved, and moved forward to lock his shop. “It’s a complete mess inside, I’m afraid, or I’d invite you in,” he said apologetically. “Mother and I have had to move out.”
“Was it the same people as last time?”
“Yes, and a few others.”
“Merlin. I’m sorry.” Hermione bit her lip guiltily. “I hope they were arrested this time.”
“Don’t be sorry.” He finished locking up and turned to face her. “Shall we?”
They walked slowly, despite the cold. Hermione did her best to ignore the uncomfortable silence and concentrated on avoiding icy patches. The Christmas lights that decorated the town lifted her spirits somewhat, and she couldn’t help but hope that both she and Draco would have a happy Christmas. If she could only gather the courage to let him know… They were halfway to Mrs. Goodbite’s when she looked at him nervously. “I know it’s a bit early, but would you mind if we had dinner instead?”
She wasn’t particularly hungry, but she didn’t feel like going to Mrs. Goodbite’s where many people knew them. Draco agreed, so they turned their steps towards Accio, a relatively new restaurant. Once they were settled and had ordered, Hermione decided to bite the bullet.
“There’s something I’d like to discuss with you,” she began, watching him carefully. “As a recipient of the Order of Merlin I was given quite a lot of money and despite most of it going to various charities, I’ve set some aside for a business venture. I’ve got quite a sum sitting in Gringotts earning me practically nothing on interest, but I was thinking that if I were to invest that money in Malfoy’s Potions I’d probably get a better rate of interest.”
Draco simply stared at her.
“I mean,” she continued, looking down at her hands which were fiddling with her napkin, “I’ve studied your business and I know you were doing well before this whole thing happened, and I’m sure you’ll do well again. You have good business sense and you make the best potions I’ve ever tasted. It’s not charity, you see, but quite the opposite, as you’d actually be doing me the favour-”
She glanced up at him but immediately looked back down, the blush on her cheeks deepening at the raw emotion in his eyes. He covered her hand with his, stroking her skin gently. ”Hermione.”
She took a deep breath but still didn’t look at him. “What?”
“Do you still hate me?”
“No, of course not. I don’t think I ever did. Perhaps I didn’t like you before, but now... Don’t you hate me? After all those things I said to you?” Hermione finally looked up, meeting his eyes.
“Never. I think loving you is the only good thing I’ve ever done.”
She turned her hand to capture his fingers, her heart skipping a beat. She’d known, of course, since looking into his eyes and seeing his emotions clearly displayed, but it was different to hear it. She wondered if her feelings for him were as obvious. “Don’t say that. You’ve done plenty of good. And if you accept my business proposition, you can do even more good. I know about the potions you donate to the orphanage.”
Draco raised an eyebrow, looking faintly amused. “If we’re revealing secrets, then I might as well tell you that I know about the Snidget.”
“How?” she gaped at him. “I know Richard wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“How else? Hagrid himself told me, one evening when he was drunk. I suppose you don’t know, but he and I have finally put the past behind us,” Draco smiled. “I wondered why you had lied about being in the alley.”
“I can’t imagine what you must have thought of me,” Hermione whispered, mortified. “Everyone suspected you were behind the vandalism, but you were innocent. I was the liar. Why did you cover for me? Weren’t you curious about why I lied?”
“I’ll admit I was... curious about that bloke - Richard, did you say? But I knew there had to be a reason for you to lie. A good reason, because you’re a good person, not a liar.”
She smiled gratefully at him, still slightly embarrassed. He smiled back reassuringly, and she squeezed his fingers. “I’m not good enough for you,” she said quietly. He hadn’t always been good, but he had been through the furnace and had come out stronger. He was now a man of integrity, diligence and humility, commanding reluctant respect from the people he interacted with. She had looked down on him from her heights but now she was fallen, humbled, and finally fully aware that the mark on his arm didn’t define the man he had become. While he had improved himself, she had scornfully stood still, believing she didn’t need any improvement. Now he had surpassed her, and she was left wanting.
“Don’t mock my own feelings of unworthiness,” he murmured. “Give me a second chance?”
She shook her head. “I should be asking you that.”
“Then we’ll call it even.”
“Does this mean you accept my business proposition?”
“Yes. As long as... as long as it’s not just business.” His eyes searched hers, pleading.
She smiled. “Of course not.”
He smiled back, the most genuine smile she had seen on his face in a long time, and she could see the stress of the last few days melting away. He drew closer slowly, tentatively, giving her time to back away. Hermione closed her eyes, feeling his breath fan her lips. Unable to wait longer, she moved to close the few millimetres separating them, sealing their deal with a kiss.
Yes, they would both be happy this Christmas.