Hermione turned the bookstore sign from open to closed, turned off the lights and stood at the glass front window. He was there again. In the pub across the street sat a man, unmistakable with his white blond hair. Every night for three weeks she'd seen him, sitting alone by the little window in the corner of the pub, drinking. She'd started to watch for him. People pulled their robes away as he walked past. At least twice she'd seen someone spit in the ground at his feet. It wasn't easy to be a former Death Eater in post-war wizarding London, even with money and a pardon.
She looked around her store. Rare books surrounded her. Manuscripts, bizarre muggle tomes on magic, and a collection of very expensive first edition Jane Austen novels; she tried not to remember how much she'd paid for those. Still, when you're a war hero, part of the Golden Trio, you didn't get spit at; instead the ministry tried to buy away their guilt for using you with money and awards. Every year they gave her another statue. Every year she threw it in a box in the basement. Harry wouldn't even go to the ceremonies. Ron went, drank heavily, stayed for about half an hour, and hugged her tightly. Then he'd mutter into her hair, "I have to get out of here" and leave to escape back into the Cotswolds. He and Lavender had four kids now; she was godmother to two of them. Harry and Ginny had three. Whenever anyone asked any of them, any of the so-called Golden Trio, how they were doing they smiled and said, "Fine, fine." They all lied. Even being together was hard. They loved each other but some things you can't escape. To be together was to relive a childhood fighting Voldemort and none of them could stand it for long. The hardest part was that no one really understood. It was the worst for Harry. Hermione regularly thanked anyone in the universe who might be listening that Ginny existed and was there for Harry. Lavender too, though Ron also had his family. She, well, she had her books. She had her lovely, lovely books and a standing appointment with a very good therapist who'd helped her past the worst of the post-war trauma. She wasn't exactly well but she wasn't a drunk and she wasn't hiding in the country. She counted that as a win. "I'm still swimming," she said out loud in the empty shop.
She looked back at the man in the pub. He was slumped at his table, blond head bowed over his drink. She wondered how he had the courage to walk through streets filled with people who hated him, who knew who he was because of that distinctive hair. She wondered why he didn't use a glamour to hide it. Was it pride or self-loathing that drew him to walk through streets and be shunned for who he was rather than greeted pleasantly for someone he wasn't? To drink at a pub rather than to get quietly drunk at home?
Before she could reconsider what was clearly an insane idea she grabbed her purse, let herself out the door, and walked across the street from her shop to the pub. She nodded at the barmaid as she entered, made her way across the floor and sat down across the table from Draco Malfoy.
He looked up at her. Not drunk, she thought. Years of experience with Ron had made her good at quickly assessing how drunk a man was. Not drunk, just very, very sad. Another thing with which I am too familiar, she thought.
"How are you, Draco?"
"What are you doing here?" The attitude was little more than a grave rubbing, a flat copy of the arrogance she remembered. It broke us all, she thought, the war broke us all.
"I own the shop across the way. I saw you in the window and," she paused. What to say? 'I thought I'd pop over and ask how you are?' Obviously ridiculous. They had never been on drinking buddy terms and, besides, he was clearly dreadful. She'd been able to see that from across the street.
"And you wanted to come over and have a go at me? Have a little fun excoriating the Death Eater?"
"No. I..." Hermione rarely felt at a loss for words. What to say? I came over because I am alone, because the only two people who understand how I feel can't bear to be in the same room with me for more than a few hours. Because I saw you and thought maybe there was someone who also wakes screaming in the night, who won't tell me to get over it and move on.
She settled for, "I saw you and wanted to say hello. I haven't seen you in years. I didn't even know you were in London."
She pushed her sleeves up and folded her arms on the smooth wood of the table. He looked at them steadily and then said, "I'm surprised you're willing to be seen with me, a war hero like you."
She stared at his face, at those grey eyes looking down at her arms.
"Most people," he continued, "do not feel that Death Eaters make for good drinking companions."
"There was a time," she said quietly, "when it would have been you unwilling to be seen with me."
He reached out and touched the faint scar that remained on her arm. Mudblood.
"Oddly," he said, "seeing the racist themes of my childhood brought to a violent extreme cured me of any belief in them." His tone was mockingly light even as he never stopped staring at her scar. "It's one thing to say that muggle born wizards shouldn't be invited over for tea. It's quite another to cackle gleefully as you torture them in the drawing room." He put his hands over his face and crumpled down into them. "Oh, Granger, I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sor..."
She cut him off. Suddenly she was angry.
"Stop." Hermione leaned forward onto her elbows. "If you want to apologize for being a prat when you were 11, or calling me mudblood for years, or being in general a spoiled bully while we were at Hogwarts I'm happy to listen. But you don't get to apologize for war crimes."
If it were possible for a body to droop even more, Draco's did. That just made her angrier, though she wasn't sure at what. At him for apologizing? At the crazy wizarding world that had taught him to hate her?
"And do you know why?" Hermione continued. "Because you didn't commit any. You were a child. You were brainwashed into that ridiculous blood purity ideology, you were drafted into a war by people who should have been protecting you from it, and then you were terrorized by a bloody madman who threatened to torture and kill your parents if you didn't murder for him. And you know what?" Her voice was low and insistent. "You STILL didn't commit murder."
"Because I'm a coward on top of everything else."
"NO. Because you aren't a fucking awful human being. Because there's a huge gap between being a stuck up, bullying child and a Death Eater and I don't care what that lunatic branded into your arm. You weren't a Death Eater. You aren't a Death Eater. You were a victim, a child soldier in a war you didn't ask for and couldn't possibly have understood in any real detail. You were a victim of adults who shouldn't have used you to fight their battles. So was I. " She looked down at the table and muttered, so softly he wasn't sure he heard her. "Hell, so was Harry."
She looked up at him and he quickly looked down, unable to meet that direct, angry gaze. "You just had the shitty luck to be a child soldier on the wrong side, so now people call you a monster instead of a hero."
"So, no, I won't forgive you." She reached out and placed her hands around his. "Draco, there's nothing to forgive."
He closed his eyes and inhaled very slowly. When he opened them she was looking directly at him. "Granger, I..."
He swallowed. "Hermione, I..., " he looked down again. "I don't think I can forgive myself. I stood there as my aunt tortured you. How can you even bear to touch me?"
She very calmly took her hands in hers. "You didn't do it. You couldn't have stopped it. It was not your fault." There was a long pause. "Come."
Draco looked at her, numb, as she dropped his hands, dredged some galleons out of a seemingly bottomless purse, set them on the table, and stood up.
"My flat is above the bookstore across the way. We can have tea. You can sleep there; I have some dreamless sleep potion. We can talk about this again in the morning."
She held out her hand.
He looked at her. "You should never let a drowning person cling to you, Hermione. All they'll do is drag you down with them."
"I," she said, "am an excellent swimmer. I can get you to shore, Draco."
He stood up.
"You are making a mistake," he said.
"No," she said. "I'm not."
He took her hand.
"Alea iacta est," she said. They walked out of the pub together.
. . . . . . . . . . .
A/N – Alea iacta est = the die is cast. It is generally attributed as what Caesar said before crossing the Rubicon, committing himself to war with Rome. The phrase has come to mean any action that cannot be undone and irrevocably commits the actor to a certain path.
This was the first fanfiction I wrote. It has...many problems. I am perpetually tempted to delete it but people I trust have asked me not to. I am well aware of it's clumsiness and awkwardness.