A/N: I've been working on this for quite a long time. Hope you like it!
Hermione pressed the coffee cup to her lips, softly blowing on the top before taking a small sip.
The urgent rhythm of telephones, footsteps and chatter, faded to the depths of her subconscious as she stood there alone with her coffee, looking through the window. It was a cold day. The trees and the signs outside of the hospital, swayed in the wind.
Somehow the seasons had changed already.
She'd promised herself that she would take a week off of work before the clouds started coming in, take Teddy to see a football match perhaps, but of course, the skies had turned grey before she had even had the chance.
Setting aside those thoughts, Hermione gulped a mouthful of coffee, wiping the dribble from her bottom lip before she decided it was time to get back to work.
There were lives that needed saving.
There always were.
The second she turned away, shifting her gaze to her desk on top of which her telephone had been ringing and blinking for the past thirty seconds, she could have sworn she'd seen something through the corner of her eye.
Rapidly looking to the window before he vanished like he always did, Hermione cursed under her breath as her coffee spilled over, staining her lab coat and her blouse underneath. She quickly shrugged the coat off, catching just a glimpse of the tall, hooded man who had been shadowing her everyday for the past few weeks.
She'd tried to point him out to a few coworkers at lunch the other day, but they insisted he wasn't there. A few of them had gone so far as to suggest she was seeing things, and that this man was simply her body's way of telling her that she needed rest.
Deep down she was starting to wonder if they were right.
"Doctor Granger, there's a call for you on line one …"
Snapping a look at the door, Hermione straightened her posture. "Y-yes, right. Thank you, Mei. I'll take it from here," she uttered, forcing her lips into what she hoped resembled a smile as she nodded in thanks to her quiet, but hard working medical assistant.
There was a twitch of concern along Mei's features, but she softly blinked it away, closing the door behind her with a gentle click.
"Doctor Granger speaking," Hermione answered, shifting her focus to the call.
"Hello, Doctor. This is Professor Hernandez from Edgewater Academy …"
"Oh, Miguel. Yes, yes … what can I do for you? Teddy hasn't left his house keys at home again, has he?"
"Not quite," he uttered, an obvious unease in his tone. "I regret to inform you that I've had to suspend Teddy from school due to a physical altercation between him and one of his classmates …"
Her chest clenched. "Sorry?"
Hesitating for only a moment, Professor Hernandez went on to explain the rest in further detail. "Neither of the boys have provided insight as to what may have spurred the fight, but … given Teddy's track record in the past five months that he's been with us, I'm afraid the situation was out of my control."
There was so much she wanted to say, to ask in that moment, but she managed only four words. The same four words that she'd grown accustomed to saying since she'd taken guardianship of Teddy following the accident last year.
"I'll be right there."
Two Hours Later
The silence in the car was deafening.
Without a word Hermione pulled into the drive, tiny pieces of gravel crunching under the weight of the tires as she looked to him. In large part she was exhausted, at a complete and utter loss for what more she could do. He'd gone through so much in the past year, she'd no idea what steps to take or how to help without pushing him further away.
He was only a boy of sixteen after all. Those years were hard enough even without the added tragedy that had turned his world upside down.
"I want you to know I'm not upset with you," Hermione asserted, as best she could. "I know this is all going to take some getting used to but —"
"Don't waste your breath," Teddy interjected dully, his bottom lip swollen from the fight. "We've had this conversation before. There's no point in acting like anything is ever going to change."
Tensing at the sound of that, the brunette had no idea how to respond.
In many ways he was right. She had sent him to a total of three different schools in the past year, and he'd somehow landed himself in multiple fights at all of them. The fact that Edgewater had accepted him at all, was nothing short of a miracle. If not for his academic aptitude, they'd have rejected him on the spot.
She figured it would help to get him involved in extracurricular, and at first it did, but after a run-in with a few of the less welcoming boys in his year, he'd quickly fallen back into the old routine.
"I didn't start it if that's what you're wondering," he uttered after, breaking her train of thought. "The git just came at me when my back was turned, all because he saw me talking to his sister."
"So you were only protecting yourself," Hermione gathered, relieved to hear it, but also confused. "Why didn't you say anything to Miguel?"
He snorted. "It's Miguel now, is it?"
"Teddy, I'm serious."
"Well, you don't know what it's like to be a bloke," he furthered. "I can't just tell a professor and be done with it. That's not how it works."
"How does it work? Because the way I see it, you're under no obligation to protect anyone in this world who has hurt you," she countered.
Teddy pressed his lips into a frown. "I'm not protecting him."
"I'm not!" he snapped, immediately swallowing the lump of anger in his throat. "I really don't feel like having this conversation right now. I'm going inside. Sorry for everything."
Opening her mouth to tell him that it was okay and that he had no reason to apologize, Hermione was left hanging as he unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out of the car without another word.
Truthfully she had run out of ideas. As much as she cared for Teddy, and for the friends she'd lost in the accident last year, there was nothing that could have prepared her for the ups and downs of parenting a sixteen-year-old boy who had just gone through the shock of his life. She'd read every title available to her and taken every piece of advice she'd received, but there was no helping someone who didn't want to be helped.
She couldn't be his friend and his guardian.
Releasing her breath, Hermione switched her car off and climbed out, the weight in her chest growing heavier.
Five Hours Later
Teddy sat alone at his desk, the pale blue glow of his laptop, reflected along the surface of his dark brown eyes as he tried his best to keep them open long enough to finish the essay he'd been forced to write.
Suffice to say he was exhausted.
It was midnight.
For the third night that week Hermione had decided to order in for dinner.
Quite honestly he preferred takeaway over her cooking, but he couldn't for the life of him begin to understand how she'd made it through med school if she couldn't do something as simple as toast a piece of bread without burning it to a crisp.
In the back of his mind he knew that she was trying her best, and that his behaviour at school was no help, but he couldn't fall into place as perfectly as everyone wanted him to.
The moment I do that, is the moment all of this becomes real.
There was a small part of him that would never completely let go, no matter how badly he wanted to.
Releasing a deep breath, Teddy redirected his attention to his essay, tapping away at the keys and stopping to read what he'd typed before the dull vibration of his phone broke his concentration.
He glanced at the screen expecting a notification from one of his games only to halt his movements as he realized it wasn't a game notification.
Are you awake?
Ignoring the ball of longing in his chest, he flipped his phone over and carried on writing. As much as he wanted to reply, he couldn't without reopening the door that he'd firmly closed after the fight.
If there was one thing he'd learned at Edgewater, it was that the smart and funny girl that he'd met on the train to school one cold morning, was more trouble than she was worth. He had enough on his plate even without the feelings he didn't know he had until he'd taken a punch to the face because of them.
His phone vibrated again. Without meaning to he gave the messages a look.
I know it's late.
And I know you probably never want to speak to me again.
I just want to say that I'm deeply sorry for what happened at
school today. I'll do everything I can to make sure you're allowed back.
He wasn't sure how she planned on going about that last bit, but he knew deep down the apology was genuine.
I'll leave you alone now.
Chest tightening as he read it, he ignored the tiny voice in his head that urged him to ghost her.
It's not your fault your brother is a crazy person.
Within seconds she replied.
I could have done more to try and stop him.
I could have told him that he was wrong about us.
That only raised another question.
Why didn't you?
For a moment she said nothing.
She simply typed and retyped as if at a loss for how to reply.
It was only as he set his phone down, that her reply flashed across the screen.
Would it be terribly wrong of me to stop by?
It's only a short walk.
His stomach clenched.
On the one hand he wanted nothing more than to get out of the house for a short while, but on the other hand he knew it was a bad idea to sneak out.
Particularly in order to meet with Lisa.
As he'd decided before, she was nothing but trouble.
The worst kind of trouble.
I'll meet you halfway.
Ten Minutes Later
Hermione awoke to the sound of her phone, tiredly blinking her eyes open in the darkness of her bedroom.
For a moment she panicked thinking her five o'clock alarm had sounded. Rapidly sitting up and flicking her bedside lamp on, she was relieved to find that it was still the middle of the night. With a yawn she grabbed her phone from the charging dock and swiped accept without looking at the name on the screen.
After so many nights of interrupted sleep, she'd just assumed it was work.
"H-hello?" she answered, stretching her lips around yet another yawn.
On the other end there was only the sound rain, followed closely by the voice of a young girl. "Doctor Granger?"
Hermione fell silent a moment, startled. "Yes?"
"I, er … I'm sorry to bother you so late, I just …" The girl hesitated, her voice breaking in the moments that followed. "S-something's wrong and I-I don't know who else t-to call without getting Teddy and my brother in s-serious trouble."
Chest clenching, Hermione raced down the corridor to check if Teddy was in his room, horrified to find that he wasn't. His bed was empty and his window was open, the winds outside rippling through his curtains.
"H-he stole my phone for a few minutes when I was in the shower in order to lure Teddy outside and I-I had n-no idea until one of my friends called me saying there was going to be fight at the park near —"
"Which park?" the doctor interjected, heart pounding inside her pyjamas as she quickly made her way to the door, shrugging her coat on and grabbing her keys.
"The one n-near your house," the girl explained. "It-it's Lisa by the way."
Swiftly connecting the dots, Hermione uttered the first and only thoughts which came to mind. "Okay, Lisa, thank you for letting me know what's happened. I'll take it from here," she blurted. "If you can manage it, I'd like for you to wake your parents and tell them every word of what you've just said. I know you said you don't want to get the boys in trouble, but they've already done a good job of that on their own."
Lisa sucked in as if in protest, eventually gulping those words down. "Okay. I-I'll do that right now."
"Thank you, dear. You've done a good thing," Hermione reassured her, climbing into the drivers seat of her car, and pulling out of the drive within seconds.
Teddy choked, taking yet another kick to the stomach as the boys gathered around him.
Were it not for the fact that it was five against one, he was sure he'd have stood a chance against Liam. He'd barely registered what had happened before they'd ran up behind him in the darkness of the park and started pounding on him.
It hurt worse than any fight he'd ever been in.
But he wasn't about to back down.
Blood running down face, he shakily rose to his feet, raising his fists. "Go on!" he shouted, the gash along his forehead stinging in the wind. "Go on you pieces of shit!"
A few of the others glanced to each other, alarmed that he hadn't given up.
Positively fuming, Liam stepped forward and punched him in the gut, making him fold over against the weight of his fist. "I fucking told you to stay away from my sister, didn't I?" he blustered through his teeth. "I fucking told you that I would beat the shit out of you if you go anywhere near her, didn't I?"
Teddy coughed, grabbing his abdomen whilst trying to trying hit back.
At the start of the fight he'd landed a few punches, but the force of five was hard to beat.
Somewhere along the line, the other blokes had nudged each other, nodding at something in the distance before running off in different directions.
It was only Liam now.
Slammed down to the ground again, Teddy clawed his fingers through the wet grass, giving it his all as he tried to stand back up again. His clothes were covered in dirt and in spatters of his own blood. Every muscle in his body was pounding in agony, but even then he refused to give up. Struggling to climb to his feet, he wiped the blood from his lip and glanced ahead, the trees and the traffic lights in the distance blurring together as he lost his footing.
Seconds before his body fell to the ground again, he saw it.
The flashes of red and blue, and the silhouette of a woman racing towards him.
"Teddy!" she cried out in complete horror, as though for some reason she actually cared. "Teddy …"
It took everything he had not to intervene.
Every ounce of restraint he'd learned in his line of work.
Hovering in the shadows, he observed as the authorities stepped in, speaking to the boy who had created the mess, and to the one who'd suffered because of it.
In just a year, he'd grown immensely. The smart, quiet young boy who had always regarded the Unspeakable with a brush of panic in his eyes, had grown into someone else in this new life.
Stronger, louder and quite a bit more foolish.
There was also the bright and wide-eyed brunette who had raced towards him in nothing but her pyjamas, her coat and some house slippers, holding young Teddy as though he were her own.
Not long after, they'd allowed Teddy to be taken to the hospital for treatment.
He had taken quite the beating, reminding the Unspeakable of a young Harry Potter in his refusal to back down even when he absolutely should have.
In large part the Unspeakable was surprised he'd found them at all.
The potion wasn't meant to work.
That's what they'd all said.
But he'd tried anyway.
It was only a matter of speaking with her now, describing to her the world that she'd left behind, and explaining to her that she had to go back.
They needed her.
Now more than ever.
Teddy blinked his eyes open, the left one still quite swollen as he shifted on his bed. It had been a week since the fight. A week since everything had changed for him, yet again. He was no longer suspended from school, but Hermione insisted he rest for another few days before going back.
Somehow Liam had escaped without assault charges.
In fact he'd only really been given a slap on the wrist, though Teddy had expected nothing less of Edgewater. Liam's parents owned half the neighbourhood. It only made sense that their son was given a talking to and nothing else.
Slowly sitting up, Teddy grabbed the laptop from his bedside table, propping it open on his lap as he tried to focus on the schoolwork that his professors had given him during his week away. He had the option of simply not doing it, but he'd found that he quite needed the distraction.
Within seconds there was a gentle knock on the door, followed by Hermione's voice on the other side.
"I've got your lunch for you … I can set it down if you'd rather have it later."
Stomach suddenly rumbling in response, Teddy set his laptop aside. "No, that's okay. I'll have it now."
Not a moment later, Hermione opened the door, carrying with her a tray of lunch and a tall glass of water. "I, erm … I tried making it myself this time. Tell me if it's rubbish and I'll order in your favourite …"
Teddy glanced down at the soup she had prepared, quietly amused by her efforts. "It looks fine. Thanks."
"It does?" she asked, visibly taken aback. "I-I followed instructions in a cook book that I forgot I had … thought for a moment I'd overcooked it."
It certainly was overcooked, but he had no intention of telling her that. "Really, it looks fine."
"Good," she smiled, backing towards the door now. "Good. That's good. I'll, er … I'll pop by in an hour to collect the dishes and to change your bandages. If you need anything, let me know."
"I will," Teddy smiled back, taking in a mouthful of soup. "Thanks, again."
The look in her eyes quickly brightened in response, and without another word she left him to his own devices.
Fixing his attention on the soup afterwards, Teddy finished it in a few large scoops, setting aside the tray and then grabbing his laptop again. He'd nearly finished his English homework when he suddenly heard another knock. Looking to the time on the screen, he noticed that it was too early for Hermione to have come up again. She said an hour, but it had only been twenty minutes.
"Come in," he uttered anyway, startled as a young, red-haired girl entered his bedroom. Going by the fact that she was in uniform, he figured she'd come straight from school. "Lisa, what … what are you doing here?"
She swallowed the lump in her throat, quietly glancing down at her feet as though she couldn't bear to look at him in his current state. "I-I know I should have called before I came, I just … it's just that … this past week without you …"
His chest clenched as she wiped her tears away with her sleeve. Not once in the past five months, had he ever seen her like this. She was usually so strong and so bright. It was almost as if she had taken the beating instead of him, which he supposed she had in a way.
It never would have happened without her.
"I-I just want to say that I'm sorry for all of the trouble I've brought into your life," she managed to say, after a few empty moments. "Everyone said you were dangerous, and that you had gotten into all of these fights at your previous schools, but I-I don't think of you that way."
"You should," he stated, plainly.
Lisa glanced up at him suddenly, a mixture of shock and uncertainty tugging at her eyes and lips. "Why do you say that?"
"They're not wrong, are they? I have gotten into trouble at all of my previous schools."
"Well, yes, but … everything you've been through this past year …"
"It's no excuse for being a shit," he interjected, as if it were that simple. "And believe me when I say, I've been a right shit. Especially to Hermione."
"She seems nice," Lisa offered, after a moment of thought.
Teddy nodded. "I've put her through a lot this past year. I-I've put myself through a lot," he said, looking away now. "At this point I'm just tired of it. The fighting, the distance, acting like I don't need anyone but myself …"
"You know you can always talk to me, Teddy."
"Thanks," he said to her sincerely, ignoring the tightness in his chest as he uttered the rest. "It, er … it's probably best we go our separate ways, though …"
Her face fell. "Oh."
"It's nothing you did, Lisa. I just … with everything that's happened …"
"I understand," she cut in, gently. "As I mentioned earlier, I've brought quite a lot of trouble into your life. If I were you, I'd have decided the same for myself."
Teddy opened his mouth to tell her otherwise, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He simply watched as she turned, hurriedly wiping a fresh wave of tears from her eyes as she ducked out of there quickly.
Somehow that was the painful thing he'd been through that week.
Hermione glanced up from her work, the young girl she had met at the door only a moment ago, rushing back down the steps in tears. "Lisa, dear … you're leaving already?"
Jumping at the sound of the doctor's voice, Lisa wiped the remaining tears from her eyes. "Y-yes …" she sniffed. "I-I forgot I have something to do at … at home."
In response Hermione fell silent, knowing a broken heart when she was faced with one. Both as a doctor and as a person. "Do you … would you like me to drive you?"
Lisa quickly shook her head no. "That's okay, thanks. I live only a few blocks away. I can walk."
"Are you sure?"
"Quite sure," she reaffirmed, trying her best to hold it in.
Hermione knew she should have just let the girl leave and cry at home, in the quiet of her own bedroom, but there was something inside her that refused to let Lisa go without at least offering a little something to help what was a broken.
Both as a doctor and as a person.
"Come with me," she decided, motioning for Lisa to follow her into the kitchen. "It'll only take a moment. I promise."
The girl looked to her hesitantly, racing to catch up in the moments that followed.
Opening the drawer furthest away from the oven, Hermione retrieved a smoothly packed bar of her favourite and most trusted medicine, handing it over to Lisa.
She glanced down at it, question marks in her eyes. "Chocolate?"
Hermione nodded, feeling a bit silly now. "It's not much, but … I find that it usually helps."
"Thanks," Lisa said, a glimmer of brightness in her features as she took a deep breath. "Anyway, my parents are expecting me, so … I suppose I should get going."
"Of course, of course. It was so nice of you to visit Teddy," Hermione went on to say. "Whatever it was that … whatever he … I'm sure he's just as happy that you stopped by."
There was a slight twitch on Lisa's bottom lip, as if she had a hard time believing the last bit. "I hope so," she offered, nodding in thanks to the doctor once again as she walked her to the door.
Once the young girl had finally left, Hermione locked the door and turned away, softly reminded of her first heart break and how long she'd taken to recover from it.
The memory was distant, and she hardly remembered how it had come to be, but the confusing mix of emotions attached to it, felt so real even to that day.
Later That Night
"So, I was thinking …"
Teddy glanced up from his dinner, which to his relief, Hermione had decided to order. "About?"
"We should go to a football match," she suggested, excitedly. "I-I don't quite know the rules, but I do think it would make for a fun weekend, don't you?"
Swallowing a mouthful of food, he contemplated what to say, or how to say it better yet. "Listen, Hermione, it's really nice of you to offer, but you don't have to go through the trouble of all of that."
"Oh, it's no trouble. Believe me, the tickets are easy to come by at the hospital."
"Even so," he shrugged. "I don't exactly deserve to go to a football match."
She looked to him in surprise. "Teddy, dear … it's not about what you deserve. If you'd rather go with a friend, that can be arranged. Perhaps that nice girl who came to visit today. Lisa, I think."
Nearly choking on his food, Teddy downed a mouthful of water, traces of uncertainty in his eyes as he tried to think of something to say. "I-I don't think Lisa will be coming to visit anymore."
"Why's that?" Hermione asked, calmly.
Going by the tone of her voice, he figured she'd already given the answer to that question, some thought. Surely she'd seen the state of Lisa earlier, when the girl had rushed out of his bedroom and down the stairs.
With a deep breath, Teddy decided to just tell her. "I told her that we should go our separate ways … not because I'd rather I'd never met her, just … I really think it's time for me to focus on how to better myself before I can focus on anyone else."
For a moment Hermione simply looked to him, quietly assessing the situation in her mind. "You know, I was ready to scold you for hurting that girl, but now that you've explained the situation, I have to say … that's quite mature of you."
"I have my moments," the boy joked, the smile of his lips, slowly but surely tapering into a look of regret he poked around at his food a bit. "Do … do you think she'll ever speak to me again?"
Sure enough, the doctor regarded him with a knowing glimmer in her eyes. "As with most things in life, I would advise you to give it time," she extended to him, gently. "What's meant to be will always find a way."
That wasn't quite the response he'd wanted, but he accepted it anyway, nodding in thanks to her as he continued poking at his food.
In the silence after, there was a knock on the front door.
A firm knock.
Hermione glanced up from her plate, swallowing a mouthful of food. "Who could that be?"
Stretching his lips into a yawn, Teddy simply shrugged. "I'll check," he decided, wiping his lips with a napkin as he calmly pushed away from the table. "It's probably just someone from school dropping off homework or something."
"At this hour?"
Without a word of response he made his way to the door, the hurried tap of Hermione's footsteps following closely behind as he unlocked the door and pulled.
"Good evening," greeted a tall, brown-haired stranger, in a tailored black suit and a long, black overcoat. "So sorry to interrupt at this hour, I was just driving through the area and I noticed that you had left the lights on in the car parked just over there …"
Motioning to Hermione's black Range Rover, both she and Teddy followed the stranger's slender to finger to find that she had indeed left the lights on. Not the end of the world by any means, but certainly a troublesome start to any morning.
"Oh … you're right," Hermione uttered, her eyebrows twitching up in surprise. "Thank you so much. I-I'll sort that out right now."
The stranger bowed his head to her, fixing his lips into a small but genuine smile. "My pleasure."
Standing by the door in silence, Teddy observed as the adults got to talking by the car afterwards, exchanging pleasantries as though they hadn't just met for the first time a moment ago. In the pit of his stomach, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was off about this man. It was nice of him to let Hermione know that she had left her lights on, but who in their right mind would go through the trouble of knocking on a stranger's door without some sort of hidden motive?
She was a successful doctor at the highest rated hospital in London.
There was a good chance this man knew that about her.
Not long after, Hermione waved goodbye to the man as they parted ways. "That was nice of him, don't you think?" she asked, breathing into her hands as she ducked out of the cold.
Teddy stood back, narrowing his eyes with suspicion. "Did he say why he was in the area?"
"Er … no, I don't believe he did. Why do you ask?"
Shrugging, the young boy made a conscious effort to relax his nerves. "Bit weird of a stranger to go through the trouble of knocking on the door."
"I suppose," Hermione offered, still mostly pleased with the exchange. "He did give me his card. Surely he wouldn't have done that if he were hiding anything."
"Would you mind if I had a look?"
"Not at all," she said, retrieving the card from her pocket and placing it in Teddy's palm.
Teddy examined it, taking note of the name on the front. "Dean Holbrook," he read aloud. "Stock broker and philanthropist … based in Manhattan …"
Glancing down at the card over his shoulder, Hermione raised an eyebrow. "I wonder what he's doing in London," she thought, curiously. "S'pose I'll find out tomorrow night at dinner."
"Wh-what?" Snapping a look at the doctor, Teddy eyed her as though she'd gone mad. "It's none of my business either way, but I know a wanker when I see one."
She simply chuckled in response, locking the door as they made their way to the kitchen to finish their dinner. "I appreciate the concern. He seems nice though. Nicer than any of the men I've met in a terribly long time, I'm afraid."
"What about Professor Hernandez? You hit it off at the charity banquet, didn't you?"
Shrugging, Hermione sat down at the table, taking a small sip of wine. "Miguel was … Miguel. I just … I don't know that it's entirely appropriate for me to be involved with one of the professors at your school."
"I guess …"
"Did you really think that man was a wanker?" she asked, a touch concerned now.
Teddy tilted his head to both sides, uncertain as to whether it was worth explaining. One thing he knew for sure was, Doctor Granger was in critical need of a social life. When she wasn't at home fussing over the cleaning, she was at work drowning in patients, and at times, in actual blood.
"I'm sure you'll have a nice time at dinner," he offered instead, putting on his best smile.
The Next Night
Hermione changed outfits for the dozenth time, settling on a sensible, emerald green number that she'd left hanging in the depths of her wardrobe for longer than she cared to remember. The last time she had gone on a proper date was at the charity banquet two months ago with Miguel. She probably would have gone out with him again, had he not insisted they save the first kiss for the tenth date.
It was a nice thought, but who above the age of twelve, waits ten dates to kiss someone?
The spark is either there at the start or not at all.
That in mind, she sloshed a bit of mouthwash around in the bathroom before patting her lips dry and reapplying a fresh coat of Dior Rouge Zinnia.
With one last look in the mirror, Hermione took a deep, calming breath and grabbed her handbag from the foot of the bed as she proceeded out of her bedroom and down the staircase. Her heels clicked gently on the floorboards on her way down, the arches of her feet already aching a bit. As a doctor she was used to being on her feet, but she wore a special pair of orthopaedic shoes to the hospital for work.
She only really wore proper heels a few times a year.
At work events and things.
"I'm leaving!" she called out to Teddy, who was bundled up on one of the couches in the lounge, watching television. "Text me if you need anything!"
Shrugging her coat on at the door, she glanced through one of the windows at the front, to find a smooth, black car parked at the curb of the house. The second she unlocked the door and stepped out, a handsomely dressed Dean Holbrook climbed out of the drivers to say hello.
"Hermione," he greeted, smiling as he met her by the door. "You look stunning."
She felt her cheeks prickle with embarrassment. "Oh, thank you. I wasn't entirely sure what you had arranged for tonight, so I just pulled this together at the last minute."
"If this is what you can do at the last minute, I'm dying to know what you'll wear to the theatre next week," Dean went on to say, bringing a twitch of surprise to the doctor's features. "That is if you would like to go."
Chuckling softly, she nodded in thanks to him as he swiftly opened the door for her. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," she winked, climbing into the front passenger seat and buckling in as he made his way to the other side to do the same.
Teddy switched the television off the moment Hermione left the house, bouncing a look towards the window to make sure that she and Dean had driven off before he glanced down at his phone. Moments before Hermione had left, a text message had been delivered to Teddy's phone, one he had tried to ignore to the best of his ability.
I know you said you want us to go our separate ways.
But in case you change your mind, I'm home alone tonight.
Liam and my parents are in Manchester visiting a distant aunt.
He swallowed hard, typing and retyping five or six attempted replies before he finally settled on the simplest one.
Is it really you this time?
Within seconds her reply vibrated in the palm of his hand.
Not a moment later she snapped a photograph of herself in order to prove it, holding up a copy of the daily newspaper so he knew that it wasn't an old photograph.
His lips twitched into a smile at the sight of her.
I'll be there in five.
With that, he set aside the twist of anxiety in his gut, and grabbed his coat on his way through the door.
The last time he'd left the house to meet with Lisa, he'd nearly had the teeth knocked out of his mouth by five different blokes at once. Suffice to say he was a tad nervous that it was going to be Liam again, but he realized very quickly that he would rather take the risk and potentially get the shit beaten out of him again, than stay at home and take no risks at all.
They were only friends after all.
They had never dated or kissed or done anything even remotely along those lines.
But he thought of her often, and he had a feeling that she thought of him just as often, and in just as many ways.
Quietly approaching the front door of her house, Teddy raised his fist to knock, only to rock back in surprise as Lisa opened it from the inside.
Without a word the girl waved him in, practically grabbing him by the collar of his shirt as if to prevent any of the neighbours from noticing that she had invited a boy to the house. Her parents were rather strict, which Teddy supposed made sense given how much of a fucking shit their son had turned out to be.
He almost felt bad for Liam.
"Do you, er … do you want me to show you around?" Lisa asked, whispering despite the fact that they were alone.
Teddy wheeled a hesitant around the darkness of the foyer. "Er … I'm okay with whatever."
"Maybe just my bedroom then," the girl suggested, delicately.
There was a flicker of surprise in his eyes, but he hurriedly blinked it away, following her up the steps and into the darkened corridor. On the way up he couldn't help but notice the photographs hanging on the walls. Childhood photographs. It seemed Liam and Lisa had actually gotten along when they were younger. There was one particular photograph in which they were at the beach, both of them playing in the sand with smiles on their faces and matching bathing suits.
Given that he had no brothers or sisters of his own, it was difficult for Teddy to understand why Liam was so protective of his twin sister, but he figured it was just one of those things that didn't have to make sense.
When they finally arrived at her bedroom, Lisa adjusted the lights to a dim glow, turning around to face him as he glanced around.
As expected her bedroom was neatly organized, and decorated in shades of white and blue. Not blue like her eyes, but blue like the sky. She had shelves of books along the back wall, and a little reading nook by the window where he recognized a few of the titles that she'd left to rest along the windowsill. Most were romance, but there was also a copy of the space travel book which he had recommended to her before everything had gone to shit.
Going by the placement of the bookmark, she had just about reached the part that he'd described.
The part where the main character had crash landed onto an unknown planet and woken up to an AI poking and prodding at him, and telling him that they'd been expecting his return for years.
"I'm almost finished it …" Lisa explained, following his line of sight. "It's just as enthralling as you said it was going to be. More I'd say."
"You really think so?"
She swiftly nodded. "Of course. I'd never have made it through the first chapter otherwise."
Chuckling, he followed her to the desk, where she'd laid out something to drink and a few things to munch on as they forged through the awkwardness.
"I hope you like tea."
Truthfully he didn't, but he figured he'd learn to like it. "Thanks," he uttered, bringing the cup to his lips as he drank with her in the quiet of her bedroom.
In a matter of moments the girl lowered her cup, glancing down at it as she tried to find the right words to say. "I'm glad you changed your mind about us," she began, speaking softly. "It … it's not easy being friends with me given my parents, and especially my brother, but I-I really do like you, Teddy."
"I like you as well," he reassured her, calmly.
"No, not like that," she blurted, glancing up at him now. "I mean … I like you."
His heart quickened in response. "Oh."
"Do you … like me, too?" Lisa asked, her cheeks aglow as the words left her lips.
"I-I … well, the thing is, I …" Teddy choked, stumbling over his response in perhaps the worst way imaginable. Standing just a foot away, Lisa waited for him to say something, to answer her question and put all of the doubt to rest.
In large part he wanted to tell her yes, because that was the truth. He'd liked her from day one of their friendship, but there was so much left to consider. She was right in saying that her parents, and especially her brother, were in the way of any connections that she wished to build on. It was difficult just being friends with her, let alone anything close to what Teddy really wanted.
Turning away with embarrassment, Lisa placed her teacup down on the edge of her desk, a sharp squeak escaping her lips as the cup tipped over and shattered into a pool of broken white shards and warm tea.
"Shit …" Lisa blurted under her breath, quickly grabbing a cloth napkin from the tray, to wipe up the mess.
Without a moment of thought, Teddy knelt down with her, carefully brushing the shards aside so she wouldn't cut herself accidentally. "Are you okay?" he asked, looking to her as she frantically wiped the tea from the floor, her breaths short and quick.
She nodded wordlessly, grazing the tip of her thumb along one of the smaller shards, and gasping as it poked through.
On instinct, Teddy pulled her hand towards him, chest sinking as a drop of blood emerged from her fingertip. "That's going to sting for a good week or two," he uttered, receiving a frown from the girl before he carefully helped her to her feet. "Up you get."
"What are you, some sort of doctor now?" Lisa asked, rolling her eyes at him as he guided her to the bathroom to wash the cut.
"No, but I happen to live with one," Teddy said to her, simply. "You wash it off. I'll grab the first aid kit. Where does your family keep it?"
She winced as she held her thumb under running water. "Don't bother. Liam steamrolled through all of the supplies after the fight."
"Wait, did he really?" Teddy asked, quite pleased with himself now.
Frowning at him again, Lisa turned the water off and blew on her thumb. "I'll be fine."
"We could always go to my house," he offered. "I'm sure Hermione has got all of the supples we need, tucked away somewhere."
"There's really no need. It's only a small cut …"
"I insist," Teddy uttered to her, concern rippling through his features. "It won't take a moment."
Hermione nodded in thanks to the server as the appetizers arrived, bouncing a quick look at Dean to see that he'd barely looked in the server's direction, let alone extended any form of thanks. In the back of her mind that was a bad sign, but she consciously ignored it the same way she'd tried to ignore the attitude he'd given to the bartender when they'd waited a moment too long for their table.
Apparently Dean Holbrook lacked just a tad bit of patience … and politeness.
At first she'd figured it was just a New York thing, but she'd been to New York many times, and even the most New York of New Yorkers said please and thank you to restaurant staff.
Noticing the change in her expression, Dean lightened the mood with a smile. "So, tell me about your day. How was work?"
"Er …" Hermione ran through everything that happened that day, settling on the lightest topic. "I delivered a baby in the bathroom of a Starbucks this morning."
His eyes widened in response. "Y-you did what?"
Chuckling at his reaction, she provided him with a few of the more necessary details. "Well, you see … there was a bit of traffic going into work today, and the woman in the car in front of me had fully gone into labour, so … her boyfriend helped her out of the car to practice the breathing techniques that they had learned in their classes, but she'd already started crowning by then, so I popped out to help and the baristas at Starbucks were kind enough to let us use their bathroom, which they'd just cleaned for the day."
Dean looked at her as though he'd never heard something so insane in his life. "So, you weren't joking about the doctor thing, were you?"
"Sometimes I wish I were," she quipped. "Especially on the days where I'm covered in placenta in morning traffic."
Glancing down at the appetizers on his share plate, the stock broker set his fork down, gently.
"Er … sorry," Hermione quickly apologized. "I forget sometimes that normal people don't speak of placenta on first dates."
"That's okay. All we need is a bit of wine to set the mood, don't we?" Dean suggested, pouring nearly half the bottle into the doctor's glass.
Her eyebrows bounced up, the smallest brush of knowingness along her features. "Trying to get me drunk, are you?"
"Maybe," he winked. "As I said, you look stunning tonight."
Something in her stomach lurched at the sound of that. "Right. I, er … I'm just going to pop into the ladies room for a moment. Please excuse me."
"Don't deliver any babies whilst you're there. You wouldn't want to ruin that dress," he went on to say as she rose from her chair, a suspicious looking smile snaking its way onto his lips. "Not yet anyway."
Hermione tensed, quickly facing away. "Complete wanker," she said under her breath.
Skirting past a few tables, she made her way to the curb outside of the restaurant instead of the bathroom. She'd been meaning to eat at that particular establishment for quite some time, but the thought of sitting through dinner with that rude, disgusting man, was simply too much.
"What was even I thinking?" she asked herself, pacing along the sidewalk. "Going to dinner with a man I barely know …"
Taking a few deep breaths, Hermione decided to call a cab after which she would text Dean to let him know that something had come up at home, and that she had been forced to leave early. She could easily have told him the truth, of course, but in her experience, men like him were terrible at handling any level of truth that didn't result in having sex at the end of the night.
She dialled the number for a cab, holding her phone to her ear as she waited an answer.
The streets outside were dark, glistening. There were people everywhere. In their cars, at the bus stop, walking to and from various pubs. Having lived in London her entire life, she'd grown used to the traffic a long time ago, and paid no mind to it most of the time.
That night, however, she couldn't help but notice something in the distance.
There was a man across the street, his body turned towards her as though he was looking straight at her, as though he'd been looking for longer than she'd realized.
Tall, hooded and ghostly white.
Chest clenching inside her dress, Hermione felt her phone to slip an inch through her grasp as a voice came in through the other end. She could hear it, and she knew she had only a moment to say something before they ended the call, but she couldn't bring herself to switch focus.
The moment she looked away, he was only going to disappear again.
Just like he had all those other times.
Hermione swallowed the rush of panic in her throat, instinctively walking toward the man before he could vanish into the shadows. It was a risky move, but it was also one that she felt she had to see through. She had to know whether he was real, or whether she was simply going mad.
The very second she stepped off of the sidewalk and onto the street in order to cross it, she felt a hand take her by the shoulder and yank her back all of a sudden.
Gasping, she glanced back to find Dean standing there with his arms folded, looking to her wide-eyed if demanding some sort of explanation as to where she was running off to in the middle of their date.
"Were the appetizers not to your liking?" he asked accusingly, practically snorting the question as though any normal woman would have jumped at the chance to lift their skirt for him.
Hermione hesitated a few seconds, trying to piece together some semblance of a response before he grabbed her by the wrist and attempted to drag her through the door again. "Wh-what on earth do you think you're — let go of me!" she shouted, yanking her hand from his grasp, every inch of her body pulsing with rage.
Utterly bored by her response, Dean took one step towards the brunette, towering over her. "Let's not pretend as though this was meant to be a proper date. Clearly I was in need of a fuck whilst I was in town, and clearly you were more than willing to see to that," he uttered to her, as though she should have known. "What you're not going to do is make me out to be a horrible person."
"No, you've done an incredible job of that on your own," Hermione countered, positively fuming now. "Tonight was a mistake. Now unless you'd like for me to drive the heel of my shoe through your skull, I suggest you walk away."
"You'd be wise to keep your threats to yourself," he plainly stated, taking yet another step toward her, the scent of his cologne flooding her insides in the worst way.
She'd have laughed if she weren't filled with rage. "Or what?"
"Or I'll do everything in my power to make sure that every soul in that hospital believes that you made a pass at the man who just donated millions to the children's ward."
Stunned for a moment, the anger in her system tapered away as the truth settled in. That was why he came to my door. He knew who I was and where I lived … and this was all part of his plan. In the back of her mind she had suspected ulterior motives, but she never could have imagined that he had even the slightest shred of influence on the goings on of the hospital where she happened to make her living.
"You do realize this is sexual harassment, don't you?" she managed to inquire, those instinctive bursts of rage slowly bubbling to the surface again as he looked her up and down.
"I suppose it's your word against mine," he retorted, as though it were all just a joke to him.
"You slimy little —" Swiftly popping her shoe off to do exactly as she had described, Hermione was stunned as a tall, hooded stranger suddenly stepped in front of her, gently nudging her back a step as they lowered their hood to reveal a face of ghostly white, a buzzed blond head of hair and a network of tattoos along their neck and hands and presumably everywhere else on their body.
Startled into silence, Dean stumbled back a couple of steps as the stranger came toward him. "Y-you'd do well to mind your own business, friend."
"I'm not your friend," the man calmly stated, his voice low and the look in his eyes menacing. "I don't happen to work at the hospital either, so there's nothing you can say or do to stop me from smashing your head into the pavement until there's nothing left of it."
"Y-you really think a few tattoos are going to stop me? I'm from New York!"
Practically laughing at that, the man took another step towards Dean, whose lips were trembling now. "I don't suppose they teach you manners in New York, do they?"
"No, they teach us how to make millions …" the philanthropist went on to say, trying his best to stand his ground. "Millions that I can use to have someone else rearrange your face for me whilst I make the money back in just a few seconds."
"That's big talk for a small, shrivelling creature like you," he smirked. "Now because I happen to manners, I'll do the polite thing and give you ten seconds to walk away. One, two, three …"
"You'd be stupid to take a swing at me. Stupid!"
"Four, five, six, seven …"
Dean gulped loudly, stumbling back a few more steps, passersby slowing and pointing at him. "I can buy your whole life a million times over, you pasty shit!"
"Eight, nine …"
Hovering in complete and utter silence, Hermione rapidly blinked, watching everything unfold in a state of shock.
Moments before the tattooed man had reached the tenth and final second, Dean shoved whatever pride had prevented him from walking away sooner to the back of his mind, and hurriedly ran off in the opposite direction of his car.
Slowly the crowd dispersed, their startled whispers tapering into laughter as they carried on with their nights.
In the seconds that followed Hermione released the breath that she had held in as the man turned, facing her now.
She took one good look at him up close for the first time. The dark ink embedded into his ghostly white skin, the piercing grey of his eyes and the half inch of his pale blond hair. In many ways he looked as though he had just escaped prison. Dark, dangerous and deafeningly quiet. Though for some inexplicable reason, Hermione wasn't afraid.
"You," she murmured, breaking the silence as her senses returned to her. "You've been following me, haven't you?"
Not a word escaped his lips. He only nodded, the nerve of him bringing a sharp tug to the depths of her chest as it pounded hard inside her dress.
She couldn't decide whether she was more terrified or relieved to know that she hadn't imagined him all this time. Going by the look of him just then, he was quite real.
"Well, I-I suppose a thanks is in order for removing that poor excuse of a man from my presence. Though you should know, I was handling it just fine on my own," she added, tucking a couple of curls behind her ear, anxiously.
There was a knowing glimmer behind his eyes, as though he'd expected nothing less of her than to assert her self-sufficiency in even the most trying of situations. It was though he admired that about her, in fact.
Clearing the lump in her throat, Hermione gathered the words she'd been reluctant to speak until that very moment. "Might I ask who you are and why you've been following me?"
"Draco," he voiced, after only a second of thought. "My name is Draco."
She narrowed her eyes at him, questioningly. "Your name is Draco? As in … the constellation in the northern sky?"
With a curt nod, he smoothly lifted his hood on, the shadow of it lingering just a hair above his cool grey eyes. "I've got to go."
"Wh-what?" Hermione blurted. "But you haven't explained why you've been following me!"
"I'll explain later. For now there's something else that needs my attention."
Her mouth fell open as he turned around just like that. "Later? What do you mean later?"
In a great hurry, Hermione chased after him, the arches of her feet aching like nothing else she'd felt in her life. If not for the fact that the pavement was wet, she would probably have gone bare foot. Anything to catch up to this strange, tattooed man before he vanished again.
"Wait!" she shouted, racing to catch up. "Hold on just one moment! Draco!"
The moment she uttered his name, his movements came to an abrupt halt, wind rippling through the streets of London as he bounced a look at her from over his shoulder.
Hurriedly stumbling towards him, Hermione spared just a couple of seconds to collect her breath. There were a million ways she could have asked, a million paths she could have taken before she decided on the first and last. "H-how do I know I'm ever going to see you again?"
Throat tightening in response, he uttered just three simple words. "I'll find you."
Teddy stared blankly at the wall, utterly lost in thought as he dropped his spoon into his teacup.
"Long night?" Hermione asked, bringing her cup to her lips as she leaned against the counter.
Snapping out of it, the boy quickly shook his head no. "I-I just forgot I have an essay to write."
"Oh, right. It's your first day back at school tomorrow, isn't it?"
He nodded, wincing as he lifted the spoon from the hot liquid. "Any big plans at work today?"
"Erm … nothing out of the ordinary, no." Staring down at her teacup, Hermione bit down on her bottom lip, as if contemplating whether to say something. "You … you haven't noticed anything weird around the house, have you?"
"Weird in what way?"
"Oh, you know, just … unexplained noises, strangers lurking in the garden … that sort of thing," she shrugged, popping a discreet look at the young boy.
Teddy lifted an eyebrow at her. "Strangers lurking in the garden?" he repeated. "Am I missing something?"
"No, no. You're fine. I just … I'm just tired, I think."
"Maybe you should take the morning off. Surely you could use the sleep," he suggested. "By the way, how was the date? I was going to ask last night, but I-I knocked out early, I guess."
Hermione hesitated as though she had forgotten all about the date. "Right, erm … well, you were certainly onto something when you said Dean was a wanker."
"Wait, really? He didn't … he didn't do anything, did he?"
Swiftly shaking her head, the doctor downed the rest of her tea, setting the cup down in the sink. "I'm glad to be rid of him. Next time a handsome stranger comes knocking and asks me to go on a date with him within the span of a few minutes, I'll point him in the direction of the ocean and tell him to walk straight."
Teddy pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. "That bad?"
"Oh, you've no idea." Rinsing the cup, Hermione switched the tap off and took one good look at the time on the stove. "Shit. I've got to go. Make sure to call me if you need anything. Okay?"
Nodding, he made a conscious effort to finish his tea, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand after. "I'll let you know first thing if I see any strangers lurking in the garden."
She'd have laughed if she weren't in such a hurry.
The moment the door clicked shut behind the doctor, Teddy raced out of the kitchen and up to his bedroom, his heartbeat tickling the shells of his ears as he found Lisa bundled up in his blanket, her phone in her grasp as she glanced up at him.
"Is she gone?" the girl asked, sitting up in the same clothes she'd worn last night.
Teddy nodded, gently closing the door just in case. "I doubt she would have said anything either way."
"You can never be too sure with adults …"
"Yeah, I guess that's true," he offered, watching as Lisa climbed out from under his blanket, and proceeded straight for the window to make sure Hermione had really left.
Relieved to see that the car was gone, Lisa turned around after, facing him. "Anyway, it's not like we did anything. We just … fell asleep."
Teddy rapidly bobbed his head up and down. "Of course, of course. It wasn't anything weird."
Thinking back to when they'd arrived at the house the previous night, he felt his cheeks and neck flush with a mix of embarrassment and soft, quiet longing. He'd found a plaster and a few other first aid supplies in the downstairs bathroom, where he'd guided Lisa and gently cared for the tip of her thumb.
It was a small cut, but it made all the difference in his mind.
"I suppose I should go home before my family returns," the girl furthered, reluctantly. "If I'm not in that house, getting ready for school by the time they walk through the front door, I'll be in worse trouble than Liam."
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Teddy nodded to the door. "I'll walk you out."
Quietly they made their way downstairs, taking care to use the back door instead of the front, just in case any of the neighbours were looking.
"Thanks for the help last night," Lisa uttered in the dimness of the kitchen, hesitantly facing him as she wrapped her fingers around the doorknob. "I … I mean that."
Teddy fixed his gaze to the tile, trying not to stare too long at her out of fear that he'd never quite be able to look away. "That's okay. I-I'm glad I was able to do something."
"Right. Well … I'm sorry for what I said before," she furthered. "About liking you."
His heart a sunk a bit at the sound her voice, the shakiness in it. "There's no need to apologize."
"I-I put you in a really difficult position by shoving my feelings onto you. That's all the reason in the world to apologize."
"Lisa, I … you know I … obviously I feel the same way," he confessed, finally looking her in the eyes now. "I wouldn't have taken the punches and the kicks if I'd felt they were undeserved."
A fresh wave of tears filled her eyes. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"I thought you knew."
"Y-you thought I knew?" she repeated, as though she'd never heard something so ridiculous in her life. "How could I know when you're always so guarded? I-I'm not saying you have no reason to be either, it's just … I've never met someone like you before, Teddy."
In that moment alone, it took everything he had not to lean in and catch the tears in her eyes with his sleeve. "I could say the same thing about you."
Blinking the tears back, Lisa took a deep, calming breath. "So, what now? Where does this leave us?"
"That's the part I haven't figured out," Teddy detailed. "I like you, Lisa. But I-I'm not in the right frame of mind to be extending myself to someone who deserves so much better than whatever it is I have to offer."
She couldn't help but look away, saddened by his words. "Even when you're breaking my heart, you make it sound so romantic."
"I'd break it worse if we were together. I know it."
"Well, maybe we don't have to be together necessarily."
"What do you mean?" he asked, genuinely oblivious to what she was suggesting.
It was only as she glanced up at him again, the depth in her eyes climbing the length of his walls and grappling at his heart like nothing else, that he realized what she wanted.
"Would it be terrible if I kissed you?" Lisa delicately asked. "Just … just this once."
Teddy fell utterly silent, bouncing a look at her lips, but only because he couldn't help it. "Just … just this once," he repeated, speaking only to himself.
Five Hours Later
Hermione made sure to grab a seat by the window at lunch that day, periodically looking through it every couple of seconds as if in search of something.
"Doctor Granger, would you mind if I sat here?"
Slowly pulling her focus away from the hospital grounds, Hermione was surprised to find Mei in front of her, a tray of lunch in the young woman's hands. "Oh, not at all. Have a seat, dear."
With a quick smile Mei settled into the chair across from her, a glimmer of something in her eyes as though she had something on her mind but she wasn't sure whether it was worth mentioning.
"So, how are you?" Hermione asked, taking a bite of her chicken wrap.
"Good, good. I, erm … I realize this is quite random, but I'm actually engaged as of last night."
Her eyebrows shot up. "Hold on, what? Th-that's wonderful! I had no idea you were even seeing someone!"
Chuckling, Mei nodded. "I try to keep my private life out of work most of the time. But I figure now that my boyfriend has popped the question, why not tell everyone the good news?"
"Absolutely. In fact, why don't I gather a few of the girls and we go out for a drink to celebrate?"
"Oh, I-I wouldn't want to intrude on anyone's personal time."
"Mei, you're getting married. At the very least, that calls for a drink or two courtesy of your favourite doctor, don't you think?"
The medical assistant couldn't help but crack up. "You know what? You're absolutely right. Let's go tonight. I know the perfect place."
"Lovely. I'll send out an email for availability."
Grabbing her phone from the table, Hermione punched in her passcode, her stomach lurching at the sight of the name Dean Holbrook in her text messages.
From: Dean Holbrook
Feeling good today, I hope.
I'd love to have a coffee with you after work.
Discuss the donations that I made to the children's ward.
Amongst other things.
Hermione scrunched her lips into a look of disgust.
From: Hermione Granger
So sorry but I've got plans after work.
Perhaps you can find someone else to sexually harass tonight.
With a sharp breath, she practically slammed her phone down on the table, earning a questioning look from Mei.
"Er … is everything okay?" the girl asked.
Slowly relaxing, Hermione nodded. "Just a bit of work trouble."
"Oh. Anything I can do to help?"
"No, no. You've got nothing to worry about," she said to Mei reassuringly, the thought occurring to her a moment later. "Actually … have you heard of a Dean Holbrook?"
The medical assistant swallowed a mouthful of food, hard. "Have I heard of him?" she asked, an indicative twist along her lips as though she could hardly stand the mention of his name. "Please tell me that disgusting man hasn't tried to snake his way into your life."
"I'm afraid he has," Hermione confessed, her cheeks burning with the deepest regret. "We went to dinner last night."
Mei lost hold of her fork, allowing it to slip through her fingers and clatter down to her try as she looked to the doctor in shock. "I'm so sorry you went through that," she said, simply. "He's been making his rounds since the start of the month, trying to bag someone from every department. A nurse in the ICU told me about it."
Covering her mouth, Hermione resisted the urge to spit her food out all over the table.
"That's not even the worst bit," Mei added, leaning forward to whisper the rest. "He has a wife in New York."
"H-he has a — I-I went on a date with a married man?!" the brunette blurted, a notch louder than she'd intended. Shrinking in her seat, she tilted her head back with embarrassment. "Is it so hard to meet a nice man that knows when to be bad?"
"Doctor Granger, I'm sorry if this is rude of me to say, but … you do realize you're beautiful and successful and that you could have any man you want, don't you?"
She snorted at the thought. "You're too kind, Mei."
"I'm serious. You've got half the men in here falling all over themselves to speak with you."
"Yes, but … those men can't handle my life, can they? I can barely handle it most days."
Sparing a moment to let that sink in, Mei realized what the doctor was referring to. "Teddy."
Hermione nodded, though she didn't feel good about it. "I'm practically a mother. Not to say that mothers can't have their fun, it's just … I'm thirty-four raising a sixteen-year-old boy by myself. I can't introduce just anyone into that life. Teddy has just barely opened up to me."
"You're right. It's not as easy as it should be," Mei offered, with complete sincerity.
Releasing a deep breath, the doctor set aside those feelings. "Enough of that," she decided. "You, my dear, have got to tell me what happened last night. Every detail."
Later That Night
The colder months were always the easiest when it came to this line of work.
Most people went to bed sooner, slept deeper and accepted whatever company they could find to make it through those long, frigid nights.
Keeping with that, Draco slid his key card into the room marked 402 and quietly opened the door to find a tall, brown-haired man entangled with a young blonde he'd met at the pub just an hour ago. Both had inhaled their fair share of whiskey in the span of the twenty minutes that it took to leave the pub and find a more private location, and both had knocked out in a state of the deepest sleep.
He crept past the bed, keeping to the shadows in the room as he made his way to the water bottle on the man's bedside table. It was already opened, which made his job that much easier. Without making a sound, he retrieved a thin vial of colourless, tasteless and scentless potion from within his pocket, and tipped just a drop into the water bottle.
One drop was all it was going to take for the slimy git to confess to what he'd put the doctor and all of those other women through.
One drop and just one sip.
To think there was a world in which this potion and the magic through which it was made should have been impossible, and that one of the brightest minds in wizarding history was trapped there … he could only imagine why she had agreed to it and whether she would ever return.
That night Hermione had opted for only a couple of drinks, relatively sober by the time they had reached the end of the night.
Mei had knocked back a few shots and enjoyed herself, and that was all that mattered.
To think nearly half the department had arrived at the pub, it was telling of Mei's character. She was a nice girl, and an even better person. Quiet but kind, and incredibly hardworking. Hermione was truly happy for her.
Climbing into the backseat of a cab on her way home, Hermione had one look at the messages on her phone, having popped looks at it throughout the night to make sure Teddy was okay. He said he was going to prepare for school the next day, go to bed early instead of at three o'clock in the morning like he usually did.
She was glad that he had finally opened up to her, but she still worried for him constantly. It was the kind of worry that she was sure her parents had felt for her when she was sixteen. The kind of worry that compelled a parent to check whether their child was safely in bed in the middle of the night.
After her disaster of a date the previous night, she'd popped a quick look in Teddy's bedroom to do just that.
To her relief she'd found him there, fast asleep, but she'd also found someone else curled up next to him.
She'd considered bringing it up the following morning, asking whether Lisa's parents knew that she had spent the night at the house, but she'd eventually decided to say nothing.
Although it was a long time ago now, she remembered what it was like to be sixteen and in love.
There was nothing in the world that felt more intense.
Not longer after those memories had flashed through her mind, Hermione pointed a look through the window to find that they'd arrived at the house. Saying thanks to the driver, she paid him just a touch higher than she usually would have, and climbed out of the cab.
Her footsteps were soft but quick as she made her way to the front door, pulling the keys out of her bag and sliding them into the lock. With a gentle twist she opened the door and ducked out of the cold, kicking her shoes off at the door and draping her coat along one of the hooks before she vanished into the kitchen for a quick drink of water.
Lifting a glass from the drying rack, she held it under the tap, filling it to the brim before resting the edge along her bottom lip.
The second the water touched her mouth, the knots in her chest smoothly unraveled, and for just a fleeting moment the feeling of emptiness was gone.
Only then did she hear the tap on the front door.
It was light, easily missed and quite possibly something she'd imagined in her exhausted state.
Setting the glass down, Hermione glanced over her shoulder, contemplating whether to check. In the back of her mind she still wasn't completely sure that she wasn't imagining things. With only a few seconds of restraint left in her, the doctor slowly but surely made her way to the front door, twisting it open to find no one on the other side.
Simply a note.
Kneeling down, Hermione lifted the paper into her hands, unfolding it to find not a set of words, but a coin.
A gold coin.
"Gringotts Bank …" she murmured under her breath, examining it.
Not once in her life had she heard of such a bank, but the moment she took the coin into the palm of her hand, she felt traces of warmth along the surface as though it had been touched by another not a moment ago.
Rising to her feet, Hermione raced through the front door and to the edge of the drive, wheeling a quick, adrenaline-filled look around the neighbourhood in search of him.
The smallest trace of those cool grey eyes.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I'm not sure when I'll get around to the next chapter, but for now I hope this is enough.