We Learned the Sea
Epilogue: The Song of This Town
And you are still young, but you'll understand. That the stars of the sea are the same for the land.
"We Learned the Sea" by Dar Williams
Hermione sighed as yet another strong gust of wind blew through the open windows, causing the pages of her book to turn before she was ready. She suspected a storm was on its way and reluctantly got up from her comfortable armchair to shut the seaward windows.
When she reached the far wall, she paused and looked toward the water. Sure enough, dark clouds were gathering and she could hear the waves crashing against the cliff. Hermione hoped the impending weather wouldn't reach the rest of her family, out for a relaxing afternoon of Quidditch near Ottery St. Catchpole.
Another gust blew and Hermione inhaled the salty air before finally closing and latching the window. She decided to go ahead and shut all the windows in the room that had become her sanctuary, a combination sitting room, library and sunroom.
Hermione returned to her chair and pulled her legs underneath her, settling in for an afternoon with her current book.
The house at Hake's Edge no longer look the same as it had when she had lived there with Harry and Draco during the war. It still had the sitting room, dining room and kitchen on the first floor, and the original two bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs, but it now boasted a third bedroom and playroom on the upper story and beneath the addition was the room in which Hermione sat, reading.
She and Draco had never really discussed how many children they wanted, only that they both wanted a family. After Steven was born, they agreed they wanted another, both deciding they did not want their son to be an only child. Steven had been three when Layla was born.
Hermione had been amazed and deeply touched at the way Draco had truly loved and cherished their son, but it was nothing to his relationship with their daughter. The two had formed an instant bond that had only grown in the years since.
Hermione occasionally felt twinges of jealousy when she saw the two of them together, huddled over a book or talking quietly by the fire, sometimes wishing she was included in their special world. She had a very good relationship with Layla and Steven as well, but it wasn't the same.
She really could not have been happier, especially considering what Draco's relationship with his own father had been like. She did not resent his relationships with their children, only allowed herself a few moments of self-pity whenever the feelings hit her the strongest. There were simply too many years ahead of them to quibble over whom their children liked better.
Whenever Hermione thought back to the years with just the four of them, she was thankful she had never made a big issue over it.
On the evening of Layla's fourth birthday, Hermione and Draco had returned to their home at the Edge, exhausted but also exhilarated. The kids were spending the night at the Potters', where the party had been, with all of their friends, and they had the whole house to themselves. They had started kissing as soon as the door shut behind them and didn't stop for over two hours. When they finally did, relaxed, energized, and completely satisfied, Hermione was wrapped tightly in Draco's arms on the porch swing. It was swaying ever so slightly and she suspected that Draco had Spelled it to move without either of their efforts required.
There were times when the reality of their lives would hit Hermione and she would cling to Draco as though she would be lost forever if she let go. Everything they had been through to get to where they were, all the things that could have so easily gone wrong…. She tried not to think about those things, but sometimes they just hit her.
That night had been completely magical, both of them focused and intent on the other, in tune with each other, and Hermione felt at ease with the world after the moments of pure bliss faded into serene companionship. As she lay spooned against his strong chest, memories from the night Draco and Harry left to find Lucius and Voldemort flooded her mind. It was too easy to think how easily her entire life might have been different.
"I love you," Draco murmured in her ear, giving her a gentle squeeze.
Hermione scooted as close to him as she could get, wishing that at that moment she could crawl inside him.
"I've been thinking," he continued. "I love Steven, and I love Layla. You are the most amazing woman in the world." He paused and took a breath. "I want us to have another baby. I want to make a baby with you."
Hermione stared at the porch in front of her, at the wooden table and chairs where they often ate as a family. Was it possible she had just been thinking about close they had come to not being together? After a moment, she turned around in his arms to face him, her heart now full of emotion. "A baby?"
Draco smiled. "I love our family, but lately I've been thinking it's not quite … finished. There is more yet to come. I don't know if that makes sense."
Hermione smiled and traced his bare arm from shoulder to fingers and then gently wrapped her hand in his. "It makes perfect sense, Draco. I suppose I know what you mean. But are you sure?" she asked, searching his eyes.
"Absolutely. If you want to, of course. We haven't talked about this at all, I know that, but that also makes me think it's a possibility. After Layla, you didn't say 'no more kids' …. What do you say? I'm fine if you don't want to go through it again, I know what it's like … at least, I've seen you go through it twice already."
The answer had been as obvious as the fact that she loved him. She grinned and lightly kissed his chin. "I say we had better get started."
Ten months later, Emma Jane was born.
During the pregnancy, however, it became clear that the house would likely no longer fully accommodate the growing family. Things were tight as they were, with generally small rooms and very little indoor space for the children to play in. They had had the conversation just so they could say they'd had it, and discussed the pros and cons of moving. There had been only one pro: more space. After they finished making the ridiculous list, Hermione had laughed and Draco had Incinerated it.
The next path in the discussion was the number of bedrooms. The new baby could share a room with her sister. Draco, however, felt strongly that she should have her own room. Perhaps it had something to do with being an only child, but he wanted the baby to grow into a room of her own, where she could let her unique style and creativity flourish.
"Besides," he had said one day during month four. "We could really use extra space. It wouldn't be a big effort or terribly inconvenient to add on to what we already have. I built this one on my own, I built your parents' house on the island, I think I can add a few rooms. I say a fourth bedroom and a playroom on the upper floor, and that room you've been dreaming about, with three walls of windows."
Hermione had sighed. "A fireplace would be ideal. As the kids grow up, Side-Along Apparation just won't be practical."
It really was not a difficult decision at all. The house and its place by the sea were too dear to them, held far too many memories to simply quit when they added a new member to their family. The construction was started the next month and was finished by the time Emma slept in her home for the first time.
The sitting room had its southern wall taken out and reformed with a doorway and the fireplace, which opened both to it and to the reading room on the other side. As Hermione had wanted, the three exterior walls of the reading room were covered in windows, with a door leading to the garden which she and Layla tended. The garden was something they both truly loved and they enjoyed their time together there.
When they designed the addition, Hermione and Draco wanted the lower story to extend beyond the upper story, and for glass to be set at an angle to allow the room to be suffused with light during the day.
Steven was thrilled to be moved to the new bedroom; the baby's room would be near her parents' and Layla was excited about being close to her new sister. Both of them enjoyed spending time in the playroom, in which Draco had put a few large pillows for comfortable reading (and into which Steven often found enjoyment in pushing his sister).
The house still had the same, intimate feeling it had always had, just a little bigger.
A distant peal of thunder drew Hermione from her book and she was surprised to see how dark the room had grown because of the oncoming storm. She pulled out her wand and was about to turn on a light when she heard the fireplace roar to life.
Green flames flickered briefly and three people emerged. Draco appeared to be attempting to speak to Steven, who brushed him away and ran out of the room and up the stairs. Layla looked distinctly nervous and when she noticed Hermione in the room, ran to her. Hermione scooped her and saw that Draco was scowling deeply.
"Draco? What happened? You're back early … was it the weather?"
He looked at her and it seemed he only then noticed she was in the room. On his face was an unfathomable expression and he looked as though he were searching for something to say. Finally he said in a strange, almost hollow voice, "It's started," and walked out of the room, heading for the porch.
Hermione looked at Layla. "Do you know what happened?"
She shook her head.
"All right. Why don't you run upstairs and play in your room? If you hear Emma wake from her nap, come and get me, please. I'm going to speak to your brother."
Hermione set Layla down and followed her up the stairs. When she reached Steven's door, she knocked softly. There was no response, so she knocked again. "Steven? It's Mummy. May I come in?"
After a moment she heard a muffled reply and slowly opened the door. Steven was on sitting with his back to the wall on his bed which was situated in the corner of his room, his knees drawn to his chest. His mess of curly blond hair fell around his face.
Hermione approached the bed and sat on the corner opposite Steven. "Are you okay, sweetheart? Did you and Daddy have a row?"
Steven shook his head but said nothing.
"What is it? What's got you so upset?"
He looked at her for a few long moments before he spoke. "Is … is Daddy a—a bad man?"
Hermione's stomach jumped into her throat and her breath hitched. Draco's comment downstairs now made perfect sense: something had happened and Steven had heard about Draco's past. Immediately Hermione wanted to rush to Draco and learn the details and help him deal with what would come next. He would have to tell Steven the truth.
However, it was very important to first learn exactly what Steven had heard and she did not wish to needlessly alarm her son. "What do you think?" she asked, leaning on one arm.
Steven only shrugged and looked away from her.
"What did you hear?" Hermione asked gently. "It's okay to tell me, you won't get into trouble."
Steven hesitated but finally looked at Hermione. "They said … Dad was a bad man, that he … hurt people."
A rush of anger and fierce loyalty welled within her. Anger at whoever had spoken to her son about Draco's past and a strong determination to defend her husband. "Your dad is a good man, Steven. Do you believe me?"
He nodded, slowly.
"He is, he's the best man I know."
A small flicker of hope seemed to light Steven's brilliant green eyes. "Everyone likes him, Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny, even Uncle Ron." The light fell. "But … they weren't there. Just Dad and Miss Luna."
"Who said your dad hurt people, Steven?"
He shrugged again.
"I am not going to get you into trouble, sweetheart. This is between you and me, all right? Was it one of your friends?"
"No, it was Zack's friend, Corlin."
Zack was Ron and Luna's oldest child and Corlin belonged to Blaise Zabini and his wife. Somehow after the war, Zabini had managed to convince the Ministry that he had been coerced into serving Voldemort. Draco, not wishing to condemn him to a life in prison, had not testified against him and he was released. He and Hermione had kept their family away from Zabini's, but Zack had met Corlin in Diagon Alley and the two were fast friends, despite Ron and Luna's protests. They allowed their son to interact with Corlin only when one of them could be there.
"Your dad is a good man," Hermione repeated firmly. "I want you to know that. You know him, Steven, you play with him everyday. He loves you more than anything."
Steven nodded. "I love him too."
Tears pricked Hermione's eyes. Steven knew what it meant to hurt and be hurt, and she hoped desperately that his experiences with his father would get them through this.
"I think you should talk to him," Hermione said.
Steven's eyes widened. "I don't want him to be angry!"
"Oh, no, honey! He won't be angry at you, I promise!" Only at himself, she added mentally. "Shall I go get him?"
"Okay," Steven replied quietly.
Hermione left the room and paused at the door to look back at Steven. His arms were still wrapped tightly around his knees and his head rested on them. She thought he looked lost and scared, but determined as well.
Draco had gone straight to the porch after leaving Hermione and Layla. He didn't really know what he should be feeling, but he felt a mixture of anger and dread. He had wanted to Apparate directly to Zabini's house and punch him squarely in the nose. How dare he tell stories to his children about Draco! What about his own role in the war? Draco was sure he hadn't mentioned how he had eagerly volunteered to join Voldemort, had shown an aptitude for and tendency toward violence and torture.
However, the more time that passed, the longer Draco stood and listened to the rolling thunder and pounding waves, the anger subsided and dread claimed dominance in his heart. Now he would have to talk to Steven and tell him the truth. He had been thinking about this conversation for years, wondering when the right time would be, or if there could ever be a right time. He wasn't ready, he hadn't thought it all out yet. He had no idea how he would start, no idea of the best way to approach the subject. How did you tell your child that you were once a terrible person?
Vaguely Draco was aware that the porch door had swung open and then fallen shut, and then soft footsteps approached him. He could feel her presence the way he felt the warmth of his cloak in the winter or the cool water on his skin in the heat of summer. After all this time, he could still sense when she walked into a room—for she brought the sun—or when she left. The slight change in pressure, the miniscule dip in temperature, were surely only felt by him.
As she neared him, he felt somewhat renewed, though he knew it would take more than her presence to get him through this.
"What happened?" she asked, leaning her elbows on the railing beside him.
Anger bubbled inside him once more and he snorted. "Stupid kids," he muttered. "Freaking Zabini … I want to wring his bloody neck."
"Draco …" she said calmly.
He sighed. "We were sitting around, taking a break from our game and the kids were playing nearby. As we chatted, we heard the sound change from playful to angry. I heard Steven's voice and Luna and I went to see what had happened. Corlin—you know Zabini's no-good brat?—was taunting Steven, telling him … well, things about me. I tried to intervene, but …. You know Steven, he's so sensitive. He defended me to Corlin, but in his heart he had already started doubting. Corlin was so abrasive and so sure, and Steven … well, he just didn't know what to do or say. I quickly rounded up Layla and we left without saying goodbye to Harry and Ginny."
"What did Corlin say?"
"I didn't hear everything, but he told Steven I was a bad man, that I liked to hurt people, hurt you," he bit out. He had nearly seen red when he heard that and had thought that at that moment, Corlin was right about at least one thing. "Like I need someone else—a bloody kid—to remind me of my past. But how dare he tell MY son that I would ever hurt his mother!" He knew he was yelling and he didn't care. He couldn't think of anything in the last … ten years that had made him this angry.
"Draco, calm down," Hermione said, putting a hand on his arm.
He took a few long, deep breaths and then let his shoulders slump. "I have been going over this conversation, over what I would say, and how, and when, for nine and a half years, Hermione. And then some bloody, good-for-nothing kid goes and ruins it all."
"I know," Hermione said with a sigh. "But now it's here and it's time to talk to him. This had to happen before Hogwarts; maybe … maybe it's good that this has happened."
"Good? Good that I now have only mere minutes in which to devise a strategy for what will, in all likelihood, break my kid's heart? You know him, Hermione …. He thinks I'm a good father. He loves me. Telling him the truth …."
"Has to be done, love," Hermione said, turning to face him.
"You didn't see the look on his face when I couldn't deny what Corlin had said," Draco returned, meeting her eyes briefly before lowering his head into his hands.
Hermione gently rubbed his back in slow circles for a few moments before speaking. "He loves you, Draco. All you have to do is talk to him, and tell him you love him."
Steven did love him and he held the truth of that fact deep in his heart. Hermione loved him, yes, but his son's love was different. It wasn't based on anything he had done, not really. It wasn't based on the fact that he had changed, that he had worked to defeat the Dark Lord, that he had grown to resemble a decent human being.
Steven loved him simply because he was his father. Draco understood that feeling. He had spent his entire childhood loving his own father, trying with all his might to please him, to make him proud. And Lucius had done nothing to encourage him, nothing to support him, yet Draco had still loved him. The relationship he had with Steven never ceased to amaze him: Steven had loved him from the moment he understood the concept of the feeling, and Draco had felt a tremendous responsibility to honor that love, to treat his son with love and respect, not to turn on him or disappoint him. Even though he had known from the beginning that he would have to do just that.
Draco looked at Hermione. "Will you be there?"
He took her hand and started toward the door, then abruptly stopped, turned around and wrapped her in his arms.
"I have no idea what I'm doing," he whispered in her ear, through her thick, unruly hair. "What if I mess up? What if he hates me?"
Hermione gently pushed him off and forced him to look at her. "Listen to me, Draco Malfoy. First, he will not hate you. He loves you, adores you! He is just confused about what he heard and needs to hear the truth from you."
"But the truth—"
"Is bad, yes. But it's better, far better than lying to him. He loves you, Draco. Be honest, and open, and he will forgive you. Second, you might mess up, but all that matters in the end is that you tell him the truth. If he's angry for a while, at least you'll have told him everything."
Draco shut his eyes tightly. He knew she was right, but part of him was simply terrified at what he had to do.
"You've been preparing for this moment, I suspect, since you first learned I was pregnant. You will do well, Draco," she said insistently.
He nodded heavily and together they went inside and up the stairs. Draco hesitated outside the door and looked at Hermione once more for reassurance. She squeezed his hand and it was enough.
Steven was still sitting in the corner of his bed, exactly as Hermione had left him. As soon as Draco saw him, he took a deep breath, stood tall and walked to the bed.
"Hey there, kid," he started.
Steven looked up through the curls on his forehead. "Hi, Dad," he said shyly. Draco sat on the opposite corner from Steven and Hermione sat beside her son.
"Steven, will you tell me what Corlin said?" Draco asked calmly.
Steven looked from Hermione, who nodded encouragingly, to Draco, obviously hesitant.
"It's all right," said Hermione kindly. "I promise, Daddy won't be mad at you."
"No, of course not," Draco added hastily.
Steven looked down at his knees. "He said you were a bad man and you liked to hurt people."
"Is that all?" Hermione prompted.
Steven shook his head.
"What else, sweetheart?" she urged.
Steven looked at his mother. "He … he said Dad used to … to hurt you. And kill people."
Draco shut his eyes tightly. "Steven, I am going to tell you the truth. Can you listen while I talk? Will you be my big boy and trust me with everything I say?"
He nodded solemnly.
"I … I haven't always been your dad, you know. Before you were born, it was just your mum and me. Before her, I was all alone."
"What about your mum and dad?" Steven asked.
"Er … it's complicated. I had my parents, yes, but we weren't really friends, like you and I are friends."
"When I was by myself, I made some bad choices. Do you remember hearing about the really bad man from before you were born?"
Steven nodded. "Uncle Harry and Uncle Ron talk about him sometimes when they think we're asleep. He was the most evil man in the world."
"Yes, he was. His name was Voldemort." Even after all the years that had passed, all the good in the world since the defeat of the Dark Lord, it was still hard for Draco to say his name. He paused and continued. "My father … my father worked for him."
Steven blinked. "Why?"
"Because your grandfather wasn't a very good man, Steven. He wanted to hurt people, people who weren't like him. He thought he was better than most people. Voldemort let him hurt and kill. Remember what Harry says? Voldemort wanted to rule the whole world and kill everyone who didn't have magic."
Steven's eyes widened. "Kill all the Muggles? Why?"
Draco shook his head, amazed at how different his childhood was from his son's. At the age of nine, Draco had already spouted much of the prejudiced drivel he had heard from his father and had believed it. "I don't have a good answer for you, son. I don't really know why. He … he didn't think non-magical people deserved to live. I don't know why."
"He sounds awful. I've got friends who are Muggles, at my school."
"I know, and that's the way it should be," said Hermione, ruffling Steven's thick hair. "We're very proud of you." Steven attended a school that was mostly attended by Muggles, but also taught a handful of wizarding children whose parents wanted them to experience more than simply education at home. The school had a few witches on the staff whose first love was education of students too young to attend Hogwarts.
Hermione looked at Draco and gave him a soft smile. Their son had no idea that there were people in the world who thought that he shouldn't be friends with Muggles.
Draco took a deep breath, ready to continue now that he had begun. "As I said, my father worked for the bad man, but after a few years, my father got caught. The bad man wanted me to work for him. He threatened to kill my mother if I didn't."
Steven looked at Hermione and Draco couldn't help but wonder what had passed through his mind as he did. Was he thinking, perhaps, how much he loved his mother, and about what he might do in order to protect her?
"I … I chose to do what I had to do to keep my mother safe. Every day, all I could think about was keeping her safe."
"What did you have to do?" Steven asked in a whisper.
Draco looked him in the eye. "I was supposed to … to kill someone."
Steven swallowed hard.
"Please understand, those were evil times. The world you live in is safe—for you, for your mum, for everyone. Ours … wasn't. I am not trying to excuse what happened, Steven," Draco said, looking to Hermione, feeling suddenly lost.
She put her hand over one of Steven's. "Your dad was in an awful position. He didn't want to be the cause of his mother's death, and he didn't want to kill."
"You didn't?" Steven asked, looking back at Draco.
"No, I did not. I thought at first that I would be able to do it anyway, but as the year passed, I realized I couldn't."
"So what happened?"
Draco shook his head. "An unfortunate series of events. The man I was supposed to kill ended up dead, though not by my hand. My … favorite teacher had actually carried out the deed. He took me with him back to the bad man. He was very angry with me for failing. He wanted me to keep working for him, but I had failed. He gave me another choice and I made the wrong one, Steven. I was scared. The bad man told me I had to kill someone else, or he would kill me. I didn't want to die."
Hot tears pricked the edges of Draco's eyes and he was stunned at them. He had only shared these details with Hermione, and even then it had taken years. His feelings about what he had done were the things he kept from her the longest, for fear that letting them out would finally force him to deal with his friends' murder at his own hand. The weeks after he told Hermione were some of the worst he'd had since the end of the war.
"So I … I did it, I killed a man who was my friend and mentor," Draco stuttered, his throat feeling tight and his vision blurring slightly. He shut his eyes to clear his sight and felt a hand on his own. It was small and soft, and he expected it was Hermione's, but when he opened his eyes, Steven was sitting directly in front of him, a sad, thoughtful look on his face.
"Don't be sad, Daddy," Steven said, patting his hand.
Draco smiled at his son and nodded. "Thank you." He looked at Hermione to find her watching him, not doing anything about the tears streaming down her cheeks. He nodded toward her and looked back at Steven. "Ready for me to continue?"
Steven nodded and remained near his father.
Draco took a deep breath, not quite sure he was ready to continue. "After that, I worked for the bad man for … essentially two years. Corlin was right: I did hurt people, and I did kill people." He said it quickly, as though somehow it would help to get it out fast. Steven stared at him without expression for a moment while Draco held his breath, waiting for his reaction.
"Why?" came the small voice.
"I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want to die, so I kept following orders."
Almost imperceptibly, Steven moved away from him and it tore Draco's heart to pieces. How could a child be expected to understand the complex feelings Draco had gone through during his time under the Dark Lord's rule? How could he possibly hope to convince his son that he regretted what he had done and was now a different person?
"You … you hurt people," said Steven, looking at his bed.
"Yes, I did." Admitting it to his son was more painful than anything Draco had been through.
"And killed people."
"I don't do those things anymore," Draco said.
Steven looked up and met his father's gaze. "You always tell me not to hurt, not to throw things at people, not to be mean, but to be gentle with animals and people," he said in an accusatory tone.
"I know, Steven, and that's the right thing to do. My father never said those things to me, never told me to be nice."
"You hurt Mum!" Steven yelled, scooting away from Draco. "Corlin told me! It must be true! Everything else has been!"
"No," Draco said so firmly that Steven started and looked frightened. "I did not hurt your mother that way. I never laid a hand on her or pointed my wand at her."
"But he said—"
"The bad man hated people like your mother because she has Muggle parents. He wanted all people like her to die. I never …" He couldn't say he had never hurt Hermione because he knew he had, just not physically.
"Sweetheart, Daddy is telling the truth," Hermione interrupted, drawing both Steven's and Draco's attention. "Your dad and I were not friends in school, and we were mean to each other, but he never hurt me." She smiled. "In fact, I hit him once."
Steven's eyes widened. "Why?"
"He was being a complete tosser."
"He was!" she said, laughing despite the tears in her eyes. "Forgive my language. But he deserved it. Honey, remember all the stories Uncle Harry tells? About your dad?"
Slowly Steven nodded.
"Those stories are all true too. Your dad worked with Harry and me to defeat Voldemort. He worked tirelessly for years on a plan to bring an end to the most evil wizard of our time. He was a very different man from the boy I knew in school."
Steven still looked unconvinced and Draco had no idea what more to say.
"Remember when you fell and scraped your knee? Daddy took care of you. He picked you up and blew cool air on the boo-boo, then healed you, remember?" Hermione said, nearly pleading with Steven, tears in her eyes.
"Yes, I remember."
"He's still your daddy. He's the same man who fixes your scrapes, carries you when you're too tired to walk, reads stories to you at bedtime…"
"Steven," Draco said quietly but earnestly. His soon looked at him, his green eyes bright. "I used to do bad things. But I don't anymore. I am a good person now. Your mum wouldn't put up with me if I weren't. I'm sorry that you had to hear about it from Corlin. I had planned on telling you, but I didn't know when I should …. I'm sorry that your dad has such a horrible past, one you can't be proud of. I have spent every day of your entire life trying to make it up to you. I hope you'll be able to forgive me."
Steven stared at Draco for what felt like hours. "Your tattoo," he said finally, not taking his eyes from Draco's.
Draco looked down at his arm, the Dark Mark half visible underneath his rolled-up sleeve. Steven touched it lightly. Whereas once he had thought it neat and exciting, he regarded it now as though afraid it might burn or hurt him.
"What about it?" Draco said, his throat dry.
"It's … not just a tattoo, is it?"
"What makes you say that?" Hermione asked.
Steven looked at her and then back at Draco. "Corlin said … he said it was a bad sign. That he's seen it before."
Draco clenched his jaw and refrained from letting his anger get the best of him. Of course Corlin had seen it before: his father had the very same Mark branded on his arm. Briefly, Draco wondered if Blaise was anything like Lucius had been. Corlin certainly had similar characteristics to those Draco had had at his age: both basically bullies, wealthy, pureblood, prejudiced ….
Draco pulled up the rest of his sleeve, revealing the entire Mark. "This was the bad man's sign, son. He could communicate with us through this Mark. It was also the sign his followers put into the sky after they killed."
"You did that too, right?"
Steven looked at Hermione.
"Son, there are a few things more I need to tell you. I was not happy. I was … quite the opposite, actually: I was miserable. I did not enjoy what I did, I did not like hurting or killing people. As I said before, I didn't know what else to do, so I just kept doing it. I regret every single person I killed, every single innocent person I hurt. I wasn't strong enough to stand up to the Dark Lord in the only way I knew, which was to defy him outright. I would have been killed."
He paused and took a deep breath. "Then I met your Mum's parents one night, and they helped me see a way out, a way I could get out of the horrible situation I had landed myself in and still have a chance at a real life. And not only that, but they encouraged me to work to bring him down. I took their chance, and I have never looked back. I worked for years, as your mother said, on a plan, and with her brilliance and Uncle Harry's determination, the three of us pulled it off, though Uncle Harry was the one who finally killed the Dark Lord."
The three of them sat in silence for a few moments. Draco dared not look at Steven for fear of what he would see in his eyes.
The bedroom door opened and Layla cautiously stuck her head in. "Mummy? Emma's crying."
Draco looked at Hermione who was already getting up from the bed. She glanced at Draco and then back at Steven. "Coming, Layla."
After the door had shut behind them, Draco said, "Would you like me to leave you alone for awhile?"
Steven considered the question and then said, "Yes, please."
Hesitantly, as though his leaving the room might signify the end of the relationship he had built with his son, Draco stood and went to the door. When he opened it, he found Layla in the hall, standing as though waiting for him. Something occurred to Draco and he poked his head back into Steven's room.
"Hey, Steven," he called. His soon looked up. "Take as long as you need but do me a favor and don't talk about this with your sister."
Without pause, Steven replied, "You aren't going to tell her?"
"Yes, I am, but not until she's a little older. All right?"
"Okay, I won't tell her." Steven looked away and Draco shut the door, feeling panicked and helpless.
"Daddy, will you play with me?" Layla was watching him expectantly.
He sighed, finding it oddly amusing that while one child contemplated whether or not he would start hating him, the other still wanted to play. "Let me check on your mum and then we'll go for a walk. How does that sound?"
Draco made his way to Emma's room where he found Hermione busy changing her nappy.
"How did it go?" she asked him. "You're out rather soon."
"I wanted to give him time alone. Do you need anything?"
Hermione shook her head. "Nope, Emma's almost tidied up and then we're going to read a book."
"Layla and I are going for a walk. It doesn't look like it's going to rain after all."
"I'm proud of you, Draco."
He closed the book he hadn't been able to concentrate on and set it on the bedside table. Hermione had just climbed into bed and was currently snuggling under the covers, something she did every night that never failed to make him smile. When she looked up at him, however, his smile had turned to a scowl.
"Oh? For which part? Failing to tell our son the truth before he heard it from somewhere else? Or managing to completely alienate him?" His voice was rife with bitterness and anger at himself.
"He didn't look at me once during dinner and has been in his room with the door shut ever since."
"Draco, don't," Hermione said harshly, sitting up in bed. "You can't beat yourself up over this! You have done the best you could—"
"No!" he said, frustrated, getting out of bed. He threw on a dressing gown and went to the windows, his arms folded over his chest. "If I had told him everything even yesterday, things would have been different. They would be different now."
"You don't know that," Hermione returned, pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "Steven may have reacted exactly the same."
"Did you see him, Hermione? He hates me! Wants to be as far away from me as he possibly can. He wouldn't even look at me."
"He's upset, Draco. Give him time. It's a lot to absorb, a lot to think about."
Draco fisted his hair. "I don't know what happens next! What do I do? Should I give him space? For how long? Do I try and talk to him again? What do I say? What can I say that I haven't already?"
"You have to wait, love. Give him time to come to you."
"What if he doesn't?"
He looked at her intently, his eyes blazing. "What if he doesn't?"
Hermione sighed and then shrugged. "I have to believe he will. Steven is a good kid, and you are a good father. It's natural for you to be worried about this because of the relationship you had with your father. You never would have gone to him with any problems, but you are not Lucius and Steven is not you. You have a wonderful bond with Steven. I trust that the two of you will get through this."
Draco stared out the window and after a few seconds he opened it and deeply inhaled the scent of the sea. The wind blew through his hair and the stars were like brilliant crystals dotting the sky. He was reminded of the night many, many years before when Hermione had first kissed him. A wave of calm passed through him at the memory. Before that moment, he hadn't dared entertain the idea that something with her was possible, and he certainly never in his wildest dreams could have imagined he would share his life with her.
He felt Hermione's presence a fraction of a second before she snaked her arms around him. Draco pulled her around to stand between the window and he and held her tightly. He breathed in the scent of her hair and almost laughed: she smelled a bit of the carrots that Emma had eaten for dinner.
"You never let me tell you why I'm proud of you," Hermione said softly.
"You told Steven you are a good person. I don't recall hearing you say that before."
Draco rested his chin lightly on the top of her head. "I haven't."
"You believe yourself, don't you?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at him.
He didn't respond right away. "Yes, mostly," he said finally. "Of course, today wasn't a stellar example. I hadn't had a violent thought in almost thirteen years until I heard what Corlin was saying and saw how it affected Steven. Then I wanted to rip his tongue out and make him eat it, and then go to his home and eviscerate Zabini."
"Draco!" Hermione said with a shocked laugh.
"I'm not joking! When I realized where my train of thought was headed I almost laughed, but it was the least funny thing in the world. Then the thought even recurred as the evening went on. Of course I would never do it…. Do you think I should say something to Zabini at least?"
"You had a very natural reaction: the desire to cause pain to someone who was hurting your child. I imagine you just have a broader cache from which to pull images and ideas. I, for example, would simply think of hexing the boy and sending Zabini a cursed Howler that would make it impossible for him to ever procreate again."
"And no, I do not think you should say something. What could you say? 'Don't tell your son the truth?' That's the complete opposite of what we want for our family."
Draco's smile faded. "I would tell him not to poison his kids with horrible ideas about other people. Not only do I know what that's like firsthand, I cannot fathom a reason why Zabini would need to tell his family anything about my life or me. He's probably angry over … well, everything, even though he did get off easy."
"You get significantly more positive attention than he ever has or will because of all that you did to end the war. If he's jealous, well, then he shouldn't have become a Death Eater."
"Still," said Draco. "I don't know if I can simply let it go."
"You can and you should," Hermione replied. "You're a good man, Draco. Far better than Zabini. Don't stoop to his level. It would not end well."
Something inside Draco surged at her words and he felt impossibly happy and invincible, as though her belief in him alone could propel him to do or be anything. "No, it wouldn't," he said quietly.
Hermione turned around in his arms and kissed him slowly and sweetly. He allowed her tender ministrations for as long as he could bear and then hungrily deepened the kiss, pulling her tightly against him and savoring the feeling of her soft, warm body flush against his. She returned his fervor, her hands making their way to the hem of his shirt.
When she started kissing his neck, Draco leaned into her touch and he whispered raggedly, "Tell me again."
Hermione stopped and looked at him. "You're a good man. The best I have ever known."
Draco stared at her for a few seconds, overcome by powerful feelings of love and adoration for his wife, and then picked her up and carried her the short distance to the bed.
Two days later Draco was in Diagon Alley after work to purchase a few things at the Apothecary. Hermione had given him a list of ingredients she needed for her current research project and it was easier for him to get them than for her to pack up Emma and make the trip.
He stood not so patiently in line, waiting for the person in front of him to decide whether she wanted the Australian leeches or Slovakian. But then of course, there were always Brazilian leeches to consider as well. As he stood, his frustration grew. If she took much longer, he might not make the four o'clock train. On particularly difficult days, Draco took the train from London toward his home for as long as it took to calm his nerves. Then he would get off at the next station and Apparate home.
Just as the shop owner was pulling out the Siberian leeches, Draco had had enough. He stepped to the counter beside the woman and said, "If you're brewing the Potency Potion, go with the Brazilian; if it's the Impotency Potion, use the Australian. Otherwise, save your money and get regular English leeches."
The woman appeared quite shocked at his behavior and after glancing nervously between Draco and the man behind the counter, she sheepishly pointed to the Australian leeches. Draco smirked and waited beside her as she quickly paid the two Galleons, 13 sickles for the item, and then hurried out of the shop.
Draco deposited his wares on the counter and the shop owner wordlessly began to ring them up.
"Well, well. Look who it is," came a snide, drawling voice.
Draco slowly turned around and found himself face to face with the very object of his recent violent thoughts. "Zabini," he said curtly, turning back to the counter.
"Haven't see you in a while. What are you up to these days?" Zabini asked.
Draco did not have any desire to speak further to his former friend and tried to send the owner nonverbal clues that he would appreciate it if things could be sped up. "Not much," he said.
Zabini moved so that he was directly behind Draco and spoke so that the shop owner couldn't hear. "Heard our boys had a bit of a dust-up the other day. I was glad to hear no one was hurt."
Draco didn't believe that for one second and then a very unsettling thought occurred to him. Over the years since the war, Zabini had shown himself to be the kind of man who would do anything, good or bad, for attention from the wizarding world. He had been through two nasty and very public divorces, had donated a large sum of money to a post-war charity and then filed for bankruptcy six months later. His most recent wife was a very beautiful witch with a reputation for infidelity and Zabini was likely biding his time until the opportune moment to make his split with her. In each of his previous splits, he was portrayed as the victim.
Draco's blood boiled at the idea and he scowled at Zabini. "I'm sure you were."
"Maybe next time," Zabini returned, any false mirth he might have had completely gone, his eyes dark and dangerous.
It was entirely possible that Zabini had told his son about Draco's past and given him specific instructions to taunt and goad Steven Malfoy whenever he had the chance, to the point that Steven would retaliate and start a fight. Zabini would surely make it appear, to the endless supply of reporters whom he would tell about the incident, as though Steven were following in Draco's footsteps with a tendency toward violence. He would then try to make sure Draco's reputation, which he had worked so hard to restore since the end of the war, would be tarnished, showing once and for all that a Death Eater is always a Death Eater.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Draco said, turning to face the other man. "A chance to see my name brought down a bit?"
Zabini grinned evilly. "It's only a matter of time, Malfoy. Everyone is merely holding their breath, just waiting for you to screw up. I admit, you've done quite a number to the odds, lasting all this time, but people know you. They know your father, where you come from. You'll out yourself, and sooner rather than later."
Draco knew this conversation was headed nowhere, and fast. He knew he should back away, collect his purchases, and leave. As he stared at Zabini's smug expression, thoughts of Steven filled his mind: his son's innocent face, bright green eyes and full head of curly hair …. Nothing was important enough to hurt his son.
"That's three Galleons, four sickles, twenty-three knuts, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco turned back to the shop owner and doled out the correct change. Quickly the man bagged his ingredients and handed it to him.
"Stay away from my son," Draco said menacingly to Zabini once the shop owner had vacated the counter. "And keep your son's mouth shut."
"He can say whatever he feels the need to say, Malfoy." Zabini lowered his voice. "Just remember: I'm watching you, waiting for you to mess up, and I will make sure the entire world hears about it."
Walk away, walk away! the good part of his brain was screaming at him but it simply wasn't loud enough to be heard over the rushing in his ears.
"The same way you make sure everyone hears about how many times you get screwed over? Do you have Rita Skeeter on-call via Floo? How do you manage to get your sordid affairs written up every single time—you can't be that good in bed … even Skeeter must have standards."
He didn't know why he said Rita Skeeter's name, why he implied anything at all; he was just so angry that he wasn't even thinking. However, he must have struck a nerve because Zabini clenched his jaw and before Draco knew what had happened, he was lying on the floor of the shop, staring at the ceiling and, quite literally, seeing stars in his vision.
Then Zabini's face was inches in front of his and his nose began to throb painfully. He felt something warm sliding down his face and knew that his nose was bleeding. His head also felt fuzzy and he figured he had hit his head when he fell and might have a concussion.
"You don't know anything, Malfoy," Zabini snarled. "Keep your traitorous, Muggle-loving, pompous mouth shut. If your little halfblood brat so much as looks at my son wrong, your name will be mud, just like your nasty, tramp wife."
He spat in Draco's face and then left the shop before Draco could respond.
"And you didn't hit him?" Hermione asked, running her wand over Draco's head to make sure she had completely healed the concussion.
"No," he said, holding a rag to his still bleeding nose.
Hermione crossed her arms and looked at him sternly. "You must have done something for him to hit you."
"I told you! I only implied that he was sleeping with Skeeter, and he went nuts. I reckon I hit pretty close to the mark, if not spot on." He shuddered. "That's disgusting. She was too old when we were fourteen. She's got to be … forty years older than he is!"
Hermione shook her head, a look of disgust on her face. "Nearly thirty, I think. I remember in our fourth year she was in her early forties."
Unbidden, images of the dark, mysterious Zabini rolling around in a bed with acid-green, silk sheets with a pale, blond woman ran through Draco's mind. Skeeter's age was exaggerated and he shook his head to clear the images. His gaze met Hermione's and he could tell she'd had the same run of thoughts as he. They both laughed and Hermione turned her attention to his nose.
"I think it's broken," Draco said.
Just then they heard the fireplace roar to life and Steven stepped through with his schoolbag over his shoulder. He looked up to see Hermione's wand pointed at Draco's nose, a bloody rag in Draco's hand. The three looked at each other for a few seconds and then Steven hurried up the stairs and into his room.
Draco groaned when he heard the door shut. "Great. Just what I needed him to see: proof of my violent behavior."
"Maybe you should talk to him," Hermione said as she silently cast the spell that would right his nose.
He felt warmth spread from the tip of his nose toward his face and felt a slight jarring when the bones slid back into place. "Thanks, love," he said, reaching up and giving his nose a tweak. "Right as rain."
He stood up from the chair on which he had been sitting and looked in the direction of the stairs. He wasn't sure if he should talk to Steven now, or wait until he eventually came to him, as Hermione continued to insist he would do. After a few moment's of consideration, Draco sighed, cast Hermione a resigned look, and went into the reading room.
Layla came through the fire then and Hermione listened as she relayed what she had learned in school that day.
The next day Draco stayed late at work and when he returned home he was exhausted. He kissed Hermione on the forehead as she was helping Layla with her homework, and went outside. He stood on the porch for a few minutes, still in his work robes, before heading down onto the grass near the cliff. He removed the heavy outer robe and folded it neatly, then sat on the grass and pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms loosely around them.
He realized he was getting his nice trousers dirty, but he didn't care enough to get up. The sun was low in the sky over the water and Draco shut his eyes to breathe deeply of the rhythm of the earth. The smell of the sea, the sound of the water pulsing, beating against the cliff as though the earth was breathing. He hadn't taken the train that day, wanting to be home as soon as he could, so he was thankful that nature had the same effect of calming his nerves and washing away the strain of the day.
Steven still had not spoken a word to Draco since the day of his confession. Three days had passed and Draco was growing increasingly disoriented. His thoughts were so focused on his son, on preparing answers for questions Steven might ask, that he was finding it difficult to concentrate at work. He couldn't read, he was easily distracted, and he was having trouble sleeping.
Draco reached up and loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. He heard the porch door open and shut and thought it was Hermione, come to ask him to make dinner. He waited for her call but instead heard a very soft, "Hi, daddy."
He whirled around to find his son standing on the bottom porch step, biting his lip. Draco's heart started pounding furiously and a thrill of apprehension pulsed through him.
"Hello, son," he said.
"May I sit with you?"
"Of course," Draco answered, indicating the ground beside him.
Steven walked over and sat down, pulling his knees up the way Draco had. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Draco's mind in overdrive wondering what his son would say or ask, and fearful that things would never be the same between them. Memories flooded his mind of things they had done together, going on walks around the house and always coming back with a collection of either leaves, sticks, or bugs, playing Quidditch in the yard, reading together on the porch. More than anything, Draco hoped that these things would continue.
"I went to Uncle Harry's today," Steven said finally.
Draco's eyes widened in surprise. "Oh?"
"Mum let me miss school."
Draco was so stunned he didn't respond. For Hermione to allow Steven to miss school was one thing, but then she had let him go to the Potters as well.
"I asked Uncle Harry about you," Steven continued.
"I like Uncle Harry. He's funny and he lets me eat biscuits before lunch."
"Don't tell your mother," Draco responded. It might have been a test, to see how Draco would react since Hermione usually did not let their children eat sweets before meals. It might also have been a way for Steven to see how Draco would react to Harry being the one allowing the biscuits.
"Do you like Uncle Harry?"
"Yes, I do. He is a very good person and a friend. He was the first person after Hermione's parents to give me a chance."
"I asked him to tell me all about you and his story was similar to Mum's. You were awful in school and then you joined the Death Eaters."
Draco cringed at hearing the title from his child's lips and subconsciously rubbed his marred arm.
"He didn't hear much about you, except in reports of things you had done," Steven continued. "They weren't very nice things. But then you turned yourself in and told him you wanted to work with him to defeat Voldemort. He accepted and you eventually became friends, then very good friends. Right?"
"He told me how many times you saved his life, and got hurt so that he wouldn't."
Despite feeling as though he might be sick at any moment, he smiled. "Your mum learned healing magic and saved my life a few times."
"He told me you never hurt Mum. Except when you let her think her parents were dead."
"One thing you have to know is that I didn't do what I did for your mother. I knew my plan would affect her, and I accepted it. I did it for me, because I detested my life working for Voldemort. Over the months I spent with Harry and Hermione, I ... grew to love her, and she couldn't resist my devastating wit and good looks."
Steven frowned. "I thought she kissed you first. Uncle Harry told me."
Draco chuckled. "Yes, she did. She took a chance on me and I didn't think I deserved it, but she disagreed." He chuckled. "You know what Mum is like when she and I disagree about something. Merlin, I love that woman."
He glanced to his right at Steven and saw him smiling. Draco felt good. The conversation was going well, and Steven was being very mature, which wasn't terribly surprising because he was also Hermione's son.
"I knew your life wasn't always good," Steven said quietly, as though worried about how Draco would react.
"What do you mean?" Draco asked, feeling surprised and slightly unnerved.
Steven shifted and crossed his legs, looking at the ground. "Before you and Mum put Silencing Charms on your room, when I was younger. You had ... dreams. I heard you yelling things ... Like 'don't hurt her' or 'let him go' or ... worse things. You always sounded really scared; sometimes I thought someone was in the house.
"But then you would stop yelling and after a few minutes, Mum would come into my room and check on me. Usually I pretended to be asleep, but once she caught me awake and told me you had just had a bad dream."
Steven paused. "Mum never had dreams like that."
Draco felt slightly numb, amazed at Steven's perceptiveness.
"No," he said simply.
"Do you still have them?"
Draco sighed. "Yes, though not nearly as often as I used to."
"What happened to your nose yesterday?" Steven asked.
"I'm glad you asked. I didn't want you to think I go out picking fights."
"You got in a fight?" he asked in an awed voice.
"Sort of. It was mostly verbal, but I said something the other bloke didn't like and he hit me. I wasn't ready for him, and I certainly wanted to hit him back. I reckon it's a good thing he hit me so hard that I couldn't retaliate."
"Did it hurt?"
"Yeah, it did, but I've had worse."
"When you were a Death Eater?"
Draco cringed again. "Yes."
"Are there still Death Eaters?"
He took a few minutes to consider how best to answer the question. "Death Eaters worked for Voldemort, and he is dead. However, there are still people who have the same ideas that Voldemort had. There are still people who think wizards and witches should have pure blood, that people like your mum shouldn't be allowed to learn magic."
"Are you pureblood?"
"No, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that you are a good wizard and you don't use magic to hurt people, that you are accepting of those who are different from you." Draco smiled at Steven. "I'm not worried about that in the least. You're already a much better person than I was at your age."
Steven frowned. "Corlin said something about dirty blood. That I had dirty blood."
Draco clenched his jaw and wished once again he had hit Zabini. "There is a word that people like Death Eaters use for people like your mother, who have Muggles parents. Do you know it?"
"I don't want to ever hear you say it, do you understand? Not even among your friends, or as a joke, or in any way. Promise me."
"I promise, dad."
"The correct word is Muggleborn, but the bad word is Mudblood."
"Yes. they don't have pure blood, so people say it's impure, or dirty."
"So Corlin said I was a Mudblood?"
"Not exactly ... he was referring to Mum."
It was Steven's turn now to get angry. "He insulted Mum? I should have hit him."
Draco partly agreed. "I need you to promise me something else, Steven, and this is very important. I want you to stay away from Corlin Zabini. I don't want you to be around him at all. Promise me."
"No fighting, especially with him. Promise."
"I promise, Dad."
They had veered from the original topic and Draco wasn't sure if they would return. He needed to know where he stood with Steven.
"The sky is really pretty," said Steven.
The sun was nearing the horizon and the sky was brilliant with shades of pink, purple, orange and blue.
"Yeah, it is," he replied.
"Dad, about everything. Sorry I've been avoiding you lately. I had a lot to think about."
"Don't be sorry," Draco said hastily. "I told you to take all the time you needed."
"Uncle Harry helped me understand a lot about your past. You don't really talk about your family that much. I don't really understand everything, but I know enough, and I've known you my whole life. I think you're a good dad."
Tears pricked Draco's eyes and his throat tightened. "Thank you."
"I love you, Dad, and ... you said you hoped I would forgive you. I do."
Draco looked at Steven, who was watching him, and stopped fighting the tears. He reached over and ruffled Steven's hair, then pulled him into an awkward hug.
"I love you, Steven. I always will. Mum will too."
Steven nodded in his arms.
"Your name ... Malfoy ... will probably cause problems for you when you go to Hogwarts. A lot of people don't understand what happened, and some don't really think I've changed, even after all these years. I want you to be the best you can be. I know you've going to make us … make me … proud."
Draco let Steven go and smiled at him. "Want to help me with dinner?" Draco asked.
"Yeah. Will you help me with my homework after dinner?"
"Absolutely. Oh, there goes the sun."
Draco stuffed his hands in his pockets and stood beside Steven as the sun finally sank below the edge of their part of the earth. They watched the light begin to drain from the sky for a few moments.
"Well, we should get on dinner," said Draco finally. "Let's go." They both turned and started toward the house. "So what are we working on tonight?"
"Math. I don't get it."
Draco laughed. "I don't blame you. Are you going to play football next year? It'll be your last, you know."
"Yeah, it's fun. Not as much as Quidditch, though."
" Of course not," said Draco. "I like watching you play though. Want to go to the park this weekend, practice?"
They reached the porch and Draco opened the door. When he saw Hermione, he smiled, putting all he felt into it, wanting his smile to speak for him. She smiled back, lighting the room, and he knew she understood.
Disclaimer: Even after all this time, I don't own Harry Potter.
Note: I received a scene request from The Wandering Star on FF that got stuck in my head and wouldn't leave me alone. I decided to write it and then decided to post it on the one-year anniversary of the day I posted chapter one of We Learned the Sea. I thought it would be a nice little anniversary present to all my amazing reviewers. I hope you enjoyed it.
Beta thanks to eilonwy, as always, for agreeing to meet my self-imposed deadline, for helping me through the rough spots, and all the usual stuff she does to make this story better.