Title: A Book and a Candle
Warnings: Fluffiness/Vague Mentions of Character Death
Summary: On particularly stressful evenings at Grimmauld Place, Hermione finds solace in a very unsurprising pastime.
Disclaimer: The characters contained in this fanfiction are the sole property of J.K. Rowling, her publishers, their publishing houses, and the fine studio of Warner Bros. and subsidiaries. I will in no way sell or reproduce this story for profit. In no way will any funds be made from the writing of this work.
The door to his small, but adequate, bedroom opened and Hermione Granger walked through, a large tome in one hand and a candle in the other. Quietly she lit the candle with a flick of match and, and then settled down into the very rickety rocker she'd transfigured months ago. It always made him wonder why she'd done so poorly in making the rocker somewhat appealing, and the sodding thing creaked terribly when she moved back and forth.
Draco Malfoy wasn't a fool though and knew better than to question her. He was living on borrowed time as it was, having been taken in by the Order a year prior. He had his own room, because no one else wanted to be within a meter of him unless they had to be, and for the most part he was safe from the one person that could harm him without qualms, Voldemort. No one spoke to him without extreme effort, which meant in general he knew nothing about the workings of the Order or anything about their members. This also meant no knowledge of the war, which could be over or going on indefinitely for all Draco knew. Yet, a rather ugly rocker, a small bedroom with an equally small bed, and sharing a loo with ten other people wasn't too terribly bad. Even the lack of human contact was something he eventually got used to. Draco could very well have been lying at the feet of the Dark Lord, being prepared as a tasty dish for that greedy snake he called a pet instead of hiding at Grimmauld Place.
This was actually pretty normal however, Hermione's visit. She had started barging in on him only a few days after he arrived. At first she had been silent and only read to herself. The fact that she was supposed to be watching him, making sure he wasn't some decoy or plant that Voldemort had sent to bring chaos to the Order wasn't lost on Draco. However, it was meekly sit and watch the Mudblood read, or the streets. Simply recalling the last time his now departed, former professor Snape had seen Voldemort was enough to make Draco hold his tongue. Granger was a most welcomed sight compared to what he had witnessed the night before the Order had found him.
Draco eventually realized that Hermione had started coming on her own the day Weasley peered into the room, offered a rather dark glare in his direction, and then pestered Hermione until she gave in, closed her book, and shuffled after him. It was very obvious that she wasn't simply there with him because she was forced to be. In fact, it looked as though she was exactly where Weaselbee hadn't expected to find her.
After that interruption it was weeks before he saw Granger again, but when he did it was in the middle of the night, and she wasn't exactly quiet either. She'd stormed through his bedroom door with a candle in one hand and a large dusty book in the other. Lighting the candle she'd curled up in the rocker and began to read aloud. For a moment Draco had gaped at her, not believing that she was actually speaking to him, albeit reading like she was a prissy professor, but speaking nonetheless.
She had read to him until morning, Draco having had the good sense not interrupt her. It was just when the sun was starting to creep over the horizon that there was a commotion below. Hermione stopped in mid-sentence, slammed the book closed, and disappeared just as noisily as she had invaded the night before. It hadn't set well with Draco that he'd felt a little bit lonely after she'd left. He wondered if he had enjoyed this last visit more because she had read to him, actually acknowledged him as a human being instead of ignoring him.
Though her visits were infrequent, Draco came to realize that there was a pattern. Granger rarely, if ever, missed a chance to accompany Potter and Weasley on a mission for the Order. It was one of the things Draco had always, if not grudgingly, respected about her, her courage and determination. However, there were times that it simply wasn't plausible for Granger to be at their sides, so that was when she descended upon Draco and read.
It seemed to calm her, keep her mind off of the certain dangers her two best friends were facing. Draco also learned to judge her moods by her literary choices. If the mission was going to be quick and efficient, Granger opted for something light and witty. Some of Shakespeare's comedies seemed to be her favorites. If the mission would be long, but yet nothing too terribly perilous, Granger had in tow mystery novels, sometimes even terribly transparent ones, but they were a change of pace. Sherlock Holmes wasn't as bright as the Muggles who read about him seemed to think, but it was a story, and Granger was company.
However, when the missions were going to prove lengthy, exceptionally dangerous, and there was the very descent chance that someone wouldn't come back alive, Granger always brought a set of books, sometimes dark fantasy, sometimes maudlin nineteenth century Muggle works, other times ancient books on magical theory. Draco would have rather eaten several vomit and dragon dung Bertie and Bott's Every Flavored Beans than admit it, but magical theory was rather interesting. He had allowed Granger far too much leeway into his life as it were, letting her sit and read to him as if they were actually friendly.
Tonight, however, she had only one book with her, her favorite, Hogwarts: A History. Draco immediately straightened from his lounging position on the bed. The book was almost too big for her to carry, which meant it was an early edition, and possibly the largest book he'd ever seen. Something was terribly wrong. Hermione only read to him to pass the time, Draco suspected. If she was toting that great mass of ink and parchment then she intended to truly escape into her reading, and she intended to be reading for quite a while.
"Granger?" Draco didn't actually expect her to answer him, but he had to pose the question all the same.
"Hogwarts: A History," Hermione began, having to clear her throat once and strengthen her tone. "Third edition."
Draco fell silent. Granger never faltered when she read aloud. She was always confident, her voice clear, and if he wanted to admit it to himself he found her self-assurance comforting. With a great feeling of unease, Draco settled back on his bed again and pretended to listen as Hermione began to plow through the text.
After an hour he still wasn't really listening. The entire history of the Founders proved to be tedious, and Draco was forced to admit he was more interested in watching Hermione than paying attention to the words. Her fingers shook when she turned a page, she sighed many times, and she kept checking something on her wrist.
Having spent many months confined to his room except for the two hours a day he was allowed to roam downstairs and for meals, Draco had become quite good at spotting Hermione's habits when she graced him with a visit. He had plenty of time to analyze them in his solitude, and it was the most interesting pastime he could think of. Letting memories of his past life come to the surface made him rather sick to his stomach, and it was better if he forced thoughts of his mother and father from his mind. They were dead, and Draco never asked about them, where they were buried or the details, and he never thought about them. Out of sight, out of mind.
So that left Hermione Studying as a way to make the minutes fly by. Draco had come to think of her a pretty if not some stunning, diamond of the first water beauty. There was more than beauty that made Granger intriguing; her mind was the most beautiful thing about her and her compassion. She had to be compassionate to even bother with him considering the hell he had put her friends and herself through. Still, it wasn't hard to appreciate the fact that her hair was just wild by nature, making her seem a bit untamed as well. Her eyes were a soft and fathomless brown that rarely fell on him with scorn in their depths any longer, and watching her perfectly curved mouth while she read could almost make him seem rather pervy. He was barely past twenty however, and decided it was allowed. Thoughts couldn't hurt, a few fantasies made the nights a little less lonely.
Suddenly, Granger fell silent, and the massive book fell to the floor with a resounding thud. Her small shoulders began to shake quietly, and though only a solitary candle illuminated the room, there were glistening track of tears visible on each cheek. Tears were something Draco was pants at handling. They terrified him because they meant weakness and fear. Granger wasn't supposed to be afraid. She was a fearless, honorable, Gryffindor. If Granger was afraid, something was happening, something terrible, and he could only imagine that it must involve Potter facing the Dark Lord. Perhaps it was the final battle. Perhaps this would all end.
Granger was afraid of that possibility. It was the only explanation. Killing Voldemort for Potter might prove too destructive for his own good. Voldemort was indeed a very powerful and driven wizard. Potter would not have an easy time of it. Granger knew this and probably more and that was why she was huddled in her disgustingly common rocking chair.
It was a rash decision, but Draco didn't stop himself once he was off the bed and walking toward the fallen book. He bent to retrieve it, settled down on the floor in a very uncomfortable looking pose, and held the book up to the light so he could see the words. Surprising even himself, he began to read aloud.
Over his voice, that sounded somewhat rusty from lack of use, and his tone was almost nasally, Granger's sniffling and shallow sobs grew a bit more quiet. Draco decided that even if he had to talk to himself he would start making certain he didn't lose the smooth timbre of his voice. It was an instrument after all.
The sun came up, and still he read, wondering how and why someone would find the topic of what each stair in a staircase meant. Honestly, didn't people have better things to do than test stairs? There was a knock on the door a while after light came filtering through his window, and when Hermione made no move to answer, Draco paused, held his place, and opened it. There were two heaping plates of bangers and mash, along with pumpkin juice, and some very fruity looking tarts. Mrs. Weasley was a bright one. Draco had to commend her for that. At least she hadn't come barging in and whisked Hermione away like her son was so fond of doing.
They ate in companionable silence, Draco finishing first, and he quickly snatched up the book and continued on. Lunch was served in the same manner, and they persisted in their vigil, trips to the loo excluded. By the time dinner would be hot and on the table, Draco had made it almost to the end. There were only four more chapters remaining that centered around the impact of the Goblin Wars on Hogwarts and what the qualifications were for Professors and Headmasters.
Taking a much needed breath, Draco had started to forge ahead when he felt a soft hand covering his own. Immediately he stiffened, but looked up questioningly at Granger. She took the book out of his hands and placed it back on the table next to the candle. The wax had burnt down hours ago. Granger could really show her Muggle tendencies when she wanted. It would have taken all of ten seconds to mutter a spell that would have had the candle burning indefinitely.
"I think we should go down to dinner," Hermione said with a hint of trepidation in her voice.
Draco was more than stunned at the request, but not wanting to see her dissolve into a fit of tears again, wordlessly complied. It took him a moment to gain his balance after having sat on the floor in such a cramped position. Hermione waited patiently at the door, and Draco did not fail to notice the candleholder and book being left behind.
Downstairs there was a somber, if not utterly dismal, air about Grimmauld Place. It was as much as he had expected. What little information he managed to get from hushed whispers and sometimes the occasional Daily Prophet lying about, the war was harrowing and there were casualties on many sides. Draco was fairly certain that his former professor, Lupin, was among the dead, having not smelt Wolfsbane potion brewing for the past five months.
To his surprise, however, everyone was sitting at the expanded table, readily eating; everyone, except Potter and Weasley and Mr. Weasley. That was what caused Draco to actually stop in his tracks and glance to his side to judge how Hermione was going to take their absence. She was still nervous, biting her lower lip and taking in a deep breath before she sat down, but nothing else betrayed her earlier tearful lapse.
Draco was hesitant to sit at all. He had only once been invited to eat with the Weasley's and other Order members, and that was only because it was Christmas. There was no special occasion today that he was aware of, other than Potty and Weaslebee were missing. Again, not one to question his rare good fortune, Draco sat next to Hermione, earning pointed glares from the twins, Fred and George, and a very speculative grimace from Ginny. The others ignored him.
Everyone remained silent, as though it were a wake instead of a dinner among friends and family. Draco was aware that he fell into neither of those categories. It was right at the moment Mrs. Weasley was summoning the dessert that two loud thuds could be heard coming from the front room and then Potter and Weasley appeared, dusting off soot and Floo powder.
Neither spoke. Ron kissed his mother on the cheek, then Ginny, acknowledged Fred and George, and then other Order members, Tonks, Kingsley, Fletcher, and Moody. To Hermione he said nothing and made for the kitchen. Potter gave Hermione a tight-lipped smile, pulled a roll of parchment from his robes, and then surprising Draco, dropped it next to his plate.
"I've done my part Hermione," Potter said evenly. "Don't ever expect me to do more or even ask me to."
Draco saw Hermione only nod, and then she was unrolling the parchment while Harry took a seat next to Ginny, who squeezed his hand affectionately and placed a kiss on his lips. Draco couldn't be bothered to watch for other displays from Potty and his She-Weasel. He was much more interested in the parchment and the mystery surrounding Ron's obvious snub of Hermione.
Still saying nothing, Hermione laid the unrolled parchment in front of Draco. It was Ministry stamped and sealed. The writing was as formal as the missives his father once got when he was on the Board of Governors at Hogwarts. However, it was the bold and black words Official Pardon, which caught Draco's eye. Reading hastily through the long and very wordy post, Draco became more and more aware of every person's gaze resting on him. He didn't care. Somewhere, somehow, something had gone right. Someone had cared enough to tell the truth and he was free, exceptionally poor, as Malfoy Manor was now and into the foreseeable future the property of the Ministry, but he was a free man.
Extenuating circumstances, that was the reason and for once it was actually true. He'd been forced to comply with Voldemort; having faced the possibility of losing both his parents in the process were he to fail. He had failed and from the letter of pardon he realized that part of his leniency stemmed from their deaths. Being forced into the malevolent service of the Dark Lord at such a young age, and holding his parents' fate in his hands served as a deciding factor in his pardon, that, and Harry Potter's testimony explaining how Draco had lowered his wand and not cast the Killing Curse at Dumbledore. Draco didn't care how Potter knew that information, didn't care how he knew as much as he obviously had. The testimony of Harry James Potter had swayed the Wizengamot to reach their decision swiftly and fairly.
Mrs. Weasley smiled at him briefly and returned to her dinner when Draco looked up once more. He scanned the table again; almost silently asking if the parchment he held was real or a sick joke. Mr. Weasley must have come to the table late along with Weasley and Potter, because he was just now taking a seat next to Molly. He offered Draco a small smile, but reassuring nonetheless.
"It's real my boy. Harry and Ron both testified and they couldn't rightly haul you off to that prison with all of those memories Snape and Dumbledore had in their Pensieves," Arthur explained.
It was all too much to take in. He was free. Draco Malfoy could leave Grimmauld Place on his own, without worrying about an Auror or Ministry official coming down on him. There would probably be Death Eaters and their children who had escaped prosecution as before, but Draco could handle that particular threat. He wasn't going to Azkaban. He wasn't going to live among wailing witches and wizards all driven mad by Dementors.
The realization swept over him slowly at first. It was something else that hit him with such staggering force that he nearly tumbled from his chair. Draco looked at the parchment and then at Hermione, who was nervously picking at a mince pie. Everything made sense now, and yet it didn't.
The war was over, and Draco hadn't been told, that much he was certain of or else the atmosphere would have been much more gloomy. Hermione hadn't been worried about Potter and Weasley, she had been worried about him, Draco Malfoy, and the trial he hadn't even known he was facing. The thought of him going to Azkaban had upset her to the point of tears, to the point of mucking through an old copy of Hogwarts: A History. It was humbling, it was unbelievable, and it was telling in more ways than one. As arrogant and selfish as Draco was, and always would be, even he felt unworthy of such emotion.
Having barely touched his food, Draco muttered an excuse and left the table. He had to leave and quickly. It wouldn't do to take charity from Potter of all people. He would have to find a place to stay and a job. Merlin, that sounded plebian, and it made him shiver in disgust. All that mattered now was leaving, getting as far away from them all as possible, especially Hermione Granger.
He hadn't made it to the top of the stairs when he heard her following him. Quickening his pace, Draco tried to make it to his room and had every intention of shutting the door, but upon entering his eyes fell on the book and the candle. They were staunch reminders of Hermione's caring and her concern. Damn the Mudblood for making him actually want to thank her, and damn himself for being so terribly stubborn to try and stop himself from doing just that.
"Where will you go?" Hermione asked him, and Draco hated that she had been able to read him so well. He hated himself a little too for admittedly deciding to leave without offering goodbyes.
"Anywhere that's far away from here. I'm not staying under Potter's roof any longer than I have too," Draco stated, walking over to the tiny window to peer out. The sun was going down and people below were bundling themselves against the cold. It would be a very chilly night on the streets, but there was nothing keeping him here now.
"My parents inherited a townhouse from my father's aunt last summer. It's here in London. I'm going to move there in the morning," Hermione explained without being asked. "It's time for me to get away too. It's time to start over."
"Aren't you afraid Weasley will have something to say about you being so terribly far away from his Burrow?" Draco sneered and winced at the obvious jealousy that tinged the question.
"Ron, as you saw, isn't speaking to me. I doubt he will for sometime, but I can accept that. I did the right thing by convincing them to testify. I did the right thing by unlocking Snape and Dumbledore's Pensieves. You're many things Malfoy, but a killer was never one of them."
She sounded so sincere that he had to look at her, maybe for the last time as far as he knew. Hermione had a bright and promising life ahead of her; she also had the wizarding world at her feet if she wanted it.
"So the war is over then. Thanks oh so terribly for informing me," Draco tried to snarl to cover other tender feelings that were surfacing. He wasn't going to miss her, not one bit. He wasn't. If he kept telling himself that he might mean it. Someday.
"I didn't want to get your hopes up," Hermione said simply and sat back in her rocker. "I knew there would be a trial and I didn't want you worry about that on top of everything else."
"Since when do you care what I worry about?" Draco asked, genuinely interested.
"I saw Snape's memories. I saw what Voldemort did to him, to you, to your mother," Hermione whispered and Draco was very alarmed to hear the catch in her throat, a telltale sign of more tears threatening to fall.
"I couldn't let you go to Azkaban. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself. You had to make a choice no one could possibly have made and you did so to protect your mother most of all," Hermione continued, sniffing once and dashing away a tear from under her right eye. "Harry was stubborn, but he even agreed with me, and Ron, well after a few days of sulking and a few talks with his mum, he saw the way of it."
"You should go," Draco whispered. If she left right now he could walk away. Maybe he could utter a thank you and walk away. He'd lived without anyone for so long and he didn't need anyone now. No, that wasn't true, he'd had her. He knew Hermione would come to read, he knew she alone would make an effort.
"You're welcome to the spare room at the townhouse. Mum and Dad will be coming this weekend and will probably ask questions, but like everyone else they can either like it or not. I haven't been ashamed of what I've done these last few years. I'm not going to start being ashamed now," Hermione said with conviction.
"You're offering me a room?" Draco asked dumbly. "Won't that rather conflict with your desire to please Potty and Weaslebee?"
"You'll pay me rent once you find a job and later when you've saved a bit you'll have your own place," Hermione assured him and picked up the forgotten tome off the table. "There are, however, rules. Silly names and taunts won't be allowed. I'm doing you an enormous favor and the least you can do is hold your tongue here and there. You don't like Ron and Harry, which is fine because the feeling, I assure you, is mutual. That doesn't mean that you can talk badly about them in front of me. I expect you to respect them, thank them, and try and maintain some civility when you see them from time to time."
"You've got this all worked out haven't you?" Draco asked in amazement and found himself settling back on the bed, hands clasped behind his head as he drew his feet up and crossed them at the ankles.
"I wasn't sure last night if things would go the way I was hoping. I've never really had much faith in the Ministry, but now that you've been given a clean slate, well I think we're off to a good start."
"We're off to a good start?" Draco asked trying to tramp down that feeling of hope that was building inside of him. It surely was only a figure of speech.
"I intend to be your friend Malfoy, if for no other reason than to flaunt the fact that I managed to get the very Pureblooded, and prejudiced Draco Malfoy to admit to respecting a Muggle-Born," Hermione said sweetly and opened the book to the final chapters. "Now, I think you left off right about here…"
He had to cast a warming charm on his slippers as he slid his feet into them. Draco hated winter. He hated it. He also hated waking up to a cold bed. It was something he'd never get used to, but Hermione was prone to wander at night more times than not. Well, he supposed she had a good reason now, but it still didn't set well with him.
Stumbling down the hall and stubbing his toe on a large, carved, wooden Hippogriff toy, Draco snapped out a curse, reached down to rub his offended toe, and then kicked the Hippogriff out of the way. No matter how many times he told them they never picked their toys up completely. There was always a string of them leading from the nursery to the stairway. They were stubborn, plain and simple.
In case the youngest was asleep, he quietly pushed the door open and peered into the nursery. On the table in the corner next to a rickety old rocker was a candle, nearly burnt to the bottom. In Hermione's lap was a very sleepy, and tousled, four year old, her blonde head pressed against Hermione's breast and her eyes very heavy.
They were reading Bixby's Broom, something that Hermione, at first, hadn't approved of because she feared her children would develop an early affinity for flying. Draco had firmly told her that she couldn't hold them back for fear of falling. Witches and wizards had been learning to fly on brooms for years, many as young as three. It was one of the few arguments he had won. Their eldest, Thaddeus, was most appreciative of his father's interference.
Draco was very tempted to slip back to bed, but there was something so inviting about the scene before him that he crept into the nursery and shut the door soundlessly. There was a larger, much more inviting sitting chair not far from the hideous rocker, and Draco chose to make himself comfortable there. Hermione raised her eyes briefly from the book, acknowledged him with a warm smile, and continued to expound on little Bixby's antics on his new and improved Pristine Potter 2000. Draco had to shake his head briefly. Potter even had Quidditch equipment named after him now.
Hermione's voice was always soothing, and it wasn't long before little Genevieve was fast asleep again. Draco himself had gotten somewhat drowsy listening to her weaving the terribly juvenile tale. He wouldn't have had it any other way however. It was her reading that had brought them together after all. It was times like this that he was perfectly content, with Hermione reading a book by candlelight.