Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, I'm not getting anything out of this story except lots and lots of smiles.
Note: Tremendous thanks to my beta, eilonwy! This story is Soooooooooo much better thanks to you!
A stiff, white card bearing a logo of a wand and a caduceus and the name "Pierce and Pierce" requested the presence of Hermione Granger on November the second at ten in the morning.
It arrived by way of owl post three days before the specified day.
Hermione took the card from the owl, and removed the envelope. She read the front, then frowned and flipped over to the back. There, in small, red, block letters, was an address, somewhere in Muggle London.
"Harry, look at this," she said, when they were at lunch the next day. She, Harry, and Ron made an effort to have lunch together nearly every day. They all worked at the Ministry, Harry and Ron as Aurors, and Hermione in the Department of Muggle Relations.
Harry took the card from Hermione, but after a quick glance, returned it. "I got one too. Only mine says to come that same day at two in the afternoon."
Hermione blinked, then looked at her card. "Really?"
"Yeah. And Ron got one, for the next day."
"Do you have any idea what it's about?" she asked, carefully putting the card in her bag so as not to fold or wrinkle it.
He shook his head. "Not a clue."
"I'm going to do a little investigating. I'm not about to simply keep an appointment sent to me by an anonymous source, with no explanation whatsoever."
Harry grinned. "I was hoping you'd say something like that. You can let me know what it's all about, and I'll decide if I'm going or not."
She glared at him. "It wouldn't hurt you to have a little initiative of your own, you know."
"Why?" he asked, taking a bite of his sandwich. "I've got you."
"We're supposed to wait for Ron," she said, a bit crossly. "And we are very much past the days when you get to rely on me for everything."
"Ron can't make it. He had some meeting or other thing to do."
"Oh," she said, and started eating her own lunch.
"So your appointment is tomorrow. When are you going to look into the card?"
"After lunch," she said. "Work is… dreadfully slow these days, and I asked for an extended lunch. I'll be sure and stop by your office when I have some answers."
Hermione stopped outside a nondescript building with the address 225, Parsons Street. On the glass doors, looking very much like a law office, "Pierce and Pierce" was etched in gold letters. She frowned, and opened the door.
Inside, the floor was marble, and the walls a kind of plaster. There was a receptionist sitting behind a large, mahogany desk; she looked up when the door shut.
"May I help you?" the woman asked.
Hermione walked to the desk. "Yes, I hope so." She pulled the card from her bag. "I received this yesterday, and I wanted to stop by and ask a few questions before deciding to keep this appointment."
The woman glanced at the card and gave Hermione a tired smile. "Ask away."
"What exactly is this place? Why does someone here want to see me? What is the appointment about? Also, some of my friends received cards like this. What does all of this mean?"
The woman handed Hermione a brochure. "I really can't give you details about the actual appointment. It's strictly confidential. But you can read about the organization, if you'd like."
The brochure read "Pierce and Pierce" at the top. Then, just below it, was written "The Melding of Muggle and Wizarding Mind Medicine."
She looked at the woman. "Mind medicine? What's that?"
"Are you familiar at all with Muggle things, dear?" she asked. Hermione nodded. "Then you've heard of psychotherapy?" Again Hermione nodded. "Well, in the Wizarding world, there is a branch of healing called Mind Healing. Our Healers, Pierce and Pierce, wanted to take the best of both worlds and create a place where they could heal people with head disorders."
"So, why am I here?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, but I can't give you that information. It's confidential. You'll find out everything tomorrow when you arrive. Just understand that we specialize in disorders of the mind."
She nodded, feeling more confused than when she entered the building. Hermione opened the brochure and read through the list of services offered. Everything from hypnotism to palm reading, crystal balls, and, as the woman had said, psychotherapy. All of the services were a blend of traditional Muggle methods with the Wizarding alternative. The brochure stressed the owner's desire to provide the best quality care possible, with the most positive outcomes.
Hermione frowned. "This is a Wizarding shrink, basically."
The receptionist smiled dryly. "We've heard that term, from our Muggle patrons. We don't like it."
Hermione almost laughed, but then she started. "Muggle patrons? How – "
"Memory charms. We cure them, and remove their memories of the process. We've had no complaints to date, and we follow them to make sure they are cured and coping."
She nodded, then shook her head in disbelief. "Well, thank you. I suppose I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Excellent. Please be prompt." Then the woman returned to the computer she was working at.
Hermione absently wandered out of the building, reading the brochure. She nearly ran into someone, but he moved just in time to avoid the collision.
"Watch where you're going," a voice snarled, bringing Hermione out of her thoughts. She looked toward the voice, and was more than a little surprised to see Draco Malfoy standing there, glaring at her.
"Oh – I – " She was completely at a loss for words.
"Granger," he said, the malice gone from his voice. "Just – keep your head up when you walk, and out of – books." And then he turned around and continued on his way.
Hermione stood rooted to the spot momentarily. Of all things—of all people—Draco Malfoy, in Muggle London. On the same street as she. Harry and Ron would not believe it.
She returned to her desk at the Ministry and sank down in her chair. She was mentally exhausted, as she'd been running through everything she'd learned and seen since lunch. Malfoy was the biggest mystery of them all.
He had defected to the Order during the War, after some mysterious event in his life that led him to seek asylum from the Dark side. He'd never told anyone about that event, but apparently, the leaders in the Order were convinced of his loyalty.
Malfoy helped in the War, providing information mostly, and sometimes an extra wand in battles. After Voldemort was defeated, he'd been tried, and the results of the trial rendered confidential. No one but those involved knew what had happened. He'd disappeared after the trial, and no one had seen or heard of him in four years.
Yet there he was, in Muggle London, bumping into her. Or rather, she had bumped into him.
Harry and Ron found her story amusing, but didn't seem to think much about Malfoy's mysterious appearance. They were much more interested in the head- healing business, and asked her all kinds of questions about Muggle psychiatry and psychology, although Ron, for all he tried, couldn't say either one correctly.
She told them she planned to keep her appointment, and encouraged them to do the same. They agreed, and returned to their desks.
Hermione sighed, and practically stared at the clock for the rest of the day. When she'd told Harry that business was slow, it was something of an understatement. There basically was no business, and hadn't been any for some months. For the most part, the Wizarding world kept its distance from the Muggle world, and only when communication was absolutely necessary was her job utilized.
Slowly, the clock turned to five, and she packed up her things and ran out of the office to walk out with Harry and Ron.
Hermione was again standing outside 225, Parsons Street the next day, at precisely five minutes to ten. She took a deep breath and opened the door. The same woman was behind the reception desk, and Hermione went to her.
"Hello," she said, "I'm here for an appointment at ten."
The woman glanced at her, then nodded, and gave Hermione a clipboard. "Please fill out these forms. You may sit over there."
She took the clipboard and found a seat. Unlike the day before, the room had a few occupants, all filling out forms she was pretty sure were like hers.
The forms were ridiculous, she thought. They asked for her address, school history, whether she had any enemies (that was almost laughable, it was so true), what the reason was for her visit. When she finished, she returned to the desk.
"Thank you, Miss Granger. Please go through this door and find room twelve. Make sure you knock first."
Hermione nodded, and looked at the door the woman mentioned. It was just a door, but she couldn't help but feel nervous. Her heart started beating a little harder, and her hands got a bit sweaty. She pushed it open and walked through.
The door opened on a plain hallway. The doors were numbered, and she was at door number two. She walked slowly down the hall, as the numbers climbed to twelve. It was at the end of the hall, and she could tell it was significantly nicer than the other rooms. The doorknob was heavier, the wood finer, and the number written more elegantly. She frowned and was about to knock, when she heard voices from inside.
"Mr. Malfoy, you know why we have to do this. I'm sorry, but it's part of the process."
She almost gasped, but caught herself. Malfoy? Here?
He sounded extremely unhappy when he said, "Yes, so you say. But it's bollocks."
"Language, Mr. Malfoy." Hermione's heart was now pounding severely, but she wasn't about to let Malfoy intimidate her. Forcing herself to calm down, she took a few deep breaths, and knocked on the door.
"Come in!" came the voice she didn't recognize.
Cautiously, Hermione opened the door wide and stepped in.
"Ah! You must be Miss Granger," said a middle-aged man with greying hair. He walked around a long conference table to shake hands with her.
"Yes," she said, stiffly.
"I'm Reginald Pierce. It's truly a pleasure to meet you."
She deliberately smiled at the man, and not Malfoy. "Likewise, I'm sure." Of course Malfoy would have one of the Pierces of "Pierce and Pierce" working with him. The tailoring of the man's exquisite suit told her he didn't have to worry about dinner.
"Please, come in and have a seat."
She sat in the seat farthest from Malfoy, still avoiding him.
"Thank you for coming. I hope you're comfortable; I'm afraid you're going to be here for a little while."
Hermione frowned. "How long, exactly?"
"We've scheduled you for a two-hour block. Now, I'm sure you know Mr. Malfoy here." Hermione nodded, and she could sense Malfoy scowling at her. "He has come to us, requesting our services, and part of this twelve-step process is making a list of all persons he has harmed, either physically or verbally, and making direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
She blinked. "I know what that is," she said, amazed. Finally, she looked at Malfoy. "Are you an alcoholic?"
He scoffed, and looked at Pierce, as if to say, "See? I told you so."
"No, Miss Granger. Mr. Malfoy prefers to keep his reasons for being here private. He had made the list, and I must admit, I don't think I've ever seen one quite so long." Hermione smiled, and Malfoy scowled more deeply. "Now, he is going through the process of making amends. You are one of the people on his list."
"Mr. Malfoy, are you ready to begin?"
He took a deep breath, as if to fill his lungs to bursting. "Yes."
Hermione sat up straight in her chair, and looked directly at him with extreme interest.
He glared at her, then pulled out a large stack of parchment. Hermione gasped; it was probably an inch thick. Then he smirked, and started reading.
"You are a Muggleborn. As such, every time I used the word 'Mudblood,' I harmed you. Here follows a list of my uses of the offensive word:
"I first heard the word when I was five, when my father used it in reference to some people he encountered while going about his business. I asked him what it meant, and he told me it was for people who didn't deserve to have magic, people less than myself, in status and skill. He then gave me a list of people who were of pure blood, and told me to memorize it. Anyone not on that list was either a Mudblood, or a half-blood, and both were equally vile.
"The first time I used it, I was seven, and my mother had taken me to Diagon Alley for a new broom. She pointed to a boy and told me of his lineage. He was much older than me, but I spat it at him anyway. The second time – "
"Please, stop," she said. She shook her head. "Are you honestly going to list each and every time you used the word 'Mudblood'?"
He looked at her innocently. "I'm to atone for my sins, Granger. Each and every one. So, yes."
"Can't we just skip this part?" she asked Pierce. "I've never really been offended when he called me that, so there was no harm done, really."
Draco's jaw dropped. "Never?"
She looked back at him. "Malfoy. You used a Wizarding word to offend a Muggleborn. You'll remember only Ron was offended, and the other Weasleys. The word, which you learned so young, and carried in your heart as synonymous with filth, had no meaning to me. You assigned it meaning when you called me a Mudblood, but I never allowed it to mean anything to me." She shook her head. "It's one thing I never understood. Why would you call me something I didn't even understand?"
He opened and shut his mouth a few times, a bit like a fish, and finally shut his mouth, pursing his lips.
Pierce, sensing the tension, spoke up. "Er, yes, Mr. Malfoy, you can skip ahead."
Glaring still, Malfoy removed nearly half the stack of parchment and set it aside.
"Please continue," said Pierce.
"In my first year at Hogwarts, I learned of your lineage, or lack thereof, and said numerous nasty things about you, behind your back. They include, but are not limited to: 'filthy Mudblood,' 'nasty wench,' 'bushy-haired, bug-eyed, buck-toothed mudpit,' 'filthy – "
Again, Hermione interrupted. "Honestly! Is this completely necessary? I know you didn't like me, but do I really have to sit here and listen to this?"
"It's part of Mr. Malfoy's healing process," said Pierce.
"I really couldn't care less about his healing process, Mr. Pierce. Why should I have to sit here and be subjected to this?"
Malfoy smirked, and ran his finger down the stack of parchment.
"Please, Miss Granger. I understand this might be uncomfortable for you, but try to realize that in order for Mr. Malfoy to heal and move forward with his life, he must get through this. Feel free to simply tune him out, if you must."
Malfoy glared at Pierce for that comment.
Hermione sighed and sank into her chair. "Fine, whatever. Let's get this over with."
For the next hour, Draco went through only the first three years at Hogwarts, and almost the first half of their fourth. Hermione's head was now full of every single nasty thing he'd said about her, and at that moment, she very much hated him.
She needed a break.
"I'm sorry," she said, interrupting when Draco was approaching the subject of the Yule Ball. "I need a break; I think my ears are bleeding."
Pierce jumped up. "Oh, of course. Can I get you anything? Water, perhaps?"
He left the room, leaving Hermione alone with Malfoy.
"So? Having fun?" He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table, smirking.
"This is – the most – ridiculous thing I've ever heard of."
He nodded. "Couldn't agree more."
"And you're seeing Harry later today? And Ron tomorrow? I wish I could listen in on that."
"I have to see everyone. Everyone. So yeah, I'm seeing Potter and Weasley."
"We're on the same side, you know," she said. "Remember? All that war business? Their names are Harry and Ron."
Then Pierce returned, with bottles of water for Hermione and Draco. She thanked him, then sat and glared at Malfoy for the next five minutes.
"Well, time's up," said Pierce, trying hard now to remain cheerful. "Continue, please, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco sighed and returned to the stack of parchment, now only three-eights of an inch thick. At this pace, Hermione knew she'd be there longer than another hour.
"In fourth year, there was the Yule Ball. You went with Krum, I went with Pansy. You looked – different." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, which amused Hermione. "I made fun of you all night, not to your face, of course, but to anyone who would listen. I called you all kinds of names, including, but not limited to, …" She sighed as he listed a string of colorful, creative titles for her.
Then Pierce interrupted. "Now, Mr. Malfoy, we discussed this. I think now would be a good time to tell her why."
Draco glared at him, then her, then at the parchment in front of him. "Do I have to?"
Hermione sat up straight again, her interest piqued.
"Yes, you do. Now, please."
Draco fiddled with the corner of the page. "I – I said all those things about you because – I – I – I thought you were the most beautiful girl there."
Now Hermione's jaw dropped.
"And I hated you even more for it." He kept his gaze focused on the edge of the stack of papers.
"Good, Mr. Malfoy. That's good," said Pierce, encouragingly. "It helps to get these things out."
Hermione thought that Malfoy probably didn't agree with him. She cleared her throat, and Draco looked up at her and flinched, as though he expected an instantaneous verbal assault. When it didn't come, he frowned.
"Continue, then, Mr. Malfoy," said Pierce, pacing the room slowly.
He looked back at the paper. "After the Yule Ball, things were – different. I still hated you, but I couldn't hate you the same way. Because – I'd been – attracted to you." He said it as though he were being forced to eat dragon dung. "I still said awful things to you, and even worse things about you, to my friends, including but not limited to…"
He continued for the next thirty minutes, the things he thought and said becoming more and more nasty. Hermione was almost brought to tears a few times, and it seemed that Draco sensed those times, because he looked up, and the briefest hint of true apology flashed over his eyes. Those moments kept her from spilling her tears.
"In sixth year, things were even more different. I no longer cared about much at all, much less tormenting you and Potter and Weasley. I still harbored bad thoughts and intentions toward you, but as the year progressed, they turned to jealousy and longing." Hermione perked up. "Jealousy, because you were so carefree, while I – well, you know everything that happened. Longing, because I wanted to be carefree too, and worry about school, and care about Quidditch again. I didn't care about much of anything, but I found that I still cared about you somehow, in some way. I didn't want anything bad to happen to you, of all things. Of all people.
"After – that night, I didn't think much about you until I saw you one night, under cover of darkness. You were going home to your parents, and you looked like you had in sixth year. Still carefree. While I – barely even knew what that meant. Barely remembered that I'd ever felt that. So, I started thinking about you. More of the same, at first, and then… I stopped caring.
"Something – happened. I went to join your side. I didn't feel, I couldn't think, I couldn't move without feeling it in every part of my body. I was obnoxious and resentful, especially to you, but I didn't feel anything I said. It was hollow; empty; practiced, and expected of me. All I really wanted was to stop not feeling."
"Mr. Malfoy," interrupted Pierce. "You're not telling her the full truth of things."
Draco took a deep breath, and peeked through the hair hanging in front of his face at Hermione. She was sitting, motionless, riveted, with tears in her eyes. He swallowed hard.
"I – what Pierce is referring to – is – I – was somewhat taken with you. I'm not, now," he added, hastily. "But – I was. And sometimes I was just so thankful for something to feel, I didn't care that it was you.
"When the War ended, I thought about telling you how I felt – "
"Mr. Malfoy," said Pierce, warningly.
"That I – liked – " Pierce cleared his throat. Draco reddened. " – I thought I loved you. But the idea of it was absurd, and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it was absurd, and instead I – didn't tell you."
The stack of parchment was how one sheet thick. Hermione was literally on the edge of her seat, looking hungrily at the final piece. She couldn't even really process what Draco had just said yet. It was still filtering into her brain, taking up permanent residence; she'd sort through it all later.
Draco lifted the final piece, sighed, and began to read. "This concludes the list of harms I inflicted on Hermione Granger. I don't need her acceptance, or forgiveness; the healing was in the telling. Thank you for listening." Hermione watched as his eyes skimmed the rest of the page, but he put it down without saying anything more. And hang it all, she wanted to know what it said!
"Mr. Malfoy. Is that all?" Pierce asked.
"I think so," he said, and he sounded tired, as tired as she felt.
"Wasn't there one more thing? From sixth year, I believe?"
Draco's eyes flashed for the first time during the entire process, and Hermione forgot her exhaustion. He slowly looked up at her. "I – as I said, I thought I loved you. I stole something of yours, just a scarf, but – it – I – "
"My Gryffindor scarf?" she asked, remembering looking all over the dorm for it.
"Yes," he said, reaching down under the table. He then presented the scarf to her. "Here." He sent it across the table to her.
Hermione took it. It was considerably more worn than when she'd last seen it, but otherwise was fine. She felt strange, taking it back from him. He'd been about to say something else when she'd interrupted him, and she looked at him.
"What were you going to say?" she asked.
"About the scarf."
He looked away. "It – helped. When I was in bad places."
He was being cryptic, but Hermione knew he wouldn't reveal too much of himself; he was so closed. She put the scarf in her bag, feeling that it wasn't the right thing to do, but she didn't know what else to do.
Pierce walked to Malfoy, put a hand on his slumped shoulder, and spoke softly. "That was good, Draco. The hardest one, right? The rest will be easy compared to this. And you told her everything you needed to tell her." Then he looked at her. "Miss Granger, thank you again for coming. Please do not reveal to your friends the nature of their appointments."
She nodded, then there was a knock on the door, and Pierce was called to another room, leaving Hermione alone with Malfoy once again.
He was looking in front of him, but not focused on anything. Hermione thought he looked as though he'd regained something he'd lost in telling her what he did.
"Do you, um, have another appointment now?" she asked, surprised at herself.
He looked at her. "No. It's lunch time. I get an hour break, then…" He trailed off.
"What do you do for lunch?"
He shrugged. "Go out. It's nice to get away from here."
"I bet." An idea, something that seemed almost impossible, slowly wormed its way from the back of her head, to the front, right where her lips were. "Would you like to have lunch? With me, I mean? Not – if you don't want to, and not like anything, just – you know, we were sort of friends before, near the end of the war—at least we used to talk sometimes, and – well, stop me."
He smiled. "Sure."
Pierce returned then. "Mr. Malfoy. Your one o'clock had to reschedule, so you may take an extra hour for lunch today."
Draco nodded, and looked at Hermione. They both stood, and Hermione left first, to wait in the lobby. When she arrived at the reception desk, there were even more people waiting, and the noise grated on her quickly, so she stepped outside.
The crisp November air calmed her nerves, and she took a few deep breaths, inhaling the scent of autumn laced with the coming winter.
Draco exited through the door after a few minutes, and they stood there awkwardly for a few minutes.
"I know of a few places around here," said Draco. "What do you want?"
"Oh, it doesn't matter," she said.
He looked both ways, up and down the street, then seemed to make a decision. "This way," he said, starting down the street. She followed, slightly behind him.
Once at the café, they took a table outside, despite the nip in the air. They ordered, and Hermione couldn't help but feel she'd made a mistake in her hasty invitation to lunch. What had she been thinking?
"So, I'm sure you're wondering what that was all about," he said, with a smile, now seemingly fully recovered from his embarrassment.
"Well, yes. I can't help but be curious," she said, cautiously.
"Naturally. Who wouldn't be?"
She thought he was deliberately making an effort to put her at ease, and it worked. She relaxed a little.
"Are you going to tell me?"
He nodded. "This is a complicated story, but I'll try to be brief. I was tried, as you know, after the War. When I was sentenced, I was given two choices: leave England, or go through an enormous reconciliation with the Wizarding world. I took the easy way out, and moved to Spain. I was told if I ever wanted to return to England, I would have to still go through the reconciliation. This – head healing rubbish – is part of that."
He nodded but said nothing, looking at her cryptically.
"Well, what else is there? How is this a reconciliation with the Wizarding world?"
"Oh, this – thing – is only part of it. The rest involves public humiliation on my part—I'm required to attend various Ministry functions, allow myself to be the 'poster boy' of reform, among other things—donations to numerous causes out of the goodness of my heart, and essentially whatever else they want to force me to do."
"All this to come back? Why?"
He smiled. "What else would make a man jump through hoops, admit past loves and sins to those involved, and essentially write a blank check to the Ministry of Magic?"
He shook his head, still smiling. "You're really almost too smart."
"Wow, she must be – incredible – for you to go through all of this." Hermione couldn't help it. An overwhelming surge of jealousy and sadness washed over her. She wasn't even seeing anyone, and here was Draco Malfoy, admitting the lengths to which he would go for the girl he loved. It wasn't that she wanted him, just someone like him who would care about her as much as he cared for his girl.
"She is." His tone effectively ended that line of discussion, and Hermione frantically grasped for something else to talk about.
"So, er, how much longer do you have these appointments?"
He chuckled. "Let's see. Every person I've harmed who is still alive, at one per hour, seven hours a day, five days a week."
"Oh," she said, smiling slightly. "A lot, then?"
"Yeah. I think I've got – four weeks left? And this is my third."
"Merlin – that's outrageous! It's too much! Seven weeks?"
"None of them are as – sensitive – as my appointment with you. Not even Potter and Weasel."
"I'd rather talk about – almost anything else. Tell me about you. What do you find to occupy your time?"
"I work at the Ministry," she said, dully. "Department of Muggle Relations."
"You don't exactly sound thrilled."
"No. I hate it, actually."
He looked surprised. "Then why do you still do it? You've never struck me as someone who would let things remain unsatisfactory."
She smiled sadly. "I look for jobs, but – none of it is what I really want."
"And what do you really want?"
She looked at him, feeling embarrassed now herself. "You don't want to hear about it."
"Why not?" he asked. "I'm still eating; you might as well fill the silence with something."
"Um, okay then. I – I want to own a bookshop." She waited for him to make fun of her, or something else normal.
"What's the big deal? Other than it's extremely predictable, there's nothing bad about that. Why didn't you want to tell me?"
She bit her lip. "It's just…we're not—we've never really been—close."
He raised an eyebrow.
"And I thought you'd make fun of me," she blurted.
He shrugged. "It's your dream, it's what you want to do. I'm not going to make fun of you after I just told you all that – stuff." He still couldn't look at her when he mentioned it. "I think we're on a higher peg than before anyway, if only because you've now seen me at my most vulnerable."
"I can't picture you vulnerable."
He chuckled. "Really? Let me help. Close your eyes, and think back to about – an hour ago. See me? That's it." She cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing. "Continue, please. Your bookshop. Where would you have it?"
"Ideally, in Hogsmeade."
"So I can be near Hogwarts, and the students. It'll help me stay on top of things, and keep a fresh perspective. Challenge me. Things will always be changing, new research will be uncovered—I don't think sitting at my desk in the Ministry will help me stay up to date with everything."
"And how is it coming?"
She frowned. "How's what coming?"
"Your idea. The bookshop."
"Oh. That's a joke," she said bitterly.
She gave him an incredulous look. "Because, Malfoy. Not everyone is independently wealthy like you. It takes money to start a business."
"Are you saving?" he asked, leaning back in his chair, food finished.
"Yes, but I'll never even get close at this rate."
"What about a loan from Gringotts?"
"They… said no."
His eyes widened. "They rejected you? Why? On what grounds?"
She shrugged. "They said I don't make enough money. Which is obvious, because I'm asking for a loan."
He seemed slightly angry, which shocked her. "That—that's ridiculous. It's a start-up loan. For a new business."
She looked at him, now the surprise that he'd heard a term such as "start-up loan" added to the mix. "They don't have such things in the wizarding world. You know how archaic the wizarding systems are – at least, if you thought about it, you would. They're all based on blood and gold. Oh, dear. You didn't want to know all that. It's so incredibly boring."
He smiled at her, and her stomach flipped and twisted in on itself. "Au contraire. I happen to love discussions involving money. I don't mind at all."
She stared at him, seeing him – really seeing him – for the first time.
It was disconcerting.
"Speaking of work, I have to get back." She stood and scrounged through her bag for money.
"I'll get it, Granger. Thanks for inviting me to lunch. It was by far the best one I've had since all this started." He stood and helped her with her coat, leading her to fidget and drop her bag, which he then picked up for her.
"Oh, um, sure. Take care, Malfoy." He smiled again, and she had to get away before she was a puddle on the ground at his feet.
Harry returned from his appointment at three past three. He went straight to Hermione's desk.
"Well?" she asked.
He was grinning stupidly. "Malfoy! Can you believe it? I'm glad you didn't tell my anything. Seeing him like that – it was perfect."
"Same as with you, I suppose. He went through a lengthy list of things he'd done to me. But really, the looks he sent me… it was probably the best experience of my life."
Hermione punched him playfully on the arm.
"Oh, right. I mean, besides Ginny and our son and winning the War."
"He's on our side, remember?"
"Yes, but still. It's not like we were ever friends, and even in the Order he was awful to everyone, especially us."
"He seems different now."
"True." He shook his head, still grinning. "Can't wait to talk to Ron tomorrow. And what I wouldn't give to find out what this appointment was all about."
For some reason, Hermione didn't tell him what she'd learned. He left soon after to return to his office, and Hermione watched the clock move slowly to five.
Inexplicably, surprising herself, Hermione was back at Pierce and Pierce the following week, at lunchtime. As she'd expected, Draco came into the lobby just after noon, scowling and looking as though he'd had a very difficult session. She stood perfectly still, wishing now that she hadn't come and hoping he wouldn't notice her, but he did. He blinked at her in surprise.
"Hi. Um, I thought – we could do lunch. I mean, if you're free and you want to, and I'd understand if you didn't, only I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by."
He smirked. "In the neighborhood?"
She knew it was a lie, but she wasn't about to let him know that. "I do work in Muggle Relations."
He put up his hands to indicate he would back off. Still smirking, though.
"So, I'll just be going then," she said, now thoroughly berating herself for coming.
"Where to?" he asked. "I'm in the mood for Chinese. You?"
"I – erm – okay."
She went back once a week until he had finished the appointments. Then, he only had three steps left, and told her he couldn't be counted on for lunch. He was waiting for some sort of 'awakening.' Could take weeks.
Time and again, Hermione forced herself to remember he had a girl. He didn't seem to like talking about her, but occasionally he would get a look in his eyes, and Hermione realized he was thinking about her.
She asked about the woman once—where she lived, did he get to see her. He'd avoided meeting her eyes, but his admiration and love were audible in his words, even though he wasn't very forthcoming with information.
Still, Hermione couldn't help her growing attraction to the new Malfoy. He was different from the angry young man that had joined the Order years before. He seemed confident in himself, and at peace in a way he hadn't been. He was…quiet. Her memories of him were full of loud, snide remarks, angry sneers and wherever he went, it seemed he caused problems.
Now, he smiled more easily, he wasn't quick to tease—in a hurtful way, at least—or make fun, and he was generally a relaxed man.
He never said the woman's name, and Hermione never asked. She knew he would never tell, and she also didn't want a name and possibly a face to hate as well. Well, no, of course she didn't really hate the girl, she was simply insanely jealous. And stunned that Draco Malfoy, of all people, could love someone so completely. While she still had nobody. Perhaps she simply wished she were his girl because of just how much he was willing to do for the one he loved.
Hermione didn't see him at all in December. She thought about him a lot, though, and even had herself a good cry because he'd once fancied her and now he didn't, and she wished he did. She could have been that girl for whom he'd go through all the bureaucracy of the Ministry.
A few days before Christmas, Hermione was resting her chin on her arms, watching the clock move to five. Harry and Ron came to her desk at five till five, with big, stupid, goofy grins on their faces.
"Hey, Hermione," said Ron, in an I-know-something-you-don't-know voice and exchanging a very obvious look with Harry.
She was immediately suspicious. "Hey, guys. What's going on?"
"Do you have plans this evening?" Harry asked. It was the last day of work before the holidays, and they bloody well knew she didn't have any plans.
She scowled. "No, Harry, I don't. Thank you for asking." She started to gather her things in a huff.
"We want you to come with us," said Ron, undaunted by her mood.
"Where?" she asked, still putting things in her bag.
"Surprise," Ron said.
She stopped. "A surprise?"
"Yeah, Hermione," said Harry. "You coming, or what?"
She was too curious for her own good, and she knew it. "Yes, of course."
The three arrived in Hogsmeade, after Harry and Ron linked arms with her to Side-Along.
Hermione looked around the village, and pulled her cloak around her. "What are we doing here?"
Ron was nearly jumping out of his skin, he was so excited. "It's a surprise. Here, wear this." He held out a blindfold.
Warily, Hermione took it from him. "I am not wearing this."
"Please?" said Harry, nearly as excited as Ron. "We want you to be really surprised."
"You know how much I despise things like this."
"Yes, yes. Just put it on."
She did, reluctantly, and Harry and Ron hooked arms with her again, and slowly led her through the town. Finally they stopped.
"Okay. Take off the blindfold."
She did. In front of her was a house, a perfect village house, painted green, with a bright yellow door. It had two stories with a porch, and a swing. She frowned. "I don't understand."
"Look. On the door. Go get it."
Hermione walked up the front steps, to the front door. On it was an envelope, with her name on it. She took it down and opened it. Inside were the ownership papers for the house, and her name was all over them. She looked back to Harry and Ron, who were still grinning.
"I don't understand."
"It's for you!"
"The house?" she asked, incredulous.
"Yeah! For your bookstore!" said Ron.
Hermione felt numb. She looked back at the house, located just off the main street of the village; perfect, really, for a cozy bookstore such as she'd always envisioned. "I – still don't understand."
Harry and Ron then joined her on the porch. "This is our Christmas present to you, Hermione," said Harry. "We know how much you absolutely hate your job, and this has been your dream forever."
"We figured out a way to make it happen," said Ron. They both looked at Hermione in nervous expectation.
"You bought me a house."
"Well, we got things started. It's paid up for one year. And…and there's a stipend for your first book order."
"You bought me a house. Harry, I know you're slightly better off than most, but I know for a fact that you cannot afford to buy me a house."
"Please, Hermione. We know you want to know everything, but – not now. Just enjoy it. We'll discuss the details later. And you should know that we've worked everything out. Don't worry about anything, okay?"
Her mind was spinning, and her heart was leaping for joy. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she still wanted to think about how this thing was possible. But when she looked at them, at the looks on their faces, she determined not to think about it right then. She threw her arms around both of her friends and squeezed tightly.
After a moment, she pulled back, and they were beaming. "Oh, Harry! Ron! I – I don't even know what to say? Is this really all mine? I can quit the Ministry?"
"Yes," said Harry. "Just say you like it, and we'll be okay."
"Like it? Are you joking? I love it! You know it's what I've been wanting for years!"
Harry pulled something out of his pocket. "Here's the key, then. Until you set up your own wards and protective spells."
Hermione's hand closed around the small, metal object, and tears started falling. Her dream – her dream – had been made possible by her two best friends. She hugged them again, then wiped her eyes.
"Well, let's go in, shall we?"
Hermione managed to wait until after Christmas to freak out about the house.
She spent the holidays with the Weasleys, and laughed and ate just like the rest of them. But the questions were growing the more time she had to think.
The day after Christmas, she confronted Harry and Ron.
"Spill," she demanded, crossing her arms with a no-nonsense expression.
"First," started Harry, "Let me just say that we're rather impressed that you waited this long." Then he looked at Ron and sighed heavily. "Let's just say, we sold our souls to the devil."
Hermione frowned. "I don't understand."
"Malfoy," said Ron.
She shifted her weight, ever so slightly. "What about Malfoy?"
"We kind of took out a loan. From him."
Her jaw dropped. For an instant, all the wheels in her head stopped spinning, all at once, and she was stuck. For an instant.
"Malfoy," she repeated. "You borrowed money from him to buy the house – and the stipend – and now you owe him an inordinate amount of money."
"Basically," said Ron, cheerily.
"But Hermione, it's completely worth it. He's agreed to be extremely lenient with us, and he made it affordable for us. And, since we know you won't stand for us paying for everything, he said you could take up our payments when things get moving. He doesn't even really care, and he said it didn't even scratch the surface. He just called it a start-up loan, whatever that is."
"It's true! He almost as much as said he couldn't care less if he gets anything back. He's that filthy rich. So please, Hermione, take this, and don't give it another thought."
Her mind was spinning in a completely different direction, however. "When, exactly, did you plan all this?"
"We Owled him in June."
She nodded, once. "June. And how long has he been here? In England, I mean."
"September. So, you two knew about those appointment-things at Pierce and Pierce." They nodded, looking guilty. "And you let me think you didn't, because you didn't want me to suspect anything." Nods, again. "Not like I would ever suspect you two were planning to buy me a house. With Malfoy's help."
"Hermione – " started Ron.
"Why did he come to England at all?"
"Oh, he had to sign a whole bunch of stuff, and give the money for the house in person."
"Why couldn't you two just work that out?"
"Something about his family's vaults being cursed and dangerous. Only Malfoys allowed in."
"Was there any other reason, at all, that he came all the way to England, went through months of his punishment from the Ministry, other than to sign some papers?"
Harry and Ron exchanged a look. "Er, no, Hermione. At least, none that he mentioned."
"He lied to me," she said, as if such a thing were nearly impossible. "That bloody git lied to me."
"What? When?" Said Harry, confusion plastered across his face.
"I saw him a few times in November, and he told me he'd come back to England for a girl. That he was coming here for a girl he was in love with." Then, more to herself, she added, "But it has to be true. I saw his face when he talked about her."
"He never saw any girls, Hermione," said Ron. "He stayed with me the whole time he's been here. I can probably account for every single night of his stay, and he never once left to meet a girl. Never even mentioned one."
"But – " Things did not add up. "Then he lied to me."
She saw Harry and Ron look at each other again, then at her. "We don't know anything about that, Hermione. We didn't even know you'd seen him, except for that appointment."
She shook her head, feeling heavy and sad. "It doesn't really matter. I – I just don't understand why he would lie. He could have said he was here for business, which would have been true."
Harry and Ron had no more information for her, and lost in thought, she left the Burrow to find a quiet place to think.
Hermione recruited the Weasleys as much as they were willing, and spent all of January preparing the house to be opened as a bookshop. She painted the walls, bought books and shelves and comfortable armchairs. Fred and George offered to pay her a small rental fee if she used a back corner of the shop to offer their best-selling products, and she accepted.
Tonight, the first of February, was the grand-opening celebration. It was mainly an excuse to invite all of her closest friends to the shop and officially reveal it, complete. It would open for business the next day. She'd had food brought in, and decorated it with extra-special touches.
She debated about inviting Malfoy, but realized she had no choice. He'd basically bought everything that was inside of it, and to exclude him would be horribly rude and ungrateful. The lunches they shared in November felt like a different time.
By inviting Malfoy, Hermione would also get the chance to thank him in person, and likely publicly, accomplishing a few tasks in one night. And then, she figured, she wouldn't have to see him again.
At first, she spent a lot of time thinking about what he'd done in lying to her. She still hadn't been able to completely pin down a good reason why it hurt her so much that he'd lied to her, so she gave up trying. She focused all of her energy-- and her hurt and anger-- on fixing up the house and getting it ready.
Hermione looked in the mirror and smiled. She'd chosen a deep green dress for the evening, and even borrowed a few pieces of designer jewelry from a shop in Diagon Alley. Her hair was done in large curls, all pinned to the back of her head, with a few strategic pieces left out to fall around her face.
With a sigh, she left the bedroom in the upstairs of the house and headed downstairs to meet Harry and Ron, who'd promised to arrive early.
An hour later, the house was bursting with activity. Everyone she'd invited came and brought even more people. She moved around the rooms of the house with grace, greeting each guest and personally thanking him or her for coming.
Eventually she saw Malfoy, and before she could turn away, he walked toward her.
"Granger," he said, smiling that smile that sent her heart into bursts of activity. When they first made eye contact, she felt her resolve and her anger lessen. He was so bloody good-looking!
Nonetheless, she regarded him coolly. "Malfoy."
"I wanted to say congratulations. And I know you're going to be amazing at this."
She smiled politely. "Thank you."
"It looks completely different than when Harry and Ron showed it to me. I'd love to hear all about the transformation."
"I'm eternally grateful to you for making this possible," she said. "I'm sure the details of the transformation would only bore you."
He looked at her curiously. "I would still enjoy hearing them."
She didn't know what to say. "Perhaps, sometime, that would be lovely. If you don't mind, I'm required to mingle." Without waiting for his response, she brushed past him, forcing herself to remain calm. Seeing him again brought back everything – the appointment, their lunches, and then his lies. She rushed to the refreshment table and, very daintily, downed three glasses of water to cool herself.
Thereafter, Hermione managed to avoid him, which was quite a feat, considering the relatively small size of the house.
After mingling for an hour, Harry called all of the guests outside behind the house, where the yard was charmed to be warm. It was decorated with thousands of tiny lights in the bushes and strung in the trees overhead.
Then Hermione stepped onto the back porch, and the talking quieted.
"Thank you, everyone, for coming. I promise to be brief. I can't even begin to tell you what a dream come true this is." Fred cheered, and she smiled at him. "This night – this everything – I owe to my dear friends, Harry and Ron. They noticed – well, probably everyone noticed – how much I hated my job. They knew that owning and running a bookshop was a dream I'd had since – well, since I discovered the library at Hogwarts.
"They decided to do something about my dream that I couldn't do for myself: they found this house, and they came up with a plan to give it to me. Harry, Ron: I love you both, and – you know how much this means to me."
The crowd cheered, and Ginny kissed her husband on the cheek, grinning. Ron reddened and gave a little wave.
"There's one more person, though, who deserves to be recognized. Without him, none of this would have been possible. Harry and Ron could have planned and schemed for years, but it would have come to nothing. Most of you know him, as he helped us in the War. And truly, I owe him a debt of gratitude I'm sure I'll never be able to repay." She found him and smiled straight at him. "Thank you, Draco."
Then she looked away before she could see his reaction.
"That being said, please enjoy the food, and thanks again for coming to celebrate this special day with me!"
The small crowd cheered again, and Hermione left the porch to find Harry.
"Nice speech," said Ron, putting an arm around her.
"I was so nervous! Could you tell?"
"Not at all," said Harry, grinning.
"I need some water."
"I'll get it," offered Ron. He left to fulfill Hermione's request, and someone approached Harry and Ginny to ooh and ahh over her slightly bulging belly.
Hermione felt a hand on her elbow, and turned around to find Draco standing there. Her smile faded slightly.
"May I have a word?" he said, keeping a rather firm grip on her arm.
"Of course," she said woodenly, and followed him into the house. Once in the main room, he let go of her and started pacing. Hermione crossed her arms and watched.
"I can tell when I'm being ignored," he said, stopping to look at her.
She took a deep breath. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh, I think you do. And I would like to know why, as I can't begin to conceive of what I've done to cause you to be upset with me."
She narrowed her eyes. "What do you care? We're not friends, or anything."
Without taking his eyes from hers, he said simply, "I care." Then he continued looking at her, waiting for her response.
"You – fine. You lied to me."
He blinked, and frowned. "I lied to you?"
"In November. You told me you were here, in England, going through all that – crap – you had to go through to come back, for a girl. I know – I understand-- that you needed to give me some reason that you were here other than the truth, but I fail to see why you had to say that. And then go on to convince me completely of your feelings for said girl. Why not just tell me you were here for business? That was more the truth than that nonsense about a girl." She scowled at him.
He seemed to deeply consider both what she said and what he would say in response. "I fail to see why that bothers you so much."
She ground her heel in the carpet and clenched her jaw. "I – I don't know. It just does. You lied to me, when there was absolutely no reason for it. I never would have imagined you were here to help buy me a house, so, short of the truth, nothing you said would have given me that impression."
"Telling you I was here for business would have been a lie," he said.
"But – there was business, of a sort – the business of buying this house."
"Still. You seem entirely too upset."
"I can't explain it!" she said, practically yelling. "It's – completely irrational. I – felt – things, because of that girl you were supposedly in love with." She reddened, because she hadn't intended to imply that she'd felt something for him, even though she had, but now she couldn't correct his opinion without exposing her fears and desires even more, namely the desire to be loved like that girl had been.
He blinked. "I didn't lie, Hermione," he said softly. "I've never lied to you."
She sputtered. "What? Of course you did. Ron told me you've been staying with him, and in four months never once mentioned a girl or went to meet one. He said you stayed at his house every night, playing video games and chess and Exploding Snap!"
He sighed. "I didn't lie," he repeated wearily. "I meant everything I said. I came here for a girl, I'm in love with. I came here to buy this house. It's up to you to reconcile the two."
She couldn't think. He was being too bloody confusing. "You – you're not making any sense."
Draco uncrossed his arms and approached her. He took her shoulders in his hands, and turned her to face him. "You look beautiful tonight."
Hermione thought she would faint right on the spot. He was looking in her eyes – boring straight through, his own eyes blazing with an intense silver fire. Her body reacted; her heart began to race, she flushed, and everything around her became sharper. But she couldn't tear her eyes away from his.
Finally, he sighed again and let her go, walking toward the front door.
"Where are you going?" she finally managed to squeak.
"Home. Lovely party."
"You can't just – leave! I'm not finished with you yet."
He turned back to her and cocked an eyebrow.
"You haven't answered my question."
He chuckled. "You just weren't listening."
"But…" She bit her lip and looked at him imploringly. "How? How is that even possible?"
He shrugged and turned back toward the door.
She moved between him and the door, arms folded across her chest. "So that's it? You – you're just going to leave? Just like that?"
"Why not?" he said.
"What about me? What about – everything that just happened? Doesn't that matter to you? Why won't you just say it, Draco?"
With one hand on the doorknob, he stopped and looked at her. "Why won't you?" Then he opened the door and walked out.
For a second, Hermione stood, seething and exhilarated and on the verge of screaming, before she followed him out.
"Malfoy!" she called, running down the front stairs. He stopped and she saw his shoulders lift and fall as he took a deep breath to prepare himself. Then he turned around.
She moved until she was very close to him. "All right then, what am I supposed to say?"
"That you know what I'm saying," he answered.
"But you haven't actually said anything!"
"Woman, you – " he clenched his fists. " – I came here for you. Because Harry and Ron needed help doing something nice for you, and I was able to help. Because of you. Because – I never stopped feeling that I loved you."
Hermione blinked and felt her heart start to pound. It was one thing to think, even to know, that he cared for her. But it was infinitely more wonderful to hear him actually say it. She looked into his eyes, searching them; a slow grin spread across her face and something in his eyes changed. They were full of doubt and for a brief instant, she saw something else—maybe hope. It sent a thrill through her.
"Yes, I figured that part out already. But what are you going to do about it?"
He frowned, caught off guard, and as quickly as the flicker of hope had appeared, it vanished. "Nothing," he finally said.
He nodded. "That's right, nothing. I will return to Spain and pick up where I'd left off. I've been doing just fine for four years."
She shook her head. "Then you don't really mean it. You don't really l-love me."
He clenched his jaw. "Yes, I do."
"If you did, you wouldn't just leave."
He shifted his weight onto his right foot. "Why? Are you going to tell me you're in love with me? I don't think so. I'm perfectly fine returning to my life." He started to leave and she grabbed his arm.
"No! Will you just listen to me, now? No, I'm not going to tell you I'm in love with you. If you would shut up for half a second, you would hear that I want you to stay, that I began to fall for you in November, and now I want you to stay. To see. You can always return to Spain if you discover that the real me isn't nearly as wonderful as imaginary me."
"What do you mean?" he said, and Hermione recognized in his eyes the same confusion she'd felt moments earlier.
"Since you've been here, have your feelings for me changed?"
He regained his mental bearings, and said, "No."
"Good. So maybe we have something. Only, you're not in love with me. You can't possibly be."
His eyes flashed dangerously. "Do not try to tell me how I feel."
"But you can't. We haven't seen each other in four years, how is it possible that you could truly be in love?"
"It's true. I know because it has been four years, but it's just like no time had passed. Don't think I wanted this, don't think I tried to stay this way; believe me, I wanted out. But it hasn't happened, and seeing you again only confirmed it."
"So why, then, would you just leave without trying?"
He lost his mental bearings and stared at her. "I had no reason to think you'd ever feel anything for me."
She smiled. "I do though. I mean, something just – happened that first day, during lunch. Maybe it was all that stuff you told me before, or when I took my scarf back—that didn't feel right to me—and then, when you mentioned the girl – then I wished so hard that I was the girl. Because you obviously really cared about her and would do nearly anything for her. I wanted that. You were so different, so at peace…the more I saw you, the more intrigued I became. But I did nothing because I thought there was someone else."
He chuckled and shook his head. "I never ever intended for this to happen, I want you to know that. I had hoped to get here, do what I had to do, and then leave. I had no intention of telling you how I feel. I didn't even know if I would still feel this way—as you said, it seemed impossible."
She smiled up at him. "I reckon it's a good thing it happened this way. Now I know. And I want to see what happens next."
She turned around, and saw Ron in the doorway. "What?"
"Come back in – someone has a surprise for you."
Ron frowned. "Were you leaving, Malfoy?"
Slowly, Draco started to smile, the full realization of everything that had just happened finally sinking in. He looked at Ron, then at Hermione, who was watching him expectantly. "No," he said finally. Then more firmly, "No. I just needed a bit of fresh air."
Hermione smiled and reached for his hand, pulling him back into the house after her. As Draco shut the door behind them, she couldn't help but feel as though her life was about to really begin.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Have fun with Deathly Hallows!