Right, here it is, my first (and quite probably only) post DH fic. This story is on the short side when you compare it to my other fics. It was originally part of a larger story that may, or may not, one day be written. For now though, it should be treated as a one shot.
This fic is, as always, dedicated to Raffy. I know you don't particularly like the underlying relationships in this type of story, which perhaps makes this not the most suitable of gifts, but all the same, I hope you like it – at least as much as you can like an epilogue friendly post DH fic :P
In closing, there isn't much else to say other than happy reading, everyone and to Raffy, I love you.
Oh, and one more thing, for those of you who are still patiently waiting on COTC – I hate to sound like a broken record, but all I will say is – watch this space.
Draco sat as far into the corner of the small booth as he could manage without appearing to be huddled into the shadows. He nursed his drink, staring absently down at the candlelight reflecting off the glass in his hand as he slowly twirled it. How long had he sat here now? How long had he waited? The answer to the last, he knew, was a lot longer than he would care to admit, even to himself. As for the first, well, he had expected her to be late.
Suppressing a sigh, Draco downed his drink in one, relishing the way that the whiskey burned down his throat and lit a fire in his belly. He shut his eyes and relished the warmth as it spread through his body. While it burned, he could free himself from his thoughts, from the twisted knife of his past that had wounded him so long ago, and that ached, even today.
The fire inside faded, just as Draco knew it would. Silently, he reached for the bottle. The barkeeper had left it at Draco's elbow, sensing his customer's wishes without needing to be asked. Draco's fingers clenched around the cork and he pulled. The scent of the whiskey in the bottle filled his nostrils…
"You're drunk!" she snarled in a whisper, leaning close to him so as not to be overheard.
"So what?" was his answer, "What does it matter?"
"Dear Merlin, Malfoy," she shook her head, "Do you actually want to be sent to Azkaban?"
"Why not?" he sneered, "Its where I belong, isn't it?"
"Don't be silly," Granger turned away from him and began rummaging in her bag.
"Its not silly," Draco seized her by the arm, spinning her round to face him, "Don't you think I know that its how you feel? I was a Death Eater after all. I have tortured people. I deserve to be punished."
"You had no choice," Granger replied. Her answer sounded familiar, and it should. They had had this conversation before after all, "The court will understand that," she continued.
"I don't give a damn about what the court thinks, Granger, I am talking about what YOU think!"
"What I think is irrelevant, Malfoy," she said sternly.
"Not to me it isn't," he fired back, determined not to let her evade this subject again, "You can't tell me that you don't want to see me punished, Granger. After all, I did stand by and watch Bellatrix torture you."
There it was, the flash of emotion in her eye. Pain, or was it anger, he wasn't sure. Whatever it was, it lasted only a moment before she regained her composure. Shaking his grip from her arm, she drew herself up to her full height and looked him in the eye, "Now you listen to me," she whispered, "and you listen good, Malfoy, because I will never say this again. What you did in the past, you did because you were forced to, for the sake of your family. Whatever else I may believe about you, whatever else I may feel about what you did, that is all that matters here and now. And here and now, I have a job to do, and I am going to do it, Malfoy. Now," she reached into her bag again and drew out a small bottle, "drink this, it will clear your head. And you had better remember what you have to say when they question you. I haven't lost a case yet, and I am not about to start now."
Draco looked at her, ready to object, but the fire in her eyes put paid to any arguments he might have come up with. Wordlessly, he took the bottle from her hand and drained its contents. The potion worked fast, even before he had swallowed it all, he could feel the warm fuzz of intoxication washing away from his mind. Moments later, a door nearby opened up and an aging witch stepped out into the corridor, "Draco Malfoy?" she called and then, turning to see him, she added, "They are ready for you."
Granger spun round to look at him once again, looking deep into his eyes, "Are you ready?"
He looked down at her, "As I'll ever be."
Draco poured a glassful of whiskey and set the bottle down. He resisted the urge to check his watch. Time would pass whether he heeded it or not. She would come, he knew she would. She had to.
There was a sudden breeze as the door of the grotty little bar was swung open. Draco looked up expectantly, but instead of the figure he was expecting, all he saw was a bony old wizard, hunched low and wrapped in travelling robes, shuffle into the inn and head for the bar as though his life depended on it.
Shaking his head, Draco lifted his glass to his lips.
"You wouldn't have another one of those?" a quiet voice came out of nowhere.
Draco looked up, startled, nearly spilling his drink all over himself. Granger had appeared as though out of thin air, and settled into the booth opposite him. She looked exactly as she had the last time Draco had seen her, with her long, wild hair tied back in a rather severe bun at the back of her head, making her seem ten years older than she really was. Beneath her heavy cloak, Draco could see a hint of something brighter. Dress robes or a dress perhaps, he couldn't be sure. He should have known she'd be celebrating.
Without speaking, Draco drew out his wand and flicked it, conjuring another glass for her. Without waiting for his offer, Granger reached out and took up the bottle. Filling her glass, she looked up at him coldly, "I got your little message," she said.
Draco nodded, "I figured you would," he said quietly, "Thank you… for coming I mean."
"Its not like I had much choice, is it?"
"Choice?" he asked, confused. Then his mind connected the dots, "No!" he exclaimed, slightly louder than he had intended, drawing a look from the barman, "No," he repeated in a more private tone, "I didn't mean… I wasn't threatening you, Granger."
Granger raised her glass to her mouth and said sarcastically, "Could have fooled me," before draining it in a mouthful. "So," she continued, her voice a little shakier after the whiskey than Draco imagined she had wanted it to be, "if you weren't threatening me, what do you want?"
"I wanted to see you," he replied.
Granger's eyebrow arched high, "Really?" she asked, "How touching," she glanced around at their surroundings, taking in the rotting beams layered with cobwebs, the cracked and chipped plaster on the mouldering walls and sawdust strewn floor of the bar, "You really have gone to a lot of effort, Malfoy."
"Well," he replied, "I thought it best to choose somewhere out of the way for us to meet. Not unless you want someone to see us together?"
Granger's eyes narrowed at him, "I thought you weren't threatening me here, Malfoy?"
"No," he repeated, raising his hands, "but you must admit, if we were seen together, today of all days, it wouldn't look that good."
"What's wrong with us being seen together?" she asked, "We're old schoolmates after all."
"Is that how Weasley would see it?"
Her countenance darkened again, "Ronald would have no reason to see it any other way, Malfoy. He trusts me, I am his wife after all."
"Yes," Draco sighed, "You are that," he said slowly, "and you are the mother of his child."
Granger's eyes closed. She shook her head and sat back in the booth. Draco let the silence between them linger, using the time to refill both of their glasses. "Tell me," he asked her, lifting his glass and staring at it to avoid looking her in the eye, "Do you ever think about how things might have been if…"
"If what, Malfoy?" she interrupted, "How things would have been if what?"
"If we hadn't gone our separate ways."
Granger rolled her eyes, "Well that's a funny way to put it, Malfoy," she said, leaning forward once again, "I don't recall us going our separate ways. For that to have happened, we would have had to have been together to begin with."
"I was your solicitor, Malfoy," she said flatly, "nothing more, and I was engaged to someone else, if you remember. What happened… shouldn't have happened. It was a mistake, pure and simple. We both knew that the moment it was over. So don't try to dress it up and make it something it wasn't."
Draco felt his insides collapse into a shrivelled mess as she spoke. It was true, every word of it. It was what he had expected her to say, it was what she was supposed to say and yet, all the same, deep down in his heart, there had been a part of him that had hoped she wouldn't say it. A fool's hope perhaps, but hope all the same and now it was gone. Still, he couldn't let her see that.
Forcing a smile, Draco said, "I suppose you're right," he raised his glass to her, "To mistakes?" he asked.
Granger shook her head, "Drink to whatever you want," she said shuffling to stand up from the booth, "I have a party to get back to."
"I know," Draco said calmly, "Of course, its not every day that your daughter turns seventeen, is it?"
Granger froze, mid motion. Her face was unreadable as she looked at him. Reaching into his robes, Draco took out a small parcel, "Give her this?" he asked, holding the box out to Granger.
She hesitated for a moment before accepting the gift. Settling down into the booth, she turned the box in her hand and opened it. "Draco…" she said quietly as her eyes fell onto the silver pendant, a white rose set with emeralds and diamonds.
"You don't have to tell her who it's from," he whispered, "and you can tell Weasley it's a family heirloom or something. Or tell him its fake, just a pretty bauble you found in a market somewhere, it doesn't matter. Just give it to her, ok?"
Granger looked up at him, the look on her face at that moment burned itself into Draco's heart. She swallowed hard, stared at him for a moment, then at the rose, then at him. Finally, she shut the box and stuffed it into her robes before clambering out of the booth. She stood over him, looking for a moment as though she might speak, but no words came from her lips before she turned on the spot and vanished with a POP!
Draco stared at the empty air she had occupied for a long while and then he too got to his feet. He tossed some coins down onto the table before taking up his glass again. Standing tall, he raised a toast to nobody in particular, "To mistakes," he whispered, "Happy Birthday, kiddo."
PS: For those of you who are wondering, the title is from Shakespere - those of you who recognise it will know what it means :P