The quaint Godric’s Hollow home reeked of burning hair and cat vomit. Hermione Granger wrestled with a high heel shoe as her husband, Ron Weasley, fiddled with a small cauldron, his tongue poking out of his mouth. The barstool he sat upon squawked as he rocked back and forth in his usual drunken stupor. For them, it was a normal day.
“Damn it,” he muttered under his breath. His eyes were fixed on the cauldron as he pawed at his half-empty bottle of Ogden's Old Firewhisky. At last, his hand found the bottle and he took a determined swig. He left it uncapped and the elixir supplemented a sour smell to the already putrid air.
“Are you going to come today?” Hermione inquired, putting on her jacket. “I’ll be at Flourish and Blotts until about three. We could get lunch after.”
Ron didn’t look up. “Can you stop by the ol’ Leaky and bring me a sandwich on your way back?”
Hermione frowned. While she expected him to answer in such a way, she had hoped that he wouldn’t. It was one of the most important days of her life, and her husband was going to miss it. Melancholy slowly swallowed her as she realized that she would be celebrating her success alone.
"I don't think they have sandwiches, Ron."
He took another drink of firewhisky and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "I'm sure they do."
"Why don't you come yourself and find out?" she asked, leaning against the front door. "It won't be long."
Ron shook his head. "Can't."
“You can’t spare an hour?” she hinted, sadness in her tone. “Just come to the Leaky Cauldron at three. I’ll meet you there.”
Ron dropped two cat hairs into the concoction. “I have work to do. Have fun, dear.”
With a defeated sigh, Hermione nodded and Apparated to her favorite bookstore.
Flourish and Blotts was buzzing. Hundreds of witches and wizards had gathered around the table where she sat, signing the inner covers of her perfect, powder blue book. In gleaming metallic text, The Witches of the Wizengamot proudly stared back at her. It was a subtle congratulation for all of her research and tenacity to finish it, despite responsibilities at the Ministry.
The manager had only allowed a certain number of people inside the store, turning away the rest. It was a common practice with celebrity releases. There were only so many copies available, and the manager fully expected to sell out of them. He was grinning from ear-to-ear, counting Galleons as fascinated customers pushed past each other to get through the doors.
Many of the people that approached her seemed more excited to meet the Minister for Magic than they were to read her book. While she expected it, she had been hopeful that people were actually interested in feminist Wizengamot history. Even though she was slightly disappointed, she signed each one and treated every customer with the same amount of kindness that she had the last.
“Big fan,” a wizard said, shaking her hand. He wore dozens of scarves and a holey, stinking jacket. “Your work with house-elves is an inspiration to us all. I’ve been fighting injustice against them for years and finally someone has done something about it. A pleasure, Minister, truly a pleasure.”
Hermione blushed and thanked him, scribbling down a signature. “To my biggest fan,” she read aloud.
Graciously, the man bowed and scampered away.
A witch with a crooked hat and heavy eyeliner stepped forward. "What are you going to do about all of the toads in the pond behind Bugglesnort's?"
Taken aback, Hermione scribbled her signature in a book. "Well, they're toads. They live in ponds."
The woman blinked a few times. "Yes, but what are you going to do about it?"
"Thank you, ma'am," Hermione grumbled, holding out the book for her to take.
"Nothing, then?" the woman scoffed. "Public servant, my arse!" She stormed out of the bookstore, earning concerned glances from both Hermione and a handful of other customers.
Hermione saw that they were finally approaching the end of the line and let out a sigh of relief. Though she wanted the day to have gone perfectly, she admitted to herself that it hadn’t. The signing had turned into a soapbox for all of the witches and wizards that felt that their voices went unheard. Some wanted to pitch new laws while others wanted to simply shake her hand. She was enthralled that more people wanted to engage in the political process, but she was ready for the photographs and the longwinded speeches to come to an end. They all left with a book, but she was not so sure that they would read it as she intended.
She kept conversations brief as she signed the final books and passed them back to their new owners. Waving goodbye to the second to last visitor, she waited for the final customer. To her surprise, a familiar, svelte figure approached her.
“Draco!” she gasped, hurriedly getting to her feet. She wrapped her arms around him in a platonic embrace. “What are you doing here?”
He offered her his signature smirk, pulling away from their hug. “Lovely to see you, Granger. Congratulations on the book.”
“Thank you, thank you,” she replied, blushing. “It’s been so long! I haven't seen you since—" Her face fell. The two of them had barely seen one another since his wife, Astoria, passed away. The only time that they had, there were much more urgent things to address. "Draco, I'm so sorry."
He leaned against the table where the final book lay. "Don't be. It's been a long time."
She cleared her throat, trying to avoid the somber topic hanging in the air. "So what brings you here?"
"Well, the Prophet said your book signing was today so I thought it'd be worth stopping by," he replied, looking around the shop. "I haven't been in here since I was a kid. My mother always takes Scorpius to shop for his books."
“Well, would you like a copy?” she asked, reaching behind her for the last book. She scribbled something inside of it and offered it to him.
"Thanks." He held the book in the crook of his arm. Calculation was written in his face. "I'm surprised that Weasley isn't here for your big day."
Hermione coughed. The two of them had not spoken since they had apprehended a rather unpleasant witch by the name of Delphi. Back then, she did not have the time to properly express her sympathy, especially since Ron was always with her. Unfortunately for Draco, Astoria would never be with him again. Hermione wished that she had not treated the woman as coldly as she did on the two occasions that she had seen her. Though she did not like admitting it, she acted as jealous as Ron did sometimes.
"Yes, well, he's quite busy," she mumbled, avoiding his gaze. Guilt clawed at her from the inside. Her husband was a fool, but at least he was still alive. She took it for granted.
He frowned. "Granger, it's been over two years. You don't need to toe around it."
"I am very sorry," she whispered, reaching out to give his hand a solemn squeeze. "I can't even imagine."
"It's fine," he said, his voice cold. After an awkward few seconds, he smirked. "Besides, looks like I have something to read to keep my mind off things now."
Her demeanor quickly changed as she gave him the same Malfoy smirk that he had given her. Her mind was still racing, thoughts of Draco sobbing over his dead wife torturing her. Alas, she knew that she had to lighten the mood. He needed her to. “So you’re a history fan all of a sudden, then? I wouldn’t pin you for the type to be interested in Julia Dunkirk.”
Draco chuckled, putting a hand in his pocket. The book hugged his side, showing off the slim figure that he had maintained over the many years. “Just some light reading for a rainy afternoon.”
Skeptical of his intentions, Hermione finally asked, “What did you stop by for?" She rubbed her temples, as the awkwardness of the situation became overwhelming. "I'm so sorry. I just mean—are you okay? Do you need anything?"
He raised a speculative eyebrow. “Do I need a reason to visit an old friend?"
Hermione knew that he wasn’t telling her everything. She ran her tongue over her teeth and said, “Malfoys don’t simply stop by for impromptu chats with Mudbloods. You aren't well. You need something."
“Snappy as ever, Granger,” he teased, a glint in his eye. “As a matter of fact, I think this is the most well I've been since it happened."
"Draco, you can't possibly be okay."
He rolled his eyes, wishing that she would stop bringing it up. "How is Weasley?”
Suddenly, she was uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure how to answer the question. Ron barely spoke to her, contributing little more than grunts and curse words to their conversations. While he chalked it up to work, Hermione knew that they did not have anything to discuss. Over the years, the difference in their interests had become even more obvious than it had been in the past. Still, she could not complain. Ron was crass, but he was still alive.
After a discomfited pause, she replied, “Working a lot.”
Draco nodded, his expression inquisitive. Nevertheless, he did not press her. “I imagine you are too, being the Minister and all. Are you even allowed to talk to me in public? The Prophet will probably have a field day.”
Hermione laughed, grateful that he had changed the subject. “I think the reasonable people of the world are past all that now, Draco. It’s been a long time.”
“Ah, but reasonable people are quite rare, aren't they? There are plenty out there that would have your head over a 'Minister and the Death Eater' headline. Scorpius tells me there are still some pretty nasty kids at school,” he noted. "I would think they're learning it somewhere, but maybe not. Kids are cruel.”
“You would know!” Hermione giggled, pushing him lightly. For the first time since he walked in, his melancholy situation was not at the forefront of her thoughts. “You were absolutely awful to me in school.”
“Was I?” he asked, smirking.
Her face turned scarlet. She was eager to change the topic again. “How is Scorpius?" She regretted the question as soon as it fell from her mouth, realizing it was the last thing that she should have asked.
"He's doing as well as he can be, I think," he replied, his eyes fixed on the floorboards. "He's a bit young for all of this but he's a Malfoy. He'll move on."
"I didn't mean to ask," she whispered, feeling sickeningly inconsiderate. "I really don't know what to say."
Draco smiled, sadly. "We expected it, so I suppose that helped. She had been ill for a long while."
The inevitable uncomfortable silence followed. Their history loomed in the air, softly whispering reminders of one another. Pale skin carried memories of the many years that they spent together, quarreling, apologizing, exchanging words both hateful and pleasant. Things left unsaid clouded their thoughts, gently tormenting them. The two of them had been through a lot together, yet somehow, their interactions had never felt as forced as they did in that moment.
“I ought to get home,” Hermione lamely mumbled, hoping to excuse herself from the awkward encounter. She touched his arm. “I'm truly sorry about Astoria, Draco. If you need anything at all, you know where you can find Ron and myself."
She slung her dragon-skin purse over her shoulder, ready to make her exit, but she was interrupted. A cool, familiar hand lightly touched hers.
“How about lunch?” Draco inquired, his grey eyes swimming with intent. "Nothing fancy, just the Leaky. Just us."
Hermione watched his hand as he drew away from her. It was not the gesture of a grieving man, but the gesture of an eager one. “I don't know, Draco..." She trailed off, calculating the situation.
"Look, I'm really not trying to get vulnerable here, Granger," he said, darkly.
Hermione knew that Draco had a tendency to hide his emotions with humor and flirtation. He was in pain, but there was something else. She saw it in his eyes. It was a look that she knew well, one that he had given her many times when they were many years younger.
“Well, Ron is probably—” She stopped in the middle of her sentence. Ron was not waiting for her. She would only be lying to herself if she said that he was. Suddenly, she felt guilty. The widower had not known friendship in quite some time. It was clear that he was reaching out, aching for some kind of human contact. When she needed him, Draco had been there for her. It was only fair that she returned the favor. “Actually, never mind. I'm sorry. Lunch sounds lovely.”
Draco smiled and beckoned her with his free hand, still holding her book in the crook of his arm. “After you, Granger.”
Author's Note: I do apologize for the rewrite. Several rewrites will follow to line up with canon. I had not done much cursory research on Astoria up until this point. Any feedback is welcome.
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