Cameras flashed as the crowd hurled questions, scribbling notes with their quills and ink. It was one of the busiest press conferences that Hermione had ever held since becoming Minister for Magic, and she had walked onto the stage feeling quite nervous. A particularly squirrelly fellow in blue robes raised his quill and pointed it towards her.
“Yes, the fellow with the quill,” Gob, one of Hermione’s advisors, said.
The man looked down at his notes. “So, Minister, your book is about successful witches of the Wizengamot. Why aren’t any of your colleagues in the book? Why throw away such a unique opportunity?”
“Great question!” Hermione exclaimed, taking his words in stride. “If I’m being honest, I did think about it, but it was mostly a historical book about the first witches of the Wizengamot. I’m hoping to work on a follow-up about important women of later generations. No title yet or anything, but I'd like to start working on it sometime next year.”
The man nodded, jotting down her answer. Everyone in the crowd seemed to make sense of it and relief washed over Hermione. After the hit piece that the Daily Prophet released, she expected her press conference to go rather poorly. Fortunately for her, her book had sold better than any other book on the market, making it the most important topic of the day.
“Minister, you’ve released some translations before, but this was the first book that you actually wrote. Can I ask how it was to write an entire book while juggling your responsibilities to the Ministry?” a witch with burgundy lipstick asked.
Hermione laughed. “I will admit, it was difficult, but I managed to find the time.”
The witch smiled. "You must be very proud."
Gob pointed at another witch further in the back. She pushed her way to the front and tilted her head. “I don’t mean to get off track here, but I have a source that claims you weren’t with the Japanese Minister for Magic on November thirtieth like the Daily Prophet claimed. Can you confirm that?”
Suddenly, Hermione felt her heart in her throat. She eyed Gob, looking for advice, but he merely shrugged at her, expecting her to answer honestly. “Well, no. I wasn’t with the Japanese Minister for Magic.”
“Follow-up question, Minister. So who were you with?”
Droplets of sweat formed at her brow. She cleared her throat. “Um, I was with a friend—someone I haven’t seen in a very long time.” Her eyes scanned the audience, trying to read their thoughts. That was when her heart stopped.
Draco Malfoy was standing all the way in the back. His gaunt face and white-blonde hair were unmistakable. He looked so much like he had when they were young, only earning a handful of crow’s feet and light laugh lines. She would have recognized that face from a mile away.
The witch smirked. “My source says that old friend was Draco Malfoy, known Death Eater. Is that so, Minister?”
Hermione’s stomach was in knots. She remembered the tired waitress at the Leaky Cauldron staring at the two of them as though they were a pile of Galleons. The crowd stared at her, mouths open, each of them itching to pen the story of the Minister meeting with a Death Eater. The world was spinning. The faces were out of focus—all except one.
Draco stared at her from afar, his hands behind his back and his grey eyes hopeful, but expectant of nothing. She remembered when she thought those eyes looked so lifeless. Then one day, she realized she had been blind.
Hermione groaned as she slathered jam on her morning toast. She had drunk far too much during the previous evening, resulting in a rather dreadful hangover. Each bite she took was too loud. She rubbed her temples and took a long drink of water, silently begging for relief.
Though Draco Malfoy had expected her to forget about their drunken conversation, she hadn’t. In fact, she spent most of her morning thinking about it. While it certainly did not lead to her headache subsiding, it did make her wonder if they could make amends. The boy had tortured her for years, calling her the foulest names and refusing to intervene when his dreadful aunt tortured her. There was so much bad blood between them. Yet, he seemed like he had changed. Perhaps, the end of the war could mean the end of their feud.
As though he knew she had been thinking about him, he walked into the Great Hall, running his hands through his hair. He kept his head down until he reached the Slytherin table. Curiously, she watched him as he sat at the end furthest away from anyone else. The table full of Slytherin students crinkled their noses as soon as they saw him.
Fixated on him, she chewed on her toast. She was just as alone at her table as he was.
He didn’t eat any food. Instead, he chugged a glass of water. As he set it down, he looked up, meeting her eyes. They were tired from the previous evening, but they were also sorrowful and apologetic. She knew that he would never tell her that he was sorry. Only his eyes, in that exact moment, would tell her everything that she wanted to hear. She smiled and waggled her fingers at him. He didn’t smile, nor did he wave back, but his eyes told her all that she needed to know.
Draco Malfoy was not the monster he pretended to be.
She wondered how long she had been lost in her memory. The crowd was staring at her, eager to hear her answer.
She met Draco’s eyes, just like she had met his eyes in the Great Hall that day.
“I was with Draco Malfoy. We had lunch. He ate the Leaky House Soup and I had steak and kidney pie,” Hermione announced. “I won’t take any more questions.”
With that, she stepped away from the podium and dipped behind the curtains of the makeshift stage. Gob apologized to the press and chased after her, calling her name. She ignored him, quickening her step as she walked down the stairs and made her way down Diagon Alley. She waved her wand, swapping her high heels for sneakers and her business robes for cheap denim jeans and a sweater.
“Minister!” Gob yelled. “Minister, we have to sort this out! This is going to look terrible!”
She ignored his words and rushed into Flourish and Blotts. The manager opened his mouth to greet her, but she shook her head and hissed, “Nobody is to know that I’m here. Nobody.”
The manager nodded in agreement and watched her slip behind one of the many bookshelves. Finally alone, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She knew that the Daily Prophet and every other publication worth its salt would run with the little information that she gave them. Perhaps, what she said was shortsighted. Nevertheless, she did what felt right. She couldn’t make a habit out of breaking Draco’s trust. She had worked too hard to earn it.
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his.
Suddenly, she heard the door of Flourish and Blotts open. Gob had been following her, but she was certain that he had not seen her enter the store. Then, she heard a voice that she recognized; it certainly did not belong to her public relations advisor.
“Is the Minister for Magic in here?” a cool, yet breathy voice inquired.
The manager did not respond. She heard the voice growl and then his careful, elegant footsteps. Within seconds, he was looming over her, staring at her with those deep, grey eyes.
“Draco,” she acknowledged with a gulp.
“I knew you’d be here. You have no idea how stupid that was—”
“Don’t think I don’t know how stupid it was,” she hissed, cutting him off. “If it were fifteen years ago, I would’ve resigned by now.”
He was still staring at her, his dark eyes stormy and omniscient. “My question is: why?”
“It was the truth,” she said in a small voice. “I’m not supposed to lie to the public.”
“But you'll lie to me? I don't think you were worried about the public at all. I think you saw me and you panicked, Granger. I know you.”
Hermione drew in a deep breath and pushed past him. “Draco, it’s not the best time.” She did not turn back as she weaved around the bookshelves and walked out of the store. Draco tailed her, calling after her. She ignored him and hurriedly made her way towards Gringotts.
“Merlin, stop all the running! I just want to talk!” he shouted, chasing after her.
She did not respond. Instead, she ran as quickly as she could, her feet aching as they pounded the cobblestone street. With her heart pumping, she slipped into an alley beside Gringotts, looking around for anyone that may have seen her. Once she believed she was safe, she leaned against the brick wall, her chest heaving up and down as she caught her breath. Even if nobody had seen her, Draco was nearby.
Panic set in when she saw him in the bookstore. She was not entirely sure why she ran away from him, but Draco had a way of making her vulnerable when she preferred not to be.
“Hermione,” he breathed, stepping into the alley. “Hermione, please, just talk to me.”
She took a deep breath and grabbed her wand, ready to Apparate. “Draco, I-I don’t know if I can do that.”
He closed his eyes and stepped closer to her. “If you can’t do it now, meet me for lunch again."
Nervously, she looked around. “Are we alone?”
He nodded. “Nobody followed me. The entire alley was shut down for your press conference. I had to bribe an Auror to get in.”
She put her wand back in her pocket and ran her fingers through her hair. “Why did you show up today—and who took your bribe? I’ll have them fired faster than they can say Merlin.”
“Relax. I used the Imperius Curse.”
“I could have you arrested for that.”
“True,” he replied, airily.
She sighed. “So why did you come? Why all the trouble?”
He leaned against the brick, alley wall and slid down it until he was sitting on the dirty cobblestone. Hermione could not stop thinking about how young he looked. Harry and Ron had not aged so gracefully. If she had not known him, she would have thought him to be in his late twenties. It made it much harder to forget about their teenage memories. He was an enigma of his former self.
“You know exactly why.”
“We can’t, Draco,” she insisted, crossing her arms. “I’m a married woman.”
He rolled his eyes. “We both know that Weasley is a loser.”
Hermione inhaled sharply. “He may be a loser, but we’re still married.” She sat down beside him. “Draco, we aren’t kids anymore.”
Boldly, he ran his long, pale fingers along the traces of her hand. It sent shivers down her spine. “I won’t ask you for anything you don’t want to give.”
She narrowed her eyes and yanked her hand away from his. “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said,” he sighed. “I could use a friend. A friend I could ask a favor of when the times comes."
Hermione tried to comprehend the words. “A favor.”
"Nothing of that sort," he assured her. "I suspect it will be a while before it's time."
She watched him, carefully. Blaming his advances on grief was too simple. He had said himself that they were on the brink of divorce before she became ill. She could see it in his movements. It was a chance he wanted to take well before Astoria passed away. If she had been cured, he still would be standing before his teenage flame.
When they were children, Draco had been hard to read. For most, he still was. His eyes were often cold and calculating, his face pulled into a sneer, and his posture perfect and tall. He had even cut off the silly ponytail that he had the last time that she had seen him, returning to his more refined adolescent self. Witches and wizards had long been intimidated by the Malfoy family, and Draco was no exception. Alas, Hermione understood him. She could see his intentions in his actions, his desires in his eyes, and even his determination in his gait. He wanted something from her that she had once given him, but she didn't know if she could give it to him again.
"I'm not sure I can give you what you actually want, Draco," she said, slowly.
He ignored her. “Have lunch with me next Wednesday at our old spot.”
"Will you give me details about this favor if I do?"
"This isn't a business meeting. Just another lunch between friends."
Hermione wrung her hands. She knew the spot that he meant, and she knew that it would be private. Still, she did not know if she was capable of making the best decisions around him, nor could he around her. “I don’t think so.”
With a sigh, he stood. “Well, if you change your mind, I’ll see you then.”
She did not respond, but she found herself watching him as he left the alley. He didn’t look back at her, but she knew that he wanted to. She felt it.
Dejectedly, she pulled her knees to her chest. She ached for him as soon as he was gone, and she knew that he ached for her. It was the exact reason that she could not see him again. Guilt assailed her as she thought of poor Astoria, dying in their marital bed. It only pained her more when she thought of Ron's jealous gaze when she mentioned Malfoy's name. Seeing him again was a sure path to destroying what was left of her home.
“She’s a home-wrecker! A hideous, shameless bloody home-wrecker!” Ginny had fumed, kicking over a dining room chair. “Did you see the way she was making eyes at Harry? That miserable, daft—”
Hermione put a hand on Ginny’s arm. “Ginny, calm down. You know Harry would never.”
“Of course he wouldn’t!” Ginny screeched. “That doesn’t mean that she’s not just awful!”
Ginny picked up the chair and sat down. She rested her elbows on the table and clamped her hands together. They reddened from the force.
“I mean, she was pretty terrible,” Hermione laughed, sitting beside her, “but she isn't a home-wrecker. That would insinuate Harry’s participation and you and I both know he would jump off a bridge before he did anything to hurt you or the kids.”
“You’re right,” she grumbled. “I just get so mad. Women get so touchy-feely around him. The Chosen One and all that.”
Hermione nodded. “I can only imagine.”
“I mean, it has to be so easy for you and my brother. She’d have to be pretty desperate to want to deal with Ron.” Ginny frowned. “Harry, he—well, he isn’t a stranger to beautiful women trying to get into bed with him. I guess I just worry.”
Hermione took her hand. “As long as you trust your husband, it shouldn’t matter what other women think. I think you can trust Harry to make the right choices. I’ve known him for a really long time. He’s not like that.”
Ginny smiled. “I guess I never really thought about it that way.”
“It’s the only way to think about it, really.”
She sat in the alley for a long while, reflecting on the words that Ginny had spoken to her so long ago.
“I mean, it has to be so easy for you and my brother.”
She only wished that it were true.
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