“Denning! Denning? Where the hell are you?”
Draco was elbow deep in one of his largest cauldrons, a very large order of sleeping draught that had taken days to brew, when an immense group of customers flooded in, needing all kinds of supplies and potions. He could barely keep up. His usual help, a boy in his late teens, was also having a hell of a time keeping everything straight.
Draco slammed the door to his laboratory shut when young John Denning finally appeared from behind a tall stack of cream-colored boxes.
“I need you to keep up with these damned customers. I can’t make potions and deal with them at the same time!” Draco shoved the latest of his potions into his young helper’s hands and took to the shop himself.
Seven ounces of moon flower for Amelie Vegues, some aconite for Jeniston Craigs, Billywig parts for the annoying little witch from Hogwarts who reminded him too much of her.
He’d thought a lot about Hermione Granger while he lived in Tinwort. He’d work at the apothecary most days; some weeks he didn’t even take a day off. Why would he? Most of his free time was plagued with guilt and remorse and the look on her face when he left. Working helped keep his mind busy on other things; potions and finances. His work kept him sane.
As he turned his back on his customers and proceeded to procure various items from the jars and bowls behind him, Draco could make out, through the buzz of activity, the voice of one particular girl. She had a certain air of know-it-all about her that drove him mad as she spoke to her friends.
“He’s arrogant and selfish and just...a louse! I can’t believe I saw anything in him.”
“But you two looked so good together,” her shorter friend protested.
“Oh, I bet he’s just sitting up in his room right now being all self righteous, playing victim. I mean, where does he get off treating me this way?”
Draco began to move more slowly, concentrating on her voice. From the first time she walked into his place of business it was like seeing a ghost. She had the same wild hair and brown eyes. Sometimes, on his more cynical days, he entertained the notion that she was just a figment of his imagination, here to torture him.
“He does all these stupid things and expects me to just forgive him automatically. I can’t forgive you if you refuse to apologize.”
He stopped working abruptly, focusing completely on the conversation behind him.
“If he won’t admit he’s wrong, then I’m done for good.”
Hermione could have easily said those things about him after he left. Had she? Did she hate him for his inability to admit his faults? He could see her in his mind and felt overwhelmed with anger. All the chatter around him was making him lose it. He struggled with himself until finally he turned and slammed his hand against the counter.
“Enough! Out. Everyone!” His confused customers begrudgingly left with their lists and demands; they didn’t particularly like the murderous look on his face.
The girl was the last to exit, her friends making their escape quickly. She crossed her arms and huffed, “This isn’t the only apothecary around, you know.”
“I don’t care where you shop, just leave!” He tossed her the small bag of Billywig parts before slamming the front door.
Draco closed up the shop quickly, instructing Denning to shut the windows and doors, leaving everything as it was. At least one potion would go bad by the time he got back. It didn’t matter. He’d decided it was time he went back to the one thing that did.
He hurried to the small house out back, his home for the past year and a half. It was a glorified shack, really, consisting of a living room, a small kitchen and bath and a tiny bedroom. There weren’t many furnishings to speak of. He’d learned through hard times not to get too attached to material things. The items he did own were too covered with old newspapers and failed potions experiments to use properly.
It was about noon when he finally set out. It wasn’t such a long way off now that he thought about it, but for a very long time it had felt like an impossible distance to cross.
Draco liked to tell people that he was rubbish at Disapparition and avoided it at all costs; it made it easier to avoid awkward questions from those around him. The truth of the matter was, after the war, he and his family were no longer allowed the privilege of such means of travel.
It was a small price to pay compared to so many others who had lost their freedom and lives, but it still proved a nuisance at times. He was forced to use Floo powder most of the way, stopping by a nearby business with an actual fireplace and moving to two others rather quickly. Once he was in the nearest town to her home he walked the rest of the way.
It was a time of transition in the world, winter breaking into spring, grassy patches peeking out from under the remaining snow, the first wildflowers of the season growing. There was a breeze blowing through. Hermione’s home was a considerable distance from the town. It was a sleepy place with few wizards; she was always quite fond of it.
As Draco walked up the hill, he found himself collecting the flowers, kneeling and gingerly pulling them from their roots. He thought of their names and common uses in potions: Astrantia for pain, Hoodwort for calming draughts, Knotted Crane’s Bill for cleaning potions. He could hear her voice in the back of his mind, reminding him of the uses he tended to forget; healing open wounds, soothing baby’s colic, perfumes. Draco felt silly now that he looked at them. The tiny flowers in his hands seemed so insignificant. When had he turned into such a sap?
Her little white house on the hill, with a view of the valley and the mountain tops in the distance, was just as he remembered it. It was a simple stone structure with two casement windows at either side of the large mahogany door. The garden, however, was quite different.
Most of the front yard beyond the porch had been destined for a small garden where they planted various kinds of herbs and flowers in neat little rows. It had been his idea in the first place, a housewarming gift, and even though Hermione proved to not be the greatest of gardeners she had been just as enthusiastic as he. They worked on it together most weekends, sitting side by side, carefully tending to each plant until it was just right. As their relationship began falling apart she spent less and less time there with him.
The garden was unrecognizable now, branches and weeds in a wild twisted mess under the snow.
He should have been there to take care of it. But that was all part of the reason he had left, wasn’t it? He had tried to do too much, to control, be the leader more than he should have. He was smothering her and she didn’t need that. Hermione was more than capable of taking care of herself. She had proven that more than once in her lifetime. She had played a major role in destroying one of the darkest wizards of their time. She was raising two fine children on her own. He had offered her the world; problem was she already had her own.
She didn’t need his money or to live in the Manor; she didn’t swoon at his every word or cater to his whims like every other woman had. In fact, they argued more than any normal couple should. Maybe that was part of their charm. Truth be told, he had wanted to come back the very moment he left, but he was too stubborn to do so. As time went on, his stubbornness turned into regret.
As he stood there contemplating what had been, he didn’t notice her small form standing at the door, watching him, until several moments passed. She was wearing her usual ‘around the house’ clothing; jeans and an old shirt, her hair more of a mess than usual, but she looked as beautiful to him as ever. Her face betrayed no emotion as she contemplated him in his tan trench coat, covered in soot. She shivered. Neither spoke. Too many words would probably ruin everything.
They had not seen each other in two years.
Before Draco could even think to do anything, Hermione’s expression changed from indiscernible to white-hot anger and she lunged at him, hitting him over his head and chest as hard as she could. Draco tried to cover himself from her blows using his forearms.
When she’d had enough, she was taking quick, shallow breaths, her cheeks pink. He kept his arms at the ready in case she decided to launch another attack. The little wildflowers had taken quite a beating and not much was left. He let them fall to the ground.
She looked at them and back at him. She started to cry. Draco took the opportunity to wrap her up in his arms. She didn’t protest or fight him; instead she melted into his embrace and sobbed into his chest holding onto his coat tightly. He tried his best to keep her warm as they stood in the midst of their garden.