The resolve to talk to Draco, however, fades almost as quickly as the sound of her apparation.
She spends several days cleaning and rearranging her cottage; or rather moving her desk from its place under the window with a view of the lavender field, to the opposite wall, then back again—then repeating this until her frustration gets the better of her and the desk in situated in the middle of the room. Its placement mocks her cowardice at the idea of having an adult conversation with Draco.
In an effort to distract herself, Hermione retreats to the garden. Hardy summer weeds peek out from beneath the bases of her lovingly cultivated plants so she goes to work.
She lets her bare knees connect with the moist dirt and grass as she hunches into the beds, her fingers digging into the cool earth to eliminate the trespassers. Sweat pours down her face and neck. Her back aches from the poor posture and her shoulders feel the strain of the repetitive yanking.
Grasping a menacing piece of purple nutsedge she pulls the first bit free of the ground and follows the stringy root to the next tuber. She crawls along the ground, tracking the maze of roots to a particularly stubborn specimen, losing her grip as she pulls; she finds herself on her backside.
Shielding her eyes, she looks up to the garden wall to find Ollie staring at her in something like reproach.
Looking away, she attempts to return to weeding the garden, but another resounding meow carries over the garden and draws her attention.
“I know, Ollie. Believe me, I know . Can’t I just ignore it for a while longer?” Hermione resumes her position to attack the nasty nutgrass.
As she reaches for the same stubborn bit, a furry black head nudges her hand away. Hermione collapses back onto her calves in defeat, “What? What do you want?”
“Meeeooowww.” It’s Ollie’s only answer, but Hermione can hear the reprimand in his feline tone and knows that once again she is being a coward when it comes to confronting a situation in which she is unsure of the final outcome.
Ollie eases forward and edges his head under her limp hand. Hermione scratches him behind the ears and accepts him easily into her lap when he climbs up. “You think I should go see them, huh?” There is no answering meow this time, but he does stretch up to but the underside of her chin with his head, his resonant purr sending vibrations through her entire skull. “Alright. You win. I’ll go.” She looks up to see a small peach tree heavy with this year's bounty, and is struck with at least a semblance of a plan. “But I won’t go empty handed.”
It was fitting that this “plan” is as preconceived as her notion to move to the country at all. But before she can let herself overthink it she is standing at the front door of Draco and Scorpius’ home with an offering in her hands.
When Draco opens the door, a hint of something warm and sweet wafts into her face. He just stands there, leaning against the open door, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows with his arms crossed over his chest and cocks one eyebrow up in silent invitation for her to speak. “I brought you something.” She raises the towel covered dish.
He turns and walks toward the kitchen with nothing but a wave of his hand to tell her to follow.
The delightful, rich aroma of caramelizing peaches envelopes her in the kitchen and she begins to second guess the contents of the vessel in her hands.
A blur of blond hair and black fur tears in through the back door and stops short at the sight of her.
“Hermione!” She just has time to set down her package as Scorpius runs to her, throwing himself into her arms. She squeezes him back, savoring every solid inch of his enthusiastic hug. “Where have you been? I missed you,” he whispers into her hair.
She squeezes him tighter, “I missed you too.” She hopes he can’t hear the catch in her voice, but she schools her face into a smile as they pull back.
Hermione stands and glances at Draco from the side of her eye. Her top teeth are firmly in her bottom lip and her face is scrunched into what she hopes is an apologetic grimace.
His lips are pursed, but his shoulders fall noticeably enough that she feels as if there might be hope to, at least, salvage their friendship. Pulling back the towel covering her dish, his entire face changes into an amused smirk. “Granger, did you make a… pie ?” He chuckles as he removes the towel completely.
Hermione makes a shrill noise of derision and puts her hands on her hips. “That, for your information, is a tart .”
Scorpius climbs into a stool by the island and looks over at her tart. He wrinkles his freckle dusted nose. “Hermione, are you sure this is a tart?” He points to a rather burned portion of the crust and then to the place on the top where she was a bit too liberal with the cinnamon. “Because—” A ding sounds throughout the kitchen and Scorpius and Hermione watch as Draco turns around, opens the oven, and, with a smirk, pulls out a perfectly browned, evenly cinnamonned tart.
Scorpius is giggling into his hand as Draco sets his tart next to hers. He continues to smirk and after a moment of looking between the tart, the mirthful young man and his smug father, Hermione begins laughing too. She shrugs and covers her dessert up with the towel, “Well I tried.”
“That’s okay, Hermione, I’ll bet it still tastes good.” Scorpius scampers off the stool, throws another quick hug around her waist and bounds back toward the door, but before he makes it out he turns. “Are you going to stay for dinner?”
When Draco looks at her now, the smirk is gone, replaced with eyebrows raised in question. She gives him a subtle nod. “I would love to,” she says just before the back door slams and the adults are left alone in the kitchen.
The urge to drop her eyes from his gaze is strong. But the way his eyes hold hers as he steps around the island and into her space is mesmerizing and she takes the opportunity to explore the depths of his irises.
The grey swirls like the thunderheads that roll across the countryside on lazy afternoons with teasing hints of blue that play along the edges. And just like the torrent of the clouds she hides herself from, she wants to hide away from the storm in his eyes.
But she doesn’t.
Today she will be brave. Today she will face the unknown and reach for something unexpected.
“I like you, Draco.”
He chuckles at her simple declaration, but takes a step closer. The words hang in the air and she bites her bottom lip, the sharp sting quelling the nervousness she feels. As she dips her chin to hide in her vulnerability, she feels the soft brush of his fingers against her cheek. Her lip pops free as he nudges her chin up and his eyes trail over her face, following his fingers as they push an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “I like you too, Hermione.” The storm in his eyes calms; no longer turbulent, but gentle and steadfast, like clouds that bring the rain of renewal and growth.
Then he’s leaning in toward her and her breath catches as his face nears hers. He pushes his hand into her hair and threads his fingers into the tresses at the nape of her neck. She arches up, and her hands find purchase on his chest, but the slam of the kitchen door causes them both to flinch.
Scorpius bounds in, a bright green stalk in his hand. “Dad, I picked some fresh basil for the pizza.” He doesn’t stop to look at them as he lays it by the sink, but calls on his way back out, “Hermione, you’ll love my dad’s pizza, it’s the best.” And with that the door slams once more.
Draco presses his forehead against hers and they shake in silent laughter. He presses a soft kiss just above her brow, and then, both of them still laughing, draws her into his body, wrapping his arms around her. She returns the embrace, her arms twining around his waist as she nuzzles into his firm chest.
The smell of lavender, cinnamon, and toasted pastry embraces her; the rhythm of his heart beneath her ear grounds her to the moment.
Their breaths rise and fall together for a few long moments and Draco is still holding her when he breaks the silence. “Scorpius wasn’t the only one that missed you.”
She squeezes him tighter, nodding into his chest, her voice stifled by the threatening tears. With a fortifying breath, she finally pulls away and looks into his face again. In the softness of the moment, he wears a lopsided grin that radiates with contentment, and she finds herself smiling back at him, her soul suffused with the same feeling.
As he steps away, that endearing grin transitions into a playful smirk and mischievous glint shines in his eyes. Hermione raises her eyebrows in question as Draco pulls a large stock pot off a shelf. The metal clangs with an echo as he places it on the benchtop. “Tell me, Granger,” his voice dripping with challenge, “what do you know about making cheese?”
Her laugh rings through the kitchen. “Not much, Malfoy,” she steps around the island, coming back into his space, “But I have a feeling you're going to teach me.”
“They don’t call you the Brightest Witch of Her Age for nothing do they?” She gives him a teasing shove, but he pulls her in for a quick hug, placing a kiss on the top of her head. “Now, enough fooling around, you can’t have the best pizza without the best mozzarella. Get the gallon of milk from the fridge.”
The pizza is, in fact, some of the best pizza Hermione has ever eaten.
The company with the meal is even better.
There is a warmth that permeates the atmosphere. Her smile comes easier, and her laughter is light as she watches Scorpius scarf down slice after slice and Draco holds her hand atop the table running his thumb over the back of her knuckles.
“Mother tells me you accepted the position with Constellation.”
Hermione nods, but squints at him, “It’s interesting that she even knew I was looking for a job.”
Shrugging, Draco rises from the table clearing the dirty dishes. As he reaches for her plate, he gives her a wink. “You love to tell people what to do, deciding what children learn seemed right up your alley.”
She launches her napkin at him as he walks away. It falls impotently to the floor amid his laughter. She can’t help but laugh herself. It really is the perfect job for her, she muses to herself as she leaves her place at the table to join him at the sink.
Twilight stretches indolently across the evening sky as the trio strolls among the lavender. The evening crickets scatter as the ever ebullient Scorpius bursts down the rows and over the bushes.
They arrive at the small clearing, the memory of lost mothers, fireflies, and promises of friendship lingering in the air as Draco spreads the blanket over the ground.
Ollie emerges from the fragrant stems and stalks after a fluttering moth, Scorpius soon joining him in playful pursuit.
Hermione and Draco lay side by side, shoulders brushing, fingers braided together as the magic of the evening surrounds them. The twinkle of a firefly overhead draws Hermione’s eye, and as she allows her gaze to float along with the luminescent insect, she finds Draco studying her.
The impulse to avert her eyes doesn’t come and she finds herself studying the planes of his face in turn. With his meticulously constructed walls laid asunder, his sharp features take on an air of calm grace and she basks in the gentle yearning in his eyes.
One of her more impish curls floats on the breeze and he reaches over to twirl it around an elegant finger before tucking it behind her ear. It’s a sweet gesture, but even as his hand lingers in her hair, his thumb brushing her cheek, more curls dance around them.
“I’m glad you decided to come back, Hermione.”
She shifts to turn her body more toward his, “I am too.”
And there in the lavender field, as the first stars glimmer in the sky above, fireflies swirl around them, and the laughter of his son floats over them, he closes the distance between them to capture her lips in a kiss.
As summer closes there is a well-worn path through the woods and between the rows of fading lavender; and as the days turn short and the air turns crisp, the sounds of a family blending together fill the little house in the country and echo across the field and into the lane leading to the village. Winter’s icy blanket covers the surrounding fields while the once impossible love between two people burns as bright as the hearth that warms the cottage. Spring erupts with fresh shoots of green that cover the path, and take hold with a confidence they won’t be trampled.
It’s when the days grow long once more, that Draco and Hermione stand in the field of lavender beside the little house in the country, Scorpius between them vibrating with excitement as his ever-present feline companion cleans its face with a dampened paw, and their friends and family surround them. The sky behind them bursts with the colors of sunset, and the smell of lavender wafts on the evening breeze as they pledge their lives in love and faithfulness to one another; sealing their bond with a kiss amid a swirl of fireflies and magic.