A Fresh Start

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Originally Posted: May 2, 2005

It was raining by the time Hermione left Gringotts. Pulling her robe tighter, she held her files against her chest as she walked briskly through Diagon Alley. Luckily, her destination was not very far. By the time she arrived at Siaglo’s, her hair was a darker brown from the falling drizzle but her robes and paperwork were dry due to the charm she had placed on them before leaving work.

Entering the restaurant, she felt her lips curve into a smile as she was greeted by the owner and made to feel welcome. Warm arms wrapped around her as a matronly woman gave her a disapproving look. “Hermione, you’ll catch your death walking around unprotected in such weather.”

“A little rain has never hurt anyone, Teresa,” Hermione reminded, though she did feel properly scolded for not using an umbrella. From the moment she had saved Teresa Siaglo’s granddaughter during a battle at Hogsmeade over a decade ago, she had found herself adopted by the loving family. Teresa and her husband were Italians who had moved to England during the second Muggle war many decades ago, settling in London and opening their restaurant soon after. Following her successful protection of Denilla from Death Eaters, a table had been permanently set aside for her at Siaglo’s and she had found herself a part of their large family.

She always paid for her meals, refusing to allow them to feed her for free, but she rather liked knowing there was always somewhere she was welcome. As it happened, she was often found here most nights of the week, stopping in for a meal after work and often doing paperwork at her table to avoid returning to her empty and lonely flat. Seamus would have loved Teresa, enjoying the maternal mutterings of the grandmother who fretted constantly about Hermione’s hard work, long hours, and inactive social life, repeating words and concerns he often had before and after they had become involved their seventh year at Hogwarts.

“Come sit down and warm up,” Teresa urged as she took Hermione’s free hand and led her to the table close to the fire. After insuring the brunette witch was comfortable, she smiled, “I shall go make you my special castian pasta for this evening, I think.”

“That sounds lovely,” Hermione told her with a smile, watching her walk back towards the kitchen before turning her attention to the files she had brought with her. The fire felt nice, warming her as her hand moved through her wet hair. A grimace crossed her face as she felt the loose curls, knowing the rain had caused her hair to become even more unruly than normal. Oh well, at least it had stayed under control while she was working.

Putting her vanity to the side for now, she let the chestnut locks fall back into place down her back and focused on the first file she had brought to review. She enjoyed her position at Gringotts, working in a variety of areas but primarily interacting with clients who wished to secure loans or had problems with payment schedules. Hermione had a keen way of finding solutions to such matters that benefited both her employer and the client. She had always excelled with numbers, both in the Muggle world and in Arithmancy when she joined the wizarding world. It had been fortunate to find a position that offered her the opportunity to work in an environment in which she was knowledgeable.

Following the end of the War, the world had been rather chaotic. The worst of the fighting had begun during her seventh year and had continued for nearly two years following her graduation from Hogwarts. Attacks had been random and sporadic when Voldemort first returned, but they had become all too common by the final battle, which had taken place at Hogwarts. Back to the beginning, had been what Harry had said that day. Giving her a rueful smile and a tight hug before fulfilling the destiny he had never wanted but had finally accepted. He had saved them all, his death not in vain, but she still wondered a decade later if there wasn’t something she could have done, some answer that would have saved him. He had been her best friend and his loss still hurt.

Losing Harry had hurt almost as much as losing Seamus, an event that had caused her heart to feel as if it was ripped from her chest. When she was younger, Hermione had never given much thought to love, lacking the typical romantic longing most of her female friends had possessed. She had certainly never expected to find such emotion with a boy she had known since he was eleven, someone who was so unlike her in many ways and was often on the receiving end of her scolding and annoyed glares. Being loved by Seamus was unplanned, something she had never factored into her thoughts for the future or even considered a likely event.

It had happened subtly, her developing feelings for the Irish Gryffindor. One day she had looked up during a meal and he’d been looking at her, a crooked smile on his face as he teased her about working too hard, and it had felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach. Awareness and interest had no longer been something she could deny. Her feelings for him had not been instant, but, looking back, she realized they had grown from sixth year until she could not longer ignore them. Several days later, he had confronted her in the library, refusing to listen to her protests that a relationship between them was ridiculous, that they had hardly anything in common, that it was doomed to failure even before it began. Instead, he had kissed her, successfully ending any objections.

Their relationship had not perfect by any means. They were different in so many ways that it was never like they wrote about in fairy tales or romance books, but it was real and it had been a love Hermione had never imagined experiencing. Seamus had a way of making her forget herself. With him, she laughed and felt cherished. She had been happy during their stolen moments their last year at Hogwarts and during the year that followed. When battles were fought and more lives were lost, Seamus would hold her, not having to say anything because she knew he loved her.

Being loved was so wonderful, to know she had somehow found the person she was meant to be with made her feel so lucky. As the War raged on, she created strategies, helped Harry and the Order fight Voldemort, and risked her life constantly. Seamus had always been there, his strong arms around her waist and his voice in her ear, whispering how much he loved her and making plans for after the War. She had never taken a single moment of their life together for granted, knowing all too well that it could end in a flash of green light, but the end had still been such a surprise. Losing Seamus had nearly broken her. Holding his lifeless body against her, his eyes closed and that special smile he always gave her never again gracing his lips, it was as if her heart had died the same day.

When the War was over, after she had buried even more of her friends and said her final goodbyes to Harry, she had been lost. Seamus was gone, had been for six months by the time the final battle was fought. Harry was gone, her best friend sacrificing himself to destroy Voldemort. Ron had survived the War, but he had changed so much after losing most of his family and his best friend. Whenever they met, it was if Harry’s ghost was there, the loss of him from their lives even more obvious, and it had been little surprise when Ron had accepted an offer to work out of the country. He was married now, the father of two, and she saw him a few times a year, the loss of Harry less painful as time healed them slowly.

Being a hero of the War had meant very little when she began seeking employment. She had been dismayed at the prejudice she had faced due to her blood, stupidly believing that anyone who opposed Voldemort must not have such ridiculous beliefs. A position at the Ministry had been impossible to obtain despite her excellent marks at Hogwarts and her high scores on the NEWTS. Luckily, Gringotts had no such prejudice against blood, not giving a knut less that her parents had been Muggles, offering her a position when no one else would take a chance on hiring a well-known Muggleborn for fear of displeasing customers or clients who may not have backed Voldemort but did hold similar views of Muggleborns in the wizarding world.

Hermione had been determined to succeed at her position at Gringotts, focusing all of her time and energy on her work. During the last decade, she had proven herself an excellent employee and had worked her way to a supervisory position within the loan department. Her job was her life, though she did have friends she met occasionally for drinks or lunch so she was not completely antisocial. She had even attempted to date a few times, knowing Seamus would disapprove of her working so hard and never taking the time to laugh or enjoy her life.

True, her experiences with dating were dreadful, but she had tried. No man had ever made her feel like Seamus had, one look from his eyes telling her she was brilliant, sexy, caring, and attractive. She firmly believed that Seamus was the man she was meant to love, doubting she would ever feel that way again. It was foolish to think she would find that kind of love and relationship a second time, and Hermione Granger was not one to be called foolish.

Cursing herself for the melancholy mood she had thought herself into, she focused her attention on her files, sipping her water and letting the warmth of the fire dry her soaking hair. She lost herself in her paperwork, making notes on her parchment and nibbling on breadsticks as she waited for her meal. Teresa was preparing her something special, which meant it would take a while, so she had time to probably finish all of her files before the meal arrived.

She was on her third file when she became aware of the disturbance. Looking up casually, her eyes widened momentarily when she saw the tall blond wizard arguing with the host. Everyone in the restaurant was whispering and looking at the two men, disgust in most gazes. Sighing, she watched Lucius Malfoy continue to speak calmly and quietly, seemingly ignoring the whispers around him but she noticed his hand tighten its grip on the cane he was leaning against.

It had been several weeks since she had seen the article in the Daily Prophet announcing Malfoy’s release from Azkaban. Many thought it was a horrible scandal that a known Death Eater should be released from prison despite his having served the sentence decided nearly fifteen years ago. The Malfoy name had gone from insuring respect and fear to meaning shame and disgrace. Narcissa Malfoy had died by her own hand within a year of Lucius’ imprisonment, though Hermione knew there had been whispers around the Order that Voldemort was responsible for her death. As for Draco, her former enemy and classmate had followed in his Father’s footsteps, becoming a Death Eater before leaving Hogwarts.

It had been a year after graduation before Draco had turned against Voldemort, providing Snape with information during the last year of fighting in exchange for leniency for Lucius, most likely hearing the rumors that all imprisoned Death Eaters would be given the Kiss regardless of their initial sentence. After the final battle, Draco had disappeared, his name remaining out of the papers and his betrayal of Voldemort known only to a few people. Before he left, he had seen to it that Lucius would be released from prison after serving the remaining ten years of his sentence, an agreement that was tolerable due to most not believing the elder Malfoy would survive another five years much less ten in Azkaban.

He had survived, though, spending even longer in Azkaban than Sirius Black. After the War, he had been forgotten until his release. Hermione was one of the few people aware that Lucius had provided Dumbeldore and the Order with information on Voldemort shortly after his incarceration, learning from the now deceased Headmaster that Lucius had done so to protect his son. It had been too late by that time, Draco all ready following the path to Voldemort. Dumbledore had never said what information was provided, but it had surprised her and Harry that Lucius would even speak to the head of the Order much less provide details of the organization he claimed to not be part of, never admitting to be a Death Eater even after being sentenced to prison for his acts at the Ministry the night they lost Sirius.

She was honestly surprised that either Malfoy would care about one another enough to risk their lives to insure the safety of the other, but it had given her a new respect for them even if she had no admiration or affection for either man. It mattered little to her that they had given important information to the Order, knowing that they had done so for selfish reasons instead of an awareness that Voldemort was wrong and deserved to be stopped. Years of enduring taunts and insults from Draco were not suddenly forgotten because he became a traitor to the Lord he chose to follow nor was the memory of Lucius at the ministry when she was sixteen gone simply because he had tried to save his son from following his path too late to change Draco’s fate.

It had been nearly fifteen years since that night at the Ministry, even longer since Malfoy had tormented Ginny with Riddle’s diary. Looking at him now, she could see that the years in prison had not been kind. He was still a rather handsome and imposing man, his shoulders back and his head held high as he argued with James, the host, and attempted to block out the whispers and disgusted glares aimed at him. However, he was now leaning on his cane, simple wood instead of the fancy one he had used as an accessory when she was child.

His face was thin, his body gaunt, his skin even more pale than she remembered. He was favoring his right leg, his left arm held closely against him in a manner she had seen after battle, an indication of being cursed and not having normal feeling in the appendage. His long blond hair was brushed until it shone, fastened with a strap of black leather that matched his dark robes. The robe he was wearing was plain, lacking any luxurious embellishments or designs. It looked very much like the garments on the sales rack at Madam Malkan’s, basic and affordable.

To any outside observer, he carried himself with confidence and superiority that spoke of the Lucius Malfoy she had met prior to the War. However, she knew that his family home and vaults had been seized by the Ministry following Narcissa’s death, leaving him without the wealth and prestige in which he was accustomed before his sentence to Azkaban. She assumed he had some galleons secreted away somewhere because she had not heard of him protesting the Ministry’s acquisition of his property, an act that would gain him even more unflattering attention in the press.

Hermione was conflicted. On one hand, she took delight in seeing the once proud and smug Pureblood being the object of disdain and disgust, not forgetting what he had done in the past before his time in prison. On the other hand, she knew that he had provided information at various times that had greatly benefited the Order, even if his motives were selfish at the time, and that he had served fifteen years at Azkaban, a rather fair sentence for his crimes. It was unfair for everyone to treat him in such a way when he served his sentence and gained his release, his time in Azkaban served and his release guaranteed even without Draco’s exchange near the end of the War.

If anyone had a right to think poorly of Lucius Malfoy, she did, his actions hurting Ginny and Harry both. She had imagined running into him after seeing the article about his release, thinking she would feel the same hatred and anger she had felt all those years ago. Instead, she was relieved that she felt nothing really save for pity and annoyance at the way he was being treated. It was truly awful the way people judged others, dismissing her because her parents were Muggles and avoiding Remus because he happened to be a lycanthrope. She was thirty years old, old enough to see the injustice of the world and mature enough to let the past remain in the past considering he had served his time.

Making a decision, Hermione stood and made her way to James and Malfoy. As she suspected, James was claiming that there were no tables available, suggesting he try somewhere else for his meal. The restaurant was half empty, the weather getting increasingly horrible and preventing many from going out to eat, so it was obvious he was lying. Teresa was in the back cooking and her employee had taken it upon himself to refuse to seat the former Death Eater.

“There is room at my table.” Hermione interrupted, refusing to flinch or take back her impulsive words when the two men looked at her. James was giving her a look that said ‘Are you nutters? Do you know who this monster is?’ while Lucius quickly concealed his obvious surprise before his eyes narrowed as he seemed to be trying to place her identity.

“I will dine with the young lady,” Lucius spoke before the host could give an excuse as to why he could not. Arching a pale brow, he regarded the rude man. “You do not need to seat me, Sir.”

Following the brunette woman through the restaurant, his face remained impassive as he heard the comments from the tables they passed. He could care less what any of these people said about him, their opinions meaning nothing. Pride was one of the few things he had left in this world and he refused to allow anyone to believe they affected him in any way. Azkaban had been unpleasant, at best, and he was still recovering from his time sent within its walls, but it had not broken him.

The last ten years were a blur, vague memories of damp cold, pain, and fear all that he had remaining. Since his release two weeks ago, he had barely slept, waking from nightmares the rare times when he had been able to sleep. His home was gone, securely under the Ministry’s control. Two hours was all he had been allowed within the manor that had been in his family for centuries, an auror watching him carefully as he packed a few belongings that he had to receive permission to take. It was galling, having to ask for things that were his, to know his home was left empty and unused merely as a show of power by the Ministry, to be forced to rent a small flat because he could afford nothing more comfortable.

It was fortunate that he had kept his inheritance from his Mum in a separate vault under her name, the Ministry unable to gain access to the vault no matter how they tried. There were enough galleons to support him throughout his life but just barely. Narcissa’s death had given the Ministry the opportunity to take over control of everything, forcing Draco out and leaving him with nothing. It was little wonder his son had joined Voldemort despite Lucius’ own misgivings following his incarceration in Azkaban.

It had become all too real when he was forced to suffer for his choices, no longer an amusing game of control and power that he played intending to put those inferior creatures in their proper place. His wife had supported him in his endeavors but she had suggested that things were going too far shortly before he was caught, reminding him of the other War and the escape from justice that he had barely avoided. He had not listened to her, confident that Voldemort would succeed that time, and it was only later that he cursed himself for being stubborn and refusing to consider her words.

He could no longer remember Narcissa’s lovely face. Memories appeared to him at times, random and undefined, a flash of blue eyes and pale hair, a smile that made him feel as if there was nothing in this world he could not do, the feel of her arms around him. Those memories had been with him since he was sent to Azkaban, becoming even more vague as the years passed. When he had learned of her death, he had known that she did not take her own life.

His Narcissa had been beautiful, strong, brave, and stubborn. She had visited him during those first few months vowing to get him released, promising she would do whatever it took to gain his freedom, scolding him for being so stupid and consumed with his thirst for power and dislike of Muggles to get himself into such a situation in the first place. Now he was free and she was gone, the nights lonely and the memories no longer able to help him remember what it was like to love.

As he took a seat at the table, his gray eyes swiftly moved over the brunette woman opposite him. There was something familiar about her. She was young in appearance, in her late twenties perhaps, but her eyes were old, which led him to believe she must have been involved in the War. Her hair was long and loose, falling down her shoulders in a wild tangle of unmanageable curls. His eyes lingered on her hair, a memory nagging at his mind. ‘That bushy-haired Mudblood of Potter’s always bests me, Father.’

“Miss Granger,” he said softly, eyes narrowing slightly as he finally placed a name with the young woman.

“Mister Malfoy.” Her words were curt but polite as she studied him a moment. Refusing to react to her examination, he kept his head held high and ignored the slight pain in his left side that was a constant remainder of his time in prison. When she looked at him, what did she see? A fifty-six year old wizard who had been unrepentantly evil when she was a child, he could assume her opinion would not be favorable. He was unhealthy at the moment, had not eaten properly since his last meal before going to the Ministry all those years ago, and his normally muscular and commanding physique was now frail and weak. He was not weak, though, no matter how Azkaban had tried to break him. His mind was strong, alert and intelligent even if he had had issues with his memories of his life and family.

Deciding that it was only fair to examine her in a similar way, he cautiously studied her. She was by no means beautiful but she was rather striking. Pretty, he decided suddenly as he studied her. She was the first person that had looked him directly in the eyes since his release from Azkaban. Her amber eyes did not show fear, anger, or pity. Instead, she looked him as if it was nothing unusual for the Muggleborn best friend of Potter to be dining with a former Death Eater. Her face was free of glamour charms to conceal the imperfections so he noticed the circles beneath her eyes, the scar near her right ear that had not been healed by magic, the full lips that were chapped and red possibly from being nibbled while she was thinking, a habit he himself had, and two freckles near her nose.

He was surprised when she suddenly smiled, a brief smile that drew his notice instantly, before she nodded once and turned her attention to the open file on the table in front of her. Frowning slightly at seemingly being determined harmless by the girl before him, he remembered a time when she would have been cowering in fear instead of going about her work as if he was not a threat or danger.

“Frowning causes lines to appear around your mouth, Mister Malfoy. It is rather unattractive and gives you the appearance of sulking. I would assume a man of your advanced years would not wish to be viewed in such a way.”

“It would do you well, Miss Granger, to refrain from assuming you know anything at all about me,” he informed her sharply, though he did stop frowning, setting his lips in a firm line instead.

“Really, Mister Malfoy?” She looked up then, a slight smile on her lips as she casually said, “I assume that you have pain in your left side that makes it very difficult to maneuver through the tables here yet you did not flinch or cringe at all during the walk from the front of the restaurant. I would deduce that you do not wish to give the whispering gossips any reason to believe that you are feeble or provide discussion for them regarding your physical health. Would that assumption be correct?”

Before he could deny her allegations, a waiter appeared. He watched carefully as the man gave Granger a concerned look before glaring rudely at him as he was handed a menu. It was obvious that she knew the employees at this restaurant rather well, judging from the protectiveness he was sensing from them all. He deliberately opened his menu and gave the waiter a dismissing curt nod before looking at the choices. The writing was small and barely readable, a sigh escaping his lips as he was once again reminded of his age. His eyesight had been horrid after his initial release, accustomed to the dark cell and not at all coming back easily when he was once again in sunlight. It was getting better but perhaps he should have waited longer before making his first public appearance.

“The lasagna is excellent,” she said thoughtfully, again studying him with that look as if she was trying to solve a puzzle.

“Is it?” He shut the menu, looking back at her. With a slightly smug smile, he mused, “I would assume to trust your opinion in that regard. After all, I would assume you spend many evenings dining here. You work as much as you can to avoid being alone and dine here, letting the chatter of others ease your loneliness.”

“Actually, I am just a dreadful cook. It is far easier to eat out than send myself to St. Mungos because of my poor cooking. Do refrain from telling anyone that I actually admitted there was something in which I do not excel. I’m afraid they would never believe I acknowledged one of my many faults.”

His head moved to the side as he looked at her. “You’re lying,” he determined. Waving his right hand, he dismissed her before she could object. “Oh, I have no doubt that you are inept at cooking. From what I remember my son saying about you, Miss Granger, I find it unlikely you would confess to being inadequate at any task unless you were sincere. However, I believe that you choose to eat here because you are lonely and resist returning to an empty flat.”

“Mister Malfoy, I would suggest that your assumptions of me were as accurate as my assumptions about you,” she finally said quietly, holding up her glass as if to say ‘point to you’.

“Why are you not married and the Mum of a dozen brats, Miss Granger?” he asked curiously. “I would assume that many a wizard would be interested in securing an intelligent and pretty spouse despite your less than stellar origins.”

“I see that fifteen years in Azkaban has not changed your views on some things. That is a shame, Mister Malfoy. Hate is such a consuming emotion.”

“I do apologize, Miss Granger,” he relented slightly. “My viewpoint on such matters has existed for over five decades and I do not foresee my opinions changing no matter how many years I spent at Azkaban. However, hate is a strong word that does not properly describe my thoughts on the issue.”

“Do enlighten me, Mister Malfoy,” she challenged with a narrowing of her eyes. “I would be most interested in hearing why you continue to believe that those with pure blood are superior.”

"It is an outdated opinion, I am aware, but it was the way in which I was raised, Miss Granger.” Lucius sighed before taking a drink of the water he was given. As he tried to collect his thoughts, the waiter appeared and he ordered the lasagna and a bottle of wine before turning back to the young woman.

“I can understand being taught to think Muggles and Muggleborns are worthless, Mister Malfoy. However, I do not understand simply accepting such a statement without thinking for one’s self.”

“My son challenged my views. Even before I was incarcerated, he asked questions, wanting to know answers that he could understand. That school my wife insisted we send him to made him think, which greatly annoyed me at the time but now I am pleased that he eventually made his own decisions, even if his opinions differed than my own in the end. My hate was taken from me gradually over the years, Miss Granger. I still believe that those with pure blood are more deserving of respect and admiration, but I no longer care one way or another about those with mixed blood being in our world.”

“Yet you ask me if some wizard has overlooked my dirty blood as if it would be a favor to me to be loved in such a way,” she reminded him stubbornly.

“Just because I no longer hate does not mean I suddenly respect and accept. The world has changed greatly during the last fifteen years and I cannot change suddenly in the span of two weeks. Such an idea is ridiculous and not at all likely. I would be lying if I told you I had no dislike for Muggles and, somehow, I do not think you one to tolerate liars, Miss Granger.”

“You are correct, Mister Malfoy. I do not condone lying at all. I believe that honesty, no matter how brutal or blunt, is always best. Do you not find it odd that you are seated with a Muggleborn discussing such serious matters? When I initially intervened and offered you a seat, I assumed you would either refuse or remain silent.”

“An assumption proven wrong,” he smirked, rather pleased with himself for earning another reluctant smile from her.

“Do try not to be so smug. It’s rather annoying,” she smiled slightly. “Regardless, our conversation is proving to cause even more whispers from those around us and I am nowhere near closer to understanding whether or not you still wish to see me and my kind driven from the wizarding world all together.”

“I have grown more tolerant as I grow older.” His cryptic reply made her frown, but he honestly had no intention of discussing such matters when he was actually enjoying himself. It had been far too long since he had had a conversation with anyone, much less an attractive and intelligent young woman.

“So have I,” she finally said. “After all, I invited a former enemy to share my table and am now discussing subjects that are somewhat painful and that I have not spoken of since Harry’s death.”

He heard the sadness in her voice when she spoke of Potter. Personally, he had never liked the boy and had memories of intense loathing when he thought of the wizard who had defeated the Dark Lord. “I am sorry for your loss, Miss Granger.”

“No you are not,” she laughed dryly. “I would expect that even those Death Eaters in prison had a moment of rejoice and happiness upon learning of his death.”

“I am not sorry that he died, that is certainly true. I am sorry that you lost someone you cared about and that you are still missing him all these years later.”

“I do miss him. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Harry or Seamus,” she admitted softly. She suddenly grimaced. “Bloody hell, I am not going to discuss the loss of my best friend and my lover with the man who tried to kill us at the Ministry fifteen years ago.”

“Seamus? That would be the lover I presume?” He frowned as he looked at the candle in the middle of the table. “I lost my wife to the War, also. They told me she killed herself but Narcissa was too strong to do such a thing. I have little doubt that Voldemort had it done if he did not do it himself.”

“I am sorry for your loss, Mister Malfoy,” she repeated his words with a note of sincerity.

“You are correct, Miss Granger. This discussion is very odd,” he smiled slightly. “I do believe I have gone too many years without companionship or conversation.”

“Odd is not necessarily bad,” she said thoughtfully. “I am enjoying myself despite my reservations regarding sharing a table with you.”

“May I be so bold as to ask for your first name?”

“Hermione,” she said with a small smile.

“Thank you, Miss Granger.” He looked at the folders and then back at her, reluctant to let the conversation end. “Do you always bring your work to dinner with you?”

“Yes,” she said matter-of-factly. “I like to keep busy and find it difficult to simply sit while waiting for my meal.”

“What is it that you do?” he asked curiously. There were few memories left of his son, Lucius treasuring even the vague reminders of Draco, but he could easily recall hearing for several years about the ‘Mudblood Granger and her bloody high marks’.

“I am a supervisor at Gringotts. They had no such aversion to my inferior blood and hired me shortly after the War ended. I work in loans and acquisitions as a supervisor.”

She began to tell him about her job, her enthusiasm evident even as her tone was calm and understated. He sat back and listened, insisting she have a glass of wine when it was brought to their table, thankful that he had the foresight to bring enough galleons to cover the extra cost of wine with his meal. Normally, he would be unable to afford such a luxury but this was his first meal out since being released and he was pleased to be enjoying it immensely, in part to his unexpected dinner companion.

He asked questions, honestly curious about her life and job, finding it unusual that he was enjoying himself with someone he would have sooner killed than spoken with two decades ago. She was also curious, asking him questions and changing the subject when it became apparent that he was uncomfortable. Not only was she quite lovely and intelligent, she was also generous enough to care about a former Death Eater that most people would happily let rot in Azkaban much less be polite and friendly. By the time an older witch interrupted them, he was content and somewhat happy for the first time in longer than he cared to remember.

“Hermione, you did not tell me you were having company this evening,” the older woman scolded playfully before turning to look at him. He saw her eyes widen as she recognized him, his smile fading as his customary look of disdain appeared, preparing for her to oppose his conversation with Hermione, ready to fight if it meant she would continue smiling at him and treating him as if he actually did matter.

“Teresa, I would like for you to meet my friend, Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy, this is Teresa Siaglo, the owner of this restaurant,” Hermione introduced them.

Lucius stared at her for a moment, unable to conceal his surprise at hearing her refer to him as a friend. It had not even been two hours since he sat down with her yet she was calling him a friend and smiling softly. She was far too trusting, he decided, imagining her in horrible situations because of her generous nature and apparent fondness for those not easily accepted by society, such as the werewolf she spoke of so fondly and now him.

“Do you think this is smart, girl?” Teresa Siaglo asked what he was thinking, earning a slight glare from him for thinking he would hurt this girl at the same time knowing that there was a time not too long ago that he would have delighted in taking advantage of her trust and making her suffer.

“Yes,” she said simply, her tone implying that she would stubbornly refuse to budge from her decision that he was a stray worthy of her time and arguing with her was pointless.

Black eyes looked at him then, narrowed in warning. “Hermione saved my granddaughter during that dreadful War. She’s one of our family now so you’d best not do anything to hurt her. I know who you are, Malfoy, but I trust her and know she wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if she thought you hadn’t changed. Be sure to try the castian pasta. It’s something I make special for our girl here. It’s her favorite.”

“Mrs. Siaglo, it is a pleasure to meet you,” he flashed his most charming smile before looking at the food. “It all looks delicious.”

“Hmph,” she snorted, though her cheeks were a bit pink from receiving the full extent of his charm, something he had not had reason to use for many years and was still a bit unfamiliar once again. “You’re too thin, boy. You need to eat everything on your plate. I think I’ll bring you some castian of your own, too.”

“Boy?” Lucius repeated with an arched brow as she walked back towards the kitchen. He looked at Hermione and smiled slightly. “Considering I will be sixty in a few years, I must confess that I have not been referred to in such a way in many years.”

Hermione laughed at his words, moving her files to the side as they began to eat. It was the most delicious meal he could remember having, the table growing quiet as they ate before gradually starting to talk again. They discussed magical theory during the rest of their dinner and moved on to the Goblin rebellion during dessert. After they finished eating, it was time to leave, both a bit reluctant to stop their argument about their opinions of the Goblins.

She insisted on paying for half of the wine, giving him a stubborn look that was already becoming familiar when he protested. He gave in finally, not wishing to ruin the past few hours by being as stubborn. After she had received her change, she collected her things and stood. Looking at her, he said, “Thank you for sharing your meal with me this evening, Miss Granger.”

“My pleasure, Mister Malfoy,” she replied as she stacked her folders. “Though you really must read Grionti again because it is obvious that you paid no attention to the reasons the Goblins rebelled. I would have expected a man your age to be able to admit when he was wrong.”

“If the occasion arises in which I am wrong, I will gladly admit so, Miss Granger,” he smirked. “However, in this situation, you are wrong and just too obstinate to admit you are not as brilliant as you like to think.”

“I am very brilliant,” she assured him, her eyes flashing with amusement. “I will be dining here again tomorrow evening. I think I will bring my copy of Grionti to prove my accuracy in that particular argument should you happen to find your way here once again.”

“If, per chance, I do decide to dine out once again, I will assume that you will admit you are wrong when I show you proof that my opinion is accurate,” he mused thoughtfully, his lips curving into a small smile.

“I would admit such a thing if I was wrong. However, since I am right, I believe it will be you admitting your defeat in this particular discussion,” she replied confidently. Giving him a small smile, she said, “Have a good evening, Mister Malfoy. Surprisingly, I enjoyed our conversation very much.” She paused for a moment before saying softly, “I hope to see you tomorrow evening.”

He watched her walk away, his eyes following her progress to the front door. Leaning back in his chair, he flexed the fingers of his left hand, cringing slightly from the pain, his gray eyes thoughtful. When she reached the entrance, she turned and gave him a brief smile before stepping out into the rainy night. He knew that he would return the following evening, the alternative sitting in his small flat alone without intelligent conversation and a pretty young woman to admire.

As he took a sip of his wine, he realized that things could be much worse. He was alive and slowly healing, had enough money in his vault to live comfortably if not extravagantly, had intentions to locate Draco as soon he was once again healthy and situated, and he now had a friend. Thinking of the small caring smile she had given him throughout their meal, he suddenly felt as if there was nothing in the world that he could not accomplish.

The End