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A New Life by mrdarcy

Format: Novella
Chapters: 11
Word Count: 31,604
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Language, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Ron, Hermione, Draco, Scorpius, Hugo, Rose
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Draco/OC

First Published: 08/02/2007
Last Chapter: 09/07/2008
Last Updated: 09/07/2008

Summary:
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*DH SPOILERS!* Being the most successful attorney in Wizarding Law, Draco Malfoy hires Hermione Weasley to handle his divorce and gain custody of his child. Struggling not to fall in love with her, he realises that her own marriage is shaky, and he becomes the only one she can turn to for the comfort she needs... 'When you say you love both Ron and me, remember: I love you back.'


Chapter 1: All Grown Up
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A/N: First of all, thank you for expressing curiosity by pressing the button to read this story. Before you proceed, I must warn you that there are MAJOR HP & The Deathly Hallows spoilers, and if you haven't read the book, I would urge you not to read this.

Secondly, the epilogue of DH has been the main source of information used in this story; assuming that Rose was, like Albus, starting her first year at Hogwarts in it, and this story takes place at the end of that year, she is twelve years old, like Scorpius. Hugo is seven. Another source of information was the webchat in which JK told us that Hermione worked in Wizarding Law, and that Ron had been working both in George's jokeshop and (either before or later) as an Auror.

As for Malfoy's wife, we've no information about that whatsoever, so I have taken creative liberties and you'll find out who she is in later chapters. As there is no mention of Malfoy's profession either, I have gone with an idea I really like, which you'll find out in this chapter. If, or as soon as, JK Rowling tells us the name of his wife and profession, I shall, however, be glad to change it.

Thank you for reading. Many special thanks to those who decide to review.


*

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'Hurry up, Hugo, we're rather late.'

Hermione Granger Weasley stood impatiently by the door, Hugo's bag in her hand, waiting for her son to finish tying his shoelace. It was already ten minutes to eight and she had never been late for a playdate before.

'Will you come back here afterwards?'

Ron was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, his arms crossed, an unusually serious look on his face. Hermione did not falter as she shifted Hugo's bag in her hands.

'You know I won't. I've got half a dozen appointments this morning.'

It was easy to see how much this piece of information irritated Ron, for he let a scorn cross his face.

'I thought we could do something together. The shop doesn't open 'til three this afternoon.'

If Ron had felt irritated before, it was nothing to what Hermione felt now. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, that was all she heard about from sunrise to sunset. How George had invented the most fantastic new product, how they had had hundreds of customers waiting in line, which new staff they had hired... It was nothing that special, Hermione thought, Ron's job didn't even bring that much money in... Hermione was the breadwinner of the family, and they both knew it. She had been the glue that stuck them together for the past fourteen years.

'You can't expect me to cancel six clients, Ron,' she answered irritably. 'These rendez-vous were made weeks ago -'

'I know, I know,' snapped Ron, 'you don't have to remind me about how popular you are, Hermione, I know everyone wants to see you.'

Hurt, Hermione turned away and looked at Hugo, trying to conceal the sudden tears in her eyes. He had no idea how much those words wounded her, how hard she worked for their family so that they could have a good life... And Ron could do nothing but criticise.

'You ready, Hugo?'

Hugo, oblivious to all that had occurred, jumped up and nodded, smiling. Ron walked over to his seven year old son and kissed him on the forehead. To Hermione, he said or did nothing, but folded his arms once more. His wife gazed at him coolly.

'So you'll pick him up at Ginny's at two?'

'Sure.'

'Fine then. Give my best to George.'

'Hermione -'

But Hermione had already taken Hugo by the hand, walked out the door and disappeared into nothingness.

*


After dropping Hugo off at Ginny's house to play with Lily and half a dozen other little children, Hermione made her way to the Ministry, her mind full of bitter thoughts. Ginny was a perfect little housewife, happy to be at home and take care of the kids, arrange playdates and bake cookies. Her job was writing Quidditch articles for a magazine, which she could easily do at home. Hermione's life was, in comparison, hectic. She was one of the top attorneys at the Magical Law Enforcement, and in the past ten years, had moved from department to department - from Creature Law to Wizarding Law and now to Family Law. She enjoyed Family Law more than she had enjoyed her other work. Here, she communicated with people about normal problems, problems even Muggles had - marriage, divorce, custody. Ironically enough, it was only since she had started working in this department that her problems with Ron had arisen.

Facing difficult problems of everyday life, talking to couples who had been married for donkey's years and now wanted a divorce, suddenly made her realise how inconsequential her life with Ron had become. They talked of nothing, they lived through nothing; it was impossible for Ron to be serious, to do the dishes without producing a fake wand, even drop off the kids without losing them first. He was like a child, and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had worsened this. She thought, when he lost Fred, that he would mature considerably; now, it was like he had to replace Fred in order to keep George happy. But Fred wasn't the man she had fallen in love with. It was too difficult talking about the death of his brother to bring this subject up without considerable pain, so Hermione left it alone; but it was becoming an unbearable life for her, and several times she had considered seperation. She kept a happy face on for Rose, who was attending her first year at Hogwarts, and Hugo, was was still too young to notice anything, but she knew it couldn't go on much longer.

'Morning Polly. Any calls?'

Polly Diggle took Hermione's coat and reached out for her notebook. As Hermione's secretary, it was her job to keep her boss satisfied, which was always a difficult task; Hermione had been in a foul mood lately.

'You got an in-house memo from the Auror Department, asking about the Wizarding Decree 336 -'

'That's not my job anymore, tell them to bother the Wizarding Law workers.'

' - your ten o' clock cancelled -'

'Good riddance.'

' - and your nine o' clock is waiting in the hall.'

Hermione's brow furrowed. She could not remember her having scheduled a nine o' clock appointment, and felt relieved that she had arrived ten minutes early.

'Remind me?'

Polly opened her mouth to answer, but then suddenly Hermione's new client entered the room, a cocky smile on his face.

'Nine o' clock appointment: Draco Malfoy, old nemesis, new client.'

Hermione's jaw dropped as her old enemy sat down in front of her, clearly enjoying the fuss he was creating, and looking expectant.

*


He had changed in appearance, but not in manners, thought Hermione, as Polly closed the door and left Malfoy and Hermione alone. He looked older and (Hermione hated to admit it) wiser, as if he had learned a great deal since his years as a Death Eater. She had last seen him almost a year ago, at the Hogwart's Express, but had not stopped to chat; Ron had been particularly venomous, demanding that Rose not talk to Scorpius, Draco's son.

'What are you doing here?' Hermione asked coolly, nervously shuffling the papers on her desk, though they were already in perfect piles.

'I thought that was obvious?' he drawled. 'Family Law. I'm getting a divorce.'

The truth hit Hermione hard in the face. She did not know why it was so difficult for her to hear it; she barely knew Malfoy, and did not know his wife at all, but it seemed to her that if proud, rich, pureblood Malfoy could be unhappy in his marriage, then anyone could, including Hermione.

'I'm sorry,' she said curtly. Malfoy raised his eyebrows.

'By all means, don't trouble yourself to sound sincere, Granger - oh no, wait, it's Weasley now, isn't it?'

Hermione nodded.

'Right.'

He surveyed her momentarily. His thoughts were much the same as hers; that she had grown - not in height - but in wisdom and even in wit. Maternity had taken its toll with her, and she looked at ease and less shrill than he remembered her. Hermione was not the sort of girl he would call pretty, but there was something in her eyes that caught his interest, because they represented to him what he felt.

'Well,' said Hermione suddenly, 'let me give you a list of names that can grant you that divorce, shall I? Several of my colleagues -'

'Wait a minute,' said Malfoy and sat up properly. 'Can't you grant me a divorce?'

Hermione was stunned for the second time in ten minutes. It hadn't occurred to her that she would handle Malfoy's divorce; she thought it an unspoken understanding between them that they should have as little to do as possible with one another.

'Yeah, I can...' she said uncertainly, 'But my colleagues can do as good a job.'

'I don't want good,' Malfoy answered severely, 'I want the best. I want sole custody over my child.'

Taken aback, Hermione lost grip of her quill and it fell to the floor. She bended down to retrieve it and then looked up.

'You want sole custody over Scorpius?'

Malfoy's eyes narrowed.

'How do you know my son's name?'

'My daughter, Rose... They're in the same year. He's a good kid, she says.'

'Yeah, well, not all I do is bad, Granger - sorry, Weasley.'

'Why would you want sole custody over your child?'

'He's my kid, isn't he? Don't worry, I'm a Healer, I can afford it.'

This news did not surprise her; she knew that, after the War, Malfoy had longed to do an honest profession. He had claimed that he wanted to help people, after wounding so many as a Death Eater.

Hermione sighed, then bit her lip. She slowly laid her quill down and looked at Malfoy resolutely.

'Listen, Malfoy, I don't think I can do this for you. I think we've got to be honest with eachother, we're just too -'

'Damn it, Weasley, are you going to make this a sob story? I'm hiring you. That's all there is to it. I'm going to need the best attorney to get custody over Scorpius, and despite my intense dislike of you, you probably are the best in this department, so there we are. Agreed?'

Hermione stared at Malfoy for a short while, as if making her mind up about something. Then, not being able to find a valid reason for refusing his offer, she nodded. He almost gave a sigh of relief, but covered it up with a fake cough.

'First we're going to need grounds.'

'Grounds?'

'Reasons for the divorce.'

'How about a loveless marriage?'

As Malfoy said these words, Hermione couldn't help thinking about her own marriage with Ron... a loveless marriage... She grew pale at the horrible reality of it.

'You all right?'

She looked up and saw something almost like curiosity in Malfoy's eyes, but it quickly vanished as she nodded and returned to her parchment.

'Loveless won't do it. Maybe if your wife had an affair... or left you?' she asked delicately. Malfoy let out a barkish sort of laugh.

'A Mrs Malfoy, have an affair? I doubt it.'

Irritated, Hermione threw her quill back down on the desk.

'Well, you better give me a reason, I can't work with this.'

'All right, then... Can't we just say irreconcilible differences?'

'That doesn't guarantee you custody. The mother usually gets the child in the majority of these cases. Now, if you had something on your wife -'

'You do play dirty, Granger.'

'Weasley.'

Malfoy looked at her, his lips forming a cocky smile.

'You'll always be Granger to me, Granger.'

Hermione did not know why she blushed; it was not as if there was anything flirtatious in these words or even suggesting, but she did blush, and decided there and then that it would be best to conclude the meeting. She stood up.

'My ten o' clock is probably waiting.'

Malfoy got to his feet as well, no longer smiling.

'Thanks for your time,' he said.

'You can arrange another appointment with Polly,' Hermione added indifferently.

Malfoy held out his hand. As Hermione shook it, she thought she felt a bolt of electricity run up her spine - a feeling not altogether unpleasant. She quickly let go and was relieved when Malfoy had left the room. Only feeling slightly guilty, she shuffled her papers - there was no ten o' clock meeting.

*


A/N: Taster for next week's chapter:

Malfoy searched for a white, silk handkerchief inside his jacket and took it out. Hermione held out her hand for it, but he disregarded this, and took her hand between his. He dried the coffee gently away. He was concentrating on what he was doing so he did not see Hermione's eyes search him wonderingly, as if surprised at this soft gesture.




Chapter 2: Troubled Marriage
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It was just eight o' clock when Hermione shut and locked the door behind her, feeling a sort of happy exhaustion at the fact that another day had succesfully ended.

Hermione and Ron's cottage was not very large, but enough to accommodate two adults and two children. The kitchen was on the main floor, and it was in this room that Hermione found Ron, sitting by the wooden, round, scrubbed dining table and doing today's crossword. She smiled at this sight, but the smile quickly vanished as she faced the rest of the kitchen: dishes and plates were piled high by the sink, leftovers were on the stove and none of the surfaces had been cleaned. Irritation and anger spread throughout Hermione - she could not even come home to a tidy house after a long day's work.

'Hello sweetheart,' said Ron, as he looked up and saw Hermione. He reached out for her arm and pulled her to him, giving her a light peck on the lips. 'Here, give us a hand: Three letters: takes up a lot of room and can be annoying...?'

'How about your ego?' snapped Hermione as she dropped her briefcase on the floor and walked towards the sink, withdrawing her wand as she did so.

'What are you doing?' asked Ron, as he saw his wife walk away from him. Water poured out of her wand. 'I was about to do those!'

'But you didn't!' yelled Hermione angrily. 'D'you think I like coming home to this? Damn it, Ron, you can't even clean a kitchen!'

'Don't talk to me like that!' roared Ron, throwing the Daily Prophet away from him. 'I told you I was about to do it!'

'You're always about to do things,' Hermione raged, scrubbing with all her strength, as if her anger would disappear the harder she scrubbed. 'You never actually do them. The treehouse? Hugo's treehouse? Have you built it? No. Have you written a letter to Rose in the past six months? No. What about that dinnerparty we owe Harry and Ginny -'

'Well, if you'd just make the damn meal, then we could have one -'

'I CAN'T DO EVERYTHING, RON!' shouted Hermione at the top of her lungs, and water splashed everywhere. 'I work 12 hours a day -'

'There we go again!' yelled Ron in a voice as loud as Hermione's. 'Always on about your work, how you're the one who puts food on the table, how you're responsible for the whole family -'

'Well, it's true, isn't it?'

'Yeah, you know what,' breathed Ron, and his voice was suddenly low, furious - the worst thing Hermione had heard that evening. He reached for his jacket. 'You're right. You're the winner. I'm the loser.'

'Don't -'

'So, you know what, Hermione? You can just keep this bloody house to yourself. I'm going to George's.'

Hermione watched helplessly as her husband grabbed his keys from the table and walked towards the door.

'Don't bother coming back then!' she managed to yell before he slammed the door.

Hermione continued scrubbing for a few minutes, trying to distract herself, to convince herself that they were still happy, that this was just a phase... Then she sunk to her knees with a desperate sob, her hands and face soaking with mingled tears and soap water.

*


'Wow, Granger, you look terrible.'

Hermione had dark shadows under her eyes; she hadn't been able to sleep. Her hair needed washing and her face was very strained. Malfoy's brow was furrowed as he sat down opposite her.

'What are you doing here?' sighed Hermione, reaching for a cup of coffee.

'I managed to convince Polly to give me an appointment this morning. Did you fall out a tree or something, because -'

'Could you just,' answered Hermione agressively, 'leave my appearance out of this, please? It's none of your business.'

She took a sip of coffee and rubbed one of her eyes, then reached out for Malfoy's file.

'Trouble with some people is that they work too hard,' he continued quietly. Hermione ignored him.

'What was your wife's maiden name?'

'Bennet. Seriously, Granger, are you sure you're -'

'Henrietta Bennet,' interrupted Hermione loudly, 'I've never heard of that name before.'

'Probably because she's a Muggle,' said Malfoy, one eyebrow raised.

Hermione looked up. She continued to be shocked by Malfoy. Malfoy, the pureblood, Malfoy, the snob, marry a Muggle? She couldn't believe it.

'Why look so disbelieving, Granger?'

'It's just...'

'What, you think I'm incapable of falling in love?'

'You said it was a loveless marriage.'

'Not to begin with,' sighed Malfoy. 'It never is to begin with.'

Hermione was grateful at that moment that she spilled her cup of coffee, for tears had filled her eyes, and the sensation of scalding coffee on her hand gave her an excuse to dry her eyes.

'Damn it! Sorry -'

'Here -'

Malfoy searched for a white, silk handkerchief inside his jacket and took it out. Hermione held out her hand for it, but he disregarded this, and took her hand between his. He dried the coffee gently away. He was concentrating on what he was doing so he did not see Hermione's eyes search him wonderingly, as if surprised at this soft gesture.

'Thanks,' she muttered, and withdrew her hand. She gave the handkerchief back to him. 'Well, I talked to a colleague about your file, and he thinks that the best thing to do is to cite irreconcilible differences, because that way -'

But Malfoy wasn't listening. He had been lost in the touch of Hermione's soft skin, and had difficulty shaking himself awake. He had not expected to feel something like that so suddenly, after a hard seperation between himself and his wife, much less something coming from Granger, a girl he had detested, though respected, since he were eleven. It couldn't have happened; he had imagined it.

*


Hermione's last client had cancelled, so she came home early that evening, in time to tuck Hugo in and hopefully get some sleep. When she walked into the kitchen, she saw Ron sitting by the table again, this time his head in his hands. The kitchen was very clean.

'Hermione,' he said croakily as he saw her and stood up instantly. He envelopped her in his arms. Hermione let out a sigh of relief and relaxed in them. 'I'm so, so sorry. I don't know what happened.'

They walked over to the table. Ron had poured them both a glass of wine and made pasta. Though it was inedible, Hermione smiled and got some of it down out of pure happiness.

'I don't know either,' she said. 'We're just... It's not getting any better.'

'I know,' agreed Ron earnestly, 'I know, and I want it to be... I love you so much.'

Hermione smiled in complete bliss and took his hand in hers. Of course they were happy, of course theirs was a good marriage, how could she ever have thought otherwise?

'But... Maybe we're just working too hard...'

Hermione, who had been sipping her wine, choked and set the glass back on the table. She could already sense a fight building, like the calm before the storm.

'Working too hard?' she said testily. 'Ron, I'm working this hard so we can get a bigger place. Maybe if you didn't mess around in WWW for five Galleons an hour, we might afford -'

'Don't keep insulting George's shop!' snapped Ron.

'My point exactly!' exclaimed Hermione. 'It's George's shop, not yours... Ron, you're...' Hermione sighed, forcing herself to stay calm as she took Ron's hand once more. Her voice was gentle. 'Ron, you're not Fred. You never will be. George can't get Fred back, no matter how hard you try.'

She thought for a moment that she had succeeded, but then was proved wrong; Ron let go of her hand and, in speechless rage, stormed upstairs. She heard the door to their bedroom slam and downed the rest of her wine in one, preparing for another sleepless night on the couch.

*


She woke up early the next morning. She had been thinking about it all night and had come to a decision. Ron was still in bed when she packed two suitcases - one for her and one for Hugo. She was just making coffee when Ron came downstairs. His eye on the luggage, he said:

'What the hell is this?'

Hermione looked at him resolutely, determined.

'We need some time apart, Ron,' she said calmly. 'I can't live like this anymore, it's affecting my work. I need to think, I need to sleep... It'll do us good.'

Struggling with emotions, Ron did not seem to know what to say.

'And Hugo?'

'I'm taking him with me. You need time to think too, Ron. Now there's... there's two weeks left till Rose comes back home for her summer holidays... By then, I think... Maybe we'll have had time enough to decide whether - whether this is really what we want for eachother.'

Ron nodded. He did not know what else to do.

*


The first week was difficult for Hermione. She moved into a hotel near the Ministry and picked up most of Hugo's toys in the course of a few days, but she could tell that her son wasn't happy. He longed for a home-cooked meal, he longed for his own bed, and most of all, he longed for his father. Ron picked him up in the mornings, but couldn't spend more than a few hours with him; the jokeshop was always busy in the afternoon.

'Mummy,' yawned Hugo, as Hermione tucked him on the 13th evening away from Ron.

'What is it, sweetheart?'

'Are you angry with Daddy?'

Hermione considered the question. She did not like lying, but she couldn't draw her seven year old son into her problems.

'Of course not, darling, Daddy just needs some peace and quiet for a while...'

'And then we'll go home?'

Hermione didn't answer; she couldn't. What was she to say? Make a promise she might not be able to keep? She stroked her son's hair and thought he looked just like his father. He had long, wavy red locks and eyes the same shade of blue.

'Rosie will be home soon,' Hermione whispered, changing the subject as her son slowly fell asleep, 'and then we'll go home... I love you, Hugo.'

'I love you too, Mummy,' murmured the boy, and then he was sleeping.

Hermione shut the light and closed the door to their room, number 335. She suddenly felt like she needed a drink, and decided to do something she never did; go to the downstairs bar for something strong.

'What can I get you, Miss?' asked the bartender five minutes later.

'Glass of white wine, please,' answered Hermione, stretching her long legs against her stool and groaning. The bartender smiled at her sympathetically.

'Granger? What in Merlin's name are you doing her?'

Hermione whirled around and saw the last person she wanted to see in this very moment, dishevelled and exhausted as she was: Draco Malfoy, wearing yellow Healer's robes, his blonde hair messy, his eyes as tired as hers.

'Where did you come from?' she asked irritably.

'Some sort of fight in the kitchens. Two cooks got their feet turned into giant marshmallows,' said Malfoy, pointing behind him. Surely enough, there stood a gathering of about five people in the same colour robes, eyeing Malfoy as they unpacked Healing instruments.

'Oh. Well don't let me keep you.'

'What are you doing here? Don't you live out in some sort of cottage in the country?' he asked curiously.

'Don't let me keep you,' repeated Hermione a little more forcibly, and Malfoy shrugged and took off. Hermione returned to her wine.

She was so immersed in her thoughts that only an hour later did she finish her first glass and was on to her second. By then, Malfoy had finished with the marshmallowed cooks and had gone up to sit next to her.

'I'll have the same as her,' said Malfoy to the bartender and Hermione stared at him, annoyed.

'I didn't ask you to join me, Malfoy,' she said.

'What, you want to be alone?'

'Actually, yes.'

Malfoy watched her. He knew it wasn't the truth. She was looking more glum than ever.

'Well, too bad, Granger. St. Mungo's doesn't need me for the rest of the evening.' He sipped his wine. 'Come on, tell me your troubles.'

Hermione shook her head. She felt a slight headache coming on and blamed Malfoy. It was difficult to think, to keep her head clear and be witty and sharp; there were too many emotions in her to be able to distinguish the difference between each and every one.

'I don't have any troubles.' She stood up. 'Goodnight Malfoy. My son is waiting for me.'

She knew it was a mistake the moment she had said it; Malfoy did a double take and stared.

'Your son is staying here?'

'No - I - momentarily -'

'There really must be trouble in the ideal marriage then, eh, Granger?'

Hermione could have slapped him, but felt the strength leave her. Why slap him? It was the truth, wasn't it? She had failed. She had failed the longest relationship of her life. The most important and valuable thing in her life had no meaning anymore. She turned around and walked away from Malfoy, desiring nothing more than to be alone. But Malfoy caught up with her within seconds and grasped her arm. She quickly backed away from him.

'I - I'm sorry -' he stammered. He sighed. 'Granger, I've been through this too.' His voice was quiet. 'Don't shut yourself in. Don't... Don't shut others out. Don't shut me out. I - I've been there - I know what it is -'

'You don't know anything,' Hermione spat. 'My marriage is fine. It's just a bit... We're just going through a phase... We'll be fine...'

Malfoy seemed to eye her almost with tenderness in his expression for a moment.

'Come and sit down,' he said, and he steered her towards one of the comfy benches. They sat in silence for several long minutes, neither knowing what to say.

'Her suitcase was packed one morning,' Malfoy suddenly started, his throat dry. Hermione looked up. 'She didn't even say a word. We had just seen Scorpius off to Hogwarts a week ago. She couldn't stand it anymore. She couldn't be part of a magical world in which she had no place.'

There was another pause, and Hermione said nothing, but Malfoy took it as a sign to continue.

'I met her in a shop. She was scruffy and independant and loud... and intelligent. She was looking for this teapot... And we had found one we both liked and... We got into this big fight about who was entitled to it.' Malfoy grinned at the memory; Hermione had never seen him grin, only smirk, and she thought it enhanced his features in a pleasant way. 'In the end, I bought it for her. The least she could do was have a cup of tea made in it with me. The first thing we shared... Of course, I thought Father would be furious... Falling in love with a Muggle, what a crime! But after the War... he wasn't himself... And Mother was rather indifferent. And so we married. Henrietta was the most perfect thing that had ever happened to me, until Scorpius was born.'

'He looks just like you,' murmured Hermione, and Malfoy smiled at her.

'He's more like his mother. Quick, sharp. But you know, years just pass, and there was nothing we could talk about anymore... She couldn't care less about magic, she's a Muggle. I didn't want to accept reality, I refused to see things as they were - hopelessly over. So she left me. And I just want to make sure that I keep Scorpius. Scorpius is a wizard, Granger... He doesn't belong in his mother's Muggle world, he doesn't belong in some Muggle boarding school - Hen is determined to squash the magic out of him now she's ended all association with me.'

Malfoy sighed bitterly, having finished his tale. He ordered two coffees from the waiter and they both sat in silence. Hermione was thinking about what Malfoy had said 'So she left me...' He did have grounds for divorce, he could have gotten Scorpius if he only cited this reason - but he hadn't. He cared too much for the woman who had left him.

'Ron's been working at George's jokeshop,' Hermione finally said quietly. Malfoy looked up in interest. 'He's trying to be Fred. He's trying to... I don't know... to make sure that everything is as it were... But it isn't, it isn't...' Hermione sighed. 'He doesn't understand that I don't want Fred, I want him, I want Ron. Our children need a father, not a sibling, and if Ron doesn't grow up soon, that's all they'll have...'

'And you,' said Malfoy even more quietly, 'you need a husband.'

It wasn't a question, but a statement. Hemione turned red. It was true. She needed someone to share thoughts with, to talk to, to trust and confide in.

'Granger...' said Malfoy uncomfortably. 'Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?'

'I'm sorry,' said Hermione at once, feeling awkward, 'I can't. This... Ron and I aren't over, we...'

'Just dinner. You can bring Hugo,' said Malfoy. 'And I want you to meet my son. The kids will be coming home tomorrow.' He paused. 'He misses his mum. I don't know how to tell him...'

Hermione looked at the man opposite her, and saw his grey eyes, and felt compassion, even understanding. But she couldn't do it.

'I can't,' she said, and stood up. 'I'm really sorry. I have to deal with my marriage first. Goodnight, Malfoy.'

She walked away from the table and was heading up the stairs, when Malfoy suddenly called out:

'No dinner then, but I expect I'll see you tomorrow for our appointment?'

Hermione turned, nodded and smiled, then ran up the stairs and into her bedroom, where her son was fast asleep.

*


Chapter 3: Ups And Downs
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Hermione had asked for the morning off so she could pick up Rose at King's Cross, but her wish had not been granted. Instead, she was confined to sitting behind her desk in the office, having nothing to do because all her clients had children at Hogwarts. She was therefore looking forward to lunchtime, when Ron would bring both Rose and Hugo around at her office.

It was a little past noon when she heard the door to her department open. She flung open the door to her office and ran into Polly's space; Ron was standing by the entrance, carrying Hugo, his other arm around his daughter.

'Rosie!'

Hermione kneeled down and held her arms wide for Rose, who in turn jumped into them. She was still wearing her Hogwarts uniform, looking proud and pleased at having accomplished her first year of wizarding school. She had only just turned twelve.

'You look so grown up,' said Hermione admiringly.

'Don't I?' answered Rose, beaming. 'Albus says that I still look like a child, but then James just tells him to stuff it. Oh, Mum, I've got so many things to tell you!'

Hermione was grateful that her daughter was in a talkative mood, for she had no desire to meet Ron's gaze, which she felt sure was on her. Hugo was resting his head on his father's shoulder, looking sleepily at his surroundings.

'- and Professor Longbottom - that's what we've got to call him, Mum, isn't it strange? - showed us all these plants from everywhere and the greenhouses are just enourmous -' giggled Rose. 'Wake up, Hugo! Oh, he's gone and fallen asleep again, Mum -'

'Come on, darling,' said Hermione and took Rose's hand, leading the family into her office. 'I've got tea, orange juice and coffee in my office. Now I know you'll take orange juice, I'll take tea, and Daddy will probably want some coffee.'

'Better give it to Hugo, he's been sleepy since I came off the Express.'

Hermione smiled and reached for some mugs in a drawer. Her office was spacious, with a large desk and a comfy couch; Ron laid his son down here and covered him with his jacket, then accepted the cup of coffee from Hermione with unspoken gratitude. Rose sipped her juice merrily and chatted on.

'Excuse me, Hermione -'

Polly walked into the office, looking harrassed, then stopped as she caught sight of the family.

'Oh, I'm sorry -'

'Polly!'

Rose jumped down from her mother's desk and ran into the secretary's arms. Polly had known Rose since she was born, and Rose had frequently been under her care during Hermione's hectic meetings.

'Rose, sweetie - back from Hogwarts, then? Have you learned lots?'

'Lots and lots - you simply can't imagine -'

'I bet I can't, pumpkin, and you'll have to tell me all about it, but first I just need a word with your Mum. Hermione -' she said, returning to her business manner, 'your one o' clock is here.'

Sighing resolutely, knowing there was no way of escape, Hermione nodded.

'Go on, show him in.'

Draco Malfoy walked in the room, but not in the same way as he had done the first time; today, he was with a handsome young boy the same age as Rose, looking quite exactly like his father. Malfoy was holding his son, Scorpius, by the shoulder, and steering him inside the office.

'I'm sorry, Granger, I -'

He started as he caught sight of the family. Ron slowly stood up and folded his arms. He had little reason to do anything agressive against Malfoy since the end of the War, and even less in front of the children; theirs was an unspoken agreement, much like the one Hermione thought she had - that nothing need be said.

'Am I interrupting?'

'Yes,' said Ron forcibly.

'Ron!' hissed Hermione. 'No, come on in.'

'What are you doing here?' persisted Ron. Malfoy raised his eyebrows.

'I'm a client, Weasley.'

'Oh yeah? What's your excuse for bothering my wife?'

Malfoy's eyebrows were raised so high that they were in danger of disappearing into his hair.

'I don't believe that's any of your business, Weasley.'

Ron turned to Hermione, looking for an explanation, but Hermione merely shook her head, feeling utterly hopeless.

'Ron, it's... His file is confidential.'

Ron's face flushed; he turned away from his wife and walked over to Hugo. Rose was gazing at the adults. Nothing had passed unnoticed. Her small eyes now settled on Scorpius.

'Hello Scorpy.'

'I told you not to call me that!'

Scorpius had crossed his arms and looked most annoyed as Rose made a face. Malfoy exchanged an amused glance with Hermione.

'So you know eachother, do you?' she asked.

'Mum, this foul little creature put a dozen dead flobberworms in the girls' dormitory!'

'They weren't dead when I put them in there!' said Scorpius defensively. 'Your smelly feet probably killed them!'

'Easy now, Scorpius,' said Malfoy calmly, restraining his son. Hermione was confused.

'How could you get in the Gryffindor common room?' she asked. Scorpius seemed nonplussed by the question.

'Pretty easy, isn't it? Just tell the Fat Lady the password.'

'But you're not -'

'My son is in Gryffindor, Granger,' drawled Malfoy, and Hermione gazed at him in surprise. Apparently Ron had too, for he turned around and walked over to Hermione, putting a protective arm around his daughter as he did so.

'Her name's Weasley now,' he said slowly, deliberately, emphasizing the name.

'Whatever, Weasel King,' Malfoy said angrily, and Ron made a furious movement towards him, but Hermione held him back.

'Ron, could you take the kids into Polly's office, please? Now?' Ron glanced at her, looking almost disappointed, as if she had chosen Malfoy over him. He took Rose by the hand and nodded at Scorpius who, after a glance towards his father, followed Ron out of the office. The only people left were Malfoy, Hermione and a sleeping Hugo.

'Charming bloke,' said Malfoy, sitting down. Hermione leaned against her desk, frowning.

'Surely you haven't come all the way just to talk about my husband?'

Malfoy looked up, observing Hermione.

'Your husband?' he said softly. 'Are you sure about that?'

With a furious gesture, Hermione plunged her hand in her pocket for her wand, but suddenly Malfoy was holding her wrist and she was forced to let go of it, letting it fall to the floor.

'Last night was personal,' she said angrily.

'You're damn right it was,' said Malfoy intensely. 'You're just going to pretend you never said all that stuff? That you're still a happy family? You know you were speaking the truth.'

'Shut it, Malfoy. How dare you bring it up again. It doesn't exactly invite further confidences.'

'I'm sorry,' said Malfoy, and he seemed sincere. 'You confused me, Granger.'

'Let go of my wrist.'

Malfoy obeyed, and Hermione picked up her wand and stowed it back in her pocket.

'What's the point of this visit? We've already found grounds for the divorce.'

'I wanted you to meet Scorpius,' said Malfoy a little uncomfortably. 'So you could... So you could deem for yourself what's worth fighting for.'

Hermione sighed and walked over to her door, opening it and signalling Malfoy to get out.

'I know what's worth fighting for, Malfoy,' she said, as stood up. 'Believe me, I know.'

*


The children went to bed early that night. Hugo was immensely happy at being back in his room, and Rose had been talking so much that she was exhausted, and fell asleep the moment she was tucked in. Hermione made coffee and took it into the living room, where Ron was waiting.

'So...' he finally said. 'How were your two weeks?'

'Dreadful. Yours?'

Ron managed a small smile as he took his wife's hand and kissed it.

'I'm not ready to have a life without you, Hermione. I've known you since I was Rose's age.'

Hermione leaned against him. He was wearing a clean, soft, brown sweater and its soapy smell was comforting to her. He put his arms protectively around her.

'We've got to try,' Hermione said. 'It's going to be so hard, but...'

'It'll be worth it,' added Ron. 'I so want you - us - to be happy. I'll do whatever it takes. I'll get another job if you want. I'll go back to the Auror Department - I'll do anything, Hermione, but... but you've got to make sacrifices as well.'

'Of course,' whispered Hermione, and tears filled her eyes as she heard Ron's words. As long as he would give up the jokeshop, then there was a good chance that things would go back to normal... 'I'll cut down my hours.'

Ron smiled, and suddenly they were both laughing. There was hope.

*


Ron informed George of his wish to quit the jokeshop the next day, and went to see Harry about getting his old job as an Auror back. Both Harry and George were kind and accommodating, accepting his wishes gracefully. In truth, George was a little relieved that Ron was respecting Hermione more; he had sensed that there was trouble in their marriage, and couldn't help feeling that he was partially to blame. Harry had no trouble in rehiring his best friend, and it felt like good old times when they were training to become Aurors. Ron even came home early to host the longly awaited dinner party with Hermione, who confided in Ginny that they had been close to separation.

'But hopefully that's behind us now,' she said, as she poured milk, flour and sugar into a bowl. 'We're both moving forward. Thank Merlin that he left Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.'

'He doesn't miss it?' asked Ginny, who was sitting on a stool, watching Hermione work.

'I don't know,' said Hermione worriedly. 'I don't think so. He hasn't said anything about it to me. We'd probably just fight if he did.'

'Ron's not that deep,' exclaimed Ginny, and Hermione laughed. 'If he doesn't say it, then he doesn't feel it.'

Hermione bit her lip as she reached for a knife. When was the last time Ron had said that he was in love with her? She knew that he loved her... but was he actually still in love with her?

'How's my brilliant wife doing?' said Harry loudly, as he walked over to the two women and put his arms around Ginny. Ginny giggled. 'Just as I expected; letting poor Hermione do all the work.'

'You know I can't cook,' Ginny said, pinching Harry's cheek. Harry grinned and kissed her.

'That's one thing I've never forgiven Molly for. Not passing on her cooking skills to her only daughter.'

Ginny slapped Harry's arm playfully.

'A woman should never learn how to cook,' explained Ginny, 'and if she does, she shouldn't admit it.'

Harry laughed again, then kissed his wife once more. Hermione watched the tender scene almost with jealousy. There were clearly no problems in their marriage.

'Don't listen to this nut,' said Harry to Hermione. 'D'you need any help?'

'No, I think it's all done, actually. Where's Ron?'

'Upstairs, playing with the kids. We've confiscated Rose and Al's wands - they just can't understand that they're not allowed to use them outside Hogwarts.'

'Albus is exactly like his old man,' said Ginny affectionately.

As she leaned forward, about to kiss Harry again, Hermione yelled upstairs:

'Ron! Kids! Dinner!'

The remainder of the dinner party was not much fun. Ginny and Harry were clearly the happiest couple in their world; Ron and Hermione sat, as though in shadow, comparing this behaviour with their own, feeling oddly like spectators in a performance. Albus and Rose talked about Hogwarts, while James merely gobbled his food down ravenously. Hugo and Lily chatted in loud voices that drowned out the adults' little conversation. Only at the end of the evening, when their guests had gone home, did Hermione stop smiling and pretending to be happy. Hugo had been put to bed hours ago, but Rose, after lively conversation about Quidditch with Albus, was in a troublemaking mood.

'Mum, can I go outside on my broomstick?'

'No,' said Hermione grumpily. Rose turned to her father with puppydog eyes.

'Daddy, can't I -'

'Rose, I said NO, now go to bed!'

But Rose would not listen. Ron looked at Hermione hesitantly, who gave him a warning glance which he did not pick up; one nod was sufficient, and then Rose was outside, flying in semi-darkness. Hermione looked daggers at her husband.

'I said no, Ron,' she exclaimed. 'How d'you want her to learn discipline and respect if you don't agree with me?'

'What, having a child forces me to agree with you?'

'We've got responsibilities, Ron! And we've got to side with one another to teach our children to listen to us!'

Ron's cheeks were blazing red with anger; Hermine's hands were balled into fists. All the tension and the jealousy she had felt that evening needed some sort of release, and Ron was standing right there, waiting for it.

'Are you trying to tell me I'm a bad parent?' he yelled.

'I'm telling you that if you go on like this, I'll have no authority as a mother!'

'Rose just came back from Hogwarts, give her some bloody time to relax and play and be a normal kid!'

'What the hell is that supposed to mean?'

'It means that you've got this entire family on a pedestal, and anyone who fails your expectations gets punished! I'm not going to let my Rosie go through that, not after I went through it -'

'After you went through it? You?'

'Come on, there's always competition between us, always - and you can't ever let me win -'

'That's bull, Ron!'

'Then let Rose play! Let her breathe! Don't do to her what you do to everyone!'

'Which is?'

'Trying to turn her into some sort of over-intelligent, genius freak -'

Ron stopped talking. Both he and Hermione had heard it; a high-pitched scream coming from their garden, followed by a sickening thump. Hermione grabbed her wand and ran out of the house, Ron at her heels. She felt panic rising in her stomach, up her throat, fighting to get out - if something had happened to Rose - if anything had happened - she would never forgive Ron, never -

'Rosie? ROSIE!' yelled Ron hysterically, as they reached the garden. He looked around wildly.

'Daddy,' sobbed a small voice, 'I'm over here!'

Hermione and Ron fought their way through a hedge over to their daughter, who was lying on her back, holding her right arm at an awkward position and crying. Half the skin had been scraped off her knee and it was bleeding profusely. Ron dropped his wand and fell on all fours; Hermione did likewise.

'Rosie, Rosie,' said Ron, and he stroked his daughter's hair, 'are you all right? What happened?'

'I rammed the wall,' sobbed Rose, 'and fell off the broom. I didn't see it, it was too dark.'

Hermione threw Ron a dirty look which he refused to answer.

'Let me see your arm, sweetheart.'

The moment Hermione touched it, Rose wailed in pain. Hermione didn't dare do anything about it; panic still invading every corner of her mind, she stood up.

'We've got to take her to St. Mungo's,' she whispered to Ron. Ron bit his lip, but nodded, and a few moments later, he was carrying Rose in his arms.

'Ron!'

Hermione's shriek was a panicked one; Rose had fainted in his arms. Pale and sickened, Ron picked up the pace and they ran back to the house.

Hermione woke Hugo up and made him pull on a jacket. There was a hurried discussion about how to get to the hospital; Side-Along Apparition would be too painful for Rose, but Hugo was too young to take the Floo Network. It was finally decided that Ron should go with Rose by Floopowder, and Hermione would Apparate with Hugo.

*


St Mungo's was, as always, crowded. Hermione and Hugo Apparated just outside it and rushed inside the cool glass. It comforted Hermione a little to see several other people with far worse gruesome injuries being healed in a second by wandering Healers, but she was worried to death nonetheless. Panic was still rising in her, an uncomfortable bile in her throat throbbing, guilt overcoming her in great waves. She made her way to the reception, where a curly, blonde-haired witch was chewing gum.

'I'm Hermione Weasley - I think my husband just checked in with my daughter? She fell off a broomstick and fainted - we're not quite sure -'

The gum-chewing witch scratched her nose and looked at the long list before her. She turned several pages so slowly that Hermione felt like she would explode.

'Can't you hurry up?' she said irritably. The witch raised her eyebrows and blew a bubble.

'Mummy,' giggled Hugo, 'Mummy, look at that man - he's got tentacles all over his face -'

'Not now, Hugo,' gasped Hermione. Floopowder did not take longer than Apparition; Ron had to be here with Rose.

'Weasley, Weasley...' said the witch, reaching for the bottom page. She dropped it on the floor. Hermione quite lost her temper.

'DAMN IT,' she yelled, and several patients looked up. Hermione was red with frustration, fury and, most of all, extreme worry. 'WHERE THE HELL IS MY DAUGHTER?'

'Hermione?'

There he was, standing right behind her, wearing the sunshine yellow robes that qualified him as a Healer, holding a chart in his hands and looking almost as worried as Hermione felt. She blinked. She hadn't heard him say her first name before, and in this moment of panic, it was a strange source of comfort. Draco Malfoy walked towards her.

*



Chapter 4: A Mother's Grief
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A/N: This is my favorite chapter so far. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I included more than I intended to, so please forgive me if you think it's too long and boring!

Many thanks for the many kind and warm reviews which have encouraged me to re-read and edit ever so often, for fear of not meeting your expectations. Thanks!


*

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'Hermione, I've just seen to Rose. She's upstairs. Come with me.'

Hermione grabbed Hugo's hand and followed Draco Malfoy willingly. Her stomach felt as if it were tied in knots, but they had loosened themselves a little at the sight of Malfoy, who looked wonderfully in charge and reassuring. The curly-haired receptionist, along with half a dozen other waiting patients, was staring at her in scandal, but she didn't care. She didn't have enough breath to ask Malfoy how her daughter was, but she didn't even know if she had the courage to; before she was aware of it, they were standing in front of a door covered with drawings of balloons and flowers - the children's ward. She could see through the glass that her daughter was lying down in the bed closest to her, and she ran into the room.

'Rose - Rosie?'

Rose turned around and smiled at her - Hermione felt relief replace panic so quickly that she almost went giddy and had to clutch the end of the bed to avoid falling. Ron was sitting in a chair next to his daughter's bed, his head in his hands, in the same apparent state of mind as his wife.

'My darling, darling Rose,' said Hermione with tears in her eyes, hugging her so tightly that Rose almost whimpered in pain, 'are you all right?'

'They did something funny to my leg,' she said, and Hermione looked down. Her daughter's knee had some sort of thick, yellow paste on it. Hugo giggled.

'Did they give you any sweets?' he asked hopefully.

'No, but the Healer said they'd give me something to drink. But Mum, I'm thirsty now.'

'Malfoy,' croaked Ron, 'Malfoy took care of her.'

He said it as if it were an unbelievable truth, then shook his head and hid it weakly with his hands again. Hermione could not muster the strength to comfort him; she felt both too giddy and too tremendously relieved to say much. Tears pressed her eyes as tonight's events flashed in her mind. She kissed Rose's forehead.

'I'll go see if I can get you some pumpkin juice, darling,' Hermione managed to whisper sweetly. Rose smiled again and started chatting with Hugo about the other patients in the ward.

It did not take long for Hermione to find a beverages machine. She approached it slowly and cautiously, feeling light-headed, grateful that the hallway was deserted. Rosie was all right... But what would have happened if she flown higher? If she hadn't had a soft landing?

'Desired beverage?' the machine asked her as she neared it.

'Pumpkin juice, please,' she said, and she inserted a Knut into it.

There was a whirring noise and a few seconds later, a paper cup of pumpkin juice had been produced. She took it in her hands and paced a few steps, her mind replaying what had happened that night. She stopped dead as the full weight of what had occurred suddenly hit her.

She was a failure - everything seemed to go wrong with her - her dinner parties, her marriage, her child... She doubled up, slightly nauseous. So much had occurred that it was difficult not to feel dizzy and exhausted - she grasped the back of the wall desperately to steady herself - everything was confusing and overwhelming - it was impossible not to cry, to hold back tears -

'Hermione?'

Hermione looked up and saw Malfoy standing there, worry in his eyes. He shifted the chart in his hands and kneeled down next to her.

'She's going to be all right, Hermione.'

Hermione shook her head, aware that she should have nodded and thanked him, but there was too much to handle to think straight.

'You're trembling...'

Malfoy was looking at Hermione, who was indeed shaking so fiercely that she couldn't hold the paper cup properly - she dropped it and pumpkin juice spilled everywhere on the floor. Malfoy grabbed her hands to stop them trembling so violently.

'Shh - shh - it's okay - calm down - take it easy - Rose is going be fine - calm down, now -'

'I feel dizzy,' she managed to say.

Malfoy was instantly by her side, holding her shoulders strongly in case she should faint. He put a hand behind her neck and pushed it forward, down to her stomach, so that the blood would reach her head. She could hear Malfoy repeating the same words - 'Breathe deeply, Hermione, breathe deeply', and tried to followed these instructions. After a minute or so, Hermione felt better and sniffed, then lifted her head up. She nodded and took another deep breath.

'Come and sit down,' said Malfoy worriedly, and he indicated her towards an empty seat, keeping a tight hold of her as he guided her to the chairs. Out of nowhere, he conjured a goblet and with an 'Aguamenti', filled it with water. 'Drink it. Healer's orders.'

Hermione drank the cool water, and it was as if it drained her of all bad things; it was refreshing and she felt better. Malfoy sat next to her.

'Thank you so much,' she finally whispered. 'For Rose... I just - thank you... It was so horrible, so - so -' She shuddered, unable to find the right words. Malfoy's grip on her grew stronger.

'Don't think about that now. She's going to be okay, Hermione,' Malfoy said gently, and patted her shoulder.

Hermione nodded a third time, but could not keep the tears away. How could she be such a bad mother? How could she have let Rose fly in the dark? Why hadn't Ron listened to her? She suddenly and involuntarily let out a sob and covered her eyes with her hands, doubling over once more, down to her knees. She was ashamed of this outburst - but Malfoy did not mock her -

'It's okay, Hermione, she's going to be all right,' he repeated, and he put his arms around her. 'Come here.' He pressed his hands against her back and pulled her gently towards him, comforting her, asking her without words to let her grief out by trusting him; unconciously, she let him, not caring whose body was comforting her, as long as there was one to cry on. She felt a vague sensation of numb disbelief that this could be Malfoy, but her grief as a mother pushed it away - her desire to be told that she was not a failure forced her to forget that this was her archenemy.

And then he was hugging her, and it was bliss, to feel this sort of protection, to be shielded from the world by him, by someone who assured her that things would be fine - and it was so easy to follow him, to listen to him, to grasp his shirt tightly as sobs fought their way out of her and wettened his yellow robes.

'Shh, it's fine, you're fine,' he said, again and again, keeping such a strong hold on her that Hermione stopped feeling dizzy entirely and believed what he was saying. 'Take deep breaths with me, Hermione, come on - you're fine, you're fine.'

It seemed like half an hour, but it was really only a few minutes later, when Hermione had finally cried all the tears in her and managed to let go of Malfoy. He took out a tissue and offered it to her; she dried her eyes gratefully with it.

'You must have a stack of these,' she said thickly, 'for every mother who cries her heart out at the first Healer passing.'

Malfoy smiled, admiring her ability to joke even in this time.

'I'm lucky that I was the first Healer passing, I guess. Don't worry about it, Hermione. It's normal to have this sort of reaction after a shock. I'd be worried if you didn't have it.'

'I've never broken down like that before,' she admitted, 'not even when the Chudley Canons lost to the Holyhead Harpies.'

'Be serious,' said Malfoy, but he smiled nonetheless. 'You're a mother.'

She made to stand up, but Malfoy restrained her with a hand on her shoulder.

'Take your time. Are you sure you're all right?' he asked seriously, and Hermione nodded, averting his eyes. 'Okay.'

They stood up and walked towards the ward together, Malfoy glancing occasionally at Hermione as they did so. She was remarkably pale, and he didn't want to upset herself anymore than she already was.

'Rose needs her sleep,' he said, as they reached the door, 'it can only be a short visit.'

Hermione gave a curt smile.

'You can't fool me, Malfoy,' she said quietly, 'I know it's not Rose who needs her sleep.' She paused for a moment. 'Don't - Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.'

She made to open the door, but Malfoy's hand enclosed gently over her wrist. She met his eyes and saw concern in them, his brow furrowed.

'Will you, Granger?' he said softly. 'Because I do worry about you.'

'Don't, Malfoy,' she whispered, and looked away, unable to meet his eyes. He gazed at her.

'You wouldn't rather call me Draco?' he asked.

She looked at him, but he couldn't read her expression. Saying nothing, she shook her head, and he understood. By refusing to call him Draco, she was refusing to shorten the distance between the two, and he took it as such. He removed his grip from her wrist, and she turned the handle, entering the room. Malfoy followed her and ignored Weasley as he narrowed his eyes.

'Well, Rosie-girl,' said Malfoy, smiling. Hermione looked at him, surprised - he employed a completely different tone of voice when speaking to her daughter, a kind one. 'How's that knee of yours doing?'

'It's bizarre,' she said, wrinkling her nose. 'What's it for?'

'It's so that it won't hurt anymore,' said Malfoy, and he ruffled her hair. 'As for that arm, I'm afraid there's only one thing to do about it -' he looked at Hermione and Ron. 'Skelegro.'

Hermione stifled a whimper. She had heard from Harry how much it had pained him to regrow bones, and it wasn't something she wanted to put her daughter through. Evidently Ron was thinking the same.

'Can't you just mend it with your wand?' he asked forcibly.

'Well, I mended the broken bones, Mr Weasley.' Hermione noted the 'Mr' in the sentence, sure that Malfoy was being polite for the sake of the children, something she appreciated. 'But there are some bones I'm a bit too cautious to heal, because I'm not entirely sure how severe the damage is. Skelegro really is the riskfree way out.'

'But the most painful one.'

'Painful?' squeaked Rose, her eyes round with fear. Hermione looked daggers at Ron. She took her daughter's hand, but before she could say anything, Malfoy had already spoken words of comfort.

'We're only giving you a small amount, Rosie-girl,' he said, winking at her. 'I'm sure it'll glide down nicely with a big piece of chocolate.'

'Chocolate!' exclaimed Hugo, his eyes now as round as Rose's, though not with fear. 'Mummy, if Rose gets chocolate, then I get chocolate too!'

'Hugo!'

Malfoy chuckled.

'I think we'll manage to find one for Hugo as well.'

He eyed Hermione and Ron. Ron was looking both angry and hesitant, as if not knowing what to say to him. Hermione, on the other hand, was deathly pale and exhausted. Draco was very worried about her. 'I think it's time Mummy and Daddy went home, don't you, Rosie-girl?'

Rosie smiled at Draco.

'I think so too, Healer Malfoy,' she said and she kissed her mother's cheek. Ron swooped down and gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead.

'Be good,' he said to her, and Rose giggled.

'What about my chocolate?' demanded Hugo, looking at his mother. Draco quickly kneeled down next to him and pulled a chocolate out from behind his ear, as if by magic. Hugo smiled and was about to take it, but Draco wagged a finger warningly.

'Only if you promise to act like the most perfect child when you get home,' he said. Hugo nodded fervently and popped the chocolate in his mouth. Ron took his son's hand and pulled him slightly away from Draco.

'Thanks Malfoy,' he said roughly. 'But don't ever give my son orders again,' he added in a voice so low that only he and Draco could hear. Draco inclined his head coldly as father and son walked out of the ward.

'Goodbye sweetheart - I'll come see you ASAP tomorrow,' assured Hermione, as she kissed her daughter's cheek again.

She straightened herself up and let out a sigh as she walked towards Malfoy, who was waiting by the exit.

'Thank you again, Malfoy,' she said, 'I - I can't -' she struggled to find the right words. 'Thank you.'

She smiled one last time and was about to exit when he called out -

'Granger?'

She turned.

'Get some sleep.'

He looked surprisingly serious and earnest as he said it, and Hermione nodded. They both knew that she wouldn't. Just like him, she was the sort of person who spent sleepless nights thinking about the mistakes they had made that day. Ron slept through everything.

*


Hermione was up at five o' clock in the morning the next day, ready to see her daughter as soon as visiting hours began - at six. She had woken Ron, but he had wanted to go back to sleep, insisting that Rose wouldn't be awake until at least ten, and that they shouldn't bother her. But Hermione would hear nothing of it.

'Then come along yourself at ten if you want,' she said a little crossly, as she pulled on a cardigan. 'Can you watch Hugo while I'm gone?'

Ron rubbed his eyes and sat up, looking at the outlined figure of his wife in semi-darkness. He reached out for her shoulder and clenched it.

'I'm sorry about last night - you were right about Rose not flying about -'

'I can't deal with this now, Ron,' said Hermione, and there was definite anger in her voice now. She threw a couple of Rose's books in a bag, together with a large packet of sweets. 'There's a time for when we decide who was right and who was bloody wrong, but I'll reserve that for another day. Right now, I just want to see my daughter. So if you'll look after Hugo while I'm gone?'

Ron shrugged and sank back against his pillows. His face was concealed in shadow, but Hermione knew he was angry. She meant to say a few words of comfort, but was still too furious at him to do so.

She did not stop by the receptionist this morning to ask the ward number, but hurried past her and walked up the stairs to her daughter's room. There was hardly anyone about in St. Mungo's, as it was too early for most visitors, and the patients were still asleep. Only a few Healers could be seen, wandering about with charts in their hands and casting Hermione curious looks.

She reached the correct ward and entered; the lights were out and her daughter - along with all the other children - was still asleep. Pulling up a chair, she saw that Rose's face bore a grimace of pain, and Hermione imagined how much the Skelegro was paining her. She slipped her hand into her daughter's, and stroked her hair softly. She was so beautiful. Before Hermione had given birth to her, she had never known how much a person could love a human being. Of course she loved Ron - but her love for him was not unconditional. Her love for Rose - and for Hugo - was.

'Granger, I thought I told you to get some sleep?'

Hermione looked up, and saw Malfoy at the half-opened door, looking angry.

'I did get some sleep,' she lied.

Malfoy took a deep breath and walked towards her. Before she knew it, he was gripping her arm firmly, though not painfully, and dragging her towards the exit effortlessly - she had no strength left in her to stand her ground.

'What are you - ? Let go of me -'

'Granger, you're no use to Rose half-dead,' Malfoy said angrily, as he shut the door behind them. 'I thought you were cleverer than that.'

'I'm fine, Malfoy, now let me go back to my kid -'

'Granger, I'm a Healer, in the name of Merlin, I can see you're not all right! Now get back home and get some sleep!'

'No!' yelled Hermione loudly. She bit her lip, regretting having lost control, and quickly lowered her voice. 'No, Malfoy - this is my child, and I'm staying by her side as long as she is in this place.'

Malfoy eyed her coolly, taken aback by her strong resolution. It was as if he was trying to think up a good reason to convince her to go home and get better.

'Granger, I - I need you healthy and whole for my divorce case,' he said. Hermione narrowed her eyes.

'D'you honestly think I give a damn about your case right now, Malfoy?' She was so angry with him that she spoke in a whisper.

'I don't think you give a damn about anything right now, Granger,' he said softly. 'Which is what makes you, quite honestly, a mess. You're not being rational. Your life is falling apart and you're clinging to your child - using her as an excuse to get away from Weasley and -'

He never finished his sentence, for she had slapped him on the cheek. He lifted his hand and touched it gingerly - it did not hurt, for she had not had much strength left to strike hard.

'That brings back memories,' he muttered, unable to prevent a smile.

'Don't you dare suggest that I'm using my child,' Hermione said shrilly. 'Like - Like I don't care about her - as if I'm just here to avoid whatever other problems I might have -' She took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. 'I always knew people didn't change, Malfoy, but I had hoped you were the exception.'

'Oh, don't give me that,' he spat. 'Change is overrated.'

'Yeah, well so is telling a mother that she isn't doing her job!' Hermione shouted. 'Now let me go see my child!'

Draco had no choice; the moment he let go of her, she stormed off into the ward. He stood in front of the door, watching her through the small window. She resumed her previous position, sitting down and stroking her daughter's hair, and he suddenly regretted that he had scolded her. She didn't need that - she probably got enough of that from Weasley. He crossed his arms, sighed and leaned against the door panel, his face softened. He could have stayed there all day, just watching her, Hermione, and the tenderness in her gaze.

*


Chapter 5: Touching The Past
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Four hours later, Hermione was still sitting in the same spot by her daughter's side, stroking her hair and trying to put her own exhaustion and - she had to admit it - Malfoy out of her mind. Rose had only just awaken and Hermione had given her the things she had been missing - books and sweets.

'Oh, Mum, thanks!'

'I had to smuggle it in,' said Hermione smugly, smiling, 'make sure the Healers don't catch you.'

'When's Dad coming?'

'He should be bringing Hugo with him any minute now,' answered Hermione. She closed her eyes for a moment as a wave of exhaustion threatened to overcome her. She knew that Malfoy was right, that she needed sleep; she was just too frustrated to listen.

As these very thoughts crossed Hermione's mind, Ron was just getting out of St. Mungo's grate with Hugo by his side, wiping off soot and making his way towards the ward. By the door, he met Malfoy. Hugo smiled, remembering the chocolate he had been given, but Ron's thoughts were far from friendly.

'Malfoy,' he said. Malfoy turned around, eyeing father and son.

'Weasley, good, you're here.'

'Fantastic skills of observation.'

'Can we leave the sarcasm behind?'

Malfoy had raised his eyebrows. Ron shrugged.

'Listen, Weasley,' said Malfoy, leaning in and speaking in a low voice. 'Tell your wife to go home and get some sleep, okay? She doesn't look too well.'

It was Ron's turn to raise his eyebrows.

'Hermione does what she wants,' he said slowly. Malfoy rolled his eyes.

'For Merlin's sake, Weasley,' he growled, 'be a husband and take care of your wife.'

It seemed as if Ron longed to punch Malfoy - but in front of Hugo, he could do nothing. He merely pushed the Healer out of the way and went into the ward. Malfoy sighed and returned to his other patients.

*


Rose did not stay in St. Mungo's for another night. At lunchtime, all the bones had grown back in her arm, replacing those which had been damaged, and she was eager to return to her house. Hermione and Ron agreed that the latter should take the children to Ginny, who would look after the kids, while Hermione went back to work. Her Head of Department was already cross with her for having to cancel so many appointments.

It was difficult getting through the afternoon. Her mind was full of thoughts of Rose, Ron and Malfoy. She did not know why she was suddenly so partial to Malfoy - but she knew it had something to do with the fact that he had been so protective of her when she had most needed it. It had been a long time since anyone had protected her like that - since anyone had comforted her. She had been used to being the head of the family, to having everything under control, and the second she didn't, things fell apart. But not at St. Mungo's. When she had broken down, he had been there. He had caught her in a moment when her world had come crashing down. She longed to see him again, and yet she dreaded it. She did not need another point of distraction, another reason to abandon her marriage - and that was all Malfoy was.

It was her half-day when she had her next fight with Ron. She had finished at noon and he had taken the day off especially so he could be with her. But she didn't want to spend the day with him - she didn't feel guilt or remorse for having these emotions, because she was still so angry with him. She blamed him for Rose's accident, and though he desperately tried to make up for it, she refused to let him.

'So, what d'you want to do this afternoon?' he asked hopefully. They were in their bedroom and Hermione had gone in the adjoining bathroom to change. The children were playing downstairs. 'I thought maybe we could go with Rose and Hugo to the park -'

'How original,' grumbled Hermione from behind the door. 'Rose is twelve, Ron, in case you didn't know - I doubt she thinks swinging on the merry-go-round is much fun.'

'Well, why not go see Ginny and Harry? Albus will be there and -'

'Ginny and Harry left for Godric's Hollow yesterday, Ron,' Hermione said irritably.

'Oh yeah...'

'You should know that, he is your Head of Department.'

A stab of annoyance prickled in Ron's face, but he let it pass.

'I'm trying here, Hermione,' he said in a low voice, 'but you won't let me!'

Hermione came out of the bathroom. Having changed from her business robes, she was now wearing a summerly green skirt and a white shirt. This didn't stop her from looking severe.

'Of course, now you're listening to me,' she said, 'now that Rose fell off her broom. Now you're trying.'

'How long are you going to hold that against me?' yelped Ron. 'I told you I'm sorry!'

Rage surged through Hermione's body. She felt a strange, savage desire to hurt Ron as much as he had hurt her. She picked up her briefcase and walked towards the door.

'Where are you going?'

'Work.'

'You just came back!'

'I have a housecall to make. Watch the children, will you? Make sure none of them fall off their brooms.'

She slammed the door and went downstairs, leaving the house as quickly and quietly as possible. Ron was right, she was not really trying; but then, she did not know if she really wanted to.

*


Hermione had Malfoy's file with her, and it was the first and only person she considered visiting. She owed him something after being so kind to Rose, and the only thing she could think of was a thank-you in person. Pulling out the file, she looked for his address, even though she was fairly certain that it was still Malfoy Manor. To her great shock, his address was not Malfoy Manor, but an appartment on the outskirts of London. Faintly surprised, Hermione Apparated to the building.

It wasn't nearly as imposing as Malfoy Manor, and for this, she was grateful, for Hermione had no good memories of the place. The complex was an expensive one, but Hermione still couldn't imagine Malfoy living in a flat. She went up a flight of stairs to the third floor, and knocked on the door on which was labled, The Malfoys, Henrietta, Draco & Scorpius.

After a few moments, the door opened, and there stood Malfoy, wearing an apron and holding a cloth in his hands, drying them. Surprise was evident on his face.

'Granger?' he exclaimed.

'Hello Malfoy,' Hermione answered, daring a small smile. 'I just came to thank you for the other day -'

'Come in,' urged Malfoy, and he stood aside. Hermione was reluctant.

'Uh - no, I don't want to impose,' she said.

'You're not imposing at all,' assured Malfoy, and he held the door wider still. Biting her lip, Hermione entered the small hallway, eyebrows raised in apprehension.

'Why the apron?' Hermione enquired, after an uncomfortable pause. Malfoy grinned.

'I was making Scorpius apple crumble. His mother does it better, but well -'

He shrugged. Hermione nodded in understanding. She fumbled with the briefcase in her hand.

'Well, I didn't really ever get to thank you properly for all you did for Rose,' she said. 'And also... Well, let's not pretend I was particularly all right that night either.'

Malfoy smiled.

'No problem, Granger,' he said, and he threw the towel over his shoulder. 'It was my pleasure. But now you're here, you might as well taste my apple crumble - and maybe we could discuss some of the divorce once Scorpius has had his portion.'

'Well -'

Hermione didn't really know if she should accept. She hadn't intended to stay for more than few minutes, to punish Ron, but the offer was tempting. Malfoy was eyeing her carefully.

'Come on, Granger. My apple crumble needs an honest opinion, and Merlin knows you've never minded being harsh.'

Hermione grinned and followed him to the kitchen, which was decorated the exact same way as the hallway - creamy beige and peach. The choice of colours surprised Hermione - she thought it sure to be decorated in green and silver, perhaps even resemblant to the Slytherin common room. Clearly, she had been as prejudiced as Malfoy, though she was fairly certain that Henrietta had had a hand in the decor.

Scorpius was sitting on a stool by the counter, reading a book. As Hermione eyed him more closely, she thought to herself again how much he looked like his father - the same pale features, the same air of concentration, the same blonde hair.

'Scorpius, Mrs Weasley is here to taste our apple crumble.'

Hermione started when she heard Malfoy call her 'Mrs Weasley'; it was very strange to hear him say that name with a friendly tone. Scorpius looked up and put the book aside.

'Hello Mrs Weasley,' he said, nodding.

'Hermione, please.'

'Okay,' said Malfoy, clapping his hands, 'Scorpius, you should know this - how many apples does your mother peel?'

'Eight,' said Scorpius. Malfoy exchanged a glance with Hermione.

'Poor woman, doing it all by hand.'

'She prefers it that way, though,' said Scorpius defensively.

'Right you are, son - however -'

He waved his wand, and within seconds, the eight apples were lying neatly by his side, skin peeled. Draco bit his lip and looked down at a recipe book. Hermione laughed, stood up, and threw on an apron.

'No, no, no!' said Draco hurriedly. 'You're a guest, don't you dare!'

'The quicker this is done, the sooner I can go home,' she said, and winked. Malfoy smiled, and together, they reached for an egg.

With Scorpius' help, who had watched his mother bake many times, they managed to whip together a somewhat less-than-fabulous apple crumble, which needed to stay in the magical oven for a quarter of an hour. To Hermione, the baking of a simple dessert was strangely comforting - it was something normal that she had not done in a long time, something that she had shared with another person without quarreling, and was proud enough to admire her work with Malfoy at the end of it.

'Well,' said Malfoy, untying his apron as Hermione handed hers to him. 'What say you, Hermione, that I give you a tour of the flat? Scorpius, d'you want to be our guide?'

'Not really,' said Scorpius, but he gave a cocky smile. 'Lockhart is waiting for me.' He pointed at the book he had been reading. 'He's something of a self-centered git, isn't he?'

Hermione couldn't suppress a laugh. Malfoy, too, was looking amused.

'It's just you and me, then, Hermione,' he said, and he inclined his head towards the door. Hermione smiled and they walked back out to the hallway.

'Keep an eye on our masterpiece!' Malfoy called out to his son, who waved.

'He's a great kid,' said Hermione, as they walked into the living room. Malfoy beamed at her.

'Thanks,' he answered. 'You can't imagine how proud I am of him. He's everything I wasn't when I was his age, and luckily nothing I was.'

'That's probably because he's got a better father.'

'Yes, dear old Lucius never was much of a role model,' sighed Draco. 'I think he redeemed himself somewhat in the end. He was just too much of a coward.'

'Malfoy, I've got to tell you... about Scorpius... Your wife - Henrietta - she'll probably want to bring your case to a Muggle court.'

'So?'

'So... Well, this is a first for me. Most divorce cases I've had were wizarding - both parents were magical. If we go to Wizengamot, they'll surely give you custody, being the only wizarding parent. But if Henrietta goes to Muggle court, they'll probably give her custody. I'm not a specialist in those sort of cases -'

'I'm not giving you up, Granger,' he said firmly, and his tone of voice was so decided that Hermione dropped the subject. 'I'll talk to Hen. She's got to see reason. Scorpius can't go off to a Muggle school! He'd hate it.'

'We'll figure something out.'

Malfoy eyed Hermione for a moment, eager to change the subject. 'How's Rose?'

'She's better. Like I said, I was meaning to do something sooner - I hardly know what - but something to thank you, again...'

'I told you, there's no need,' affirmed Malfoy. 'It was my job. Anyway, she's a tough kid. It'd take a lot worse than that for her not to pull through. I can't say the same thing about her mother though.' Malfoy paused. Hermione had neither protested nor interrupted. 'Are you sure you're all right?'

'Why the hell is everyone asking me that question?' said Hermione angrily, and she stopped in her tracks. Malfoy, too, stopped walking. 'I'm not a six year old. I'm not some spoiled brat who's never had to fend for herself.'

'I know that -'

'Do you?'

The question seemed to imply something more. Malfoy paused for a moment, wondering if he dared say what was on his mind.

'Every life needs improving. D'you think you get special treatment or something? That I'm only nice to you?'

'I didn't mean -'

'Of course you didn't. I know you, Granger. I may have despised you, we may have despised eachother, but I know an insecure woman when I see one, because -' he hesitated. 'Because I've lived through insecurity myself.' She didn't move. He sighed. 'Don't you see... Don't you understand that maybe I just... Granger, my wife left me. My marriage fell apart. I had no one. And I just - I just want to make sure that you don't feel like... like you have no one.' He shook his head, wondering if she had understood.

She turned away, her eyes oddly bright. They had hardly noticed that they had reached the living room; the walls were painted in the same soft colours as the rest of the flat, but they were covered in paintings and drawings, all by the same artist. She leaned over to observe one closely.

'Henrietta did them,' Malfoy said, his tone cool. 'She's an artist. Got her own art gallery. I kept teasing her about the people being still in the paintings. Never got used to it. But then, she never got used to them moving about in the Daily Prophet.'

Hermione straightened up and smiled warmly at him.

'I never would have imagined you living in an appartment. Too Muggle-ish for you.'

'That was before I met Henrietta, I guess. Or... before the War... before I saw my friends get tortured and killed... Anyway, when You Know Who died, the Ministry seized my property, didn't they?'

'Yeah, well... It had been Voldemort's Head Quarters for a while. When I was in Wizarding Law, I read up on it. They'll give it back to you eventually.'

'I don't want it,' Malfoy said fiercely. 'Too many bad memories.'

Hermione was pulled back into her first and only visit at the Malfoy Manor, in which Bellatrix had tortured her. She had used Sectumsempra right in front of Malfoy, who had merely stood there in shadow. She snapped out of the terrible flashback and saw that Draco was watching her closely.

'I never got to...' Malfoy gulped. 'That night, at my... When Bellatrix... and then later, in the Room of Requirement... God, Hermione, I was such a coward.'

Hermione sat down on the couch. Malfoy followed, his eyes almost pleading.

'I've no right to ask for forgiveness, I know I haven't, but just let me say that - that it was never my intention - I never wanted anyone to get hurt - least of all -'

He stopped talking, for Hermione had taken his hand and squeezed it comfortingly.

'That was years ago, Malfoy,' she said gently. 'Don't you dare even think about it. The circumstances were so different.'

But it seemed Malfoy was compelled to bring it up again, and he clenched Hermione's warm fingers.

'Do you - Did it - Do you still think about it ever?'

Hermione hesitated, reflecting the question. She had not even told Ron that she still had nightmares about Bellatrix's taunting leer.

'Yes,' she said slowly, 'I... Sometimes I dream about it.'

She felt Draco's hand carefully move over her forearm.

'May I?' he asked quietly.

Hermione was yet even more hesitant. She bit her lip, but Malfoy had such tenderness in his eyes that she could not refuse; she nodded.

As carefully and gently as if he had been holding a porcelain doll, he rolled up the sleeve of the thin cardigan she was wearing, so it stopped at her elbow. On her forearm were reminders of Bellatrix's awful work: scars that Sectumsempra had left, and that Ron had not been able to remove in the hours that followed their escape that awful night. Hermione breathed sharply as Draco ran his experienced Healer's hands over her otherwise perfectly smooth skin. He hesitated for a moment, but Hermione had uttered no protest; he moved his hands upwards, towards her neck and ran a finger over the scar that laid there, inflicted by Bellatrix's silver knife when she had threatened Ron and Harry to kill her. Hermione looked at Draco's face, which bore a grimace of many emotions; guilt, softness and longing. There was something so intimate about this moment that it left her quite breathless. Though there was really no need for it, he ran his hand up her arm once more. Goosebumps appeared on the spots Malfoy's hands had touched. He rubbed them away. A bolt of electricity ran down Hermione's spine. Draco looked up as if he had felt it too.

'It's a wonderful feeling,' he said slowly, 'that even the Darkest Art can't touch something so beautiful.'

Their eyes locked as Hermione decrypted his true message. She wanted somehow to let him know that she couldn't fill his longing, that she couldn't be his, not now, not ever, and yet she didn't even know if he really wanted her or if he was using her. She stood up, and the magic was broken.

'I better go,' she sighed. 'Ron's probably waiting.'

Malfoy stood up too.

'You haven't had your apple crumble yet,' he protested, and there was something helpless in his eyes, as if he were a child who had been disappointed.

'We'll share that piece the day you gain custody over Scorpius,' answered Hermione, reminding him why she was truly here, what their purpose was. He seemed to snap out of his reverie, and nodded.

'Take care, Granger.'

'Thanks for the tour. I'll show myself out - make sure Scorpius hasn't burnt the crumble.'

Malfoy watched her leave through narrowed eyes. In spite of everything, she had not learned to trust. He was angry at Weasley, angry at him for having taken away valuable qualities in so wonderful a person as Hermione. Because of him, she couldn't trust, she couldn't dare - but he'd help her retrieve those qualities. If only she'd let him.

*


A/N: Once more, I've included more than I was going to, but every time I tried to cut something out, the chapter seemed to be lacking in something. I was going to make the end of the chapter a cliffhanger, but I couldn't bring myself to be so cruel.

If anyone out there actually knows how to make an apple crumble, do forgive me if what I wrote it wrong... which it surely is. Eight apples: too much or too little?

Till next time!


Chapter 6: Old Marriages And New Lovers
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'Um - Hermione? I found those files you wanted.'

Hermione looked up over her coffee. Polly was standing by the door, carrying an enourmous stack of files. Hermione jerked her head in response, and she dropped them on her desk.

'Out of curiosity... What does Malfoy Manor have to do with his divorce case? I thought the Ministry had seized it years ago?'

'They had,' answered Hermione, not even bothered by Polly's frankness. 'And now that it's been seized, searched and abandoned, they have no right to keep it. It's belongs to Dra- Malfoy. If I could get it back to him, then maybe his soon-to-be ex-wife would give up custody over Scorpius in favour of the house...'

'But then Mr Malfoy won't get the Manor.'

'He doesn't want it,' Hermione sniffed, 'with good reason. Creepy place.'

'But you think his wife will?'

'Soon-to-be ex-wife, yes.'

Polly wrinkled her nose in confusion. She had known Hermione for years and though they were not exactly friends, she understood and respected her. Having been her personal secretary through a great many cases, she easily noticed the change in her way of working on this one - Hermione was passionate about Malfoy's divorce, and yet Hermione had always told Polly to leave feelings at the official Ministry entry.

'Well, that brings me to my next point,' she said uncomfortably. Hermione did not look up. 'Mrs Malfoy is here - she's waiting outside. I told her she couldn't come in without an appointment, but she's determined.'

Hermione furrowed her brow. She did not know if she was quite ready to deal with Draco's wife yet. Things had gotten almost personal between her and her client - for that was what she persuaded herself Malfoy was - since her visit at his appartment, and she knew she had to tread carefully.

'Show her in, Polly,' she merely said, after a moment's pause. She unconciously smoothed her skirt and tucked the stray strands of hair behind her ears.

Henrietta Malfoy was one of the prettiest girls Hermione had seen, and Hermione's vision of beauty was not a traditional one, because it was not based on appearance. Mrs Malfoy was very skinny; she had little to no curves, but a long, graceful neck. Her hair was a very dark brown, wavy, but pulled back in an elegant ponytail. Her eyes proved to Hermione instantly that this girl was very sharp, quick and intelligent, and not to be messed around with, which was precisely what made her interesting, lively and pretty. She wore plain Muggle clothes which did not do much for her figure, but her personality outshone all ugliness. If there was a blemish in her face, it were her numerous freckles; but even they seemed to be a part of her charm. Hermione looked down at her hands and saw that they were covered in ink and paint, the sign of a true artist.

Hermione stared at her in admiration for a while, but also in shock, for she was the very last type of girl she thought Malfoy could fall for - she had always imagined a flushed, curvy, voluptuous, Spanish sort of beauty in his arms. She indicated Henrietta to sit down in front of her desk, then followed.

'Pleasure to meet you, Mrs Malfoy,' she said, as Henrietta gave a courteous smile and shook her hand.

'Henrietta, please,' she answered, 'after all, Malfoy won't be my name for long.'

'I understand you wished to see me urgently?'

'Yes.' She leaned forward, looking serious. 'Mrs Weasley -'

'Hermione, please.'

'Very well - Hermione. I want to know what my options are.'

Hermione blinked.

'Your options?'

'I'm not a witch. I can't go to the Wizen-what's-it-called and claim custody over my child. And Draco has told me that that is his intention. What can I do?'

Hermione gave a cough of disapproval.

'If you come here seeking advice, I'm sorry, because I can give you none. I'm your husband's attorney - it would be unethical for me to give council to both parties in the matter.'

Henrietta grimaced in disappointment. She leaned forward.

'Surely, you, as a wife - as a mother - can see this whole thing from my point of view? Can't you convince Draco that I'm just after what's best for my child?'

'No, I can't, and I won't. And though it's not for me to say, I'd just like to mock that last statement - Scorpius is a wizard, Henrietta. His magical ability can't be oppressed or tamed. Send him to a Muggle school, and you'll just cause more damage than good.'

'Of course I don't expect you to understand,' said Henrietta with distaste, 'you're a witch, just like the rest of them -'

'I'm a Muggleborn - I was raised by non-magical parents,' Hermione answered coldly. 'I think I understand exactly what you're going through, which is why I support Draco, so that Scorpius can have the privilege of going to the best wizarding school in Britain.'

'Draco?' sniggered Henrietta unpleasantly. Hermione's upper lip curled in anger. 'He's got to you too, then?'

Hermione stood up. Her tone was final.

'I don't think there's anymore to add,' she said coolly. Henrietta scrambled to her feet.

'Didn't you ever wonder why I left him?' she said shrilly. 'D'you think I just stopped loving him one day?'

'I've no idea what you're talking about,' Hermione answered in a low voice. She pointed at the door. 'Goodbye, Mrs Malfoy.'

'D'you honestly think I'm going to stay with a man who condones adultery?'

Hermione quickly stifled a gasp. She felt as if she had been slapped in the face. Draco, cheat on his wife? It couldn't be. It mustn't be. Everything had been open and honest between them - they had told eachother everything, had confessed their sorrows and their troubles, the reasons that their marriages had fallen apart... Draco, cheat on his wife? She was lying - it was the only possible reason - if not, all else was a lie...

'We had just come back from King's Cross and then I found it! Loveletters, roses, bills for flowers... All stuffed down a stupid drawer! The idiot didn't even think to find a proper hiding place for it! D'you think I would've stayed after that? I packed my suitcase. And you better prepare yourself for that reason coming up in court,' Henrietta exclaimed furiously, as Hermione stood there, still stunned, 'because I'll be damned if Draco is going to ruin my child's life.'

She stormed out of the office. Hermione just waited there for nothing, supporting herself to her desk, her mind strangely blank. Some small part of her had started to trust Draco subconciously - and that small part was now screaming out loud in fury at this betrayal. How could he have led her astray like that? How could he have made her believe that he was a kind person, that his wife had left him because she, like Hermione, simply did not know what to do with her husband anymore? Draco's marriage had been going through the same thing Hermione's had - or so he had let her believe - and it had been a distressing comfort. Or so she had thought. So he had let her think. But it was all a lie. A lie. A bloody lie!

'Mrs Malfoy dashed off in an awful temper, is everything all right?'

Polly had popped her head around the doorway, looking worried. Hermione, her face white with fury, grabbed her cardigan from the coatrack and pulled it over her.

'I've got something to do,' she whispered angrily.

'Something to - but your appointments -?'

'Cancel them.'

'Cancel -?'

'Cancel them!'

Before Polly could utter a word of protest, Hermione had Disapparated.

*


She had managed to summon enough concentration to Apparate just outside Malfoy's door, and she pounded her fist on it very loudly. She did not know what she was going to do, but her body was still shaking in fury at his betrayal... She felt ashamed - she had confided in him, told him details about her marriage... She had let him touch her... Her forearm seemed to tingle unpleasantly at the memory of it.

The door opened and there he was, standing right in front of her, smiling at this surprise.

‘Hermione! What are you -’

He never managed to finish his sentence, for suddenly she had slapped him. It was a different slap from the one he had received at St. Mungo’s - incredibly strong and incredibly painful. He saw stars for a moment, then managed to catch a glimpse of Hermione’s pale, furious face before she struck him again.

Despite the overwhelming pain, he was prepared for the third strike, and as she raised her hand, he caught her wrist and pulled her effortlessly inside his appartment to prevent her from slapping him again. She raised her free left hand, but he was ready, and grabbed that one as easily. Not uttering a word of protest, she merely stood there with her eyes sparkling in unexplained anger.

‘Are you going to tell me what the hell that was for?’ he shouted, outraged. His cheeks were still glowing red, aching painfully.

‘You’ve got some nerve,’ she whispered, her voice suppressed with fury. ‘You’ve got some nerve tricking me into believing that you’re a person I can trust - someone I can confide in - making me tell details of my marriage -’

‘I never made you do anything,’ Malfoy said angrily. He had not let go of her wrists which were still raised high above their heads. ‘Everything you told me was a result of built-up emotions that you needed to get out - that you couldn't deny - that were true, they're evidence that your marriage is over, Hermione -’

This time she struggled, clearly wanting to slap him again; he pushed her against a wall and she stopped moving. Hermione stood there, sandwiched between the wall and him. It was a long time since she had been this close to a man other than Ron. There was a tiny sliver of a space separating their waists, the rest of her was pressed up against him, and suddenly her skin felt hot and feverish under his fingers.

She suddenly couldn't remember why she was angry. Was it because of his words of her marriage? Why be angry at them? They were true... They were facts. Draco knew it; he knew everything about her.

As she felt his ragged, uneven and hot breath on her cold face, all thoughts of Henrietta’s visit vanished from her mind. There was no sorrow here, nothing except her and Draco, standing close together by the still-open door. And yet there was risk and danger and the unexpected lurking around the corner - all of which added to the enjoyment and pleasure of the situation. It was so easy to give in, thought Hermione, as Malfoy's chest moved against hers while he breathed heavily, his thumb rubbing her wrist gently. So easy to be enticed by those grey eyes of his... It would be so easy just to lean inches forward and be transported into another world... Those lips were so close...

Her eyes were a clear shade of brown - he had never noticed before. He could feel her body pressed up against his, every one of their curves fitting perfectly together. She was wearing the same cardigan as yesterday - was it her favorite? Her lips were dry and cracked - in her anger, she had probably forgotten to drink something.

He did not care why she was angry at him. He did not care about the draught coming from the door, teasing the stray hairs on Hermione’s forehead. She was his at that moment... and he was hers... He couldn’t do anything about it. He felt her shudder slightly against him.

Was this weakness? Was this lust? Or was it more, something unfathomable, unimaginable after several months of rows and quarrels with Henrietta?

He leaned forward and paused an inch from her dry lips, waiting for some form of protest. None came. His eyes, which had been travelling up every inch of her neck, met her brown ones and a silent question was asked.

I dare you... was the furious, silent answer hidden in her brown eyes. I dare you...

And then his lips were on hers, and nothing mattered but that moment when they were no longer two, but one; it was blissful oblivion, they were in another world where there were no troubles, only him and her, Draco and Hermione. He let go of her wrists and let his hands travel down her back; her own ran through his hair forcibly, almost aggressively, but he didn’t care. Her kiss was longing, asking for the affection Ron had long neglected to give her, both begging and demanding for it, and he gladly gave it to her. All the feelings they had vented up in them during their appointments, the anger, the disappointment, the increasing frustration at the attraction that had binded them so surprisingly - all of it expressed itself in their kiss. She was heaven; she was angry and suspicious and agitated, but she was heaven; and he tried to convince her with his kiss that he wanted to make her happy. She pulled him closer to her, needing to feel him, needing to know that she was wanted, not just for physical contact, but really wanted, needed.

Alive, existing.

They suddenly pulled away from eachother for air. As their lips parted, reality greeted them half-heartedly, and her eyes, so filled with longing before, were now round with horror. Draco didn’t remove his hands from her waist, and in that faraway, perfect moment of ecstasy, he felt vaguely worried as she slowly shrank away from him, looking terrified.

‘Oh God...’ she whispered, her hands moving up to her lips, no longer dry. ‘Oh God... What did we just do...’

*


A/N: Ah, I know most of you are despising me right now, but it's been a while since I ended with a cliffhanger - let's face it, it's almost traditional to end the "First Kiss" chapter with one in a Dramione story - and who am I to break tradition?

There is little I can say to prove just how stunned and grateful I am that this story has received so much attention, been accepted with so much enthusiasm and pleasure and, most and best of all, been subject to so many wonderful reviews. May I also add a warm thanks to the 102 people who have added this tale to their favorites list.

Thank you, and till next time!


Chapter 7: Another Safe Haven
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Hermione pulled away from him, retreated to the door, covering her face with shaking hands. Draco moved forward, concerned, and touched her shoulder; she instantly rejected his touch.

‘Hermione -’ he whispered, breathless, still in that perfect moment of ectasy, ‘Come on... this had to happen... you couldn’t - we couldn’t have done anything about it -’

Damn it, Malfoy,’ she yelled, turning around. ‘I bet you say that to all the women you commit adultery with!’

He blinked. The reason for her previous anger, the reason for her slapping him, suddenly dawned on him.

‘I see you’ve had a visit from Henrietta,’ he said coolly. Hermione nodded. ‘I thought you were intelligent enough, Granger, not to listen to malicious lies.’

She hesitated.

‘Of course Henrietta would think up any excuse to get Scorpius! D’you really think I’d do that? Cheat on my wife?’ He sounded disappointed. Hermione’s face flushed in embarrassment. ‘I thought I knew you, Hermione.’

She leaned against the wall, closing her eyes.

‘I thought I did too,’ she said.

She stopped talking as Draco uncertainly walked towards her and put his hands on either side of her face, caressing her cheek a little hesitantly. She caught her breath in her throat, her heart beating fast.

‘I’d never betray your confidence, Hermione,’ he whispered. ‘Trust me... Please, trust me... Let go of that damn shield you're always hiding behind. I won't hurt you. I promise.’

She backed away from him. His gaze didn’t falter.

‘I can’t,’ she said. ‘I’m married. I’ve got to give it a shot... Malfoy, I have kids. I can’t let it all go... Just - Just leave me alone.’

She turned and ran out of the doorway. Draco kept staring at the spot she had stood, as if waiting for her to come back. Finally, he closed the door. There was nothing to wait for.

*


Hermione rushed home. It was nearing evening. Guilt flooded her stomach as she thought about Draco's kiss. Her lips were still warm from it, and her stomach tingled pleasantly at the memory. She had not been kissed like that for a long time, affectionately and warmly. It had not been the same peck Ron gave her when she came home, the old habits of an old marriage, but an exciting, romantic, new exchange of surprise.

How was she to tell Ron? More importantly, was she to tell Ron? Their marriage was already falling apart, it would not help if she admitted that she had kissed Ron's archenemy. Thoughts faded from her mind as she opened the front door to her house and was greeted by a large, packed suitcase and an ashened-faced Ron.

'Ron!' she gasped. Did he know? Was he leaving her?

'Hermione -' he exclaimed. To her great shock, he smiled. 'Hermione, oh honey, you're going to be so proud of me!'

He reached her and envelopped her in his arms, then carried her inside. Hermione giggled a little uncertainly.

'What on earth has happened?'

'Harry promoted me, honey!' he said. 'He promoted me!'

'Oh, congratulations!' gasped Hermione, and Ron beamed. He kissed her lightly on the lips as she looked at the luggage. 'That doesn't explain the suitcase, though.'

'Well,' he threw two pairs of socks in the bag, 'we think we've found Yaxley. Remember that big Death Eater who escaped? They say he's hiding in Brazil somewhere.'

'Brazil?'

'Yeah. So me and Harry and a couple of other Aurors are going. It'll be just like old times!'

Hermione's face went white with fury.

'Ron, how can you possibly go now? We're trying to fix our marriage!'

'Was it broken?' said Ron innocently. She could see that he was not going to let her ruin this opportunity.

'You know that we can't take this now, Ron,' she said. 'If you go, then... D'you think our marriage will handle a prolonged absence? You promised -'

'Listen, Hermione,' Ron interrupted, and there was such anger in his voice that Hermione actually took a step back. 'All these years, you've been the breadwinner of the family, and I haven't complained... well, mostly... But now - now I've got a chance to earn some Galleons and be the head of this family, and you're not going to take that from me, not now!' He paused as their eyes locked. It was difficult to tell who was angrier. 'I'm going, Hermione.'

He picked up his bulging suitcase and walked towards the door. Hermione crossed her arms, her eyes downcast, and did not protest when Ron gave her a small, hesitant peck on the lips. Then he was gone.

She didn't even bother to slam the door behind him. What was she to do now?

'Did Dad go?'

She looked up; Rose was standing at the bottom of the stairs, facing Hermione with curiosity.

'Yes,' answered Hermione, forcing all fury out of her voice with enourmous effort. 'To Brazil. Probably for a month. Or however long it takes them to catch Yaxley. Aren't you supposed to be in bed?'

'It's only nine.'

'Is your brother asleep?'

'Dad tucked him in before he started packing.'

'Okay. Go on, go upstairs. You can read for an hour if you like.'

But Rose had walked over to her mother. There was such maturity and compassion in her face that she did not seem like a twelve year old at all.

'Are you all right, Mum?'

Hermione forced a smile. She kissed her daughter's forehead and stroked her cheek affectionately.

'Of course, sweetheart. Go on, go check on your brother for me. Don't forget to brush your teeth.'

There was such authority in her voice that Rose could do nothing else; she hurried up the stairs. Hermione stood there, feeling very alone and, worst of all, very lonely. She walked towards the kitchen. It was flooded with dishes that Ron had not bothered cleaning after dinner. She threw her briefcase and cardigan aside, took up a pair of rubber gloves and went to work. She did not want magic; if she did it all by hand, then things would be better.

Of course they would be better. They couldn't get any worse.

Ron, off to Brazil. Ron, not bothering to give them a chance. Ron, not loving her anymore -

She turned the tap on and warm water came flooding out on the dirty dishes.

*


Draco didn't know if he was doing the right thing. Perhaps Hermione wanted to be left alone, perhaps she didn't want to see him.

Bollocks. How could she not want to see him? How could she have kissed him like that and not feel the same thing he did - that he would fade if he lost sight of her?

He needed to see her to make sure that she was all right, he convinced himself. She had been in a vulnerable and peculiar state when she had stormed out of his appartment. He wondered what Weasley would say when he showed up on his doorstep, but he would just proclaim that he needed a word with Hermione - she was, after all, his attorney. Even though she was becoming so much more to him now.

He had never seen their cottage before, but knew he had Apparated the right spot the moment he saw it. There was something very Hermione-ish about it, with neat, symmetric flowers on either side of the lane leading up to the front door. Next to it was a little sign on which was written, Oakwood Cottage: The Weasleys, Ron, Hermione, Rose & Hugo.

The door was open, so Draco didn't bother knocking. Feeling a little disconcerted, he entered the premises. The cottage seemed empty, and he was worried for a moment, but then he heard noises coming from what could only be the kitchen.

Opening the door to the room, he instantly saw Hermione, wearing rubber gloves, her face glowing red with effort, scrubbing away at the kitchen counter with a sponge. Worry flooded him once more.

'Hermione?' he said hesitantly. She looked up shortly, then returned to her counter, scrubbing harder than ever. He walked over to her, but didn't dare touch her, in case she would be as alarmed as she had been earlier that afternoon.

'What are you doing here?' She didn't wait for an answer, but muttered, 'It won't come off.' He looked at what she was scrubbing; there was a great grease stain there. 'I've tried everything I know, it just won't come off!'

Draco's brow furrowed. It wasn't really about the grease stain.

'Hermione,' he said softly. It was odd to see her like this, distressed and out of control. 'Hermione, leave it - let me do it -'

He took out his wand, but Hermione shrieked -

'No! Don't do it with magic! Does everything have to be done by magic?'

He hurriedly stowed his wand away, and Hermione continued scrubbing. He could see that her arm was swollen from the effort and could just imagine how much it was aching. His Healer instincts took over.

'Hermione, stop it,' he said quietly, desiring nothing more than to hold her. Did she know he was there for her? Did she know how much he could give her? 'There's nothing you can do about it.'

'What d'you mean, there's nothing I can do about it?' she cried, turning her head halfway around so Draco caught sight of the tears in her eyes. 'It's got to come off, it's just got to,' she mumbled. She started banging at the counter with her fist in frustration. Draco rushed up to her and grabbed her forcibly, worried that she was hurting herself. The minute he touched her, she stiffened.

'He left me,' she said in a choked voice after a terrible silence, and though he was standing behind her, he could see tears running down her cheeks and felt her shudder. 'To - To go off on some D-Death Eater hunt. He knows we're in trouble... H-How could he have left me?'

And then she was crying silently and her body was shaking with grief; she was sinking to her knees, and Draco managed to catch her before she touched the floor, but they both fell down with a crash, and sponges and water and rubber gloves were flying everywhere -

She was in his arms, gasping for breath, but to Draco, there was nothing more beautiful than this and her; comforting her, stroking her head and telling her everything would be all right - that was his purpose. She was so lovely when she let herself go, when she showed that she had feelings, when she wasn't afraid to trust. He encircled his arms around her and entwined her fingers with his, then placed their hands firmly on her stomach, forcing her to breathe evenly and to calm down. Her gasps ceased eventually; the protection his arms and body was offering her made her feel safe. He would look after her.

She turned her head towards him. Her eyelashes were wet from crying, and Draco could see wounds in her eyes - she was vulnerable, raw, hurt -

She leaned forwards and kissed him hesitantly on the lips. He made no motion to return the kiss. This wasn't right. She didn't want him right now, she wanted a safe haven - she wanted to forget. And that's not how he wanted her. He broke the kiss, though it was difficult to do so.

'What are you doing?' she whispered. 'I thought you wanted this.'

He shook his head, running his fingers through her tangled strands of hair.

'Not this, Hermione,' he said. He leaned forward as hesitantly as she had and kissed her. It was a much different kiss, and it was Hermione who drew back this time, looking a little helpless. 'That's what I want, and I know... I know you can't give it to me.' He dried the tears from her eyes. 'Not now. Come on.'

He stood up and helped her do likewise; there was no strength left in her.

'Will you do something for me?' she asked softly. He nodded. 'Will you stay here tonight?'

He hesitated. He knew she just wanted to feel safe. She wanted him to stay in the house so that there was someone there in the morning. He nodded again.

She walked towards the staircase. He kept a firm grip on her all the time. She was made of porcelain. She could so easily break. She led him to the living room and he reached for some pillows which he arranged in a comfy position for his neck. Sitting down, he smiled reassuringly at her.

'Goodnight, Granger,' he said gently. But Hermione had sat down next to him.

'I'm not going to try anything,' she assured him. 'I just... Don't leave me alone.'

He bit his lip. She was so vulnerable and lonely that he couldn't say no to her. He put an arm around her and she leaned hesitantly against him, laying her head on his chest. She sighed, and he gradually felt all her muscles relax.

'This is good,' she mumbled, closing her eyes. 'This is safe... Nice and safe...'

Draco stroked her hair slowly as her breathing got heavier and steadier. When she was finally asleep, he thought it safe enough to get some sleep himself. He closed his eyes. He was not in a very comfortable position, but it didn't matter to him - Hermione's head lay heavy and warm against his chest. From now on, it was his job to protect her - to love her. Unconditionally, he thought, as he finally fell asleep.

*


Hermione woke up feeling happier than she had for many weeks, though not knowing why at all. Confused for a moment, she saw that she was lying on the couch in her living room, and wondered what had gone wrong for her to be here. Then she remembered the previous night; as memories surged through her mind, her body grew tense, then suddenly slack - she couldn't bother to worry anymore.

She heard footsteps on the stairs and managed to turn her head in time to see Malfoy enter the room balancing two cups of tea and some buttered toast. He looked just as messy as she felt, with his hair untidily swept about. He smiled concernedly as he saw she was awake, and gave her one of the cups.

'Thanks,' she yawned comfortably. Draco sat down next to her. They sipped their tea quietly.

'How do you fe-'

'Thanks for last night.'

Hermione had interrupted him quickly, sure she would not be able to stand hearing the question 'How do you feel' - it was a pointless question, for Draco must know that she felt torn and confused.

'No problem,' was his curt answer.

'I'm so sorry I -'

'Don't apologize, Granger,' he said a little irritably. 'You're allowed to break down.' He softened his voice. 'As long as you do it when I'm around.'

Hermione smiled.

'I was about to say that I'm sorry I forgot to consider Scorpius. He didn't spend the night alone?'

'He's with his mother for the weekend. She picked him up right after she'd seen you, I think, given the short time that elapsed between your visits.'

Hermione hand flew up to her mouth as she remembered.

'Malfoy, I'm so sorry about that - I don't know what came over me -'

He laid a hand on her forearm which was resting on the couch. The touch silenced Hermione at once as small bolts of electricity ran down her spine. Malfoy seemed to be enjoying the same experience.

'I think,' he said slowly, 'that you just needed a scapegoat. Good I'm used to you slapping me.'

He made to move his hand away from her arm, and a sudden urge to keep it where it was came over Hermione; she caught his hand in midair. He looked at her, surprised. He opened his mouth to say something, then paused, apparently considering the matter. He looked at her forearm for distraction. The scars were quite noticeable in the sunlight. He placed his free hand back on it.

'I never showed you mine,' he suddenly said quietly. Hermione gazed at him silently. He let go of her hand and removed his left sleeve; upon his arm were the remainders of the Dark Mark, an ugly, brownish, round scar, though the serpent entering the skull had vanished. He grimaced as he looked at it.

'Hurt like hell when they branded me,' he muttered. 'But at least,' he looked at her with sadness, 'at least I did mine willingly.'

Hermione gave a small smile and took his arm in her hands. His breathing sharpened as she rubbed her thumb up the mark.

'Scars that won't vanish,' she sighed.

Draco suddenly hugged her. It seemed the only right thing to do. She sighed in his arms, drinking in his affection, when -

'Mum?'

Hermione instantly broke the connection. Rose was standing in the doorway in her pyjamas, her eyebrows raised, her tiny face, so resemblant to Ron's, bearing the unmistakeable look of disbelief and anger.

*


A/N: I'm afraid this chapter was terribly, terribly cheesy, and I wrote an alternate one which I'll probably post when the story is finished. So on that account, do forgive me, but it's a necessary part of the story!

Again, thank you, thank you for the reviews, the number of times this has been added to favorite lists and simply for reading! Also thank you to those few of you have not only taken time to comment on the chapter, but also the chapter images, which I do tend to take a while to make! Till next time.



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'Hello sweetheart,' Hermione said quickly, standing up and moving away from Draco, her terrified eyes on her cross little daughter, Rose. 'You remember Healer Malfoy?'

'Hello Rosie-girl.' Draco's eyes were bright, but they did not conceal the clearly worried expression on his face.

'Is anyone sick?' Rose said sharply. Hermione bit her lip worriedly.

'Of course not - Healer Malfoy just decided to - to make a housecall to see how you were.'

Rose raised her eyebrows even higher. Hermione couldn't help being reminded of Ron.

'At seven in the morning?'

'Well, I've got my first shift at eight,' said Malfoy, thinking fast, 'and I took my chances - I guess I was right: you're up. You're looking great, kiddo.'

'You work on a Saturday?'

'Uh -' Malfoy looked uncomfortable. 'Occasionally.'

Hermione could see by Rose's pout that she did not believe a word of this story. Concerned, she moved forward, but Rose had suddenly run down the hall and slammed her door. Hermione buried her face in her hands.

'Oh Merlin...' she sighed. 'Did she see us? She saw us. Oh, if she tells Ron...'

Draco gripped her shoulder reassuringly.

'Don't worry, Hermione,' he said. 'You do that too much.' She didn't answer, and he took this as a sign to leave. 'I'll go. I'll see you on Monday.'

He reached for his jacket and pulled it on. As he passed Hermione, she grabbed his arm and hesitantly kissed him on the cheek.

'Thank you,' she said. He nodded.

As soon as she heard the front door close downstairs, Hermione sighed. She smoothed her hair back and straightened her shirt, dreading what she was about to say to her daughter.

Rose was by the windowsill, sitting on the little bench Ron had made for her a few years ago. She had obviously just seen Malfoy Disapparate.

'Rose?' Hermione said tentatively, as she opened the door. Rose didn't budge or say a word - always a bad sign. 'Rose, why are you angry?'

'Don't you bloody know?' came the outburst.

'Don't swear!' ordered Hermione angrily. Rose's lips were pursed disapprovingly. Hermione closed the door behind her, not wanting to wake her son. 'What's the matter?'

'The second Dad's gone, you can't wait to go and cheat on him!'

'Rose!'

'Don't you think I've heard you, both of you, tearing eachother's heads off? You act as if me and Hugo don't even live here, it's disgusting!'

'Rose, stop it -'

'What did you do, pair up with him at St. Mungo's? Been comforting you, has he?'

The blood drained from Hermione's face. Rose, too, was looking pale.

'I don't know where on earth you get these ridiculous ideas from,' Hermione said mockingly, 'you're only twelve, for Merlin's sake.'

'I've got eyes and ears.'

'Sharp ones,' Hermione added. She sat down on Rose's bed. 'I don't cheat, Rose. You should know that - I've raised you with that. Your father doesn't cheat. There's no reason why I should cheat. Healer Malfoy is - just that, he's a Healer. He's worried about me. He saw that I didn't get enough sleep. It's his job to be here when things go wrong - when I feel bad -'

'No, it's Dad's job!'

'Well, Dad isn't here, is he?' snapped Hermione and regretted it instantly. 'I'm sorry, sweetheart. But please don't go seeing more than there is.'

Rose was suddenly sitting next to her mother, her eyes glistening with tears. She threw herself in Hermione's arms.

'Oh, Mum,' she cried. 'You're not going to get a divorce, are you? Please don't get a divorce. I love you both so much... pl-please...'

Hermione didn't know what to say. How could she promise that?

'Shh, darling,' she whispered, rocking her daughter to and fro. 'The only thing I can promise you is that I'll do my very, very best to try and make it work - for all of our sakes.'

*


As the Weasleys greeted the month of July half-heartedly, though without the principal figure of their family, Hermione was finally getting somewhere with Malfoy's case. Since Rose's angry outburst, their relationship had remained on an entirely professional level - though there were times where Malfoy opened his mouth to say something, affection in his eyes, but where Hermione merely started speaking in a quick and loud voice. Having promised to Rose to try as much as possible, she decided that ceasing to be attracted to Malfoy would be a good - though difficult - start.

They had been working on his case so much that there had been little time to be affectionate to eachother, to grasp hands or kiss as they had done before, but that was all for the better. At the end of their appointments, sometimes Draco would look up and glance at her concernedly, but she'd keep her eyes fixed on his file, not daring to meet his caring gaze and give him hope for something that could never be.

Having managed to procure enough evidence supporting the fact that Draco had never had an affair, Hermione felt fairly confident that he would at the very least get shared custody of Scorpius. Sometimes Draco brought him to the office, and a friendship had arisen between Hermione and the youngest Malfoy; it was not the affectionate, loving one that Scorpius clearly had with his mother, but he respected her, as she respected him. Because Ron was no longer there to babysit, Hermione often left Rose and Hugo in either Ginny's or Polly's care - and though Hugo instantly took to Draco, Rose always remained on her guard with him, remembering what had happened the day her beloved father had gone off to Brazil.

'I forgot to tell you,' said Hermione, late in the evening of the 12th July. Draco and her were sitting in her office with a mug of coffee and a bowl marshmallows, working slowly on Henrietta's list of witnesses. 'The hearing's been fixed. Wizengamot trial, a month from today.'

Draco looked up. His mouth was bulging with three marshmallows and Hermione had difficulty suppressing the urge to laugh. He swallowed.

'Is that good?'

'Of course - I appealed to Percy - Ron's brother, you know, he's one of the Warlocks in the Wizengamot - and told him about your case and the Muggle hearings and all that. He agreed that Wizengamot would be best, so luck is on your side.'

'Not necessarily. I've never been that popular with the Weasley family. I doubt Percy will -'

'Give you a fair trial? Of course he will. He owes that to me. I'm an excellent attorney, he'll listen to what I have to say. But this means that Henrietta will have to get a wizarding attorney too -'

'No big deal, you're the best there is,' said Draco matter-of-factly, smiling at her.

'Thanks,' she said indifferently. Don't forget Ron... You promised Rosie... 'But there are some pretty good lawyers out there, and I'm sure Henrietta will hire one of them. So I'm going to snoop around, see who's she got.'

'I was right, Granger - you do play dirty.'

Hermione smiled back at him and their eyes locked. She flinched, pretending there was something caught between her eyelashes, and looked away. Standing up and closing Malfoy's file, she got ready to leave. Draco watched her, relaxed.

'I've got to get going,' she said, stacking her files neatly in her briefcase. 'Ginny's had the kids for almost 12 hours... I'm such a bad mother.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Granger,' Malfoy said. He stood up, brushing leftover pieces of marshmallow off his shirt. 'Well, I'll see you on Monday, then?'

'Uh - no - didn't I tell you? I'm leaving,' Hermione answered, now reaching for her trusty cardigan. Malfoy raised his eyebrows in surprise.

'Leaving?'

'Yeah, I'm packing up the kids and we're off on holiday for a week. I thought it might be a nice change for them, what with Ron gone and everything.'

Malfoy's eyes were narrowed. Hermione pretended not to notice.

'Where are you going?'

'Molly and Arthur's - The Burrow. They wrote me last week and said they'd be glad to have us.' She looked up and saw disappointment in Draco eyes. 'Don't look at me like that, Malfoy, they are the kids' grandparents. Anyway, I'm entitled to a holiday too.'

'Of course you are,' said Malfoy, as Hermione resumed packing, clearing out her desk and leaving a note for Polly. 'It's just - I'll miss you, Granger.'

Her hand, which had been in the middle of writing, stiffened as he said this, and she slowly let her gaze travel up to meet his eyes. He was looking very serious.

'I thought we discussed this, Malfoy,' she said carefully. He shook his head.

'We didn't. You just never mentioned anything.'

She laid her quill down and picked up her briefcase, getting ready to leave.

'There was nothing to mention.'

'Don't say that! What happened -'

'Shut up, Malfoy!'

Draco looked as though he had been slapped.

'What?'

'Just shut it, please!' Hermione exclaimed forcefully. 'Let's just ignore this, whatever it is - I mean, it's not going to last, it isn't real -'

'Why the hell wouldn't it be real?'

'Because - because -'

'Because we're still married? You think that a silly contract can stop us from feeling?'

He walked over to her, unable to bear it anymore - he needed to feel her against him like he had when she had felt vulnerable, needed to see her look him in the eyes. He put his arms around her waist and she dropped her briefcase on the floor, breathless, lost in his eyes.

'God, Hermione, how could this ever be unreal?' he whispered and laid his forehead against hers, the lengths of their noses touching, their lips inches apart. Hermione desired nothing more this moment than to breach that distance, but she had promised...

'I told Rose I would try,' she whispered, and took his hand. That was all she could give him now, all she could do was hold his hand. He sighed, respecting her wishes, and stepped away.

'Have a good holiday, Granger.'

Hermione watched as he took his sweater and walked slowly and indifferently out the door. The way he walked showed her how disappointed he was. Sighing, pulling herself together, she waited until he had disappeared, then closed and locked the office door. She really did need a holiday.

*


'Hermione, darling! And Rosie! Hugo!'

Molly Weasley's hair was streaked with grey and her eyes bore thick spectacles. As she strained to pick up Hugo and kiss him on the forehead, she winced, her back giving her troubles. Hermione smiled warmly at her mother-in-law who drew her into a reassuring hug.

'We're so glad to have you,' said Molly softly, leading her grandchildren into the kitchen. 'It's such a pity Ron couldn't be here.'

Hermione forced a smile. The Burrow had not changed the past 20 years; Molly kept it spotless and clean, and the delicious smell of treacle tart greeted the three guests as they walked into the kitchen. Hugo and Rose, who had been to their father's childhood home countless times, ran into the living room, where their grandfather was sitting in an armchair, examining a Muggle hairdryer. Hermione walked over and kissed him affectionately on his bald head. He looked up distractedly.

'Hermione!' he exclaimed, as he noticed her.

Hugo threw himself into his grandfather's arms and yelled at the top of his voice, 'GRANDDAD, GRANDDAD, GRANDDAD!' Arthur grinned and ruffled his hair.

'Where's Ron?'

'Brazil,' said Hermione, avoiding Arthur's eyes. 'Hunting Death Eaters.'

'Oh yes, Ginny did mention something -'

'Ginny?'

'She's here with the children, decided to join you.'

'Is there room enough?'

'Oh yes,' Molly reassured Hermione at once, as she entered the room with a plate of treacle tart. 'Dig in, darlings.' Hugo and Rose did not hesitate; they crammed their grandmother's excellent cooking in their mouths. 'All the birds have flown from their nests, you know. Ginny's in her old room, I gave James and Albus Bill and Charlie's beds - Hugo can camp there too - and I expect Rose and Lily will be quite comfortable in Percy's room - we've put George's old mattress up there. And that leaves Ron's attic for you, dear.'

Hermione eyed Molly carefully. She had never mentioned Fred's name since the War and her prematurely lined face proved to Hermione that his death had affected her severely. Indeed, she saw her look fondly at the wall nearest the door - on which was pasted a fake wand in Fred's honour - before she hurried back to the kitchen.

Ginny entered the living room moments later, wearing a light summer dress and limping very slightly. She hugged Hermione, then collapsed into an armchair, kissing Hugo and Rose as soon as they had finished their first piece of treacle tart.

'My feet...' she moaned in pain, 'I'm never wearing heels again, I'm not cut out for it. I do miss my days as a Seeker - where women could wear boots and be as unattractive as possible.'

Hermione sat down on the couch, looking sympathetic.

'I take it you had a meeting with your editor?'

'Well, I had to hand in that article about Puddlemere United. They're getting on in the League, all because of their new female Keeper... You know Oliver Wood got the new job as head trainer for the Scottish National Team? Anyway, it was absolute rubbish to write the article.'

'Why, who's the Keeper?'

Ginny wrinkled her nose in distaste.

'Cho Chang. Ah well. Old enemies never disappear, I guess.'

Hermione pondered in silence. They certainly didn't.

'Auntie!'

Hermione looked up and managed to catch sight of a bright pair of blue eyes, before she was obscured by a mass of tangled, red hair. As she hugged Lily, Harry's youngest, she couldn't help thinking that she was the spitting image of her mother.

'Hello, darling,' Hermione said warmly to the nine year old. 'Have you been a good girl while your brothers were at Hogwarts?'

'It's not fair,' said Lily, pouting. 'I want to go to Hogwarts too.'

'Two years,' yawned Ginny, massaging her feet and reaching for a bit of treacle tart herself.

'One year and seven days, Mummy, I'll be ten in a week! Here, save some treacle tart!'

'What about you, Hugo? Looking forward to going to Hogwarts?'

'Not as much as Lily,' answered Hugo sincerely, walking over to Hermione and putting his arms lovingly around her. Hermione smiled and pulled the seven year old on her lap. He smacked his lips, enjoying the last sticky crumbs of the treacle tart. 'I want to stay with Mummy forever an' ever.'

Ginny laughed and ruffled his hair, but Hermione thought she saw something nastier than amusement in her eyes; she had raised her two sons, James and Albus, to be independant and not to rely too much on their parents, much as herself in her younger years, when she had been a wild thing. Hermione, though, was almost overprotective, from which came Hugo's natural wish to stay with his mother, and she knew Ginny did not approve of his upbringing.

'Good you've still got four more years to go, then.'

As Hermione watched Ginny, Lily and Rose engage in animated conversation about Hogwarts, her thoughts wandered to the time Hugo was born. He had not been planned, though he had been a wonderful surprise; Hermione had never wanted more than one child, sure that she could not handle more than that, because she wanted a successful career. The result had been that Ron had to be home a lot more than she to look after the children when they weren't at Hogwarts, and as his career became little more than dying ambition, hers shot up into the skies of success. Perhaps he wasn't entirely to blame for their problems, she thought for the first time, perhaps she should have made more sacrifices.

'I'm telling you, the Holyhead Harpies have got it in the bag!'

'No, the Tornados do!'

The loud and ringing voices of James and Albus Potter greeted Hermione unpleasantly as they marched into the room in heavy disagreement. They walked straight up to their mother, arms crossed.

'Mum, who's got most chances of winning the Quidditch League?'

'The what?' answered Ginny apprehensively.

'The Quidditch League -'

'Which one?' she continued sharply.

'What d'you mean -' started Albus, confused, but James was smart enough to cut across him.

'The men's Quidditch League, then,' he said impatiently. Ginny raised an eyebrow.

'Thank you. Don't forget that women are as good Quidditch players as men.'

'How can we have famous Ginny Weasley as a mother and not know that?' said James, rolling his eyes. 'Oh, hello, Auntie Hermione.'

Hermione smiled at her nephews as they walked over and kissed her cheeks. James was nearing thirteen and had more Weasley features than Potter ones; his reddish-brown hair was as messy as his father's, but his eyes sparkled a rich chestnut brown and he was as tall as the tallest Weasley boys had been at that age. Albus, the younger one, who was the same age as Rose, looked just like Harry, with his black hair and green eyes - all that was missing was the lightning-bolt scar. Rose punched his shoulder in greeting and they exchanged grins. Having always been the best of cousins, they were now also very good friends and had escaped the awkward feeling of being new at Hogwarts by eachother's company.

'Where's Uncle Ron?' Albus asked innocently. James pushed him in irritation.

'I told you he's with Dad!' he hissed, chancing a glance at his aunt, but she did not seem too upset.

'But Dad came home last week -'

'Al!'

Hermione looked up. Ginny was scolding her youngest son, who was suddenly looking abashed.

'He just came for the weekend,' muttered Ginny quickly. 'Ron and the others - they stayed in Brazil - Floo Powder is so expensive when you've got to cross the country -'

'Of course,' Hermione sighed, then forced a smile, aware that all the children were gazing at her. 'So, Albus, what did you think of the Gryffindor common room? Relieved you weren't in Slytherin?'

As Albus hesitantly started talking about the Sorting, Hermione's thoughts flew on to Ron. He really wasn't willing to give them a shot, if he didn't even want to come home on weekends to see his wife and children. Her heart was torn and she felt jealousy towards poor Ginny. She had a husband who still adored her, who still leapt at the chance to see her at the earliest occasion - who couldn't get enough of her, who loved her... Love... It was a strange thing, but she suddenly realised that all the things she had once seen in Ron had now gone, changed by time or transformed by routine and habits. Where was the excitement, where was the risk?

'Mummy,' said Hugo, tugging at her sleeve as soon as Albus finished speaking. 'I'm hungry.'

Arthur, who had been listening to all of this and still managed to examine the hairdryer, stood up.

'Right you are, grandson,' he grunted, clutching his back. James rushed forward to help him. 'Let's go find Molly and see what she's got for dinner.'

All the children followed their grandfather eagerly. Ginny and Hermione stood up, and when Ginny spoke, it was in a low voice.

'I promise you, Hermione, Harry really wasn't supposed to come home at all - or Ron would have, I'm sure he would - he just -'

'Don't lie for him, Ginny,' hissed Hermione angrily, 'he does it so well himself.'

She moved away to the kitchen, not feeling hungry at all.

*


A/N: I must admit, I'm feeling rather guilty - choosing to submit a chapter for this story rather than one of my others, when this was updated not very long ago. However, so many of you have been so nice as to ask for another chapter, so here it is. It is much longer than any of the others: consider it my Christmas present. Lack of time forced me to neglect chapter images this once, although I'll hopefully edit it in at one point or other.

Happy holidays to everyone and thanks for your continued interest!



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Hermione spent most of the night thinking about Ron, and a little part also guiltily reliving her kiss Draco. She had been sleeping wonderfully ever since that night where he had simply held her. She had never slept like that before. Perhaps it was because that she had always been worried - when she was eleven, starting at Hogwarts, worried about not fitting in. When she was thirteen, worried about not being the best in her year. On the Horcrux hunt, worried about not finding them, worried about everything really. And then in the aftermath of the Final Battle, the inconsequential worries of Ron not loving her, of Ron not proposing... And then, thought Hermione, punching her pillow into a more comfortable position, then worrying that her children might not fit in at Hogwarts... Always worrying, always...

Ron had never made her feel safe, not really; they both had inferiority problems, and they both fought to keep them away, thus creating competition. He could not make her feel safe if he was trying to show her that he was a winner of their little game, nor could she. Draco didn't care about winning or losing, he didn't care about her earning more money, or about her being the better cook. There was something very protective in his way of talking to her and holding her, and Hermione needed to feel protected - why couldn't Ron just understand that?

She turned over, restless, and her eyes were drawn to all the posters he had stuck on his wall as a kid. The Chudley Cannons... Quidditch, always Quidditch... What did they have in common? A dusty Skiving Snackbox was lying, forgotten, in a shadowy corner... He had always wanted the easy way out, afraid to fight for what actually deserved to be fought for... Just like their marriage... He was too much of a coward to face facts and realise that they had problems - too much of a coward to actually tackle them head-on... Instead, Brazil was the solution...

Draco was by no means a perfect man, he had easily proven this through his own cowardice during the War... He was arrogant and prejudiced, and he seemed to find joy in annoying people, but all those were trivial problems... They did not matter... What mattered was that he protected those he cared for... Those he loved... Me, thought Hermione silently, and her heart beated in a strange, fast way...

Polly's owl woke her up the next morning. Its beak was tapping against Ron's window. Yawning, Hermione stood up, pulled on her cardigan, and took the letter. The owl did not take off, but stood patiently, having clearly been given instructions to wait for a reply. Hermione rubbed her eyes, tired after a night filled with thoughts and little sleep, and read Polly's short note:

Hermione,

Hope you're having a good holiday. Percy Weasley has given you and Mr Malfoy permission to re-open and re-claim Malfoy Manor. Papers waiting for you at the office.

Polly


Hermione let out a shout of happiness and punched the air with joy; a large and expensive Manor was in Draco's favour. He could either sell it, in which case the large sum of fortune would convince the Wizengamot that he would be a most eligible parent, financially at least; or he could make some kind of deal with Henrietta, in which the creepy estate played a part.

'Mum?'

Rose had opened the door cautiously, having heard her mother shout.

'Darling, you haven't got any socks on, you must be freezing,' said Hermione, smiling widely, and pulling her daughter into her room.

'It's summer, Mum,' Rose said, exasperated.

'Really?' Hermione nodded out the window - it was raining heavily and a cool breeze was bothering Polly's owl. 'Oh - hold on -'

She quickly scribbled a reply to Polly, telling her that she would be in later today. Rose read the note over her mother's shoulder.

'But we were supposed to stay till Friday!' she exclaimed, disappointed, as she watched the owl fly towards the rising sun. Hermione made her daughter sit down on the bed, then opened a drawer and picked up a pair of mismatching socks.

'You're staying, darling, I just need a quick word with Healer Malfoy to drop off the key - he's probably got to get a shifty of his old house before the hearing - time does fly, sweetheart,' she added, as she pulled the socks over her daughter's cold toes. The socks were too large and Rose adjusted them thoughtfully.

'You're not... in love with Healer Malfoy, are you?' she said quietly, blushing. Hermione forced a laugh, kissing her daughter's cheek and smoothing her bushy red hair out of her eyes.

'Hardly, darling. You know I love Dad.'

Rose jumped down from the bed, stumbling a little in her mother's socks.

'I'm going to get some cereal. Are you coming?'

Beaming, Hermione nodded. She thought that the happiness stirring in the pit of her stomach might have something to do with the fact that she would see Draco later that day.

*


The Family Law offices had almost been empty when Hermione had picked up Malfoy's file; clearly, everybody was on holiday. Polly had left the key to Malfoy Manor on her desk, and Hermione had carefully stowed it in her pocket before Apparating to his flat. As she rang the doorbell, she couldn't help remembering the last time she had been here and both grinned and blushed a little at the memory.

'Granger!' said Malfoy, surprised, as he opened the door. He narrowed his eyes warily. 'You're not here to slap me again, are you?'

'No,' answered Hermione pointedly. 'Where's Scorpius?'

'With his mother.'

'Ah.' Hermione paused. Perhaps that was why Malfoy hadn't been too keen on her going - he would be all alone while his son left for his own holiday. 'Well, I've got a surprise for you.'

'Really?'

He crossed his arms, looking expectant. Hermione nodded, beaming. She held up the key to Malfoy Manor. His brow furrowed as he realised what it was.

'Well done, Granger, I see you've managed to persuade the Ministry to hand back Malfoy property.'

'Clever of me, isn't it? Here -'

She held out the key and dropped it in his outstretched hand. He sighed.

'I've got to admit, I almost hoped that you wouldn't manage.'

Hermione smiled understandingly. She drank in the sight of him as he turned the large, silver key in his hands, relishing the moment; the things she was feeling right now forced her to acknowledge that she had missed him.

'Well,' she said, trying unsuccessfully to look away. You promised... 'Maybe you want to take a look at it before trying to persuade Henrietta to take it? Send me an owl when you've been there.'

She had almost turned around when his voice stopped her.

'Can you come with me?'

'What?' She turned back to face him, confused.

'Can you come with me, Granger? I don't fancy going there alone.'

'I - I -'

She hesitated. She wasn't exactly afraid of going to Malfoy Manor, but the place held nothing but bad memories for her, the place where the scars on her forearm had not been scars, but fresh wounds... And yet, she would willingly seize any possibility of being with Malfoy - his simple presence was enough to make her happy the rest of the day.

'Okay.'

After having got a jacket and put on a pair of shoes, Malfoy and Hermione Apparated to the place which had so often haunted her dreams. But she wasn't with Fenrir Greyback this time, or a swollen-headed Harry, or a frightened Ron, but with Draco. It was still raining heavily and it almost seemed surreal to be standing here, with him of all people.

The estate looked shabbier than he remembered it. There were no longer any peacocks flanking the gates, as his father had once ordered there to be, but a sign had been hung up. Draco leaned forwards to read it.

THIS ESTATE, MALFOY MANOR, WAS ONCE THE HEAD QUARTERS OF THE DARKEST LORD OF OUR TIME

MAY THE MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY WHO ONCE CALLED THIS HOME NOW LIVE IN SHAME


No sooner had Draco finished reading than Hermione had taken out her wand and waved it; before he could do anything else than flinch in surprise, the sign had torn itself in two and now lay at his feet, getting progressively soggier in the rain.

'I'm having a word with the Magical Law Enforcement,' he heard Hermione mutter angrily. Draco laughed bitterly.

'I never called this place home,' he said, and he saw her smile grimly.

He opened the gate and led her down the narrow path leading to the great house. Vines, which had once been carefully pruned and gardened, had now crept up the walls and the painting had peeled off some places, causing a terribly shabby effect. Hermione was almost relieved at this sight - it was much easier to sneer at it now that it was no longer very creepy. Her heart filled with affection for Malfoy when she saw that his hands were slightly shaking as he withdrew the key from his pocket; perhaps he was as afraid as she at reliving unpleasant memories.

Draco eyed her carefully as he turned the key in the lock. He was worried that this place might be as haunting to her as it was to him, but she revealed no sign of unease. Indeed, she looked almost beautiful, standing there in the weak sunlight, her eyes curiously sparkling. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans and her old cardigan. Her long hair, usually so bushy, was wet and slick from the rain. He fumbled with the key, slightly mesmerised by her, but managed to open the door and they hurried inside, drenched in water. She doesn't want you, he said to himself firmly. She's married...

The hall was utterly dark. All the curtains were drawn, blocking out the little sunlight this day had to offer. He heard a sharp intake of breath and was worried that Hermione might finally be feeling uneasy, and though he couldn't see anything, he grabbed her hand to comfort her.

His hand was warm against hers and her heart skipped a beat. This was what she had been thinking about all night, this instinct Draco had of protecting her, making sure she felt safe at all times...

A pleasant feeling of satisfaction curled itself in Draco's stomach as Hermione entwined his fingers with hers. He searched his pocket for his wand, but Hermione's voice suddenly stopped him.

'Don't say Lumos,' she whispered, and he felt her very close to him. Her voice was strangely suppressed with emotion.

'Why?' he asked, and for some reason he lowered his voice too.

'Because I don't want to look at you when I do this.'

He couldn't see her, but he felt her put her arms around his neck, her hands playing with his wet hair, goosebumps arising at her touch; then suddenly she was kissing him, and the wonder and wierdness of it all only made her more alluring. They only broke the kiss for air, and Draco felt almost giddy, but quickly pulled himself together.

'If this,' he whispered, still holding her, his arms around her waist and his face inches from hers, 'if this is something to do with Ron, then I -'

'It's nothing to do with Ron,' she answered breathlessly, and though he couldn't see her, he knew she meant it. She was shivering slightly, perhaps because her clothes were wet, or perhaps simply because that was the best kiss they had ever shared. 'It's only about you and me.'

The words echoed in his mind. You and me.... She couldn't have any idea how much they meant to him, how he had longed for her to say them, and happiness such as he had never felt before overcame him. He kissed her again, his strong hold lifting her a few inches from the ground, ecstasy spreading to the tips of his toes.

He smiled when they broke the kiss for the second time, and so did she; he whispered Lumos and he was finally able to see her face. He was relieved to see that she was looking guilt-free and more happy than he had ever seen her. Still staring at her, their eyes exchanging silent, wondrous messages, he took her hand, and together, they did a tour of the house, their own joy eliminating any bad memories the place had once caused them.

Hermione only had trouble with the living room; it was the only place that brought back very vivid flashbacks, and though Draco's warm hand kept her firmly in reality, she agreed whole-heartedly with him when he told her of his wish not to linger. They decided that the place needed a thorough clean-out if it were to be sold or given to Henrietta, and Draco promised to hire someone as soon as possible.

They locked the door behind them and ran out into the rain, carelessly thinking that their happiness would last. Draco had generously given up his jacket, which Hermione had thrown over their heads, not remembering, or perhaps not caring, that they could have cast charms. They had almost reached the gate when Draco suddenly stopped running and simply stood there - it took Hermione a few seconds to realise that he was no longer following her, and she turned around. His clothes, which he had dried with a spell in the Manor, were now getting increasingly wetter, and Draco's jacket did not offer much protection for hers, either.

'What's the matter?' she shouted, as thunder roared loudly over them.

'Will it be all over when we cross that gate?' he yelled back.

'What are you talking about?'

Hermione took a few steps towards him. Large raindrops were splashing heavily on his face, but he didn't seem to care.

'I don't want it to end,' he said in a lower voice now Hermione was closer. 'You know me better than anyone.'

Hermione lowered his jacket - it had no use anymore; it was soaked. Draco gulped, raising a hand to his forehead and sweeping back his wet hair. Hermione eyed him, her heart beating oddly fast, her face flushed and warm in spite of the coldness of the rain.

'I think you know that I'm in love with you,' he finally said, and there was just enough fear in his voice for Hermione to grasp how vulnerable he must feel in that moment.

She looked down at her feet, not knowing what to do, what to say. Looking back up, she pushed her own stray strands of hair out of her eyes and grasped both of his hands, placing them on her neck on which lay the scar Bellatrix had inflicted.

'Scars that won't go away,' she said to him, as she looked fiercely into his grey eyes. 'Hearts that understand eachother. Of course I know it, Draco.'

She had finally said it, she had finally said his name, and it was this, perhaps, more than anything else that finally convinced him that she felt as he did. It was difficult to understand, as her wet lips came crashing on his for the third time that rainy afternoon, as she put an arm around his waist and ran with him back towards the gate, that they had come all this way... that they were actually still going somewhere.

*


Hermione and Draco Disapparated together, back to his empty appartment. They Apparated just outside the building and, laughing and smiling at eachother, unable to stop holding hands or looking at one another, they ran up the flight of stairs. When they reached the top, Draco stopped, put his arms around Hermione's waist and raised a hand to her face. He stroked her cheek softly, then reeled her in and kissed her. Hermione drew back, breathless.

'It feels so good to know that you want that too,' he said. Hermione smiled lazily.

'No sane woman wouldn't.'

He smiled back at her and took her hand once more and, laughing for no reason, they ran into the hallway, at the end of which was the door to his appartment.

And there he was, standing there in a very simple way that made Hermione wonder whether she was dreaming or if it were somehow true that Ron Weasley was waiting for her outside Draco's appartment.

*


A/N: Unfortunately, this story is coming to its end. There is only one more chapter left. I've written two endings, and the one that I prefer will be the submitted as the last chapter. If, however, you would like me to post the alternate ending and a few other chapters which I had to cut/edit, please tell me so now.

Since I wrote this story, news about Draco's wife have been revealed - apparently, he married someone called Asteria Greengrass, whom I think suspect is a pureblood. That really can't be included in the story; perhaps I would have found a way had she been half-blood, but as it is, I prefer to keep Henrietta as Scorpius' mother.

I have been thinking about writing a sequel (I have written a first chapter and it seems promising) in which Asteria makes an appearance. I am not sure, however, if I will be publishing the sequel or whether I'd like to start something else other than Draco/Hermione. If the demand is great, however, I'll probably attempt to write one, so please let me know!

Thank you again for the fantastic feedback I have got from so many of you. Till next time.



Chapter 10: An Ending
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In those faint, faraway seconds, as she saw Ron's pale face framed with his bright red hair, Hermione suddenly felt as if she had been taken back in time to the day they had met. It was the most curious feeling she had ever experienced, as her arms began to shake and the nerves in her shoulders tingled. And then the seconds were over, she had returned to her senses, to the awful reality of her being caught - it was all over.

'Hermione - Malfoy,' Ron said calmly, and he did not seem at all surprised to find them there. Hermione let go of Draco's hand.

'Ron, what are you -'

'I think that's rather obvious, isn't it?'

Ron had raised his eyebrows. Draco, who had not breathed a word so far, was looking a little abashed.

'We need to talk,' Ron finally quietly said after an awful pause.

'Of - of course,' stuttered Hermione. Malfoy looked from one to the other, helpless. Perhaps he wanted to say something, perhaps he didn't know what. He caught Hermione's eye, but she shook her head very lightly. Frowning, he finally turned a key in the lock of his door and opened it, disappearing into the appartment.

'There's a coffeeshop across the street,' Ron continued, disregarding Malfoy. 'Will you come with me?'

It did not occur to Hermione to refuse. Dread and guilt were weighing her down. The worst part about the whole affair was Ron's serenity, as if he had known all the time. As they walked down the stairs, she eyed him closely. There were purple shadows under his eyes, telling her he had not slept for a long time, and his clothes were wrinkled and dirty. Hermione's hand grazed his shortly, wanting to comfort him, but he did not return the gesture.

'Two coffees, please,' Ron said shortly to the waitress, as they sat down in the coffee shop a few minutes later. The waitress smiled and walked off. Silence engulfed the married couple.

Hermione was desperately looking at her husband, but he did not seem to want to look at her. He waited until their coffees had been served, then, after a sip, sighed.

'Hermione, I've got a question, and I think you owe it to me to answer it honestly.'

Hermione gulped. Her hands were very cold and she warmed them against the lukewarm cup.

'Have you... Have you slept with him?'

'No,' Hermione answered instantly. Ron sighed again, but did not doubt her sincerity. She felt she needed to elaborate. 'Ron, I... I don't commit adultery.'

He looked up and there was such despair in his eyes that she cringed, hating herself.

'Hermione,' he said quietly. The sound of her name on his lips was both endearingly and dreadfully familiar. 'The moment you started thinking of him more than of me is the moment you committed adultery. But I don't want to argue about that... We've argued enough.'

She gulped, her face flushed.

'How did you know?'

'Rose.' Hermione felt, if possible, even worse. 'We found Yaxley. I went to the Burrow - Mum sent me a letter saying that's where you'd be - and Rosie told me that you had gone to work and... and she said she thought there might be something between you and Malfoy. Poor little cricket.'

'Oh Merlin,' Hermione whispered, pressing her forehead against the palms of her hands as tears prickled her eyes. 'What the hell kind of mother am I...'

Ron reached out and took one of her shaking hands, squeezing it reassuringly, perhaps trying to tell her that she wasn't a bad parent, but it only made her feel worse - she did not deserve this, she did not deserve his forgiveness or his comfort or the dreadful coffee he had paid for her in a coffeeshop outside Malfoy's appartment. Outside a place with a man whom she had been ready to give herself to. Another man than the one she had promised to spend her life with.

'The next thing I want to know,' he continued, slowly, deliberately, 'is if you plan on leaving me.'

She looked back up at him, her eyes now shining with tears. She really had not considered this question; she had never wanted a divorce. Separation had always been in the back of her mind, but there was something so final about divorce... all the cases she took, all those clients who paid her to end their marriage... It could never be her. She gazed back up at Ron. The look he was giving her wasn't an angry one, but a patient one.

'I - I d-don't know,' she stammered. 'No, I... We have children, Ron -'

'They'd be better off with separated parents than with parents who fight all the time. Don't drag them in this, Hermione. This is your decision.'

'Don't make me choose, Ron, please don't make me choose -'

'Listen, Hermione,' Ron said, as her voice grew increasingly hysterical, 'I love you. I've always loved you, and that won't change now, not even if you decide to leave me and move in with Malfoy.' He sighed. 'I don't want a divorce. I don't want a life without you. But I want you to be happy. And if you think that your chances are better with him, then... then you know what to do.'

Tears ran down her face and blotched her make-up, but she didn't care. She took Ron's hand. His wedding ring was polished and shiny.

'I love wearing this ring,' she murmured. He kissed the palm of her hand.

'What should I do? Tell me. Should I leave you alone?' he asked.

She looked down at her coffee, which had now gone cold. Images seemed to flash before her, images of their marriage and of how proud Molly and Arthur had been; of Hugo's birth and Ron's glowing face; of the time Rose got her acceptance letter to Hogwarts - she and Ron had been up at dawn just to greet the owl who delivered it; when Ron got his driver's license and tried to convince Hermione that he had done it honestly; the way that Ron made the most perfect hot chocolate... And then the images vanished, and all that was left was Ron's pale face, staring at her fearfully.

She shook her head in response to his question. She didn't need more time; everything was awfully clear to her.

*


She rapped her knuckles against his door twice and did not have long to wait before he opened it. Draco had changed clothes since Ron had greeted them in the hallway; his hair was no longer wet and his face was dry, but stony. She leaned against the doorway.

'Hello stranger,' she said, mustering up half a smile at the sound of the clichéd greeting.

'Hello, Granger.' He let a few seconds pass as he watched Hermione's impassive face. 'I guess he made you choose, then?'

She paused, then nodded. Draco folded his arms and surveyed her. He thought he already knew her choice.

'Please tell me I'm the winner.'

Her silence was a confirmation of what he had feared. He managed to force a humorless laugh, then leaned, like her, against the doorway. She eyed him worriedly.

'Well, that's life, I guess,' he said, trying not to sound as bitter as he felt. 'You win some, you lose some.'

Hermione still didn't say anything. He could not help loving her, he thought, she was so damn beautiful. He wondered if she was beautiful because he loved her or if he loved her because she was beautiful. Before he had met her, he would probably have said the latter. He was superficial. He knew it.

Draco looked at every curve of her face, making sure that they were engraved in his memory for the next lonely years ahead: the roundness of her lips, the soft turn of her cheek, the spiralling depth of her eyes. He suddenly forced himself to look away, aware that he had been staring.

'It will be hard, you know.'

'I never expected it to be easy.'

'I never expected to fall in love with you.'

She seemed teary, but a gulp and the tears had gone.

'Don't. Make it easier for me, Draco,' she whispered. 'Let me know that you'll be all right.'

'I'll be all right.' He paused. 'But I'll never be whole.'

They stared at each other, lost in thoughts, in recent memories, in days that were blurs of passion, hatred and tension. His fingers were itching to touch her skin and to hold her in his arms and the thought of her leaving him, forever, to be with another man, was intolerable. But he pulled himself together. It was her choice. It was her life.

'Never mind, Granger. I'll be -'

His last words got muffled, for she had thrown herself into his arms with a cry of despair. He automatically placed his arms around her, his grip so strong that it seemed he would never let go. He breathed in the scent of her perfume, his face buried in her soft hair, wondering if he would ever feel again.

'Tell me you love me, Hermione,' he whispered into her neck. She didn't answer. 'Please... I need to hear you say it.'

She let go of him and pulled her head away from his. She placed both of her hands firmly on his cheeks. Their eyes locked, their gaze so intense that both had difficulty breathing, aware that they were creating a memory both would feast on for years to come, she finally murmured:

'I love you - I love you - I love you.'

He held her close, but did not move, taking in this image to keep for the rest of his life. Making up his mind to say it, he drew her closer to him still.

'When you say you love both me and Ron,' he whispered, his eyes boring into hers, 'just remember: I love you back.'

She let go of him and backed away, her expression both stony and confused, and he understood.

Things were back to normal now. They had never existed. She was his attorney. He was her client.

Pulling himself together and taking hold of the door, Draco uttered his last words before closing it.

'I'll see you at the hearing, then, Granger.'

*


It was not a surprise to Percy Weasley or to any other member of the Wizengamot that Hermione Granger Weasley made an excellent presentation on behalf of what everyone believed to be her archenemy. That she could keep her personal, hateful feelings towards the old Death Eater to herself was extraordinary and impressing beyond all consideration. With her gentle smile, her confidence and her occasional glance towards the man shunned from society, she managed to convince them that Draco had everything in his favour; a large estate sold, the money going directly to Scorpius' trust fund; a wizarding place in a wizarding world and wonderful abilities as a father.

Henrietta Malfoy - now Bennet again - had hired Michael Corner, the same Michael Corner Hermione had been to school with, and though he was efficient, he was not convincing. It was very rare that the jury voted unanimously, but they did so in this case, all in favour for Draco Malfoy, who finally won custody over his beloved son.

Hermione packed her briefcase half-heartedly, smiling with graceful serenity as Percy and a few other admiring Wizengamot members congratulated her, but her eyes were really on Draco, who was talking in a low voice to a tear-streaked Henrietta. This would be the last time she and Draco would speak, Hermione had promised herself and Ron, and the sad, hollow feeling in her chest she had felt for the past days wouldn't go away. She smiled a goodbye at Percy, then walked out to the corridor. A few moments later, Draco emerged from the courtroom, and together, they entered the elevator that was to take them to their final farewell place.

'Thank you, Hermione,' Draco said, breaking the silence. She smiled at him, her insides warming up as she saw his eyes full of gratitude. 'You've...' He shook his head, unable to find the words. 'I don't know what I would have done without you.'

'I hope Henrietta took it all right.'

Draco fidgeted a little with his tie.

'I, um, I told her we could share custody.' Hermione raised her eyebrows. 'It doesn't seem fair that... Well, the kid needs a mother too.'

Hermione smiled even wider. After all this time, he had learned how to share.

'I'm proud of you,' she said in a low voice, trying not to sound condescending.

'Thanks,' he sighed, forcing himself to look elsewhere but in the eyes of the woman he loved. There was so much he wanted to tell her. And yet, the things that he wanted her to know were so inconsequential that it hardly seemed sane to mention them... How he loved the way she always smoothed her skirt when she stood up... How he adored the small wrinkles that appeared around her eyes when she was tired... Her voice, her gorgeous voice, which possessed that rare quality of making him feel capable of doing anything, anywhere, at any time. 'I've - I've decided I'm going to take a year off and travel. I need some time to think. Greece sounds pretty nice.'

The elevator came to a dreadful halt and they stepped automatically, but unwillingly, out of it. Hermione could see Ron waiting by one of the many fireplaces, Floo Powder by his side. She sighed and outstretched a hand, trying to ignore the goosebumps on the back of her neck as Draco shook it.

'Goodbye Malfoy,' she said. Draco kept watching her, drinking her in, taking as much pleasure as possible in what would probably be the last time he'd see her.

'Goodbye Granger. Take care.'

'Have a good trip,' she whispered. She lingered for what seemed like a nanosecond, and then she had turned around and was walking towards her husband, who was waiting patiently for her, as was a husband's duty, ready to take her home to her children who would greet her joyfully. Perhaps Ron had become a better man, thought Draco, now that he had realised what he had been so close to losing.

And for a short moment, he felt happy for her - she would have a good life.

She didn't need him. Ron was there.

*


A/N: It is with excitement and a little nostalgia (both appropriate feelings, I should think) that I update this story with its last chapter. Disappointment, relief, understanding and disbelief are sure to be among your impressions of this ending, but I think Hermione staying with Ron is what is most realistic and true of her - at least until her children have grown up. I WILL be posting the alternate ending (as I'm sure some of you are despising this one by now) or, if you'd rather, the epilogue. As the epilogue/alternate ending is rather short, I'll probably be posting the chapters that were cut with it.

I haven't got an incredible lot of feedback about the sequel - I can tell you that it involves 17 year olds Scorpius/Rose, Asteria Greengrass and a wedding. Interested? If so, please let me know!

So. More than 12 000 reads. 208 adds to favorites lists. More reviews than I could expect. How can I thank you all enough? This story was never meant to be anything flashy or adventurous: I like to think of it as an observation of new love, married life, fear of the unexpected and courage of facing the inevitable.

Thank you, thank you, thank you all very much.

Until next time.


Chapter 11: Epilogue/Alternate Ending
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Draco Disapparated back to his appartment which was terribly empty now that Scorpius had gone to stay with his mother. The furniture had either been sold or moved out; his personal belongings were packed in boxes that were to go to storage. A year in Greece... He had no idea what he would do there, but forgetting Hermione and the life they could have had together seemed a good prospect.

He dropped his keys on the floor and flung his jacket indifferently away from him.

'I'm sorry, Mr Malfoy, d'you want me to hang this up for you?'

And there she was, exactly as she had been when she had stood up in court and spoken on his behalf; there she was, her brown eyes bright, her hair all over her face, her mouth smiling a little nervously.

'What are you doing here?' he whispered, something stuck in his throat.

Hermione did not stop smiling as she dropped the jacket to the floor and walked up to him.

'You promised me we'd share a piece of apple crumble the day you got custody of Scorpius.' Seeing that he still looked confused, she breached the short distance that separated the two. 'Take me to Greece with you,' she said, and then she had jumped on to him and was kissing him wildly, happily, with more freedom than she had ever done.

When their lips parted, her legs wrapped around his waist and his arms around hers, he could not think what to say. It was such a strange reality to be faced with; he had been convincing himself for the past week that it would never happen between him and Hermione, but here she was.

'D'you have nothing to say to me?' she whispered, the breath of her words washing over his pale face. She ran her hands against his cheekbones.

'What about Ron? Rose? Hugo? Your family, Hermione... It's your life.'

'It's my life. My sacrifices.'

'I don't want your children to be the sacrifice,' he mumbled. He could not believe what he was saying: how could he be so selfless? It was entirely unlike him. But then, Hermione had always made him be entirely unlike himself.

'I don't want you to be the sacrifice. I don't want my happiness to be the sacrifice,' she said, her brown eyes a little narrowed. She slid off him, her grip on his shoulders suddenly turning from firm to hard. 'It's been there for so long. It's so stupid. I don't want to waste it. Any of it. All that time we could've...'

Draco sighed, and ran a hand through her hair. She stood still, contemplating the hidden thoughts and feelings in his eyes. They did not say anything; the things that needed saying were far too intimate to be expressed through words.

And then they were in Greece, or in Italy, or in Britain, it was hard to tell where, for what did it matter which country, which continent, they were in, as long as they were together? What did anything matter as long as they had eachother?

It was a new beginning, not a momentary way of forgetting the past and troubles of difficult marriages, but a way of establishing a new sort of happiness and dealing with the troubles that followed it.

It was a new beginning. It was a new life.

THE END


A/N: Incredibly short, I know. I decided NOT to post the chapters I cut out. I hope those of you (quite a lot, actually!) who were disappointed with 'my' ending may feel satisfied with this one: personally, I think the other is more realistic, but I understand the need to have a happy ending after all the tension I built up! So it's up to you whether you'd rather consider this as an epilogue or an alternate ending!

If I do post the sequel, it will follow the last chapter, in short: Draco and Hermione have been separated for 6 years when Draco gets engaged to Asteria Greengrass. Hermione reads about it in the paper and feelings suddenly reappear as she (finally!) comes to terms with the fact that she and Ron are over. In a parallel story, we witness the growing affections between Scorpius and Rose, who have despised each other since their parents fell in love, but who can suddenly no longer deny a growing attraction...

Interesting? I hope so, because I'm very fond of the idea... We'll see!

Thank you all so much for embarking on this journey with me and I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Thank you ESPECIALLY to the reviewers, particularly the ones who review regularly, as well as those who leave thoughtful, lengthy ones.

I said farewell in my last author's note: so I won't really say it here.

Cheers everyone.

EDIT: 27th FEB 2008: For all readers, the sequel is up now. Thank you for your continued support!


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