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“Claudia, are you listening to me? Claudia? Claudia!”

Claudia’s eyes suddenly snapped onto mine, wide and alarmed. I inclined my head sideways, a frown occupying my features. Claudia snapped fully out of her trance and shook her head, brushing a strand of blonde hair from her face. “Sorry, Miss Granger.” She apologised, leaving it at that.

I watched her intently for a few moments before returning my eyes to the paper in my hands. “I need to get the thirteenth page into Jimmy so he can make two more copies, and then I need to speak to Scott to see if he’s almost finished with Mars. I also need to – Claudia!”

Claudia started at my angry tone, her distant eyes widening again as they locked gazes with mine.

I sighed and set down the paper, folding my arms across my chest. “What’s wrong, Claudia?” I demanded as gently as I could, trying to conceal my anger at her innocent ignorance.

Claudia gave me another look of alarm. “What? Nothing’s wrong.” She said quickly, nervously brushing her hair out of her face once again.

I cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve been slipping out of attention for the past ten minutes. Have you listened to a word I’ve said?” I asked her with authority. I was not in a good mood and to have Claudia not listen to me was annoying the hell out of me.

Claudia shook her head again, as if to shake away the trance. She guiltily cast her eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry again, Miss Granger. It’s just… I’m a little tired.” She said quickly.

I did not reply at first, watching Claudia closely for a few moments, before turning back to the paper on my desk. I ran a weary hand through my hair, too tired to deal with all of this right now.

“So where did you go last night?” Claudia asked after a few minutes of silence. Her voice was small, as if she had only just gathered enough courage to ask such a thing.

If I hadn’t been too preoccupied with the massive amount of work that needed to be done, I would’ve questioned her tone of voice. But right now I just didn’t have the energy to carry this conversation further – especially because my reputation and relationship were at stake just by answering this one question.

“I just went out for a few drinks.” I said, quickly pushing my instant hesitancy away.

Claudia inclined her head sideways in question. “But it was your party…” she couldn’t seem to understand this information.

“I know, but –” I paused, thinking about how much I should tell her –“I had a fight with Draco and needed to get out.”

Claudia was a little taken aback. “Why – about what?” She was curious. It seemed harmless – I thought maybe she was just worried about me. But I still did not like her nosing in my business, whether I had known her long enough to share personal things with her or not. I decided that I didn’t care and I needed someone to talk to about Draco; Blaise was not the ideal person to discuss my problems with Draco when he was the person who had caused them.

Not that I blame you, Blaise, I thought apologetically.

I sighed, rubbing my eyes wearily. “It doesn’t matter,” I decided aloud, picking up the paper again and skimming over the paragraph in which I had left off. “Now, this particular part of the ‘Real Life’ column needs to be edited. I don’t like this phrase here.” And the subject was dismissed just like that.

Claudia seemed thankful I had moved the conversation along; she had looked quite uncomfortable before. She relaxed a little more in her seat, leaning forward to read the paper in my hands. We settled back into work with heavy hearts.

Once Claudia left my office twenty minutes later with a new ‘to do’ list, I leaned back in my leather recliner chair and closed my eyes. I wondered how long I would feel like this, and just whether I would be able to survive.

*

One Week Later


The street was crowded as I pushed my way through mobs of people, fighting to get to Diagon Alley. There was a small blizzard and I wrapped my coat tighter around my waist as I fought against it. It was a relief to finally make it into the welcoming warmth of the Leaky Cauldron. The bar was emptier than usual; Tom the bartender leaned over the counter, looking as bored as ever. I waved hello at him as I passed and exited the pub. I automatically tapped the brick wall in the familiar sequence and watched mechanically as the bricks jumped apart to form an archway into the busy wizard/witch-filled streets of Diagon Alley.

I had not been here for years as I had never had the time. But Claudia (despite her lower status) had forced me to take the day off work due to my unbearable quietness for the entire week. She had told me that if she had to put up with my mechanical answers and aimless wandering for another day she would explode. But it’s not like I could help it. Ever since… that night, I had not been able to process a lot of normal things due to the immense guilt and confusion over my newfound feelings.

Draco had noticed it too. He had complained about my sudden distance to him, my constant need to be alone, and my sudden loss of voice. But I found it hard to act like things were normal when they weren’t. It was horribly painful. Thankfully I had not spoken to or seen Blaise during the entire week, which gave me a much needed break from that area of my confusion. But it still did not take away the wrong I had done, and the guilt I felt from being unfaithful.

I shook these thoughts away as I wandered down the wide-set main street of Diagon Alley. It was comforting to be amongst swarms of wizards and witches when I had not been around a large bunch of my kind in years – strangers or not. I spent a bit of time gazing in shop windows but never going in. I did not feel like buying anything – any normalcy had long since been thrown out the window.

It was around lunch time when I started to get hungry. I came across a small, near-empty café at the end of the main street and decided it was worth a try. It was a relief to be warm again, and the cosy feel of the small room was hard to miss. I settled into a booth at the back after having ordered a coffee and a muffin.

I was enjoying the peace and quiet, thinking about everything but the Incident, finally having a chance to spend some time alone without having to work or put on a fake smile at home. It was a relief to be able to sit alone and compose myself.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn’t hear the tiny tingling of the bell as the door opened. A small gust of cold wind rushed in, blowing my hair around my face. It was then that I looked up to see the source of my agony and torment over the past week standing across the room from me, staring right at me with brilliant violet eyes.

My stomach lurched and I sank further into my seat, hoping he would do the sensible thing and ignore me. But even then I was thinking wishfully and I knew it was no use, because he immediately dropped all thoughts of his previous destination and strode across the room. He stopped before me, his intent gaze boring down into mine. I felt a faint red blush rise in my cheeks as I tried to stop the sickening lurches in my stomach.

“Fancy meeting you here.” Blaise said as he slid into the seat opposite me.

I looked away, casting my eyes to the ground, hoping he would take the hint and leave. I did not want him here, yet I did at the same time. I knew it would only cause trouble for me, but the idea of having Blaise Zabini – the man I had slept with a week ago when I was supposed to be celebrating my birthday/engagement party with my husband-to-be. The thought made my stomach lurch more violently.

But I could not ignore the sudden appraisal of my feelings as I laid eyes on Blaise once again – the ones I had pushed down into my core since the Incident so I could forget about most of the things I had done wrong. And even though I had not been able to forget that incredible night, I had managed to push away the majority of my feelings for the man sitting across from me. Until now.

“Likewise.” I mumbled when he did not pick up on the hint I dropped.

Blaise leaned forward and took my hand in his. I wanted to pull away – I was forcing my brain to send messages to my hand so I could, but it was no use. Once again my body overruled. I merely stared at our entwined hands, glancing the magnificent glint of the diamond engagement ring on my finger that was so neatly wrapped around Blaise’s.

“I missed you.” He murmured in a low voice, his eyes suddenly changing from bright and happy to sad and anguished.

My heart ached as I longed to say the same words. It was true. No matter how much I had tried to forget the Incident (as much as I didn’t want to) I had missed Blaise with a longing so great that it hurt to think about him. But I just couldn’t forget. And right now, even though I had made the decision that I still wanted to see him a week ago, I couldn’t give in to it all. My torn heart just wouldn’t relent.

Instead of telling him I missed him (which would’ve been the easier option, in my opinion) I pulled my hands out from his and leaned back in my chair, as if leaning away from him. “Why are you here?” I asked, my voice set, like stone.

Blaise was taken aback. “I came in for a coffee and –”

“No, why are you here?” I repeated the question, trying to throw across a different meaning.

Blaise frowned, but he quickly recovered and allowed his hands to slip back to his sides, as if it would make him feel less embarrassed by my rejecting him. He gave me a long, calculating look and finally heaved a tired sigh. “I’ve already told you, Hermione; I’m staying in London for a while for work.” He had, in fact, told me this last week as I had been curious. But I had a feeling there was much more behind it.

I stuck up my chin, refusing to relent. “You’re not making things easier for me, Zabini.” Despite my insides screaming for him, I was screaming against him. I ran a hand through my hair, taking a deep, shaky breath. I knew I had made the conscious decision to push him away, however much it pained me to do so. I had a physical ache for him, sure, but I loved Draco. I loved Draco. I didn’t love Blaise.

Blaise blinked at me. I caught a flicker of hurt, but when his eyes opened a second later they were as hard as marble with no expression whatsoever. “I don’t understand, Hermione,” his voice was dull, lifeless, as if someone had taken away his ability to express what he was feeling. “Just last week you said you wanted to still see me.” His voice was low, however, as if he was afraid of being overheard.

I couldn’t bear to look at him. Just the expression – or lack thereof – in his eyes pained me. But I had to do this. It was what was best for both of us, right? What we did together – nothing could redeem us from the wrong. But we could forget. Forgetting was our only option right now. And it was the only thing I could do to be able to look at Draco the same, which I wanted so desperately.

“I did.” I answered stonily, forcing all emotion from my expression, body language and voice. If Blaise could do it, then I certainly could too. “But it won’t work, Blaise. I’m getting married, for Merlin’s sake. I love Draco, and I can’t do this to him.”

Blaise stared at me for a long while, and then in two swift movements he had risen from the booth and strode out of the café. He disappeared around the corner and out of sight. I gazed down at my hands in my lap, staring at the engagement ring – the beautiful engagement ring given to me by my amazing fiancé.

I suddenly jumped up too. I slapped some money onto the table to pay for my coffee and ran after him. I had to make sure he wasn’t going to do anything stupid. I rounded the same corner he had to find that there was only an alleyway there. What if he had apparated? I raced forward into the darkness, calling his name, hoping he was still there so I could rationally talk to him.

My squeal was stifled by a big hand as I was pulled deeper into the shadows by strong arms. I tried to struggle free, but my captor was far too big. I fought against his grip, but it proved to be useless as I suddenly fell limp against his arms. I was turned around to face none other than Blaise. My eyes widened in fear. Why was he doing this to me? But he did the unexpected and let me go, placing me onto the ground in front of him and stepping away.

No words needed to be spoken then. Through the dark I was able to see his eyes. They were wide, sad and glassy – far different than they had been in the café. I gazed at him for a long while, watching him as he once again silently agonised over his actions. I forgave him for surprising me like that, knowing he was helpless because of what I was doing.

And then, as if nothing in the café had taken place, I reached up and touched his face gently, pushing back a strand of black hair off his face. He gazed back at me, wincing as if I was hurting him by doing just this. I waited for him to pull away angrily, to apparate maybe, but I was surprised instead as he took my wrists in his and pulled me toward him.

In one swift movement I was sent crashing into his chest. He titled my face up to his and stared at me. “Please, Hermione…”

I stared back at him, at a loss of what to do. But then, like all those times before, thoughts of my previous agony of our ‘breaking up’ slipped from my mind, and I was only willing to do what my body wanted. And this was always the case with Blaise, and I was guessing it always would be.

And all of a sudden I didn’t want to tell him to leave me and Draco alone. I suddenly giggled, despite the situation we were in. I smiled up at Blaise and said, “I missed you too.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Blaise brought his lips crashing down on mine and I was home once again.

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