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It had been so many years since she had been alone, she didn’t remember the last time her bed was empty. Staring down at her perfectly manicured nails, her eyes stayed dry as the usually involuntary need to blink took a day off. Pale pink was the color she had chosen earlier that day while sitting at her mirror. Her eyes were tired; the luster that had once sparkled radiantly so many years ago had deteriorated to a dull blank gaze in the past couple of days.

Glancing up from the interconnections of her fingers, Hermione Granger Weasley snapped back into the reality of the situation. Seated beside her was her son, Connor. He turned his head to hers and gave her a weak smile, moving his cold clammy hand to hers and grasping it. She reassuringly smiled back. He may have been the youngest of her four children at twenty-six, but he was still very close with his mother. The rest of the children, Natalia, thirty-seven, Nathan, thirty-three, and Annalise, thirty, sat down the row, teary eyed and holding the hands of their own children.

Shaking her head slightly, letting her silver curls readjust in the back of her head, Hermione focused her attention on the issue at hand- the death of her husband of forty years. Ronald Weasley had succumbed to heart failure due to extensive coronary artery disease just a few days before. Hermione and he had gone to bed, and while she had woken up for the brilliant May morning, he had stayed in an eternal slumber.

He had been 61 years old. His death had been a complete shock to his wife, who had no idea that he had been having heart trouble. After hysterically losing her composure that morning, she had stayed completely calm and collected for the sake of her children and grandchildren. She had always been a proper woman, and it was inappropriate to show such weakness in front of them, even though they were grown. She always had to be strong, to be a good role model for them.

And so, during the painful service which recalled the events of the Great War, their friendship with Harry Potter, who had died heroically during the Final Battle, and their happy marriage, she had to divert her attention to prohibit the strong emotion that tugged at her heart.

Oh, she missed him. The ridiculous songs that he’d sing to the children, the stories he’d make up to tell her mother, who was still living at eighty-nine years old, the way he held her so tenderly at night, even in their later years, and the way he’d get so mad at her when she’d nag and order him to assist her with house work ─ she missed it all.

His work in the ministry never interfered with his personal life, and he was able to find a nice balance between the time he spent with his family and the time he spent by himself, dreaming of times past and what might have been.

Hermione sighed once more, desperately pleading with herself to pay attention to the eulogy, which was being read by his sister and her best friend, Ginny Weasley. The things she had to say were absolutely touching, and had Hermione thought about the actual weight of the words, she might have shed a tear. But it was her desire to personify strength that prevented those tears from forming moist tracks down her lined cheeks.

***

“Honestly, Ginny, you don’t have to do anything, I’ll be fine!” Hermione stressed, scraping some excess bread off the side of a glass casserole dish.

“Nonsense. You need help. All of this valor is amusing, I promise, but even you need an extra hand around the house.” Hermione rolled her eyes at the younger woman and allowed her to continue wiping down the tables set up across their living room.

Hermione had hosted a small dinner for close family and friends following the funeral, and with the services finally over, most of the people had given their final goodbyes and said “I’m sorry for your loss” at least three times each before vacating the property.

Letting warm water soak into her dry, cracked skin, Hermione began the task of washing the dishes that everyone had dirtied earlier that day. The muffled voices of her children entertained her as she washed. They discussed some of their favorite memories of their father, as well as retold well-known stories that he had loved.

As she washed, she hummed an old tune that was popular in her youth; a song that she had known before she’d ever learned she was a witch. Still, though she had the ability to allow the dishes to wash themselves, there was something utterly human about the feeling of water and the experience of having the responsibility of dishwashing. As she diligently worked, the sounds floating in from the adjacent room, the running water, and Ginny’s mindless chatter completely covered the sound of a knock at the front door.

Louder still, the person on the other side of the door knocked, until Connor yelled, “Mother! There’s someone at the door to see you!”

Looking up from her work, Hermione wiped her hands on her black apron and yelled, “I’ll be there in just a moment.”

It was a pity for a guest to have to witness her in her current state; her hair had maintained the bushy frizz of her youth and refused to lay perfectly in a French Twist, and her apron was covered in food particles and quite wet. Her make up was still flawless however. Earlier in the day she’d chosen a nude shadow, a modest lipstick, and some brown mascara. Ron had always liked her best without makeup.

Plastering a smile across her face, she turned away from the sink and made her way to the living room. Seeing her guest, however, made her stop in her tracks. Her lips parted in surprise, and she actually took a step backward.

“Hello,” the guest said quietly. “My greatest condolences to you and your family.”

“I…er…thank you,” she said awkwardly.

“Hermione, who is it?” Ginny called from the other room. Upon entering the room herself, she stopped in her tracks. “Oh bloody hell! What’s he doing here?”

“Weasley,” the man said, nodding his head toward Ginny.

“Right well…I’ll leave you two,” she said quickly, refusing to acknowledge his greeting.

Hermione turned back, feeling very uncomfortable, especially with the eyes of her children glued onto the pair.

“Why don’t you follow me into the sitting room and…you can tell me a little bit about…why you’re here,” Hermione stumbled, glancing at a man who looked like a stranger to her.

“That won’t be necessary; I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for your loss. Weasley ─ Ron, that is, was a good man. He did a lot of good things for the ministry and in the war.”

Hermione felt her breath intake sharply.

“No, no, I insist. Please, Draco, come have a bit of tea with me.”

Draco Malfoy scanned the room quickly, noticing the saddened eyes of the Weasley children.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” he said slowly, as though he were weighing his options.

“I’ll put a pot on,” Hermione said quickly, returning to the kitchen to prepare the tea. There, Ginny apprehended her with questions.

“Hermione! I cannot believe you asked him to stay!”

“Ginny, you know he fought for us in the war.”

“But you haven’t seen him in how long? How do you know he’s not instigating, or worse ─ using you!”

At that, Hermione had to laugh.

“Using me? Ginny, I’m 61 years old!”

“Just be careful. You never know what that old bat has up his sleeves.”

Rolling her eyes and nodding her head to appease Ginny, Hermione returned to the living room and motioned him into the next room. Privacy doors kept the curious rumblings of her children out.

Gingerly lifting her cup, Hermione poured some tea and reset it on her saucer. She did the same for Draco.

“So, er, Draco, why have you come? I don’t know if I’ve seen you in at least twenty years.”

“I’ve been here. I’ve been around,” he said, drinking his tea. “I worked undercover for a long time in the ministry. Until I was absolutely sure that Voldemort was indeed dead, I didn’t want to take any chances with his followers or with anyone else who wasn’t aware of my loyalties. I’ve lived all over the world, and the other day I was visiting Hong Kong when a story ran about Ron. So I came here to tell you that I was sorry.”

“Wait…you came all the way from Hong Kong to tell me sorry?” she asked incredulously. “You never even liked Ron…or me for that matter…even after you switched to the good side!”

“A lot has changed in the last 40 years. Ever since Voldemort’s reign of terror, attitudes have changed. Muggleborns have been welcomed into society, even by pure bloods, just to prevent anything like that happening again. Our world has changed so very much,” he said wisely. “It is so difficult for me ─ even now ─ to sit here and call them muggleborns, because, as I’m sure you’re well aware, I was raised to call them a much different name. But that name is no longer tolerated around the wizarding community.”

Hermione nodded slowly. He was saying things that she knew already, but she didn’t interrupt him.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be alright with muggles. There is just something about them that strikes me as odd…something that just isn’t right about them. But you can’t blame me or judge me for that. It’s just who I am,” he continued.

“Of course,” she said dismissively.

“But even though I joined your side, no one ever accepted me, and I was never open to being accepted. That’s part of the reason I’ve lived my life in solidarity. I was never married, I never ran for an office, and I never had friends after the war. And I want friends, Hermione,” he said quietly.

A small gasp escaped her lips as he spoke the four syllables of her first name. She wasn’t sure if he’d ever taken the care to even know what her first name was, much less actually say it.

“You want…friends?” she asked hesitantly.

“I want someone to talk to. I’ve lived alone for the past forty years. I’m tired of myself. And so…I just wanted to say to you…Hermione Granger Weasley, that I’m sorry. I’m so incredibly sorry for the things I’ve said to you, the things that I’ve done to you, the names I’ve called you. And I’m asking you if maybe we can talk sometimes about things.”

Her jaw dropped as he spoke the words. Friends? Draco Malfoy wanted to be friends with her? She could hardly believe what he was saying.

“Draco,” she breathed, “forgive me, but this doesn’t sound like you. I mean…when have you ever used my first name? I’ve always been ‘Mudblood Granger’ to you. Why have you so suddenly had a change of heart?”

Draco sighed, letting his head fall into his leather hands. Hermione gasped then. There, on his arm, were the tattered remnants of what had once been the Dark Mark.

“I can’t get rid of it,” he said sadly. “I wanted so badly to live my life as a spoiled rich little brat. Oh if only I could…if only I could go back to that time. It was the best time of my life, Hogwarts. But life experience has taught me that it is not the way of the world. The government says there is no such thing as ‘mudbloods.’ I can’t argue with that at this point in my old frail life.” He looked back up into her eyes.

“I don’t expect you to say yes. But I had to feel better myself, knowing that I at least tried.”

“How long?” she forced out.

“Ten years. I’ve been working up the courage to come for ten years. And now that Ron’s gone, you might sometimes get lonely too. And if you do…well, I’ll talk to you,” he said awkwardly.

“Draco I…accept your apology, and it means the world to me. But…we can never be friends. We both know that. We can never be friends.”

Sighing heavily, he nodded. “I know. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t try, Hermione.”

Rising from his seat, he signaled the end of the conversation. Moving toward her, she caught the musty scent of his cologne and memories flooded back to her.

“Draco,” she said quietly, standing to meet him. “Don’t.”

“I’ve never forgotten, Hermione.”

“It was stupid, it was careless…” she trailed away. “I love Ron. I loved him so much.” The emotion that she’d kept hidden deep within her heart finally unleashed itself, and the tears flowed freely down her sunken cheeks.

“I know you did. But you loved me too, if only for an hour.”

“No I didn’t, you seduced me, damnit!” she cursed, turning her head away to hide her weakness.

“You wanted to be with me just as much as I wanted you that night!” he exclaimed. He moved closer and cupped her chin with his hand. “I know you did. The things you said…”

“Ron and I had only been separated for a month…it was a chance meeting…it was twenty-five years ago─”

“It was twenty-six to be exact.”

Tears clung to Hermione’s eyelashes as her eyes narrowed.

“You had better be glad Connor looks so much like you,” he whispered softly. “Perhaps Ron was blind, but I see it in his eyes.”

Sitting down again Hermione put her head in her hands, clasping her hair in her fists and pulling to try to detract from Draco’s presence.

“How did this happen?” she asked quietly, her mind searching for answers. “I-I guess I always kind of knew…”

And it was true, she did know. The night they spent together had been a true one night stand. They had both been at a bar; Hermione and Ron had been fighting rather harshly, and the prospects of drowning herself in a bottle of firewhiskey called so convincingly.. There she met Draco, and things got out of hand. They had been thirty-five at the time, and her pregnancy had been a complete surprise seeing as she and Ron had planned to have no more children.

“What do you suggest we do about this?” she asked finally.

“Nothing. I didn’t even know he existed until today. I asked for your friendship, you said no ─”

“Draco, you know why!”

“I wasn’t complaining. Now I have met my son, and I am pleased. I only hope that someday I might meet him as my son, rather than as a stranger.”

And with that, he turned and left, just as fast as he’d come. He walked out of the house and back out of her life, once again leaving things much more complicated than if he’d just stayed out in the first place.

Hermione felt more tears slide carelessly down her cheeks. She felt foolish, her age clearly no indication of her maturity level, but she could not help it. The only two men whom she had ever had feelings for had left her standing alone in the midst of the warmth of family.

And for that, she wept. She cried until her children forced their way into the room and lovingly convinced her that tomorrow was another day.

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