Two weeks flew past without pause, and Hermione found herself stretched between comforting Harry, avoiding Ron, something that was becoming increasingly difficult, and trying to spend time with Draco. Since Ginny's disappearance, he was working around the clock and would often stumble into her house in the middle of the night, falling asleep until the early hours of the morning, when he would return home to greet his kids as they woke up. Hermione had noticed he was oddly distracted, something she put down to the stress of his job. She knew Harry, and Ron, were both continually in Draco's office, pressing him for answers. He had his team focused on finding Ginny, but after a month and no leads, they were starting to run out of ideas.
Draco was also suffering the wrath of the rest of the Weasley's, who seemed to think the fact their daughter and sister had not yet been returned to them was Draco's fault. He told Hermione one night when she flew into a rage about it, that he was accustomed to annoyed families, and not to worry, it was just part of the job.
One Monday afternoon found Draco in Hermione's office, his head in her lap. They were sitting on the large comfortable couch along the wall, Hermione's fingers in his hair, massaging his scalp. Draco's eyes were closed, his breathing deep, his body relaxed. Hermione's spare hand was resting on his chest, held firmly between his warm, soft fingers, his thumb stroking her palm gently and rhythmically.
"I'm sorry," Draco whispered suddenly, his eyes opening to rest on her face. Hermione frowned, her fingers stilling in his hair.
He sighed deeply, releasing her hand and lifting his fingers to tickle her cheek lightly. "About not finding your friend. Hermione, I have no idea what to do now. Every lead, every single trail we have followed has turned up nothing. It is as if she vanished into thin air, which I'm certain she didn't. There has been no ransom note or anything like that at all, which makes it obvious she either left of her own free will, or..." he paused, swallowing, his hand sliding slowly down Hermione's chest to the hand that rested on his head. He slid his fingers between hers, squeezing. "Or it means she's dead."
"I know," Hermione answered softly after a pause. "I know. It's the only explanation."
"You know the Aurors have found nothing either? Maybe, and I know I'm the last person who would ever suggest this, but maybe we should contact the Muggle police? I've worked with them before and although the whole secrecy thing is hard to maintain at times, it's been a handy collaboration," Draco said thoughtfully, his eyes dropping from her face. Hermione nodded.
"It's good idea, Draco," she replied gently, smiling. "I don't think anyone would object, especially after so much time. You've seen how upset Harry is, how upset the rest of her family are. And those poor kids ... they are so little, Draco. They don't understand where their mother has gone, and I have no idea what to say to them. They ask me all the time where she is and ..."
Hermione stopped, sniffing back tears. She had tried hard not to think too much about Ginny's whereabouts. There was no answer to the questions that plagued her in the middle of the night, or the nightmares that woke her, sweating and trembling, her body shaking with visions of her friend's body, lying broken in a pool of blood. Hermione could not see Ginny leaving Harry willingly for anything.
She had always admired her friends marriage, the way Harry and Ginny still loved each other so deeply after so long together, and the way they had created a life for themselves. She had used Harry and Ginny as an example of what a marriage should be, and when her own relationship with Ron tumbled to the ground she thought it was her fault, that she had missed something vital. Ginny had been there to console her, holding her hand and stroking her hair when she bawled her eyes out on Ginny's slender shoulder.
Hermione's eyes filled with tears and before she knew it, she was crying softly. Draco sat up, wrapping his arms around her, her head tucked against his neck, his skin drenched in her emotion. His hands moved gently along her spine, caressing and tender. Hermione hiccupped, feeling him kiss her hair, his palm rising to cup the back of her head gently.
"I miss her," Hermione whispered, wiping her eyes on Draco's shirt. He pulled her closer, his chin resting on the top of her head.
"I know, sweetie," he whispered back, rocking her gently against his body. "You've been so strong, Hermione. Caring for everyone else through this. I've seen you hold back your own grief so you can offer comfort to Potter and Ginny's family. You've put everyone else before yourself, even though Ginny is just as important to you."
"I had too," Hermione objected. "Harry is falling apart."
"I know he is," Draco replied. "But tonight, no Harry, no Weasley's; nothing but you and me and dinner, okay?"
Hermione nodded, lifting her head and giving him a grateful, watery smile. Draco smiled back, kissing her gently on the lips, his fingers moving into her hair, massaging her scalp. Hermione sighed, closing her eyes blissfully, leaning forward to press her lips on his. A knock on the door startled them, Draco's fingers digging into her scalp painfully, before dropping quickly, his hand resting between her shoulder blades. Without waiting for a response, the door opened quickly.
"Hermione! It's Ginny! She's ... What the fuck?"
Ron stood in the doorway, his eyes widening as he noticed Hermione and Draco cuddled together on the lounge. Hermione swallowed nervously, watching as her husbands knuckles slowly turned white. His hand was still wrapped around the doorknob, and he was squeezing it so hard she thought it would shatter. Pulling herself quickly out of Draco's arms, Hermione crossed the room, wiping away the last traces of her tears. Ron glared at her suspiciously, his eyes floating from her face to Draco's, as if searching for evidence. Hermione took a deep breath, approaching him. Draco stood up behind her, heading for the door also.
"I'll talk to you later," he said as he passed, and she nodded indifferently, her well-rehearsed role falling into place in Ron's presence.
"Wait, Malfoy, you need to hear this too," Ron said, closing the door and preventing Draco's escape. Ron stared hard at the blonde, his eyes narrowed as he traced Draco's features carefully. Draco snorted, folding his arms.
"What, Weasley? Have I got lipstick on my collar or something?" he quipped sarcastically, turning and walking away, settling himself with grace back on the lounge. Hermione gave him a warning glare, which he pointedly ignored. She sighed, turning back to a scowling Ron.
"I was upset, Ron. Draco was comforting me, that's all," she explained quickly in a soft voice. "Now what's happened? You said something about Ginny?"
Ron nodded slowly, his eyes finding Hermione's and she felt her heart clench and her stomach twist. Her hands lifted to her mouth.
"Oh god," she whispered, seeing again her nightmare visions. Ron smiled and shook his head, reaching out and grabbing her hands, pulling them away from her face.
"She's back, Hermione. Just like that. She's back," he laughed, hugging her tightly. Hermione struggled out of his arms, staring at him in amazement.
"What? Ron, where has she been? What happened? Tell me," she practically shouted, shaking him furiously. She was crying, in both grief and happiness, relief that her friend was alive engulfing her, and the pain she had been through sitting beneath the surface, marring the news. Hermione wrapped her fingers around Ron's arms and shook him with all her might, feeling hysteria building inside her as the bubble of pain cracked and bled. "Where the fuck has she been? How can she just turn up again? Why didn't she call me and tell me she was all right? Why didn't she call Harry? Or her children? Ron? Answer me!"
Ron just stared at her in shock as she shook him and cried. Hermione felt a pair of strong arms move around her body, and she turned gratefully into Draco's chest, sobbing once more. He held her against him, whispering soothing words in her ears, words she could not hear, but that were comforting nonetheless. His hand stroked her back, and she wrapped both arms around his waist, burying her face in his shirt.
"Thanks for letting us know, Weasley," Draco said quietly. "I'll make sure she's okay. Go and see your sister."
Hermione sniffed, tightening her hold on her lover as she heard Ron mutter something inaudible. She heard the door open slowly, felt his eyes on her back, before he left, closing the door firmly. She blinked rapidly, clearing the salt from her lashes.
"She's not dead," she whispered, feeling Draco nod in response. Hermione frowned, pulling out of his arms and looking at his face. He was frowning also, his brows pulled together thoughtfully. "Then where has she been?"
"That's a good question," Draco replied gently, bending his head to kiss her softly on the lips. "I need to go home first, and then I'll come over and we'll have dinner, okay? You can go and see Ginny in the meantime."
Hermione nodded, lifting her arms around his neck, pulling his head down so she could kiss him again. He melted against her body; his arms wrapping around her so tightly he almost pushed the breath from her lungs. She felt him tremble as he pulled away, brushing a strand of hair from her cheek. Draco gave her a weak smile, and left.
Hermione rushed home, dumping her bag on the kitchen table. With a quick flick of her wand, she changed her clothes and tidied her hair, before taking a deep breath and tearing out the back door. She jumped the low fence that separated hers and the Potter's backyards, racing up the back steps to Harry and Ginny's kitchen, her friends name on her lips. As she tore through the room, Hermione took a moment to notice the kitchen was an absolute mess, the sink full of dishes and the milk out of the fridge. She shook her head, heading for the lounge room.
Ginny was sitting on the lounge, her children curled into her lap. She looked up as Hermione entered, tears pouring from her eyes, her face twisted in guilt and anguish.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, her hands continuing to stroke her children's hair. Harry was sitting across from her, looking at her without blinking, as though he did not truly believe she was there. Ginny gently shifted the little heads from her legs, standing up and flying across the room to fall into Hermione's arms.
"I'm sorry," she cried and Hermione shook her head, wrapping her arms around her friend, hugging her tightly. Ginny's body shook and she pulled a deep, raspy breath into her lungs. "I'll explain everything to you, I promise," she whispered against Hermione's neck.
"When you're ready sweetie," Hermione replied tearfully, pushing aside her own questions and the burning need to know what had happened to the back of her mind. "I'm just so happy you're okay, Ginny. I was so worried."
Ginny stepped away, taking Hermione's hand in hers, her eyes drifting back to her children. The little boys were sleeping, their faces smiling and bright, even in their dreams. Ginny sniffed and wiped her eyes. Hermione saw her look at Harry, and frowned at the tense silence that existed between them. She bit her tongue, desperate to ask what was wrong, shaking herself slightly. Ginny turned back to her and she forced a smile.
"I'll leave you to your kids, Gin," Hermione said softly, squeezing her friend's hand. "I'll be at home if you need me."
Ginny nodded, and as hard as it was, Hermione turned away, heading back through the kitchen and outside. She took a deep breath, calming her nerves, before crossing the lawn and stepping over the fence, her head spinning. Ginny was pale and thinner than the last time she saw her, her eyes filled with pain and sorrow.
Draco was waiting in the kitchen when she came back inside, sitting at the table with a bottle of wine and two glasses. His hand was wrapped loosely around the neck of the bottle and his eyes were glazed. He did not look up as Hermione entered, his face closed and blank. She shivered, crossing to his side and resting her hand gently on his shoulder, jumping when he jumped, his eyes swinging to her face.
"Sorry," he muttered, attempting a smile. Hermione suddenly felt sick and she swallowed, pushing the feeling away. Her hand moved to Draco's hair, her fingers weaving between the long blonde locks, her nails scraping his scalp gently. He sighed, turning and drawing her into his arms, his head resting against her stomach.
"What's wrong?" she asked, fearing the answer. "You seem upset. Are your kids okay?"
Draco sighed explosively. "Pansy thinks she might be pregnant," he said in a small voice, the sound muffled by her shirt. Hermione felt like someone had sucked the bottom out of her stomach.
"What?" she whispered, nausea rising instantly to engulf her, swimming around her head. Her hand dropped from his head, falling to rest limply beside her body.
Draco sighed again, standing up and pulling at his shirt irritably. "Pregnant, Hermione."
"But ... how? I thought you weren't..." she stammered.
"Yeah, well, that woman can get pregnant at the drop of a hat," he replied humorlessly. "It was a couple of weeks or so ago. I'm not even sure why I did it, to be honest. She ... She was upset and we'd had a fight and ... I don't know, okay? It just happened. She is my wife," he added in a pleading undertone.
Hermione shook her head, expelling a breath of air from her lungs, forcing herself to stay calm. "I know. I'm just surprised, that's all. I thought ... I thought I was the only one you were..."
"You were - you are," Draco corrected firmly. They stared at one another sadly. "So what now, huh?" he asked eventually, taking her limp hand in his and rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. The touch of his skin was like a burn, and Hermione jerked her hand away suddenly, walking across the room to lean against the kitchen bench.
"I guess, then, that you won't be divorcing her," she stated in a tight voice, not looking at him. "I know we never really talked about it, Draco, but I assumed that..."
Draco said nothing and she bit her lip, trying hard not to cry with frustration.
"Hermione, I do want to be with you, I do, but..." he began gently.
"What's the point, Draco? Tell me, because I can't see a future in this for us at all," Hermione whispered. She crossed her arms over her chest, her blood sizzling with pain and loss. "After so many months, after so much time. After all the lies and the deceit and the guilt ... I've waited for so long."
"It's not that simple. Things have changed. I just told you," Draco answered weakly, coming to stand in front of her. He reached out to touch her, but she stepped away, lengthening the distance between them. Draco blinked at her, his face transforming into a scowl.
"I thought you, of all people, would be willing to fight for this," he said evenly. "I pictured you as someone who would go to battle for the things they want. Are you that sort of person, or not, because right now, I'm confused."
"I am that person, but I'm not going to tear myself to pieces for something that is going nowhere," Hermione snapped back.
"Nowhere? Hermione, I've already said I want to be with you, but I can't just drop my life and pick up a new one, especially not now. I haven't even told Pansy about any of this. She ... She's so happy at the moment ... I haven't even mentioned divorce to her. You have to give me more time, please," Draco said, running his hand through his hair, his face a mask of twisted pain and confusion.
"I don't know if I can," Hermione answered after a moments pause. She felt her anger dissolving slowly as she looked at him. "I can't deal with this right now."
"So this is it then?" he said quietly, stepping closer to her. His eyes held a degree of pain she had never seen before, and Hermione blinked, forcing herself not to cry. She nodded instead, a mechanised motion, one that hurt more than she ever believed possible.
Draco stopped a foot from her and she saw his hands twitch, as if he wanted to hold her and for a moment, she almost let herself step forward and into his arms, one last time. "Are you certain?"
Hermione took a deep breath, shaking and nodding her head at the same time. "No," she croaked, watching a spark light in his eyes. "But I can't, we can't, go on like this, Draco. Go home to your family."
A spasm of anger and remorse crossed his face, and he dropped his eyes, his bottom lip sliding between his teeth. A tremble passed through his shoulders and in the deafening silence of the room she heard him swallow. "Okay," he said simply, lifting his eyes to look at her. "Okay. If that's what you truly want, Hermione, I'll leave you alone."
She nodded, dropping her eyes, pulling her arms closer around her body. Her eyelids slid closed and her whole body shook with the effort of not crying as she heard his receding footsteps, followed by the loud snap of apparition. Hermione shivered, her breathing forced and erratic, her heart pounding in her ears. Slowly, she let her body slide to the floor, her mind numb. She blinked, feeling tears drip from her eyes, but she made no effort to brush them away. Hermione closed her eyes, the world falling into blackness around her.
Ginny found her hours later, sitting on the kitchen floor with her knees curled up to her chest. Her friend gave a cry of shock, before dropping to the ground, pulling Hermione gently into her arms, rocking her slowly. Ginny brushed away the tears Hermione did not know she had still been crying, pulling the weeping woman to her feet and leading her to her bedroom. Hermione bit her lip, feeling fresh tears blur her eyes. The sight of her bed, with the covers still pulled back and in a wild tangle made her eyes burn and a lump lodge in her throat. To her, it was not the bed she had shared with Ron anymore; it was the bed she had shared with Draco, and the realisation that she would never wake up to see his face in the morning light was like a blade in her side.
Hermione let Ginny lead her to the bed and lay her down, conjuring a wet cloth so she could wipe Hermione's face clean. Ginny sat and held her hand, asking no questions, and when the tears had dried up, she brushed the hair off Hermione's forehead, smiling at her.
"I didn't think you missed me that much," she joked and Hermione smiled.
"I missed you, Gin. So much. I tried not to think about it, about where you were and what had happened. I let Draco and the other's try and find you. I looked after Harry and the kids for you, and..." she stopped, sitting up, frowning. "Where were you?" she blurted, wiping her face.
"Just ... away. Thinking," Ginny answered after a pause. "About my marriage."
Hermione felt her frown deepen. "What do you mean? What's wrong with your marriage? You have the perfect relationship, Gin. Harry loves you."
Ginny snorted, climbing to her feet and beginning to pace the room. "It looks that way from the outside, doesn't it? But it's not perfect, Hermione. Nothing is perfect. Look at you and Ron. I thought you two had the perfect relationship, and ... the thing is, Harry and I..." She stopped pacing, stamping her foot, her eyes filled with fire. "He cheated on me, Hermione!"
"But ... he would never ... holy shit," Hermione whispered, her hand jumping to her mouth. She sat up straight, pulling her legs beneath her, her head spinning. "When? Why?"
Ginny threw her hands in the air. "Does he need a reason? Really? Remember that huge fight we had, years ago? And then Ron took him out for a drink, and he never came home?" Ginny asked, and Hermione nodded blankly, unable to believe what she was hearing. "My dear brother got my husband so drunk he ended up going home with some ... some ... little slut and then lied to me about it!"
"Where was Ron during all this?" Hermione asked weakly, her knees shaking. She remembered the night well. Ginny had raced into her house the next morning with the kids in tow, asking had Harry ended up there, because her husband had not come home. Ginny laughed nastily.
"Passed out on the floor of the club, apparently. He says he woke up and Harry was gone and he just assumed he'd gone home," Ginny answered, sinking down on the end of the bed, her head falling to rest between her hands. "So many years of marriage, two kids, and he just throws it away ... the thing is, Hermione, I can forgive him for the infidelity, I can, but I cannot forgive him the lie. Is that wrong of me?"
Hermione sniffed, feeling tears in her eyes again. She crawled to the end of the bed, putting her arms around her friend. Ginny shuddered, falling against her, crying softly. "No, sweetie. It's not wrong. Not at all," Hermione replied in a choked voice, her own guilt swirling intensely around her body. She could taste it, smell it and hear it whispering to her and she swallowed, pushing it away and taking a deep breath.
"What are you going to do?" she asked as Ginny pulled out of her arms, wiping her eyes dry with her sleeve. She shrugged.
"I don't honestly know," she replied, reaching out and taking Hermione's hand. "On another matter, why were really crying on your kitchen floor? As flattering as it is, I know it was not only about me."
"Oh, Ginny," Hermione began, covering her eyes with her hands. "I've made a terrible mistake."
Remember to leave a review!! On another note, I know it may seem too fast, Ginny being back and all, but remember that several weeks have passed since she disappeared. I just jumped ahead of time :)
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