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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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