Absent And Future Husbands
 
Just like Draco, Hermione had received a promotion in her career, although hers had been gained legitimately and not through relatives. She was now the Head of the Magical Law Enforcement Department, and thus busier than ever.

It was extraordinary just how many people managed to see Hermione in one day. Her head frequently spinned when she turned off her desklamp and locked her office door, but she could not look forward to weekends, which she spent cooped up with Ron and silence. 

On his own side, Ron also had things to cope with. He was still an Auror, but after several injuries, he had been taken off the attack teams and put in the theoretical office. This was not a decision he approved of. Ron was a very active being. He had suspected that Harry, the Head of the Auror Department, had had something to do with it, but he couldn’t be bothered to row with him. The resentment of his situation gradually rose, and, by November, it was becoming more and more unbearable to live with him.

It must be said, however, that Hermione was hardly ever present. When she got home, she was either too exhausted to talk to Ron, or too swamped with work to do anything else. As both of them got increasingly lonelier, it became apparent that their lives no longer belonged together. But the prospect of dissolving everything they had built, of telling the children, of facing shared custody, fighting over the ornaments and the furniture, was more than either of them could bear. So they kept quiet.

 ‘You’re home pretty late tonight.’

Ron started as he heard his wife’s voice. The entrance hall was in semi-darkness, and the kitchen where Hermione was sitting was only dimly lit. Uncomfortably, he dropped his keys on the nearest table and shrugged his jacket off.

 ‘I had to clear my desk,’ Ron answered, ‘you know, the one I work at in the theoretical office.’ 

Testily, he loosened his tie. Hermione was sitting on the kitchen counter, a glass of wine in her right hand. She had changed from her work clothes into some loose fitting trousers and a pale blue blouse. She was barefoot. How sexy she would have seemed at the beginning of their marriage, Ron thought.

 ‘I thought you would be asleep,’ he continued. ‘I didn’t think you would wait up.’

 ‘I decided to make an exception,’ Hermione answered, sipping her wine. Ron could feel an upcoming row. ‘It’s the third night in a row that you’ve come back late.’

She jumped down from the kitchen counter and landed lightly on her feet. The wine didn’t spill and she set it on the nearest surface. Before Ron knew it, she had sidled up next to him and was unbottoning his collar; surprised, he nearly stepped back.

 ‘What are you doing,’ he whispered. She had leaned forward and was smelling his collar. In realization, he grabbed her upper arms. ‘Do you think I was with another woman?!’

 ‘I can’t quite exclude the possibility, can I?’ Hermione answered coldly. ‘How long has it been since -‘

 ‘Damn it, Hermione!’ exclaimed Ron and let go of her. He walked over to the counter, picked up her glass of wine and took a well-needed sip of it. ‘How can you, of all people, accuse me of infidelity?’

 ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Hermione said breathlessly, her insides turning cold.

 ‘Oh, come on,’ Ron answered, and there was dreadful sarcasm in his voice. ‘I don’t have to be a genius to know who you’re thinking of every time you’ve got a vague look on your face. Every time you’re looking into the distance.’

 ‘Shut up, Ron!’

 ‘You wish that you had picked him and not me!’ Ron shouted, his face filled with anguish. He put the glass back down on the table, but in his fury, it toppled over and smashed. The wine spilled all over the cream-coloured carpet. Hermione pulled out her wand to siphon it up. ‘Leave it, Hermione, damn it, leave it! Focus on me, for Merlin’s sake, focus on us!’

Hermione lowered her arm. She was shaking with emotion.

 ‘Why do you think I chose to stay with you, Ron?’ she said. ‘TO FOCUS ON US! Why do you think I gave up that entire new life? That burning passion, that love.’ He flinched. Hermione experienced a savage pleasure and a desire to hurt him suddenly overcame her. Let him feel her disappointment; let him feel her guilt. It was his fault, after all, were it not for him, she, and not some stupid Asteria Greengrass, would be with Draco right now. ‘Did you know that I loved him, Ron? Or did you think it was just some fleeting, passing joy?’ His expression was filled with pain, but she went on, taking steps as she spoke. ‘Those few days were more passionate than the 18 years of marriage I’ve spent with you. How dare you reproach me for thinking about him when you leave me with nothing to think about! As if you could possibly measure up to what I needed, what I felt, when I was him! When I was loved and wanted and needed, like he loved and wanted and needed me!’

She had reached him now, and it was not Ron’s lips she saw, but Draco’s. It was so easy to press herself against Ron and be convinced that it was Draco; as her lips met his and they put the pain and resentment away, it was almost possible to go back to those days where she had hated and resented Draco just as equally. The kisses, the caresses, they were all the same really, and it did not matter, nothing mattered, for Draco was not with her anymore, and she was not Asteria Greengrass...

*

The next morning was perhaps the most awkward Hermione had ever lived. She was up at the crack of dawn though she did not have to be at work till nine, and had made coffee, toast and received two editions of The Daily Prophet by the time Ron had come downstairs.

 ‘Morning,’ he said uncertainly. His right hand was buttoning the left sleeve of his blue shirt, and he looked around the kitchen hesitantly. Hermione stood up and subconciously smoothed her smart black skirt.

 ‘Morning,’ she answered. There was a difficult moment of silence. ‘Would you like some coffee?’

 ‘I’ll - I’ll take it in a thermos,’ Ron said, walking over to the cupboards and accio’ing his thermos. Hermione pretended to peruse her copy of the newspaper as Ron poured the coffee.

 ‘Any interesting news?’

 ‘Not really.’

Ron pulled up a seat next to his wife and reached for the nearest piece of toast. The sound of the knife scraping butter from a plate and spreading it on the toast was infinitely loud. Hermione could not bear it anymore.

 ‘About last night.’

He stiffened.

 ‘I can’t explain what happened,’ Ron said. ‘I mean, when I came home. Was it... What was it?’

 ‘I -‘ Hermione shook her head. ‘Everything I think of sounds so laughable.’

 ‘Then it wasn’t love.’

 ‘I -‘ Hermione cringed. She hadn’t wanted it to sound like that. ‘Is attraction ever love?’

Ron sighed and stood up, cramming the toast into his mouth. He reached for the robes to his suit and pulled them on.

 ‘I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I just can’t stand -‘ He furrowed his brow. ‘I can’t stand the silence. I hate anticipating fights. I hate coming home to this sticky, sweaty atmosphere.’

 ‘What do you want?’ Hermione sighed, running a hand over her forehead.

 ‘I want,’ Ron started, ‘I want -‘ He gazed into her eyes, searching for something; but he did not seem to find it. ‘I won’t be home late tonight. I promise.’

Hermione heard the front door close and she leaned her head towards the cool surface of the table. She did not have the strength to cry; she had cried so many times already, it simply seemed a waste. He had not asked her what she wanted, but then her answer would have been unacceptable, for it was now quite clear to her what it was: she wanted Draco.

*

 ‘Do you know, Mr Malfoy, that it’s November already?’

Draco smiled at the young intern as he signed the form she had given him. She could not have been more than twenty-three and her eyes seemed lit up with excitement. He looked at the badge on her shoulder, bearing her name.

 ‘And why is November such an important month, Miss Charles?’

 ‘Because it means that your wedding is less than a month away, Mr Malfoy!’

Draco chuckled.

 ‘I see you follow the papers - or rather the gossip columns, Miss Charles.’

 ‘Oh, I don’t mean to be a bother, Mr Malfoy,’ the girl said apologetically.

 ‘That’s alright,’ Draco reassured her, handing her back the form. ‘That’s quite alright.’

As the intern left his office, Draco stretched and thought how very depressing his surroundings were compared to the brightness of the hallway outside. There were blinds on the office door and, apart from a few photographs and a shiny plaque with his name on it, there was nothing to indicate his identity. Draco reached for the largest frame and smiled. It was a picture of his son at the tender age of four, grinning toothlessy and swinging to and fro until he leapt and fell into the arms of his mother (who was only partially visible). There were of course other, more recent photos of his son, but the second-largest frame held a picture of Asteria. She had not liked the picture he had chosen; it had been taken unexpectedly, as Draco had called out her name and she had turned around. Draco loved it, though. It was everything he liked about Asteria; her youthfulness, her easiness and her affection.

He sighed as he returned to his work, realizing that he had given his quill to the intern. Draco was quite hopeless with his things, especially quills, and he opened a drawer and started rummaging through it in order to find a spare one.

What he did not expect to come across was a tiny, passport photo of Hermione, the one which had been attached to her daughter’s file when she had been a patient at St. Mungo’s. Draco remembered keeping it when Rose had been healed, and taking it out frequently and staring at it when Hermione had chosen to stay with Ron. It was not of very good quality, but it had always been enough for Draco. The Hermione in the picture was quite as fidgety as the Hermione in real life; she kept tucking her hair behind her ear or throwing it over her shoulder. Draco unconciously let out an amused chuckle as memories overwhelmed him. 

 ‘Ah, Draco, there you are!’

 ‘Tristan!’

Draco jumped to his feet as Mr Greengrass barged through the door. Not even having enough time to throw the photo to the floor, he put his palm over it as he shook Tristan’s hand with his other arm. 

 ‘Just been to a meeting with the Board of Health, silly buggers. No chance of a drink of brandy or something?’

 ‘I don’t keep alcohol in my office, sorry, Tristan,’ Draco said, perspiring slightly as he watched Tristan prowl around the office. Surreptiously, he slid a few files over the miniature photograph.

 ‘Damn silly business, Draco, you should always keep a glass or two at the workplace, lighten the mood, you know.’

Tristan Greengrass was a tall, burly, imposing sort of man. He had a thin moustache over his upper lip and a mass of curly black hair gelled back. His eyes were small and cunning and once past the initial impression of pompousness, one generally got the gist of his cleverness.

 ‘I’m sorry, is there anything I can help you with, Tristan?’ Draco asked, straightening his tie.

Tristan delayed deliberately, picking up the exact same photo of Asteria Draco had just been staring at.

 ‘My wife is over the moon about the wedding, half-buried in plans already. Wedding cake, champagne, menus... You know women.’

Draco nodded, wondering where this was going.

 ‘It occurred to me the other night that it might be a sticky situation for you and Asteria... I mean, paying for the wedding. My wife does have lavish taste, you know, and she’s got a good deal of influence over Asteria.’

Draco sighed and stood up. Tristan was wearing a smarmy smile.

 ‘I think Asteria wants a simple wedding,’ Draco answered. ‘She’s very sensible about those sort of things. She doesn’t want to start our life in debt. We had really just planned a small wedding, just a few -‘

 ‘Nonsense,’ interrupted Tristan, ‘of course you should have a grand wedding! Anything for my baby girl, it is her first wedding, you know. I’m simply suggesting that Mrs Greengrass and I chip in a bit. No harm done in that, now.’

 ‘Tristan, I don’t want to offend you -‘

 ‘No offense taken!’

 ‘Then you won’t be angry when I say that I think we can manage. I can afford to give Asteria a nice wedding.’ Tristan looked as if he were about to object, so Draco pressed on. ‘Anyway, we don’t want a big wedding, we want to keep it simple. It will be a beautiful wedding, I can assure you of that, but we’re going to be sensible.’

Tristan gave a mighty sigh of either anger or frustration and he set the photo of his daughter back down on the table. 

 ‘You’re a frustrating man, Draco. I’m very protective of my daughters, you know.’

 ‘I know,’ answered Draco uncomfortably. ‘But hopefully there is no need to be. I have no intention of hurting Asteria.’

 ‘I know alot about you, Draco,’ Tristan went on as if he hadn’t spoken. ‘And you’re a faithful man. But I wonder whether... I’ve been put to the test many times, Draco, the test of fidelity, and I’m telling you now, it’s a difficult one. I’m still not sure if you’ll pass it.’

 ‘I wouldn’t cheat on my wife, Tristan,’ Draco answered, and there was a sort of cool anger in his voice.

 ‘Perhaps not,’ Tristan contemplated thoughtfully. ‘But I wonder... if ever you met a woman you had loved, a ghost of the past so to speak, would you think twice about Asteria?’

Draco bit his lip. Did he know?

 ‘Henrietta and I haven’t been in contact for years, Tristan, unless you count a few letters about who Scorpius should be with at Christmas. Hopefully, you can see why it’s necessary for Scorpius to remain in contact with his mother.’

 ‘Scorpius is a good son,’ Tristan answered calmly. He got to his feet. ‘I’m not worried, Draco. It was good speaking to you. Oh, and my wife would like to invite you, Asteria and Scorpius to dinner the first day he’s back on holiday.’ He smiled. ‘He is, so to speak, our first real grandchild... Although hopefully there will be others.’

Draco frowned, suddenly confused. It was a point he had never discussed with Asteria.

*

 

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