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Provoke

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah

July 2007


The first thing Hermione did the next morning was vomit. All it took was getting to her feet before that uncomfortable, now familiar, sense of utter queasiness invaded her. Ron woke up as she bolted for the adjoining bathroom and arrived just in time to hold her hair back when the first surge diminished.

‘You look terrible, darling,’ he sighed, helping her get to her feet. He soaked a towel and rubbed it over her face.

‘Do I?’

Peering concernedly in the mirror, Hermione saw the dark circles around her eyes and limp hair.

‘I thought I was supposed to be glowing,’ she grumbled, splashing water on her face. Ron laughed as he changed out of his pyjamas and reached for his shaving blade.

‘Maybe you should stay home.’

Hermione felt a sense of gloominess settle itself in the pit of her stomach. Those words were the beginning of another maternity leave, another six months lacking in intellectually stimulating activity, of adults and trials.

‘I don’t think so.’

‘You need to take care of yourself, love,’ Ron said, spreading shaving foam over his chin. He filled the sink with water. Hermione sat down on the toilet, pressing her fingertips against her temple.

‘I don’t want to stay home,’ she sighed. ‘Rose hates it as well. She wants to go to Madley’s.’

‘Well, then take her. Have a day alone. Look after yourself. Take a warm bath, read a book.’ Ron splashed his face clean and dried it with a towel. Turning around, he kneeled beside Hermione and smiled. ‘I don’t want you to be stressed.’

He pulled her into a hug. Hermione relaxed in his arms. It felt nice. It felt as it had always felt. Reliable, relaxing… routine. Would it always be like this? Would they share a bathroom every day for the rest of their lives? Would she always hang her bathrobe next to his on one of the two pegs behind the door?

As if to prove that it needn’t be so, she pulled his face towards her and kissed him. It was not the kiss Ron expected – the soft, tender morning embraces he liked to share with Hermione before beginning their hectic day – but a suggestive, almost seductive lip lock. It genuinely surprised him, and for a moment, he allowed himself to be seduced. When he felt Hermione’s hands sliding over his bathrobe, he grinned and pulled away.

‘What has got into you, Mrs Weasley?’ he chuckled. Hermione smiled.

‘I thought you might like a shower before work,’ she whispered, leaning in to kiss him again. Ron laughed and gave her a peck instead, pulling his bathrobe back on.

‘Hermione, come on. We’ve barely got half an hour. Has the pregnancy got your hormones in that much of a state?’

Hermione angrily pushed him away. He had answered her question. Nothing unexpected, nothing spontaneous would be held today – or tomorrow, or the day after that. Her life would be a series of repeated days, each changed only slightly by the weather or by a mix of random, but nonetheless calculated events.

She regretted her temper while she dressed Rose. Ron really could not help it. She could not ask him to be everything that she wanted. When they had married, this was what they had agreed to – a continuation of this life.

It was not his fault, she realized, kissing Rose on the cheek. Rose ran over to her father as Ron corrected his tie, clinging on to his legs. Ron laughed and picked her up. The red hair on both heads made the scene even more touching – like a Christmas card, or a sappy TV commercial.

It was her fault.

*


August 2007


The heat slowly diminished while Hermione’s workload increased. Lisa Turpin had taken her week’s holiday and had left Hermione alone with more to do than ever. When she came home at night, her exhaustion ruined the evening, so much so that even Ron stopped asking about work. They ate dinner in silence, put Rose to bed and either made love or went to sleep, only to wake up again and start all over.

In retrospect, Ron tolerated it extraordinarily well. Hermione’s stress clearly got the better of her, and she took it out on those she could. She was not always disagreeable: sometimes, satisfied because Themis had praised her, or because her in tray had been emptied, she and Ron enjoyed happy meals and good conversation.

What was not helping was the fact that she had seen Draco Malfoy lurking about lately. It was not often, but often enough to irk her. Usually it was in the Ministry canteen, or in the courtrooms. He would look at her with an unpleasant expression on her face, like a smirk – no, something more judging than that. It annoyed her. He shouldn’t be allowed to judge.

More annoying was the fact that their last meeting had bothered her so much. He was not supposed to help her. It was the first time they had properly spoken since the end of the war, and in no way was he entitled to be courteous. He had watched as Bellatrix had tortured her, assisted Crabbe and Goyle in their ridiculous pursuit of Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement – what the hell gave him the right to decide whether she needed help?

His first words should have been apologetic, humble, modest. But no, they were the contrary – decisive, bossy, even sarcastic. He had not changed. The bastard had remained a bastard.

She had not told Ron about it, sure that he would disapprove. Later, she had thought about how odd it was that he should help in view of the fact that his son had just been born – he should in no way be acting selfless in a moment like that. But was it a selfless moment? Had he not perhaps meant to sneer at her, mock her for being so disorganised and panicked?

It annoyed her that he could get her so unsettled.

It also annoyed her that she had taken a perverse pleasure in it. This was something out of the ordinary that had happened – that was surely why she fixated on it so much. It had been a new and significant event that could be feasted on, look at in different perspectives, compared with the past and the present. It had been a moment of uncalculated spontaneity, and she had thoroughly enjoyed – no matter how much she denied it – not knowing what would happen next.

For Hermione, with her brilliant mind, had always been able to calculate what would happen next. She was extraordinarily good at foreseeing a person’s actions, and Malfoy had always been one person whose actions she had not foreseen.

She realized that she was probably thinking more about him than he of her. That was what got her focused on her work. In fact, he was half out of her mind when they next bumped into each other.

She and Themis had just been through another trial, which had luckily resulted in the imprisonment of a deserving culprit. Themis was happy and Hermione was too, so much so that she did not even reproach Themis when she suggested that Hermione deliver the trial conviction to the Department of Mysteries.

That was when she next saw Malfoy. She was walking down the corridor when he suddenly appeared from the hall leading to the elevators. He stopped in his tracks and gave her the once-over; Hermione was shocked into silence.

‘Looking for something?’ he said. Hermione frowned. She could not read his tone. Was it inquiring or sarcastic?

‘I’m on my way to the Department of Mysteries,’ she said a little spitefully, hoisting the files higher up against her chest. Draco’s eyes lingered on them. He raised his eyebrows.

‘Me too.’

‘What are you doing there?’

‘I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Granger,’ Draco sneered. Hermione did not bother to correct him. ‘After all, one can only ask so much of you.’

She ignored him and started walking towards the end of the corridor, but inside she was burning with curiosity and fury. Malfoy had no right to be here.

He cut ahead of her and opened the door before she could; he did not hold it open for her, but went inside without any sign of courtesy. Hermione scowled and kicked the door open.

‘You’re late again, Malfoy, did you at least get what I asked –‘

Hermione caught Terry Boot’s words, but did not understand their meaning until the two men saw her approaching. Terry instantly stopped talking and put a smile on his face, sweeping past Malfoy.

‘Afternoon, Hermione – I heard about the trial. Did Themis send these?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione smiled, holding out the papers. ‘Terry, I didn’t know Malfoy worked here.’

‘He doesn’t –‘ Terry began hurriedly, but Malfoy interrupted him.

‘Mind your own business, Granger,’ he snapped, plunging his hands in his pockets and raising his neck so he appeared taller. Hermione had never fully appreciated his height.

‘Hermione,’ Terry said apologetically, looking daggers at Malfoy, ‘thank you for the files –‘

‘Terry, don’t treat me like an idiot, tell me what’s going on,’ Hermione said, infuriated.

For it did infuriate her, to see Malfoy standing on Ministry ground when he had no business to be here. He had not earned the right to have a decent job, to be paid and respected like those who had fought on the good side of the war. That awful war, which had cost so many lives, and had ended so short time ago. When she thought of Fred, Tonks, Remus, Sirius – her heart swelled and she swallowed the bile in her throat, forcing the sadness into anger. It was a method that always worked.

‘Hermione, please,’ Terry pleaded, dropping the files on a table.

‘Don’t you get it, Granger? Boot is asking you to sod off,’ Malfoy said.

Hermione caught his gaze properly for the first time since they had last met. There was a shrewd and calculating look in his eyes that she disliked. She suddenly felt unclothed, naked. It was most bizarre. His attitude toward her was repulsive. She turned around and left, slamming the door behind her.

*


Draco strode out of the Department of Mysteries twenty minutes later. He still looked as swaggering, as disgustingly self-confident as ever. When he reached the corridor where he and Hermione had first bumped into each other, Hermione took a step out the shadows, arms folded.

‘For fuck’s sake, Granger,’ he grumbled, rolling his eyes. ‘Are you stalking me?’

She had waited for him, determined to get the truth, and knowing that Terry Boot wouldn’t give it to her. She now raised her eyebrows and hoped that her expression was as cool and collected as she imagined it to be.

‘Now tell me what this is all about, Malfoy,’ she said. Draco surveyed her, the corners of his mouth slightly turned upwards. She had that same feeling of being undressed.

No,’ he then simply said. Hermione looked scandalised. She had not imagined that he would refuse. He smirked. ‘Why so surprised, Granger? What, do you think I owe you something?’

She wanted to scream that he obviously did – months of pain, moments of pure and utter terror, screams of torture – but she couldn’t. She couldn’t let him have the pleasure of knowing that his past crimes still affected her.

‘I thought the Ministry had better solutions than hiring scum like you,’ she spat. His face darkened for several moments as a sour look replaced his previously pleasant expression.

‘Get out of my way, Granger,’ he snapped, walking past her, ‘I have things to do.’

Hermione forced a laugh, sounding shrill and out of control. She hated herself like this, but she found she was impossible to restrain.

‘Oh, it gets to you then, Malfoy?’ she said, as she followed him down the hall towards the elevators. ‘It gets to you that the Wizarding World still sees you as nothing but a piece of crap, a bit of gum on the heel of their shoe?’

He didn’t answer, taking greater steps as the hallway reached its end. Hermione felt a sense of dizziness overcome her as she thought up greater insults, wanting to get a reaction from him. She was enjoying this more than she should – this unexpected departure from everyday normal life.

‘Is that why you show up at all those trials, Malfoy? Do you take some perverse pleasure in reliving your old Death Eater days when you were the one in the defendant’s chair?’

Hermione let out a gasp as Draco whipped around, placed his hands on her arms and threw her against the wall with a considerable amount of force. Her back buckled under the pain while her body bent itself to fear. The expression on his face was murderous. She knew she had gone too far.

‘That’s enough, Granger,’ he breathed angrily. Her chest heaved for air as his grasp on her remained firm, almost painful.

And then, in a haze of bizarre miscalculation, the air thickened with their silence and with her fear. She had not felt a man’s eyes on her like this for years. Hermione could feel them now. Actually feel them. It was like little drops of hot air against her skin as his gaze made a trail over her naked arms, shoulders and the base of her neck. She realized she was not afraid anymore. She relished in the moment, the pure, uncalculated, unexpected moment of not knowing what would occur. The dryness of her mouth bothered her.

It was like all those novels she had read so long ago in her youth, describing moments that stood still. She had scoffed back then. Ludicrous notion. She was not so sure now. Of only one thing she was sure, and that was that this moment was filled with delicious, seductive danger.

In the force of a nanosecond, he relinquished her, taking a step away. It was so sudden that Hermione frowned, confused. His shocked eyes were on her throat, a high place up on her throat that she usually managed to conceal if she had her chin down far enough. She raised a hand to the scar she knew was there, the scar Malfoy had only just noticed. She wished he hadn’t seen it.

Department of Mysteries,’ a cool and pleasant voice sounded, and the doors to the empty lift slid open. Hermione gathered herself and stumbled inside it. Her legs felt like jelly.

Malfoy stood rooted to the same spot, his chest heaving and his expression dark. Just before the doors slid shut, he turned his angry face and caught her gaze once more. His eyes implied something that Hermione did not like, and only when the doors closed, their eyes still locked, did she understand what.

A secret.

*


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