Past the point of no return
No going back now
Our passion-play has now at last begun.
Past the Point of No Return, The Phantom of the Opera
The dinner party had been a success much of the night. Ron had taken care of the cooking, as always, aware that Hermione’s skills in that department were limited. The small apartment was bursting to the seams with their guests, who chatted excitedly in anticipation of the news they had guessed by the invitation.
‘Still want to wait till the dessert?’ Ron whispered in the kitchen, as Hermione put on the kettle for tea and tapped the coffee maker with her wand. She smiled at him.
‘Yes, be patient,’ she answered. Ron laughed and reached for a tray, assembling the cheese platter and plates.
‘I can’t help it,’ he said, his face aglow, ‘I can’t wait to tell them.’
Hermione watched him leave the kitchen, balancing the tray in one hand. She had managed not to feel sick all night, but she felt it now, all right. She leaned against the sink, shivery and nauseous, swallowing the bile in her throat as she counted to ten. It was her latest method of avoiding guilt. Count to ten and everything will be all right.
She reached ten as she walked back into the dining room. Ginny was rocking one-month old Lily in her arms. Her pregnancy weight had not yet disappeared, and it was bizarre to see her usually athletic frame so round. To her left sat James, red hair plastered in curls all over his expectant face, which fell when he saw that all Ron was carrying was cheese. Harry was talking to his other boy, Albus, in low tones. Albus had left his chair in favour of his father’s knee. Sitting in such close proximity, Hermione could not help but admire the resemblance. Albus was only two, but already she could see that the only thing that would distinguish him from his old man would be a lightning-shaped scar.
Ron was in happy conversation with Fleur, who kept throwing her silvery hair over her shoulders. In the ten years or so that Hermione had known her, the woman had not changed in the slightest. Even three pregnancies had not been ungenerous toward her figure. Bill had his arm around her, listening to Ron talk with a smile on his face. Victoire, now eleven, Dominique and Louis – Hermione could only ever remember the eldest daughter’s age because she was born exactly one year after the end of the war – had been left home with a babysitter. Hermione had been silently relieved, well aware that their small home would not accommodate everyone. George and Angelina had had to pass, busy with the jokeshop, and Percy and Audrey were difficult to get a hold of these days. Charlie, as always, was out travelling.
Arthur had left his seat and was lounging on the couch comfortably, exploring Hermione’s telephone. Hermione was just about to join him when she felt an arm around her and a hand squeeze her waist.
‘It’s such a lovely occasion,’ Molly Weasley said, glowing. Hermione forced a smile.
Molly had aged over the past ten years. Her hair had streaks of white in it, and while her expression remained youthful, her face was tired. Her eyes, however, twinkled as she led Hermione toward the table.
‘Don’t keep us in suspense for too long, Hermione, dear,’ she whispered confidentially, smiling as she sat down next to her eldest son.
Hermione could not count to ten this time. She walked over to her seat next to Ron and sank in it, hoping that no one could see how desperately ill she felt. She suddenly wished her parents were here. How she longed for her mother’s familiar, reassuring smile! No matter what evil Hermione might ever commit, there was safety in the fact that her parents would always love her. What she would not give to have their warmth shelter her. But they were in Australia, a place they had taken a great fancy to. The move had been a shock to Hermione, but it had happened right at the time of her and Ron’s engagement, in the midst of excitement and new love and happy plans – a time where no reflection was needed. Merlin, those times. Those times.
‘Is everyone done with the cheese?’ Ron inquired, looking around the table. They had had to borrow extra chairs from next door to have enough seats for everyone.
‘Yes!’ shouted James eagerly. Harry chuckled.
‘Do you want to get the dessert?’ Ron asked Hermione quietly, his voice full of implied secrecy. Hermione was about to say yes, eager to be alone again, but Ginny shouted from her end of the table:
‘Don’t be so selfish, Ron, give the hostess time to breathe.’
Hermione forced a smile as her guests laughed. Ron gathered the empty cheese plates. Fleur got to her feet and replaced them with the dessert bowls.
‘I’ll help with the tea,’ Molly suggested. Hermione sat in her chair, desperate for distraction. She watched as James played with his little sister’s feet. Ginny reprimanded him. Rose had taken Albus’ vacant seat and was watching Fleur lay the table with eyes as big as saucepans.
Ron rejoined them with Molly, carrying a round cake, ordered especially at a bakery, that they could not afford. He set it in the middle of the table, proudly, while Molly poured tea. James suddenly jumped off his seat and stumbled towards Hermione, unable to stand the suspense anymore.
‘Auntie Hermione, Mummy says you’re going to be a Mummy again, is it true?’
The words sounded all through the room. Everyone’s gaze suddenly jumped on to Hermione’s pale face. She forced a smile and patted James on the shoulder, looking at Ron for guidance. He nodded, but before Hermione could say a word, Rose yelled at the top of her voice that which she had been told earlier in the day:
‘’S true, ‘s true, I’m going to be a sisser!’
‘Sister, darling,’ Hermione automatically corrected her daughter, but her words were drowned out by cries of congratulations all around the table.
‘I knew it,’ beamed Molly, kissing Ron tearfully. Harry smiled and gave Hermione a one-armed hug, while Bill waited for his turn.
She tried to be happy, really she did. She tried not to cry, but when she succumbed to her depression, everyone simply assumed she was happy, or else overcome with emotions from the pregnancy. How could they possibly know that something raw and uncatchable was eating her up inside? When Bill pulled her in his arms and whispered a congratulations, she held on to him tight like she were drowning. She wanted to bury her head in his shoulder, in anyone’s shoulder, and never emerge again. Simply live in the darkness and emptiness of a land with no guilt, no responsibilities and no lies.
But Bill drew back and smiled, not a trace of concern on his face. For Hermione was an excellent actress – Hermione was so good at everything, really. She wished she wasn’t. She wished someone could see through this façade, even if it resulted in someone pointing at her and revealing her sins. But to be the person who must own up to everything; Merlin, she couldn’t.
‘So what ‘arr you ‘oping for, Ron?’ Fleur asked, as everyone sat down again. The atmosphere was thick with emotion.
‘I don’t care,’ Ron laughed, taking his seat next to Hermione. He lifted Rose up on his knee and stroked her hair, while he put his free arm around his wife. ‘I think Hermione wants a son though, don’t you, Hermione? She told me ages ago what she wanted to call him. That’s when we thought Rose was a boy.’
Hermione smiled, aware that everyone was looking at her.
‘But apparently, Ron has a problem with the name Victor,’ she said disapprovingly. It was easier to be disapproving than to be happy.
‘After Krum?’ Harry asked in disbelief. Ron raised a hand.
‘Exactly,’ Ron said, as if he were pointing out something obvious, ‘but Hermione and I compromised.’
‘The point is,’ Hermione said testily, ‘that it wasn’t after Krum, but after Victor Hugo. He was a very influential author in my childhood. I went to Paris just to see the Notre Dame! And the musical is amazing.’
Talking about her Muggle life felt like leaving this tense present. She knew half of the people around the table had no idea what she was talking about, but she didn’t care; for a moment, just a moment, she did not feel like the world’s worst person, and that was worth it.
‘So we compromised on Hugo,’ Ron said, rubbing Hermione’s shoulder affectionately. ‘But then, of course, little Rosebud here was born and ruined all our plans.’
He tickled his daughter in the stomach and she squealed appreciatively.
‘It’s past your bedtime, Miss,’ Hermione said authoritatively, hoping that the others would get the hint. They did.
Hermione wrapped up leftovers and gave them to her guests as Ron retrieved their coats. She felt a small weight fall off her shoulders as Harry, Ginny and their three children left as the last, congratulating them again. It had been a hellish night.
While she tucked Rose in, she could think of only one thing: sleep. Sleep would bring an absence from her current thoughts. Sleep would hopefully bring her in a different world. She retired to her bedroom, where Ron was already lounging on the bed in his pyjamas, his eyes closed. Hermione brushed her teeth and pulled on her own pyjamas, sighing when she finally got into bed.
Ron opened his eyes and turned to one side, facing Hermione. He slowly stroked her face. Hermione was too tired to feel guilty. She allowed herself to enjoy his gestures.
‘Thank you for tonight,’ he whispered. Hermione smiled.
‘It’s not as if you didn’t do your share,’ she said, reaching for his hand and kissing it.
‘I love our family,’ he said softly, getting closer to Hermione and kissing her neck. Hermione ran a hand through his hair. ‘I love you.’
‘I love you,’ Hermione answered.
Ron withdrew his head from her neck and placed his lips on hers. The moment they met, Hermione finally thought, ‘Yes. No more. No more.’
‘I can’t stand it anymore, Draco, I have to stop it.’
‘You don’t have to do anything, Hermione.’
His voice was low and angry. Hermione felt her body throbbing in pain at her tense position. Her shoulders were aching. She preferred this pain, though, to the sickly one she had been feeling with Ron every day now. She had not even removed her coat, determined that her goodbye would be short and true.
Draco was standing in the kitchen in his Dockers and relaxed blue shirt, his expression ugly. Hermione had known from the beginning that he would not beg her to stay; but she had not expected this calm, cruel disbelief.
‘You don’t want this baby, Draco, admit it.’
‘Oh, come on, Draco,’ Hermione exclaimed, passing a hand over her forehead. ‘Can you really see it? Really see us? You, me and the baby in some small hideaway, Rose being picked up by Ron every second weekend and Scorpius being delivered to Asteria on holidays? I mean, how long would it be before we started hating each other?’
Hermione’s eyes were teary again as she saw the image she had conjured up last night. Draco still had that ugly expression.
‘You don’t even know if it’s yours.’
‘It’s mine,’ Draco said instantly, his voice still filled with quiet anger.
‘You don’t know that.’
‘What, do you want to wait until it pops out of you to check if it’s got blonde hair?’
‘My baby is not an it, Draco,’ Hermione retorted.
‘Stop it, just stop it!’ she shouted hysterically, getting more frustrated by the minute.
‘So what,’ Draco sneered, finally balancing back on his feet and redressing his posture after leaning against the counter, ‘you’re going to go back to Weasley? You’re going to stay with him the rest of your life? Just like you planned?’
He had suddenly reached her without Hermione even noticing him walking. She swallowed and nodded.
‘Don’t you understand,’ she said thickly, ‘I hate myself when I’m with him. And he doesn’t deserve it.’
She looked away, closing her eyes in an effort to prevent the tears. When she opened them again, Draco’s face was unbearably close to her neck. Before she could say anything, he brushed his lips against her and nibbled slightly on her skin.
‘You can’t go,’ he whispered, ‘you belong to me, remember?’
The magnitude of his words and complete absurdity of its truth made Hermione put her hands against his chest and push as strong as she could. She had never been as revolted by him.
He landed against the counter and grasped the edges for support. His eyes flashed in anger, and he watched silently as Hermione walked towards the door, threw it open and disappeared.
The summer office party was the one time Hermione allowed herself to let go at the Ministry. It was mid-August and everyone was in good spirits because the next fortnight came in the shape of holidays. Wine and punch had been served liberally, and the corridor was filled with cheerful gossip. Hermione was at ease, in her element.
Ron had not been able to join her, having been sent to Scotland for some sort of Auror business. Earlier that day, Rose had been dropped off at Molly’s for the weekend, so Hermione bemusedly contemplated that she was, for once, on her own.
Lisa was the centre of attention at the party. She had been proposed to over the weekend, and everyone was crowding around her to see the ring her future husband had bestowed upon her finger. Hermione watched the girls with a sort of elderly amusement.
Marriage was not what she had thought it would be. When she was little, she had always seen marriage as some sort of guarantee that two people could never fall in love with anyone else. That wasn’t marriage. Marriage was the official promise of devoting your life to another’s. Hermione had got married far too young. She had had children far too young as well. She was certain that she wouldn’t have another child. She loved Rose with all the love a mother could have, but children were inconvenient. Ron could not fully appreciate what it had taken out of her, and taken away from her. She knew she sounded selfish, but that was the reality of things. Mothers were not allowed to be selfish. But she was not just a mother, she was a woman.
She sipped the punch from the goblet in her hand and allowed herself a luxurious sigh. It was her second glass and she felt confident and lucid. Hermione normally did not have the courage to see things as they were.
‘I can’t believe it, the other Departments are crashing our party,’ Lisa laughed as she joined Hermione, rubbing her ring finger fondly. Hermione looked up and saw several Aurors and Unspeakables enter the crowded corridor. One of them had brought a wireless and was tuning it, finally landing on a jazzy tune. Hermione grinned at Lisa.
‘Where are you going on holiday, Hermione?’
‘Ron and I are taking Rose to Australia to see my parents,’ she said. ‘It’s not exactly the best time to go, what with it being winter there, but my mother and father are really dying to see her.’
‘So, when is the wedding?’
‘December. Snow, white – it’ll be so romantic.’
‘Merlin, what is he doing here?’
There was such distaste in Lisa’s tone that Hermione instinctively knew who she was referring to. Sure enough, Malfoy had stridden out the elevator, alone, as if he needed no company. Hermione felt her heart jump excitedly to her throat as her body shivered slightly in anticipation. She could not help smiling a little nervously, a little frightened by how much she was enjoying this new powerful excitement.
Malfoy was taking in the whole room coolly, his eyes resting on several different people before they found Hermione. She could not judge objectively if they stayed on her longer than anyone else; to her, the seconds seemed hours. She watched as Terry Boot detached himself from his wife and walked over to Malfoy in fury. Malfoy had silenced everything and everyone in the room except the wireless. Hermione wished she could hear what they were saying.
‘The nerve of him,’ Lisa exclaimed.
‘Yes,’ Hermione breathed, not taking her eyes off Terry and Malfoy. Malfoy was calmly explaining something to Terry, who put down his glass of punch and walked into the elevator. Hermione’s stomach clenched worriedly, but Malfoy did not follow him. Instead, he walked over to the bowl of punch.
People gradually started talking again. Hermione was forced to listen to Lisa’s angry tirades about them being infested with old Death Eaters. She tried to keep Malfoy in sight while pretending to pay attention to Lisa, but one glance away was enough; she could not find him again.
After a few minutes’ frantic search, she felt disappointment sweep through her. Her heart went back to its dull normal beat and her shoulders dropped from their tense, excited position. Hermione excused herself and downed her punch, wanting an excuse to be alone. When she saw several of her colleagues by the punch bowl, however, she quickly changed direction and headed for the ladies’ room.
Splashing cold water on her face, Hermione regained her common sense. She really was too careless. How could she possibly give in to such a primal instinct when she had a wedding band to prove that she was not available? Malfoy had obviously respected his bond to his wife; obviously had no interest in her.
Hermione turned to see her profile in the mirror after drying her face. She evaluated her figure critically. She wished she were an objective observer. Her plain black dress folded in against her waistline, the bottom draped against her thighs and reaching her knees. She loved this dress. It was smart without being too dressy. She had removed her wizarding robes earlier in the day before the heat became too much.
‘I’m not that bad,’ she mumbled to herself, running a hand over her stomach and arching her neck. Then she dropped her hands and shook her head, laughing at herself. She realized she was being ridiculous.
Hermione still had a smile on her face when she closed the door behind her, gaze on her flat, comfortable, unattractive shoes as she walked out. A door to her left opened, and someone bumped into her. Her heart jumped up to her throat again.
Malfoy had an unreadable expression on his face as their gazes locked. Hermione felt herself growing shivery again. It was very much like an out-of-body experience. She watched as he gathered himself, correcting his posture until he was at his full height. Hermione bit her lip. She knew that if she spoke, her voice would betray her.
She should walk away. It would be so easy to do. They had been staring at each other for longer than necessary, longer than plausible, and it was becoming more difficult by the second to accept that nothing was happening.
‘Granger,’ Malfoy then suddenly whispered. To her shock, his voice was as shaky as her body. She felt an intense pleasure curse through her as she realized that she wasn’t alone in thinking these thoughts. ‘What’s wrong, lost your husband? He is fucking hopeless after all.’
The pleasure was abruptly replaced by anger, and she trembled violently, feeling like a fool. She took a step toward him so her face was torturously close to his and filled her voice with venom as she prepared for her next blow.
‘At least he was never a fucking Death Eater like you, Malfoy.’
She turned around to make a dramatic exit, but he had grabbed her wrist, wrenched her back to face him and pushed her against the wall again. Her body reacted in waves of conflicting emotions: pain, anger, pleasure all in one.
‘Shut the fuck up, Granger,’ he breathed through his nose, his face alive with fire. Hermione felt like laughing and crying hysterically at the same time. ‘Don’t you dare say that. You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.’
‘It’s sad, isn’t it?’ she answered, smiling, ‘it’s done. It must hurt you so much that that’s all the world will ever see when you walk into a room, like you just did before. Death Eater.’
‘I’m warning you, Granger –‘ he murmured angrily, his grip tightening.
Hermione was afraid of nothing but of him letting go.
‘You can’t warn me, Malfoy, you’ve got nothing to threaten me with. This isn’t Hogwarts anymore, even if I still hate you as much as I did –‘
His lips came crashing on hers in his desperate attempt to shut her up. For a moment, she felt nothing but shock; then the pleasure reached her, a strange, frighteningly powerful pleasure, and she moaned in ecstasy as she dug her hands in to his hair, twisting it around her fingers. He lowered his hands from her arms and entwined them firmly around her waist, more firmly than before, bringing her chest forcefully closer to his. They were violent and desperate, more like young lovers than married people. There was nothing affectionate about this kiss, and nothing familiar either; but that was how she wanted it. He strengthened his hold around her back until she gasped in surprise, and he lifted her against him, carelessly carrying her the small steps towards the men’s room, the door to which he kicked open. He threw her on the sink and she sat there, her eyes filled with anger, watching him heave for air.
‘Fuck you, Malfoy,’ she said angrily, and then she pulled him in and launched herself at his lips once more.
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