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When will the blood begin to race
The sleeping bud burst into bloom
When will the flames at last consume us?

Past The Point of No Return, Phantom of The Opera


August 2007


It was, without a doubt, the sexiest moment of her life. She had never felt so capable of being desirable as she did then. It was a complete paradox, of course – sitting on a sink, just waiting for someone to come in, trying to extinguish a fire that Malfoy had ignited long ago. And still she felt something she had never felt before: she felt completely, one hundred percent, like a woman. Not a wife, not a mother, not a pupil, or a bookworm, just a woman.

That was what gave her the nerve to do this. She had separated herself from her usual life and this was the result: pure and unexpected guilt-free pleasure. The only concern, the only numbing life-ending fright was that somehow, this pleasure would stop and she would die.

They pulled apart again, gasping for air. Malfoy’s expression was no longer as calm. It was surely a miracle that no one had walked in on them yet.

‘You –‘ Malfoy began, opening his mouth and closing it. He took a shallow breath, steadying himself. Hermione narrowed her eyes.

The possibilities of their situation – no, her situation – began to occur to her. She could stay here, and carry on, follow the trail of his kisses until they led somewhere more frivolous, more selfish, and definitely more desirable – or she could bolt.

She felt him move against her and watched as he placed a hand through her hair, allowing the strands to run through his fingers. What occurred to her was that it was a man’s hand. He was no longer Draco the boy. He was no longer sixteen, childish, chasing a Death Eater’s dream like a baby crying for the moon. He could make love to her there and then with as much confidence as he was displaying now.

He clenched her hair, breathing through his nose. She realized that his gesture was not an affectionate one – it was too full of anger. Hermione would have given anything to understand him, to hear his thoughts. Every action of his was so certain, so disgustingly confident - no fear of repercussion or of consequences.

‘Are you really always so damn sure of yourself, Granger?’ he hissed, and she looked at him, surprised, for she had been having the exact same thoughts about him. ‘Do you know what I think?’

‘What do you think, Malfoy?’ she murmured, not intending to sound husky, but still rather sounding it.

He pushed himself up against her again, his lips close to her ear, his hand still full of her hair. Her breathing quickened at the contact of their lower bodies – her legs against his, his hips towards hers.

‘I think you’re bored,’ he breathed in her ear.

She pushed him away forcefully, and he stumbled, unprepared for her violence. Jumping off the sink, she straightened her dress and headed for the door.

Hermione hoped he could feel the hatred seeping out of her. She had never despised him more than for guessing what she had long denied. She had never despised him more for giving her what she had long been deprived.

*


Draco walked home after the office party, eager for fresh air. He had mistakenly hoped that it would soothe him, get his mind off the madness that was Granger. He had returned from the bathroom back to the offices, only to find her surrounded by colleagues. He had been curt and short with everyone who tried to converse with him following their encounter – and that had been few enough people – watching her and watching her, taking in every fake laugh, every curve, every sip as if he had only just met her.

Every moment had been part of a chain of consequences. Giving Boot his secretary’s message had led to finding Granger at the office party; going to the restroom had led to bumping into Granger; bumping into Granger had led to infuriating her, thereby infuriating him, and thereby attracting him. Nothing had been planned.

He smirked. He knew what Blaise would say. He would quote Freud. There are no accidents. But Granger was an accident. Everything about her was accidental, nothing was deliberate: his attraction to her was accidental, his bumping into her was accidental, even her looks were accidental. He could never imagine Granger deliberately primping in front of the mirror the way Asteria did. Granger was almost primitive when it came to beauty.

For she was not his ideal of beauty. Her eyebrows were thicker than he usually liked in a woman, her hips were obviously childbearing and there was that insolent air of not needing anyone. There was no vulnerability, no sweetness of temper or submissive cuteness that Draco loved in Asteria. Every single thing about Granger annoyed him. Annoyed him, and desperately turned him on.

That fierce mouth of hers – he would never know what she would say. Her attacks were bound to hurt, but at least they were original; at least they were clever. The intelligence that so obviously dominated her concealed something wild and uncontrollable that Draco had somehow managed to unleash. And Merlin, was she fucking gorgeous when he unleashed it.

And that was the only way to punish her, really. To show her that she was not in control of everything was the only way to retort. He could sense her terror every time he touched her, and yet he instinctively knew that she wasn’t terrified of him – but terrified of herself. Poor Hermione Granger! Desperately unaware of her sexiness, of that side of her femininity she had never had to use because Weasley had always been by her side.

However much Draco wanted to convince himself that he had submitted to his attraction only to shut her up, he knew he had taken too much pleasure in their encounter for it to be that way. In the end, he had been the one to lose the battle; she had left the restroom, left that unspoken suggestion that had been hanging in the air. The silence of it was what made it so alluring.

‘Finally, dinner’s on the stove.’

Asteria’s voice shocked him into reality when he entered their apartment, shrugging his jacket off and hanging it in the closet. He rolled up his sleeves as he walked into the living room, finding Asteria on the couch, nursing Scorpius. The motherly image was such a disgusting contrast to his earlier immoral act that for a moment, he felt sick – not with guilt, simply with distaste. It was difficult to transfer from one set of mind – wanting Granger badly – to another.

‘Where were you? I thought you’d be home by six.’

Draco glanced at his watch. It was nearing nine. He fetched his dinner and a glass of red wine, making himself comfortable on the couch next to Asteria before answering her.

‘I crashed an office party and sort of lost track of things. I’m sorry, darling.’

‘That’s all right.’

Asteria smiled at him, and hoisted Scorpius higher up, carefully supporting his neck as she stopped nursing and rocked him to and fro. As ever, she had taken care of herself, her blonde hair falling softly over her face in curls. Draco played with one as he chewed his mash potato thoughtfully.

He was rather amazed that he felt no guilt. He had thought it would be more difficult, coming home, but what had happened seemed so separate, somehow. Draco had no intention of telling Asteria, even if he hadn’t planned what had happened, but even so, he had expected to feel an inclination to tell her. He didn’t. He swept the hair off her shoulders so as to expose her bare neck and ran a hand over it. She seemed hardly to notice, occupied with Scorpius.

‘Daphne was here earlier.’

‘Oh?’ Draco mused, scraping his plate clean of broccoli. ‘What did she want?’

‘She’s offered to take Scorpius for a few days so we can get away. It is holidays now, Draco.’

Draco silently reflected over this proposition, trying to find the best way to turn it down. Now was not the ideal time for him to go away.

‘I don’t know,’ he said slowly, ‘didn’t you want to nurse Scorpius as long as possible? If you start giving him formula, he might get used to it.’

‘Oh, don’t be silly,’ Asteria laughed, putting her free arm around his back and leaning against him. Draco put his arms around her. ‘Didn’t it occur to you that Daphne might want to take advantage of her nephew, too? You know how her husband is; he doesn’t want children.’

‘That’s probably because he’s got about a dozen illegitimate brats,’ Draco muttered. Asteria clucked her tongue against her teeth.

‘Stop it, please, Draco, you know I don’t like that sort of talk. Anyway, it would be so nice for us to get away, wouldn’t it? Everyone is going. Daphne told me. Even Hermione Granger-Weasley –‘

‘Why are you so interested in Hermione freaking Granger?’ Draco said angrily, his heart beating unpleasantly fast. ‘And what do you mean, she’s going away?’ he added quickly. He had concluded that she would be at the Ministry.

‘Daphne heard from Pansy who heard from Padma who heard from –‘

‘All right, all right –‘

‘They’re going to Australia, anyway. Even they are getting away.’

Draco rubbed his forehead, frustrated. That did not suit him. Egotistically, he had imagined Granger miserable, at home, contemplating what serious misdeeds she had done. Relaxing in the southern hemisphere was not what he had seen.

‘All right, Asteria. We’ll have a small holiday.’

*


March 2008


The spring office party was an occasion that Hermione usually despised. Just like the Christmas office party, it brought back memories of the night she had given everything up – the night she had ceased to believe in the happiness of others but herself. Tonight’s office party promised to be no better. But with Ron as an Auror, and herself as a rising member in the Law Enforcement, she saw no alternative but to go. So she and Ron left Rose with a babysitter and entered the crowded corridor, one excited, the other silent.

Hermione had a fake smile plastered on her face as she followed Ron through the crowds, his hand in hers, every once in a while throwing his head back to beam at her. Since officialising her pregnancy to their family, he had been unstoppable in telling the news to everyone else. The word had spread throughout the Ministry and most of Hermione’s colleagues knew before she had the chance to tell them.

She could not even look forward to a glass of punch, which she knew she needed. Ron had taken his protective stance and was forbidding alcohol. He walked her to the bar and ordered an orange juice and a glass of red wine. Hermione sighed, leaning against the counter.

‘Are you all right, darling?’ he said in a low voice, giving her the orange juice and sipping his wine. Hermione smiled.

‘Yes, of course; why wouldn’t I be?’

‘I think I see Harry,’ he said, ‘Harry!’

Harry made his way toward them, beaming. He looked strangely lonely without Ginny by his side, but he was clutching a Firewhiskey in his fist and had a festive mood about him. After kissing Hermione on the cheek, he raised his glass.

‘To the future Weasley baby,’ he grinned. Hermione smiled. ‘Doesn’t this feel just like Hogwarts days? Us three together again.’

‘I don’t know,’ Ron laughed, putting his arm around Hermione, ‘a lot has changed since then.’

Hermione grimaced at the sad irony of his words. To remove the expression from her face, she busied herself with drinking her orange juice. Her eyes skimmed the crowds. There were a lot more people this time than last. Lisa was with her husband, both arms around his waist as she talked animatedly to one of the younger employees. Themis was surrounded by a gaggle of Wizengamot members. One of them suddenly caught sight of Hermione and waved; she recognised her as Madam Felice Falcona. To her shock, Felice started walking towards her, followed closely by Themis.

‘Well, well, Mrs Granger-Weasley, so this is where you’re hiding. You’re quite difficult to get a hold of these days.’ She looked inquiringly at Ron.

‘This is my husband, Madam Falcona, Ron Weasley.’

‘A pleasure – I know you by reputation, of course,’ Madam Falcona said graciously, smiling at Ron as she shook his hand. Her eyes landed on Harry; it was clear that they were already well acquainted – Harry was, after all, Head of the Auror department. ‘I was just talking to Themis here about your extraordinary performance the other week, Mrs Granger-Weasley. On such short notice too!’

‘I live to work, Madam Falcona,’ Hermione said, trying not to turn red. Themis smiled grimly.

‘Mrs Granger-Weasley is quite the workhorse, Felice,’ she said. ‘She’s probably the most promising junior assistant the Ministry has had for years.’

‘Please, my wife might die from embarrassment,’ Ron laughed, massaging Hermione’s shoulder. She smiled at him, a genuine, happy smile, needing the warmth of his praise. For the first time in months, she did not feel a pressing blade against her heart.

‘Well, there’s no point in hiding the fact that you are being strongly considered for a promotion, Mrs Granger-Weasley,’ Madam Falcona said, her eyes twinkling mischievously. ‘Our cabinet is in shocking lack of attorneys. That’s something to think about.’

Hermione managed to look calm and keep smiling, but inside she was exploding. She watched as Madam Falcona gave a rather audacious wink, turn around and leave, taking an amused Themis with her; then she turned to Ron, who was beaming. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, his embrace as joyful as she had ever felt it.

‘My brilliant wife,’ he grinned, once he had taken his mouth off hers, ‘what more could you want?’

‘I’m pregnant, Ron,’ Hermione sighed, ‘how can I possibly get a promotion when I’m about to take six months’ maternity leave?’

Ron chuckled and shook his head. Hermione frowned, puzzled and slightly annoyed. It was only a matter of time before the news would reach Themis, whom she knew would disapprove of a second pregnancy.

‘Let’s not worry about that until it’s time to,’ Ron suggested. ‘I’m going to get another glass. Do you want something?’

‘No, I’m all right.’

Hermione sighed, the worry on her chest knotting itself anxiously. She felt flushed and warm, and her stomach was beginning to bug her again. Her body really was not made for pregnancy – surely that was a sign as good as any that she should not have children? She walked towards the window, eager for some fresh air. Magical Maintenance had been generous tonight, giving a soft breeze and a starry sky.

There was a small dark corner, obscured by plants, where nobody could see her, and she retreated into it, leaning out the window and listening to the background chatter. People were getting steadily drunk by now. She smiled grimly, contemplating whether she was the only sober person in the room.

‘You were smiling at him, kissing him.’

The voice was so filled with venom and pain that for a moment, Hermione did not recognize it. She turned around and met Draco’s anguished eyes, his face paler than ever. He was looking very smart and prim in a black suit and white shirt, and his hair was combed carefully back. But for all his neat appearance and carefully studied reflection, Hermione felt the chaos wrecking inside him.

‘Draco –‘

Don’t say my name like that,’ he spat, glaring at her. ‘You put your arms around him. Is that what you do, Hermione? Pretend to be happy while another man makes love to you? Or are you actually happy, do you like all the attention, all the fucking pretences! How can you do it? I watch you, you know. I watch you at office parties, in the courtrooms, in the corridors. How can you ever smile as if your whole world hadn’t been turned fucking upside down?’

He approached her, clearly taking all of her in. She felt very self-conscious. Hermione knew she was beginning to show – the creamy white dress she had put on had always fit her figure, but it had tightened around the waist and bosom when she had slid it on earlier that evening.

‘Kiss me. Smile at me.’

She summoned up her courage. It was not difficult to do, because part of her felt extraordinary indignation at his behaviour. He had absolutely no right to act like this.

‘What do you think?’ she hissed. He had reached her now, and she was pressed against the wall in her attempt not to be drawn in again. He laid a palm flat against the wall next to her left ear. Did he want her to feel trapped? ‘That you’re the only one who feels anything? Am I not allowed one moment – just one moment - of painless existence? What do you want from me?’

She felt the tears burning her eyes, and she was shocked at herself for being so emotional; eager for him not to see it, hopeful that he would not sense the pain and guilt and overwhelming indecision eating her up, she turned towards the wall and pressed her forehead up against it. Hermione then felt two fingers pushing her shawl away and sliding against her naked shoulder blades, tracing them as they went further down, down, down, until all she could think and do and be was his touch and his skin and him. Suddenly his breath was close to her neck, and she felt its heat hit her skin almost soothingly. His whisper was like the softness of a lemon before its sourness hit the taste buds.

‘I want the things that are mine,’ he breathed, finally resting his lips on his favourite spot of her neck. She leaned closer to the wall, desperate – oh, so desperate – not to give in again. She would die, surely, if he removed his lips from her skin. ‘I want the things I own.’

She slipped away from him and took a step toward the party. For a moment, they simply stood there, her back to him, her neck arched downwards. Then she turned around and silently placed the palm of her hand against his cheek. Before he could react, she left.

*


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