Darling I'm killed
I'm in a puddle on the floor
Waiting for you to return
Oh what a thrill
How you tease
How you leave me to burn
It's so deadly my dear
The power of having you near
Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crow
Hermione lay in the bed next to him, her figure slowly rising up and down as her breathing ceased its irregular pace. She did not dare glance at Malfoy.
His breathing was not irregular. She felt the sheets move and wondered if he was restless. At least the sheets were clean, Hermione found herself grimly thinking. She felt a bizarre urge to grin.
Perhaps the Malfoy Manor was the first place that had popped into his mind, or perhaps he had been planning it for weeks; she did not know. The surroundings were bleak and old, full of former grandeur that had now faded. She assumed this had been his room, once, though it bore as little traits of personality as Draco’s own expressions.
Hermione knew that the Ministry had seized all of the Malfoy assets at the end of the War, and that they had managed to get some of them back. The Manor had been of no use to the Ministry; suggestions of turning it into an orphanage, or even a school, had quickly been discarded upon the discovery of it being Voldemort’s Head Quarters. Then it had been carelessly combed through for all Dark Arts artefacts, and negligently handed back to the humbled and humiliated Malfoys. Driven to an inch of his sanity, Lucius had fled the country; Narcissa had followed him begrudgingly, locking up her old home and giving the key to Draco.
That was matters as Hermione knew them. Of course, she had heard that Malfoy was living in London, and had spotted him occasionally in the Ministry and sometimes in Diagon Alley. But beyond that, her knowledge of this, his old home, was incomplete.
Standing up, looking for something to do so as not to face the pressing reality, and Malfoy, she wrapped the sheet around her and prowled the room. She knew it was not her place to do this; indeed, she had no place whatsoever as the woman Malfoy had just had sex with.
There was a desk by a very large glass window, mahogany, and heavy looking. The surface was scratched, or was it carved? Letters formed words in distinct places, but Hermione could not make them out. A stack of thin pieces of parchment lay, discarded, in the centre of the desk, the green ink fading. The handwriting was child-like, clearly from Malfoy’s days at Hogwarts. A handsome notebook stood in perfect shape at the corner, the brown-ish colour of its cover melting with the desk. Hermione placed a finger on the cover and ran it down, the smooth, hard edge pressing against her skin.
She turned around in a sudden action, seeing Malfoy on the big four-poster bed, watching her with an unreadable expression on his face. Hermione removed her hand from the desk and tightened her hold on the sheets. She had never felt more exposed.
Clearly, Malfoy did not know what to say. Or did he think that there was nothing to say? Had he simply had his pleasure’s worth and did he lie there now, impatient for her to leave?
It was so awkward. And yet, awkward did not describe it well enough; wrong, maybe?
She approached the bed again, not wanting to let those unpleasant thoughts seep over her just yet. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Hermione let the sheets fall back into their rightful place and reached for her blouse. She thought she could feel Malfoy’s gaze burning a hole into her naked back. She pulled on her blouse as quickly as possible and faced him, feeling a little less exposed.
He was quite naked, she realized, and quite comfortable with it. The injustice of having a baby suddenly hit her. He was lean and pale and, for all purposes, certainly the type of body she was attracted to. The curves of her hips and the size of her breasts made her vigorously insecure all of a sudden, and she frowned, wanting him to cover up, like she had done. She had returned back to normal in one shift motion, and it was unthinkable that he should not do the same; yet there he lay, with no present inclination to move, in full evidence of what they had just done.
‘I’m going to go,’ Hermione heard herself saying. Her voice was weak and she cleared her throat. Malfoy kept watching her, his expression as unreadable as ever.
‘Are you,’ he asked, though it did not sound like a question. He threw the sheets off him and stood up in one fluid motion. Hermione followed him with her eyes as he opened a door she had not noticed – hidden as it was by a tapestry – and disappeared inside. Seconds later, she heard the sound of running water and she could distinctly make him out splashing his face.
She took advantage of his absence to pull on her other clothes, fumbling with the zipper of her skirt. As she leaned down to reach for her shoes, she caught sight of her wedding ring, lazily glinting on her finger, and a sense of shameful dizziness fell over her. Hermione felt like throwing up as she understood that she had had sex with Malfoy while wearing her ring. If only she had taken it off, she found herself thinking. This made it all worse.
Malfoy re-emerged, now wearing boxers and his shirt, just as she finished buttoning her blouse. His eyes were narrowed and he was dabbing his wet face with a towel.
‘Granger –‘ he started, and Hermione held up a hand.
‘No.’ She shook her head so her curls of hair swung around her impatiently. ‘I know this isn’t conventional, Malfoy, even for you. But I swear to God, if you tell anyone - anyone -‘
His face had a shadow over it.
‘That’s automatically what you think I’d do, isn’t it?’
Hermione gave him a grim smile. She realized that for all her attempts to cover up, for all her buttons and zippers and material, nothing would ever change the fact that he had seen her naked – the only man apart from Ron. Her eyes filled with tears for a moment, but she cleared her throat and they disappeared.
‘I wouldn’t put it past you to parade around bragging that you’d nailed the bookworm Mudblood, Malfoy, no.’
Malfoy threw the towel on the floor. His brow furrowed, he reached down for his trousers and pulled them on. His lack of reply surprised her, shocked her really, and for a moment she did not know what to do. So long as they were enemies, she could handle him – but this brush-off, this ‘bigger than that’ attitude unnerved her.
She fumbled with her bag for a moment. The contents had spilled out of it in their haste to get undressed. The memory of it haunted her for a moment and she suddenly found herself hot and flushed. He was a good lover. She wanted to tell someone. Malfoy was a good lover. The crown of satisfaction and the wild, guiltless passion that had overtook her had been never-ending – a completely different world. And he had been the one to guide her through it.
Such passion with Ron was impossible. She could never behave with him as she had with Malfoy. It was corny, and ridiculous, the kind of notion she always brushed off in melodramatic books, but she had truly known the meaning of freedom with Malfoy. Unafraid of being judged, eager to let herself go, desirous to fill that craving, she had been completely unconcerned with how she might appear.
‘I won’t tell anyone, Granger.’
His voice was loud, but that was because he was standing right next to her. His eyes were dark and his mouth was unsmiling, and he seemed serious about his words.
‘Thank you,’ she said shortly, hoisting her bag higher up on her arm. His eyes flittered between her face and her neck, her arm and her bag, her eyes and her mouth.
‘I promise I won’t tell anyone.’
His hands inched forward and he pulled down her blouse so it covered a piece of bare midriff that had been showing. His fingers caressed the skin under the blouse. Her legs felt wobbly.
She had to run, to go, to leave, to find Ron. Find Ron. His mouth was pressing against her neck now and she felt him bite her, his tongue wet and cold against the beat of her heart in her throat, an irregular heartbeat, pounding, faster, faster, faster…
‘I can’t…’ she whispered, closing her eyes and promising herself she would stop after a few more indulgent seconds. Just a few more. ‘Oh, God… Malfoy… I - I - Don’t stop…’
His hands grew firm as they framed her waist. At the first squeeze of her hips, her bag fell off her shoulder. Neither cared. He was unbuttoning her blouse again, slowly, seductively, from bottom to top, and she was surprised to find that she had already unbuttoned his, and that they were falling, falling, back into the sheets, kicking off her shoes, fumbling with zippers and drowning in embraces that were sweetly toxic and wrong, wrong, wrong, right…
Nearly eight months pregnant, Hermione found herself more hormonal and emotional than any other period of her life – even more than when she had been bearing Rose. Her first pregnancy had been one of surprises, of unexpected delight, of waking up and looking forward to decorating the nursery.
This pregnancy meant digging Rose’s old bottles out, mending her baby blankets and stocking up the cabinets with diapers and sterilizers. There was little anticipation, though of course Hermione was happy; but the weekly check-ups at St Mungo’s and the constant jealous whimpers of her colleagues irked her more than she cared to admit.
Themis called her in and suggested that now, with almost a month to go, she might want to consider staying at home, or at least decreasing her workload. Hermione hated it, but she realized the truth in these words; she was fat, and heavy, and hot, and could not accomplish half that she should have. She wanted to snap at Themis and say that if she were a liability rather than an asset, she would leave; but of course, that was out of the question. She agreed to cutting down hours, but she dragged files back home with her and spent her free time doing case studies.
Ron often grew tired of her snappy behaviour, she could tell. She also knew that he believed it would all pass once the arrival of their beautiful baby graced them. Persuaded as he was that it was a boy, he had re-decorated the nursery in a shade of light green that Hermione said looked like puke, and made several purchases of toys. On one particular shopping trip, Hermione could see how much he was itching to buy a toy broomstick, and it only made her want to spite him.
Perhaps all this aggravation was due to the fact that she felt so unattractive. It was impossible to find that femininity she had recently discovered when she was wobbling back and forth in unattractive flat shoes, a huge belly preceding her and her face swollen and red. She hated the idea that Malfoy might see her like this.
But Malfoy had been strangely absent in the past five months – ever since the spring office party. She tried not to feel resentful about it – after all, it were she who demanded that they stop the affair – but she still felt a wild injustice at him ceasing all contact. The baby could be his.
She bit her lip at this thought. Blocking out this notion was essential. If she even admitted the possibility that her baby was not Ron’s – if she dared imagine a life where Draco was the one to take care of them – she knew something much worse than hormones would hit her.
It was a Thursday night when Ron came home and regretfully told her that he and Harry were forced to go on a business trip for the weekend.
‘A business trip?’ Hermione said distastefully, as she covered Rose up with a blanket and stroked her head. She had only just fallen asleep. Ron had come home late and missed tucking her in. ‘On a weekend? Isn’t that a bit unorthodox?’
‘I’m sorry, Hermione,’ Ron said, rubbing his eyes. He looked very tired. ‘I don’t want to, you know I don’t. But there’s some kind of Auror conference in France and they want the foreign Heads of the Ministry to make an appearance.’
‘So why can’t Harry just go alone? You’re not the Head.’
Ron clearly tried to ignore the bite in her voice.
‘Harry can’t go alone, you know that. He needs representatives, he needs –‘
‘All right, all right,’ Hermione cut across him, annoyed. She heaved a breath and pulled herself up. Ron grabbed her elbow and helped. ‘Don’t wake Rose, she took ages to get settled.’
She left the room and heard him shut the light, sighing. Hermione knew she was being unreasonable, knew he could not help it, could not help his job, could not help who he was, could not help anything really.
Tidying the kitchen and looking longingly at the glass of wine Ron was sipping, Hermione realized how very much she hated herself. It was an odd sensation; she was aggravated at the world, but most of all aggravated with her existence, which, she so feared to admit, felt pointless.
If only Ron were going away with a mistress! If only he were lying! If only she had not married so young, so foolishly, with the first and only man she had ever been with. If only, if only, if only. How convinced she had been of their future happiness; how right it must have seemed to everyone, even to her, that the best friends of Harry Potter should bond. Too right. Too right to be doubted, questioned, for how could something so convenient and so predicted be wrong? How could anyone else possibly deserve her more, and how could she not want what had fulfilled her life since the age of eleven?
Ron’s small suitcase was packed the next morning, and Hermione almost managed to convince herself that he was leaving her for good. The happy flop in her stomach that this unreal thought produced made her feel exhilarated and shamefully guilty at the same time. She was dressing for work when he came into the room, carrying Rose in one arm and bearing a small grin.
‘What are you smiling about?’ Hermione inquired, annoyed that her huge belly was getting in the way of buttoning her maternity shirt, which had always fitted her when she was pregnant with Rose.
‘I’m smiling about the fact that I seem to be the romantic one of the pair of us.’
‘You may not remember, Hermione, but I couldn’t forget.’ Ron put Rose on the bed and produced a small, red box from inside his jacket pocket. Hermione raised her eyebrows, confused. ‘Since I can’t be here tomorrow, happy birthday.’
He opened the box, revealing a beautiful silver chain with a small treasure chest charm dangling from it. Hermione could not prevent a smile as he placed it around her neck. Rose gave a shriek of pleasure.
‘You need a treasure chest for all those bits of gold and silver you keep producing,’ he whispered in her ear, patting her stomach. She turned around.
‘Thank you, Ron,’ she said, smiling serenely as she laid a kiss on his cheek. ‘It’s beautiful.’
Ron nodded, satisfied. Then he went back to Rose, lifted her up in the air so she squealed, and settled her in his arms.
‘I better get this one off to daycare,’ he said. ‘I’ll be back Sunday. You’ll be all right, won’t you?’
Hermioe nodded, still smiling. She walked up and kissed him again, feeling that he deserved it.
The flowers on her desk were indiscreet, and Hermione was embarrassed by them. Her first thought was that it was another present from Ron, guilty, perhaps, at the fact that he could not be there on her 29th birthday. But they had turned out to be from Harry and Ginny; Harry, sad that he, too, had to be away, and Ginny because she had forgotten Hermione’s last birthday. She did not know if it was their scent, or because she felt bad about Ron being away, or simply because she had too much work, but Hermione had not been right all morning. Lisa remarked on this worriedly as they had their mid-morning break, Hermione replacing coffee with tea.
‘I really think you ought to go home, Hermione,’ Lisa said, peering at her colleague with concern. ‘You’re eight months pregnant.’
‘I hate when people say that,’ Hermione grumbled, filling her cup with plenty of sugar. ‘As if I don’t know it. Do you think I enjoy tumbling about like this, fat and big and unattractive? I’m just tired. I feel so heavy.’
‘Honestly, go home, Hermione. I’ll get Themis to tell you if you don’t.’
Hermione rolled her eyes but knew she had no way out. She finished her tea reluctantly, realizing that she felt aggravation and jealousy. Surprised at these emotions, she suddenly understood them; Lisa was young and pretty and full of the illusion of love. She had a newly acquired husband and was not yet sick of him. Her chances for rising in the department were unspoiled, and she need not end up like Hermione, guilty, pregnant, yearning for a man who had now lost contact with her.
Hermione sped out of the office so quickly that Lisa stared. It was the first time that her colleague had ever been less than kind towards her.
Her house felt emptier than it should, without Rose’s squeals of delight and Ron’s tired sighs. The afternoon darkness was settling, and it was odd, having been so used to months of delightful summer, to have to get accustomed to the brown leaves and crisp wind. Hermione removed her coat and allowed herself to cast it on the table instead of hanging it up. It really was a good thing that she had gone home.
Lowering herself on the couch, she suddenly felt a sharp, unfamiliar pain twanging down her back, or her lower stomach – she could not quite tell. She ran her hands over her huge bump and took a deep breath, waiting for it to pass. Suspicion crept into her mind and she clung to the moments free from pain, hoping, willing herself to be wrong.
She did not count the minutes, but she knew that her suspicion must be confirmed when another pain hit her, so sharply this time that she swore a little. Her breathing shallow, Hermione forced herself to stay calm, even though her heart was fluttering in panic and her mind was protesting fiercely against what was happening.
It was over before she knew it; hunched over, fighting for oxygen, she withdrew her wand and swished it in the air. All her thoughts processing one man, sketching the blonde hair, the grey eyes and the commanding presence, because he was her one happy thought, she gasped, ‘Expecto Patronum’.
The silver otter swam out of her wand, twisting itself in midair and came to a halt in front of her, as if waiting.
‘Draco…’ she whispered, then took a deep breath to clear her voice. ‘I need Draco!’
The otter vanished, but did not fade, and she took it to mean that it understood, and that help was on the way. She was scared now; scared that more pains would come, or scared that she had misunderstood, somehow, and that something worse was on the play. She was not surprised to find tears on her cheeks and she shuddered, realizing for the first time during her whole pregnancy how very much she wanted this baby. The question was no longer whose it was, Ron’s or Draco’s; the question was simply whether it was all right, whether she would have it, whether it could forgive her for not taking proper care.
Hermione was sobbing when the glorious sound of Apparition reached her ears and footsteps sounded from the foyer.
‘I’m in here!’ she yelled.
Draco’s figure was tall and imposing, but his face was full of fear, had been screwed up in it since he had received her Patronus, worsened by the pain in her voice. Hermione could not fully appreciate how much she had missed him, she had spent so many months telling herself that his absence did not affect her.
‘Hermione,’ he murmured when he reached her, and he pulled her towards him. His shoulders dropped as their bodies finally made contact once more, and all that had not been said for five months seemed to express itself in their embrace. But Hermione pushed him off, still scared, still worried that more pains would come.
‘I need to go to St Mungo’s,’ she breathed, mopping her face. Draco, brow furrowed, moved his hand over her forehead in a gesture of affection. Why did he think she had summoned him? To make amends, to re-initiate their lovemaking?
But he simply said, ‘What’s wrong?’
She took another steadying breath, moving her head against his head, which he had not removed.
‘I think I’m in labour. I think – I think it’s now.’
He looked momentarily struck, and his reaction – so different from what she had expected, what she needed - provoked her sobs once more. She had wanted him to be commanding, calming, reassuring, but he was at as much of a loss as she, and the tears leaked from her eyes.
‘It’s okay, Hermione, it’s okay,’ he said, his voice shaking, ‘let’s go, I’ll take you, I’ll –‘
She yelled out as another pain hit her, and he removed his hand from her forehead to grasp her arm. Her breathing was heavy and unsteady, shallow and uneven. Her sobs racked her body, sobs that were caused by her contractions or her mind, she did not know.
‘The baby’s going to be all right, isn’t it Draco, tell me it will be all right –‘
‘Of course – Hermione, of course - we have to go now –‘
‘No, we can’t, we can’t, it’s too soon, the baby’s not supposed to be here for another month –‘
Draco put both hands on either side of her head and forced her to look into his eyes. Her flows of panic were silenced momentarily, and he took advantage of the moment by helping her to her feet and supporting her waist. Her contraction had passed, and she held on to him gingerly. Fear was pouncing every bit of her body, her heart was fluttering in anxiety, but the feel of his arm around her was so heart achingly familiar that she welcomed every circumstance if it meant that she could touch him once more.
‘Let’s go,’ he whispered, and she knew he was mirroring her thoughts.
Hermione prepared for Side-Along Apparition, but before she could gather herself, she felt him halt, and turned. There was almost a threat of tears in his narrowed eyes, his eyebrows contracted and his expression, as always, unreadable.
‘I haven’t told you nearly enough, Hermione. But I love you.’
She closed her eyes.
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