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Chapter 2: Present Day Burrow and a Future with Astoria
It didn’t take long for Draco to figure out where he was, given all the red hair in the place.
“We are at the Weasley’s!” His grandfather yelled above the noise.
“I gathered that!” Draco shouted as he took in the crowded surroundings.
There were people telling stories and laughter and happy Christmas music playing in the background. The place smelled of roasted ham and freshly baked cinnamon rolls.
He noticed a pathetic looking tiny tree with drooping limbs and just like his grandfather said, hid no presents beneath it.
“This was only hours ago. I wanted you to see what a happy family Christmas looks like," Abraxas explained.
That’s when Draco noticed Harry laughing at some animated statue that Fred and George had congured out of pinecones and Christmas lights.
Charlie was telling of an adventure with a young dragon named Norbert to Bill, Percy, and Mr. Weasley.
Mrs. Weasley was patiently trying to instruct Ginny on how to knit as she inspected something that looked like a misshapen mass of nothing. But that’s about the time when he heard Hermione’s sweet laughter.
“What’s she doing here? Shouldn’t she be with her family right about now?” Draco asked.
“Her parents went to the South Pole to see penguins in their natural habitat for their Christmas vacation. They sent a gift to her, an aboriginal trinket of some sort from their stop in Australia. She’d be alone if it weren’t for the Weasleys.”
Draco couldn’t believe it. Her Christmas Eve would’ve been spent like his, alone... if it weren’t for them? The thought of her being lonely tugged somewhere deep inside his chest a little.
Abraxas couldn't help but notice his grandson's face as it turned to one of sadness and concern for her.
Ron’s billowing voice interrupted their thoughts.
“Are you kidding me? Malfoy probably has so many gifts he doesn’t know what to do with them accept burn them for fuel in his fireplace. The rich prat!” Ron commented loudly.
“Look. I know your parents don’t have the money for material things right now... and your mother couldn’t even knit her sweaters this year because of the poor condition of her hands," she added lowly. "But that’s no reason to go around being jealous of Malfoy.”
“Whatever.” Ron responded with distaste.
Her face grew even more serious then. “Let’s remember who his father is, Ron. It couldn’t be all that wonderful now could it?”
“How is it that you defend him? He’s been especially cruel to you.” Ron reminded.
Hermione shrugged her shoulders as if defeated. “Something just tells me that your rendition of his Christmas is completely incorrect. You have no idea what it’s like to be an only child. Christmases at my house are nothing like this full house, being surrounded by brothers and sisters and friends and laughter. On the contrary, it can be quite lonely and rather boring.”
She stared off into space for a few seconds, but if he didn’t know better, Draco could swear she was looking straight at him, her deep brown eyes to his gray. Her words and her gaze held him, entranced.
“Just because someone is an only child doesn’t mean they will have a miserable Christmas.” Ron replied correctly.
“You are right, of course. But something tells me Malfoy’s Christmas is nothing like ours. As if it’s tainted somehow.”
“Who cares?” Ron said irritated. He left her then and went to refill his eggnog from a pitcher in the kitchen.
Draco stared at Hermione in disbelief, completely fixated. She couldn’t have been more right.
“How does she know this?” Draco finally asked. “That my Christmas is 'tainted’ as she put it.”
“Woman’s intuition, Draco. She’s been thinking a lot about you lately. That’s why she can zero in on what’s going on with you. She knows that Christmas as an only child is still pleasant. But she has that gut feeling that your Christmases are well… not normal. She doesn’t really know why though.”
Intuition? She's been thinking of him most likely because of his stupid teenage gawking at her, he figured.
“Why should she have any concern for me? He’s right, you know. I’ve only been cruel to her… mostly.”
“Perhaps it is your cruelty that has her curious about you. Look at her now, Draco. While everyone is talking and making all this noise, her thoughts remain on you.”
Draco couldn’t believe it. She had defended him and clearly she was still deep in thought and it took Ron’s shoving her practically off her seat for her to notice he was talking again.
“What?” She asked frustrated at being pulled from her concentration.
“Quit thinking about him and definitely don’t pity him. Malfoy wouldn’t spit on us if we were on fire. Besides, you don’t know what really goes on at his house. He probably has father's Death Eater friends over for Christmas and they probably kick the house elves around for a game of fun.”
“I don’t kick my house elves.” Draco defended. Except for the one time father made him punish one of them. He told Draco they had to learn to fear him, but he didn’t want to do it.
“You really think that’s what it’s like at Malfoy Manor?” She glared.
“Yes. I do. But even if I’m wrong and it’s an entirely miserable event, then he certainly deserves it.” Ron was completely irritated now.
"Maybe if he had some happiness in his life, he wouldn't be like he is." She defended Draco once again.
“Why the bloody hell are we talking about him? It’s putting me in a sour mood.”
“Sorry, Ron. But you’re the one who brought him up again after you came back from your eggnog refill.” She quickly pointed out.
“Enough then.” He demanded.
“Fine.” But this time her eyes began staring into the fireplace, thinking of what it might be like if she were with Malfoy on Christmas Eve instead of a bitter and jealous Ronald Weasley.
“Can’t you see?” His grandfather pointed. “She doesn’t hate you, Draco. She is genuinely concerned and wishes you had happiness in your life.”
Draco was astonished. She cared, if even a little for him? He then pondered what she’d said about her own home life. Was it lonely like his? They had that in common and he was bewildered to think Granger could understand his loneliness on that level.
Things got louder again and Draco looked around at all the people. She was right. Draco’s Christmas was nothing like this. People never laughed or had a good time at Malfoy Manor. Never.
And in that thought, Draco Malfoy felt it… the slightest hint of jealously of the Weasley household. It made him uncomfortable and he cringed a bit.
Once again, his thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of deafening chimes. The Malfoy grandfather clock striking two in the morning.
“Come on, Draco. Time to move on.”
“It hasn’t been an hour already, has it?” He wanted to stay and watch Hermione as she went over to Ginny, trying to figure out what in the world the Weaslette was trying to knit. But then he sighed his disappointment, knowing it was time to leave.
“Where to now?” He asked with a rather mundane tone, unable to take his eyes off her.
“To a possible Christmas future.”
Draco found himself in an unfamiliar home. It was much more modern than the old Malfoy Manor, but just as grand. It looked quite new and elaborate. It was a home he’d love to live in one day.
He took in the beauty of the intricate patterns of the shiny marble floor. There was a quiet indoor waterfall that was magically defying gravity and going up. It drew his eyes upward to the ornately carved wood trim of gothic cathedral-style arches that lead up to the top of a stained glass domed ceiling.
It was a quiet, comfortable, octagon-shaped living area, lit up in all the right places that highlighted the architectural details. It was a bit dark, but in a romantic way, certainly not dreary.
"No. This is much better than Malfoy Manor." He commented in awe.
His eyes then went to a tall but thin Christmas tree that sat directly in the center of the room, whose top went high up into the grand space. He looked down then and swallowed hard, noticing that it too lacked any presents beneath it.
He turned from it and then noticed a familiar scene as he gawked at his older, thirty-something self sitting in a comfortable oversized leather chair.
“Huh. I still look pretty good at this age.” He smirked to his grandfather. “Sad and deep in thought as usual, but I don’t look too bad at all, if I do say so myself.” He said pleased.
But as he heard a woman’s heels clicking towards them, he grew more serious. As she came into view, Draco felt a little relieved.
“Astoria Greengrass? Thank God I didn’t end up with Pansy Parkinson!” He snickered for a second, but then realized he shouldn’t have been with Astoria either. “Wait. Blaise always wanted her.”
Blaise Zabini, Draco’s best friend since meeting on that first train ride to Hogwarts and being sorted into Slytherin House. He silently wondered why he would be with his best friend’s love.
It wouldn’t be under the realm of possibility for a Slytherin to go against another to land a mate. They took the phrase, “All’s fair in love and war” quite seriously. But Draco thought that when it came down to it, he would respect his friend and be loyal, never crossing those kinds of invisible lines.
The closer she moved toward them, the more concern young Draco felt.
Astoria looked professional and beautiful wearing a custom tailored ivory business suit, designer heels, and matching dragon leather handbag. Her hair was tied up in a perfect twist revealing star-like diamond earrings. But the expression on her face was one of desperate pain.
From the grand hallway, she took the few steps down into the living room space and once she stood next to the older Draco, she finally spoke.
“I’m leaving you, Draco.” She said to him, full of pent up emotion.
But the older Draco said nothing. He only stared blankly under their gift-less Christmas tree.
“Did you hear what I said?” She asked louder, demanding a response.
Draco remained calm. “This is your home, Astoria. You don’t have to leave it. I’ll be the one to move out.” He quietly offered.
She looked at him as if it were the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard.
“I planned and designed every inch of this house with you in mind, along with everything in it. I had hoped that you’d fall in love with the place. This was supposed to be our home, Draco, our dream. I cannot possibly live here with or without you. Not when everything about it reminds me of you. Can you understand that?” She said solemnly.
He exhaled slowly and bowed his head. “I fully understand. And I’m truly sorry.”
“Sorry for what? For loving someone else?” She huffed.
“No. For marrying you, thinking it would somehow make a difference.” He said sadly.
She looked at the ground and sighed. “I suppose that it was partly my fault. I married the rich and powerful Draco Malfoy knowing your heart wasn’t fully mine. But honestly, I had hoped that in time you’d come around and learn to love me.”
She ever so slowly sat down on the sofa closest to his favorite chair. “But oh, how wrong was I?” She added.
“Astoria... I do commend you for trying so hard, for so long. It certainly wasn’t for your lack of trying.” He paused. “For what it’s worth, I deeply care for you and I’m truly sorry that you feel the need to leave.”
“I feel the need to be loved, Draco. Deeply caring for someone is not the same as loving them. I’ve tried everything I know to do to have you open your heart to me, aside from using a magical potion or hex, but nothing has ever worked. I wondered then if maybe I was trying too hard. But recently, I’ve come to the realization that the problem is that I will never be her, which is something I cannot work on or fix. So I’ve decided to quit torturing my self esteem and go find love elsewhere.”
She placed a well manicured hand to her stomach then and her face looked as if she were going to be sick.
“You and Blaise have my blessing.” He said knowingly.
She gasped silently and gave him a ‘how did you know’ look.
“Blaise has been my best friend since we were First Years at Hogwarts, Astoria. I know him as well as I know myself. You have a brief past and he has always loved you.” He revealed firmly. “It practically killed him to stand as my best man and listen to you pledge your life to me at our wedding.”
It was her turn to be silent as she let that little revelation sink in.
“Despite Blaise going behind my back and having an affair with my wife, I still consider him my best friend. More like the brother I never had, to be honest. With that said, I couldn’t pick a better man for you. He loves you fully where I could not.”
“Your blessing cuts deep as you don’t even seem the slightest bit upset at our affair. Not a hint of jealousy on your lips.”
“Maybe it’s because your affair was no surprise and looking at it now, entirely inevitable. I’ve already forgiven you both.” He added, staring back under the tree.
“Too easily, Draco! Honestly, did you ever love me at all?” She asked, her voice growing emotional.
“You picked me up from the depths of my own private hell and saved my life, Astoria. I will always love you for that.” He said with a slightly irritated look.
“No. You will always be grateful for that. But gratitude is not the same as love either.” She looked away from him then, but continued. “You never did love me, did you? Not like you did her.”
When she received no answer, Astoria’s heart broke for him for the last time.
She decided then that it was time to tell him a little revelation of her own, one that tore at her insides. If he didn’t feel love for her, then she wanted him to feel guilt.
“Did you know that I was able to sense that when we went to bed, it was her in your mind that you were making love to and not me?”
Both Dracos looked up at her somewhat surprised.
“Do you know what that does to a woman who loves you? Do you?” She practically yelled.
He didn’t want to admit it, but it was true. When he closed his eyes, he wasn’t thinking of Astoria. He thought the strength of his Occlumency skill was enough to keep her out of his head. The truth made him feel like a cheating bastard.
She continued. “I would allow it because that’s the only loving affection I could get from you. As false as it was, I took what I could get. How pathetic!” She scolded herself. “You would say her name in your sleep, stabbing me in the heart every time you did it.”
She took out a tissue from her purse and dabbed at her eyes, while he remained silent.
“While I appreciate that you never physically cheated, you were unfaithful to me in your heart, which is much worse. I’d rather that I would’ve caught you having meaningless sex with a whore!” She cried out.
But Draco had heard enough. If there was one thing that irritated him about Astoria, it was her unwavering will to overly-dramatize everything. Not that she wasn’t fully telling the truth.
“None of this was ever my intention, Astoria. I never meant to hurt you in any way. I thought I could move on. There was a time when you certainly had me convinced it was possible, which is why I married you.”
“I wouldn’t wish our one-sided kind of marriage on my worst enemy. Loving someone who is incapable of loving you back is hell and torture and I’ve put myself through it far too long.”
She swallowed hard, reached into her handbag, and pulled out a legal envelope.
“I know of your disdain for Christmas presents, Draco, but I think you’ll appreciate this one.” She said, handing it to him.
“What is it?” He asked with a disgusted sigh.
“An easy... divorce,” she voiced with her heart in her throat, as fresh quiet tears rolled down her cheeks at the mention of the foul word.
He opened the package to see a simply written legal document granting her freedom and the return of her maiden name.
“You only ask to keep your wedding ring?” Draco asked in disbelief. “No alimony, no lump sum payment, no real estate holdings, nothing from our home, and not a dime of the Malfoy fortune?” He read out loud. “You actually spelled that out?” He looked up at her in disbelief.
“I want nothing from you, Draco. Our marriage was never about money. I loved you, you blind son of bitch! I only want my wedding ring.” She dabbed at her eyes again trying to regain her composure. “Blaise probably won’t like it, but I want to keep it as a reminder that I was indeed married to Draco Malfoy, the love of my life.”
“Blaise Zabini is the love of your life.” He gently corrected.
“I do hope so,” she replied with a whisper.
Draco looked back at the divorce decree. It was on their lawyer's letterhead with all the right signatures, witnesses, dates, etc...
“Are you absolutely certain that you want nothing else?” He questioned intently.
She nodded with tormented, closed eyes. “I’m sure.”
With that, Draco picked up a quill from a nearby desk, signed the document, wax sealed it with the official Malfoy crest, and handed her the freedom she requested.
Draco turned to his grandfather. “Blaise loved her all his life. How did we end up together?”
He turned to Draco with a tap of his cane. “None of that matters actually. Why aren’t you asking the real question presented here? As in, who you couldn’t get out of your head?”
“Because I already know the answer,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Hermione Granger.”
“No.” The old man gently corrected. “Hermione Malfoy.”
“Show me what happened to us, Grandfather. I must know.”
“Fine, but I must warn you. This one is going to be... most painful.” His grandfather warned.
“This is going to be ridiculous.” Draco grumbled as the Malfoy grandfather clocked chimed to signal three in the morning.
Hermione can tell something is wrong and wishes Draco had some happiness in his life. And he has come to realize that they might share a common ground... loneliness.
And for Astoria, well... even in the prettiest of packages, money can't buy love. ;(
Thanks so much for reading,