It was just eight o' clock when Hermione shut and locked the door behind her, feeling a sort of happy exhaustion at the fact that another day had succesfully ended.
Hermione and Ron's cottage was not very large, but enough to accommodate two adults and two children. The kitchen was on the main floor, and it was in this room that Hermione found Ron, sitting by the wooden, round, scrubbed dining table and doing today's crossword. She smiled at this sight, but the smile quickly vanished as she faced the rest of the kitchen: dishes and plates were piled high by the sink, leftovers were on the stove and none of the surfaces had been cleaned. Irritation and anger spread throughout Hermione - she could not even come home to a tidy house after a long day's work.
'Hello sweetheart,' said Ron, as he looked up and saw Hermione. He reached out for her arm and pulled her to him, giving her a light peck on the lips. 'Here, give us a hand: Three letters: takes up a lot of room and can be annoying
'How about your ego?' snapped Hermione as she dropped her briefcase on the floor and walked towards the sink, withdrawing her wand as she did so.
'What are you doing?' asked Ron, as he saw his wife walk away from him. Water poured out of her wand. 'I was about to do those!'
'But you didn't!' yelled Hermione angrily. 'D'you think I like coming home to this? Damn it, Ron, you can't even clean a kitchen!'
'Don't talk to me like that!' roared Ron, throwing the Daily Prophet
away from him. 'I told you I was about to do it!'
'You're always about
to do things,' Hermione raged, scrubbing with all her strength, as if her anger would disappear the harder she scrubbed. 'You never actually do them. The treehouse? Hugo's treehouse? Have you built it? No. Have you written a letter to Rose in the past six months? No. What about that dinnerparty we owe Harry and Ginny -'
'Well, if you'd just make
the damn meal, then we could have one -'
'I CAN'T DO EVERYTHING, RON!' shouted Hermione at the top of her lungs, and water splashed everywhere. 'I work 12 hours a day -'
'There we go again!' yelled Ron in a voice as loud as Hermione's. 'Always on about your work, how you're
the one who puts food on the table, how you're
responsible for the whole family -'
'Well, it's true, isn't it?'
'Yeah, you know what,' breathed Ron, and his voice was suddenly low, furious - the worst thing Hermione had heard that evening. He reached for his jacket. 'You're right. You're the winner. I'm the loser.'
'So, you know what, Hermione? You can just keep this bloody house to yourself. I'm going to George's.'
Hermione watched helplessly as her husband grabbed his keys from the table and walked towards the door.
'Don't bother coming back then!' she managed to yell before he slammed the door.
Hermione continued scrubbing for a few minutes, trying to distract herself, to convince herself that they were still happy, that this was just a phase... Then she sunk to her knees with a desperate sob, her hands and face soaking with mingled tears and soap water.
'Wow, Granger, you look terrible.'
Hermione had dark shadows under her eyes; she hadn't been able to sleep. Her hair needed washing and her face was very strained. Malfoy's brow was furrowed as he sat down opposite her.
'What are you doing here?' sighed Hermione, reaching for a cup of coffee.
'I managed to convince Polly to give me an appointment this morning. Did you fall out a tree or something, because -'
'Could you just,' answered Hermione agressively, 'leave my appearance out of this, please? It's none of your business.'
She took a sip of coffee and rubbed one of her eyes, then reached out for Malfoy's file.
'Trouble with some people is that they work too hard,' he continued quietly. Hermione ignored him.
'What was your wife's maiden name?'
'Bennet. Seriously, Granger, are you sure you're -'
'Henrietta Bennet,' interrupted Hermione loudly, 'I've never heard of that name before.'
'Probably because she's a Muggle,' said Malfoy, one eyebrow raised.
Hermione looked up. She continued to be shocked by Malfoy. Malfoy, the pureblood, Malfoy, the snob, marry a Muggle? She couldn't believe it.
'Why look so disbelieving, Granger?'
'What, you think I'm incapable of falling in love?'
'You said it was a loveless marriage.'
'Not to begin with,' sighed Malfoy. 'It never is to begin with.'
Hermione was grateful at that moment that she spilled her cup of coffee, for tears had filled her eyes, and the sensation of scalding coffee on her hand gave her an excuse to dry her eyes.
'Damn it! Sorry -'
Malfoy searched for a white, silk handkerchief inside his jacket and took it out. Hermione held out her hand for it, but he disregarded this, and took her hand between his. He dried the coffee gently away. He was concentrating on what he was doing so he did not see Hermione's eyes search him wonderingly, as if surprised at this soft gesture.
'Thanks,' she muttered, and withdrew her hand. She gave the handkerchief back to him. 'Well, I talked to a colleague about your file, and he thinks that the best thing to do is to cite irreconcilible differences, because that way -'
But Malfoy wasn't listening. He had been lost in the touch of Hermione's soft skin, and had difficulty shaking himself awake. He had not expected to feel something like that so suddenly, after a hard seperation between himself and his wife, much less something coming from Granger, a girl he had detested, though respected, since he were eleven. It couldn't have happened; he had imagined it.
Hermione's last client had cancelled, so she came home early that evening, in time to tuck Hugo in and hopefully get some sleep. When she walked into the kitchen, she saw Ron sitting by the table again, this time his head in his hands. The kitchen was very clean.
'Hermione,' he said croakily as he saw her and stood up instantly. He envelopped her in his arms. Hermione let out a sigh of relief and relaxed in them. 'I'm so, so sorry. I don't know what happened.'
They walked over to the table. Ron had poured them both a glass of wine and made pasta. Though it was inedible, Hermione smiled and got some of it down out of pure happiness.
'I don't know either,' she said. 'We're just... It's not getting any better.'
'I know,' agreed Ron earnestly, 'I know, and I want it to be... I love you so much.'
Hermione smiled in complete bliss and took his hand in hers. Of course they were happy, of course theirs was a good marriage, how could she ever have thought otherwise?
'But... Maybe we're just working too hard...'
Hermione, who had been sipping her wine, choked and set the glass back on the table. She could already sense a fight building, like the calm before the storm.
'Working too hard?' she said testily. 'Ron, I'm working this hard so we can get a bigger place. Maybe if you didn't mess around in WWW for five Galleons an hour, we might afford -'
'Don't keep insulting George's shop!' snapped Ron.
'My point exactly!' exclaimed Hermione. 'It's George's
shop, not yours... Ron, you're...' Hermione sighed, forcing herself to stay calm as she took Ron's hand once more. Her voice was gentle. 'Ron, you're not Fred. You never will be. George can't get Fred back, no matter how hard you try.'
She thought for a moment that she had succeeded, but then was proved wrong; Ron let go of her hand and, in speechless rage, stormed upstairs. She heard the door to their bedroom slam and downed the rest of her wine in one, preparing for another sleepless night on the couch.
She woke up early the next morning. She had been thinking about it all night and had come to a decision. Ron was still in bed when she packed two suitcases - one for her and one for Hugo. She was just making coffee when Ron came downstairs. His eye on the luggage, he said:
'What the hell is this?'
Hermione looked at him resolutely, determined.
'We need some time apart, Ron,' she said calmly. 'I can't live like this anymore, it's affecting my work. I need to think, I need to sleep... It'll do us good.'
Struggling with emotions, Ron did not seem to know what to say.
'I'm taking him with me. You need time to think too, Ron. Now there's... there's two weeks left till Rose comes back home for her summer holidays... By then, I think... Maybe we'll have had time enough to decide whether - whether this is really what we want for eachother.'
Ron nodded. He did not know what else to do.
The first week was difficult for Hermione. She moved into a hotel near the Ministry and picked up most of Hugo's toys in the course of a few days, but she could tell that her son wasn't happy. He longed for a home-cooked meal, he longed for his own bed, and most of all, he longed for his father. Ron picked him up in the mornings, but couldn't spend more than a few hours with him; the jokeshop was always busy in the afternoon.
'Mummy,' yawned Hugo, as Hermione tucked him on the 13th evening away from Ron.
'What is it, sweetheart?'
'Are you angry with Daddy?'
Hermione considered the question. She did not like lying, but she couldn't draw her seven year old son into her problems.
'Of course not, darling, Daddy just needs some peace and quiet for a while...'
'And then we'll go home?'
Hermione didn't answer; she couldn't. What was she to say? Make a promise she might not be able to keep? She stroked her son's hair and thought he looked just like his father. He had long, wavy red locks and eyes the same shade of blue.
'Rosie will be home soon,' Hermione whispered, changing the subject as her son slowly fell asleep, 'and then we'll go home... I love you, Hugo.'
'I love you too, Mummy,' murmured the boy, and then he was sleeping.
Hermione shut the light and closed the door to their room, number 335. She suddenly felt like she needed a drink, and decided to do something she never did; go to the downstairs bar for something strong.
'What can I get you, Miss?' asked the bartender five minutes later.
'Glass of white wine, please,' answered Hermione, stretching her long legs against her stool and groaning. The bartender smiled at her sympathetically.
'Granger? What in Merlin's name are you doing her?'
Hermione whirled around and saw the last person she wanted to see in this very moment, dishevelled and exhausted as she was: Draco Malfoy, wearing yellow Healer's robes, his blonde hair messy, his eyes as tired as hers.
'Where did you come from?' she asked irritably.
'Some sort of fight in the kitchens. Two cooks got their feet turned into giant marshmallows,' said Malfoy, pointing behind him. Surely enough, there stood a gathering of about five people in the same colour robes, eyeing Malfoy as they unpacked Healing instruments.
'Oh. Well don't let me keep you.'
'What are you doing here? Don't you live out in some sort of cottage in the country?' he asked curiously.
'Don't let me keep you,' repeated Hermione a little more forcibly, and Malfoy shrugged and took off. Hermione returned to her wine.
She was so immersed in her thoughts that only an hour later did she finish her first glass and was on to her second. By then, Malfoy had finished with the marshmallowed cooks and had gone up to sit next to her.
'I'll have the same as her,' said Malfoy to the bartender and Hermione stared at him, annoyed.
'I didn't ask you to join me, Malfoy,' she said.
'What, you want to be alone?'
Malfoy watched her. He knew it wasn't the truth. She was looking more glum than ever.
'Well, too bad, Granger. St. Mungo's doesn't need me for the rest of the evening.' He sipped his wine. 'Come on, tell me your troubles.'
Hermione shook her head. She felt a slight headache coming on and blamed Malfoy. It was difficult to think, to keep her head clear and be witty and sharp; there were too many emotions in her to be able to distinguish the difference between each and every one.
'I don't have any troubles.' She stood up. 'Goodnight Malfoy. My son is waiting for me.'
She knew it was a mistake the moment she had said it; Malfoy did a double take and stared.
is staying here?'
'No - I - momentarily -'
'There really must be trouble in the ideal marriage then, eh, Granger?'
Hermione could have slapped him, but felt the strength leave her. Why slap him? It was the truth, wasn't it? She had failed. She had failed the longest relationship of her life. The most important and valuable thing in her life had no meaning anymore. She turned around and walked away from Malfoy, desiring nothing more than to be alone. But Malfoy caught up with her within seconds and grasped her arm. She quickly backed away from him.
'I - I'm sorry -' he stammered. He sighed. 'Granger, I've been through this too.' His voice was quiet. 'Don't shut yourself in. Don't... Don't shut others out. Don't shut me
out. I - I've been there - I know what it is -'
'You don't know anything,' Hermione spat. 'My marriage is fine. It's just a bit... We're just going through a phase... We'll be fine...'
Malfoy seemed to eye her almost with tenderness in his expression for a moment.
'Come and sit down,' he said, and he steered her towards one of the comfy benches. They sat in silence for several long minutes, neither knowing what to say.
'Her suitcase was packed one morning,' Malfoy suddenly started, his throat dry. Hermione looked up. 'She didn't even say a word. We had just seen Scorpius off to Hogwarts a week ago. She couldn't stand it anymore. She couldn't be part of a magical world in which she had no place.'
There was another pause, and Hermione said nothing, but Malfoy took it as a sign to continue.
'I met her in a shop. She was scruffy and independant and loud... and intelligent. She was looking for this teapot... And we had found one we both liked and... We got into this big fight about who was entitled to it.' Malfoy grinned at the memory; Hermione had never seen him grin, only smirk, and she thought it enhanced his features in a pleasant way. 'In the end, I bought it for her. The least she could do was have a cup of tea made in it with me. The first thing we shared... Of course, I thought Father would be furious... Falling in love with a Muggle, what a crime! But after the War... he wasn't himself... And Mother was rather indifferent. And so we married. Henrietta was the most perfect thing that had ever happened to me, until Scorpius was born.'
'He looks just like you,' murmured Hermione, and Malfoy smiled at her.
'He's more like his mother. Quick, sharp. But you know, years just pass, and there was nothing we could talk about anymore... She couldn't care less about magic, she's a Muggle. I didn't want to accept reality, I refused to see things as they were - hopelessly over. So she left me. And I just want to make sure that I keep Scorpius. Scorpius is a wizard, Granger... He doesn't belong in his mother's Muggle world, he doesn't belong in some Muggle boarding school - Hen is determined to squash the magic out of him now she's ended all association with me.'
Malfoy sighed bitterly, having finished his tale. He ordered two coffees from the waiter and they both sat in silence. Hermione was thinking about what Malfoy had said 'So she left me
...' He did
have grounds for divorce, he could have gotten Scorpius if he only cited this reason - but he hadn't. He cared too much for the woman who had left him.
'Ron's been working at George's jokeshop,' Hermione finally said quietly. Malfoy looked up in interest. 'He's trying to be
Fred. He's trying to... I don't know... to make sure that everything is as it were... But it isn't, it isn't
...' Hermione sighed. 'He doesn't understand that I don't want Fred, I want him, I want Ron. Our children need a father, not a sibling, and if Ron doesn't grow up soon, that's all they'll have...'
'And you,' said Malfoy even more quietly, 'you need a husband.'
It wasn't a question, but a statement. Hemione turned red. It was true. She needed someone to share thoughts with, to talk to, to trust and confide in.
'Granger...' said Malfoy uncomfortably. 'Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?'
'I'm sorry,' said Hermione at once, feeling awkward, 'I can't. This... Ron and I aren't over, we...'
'Just dinner. You can bring Hugo,' said Malfoy. 'And I want you to meet my son. The kids will be coming home tomorrow.' He paused. 'He misses his mum. I don't know how to tell him...'
Hermione looked at the man opposite her, and saw his grey eyes, and felt compassion, even understanding. But she couldn't do it.
'I can't,' she said, and stood up. 'I'm really sorry. I have to deal with my marriage first. Goodnight, Malfoy.'
She walked away from the table and was heading up the stairs, when Malfoy suddenly called out:
'No dinner then, but I expect I'll see you tomorrow for our appointment?'
Hermione turned, nodded and smiled, then ran up the stairs and into her bedroom, where her son was fast asleep.