The Hogwarts Express platform was more crowded than Draco had seen it before, or perhaps he simply perceived it that way because he was looking for a certain brunette. Everyone suddenly seemed to have brown hair and every face seemed to bear her freckles and smile. Hermione, where was she?
Draco closed his eyes and shook his head, mentally scolding himself. It was ridiculous, what could he expect to happen? What would he say, do, if he laid eyes on her again? And now the Hogwarts Express could be heard, it would be nearing them soon, stopping; he couldn't do anything in front of their children. It was ludicrous. Disappointment spread within him, making him ache and feel slightly nauseous.
But still, he hoped.
He leaned against a brick wall and watched as the Express slowly came to a halt, steam clouding his vision. The few minutes left before the pupils jumped on the platform allowed him to eye the proud and impatient parents surrounding him. There was Potter and his wife, Ginny, holding mittened hands and waiting eagerly for their sons and daughter. Ginny's cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright; Potter couldn't stop grinning. They had aged fairly well. Potter had kept most of his hair and Ginny had not gained a pound, in stark contrast to her own mother at that age. Draco rubbed his ungloved hands together, suddenly aware of how cold he was. Looking up at the grey sky, he decided that it would probably snow soon.
A little further down the platform was Pansy and Blaise Zabini. Pansy, a few pounds heavier, wrapped in a bright red coat, waiting for her only son, and Blaise, handsome as ever, his dark eyes roaming the platform like Draco. Their gazes met for a moment. Blaise whispered something to his wife, and before Draco knew it, the Zabinis were heading towards him.
'Draco, long time,' Blaise muttered. Draco shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
'Yeah... I'm sorry about last summer, me and Scorpius were - uh - busy.'
Surprisingly, Pansy leaned forward and kissed Draco on both cheeks, then withdrew and tucked her arm under Blaise's. Draco smelled her perfume hover in the air and smiled with nostalgia at the reminder of his old girlfriend.
'That's all right, Draco, we've heard all about Asteria. A better match after that Henrietta creature you first paired up with.'
Draco cleared his throat angrily but sustained from responding. The other parents were looking at them curiously.
'Yeah. Asteria has put you on the guest list, don't worry.' It was true; Draco had been most surprised when she had added the pair of old Death Eaters, but he suspected it was one of her desperate attempts to please him.
'But I hope you're welcoming us, too?' Pansy smiled.
'Of course,' Draco answered graciously, wishing he could get away from them. It brought him back to old Death Eater times, days he did not like to remember.
'Maybe we could go for a drink or something one of these days, all of us,' Blaise suggested. 'It's been too long.'
'We'll see,' Draco sighed, 'the kids are coming.'
Scorpius was his saviour, and he was thankful that the Zabinis' son, Gabriel, had chosen to arrive at that moment, too. Having been playmates with his son when they were younger, Draco recognized him easily, but still wondered why he was looking so sullen.
As Draco walked the short distance to where his son was standing, arm around an auburn-haired girl, relief replaced the disappointment he had been feeling - at least Scorpius looked healthy and happy. He put an arm around his son, his flesh and blood, and drew him closer, realizing only then how much he had missed him.
'Wow, it appears that you missed me,' Scorpius said, laughter in his eyes.
'What a load of rubbish,' Draco grinned. He set his eyes on the girl. There was no mistaking who she was; she resembled her parents too much. 'And who is this?'
'Dad, this is Lily.' Scorpius drew a breath and added as an attempt at an afterthought, 'Potter.'
'Pleased to meet you, Mr Malfoy,' Lily said politely, shaking his hand. Draco smiled, wondering how much the girl knew about his past and whether or not it scared her. Had the Potters warned her against the Malfoys, it had clearly made little difference, for as soon as they released their hands, she put an arm around Scorpius' waist.
'I hear that you've inherited your mother's Quidditch gene,' Draco said, smiling lightly. 'Ginny was a fantastic player.'
'I do my best,' Lily laughed, 'but with a father and mother who were both known for Quidditch in their Hogwarts days, I can't really do anything else, can I?'
'She's an ace, Dad, you should see her,' Scorpius said, smiling.
Draco grinned again, but turned around, slightly uncomfortable. He knew that Scorpius must say goodbye to his girlfriend and didn't want to be in the way. He wished there was a parent he could go talk to. The Potters saved him the trouble, however; they were heading his way. Draco frowned in anticipation.
'There you are, Lily,' Ginny murmured, eyeing Scorpius curiously. 'Al and James are waiting for you.'
'Hello Malfoy,' Harry said. Draco nodded in his direction, not quite sure whether the greeting was polite or not. Scorpius was looking rather nervous.
'Pleased to meet you, Mr Potter - Mrs Potter,' Scorpius said anxiously. Lily laid a hand on his arm, her round eyes on her father, quietly asking him not to make a scandal. Ginny saved her by shaking Scorpius' hand.
'You too, Scorpius, I've heard quite a bit about you from Lily. We'd love to stop and chat, of course, but it is rather freezing. Why don't you come round for lunch this weekend?'
Draco looked at Ginny, surprised, but she was ignoring him. Scorpius thanked her while Potter simply stared at the ground. Finally, Lily bestowed a kiss on Scorpius' cheek (to which his face burned), and before long, all they could see of her was a flash of auburn hair amidst the slowly falling snowflakes.
'Well,' Draco smiled, patting Scorpius on the back, 'she seems perfect.'
Scorpius did not say anything. He had spotted Rose descending the train, struggling with her carriage as her younger brother, Hugo, scolded her for moving too slowly. Draco followed his gaze; his eyes landed not on Rose, nor on Hugo, but on Hermione, her thin arms wrapped around her body, trembling in the cold, a ghost of a smile on her face as she watched her children. He had not noticed how much she had changed for the worse when he had last seen her; or perhaps it was simply because she had always been so good at performing. But here, while she thought no one was watching her, he became aware of the fact of just how much she needed somebody to look after her. His heart ached with affection - why could it not be him?
'Why don't you get your -'
'I'll go get my -'
Scorpius and Draco spoke at the same time. They grinned at each other as Scorpius nodded and ascended the train once more to get his trunk.
'I'll wait for you by the car!' Draco shouted after him.
The crowd on the platform was thinning now, and the snowflakes seemed blocked by the perpetual hovering of trunks. Draco watched carefully as Rose and Hugo finished moving Rose's trunk next to Hermione, then climbed aboard again to get Hugo's, leaving Draco with the perfect chance of cornering Hermione.
He walked up to her as close as possible without being seen, taking a moment to fully look at her. Her hair was a lanky mess and her body was shaking in the cold. She had not moved her arms, still wrapped firmly around herself. He took a deep breath and a step forward. His hand moved forwards and touched her right shoulder. She turned slowly, putting a smile on her face, which froze the moment she faced him.
'Draco,' she said.
He had not heard her say his name in a long time, and he thought it was another sign of her vulnerability. Close to, she was looking more worn than ever, especially without her usual sharp, smart business clothes and tight hairbun.
'The children,' she continued, 'they'll be back any minute.'
'I don't care,' Draco answered truthfully, 'Hermione, what's going on? You look -' He searched for words that were neither hurtful nor false, but could not find any. Hermione hung her head, conscious of what he was saying.
'This isn't your job, you know,' she said, 'I chased you from it. I told you I couldn't.'
'You chose Ron,' he finished for her. She closed her eyes shut. If he had been able to read her mind, he would have been aware of how many times she had thought this over and regretted that decision. It had torn her apart, it had prevented her from sleeping; the longing for Draco, the guilt for longing him, the doubt about whether she had done the right thing. Why else would she look so bleak?
But he could not read her mind.
'The children will be here soon,' she repeated, licking her lips anxiously, not knowing what else to say.
Draco didn't even think, he was simply guided by his instinct; he laid both hands on her elbows and pulled her a little closer to him. She gasped at the contact, but did not protest. Was she flushed with pleasure, as he was, or was she afraid of being seen?
'I'm fine, Draco,' she whispered, not able to meet his glance. The repetition of his name, once again, proved to him that she was far from fine.
'Is this because of me? Say it's because of me. Let me make it right.'
'I told you,' Hermione answered angrily, pulling away from him, 'that's not your job. You've got Asteria to worry about now.'
'Damn it, Hermione,' he growled, 'even when you're unhappy, you're bloody selfless. Think about yourself for once, do me that favour.'
He took a step closer to her; he could not help it, he hated being both so close and so far from her. She did not move, but met his glance. Brought back to their first kiss, Draco reached for her hand and drew lazy circles on her wrist. They were both mesmerized, completely oblivious.
'All right. All right, I'm not fine,' she breathed, surrendering to the intensity of his stare. 'God, I miss you. I miss you so much.'
She wished she had not said it, but he, on the contrary, felt waves of joy erupt inside him, even with the knowledge that there was little he could do to comfort her. He drew her closer still, until they were waist to waist, chest to chest, and almost lip to lip. He had forgotten about everything but this electrifying contact; Hermione had not.
'Not here,' she whispered, 'the children - everyone is staring - not here.'
Then where, he wanted to ask, where and how and when and why? How would they be together, how should they be together: as man and wife, as lovers, friends? Why was she eternally keeping him away from what he longed to know, why did she never answer questions? Why the distance, why the shield?
She had turned her back towards him. He was torn between wrenching her around and kissing her or fleeing the station in rage. He chose the latter.
Scorpius moved slowly towards his compartment, which by now was empty. With a flick of his wand, the trunk levitated and hovered into the hallway; he managed to guide it down the passage where he knew Rose was struggling with her own. Finally, he saw them, Rose and Hugo, squashed as they heaved with the trunk.
'Need some help?' he suggested. Rose looked up, eyes narrowed. Hugo nodded gratefully. 'Wingardium Leviosa.' Miraculously, the trunk hovered and followed Scorpius' own down the passage; Hugo shook his hand.
'Thanks, mate,' he panted, 'I've lost my bloody wand and Rose can't figure out the spell.'
'Shut it, Hugo!' Rose said angrily, whacking her smaller brother on the head. Scorpius restrained laughter. To escape his sister, Hugo fled down the passage towards his friends, leaving an uncomfortable silence between Scorpius and Rose. She was not as small nor as scrawny as her younger brother, who had been able to duck underneath the trunks to find his friends; she found herself standing next to Scorpius with blocked access both behind and in front of her. The pleasure of this close contact blocked out the mystery of Rose not being able to perform simple magic properly and he smirked lazily at her.
'Well, are you going to move or not?' she said angrily. Scorpius gave an ironic bow of the head and did as she asked. Rose was feeling uncomfortable to the extreme. Their last encounter had been something that had kept her awake at times; she had never been that open to anyone, least of all this boy who she despised. It had made her reconsider him and wonder how and when she had started hating him. Telling her that he was not like his father had been a beginning to her gradual approval of him, though she was scarcely aware of it. She fidgeted uncomfortably with herself, then finally cleared her throat.
'I don't know how to say this, really, but I'm - I'm sorry about the last time, I... I didn't mean to - to -'
'It's OK,' Scorpius shrugged. 'We don't have to talk about it.'
Typical of the boy to assume that she didn't want to talk about it! She looked away from him angrily, but to her surprise, he pursued the subject.
'I meant it, though. I wouldn't break up a family. I don't really know how responsible my dad is for anything that might have torn your family apart for a bit back then, but I wouldn't ever do that.' He looked at Rose. 'I wouldn't ever hurt someone.'
She had not met his gaze, so he surveyed her features instead. Her cheeks were red and her hair was dark red and nobody could not deny that she was not deadly beautiful. He looked away, producing the image of Lily and her auburn hair, dimples and toothy smile to replace this burning, dreadfully persistent desire he felt in his chest.
'I believe you,' she suddenly said in a quiet voice.
'What?' he exclaimed in astonishment. They had reached the exit. Rose finally looked at him.
'I believe you.'
She jumped off the compartment and ran towards her mother. Scorpius stood in amazement for a moment, something in his stomach jumping excitedly about; then he flicked his wand and the trunk landed neatly beside Rose, more beautiful than ever.
The excitement of the Malfoy-Greengrass wedding had reached its pinnacle. It came to such a point that it was all that everyone talked about - everyone except the Weasley family.
Ron did not talk about it because he knew what Draco Malfoy had once felt for his wife, and thought that the subject might be delicate to Hermione, though she could not possibly still love him. Hugo did not talk about it because he could not care less, young as he was. Rose did not talk about it because Lily had told her that Scorpius had invited her to the wedding, and the faint feeling of jealousy inside her only increased when she imagined them dancing to a romantic waltz at the venue. Finally, Hermione did not talk about it because she was possessed with a strange desire to throw a vase at a wall every time it was mentioned. So mostly they all kept quiet.
Draco woke up next to Asteria two days before the wedding, feeling something that a future husband should not feel: doubt. It had been little less than three days since he had held Hermione in his arms, and the intensity he had felt then had been far more promising than the future predicted for him and Asteria.
Settling himself more comfortably on his right side, he watched Asteria breathe. Her right shoulder and arm was exposed; the rest was tucked under the sheets. Her skin glistened in the weak morning sunlight, very pale even for the month of December. She was far younger than Hermione, and seemed it too, and he had thought that was what he wanted when he proposed to her; a fresh start, someone who did not have a complicated past, as both he and Hermione had had. But her youth had never been an advantage, really. She was still too close to her father, too dependent on others. He realized that with the marriage, she would cease to depend on Daddy Greengrass, and now depend on him entirely. Was that a good thing? Was that not what he wanted from her?
He shook his head and laid a finger on her shoulderblade, tracing the rays of sunlight slowly. He heard her breathing quicken as she slowly woke up, turned around and opened her eyes with difficulty.
'Draco?' she murmured. 'What are you doing?'
'Thinking,' he said truthfully.
She chuckled sleepily.
'Never a good sign,' she yawned. She rolled on top of him and laid a kiss on his lips. He returned it willingly, enveloping her in his arms and wrapping the sheets more tightly around them both. It was a cold morning outside and it had not stopped snowing since he had picked Scorpius up. She seemed to read his mind.
'Won't it look beautiful, the wedding I mean, with snow all over the roof of the manor and the lawn and the frozen pond?' she said dreamily. Draco nodded, sighing. It was natural for her to think of the wedding, he said to himself, but he was getting sick of it being the only thing she thought of.
'Scorpius is bringing a girl, you know.'
'Really?' she questioned, startled. She nestled herself closer to his chest. 'I'm glad. He won't be half so sad that I'm taking his dad away.'
Draco ran his fingers through her blonde hair, tucking it behind her right cheek. He did not know how to respond. He knew Asteria was joking, but suddenly her sense of humor no longer amused him.
Would Hermione have said that?
'It's Lily Potter, you know.'
'Oh,' she breathed, 'now that's a little surprising. It's a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing, then?'
'I'm not against it,' Draco muttered. 'Romeo and Juliet would be you and me, darling.'
'Narcissa loves me,' Asteria protested. Her face turned into a frown as she realized what he meant. 'Oh. You mean you and my dad. He likes you, Draco, he really does... He just needs to get used to things, that's all.'
Draco sighed and shifted Asteria over to the other side of the bed, not wanting to get into this discussion again. To avoid making the moment poignant, he stood up and began getting dressed. Asteria followed him with her eyes, then did likewise in silence.
Scorpius was already up by the time they had entered the kitchen, drinking hot chocolate and wolfing down a bowl of cereals. He licked his spoon clean and grinned at them, looking abnormally happy even for him. It was also rather unusual for him to be up so early; Scorpius was known for his tendency to sleep till noon.
'Morning Dad,' he said, as Draco smiled at him and went to start making coffee. 'Stepmother dearest,' he grinned, as Asteria leaned forward to kiss Scorpius on the cheek.
'You're looking remarkably cheerful today, Scorp,' Asteria said curiously, as she poured orange juice for herself. Scorpius put his glass next to hers and she poured for him too. Draco surveyed the scene with interest. 'I can guess why, something to do with Lily Potter, I hear?'
Something passed across Scorpius' face for a fraction of a second, but only Draco noticed. He frowned, not understanding what it was, but Asteria carried on without noticing.
'Ah, the troubles of young love,' she sighed, sitting down opposite Draco and slicing a grapefruit.
'Yes, how old are you again, Asteria?' Scorpius joked. She laughed and Scorpius stood up, taking his glass of juice with him. 'Well, I'm off to Diagon Alley. People to meet, places to go... wedding presents to purchase,' he added slyly. 'I'll be back before lunch.'
Draco watched as his son retreated into his room, taking his seat and pushing his empty bowl aside. It was the first time that he had ever felt a faint stab of jealousy towards his son; jealousy at how easy Scorpius must have it; how easy love was for him.
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