They completed most of the preparations quickly. Hermione had gone around with Harry and Ginny all day picking out dress robes, finding someone who could marry them on short notice, and filling out the appropriate paperwork. It had been exhausting to say the least.
The wedding was to take place the day after tomorrow and all that was left to do was clear out the garden a bit and set up a few decorations. They didn’t want anything fancy, so Ginny said just a few well-placed lanterns would do.
The garden was in pretty good condition considering that no one had tended it for the past several months, and Hermione intended to spend the entirety of the next day eliminating some of the weeds and trimming back some overgrown plants.
Hermione charged Twinkles with hiding all of the purchases they had made earlier, lest someone stumble upon them and figure out what was going on beforehand. Now that all of the Weasleys were here, she supposed it didn’t really matter, but Ginny really wanted it to be a surprise, so Hermione kept her end of the bargain and made sure that nothing slipped.
She now sat quite comfortably on one of the chairs they had set up in the library and looked about; noticing that they'd made excellent progress. It wasn’t quite done, but it was definitely shaping up. They would probably be able to finish it tomorrow, and for the first time since she had accepted Ginny’s proposal of her entire family coming Hermione was glad.
“Tired?” A familiar voice roused her from her observations.
“Yeah, a bit,” Hermione rubbed her eyes and looked over at her husband who stood looming in the doorway.
“Twinkles says dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.”
“Mmm. Can’t wait.” She reclined back into the chair and closed her eyes gently.
He came into the room and stood in front of her chair, pushing a strand of hair that fell across her face. Then, he leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“Ahem.” Hermione’s eyes fluttered open and looked to the side to see Ron standing slightly hunched near the entrance.
“Mum said to come and get you.” His face was pale, and he quickly turned away once he had delivered his message.
Hermione forced herself not to dwell on his odd appearance and instead lifted her hand out for Draco to help her up. They headed into the dining area just off the kitchen, only separated by sliding paper doors, and saw that the rest of the party were already seated at the table.
Hermione noted that Ron positioned himself at the far end with George, Angelina and Charlie hovering near him. Draco took his seat at the head of the table and Hermione sat down next to Ginny, facing Molly and Arthur The rest of the Weasleys all packed in between, and even though several people separated their bodies Hermione could still feel Ron’s presence.
Twinkles came out and slowly made her way about the table serving a first course of steaming soup. When the elf got to Ron, Hermione heard a sharp intake of breath and saw him stiffen, but his reaction disappeared just as quickly as it had come, and when she braved a small glance over she noticed that he had tucked into his soup with fervor.
No one else seemed to have noticed anything odd, or if they had, they were doing a spectacular job of pretending. So, Hermione continued eating her meal and focused solely on the bowl in front of her, trying her best not to think about the odd presence at her table.
The rest of the dinner passed in an uneventful blur, and Hermione only focused enough to realize that Ron had gotten up to leave right as she was taking her last bite of the green tea ice cream that Twinkles served. Everyone else at the table followed suit shortly after, and with little preamble the ladies all went to the library while Fleur took Victoire for her evening bath.
The men, although Hermione noted that the group lacked an extremely tall red head, all ambled into the study, even Draco. She was slightly worried. He had never been alone with more than two Weasleys at one time, and now he would be surrounded. He promised to be good though, and she was certain that he would stick to that promise.
“It’s really starting to come together,” Molly said.
“Thanks to you lot,” Hermione quickly responded.
They fell into idle chatter, and Hermione took this opportunity to look thoroughly at the progress and determine exactly what remained to be done. She strolled her fingers along the books already placed alphabetically and by genre in the bookshelf. She then perused the stack of boxes to see what was left to put up. She had just noted the filing cabinet out of her tote and placed neatly along the front wall when her eyes lit on her secret little box sitting atop it.
Her eyes widened and she rushed over to the fake book, grabbing it roughly up. She had completely forgotten that she had brought it, and wondered if anyone figured out what it was and looked inside it.
“You okay, Hermione?” Ginny broke into Hermione’s thoughts.
She turned around and plastered a smile on her face. “Yeah, um… I just need a minute; this is supposed to go in a different room.”
Hermione didn’t look back, or she might have noticed the look of awareness on Angelina’s face. She rushed down the hall and through the passageways into her and Draco’s little bedroom. Darting her eyes about the room to ensure that she was alone, she quickly opened the box. A groan escaped her lips when she saw its state of disarray.
Maybe everything just shifted during the move. Then she noticed the letter sitting at the top of her little stack was usually the one at the bottom, and that one of the pictures was completely missing. It was one of her favorites; Ron’s hand stretched out and held the camera while they kissed lightly and then pulled away grinning.
Don’t panic! Don’t Panic! She breathed heavily with the box clasped, held tightly against her chest.
“Everything okay?” Draco came into the room and made to take the book from her grasp. Hermione pulled away and clung, if possible, more tightly to it.
“Yes, yes, everything is fine.” She moved from the bed and placed the book carefully into the small bookshelf that was sitting in the corner. She turned her face to Draco and gave him a halfhearted smile. “Just a little overwhelming having all these people here.”
She noticed that his eyes stayed on the ‘book’ a moment longer, but then he came around and embraced her in a warm hug. “Yeah, it will be nice when it’s just the two of us again.”
Hermione didn’t say anything, but just let herself relax into his arms, making a genuine effort to quell her fears and ignore the elderly woman’s words that kept replaying over and over in her mind.
“And what do you think you’re doing?” A slow drawl came from the doorway.
Ron looked up from the desk drawer to see the cold grey eyes of Draco Malfoy staring down at him.
“Er… just looking for a book I think I left in here.”
Draco snorted. “Like you can read Weasel.”
Ron stood up to his full height at this, indignation coursing through his veins.
“Why would you think your ‘book’ was in my desk drawer?” Draco continued, but didn’t give Ron a chance to try to respond to his question. “I know what you are looking for, Weasel, and you won’t find it. I had nothing to do with your little kidnapping, though I must admit I am not sad that it happened.”
Ron scowled and moved towards Draco, standing almost half a foot taller than he did. Through clenched teeth he hissed, “I know you had something to do with it, Ferret, and when I find out what, you will be in Azkaban faster than Harry can catch a snitch.”
Draco just scoffed.
“There’s a witness, and you and your little curly haired accomplice had better beware because I’m onto you.”
There was a minor flash in Draco’s eyes before they went ice cold again and, feeling justified, Ron took that moment to shove past the former Slytherin and back to his room. His heart raced as he plopped himself onto his bed and took a few moments to breath in deeply to slow his pulse down.
Then he focused his mind on the interaction, recalling the slight flash in Draco’s eyes at the mention of a witness. That proved it, at least in his mind anyway. Draco definitely had something to do with his kidnapping, and he wouldn’t rest until he saw justice.
How could Hermione have married such a slimy git? He had pushed all thoughts of her out of his mind all night, but now that he was actually inactive he couldn’t control the direction that his thoughts went.
He pulled the picture from his pocket and looked on it. He couldn’t remember that day, or any of the days, but they looked so happy. Why did he have to find that stupid box? Why did she hold onto all that stuff? Why couldn’t he get her out of his mind? Why did she have to go and marry Malfoy? The last question forced him to shove the picture in the drawer by the bed. He slammed it shut with more force than he had intended and almost broke the lamp that sat atop it.
Ron rolled over onto his side facing away from the drawer and slowly fell into a fitful sleep.
Hermione awoke to see that Draco’s side of the bed was empty; he had risen early that morning to get some work done at the factory in town. She stretched her arms out, moved over into the middle of the bed, and languidly sprawled across the mattress. The morning light filtered through her eyelids, and after a moment of lying there, she realized that she would not be able to get back to sleep. Stretching once again, she rose from the bed and dressed in a pair of shabby shorts and t-shirt. She would be tending the garden that day and figured that it might get a bit messy.
Pulling her hair back into a loose ponytail, Hermione exited the bedroom and headed for the kitchen hoping to grab one of Twinkles excellent muffins and set to work. She was surprised to see everyone already awake and in the kitchen, eating and taking orders from Molly about what still needed to be done.
‘Good mornings’ were shared, and Hermione grabbed a muffin before heading outside to start the day’s work. She was using a slow but effective shearing charm on one of the bushes when she heard Ginny’s voice call out to her. She turned her head to see Ginny, Harry, and a hesitant Ron following in her wake.
“Hey, thought maybe you could use some help,” Ginny said cheerfully.
“Sure, that’d be great.”
Each of them took their places around the garden, and she heard various spells cast to trim hedges and prune flowers. The four of them worked diligently through the morning, while Hermione tried to maintain focus on her task rather than the deep voice behind her that kept muttering a weeding jinx slightly wrong.
After five minute of hearing “Dandee-lin-IUM” being shouted, she finally gave into her inner perfectionist and tersely said, “It’s Dandee- LIN- ium. The emphasis should be on the ‘lin’," and with a swish of her wand she performed the charm perfectly and watched as a rather stubborn weed slowly withered and died.
His eyes slightly narrowed in annoyance at her, but then he shrugged his shoulder and said, “Whatever.”
Now it was Hermione’s turn to be annoyed. “It’s not ‘whatever’, it’s the right way to perform the spell, and if you can’t do it right then don’t bother doing it all.”
“Fine! I won’t!” Ron straightened his shoulders and began to stomp out of the garden and into the house.
“Of course. Give up. Why do I ever even bother?" Hermione waved her arm dismissively and turned back towards the grass she was mowing back.
“Yeah, ‘cause I’m the one who gave up.” He shot back coldly.
Slowly Hermione turned on her heel to meet his steely gaze with one of her own.
“Excuse me?” She took a step closer, but Ron stood his ground. “I do not believe I heard you right. Would you care to repeat yourself?”
“I said, ‘Because I’m the one who gave up.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, emphasizing each word with care.
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” She crossed her arms, but her wand remained tightly in her grasp.
“Merlin, and I thought you were smart. I guess there was more memory altering than we thought.”
“Why you little…” She uncrossed her arms and raised her wand so that it was pointing directly at his chest. “You come into my house and dare to insult me?”
“In case you didn’t realize this, Mrs. Malfoy, I did not want to come into your house at all. Yet here I am anyway, helping you to set up your happy home, quietly minding my own business, and you have to come over and start acting all high and mighty. I guess you and Draco really are a perfect match.” He spat the last bit out as if there was an extremely bad taste in his mouth.
“What the hell is your problem?” Her wand still pointed at his chest, but she threw the other arm up in exasperation.
“You are my problem. You and your kidnapping husband.”
“Oh, so we’re on about this again. How many times to do I have to tell you that Draco had nothing to do with your kidnapping?” She was angry, really angry, but somewhere in the back of her mind the old woman’s voice rang out, "you shouldin’ trust him".
“Yes, this again, because no matter what you say, Hermione, I know that Draco had something to do with it.”
“Yeah, and how do you know that?” She dropped both hands to her hips.
“Because,” his voice took on a triumphant tone, “there’s a witness.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped and she just stood there, mouth agape and arms dangling numbly at her side, staring blankly in disbelief at the tall man in front of her. After a minute, his smirk faltered slightly, and for a moment she thought he was going to say something. Instead, he turned and walked toward the balcony that led to his room.
She stood still for a couple minutes more, her mind working furiously over this new bit of information, when a hand glazed over her shoulder.
“You okay?” It was Ginny.
Hermione fought back the prickling of tears and turned to look at her friend. Harry was standing directly behind Ginny, each of them with a look of concern on their faces.
“Yeah,” she wiped a rogue tear from her left eye. “I’m fine.”
Ginny went to hug Hermione, who just stood there stiffly in her embrace, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked you to do this. I am a selfish, selfish friend.”
“No, no, it’s okay.” Ginny pulled back from the hug and arched an eyebrow at Hermione. Hermione chuckled lightly, “Really, it is okay Gin. I can make it one more day.” She shrugged out of Ginny’s loose hold and stepped back to look at her two friends. “Well, we really should get back to work; there is still a lot that needs to be done.”
She went diligently back to her spot of grass and began to mow over it with a quick severing charm. She worked feverishly, making sure to put all of her focus on making the garden the most beautiful place in the house, not wanting to think any further about what Ron had said.
The sun slowly set behind the red, tile shingles of the roof, and wiping the sweat from her brow she pocketed her wand and made her way into the bathhouse, making sure to knock before entering.
She peeled her dirty and sweaty clothes from her body and slipped into the steaming hot water that she had run into the tub. It was circular and could fit at least five other people comfortably, so Hermione stretched out and tilted her head back, trying to relax and remove all thoughts of the day from her mind.
She couldn’t stop them however, and they raced around her brain. The woman’s voice constantly repeated itself while Ron’s accusations whirled around. She had been so certain just a week ago that Draco had had nothing to do with Ron’s disappearance, but now there were tiny cracks in that certainty that refused to be glossed over.
Should she believe Ron or should she believe Draco, her husband? Her moral core kept yelling at her that she should stand by Draco, that he was the man that she married and she could trust him, but a niggling little worm kept inching its way into her mind, negating everything that she wanted to believe.
‘There was a witness?’ She needed to find out more. She needed to confront Draco, but what good would that do? He would only deny it. Maybe she should talk to Ron. However, she immediately pushed that thought down; there was no way that she could handle talking to him. Not after the row they just had, and not with her unresolved feelings for him still burning within her.
Fifteen minutes later found her clean but not relaxed, so she stepped out of the tub, dripping water on the wood floor and leaving tiny puddles in her wake. She dried off and wrapped herself in a big white terry cloth bathrobe. Grasping her clothes with one hand and her robe shut with the other she headed out of the bathhouse.
She slid the door open and stepped out only to find herself knocked back. The clothes fell from her hand, and she clasped her robe even more tightly after noticing that what threw her back was the looming form of Ron.
Her face, already flushed from the heat of the hot bath, reddened, and she took note that Ron’s ears turned a familiar shade of pink.
“Excuse me,” he managed to cough.
They each tried to move out of the others way only to find that they had both stepped in the same direction, once again finding the doorway blocked. An awkward dance proceeded until Ron, stepped all the way to the left and directed Hermione past him with his outstretched arm.
Her cheeks crimsoned again as she followed his direction and stepped out of the bathhouse. The door slid shut behind her and she stood there for a second. Her burning curiosity though took hold and immediately she turned back around and slid the door open.
It had only been five seconds passed since the door slid shut behind her, but he had already divested himself of the sweaty shirt that he had been wearing. Her cheeks felt the familiar rush of blood for the millionth time that day and she immediately diverted her gaze. There was some shuffling in his general direction and, to her relief, when she looked up again he had draped one of the robes around his torso. It was all that the robe was able to cover on his tall frame.
She held back a tiny giggle as she took in his too-large form clothed in a pale pink terry cloth robe that looked five sizes too small. The sleeves only went little more than halfway towards his wrists and the hem barely reached his hip. It bunched around his shoulders and wouldn’t close completely.
She composed herself after a little bit and gathered every bit of Gryffindor courage that she could muster.
“Is there really a witness?” That question had burned through her brain since their argument. She had wanted to ease into that point, to lay her vulnerability out more gracefully, but her mouth formed the words before her brain was able to process – a first for her.
He nodded his head slightly, but kept his lips pursed.
Her legs weakened as all her fears crashed down upon her tiny frame. She slumped to the wood floor and landed roughly on her knees. She felt the jolt ring through her body as her teeth knocked together upon impact.
In two easy strides, Ron was by her side lifting her up by her armpits. He easily pulled her over towards the bench that ran along the back of the room and delicately set her down.
“I-I don’t believe you.” She squeaked out, but even she could hear the lack of conviction in her own voice.
He didn’t say anything, but simply stood over her as she slumped on the bench staring dejectedly ahead.
She could feel his eyes on her and it sent goose bumps down her spine. She trembled slightly as she felt the heat of his body move in next to her.
“What am I to do?” She asked as she looked up to the ceiling; not directed at Ron so much as voicing her fears.
“Leave him!” His voice was confident, sure that that was the answer.
Hermione shook her head. Draco was her husband! How could she just leave? She needed time; time to think, time to find out if what Ron was saying was actually the truth. Okay, so a witness is pretty good proof, but maybe they are wrong. She wasn’t just going to give up at one word from anyone, not even Ron. Her heart tugged slightly, part of her aching to leave Draco and run into the arms of this man at her side. She shook her head again. No, she couldn’t leave Draco. Not until she knew the truth.
“I can’t.” She pushed out in a breathy, defeated voice.
He spun her body around so that they were now facing one another, “Yes, Hermione, you can.” His eyes were dark and intense, and it took great effort for her to break away from his stare.
She turned her head and whispered out “I can’t” even more pathetically than the last time.
Ron grasped her face in between his large hands, and again made her face him. His touch sent a wave of raw desire through her, and this time she wasn’t able to break her eyes away from his. Slowly, his face inched towards hers. Inwardly she struggled against the different parts of herself, one that desperately wanted to feel his lips on hers, the other that wanted to run into the safe comforting arms of her husband, but on the outside she was a motionless statue.
Their lips met and it felt as if time had suddenly sped up and slowed down all at the same time. All at once, she felt a sense of home, a sense of complete happiness, and then just as quickly as that feeling settled upon her another feeling of unease pricked at the back of her mind. It niggled its way into the forefront of her thoughts and wouldn’t let itself be repressed. Draco, it whispered. Draco, it said again. Each time it grew louder and louder until… DRACO! She yanked her lips away from Ron’s and stood so quickly that she got slightly dizzy at the motion.
Ron’s long arms stretched out to bring her back, but his fingertips only grazed the back of her robe as she clutched it tightly to her chest and ran out of the bathhouse.
A/N: So how much to love me? Hate me? did you enjoy it? I love all feedback. Thanks to all of you who have been reading and special thanks to those who have been reviewing, you guys are the best!
P.S. my beta, Georgia Weasley, is the best, thank you so much!