Christmas was, as it always had been, a tumult of activity. The Burrow, which had been rebuilt after the war and now was able to better accommodate the ever growing Weasley clan, still had that too-small feel to it. Ginny was sitting back on the couch, taking up more than her share of space and watching as Fleur tried to get Dominique to stop crying.
She had been born less than a month ago in France, where Fleur stayed with her mother during the last month of pregnancy. This was the first time most of the family was getting a chance to see her, as there had been complications and the baby needed to be kept for a few weeks for observation.
Thankfully, everything was all right now. Well, except for her excessive wailing, which was causing Ginny’s head to ache in increasing measure. She placed her fingers tightly against her temples, pointing them harder into her head, hoping to quash the pounding throb of her brain. It was only going to get worse, she knew, for George still had his little announcement to make.
Finally, Fleur managed to quiet Dominique, and Ginny released the firm grip on her head. She was just settling into the glorious quiet, or rather, as quiet as The Burrow can get during Christmas, when George decided it was time for his announcement.
He raised both his voice and his glass to the room at large. “I would like to propose a toast. To my wonderful family, it is a pleasure to be spending the holidays with you all.”
Ginny noticed that everyone was shifting their eyes around in surprise and wariness. It was a rare occasion, and usually an ill boding one, when George started off a speech in such a sweet manner.
“I would also like to toast to my beautiful girlfriend, Angelina, who at this moment is serving as an incubator for my magnificent spawn.” He raised his glass higher and then took a large sip of his drink.
Confusion was the first reaction for everyone, at least until Hermione explained properly the function of an incubator. Then Molly could be heard shrieking in pleasure. Snippets of words like wedding dress and a proper wedding could be heard across the room.
Angelina gave George an icy stare, probably because she didn’t like being referred to as an incubator, something that Ginny could completely agree with.
“Actually Mrs. Weasley…”
“Oh, call me Molly. We are going to be family after all.”
“Molly,” Angelina corrected herself. “We will not be getting married. At least, not anytime soon.”
A quiet that hadn’t been heard in that house in years suddenly enveloped the room. Everyone looked between Ginny’s mum, George, and Angelina.
“What do you mean? Of course you are getting married.”
“No, we aren’t,” Angelina came back. A collective gasp could be heard.
“George, tell me that you did not forget to propose to this woman?” Ginny’s mum now focused her building anger onto George. He backed up a step and just shook his head.
“He did ask. I have refused.”
Her mum turned sharply back to Angelina. “You have refused?” Her voice not only filled with anger and disbelief, it had a coldness that Ginny had never heard before.
“Yes, ma’am, I have. I do not think it is right just to get married because we have been careless in our protection methods.” Angelina crossed her arms, ready to stand firm against her formidable opponent.
Ginny’s mum stood there, shock etched all over her face. Then, in a slow simmering voice she hissed, “Get out!”
Angelina flinched, though Ginny doubted that most people noticed. Everyone else was focused on the clenching and un-clenching of her mum’s jaw.
“Gladly,” Angelina retorted with a calmness that impressed Ginny greatly. Then Ange pulled George by the arm, and though he continued to stare in bewilderment at his mum, he came easily enough.
As soon as they were gone, the rest of the family looked around, shuffled their feet, and for the most part avoided Ginny’s mum’s eyes.
It was the worst Christmas since the first one after Fred had died. Ginny’s headache came back in full force.
“Wanna go for lunch?” Ron popped his head into Hermione’s office; files were stacked neatly around her desk.
She looked up from her work and smiled. “Sure. Let me just wrap this up.” She started scribbling furiously at the paperwork in front of her, occasionally looking through one of the files on her desk.
Ron stood leaning against the door, watching on as she shuffled about. Her forehead crinkled between her eyebrows. He could probably have watched for hours, and might not have even noticed the grumble in his stomach, had Hermione not looked up at him and blushed.
Her pink cheeks sent a longing down through his body. Ron closed the door to her office, waved his wand, and instead of taking her out to lunch as he had planned decided to take her on her desk. She tried to protest at first, but after one long kiss from Ron, her inhibitions were completely removed.
It was quick but satisfying, and they were off to lunch ten minutes later, hand in hand.
“So, any updates about George?” Hermione asked as they walked briskly towards the small diner on the corner.
“Ginny said she tried to talk to mum about it, but mum’s just ignoring any comment involving his name.” Ron shrugged. “I haven’t seen her like this since the Percy incident. Though worse… much worse.”
“Maybe once your mum has a chance to cool down everything will be okay.”
“She’s already had over a month. I think it’ll be a while before she forgives. Probably not until the baby is born. Can’t imagine that she won’t want to see her grandkid.”
They sat down at their usual table in the diner. Each of them ordered what was becoming their customary fare. Hermione had a cup of soup with a small salad while Ron got the double-decker roast beef sandwich, chips, and a side of baked beans.
It was Hermione’s fourth bite into her salad when her fork stopped in mid-air to her lips, a piece of lettuce falling gracelessly onto her lap.
“Whasffamattah?” Ron asked with a mouth full of roast beef.
She almost looked scared in her stillness. Finishing his bite, Ron turned his head in the direction of her fixed gaze. There, standing just as still in the doorway, was Malfoy. His designer robes looked as crisp as ever. As soon as Malfoy noticed Ron sitting at the table as well, a familiar sneer graced his lips.
Ron turned back towards Hermione and was thankful to see that the spell had been broken.
“Do you want to leave?” Ron hoped that she did. There was no way that he was going to be in the same room with that wanker, no matter what nice things Hermione had to say about him.
She gave him a wan smile. “No, of course not.” Then she set back into her salad.
Ron, unfortunately, was no longer hungry. He began to dip one of his chips in vinegar over and over until it became so soggy that it practically dissolved. He noticed, despite all her assurances of being fine, her back was just a little too straight and her smile just a little too wide.
Even though his back was facing wherever it was that Malfoy happened to be sitting now, he felt as if those condescending eyes were boring into his skull, probably with as much hatred as Ron himself felt for the stupid git.
By the time the check had come and the waitress had boxed up the remainder of his food (he knew his appetite would be back eventually), Ron knew that there was no way they were going to escape without some sort of confrontation. He clenched his fists in preparation for some serious muggle dueling.
They headed for the door, Ron focused on not looking in any direction other than that of the way out. Hermione’s hand, which was clasped in his, loosened from his grip.
He turned to see if she was okay. She stood, hesitating, her lower lip held firmly beneath her front teeth.
“I think I’d better…,” her eyes turned in his direction.
Ron was about to protest. Everything in him wanting to grab her like a Quaffle and run her out of the diner, but seeing the worried expression on her face, and knowing that he had nothing to worry about, Ron nodded.
“I’ll be right over there,” he gestured with his head towards the front, by the door.
His eyes never left her as she made her way over to the booth that the ferret was sitting in. He thanked Merlin that she had enough sense not to sit, and instead just chose to hover near the table. Ron couldn’t really see her expressions, as she was now facing the stupid, sodding, shit for brains. Instead, he focused on her body language, and was grateful to see her fists clenched firmly at her sides.
He watched as, if possible, Draco’s face paled and then blushed. Ron wished desperately he had a set of extendable ears on him.
The door opened and let in a rush of cold air. In walked a prim looking witch wearing charcoal robes. Her hair was tied back tightly in a bun at the nape of her neck and she waved a manicured finger at Draco’s table when the waitress made a move to grab a menu for her.
The witch bee-lined towards Draco and Hermione, her briefcase held firmly in an iron grip. She put a hand on Draco’s shoulder and leaned in to peck him on the cheek. Ron had never seen anyone turn so red in his life, which was saying something considering he was a Weasely.
Hermione shook the witch’s hand, which made part of her face visible. Ron noticed that she looked a bit flustered. Then the witch put down her things and went for the restroom at the back of the diner. There were a few more shared words, then a nod, and Hermione made her way back towards Ron.
“So… How’d it go?”
“Fine,” she said as she headed for the door, not looking back nor looking Ron in the eye. He followed behind, anxious and a little bit nervous about what had gone on.
She felt surprised that Ron hadn’t put up more of a fight. Honestly, she had been hoping for one. Then she would be able to just leave and not feel guilty for not stopping by the table, being able to blame it on Ron’s jealousy rather than her own cowardice.
Her legs felt like lead as she approached his booth. His eyes were unwaveringly fastened on her own. When she finally reached him, his familiar cologne pervaded her senses. It was too musky for her, always had been, but she felt a lingering sense of remorse that she would no longer have that scent to annoy her.
“Hi.” Hermione’s fingers clenched so fiercely that tiny pricks where her nails met skin were beginning to cause pain.
“Hello.” His voice was measured, even, and calm; another thing that drove her mad. Why could he never show any emotion?
“How’ve you been?” It was like pulling teeth. Where once they had an easy camaraderie, now there was a screen of ice in between them.
“Good, and you?”
“Good, thank you.”
“Yes, I can see that.” His eyes gestured towards where Ron was standing.
“That’s not fair. You left me remember?” How dare he get snarky with her about Ron? Not after she had agreed to stay with him and then he just bailed. Who does that? A coward, that’s who.
His face paled.
“There was no point in staying.”
Her fingers clenched even tighter. “No point? We were married. You agreed that you would be with me forever!” She hissed. Why she was so upset, she didn’t know. Hermione had Ron now, but still his rejection had hurt. She had taken their vows seriously, and he had just blown them off.
His face became flushed with irritation. “That was when I thought it would be possible. Before wonder-weasel came back. Before I found out that no matter how much I loved you, it would never be enough. I am not a consolation prize, Hermione.”
It was her turn to flush. “You weren’t…” she found she couldn’t finish the sentence, because he was right. He would have been second place to her, no matter how hard he tried.
He seemed to take pity on her. “You couldn’t help it, you know.” His hand gestured to reach for her, but he pulled it back. “That ring wouldn’t have let you choose.”
When Hermione cocked a brow at him he clarified, “I know what the ring does. You think I have never seen a spell like that before? Though in my family, it has much darker purposes.”
There was a clack of heels behind her and suddenly she was faced with a very polished looking witch. The woman placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder and then kissed him lightly on the cheek. Hermione noticed that her left hand sported a rather large, rather familiar looking diamond ring.
She took a hard swallow.
“Hello darling. Sorry I’m late. Hope you weren’t waiting long.”
Draco’s face turned crimson and he sputtered, “No, not at all. Astoria, this is Hermione. Hermione, this is Astoria Greengrass, my fiancée.”
The woman held out her perfectly manicured hand and shook Hermione’s with one firm shake before placing her belongings in the booth.
“Going to pop into the ladies for the bit, be back soon. Nice meeting you, Hermione.”
“Yeah,” was all the Hermione could stutter out before Astoria turned and left them.
“So you’re getting married? To your attorney, no less.” Her voice came out sounding accusing, and so it was. He waited only four months, so much for his undying love for her. Of course, she was in love with Ron, but still… They had only just started sleeping together.
“You are, too.” He countered.
“No, I am not.”
“Maybe not yet, but you will be. No point in lying about it, Hermione.”
She had nothing to counter that remark, and deciding that she had been there long enough, said, “Yes, well… It was nice seeing you again, Draco. I wish you and Astoria all the best.”
She began to turn to go, but his quiet voice stopped her. “I’ll always love you, Hermione.” His eyes glistened until he blinked, and the wetness completely disappeared.
“Draco, don’t…” She pleaded, feeling her eyes tingle as well. “Astoria seems really nice, and I am sure that she loves you. You deserve that kind of love.”
His posture stiffened and his mask fell back into place.
“Yes, well. It was nice seeing you, as well.”
Hermione took her cue and walked as quickly to Ron as she could without looking like she was running away. But she was.
There was no question in her mind that she loved Ron more than anything, that he was who she was meant to be with, but that didn’t make leaving Draco behind any easier. And it didn’t make seeing him with another woman any better, either. Healing would take time for both of them. Hermione was guilty in admitting she thought it might take him a little longer. For no matter what reason he chose to propose to Astoria, she could still see he loved her just as much as the day they were married.
She had to get out of that diner. Without looking at Ron, and barely registering his question and her response, Hermione headed into the cold winter streets of London. She felt torn; glad to have gotten that encounter out of the way, yet regretful that she hadn’t been able to be with Draco as he truly had deserved.
A/N: Sorry it took longer than normal, but good news is is that I have finished writing this story and my wonderful Beta, Georgia Weasley, has the remaining two chapters. Well one chapter and the epilogue.
Thanks so much to all of you for sticking with this for so long, you have no idea how much I appreciate it. You guys are the best.
Now, how did you like it? What did you think about the Draco encounter? How about the George confrontation with Molly? And of course the fun desk sex?