Chapter 14 : Lie
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If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol
A small, timid knock sounded on the door to the maternity ward, and Hermione sighed, anticipating overjoyed relatives or congratulatory friends. It was the morning after the delivery; she had let Ron know about the birth by owl, and had sent a Patronus to Ginny. Nine in the morning was the perfectly acceptable time to be visiting.
The last person in the world she expected to see was Asteria. But there she was: glowing in the morning sunlight, her blonde hair perfectly straight, dressed in a casual brown dress and a pair of matching heels. As always, Hermione wondered how any woman could take such care of herself with work to be done and children to be looked after.
An enormous bouquet of purple flowers preceded Asteria as she stepped into the room, placing the bunch as a first onto the bedside table. She managed a small, shy smile as she swept her blonde hair off her face. Speechless, Hermione gaped at her, then the flowers, and opened her mouth.
‘Miss Madley told me,’ Asteria answered her unspoken question. ‘I just wanted to say – oh, congratulations!’
Her face lit up as she looked around the room expectantly for the newborn. Hermione felt her breakfast churning uncomfortably in her stomach as she realized that had the boy been here, Asteria might, just might, be gazing at her husband’s illegitimate child.
Mistaking her look of horror for further confusion, Asteria smiled wider and sat down on the bed.
‘I thought you might want to know that Rose is all right – when you didn’t pick her up, I think Miss Madley assumed what was happening and kept Rose for the night. She got your Patronus some time last evening. She’s happy to keep her for the weekend.’
Hermione’s heartbeat steadied. For an awful moment, she had thought that all this had something to do with Draco – some ghastly connection, some finding of evidence of an illicit affair – but all that was on display was Asteria’s goodwill.
‘Thank you,’ she stammered, hitching herself higher up on the bed. ‘I – I didn’t expect –‘
‘I just thought, if it were me, I would want to know that my child were all right.’
‘That’s really very kind of you, Asteria, but I – I –‘
Asteria’s smile did not falter as Hermione tried to form a coherent sentence. She did not know what to say; what to think; how to act. It was all too confusing. Draco had barely vacated the room and yet here his wife was.
‘What are you doing here, Asteria?’ Hermione murmured.
For the first time, Asteria’s expression seemed hesitant. She played with a tassel on her expensive leather bag, and then sighed. Frowning, Hermione waited for her to say something.
‘I know it’s so odd,’ she started. ‘I mean, especially because – well, we’ve never really – we’re not friends. I just think somehow, I always believed that if you and I could be friends, it would be less hard for Draco… He’s been through so much. People used to spit on him when he came to the Ministry. His family’s manor was desecrated. He won’t even take me there.’
Hermione felt a pull in her stomach when she remembered, as if from another lifetime, the first time she and Draco had made love. A sort of ringing sounded in her ears. She forced her attention back to Asteria.
‘And you are just the epitome of what everyone thinks is good. And I like you, Hermione. And I – I –‘ Asteria blushed, then pulled something out of her bag. Hermione recognized it immediately: the handsome dark leather binding was unmistakeable. Asteria handed it to her and she took the journal with surprisingly steady hands. ‘You’re in there. A lot towards to the end. It’s Draco’s old diary. I know I shouldn’t have –‘ Asteria blushed harder, ‘but I haven’t been able to… I haven’t been able to read him for a while, and I found it, and… He doesn’t hate you. You know that? He never did. He never wanted to do those things.’
Asteria sighed again and looked at her hands; Hermione did not open the journal, knowing what was inside it. She stared hard at Asteria instead.
‘What do you want from me?’
‘Nothing,’ Asteria said, looking up again with a surprised expression on her face, ‘nothing except, maybe, for you to understand, and see, and realize that – that the past is something he fears. And that’s a step forward for each of us.’
Hermione could not stand this anymore. She handed the journal back to Asteria. There was an impatient flare in her manner, and something very like anger was exploding inside her. What a luxury, for Asteria, to have to worry about the past! How absurd for her to want to make amends when she had nothing but happy days ahead! This woman had Draco; she had it all. The last thing Hermione wanted to do was give her more.
She lowered the neck of her dressing gown.
‘You see that?’ Hermione said, pointing towards the thin, rather ugly scar etched in her skin. ‘This happened on his watch, and it’s a reminder I won’t ever forget. Get out.’
Asteria’s hopeful expression melted into hurt, and she stood up. Hermione felt the beginnings of guilt. She knew that she was expressing the wrong reasons; knew that the scar wasn’t really why she was angry; but in this very second, the very last person she could stand to look at was the very person who was bound to Draco Malfoy for better and worse.
Hermione watched Ron play with Rose in silence, biting her lip so much that it felt raw within ten minutes. When her eyes were not focused on Ron levitating Rose’s teddy bear for her amusement, they switched to the clock on the wall, which was currently showing ten to seven. They had all eaten already; the dishes were clean and the room had been tidied. Ron had been surprised, but amused, at Hermione’s sudden determination to see sparkling surfaces everywhere.
Hermione had done everything to occupy herself. The case studies Themis had given her had all been completed and sent off to Themis’ residence. She had cleaned the house so thoroughly that even Filch would have been proud. And now there was nothing left to do, no distractions to be had. And she still had an hour left until her temptation could subside.
‘Should we do something tomorrow?’ she asked Ron in a rather high voice. ‘Maybe take Rose out, show her the swings in the park. Or see your parents.’
‘They’re with Bill and Fleur for the weekend,’ he answered, smiling as Rose giggled.
‘What about Harry and Ginny?’
‘I suppose we could see them,’ Ron said, scratching his chin thoughtfully. ‘Ginny feels awful about forgetting your birthday last week. Maybe we could give her a chance to make amends.’
Hermione frowned. Being showered with attention was the last thing she wanted, and an apologetic Ginny was bound to do nothing but that. She looked at the clock. It was now five to seven.
‘Oh no,’ she said, screwing her face up and trying to correct her body language to assimilate her lie.
‘I forgot – I told Lisa I’d meet her for a few drinks tonight. She’s having problems with her wedding.’
Hermione was surprised at how easy lying to Ron was. She had never actually lied to him before. She had omitted telling him about Malfoy; but she had never invented a falsehood face to face. He smiled at her. She was already half-hoping that he’d tell her not to go.
‘Go ahead, I’ll be all right.’
‘No, I don’t have to.’
‘Oh, go on. You haven’t had a night to yourself for ages.’ When Hermione’s silence persevered, he gave her a nudge. ‘Go on, get going. What time are you supposed to be there? Eight? You can still get there.’
‘Yes,’ Hermione whispered, getting to her numb feet, her palms sweaty. ‘Yes, I suppose so.’
She left the room and went upstairs. The flight to their bedroom left her breathless, although she suspected her panting was due to her intense nervousness. She felt balls of fire running through her like electricity, all the while thinking about Malfoy’s toxic kisses, his tongue against her throat, his chest pressed against hers…
When Hermione reached the ensuite bathroom, she felt wretched. Her whole body was drenched in sweat as if she had just run a mile at top speed. There seemed to be something pulsing in the middle of her chest and her heart would surely jump out of her throat any minute. She couldn’t honestly be thinking of doing this. She couldn’t. This - right now - would change everything. Yes, she had consented to sleeping with him before; yes, they had kissed in a Ministry bathroom; but she had never actively taken steps to further their intoxication. Leaving her home now, leaving her husband and child, would be her greatest crime yet.
‘I’m off,’ Hermione yelled as she pulled on her coat ten minutes later. Ron was carrying Rose in his arms and clearly only half-listening.
‘Have a good time. Say hello to Lisa.’
Hermione put her keys in her pocket and nodded. Before she closed the door, Ron called out her name.
‘I love you.’
Hermione looked up. His face was calm, happy, the mouth turned up in a sort of absent smile. She stared at him.
‘I love you too.’
She waited for him for fifteen minutes in a shabby pub off Diagon Alley. She knew she would not bump into any acquaintance of hers here, and that was not really the true reasoning behind her fear; nervousness bubbled inside her every core, but along with it was a lust and tingling desire that she had only recently learned to recognise.
At eight precisely, Malfoy entered the pub, looked around, saw Hermione, and gave a smirk that was reminiscent of his sixteen-year old self. He waved off the barman with a dismissive hand and joined Hermione in her booth, sitting down in the bench opposite hers. The lighting was dim, but not romantic; the nearly empty surroundings provided perfect acoustics, but the mood was far from seductive.
‘You’re here, Granger.’
Hermione did not know what to answer. There was a hint of triumph in his voice that she could not stand, but the cool, blazing look in his eyes was the most overwhelming she had ever experienced.
‘I don’t know why.’
Hermione caught a breath in her throat at his immediate response. Of course she did. He smirked again.
‘I’m not complaining.’
‘I –‘ Hermione swallowed, still not knowing what to say. ‘This is wrong.’
‘Here’s something that you have to learn, Granger,’ Malfoy said, leaning over the table. ‘There is no right. And there is no –‘ she gasped as, under the table, he laid a hand on her knee, ‘wrong. There is just a cycle. A cycle of want and satisfaction. You find out what you want, and you satisfy it.’
‘I’m not saying you have to satisfy it with me, Granger,’ Malfoy continued, and he withdrew his hand from her knee. She instantly wished he hadn’t. ‘But you know that. And you’re still here.’
They delved into silence again. Hermione pretended to ponder what he had said, but she quickly grew lost in his cool, grey eyes. There was a quiet aura over him that she had never experienced before. He was leaning back on his bench, relaxed, at ease. The wedding ring on his finger blinked dully at her. She had taken hers off before coming.
The place on her knee where he had touched her was burning. She would not be surprised if it suddenly found a voice of its own and demanded that Malfoy touch it again. Her whole body seemed drawn, tingling, to the sphere that he was producing. He looked as if he knew was she was thinking. She tried to assemble her features into a neutral expression.
‘Come on, Granger,’ he whispered, barely moving his lips. Her heart jumped to a quicker pace again. There was something stuck in her throat.
Hermione stood up. Malfoy reached for her coat and got to his feet, too. Together, they left the pub. When they reached the alley outside, he held out his arm. She clung to his bicep rather than his hand, preferring not to suggest intimacy. Malfoy did not seem to notice. Turning on the spot, she felt all the air squeeze out of her, but it made little difference; she had been breathless the past ten minutes.
‘Did you always have a body like this, Granger?’
Draco ran a finger down Hermione’s naked curved back, admiring the skin that was glowing in the dim light. His hand reached a hindrance: the sheet she had pulled up to her waist. She was facing the other side of the room, her long head of hair tossed behind her. Draco had not been able to appreciate her body the first time they had indulged in their affair, and he took full advantage of her nudity now.
‘I should hope not. It would be a bit odd if I had.’
Draco chuckled and leaned against his pillows, sweeping stray hairs off his forehead.
‘You girls always used to conceal everything so well under those Hogwarts robes.’
‘Pansy Parkinson didn’t,’ sniffed Hermione from her side of the bed, ‘she always had her uniform made two sizes too short.’
‘Pansy wasn’t all bad,’ smirked Draco.
Hermione turned to her other side, facing him. She was wearing very little make up. Her eyes had shadows around them and she looked tired; her hair was a messy bunch from the amount of times he had passionately pulled it. The unpolished vision of this woman was a startling shift from Asteria, but he liked it. It felt like Granger was naked, truly naked, devoid of her shields and fully exposed in her insecurities. He had never seen her that way; he doubted many people had. He linked it was some sense of prestige. It weirdly felt like almost an honour.
‘You really are…’
Hermione stopped, her sentence fading into nothingness. He raised his eyebrows. He had the feeling she had not been about to insult him.
She turned around again. Her next words sounded muffled.
‘I don’t understand this, I really don’t understand this. I’ve never wanted this.’
‘You think I have?’
‘How gentlemanly of you.’
‘What am I supposed to say?’ Draco asked with a bite in his voice, irritated at her lack of tact. ‘Poor you? Hermione Granger, the victim, seduced by the villain? That’s how all you Ministry people see it.’ He scoffed, his eyes blazing. ‘You never escape from your fucking label. And mine is Death Eater.’ Pausing, he watched her move a little uncomfortably. ‘No, Granger, I’ve never wanted this either.’
She moved up into a sitting position, her expression hard and angry. He suppressed an urge to grin. He loved ticking her off.
‘You’re such a bastard, Malfoy,’ she snapped. Then she leaned over and kissed him, teasingly biting his lip when he responded instantly. They parted, nose to nose, breathing hard.
‘This is very inconvenient, Granger.’
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