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The Rationality of Tragedies and Sins

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 It's much better to face these kinds of things
With a sense of poise and rationality

{ Panic! At The Disco / I Write Sins Not Tragedies }


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Long after all her tears are spent, she shakes her head and lets out a rough bark of a laugh, the sound filled with saline and self-deprecation.

Hermione Granger Weasley has a moment of intense clarity.

 

(The seed now coming to fruition had, in actuality, been planted long ago.)

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{ oOo }

September 1, 2017

Dear Mum and Dad,

Hogwarts is simply brilliant, I don't know how I'll ever get to sleep tonight - there's so many new things to learn and explore. The Sorting Ceremony took so very long that it felt like I waited forever before my turn finally came. The old Hat wanted to put me into Gryffindor since I'm a Weasley, but I told him, politely yet firmly, that I wanted to break tradition and try something that no Weasley had ever done before. Then he muttered something about strong-willed, clever little witches, before crying out, "Ravenclaw". I nearly jumped for joy! I hope you aren't too put out, Dad. I think you'll look dashing in blue and bronze when I make the Quidditch team.

That Malfoy boy, Scorpius, also got sorted into Ravenclaw. You were right about keeping an open mind, Mum. As we were being led to our dormitory after the feast, we passed a group of older students – Third Years, I think – making rude comments about half-bloods and Muggle-borns. I was spitting mad. Just as I was about to give them a piece of my mind, Scorpius Malfoy spoke up from right behind me, telling them to shut their ignorant gobs. Thank Merlin the Prefect arrived when she did. She sent them quickly on their way, which was rather good for us. If she hadn't, we would have probably spent the night in the Hospital Wing. Afterwards, Scorpius properly introduced himself to me and shook my hand. He is much different than I expected him to be, given what Dad said about his family, and I think we are on our way to becoming fast friends.

I'm so glad you bought me the newest edition of 'Hogwarts: A History'. I was by far the best prepared First Year student. A few of the others were planning to sneak out tonight to explore the Forbidden Forest, even after Headmistress McGonagall warned us that it was off-limits. They didn't even know that there were Acromantulas there until I informed them of the dangers they would find in the forest. It was a little disappointing, really. I expected them to know better.

That's all I have time for now if I'm going to make it to the Owlery before it's closed for the night, but I'll write again in a few days. I love you both, and Hugo, too (though don't tell him I said so).

Rose

. oOo .

Hermione gently folds the letter and tucks it between two worn pages of her own copy of Hogwarts: A History. It's a surreal moment, her maternal heart warring between smiles of joy and tears of separation.

Ron is already in their bed, facing the opposite wall and grumbling to himself about know-it-all Sorting Hats which should be put out to pasture and bloody little Malfoy gits, with the quilt tucked loosely around his waist. Normally, she'd chastise him for his petulant attitude, but she doesn't have the heart for it. While she shares none of the reservations he does – Ravenclaw is a perfectly good House, after all, and there's been ample time since the war for the Malfoy family's view on blood purity to have changed – she does share that little bit of emptiness, of heartache, that comes with knowing that their child is growing up, growing more independent each day. In its own quiet, simple way, it's more daunting than anything else she's ever faced, than they've ever faced, and she won't begrudge him his fatherly complaints. Not today.

She slips in behind him, and presses her forehead and the palms of her hands to his bare back. The muscles contract under her touch, taut with anxiety, but his grousing immediately stops. Her warm breaths puff out a soft rhythm against his skin, and together they just lay there, still. Neither of them move for several minutes, but she can feel the tension ease out of his body. Eventually, Ron sighs and rolls over, looping his long arms around her back, tucking her head neatly under his chin. Hermione shifts, pressing herself closer to him, and whispers, "Nox."

"I'm proud of her, you know, no matter how much I complain. My little Rosie." He lets out a small huff of a laugh. "Sometimes she's just a little too much like her mother – headstrong and always exceeding my expectations, never taking the easy path. You two are going to be the death of me."

"Perhaps," she says as she trails a finger down the flat planes of his belly, "you should raise your expectations."

"Bloody hell, woman." Ron's breath catches in his throat, his voice uneven as her hand continues its journey. "That'll raise something."

"That was my intention."

In the darkness, Hermione finds comfort in the warm, familiar contours of her husband's body.

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{ oOo }

September 1, 2019

"Come along, Rose, Hugo." Hermione calls over her shoulder. "Quickly now. You don't want to miss the train."

"Stop worrying, Mum, we're coming." Rose latches onto her brother's wrist, giving it an impatient tug, and strains to match her mother's quick stride. "Besides, we've got a few minutes yet."

They manoeuvre through the crowd at King's Cross Station with grim determination. With a minimal amount of jostling and only one minor luggage casualty, they reach platform 9 ¾ with some time to spare. The usual air of excitement envelopes the place – new students all aflutter with nerves, returning students happy to reunite with friends, chattering familiars, and proud parents ushering off their children with hugs and kisses and words of advice that are likely soon to be forgotten.

But in this sea of happy, vibrant energy, Hermione and her children are a small, hushed island.

Farther down the line, they see Harry and Ginny, along with James, Albus, and Lily Luna. Hermione starts to lead her silent brood to congregate with the rest of the family, but Hugo pulls on her sleeve and doesn't let go. The action is a gentle one, just the tips of his fingers grasping the thick fabric, but as she turns to her son what she sees in his young face cuts her deeply.

"I can't, Mum," he whispers. "Albus gets to have his dad see him off his first time to Hogwarts, but I–"

Hermione frames her son's face with her hands and bends down, trying to look assuring. "Oh sweetie, I understand. And Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny will understand, too, so we," – she takes in a deep, deep breath, ignoring the painful ache in her chest, and looks at both of her children – "we will do this just us, then. Just us."

"Just us," Hugo says quietly, wrapping his arms tightly around Hermione's middle.

Hermione gently pulls her eldest into their hug.

"Just us." Rose repeats the sentiment, burrowing into her mother's embrace.

Over the top of Hugo's curly mop, Harry catches Hermione's gaze, his acknowledging smile strained yet hopeful. She smiles back at him, a weak, halfhearted upturn of her lips, and shakes her head. His expression falters, but he nods and speaks into his wife's ear. For a brief second, Ginny's face crumples, but she quickly regains control and also gives Hermione a small nod. Turning back to their boys, Harry and Ginny give them each a bone-crunching embrace before they let them run off to find their seats.

Hermione plants a kiss on her son's forehead, then on her daughter's, and struggles to find her voice. The goodbyes and admonishments and platitudes she would normally offer them taste like ash in her mouth without Ron's humour to sweeten them. So she chokes them down and says the only thing she can, the only syllables her tongue seems capable of uttering.

"I love you both so very much."

"We know, Mum," Rose says. "Don't worry. I'll take care of Hugo, and we'll both send you a letter all about the Sorting Ceremony. Won't we, Hugo?" Hugo nods his head as his sister continues. "I'll write every day, I promise. So, don't… just don't be too sad. Dad wouldn't like it."

Hermione grabs them both then, pulling them fiercely into her arms again, and buries her face in Rose's red hair. When she feels composed enough, Hermione releases them. "Now, off with you two. The train's going to leave."

As soon she sees that they are safely seated, Hermione rushes away. Without them by her side, the air on the platform is stifling. She'd rather be at home, left in peace to cry herself to exhaustion, or in Ron's private room at St. Mungo's. Or even better yet, she could be at the Ministry library doing research. Really, anywhere would be preferable to being alone here with her heart exposed for all to see.

Hermione pulls her cloak closer to her body, huddling deep inside of it. She can't help but think that the people around her must be whispering about her family, some pitying them, others merely content to gossip in this time of tragedy for her family. She's witnessed it time and time again; it's human nature, after all. Her sharp eyes scan the crowd, looking for the evidence to support her hunch. She sees nothing, though, just a dizzying kaleidoscope of vaguely familiar faces, people who had most likely been with her within the halls of Hogwarts. To Hermione's relief, none of them give her more than a passing glance, and very few of them appear to be engaged in conversation, about her family or otherwise. It's not much comfort, but she'll take what she can get. There's been far too little of it in her life lately.

She leaves the platform, returning to the station proper. To her left, something draws her notice. Ahead of her in the departing crowd is Draco Malfoy, his pale head bright against the dull backdrop of weary travellers. For a moment, she wonders why she noticed him in particular. It's not like his shade of blonde is all that uncommon in London. In fact, there are several others in their vicinity right now that share a similar colour. He's not pointing or sneering at her, nor is he facing her way. As far as she can tell, he's done nothing that should have even gained her attention. But then it hits her.

Astoria is conspicuously absent from his side this year unlike the previous years.

Malfoy, just like herself, is alone.

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{ oOo }

November 21, 2019

She watches Rose fly effortlessly through the air, twisting and turning about nearly as well as her Uncle Harry used to at that age. The team is merely running through a few warm-up drills, but already Hermione's hands are cold and clammy, her heartbeat significantly quickened. Inside the long sleeves of her outer cloak, she grips her wand tightly. Her daughter will not be hurt today, not if she can help it.

Madam Hooch announces the start of the match, Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff, and Hermione scoots to the edge of her seat, alert. She sits by herself in the upper most row of the Ravenclaw section. None of the other parents her age are particularly close to her, friendly acquaintances at best, and that suits Hermione just fine. In her current frame of mind, Hermione hasn't the heart, or the patience, for the sympathy and pity she's sure would be heaped upon her. Besides, she's here to support Rose, not to engage in pleasantries.

But fate has other plans. Despite her unsociable demeanour, the wood under her creaks, accommodating another body. "D'you mind if I sit here?"

"And why exactly," she asks dryly, her eyes never leaving the pitch, "would Draco Malfoy want to sit with the likes of me?"

"You wound me, Granger, truly," he says in reply, his voice light with good-natured sarcasm. "Honestly, have you seen this crowd? After everything that's happened, can you see them giving me a prodigal's welcome? Being the decent witch that you are, I'm fairly certain that you won't hex me or allow me to be hexed in your presence. You are my safest bet."

Hermione scoffs. "I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."

"Besides," he says, undeterred, "our children have been nearly joined at the bloody hip since they made this year's team. Just look at them! They'll make the best pair of Beaters Hogwarts has seen since the Weasley twins. Surely that's got to count for something."

A wayward Bludger zooms towards Rose in a collision course for her head, and Hermione jumps to her feet. She pulls her wand out, an incantation already at the tip of her tongue. But Scorpius flies in and easily beats it away, and the pair of children grin widely. Hermione retakes her seat, her hand clenched over her heart.

"So?" Malfoy persists with a smirk. "Will you let me stay? For our children's sakes, of course."

"Well, Scorpius is delightful," she says, covering her wrought nerves with a thick coat of insinuation.

"Do you mean to say that I'm not?"

"For Merlin's sake!" Hermione says with an impatient huff. "If I say that you are welcome to sit with me, will you let me watch the match in silence?"

"Yes."

"Thank God for small mercies." She rolls her eyes. "In that case, then no, I do not mind if you share my bench. But if you so much as utter a single word, other than to cheer on our children, I will hex you."

He nods and keeps his word.

. oOo .

Later, when she is home and lying in her empty bed, she realizes that today was the first time in over a year that she's had what felt like a normal conversation, participating in silly snippets of small talk rather than the grief laden dialogue that now permeates her life. And it was with Malfoy, of all people. 

Hermione allows a small yet genuine smile to grace her lips.

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{ oOo }

February 16, 2020

"Come on, Malfoy." Hermione mutters to herself, tapping her toe impatiently. "Where are you?"

The Ravenclaw team's second match of the school year, this time versus Slytherin, is well on its way and he is not there. Hermione scans the stadium again. Just as she's about give up on him, she spots his blond head at the bottom of her seating section. A smile curves her lips, just for a second, but then she carefully straightens them into a line of concentration and directs her attention to the game.

"Well, Granger," Malfoy says, slightly out of breath as he approaches, "does my invitation still hold?"

"That depends. Are you going to be quiet?"

"No, probably not."

"Really?" she asks with a raised brow. "I told you last time what would happen if you didn't."

"Yes, you did." He concedes her point as he sits down. "But here's the thing – last time I let your fearsome reputation sway my decision. You know, all that brightest witch of her age and war heroine nonsense. I forgot about the swotty, rule-abiding, bleeding heart that lies underneath. Now that I've had time to think about it, I don't think you'd hex me for something as petty as being an annoyance."

"And if you're wrong?"

"I'll take my chances. So," he says as he turns to her, a hangdog expression on his face that makes her want to laugh aloud, "may I stay?"

"Oh, stop it," she says with a toothy smile. "You look absolutely ridiculous. Haven't you any pride?"

"No, not any more." His expression holds, but Hermione sees a flash of something wounded in his grey eyes. It is gone as quickly as it came, replaced by his former silliness. "And I refuse to stop until you answer me."

"Alright, alright. Anything to wipe that look off your face," she says. "But I want to ask a question of my own first."

"Ask away."

"Why do you want to sit with me, Malfoy? The real reason." Hermione crosses her arms, challenging him. "And you better not give me the story about it being for your protection again. I don't believe a single word of it."

Malfoy shifts, looking distinctly uncomfortable, but says nothing.

"Well?"

"Fine." His response is sharp, ground out between tightly clenched teeth, and he runs a hand through his hair. "Rose asked me to. She didn't want you to be alone, though she wouldn't say why. It was only supposed to be for the Hufflepuff match. But today–"

"Today?" Hermione interrupts him, her voice low and angry. She'd actually looked forward to this match, glad to get a break from the burden that's been resting heavy on her shoulders. The opportunity to see someone who wouldn't remind her of her troubles with every look levelled in her direction, or to have something as simple as an everyday conversation without feeling the sad subtext underlying the words, had filled her with a longing for companionship that she'd not felt in months. She'd needed what he gave her last time – a reprieve. But now, hearing about how it had all been just a ruse, she feels a sense of betrayal. "What about today?

Draco sighs heavily. His gaze briefly settles on the Slytherin section before he looks her straight in the eye. "Today I didn't want to be alone."

Hermione looks right back, and all she sees is the honesty written on his face. It surprises her how well he wears it. For as long as they've known each other, it's not an expression she's ever seen on him. The sincerity in it washes away her ire.

"Alright then," she begrudgingly says. "Stay."

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{ oOo }

May 27, 2020

"I see that you've finally abandoned Potter."

"Hardly," Hermione says, shrugging. "You can't expect me to sit with them, not when my Rose is trying to her best to knock young James out of the air, now, can you? Besides, Rose wouldn't look fondly upon me sitting with the Gryffindors today."

"That would be most unbecoming," Draco says. After a beat, a smirk curls the edges of his lips. "And since that logic works to my advantage, I'd rather not argue against it."

Her brows furrow in curiosity. "To your advantage?"

"Of course!" he says heartily. "Once again, I get to be the sole recipient of your lovely company. I do so enjoy being ignored, challenged, and belittled. I spend my nights awake and longing for our next meeting. Don't you?"

Hermione makes a face at his mischievous answer and lightly smacks his shoulder. "Cheeky bastard. Shut up and watch the match."

"You're a terrible nag."

"So I've been told."

"Speaking of, where's the old ball and chain anyway? I was under the impression that he was quite the Quidditch enthusiast, but he's not made a single game." Malfoy buffs his nails on his lapel. "It's disappointing, really. I'd been hoping to start up an argument with him, for old time's sake."

Her smile is instantly replaced by shock and hurt. The blood drains from her face, leaving her unnaturally pale, and her breathing stills. For a few seconds, she can see or hear nothing except the red hot anger that overwhelms her. She quickly wrestles it under control, before she can grip her wand and do something reckless, and the tears that take its place are bitter. Hermione stands, forcing her legs to be steady, and says, "I forgot how cruel you can be", as she starts to walk away.

"Wait, Granger!" He raises his voice as he moves to intercept her. She ignores him, and so he tries again. "Hermione!"

This time she turns. He's never called her by her given name before, at least not while addressing her, and something about it compels her listen to what he has to say before she washes her hands of him. The Snitch has just been sighted and the crowd roars all around them, but her attention is trained solely on him.

"I don't– if I have offended you… What I mean is–" He stops, with arms akimbo and jaw clenched as he tries to find the right words. "I apologise if I have hurt you with my frivolous chatter. It certainly wasn't my intention. I honestly don't know what the situation with your family is–"

"How?" She charges him, thrusting her finger roughly into his chest. "The whole Wizarding community knows! How could you possibly be ignorant?"

"I haven't read a newspaper since my father's incarceration. I refuse to have that untrustworthy rubbish in my home," Malfoy says, his mouth twisting unpleasantly around the words. "I won't abide idle gossip either. Not that I have anyone to gossip with these days, my social circle being what it is. I have my bedridden mother, my son – who spends most of the year at school – and a handful of house-elves for company. And on the occasion of a Ravenclaw Quidditch match, you. Tell me, Granger, how can I not be ignorant?"

"But Scorpius–"

"Keeps Rose's confidence well." He runs his fingers through his hair, then collects himself and looks her straight in the face. "I know that something has gone terribly wrong, something very upsetting from what I've observed, but I assure you, Hermione, that I didn't have a clue as to what that might be until just now."

The roar of the cheering crowd quiets as Hermione deflates. The Snitch has disappeared, taking with it her wrath. She returns to her spot, wiping her cheeks with the corner of her sleeve. "Alright," she says, with her eyes once again on the pitch.

They spend the next half-hour in silence, watching as the two teams score goal after goal. She notices Draco glancing at her when he thinks she isn't looking. He opens his mouth several times to say something, only to stop himself before he does so. The match drags on and Hermione yawns as her turbulent emotions from earlier, as well as all the time she's been spending in the Ministry library, begin to take their toll on her body, though she tries to hide it with her hand.

"Astoria and I have been divorced for nearly two years." Draco blurts out his confession suddenly. Then he shakes his head and pulls out his wand to cast a Muffliato charm. "Ours was an arranged marriage, of course, but I quickly fell for her. She was charming and beautiful, if a little vain, and everything I thought I wanted in a wife. Scorpius came along a few years later and my life was complete. I was blissfully, selfishly happy."

"Draco, you don't have to–"

"I know I don't. But I think I need to." He admits quietly. "If you don't mind listening, that is."

"No," she says, "I don't mind."

"Well, on our fifteenth anniversary, I decided to surprise Astoria with an evening in. I got off from work early and went home, with flowers, wine, and a necklace – which my assistant assured me was exquisite, even among other goblin-made pieces. I never imagined I'd be greeted by the sight of Theo Nott shagging my wife on the sitting room chaise, while her lovely little mouth was wrapped around Adrian Pucey's cock." Draco drops his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "I suppose I should've seen it coming. I was a bit of a workaholic in those days, carelessly leaving Astoria to languish alone in the mansion. Hell, she probably had suspicions of infidelity on my part, what with the hours I kept. Still, to stumble upon a scene like that..."

"Merlin, Draco." Hermione takes in a deep breath, aghast. Then she asks, "What did you do?"

"I waited for them to finish, threw them all out of my home, and then I went to see my solicitor. With my memory collected as evidence, the divorce proceedings went very smoothly." Draco chuckles, low and derisive. "Needless to say, Astoria did not want things to go public, so she was very cooperative with my demands."

"What were your demands? Considering the circumstances, I'm sure that you had plenty." She wrinkles her nose in disgust. "I know I would've."

"Actually, I had only one," Draco says softly. "I wanted Scorpius."

She stares at him, pensive and head cocked in curiosity. "Why tell me all this?"

"You want my real reason?"

"Of course." Hermione rolls her eyes. "I wouldn't ask if I didn't."

"Of course." Draco mimics her tone, rolling his eyes as well. "I told you because you needed to hear it. Sometimes hearing someone else's sob story can be… healing. A lighter heart and all that tripe."

"You, Draco Malfoy, are much different than I remember you."

"And you, dear Granger, are exactly the same."

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{ oOo }

November 22, 2020

"Another year, another season. Finally." Draco sighs as he settles in beside her. "It's been far too long since I've had the pleasure of your company."

Instead of replying with a mildly disparaging remark as per their established routine, Hermione simply pulls out her wand. Then, as Draco did at their previous meeting, she casts a Muffliato charm. One of his pale eyebrows rises in question, but he remains silent, waiting.

His words have stuck with her the past few months, her large brain mulling them over again and again. Draco had been right, surprisingly enough; there'd been something cathartic in hearing his story, in knowing that he'd been through something just as traumatic as she had. But the more she's thought about it, the more she suspects that his forthrightness that day had not been purely altruistic. Hermione imagines that the telling of the story must have been as therapeutic as the hearing of it, if not more so.

So she prepares her thoughts, the words of her own story, and hopes that this is truly the case.

"It was my thirty-ninth birthday." Hermione begins, her bearing resolute. "Ron had taken Hugo to Diagon Alley to find a present for me, and the two of them bought something from nearly every shop there. Books from Flourish and Blotts, a new cloak from Madam Malkin's, a fancy quill with ink and a stack of parchment from Scribbulus, plus a thirty-nine scoop ice cream sundae, packaged with Shrinking and Stasis charms for easy travelling. They even stopped by the Quidditch shop for broom wax, though that, thankfully, was for Rose." Hermione smiles, lost for a moment in the happier part of the memory. "With their shopping done, the boys decided they would visit George before heading home, but they never made it to the shop."

Her hands begin to shake. She clasps them tightly together, knuckles white and tense in her lap. Suddenly, her broken heart is in her throat, blocking her words. Draco made it look so easy, the terrible events of his divorce rolling right off his tongue, but now she realises just how hard it really is. Without her even knowing it, he'd placed his broken heart in her hands, trusting her not to crush it. Hermione looks up at him, and she is in awe of his courage.

"Hermione, you don't have to finish."

"I know I don't. But I think I need to," she says slowly, mirroring his response from last time. "If you don't mind listening, that is."

"No," he says, following her lead, "I don't mind."

She nods and continues. "Ron was an Auror, you know. He helped to put a lot of people in Azkaban, so needless to say, he made enemies. There was one wizard in particular, back when Ron first started in the department, who was particularly vocal about his hatred of him. He served a sentence of eight years, then was let out on parole on September 19, 2018."

"Your birthday."

"Yes, my birthday. The man was walking out of the Leaky Cauldron, his first stop after regaining his freedom, when he spotted Ron with our son. Witnesses say that he cast the curse at Hugo, but Ron stepped in the way just before it hit. Ron's been catatonic ever since, and his cells are ageing at an accelerated rate. Today, he's a forty year old living in an eighty year old body. By next month, it'll be closer to ninety."

"And there's nothing they can do for him?"

"Other than a few potions to keep him comfortable, no, there's not much." Hermione hangs her head, letting her hair fall around her face to hide her tears. "There was some mix-up in the man's files – some minor clerical error that caused his case to fall between the cracks – and he was readmitted to Azkaban without a proper investigation. Unfortunately, he received the Kiss immediately upon his return, so now there's no way of knowing what he cast. The Healers are working blindly."

Draco covers her hands with his own. "Why are you telling me this, Granger?"

"The real reason?"

"I'd expect nothing less from an honest soul like you."

Hermione leans against him, shoulder to shoulder, and whispers, "You're the only one who didn't ask."

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{ oOo }

February 15, 2021

Dear Draco,

Ron took a turn for the worse this morning. The Healers are doing everything they can to stabilize him, but I can see the doubts that they try so hard to hide in my presence. They still don't know how to counter this curse, and for all my skills in research, I've been just as helpless. I can't believe I'm losing him.

Merlin, I apologise. It wasn't my intention to burden you with my problems.

Actually, I was hoping that you would look out for Rose at the match this afternoon while I stay at the hospital. You know how that girl is when she's in the air – she's absolutely fearless. I can't help but worry. I know that I could just ask Harry or Ginny to do this, but there's no sense in bothering them when you'll already be there.

Just please, don't tell Rose or Hugo about Ron. I'll be taking them out of school tomorrow so that they can come see him themselves. I trust that if they ask any questions that you can come up with an appropriate cover story as to my whereabouts, Slytherin wiles and all.

Hermione

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{ oOo }

March 15, 2021

Ron lies in his hospital bed and stares through the window at the clear, star-filled sky. With a soft sigh, his hand nestled tightly in his sleeping wife's, and his children asleep at his feet, he closes his bright blue eyes and passes peacefully into the next world.

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{ oOo }

May 12, 2021

Hermione is late.

Under normal circumstances, she would be rushing as fast her feet could take her, eager to make sure Rose is safe and cheer her on. Instead, she takes her time, lingering in the area underneath the spectator stands. Her heart's just not in it today and honestly, she's not sure if it'll ever be again.

It's been one month, two weeks, six days, and three hours since Ron's funeral.

She hasn't cried, not since that night at the hospital when she woke up gripping his cold, stiff hand. Her children need her to be strong. Her family – Molly and Arthur, Harry and Ginny and the children, George and Bill and their families, and Charlie – they all need her to be strong. She can't afford to break down now, not when what will most help them is to see that she's okay.

But she's not okay. In fact, Hermione knows that she's the farthest from okay that she's ever been. She's been suppressing the pain and denying the mourning process its due course. It's her only recourse; she simply can't afford to be weak when she has Rose and Hugo to think about. But now she fears that the grief has morphed into something much, much worse. Every good and lovely emotion that once resided in her heart is gone, leaving behind an all-consuming numbness, and she is at a loss as to what to do with herself. She just wants to feel alive again.

"Granger?" Someone's voice calls to her, making it through her hazy thoughts. "Why aren't you in the stands?"

Hermione looks up and Draco is there, right in front of her. His thumb brushes across her cheek, the touch feather soft, and she can see the concern in his grey eyes. Her lips move, trying to form the words to answer his question. But the words won't come, because how could she possibly explain her hesitation - her illogical sense of apathy, her fear, her desperation to be strong beyond her limits, her need for comfort - with something as diaphanous as mere words? The notion is ridiculous. Instead, she leans forward and kisses him, hoping that the action will speak what her voice cannot. To her surprise, his mouth is warm and soft, pleasant in spite of his lack of response, and it sends a small tingle down to her toes.

"Hermione, we shouldn't–" Draco interjects as he tries to gently push her away, but she grasps onto the front of his robes and kisses him again.

With a groan, he succumbs to it and suddenly, for the first time in two and a half years, it's like every cell in her body is thrumming with energy. She wraps her arms around his neck, drawing him closer, and the feel of him against her body – his hard angles complementing her feminine curves – increases the lively sensation. His long fingers splay across the small of her back and then move up her spine, coming to rest in the curls at the nape of her neck. Draco nips at her bottom lip and when she opens up for him, he sighs sweetly into her mouth.

It's perfect.

But it's not enough.

Hermione hadn't realised just how much she'd missed having a physical connection to another person until now. Her pulse is racing and a fire has been ignited in her belly, one that she has ignored for far too long. It begins to consume her whole, and she is glad for it. In this rush of lust, the numbness has fled.

She takes control of the kiss, bringing it to a bright burning intensity as she trails a finger down his chest. Then she curls her fingers around his belt and walks backwards, dragging him with her until her back makes contact with a solid surface.

"As much I want to, and Merlin knows I really, really  want to," he says, breathless, "I'm not sure this is such a good idea. It hasn't been very long, Hermione, and I–"

Hermione whispers into his ear, "Just shut up, Malfoy." 

Her words break through his reservations and he gives in to her desire. Hermione has never felt more alive than she does in that moment, and for the first time in two months, she is able to cry.

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{ oOo }

July 16, 2021

Hermione awakens to a tap-tap-tap on her bedroom window. Perched on the sill outside is an eagle owl, one she has become far too familiar with for her liking, and she groans at the sight.

Another letter from Draco.

She takes the missive, gives the bird a treat for its troubles, and sends the haughty thing on its way. With a frown, she Levitates the letter across the room, allowing it to join the others piled on top of her desk. This reminder of their tryst doesn't sit well with her; the very sight of it sets her insides to churn uncomfortably, as do any of the other sixty-five letters she's received from him. They sit on her desk in ten neat, little stacks – one for every week that he's written to her, his correspondence beginning the very day after their indiscretion – and every envelope remains unopened. She just wants to forget, but she can't.

Every morning Hermione sees those stacks and remembers. She threw herself into the arms of another man before Ron's body had even had time to cool in his grave, a man to whom she'd probably just been a one-off. She'd defiled the memory of her husband for a meaningless shag. What's worse is that she'd enjoyed it, every torrid second of it. She'd felt a connection that she'd never thought she'd experience again, and it hadn't been with Ron.

The guilt squeezes tighter around her middle and she rushes to the loo. After she empties her stomach and flushes, Hermione flops backwards, resting her back against the blessedly cool tile wall. This is another unwanted daily event that has made a permanent fixture in her life, it seems, one that occurs every morning like clockwork. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and mentally counts the number of consecutive days she's had this nausea.

Twenty-seven.

Hermione refuses to panic. It may be nothing, simply a hormone imbalance due to all the stress she's been through lately. She decides to visit a Muggle store later and buy what she needs to know for sure. She'll just rule out the possibility discreetly, and she can brew up an anti-nausea potion without having to worry about any damaging side effects.

Then she'll be able forget about Draco Malfoy, with his infuriating smirk and wicked tongue. She'll be able to forget how he made her feel so alive when Ron was dead and forever gone, and how even when Draco was rough, there was an underlying gentleness to his words. When she's sure there's no evidence of her weakness other than a memory, she'll finally be able to forget and put the whole thing behind her.

Everything will be fine.

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{ oOo }

July 19, 2021

Her vision swims with the damning blurs of pink and white.

For brief second, she thinks she might vomit again – this time all over her bedroom floor, her feet refusing to take the few paces needed to reach the loo – but it passes and all she is left with is overwhelming fatigue. She sluggishly sinks to her knees, her movement so measured that she suspects she looks a bit like a slowed down image on the telly, inching forward frame by frame by frame. When she finally hits the floor, the chill from the bare wood parquet permeates through the thin fabric of her night clothes and she begins to cry. Long after all her tears are spent, she shakes her head and lets out a rough bark of a laugh, the sound filled with saline and self-deprecation.

Hermione Granger Weasley has a moment of intense clarity.

The seed now coming to fruition had, in actuality, been planted long ago.

The time for running away, for hiding from reality, has passed. It is the time for action. So she takes a slow, cleansing breath, rises off the floor, and hopes her feet will hold her. The first few steps are rather wobbly, but her legs gain strength as they move about, taking her to her desk without incident.

Hermione grabs the newest letter off the top of this week's stack and tears open the envelope. The contents written within run the gamut from adoration to irritation and back again, and the desperation she reads between the lines makes her laugh aloud. His words, even the ones filled with frustration and anger, are like a balm, easing over the hurt places in her soul. She consumes the letter whole and then rips open another.

And another.

And then another.

Hermione continues until she has read every word he has sent to her over the past sixty-eight days, letting his thoughts about her, about them, wash away the guilt to which she's been clinging. Who would've thought that Draco Malfoy would ever pine over someone like her? That he would want her as a friend, as a lover, and as an equal, rather than a mere conquest?

She scrambles for a clean piece of parchment, searching through the mess of wrinkled letters and torn envelopes that litters her desktop. When there isn't one to be found, she grabs one of his letters at random, quickly jots down of few of her own lines on the back, and sends the note on its way. Less than an hour later, her owl returns with his answer.

With a decision made, Hermione goes to the fireplace, throws in a handful of Floo powder, and shoves her face into the green flames. "Harry? Ginny? Are you up?"

"Hello, Hermione, I'm here." Harry greets her, pulling up a chair to sit where she can see him. "Ginny's out running some errands. Is everything alright?"

"Yes. Well, no, actually… maybe?" She flounders, then hastily adds, "It will be, I think. Either way, you needn't worry about me, Harry, if that's what you're thinking. I was just hoping that Rose and Hugo could stay with you tonight."

"Expecting company?"

"Yes, I am, as a matter of fact."

"Good." Harry grins. "It's about damn time."

"What?"

"Come now, Hermione. Don't let these spectacles fool you, I'm not blind. I've got three children and I recognise the signs." He leans forward, elbows on knees, and speaks softly. "It's Malfoy, isn't it?" She bites her lip and nods. "Then I'll say it again, it's about damn time. Merlin knows he could use someone like you in his life."

"Someone like me?"

"Yeah. Warm and honest, but not afraid to put him in his place. Clever, courageous, and forthright. I could go on."

"That's not necessary." Tears well in her eyes, but her voice is steady and strong. "Thank you, Harry."

"You're welcome." His cheeky smile returns. "Now, go get him before he decides to slither away."

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{ e p i l o g u e }

September 1, 2023

"Come along, children." Hermione calls over her shoulder. "Quickly now, or else you'll miss the train."

"What's she on about?" Scorpius whispers to Rose. "We've got twenty minutes to spare and we're already on the platform."

"Oh, don't mind Mum. We could be a whole day early and she'd say the same thing. It's kind of tradition now," Rose says. "Don't you remember last year?"

"Besides," Hugo says as Scorpius shakes his head, "she gets rather tetchy if you contradict her."

"I heard that, young man." Hermione chastises her son, though the lilt of her voice suggests she is far from put out. "You're lucky you're on your way to school. Otherwise, there'd be some cleaning in your future. The Muggle way."

Draco shifts his wriggling burden – a toddler with lots of bushy, blonde hair and brown eyes full of mischief – from one arm to the other, and then speaks up. "Now, now. That's enough pestering your mother for one day. You lot should be ashamed of yourselves." He wraps his free hand around Hermione's waist, pulling her close, and gives her a kiss. "You know that's my job."

"Well, Rose, Hugo, I think that's our cue to leave." The three Hogwarts students each make a disgusted face and Scorpius adds, "Unless, of course, you want to encourage their juvenile behaviour."

Hermione laughs, bright and loud, and embraces her stepson. "I'm going to miss you, you cheeky little thing. Take care of my girl."

"Always," he says. Then he winks. "But Frankie Longbottom might not like that too much."

"If you know what's good for you, you'll shut up now. I know where you sleep." Rose narrows her eyes threateningly at Scorpius, shoving him out of the way. She kisses Hermione's cheek and whispers in her ear, "Don't believe a word he says, Mum. When I'm good and properly smitten, I'll tell you myself."

"I know, my dearest Rosie." Hermione returns the kiss, placing it on her daughter's forehead. "I know."

As Rose and Scorpius move to say their goodbyes to Draco, Hugo slides in front of his mother. "It's not just us anymore, is it?"

"No," she says, fiddling with the new ring on her finger, "it's not. I never really asked, and that was rather selfish of me, but are you alright with it? With Draco and me, with all of us becoming a family?" Hermione looks at her son, smoothing his hair back from his face. "You don't have to be, you know. I would understand, and so would Draco."

"Mum, do me a favour - grab your husband, go home, and have a much deserved afternoon of rest." Hugo smiles, a lopsided curl of his lips, and he winks one bright blue eye roguishly. "That is, if Carina will let you."

Hermione is suddenly struck by how much the boy looks like Ron – tall and lanky, with that same irreverent grin. He places his hands on her cheeks and leans down to bump his forehead against hers.

"And I take it back - it's still just us. The us has just grown." He lets her go and nods towards Draco, who is making a valiant effort to hug Rose and Scorpius and maintain control of the baby. "All of us are just us."

"You're right, Hugo," Hermione says, her throat thick with joyful emotion, and her arms wind around her nearly grown son.

As her head rests on Hugo's shoulder, she catches Harry's gaze across the platform. His acknowledging grin is bright as he nudges his wife, and Ginny waves at her, a small yet enthusiastic gesture. Hermione beams back at the couple, her expression brilliant and happy, and she squeezes Hugo a little more tightly.

"We're all just us."

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