Then & Now
As the weather turned colder, the ache began to twinge. It was that gentle reminder of loss. It had been years and still, it ached. He cursed the icy temperatures and huddled beneath his Weasley-made caftan with a scowl.
The hearth needed to be stoked, yet he refused to lift his wand and do it. Part of him hoped his grim old place would succumb to the blistery cold. Perhaps he'd be found near his birthday, ripe and severely decomposed. He bet she'd regret it then.
Maybe she wouldn't, he sighed. Maybe she'd be relieved. Maybe she wouldn't miss their stilted chatter over coffee while she avoided talking about her husband and her impending child. Maybe she'd shed a tear and name her next bloody child after him, if her husband would let her.
Husband, he scoffed. The title should have been his. It would have been his, given enough time. He'd only needed more time. He didn't want to rush into things after the end of his prior relationship. She'd said she'd understood! She'd said she'd understood and then, under a full moon, with tears on her cheeks, she told him she was sorry.
The box in his blazer pocket had burned fiercely while she cried. He had been too late. He'd thought he'd had more time. He never thought she'd leave him. She loved him, she swore she did, even as she kept speaking the words that tore him to shreds.
"Are you still coming with me?" He'd finally asked.
The snow began to fall and he tried not to focus on the white flakes that clung to her long eyelashes. He hated the way her chin wobbled while she inhaled shaky breaths. It wasn't supposed to be like this. His hand automatically rose to brush a teardrop from her cheek, but she flinched away from his touch. It was over. It was really over.
"I don't think that's a good idea," she whispered.
"We've always done it. Even before, it was just our thing. Don't you remember?" He recognised the hysteria as his voice rose, but it couldn't be helped. She had ruined everything.
"Of course I remember, it's just," she sighed. "He's waiting for me. I told him I wouldn't be long. I knew I had to tell you, but it couldn't have been a surprise."
He'd always hated her condescending tone and there it was, shoved in his face. There were many things he didn't like about her, but so many more, he loved. Didn't she realise how much he loved her? Couldn't she feel it?
"I've never gone alone. It's always been you. I had planned—"
"Don't Harry, please don't. I know. I found the box. It was an accident. It must have fallen from your bureau. I'd dropped my earring and—" She shook her head and he watched the snowflakes spin to the covered ground.
He frowned. He had to have heard her wrong. She knew? She knew what he planned and she ran off with him? Him? They were polar opposites and if she loved him…
"Did you ever love me?" He sniffled against the cold and yanked his hat over his ears.
She sighed and her shoulders fell. He didn't recognise her heavy winter overcoat and knew it was a gift from him. He wished he had paid closer attention when she'd told him it wasn't working. He'd wished he'd tried harder and showered her with obscure books he'd never read and burnt pancakes. She'd always loved his burnt pancakes.
"It's not the same. Please don't do this, not now."
"Not now? When shall I do it then? It's fucking Christmas, Hermione. It's Christmas!" He'd shouted and his breath expelled in great white puffs. "We're supposed to venture to Godric's Hollow and visit my parents, together, as we've always done. You're supposed to hold my hand and put your head on my shoulder. I'm supposed to feel that warmth that floods through me every fucking time you're near and kiss your temple. Later, after we'd come back to mine, I'd stoke the fire, you'd make the cocoa and right then is when I would ask you to be mine." His cheeks were frozen and he was sure they were blistery red, but he didn't care. She'd ruined everything.
"I told you it wasn't working, Harry. I told you needed more. I moved out, Harry and you barely grunted. It wasn't what it was supposed to be. I loved you, Harry, but I need to be loved more. It's exhausting to give every bit of me to the point where I've lost these pieces and to get nothing in return."
She was downright sobbing then and he had been tempted to pull her into his arms, but he didn't. He could see the dark shadow in the distance. He knew he was being watched and he didn't want to fucking brawl with her new love on bloody Christmas. He still had a little pride left.
"Nothing in return? Really?" He scoffed. "I was just a selfish inconsiderate bloke, is that right? I didn't offer to travel to Australia with you, that wasn't me. I didn't make you cups of tea and pancakes when you weren't feeling well, guess that wasn't me either. I didn't pick up a bouquet of your favourite daisies when I was out for a jaunt. I didn't buy you the latest edition of your favourite book or anything either." He sneered nastily only to deflect from the tears lodged in his throat.
"I hate pancakes," she growled. "I hate them. Ginny loves pancakes, not me. Ginny also loves daisies. My favourite book hasn't been Hogwarts: A History since I was in Third Year. You love the idea of me. You don't love me. You can't. You don't even know me."
He hadn't seen her for months after that. He hadn't wanted to. He hadn't wanted to see anyone, but eventually, Ron had dragged him out and about. He'd wished he'd fought harder.
He saw her as he knew he would. She was happy. Happier than he'd seen her in, well in ever, and that hurt too. Why couldn't she smile at him like that? Why couldn't she look at him like he hung the moon?
"You can't stare at her like that, Harry. She's a married woman." Ron bumped his elbow and he felt the tepid ale splash against his hand but everything was numb without her.
"Married? She actually married him?" His voice was scratchy and low in the loud pub, but no one took notice.
"Where have you been? It was all over the Prophet. He proposed on Christmas. Got her father's blessing and everything, not that I expected less. He did go with her to retrieve them and all."
"I-I should have gone," he lamented.
"Why would you?" Ron scoffed. "She'd already moved out. Would have been right awkward with you and Malfoy in attendance. Cor, can you imagine?" Ron chortled and he envisioned choking his mate to death.
He knew when she saw him. He could feel her eyes on him and for a singular moment, the sun shone down on him and he felt warm. Slowly, his eyes flicked over his shoulder and the raucous sounds fell away. It was only her and everything was right in the world.
"Harry," she breathed. "I'm glad Ron managed to drag you here for my birthday."
Her birthday? Had it really been that long? Where had the time gone? How did he get it back? That couldn't be right, it was Christmas just a few weeks ago, wasn't it? Not that it mattered, he'd spent it alone anyway.
"How are you?" He'd asked uncertainly.
"Incredibly tired, actually, but that's neither here nor there." She didn't move to embrace him and it hurt him more than it ought to.
He pretended he didn't see the pale hand that slid along her waist and dropped to her stomach. He felt the bile in his throat and lurched from the stool. He fell into Ron's side and his stomach erupted in his friend's lap.
"Weasley, take Hermione home, would you? I'd like to have a word with Potter."
He hated that drawl. He hated the air of authority that surrounded such a wanker. He hated everything about Draco Malfoy, but most of all he hated that Malfoy had Hermione.
Through bleary eyes, he observed the Malfoy prat whisper in Hermione's ear. He saw the worry in her brow that was erased with a soft kiss placed on her lips. He was the man that soothed her stresses now and gods did that hurt.
He didn't know why he allowed Malfoy to drag him into the street. He wasn't interested in anything the man had to say. He wanted to follow straight after Hermione, fall on his knees, and beg her forgiveness.
"Potter, Potter, Potter, it seems your special brand of pathetic knows no bounds." He listened to Draco laugh and swung his fist. He missed; of course, he missed and wound up sat on the pavement.
"She was mine."
"Yes, yes she was," Draco sneered. "It was ridiculously easy to whisk her away from you. Poor girl was in dire need of uhm some special attention, if you know what I mean."
"I love her," He moaned into his hands as the stench of his sick rose from the spots on his wrinkled shirt.
"I know, that's what makes it even better." Draco squatted beside the rumpled wizard and smiled widely. "It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Little touches here and there. A compliment and a smile. Who knew that the simple act of remembering how she takes her tea would lead me directly into her knickers?"
"I'm going to be sick." He braced his hands beside his knees just to keep his body erect and dry heaved until it hurt.
"By all means, Potter, get it all out. I'm not nearly finished with you." Draco hefted Harry to his feet and shoved him along the pavement until they happened upon an empty Muggle park. Draco sat Harry on the stone bench and sighed happily.
"Why?" He croaked.
"Why not?" Draco took in their surroundings and sniffed. "The first time I kissed her, she pushed me away and told me she couldn't. Told me she loved you and it wasn't fair. The second time, she pulled me into a storage room and she moaned so loudly when I touched her breasts. They're really quite impressive. The third time was in my office at the Ministry. I probably would have shagged her if Weasley hadn't interrupted."
"R-Ron? Ron knew?" His head spun and his chest was tight, which made it difficult to breathe.
"He suspected, but when he walked in on us with Granger straddled across my lap, he was quite put out. You'll have to ask him what happened as I haven't the slightest idea. I never asked as I honestly didn't care. I probably shouldn't tell you any more. I really don't like to upset my wife, especially now that she's pregnant. Did you know that, Potter? She's having my child and I couldn't be happier." Draco preened arrogantly and finally sat beside the broken wizard.
"You've come this far," He sighed with that broken sort of resignation of failure.
"Gods, Potter, it was so easy. It was like taking lollies from a First Year. I bumped against her in the lift and she blushed. I grazed her fingertips whenever she handed me a file and her breath caught. I tucked a curl behind her ear and I could bloody smell her arousal. The next time we were in the lift, I stood behind her and when it lurched, like it always fucking does, I grasped her waist and she pushed into me. I squeezed her arse and she liked it. I did what any bloke would do when faced with that. I bunched up her skirt and slipped my hand into her knickers. She spread those pretty little thighs and I think she was insanely aroused by the fear of discovery. I backed her into the corner and asked her if she liked it."
"Please, stop," Harry finally begged.
"That's definitely not what she said. I finger fucked her nice and slow that day. I had to cover her mouth when she came, otherwise we would have been discovered. It was nary a week later and she was spread on my desk while I fucked her with my tongue. Did you even know she liked that Potter? I doubt it. She always said things like Harry never did that. I decided right then and there, to simply do everything you'd never done. She's a fantastic shag, Potter."
"Y-you knew about our Christmas." He angrily wiped his eyes and desperately searched his pockets for his wand.
"Of course, I did. She told me everything. I proposed on Christmas. I married her on the two-year anniversary of the day we retrieved her parents from Australia. Our son is due in a few months and I'm rather hoping for a Yule baby. Gods, I hope one day we have a daughter right on your birthday." Draco laughed heartily and it echoed in the silence of the night.
"Why? You have everything."
He shakily stood and looked into empty dark grey eyes. The warmth that had been present while Draco had kissed Hermione was gone. He knew the truth, but he needed to hear it. He needed the words to seep through his agony and drag him roaring back to life.
"I told you, Potter. I told you when my father was carted off to Azkaban when we were children. I told you during the War when your lot dropped Crabbe to his death. I told you, after my trial, when half my wealth was stolen by the Ministry. Don't you remember?"
Draco Malfoy leant down and his pale eyebrows lift in a silent jeer. There was something infinitely satisfying to see the Golden Boy reduced to nothing more than tears and vomit. Everything had come together perfectly and Potter had no one to blame but himself.
"You'll pay for that, Potter. T-that's what you said. It's what you've always said. It didn't, it didn't mean anything!"
He wobbled on his feet as the world spun around him faster and faster until he was forced to close his eyes. The past and the present converged into a blackholed abyss completely bereft of Hermione. He'd lost her. He'd ruined everything and finally, finally, Draco Malfoy…had won.
"A Malfoy always means exactly what he says, Potter. I do think Hermione was the ultimate price. Now I truly do have everything. I suppose I ought to thank you," Draco laughed. As he walked away, he paused and revelled in seeing Harry Potter literally brought to his knees, "tell me," he called, "was it worth it?"