Author's Note: I know it has been a long while, but I am seriously swamped with school work. I got accepted into this writer's workshop, so that is occupying the majority of my time. I know that a lot of you thought that the last chapter was in fact the last chapter, but it wasn't. The chapter title referred to the end of Hermione and Ron's relationship, not the end of the story.
The next chapter, unfortunately, will be a long while in coming. I haven't even sat down to attempt writing it yet, but I will try not to break the three month mark. Sorry, but that's life.
.: Chapter Sixteen – Your Own Fault :.
Friday, May 24, 2002
Astoria liked to think that she was a fairly patient person. She had sat back on numerous occasions and let her sister take the centre stage, become the star of the show, the bell of the ball. Even on her tenth birthday it had been Daphne's day, not hers. Her father always made an effort to include her, but the truth was that Daphne was their favourite, their firstborn, the one they loved the most. She was a mistake, Daphne was not. It was just the way the world was – her world.
Six days ago that had all changed. She was no longer the second daughter, the quiet, almost unseen presence that always lingered in the background. Oh no, six days ago she became the favourite daughter. Astoria had never thought it a possibility, until now. It had always been the Daphne show, and in some respects it still was. But now, now she was the favourite and not her sister.
At first, she had been simply euphoric. For years she had tried to be the daughter that Daphne was, the one that they wanted. In the end she had given up, settling for their transparent affection instead of the dearly wanted adoration she craved. She had been drowning in her desire for them to see her, to see the woman that she had become. But Daphne had always been there to get in her way.
Yet despite it all, she didn't resent her sister. Not now. Daphne had dug her own grave, now she had to lay in it, deal with the consequences. Astoria still couldn't believe what her sister had done. It was unforgivable.
"Would it kill you to at least pretend to be listening to me? My life is in a complete shambles and all you can do is flip that bloody magazine as if nothing is wro…" Astoria rolled her eyes and suppressed a sigh, tuning out her irate sister.
Granted, her sister deserved some sort of sympathy for her situation – Theodore Nott was certainly no catch. Still, Daphne had brought this on herself and despite the fact that she was her sister, Astoria found it hard to muster up any empathy for her. She just couldn't believe that she could do that to Draco, be so conniving and down right immoral. Then again, that was the core of her character. Daphne was as conniving as they came, it was the reason her parents had preferred her up until six days ago.
Her plan had backfired, however. Thank Merlin for that. If she had succeeded, Astoria was certain that her parents would have only praised her all the more for it. They were just as bad as she was. Sometimes, Astoria couldn't help but wonder if her mother hadn't had some affair of which she was the result. She wasn't like any of her family, so she had to wonder.
"Astoria, will you listen to me!?" screeched her sister, eyes wild with both indignation and rage.
"What do you want me to say, Daphne? Poor you?" she shot back scathingly, surprising both herself and her sister with the amount of venom in her voice. Taking a deep breath, Astoria continued calmly. "You cheated on him AND fell pregnant with another man's baby. Did you honestly expect Draco to react any differently?"
The other witch blinked in shock. What had she expected? Draco was her friend, and while blood may take precedence, she wasn't about to condone her sister's actions. Because of her lack of judgement, Daphne was now pregnant with Nott's child and divorced from a man who – who was everything she could have ever wanted. Draco had done so much for her. He had paved the way for Michael, giving up what would have been a very comfortable life with her. She knew that, even if her family didn't.
Michael was her everything. There was nothing she wouldn't do for him and vice versa. She owed Draco so much – too much for her to ever pay him back – and despite her sister's precarious situation, she wasn't going to blame him. He had done what he had to do, she understood that. His happiness meant a lot to her, and if that happiness didn't involve her sister, then so be it. The court date was set for the ninth of June, sixteen days away. It would be interesting to see what her sister got from the settlement.
"He had the divorce papers drawn up before he found out I was pregnant, so there has to be another explanation," Daphne argued, turning her head to scowl out the window.
Astoria sighed. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe he knew about Theo?"
Closing her eyes, Astoria repressed another sigh. Daphne could be so dense at times despite her rather sly intelligence. How could she not have considered that Draco knew? It was widely known that Nott couldn't hold his drink. Draco had probably found out about her torrid affair even before her failed scheme had come into play. He'd likely been biding his time.
"Regardless of what has happened, Daphne, you're my sister and I love you. But you haveto accept that your marriage to Draco wasn't exactly a happy one. Knowing Draco and the kind of man that he is, I wouldn't be surprised if he knew about Theo from the beginning. He was probably waiting for the opportune moment to strike."
"You've screwed up, Daphne, and now you have to deal with the consequences. You're pregnant and regardless of what you may want, mother and father are going to make sure this marriage happens. As your little sister, I sympathise with your situation. But as another woman, I can't help but feel that you've brought this on yourself," Astoria knew that she was being harsh, uncommonly so, but there was no other way.
The moment their parents had been informed of the divorce and pregnancy, her father had hit the drink and her mother had started planning the wedding. Daphne had begged them, pleaded with everything in her, but Deidra Greengrass would have none of it. Despite the circumstances, their mother had refused to relent. Daphne was to wed Theodore Nott within the next three months before her pregnancy began to show. It wouldn't make any difference. Everyone would know why Draco had divorced her by the end of their court case.
"How dare you!" Daphne screeched, flicking her silken brown hair haughtily over her shoulder. "I did nothing to deserv –"
"Draco is a good man. I respect him for what he has done," at this the brunette across from her started to protest. Astoria ignored her and continued. "The sacrifices he has made – you can't possibly know the extent of them. Did you know that his parents wanted him to wed me? And he was going to choose me, Daphne. He just wasn't as heartless as some of the other privileged bastards in this world. He knew about Michael and –"
At this, Daphne bristled. "That's preposterous! You and Michael only –"
"No, Daph." Astoria smiled sadly at her sister. She hated having to be so cruel, but Daphne had to understand that she couldn't simply get everything she wanted. The world didn't work that way. "Michael and I have been together for years, it just took some time and courage to convince our father that we were a suitable match."
Daphne was quiet for a very long time, something that was remarkable on its own. Astoria fought the urge to comfort her sister, to hold her and tell her that she was sorry. It was in her nature to be forgiving – sometimes she was too forgiving. But Daphne needed to hear this, no matter how harsh it was. Her sister needed to learn a lesson, despite the one that she would be living soon.
"You've brought this on yourself, so don't try and blame someone else for your misdeeds," she inwardly cringed at the hurt look in her sister's eyes. It didn't last long. A second later and the old Daphne was back, impetuous and petty as ever. The haughty, indignant look in those indigo eyes told Astoria all she needed to know. Her sister would never change.
Living with Hermione had been…interesting, to say the least. There had been moments where the upstairs bedroom window had looked appealing – not that he was suicidal or anything. Hermione was just being Hermione. She had a surprisingly great personality and this tinkling bell-like laugh. Yet, for all her great personality traits, she had a murderous temper that could put his father's to shame. He honestly didn't know how she did it. One moment she was the nice, even likable, Hermione that he enjoyed spending time with – something both of them were still trying to comprehend – and then she was like the devil incarnate. How was he supposed to know how hyperactive the kid got after she ate liquorice wands?
Rose seemed to have settled in quite nicely. He'd been just as worried about the move as her mother was, but it seemed as if their worries had been for naught. The little girl had taken to life on the estate like a fish to water. It seemed as if she had inherited his taste for the expensive, something he secretly revelled in. She was so much like her mother though. Rose was inquisitive and loving, not to mention too trusting. But at the same time she was temperamental, stubborn and impossible to reason with once she had her mind set. Draco supposed it didn't help that she'd inherited his less notable qualities either. When she grew up, he had no doubts that she would be an absolute heartbreaker and a Slytherin one at that.
There were no words to describe how proud he was of that fact. Even though he'd had no part in raising her – up til this point – she'd taken after him. His little girl – and she was his – had taken after him. It was like walking on water.
"Dray-co?" the angelic voice that called to him caused his heart to flutter uncharacteristically.
He'd never really imagined himself as a father, even though he and Daphne had been trying for years. But now that he was one, he was eternally grateful for the opportunity. Hermione could have turned him away, kept Rose from him – the fact that she hadn't meant so much to him. Sure, they had their moments reminiscent of Hogwarts, but they had been getting along fairly well all things considered. She was intelligent and funny, caring and loving, a great mother. Hermione Granger was actually likable. He actually liked her. Funny old world, wasn't it?
"Dray-co?" Rose persisted impatiently, a pout playing on her lips. He couldn't help but smile.
"Yes, Rose," he answered, looking down at his daughter's pyjama clad body. She had her tiny arms wrapped furiously around her midsection, a frown on her face.
"Do I have to go to bed?" her eyes bugged out, lashes fluttering. Where on earth had she learned to do that? If he had any doubts before – and he didn't – they were long gone now. She was definitely going to be a Slytherin.
"Your mother will kill me if you don't," her answering frown, so serious, made his smile widen.
Sometimes he still couldn't believe his luck. After all the world had thrown at him and for all his mistakes, he'd been given this second chance. He was by no means unhappy with the opportunity, but sometimes he couldn't help but question whether he deserved it or not. For everything he had done and for everything he had not, Draco just couldn't help but feel that way. Regardless, he had this opportunity and he wasn't going to waste it by wallowing in self-pity for things that were in the past.
"We don't have to tell mummy," Rose continued in her pursuit, a sly smile forming on her lips. He struggled not to laugh. She was so much like him it was starting to get scary.
"What don't you have to tell me?" Hermione's voice sounded from the doorway, catching both father and daughter by surprise. She had a knowing smile on her face.
Rose's eyes widened. "Nothing," she scrambled toward her bed, hopping onto the mattress with a bounce. "Dray-co was going to read Lucy Ladybug, weren't you Dray-co?" her eyes were piercing as she snuggled under the large pale blue comforter.
"It appears so," he answered easily, fighting a smile as he turned toward Hermione's prone figure in the doorway. Rose never let anyone, not even Ron Weasley, read Lucy Ladybug to her other than her mother. If he was being honest with himself, he was slightly worried about said mother's reaction. Maybe this was strictly a mother-daughter activity that he had no right to partake in. He didn't want to overstep his boundaries.
Hermione smiled slightly and his shoulders began to relax. "Well, don't let me stop you. I'll just go downstairs and put the kettle on. Two sugars and milk, right?"
"Right," he nodded, watching with gratitude as she crossed the room to kiss their daughter goodnight. Whether she consciously knew it or not, she was letting him into their life. They were living together, yes, but any set of strangers could live together. She was letting him into the more detailed part of their life, allowing him the chance to get to know his daughter properly. He was indebted to her for that.
Looking back at his daughter, he saw her tiny frame, seeming so much smaller than usual in contrast to the large double bed, snuggled under the covers. Her face was expectant and she pointed to where her favourite picture book sat, perched on the edge of a desk next to her armoire. He went over to retrieve the book and sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at the cover nervously. What if he wasn't any good at reading bedtime stories?
Living with Draco had been…unnervingly easy. He had his moments – mainly in the morning – where he seemed to be the old Draco again. But she had quickly learned that he was not a morning person, unlike herself. It was strange – living with him and seeing that he actually was human. A lot of people regarded his family as though they were living stones, cold and austere. It was impossible to picture them without their perfection. What would people say if they saw Draco in the morning, reminiscent of a caveman, hair in disarray, with a single syllable vocabulary? Even his sneer of old made an appearance when he hadn't had his morning cup of tea and then glass of pumpkin juice. Sometimes she even had to wait until after he had eaten to get a civil response from him.
At least Rose hadn't inherited that trait from her father. If she had, Hermione didn't think that she would be able to deal with two monsters in the morning. One was certainly enough. And yet, however horrible he may have been, in a silly childish way, he made up for it as the day wore on. They had only been living together for three days, but it felt a lot longer. She had called in sick at work – something she almost never did – and decided that getting settled was more important for both her and Rose.
Her little girl had taken to her new surroundings quite quickly. She loved it here – Draco had been right about that. Rose adored the estate, especially the stables out back. Horses were a big bonus in Rose's eyes. Hermione had thought that she would never stop squealing when she'd found out. Even Draco had been surprised by their daughter's reaction, demanding riding lessons immediately. He hadn't been able to say no.
If the horses weren't enough, then Narcissa's lavish redecoration of what was to be Rose's bedroom certainly was. The walls were pearl white, with light blue swirls that moved gently, like ripples breaking the surface, across the centre, separating the wall in two. A large double bed sat firmly to the left of the room, making way for an intricately carved desk, armoire and divan to the right. Sets of bookcases lined the wall to one side, engraved with the same twisting rose design that was common throughout the room. Then there was the walk-in-wardrobe for when she was older, but was already bursting with clothes that Hermione didn't recognise.
Narcissa had gone a little overboard but it was the thought that counted. Rose loved it and that was all that really mattered. Even her room had been redecorated, quite tastefully for that matter. Hermione had to admit that she loved the design. It was a combination of white, silver and gold. She had been shocked, however, to find out that she had been given the master bedroom and not Draco. He hadn't made any comment about it, so she'd decided not to bring it up. What did it really matter?
Everything was so light and bright and airy. It was not at all what she had expected. Then again, she hadn't known what to expect. The fact that she liked living here was astounding. She had at least expected to feel awkward and out of place, but not once had she even felt a glimmer of that. And Draco, she could see the effort he was making to make her feel comfortable. He didn't have to do that. They could have easily ignored each other and just concentrated on Rose – that would have been the easier thing to do. But he made the effort, so she returned the gesture and did the same.
She could see that he was trying and that meant a lot to her. Things could have been much more difficult if he hadn't decided to give her a chance. What she had done was unforgivable, but he was giving her the chance to redeem herself. There was no way she was going to waste that. She was sick of being a masochist – sure this was harder, but in the long run it would be better for all of them, Draco included.
"What are you looking at?" his voice made her jump, startling her back into reality. Hermione realised that she had been staring absently out the window and blushed, ducking her head to hide the red stain.
"Nothing in particular," she answered, busying herself with making the coffee and tea she had set out to in the first place. Hopefully the blush on her cheeks would rescind by the time she was done. "Tell me, did you enjoy the bedtime story?" her question had the desired effect and soon distracted him, buying her time.
"Honestly? It was…amazing – watching her fall asleep, that is. And I didn't do too bad with the voices, either. Have to practice, though. She gave me a B-, which isn't all that bad considering it was my first time," he had a genuine smile on his face when she turned around, one that she couldn't help but return.
"A B- isn't too bad," she agreed, handing him his cup of tea. "For a Lucy Ladybug virgin, that is. Still, you've got some practice if you want to catch up to me. I'm an A+ by the way, just so you know."
Draco laughed. "Of course you would get an A+. Truthfully now, did you ever get anything less than an Outstanding while we were at school?"
"Yes," she answered with a wince. "An Exceeds Expectations in Defence."
This made him laugh again. "Because that's so horrible," his smile eventually began to wane and she noticed the change in his eyes. "Another question – more serious this time – and please answer honestly. How are you?"
His question caught her buy surprise. She knew what he was taking about, though. After she had given the divorce papers to Ron, she'd arrived back at her parents' house in tears. Rose hadn't seen her – thankfully – but he had. Draco had avoided asking her outright what had happened, but she knew he was curious.
"I'm fine," he looked unconvinced. "Okay, maybe I'm not fine, but I am coping. It's not like I'm a mess or anything. Divorcing Ron was the right thing to do and I can't forget that. Sure, it hurts but the pain isn't crippling. Draco, believe me, if I was falling apart at the seams, you would know. I'm a terrible actress," she answered honestly, moving forward to sit beside him at the kitchen counter.
"I do believe you – I mean, you are a terrible actress," at this, she slapped his shoulder playfully, earning a grin in response. "But I can't help but wonder if you aren't playing this down or not. Seriously though, are you okay? Personally, I don't understand Weasel's appeal but –"
"Draco, I'm not going to burst into tears if that's what you're worried about," this seemed to placate him, so she continued, taking advantage of his silence to change the subject. "Now it's your turn. I'm curious, so answer me this; why did you pick Daphne over Pansy? I know that Parkinson is a nightmare, but when you think about it, so is Daphne. I suppose looks played a part in the decision making process, didn't they?"
He smiled derisively. "You're quite good at changing the subject, aren't you? Never mind. You are right about looks playing a part, though. But mostly it was about what I could stand and what I could live with. Astoria would have been the ideal choice – and I would have chosen her – but she was already seeing someone else. It's not like her parents knew, so I had to focus my attention on Daphne instead of her. When you think about it, you can't honestly tell me that Pansy is the lesser of two evils. Considering what I had to work with, Daphne was the best choice."
Hermione was shocked. She had thought that he'd only ever had the choice between the two women. The fact that he'd had the option of choosing Astoria Greengrass as well, but didn't because of her happiness rather than his, said a lot about his character. He was more thoughtful than people, herself included, gave him credit for.
"Shocked you, didn't I?" Draco asked with a smug grin, chuckling as he took a sip of his tea.
"Yeah, you did" she admitted ruefully, taking a sip of her own coffee. "You shock and surprise me everyday."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," he raised an eyebrow in question.
"It's not," Hermione was quick to reassure him. "I guess I'm just a little annoyed with myself. I don't think I've ever misjudged someone as badly as I have you. The same goes for what I did to Ron. A part of me feels absolutely wretched for doing this – divorcing him, I mean. He has been – forgive me for saying this – but he has been Rose's father for as long as I can remember. He's just always been there. It feels wrong to shut him out of her life."
"Of course it does," his agreement made her look up in surprise. He just smiled and waited for her to continue, knowing that she had more to say.
"But then…then there's this part of me that can't help but feel grateful for the way things have turned out. Maybe a clean break is what we need…I just – I honestly don't know what to do. Whichever way I turn, someone gets hurt," she said, gnawing on her lower lip anxiously as she waited for his response.
"Well, I think that you're doing the best that you can, considering the circumstances," he replied after a few moments of silence. "I think we all are."
"My best just doesn't feel good enough," she admitted quietly, looking down at the kitchen tabletop.
After several long moments, she felt his hand under her chin. The shock that went through her at his touch, even though he was just pulling her gaze back up to his, was startling. It was like electricity. He seemed just as startled as she was when their eyes met, grey to brown.
Draco swallowed hard. "Look at it this way – I know you don't want to shut Weasley out of her life because of everything he's done for both you and her over the years. But, at the same time you don't want to push Rose, which is completely understandable. Your best is just going to have to suffice. There is no more you can do," his words were measured but completely sincere.
"Thank you – for saying that, I mean. You didn't have to, but you did and I'm grateful for that."
"Anytime," he answered, smiling despite the sombre topic.
Hermione didn't know why but she couldn't bring herself to look away, to be the one to break their locked gaze. She was sure that her face showed every flicker of emotion she wished it wouldn't. He'd been so good to them these past three days. Draco had done everything he possibly could to make them feel comfortable, to make Rose happy, to make her feel wanted. Rose was the one that he had wanted to live with him, not her. She was the daughter that he'd never had the chance to love. By all rights, she shouldn't feel wanted here. Hermione knew that she should feel like an intruder marching on their parade, but she didn't.
He made her feel wanted, made her feel as though her presence wasn't a burden but an unexpected pleasure. His eyes held hers, just staring. There was uncertainty, even a faint trace of fear in them. Hermione was positive that what she saw in his grey was reflected in her hazel-brown. She was afraid, afraid of this strange tugging sensation, at the growing appeal of his lips. It was wrong; she wasn't supposed to feel this attraction.
Attraction. Oh God! She was attracted to him. Like the pull of a magnet calling her, drawing her in, like a siren call in a turbulent storm, he called to her. It seemed that the feeling was mutual. She couldn't be sure who moved first but the feel of his lips, smooth and warm, soon enveloped her. There was nothing to match this, nothing as exquisite as the feel of his lips on hers. If she could, she would gladly drown in him, drown from the overwhelming sensations that he was evoking.
Her memory hadn't done him justice. She could already feel the anticipation coiling in her stomach. How long had it been? It didn't matter, she didn't care. Coherency was beginning to leave her, leave her like it had before. She was drunk. No, she was blind. Everything that was him had her seeing stars. Too bad they had to breathe.
He broke the kiss first, leaving her gasping for breath as he continued on a trail down her neck. Unconsciously, she tilted her head to the side to accommodate him. She was gasping, panting in eager anticipation and breathlessness. Each gentle caress against her neck, each playful nip, only added fuel to her fire. Without thought or reason, her hands delved into his hair, tugging, pulling his mouth back up to hers.
Time seemed to pass by in a passionate, frenzied haze. It mattered little. An eternity of his lips sounded like heaven. Ron had never been this…
It took all of her self-control to pull away, to move and separate them. Distance was good. Her mind was working frantically to reassemble itself, to bring thought and reason back and not just this glimmer that she had now. He was breathing heavily, like her, and his eyes seemed to widen, a mirror of her own. What had they just done?
"I –" Hermione tried to find something to say, but even now unwanted desire was burning in her veins, clouding her senses. She had to get away.
Running as fast as she could, Hermione whirled herself away and out of the kitchen, taking three steps at a time up the stairs when she reached them. All she could think about was him, the kiss, the memories that were now whirring around in her head. She didn't want to think, to remember. Remembering was bad.
When she was safely in her room, door locked and warded behind her, did she finally let out the whimper of despair she'd fought to keep in. She had only been divorced three days. Three days. And of all the people she could have kissed, it had to be him.
Merlin! What had she done?