And the sad thing is
There's no end to this
Your tears are like the rain that beats the rain
And I wake at dawn
To find you gone
Don't even have strength to call you name
Two Solitudes - Level 42
The sound of the howling wind, the distant rustling trees, and the groaning and creaking of weak branches seemed to echo into the silence of night.
This is it, Hermione thought as she watched the winds torment the branches of her English oak tree from the upstairs windowsill. This was the night that the ancient tree would finally succumb to the forces of nature and blow over completely.
Hermione slowly opened the window and inhaled, letting the cool wind carry the fresh scent of leaves and distant rain into her room. It was cold; colder than she'd expected, but the heavy-hearted woman ignored the chill and reached for the copy of War And Peace that her father had hollowed out in his boyhood and given to her as a place to keep her treasures safe while she was away. It had been filled with all sorts of keepsakes while she had been at Hogwarts, but now it contained just three things: a half-empty pack of fags, a lighter, and a clean glass ashtray.
The only thing that was heard next was the sound of her opening the cardboard box, the scraping of her thumb on the lighter, and the first deep inhale of smoke.
She really hated smoking.
It was such a disgusting habit, but Hermione was restless and angry, and in dire need of a smoke. She usually wasn't weak enough to give in to such senseless urges, but didn't have the energy to fight it tonight. And since murder was stillillegal everywhere, she settled for option B: smoking. Hermione took another deep drag and moved the ashtray from where it had been balanced on her leg to beside her on the windowsill.
Then, she went back to staring out the window.
Funny enough, she hadn't picked up the habit until after she married Draco Malfoy, and he still was her sole reason for lighting up.
Hermione saw a shadow of something move in the darkness. Thinking it was her husband, she started to breathe a sigh of relief … until she realised it was nothing. She frowned. She was all alone, and this was not how she'd imagined spending her second wedding anniversary.
The fight had started hours ago under the old oak tree, moved to the front porch, and ended in the foyer. Hermione couldn't remember what it had been about, but knew that it was on the long list of reasons why they fought: his jealousy issues, her career, their marriage … just to name a few. All she really knew was that it was bad enough to send her retreating to this window.
Initially, when Draco had slammed the door behind him, Hermione watched in hopes that he'd turn around and chase her the way most men would—the way most men should. But he'd kept walking away. But now she was just staring out the window because looking around their home would only make the angry tears start up again. It was so much easier to watch something else buckle under the force of nature.
Draco wasn't coming home.
More than that, she hated that she knew he wasn't coming home. He never came home after fights. He always either stayed at the Manor or—when his parents were in town—in a guest room in the Leaky Cauldron. Home, she figured, was the last place that he wanted to be.
Or, rather, she was the last person he wanted to be around.
It wasn't that they'd yelled, that she'd screamed, or that he'd slammed the door when he left. They had done all of that more times than she could count. It was that their yelling had seemed final, her screaming had been painful, and the slamming of that door had meant that it was over.
Hermione hadn't stood up since.
She'd been able to stand while she screamed at him, while he stood in front of her with that look of angry bewilderment on his face, but not anymore. Draco should've known why they were fighting. He should've understood. And, really, he should've expected it. The words and setting were different, but the argument was still the same.
Nothing had changed.
And nothing was going to change, either. Not unless he changed.
Hermione heaved the ninth sigh of the hour, tapped the ashes into the ashtray, and glared out the window, watching as the harsh wind pushed the English oak dangerously to the left.
Any time now.
It was sadistic, and she knew it, but Hermione was just waiting to hear the final snap—the one that preceded a loud boom that would shake her house and her world. And as she sat there, she came to the crippling understanding that this tree was her marriage—half dead and in dire need of being put out of its misery. And tears welled in her eyes because, truthfully, it wasn't what she wanted.
Hermione took another deep drag of her cigarette to calm herself down.
At any rate, it didn't matter anymore, did it?
Draco was gone and he wasn't coming back and she … well, she was just pissed off. It hadn't occurred to her until that very moment just how livid she actually was. Hermione didn't understand her emotions. This wasn't the first time that Draco had walked out. He'd made something of a habit out of it since the routine fighting had started last November when he started talking rubbish about being tired of keeping their marriage a secret.
She frowned at the thought.
Over and over, he'd declared that he was tired and walked out, but not once did he ever bother to ask her how she felt about the consequences of their secret marriage. But Hermione didn't hate that part. What she actually hated was how she always ended up as the maid with the cleaning charms and the vacuum, sucking up the shards of a relationship that was barely surviving against all odds. And it hurt. She'd be lying if she said that it didn't.
It hurt more that Draco had never bothered to consider that she, too, might be tired.
Because she was.
This marriage wasn't unfolding how she'd thought it would. They were supposed to be happy right? Happy like they had been when they'd dated. Happy like they had been in the first few months of their marriage. They had their priorities, wanted the same things, and were happy with the way their lives were going. But Draco's change of heart had changed everything, causing the tension between them to progressively mount. She wasn't quite sure how or when or even why the change of heart had occurred, but it had proclaimed to her loud and clear that it wasn't just his priorities that had changed….
He had changed.
She hated when Draco yelled, but hated it more when he was silent. She hated when he slammed doors and hated when he looked at her as if she were the irrational one. She hated his possessiveness and jealousy, his apathy and stubbornness, and as she stared out the window, Hermione wasn't sure whether she just really hated all his traits, or whether she just really hated him.
The new him.
Someone had told her that a marriage was over whenever love and hate couldn't be distinguished or separated; whenever love didn't overshadow or overpower hate. And Hermione crushed her cigarette butt in the ashtray, clenched her fists together, and tried to remind herself of exactly why she'd fallen in love with Draco in the first place.
Because, despite it all, she did love him.
It could have been his eyes, his charm, and his infinite patience—patience that had definitely come with age and maturity. It could have been the way his hair framed his face or the way his eyes brightened whenever he flashed her a rare smile. Perhaps it was the way he looked when he was asleep or that he actually listened to her when she spoke. Or maybe it was the way they had connected on a mental level before they'd connected physically. It could have been his ambition or the way he looked at her. Gods. It was a look that made it possible for Hermione to trick herself into believing that there was something in the world about which he actually cared deeply … and maybe it was her.
But she wasn't so sure about that anymore.
Hermione opened her eyes and lit another cigarette, sighing. Gods, she was tired.
Tired of dealing with him and yelling at him. Oh, and she was definitely tired of being on the other end of every door that he slammed when he was angry. Hermione was tired of his temper and his constant choice of flight over fight. She was tired of Draco always pointing the finger at her when he needed to point the finger at himself. But mostly, Hermione was tired because she never got to play the one that got angry. She never got to slam the door.
Of course, if ever given the opportunity, she wasn't sure if she could … not if his face was on the other side. Either way, it didn't matter. She'd been smoking and staring out the window long enough to thoroughly convince herself that she'd never get the chance to slam the door in his face because he wouldn't be returning.
Whether she liked it or not, whether she wanted it or not, it was over.
And she was angry that he was cowardly enough to end it without a proper fight.
Hermione finally turned away from the window and took another long drag of her fag, feeling the tension in her shoulders finally start to ebb … slightly. She just might enjoy the fact that she wasn't going to have to watch Draco slam another door again … oh, and she wasn't going to have to watch him walk away, either.
But when she heard the front door open and heard the sound of his feet on the stairs, Hermione knew that she'd relaxed too soon. She thought about crushing her second cigarette, but thought, "why?" and took another drag. Closing her eyes, she listened to his breathing in the silence for the five minutes it took for him to summon enough nerve to actually speak to her.
"I hate it when you smoke in the house."
Hermione's frown deepened and she tapped her cigarette on the side of the ashtray. "Yeah? Well, I hate it when you slam the door."
"Leave it to you to compare smoking to slamming doors. They're completely unrelated."
She brought the fag back to her lips and inhaled.
"And now you're ignoring me. Wonderful." Draco drawled sarcastically.
She blew her smoke out the window.
"What am I supposed to say?" Hermione looked at Draco for the first time with tired eyes and found equally tired eyes staring back. His face was a bit pink and that only meant one thing.
He'd been drinking.
She cursed to herself.
"I don't know," Hermione sighed. It was her eleventh one. "Anything. Nothing. You could try and throw in some everything too, while you're at it." She brought the cigarette to her lips again, but stopped. Her mouth tasted terrible and smoking wasn't making her feel better.
It was time to stop.
After she crushed her cigarette, Hermione heard him sigh behind her, and for the first time there was a bit of satisfaction at the fact that she could cause a reaction in him that didn't involve slamming doors and screams that were louder than the silence they sat in most of the time.
"Are you finished being difficult?"
She glared at him, hotly, "Oh, so now I'm being difficult? Forgive me if I'm wrong, but weren't you the one who left?"
"I came back, didn't I?"
Hermione sighed. "Yes." Thanks to the alcohol.
"Isn't that what you wanted? For me to come back?"
Her voice was sharper than the glass of the window she so badly wanted to push him through. "What I want is for you to stop leaving in the first place."
"I'm not going to apologise for that."
"Of course not," she replied dryly. "You never apologise for anything."
"If you're going to be unreasonable—"
"Unreasonable?" Hermione's voice raised half an octave. "I've been nothing but reasonable. I only said that you should—"
"What? Stay? So you can yell more? I—"
"You could do something other than stand there and—"
"I could, but you shutting up long enough to let me is an entirely different story." At the hurt and angry look on her face, Draco pursed his lips, straightened his shoulders, and sighed. His second one of the night. "The reason why I left is the same reason why you've been sitting in front of this window, smoking. I needed to calm down. I needed to think."
That was not why she sat in this particular windowsill.
"I was tired."
She ignored the fact that this was the most that he'd said to her outside of yelling in over a month because, really, it didn't matter. "And I'm not?" Hermione sighed. She wasn't angry anymore. She wasn't even tired. She was just one big ball of exasperation. "I'm going to take a bath." Hermione stood to her feet and walked past him towards the bathroom. She remembered something, paused, and tossed back a dry, "Happy anniversary," and kept walking.
She was just about to round the corner when she heard Draco sigh.
His third to her thirteenth.
Technically, it meant that he needed to sigh ten more times to catch up with her. It also meant that Draco cared four and one-thirds less than she did. And Hermione was ashamed and angry that their marriage had dissolved into nothing more than petty subtraction and uneven division.
When she shut the bathroom door behind her and started her bath, Hermione felt so detached, so divided, she realised that she had just about forgotten what things were like when they were whole.
After adding a little sea salt and a few drops of lavender oil, Hermione shed her clothes and put one foot in to test the waters. The bath water was warm and she quickly found herself sinking into the tub.
This was more like it. Letting out a blissful sigh, the witch held her breath and completely submerged herself into the water. She came up a few seconds later, ran her hands over her wet face, grabbed the soap and loofah, and started bathing. The soothing ritual of washing herself made Hermione briefly forget why she was so desperately in need of something relaxing.
But it was over too fast.
Oddly enough, it wasn't a knock on the door that had brought her back to reality; it was him pacing outside the door.
That was another thing she hated.
Draco always paced. The reasons why were numerous, but he did it mostly out of frustration. Back and forth, back and forth … Hermione unconsciously started grinding her teeth together. It drove her insane.
"What do you want, Draco?"
The footsteps stopped.
Hermione rolled her eyes and changed the question. "Scratch that. Don't even bother to answer that. In all honesty, I don't want to know. So, unless you're knocking to tell me that the old oak tree has finally fallen or the house is burning down, I—"
And that was when he blurted out, "I still think that we should go public."
Hermione's head jerked hard in the direction of the door and then her shoulders sagged wearily. Not this again. She was so tired of having this argument with him. It was the never-ending fight. Though she desperately wanted to blame his statement on the amount of alcohol he had likely consumed, Draco didn't just blurt things out. Not even when he was pissed. He was a thinker. He sat and pondered; considered and weighed out his options. And he was never hasty. Still, knowing all that didn't stop her from saying, "Now I know you're pissed."
For two complete minutes they sat in near silence. His anger was practically seeping through the cracks of the door. All Hermione could do was rinse the soap from her body and wait for him to snap.
It didn't take long. Only seconds.
Draco's voice was incredibly tight when he said, "I had one sodding Firewhisky, Hermione. I hardly think—"
"If one drink makes you lose the ability to be rational, then I'd prefer it if you didn't drink at all."
"As you well know, this isn't something that just popped into my head today. I've been thinking about it for a while. Months. And I'd appreciate it if you didn't patronise me. It's—"
"Completely absurd, that's what it is!" Hermione exclaimed. "How many times do we have to fight about this for you to see reason? This. Is. Not. A. Good. Idea. Gods, Draco! What is it going to change? What is going public going to do?"
"Oh, I don't know, save our marriage," he spat back.
"Save it?" Hermione scoffed, "All it's going to do is bugger it up even more!"
"I can't imagine how things could be worse than what they are now," Draco retorted angrily. When she said nothing, he continued, "All I know is that I'm sick of living like this. I hate that we're constricted to this house. I hate—"
"We knew what we were getting into from the start, Draco! We saw what happened when Harry and Pansy started dating, we saw what they went through when Pansy announced her pregnancy a few months later, and we saw what they went through when they got married. We knew what would happen if the media and people at work found out that we were together, and—" He made a noise of objection, but she cut him off. "And we agreed that keeping us a secret was the best way to go, for our careers, privacy, and your parents. We both had our reasons—"
"And reasons change!" Draco shouted over her.
"Mine haven't!" she fired back, "You've just lost sight of everything!"
"No, I'm not the one who's lost sight, Hermione. You have!" Draco shouted. "Keeping our marriage a secret was never about my parents. They already know we're together—"
"And they hate it, you—"
"They don't like any of the decisions I've made, Hermione, but they live with it!" he shouted, "They always have!"
"And you know what? It stopped being about Potter, Pansy, and the fucking media a long time ago, too. But it has never stopped being about you, your career, and what you want."
"That's not fair, Draco, and you know it. Before you lost your mind and started this campaign to make us go public, you—"
"I can't 'make' you do any—"
She raised her voice over his, "You were all about sacrificing a public relationship for your career, even after we got married. You can't deny that, Draco." And when he didn't, Hermione sniffed, "The pot must never call the kettle black. It has no right."
"Well, I'm not a pot anymore," he replied tersely.
"I'm a part of something that's very important. You know that. We're on the brink of unlocking the brains in the Ministry. We're on the cusp of learning everything there is to know about how they work … and how the human brain wo—"
"I know that already. I've partnered with you and Smith before. I know everything there is to know about your research, and I hate to break it to you, but you all have been on the cusp of figuring them out for years now," he dryly replied.
It was a cheap shot, but she didn't care. "Oh, you know all about our research, huh? Surprising. I never thought you cared—"
"Never thought I cared?" he snorted, "Caring has never been the issue here, at least not on my part. You're the one who doesn't give a shit about anything except for—" he stopped abruptly and sighed.
Hermione continued to bathe, scrubbing her skin nearly raw. She could hear him shuffle around outside the bathroom. The mental picture of him leaning his back against the door and folding his arms across his chest was vivid. "You've been drinking. You should just go to bed. We'll talk about it in the morning—"
"I don't want to talk about it in the morning," his voice was gruff with frustration. "I want to be able to walk in with my wife in the mornings and leave with my wife at night."
"I want to be able to take you to dinner without Potter and Pansy there."
"Every time Mother asks me how my 'Muggle-born girlfriend' is, I want to correct her—"
"And what I want, most of all, is to be able to punch that sodding wanker, Smith, in the throat every time he makes cow eyes at you."
Finally, she broke into his rant. "You don't know what you're talking about, Draco! Zacharias does not make 'cow eyes' at me. He's just my research partner. He's a professional and he knows that I'm in a relationship. So, you're jealous for no reason!" She groaned, "You only want to go public to show me off—"
"Did I say any of that?"
"No! You just implied—"
"Hermione, did you hear anything else that I said? I—"
She wanted to cry. "Look, Draco, I'm sick and tired of fighting with you. Can we just call a cease-fire for the night because I just need a little peace right now? I'm too angry to have this discussion."
"But we need to talk."
She sighed, and the ratio of her sighs to his increased. "I don't want to talk. We're always talking. I—"
"What are you talking about?" he cut her off brusquely. "We never talk anymore, Hermione. Yelling is our preferred method of communication. Has been for the last six months."
Draco said nothing for what seemed like forever, but then she heard him rest his head against the door. He was thinking, again. All Hermione could do was bring her knees to her chest, wrap her arms around them … and wait.
It was times like this when she was reminded of the fact that they were no longer compatible. But they were, however, in love. They had always counted on that to keep everything else in balance. And, in an odd way, it worked. They worked.
But not anymore.
In the many nights of sleep that Hermione had sacrificed, she hadn't sacrificed herself; and in the many nights he had spent pacing in restlessness, he hadn't sacrificed himself. They were still the same people with the same problems on either side of a bathroom door. Someone needed to make a sacrifice before there was nothing left to sacrifice. And, even though she knew that, Hermione couldn't force herself to be the one because she had made more than her fair share of them.
It was his turn.
"This is why I suggested going public. This … arrangement … is the source of our problems."
She begged to differ. "We've had this arrangement for four years and it's never—"
"Do you honestly think that we can go on like this forever?"
"It's more complicated than that."
"No, you're making it more complicated than it has to be." Draco sighed. His sixth.
He was starting to catch up.
"I'm not," Hermione folded her arms across her chest. "We have more serious problems than that, and I hate the way that you keep ignoring them."
"I know you're angry that I left, but—"
She couldn't stop her anger from flaring back up. "Don't do that, Draco. Don't sit out there and tell me how I feel. I hate when you do that. You have no idea how I feel right now. You—" she cursed to herself. "Draco, I just—I just want—I need to be alone right now. Please."
Draco sounded just as angry as ever when he muttered, "Figured as much."
He then got up off the floor, and left her to her thoughts.
It was two in the morning when she joined him in bed. Draco was, as per usual, sleeping on his side, facing away from her, breathing deeply. He didn't move; not when she pulled some of the covers away from him, not when the bed creaked after she sat down, and not even when she restlessly turned from her back to her side.
Hermione sat up and drank a little of the water that he always left on her bedside table. Then, she tried tucking herself into bed, again. She curled on her side away from him and closed her eyes. The bedroom was cold; the wind was still blowing so hard that it rattled the windows. She pulled the sheets and blankets tightly around her body.
Some anniversary this was.
Unable to fall asleep, Hermione counted the stars beneath her eyes, and then took to listening to the rhythm of his breathing on the other side of the bed. When it changed, she knew that he was awake and wondered if he had been asleep at all.
"I don't think I can do this anymore," Draco said in an oddly calm voice, almost mechanical.
Hermione didn't roll over. "Do what?"
"This," he emphasised. "This isn't working."
"What isn't working?"
Hermione's heart started to race. True, she had been thinking similar thoughts for the last few weeks, but she never thought that Draco would ever actually be the one to speak his mind. It only meant that he had been thinking about it for a long time. And the realisation made her head hurt. Perhaps their marriage was worse off than the oak tree. It still hadn't fallen to the ground yet, but they had.
"I think we need to seek … other alternatives."
She didn't have to ask what alternatives he meant because there was only one that could fix a broken marriage. And that was divorce.
He breathed, she wept, he stilled, and she mourned.
And they slept facing away from each other … on opposite sides of the bed.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of JK Rowling. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Everyone writes about Draco and Hermione getting together, but I wanted to write a story about them hitting a snag…and I wanted Hermione to be guilty party. Nice little role reversal, as Draco is usually the guilty party. Oh, and I didn't want this to be a cheating fic, which, again, would be so easy. I believe that marriages can go through problems without the adultery element. I wouldn't know. I've never been married.
As for Hermione's characterization, I brought out her worst canon characteristics for this fic and I used her stubbornness as a vice, rather than a strength. But its really about her stepping outside of herself and realizing her imperfections...and realizing she didn't have to be so strong. I wanted this to be as realistic as possible and I really struggled to make this perfect. As with most of my stories, I present the truth out of order. It may be confusing, but just stick with it. All of it is explained.
I would like to thank my beta, kazfeist. I would also like to thank everyone who really kept me going when I wanted to give up. The list is long. Oh, all the chapters are divided by days...and there are seven of them. LOL. Hence the title. Oh, and this story will be updated quite regularly, cause it's already completed.
Lastly, I was inspired by a lot of music while writing each chapter of this story, so I'll list them:
1. Two Solitudes - Level 42
2. Running Away - Hoobastank
3. I'm So Tired - Eskimo Joe