Fic challenge from user "WHITEOWL". Here were the requirements:

1. Draco x Hermione of course.

2. Hermione's broken in some way.

3. Theodore Nott is not allowed to be the kind of lovable guy you love him to be. (sorry about that)

4. Set in Hogwarts. Optional as to when

5. Include/Reference a unicorn, fairies, Leprechaun and the LochNess Monster.

6. Ginny Weasley is not the brilliant best friend you like her to be either. (Again, sorry about that but it had to be done)

7. Keep things believable!

8. Include a fight, either verbal or physical that's up to you. Optional as between who.

9. Angsty, passionate sex. Multiple times if possible.

10. Include a bit of voyeurism.

Sorry in advance to borrow the title for this fanfic from one of the best films of all time, but I thought the title itself was profoundly appropriate, given the material of the piece. I hope no one is offended!


Timeline: October, 2006 – December 2007

Main Characters: Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley, Narcissa Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Minerva McGonagall, Theodore Nott

Story Details: Draco x Hermione fic. Novel compliant up to The Final Battle of Hogwarts (May, 1998), then follows the EWE format (Epilogue, What Epilogue?). THIS IS A DARK, ROMANTIC, ANGSTY FIC WITH A FLUFFY ENDING.

Summary: Professor Hermione Granger-Weasley is married to a consummate cheater in Ron Weasley, but so far, she's taken the high-road, choosing to forgive his infidelities. However, in her heart, she is desperately in lust with Professor Draco Malfoy – her former childhood enemy, and now co-worker at Hogwarts. Draco has set his sights on wooing Hermione away from her husband, and he's refusing to take 'no' for an answer. With her friends and his parents dead set against them, the lingering problem of what to do about Ron, and her career in the balance, how can Hermione keep what she has and still get what she wants? This will be an affair to remember! Three chapter series.

Genre: Romance, Drama, Angst

Rating: NC-17 (explicit sexual situations – consensual and non-consensual both, profanity; controversial topics include marital infidelity and pregnancy)

IMAGES FOR THIS FANFIC (pictures of the characters, outfits, etc.) can be found here: http:/ / s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / An%20Affair%20To%20Remember (get rid of all spaces in that URL to load it properly).


AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER

By: RZZMG


CHAPTER ONE

Early October, 2006

The Hogwarts library was always comfortably quiet on a Friday night, especially after ten o'clock, but now that once succoring silence held a palpable tension to it that threatened to unhinge Hermione. "Please stop," she begged, not looking her companion in the eye, but down at her sensible leather shoes, gripping the book she'd previously been reading before being interrupted, More Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find These Too, close to her chest. "This isn't a game." She swallowed back her nervousness, and rubbed her palm against her dark brown, woolen slacks to remove the moisture that had gathered in the cradle of her hand.

True to character, Draco Malfoy did not take her request with graceful surrender. Instead, he made a challenging step closer. She took one backwards in automatic response, colliding with the bookshelf finally, knowing there was no where left to run now. She was effectively cornered by him as his arms shot out and blocked her escape to both the left and right sides.

"I never considered it one, Granger," he murmured, his breath hot against her face as he drew into her personal space without fear.

"Weasley," she corrected in a whisper, terrified now by her traitorous heart and how it reacted to this man's presence.

"Granger," he stubbornly retorted. "We both know your relationship with freckle face is a sham."

She shook her head, put her hands up to his chest to push him away, but the wall of his pectoral muscles - and one hell of a center of gravity - solidly resisted her attempts. "Move, please," she pleaded, shaking all over now. "Don't do this. I'm a married woman."

"On a piece of sodding paper only," he snarled, and capturing her small wrists in one hand, Malfoy abruptly yanked them above her head and pressed the entire length of his rock hard body against hers. He swooped down in the next second and kissed her for the first time. They both gasped and moaned at the electric feeling of finally, after years of verbal foreplay, they physically joined. It was true magic.

Hermione's overly active mind completely shut off and her sexually-starved body switched vibrantly on as her co-worker's lips hungrily slanted over hers, at first conquering, then slowly coaxing a response from her, seeking her participation in her own seduction. Her will completely eroded in that instant, and with a whimper, she gave in to her basest desire. The book she'd been holding dropped with an unceremonious 'thunk' to the floor, flipping open to the bookmarked page she'd been reading on Karkadann, a type of very rare Persian Unicorn.

As soon as she relaxed and her mouth parted for him, Draco's tongue shot repeatedly between the split and fiercely twined around hers, sensually coaxing a response. His grip on her wrists let go, and his hands fell into her curls, tangling his long, pale fingers up in them, pulling her head closer to his with a low groan. She gripped his hips tightly for purchase, afraid she'd go tumbling end over end much as her book had, for she felt like she was in free fall, and tongued him back.

This was the best kiss Hermione could ever remember getting, quite honestly. But then again, she'd only lip-locked with two other men in the entirety of her life: once with the Bulgarian heartthrob, Viktor Krum (a hurried, sloppy series of small pecks – her first intimacy with a man), and from then on, only with her husband, Ron (whose kisses were little more than a rushed platitude as he groped to remove her clothes and get her on her back fast). With Draco, this pleasurable art encompassed lingering, sweet, and hot touches that tingled up her spine and melted her brain.

As if cued by her eager rejoinder, his pelvis began grinding against hers and he pushed her further back into the shelf. Pent-up desire exploded between them. Panting hard, they started divesting themselves of clothing in a rush. His hands roamed everywhere, smoothing down the sway of her back, gliding up her waist, cupping her now exposed breasts. His mouth followed an erratic pattern as well, nibbling on her earlobe, sucking hard on her nipples, biting her pulse, sweeping across her lips. Her fingers rubbed circles around his pecks, and then slid around his torso where her nails dragged down his back leaving a trail of red streaks between both shoulder blades. All the while, their tiny cries of pleasure echoed in the empty room about them.

Locked onto her lips, Draco backed her swiftly towards one of the flat tables nearby, and with an easy pull of muscle, he had her bare bottom up on the very edge of the cold, wooden surface. She spread her legs and he inched between her thighs. His exposed cock pressed against her lower lips, rubbing through her crisp hairs, leaving a trail of pre-come behind, dampening them.

"Tell me you want me," he bid, shuddering against her as the rosy-pink tip of his penis found her entrance and waited, straining for completion. He reached down between them and grabbed it, and began circling her sopping wet opening with the crown, tickling and teasing. "Say it, Hermione."

She shivered. It had been so bloody long since she'd had sex – over a year and a half, at least - and even then, she'd never felt this accelerated level of desire for Ron, ever. Her blood was boiling under her overly-sensitized skin, and she flushed hot all over, from the tips of her ears to her toes. She wanted Malfoy so much that her insides ached. It had been all that cleverly built-up anticipation, of course. All of the months of lingering stares across the Quidditch stands or in the Entrance Hall or in the teacher's lounge, the "accidental" brushes against her hands or waist or bottom by his well-manicured, long fingers as they passed each other in the hallways or coming and going from the storage closets or in the Greenhouses, the low whispers against her ear as he bent his tall frame down to wish her good morning or good afternoon or good evening, the argumentative banter that he threw around that had contained double entendre and sly innuendo and blatant intimation… all of it had driven her mad with want for him for almost a full year, and now they hovered on the brink of finally giving in to all of that repressed, wild sexual energy. All it would take was her telling him what she wanted.

Grabbing Draco's biceps, she grit her teeth and looked him in the eye, feeling emboldened, almost drunk on her complete abandonment of control. "TAKE. ME."

It was good enough. He nodded, and lining them up perfectly, he grabbed her thighs and thrust into her roughly, burying himself to the hilt. They both gasped loudly and their foreheads clunked together, as they reveled in the feeling of being so recklessly connected finally. He rocked side to side a bit to help open her up; Godric, he was so big, filling her up, stretching her out.

"You're tight," he hissed, his fingers pressing into her thighs, bruising. "Merlin's rod, Granger, you haven't had sex in a long time, have you?"

She shook her head, unable to form coherent sentences; her whole body was primed for feeling only. Silken steel lay locked within her, and it felt so delicious to be wanted with such extreme and honest passion. Hermione wanted to cry at the brilliant magnitude of the sensations swirling through her body just then.

Laying her back on the desk gently, Draco leaned over her, staring into her eyes as if memorizing her in this moment. Then, he smirked arrogantly. "Remember not to make too much noise." With that, he rose to his full height, grabbed her hips and started moving. At first, he was leisurely, deliberate, pulling all the way out and gliding all the way back in unhurriedly, letting them both work into the experience. It was so nice, feeling every inch give itself away to her, but the speed wasn't to Hermione's liking. She didn't want enforced restraint - she wanted them free, chaotic, primal. Wrapping her legs around her lover's waist and gripping his wrists firmly, she dug her heels into his arse, urging him on, hastening his momentum. "Fuck me, Malfoy. Fuck me hard," she demanded in a low growl and he swore under his breath, his eyes darkening as the animal inside was given permission to come out and play.

The grip on her hips tightened as he pulled her to him with an acute strength and began giving her what she wanted. He slammed into her, setting a fast, powerful tempo that had her biting back the wail that threatened to give their illicit affair away to the whole castle. "Yes, oh, yes," she encouraged, whimpering every time he crashed against her cervix. It was pleasure and pain combined; the kind of ecstasy she'd always hungered for. She peeked up at him and he was alternating between watching her face, watching her breasts jiggle back and forth, and watching himself sink into her. His wintery irises were glimmering, his lips were parted, and his cheeks were as crimson as she knew hers to be - all with the need to find fulfillment in each other soon.

Merlin, he was so beautiful!

In a very short amount of time, her orgasm crept up on her. She clenched her lower muscles forcefully, focusing her whole being on where they were joined. "Oh, gods… I'm so close… don't stop!" she whispered harshly. He complied, holding nothing back, crashing into her over and over again, his breathing as desperate as her own. She climaxed after only half a dozen more passes, roaring over the wave of pure bliss, surrendering to the rapture. Draco's name was ripped from her lips as a high-pitched sigh, fire exploded behind her eyelids, and her back and neck bowed off the table.

After the initial explosion, she came down from the great height to feel the rush of sticky sweetness drip out from between her legs and coat them both in a fresh bath of musky wet. The intoxicating scent permeated the air. Draco's rhythm changed suddenly again, his hips slowing, but his thrusts still going deeply in and out. "My turn," he purred, and proceeded to have her as he'd wanted all along – slow, steady, measured. As she lay back enjoying his attentions, the endorphins rushing into her system to sedate her, she watched him between half-lidded eyes. He gazed right back, undaunted.

Pulling her long, golden legs from around his waist, he pulled one foot up towards his mouth, kissing her ankle, lathing his way up towards the back of her knee even as he kept up the rocking motion with his hips. He repeated the process with her other leg, showing her a strange, attentive, tender side that she hadn't know Malfoy capable of. She sighed in pleasure. Ron never touched her this way, not in all the years they'd been married.

He placed her legs up over his shoulders, pulling her bottom off of the table entirely. The angle was incredible, allowing him to jack hammer down into her if he wanted - which was his ultimate intention. Never having been taken this way before, Hermione grabbed onto the edge of the table for stability as his pace sped up again and he started plunging into her a little ruthlessly. Flesh slapped against flesh, and the table rocked back and forth. The sounds of her pounding and their combined breathing grew louder in the high-ceilinged room. Surely, someone would hear them!

She bit her lip to keep herself from keening exuberantly as Draco banged into her clit with each shove, bringing her to the brink again. Her whole body peaked as every nerve combusted at once and she climaxed once more. Her rippling body was enough to send her lover spiraling towards his own orgasm at the same moment. "YES!" he hissed between clenched teeth, as his body tensed up, teetered on the knife's blade and then fractured apart. With a series of hot pulsations and a deep moan, he married their bodies, sealing their hips, and came inside of her finally. His shuddering went on for close to ten seconds, and Hermione felt his hot seed shooting into her canal, coursing up her channel into her very womb. It was magnificent and fulfilling.

Slumping over her with a long exhale of satisfaction, Malfoy leaned on the palms of his hands on either side of her, then collapsed to his elbows and rested his brow against her breast. His fingers automatically moved to tangle in her long curly hair. Unlike Ron, who ritualistically pulled out right away and rolled over, she was profoundly aware that Draco kept their bodies intimately connected, refusing to move off even when she squirmed under him to be let up.

The comparison between the men in her life suddenly brought the cold reality of their situation back into Hermione's consciousness and with reclaimed sanity came despondency. Her breath hitched in her chest and she struggled in earnest now for the sexy blonde to get off of her. He shook his head, still trying to catch his breath and calm his racing heart. "Don't," he wheezed. "Not yet. Just wait." The cooling down time he requested, however, was not spent in post-coital happiness and candy-fluff sentiment for Hermione. She floated in a place of sickening regret and guilt.

She'd just willingly betrayed her wedding vows. She was no better than a common street slag.

Trying to disengage their bodies, wanting to cover her shame and run from the truth, she shoved against him with a sob. Malfoy's hands gripped her wrists, pulling them away from his shoulders and pinning them to the table top with force. "Stop it," he demanded, his voice suddenly powerful and angry, as if picking her thoughts directly out of her mind and finding them wholly distasteful. "Don't ruin this, Granger." He lifted his head and looked her in the eye. "It was about time we fucked. And it wasn't wrong."

Hateful tears filled her eyes. "It was wrong. I'm married. I'm an adulteress now."

Draco didn't budge. "Weasley's a no good slum. You know it."

Angry amber eyes locked onto determined slate grey in a test of wills then. "There's no excuse for breaking my vows like this."

He didn't even blink. "Leave him."

Hermione's mouth gaped open in shock. Before she could reply, he followed up his audacious command with a scathing barb.

"Before he leaves you for that Brown bint finally."

Salt water coursed down her cheeks, splashing into her ear. Divorcing Ron came with a whole other set of serious problems that Draco didn't know and wouldn't understand. To him, everything was black and white, with no gray. "I… can't."

He shook his head and finally pulled out of her. "You mean you won't," he contended brusquely, pushing up and stepping away.

Bereft of that wonderful warmth he provided both inside and out, Hermione suddenly felt agonizingly hollow. A part of her wanted to reach out to Malfoy, to draw him back, to make love to him again, but the other side of her personality – the one that cared about propriety and loyalty – they reminded her that she'd made promises to the effect of "'till death do us part" to her ginger-haired husband.

"I thought Gryffindors were supposed to have courage," he bit, turning to retrieve his clothes from the worn, wooden floor as Hermione gingerly sat up and closed her legs modestly.

She didn't have any rejoinder for that accusation because for the last two years, she hadn't much felt like the Gryffindor lioness she'd been as a teenager. Adult life had whittled away her daring and bravery. So, wiping away her tears, she instead watched her lover get dressed, saying nothing, afraid that if she opened her mouth again, it would be filled with vitriolic accusations leveled at both of them. Sometimes words could seriously wound, and although they may eventually be forgiven, they were certainly never forgotten. She'd learned that lesson well every time she'd been called "Mudblood." Those memories still haunted her, even after all these years.

Sliding his pants up and over his hips, Draco turned to argue with her some more, but stopped as he caught her gaze skim down his perfectly chiseled, pale body to that part of him she craved so intensely. As if reading her mind again, he slowly reached around and purposefully stroked his magnificent, thick length for her, which to her amazement, was growing hard again before her eyes. She squirmed and swallowed hard, wondering how it would feel to wrap him around her lips and how he would taste sliding down her throat. To her great disappointment, however, he re-zipped and re-buttoned his trousers after only a few swipes of his fingers, and he buckled his belt back into place with some measure of finality. Retrieving his dark blue, silken shirt next, he buttoned it back up, hiding his scrumptious torso from view. He slipped his fancy, expensive-looking leather shoes back on and silently Accio'd his wand to his hand from where it lay on the floor. When he was done, he stalked back over to her, leaning his hands once more against the desk on either side of her nude form. His eyes roamed her from top to bottom lazily, and then they settled on her lips.

"We're going to do this again, Granger," he told her, supremely confident, leering. He leaned his mouth against her left ear, breathing hotly over the sensitive shell and she shuddered in renewing desire, the tips of her breasts reacting involuntarily. "I'm going to fuck you many more times, and I'm going to fill you with my come." His tongue lapped the curves of her neck downwards. "And eventually, when I'm soaked into every ounce of your skin… then you'll leave him." He pressed a soft kiss to her lips, staring her in the eye for several heartbeats, and Hermione knew he was right. Deep in the very center of her being, she knew she'd never be able to resist doing this with him again. It would destroy her marriage… and her friendships.

Abruptly turning on his heel, Draco walked away, leaving her at emotional ground zero to clean up the mess that their clandestine liaison had left behind.

X~~~~~X

Late October – Late November, 2006

Malfoy had been right – they'd fucked many more times over the course of the next two months.

Hermione had tried to resist the temptation he presented, going out of her way to avoid him as much as possible, but it seemed that she simply could not escape him. When they weren't teaching, in staff meetings or at meals in the Great Hall, he followed her about, immune to a curfew or designated Common Area now that they were no longer students, but actual teachers at Hogwarts. She couldn't seem to dodge him; it was as if he knew exactly where she would go or what tactic she would attempt to maneuver around him, and he'd counter it flawlessly. And every time, she'd pathetically give in.

What made it all even more unbearable was that they were both Heads of their former Houses as well, and as such, were forced to interact on a more regular basis than if they had just been instructors. As part of any upcoming school activities – dances, fund drives, OWLs and NEWT Prep Lecture schedules, meetings with the Head Girl and Boy, etc. – they were again thrust together (thankfully, though, they spent this time with Ravenclaw's Head of House and with Hufflepuff's Head of House). And whenever a Slytherin upset a Gryffindor, or vice versa (as was becoming more common these days), Draco and Hermione had to appear as a united front while reprimanding their charges. That made it quite difficult to get away from him completely.

Nowhere and no time was sacred either.

A few days after their first illicit rendezvous, he found her alone in the kitchens late one night and had sex with her on the wash counter, none of the house elves – who were safely tucked away in their private dorms below – any the wiser. Two mornings later, after breakfast, when both of them had a break from teaching, he'd caught her alone leaving the Owlry and dragged her to the abandoned Quidditch pitch, where (after casting a Warming bubble about them) he'd bounced her up and down on his lap, all while concealed on the Slytherin side bleachers. The next evening, after curfew, he cornered her in the library and dropped to his knees before her, eating her out and fingering her up against a bookshelf. Four days later, on a busy Monday, he'd taken her in the middle of the afternoon in a curtained-off nook near a side stairwell leading to the Astronomy classroom. Students on their way to afternoon classes had passed meters from them as he'd bent her forwards, leaning her palms against the rough stone wall, and thrust into her from behind slowly, torturously. When they both came, it had been to choked huffs of breaths, as he'd refused her whispered pleas to put up a Silencing Charm. That weekend, he'd dragged her out of her bed very late one night (after having snuck into her room with an Alohamora) and down to the Great Hall where he proceeded to seduce her on not only the teacher's table, but also Slytherin's and Gryffindor's. Over the next couple of weeks, they'd done it in his Potions classroom against the chalkboard, in the chair in his office in the dungeons, in the Slytherin Common Area on a black leather couch, in her Charms classroom on one of their old desks, leaning over the railing in the Astronomy Tower (she'd sucked him off first that time), on the grass down by the lake, in the old boathouse lying on the dock (her knees had hurt after that one, as she'd ridden him rather hard), and even in Sybil Trelawney's Divination Tower on a pile of her pillows on the floor. During this last Hogsmeade trip, he'd pulled her inside one of the magically-enchanted carriages, and on the twenty minute casual ride back to the castle that day, she'd learned a new sexual position – sitting on Draco's naked lap, her legs spread-eagled, laying fully back against his thighs and shins until the blood rushed into her upside down head. He'd pulled her over his cock using the strength of his hips and his arms alone, and even bent his body at an almost impossible angle to lick her clit while he continued pumping away. She'd never come so hard in her whole life. She'd never been so ashamed of herself either.

Despite her misgivings and her self-recriminations, she didn't seem willing to stop him from touching her, though. Everything she was doing with Draco Malfoy was wrong on every level imaginable, she knew… and yet, when he was inside of her, his lips pressed to hers, their bodies tangled together, it all felt so right.

X~~~~~X

Early December, 2006

One snowy, blustery afternoon, after dressing down and then dismissing two Slytherin Sixth Years who'd been caught fighting over some Seventh Year female Gryffindor's attentions, Hermione hadn't moved fast enough to escape Malfoy's grab at her waist, and the next thing she was aware of, she was slammed against the wall, and her mouth was ravaged by the hungriest kiss she'd yet experienced. Her long, old fashioned witch's dress – a style she'd taken to wearing about the last few days to discourage Draco's interest (to no avail) – was pulled up and her knickers yanked to the side as his fingers sought entrance to her shamefully wet core.

"You always want me, see?" he taunted in her ear, pushing two fingers up and into her, causing her to moan against his collar and grab onto his shoulders tightly. "Stop fighting it so damned much, Granger."

She let him take her right there, against the wall, the heavy fabric of her dress falling between them to secrete their dishonorable act from her eyes, as if hiding it from view could alter the fact that he was, right at that moment, pumping his hard, hot length inside her with deep, powerful strokes that rocked her soul.

After they both came and he pulled out, he righted her panties, but didn't let go. Instead, he pressed his fingers against her crotch, pressing up so she'd feel his seed sliding out of her to soak the thin, cotton fabric. "You can lie to yourself about what we're doing, but you can't deny this," he mocked gently, rubbing back and forth over her slit, making sure she felt his fluids mixing with hers. "I'm inside of you, Hermione, where we both know I belong." He kissed her temple, then her jaw, then her lips before pulling away, rearranging her dress for her and then his own clothes. She didn't dare look up into his face during any of it, training her eyes to the floor, feeling her cheeks erupting in red disgrace once more.

He left her standing there alone in her First Year Charms classroom, shaking, ill, terrified – mortified. The tears didn't come, however, until she'd returned to her private bedroom and was safely tucked under the accommodating darkness of her bedcovers.

X~~~~~X

Mid December, 2006

Half way through the month, Hermione was beginning to unravel. After every time she and Malfoy met, she felt the unbearable pangs of regret and guilt. She was constantly nervous now, jumping at every little noise, suspicious of every small look. Did anyone know? She was sure they all did – the students, the teachers, even Ron. They had to know. She and Malfoy had been so careless. Yes, the affair was plainly advertised across her forehead, she was sure – a scarlet "A" carved permanently into the flesh there. Her sleep suffered, her ability to concentrate on teaching was being affected, and she was scared the Headmistress would call her up any day and fire her for incompetence. She stopped eating so much because it seemed she could hold practically nothing down anymore; nausea crept up on her every time she started panicking. By the time the finals before Christmas break rolled around, she was a terrible fright.

On Monday, December 19, she administered the first of the mid-term tests to her Second and Third Years. On Tuesday, December 20, it was the Sixth and Seventh Years. On Wednesday, December 21, the First Years. Finally, on Thursday, December 22, the day before break, she proctored the final tests to her Fourth and Fifth Year students. That evening, she let out a deep sigh, dreading the fact that she'd be leaving on the train tomorrow to return to The Burrow, where she and Ron were officially living with his family. She was not looking forward to it, but at least she'd be bringing her work home with her so she could spend all her time grading tests and avoiding her husband as much as possible.

As she mulled slowly over her dinner – a succulent pork roast with apple stuffing, garnished with a generous portion of steamed cranberry-almond green beans and fresh, homebaked rolls with salted butter - Hermione's eyes unwittingly turned to the thin, golden band that encircled her left ring finger. It was dulled and dented, like her heart had become over the years, and covered in the scratches of time, like her very soul was.

What had happened to her? Malfoy had been right: she'd been so full of courage once… Ah, but that had been before Ron had begun working full-time at the Ministry with Lavender Brown.

As far as she knew, her then-boyfriend had not cheated on her up to that point in their relationship, but for the entire two years after Hermione's former female roommate had begun working in the Auror's Office as a secretary, the rumors had begun and persisted. It didn't help that Ron and Lavender had been seen having lunch together on more than one occasion, that they gave each other Christmas and birthday presents, and that the curvy blond hung around his desk more than a mere receptionist should, wearing low-cut blouses and high-cut skirts – and always with the red or black patent fuck-me heels (let's not forget those!).

In a desperate bid to keep her former Housemate away from Ron, Hermione had coerced her ginger-haired lover's hand into marriage by exaggerating the possibility that she may be pregnant. She hadn't been, but he hadn't known that, and she'd been frantic not to lose the only man she'd loved (and he'd never gotten around to asking her at that point, although they'd been living together for six years), so she sank to underhanded tactics that, in retrospect, she regretted terribly now. Ironically, it had been the exact kind of dishonest trickery that she'd previously believed only someone with a Slytherin's mind – someone like Pansy Parkinson - could stoop to. And yet, it had worked. Ron had married her in a small, quick ceremony at The Burrow a week later, and two weeks after that, her period miraculously came. By then, the newlyweds were so deliriously happy that it hadn't mattered.

"What goes around, comes around," or so the quaint Muggle saying had foretold. In Hermione's case, it was certainly true. The unfortunate and unknown consequence of getting married to Ron backfired spectacularly in her face.

An archaic law about husbands and wives not being allowed to work in the same Ministry Department at the same time was presented to the happy couple upon their return from their month-long honeymoon. Oddly enough, it seemed that the law only affected married couples. Siblings could continue to be employed together, as could fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters and mothers and sons. In-laws, best friends, former classmates, ex's and neighbors were also acceptable relationships - just not husbands and wives. Given how prudish and conservative most of the Ministry was, this prohibition probably had something to do with sex (although the possibility that your best friend could shag any and all of the "acceptable people" in the closet down the hall without repercussions didn't seem to be an issue, strangely enough).

Needless to say, this caused much strife between the newly bound couple. Feeling guilty for her deceit to begin with, and because it was her way to sacrifice for those she loved, and because she knew if she didn't, Ron would probably resent her for the rest of their married life together, Hermione had caved and tendered her resignation by that Friday afternoon. She'd given up her chosen career for love. But it hadn't been all bad, honestly – she'd received an owl from Professor McGonagall a month later asking her to consider the post of Charms Teacher for Hogwarts, since Flitwick was retiring finally. Three weeks later, on September 4th, 2004, she'd boarded the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 ¾, and taken her seat across from Theodore Nott, the former Slytherin and creepy, new Transfiguration Professor for Hogwarts (he'd accepted the post of taking over for McGonagall that year, as the Headmistress' duties and her advanced aged were beginning to wear on the poor, old bird). On the 6th of September, she'd taught her first official class, and although it was not the ideal position for someone of her temperament (she much preferred the idea of legal research), it was an adequate match for her talents. And she'd enjoyed her time back in her secondary home, even though it meant she and Ron were separated for most of the year (although, with his Auror schedule – still tracking down all of the Death Eaters who had escaped justice after the war – they'd hardly seen each other anyway, except on holidays and the occasional weekend).

But then, a year later, Draco Malfoy had come to accept the post as Potions Master when Horace Slughorn had officially retired finally. For the first six months or so, it had been fine. She and Malfoy had behaved civil towards each other, although the occasional scathing remark or retort – harkening back to their days at school together – would break up the tedium between them. Then, sometime around last year's Yule Ball, something had changed. After that, Draco had begun pursuing her in earnest, disregarding her status as a married witch. She'd ignored him publicly, of course, but in the privacy of her darkened room, she would often fall asleep with him on her mind.

All of that would have been well and good enough left alone had she not decided to surprise Ron one warm, late April afternoon earlier this year.

Floo-ing over to the Ministry during a day when her schedule had been freed (Hagrid, still Professor of Care of Magical Creatures, had taken the students on a field trip to the other side of the lake to spot the Loch Ness Monster running about… the beasty apparently liked messing with Muggles by traveling from lake to lake throughout Scotland through a series of underwater caverns and during May, he could frequently be found sunbathing in Hogwarts waters), she'd arrived at his desk to find him missing. Thinking he could be found in the newly installed cafeteria on the first level, she made her way up to the elevators, passing by a broom closet on her way. By pure chance, she heard something smack against the wooden door of the cupboard and then a familiar voice cry out a protesting "OW!" rather loudly. Suspicious, Hermione approached the door and opened it… to find Ron standing there with his pants around his ankles, and Lavender Brown, her skirt up around her waist and her face practically smooshed into the wall. He was fucking her from behind like a rabbit on amphetamines.

The three of them froze in place and simply stared at each other in horror, and then Hermione had quietly closed the door, stepped away, turned to the elevator and rode it up to the ground level, where she immediately floo'd back to Hogwarts. She'd drifted in a state of shock for a whole day before the tears had finally been unleashed. And it couldn't have been in the worst place possible – at the dining table, eating dinner with the other teachers, the room packed with students. Of course, Draco Malfoy had been there, and he'd witnessed her humiliating break-down, too. It had been McGonagall who'd mothered her away, down into the privacy of the Trophy Room, where she'd finally spilled her guts about her whole sordid relationship with Ronald Weasley to her mentor. To her horror, it was only as she'd readied herself to return to the Great Hall to finish dinner (wiping her nose daintily on McGonagall's proffered handkerchief) that she recognized Malfoy leaning against the wall on the bottom-most stair leading back up. The murderous glint in his eye said he'd heard the whole tragic tale (and after that, he'd doubled his efforts to win her attentions, she'd noted).

Ron had come to see her a few days after "the incident" with flowers and a whole pack of apologies, but the damage had been done by then, and Hermione simply asked him for a divorce. He refused, of course, and the next day, sent Harry and Ginny to try to "talk sense" into her (the condescending git). In what would come as an even bigger blow, her two other best friends turned out to be less true than she'd always assumed; they'd immediately launched a campaign to get her to stay with the unfaithful Ron. Disgusted with them, she cut them off and sent them packing, but like a bad case of Leprechaun Lesions, they just wouldn't go away. Ginny had even blown up at her, accusing her of not truly loving Ron, since she was "giving up on him" – to which Hermione icily responded that Ron had given up on her by bedding the Brown wench. In the end, she'd (mistakenly) finally relented, realizing she would lose more than just Ron were she to end her marriage; Harry and Ginny were part of this unattractive package now, and if she wanted to keep them, she had to keep her idiot husband.

And so now here she was, staring at her ruined gold ring and thinking about her decayed marriage, and wondering how it had all come to this point. She was married to a man she loathed all for the sake of appearances and because she was afraid of what other losses she'd incur if she dumped him, and she was having an affair with a man whom she had previously despised, but was now more than a little obsessed with, but could never have for a multitude of reasons (the least of which was his Pureblood-fanatical relatives, and the most prominent of which had to do with her refusing to ever again give up her career for a man, for if the rules applied to the Ministry about working with someone you were involved with, then surely, the same would be true with Hogwarts).

She finished her dinner, and when the dessert came – a slice of fresh pumpkin pie with sweet cream on – she ate every bite. Then she went back for seconds.

After the meal, the teachers retired to the Staff Room to exchange gifts, per custom.

Neville, the Herbology teacher now, had given her a book on rare magical water plants which made her squee in delight, much to his satisfaction.

Minerva's gift was a beautiful glass rose, frozen as its petals were just unfurling. It had obviously been real at one time, and magically transfigured at the height of its beauty. As she twined the stem between her fingers, she noted the crystal facets catching and reflecting the light beautifully high up on the walls. When she brought it to her face, there was the hint of a night-blooming scent lingering, as it would for eternity. This was a magnificent treasure, reminding her again why she loved magic so. She touched it reverently as she gazed at her old Professor with profoundest thanks.

Ever thoughtful Hagrid gave her an album containing images from her first day as a Professor at Hogwarts. Much of the album was blank, but the first three pages had pictures of her stepping off the train platform at Hogsmeade and looking about, being introduced to the student body at the sorting, standing in front of last year's Christmas tree with the other teachers, winning the Hall of Fame: Favorite Teacher Award – presented by the student body - this past June before school let out for summer, and her arrival for this second year of teaching once more on the train platform. She hugged the album to her chest and smiled at her friend through tears, mouthing 'thank you' at him across the room.

Sybil presented her with a small crystal ball that fit into the palm of her hand. The woman then rather seriously told her that she'd already used it to divine Hermione's future and it boded grim for her. Surpressing a sigh in agreement, Hermione told her rather humorlessly that for once, Sybil was probably right.

Aurora Sinistra's gift was a hand-drawn calendar for the 2006 year containing the phases of the moon, planetary positions, and sun set and sun rise times for every day. She curtsied deeply in appreciation for such a very handy tool.

Septima Vector gave her a number chart that supposedly predicted the next year for her (strangely, it noted a series of major changes to occur starting, oddly enough, tonight and continuing all the way into next October, with a series of serious correlative spikes occurring on various dates throughout, showing extremely strong changes).

Bathsheda Babbling gave everyone a hand-carved rune that symbolized her wishes to each person for the next year (Hermione's symbol was the one for 'LOVE').

Rolanda Hooch made fruit cakes for everyone. Hermione hugged the aging woman with sincere thanks. At least now she had something to contribute to Christmas Eve dinner with the in-laws.

Cuthbert Binns never appeared for these exchanges, she sadly noted. She'd gotten the rather dry, but kindly old ghost something small – Sir Nicholas had suggested the idea, actually – but it looked like Binns wouldn't be coming to collect his gift. She left it for Nick to take to him later.

Helen Merrythought, granddaughter of Hogwarts' former Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Galatea Merrythought, who had taken up her grandmother's post the year after the war had ended, at the request of Minerva, gave her a book on a newly discovered species of Dark Magic-wielding Vampiric Fairies that Rolf Scarmander and his wife, Luna Lovegood-Scarmander, had co-authored. This copy was personally signed by her friend and her husband, and numbered the first of two thousand in print. She hugged the compendium to her chest and recognized the specialness of the gift personally.

Theodore Nott, whom she hadn't had a very good relationship with from the start (they'd argued on the train that first day), gave her a small box that, when opened, exploded with all the light and sound of a half-dozen firecrackers going off at once. She screamed, as did many others in the room, but she noted Theo merely smirked at her reaction from across the room. She was about to give him a fierce talking to when he indicated that she should look down at her feet. The shredded pieces, it seemed, had transformed into a scroll. When she picked it up and hesitantly unrolled it, words appeared across it: "Next time, try to keep it down in the library. Some of us actually use the place to study. – Signed, An Amused Voyeur" Blushing bright red, she re-rolled the scroll, glimpsing up at Theo from across the room. That shrewd smirk was firmly in place. She stuck her tongue out at him and turned her back as he laughed. What a git! She decided then and there that she and Theodore Nott would never be friends, most likely.

Oliver Wood, who had returned to fill Flitwick's other role as Music Teacher, gave Hermione a card that when opened, sang "The Boar's Head Carol." They laughed in delight together over the ancient tune.

She had prolonged opening Malfoy's gift until last, unsure as to whether she could make herself accept anything from him. With shaky fingers, she turned to the window and hid the gift from the sight of the others, unsure as to whether it was appropriate to open it in public or not. It was a jewelry-sized, square, flat box covered in a satin, dark green fabric and hand-tied with a satin white bow. Holding onto the bow and the fabric for safekeeping, she lifted the lid and gasped. Inside were dark blue sapphire (her birth stone!), teardrop-shaped earrings set in platinum. They were the perfect size, as she tended to like understated, small ornamental pieces. Her fingertips caressed them, and the brilliance of the gems winked in the candlelight of the room. No one had ever given her jewelry before; she'd bought her own wedding band, and had never received an engagement ring, given how quickly she and Ron had rushed their nuptials.

From the corner of her eye, Draco's stepped up beside her, staring out the window the same as she. Turning her head, she looked up at his greater height and took a deep breath to calm her heart. He looked positively handsome in his black robes and crisp, white, collared shirt, and he smelled delicious – rich mysterious spices and wood smoke. "Happy Christmas, Granger," he murmured softly, turning his head and laying his molten silver gaze on her.

Her mouth was suddenly drier than the Mongolian desert. "Ha… happy Christmas, Malfoy." She looked down quick, sure her heart had dangerously been reflected in her eyes for a moment. "Thank you so much for the present. They're… stunning." She swallowed and closed her eyes. "No one's ever given me jewelry before. Thank you."

"Want help putting them in?" he offered innocently, still speaking quietly enough that the others – most of whom were imbibing hot buttered rum from a simmering cauldron that had been setup on a table next to the hearth and engaging in loud, raucous conversation now that they were away from young, curious eyes – could not hear.

Hermione considered the proposal. She knew what he was hinting at: going back to her room with her to put something else in her. This was the first time he'd made her an offer for sex instead of just taking her as he wanted, and it felt like a fundamental shift in their relationship. For some reason, it felt very much like a test.

Say no. Walk away.

She bit her lip and nodded. Founders forgive her, but she didn't want to turn Malfoy away anymore, no matter how terrible the consequences.

"Come to my room," he whispered, staring back out the window as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and as if this were the most casual of conversations. "Thirty minutes." With that, he turned, saying goodnight to the others, gave thanks again for the many kind gifts he'd received, and made his way out.

Shrinking all her gifts and putting them in her waist pouch with the Undetectable Extensions Charm on it, she casually walked over to Septima to discuss the chart she'd been given, asking about the strange anomalies. After a ten minute evaluation, neither could determine what they meant, but Septima was sure by following the numbers that the first big change would be emotionally altering, the second career altering, and the third life altering.

Riotous butterflies danced in Hermione's stomach once more, and she excused herself to go to the ladies. Running the tap with cool water, she dipped a towel from the rack into it and wiped it across her brow and the back of her neck, trying to reset her internal temperature. As she did so, she looked up at her pale reflection in the mirror. She felt awful, looked a little tired, and her hair was a little limp, but other than that, it was the same Hermione looking back at her as it had always been. She just needed to take better care of herself, it seemed. With a wave of her wand, though, she fixed herself with Glamour Charms. Instantly, her mood improved.

She was going to be with Draco tonight, in his bed. It was the first time he'd invited her there. She knew where his room was located; she had passed his wooden door whenever she was in the Slytherin Common Area (she blushed remembering the last time she'd been there… that couch had made too much noise!). Could she really go through with this? Willingly walk into the viper's pit without the excuse of being coerced?

All she had to do was think of their first time together in the library, and she knew the answer.

Slipping her wedding ring off and putting it into her Bag of Holding, she headed off to the dungeons, her decision made.

X~~~~~X

Hermione arrived at The Burrow the next afternoon after sleeping in a bit (and making love with Draco once more). Immediately, she was glommed onto by Ginny and Harry's four-year old son, James Sirius. "Auntie 'Mione!" he crowed, locking his arms about her knees.

Smiling down at her godson, she managed to hug him back without toppling over. "Hey, squirt, you're getting big!"

Stepping back, James affected an insulted posture, fists on his hips. "I'm no squirt! I'm almost five."

Hermione nodded with faux enlightenment. "Oh, I see. So you are. I'm sorry about that, Jimmy."

The little boy shook his head firmly. "James. Jimmy's for babies."

Bending down to his height, she looked him in the eye. "James it is, then," she seriously conceded. "Where are your mum and dad, James?"

"Right behind you," Harry cheekily stated, and looking over her shoulder, James' parents grinned down upon her. She rose to her feet with a crack of knees and threw herself into a dual hug with her best friends.

"Hey you two, I've missed you," she honestly admitted. She pulled back and looked at them both. "How have you been?"

Harry and Ginny traded a look and then grinned. Ginny patted her stomach. "Pregnant again, thank you very much."

There was much squealing then, which was shared with Molly as the woman joined them from the kitchen, and the two boys in the room were totally forgotten at that point. It was only later in the afternoon, after all of the catch up had been done, and when all of the men came home, wives in tow, that Hermione realized that she hadn't even unpacked yet. After greeting Arthur, George and Angela and their son Fred II, Bill and Fleur and their daughter Victorie, Percy and Audrey and their daughter Molly, and Charlie, she rushed upstairs with her small tourist bag and put her things away in the drawers. When she was done, she made her way back down to the kitchen to help in the prep for the Christmas Eve feast.

"You haven't even asked where Ron is," Harry noted, coming up beside her to help in the preparation of the traditional pumpkin soup.

Hermione blinked, not even realizing she'd made such a huge faux pas. "Where's Ron then?" she questioned, knowing he and Harry worked in the same department and were often partnered up on cases. "Another lead?" Everyone knew her best male friend had been avidly leading the charge on hunting down the last of the Death Eaters, and Ron was often utilized on grunt work for the cause.

Harry nodded. "We're close to Rastaban Lestrange," he admitted, watching her face carefully.

Hermione froze. Lestrange had been Bellatrix's husband, and he was a slippery eel. She'd heard during the various Death Eater trials that he'd stated clearly that he intended on killing 'The Golden Trio' – she, Harry and Ron – personally for their involvement in his wife's death. "Good," she sniffed. "I hope you catch that bastard and lock him away forever."

Her friend nodded enthusiastically. "Ron's been working a lot of overtime at the office on the tracking spells and maps, pouring over reports." He looked at her slyly. "He's really been busting himself to do the right thing."

Hermione simply nodded, but behind her face, she secretly wished Harry would learn to keep his unwanted opinions – especially as they attempted to sway her feelings for her husband – to himself. She didn't want to like Ron after everything he'd done to embarrass and hurt her. She had never truly forgiven him; wasn't even sure she ever could. He'd broken her trust, and if it hadn't been for the fact that she'd been, effectively, made to stay with him under duress, she would have ended their relationship months ago. The fact that she couldn't freely give herself openly to Draco was all because of Ron's stubborn refusal to do the right thing and let her go on with her life. Her feelings of love had transformed into resentment over the course of eight short months.

"Harry, can you come help?" Molly asked, opening the oven trap. "I just need someone to stoke the coals." The woman may use magic for many things, but cooking generally wasn't one of them. That she preferred to do the old fashioned way – over a well-lit fire. Harry moved off to help Mrs. Weasley, and that left Hermione alone to her thoughts, thankfully. She stirred the soup, losing herself in the memories of last night.

The first thing Draco had done after she'd entered his room, locked the door and bespelled it for privacy, was to hug her close to his heart. As he stroked her spine under her jumper with one hand, while the other ran through her curls, he was strangely tender, unlike any other time they'd been together. He'd taken her robes and threw them over a cozy chair before the lighted hearth, then asked her to take out the earrings. She did, and he helped her put them in her ears, and then tapped them with his fingertips after to watch their vibrant colors brilliantly cascade under their surface as he moved them in the dim light.

"They're beautiful on you... You're beautiful, Hermione."

He'd taken her clothes off of her then – every stitch. It was another first for them, as they were usually so rushed to complete the sex act that they had to leave pants or shoes or shirts hanging on. She helped him to remove his own uniform, and when they were both nude, they lightly ran fingers over the other's body, exploring fully and unhurriedly. He worshipped her with his mouth next, running it over every inch of visible skin before dipping between her legs to claim her kitty once more with his tongue. He lapped, flicked, bit, nibbled and suckled, adding his fingers only near the end – inserting them into her opening and rhythmically moving them in and out, rubbing her g-spot and finally making her come. He held onto her until her shuddering ceased, and then he'd guided her to his bed.

When she halted him and fell to her knees before him instead, he groaned loudly. She took his full length into her mouth, feeling the tip slide down her throat, clench around him, and then releasing him for a moment before adding suction as she pulled back. In this way, she pleasured him. He didn't finish though, drawing her up to her feet again, backing her the rest of the way to his mattress.

She'd crawled into the center of his bed and watched him lean over her. They'd stared at each other in complete silence for long seconds, and then he tilted his lips down and claimed hers once more, even as he parted her thighs and slid into her slowly. It was an exquisite joining of flesh.

He made love to her three times that night, and once more before wishing her a Happy Christmas the next morning and letting her go. Each touch, each sound… it had impressed itself upon her heart, binding her to him unalterably.

"Hermione, the soup!" Ginny screeched in warning.

Reacting in record time, she managed to get the cauldron off the old-fashioned wood-burning stove, thus saving the soup from disaster. Unfortunately, she also burned her hands as she'd unthinkingly gripped the handles first, falling back on Muggle ways before considering the use of magic to solve her problem. Molly helped to treat the burns the best she could, casting several healing spells, but the stiff, fiery throbbing remained. Ginny wrapped clean linen bandages around her palms for her, and for the rest of the evening, she was firmly told to stay out of the kitchen and recuperate.

Ron came through the floo network close to eight o'clock that night. He said a hearty hello to everyone, noted Hermione sitting on the couch and hesitantly greeted her with a small kiss on the cheek, and then hurried up to their shared room to change. With an encouraging nod from Arthur, Hermione made her way after her husband, determined to talk to him about the possibility of ending their marriage amicably. What she saw as she opened the door to their bedroom stopped her cold.

Ron was completely nude, and he was at a three-quarters view from the door, so she could see just about everything. Marring the front of his torso, his arms and shoulders, his buttocks and back were women's fingernail marks, bite marks, and love bruises.

He turned a shocked look upon her, and it was the same response as that time she'd caught him in the broom closet. There was no question what he'd been doing out so late, and with whom. She blinked, turned around, closed the door and made her way back down to the living room, seating herself back on the sofa without a word.

"'Mione, what's wrong?" Harry asked, concerned, seating himself to her right.

She didn't want to tell him, not here and not now. It would ruin everyone's Christmas. Molly and Arthur had gone through a lot of trouble for them. She'd wait until after the break, and then she'd make it clear to everyone that her marriage was over. There would be absolutely no reconciliation.

Putting on a fake smile, reaching deep down into her guts for courage, she made her voice light, even as Ron came hurrying down the stairs. "Nothing's wrong, Harry. Everything's fine. My hands are hurting me a bit, that's all." She turned to her husband. "How was work?" She tried to make it sound like she really gave a shite, like she didn't know what he'd really been doing.

Ron blinked, catching on to the fact that Hermione wasn't going to out him in front of everyone just then. "It… was okay." He looked down at his big, clumsy feet. "How's teaching?"

She nodded, leaning back into the cushions, crossing her legs casually, careful of the placement of her hands. "It's going really well. I have papers to grade for the mid-terms over this holiday, but I'm confident that the majority of my students passed. This new crop of wizards and witches might even be brighter than our class. They've definitely got a knack for inventing new and unusual ways to get around the gender wards in the dorms." She was trying a little too hard, it was obvious, but things needed to appear 'normal,' so she forced it. Chuckling, she looked at Harry. "But, fortunately for the staff, the majority of kids today don't come equipped with Invisibility Cloaks."

He snickered and shook his head, and Ron huffed in nervous amusement, still lingering near the staircase, unsure as to where to sit, obviously. Hermione decided in that moment that there was absolutely no reason to be upset about what she'd seen. She didn't love Ron anymore, and their marriage was clearly over for both of them. They could, it seemed, move past this amicably, if they wanted. And then she'd be free to be with Draco finally.

"Stop standing around like a lump, Ron," she offered, nodding towards the empty space to her left. "Come sit. It's Christmas, after all."

Shyly, he came and sat on the couch near her and she reached out with her injured hand and patted her husband's freckled wrist lightly, letting him know everything was going to be all right. Harry grinned then, but for a completely different reason than his friends.

X~~~~~X

"I'll contact a solicitor to draw up the necessary paperwork," she offered quietly, as she lay next to Ron's prone form on the bed. He stayed at least half a meter away from her, at both of their insistence. "We should wait until the paperwork's filed to announce it and go forward, however. I don't want to ruin everyone's holiday."

Ron stared up at the ceiling, his arms cradled behind his head. "Good thinking. Mum's going to have a fit when she finds out. And Ginny. And Harry."

Hermione shrugged. "We don't have to make them feel so badly about it if we show them that this is an agreeable solution. And, honestly, Ron, I don't hate you. I was hurt and resentful, but I have never hated you." She turned her head, watching his shadows play along his features, the angles and curves highlighted by the moonlight filtering through the window on the opposite side of him. She stared at his long eyelashes. "We were friends before all of this. I think it's possible, if you want to remain that way after. Not as close, obviously, but still friends."

He turned and looked at her seriously, and the room was still and silent. Outside, the snow was falling lightly, she noted. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he finally confessed. "For always, always hurting you."

His apology was sincere and it meant more than he would ever know to hear it. Tears prickled her eyes and fell in hot cascades down the sides of her cheeks. "It's all forgiven, Ron. Just try not to do it from now on, right?" She tentatively reached across the space between them and held out her hand for his. "Friends, then."

He nodded and carefully touched her fingertips, making sure not to press into her injuries. "Friends." He gave her a sad smile. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."

She returned his look. "Happy Christmas, Ron."

X~~~~~X

Christmas morning was a joyful event, with a lot of present opening (Ron, in a rare moment of chivalry – and now that everything had been resolved between them – offered to open Hermione's gifts so her hands wouldn't be hurt again). The children, in particular, were highly enthusiastic about their new toys, books and clothes, but were forced away for half an hour to consume breakfast. The cousins then played together with a magical replica Hogwarts Express train set that James had received from his parents, as the adults sat around their morning coffees and teas and watched. Soon, bored with watching the train go round and round, the kids bundled up into the hand knit jumpers, scarves, and hats that grandma had knitted for each of them and headed outside to play in the snow. They built snowmen and made snow angels. Hermione and the other adults stood by to watch (Fred, Harry, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Arthur and Ron all got into a massive snowball fight even while the women stood to the side rolling their eyes in amusement). It started snowing lightly again, and that was the sign to go back inside to dry off and warm back up.

The adults pulled their weight to finish up Christmas dinner together – a grand event, consisting of a large, stuffed goose, bangers, relishes, red currant jelly, roasted potatoes, bread sauce, steamed brussel sprouts with carrots, and for dessert, a mince pie and a plum pudding with brandy. The children sat around and read books or tried to figure out the small, wooden puzzles that required the movement of pieces around the board in the right order to complete the picture (these were from Hermione and Ron, of course).

They ate late, around four o'clock, and stuffed their bellies to brimming. At five o'clock, the sun had set fully, and the darkness, combined with the warmth of the fire and the dim house lulled Hermione into sleep. She cuddled on the couch against the arm and dozed.

George woke her around eight, thrusting her winter clothes back into her hands, motioning for her to follow him outside. By the time she'd wound her scarf about her neck and stepped down into the backyard, the Weasley annual fireworks display had begun. In awe, Hermione stood next to Ron and watched as Angela and George (who were the perfect couple, as they both adored mischief like this) lit off a variety of crackers. Sparkling flower blossoms filled the sky in a rainbow of colors.

"How beautiful!" Hermione breathed, enrapt with the show.

Ron turned his head and looked at her, then tentatively took her fingers in his. "Yes, it is, isn't it?" he mumbled.

She looked at him, and for a moment, there was regret that this had not worked out. But, just on the other side of that feeling lay her love for Draco, and so she no longer felt tortured by her failed marriage, understanding right then and there that some things were simply not meant to be. And that was okay, too.

Giving Ron's fingers a gentle squeeze, she pulled away and turned back to the nighttime sky, wishing Draco a Happy Christmas in her heart.

X~~~~~X

That whole week was blissfully fun. Hermione's hands healed up quickly with daily healing spells cast upon them, and soon she was out joining in the snowball tossing fun as well. At one point, Ron even managed to tackle her into a snow bank, and then rolled them laughingly over and over until they crashed into one of Victorie's snowwomen, causing it to break apart in the middle and tumble down upon them both. They laughed until they were sick to their stomachs, and when they got back into the house, they'd had to take hot showers (separate, of course) to keep from catching chill.

For a few days there, it was like they were all children themselves again, as Harry, Ginny and the others all romped and played together, enjoying their break from the world and reveling in that warmth that comes from being around family.

But the entertainment came to an end all too soon. Hermione decided to leave earlier than scheduled from the Weasley home to return to Hogwarts, so on the 30th, with a great amount of hugging and cheek kissing, she floo'd back into McGonagall's office and made her way down to her room with her travel trunk in hand. She knew Draco wouldn't be back so soon, so she spent her days in the library, correcting papers and preparing her lesson plan for the remainder of the second and all of third term.

On the 31st, many of the teachers returned, and that evening, they ate together amidst companionable chatter. Theodore Nott, Hermione noticed, was absent still, as was Draco. This struck her as odd, since she knew the two men to have some sort of an indefinable friendship.

On Sunday the 1st of January, the Hogwarts Express appeared and the students assembled in the Great Hall that evening. Draco and Theodore both appeared then, and took their seats, engaged in deep conversation, totally ignoring her. Disheartened that she hadn't had an opportunity to even share eye contact with her lover, Hermione turned back to her meal, suddenly feeling nauseated again. When dessert came, she didn't eat hers; merely sipping her tea to calm her nerves. Draco, however, stood without another word and left the room. He hadn't looked at her at all.


TO BE CONTINUED...


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