Author's Note: Thanks to Poppyxxxx for betaing this chapter for me.
That encounter set the tone for the next couple of months. It appeared Hermione and Malfoy were destined to continuously run into each other whilst Rose was on the best of terms with Blaise, who was practising for his own little arrival. He even took Hugo off her hands when he saw them, which left Hermione in Malfoy's company. Their conversations grew less stilted and a lot friendlier. She was surprised to realise that he was actually interesting. Once you got past his prickly exterior, he was intelligent and witty. Well, he had always been witty, but he usually used that wit to spit nasty insults at her and her friends.
She also found that she was growing increasingly attracted to him. He was so very different from Ron. There were no indulgent, fond feelings. Instead, she felt a slow burn when she saw him. His touch tingled on her skin, and his smile did things to her insides that should be illegal. The result of this was guilt. She didn't know why, but it felt as if she was betraying her marriage to think this way about someone else. It wasn't as if she carried around hope that her relationship with Ron could be salvaged, far from it. Besides, she was divorced for goodness' sake; you couldn't get much more final than that. Though she knew that it was healthy to move on, she wasn't sure she was quite ready to do so. Having these thoughts towards another man seemed so wrong.
Hermione used a Saturday afternoon when the kids were with Molly to get some much needed food for Rose's Pygmy Puff from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. She scrabbled around in her bag for her purse before placing the pet food on the counter. However, the deafening silence made her look up from her frantic hunt, and she found herself confronting the pale and slightly sweaty face of her ex-husband.
She didn't know how to react, and apparently, neither did Ron. They did nothing but stand staring at each other.
"Why?" Hermione finally whispered.
He shrugged at her. "I felt trapped."
"So you couldn't talk to me about it? You just ran out?"
"I didn't know what to say."
"You could have been honest, Ronald."
"You're not the easiest woman to talk to. You always make me feel like I am a failure and letting the family down."
"But walking out like that, how could you? Rose cried for her dad for weeks."
A flash of annoyance and guilt crossed his face. He frowned slightly. "You're not a bundle of joy to live with. You're bossy, overbearing, and I don't know why we thought it would ever work out between us."
She looked at him in shock. He had a track record of saying tactless things, but this was downright hurtful. The tears welled up in her eyes, and as she didn't want the added humiliation of crying in front of her ex-husband, she whirled away and barrelled out of the shop as quickly as she could.
She kept her head down as she hurried down Diagon Alley, and so didn't see the wizard emerging from Quality Quidditch Supplies. She slammed into him and went stumbling backwards. Two hands quickly shot out and stopped her.
"Watch where you're going, Granger!" he snapped at her.
Hermione closed her eyes. Of all people to see right now, it would have to be Draco Malfoy. She didn't want him to see her in such a mess. She looked up into his irritated face, and then the worst thing possible happened - she burst into noisy sobs.
Draco was discomposed. He looked around for some help and noticed that a small crowd was gathering, so he grabbed Granger's arm, bundled her back into the shop he'd just exited, and shut the door in the faces of the nosy people outside. "What's wrong?"
Granger kept crying. She appeared completely unable to stop, but, finally, she got a grip on herself, and the shuddering sobs started to abate. She hunted frantically through her bag for a tissue and came up short. He rolled his eyes and gave her one from his pocket.
"Ron," she said simply.
"What's the ginger oaf done now?"
"He's back. I bumped into him serving at the shop."
Draco dragged the sorry story from Granger, and when she finished telling him, he struggled to understand his anger. Granger was all of the things the stupid Weasel had said, she was bossy and overbearing, but it was also what made her unique. She didn't flatter or simper her way through life; she worked damn hard for what she earned. She also had an intellect that was hard to match, and she was fiercely loyal to her family and friends. If he knew that, then Weasley must have as well.
"And the annoying thing is, I forgot the bloody food for Clarissa!" she wailed.
"The Pygmy Puff Zabini bought for Rose. That's why I went in."
Draco knew that there was no way Granger could go back. She was an emotional wreck. He sighed, not understanding why he was getting himself involved. He had been trying to understand this for the past month, but for some reason, he was getting more and more wrapped up in her life. "Go to the Leaky Cauldron, have a drink, and I'll go and get the food."
She goggled at him. "What?" he growled at her.
"Why would you do that? That would be a nice thing to do."
He raked his hands through his hair; stupid Granger pulling him up on his actions. She couldn't just accept it and say thank you. She would have to analyse and probably come up with the right answer; it was what she did. He was nervous at the thought that she would realise he was developing more-than-platonic feelings for her.
"Because it's obvious you can't go back."
Granger shuddered at the thought and smiled shyly at Draco. "Thank you, Malfoy. That's really decent of you."
"Tell me about it," he muttered as he exited the Quidditch shop.
He entered Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and the Weasel was standing stock still behind the counter, staring at the Pygmy Puff food on the counter. He looked up as Draco sauntered over. His face went its predicable red when faced with a Malfoy.
"Get out!" he spat.
Instead, Draco leisurely checked the price of the food and took his time in placing the exact amount on the counter.
"That's not for you," Weasley said sharply.
"Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't see a reservation tag on it. I'm sure the person it's for can get another one."
"She'll be back in a minute, and she'll want her pet food."
Draco leaned conspiratorially across the counter. "Who do you think I'm getting it for?" he asked smugly.
He rolled his eyes. Ron Weasley had never been the sharpest tool in the box. "Granger asked me to come in and pick it up for her," he explained slowly as if talking to a moron.
Said moron turned puce. "Hermione asked you to get that? When did you become friends with Hermione?"
"Things change, Weasley, especially when you walk out on your wife and kids and don't come back for half a year."
Weasley cringed a little. So the truth hurt. Good, he deserved to be hurt for what he put Granger and little Rose through.
"Since when did Hermione get a Pygmy Puff anyway?" the Weasel asked petulantly.
"It belongs to Rosie," he said, deliberately using Rose's pet name. "Blaise Zabini bought it for her."
He smirked as he picked up the bag of food and left the shop, leaving Weasley spluttering away behind the counter.
Ron ambushed George as he came back from his errand. "What exactly has been going on with my wife and kids in my absence?" he demanded.
His older brother looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"Why is bloody Malfoy picking up pet food for Rosie, and why the hell does she have a pet that was bought for her by a Slytherin?"
"Oh, that," he said.
"Yes, that. Explain!" he ordered.
George decided to take the easy route and ignore Ron's obnoxious line of questioning. "Malfoy's an Auror now. When you left, Harry had to recruit to fill your position, and Malfoy got it."
Ron stared at him but said nothing, so he continued. "Then a couple of months ago, Harry needed a babysitter and roped Malfoy into doing it. To cut a long story short, your daughter seems to have developed an obsession with Malfoy and proceeds to accost him at every opportunity she can. Hermione has to put up with it."
Ron scowled. "I can't believe Hermione is allowing this to happen. She should be putting her foot down. Not indulging Rose."
George gave his little brother a level look. "You don't get to criticise Hermione's parenting. You walked out and disappeared, leaving her to pick up the slack. If anyone needs to be lectured about his abilities as a parent, it's you."
Ron opened his mouth to retort but didn't have anything to say.
Hermione tapped her nails nervously on the table at the Leaky Cauldron as she waited for Malfoy. She nervously gulped her elf-made wine and grimaced as she noticed her hand was still shaking. It was inevitable that she would bump into Ron at some point, but she hadn't imagined it would be like this and had been completely unprepared for the encounter as a result. He'd also crushed her with his words. Was he right? Was she the reason the marriage failed? Had she been so awful that she made him run away?
"Whatever is going through that mind of yours, stop it now," Malfoy said, sliding into the seat opposite her.
"What?" Hermione asked, confused.
"You've got that expression you get when you over-analyse stuff. And I bet it's to do with Weasley as well."
She flushed. Was she that easy to read? She looked up into the amused face of Malfoy. Apparently she was. "Did everything go okay?"
He slid the pet food across to her. "Of course it did. What did you expect? A duel in the middle of the shop?"
She wouldn't put it past either of them. "No," she lied unconvincingly.
Those grey eyes flashed in amusement at her. "Can I get you a refill?" he asked, pointing at her nearly empty drink.
"Oh, no, I shouldn't. Rose and Hugo are with Molly, so I should probably return."
"Please stay," her blond companion said, and she was surprised to see that his eyes were pleading with her - well, as much as Malfoy's eyes could.
She supposed it wouldn't hurt. Besides, Molly loved having the kids and wouldn't mind if Hermione was a little late. They were staying for dinner anyway, and he had done her a big favour. The least she could do is have one drink with him. "Okay then."
She was taken aback when he grinned at her. Her breath hitched in her throat. Wow, he was attractive when he smiled like that. The butterflies fluttered in her stomach as he gracefully stood up and moved to the bar to get them drinks.
Hermione giggled as she gripped onto the knocker of her front door. One drink had turned into quite a few more, and she was now tipsy. Neville let her use his personal Floo connection to call Molly to ask her if she could be late. Molly had beamed and told her to go out and enjoy herself. She would have the kids overnight, and Hermione could join them for Sunday brunch.
"I never pegged you as a cheap drunk," Malfoy drawled in her ear.
"And I never pegged you as nice," she replied. She turned and braced a hand against his chest. "Thanks for getting me home."
He lifted the hand to his lips and lightly kissed it. "No problem."
Hermione's butterflies flew crazily around her stomach, and her heart pounded. "Want to come in for a coffee?" she asked.
Malfoy's eyes widened for a moment. He looked down at her, and she smiled invitingly up at him. His eyes dropped for a second to her lips before he nodded his acceptance. She briefly questioned her sanity. Both of them knew that she wasn't really inviting him in for coffee. Was she doing the right thing? Her world seemed to be turning upside-down lately.
Malfoy closed the door behind him and pulled Hermione into his arms. "Are you sure?" he whispered into her ear.
Hermione didn't know why, but she was sure. It could be the fact that she was lonely and her hormones were dictating her actions, but she didn't think so. There was something about Malfoy that excited her. He made her heart pound and her blood flow hot. She found herself thinking about him with more and more frequency. She pulled his head to hers as her response. As she surrendered to the intensity of the kiss, she knew that, somehow, this was right.
Later that night, Malfoy played with her hair. Hermione softly kissed his chest, and he tightened his arm around her. She smiled into his shoulder. "What?" he asked quietly.
"I can't believe we did that."
"It had been building up."
She giggled. "What's going through that head of yours now?" he asked.
"I can't believe I have Draco Malfoy in my bed."
"You left out naked."
Hermione put a hand over her face. "You realise I don't usually do this kind of thing, right?"
"Granger, I'm more than aware that you have been with Weasley since the end of the war, and I doubt you're the kind to stray."
She bit her lip. She was nervous about asking this question. What if the answer was yes? "Is this a one-night stand?"
There was a silence that seemed to go on forever, making her squirm uncomfortably before sitting up. She didn't dare look at Malfoy. He muttered something indistinct before he pulled her head around to face him. She was surprised to see how serious he looked.
"Listen up, Granger, I'm not stupid enough to see you as a one-night stand. I denied my attraction to you for the last few months because you're not the type of woman to settle for something so casual. I've realised that I'm looking for something more, but I recognise you've just come out of a committed relationship and might be looking for rebound sex. I hope that isn't the case, but I understand if you don't want to get involved in anything heavier."
"And if I was only after rebound sex?"
"Then I'd happily play that role, but be warned, I would do my utmost to persuade you to want something more with me. And I play to win."
A warm feeling shot through her body, and she realised it was happiness, absent for so long now that it felt alien. She smiled shyly at Malfoy. "Do you think you can call me Hermione then? I don't really want a partner who calls me by my surname."
"I'm really not sure this is a good idea; I think I'll just go home."
"Come on, Draco! You said you wanted something serious with me, and if that's the case, then you're going to have to meet them at some point."
The blond scowled at her logic. "I've met them before in case you've forgotten."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Smirking from behind your father's back whilst he throws insults around doesn't count as meeting Molly and Arthur."
"I just don't see why it has to be today?"
She felt disappointment lance through her. Was it too much to ask for man who would stand by her and do something that meant so much to her? Okay, so they'd only just decided to date last night, but they'd known each other for half their lives, and he was already much loved by her children.
"It's fine," she said, determined to keep how upset she was out of her tone. "Er… I guess I'll see you in a couple of days?"
"Why not tonight?" Draco asked.
"I have the kids back, and I wasn't sure if you'd want to be around them while this is so new. It's probably not a good idea, you know, in case this goes wrong, and then they'll be more upset. I'll ask Ginny to babysit next weekend so we can go out."
She was bustling around the kitchen now, making herself busy so he couldn't just how disappointed she was. This was incredibly new between them, and she didn't really have any right to demand that he go with her to pick Rose and Hugo up from the Weasleys. It would probably be best if they took things slowly as she did have her children to think about. They really wouldn't benefit from having a new man pitched into their lives when there was a real possibility they could break up again soon. Once they were more serious, then she would broach the subject with her kids.
His hands came down on her shoulders, stopping her in her tracks. He spun her around and tipped her chin up, forcing her to look at him. "I bow to your judgement regarding your children and what's best for them, but for the record, I plan on us becoming a family in the real sense of the word."
"What?! Draco, we only just decided to see each other. I don't think you should be making promises like that."
He smiled. "You're right, and I would be wary of saying such things if I wasn't sure that you're exactly what I've been waiting for."
"What do you mean?"
"I've steered clear of all serious relationships because no one seemed to have what I wanted, but over the last few months, I've come to realise that you are that person. I'm very sure this is what I want."
Okay, now she felt like she was going to cry. Those words were a balm to her wounded soul. Ron had done a lot of damage to her self-esteem, and it was great to hear that she was desirable, not only in the bedroom but also as a partner. But it didn't change the fact that he wouldn't go with her to the Weasleys.
"If that's the case, then why won't you pick up Rose and Hugo with me?"
He raked a hand through his hand. "Wouldn't it be strange? I mean you were married to their son, and now you turn up, hand-in-hand with the son of their enemy."
She snorted. "The Weasleys don't view you as an enemy. They may not like your family very much or what you stood for, once upon a time, but they don't hold grudges, and the fact that you're an Auror, who was employed by their son-in-law, means that they know you've changed for the better."
He studied her face for a while, almost as if he was trying to make up his mind. "Please, Draco," she said. "It would mean a lot to me."
"Okay, I'll go with you," he said, caving in to her pleading. "But if I get hexed as soon as I cross their threshold I'm blaming you."
She laughed. "Don't worry, Rose has prepared the way for you. She's been singing your praises for ages."
"At least I don't have to worry about how she'll react to my presence in your life. She asked me to marry her mummy last month."
Hermione gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth, horrified. "What?"
"Yep, she asked me to marry you. She promised if I did then I would get to try your lasagne, which she assures me is the best in the whole wide world."
If she wasn't so mortified, then she would laugh. It was a typical Rose thing to say, and she truly did love her mother's lasagne.
He chuckled. "Why do you think I took you up on your offer? I'm very partial to lasagne."
She continued to look at him with wide, horrified eyes.
"Hermione, there's no need to be so embarrassed. I think I know Rosie by now, and she's shameless when she wants something. And at least she doesn't call you her 'bwave pwince'."
She buried her face in his chest. "That's true, but only Rose could try and match-make me in such a way."
"She's adorable, which she gets from her mother," he said, tugging on her hair and kissing her.
Harry sighed as he analysed the stilted way in which Ron had interacted with his children. It was the first time he'd seen them in over a year, and it hadn't gone too well. It didn't help that Rose was as stubborn as her father and was refusing to forgive Ron. Sadly, Hugo hadn't recognised his father, being just six months when Ron had walked out. Molly and Ginny had extracted them all from an awkward atmosphere by herding the kids out to get them dressed.
He clapped a hand on his best friend's shoulder. "It'll be okay in the long run. You just have some rather large bridges to build."
"Why do I always make a mess of things?"
Harry didn't know how to respond to that. Ron had screwed up hugely when he'd walked out on Hermione and the kids, and it wasn't something that was easily repaired, especially when he hadn't made any effort to see his children. Running away from his problems had always been a weakness of Ron's. "Divorce is never easy," he said rather vaguely.
"Ronald, shouldn't you be on your way to the shop?" Molly said, coming into the kitchen and strapping Hugo into a high chair.
"Yeah, I guess. In a minute."
Molly huffed and put her hands on her hips. "Not in a minute, young man, but now! You're lucky your brother gave you a job after the stunt you pulled. Besides, Hermione will be here soon, and I'm not sure she'll want to see you. I haven't had the chance to talk to her about you seeing the kids, either."
"They're my kids, too."
"Don't go down that line of argument, Ronald Bilius Weasley, or you might hear some home truths that you're not ready to listen to."
Ron turned bright red and glared at his mother. Some things never changed, and Molly scolding her sons as if they were still ten was one of those things.
"Harry, dear, do you want anything more to eat? Since you became Head Auror, you've started to look skinny."
Ginny snorted as she came into the kitchen, balancing Lily on her hip, James, Albus and Rose prancing in behind her. "You wouldn't say that if you saw the stomach he's developing. He just hides it beneath those robes."
He glared at his wife.
"Uncle Hawwy, can I come to work with you tomowwow?" Rose asked.
"Well, you can, Rosie, but it'll be very boring, and you'd have to sit in my office and be really quiet."
Ginny shot her niece an amused glance. "Why do you want to go to work with Uncle Harry, sweetie?"
"I miss Dwako. I haven't seen him for ages and ages and ages."
Ron scowled into the cup of coffee he was drinking. "Bloody ferret," he muttered.
Harry gave his friend a warning look. Ron wouldn't get into Rose's good books by maligning Malfoy, not that he blamed his brother-in-law for being disconcerted by the attachment Rose had to the snarky blond. "You'll have to ask your mummy."
"When is Mummy coming?" Rose asked her grandma.
"She'll be here soon, love."
There was a brief knock at the kitchen door before it opened and Hermione stuck her head around.
"Mummy!" Rose squealed, rushing over, whilst Hugo loudly banged the wooden spoon he'd been playing with on the high chair's plastic tray.
"Mind if we come in?" she asked rhetorically.
We? Harry thought and then closed his eyes when Hermione walked in, dragging his most annoying Auror behind her.
"Dwako!" came the high-pitched shriek from Rose, who proceeded to tug on Malfoy's arm until he swung her up into a hug. She clung around his neck and beamed at the room.
"Molly, thank you so much for having the kids last night."
"It was a pleasure, Hermione. You know how much I love having my grandkids."
"Were you good for Grandma?" Hermione asked Rosie.
"Yes, she made us a cake."
"You're staying for breakfast, right?" Molly asked.
Hermione looked around, nodding, but then she spotted her ex-husband. She paled slightly. "Er… I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"Nonsense! I'm sure you and Draco are hungry. Take a seat," she said in a bracing tone of voice that brooked no argument.
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley, that would be lovely" Malfoy said, speaking for the first time.
Harry watched as Hermione glared at Malfoy before pulling him over to the table where she perched awkwardly on the edge of a seat as far away from Ron as she could get. There was an uncomfortable silence as Molly busied herself with making more eggs and brewing fresh coffee.
It was broken rather disastrously by Rose, who said in a voice she obviously thought was a whisper, "Are you going to marry Mummy?"
The silence deepened for a brief second before Hermione broke it. "Rose! You really cannot ask Draco questions like that."
"Why not?" the little girl asked.
"Because it's rude."
His bushy-haired friend sighed. "Because it is."
"But I want Dwako to be my daddy."
Harry groaned and looked at Ron, who was so white his freckles stuck out. He banged his cup down on the table. "Don't mind me! I'm obviously not wanted now that bloody Malfoy is on the scene!" he snapped before storming out of the room.
All eyes turned towards Hermione, who looked a little sick. "Rose, sweetheart, even if Draco and I did get married, he wouldn't be your daddy because you already have a daddy."
"But what if Daddy leaves again?"
Harry's heart broke for the confused little girl. He was going to have to speak to Ron and get him to stop being selfish and work on reassuring his daughter that he wasn't going to disappear on her again.
"Daddy isn't going anywhere, Rosie, he's working with Uncle George at the shop now," Hermione said to reassure her daughter.
The little girl's face brightened somewhat. "So I get Daddy and Dwako."
Malfoy ruffled the little girl's ginger curls. "Yes, honey, you get us both."
The little girl rested her head on the blond's shoulders and looked blissful.
AN: I feel sorry for Ron and I'm not deliberately being mean to him but divorce is often messy and I can see him walking out, trying to get his head straight and not seeing his kids until he has it sorted. Sadly, this does happen in RL. In my head, he makes it up to his kids and they have a healthy and loving relationship and Draco definitely does not replace him as their father.