by Ishafel

When Harry died Hermione looked around for the next warm body to fill the empty space, and it was perhaps unfortunate that she settled on Draco Malfoy. Ten years later she wondered if it had also been unfair. But Draco had been there, scratched and bruised and dripping with his father's blood and his own. And what did it say about their marriage, that they had gone to bed with one another, and stayed with one another, simply because of proximity?

Hermione dreamed every night of Harry dying, and woke choking and screaming and crying; she had long since given up on sleeping the night through. Draco had not had a single nightmare since she'd known him: the only time she asked he told her he did not dream at all. He lay beside her in the bed, skin alabaster in the moonlight against the dainty Laura Ashley flowered sheets that had been her mother's. He was as out of place in her world as she had been in his.

And yet--strictly this was not true. It was not so much that Draco did not fit, as that she did not want him to fit. She taught history to Muggle children at the local comprehensive and he was a contractor, and both of them were good at what they do. If she were a better wife, surely she would be happy, proud of her husband. He had worked hard to get to where he was today; she had no illusions and she knew it was not easy. He had none of the paperwork the Muggle world required: no birth certificate or A-Levels, no proof of citizenship. He started off laying bricks, and at the end of the day his hands bled, while she went to school and Michael grew big beneath her heart.

They had agreed, or she had decided and he had not protested, that their children would be raised entirely as Muggles. And now there was Michael, handsome and brilliant and almost old enough for a Hogwarts letter. Letters had been coming all winter, of course; St. Paul's, St. Timothy's, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, all want him. If she and Draco were truly what they pretend to be they would be floored by this attention: the man from Eton has actually come out to meet with them. He watched Draco carefully out of the corners of his eyes, knowing him even though he didn't recognize him and clearly uncomfortable reconciling Draco's clipped public school accent with the pickup truck in the driveway, the small cozy house.

It was a sad fact that most Muggles didn't quite know what to make of Draco, and Hermione rather sympathized. Today was the year's end party for teachers at her school, and it was open to spouses and partners. Draco had been to previous parties, with mixed results; his work had kept him away the last several years and she knew he had made a special effort this time because he thought it would please her. She was pleased, only-- Draco was standing quietly by the drinks table, drinking plain seltzer water and behaving himself. He was dressed more or less the same as the other men present, his hair is a little long but fashionably so, and he wore no jewelry but his wedding band.

Everyone in the room was watching him, some of them covertly, some of them hungrily. The men were behaving badly to attract his attention--drinking heavily, talking too loudly; the women had made surreptitious trips to the bathroom and were wearing too much makeup, their blouses unbuttoned. Every woman in the room wanted to do him and every man wanted to be him. It was like this everywhere they went.

Looking at him objectively, she wondered what it was they saw. He was not really handsome; his face was too narrow and too pale, his lips too thin, his hair and eyes so colorless they nearly blended in. He looked a little lost, though no one who did not know him very well indeed would see it. Since the war large groups of people made him nervous and he was embarrassed not to know the things that Muggle teachers know: the Battle of Hastings and the chemical formula for water and the times tables. She knew he was hoping no one realized he hadn't been educated, that he felt inadequate. It was her fault that he felt this way; she was the one who dragged him away from everything he knew.

He told her, soon after they were married, that he never wanted to be responsible for life and death again. He told her that he would be happy to work with his hands, to build things, to be of use. She was not so sure he is still happy. The last few weeks, months, even years, there had been something different about him. He had grown away. The firm where he worked had offered to promote him, to send him to a management course, to put him through university. She knew this because she found a letter about it in a book he left under the seat in his truck. He had never mentioned it to her.

He kept a box in the top of his wardrobe, a small ordinary wooden box, locked with a cheap padlock to keep out Michael and Claire, who was six and did not understand words like boundaries and privacy. Hermione had the key copied years ago and checked the contents weekly. Some of the items stayed the same: there were photocopies of the deed to the house, their wedding certificate, the usual; there were pictures of her and of the kids. There was a signed copy of de Sade's most famous novel, dedicated to la Comtesse Malfait. It was worth a fortune, and was the only thing he brought with him that they had not pawned or sold--they referred to it, in private, as the kids' trust fund.

Some of the items changed. About a year ago a small, black-bordered Mass card appeared, from the funeral of Lucius Malfoy. He had never mentioned to her that his father was dead and she did not even know whether he went to the funeral, whether he visited Lucius before that, all those years in Azkaban. There were letters in the box, too, letters scrawled in heavy black ink, from Severus Snape, Vincent Crabbe, Albus Dumbledore. Come back, they read, the wizarding world needs you. Why have you forsaken us? They used words like duty, honor, birthright. No one from the wizarding world wrote to her.

Until six weeks ago Draco kept his wand in the box, disguised as a socket wrench. (Hermione kept hers in a drawer in the kitchen, magicked to look like a potato peeler.) Sometime between Tuesday and Thursday it had disappeared; now she was reasonably certain it was in the glove compartment of the truck wrapped in a frayed and misfolded map of northern Wales. There was something wrong in their house--something wrong with her and with her husband.

They left the party, walking slowly hand in hand through the dusky June to the truck. Looking down at their twined fingers, she was struck by the darkness of his skin against hers, against the pearl of the engagement ring he had not really been able to afford. Once those hands had been moonlight pale and delicate as her own; now they were tanned and hard and capable. They were not the hands of a Malfoy any longer. It was a small thing, next to the lives that were lost, the devastation wrought. It was a small thing but it was something she was personally responsible for, a change she made all on her own. Draco might have been Minister of Magic, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Chief of the Unspeakables; Michael might have gotten every N.E.W.T. known to man; Claire might--well, she was only six, it was hard to say. Instead they were human, no more and no less. There was only so far Draco could go in this world. She rather thought he had begun to realize that.

He opened the door for her, and she thought once again how unlikely it was that she should be here, with Draco Malfoy, when all she had ever wanted out of life was to be the wife of Harry Potter. Draco had never asked anything of her: not that she love him, or marry him, or carry to term the child that he had planted in her; sometimes she wished that he would hit her, or demand that she give up her job and spend her time cooking his supper. She would love to hate him as much as she hated to love him.

Draco was everything Harry had not been: cautious when caution was called for, brave when he had an audience, selfish, alive. She had chosen to love him in order to punish Harry for dying and Ron for surviving. Now in the darkness and ten years too late she wondered how she could have been so cruel. She had never imagined growing to love Draco, never imagined she would feel anything but the most transient lust for him; everyone knew that wartime romances never lasted. And yet, here she was, twelve years married and finally in love with a man she suspected no longer loved her back.

She did not think Draco's heart was given elsewhere; he was honest enough and faithful enough she would have known. But a blind woman could have seen he was growing tired. Tired of her, of the children, of the house with its towering stacks of books in every corner and toy-strewn yard. She ought, probably, to let him go, and before he thought of going on his own. Even Unforgivable Curses--even Imperio-- did not last forever.

Instead she moved over so that she was sitting in the middle seat, pressed warm against him. He smelled faintly of petrol and joining compound, more strongly of the CK One she'd bought him. He was real and solid beside her, the way Harry had never been and Ron no longer was; he was there, and he was hers. "There will be an owl from Hogwarts soon," she said impulsively and felt him stiffen.

"Hermione--" his voice trailed away. She had always hated that, the way he used her full name, the way there was no nickname for Draco. But now it made her feel grown up, purposeful.

"Would you hate me if I said we should think about it?" and Draco laughed, harshly and a little unhappily. She knew what he was thinking, that she was about to ask him for yet another portion of his soul. He was right. "Draco--what we decided, we decided when Michael was only a little more than an idea, before we ever thought of Claire. Do we--did I--have any right to decide something like that for them? We would never even have met if my parents hadn't let me go to Hogwarts."

"Now you want to change your mind, Hermione? Now? When we've done our best to ensure that these kids will have a place in your world, that they'll belong here the way neither of us do? You would do that to them?" She had expected Draco to sound wistful, but instead he sounded angry. His hands were tight on the steering wheel of the truck, as if it were her throat beneath his hands. "You would do that to me?"

"I don't--" she began, and he overrode.

"You don't think, Hermione, is what you don't do! How anyone could be smart as you are where books are concerned, and as stupid about people. Did you think we could just waltz back into the wizarding world, and everything would be forgiven? That just because things have gone well for us they have done the same for them? Their little war never ended, Hermione, not when Harry Potter died, and not when their Chief of Magical Research eloped with the head of their Reconnaissance division. They are fighting a war, Hermione, and they are losing it. Nothing much changed, because we were smart enough to run."

"I didn't mean--." and for the first time in their marriage he overrode her. The light in his eye was one she had not seen since the Hogwarts days of his great rivalry with Harry. For the first time she was a little afraid of him.

"You want to take our children into the middle of an unwinnable war, Hermione? Is that it? Why did we leave, Hermione? Can you tell me that? Because right now, I'm having trouble remembering what we were thinking. Could it have been that we didn't want to raise our children like that?" He pulled the truck into the driveway and came around to open her door. She slid out and moved quickly so that she was in front of him as they walked into the house.

Upstairs Michael and Claire were arguing but she ignored them as she pulled open the drawer and fumbled out her wand. She heard Draco telling them to stop, and then her fingers closed on the sharp potato-peeling bit. She had not used it for six months, maybe more; not since the day Claire had been home sick from school and she'd needed a way to be two places at once. She had never used this spell but the words were engraved on her heart; she opened her mouth to say them and something entirely different spilled out. Not "Avada Kedavra," after all, but "Finite Incantum."

Draco, in the doorway, stared at her for a long moment, and then laughed out loud. Hermione stared at him, and he managed to choke out, "Christ, Hermione, you scared me shitless! You didn't think-- all those years--it would have worn off, or killed me. There is more to casting Unforgivables than saying the words. Imperio, you thought, all those years?" He was not laughing any longer.

"I love you," Hermione said, aware that although it was the truth it sounded like a lie.

"If you loved me why would you do that to me? Hell, if you thought you loved me why would you let me go?"

She could not keep the tears from falling as she answered him, "You were going already. I only thought--this way you might take me with you."

"Why not just cast Imperius on me again?"


"I wasn't going to go," and his lie sounded like the truth, "But now, surely even you can see that I have to?"

She watched him pack, glad that he didn't know how close he'd come to dying. "Will you come back?" she asked him.



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