Chapter 25

"Hermione, darling," Narcissa says, kissing her on the cheek.

"Hello, Cissy," Hermione replies. "Lucius."

"My dear," Lucius says, also kissing her cheek. She's obviously not Draco's pet Mudblood in this timeline, when dinner with the soon-to-be-in-laws appears to be a regular occurrence. And Lucius is neither the broken man he was postwar in her timeline, nor the arrogant bigot she remembers from her earliest years at Hogwarts. He's the man she remembers meeting as Professor Greene at the Yule Ball and again at New Year's Eve at Malfoy Manor, gracious and charming. She tries to reconcile this man with the Death Eater she knows he was in his youth, wonders what he did and didn't do in the years leading up to Halloween 1981.

Whatever he might have done then, he's put it behind him now, welcoming a Muggleborn into his family and enthusiastically supporting his son in the business Draco launched earlier this year after years of intensive research. Malfoy Genetic Counseling provides wizarding couples with detailed genetic screening that shows the likelihood of the couple producing magical children, and provides in vitro technology (which is less invasive than the Muggle version) for couples who opt to conceive using donor eggs or sperm because of a high probability of producing Squib children.

"Are you quite recovered from your accident, Hermione?" Cissy asks.

"Mostly," Hermione says. "I still don't feel a hundred percent."

"What happened, exactly?" Lucius asks.

"Something with a Muggle electrical device."

"And it caused memory loss?"

"Short term, yes. I should be fine in a few months."

Cissy smiles. "Just in time for the wedding."

"Yes." Hermione knows she hasn't mustered the proper show of enthusiasm by Draco's irritated expression. Cissy either doesn't notice anything amiss or is too polite to show it. Lucius, however, is studying her like he's an entomologist and she's an insect pinned to a board.

"That was a good piece the Prophet ran on your business this morning, Draco," Lucius says.

"It was," Draco agrees. "I was half expecting a hit piece, but it was pretty complimentary."

"It's strange, isn't it," Lucius muses, "how no one ever heard of that Professor Greene after she left Hogwarts during your fourth year." Hermione's eyes fly to his, and in response to her unasked question, he continues, "It was she, after all, who started Draco on the path that led to his business."

"Of course," Hermione says.

"I wonder whatever became of her," Lucius says.

"I've tried to find her," Draco says. "It's as though she simply vanished. So strange."

"Indeed," Lucius agrees.

The conversation soon turns to the wedding, and Narcissa waxes enthusiastic about things Hermione knows she should be waxing enthusiastic about, too, but somehow she can't quite manage. Narcissa's smiles turn increasingly brittle, and Draco drinks more wine than usual. Or more than Hermione thinks he probably does usually, since she really isn't sure.

Trying to play the loving fiancée is proving more than Hermione is capable of, and all she can think about is whether she'll be able to put Draco off another night without a row. She can't go on sleeping chastely in the same bed with him without matters coming to a head. It isn't fair to him, and the guilt is eating away at her. He loves her, and he wants her, and her rejection is pushing him to the breaking point.

A dozen and more times a day, she tells herself that she was half in love with Malfoy in her original timeline, and if she hadn't gone back to the past, she'd have married him and probably been happy. She berates herself for mooning over a man who doesn't want her, who ignored every one of her owls, making his desires—or lack thereof—perfectly clear. It was barely two and a half months she was with him in the past, and only a few short weeks that they were lovers. Less than three weeks. Not even twenty days. It was nothing. Did she actually expect him to wait seven years for her, when she was engaged to Draco Malfoy, living with him, sharing his bed?

"Hermione!"

"Sorry, what?" she says, startling as Draco's sharp tone finally cuts through her racing thoughts.

"You were a million miles away, love," Narcissa says.

"I suppose I should be used to that by now," Draco mutters.

Lucius turns to Hermione as the elves vanish the dessert plates. "I have some new acquisitions in the library that I think might interest you, my dear."

"I'd love to see them."

Lucius offers his arm and Hermione takes it. Draco seems content to linger over coffee with his mother, so the two of them head to the library alone.

"Why do you want to marry my son?" Lucius asks as soon as the door closes.

"Pardon?"

"Why do you want to marry my son?" he repeats.

She has no answer for this, because she does not, in fact, want to marry his son.

"People assume Cissy and I had an arranged marriage," Lucius says. "We didn't. Our parents were pleased, but I didn't marry Narcissa Black because she was from the right family or had money or even because she was beautiful. I married her because when she looked at me, I felt like the only man in the world. I married her because I couldn't not marry her, because the idea of not having her left me desolate."

Tears glisten unshed in Hermione's eyes, and Lucius continues. "You used to look at Draco that way, the way Cissy looked at me. Tonight, you look at him the way Bella looked at Rodolphus when she was head over knickers for Tom Riddle."

"I haven't—"

"I know you haven't. You're too noble. You'd rather make yourself miserable." He looks at her sadly. "I'm just afraid you'll make my son miserable along with you."

"So am I."

"Hermione, if this—whatever this is—is some temporary problem that's going to go away, and everything is fine between you and Draco, tell me that and I'll mind my own business. I want that to be the case. But I don't think it is. Am I wrong?"

She shakes her head.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"No," she says. "There's nothing anyone can do."


After they floo back to their flat, Draco says not one word to her. He brushes his teeth and changes into silk pyjamas in the bathroom instead of in the bedroom as he usually does, gets into bed and turns his back to Hermione's empty side of the bed.

She stands in the doorway, still dressed, looking at the silk stretched across his shoulders and knows this can't go on.

"Draco."

He ignores her.

"Draco, please."

"What?" he says, still not turning to look at her.

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry."

"Yes."

"What are you sorry for?" He finally turns to face her. "For not wanting me anymore? For not loving me?"

"I do love you," and she does. She loves the Draco Malfoy who was her only friend in the timeline she obliterated. The part of her whose memories are gradually returning loves this Draco Malfoy, who is worthy of love, but isn't Severus.

"Perhaps. But you don't want me. Don't lie to me," he interrupts when she starts to open her mouth. He gets out of bed and stands to face her. "You're a terrible liar and a worse actress. You always have been."

"I know."

"What happened, Hermione?"

She doesn't know how to answer. I don't know? But she does know. I can't tell you? That's true, but she can't even tell him she can't tell him. I could tell you but then I'd have to Obliviate you? What kind of twisted world is it when a hackneyed joke is the closest she can come to an answer?

"I think I deserve an answer," he says.

"You absolutely do. I only wish I could give it to you."

He shakes his head in disgust.

"I'm going to go stay with my parents for a while."

"Just so we're clear, the wedding's off, then?"

She looks at the enormous diamond on her finger. She slides the ring off and sets it on the bedside table. "Yes."

"Is there someone else?"

"I've never been unfaithful to you."

"That isn't what I asked."

"I'm sorry, Draco."

He walks back to the bed and gets in, facing away from her.

She packs a few things, picks up Peeves, and Apparates to her parents' house.