A/N: Thanks to my new beta DarkBluePhoenix for trawling through this and sorting out my mistakes.
I apologise for the mammoth delay in posting this, I hope the length makes up for it. We're almost at the end of this epic tail – please enjoy.
The sound of children's delighted shrieks broke the quiet of the study, and Hermione looked up from her papers and smiled. Getting up she went across to the window to look out.
Autumn was creeping in and leaves were being blown across the lawns in a buffeting wind. Acorns and pinecones were scattered across the grass. Four children were running about happily, squealing in delight as they chased one another. She could make out Aurora's chestnut head as she darted about with the others, Hermione was glad that she had been persuaded to give this method of teaching a try and Aurora was thriving on it.
A brief knock on the study door made her look round, a moment later it was pushed open to reveal Draco who strolled casually in.
"There you are," he smiled, joining her at the window. "I see the Sprogs are still here. When are they going home?"
"In half an hour," she replied with a shrug. "I must say that Derin seems to be a good teacher. How he manages to control all four of them is beyond me." She gestured to the white-haired man sitting on a bench watching the children. His posture seem relaxed and expression benign as he observed his charges.
"He's the best in the business," Draco said with satisfaction, sliding an arm round her. "He had impeccable references. We were lucky to get him."
Hermione nodded, still gazing out of the window. She suspected that Derin's decision to take this job may have had more to do with the hansom salary Draco was paying. As always it seemed, money was talking, but for once, it was in her favour so she wasn't complaining.
"Anyway, I've news for you," he continued breaking into her train of thought.
"What?" She asked warily, turning to look at him.
"Mother would like to visit tomorrow and stay for the weekend. She wrote this morning to ask, naturally I agreed. It'll be wonderful to see her."
Hermione's heart sank and she tensed. The last thing she wanted was Narcissa visiting them, especially now when her relationship with Draco was so fragile.
"Oh, how nice," she responded unenthusiastically.
Draco's smile faltered. "I thought you liked mother. She likes you."
Feeling guilty, she nodded. "It's not that, I just wondered what she'd do on her own all day. Aurora's got lessons and we'll be at work."
"Oh that's not a problem. She has lots of friends to keep her amused during the day. Anyway, I suspect that it's Aurora she wants to see more than us." Draco grinned, clearly pleased. "Grandmothers' prerogative I suppose, spoil the children and let the parents pick up the pieces."
"Yes, I suppose. But as I said, Aurora has a busy day tomorrow so your mother won't get much time with her," Hermione interposed, striving to keep her voice neutral.
Draco laughed easily, dropping a casual kiss on her cheek. "Relax Hermione, it's not often Mother visits, I'm sure the world won't end if Aurora doesn't attend her ballet class or sketching lesson." Giving her shoulders a quick squeeze, he departed still smiling.
Hermione scowled. She didn't like Narcissa much, the woman was far too cold and calculating in her opinion, and she didn't want her to have any undue influence over Aurora. It seemed though that for this weekend at least, she had little choice in the matter.
The next half hour passed quickly as Hermione finished her report, determinedly putting Narcisssa's impending visit out of her mind. Finally putting down her quill, she made her way downstairs to see the house-elves helping the other children get ready to go home. Parents were arriving to collect their offspring and she hesitated, unwilling to join in the organised chaos. Draco with his arms round aurora stood watching as each child accompanied by a tired looking parent, exited in showers of green sparks.
"Another day over," Draco grinned as Jenny Finnegan and her mother were whisked out of sight by the floo network. "Come on 'Rora, I've something to tell you." He lead the way into the small sitting room, then turning to face a curious Aurora, announced, "Grandmas coming to visit tomorrow. Isn't that nice!"
Aurora's expression brightened and she grinned back. Turning to Hermione, she asked, "Really Mummy? Is granddad coming too? I keep saying they should come here but they hardly ever do."
Confusion registered on Draco's face while Hermione's heart sank. "No, sweetie, daddy means Grandma Narcissa, not Grandma Alison," she explained, sinking onto the sofa and drawing the child onto her lap.
Aurora's expression became guarded. "Oh. Is that the lady who got me Tiger?"
Draco's face had lost its smile as he took the seat opposite. "Yes, she's your grandma, Aurora," he stated firmly, eyes holding hers in challenge. "Surely you haven't forgotten?"
Aurora's hand found Hermione's and she squeezed it for reassurance. "No daddy," she answered in a wooden voice that made Hermione frown uneasily.
It wasn't often Aurora spoke to anyone in a meek voice, Hermione was disturbed to notice that Draco had induced the tone without difficulty. Uneasily, she wondered how well they got on when alone, wishing she had paid more attention over the past few weeks. As neither had complained however, she had assumed that all was well. Now she wasn't so sure.
"Good, Grandma will be here for the whole weekend, you can show her how big Tiger's grown!" Draco continued, the note of challenge in his voice not abating.
Again Aurora nodded, then changing the subject asked, "Is Derin coming tomorrow?"
"Yes," Hermione smiled hugging her. "You can't get out of lessons that easily young lady."
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough, in watching television and helping Aurora with her reading. The subject of Narcissa's visit wasn't mentioned though Hermione detected a slight tention in the air. Wanting to talk to Aurora alone, she let Draco handle the bedtime routine.
"Come on minx," he said at 7:30, scooping the yawning child up and leaving the room.
Hermione waited for ten minutes before going up to Aurora's room. As she had hoped, Aurora was in bed, eyes half closed as Draco read her a story.
"Here's Mummy," he said breaking off and standing. "Madam wanted a cuddle before going to sleep. He kissed and hugged her fiercely before straightening. "Now, no more shirking, OK? You're tired and need to sleep."
Aurora smiled up at him, "OK, Daddy." Then she held out her arms to Hermione.
"I'll be downstairs, "Draco said exiting quietly.
Hermione waited until she heard his steps descending the staircase before pulling Aurora into her lap. "Now, what's wrong?" She asked without preamble.
Aurora hesitated then hissed, "Mummy, is that lady my gwandma?"
"Yes darling, she is," Hermione replied hoping she sounded reassuring.
"But I don't know her. Daddy says I have to be nice to her, treat her the same as gwanny. But Mummy, she's a stwanger. I don't want to tweat her like gwanny, she's not my gwanny!" Aurora buried her face in Hermione's neck.
"Hush Baby," she murmured, rocking the sobbing child. "The thing is that Grandma Narcissa is daddy's mummy, like Grandma Alison is my mummy."
Aurora sighed deeply, clearly not happy. "Well I don't know her," she grumbled.
Hermione chose her next words carefully, not wanting to imply something that may not be there, but at the same time wanting to get to the truth. "Did Daddy get angry when you said that she was a stranger?"
Aurora shrugged. "No, but he didn't like it. Said he knew it was hard but that she loved me."
"Does Daddy often get angry when I'm not here?" Hermione asked tentatively, her hand stroking the child's back soothingly.
Aurora scowled, but not with fear. "Sometimes, just like you."
"And what does he do when he gets angry?"
"Dunnow, same as you." Aurora yawned, flopping back on to the bed, clearly bored with the subject.
"Sometimes he shouts," she glowered and continued, "He said he would burn Ben this morning because I wouldn't put my flying jacket on." She grabbed the toy from the bed and hugged it as though to make sure it was really still there.
Ben was a stuffed donkey Aurora had owned since babyhood. He was tatty now, but she refused to part with him. Hermione could imagine how this threat had galvanised her into action.
Trying hard not to smile, she asked, "Did you put your jacket on?"
"I had to!" Aurora now looked thoroughly put out. "Daddy's mean, he always makes me do things I don't want to do."
"Such as?" Hermione asked curiously.
"Dwess myself, wash my face, sort my books out, and things," she huffed with indignation.
Keeping a straight face, Hermione nodded and said no more on the subject. She knew that she spoiled Aurora in some respects, but often she was battling against the clock and it regularly proved too much hassle to get Aurora to dress herself during the week when she would be deliberately slow, or to sort out her own things before nursery, when she would purposely mislay items. This always resulted in Hermione losing her temper, causing acrimony between mother and daughter first thing in the morning. She had assumed that Draco had either dressed Aurora himself or got the house-elves to do it those mornings she had to leave early. He had certainly never mentioned it, leading her to presume there hadn't been a problem.
She sat back, Aurora's head on her shoulder. Soon Aurora had drifted off to sleep, so she kissed her and tucked her in, before leaving the room.
Downstairs, she found Draco in the sitting room flicking through a magazine. At her entrance he put it aside and said, "What took you so long? On second thoughts, don't answer." There was an edge of bitterness in his voice she didn't fail to notice.
"What's up?" She asked dropping down beside him.
"I suppose you were both grumbling about my mother coming to stay. Merlin knows that neither of you have actually tried to accept her into your lives," he snapped back. His good mood of earlier had vanished.
Deciding not to respond to his bait, she grinned broadly, catching him completely off guard. "No actually. Aurora was moaning that you had made her put on her flying jacket this morning. How do you do it? If it were me, she would have refused outright and there would have been an argument. By the sounds of it, you seem to have quelled the protests before they got going."
His look turned from surprise to mirth and he laughed. "Oh, I thought she was moaning about my mother."
"This was more of a priority. So how did you do it?" She pressed.
He grinned. "I threatened to incinerate that ratty old donkey. It was chilly out there, she would have caught cold. The threat made sure she did as I said."
"But that never seems to work for me," Hermione complained slightly enviously. "Whenever I try such tactics, she just ignores me."
"Ah, but would you actually go through with such a threat?" He asked.
"Of course not!"
"Exactly, she knows that full well and just ignores you. You have to look as though you mean what you say, no point otherwise. I singed that thing's ear before she'd believe me."
Hermione scowled with irritation. "You seem to know a lot about it, one would think you'd been parenting since the start of time."
Draco wasn't perturbed by her change of mood, merely smiling. "No, I know how people like me tick Hermione, that's all. As much as you hate to admit it, our daughter takes after me in more ways than one, hence the reason I'm able to deal with her antics and tantrums. She knows that she can get round you first thing in the morning because you're in a hurry. I, on the other hand, think like her, therefore, much to her disgust, beat her at her own games."
"It's not something to be proud of," she snapped, knowing that he was right but not liking it. "You forget she's not five yet."
His expression was controlled as he returned her look. "I've not forgotten at all."
Tentatively she asked, "Does she often play up then?"
"She tried to at first, now she picks her battles, very wise." Then changing the subject he asked, "So, what were her grumbles about Mother? Don't tell me there weren't any!"
Hermione sighed. "Draco, you can't expect her to accept your mother just like that. She's only ever called my mother Grandma, it'll take time for her to get used to the fact that she now has two grandmas."
His scowl was back as he retorted, "I'm well aware of that thank you very much. However, she could at least try. Look at this from mother's viewpoint. She's only just found out she has a grandchild and naturally wants to spend as much time with her as possible. It's not nice to be constantly rebuffed by your own flesh and blood, especially when you travel thousands of miles to spend time with said flesh and blood."
"At the same time, she can't expect Aurora to just accept her like that," Hermione replied heatedly. "For years, it's just been her and me, with all the other changes that she's had to get used to these past few months, this is just one too many for the time being."
"So shall I tell mother not to come then?" He flung back.
"Of course not! All I'm saying is that Aurora needs time, and for your mother not to take that personally," she defended.
He made a disgusted face at this but said no more on the subject, picking up his magazine and burying his face behind it.
Hermione sighed as she picked up a book. The evening was not going well and the tension between them was palpable. She had planned to bring up another tricky subject, but wondered if it would be a good idea. In his present mood, Draco would be uncooperative.
She made another stab at conversation. "So, when is Narcissa getting here tomorrow?"
"During the morning," he grunted in response not looking up.
"If we had a specific time, one of us could be here to meet her," she suggested tentatively. "After all, it's the height of rudeness to leave the poor lady to her own devices as soon as she arrives."
He lowered the magazine, brows raised. "And why, my dear Hermione, do you care?"
That was it. Flinging down her book, she jumped up, anger radiating from her. "I'm trying to make an effort," she almost yelled, "unlike you."
He too jumped up angrily. "Make an effort? Hermione, you've practically turned our daughter against my mother, I don't call that making an effort!"
"I have not turned her against your mother. She was upset in case you didn't realise, and wanted reassurance. It's not my problem if you're too blind to see that." They were glaring at each other now, any previous civility having rapidly dissipated.
"No, I am not too blind to see it," he snapped. "I just think that it's better to encourage her to accept mother, rather than dwell on the difficulties of the matter as you're doing."
Knowing that she would say something she would later regret if she didn't get out, Hermione pivoted marching out of the room, furious with him.
Upstairs, she stood at the window of her study breathing hard and trying to cool her raging temper. How dare he say such things to her? She would never dream of turning Aurora against anyone, he should know that. Harry and Ron's predictions of doom about the marriage came back into her mind as she paced the book lined room, and she wondered if she had done the right thing by entering into it so hastily.
She and Draco had enjoyed an easy rapport of late, spending the evenings chatting and enjoying one another's company. She had thought the relationship between them had been growing and developing into something more than bed fellows, now she wasn't so sure.
A knock made her look up from contemplating the view before going to the door. As she had expected, Draco was standing outside, expression guarded as he looked at her.
"That documentary on muggle cancer you wanted to see is on now," he said stepping back and half turning away.
Hermione knew this was his version of an olive branch and for one moment she contemplated telling him where to stick his truce. Repressing this instinct, she shook her head.
"Thanks but no. I'm busy tonight," she said stiltedly.
Impatience clouded Draco's face as he turned back. "Oh for Merlin's sake come on and stop sulking. We need to talk about this, hiding up here won't achieve anything." Reaching out he took her arm in a firm grip, almost propelling her before him down the broad corridor.
Fear of waking Aurora kept Hermione silent as they descended the stairs, though a mixture of anger and indignation were bubbling close to the surface. Once the door to the sitting room was closed, she turned on him, eyes flashing with temper. "Don't you dare presume to know how I am or am not feeling!"
Ignoring her, he switched on the TV with a wave of his wand and threw himself down before it, his back to her.
Hermione fought the urge to throw something at the back of his sleek blond head, instead seating herself in the chair furthest away from him. Picking up an ornament, she began to turn it over absently in her fingers while wrestling to bring her temper under control.
Damn the man to hell, she thought staring unseeingly at the screen. How dare he presume anything about her? She glared some more at him. Then finally when she could take the silence no longer, said, "You know its bad manners to ignore people."
Slowly he turned to face her, one eyebrow raised in mockery. "I'm not the one who went off in a sulk."
"I didn't go off in a sulk," she retorted stung. "It's just that you won't see reason where this business of your mother and Aurora is concerned. I know how your mother must be feeling but Draco, she needs to give Aurora time. Yes ok, the child's more like you than I care to admit, but it doesn't change the fact that she's a child. One which I may add has had her whole life uprooted. There's only so much change anyone can cope with at one time. If you want her and your mother to spend more time together, the best thing to do is for you to act as a buffer. You can encourage Aurora to play with your mother whilst being there in case she needs reassurance. Once she's comfortable with your mother, you can leave them to it." She saw she'd caught Draco's attention, for his chin was resting on his fist and he wore a thoughtful frown.
"And you think that my acting as a safety net like this will help?"
"Yes of course. Remember when Derin first came here? The same principles apply."
Since moving into the manner, Aurora had been much more clingy than usual, less willing to spend time with strangers without an adult she knew present. Hermione and Draco had taken turns to stay with her during lessons with Derin until a few weeks ago, and were still sitting in on her ballet and drawing classes which were taught by other tutors. Both knew this was her way of reassuring herself of their presence.
"OK, but mother will be disappointed. She mentioned taking Aurora to Aladdin's Cave on Saturday."
Relieved that he'd agreed, Hermione relaxed. "She won't mind if you go too, surely. Aurora will probably get bored of you after a while and you can leave them to it."
He nodded though she knew that like her, he doubted this very much. When with strangers, Aurora tended to be very clingy and being told that Narcissa was her grandmother had upset her greatly. Hermione found she didn't care what Narcissa thought of the arrangement, Aurora's happiness was all that mattered.
Wearily she stood and yawned. "I'm going to have an early night."
Draco didn't protest so swiftly she exited the room, glad to get away from the tense atmosphere.
Opening the door of the aparating chamber, Hermione stepped into the hall and heard voices coming from the drawing room. Narcissa had obviously arrived.
Silently she crossed the hall and slipped upstairs to her room. The last thing she wanted was for her snooty mother in law to see her looking tired with crumpled robes and untidy hair. She scowled as she caught sight of the clock. She was a good hour later than she had intended due to last minute work problems, a fact she knew Narcissa would notice and comment upon.
Showering and changing into a set of simply cut but very expensive dress robes, she applied a light smattering of make-up, redid her hair and taking a deep breath, left the room.
Downstairs she saw the house-elves were busy laying out formal place settings in the dining room. It seemed that all the stops were being pulled out for Narcissas visit.
Knowing she couldn't put the moment off any longer, she turned away and went into the drawing room, back straight and head held high.
"Ah Hermione, my dear, this is a pleasure," Narcissa Fits-Gerald, looking as though she had just stepped out of a beauty salon said, sweeping across to where Hermione stood, pecking her on the cheek.
Forcing a smile, Hermione returned the greeting, whilst glancing covertly at aurora who was snuggled against Draco, feet drawn up under her chin, and wearing a closed expression. Draco looked at ease as he surveyed his wife and mother.
"I hope you had a good journey," Hermione enquired stiffly, ushering Narcissa back to her chair.
"Oh, it was uneventful," the other replied airily. Then glancing at the clock continued, "You are late this evening. Really, that hospital should know better than to work you so hard, why do you put up with it?"
"It's not so bad really. Tonight I had a meeting that went on longer than planned. Still though we got things sorted which is what matters."
To Hermione's surprise, Draco nodded in agreement. "That's good, you can rest easy now." Turning to his mother, he added," the board are due to review each departments spending next week, so like every other head, I've no doubts that Hermione was busy dotting every 'I' and crossing every 'T' before Monday."
Narcissa nodded stiffly, though Hermione could detect the disapproval in her frosty smile. "That's nice, but I still say you work too hard Hermione." She gave the younger woman a piercing look. "After all, it's not as though you need to now."
Choosing not to answer, Hermione turned to Aurora. "How was your day sweetie?"
Aurora raised her head from Draco's shoulder and smiled. "OK. Jenny asked if I could come for tea tomorrow, can I go." As she spoke, she slid Off Draco's lap and came across to Hermione, clambering into her arms.
Draco's slight frown told Hermione that this was the first he had heard of the invite.
"Oh but I thought we were going to Aladdin's cave," Narcissa protested. "Aurora, Darling, you said you'd like to go, remember?"
Aurora shot Narcissa a cool glance. "Yes, but you said me and Daddy would go."
Narcissa nodded. "That's right."
"Why not Mummy?"
All three adults blinked in surprise. "But Mummy doesn't want to go, she has other things to do," Draco explained, shooting an apologetic look at his mother.
"When it was just us, we did everything together," Aurora announced belligerently, pressing herself further into Hermione. "I want Mummy to go."
"Aurora, that's enough!" Draco said leaning forward in his chair and fixing her with an uncompromising look. "We've been over this. Mummy's busy tomorrow so you, grandma and I will go to Aladdin's Cave. Now let's not hear any more on the subject."
"You'll like it," Narcissa cajoled. "Every little girl likes to go to Aladdin's cave. We'll have a wonderful time!"
"I want Mummy to come!"
Aurora's stiff posture alerted Hermione to the fact that she was close to breaking point. Every protective instinct roared to life within her and she returned the child's hug fiercely. "Shh, Baby," she soothed, uncaring of the other occupants of the room, "I'll come too, is that ok?"
"But I don't want to go with them, I just want to go with you!"
"That's a bit difficult considering Grandma has the tickets," Draco said impatiently. "At this rate, she won't take you at all. Do you want that?"
This last seemed to be the final straw. "I want to go home. Mummy why can't we go home? I don't want to be here anymore," Aurora wailed and then burst into sobs, burying her head in Hermione's neck.
Standing, Hermione hefted the child into her arms and made for the door. She knew that she had to get Aurora away from Narcissa and Draco quickly if there was any hope of calming her. To her relief the door flew open as she reached it and she staggered through.
In the small sitting room, she tried again to pacify Aurora and after a while, the sobs subsided into sniffling hiccups. Relieved, Hermione mopped aurora's face with a swiftly conjured handkerchief before lifting her chin with a finger.
"Now, tell Mummy what's wrong," she encouraged. "Come on now, there's a good girl."
Aurora looked miserably back at her, eyes red and puffy. "I want to go home," she grizzled. "It's not the same anymore."
"What's not the same?" Hermione asked, heart sinking.
"Everything. We don't see Uncle Harry and Auntie Ginny or anyone, and I can't go to Jenny's house, and we don't stay at Gwandmas and grandads, and you're not coming tomorrow and…." She trailed off and Hermione's heart constricted.
"Oh I'm sorry Angel," she said sighing. "I suppose we have rather pushed you."
Aurora though wasn't finished. "I want to go home! I don't like that lady and I am not calling her wwandma!" This last was uttered at a shout.
"Hush little one, it'll all be ok, I promise." She rocked Aurora while inwardly cursing Draco and Narcissa for their thoughtlessness. Slowly, the child began to calm down. When Hermione judged she'd relaxed, she asked her next question.
"Darling, what happened this afternoon when Jenny and the others left?" Hermione probed, determined to get to the bottom of the matter while Aurora was coherent.
"That lady came in and tried to hug me but I didn't want to, but she hugged me anyway. Then she said we were going to the cave thing and I said no. Daddy said he would come but she said I was big now and she could look after me. I said no, and she said I should behave like a Malfoy and I could cope. I ran upstairs and daddy came after me. We came back downstairs and he said he would come too. I wanted you to come as well but she said you would be busy, but Mummy, we always have the weekends together. I said that and she said this time it would be different. She said everything was different now that I'm a Malfoy! Mummy let's go home, just you and me, like it was before! Please!" Aurora blurted, her lower lip starting to wobble again.
Hermione closed her eyes, fighting back her own tears. As she had suspected, Narcissa had alienated Aurora by denying her the security of her mother. She berated herself for letting things get this far. Now Aurora, thoroughly frightened, wanted to leave the manner. Hermione didn't blame her.
"You're right, we always spend the weekends together, she just didn't know. It's nothing to worry about, I'm sure Daddy has told her by now," she reassured. "As for going back, well we can't, angel. There are people living in our old flat now, remember? Where will they go if we go back?"
"Don't know. Let's go to Uncle Harry's then!" Aurora seemed to perk up at this idea. "Yes mummy, let's go. Then I can play with rose and me and Uncle harry can go flying! Then I can go to jenny's house tomorrow and Daddy can't say no!"
"When has Daddy said no before?"
"Before when Jenny said to go but he said we were busy."
Hermione made a mental note to ask Draco about this. She knew that he encouraged all of Aurora's friendships with other children her age, so it seemed odd to her that he would stop her going to the home of her closest friend without a good reason. A weekend at Harry's did seem like a good idea though. She would owl him about it later. For now, she had to smooth ruffled feathers all round if they were to get through the weekend without incident.
"Maybe we can spend next weekend with Uncle harry and Auntie Ginny. Tomorrow though, we're all going to Aladdin's cave. Perhaps Jenny would like to come too, shall we ask her?"
As she had hoped, this gambit proved fruitful for giving a squeal of delight, Aurora leapt off her lap and was already reaching for the floo powder to make the call. It seemed that safety in numbers was the order of the day.
It was later that evening when Hermione entered the drawing room having put Aurora to bed. Both Draco and Narcissa sat stiffly in chairs by the fire, an untouched tray of coffee between them.
"Thank heavens that's over." Hermione adopted a brightness she didn't feel as she sat down opposite Draco. "Aurora's asleep and we can relax. I don't know about either of you, but I'm exhausted. Coffee, Narcissa?"
"I'm sorry," Narcissa blurted as Hermione handed her a steaming cup. "I didn't think she'd get so upset about you not coming tomorrow. I heard her crying that she wanted to go back to your old place…you wouldn't…please. I'll leave if you like…. But don't go."
She had half risen as she spoke and swiftly Hermione got up and went to her side. Draco too was on his feet, pushing her back down into her chair.
"Mother, don't be daft. I told you she was just upset. She's perfectly fine now, you saw that for yourself."
"She's a child, they say all sorts of things," Hermione added as she sat down again and picked up her own cup. "Of course we're not going to leave just because Aurora says so."
In truth, she had toyed with the idea of leaving whilst bathing Aurora. Then the practicalities reared their ugly heads and she had turned from the idea. However she was determined that Aurora's interests be put first whatever Narcissa said. She sipped her coffee watching the older woman covertly over the rim of the cup.
"But she was so upset, and don't say that I wasn't the cause!" Narcissa argued looking wretched.
Unexpected compassion filled Hermione and she liked her more in this one moment than in all their previous encounters. "We're as much to blame as she is," she consoled. "I especially should have seen this coming. Now don't worry. She's looking forward to the cave tomorrow, it'll be the perfect time for you to get to know her for a bit."
The appearance of Tiggy by her side forestalled her next words and she turned to the elf.
"There is a floo call for Madam," the elf said looking at Narcissa. "Madam's husband is calling from America."
"Merlin, I forgot!" Narcissa put down her cup and hurried out. Tiggy too left, leaving Draco and Hermione alone.
Draco scrubbed a hand wearily over his face and sighed. "I know you won't believe me, but I don't enjoy making my only child cry."
The anger Hermione had suppressed all evening now rose up in a consuming tide. "Let's get something straight," she hissed glaring in to his face. "I don't give a shit about what you and your mother think, but you won't intimidate my child into doing something she's not comfortable with. What you did earlier was tantamount to bullying and I won't have it!"
He drew back. "But Hermione, I honestly thought she was ok, if I'd known-"
"Do me a favour and shut up," she snapped. "If you had shown a remote interest in her well being, you would have noticed that she was feeling insecure. But no, things had to go your way and your way only. Just remember this; Aurora is the reason for this marriage, if she's unhappy, we're out of here, plain and simple."
He blanched, "You wouldn't dare-"
Poking him in the chest with a finger she snarled, "Wouldn't I? See that's where you underestimate me; for my child, I'd give up my own life!"
"I'm sorry," he apologised looking miserable. "What can I do to make up for it?"
Hermione sighed, her anger subsiding, leaving her deflated. Part of her wanted to laugh at the absurdity of Draco Malfoy apologising to anyone, let alone her, but as she had learned the hard way, for him family came before all else.
"I don't suppose it matters too much. For god's sake, don't push her into stuff like this if she doesn't want to do it," she told him flatly. "Yes I know she's obstreperous at times, but she's not five yet. You can't force her to like your mother, who needs to understand that. Aurora said that your mother grabbed her earlier for a hug even though Aurora said no. Talk about brute strength."
"Yes, I suppose so." He hesitated, then asked, "Was she really upset at bedtime?"
Hermione could tell that Aurora's rejection of him earlier had cut him deeply. She had refused to let him near her when going to bed, something she had never before done, however much they had argued during the day.
"She'll be ok. We're probably going to Harry's next weekend and my parents for one night at some point. That'll cheer her up." She was about to leave the room, but remembering one of Aurora's earlier complaints, turned back. "By the way, she said that you'd stopped her from going to Jenny's house before. Why?"
Draco frowned, perplexed. Then his brow cleared. "Oh it was a few weeks ago, when you were due to go to your parents. Jenny asked her round and I declined thinking that Aurora would rather go to your parents than Jenny's. Did I do wrong?"
For the first time that evening, she smiled. "No, I just wondered."
"So she'll come to the cave tomorrow?" He asked tentatively.
"Yes, but Jenny's coming too. Having someone of her own age to play with, will help Aurora feel at ease."
Draco grimaced but said no more on the subject.
A loud bang behind Hermione made her wheel round. She could see the fireworks display over to one side of the large theme park and smiled. This place was certainly nothing like Autumn Towers or Disney Land, the muggle theme parks she had visited as a child. It was much louder and brighter than both, the use of magic evident in every cartoon character which strutted about, and in the creation of the many rides and other amusements the park boasted. It was indeed an Aladdin's cave of wonders.
"Oh wow," Aurora squealed beside her, "Can we go and look at that?" She pointed to a cork screw rollercoaster just visible over the tops of some trees to their left.
"But it looks so frightening," Narcissa grimaced, "surely they won't allow five year olds on it."
"This is Aladdin's cave mother, it's aimed at young children. Definitely not for the faint hearted." Draco grinned. He seemed to be enjoying the day as much as Aurora. "Shall we go and have a closer look?" He turned to Aurora and Jenny who both nodded eagerly.
The group made their way round the crops of trees, and the roller-coaster came into view. Hermione suppressed a groan as she watched it pirouette above them, its occupants, all of whom looked to be around Aurora and Jenny's ages, with white-faced parents clinging to the safety bars, squealed in delight.
"We must go on it," jenny cried, leaping forward in eagerness. "Come on, 'Rora!"
"Whoa there," Draco grabbed both girls before they could run off. "We need to find out if you are big enough to go on it first."
"'Course we are," aurora scoffed, impatiently shaking off his hand.
Hermione stifled another groan when the attendant informed them that each child had to be accompanied by an adult to go on the ride. Pinning on a bright smile, she joined Draco, Aurora and Jenny in the queue. Soon they were boarding the flimsy looking carriages, she wondered if she would be able to stomach the sickening motion of the ride. She had never been a fan of rollercoaster's, sure this would be worse than its muggle equivalents. Around them, other families were boarding, the parents' expressions carefully blank as they took their seats.
"Alright?" Draco asked leaning Across Aurora and jenny to frown into Hermione's pale face. "You don't have to you know. I'm sure Mother wouldn't mind-"
"No, its fine," she cut him off forcing a tight smile. She could just imagine what Narcissa would say if she was forced to endure the ride. Hermione would never hear the end of it.
"Well it won't last too long," he comforted.
Gleefully, Aurora put pay to this elusion. "It lasts 2 minutes! The man said so!"
While Jenny squealed in delight, Hermione wished that she hadn't come after all. Was anything worth this kind of torture?
With a jolt they were off. She closed her eyes as with dizzying speed, they began to spin round, dive and climb. No charms had been employed to make the ride easier. She flung an arm across jenny to stop her from going forwards, but doubted if the child noticed or cared. Opening her eyes a crack, she saw both children had taken their hands off the bars, uncaring of her and Draco's attempts to hold them back, waving madly as the roller-coaster dived again. She could feel her breakfast churning round inside her as they began to climb. She stifled a scream as they dived again, though this time the plunging seemed to go on for ever.
"This thing should carry a health warning," Draco muttered as the carriage came to a sedate stop after what felt like an eternity. "My ribs feel like they've been pulverised."
"Can we go again?" Jenny and Aurora begged as the four of them clambered out.
"No!" Draco and Hermione chorused.
Hermione breathed deeply to control her spinning head. She was grateful for Draco's hand under her elbow as they made their way out of the ride and across to Narcissa.
"That looked worse than awful," the older woman grimaced. "Apparently, it affects adults worse than children. It says so on that poster over there. Something about gravity and fluidity or some such."
"You couldn't have said a truer word," Draco grumbled, massaging his ribs and stomach. "It felt as though my organs were being rearranged. I love flying but this was something else!"
Hermione said nothing, concentrating on breathing. She could feel nausea clawing at her insides but was determined not to give in to it.
"A drink and a sit down, I think," Narcissa decided. "Come on, There's a nice looking café over there."
She ushered the still grumbling girls to the small outdoor seating area while Draco and Hermione, the latter ashen faced, brought up the rear.
"Take it easy," Draco advised, giving her a concerned look.
Hermione smiled wanly. "It's ok, I'm starting to feel a bit better now. How those two," she nodded to Aurora and Jenny who were walking either side of Narcissa, "can stand it is beyond me."
"Age is on their side," Draco commented. "I'm sure at their age we were just as ebullient."
Soon they were all seated round an iron table sipping drinks. Hermione glanced round her, surprised that the park was so busy. At every table, sat families enjoying a break from the frenetic activities on offer. Aladdin's cave she knew was world renowned for its attractions and was only open a few times a year. Tickets tended to sell out well in advance of each opening. Many of the families here had travelled from other countries and Narcissa had mentioned a few American families she knew who had come to Britain to visit the theme park.
"My, if it isn't Magda Davies."
Hermione whipped round. Narcissa was nodding at a stately witch a few tables away, sitting with a younger woman and two children.
The other witch as though sensing Narcissa's scrutiny, turned, recognition flashed across her pronounced features. She turned back to the group around her and said something. The next moment, all had stood up, heading towards their table.
"Look who it is," Draco hissed in Hermione's ear. At the same moment she glanced at the younger woman and children and felt her heart sink. She would recognise Danielle Mullings and her daughter Annabelle anywhere, their prejudicial attitudes towards Aurora had seen to that.
"This is a nice surprise," Narcissa smiled as the group reached their table. "I hope you're well Magda? I've not seen you for longer than I care to remember."
The other woman nodded. "Narcissa, I hadn't realised that you were in the country or I would have owled you."
Hermione and Draco wore stony expressions as they surveyed the small group. Danielle, Hermione was pleased to see, looked nervous.
"Hermione, Draco, this is Magda, an old friend. She's your great Aunt Susan's cousin's step niece Draco," Narcissa introduced. Turning to Danielle, she continued, "And this is her daughter Danielle. You'll forgive me my dear, but I cannot remember the names of your little ones."
"They're names are Annabel and Jake," announced a scowling Aurora, "and we don't like them."
Jenny nodded vehemently. "Oh no, they're horrid."
An awkward silence descended on the table after these pronouncements. Confused, Narcissa glanced between the stony expressions worn by Hermione, Draco, Aurora and Jenny, to the wary ones worn by Magda, Danielle and Annabelle. Jake, Annabelle's younger brother, was paying the group around him no attention.
Hermione regarded Danielle with dislike. This woman, through her daughter had made Aurora's life hell. Hermione wasn't about to let her forget it. She smiled sweetly, an idea coming to mind.
"Danielle, how nice to see you again."
"Likewise," the other woman gushed, moving forward. "Let me congratulate you on your marriage." She turned to include Draco as she spoke, but he did not return her smile.
"Thank you," Hermione replied still smiling. "Does your daughter still go to Andromeda's nursery?"
As she had hoped, the question made Danielle's eyes light up and her smile to broaden.
"Well no actually. We're looking for a tutor for her as it happens." She paused for a moment and Hermione gave her an encouraging smile. "I hear that you've engaged Derin Tarkwyn to teach your little one."
Both Hermione and Draco nodded.
"Of course he is the best tutor in Britain," she remarked. Then taking a deep breath continued, "Forgive the inauspiciousness of the occasion, but I wonder if…well, if you'd mind Annabelle sharing lessons? Of course we'd be happy to help pay the fees….It would ensure that she would have friends her own age before Hogwarts and…." Danielle tailed off.
Opposite Hermione, Aurora opened her mouth to protest but Draco's warning look stopped her.
"Hmm." Draco's brow furrowed in mock concentration. Clearly he had guessed Hermione's plan and was helping her instigate it.
"Well the thing is you see," Hermione drawled, enjoying the other woman's discomfort, "we need to think about every aspect of our child's education that includes those with whom she associates."
Draco nodded. "Indeed, as I'm sure you'll agree, it's such an influential age so you can't be too careful." He gave Danielle a dazzling smile. She responded by nodding enthusiastically.
"Oh yes, tell me about it," she agreed. "That's why I thought that your daughter would be suitable company. Similar values and all that. I mean we don't want them mixing with inappropriate types at such a tender age."
Now Hermione was truly angry, and by Draco's tight lipped expression, he was too.
"Tell me," She hissed, "is my child suitable because I'm married now, or because she's now a Malfoy, or both?"
Daniele's eyes widened and she seemed to realise the corner into which she had been backed. "Oh no, what I mean is that-"
"Spare us!" Draco snapped. "We all know what you meant. For once and for all, let's set something straight. We haven't forgotten how your child made our child's life a misery in that nursery. Not only that, she got other children to bully her too, because through no fault of hers, our child happened to be from a single family! Why would we want a little toe rag like that to have anything to do with our child? As far as we're concerned, the answer is a definite no!"
Hermione leaned back in her chair, enjoying the looks of shock on the faces of Narcissa, Magda and Danielle. Danielle's face had lost all its colour and she stared at him as though stunned.
"Is this true?" Narcissa asked quietly, her smile gone.
"It's all water under the bridge now," Draco said shrugging. "But yes, mother. Dear Danielle here instructed her offspring to pick on Aurora at nursery. Not only that, to get other children to shun her as well. I don't forget such slights, especially when they're directed at my child!"
"There has clearly been a misunderstanding," Magda Davies said calmly, although the hand she put on her daughters shoulder shook. "However I'm sure that everyone agrees this is neither the time nor place to discuss this matter." She turned to the seated group. "Please be assured that I'll be looking into this and if members of my family have behaved inappropriately, recompense will be given accordingly."
With that, she swept off, pushing Danielle and her children before her.
"I don't like them," Aurora hissed once they were out of sight.
"Neither do I," Draco agreed, staring after the departed group with dislike.
His agreement seem to melt the last of Aurora's resentment against him for she beamed. "Good, can we go now?"
The rest of the day was spent looking at the animals, and taking a few more rides though nothing like the original roller-coaster. To Hermione's surprise she enjoyed herself, and she could see that Aurora definitely had. She and Draco were certainly on good terms again, a fact for which Hermione was greatly relieved.
"I think we've seen the whole Park!" Draco announced as the sun began to wane. "I don't know about everyone else, but I'm exhausted! Shall we make tracks?"
Narcissa and Hermione both nodded and they turned towards the floo terminal.
"Oh look!" Aurora said pointing to their right.
Turning, Hermione glanced in the direction she was pointing and froze. Aurora was staring at a small baby, around six months old who was giggling with delight, as he looked about him from the elevated height of his father's arms.
"Ah, he's so cute!" Jenny enthused. "Shall we say Hello?"
Before Hermione could remonstrate, both girls were dashing towards the child, smiling broadly.
"Hello," Aurora greeted. "What's his name?" The baby's parents returned the girls' smiles, pride shining in their eyes.
"This is Jonathan," the father told them proudly in a strong American accent, ruffling the baby's hair.
"He's nice," Jenny said, examining him critically.
"Where did you get him?" Aurora asked curiously.
Feeling the colour creeping up her cheeks, Hermione opened her mouth but the baby's mother beat her to it.
"Well that's a long story. We wanted a baby and we had one."
"Hmm, how long did it take you to get him?" Aurora asked, oblivious of Hermione's horrified expression or the looks of amusement the baby's parents were trying to suppress.
"Around a year." The baby's mother glanced between Hermione and Draco as she spoke.
"Come on 'Rora, time to go home," Draco intervened, taking her hand and pulling her away.
"Oh but Daddy, didn't you like him?" She asked shooting a longing glance behind her.
"I'm sure he was very nice."
"Then why can't we have one?"
"Ask your mother," Draco responded shortly.
For once, Aurora said no more on the subject, letting herself be guided to the floo.
Hermione was relieved that Draco was taking Jenny home before returning to the manner. It would give her time to sort her thoughts out before facing him.
She was unsurprised that Aurora still wanted a baby, she certainly didn't give up lightly. The problem was that Hermione too wanted a baby. She had hoped that the intense longing she had felt on first seeing Rose Potter would subside but no such luck. If anything, it had grown and now the mere sight of a baby could reduce her to tears if she wasn't careful.
There was a lull in the conversation and Hermione knew it was time to broach her problem. She and Molly Weasley had spent the last few minutes chatting about Aurora and the Weasleys while the older woman had supplied Hermione with homemade soup. It was Lunchtime and Hermione had decided to pay Molly a visit. She needed to talk to someone who knew all about wizarding customs and who could advise her. Naturally the woman who had been her mother in the wizarding world had sprung to mind, so here she was a few days after the visit to Aladdin's cave.
"Now dear," Molly said comfortably from across the scrubbed kitchen table, "What's bothering you? It's not Malfoy is it?"
"No, well, not really." Hermione hesitated then blurted, "If a wizarding couple split up, who usually gets custody of the children?" Even to her own ears, the question sounded harsh but she couldn't think how else to phrase it.
If Molly was surprised by the question, she didn't show it. "Hmm, divorce isn't very common as you know. Where couples have separated though, the one who can provide the better standard of care, gets custody."
"So money doesn't talk?" Hermione very much doubted that in a society which was governed by traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, money didn't speak louder than every decree governing the wizengamot.
Molly was silent for a moment. Then picked her words with care. "The thing is, everyone who's anyone, doesn't get divorced. It's such a stigma on people, that they avoid it. They may live apart, but rarely divorce. In these circumstances the children stay in the family home."
Hermione's heart sank. "I thought as much."
"But dear," Molly interjected looking worried. "You and Malfoy, I thought you said things were ok between you."
Hermione sighed deeply and rested her head in her hands. "They are, but when I planned this marriage I hadn't reckoned on certain other factors. It shows how blind even I can be."
"Such as what?" Molly asked gently, surveying Hermione with curious eyes.
"Such as….Well…I want another child! I don't know when it started, but now it's all I can think about and it's driving me crazy!" Hermione blurted, tears coming to her eyes. "The thing is though, this marriage was just meant to be temporary, insurance for Aurora more than anything else. If I have another baby, it won't be so easy to walk out, then there's custody to consider! I wouldn't have a hope in hell against Draco in the courts." She knew she was gabbling but didn't seem to be able to stop now that she had started.
Molly's expression gentled, leaning across the table, she took Hermione's hand in her own. "Sometimes I forget what a worrier you are. Listen to me. Life's too short to consider the pros and cons of every action. If you want another child, have one. As for you and Malfoy splitting up, I doubt he'll let it happen."
Hermione gave a mirthless laugh. "Oh I don't know, things are pretty tense at the moment. We had an awful row the other night about Narcissa, now we're just being civil for Aurora's sake."
"Yours is just like every other marriage in the world I suspect. All marriages have their ups and downs and people argue about all sorts of things including in-laws. That row wasn't the be all and end all of things I'm sure," Molly dismissed with a shake of her head.
"No, you don't understand," Hermione protested, raking a hand through her hair in frustration. "We're not your average couple. We married to give Aurora security."
Molly nodded. "He also made some huge concessions for you which went against every Malfoy tradition, letting you keep your last name, and work! Even I was gobsmacked when I found out. A man who marries for the sake of his child doesn't do that." The note of disapproval in her voice at this state of affairs was evident, and Hermione wondered if it had been done before.
"Well he had to. I wasn't giving up my job for anyone! But surely I wasn't the first woman to do such a thing?"
"Well no, but it's not the usual way of doing things…" It seemed that Molly's love of conventionalism was getting the better of her, and Hermione was hard pressed not to snort in disgust.
Molly continued, "Also, Malfoy women have never worked. Well, most witches didn't work if they could help it. This time however he not only let you work, but to keep your last name it's unheard of!"
"That's because he doesn't really care one way or the other about me," Hermione dismissed, keen to clarify the position. "We agreed to have a well…um…platonic sort of…" she tailed off, embarrassed by her own admission.
Molly laughed, unphased. "I'm guessing that stipulation didn't last too long. Hermione my dear, has it occurred to you that he may have only agreed to that in order to get you to the alter?"
"But he was so insulting about it when I brought it up," Hermione defended hotly. "He jeered and said I need not worry as I wasn't his type and such."
"I can well imagine, anything to cover up dented pride. You try being told that your partner only wants a platonic relationship, it'd be enough to make you feel rather inadequate."
"I don't think-"
"Let me see your wedding ring. That will say it all," Molly cut in holding out her hand.
Feeling confused, Hermione handed over the platinum band, watching while Molly examined it thoroughly.
"Hmm, I'm not sure what all of these mean, but this one," she jabbed at a tiny crescent shaped rune, "protects against harm. Merlin, I've not seen this one for a while," she pointed at a tiny rune the shape of a star, "it symbolises fidelity and loyalty." She was silent as she continued examining the ring, and Hermione watched feeling very foolish. She had meant to examine the ring herself on a number of occasions but had never quite found the time. The few books she had consulted, hadn't told her anything about the runes etched on the ring, so she had left it, promising herself to look into it sometime.
"This," a tiny line, crossed by another smaller line, "this is for strength and fertility. The semi-circle symbolises protection against evil enchantments – love potions and the like. The thing of note for you is that all of these runes will have a match on Malfoy's ring. That's how they work, in tandem, sequential runes as we termed them. I presume he too wears a similar ring?"
"Yes, but I've not really looked at it."
"No need, I can guarantee that each of those runes is etched on his ring too, ensuring that he also remains loyal and faithful to you."
Hermione took the ring back, gazing down at it. "I've never come across any of these before and I studied Ancient Runes for NEWT! Are you sure?"
"Well of course you didn't," Molly was impatient. "They're not the type of thing taught on a Hogwarts curriculum. For one thing, use of them is dying out now days. I'm not surprised that the Malfoys still use them, Arthur and I did, but most people now favour enchantments, not so good by any means. Most runes are tailored to the couple for whom they're cast though there are some generic ones like these. Knowledge of them is hard to come by. That ring is very powerful, certainly not the symbolisation of a marriage that wasn't meant to last."
Hermione was silent as she digested this. Of course she knew that Draco had wanted the marriage for Aurora but she had assumed that he had only wanted a physical relationship with her because of convenience. Now though she wondered.
Molly broke into her train of thought. "Go home my dear and talk to your husband. Really talk to him and ask him about his motives for your marriage. Only he can tell you how he's feeling. Also, you should discuss the possibility of having another child, see what he says. It's a decision you should make together, it's only right."
Hermione laughed mirthlessly. "Easier said than done. Still though, thanks for the advice."
"Hermione dear, please think about it," Molly entreated quietly. "Your marriage has as much potential as anyone's of working, please don't let your pride get in the way of that."
"I won't, it's just so hard to do when we're both still so angry." Hermione stood up and began to prepare to leave. "Thanks very much for your advice and insight, you've given me a lot to think about."
She would indeed consider all of Molly's advice and knew that eventually, she would have to talk to Draco. But first, she had to make some decisions of her own; foremost of which was how much she was willing to sacrifice to have another child.