Author's Note: Hello everyone, I'm so sorry for the long wait. I've been on holidays - wish I still was - and when I got back I had to get straight back into the school work. I also caught bronchitis while I was away, so that hasn't been very fun :(
Enough talk, I hope you enjoy the chapter and don't forget to leave a review. I love reading them.
.: Chapter Eleven – Malfoy or Weasley? :.
Wednesday, May 8, 2002
The house was quite charming, she supposed. It certainly wasn't to her tastes, but it had a sort of quaint, homely appeal. Each ray of morning light brightened the entire house, giving it an airy yet cosy atmosphere. Narcissa was – much to her chagrin – impressed. Having a critical eye for design and décor, she could see that a great deal of work had been put into making the home presentable. However, her chagrin came from a more personal place. She had been raised with the revulsion of muggles and those who associated with them – blood traitors and mudbloods, to be precise. And while the majority of those beliefs had been washed away since the war, some things would never change.
Narcissa could deal with her granddaughter being a half-blood. But a Weasley on the other hand, she would always abhor. She supposed it had something do with the long standing hatred between both families, yet she could not deny that there was more to her hatred now. It killed her to think that a Weasley had raised her granddaughter, not to mention a rather untalented one at that. Ronald Weasley may have been Harry Potter's bumbling sidekick during the war, but now he was just a man, unimportant and forgettable. He was an untalented piece of vermin who scrounged off the success of his friends and family – in her opinion, at least.
It was because of him that they had been kept from Rose for so long. Hermione had made the ultimate decision – she held no delusions about that. But if the Weasley boy hadn't been in the picture, Narcissa was certain that they would have been a part of Rose's life much sooner than they were now. No, she didn't like the Weasley boy and the sooner he was out of the picture, the better. He posed a threat – one she didn't need or want.
She knew that if things were to work out the way she had planned them to, then everything would be perfect. Narcissa was slightly old-fashioned in her beliefs and regardless of what most people might think, she actually liked Hermione. The girl was attractive in an unassuming way, had spirit and a great deal of talent; a combination that was particularly hard to find these days. New blood wasn't a bad thing; she had come to understand that. Hermione Weasley – soon to be Granger again, she hoped – may have been a muggleborn by birth, but she was an exceptionally talented witch, and from what Narcissa could see, an amazing mother. Hopefully her son would see that too.
Rose would help push things along nicely. The little girl was an absolute angel. Her silky blonde locks and wide hazel-brown eyes, combined with her pixie-like features made her look like a wood nymph. She was absolutely gorgeous, and Narcissa was counting on her to bring the two stubborn adults together. They would have something in common now, which would put them on even ground. Narcissa hoped that that, combined with the chemistry she was sure was there, would be enough. She had never seen them together, so she didn't know for sure. But there had to be some kind of spark between them, otherwise Rose wouldn't have been born.
As Narcissa sat there, the book she had retrieved from the study forgotten, a loud knock resounded from the front door. Hermione had blocked the floo network earlier that morning before retiring to bed, which meant that the visitor was either unbelievably rude, or desperate to see her. Narcissa imagined that it was a combination of the two. After all, they were knocking rather loudly, if not incessantly, without even considering if Hermione and Rose were asleep.
She purposely took her time, instinct telling her that whoever it was on the other side of the door was not someone she wished to meet. Her instincts were right. To say that the look on Molly Weasley's face was indignant was an understatement. The woman looked positively furious. Her cheeks were flushed and her nostrils flaring in true Weasley style. If it hadn't have been for the dire situation, Narcissa would have laughed. But the fact that Molly Weasley was gaping like a goldfish, a mixture of shock and anger, on Hermione's doorstep so soon after she had been released from hospital, wasn't a good sign.
"And to what do I owe this displeasure?" she said coolly, a disdainful smirk reaching her lips as she looked the other woman up and down.
"W-what are you doing in my son's house?!" Molly asked incredulously, her eyes narrowing dangerously at the sight before her.
Narcissa smiled derisively. "I am a guest, unlike others,"
Shock spread across the other woman's face, much to her pleasure. Perhaps it was slightly childish of her, but Narcissa couldn't pass up the chance to get one up on Molly Weasley. The redhead had been quite popular in her day. Her daughter looked remarkably like she had before the wear and tear of seven children got the better of her. Narcissa may have seen the error of her ways – or rather her husband's – but she was not passed holding a grudge.
It was kill or be killed; Molly Weasley had done what she had to in order to survive. But regardless of her sister's insanity, Narcissa still felt the pain of her death. She could remember a time where Bella had been just like Andromeda, carefree and innocent. The two had looked so similar…
"I don't know what kind of game you are playing, Malfoy. But I am here to see Hermione and my granddaughter. I demand that you leave at once!" the redhead's voice became shrill and demanding, interrupting her line of thought.
She couldn't help but laugh. "And what makes you think that I would be inclined to do anything you say, Weasley?" the woman had the audacity to look affronted by her words. "Hermione and Rose are upstairs asleep, which on its own is quite remarkable. One has to wonder how your incessant – and it seems thoughtless – banging didn't wake them,"
"How dare you?!"
"I am sure all the neighbours would appreciate your screeches being kept to a minimum," Narcissa replied snidely. The house was rather secluded, with the closest neighbouring cottage five miles down the road. It made her jibe that much sweeter.
"I will ask you again; what are you doing in my son's house?" her words were forced and any illusion of control she had vanished.
"I am here to ensure that both Hermione and my granddaughter come to no harm. You see, your son had quite a little temper tantrum, one almost befitting a toddler. He upset Rose and…well, I'm inclined to think that any association with that man and his relatives will only distress her further," she smiled triumphantly at the expression on Molly Weasley's face.
Narcissa knew that she probably shouldn't have said as much as she had, but the temptation was too much. Much like her husband, she delighted in belittling any Weasley that crossed her path. It all came down to history, really. Her aunt Cedrella had married a Weasley, eloping with him in favour of her intended, Alphard Malfoy. From there the battle had raged, and shame turned into resentment and resentment into a deep seeded hatred. Lucius' uncle had died trying to reclaim Cedrella as his, something the family had never fully recovered from.
"What are you on about? Rose is my granddaughter, which most certainly means she isn't yours!" Molly snapped indignantly, insulted by the mere idea of Rose not being her granddaughter.
"Are you sure?" her voice was low and mocking. "She does have the Malfoy hair amongst other recognisable traits,"
"You're delusional," she wasn't so sure now; Narcissa could see it in her eyes.
"I am not my sister, Weasley. I can assure you, I have a firm grasp of what is reality and what is not. I'm sure Hermione will fill you in on all the details later. But as for now, I think it is best if you leave, preferably in a quiet manner,"
Hermione sighed, running a hand over her face tiredly. She had barely slept with all the drama of the previous evening, too many thoughts running through her head. The fact that Narcissa had made such an impromptu visit only added to the stress. There was so much pressure on her now, more than she ever had before. By keeping her secret for as long as she had, Hermione realised now that she'd only made things worse for both her and Rose in the long run.
"Mummy?" Rose tugged on the sleeve of her dressing gown impatiently, an exasperated pout on her face. "I'm hungry,"
There were dark circles under her wide hazel-brown eyes, a sign that she hadn't slept as easily as Hermione would have hoped. Her little angel was putting a brave face on, she knew that much. She also knew that after everything that had happened, it would be naïve of her to think that Rose wouldn't be affected by all this. Moments after she had gone to bed the little girl had come hurtling into the room, tears pouring down her face. Rose had had a nightmare, one that was far more terrible and frightening for her than any ordinary dream. She was scared of being taken away…she was scared of Ron. Hermione had tried to tell her that it was an accident and that he hadn't meant to hurt either of them. But Rose stubbornly refused to believe her, her four year-old mind acknowledging only what she had seen that night.
"Would you like blueberry or banana pancakes, cricket?" she asked, taking Rose's hand and leading her down the stairs.
"Blueberry," Rose answered after a few seconds, before adding a quick please.
As they entered the kitchen, Hermione saw Narcissa Malfoy closing the front door. She had almost forgotten about her – almost. It was obvious that the woman had been talking to someone, the expression on her face said as much. There was something oddly unsettling about the way things had turned out. Never in her life would she have thought that Narcissa Malfoy would be answering her front door.
"Who was it?" Narcissa jumped slightly, not expecting to see either of them standing in the archway.
Her eyes flickered to Rose before she carefully answered. "Molly Weasley,"
Hermione barely had time to register what she had said before Rose blurted out, "Your Mr Lucy's wife," with wide eyes and an excited smile.
She tried not to laugh, really she did. But Rose's happy exclamation along with Narcissa's poorly concealed laughter, made that near impossible.
"It's Lucius, Rose, not Lucy," Hermione fought to keep a firm, controlled expression on her face.
Rose frowned. "But he has long hair like Auntie Moon,"
That did her in. She couldn't have kept a straight face even if she wanted to. Rose had always called Luna Auntie Moon, despite however many times they had told her not to. Harry found it hilarious and Luna didn't seem to mind at all. But Hermione had always hoped that Rose would get Luna's name right one day, if not just to know that she had gotten it correct. However, the very fact that Rose had compared Luna and Lucius together because of the length of their hair…
"I always told him that he needed a haircut," Narcissa commented lightly, an affectionate smile on her face as she looked at Rose. It was then that Hermione came to a decision.
"Would you like to stay for breakfast?" she asked politely, letting go of Rose's hand and making her way over to the stove.
"We're having blueberry pancakes!" Rose added happily, running forward to where Narcissa was standing. "Please stay, I'll show you Zili if you do,"
"Zili?" the older woman knelt down to tuck a stray curl behind Rose's ear.
"Well, in that case, I guess I had better stay,"
Hermione smiled despite herself. She would give the Malfoys a chance, if only for Rose and the fact that her little girl seemed to have already captured their hearts.
Her life had changed so drastically over the past three weeks that Hermione barely recognised the person staring back at her. She looked the same; unmanageable mop of hair, dull hazel-brown eyes and a slim but far from athletic figure. While she may have looked the same, she certainly didn't feel it. Everything had happened in such quick succession that it felt too surreal, almost as if she were living in a dream. To everyone else, she was a fiercely intelligent and loyal woman who they thought could take on the world. It had all happened too fast for her to comprehend. In a matter of weeks, her world had been turned upside down and now the future was clouded with uncertainty.
A part of her knew that she had done the right thing. It would have been unfair on all of them if she'd just let things continue as if nothing was wrong. Still, a part of her wished that she hadn't said anything. Ron would have remained blissfully unaware and she would have continued on as always. Of course, that wouldn't have been the case. Draco and his family had known about Rose despite her precarious situation with Ron. She would have had to have been naïve to think that the truth wouldn't have come out sooner or later.
After sitting Rose down at the table with a small plate of pancakes, Hermione had discreetly talked to Narcissa about what she and Lucius expected from her. It had surprised her to realise that the woman held no expectations other than the hope that she would give them the chance to get to know their granddaughter. War changed people, she knew that from experience. If Lucius and Narcissa were open to the idea of having a half-blood grandchild, then who was she to pass judgement on them. They had changed, not exponentially but enough to ensure that the change was for the better. She didn't trust them enough to leave Rose alone with them, but Hermione had a feeling that in time, provided they did nothing to dissuade her, that that trust would grow.
"Pippi Longstockings is coming into your town!"
Hermione smiled at the sound of Rose's off-key voice, singing happily without any conscious thought of anything but the movie she was watching. She could just picture her sitting in the middle of the floor with her legs crossed, all the throw pillows built up like a fortress around her while she hugged Zili to her chest, eyes wide with childish excitement because she knew the song. It was hard for Rose to understand the situation they were currently in, but she took everything as it came with a smile. Narcissa adored her already – that much was obvious. But Hermione couldn't help but wonder what Lucius would be like with her. From what the older woman had let slip, he was quite besotted with the little girl already.
"Rose, sweetheart, it's time for your bath," quickly drying her hands on a towel, Hermione waved her wand, watching as steam rose from the dishes she had just washed. Some things were better done the muggle way, but knowing Rose the way she did, Hermione knew that she wouldn't have the time to dry them as well.
There was a scurry of feet, followed shortly after by a childish giggle from the next room. Hermione sighed; it was time to play 'Where's Rose?' Normally she didn't mind indulging in the little girl's playful antics. A smile was a smile, and she loved the way her daughter's face would light up whenever she was in the midst of playing one of her games. She would walk around the room pretending not to know where her little imp was hiding. It was when she found her and tickled her into submission, or playfully carried her up the stairs toward the bath that Rose's smile would appear.
Her muscles ached and the throbbing pain in her head was getting worse by the minute. She knew that she had to take the potion Charlie had given her soon. But first, she was going to make her little girl smile and after that was done, and only after, she would worry about herself. Just as she was about to walk into the other room, a loud knock sounded from the front door.
Instinctively, she grabbed for her wand on the kitchen bench. She was slightly puzzled to be receiving a visitor at this time of night, especially when the majority of her friends and family knew that she would be putting Rose to bed within the next hour or so. Perhaps that was the cause of her nerves. There was no denying that she was somewhat rattled from the incident with Ron a couple of days ago, but that had hardly been his fault. It had been hers really. She knew Ron probably better than anyone and yet she had told him with even less tact then he had in his entire being. The pressure had just been too much. If she'd had more time to think things through, she probably would have taken a different approach.
As she opened the front door, Hermione tried not to let her surprise show. At first, he simply stared at her, smirking at the expression on her face. She had never been very good at schooling her emotions. Despite the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach, she lowered her wand, narrowing her eyes when the smirk on his face grew. He shifted to the side slightly, her attention immediately being drawn to the large box under his arm and bag slung over his shoulder. Without warning, he pushed past her and walked into the house, his expression showing impatience.
"What in Circe's name do you think you are doing?" she hissed under her breath, shutting the front door behind her. It angered her that he thought he could waltz into her house unannounced, not to mention unwelcomed. Narcissa had been fine – she could deal with her – but him? After their last conversation had been interrupted, she had thought that she wouldn't see him again, at least not for a few days. Her curiosity was the only thing keeping him on his feet and not unconscious on the floor as the result of a very painful hex.
"I came here to see my daughter," he stated arrogantly as if daring her to contradict him.
Hermione gritted her teeth. "I didn't say you cou –"
"I don't care what you say, or don't say, Granger. I'm here to see her," it took all her strength not to scream at him, lunge for his neck and hope to Merlin her hands were strong enough to snap it. She could understand, to a degree, what he must be feeling. He'd never had the chance to get to know Rose, and she was to blame for that. Still, his holier-than-thou attitude never failed to get a rise out of her.
"She's about to have her bath, so you can come back later," crossing her arms over her chest, she raised her chin defiantly at him.
He seemed to consider her words briefly, but after a moment dismissed them and walked further into the room. It bothered her that he seemed to think that his opinion mattered more than hers did. If he thought that it was alright for him to barge in unannounced, then it was alright. But Merlin forbid she think any differently! Just as Hermione was about to tell him to get out, he carefully set the box he had been holding on the ground, sparking her curiosity. What was in that box that made him handle it so delicately?
After he was done arranging a silver and green bow he'd conjured on the box, Draco turned around and began pulling out shrunken items from the bag he had been carrying. Hermione watched transfixed as he enlarged each item, realisation dawning on her. First came a child's broomstick with a light blue trimming around the edge. She could faintly see the name Rose engraved on the side. Second, a silver snitch fluttered about the room. It had obviously been charmed somehow as it flew much slower than the norm. And lastly, much to her surprise, a deep azure cauldron was enlarged, tiny vials of smoky substances lined up beside it.
To see the child's cauldron sitting in the middle of her kitchen surprised Hermione more than she would have liked to admit. She had seen them in the store windows whenever she went shopping in Diagon Alley, but never dreamed that she would have enough money to buy Rose one. They were the latest craze – child wise – and were extremely expensive. The tiny vials of bright pinks, blues and yellows if mixed in the right sequence could create coloured smoke dragons and rabbits, horses and eagles – there was an endless amount of possibilities. Not only was it entertaining for the children, but it was also educational. There were instructions that had to be followed if you wanted to create a certain creature. Sure, they were simple steps like pink vial first, then blue, then green and stir once. But it gave the child a sort of fun head start on potions. What surprised her was that it was a toy for six year-olds and up.
"I thought that since she was your kid, she would be uncommonly smart for her age," he must have seen her staring at the toy in wonder, and a smug smirk appeared on his face shortly after. If only he hadn't smirked, then she might have taken that as a complement.
"What are all these for?"
"They're presents," he answered noncommittally.
"They're too expensive," Hermione said after a few tense moments. "Take them back,"
He was in front of her in a second, the cool grey of his eyes darkened in anger. She gasped in surprise, her wand clattering to the floor. Words would not come; she was too taken by surprise to regain her senses, his eyes cementing her into place. Memories of that night flashed before her eyes, causing an involuntary shudder to pass through her body. He was so close; she could smell the citrus of his shampoo.
"I missed four birthdays because of you, so I think I have a right to buy her however many bloody expensive presents I want to," his voice hissed against her ear, making goose bumps rise on her skin. Her breathing was laboured when he pulled back to look her in the eye, his lips turned down in an angry scowl. His lips are so soft…Merlin help her, but she couldn't stop thinking about that night, about what his lips could do, what reactions they could provoke.
Hermione let out a shaky breath when he turned away, kneeling down to look at the little girl who'd come into the room in search of her mother only to find the toys he had enlarged earlier. Focusing all her energy on remaining calm, she turned to look at Rose who was jumping up and down in excitement. And Draco…she couldn't help but think that she was imagining the tender look in his eyes, especially when only moments ago he'd looked about ready to murder her.
"And they're all for you," he said, affectionately tapping the little girl on the nose. She felt a pang of something hit her in the chest when Rose threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. Guilt – oh, it wasn't definitely guilt.
"Rose, what do you say?" her voice cracked slightly.
"Thank you!" bouncing up and down, she pulled back and stared with wide excited eyes at the broomstick hovering beside her. "Look mum, a broom! I got a broom!" Hermione couldn't help but wince, quickly covering it with a forced smile.
"Why don't you look and see what's in the box," Draco prompted, reluctantly letting go of the little girl as she hurried over to where it was.
Rose carefully lifted the lid, squealing happily much to Hermione's chagrin. It wasn't so much that she wasn't happy that Draco had gone to all this effort; her emotions were just mixed on the matter. On one hand, she appreciated the effort, on the other she felt slightly angry, feeling like he was trying to buy Rose's love. Of course, she knew that that wasn't the case, his expressions proved as much. But old habits and all…well, they continued to cloud her mind with suspicion.
Blinking, Hermione focused more intently on what she was seeing. A puppy. He'd gotten her a bloody puppy! She was stuck between gaping at him incredulously and marching over to him and hitting him up the backside of his head.
"You got her a puppy!? Are you insane?" she cried in disbelief, a horrified expression on her face. How was she supposed to take care of a puppy?
Draco shrugged. "I heard kids like dogs and the breeder said she'd be alright with Rose, so I bought her,"
Because it's as easy as that, she thought sourly.
"Oh, mummy, please can I keep her? Please?" Rose begged, hugging the golden retriever pup to her chest, positively smitten with the animal already. It was hard enough already, but with Draco kneeling behind Rose, an amused but triumphant smile on his face, it was almost impossible to say no. She could see the resemblance between them so clearly now that they were side by side, that it shook her to the core.
"Alright," she said carefully, ignoring Rose's excited squeal. "But I think it is time that Mr Malfoy left. After all, you have yet to have your bath and bedtime is in half an hour," it killed her to say it, especially when both her daughter and his face fell. But if she didn't get Rose to bed at the normal time, she'd be a little monster in the morning.
"Okay. Thank you very, very, very much for my presents. I love them," her daughter beamed at Draco, giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek before skipping out of the room, the puppy tumbling after her. "You and me are gonna be best frie…" Rose's voice trailed off as she moved out of ear shot.
An awkward silence filled the room, one she endeavoured to break. "Thank you, Malfoy," she said quietly, smiling in a tentative manner. "Merlin help me, but she loved the presents – even that damn broom,"
He nodded, looking to where Rose had disappeared before walking toward the door. Hermione could have sworn that she heard him mumble something about taking baby steps before he left, but she couldn't be sure. What she was sure of, however, was that the whole situation had just gotten two times more complicated.