Author's Note: I am so sorry for the long wait. My muse was on vacation, but she's back now so it is full steam ahead.
I also have a new one-shot up, His Sleeping Beauty, so please check that out if you have time. It is a fairly unusual pairing (Cedric/Hermione), but I like what I've done with it.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter. There is more Draco/Hermione interaction from here on in. Also, I apologise ahead of time for any mistakes in this chapter. I wasn't in the best of moods when I edited it, or wrote it for that matter.
.: Chapter Thirteen – Opening Up :.
Saturday, May 18, 2002
It had been just over one week, ten days, to be exact. Ten days since he had last seen that impish little grin. She was positively gorgeous, everything he could have ever hoped for and more. He had never really let himself hope, not with Daphne. Of course, he would have loved any child that might have been conceived between them if it weren't for that convenient – or inconvenient, depending on which way you looked at it – spell on his family. The child would have been his and that would have been enough. Rose was his and she was certainly more than enough.
He ached to see her again, even if it was just to see her smile. However much he may have ached, he wasn't going to push his luck with her mother. Granger was only trying to protect their daughter; he knew that much by just looking at the adoration in her eyes. It pained him to admit that of all the things she had done in her life, this was the one thing that outshone all the others, the one thing that she was exceptional, if not a natural at. Hermione Granger was a natural mother. And it only pained him because he had not been there to be the father that he could have, should have been.
A part of him would always resent her for what she did, but he understood. He understood. His mother had made him see it from her perspective, from the perspective of someone who could sympathise with Hermione Granger's situation. And he could see it, the reasons why she made the decisions she had. He would be the first to admit that back then he was hardly a reliable person, the mark on his arm proved as much. Stupid mistake after stupid mistake; he'd almost ruined his entire life, including that of his family's. Draco could see how she could come to the conclusions she had. Ronald Weasley equalled reliability, whereas he…
"For a muggle, her mother is quite charming, a little placid but definitely amiable enough," his mother took a delicate sip of her tea, recounting the events of her visit later yesterday evening. "Rose was absolutely thrilled to see me, of course. She asked for you as well…" at this she trailed off, glancing awkwardly about the room at nothing in particular. "Darling, I really think you ought –"
"Don't start, mother," he sighed, pushing his teacup away harshly.
Couldn't she understand that he wasn't ready? After Rose had hugged him, after she had kissed him on the cheek and skipped off without a care in the world, he'd suddenly been terrified. What if Granger was right? Was he good enough to be that little angel's father? Could he be patient enough, loving enough to give her everything she needed and more? He really hoped he could, because he wanted to be her father. There was just this panic, this fear that he would fuck everything up. Rose was his daughter and however strange that may have still sounded in his head, he really wanted to do the right thing by her.
"Hermione is coping fairly well, all things considered. I cannot believe what that woman wrote about her in the Daily Prophet this morning. Such vile, slanderous words…" the scowl on her face matched his own. "Of course, I have no doubt who her sources are. The fact that they have started mentioning Harry Potter in all of this, not to mention disparaging his wife only proves that that Weasley girl is the leak, not to mention her mother. You would think that she would have at least a little decency. I'm only thankful that your identity hasn't been discovered as of yet," she continued, the scowl on her face deepening.
"Why, mother? Afraid of damaging the family name?" he snapped half-heartedly, not really meaning it. "I'm sorry to disappoint,"
"Don't be so melodramatic, Draco," Narcissa sighed, laying her cup on the table. "I only meant that I am thankful for the chance you have – yet are squandering – to get to know your daughter without the disruption of the press getting in the way. Hermione has managed to keep them at bay despite what that Skeeter woman has written…and yet you do nothing," her brow furrowed slightly, but for the most she kept a neutral expression.
"What would you have me do?" he asked, clenching his jaw.
"I would have you go over there, darling, and stop hiding simply because you are uncertain, or afraid of not being good enough for that gorgeous little girl," she smiled that smile, the one that always told him mother-knows-best. "You only have one chance to get to know her, so use it. Hermione is far more open to me now that she knows me and knows that I only want what is best for her daughter. Get to know Rose and her mother while you can, because darling, I can assure you that when the press find out you're her father, and believe me, they will, you're chance will be gone,"
Trust his mother to be the voice of reason. What she said made sense, even if it did bother him that she seemed to know him better than he knew himself. Well, she had always been unnervingly perceptive…and blunt, not to mention rational and understanding. She told it as it was, not sugar-coating her words with false promises and sweet lies. He could easily see how his father had fallen in love with her, as she was probably the only woman game enough to stand up to him.
"Well," Draco sighed, scratching the back of his neck. "I guess I had better get my arse into gear then," he attempted a weak grin, his stomach twisting in both anticipation and fear.
It was a rare occurrence, a glitch in his system. To be afraid was not foreign to him; only to be afraid of something so simple and unthreatening made his control waver. He had always chosen the easy path in life and this – being a father to an incredible little creature, one he was afraid he wasn't good enough for – well, to be perfectly honest, it frightened the shit out of him. This would be neither easy nor effortless, but he was positive that it would be rewarding.
His father had raised him to hold family in the highest regard, as had his mother taught him to do whatever was necessary to ensure their safety. Many people misinterpreted being a Slytherin as being nothing short of evil. It was their ignorance that caused the blackened cloud to hover over his old house. To be a Slytherin meant so much more than the one dimensional stereotype the world had cast upon them. Self preservation, pride in both family name and house, ambition, determination, a quick and cunning mind; the list could go on forever.
Draco was no fool. He knew that when the press found out that he was Rose's father, their eye would turn to him as would their scrutiny. It was nothing more than instinct which had him pausing, instinct to survive, to self preserve. He was a coward and he knew it. Sometimes he wished he could have the strength to do what Granger did everyday. She held her head up high, despite the media and the whole magical community in general turning their noses up at her. Their judgemental and stoic stares angered him beyond anything else. Granger – Hermione was an amazing mother to his daughter, his flesh and blood. They had no right to judge her for a moment of weakness they had both shared five years ago.
"Do you thi –" his words were abruptly cut off, the shrill festering voice he had hoped to never hear again making him wince.
"Draco! Oh Draco, I have the most wonderful news!" the tall leggy brunette came rushing through the door, barely stopping to acknowledge his mother. Daphne. How could he have forgotten about Daphne? "It is absolutely wonderful, brilliant, magnifi –"
"Do stop babbling, girl," snapped his mother, what little patience she had for the woman keeping her facial expression controlled.
He would have laughed out loud if not for the situation at hand. The look on Daphne's face…well, it was priceless! Normally his mother kept her cool around his exceptionally annoying wife, even when she pulled something as ridiculous as buying a dozen or so peacocks simply because she felt like it. He also would have laughed hadn't Daphne decided to drape herself across him, perched on his lap with a blithering smile on her face. Disinfectant was a definite must.
Ignoring her mother-in-law, the brunette turned to face him, her arms wrapping around his neck in what felt like a vice grip. "Draco, I'm pregnant!" she smiled brilliantly and he could see the false cheer in her eyes. "We're going to have a baby, isn't that wonderful?"
Wonderful for who? He thought sourly, reaching up to unlock her arms and remove them from his neck. There was no way she was pregnant, at least not by him. His mother gasped and he could just picture the expression on her face. Daphne's smile began to falter when he gave no response. Was she stupid? Did she honestly believe that he would fall for something as ridiculous as this? But it wasn't ridiculous, not really. She didn't know about Rose or the spell. If there had been no enchantment then maybe her plan might have worked.
He wasn't fooled for a second, not by her long silken brown hair or dark indigo eyes, nor her heart-shaped face and perfectly symmetrical features. She was exceptionally beautiful and used that to her advantage. Daphne counted on people underestimating her, but he wasn't as gullible as some. Perhaps she wasn't as smart or as rational as Hermione, neither patient nor understanding like her sister, Astoria. But Daphne was beautiful and she was most certainly cunning. He knew not to underestimate her.
Gilbert Lang, their family lawyer, had contacted him earlier that morning. The Wizengamot had approved his divorce papers and the second he gave them to Daphne, he would be free of her. He didn't need her consent, or co-operation for the dissolution. All he had to do was make sure she touched the papers. Divorce was generally frowned upon within the magical community and it was usually impossible to get the Wizengamot to approve immediate marriage dissolutions. Only under special circumstances did they allow such things. Given that Daphne was screwing around behind his back and the fact that he had an illegitimate daughter, one he had every intention of acknowledging, they had been hard-pressed to find a reason not to grant his request.
All she had to do was touch the papers and it would be over. He would be free. Her magical signature was all that was needed. Of course, there would be a court case determining who got what, but essentially their marriage would be over. Draco was almost giddy with excitement by the mere prospect of it.
"Daphne," he forced a smile on his face, reaching behind him to pick up the papers he had conveniently stowed under his chair. "That's wonderful news," bloody brilliant more like it, considering it wasn't his. "Here, I've got something for you," and the envelop was passed, all she had to do was open it up and pull out the papers.
Lifting her off his lap, Draco quickly got up, winked at his mother and strode across the room, ignoring his soon to be ex-wife's curious stare. He was drunk with anticipation and couldn't help but make a jibe at her before he left the room. "Give my congratulations and good luck to Nott, Merlin knows he's going to need it if he has to deal with you,"
Horror spread across her face and he couldn't help but smirk. She had touched the papers. He was free and she knew that he knew that the child wasn't his, not to mention the fact that he knew whose it actually was. Oh, revenge was sweet. Her outraged shriek was the last thing he heard before apparating away, the image of Hermione's parents' house at the forefront of his mind. Loathe as he was to admit it, his mother was right. He had a limited amount of time to get to know Rose…and Hermione, before the press became involved – more than they already were, at least. Of one thing he was absolutely certain, he would be damned if he fucked this up.
"I win!" Rose cried happily, her tiny hand slamming onto the pile of cards. She smiled brilliantly and Hermione didn't have the heart to tell her that it wasn't a pair. They were playing snap – the muggle version – and it was disappointingly not a very good distraction.
It had been nine days since she'd taken refuge here at her parents' house. They didn't seem to mind too much, but her mother was constantly throwing her disapproving looks wherever she could. She had told them the truth and as expected, it hadn't gone down too well. Her mother was scandalized and her father…she had wanted to crawl under a rock and die from the look he gave her. But they had put aside their disapproval and let her stay.
Life had been hard enough without the press being involved, but someone had tipped them off and Hermione was fairly certain that she knew who. If things couldn't have gotten more complicated then the stares she received at work, not to mention the hushed whispers of her co-workers made everything that much worse. They never voiced their opinions, but Hermione could see it clearly in their eyes. She didn't know whether to resent their petty beliefs or be thankful that they were keeping quiet.
Harry was furious. He had openly told Rita Skeeter to mind her own business. The next day there had been an article in the Prophet saying that he was the number one candidate for fatherhood, and that their illustrious history proved that he was most likely Rose's father. Of course the articles were ridiculous, but that didn't mean that they didn't hurt. She refused, however, to let them get to her. There was enough to worry about with a howler arriving every morning from Molly Weasley, along with all the rest of her hate mail. It was almost impossible to keep Rose from hearing them, but she tried.
Her soon to be ex-mother-in-law had called her for everything. She couldn't say that she didn't deserve it. Ron was constantly trying to contact her, whether it be through the floo network, or arriving on her parents' doorstep in the middle of the night. At first she had been frightened, but after some time she had resigned herself to the fact that he was just plain stubborn. Hermione tried to understand his persistence. Perhaps he just wanted to speak with her, and if that was the case, wasn't it the least she could do? But she was being the cowardly lion and letting her father send him on his way every time.
He hadn't sent her divorce papers yet, and that did bother her. There was no way they could come back from this. She didn't know whether he was just being stubborn, or if by some chance he truly didn't want to divorce her. It didn't matter; Alyson was already drawing up the papers. If he wouldn't serve her, than she would him.
Hermione sighed; everything was so screwed up. There was a time when she had truly been happy – she longed to see that day again. Rose was still having nightmares, but they had toned down to what they were. Harry was still sulking over the fact that Malfoy was her father. Her parents' were as disapproving as ever and to make matters worse, she actually looked forward to Narcissa Malfoy's visits. The woman was surprisingly good company, even if she had sent a house-elf to be both her and Rose's personal shadow.
"Sweetheart," her mother's voice made her look up. "There is someone here to see you,"
"I didn't hear the doorbell," Hermione frowned, not missing the pointed look she was receiving.
"It did sound, Hermione, you were just in your own little world," the words weren't meant to be sharp, but they had an edge to them. Jean Granger sighed. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. It's just – look, I think you should just talk to him yourself,"
"If it's R-O –"
"It's not," Jean cut in, looking at Rose for a moment. The little girl was playing with the deck of cards by herself, knowing that they were talking about something she wouldn't understand. "Let's just say it's a person who bares an uncanny resemblance to someone I know," her mother tilted her head in Rose's direction and Hermione immediately understood what she was trying to say.
She had been waiting for this visit for what felt like an eternity. It wasn't that she was looking forward to seeing him – that would be near impossible considering his arrogant personality – but she was thankful that he had chosen to visit on a day that the press had decided to leave her be. There were a few things that she wished to discuss with him, but she had refused to be the one to seek him out. The fact that he had waited this long in between visits astounded her. He had seemed so eager to get to know Rose, yet after that night, she hadn't heard a whisper from him.
"Rose, sweetheart, would you mind going upstairs to your room for a bit?" she asked anxiously, ruffling the girl's already chaotic mass of curls with her hand.
Her daughter frowned, patting her faithful companion – the puppy that lived to make her life hell – on the head. "Why?"
Hermione was stumped. What was she supposed to say? If she told Rose that Draco was here, she knew that the little girl would refuse to leave. Ever since he had given her those belated birthday presents, Rose had, much to Hermione's chagrin, idolized him as one would a God. At times she found it endearing, but for the most it bothered her. She barely knew him and yet Rose seemed to trust him completely, seeing him as one would a favourite Uncle. If only she knew…
"Mummy has to talk to someone, you know, grown-up to grown-up," Rose looked about ready to ask who so Hermione quickly interjected. "And you know how boring grown-up conversations are! They just drone on and on and on…" silently she thanked the Gods that her daughter was like almost every other child her age. Rose's eyes widened and she nodded her head, standing to leave the room. She pulled Pip along behind her as she made her way up the stairs, Jean Granger following behind to make sure her granddaughter didn't decide to eavesdrop like she normally did.
A few tense minutes later and he emerged from the hallway, looking entirely out of place and uncomfortable in the foreign surroundings. She had decided to be civil, if not friendly toward him; he deserved that much. After everything she had put him through, the least she could do was try to pursue a friendship, or at least an understanding with him, if not to ease the ripping guilt inside, then for Rose.
He shifted uneasily, waiting for her to break the silence. She obliged with a sigh. "I'm surprised it's taken you this long, Malfoy,"
"That makes two of us," he replied, muttering under his breath.
To her, he seemed remarkably uneasy, anxious even. It didn't really make much sense. Even when he'd confronted her back at the hospital, he'd had a controlled, calm sort of air about him. But now, now he appeared genuinely unsettled, and that in turn perturbed her. She wanted to know what it was that had him appearing thus. Furthermore, she wanted to help in whatever way she could.
"It's been over a week," Hermione stated calmly, tangling her fingers through her hair in frustration, trying to comb out the knots. "I would have thought that you would have come by before now. I don't – I don't pretend to understand anything you're going through, or what you're thinking," the expression on his face remained nonchalant. "But I do know what I saw, Malfoy, and I am sorry. I shouldn't have kept her from you, but please believe that I truly thought I was doing the right thing by her," all the words she had wanted to say since the last time they'd met came rushing back.
She'd had a lot of time to think things through, to mull over her decisions and try to observe them objectively. Hermione knew that she had messed with too many peoples lives, ruined any happiness they may have had because of her one little lie. It had started out so small, simply with her refusing to acknowledge the possibility that Rose might be Draco's daughter. Throughout her pregnancy she had been in denial, she could see that now. One lie was all it took to ruin a life and hers had been monumental. From small to astronomical – all it had taken to seal her fate was a few seconds. The moment she'd resolved to keep the secret about her and Draco to herself, she had sealed her fate and his too.
"I've had to deal with so much over the past few weeks and I feel like I could break at any moment. The only thing keeping me together is that little girl," she didn't know why she was opening up to him like this, making herself vulnerable. The pressure was just too much and she needed to get it off her chest. Perhaps if she opened up to him, they could try to get past all of this and at least try to be friends. "Everyone I know has virtually turned against me, with the small exception of Harry, Luna and Alyson, of course. I guess I kind of deserve this, don't I?"
"No," he shook his head, expression softening. "Granger, you don't deserve this,"
"But I do!" Hermione cried. "I do deserve this! I lied to Ron and my whole family, including my friends, for years. I didn't even tell you about Rose… Merlin, what kind of person am I?" this was it, what she'd been fighting against all week. This was her breaking point and she was definitely breaking.
"I don't know how you do it," his admission made her look up at him, confusion in her eyes. "You've withstood enough criticism to last you a lifetime, Granger, and yet you've managed to endure it all. Your friends, Skeeter, the public…me; how is it that you're so –so –"
"Gutless?" she offered, a bitter edge to her voice.
"I was going to say strong, but I suppose gutless works too," Draco remarked smoothly, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards at her small laugh.
Is he trying to comfort me? She thought bewilderedly, not really caring about the answer.
Hermione cleared her throat, wiping away the few tears that had escaped. "I'm sorry about all that, I just – I've been under so much stress lately what with Skeeter and the Weasleys," he nodded his head in understanding and she wondered if he wasn't a polyjuiced impostor. "Even my co-workers and Rose's school teachers have been giving me the look. I haven't really had the chance to get any of that off my chest, so I'm sorry for laying it all on you,"
"And here I just came by to see if you and Rose would like to go to the park for lunch," he laughed sarcastically, but she could see the humour in his eyes.
"I'm sure she'd love that," she started hesitantly.
Hermione took a deep breath. "No buts. Draco, I would like nothing more than to go to the park with you and Rose. I admit that I have my faults as do you, but I hope that we can perhaps come to some sort of agreement. I know it might be a bit much to ask, but I'd really like it if we could try to be friends. There are so few people who understand what we went through, or are even willing to try. The only people I have right now are Luna, Alyson – who is a co-worker and Rose's godmother, by the way – and Harry. Of course, there is your mother too; she has been a godsend. But other than that –"
"What about your parents?" the startled look on his face was slowly waning into curiosity and understanding.
"They are tolerating me," she answered with a shuddery breath. "Yes, they love me and Rose, but – but they're too disappointed in me right now to really understand. They've allowed me to stay here as long as I need, but even I can tell that they are struggling with this situation and how to act. I think they just prefer to pretend that nothing has changed," there was a long pause in the conversation, his expression thoughtful.
"Well, you can add Blaise Zabini to your list as he's pretty much the only one on mine bar my parents," Draco offered with a shrug. "He was the Auror that took care of Rose and her living arrangements while you were out of it. She left quite an impression on him," he laughed at some memory. "I had to listen to two hours worth of ranting before he would even let me explain that I didn't know about her. Here he thought that it had just slipped my mind," she realised that he was offering this small insight, this admission to help even the ground they stood on.
"I didn't know that, I just thought –"
"Look, it's in the past. Short of kicking my arse, my mother has pretty much done everything in her power to make me understand that I can't let this opportunity pass me by," his rueful smile made her heart ache. Of course, he was having just as much trouble as her adjusting to the situation. She could see now why it had taken him this long to make the visit. There was one thing still bothering her, however.
"What does your wife have to say about all of this?" to her surprise, he grinned broadly.
"You mean my ex-wife, don't you?" he laughed at her expression. Surely he hadn't divorced his wife because of all this. Already the guilt was beginning to bubble in her chest.
"Oh – well – um…I'm so sorry –" she stuttered around her apology, but to her annoyance and again, surprise, he laughed.
"Gra – Hermione, I can assure you, I'm not upset in the slightest. In fact, this is all rather invigorating to me," his hair fell into his eyes as he leaned back, pressing his body against the side of her father's favourite armchair.
How can he not be even the slightest bit upset by all of this? She thought with a frown, her scrunching together. He just got divorced, doesn't he care?
As if sensing her questions, he waved his hand about dismissively and said. "Let's just say that there were irreconcilable differences – mainly her screwing around behind my back and purposely falling pregnant to Theodore Nott, while trying to pass the kid off as mine," Draco grinned at her and Hermione realised that she probably looked like an idiot, gaping at him the way she was. "As I said, I'm not upset. I never wanted to marry her anyway, it was either that or Pansy Parkinson," she screwed her nose up at the thought of the obnoxious Slytherin. "You see my reasoning,"
"That I do," laughed Hermione, liking the fact that they were getting along quite well. "I never thought I'd live to see the day where I agreed with you on anything,"
He chuckled. "Touché,"
"I also never thought I'd see the day where you would readily say my first name without being tortured or threatened," she was smiling despite her comment.
"Well, you said my name first," Draco countered.
"Touché," Hermione laughed quietly, using his own wording against him in a mocking manner. After a few silent moments, she decided that she hadn't really answered the question he had come to ask, not definitively. "If you give me a couple of minutes, Rose and I'll be ready for that lunch in the park you promised,"
He grinned and nodded. It was remarkable that they'd had an entire conversation without yelling at each other. Hermione supposed that it was because they'd had enough time to come to terms with the fact that they would be a part of each other's lives no matter what, now that he knew about Rose. She planned to get along with him and by the looks of things, he with her. There was still a long way to go, but it was a start and hopefully the beginning of a friendship between them.