Author's Note: Yes, I know, I'm horrible and evil and just a little bit lazy. I've actually had this chapter written for a while now, but I kind of, accidently forgot about it. *runs and hides* Good news is, the story is now finished! Yes, I have finished it. There is another chapter after this and then an epilogue, but I do have to edit both so please bear that in mind.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and thank you for being so patient.

.: Chapter Eighteen – The Hard Truth :.

Friday, May 31, 2002


Words escaped her. It felt as though time had stood still, stalling for that one singular moment. As the seconds ticked by, she could have sworn that an entire day had passed. In her mind, she could see that day, branching off, continuing on from this very moment. She could see so clearly, so vividly what would happen the moment she reacted, the moment she opened her mouth to reply. Rose would hate her. Her little girl, her daughter, would hate her.

Rose would hate her for lying, for fabricating the ties that bound her. Her little angel would hate her for all the pain and confusion she had caused, for all the scars and torment she had inflicted. Hermione couldn't lie to her daughter, not after the day – no, the week she'd had. Every waking moment of every day, she had tried to busy herself with work and other things to occupy her mind. No matter how hard she tried, no matter how long she persisted, Hermione couldn't forget.

It plagued her, haunted her, drew her in until all she wanted was for it to repeat over and over and over again. His lips were their own ghostly demon, and like the caress of silk against her skin, she wanted more. She didn't want to remember and had tried to scour her mind in hopes of forgetting. Scouring or no scouring, she couldn't forget. He was embedded in her memory, toxic and unforgettable. How could one kiss cause so much trouble?

A brush of his lips and it was like her resolve, her defensive barriers crumbled in defeat. He'd brought everything back and now she was haunted, haunted by the memory of that night, of their tangled limbs. Now, it was all she saw. Everywhere she went, everything she did no matter how mundane, reminded her of that night. His flexing muscles, her keening cries; she couldn't get it out of her mind. But neither could he, apparently.

Oh, she'd seen him staring. It wasn't that hard to catch him in the act. Draco was surprisingly abysmal when it came to subtly, which in itself was surprising considering how much of a Slytherin he was, even now after all this time. Hermione couldn't deny that it was somewhat flattering. The way he looked at her sometimes….

Her resolve to keep what they had between them platonic was shaky at best. It helped that she still felt an enormous amount of guilt for kissing him only three days after her divorce. That alone kept her shaky, brittle resolve from breaking. If only she had more self-control, more discipline to see her decision through. She did have that self-control, or at least she had up until today.

Seeing him react that way, seeing his instinct to protect their daughter; it shattered every decision she had made in the last week. The fire in his eyes, the cool mask of fury on his face made her quiver, not in fear but in understanding…in want. He'd been so furious about Hannah, she'd expected him to be but – but what he'd said about her, how furious he'd been about how she had been treated, surprised her and got to her all at the same time. Draco cared, even if he wouldn't admit it, about her. He cared about her and how she was treated.

That was when her resolve crumbled. What would happen would happen, regardless of how hard she fought. There was no point in fighting a lost battle – at least, it seemed lost. They both wanted each other; they wanted what they both knew they shouldn't and at one point, couldn't have. If she was selfish enough – and she knew that she was – Hermione could have him. All it would take was one word, a simple yes and he would pounce like a predator on his prey. She was the prey.

It didn't matter. She wasn't going to say anything, she was just going to let the chips fall where they may. If things progressed beyond what they had now, then she would let it progress in its own time. Hermione wasn't going to force it, push the issue like she had with Ron. By chance, if something did happen, it would happen of its own accord.

"Mummy?" Rose's voice brought her back to reality. It took a second for the fear to return. There was a question yet to be answered. Could she answer it without turning her own daughter against her? Hermione didn't know.

"Cricket, why – why would you ask that?" she knelt down, looking her daughter in the eye. Determination was written all over her angel's face. Rose wouldn't back down. She wanted an answer. "Were you listening in on our conversation?" Hermione asked, voice shaking.

"Maybe," Rose replied, having the decency to look at least a little sheepish.

"And what did you hear?" her voice broke at the end, quivering. She wasn't ready for this, for this conversation, for any of it. Rose wasn't supposed to know, not yet. They were supposed to tell her together. It had been all planned out.

"You said lots of things," the answer was evasive and made her nerves fray a little more.

"Like?" she pressed, her eyes taking on a wild, desperate look.

Rose stared at her, her bottom lip quivering. "You said Dray-co was my father. You said I was his daughter."

Hermione's heart broke in that single second. Rose was so confused; it was obvious by the pure, unguarded look on her little face. She was upset and confused. What kind of mother was she to cause this heartbreaking expression on her daughter's tiny, angelic face? A bad mother, that's what she was. There was no other explanation. She, Hermione Granger, was a bad mother.

"I did, didn't I?" Hermione leant forward to caress her daughter's cheek, tucking a stray curl behind her ear.

Rose nodded, eyes wide and innocent and questioning.

"Is Dray-co my daddy?" the question, or rather the voice delivering it, was meek, hesitant. Rose was scared of the answer.

Hermione swallowed hard, blinking back tears. She wouldn't lie. "Yes – yes he is, cricket."

There was no visible reaction, no perceptible change in Rose's stance or expression. Hermione was petrified. The truth was out. A few people knew – the Weasleys, the Potters, Alyson, her parents, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy – but now so did Rose, and by the end of the day, so would the world. By Draco going to Rose's school, by showing up and letting loose his wrath on those who had hurt his daughter, the whole world would know that he was her father. They would know that she, Hermione Jean Granger, a muggleborn and war hero, had slept, at the time, with a Death Eater.

It didn't matter that Draco was a reformed man; they would think only of the past, of their history and make it into some sordid page one story. Merlin, Skeeter would have a field day with this. She'd paint some torrid picture – Harry Potter's best friend, war hero or spy? Rita would twist everything to make her look as bad as she possibly could. By the end of one of her articles, they would be thinking, speculating whether or not she'd betrayed Harry during the war, passed on information to Voldemort. But none of that mattered, not one single line or twisted lie mattered. Rose mattered. Her reaction mattered. Nothing else did, just her.

"Rose, please honey, you have to say something," she begged, her hands twitching.

"Do I have to call him daddy?" Rose asked, biting her lower lip.

"Only if you want to," Hermione replied instantly, pulling the little girl into a hug. She felt relieved but ashamed at the same time. Rose knew the truth and she accepted it. But Hermione had to ask, just to be sure. "Sweetheart, I want you to tell me the truth now. How do you feel about Draco being your father?"

Surprisingly, Rose smiled. "I love Dray-co."

Hermione couldn't help but smile in return. That was all she needed to know. Rose loved Draco, which meant that she would – if she hadn't already – accept him and his new role as her father. Their daughter had a compassionate heart and a loving soul. When she went to Hogwarts she would be a Slytherin, Hermione had no doubt about that. And yet, she would be the compassionate, kind-hearted Slytherin. Rose would be a conundrum to her House.

Hermione could see, quite clearly, her daughter's time at Hogwarts already. Rose was such a mixture, such a magnificent blend of both her and Draco that the teachers, her professors, wouldn't know what to do with her. She would challenge them all with her very existence. The child of a Gryffindor and a Slytherin; it just didn't happen. Rose was perhaps the first child born to both houses.

"If Dray-co is my daddy, then is my other daddy…not my daddy?" the question caught Hermione off guard.

"Cricket…" Hermione paused, licking her lips nervously. What was she supposed to say to that? "Sweetheart, Ron will always love you. To him, you are his daughter, a Weasley not a Malfoy. He will always love you."

Rose frowned, her brow scrunching. "But he's not my daddy, is he? Dray-co is."

Letting out a small sigh, Hermione pulled Rose into another hug, gently stroking the top of her blonde curls. How was she going to explain this? Rose wasn't stupid. She was a very perceptive child and picked up on things that others didn't. They wouldn't be in this situation, at least not yet, if that weren't the case. Hermione surmised that she would have to be as honest as she could possibly be with the little girl.

"Rose," she started, looking into her daughter's eyes. "I made a mistake a long time ago. I'm not proud of what I did, but I don't regret it either. You see, mummy was in love with your father, Ron. But mummy made a mistake, a big mistake with very, very large consequences. I…I started to have feelings for Draco and I acted on those feelings when I shouldn't have."

She wasn't lying, per say. At the time, Hermione did have feelings for Draco. Of course, her feelings were mostly of lust, but she wasn't going to explain that to her four year-old daughter. It was better to let her think that she'd fallen in love with Draco. When Rose was older, then she would explain properly what had happened.

"When I found out that I was pregnant with you, I was so happy. Oh cricket, you have no idea how much I loved you in that single second. But sweetheart, mummy didn't know that Draco was your daddy. I thought that Ron was, so I never told Draco about you," Hermione continued, thinking out her words carefully.

"But how do you know that Dray-co is my daddy? If you didn't then, then how do you know now?" Rose interrupted, frowning.

"Because you look so much like him, silly," she answered with a gentle smile. "You have my curls but Draco's blond hair, not to mention that you have his cheekbones, nose, lips and cheeky little grin."

Rose smiled brilliantly. "I do, don't I?"

"Yes, you most certainly do," Hermione agreed, stroking Rose's cheek affectionately. She sounded so proud to look like Draco, her father, that Hermione couldn't help but smile and laugh a little. "Draco loves you so very, very much, cricket. He is your father, but he will be happy simply to have your love if you choose to have Ron as your father instead of him. No one is pressuring you to make a choice, sweetheart. We all love you, all three of us and we will do whatever you wish, even change your name to Malfoy if that is what you want."

"Change my name?" Rose frowned, her voice raising an octave. "But I like my name! I like being called Rose! Why –"

"Sweetheart, calm down," Hermione interrupted, trying to soothe the child. "Mummy meant your last name, not your first."

"My last name?" the little girl tilted her head to the side, her features uncomprehending.

"Instead of Rose Ira Weasley, you would be Rose Ira Malfoy, like Draco," she answered, uncomfortable with the path their conversation had taken.

In all honesty, she had barely even thought about changing Rose's last name to Malfoy. Hermione had always assumed that she would change their daughter's name to Granger, like her. Things were different now. The name Malfoy was a definite possibility, in fact she was sure that Draco and his family would insist upon the name.

"Can I think about it?" her daughter asked, lips pursed. Hermione couldn't help but laugh at the expression on her little face. The blonde looked as though she was trying to figure out a cure for cancer. She was so serious it was comical.

"Of course you can, cricket," she laughed, kissing the top of her daughter's curls affectionately.

Rose smiled, her demeanour changing. "Will you read to me until Dray-co comes back from telling Miss Hannah off?" she asked innocently, moving to jump on the plush blue loveseat to their left.

Hermione stared for a long moment. Inwardly, she groaned. Rose knew that Draco had gone to tell her teacher off. No wonder the little imp was suddenly looking so smug. She knew that Draco had gone there for her because she had been unfairly treated, though Hermione was thankful that Rose didn't know the whole of it. At least she wasn't asking anymore difficult questions.

"Mummy, what kind of mistake did you make with Dray-co?"

This time, she actually groaned. Trust her to have such an inquisitive daughter. This was payback for all the times she had asked, as a child, the questions that had made her parents cringe.

Draco was seething. Concessions. He shuddered. Of course, being the Gryffindor she was, Hermione had to go and make bloody concessions. Now that he was out of their house and had made a little side trip, his fury was back full force. How the hell was he supposed to make this woman understand that he meant business, if he couldn't legitimately threaten her? Well, he'd found a way around that easily enough. Hermione had made the concessions for him, not his father or his mother. Oh, they had been furious. He had never seen his father look so livid, or his mother so vindictive – adopting an expression that was eerily reminiscent of his Aunt Bella – before. That was the reason for his aggravated temper; retelling what had happened was bad enough, now he had to face the woman.

"Excuse me, sir," a soft, willowy sounding voice called from behind him. "Are you waiting for your wife, or are you here to pick up your child? I don't believe we have actually met before. I'm Misty, one of the caretakers here for the younger children," upon turning around, Draco was met with the soft smile of a petite brunette.

He considered her carefully. "Misty, is it?" Draco smiled, turning on his charm.

"Yes, Misty Waters," she blushed a pretty shade of red. "My mother had a bit of an odd sense of humour."

"Evidently," he laughed politely, inwardly thanking Hermione for not naming their daughter something ridiculous. "Tell me, Misty, would you happen to know where I can find Hannah Abbott?"

"Oh, you're looking for Miss Abbott," Misty said, her eyes taking on a curious expression. "Well, last I saw, she was out back with the children, though she might be in her office now. What was it that you had to talk to her about? I might be able to help."

Draco smiled charmingly. "It was about my daughter, actually, and her mother."

"You speak as though you are not married. Did you and your wife divorce?" the pretty brunette inquired, not knowing that she had just stepped over the line. Draco had actually liked her and her rather quiet, trilling voice. She had seemed nice enough, until now.

Assuming little chit, he thought in irritation. He could see the interest in her eyes now, taking him and his expensive robes in carefully.

"I am divorced, though not to the mother of my child. Actually, you might know my daughter. Rose Weasley?" the woman let out a little gasp. "Yes, I thought you might. Obviously she's not a Weasley though, but what can I say? Hermione and I… Well, we were young, impressionable, in the middle of a war – did I mention that we were on opposite sides? No. Oh, how rude of me. Draco Malfoy at your service," he bowed mockingly, smirking at the expression on the woman's face. Too right she should look terrified.

"Malfoy?" Misty squeaked, looking about ready to make a run for it.

Not so interested now, are you? Draco thought bitterly.

"Yes, Malfoy," his tone was condescending. "You see, I'm here for a very particular reason, Misty. Miss Abbott happened to insult my daughter, quite atrociously I might add. And – well it upset her mother, not to mention myself and I don't like being upset, Misty. What's more, I don't like seeing those I care about hurt," his voice had turned to steel.

"I'm sure she didn't mean –"

"Actually, I think she did. You know, I am a lot like my father in many ways. See, I can hold a grudge. Oh, and I can be very, very ruthless when I want to be. You could say that it runs in my blood – ruthlessness, that is; my father, my mother, my Aunt Bellatrix. Do I need to go on?" she shook her head no. "I thought not."

Misty stood in front of him, quivering in a very delightful way. She was afraid of him. No one had reacted to him like this in years, but then he hadn't been this furious in years. It was amazing how invigorating this all was – being feared, having power enough to inflict the emotion. However invigorating it may have felt, Draco was realistic enough not to drown in the sensation. He had a daughter to think about and her mother to take care of. This Draco of old was only out for a temporary visit.

"I'll just go and get Hannah for you," the young woman murmured, stumbling as she went.

"Yes, you do that," he said, amused by her escape, because that was exactly what it was, an escape. Her feet couldn't move fast enough.

After Misty's departure, Draco became aware of numerous sets of eyes trained on him. Some were curious and some were fearful, but the majority were stunned. By his count, there were three mothers and two staff members, all looking directly at him. They'd heard exactly what he'd said. Rose Weasley was his daughter. Draco Malfoy had slept with Hermione Granger, before he'd changed sides. Oh, he could hear the gossip now.

One of the mothers, simpering as she walked, made her way toward him. It didn't matter that she wore a wedding band on her left hand or that she was there to pick up her child, because it was quite evident from her expression that she had only one thing on her mind. Draco scowled; money, money and more money. He knew that his designer robes and cultured demeanour drew them in like moths to a flame. It was sickening. Here was a woman, married with a child, on her way, with what he assumed was meant to be a seductive look on her face, to speak to him or rather proposition him. He'd seen it all before. Luck, however, seemed to be on his side as a quiet, trembling voice spoke, diverting the other woman's attention.

"Mr Malfoy," he didn't have to turn around to know who it was.

"Miss Abbott," his response was met, as he turned around, with a shudder from the woman in question.

Hannah licked her lips nervously, flattening her mousy-blonde hair with agitated, trembling hands. She was terrified and rightly so. "W-what can I do for you, Mr Malfoy?"

"Misty didn't tell you?" he clicked his tongue, sounding amused. "Well, I suppose you can't get good help anywhere these days."

"Mr Malfoy, I really must insist that –"

"What? What must you insist, Abbott?" Draco hissed, all countenance of self-control gone. The woman quivered. "Do you know why I'm here?" she shook her head no. "No, I don't suppose you do. Tell me, Abbott, what makes you think that you have any right to treat a child and her mother the way you did?"

He could see out the corner of his eye, a blonde woman with a quick-quotes quill speeding across parchment. It shouldn't have surprised him, really. Rita Skeeter was a vulture. Of course, she'd be waiting around, skulking wherever she thought she'd catch Hermione and her scoop. She'd hit a gold mine with him, and by the gleeful expression on her face, she knew it.

"I-I don't u-understand –" the ex-Hufflepuff began to stutter.

"Let me spell it out for you, shall I?" he cut her off, his expression deceptively calm. "Earlier today, you insulted one of the mothers here, a mother of a child you take care of nearly everyday. What's more, you insinuated that her daughter would grow up to be something akin to a common prostitute. Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but that is what you implied, is it not?"

Gasps abounded and Skeeter's quill picked up its pace, a flying blur on parchment. He had a plan. Skeeter's presence was not a hindrance but a blessing. Hannah Abbott wouldn't know what hit her come morning. Of course, a large majority of Rita's article would include him and Hermione and their supposed stormy affair. But he was sure that Rita wouldn't pass this up, it was too dramatic for her to ignore.

"No, I never –" Hannah began to protest, but again he cut her off.

"I must confess myself curious, Abbott. Not only did you insult this woman and her daughter, but you blatantly deny ever doing it. I thought Hufflepuffs were supposed to be loyal to their friends, not vindictive. Sure, she may have made a mistake. We all make mistakes, Abbott, and this was no different. But you – you just made the worst mistake of your life. You crossed the wrong person," by this point, the ex-Hufflepuff had cottoned on. After all, why would Draco Malfoy concern himself with Hermione Granger and her daughter?

"I'm sorry," she squeaked, terror dripping in every syllable.

Draco smiled darkly. "War changes people, it makes them value what they have and disregard the consequences, especially when any moment could be your last. Don't blame her for sharing a moment of weakness, of fear and desperation, five years ago. You weren't there; you have no right to judge her or what we did. We were about to walk onto a battlefield, knowing that at any second we could die. She didn't know – we didn't know what would happen after that. It's not like we planned it. She did what she thought was right. How could I be reliable compared to him? Everything she did, everything she sacrificed, she did for that little girl. Don't you dare judge her, Abbott, or so help me Merlin."

Hannah stared, her eyes wide and fearful. He understood that she was upset by what Rose had implied. His father had murdered her mother, after all. But he'd be damned if she got out of this unscathed. That's why he was laying it all out on the table. Rita Skeeter was here, soaking up every word he said. Maybe her article would have some semblance of the truth now. Hopefully, she'd get some of her facts straight.

"I really am sorry," the mousy-blonde cried, her hands trembling worse than before.

"Hermione was nothing but a good friend to you, and how do you repay her? You insult her, insult her daughter and by default, you insult me. Rose may not be Ron Weasley's daughter, but she sure as hell is mine."

As expected, gasps and what he imagined to be a squeal of pure delight erupted from those around him. There was no guess as to whom the delight belonged to; Rita Skeeter was in heaven. She just got the scoop of her life.

"Do you know what Hermione said to me after she came home, our daughter crying because of Miss Hannah and what she'd said to her? Hermione bade me not to put you out of a job, because believe it or not, she's a good person. She was worrying about you after you insinuated that she was nothing more than a common whore, and that our daughter would grow up to become one just like her mother," he hissed, eyes narrowing.

"I never meant –"

"You meant every word you said and more. But here's the thing, I mean what I say. You will pay for this. See, I can't directly put you out of a job, Hannah, but I can fund the competition, and by my guess, after today, you'll see a drop in attendance. No one wants to send their child to a place where the owner insults both parent and child alike," at his words, the small crowd began to murmur. Draco smiled derisively at the quaking woman in front of him, before turning around, ready to make his departure. He'd said all he came to and more. Unfortunately, someone had other ideas.

"Mr Malfoy! Mr Malfoy! Is it true? Are you Rose Weasley's father?" Skeeter was practically bouncing in her excitement.

He looked at the viper of a woman and smiled charmingly. "Yes, it's true. Hermione and I were together for a brief moment before the final battle. Call it what you will, but we were scared and of the belief that we would both be dead come morning. While I didn't necessarily know that Rose was my daughter up until almost two months ago, I don't regret what we did. I love Rose and respect Hermione greatly. There is nothing that I wouldn't do for them. Now, if you'll excuse me," Draco made to move out into the courtyard, but the blonde woman blocked his path.

"What does your father think of your illegitimate daughter? Your mother? Ex-wife, Daphne Greengrass?"

"My father adores Rose as does my mother. As for Daphne, I wouldn't know or care what she thought about my daughter. Excuse me," he snapped, pushing past the woman. It was better to give a statement, he'd learned over the years; otherwise the woman would twist his silence into her own words. Still, he was furious and irritated by her overly excited and insipid mannerisms. She made him want to gouge his own eyes out. He pitied any man who ended up with her.

Despite the calling voice behind him and the sudden burst of excited chatter, Draco closed his eyes and concentrated, wanting nothing more than to be at home and away from all the attention. Hopefully his father would have made all the proper transactions and his mother the donations by the time he got home. He didn't want to have to worry about it later. Draco had meant what he'd said about funding the competition. That was why he had made a stop at Malfoy Manor before coming here; to fund the competition and set in place a plan. His father was more than happy to help, as was his mother.

Opening his eyes, the tug of apparation fading, Draco looked up at the sizable two storey manor he'd come to call home. It was nothing like his family's ancestral home in Wiltshire, but it was magnificent in its own right. There was nothing ostentatious about it. It was smaller than their other properties, quant in design even. What made it perfect was the picturesque nature, the homely, warm feeling that emanated from every brick and every wooden beam overhead. This was a place of warmth; somewhere he wanted Rose to grow up, to feel loved and safe. The Lincolnshire Manor was his mother's favourite, a piece of property inherited from an old Uncle. He loved it here almost as much as she did.

When he walked into the living room, the sight before him dissipated any and all anger in his body. Rose looked up from her position, snuggled into her mother's side as Hermione read aloud, and smiled brilliantly at him. Hermione looked up and he immediately noticed the apprehension in her eyes, but his attention was dragged almost immediately back to his daughter. She had moved from the loveseat to stand in front of him, her brow furrowed adorably.

"You're back," Rose stated rather simply.

"I am," he replied, confused.

Before he had time to react, Rose had wrapped her arms around his legs, hugging him tightly. The words she whispered made his heart stop. "I love you, daddy."

"W-wha –" his eyes were wide and disbelieving as he stuttered, looking from Rose to Hermione. He must have heard wrong. Rose, she didn't know…

"Our daughter has the odd habit of eavesdropping when she shouldn't," Hermione supplied, smiling at his expression.

"Eavesdropping?" he asked dumbly.

Hermione laughed. "Yes, eavesdropping," she smiled, motioning toward Rose. "And she heard quite a bit, daddy," the last word made his heart soar.

She knew. Rose knew. He wasn't her Dray-co anymore, he was her daddy. Draco couldn't help but smile like an idiot, grinning from ear to ear. Blinking back the tears that he knew were forming in his eyes, he crouched down and picked the little girl, his little girl up in his arms and twirled her around. He was her father and she knew it and accepted it. His heart felt about ready to burst.