A/N: Beginning of the second series.
Like I said, these will be pretty dark. No CP this go, lots of angst. I'm trying hard to preserve the characterizations as much as possible while allowing the characters to change over time.
Love to my reviewers.
The room, Hermione decided, was unusually full of ghosts this morning. She took a sip of her strong, sweet tea and shut her eyes. When she opened them again, Ron grinned at her from Draco's place at the table, shaggy hair in his eyes. Fred and George stood behind him and Percy was off to one side, nose buried in a book. If she tried she could hear Molly and Arthur's voices a little ways off, as though they in the kitchen of the Burrow and would come in any moment.
Her mother and father sat at her daughters' places. Her Mum was wearing the red checked sun dress she had favored when Hermione was a little girl, the one Hermione thought was the most beautiful in the world. She smelled of rose perfume, tilted eyes smiling as she regarded her daughter. Her husband sat beside them, paunchy and balding, with the crooked little smile he always wore when he teased.
Hermione smiled back and felt the tears building in her eyes. Not a day went by that she didn't think of parents with love and sadness. She felt their loss, but as time went by she also felt their presence. The way Aulus tipped his head like her mother when he was deep in thought or watching Sagitta poked her tongue from her mouth when she wrote like Hermione's Dad made her feel them so strongly she swore in the privacy of her own heart that they stood beside her at those time, the love they felt and would always feel for their only daughter guiding them like a beacon back to the land of the living.
And Ron. She still loved Ron, would always love Ron. His face rose in her mind and she swallowed hard. After the wedding she had bribed a Death Eater to get a letter to Ron, explaining why she had consented to the match. He had somehow sent one back, scribbled on a leaf ripped from a book. " I love you. Everything will be alright in the end" it said.
It was very possible he had paid with his life for writing that. She had a chance to speak to Ginny in privacy for the first time the year before at their annual Yule Ball and Ginny, tears in her eyes, told her the truth. Killed while escaping barely two weeks after the battle. Some days Hermione believed it; others she felt certain it was propaganda that Ron wasn't dead because he couldn't be. No one as vital, as good at chess, no one who loved chocolate frogs as much as Ron could be dead.
Ginny had whispered the fate of the other Weasleys as well. She had seen Molly and Arthur go down together during the last desperate defense of Hogwarts, killed in almost the same second by twin Avadas fired by Yaxley and Alecto Carrow. The twins had been part of the daring air assault, firing spells from brooms fifty feet above. George had fallen first, knocked off his broom and Sectumsempra'd by Walden McNair. Fred, having swooped down to retrieve his twin's bleeding form, was a sitting duck.
And Percy, poor Percy. Loyal to the Ministry at last, he was not cut out for intrigue. He helped Thicknesse win the battle by smoking out the last of the defenders in Gryffindor tower and, for his pains, was given to Splitnail and the others as a toy. The last Ginny had seen of him he was being drug off by them, screaming protests. Of the older two she had no idea, but thought it possible that they'd escaped. Hermione felt a stab of pity in her heart—poor Ginny. She still believed her older brothers would come and save them all.
The door swung open and a veritable crowd rushed in. Pyxis and Segitta rushed in, followed more sedately by their brother. She forced her tears down and sat up straighter as they ran to hug her and get their morning kisses.
" Mummy, Aulus says later he'll take Pixie and I to feed the peacocks, but only if we're good!" Segitta adored her older brother, who was, of course, the bravest and handsomest older brother anyone ever had. Pyxis, who had similar ideas, nodded enthusiastically, bouncing with joy.
Hermione turned to her son. He was a tall, thin boy who looked like Draco, down to the bright silvery-blonde hair. The only thing he'd inherited from her physically was her father's hazel eyes. They gave him a warm look that perfectly matched his gentle, uncomplaining personality.
" Thank you, darling. That would be a great help to your father and I." She and Draco had told the girls about the new baby a few days before and they were very excited that they would be allowed to be at the party when their parents told everyone. Aulus was equally pleased if less ebullient about it.
The door opened again and the girls flew, squealing to greet their father. "Daddy, Daddy, guess what?"
Draco laughed, bent down to pick them up give them kisses. He looked sleek and smug.
She had to admit, Draco had been a good father to their children. He lavished them with attention, when he could, and took special pains to spend time with Aulus, his heir and successor at the Ministry.
" I've been summoned. His Lordship needs me to check some figures for him." They'd caught more rebels and he wanted to sit in on the torture. She nodded and forced herself to sound neutral.
" Or course. Shall I tell Harry and Pansy this is a bad night?"
Draco shook his head. " No, I should be done by two or three o'clock."
"I've told the elves that Coq au Vin would be fine."
He nodded. His wife looked pale and tired. He leaned down and took her wrist in his hand. When she looked at him he could see the sadness in her eyes, the downturn of her mouth.
" Are you sick this morning?" She nodded and smiled for the children's benefit. He caught her eye. "I've been thinking I'd like to go to Cardiff for a few days and spend some time with—some time there."
Draco nodded. "Of course, darling. They'll be delighted to have you." He raised her hand and brushed it lightly with his lips. Despite herself, Hermione felt a small stirring.
Not that he had changed. He hadn't, never would. If anything, he was worse. After twelve years they were resigned to one another, and that had slowly led to a comfortable kind of toleration. The children had helped immensely, if course. He felt compelled to treat the mother of his children a certain way, she supposed.
For his part, Draco found his hate of Granger fading as they struggled along the path of married life. His mother and aunt had done their best to assure she was well prepared, and the months of captivity had weakened her resolve. He had no doubt when they married that she still mooned over Weasley, and suspected to a degree that she always would, but it bothered him less.
And she had kept her part admirably well. His house was well ordered, his meals hot, his clothes pressed. She was always polite and accommodating of his needs. She didn't burden him with stupid problems and when they disagreed she argued with words rather than punishing him with silence or screaming.
He stood to Floo out and hugged his children. Aulus was too old for a hug these days—he opted for a more manly handshake. Draco felt the mixture of pride and sadness that all parents feel when they realize that soon their children will not need them.
" Help your mother, son. I'm depending on you."
Aulus flushed with pride. " Yes, Father." He smothered a very childlike grin of pride and took his sisters from Draco's arms. They shrieked with glee and hugged his neck as Draco threw a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace. " Ministry of Magic."
He vanished in a swirl of green flame. The girls ran out chasing, having given Hermione kisses and promises to be good.
She was alone with her son. She smiled warmly at this her favorite child and he came and knelt beside her chair, putting his head on her arm.
" Are you all right, Mum?"
Hermione marveled at his perception and then nodded. " Yes, love, I'm fine."
His face changed. " It's not the baby, is it?" Aulus had heard about the one that had proceeded him, the one born perfectly formed but blue and still. He wondered if he had upset her when she didn't speak right away, and squeezed her hand.
" No, darling, the baby is fine. Do you know what day it is?"
" It's May first. You know what happened."
" The Supreme Wizard triumphed and drove out the corrupt and licentious faction which was oppressing British Wizard-dom." He parroted exactly what he had been taught and, anxious for her approval, checked her face.
" There was a terrible battle. Many of my friends were killed." She wanted to tell him the truth, to save him from the Pureblood mania that infected his father and the rest of them but she could not. To save him she had to lie to him, just as in trying to save Ron she had betrayed him.
" Mum? Grandmama and Grandpapa aren't your real parents. Did they---were they also killed serving the Supreme Wizard?" He swallowed hard. The one real whipping he'd ever gotten from his father had happened because he'd asked something Draco judged too personal of his mother. He winced, thinking of the cracked and battered old leather slipper his father kept in the bottom left drawer of his desk.
She cupped his shoulder. " It's all right, Aulus. Curiosity is not a bad thing, in and of itself. They were killed around that time, but not in the battle."
Aulus wanted desperately to ask but sensed it hurt his mother to talk about it. He'd always assumed that his mother had been very young when his parents died, like Uncle Harry was when his parents were killed.
He felt a terribly sadness he couldn't explain. He loved his grandparents very dearly but he often felt that his mother acted strange around them. Especially his grandmother; he sometimes felt as though his mother was always looking at Grandmama and expecting to see someone else.
This explained why finally. He'd thought that his mother hated Grandmama's bad days just like they all did; she'd spent a long time in Azkaban because she'd served the Supreme Wizard more faithfully than anyone, she and Grandpapa. Grandmother Narcissa had once said in his presence that Bellatrix hadn't been like that before Azkaban. Aulus has figured his mother was sad her mother had been hurt and that was why she acted strange. Now he understood she remembered her real parents and missed them.
" Mum? When a person dies, do you still love them?" He'd never really lost anyone and the specter of it was terrifying and fascinating in equal measure.
"Yes." She suddenly remembered a day right before she left for Hogwarts. She and her parents had gone to the seaside. They'd brought a picnic lunch and gotten sunburned. It had been a wonderful day, an almost perfect day.
" But what happens when you get adopted? Can you love them both?"
The heart of the matter. " Are you asking me whether I love Grandmama and Grandpapa?" She spoke softly, without rancor, but he still looked ashamed.
She felt a moment of terrible indecision. This seemed to her to cross a line, a boundary she had never crossed. She had always told herself that as long as she never did this one thing, she was still a good daughter to her parents.
Like Draco all those years earlier, she hovered on the edge of a razor blade; to fall was to lose the piece of herself which still believed that they were not dead. She had long ago accepted intellectually that they were dead, but in her secret heart she believed that as long as she never acknowledged Bellatrix and Rudolphus as her parents, never called Bellatrix 'Mother' that her parents, her real parents, wouldn't be dead. At some level she could be sixteen and believe that Mum and Dad were safe in Darlington and everything would be fine after all.
Hermione had come to believe that most people were actually two. Just as there were two versions of herself, there were two of everyone else. There was the Rudolphus she still suspected killed her parents ( or at least knew who had) and the Rudolphus who'd rocked her like a baby while she let go of that first burst of agonizing grief, the one who promised to pay for a priest to perform rituals he didn't understand for people he'd hated on principal just so Hermione could sleep comfortably again. And then actually had it done.
Likewise, there was the Bellatrix who cruciated the Longbottoms to madness, Bellatrix the hateful madwoman, and the Bellatrix who held Hermione's hand during all of her labors and overcame her aversion of small children to spend time with Aulus and later his sisters.
Remembering this, she turned to her son. She spared her natural parents a final thought and then said to Aulus " Of course I love your grandparents."
When Bellatrix and Rudolphus arrived by Floo, they were greeted by the usual contingent of ecstatic grandchildren. Hermione stood behind, just starting to ran and held up still chubby arms to Rudolphus. " Grandpapa, Mummy has got a baby in her belly!"
Rudolphus had a little more white in his hair and beard but otherwise looked much as he had. He bent and picked her up, swung her so she shrieked with pleasure. "Does she, precious? How wonderful!"
Pyxis had given this matter a good deal of thought. Mummy and Daddy hadn't said how the baby got inside her; just that babies grew in mummies bellies and then were born.
Bellatrix, who would never love small children the way Rudolphus did, none the less suffered herself to be kissed by Aulus and Segitta. She smiled distantly at them and thought again how nice it was that Hermione had proven so fertile. She had worried that the girl's impure blood would produce squibs, but the children all seemed to be magical and, as an added bonus, were reasonably attractive as well. They would be easily married when the time came.
Pyxis had an inspiration. "Grandmama?" Bellatrix put her arms around the child, who had thrown herself against Bella's stomach. "Yes, child?"
"Daddy says babies grow in mummies' bellies. Does that mean Mummy grew in your belly?"
The room was plunged into utter, perfect silence. Pxyis looked at her Grandmama, not understanding why no one said anything. Hermione had gone white in the face, clutched a chair back for support. She wondered if this was her punishment for what she'd said earlier to her son.
Aulus saved the day. " Pixie, Gittie, let's ask Grandpapa to feed the peacocks with us!" The girls thought this was the most brilliant idea they'd ever heard, proof that Aulus had indeed hung the moon. They ran to Rudolphus, begging him to go.
The horde departed and the women were alone.
" May first again."
Bellatrix had seen Hermione's face when Pyxis innocently asked her question. She looked as though she'd been slapped. Bellatrix could feel her sadness radiating from her like an aura.
" You still miss them?"
"Yes." Hermione didn't have to ask. She knew what Bella meant and Bella did too. The faces of those loved and lost drifted through her mind.
" Have you ever read Thoreau?"
Bellatrix started. She hadn't expected such an abrupt swing in the conversation. "No."
" He said : Of all the ways to lose someone, death is the kindest." Hermione felt the tears building again but this time they felt more like an elegy, sweet and sad and hopeful in their own way. As long as she remembered they lived inside her, loving faces to guide her home when at last she reached the end of her road.
Bellatrix abruptly reached out and emgulfed Hermione in a rough hug. " Don't cry."
She looked at the woman who was the daughter she'd never had and lightly stroked her damp cheeks. "Don't cry, Hermione. Sometimes we lose things and find others."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, some are found and some are lost."