And here comes the final chapter. Thanks as always to laurielove who betaed the first draft. This time though, I want to add a big thank you for kazfeist, too, for her very quick and competent help.
Without her you'd have to wait longer for this update, because I added a few things following laurielove's suggestions, but she couldn't beta the second draft. You know, she dares having a real life! LOL
I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: Still not mine and I still earn my living being chief cook and bottlewasher for my professor.
Sophia brought her pony to a rather abrupt stop. There was a man standing in front of their door, obviously talking with a very much disgruntled house-elf. She kicked the pony in the flanks, urging it on to approach the man.
"Miss Sophia!" the house-elf squeaked excitedly.
The man turned slowly and watched the child approach. His eyes took in the relaxed stance and her firm, yet gentle grip on the reins. The pony looked well groomed and seemed to be absolutely obedient to its rider. She didn't have a crop and her seat was well-balanced and independent.
"I see you get your riding skills from your father," the man observed.
"He's the one who taught me in the beginning. But I have a personal instructor now. Are you a friend of my parents?" Sophia smiled and pushed her riding helmet back a bit so she could watch him better.
The man seemed shell-shocked at first but then smiled back at her. "You could say that I am a friend of your mother's."
"Oh. Do they know you're here?"
"No. I thought I'd surprise them. Do you know when they'll be back? I can come back another time."
"They are in Diagon Alley. Mum has an appointment with the healers and she and dad are taking my brother to Fortescue's afterwards. I couldn't go...There's a show this week-end, and I have a riding lesson in a few minutes. They might bring me some ice cream, though." Her face lit up at the prospect. "But I think they'll be back soon. We're going to see my cousins this afternoon."
"So your father is Draco Malfoy?"
The girl nodded. "I am not allowed to let strangers in the house. Want to come with me? We're doing jumping today...Or I can go and look for Nana Cissa. Then you can wait in the house. I am sure Nana would keep you company."
"I'd love to watch your lesson, if that's OK with you."
Sophia hesitated and then shrugged. She was almost sure that she'd be in trouble for that later on. Her dad was very strict about the whole 'talking to strangers' thing. She shouldn't have asked him to come along. But he was a friend of her mum, and her riding instructor would be there...She nudged the pony forward and motioned the wizard to follow her.
"I'll be late if we don't go down to the stables now. And that would mean trouble..."
It was a joy to watch the girl on horseback. It was quite obvious that she was a natural; the jumps seemed to be nothing at all for her and her pony. Her riding instructor found a lot to criticise anyway. Her hands were too high, her legs too far back, the reins too long or too short, the crop she had picked up before the lesson not in the right angle...the list was endless. Sophia seemed to enjoy herself nevertheless, her cheeks red from the exercise.
When the wizard heard quick footsteps approaching the riding ring he turned around. Hermione and Draco were almost running towards the stables. Both looked murderous and the man feared that he had hoped in vain. When they were in speaking distance, he could hear the brunette murmuring rapid and furious words to the wizard at her side.
"What the hell are you doing here, Clermont-Tonnerre? I thought we'd be lucky enough to never see you again." Draco ground out as soon as he came to a halt next to him.
"I am here to see my daughter."
"Like hell you are! You don't have a daughter!" Draco seethed.
"Draco...Let me talk to him. Please? Sophia's lesson is almost finished. Help her with cleaning the horse and take her to the house. I'll be there after I talked with Christophe, okay?"
The blond sighed impatiently but nodded. "Okay. Don't be late. You know we're invited to Bill's and Fleur's for dinner."
Hermione hugged him tightly and gave him a peck on the cheek. "I'll be quick." She nodded at Christophe. "Let's take a walk."
She led him wordlessly back in the direction of the house, but then turned left into a magnificent garden. They walked along a variety of roses and other cultivated flowers.
"What are you doing here, Christophe?"
"As I said...I have come to see my daughter."
"She's not your daughter. You signed away your paternal rights the moment you signed the contract."
"I am still her father! She's still my flesh and blood! I'll admit that I wasn't the model parent, but you cannot possibly deny me the right to see her!" he demanded.
"That must be the understatement of the year! Not the model parent!" the witch mocked. "I recall having to blackmail you into helping my baby to survive! And you DARE call yourself her father?
"No, listen to me and listen well. Draco is her father in any sense that counts. He was the one who helped me financially, he's the one who helped me find a donor, he's the one who raised Sophia with me.
"Draco has been there when she first rode a pony. He's the one who picked her up when she got thrown off. He taught her to control her magic. Where were you all this time? She's a great girl Christophe, and you know nothing about her. You have no right to show up just like this and turn our life upside down."
"Does she even know that I am her father?"
"She doesn't know that her father is called Christophe de Clermont-Tonnerre. Although she does know that Draco adopted her, yes. But that's hardly the point, because it doesn't matter. Not for her and not for us. We're family, you're not. So why are you here?"
"I...My wife...I wanted to get to know her. It turns out my wife and I cannot have children. So we thought maybe..."
"Oh that's rich! You turn up, almost twelve years after you left me pregnant, without money and no completed education—because your wife cannot have a child? What do you want me to do? Give you mine?"
Christophe didn't say anything and Hermione stared at him incredulously. "You cannot be serious! You came here to ask me if I would give you my daughter? ARE YOU COMPLETELY MAD?" she shouted.
"Well, I wondered if maybe you'd consider sending her to Beauxbatons? That way, I could go to see her regularly..."
"No. Absolutely not." Hermione was seething with anger. "First of all I don't want you to have any contact with her. In fact, I forbid it! You know I can. Draco is the one whose name is on the birth certificate and you specifically signed away your rights. So don't even think about calling upon the Wizengamot. You'll lose anyway.
"Secondly...Have you seen her on horseback? She's so talented! She wants to be a professional rider, and we have arranged an opportunity for her to continue training while attending Hogwarts. Her instructor will continue to work with her, and we've rented two horseboxes in Hogsmeade.
"And thirdly ... How come you only show up now - after you have been married for over ten years?"
Hermione put up her hand. "Wait, I don't even want to know. That was a rhetorical question."
"I should have married you when you fell pregnant...You have a second child, with him, don't you?"
The young woman sighed audibly. "WE have a second child. A son. And we will have a second daughter. The healer confirmed today, I am pregnant.
"Listen, Christophe. We are happy. As a family, as a couple...We don't need anybody to stir up our life.
"Our daughter will leave for her first year at Hogwarts after the summer and that will be enough of a change for us. We'll all miss her, especially Draco. Believe me when I say that she's a daddy's girl. She worships and adores him, and he her. Spoils her rotten, really.
"Sophia doesn't need you. She doesn't ask for her biological father, and as long as she doesn't, we won't talk about him...You. It's you who decided that you didn't want to be part of our lives, and we have learned to live with it. And it's okay, we have everything we could wish for.
"If one day she starts asking questions, we won't lie to her. And if she wants to get to know you then it's up to her, we won't discourage her. But please understand that we will not encourage her either as long as it doesn't come from herself."
"She's beautiful," the wizard whispered.
"Yes, she is." Hermione couldn't help smiling. "She has always been, even when she was ill."
She took out her wand and summoned a small box from somewhere. They had stopped at a stone bench and she sat down, patting the seat next to her. When she opened the box, Christophe saw a multitude of moving wizarding photos; some of Sophia, some of a little boy who bore a noticeable resemblance to Sophia, some of Hermione and even Draco and other people he didn't know.
The brunette rifled through the pictures, and finally chose a few. "You can have those if you want. The best are in my albums of course, but I can make you a copy of one or two if you want."
"Thank you." Christophe looked at the photos intently and finally picked an additional one from Hermione's box. It looked recent and showed a close up of a laughing Sophia with a squealing and squirming toddler. "Is that your son? How old is he?"
"He's three. They adore each other. But of course Sophe gets annoyed sometimes. It's not easy being a big sister..." She smiled at the picture and stroked it tenderly.
Christophe dropped the picture back into the box.
"I am sorry for all the pain I caused you, Hermione. I know I can never make up for it, but if you could find it in your heart to forgive me...I should have married you, but I never could have. You understand that, don't you?"
"I didn't ask for marriage, Christophe. But a bit of support would have been nice, even after you broke my heart. I don't want to forgive you for what you did. I am not cruel, so I won't keep Sophia from contacting you if one day she desires to do so. But that's all you can hope for from me."
She stood up, brushed some imaginary dirt from her dress and turned to Christophe. "I will leave now. We have an invitation to dinner, Sophia has been excited for days about seeing her cousins. You have half an hour to leave our property. That should do nicely, even if you stay put for another ten minutes. You can Apparate from behind the main gates."
Hermione made her way slowly to the house. Seeing Christophe had brought back a whole abundance of memories. The time when she had had to fight so hard for Sophia's life seemed so far away now. She still remembered the indescribable fear of losing her. Without Draco, she wouldn't have been able to pull through this hard time.
She didn't regret the decisions she had made in her life. When she looked at her children, she knew that she could never imagine not having them. If she had to, she'd prostitute herself again. 'After all' she mused 'it's the job that brought me Draco...' Hermione smiled at the irony. Who'd have thought that she'd end up married to her childhood nemesis and later client?
The Weasleys and Harry had accepted their relationship astonishing easily. But how could they not have after all Draco had done for her? They had preferred not telling them how they really met, though. What she had done to ensure her education and her child's well-being was a well guarded secret between herself and Draco. It would do no good to upset everybody about something that was firmly in the past. Her history didn't diminish her husband's love for her, and that was all that counted for Hermione.
There had been so many reasons why she had fallen in love with Draco. But the one thing she could never love him enough for was his love for Sophia. He had easily fallen into his role as her father, and there was no other man she could think of being more worthy of that role than him.
Although she and Draco had barely spent a night apart after they found Christophe to be a match for Sophia, they had waited for almost a year before Hermione officially gave notice and moved out of her flat. After that, they had waited for another two years before they got married; enough time for Hermione to take up her studies again and finish her education.
She had to smile thinking back how Draco had tricked her into going back to university after Sophia had been cured. A few weeks before the new university year started, she had received a letter from the dean. Apparently money—enough to install a couple of scholarships—had been donated to the Potions faculty. They had offered her one of the new scholarships. Only later she had found out that it was Draco who had given them the money.
He had known her well enough to know, that she would be hesitant to accept his money, even when they were in a relationship. To be fair to him, he had kept his donations up even after she'd graduated. Other rich people had followed his lead, so that there was now a growing number of full and partial scholarships available to those who otherwise couldn't afford university, but had excellent academic prospects. In Hermione's eyes the number was still too small, but she supposed that they had to move one step at the time.
From afar she could see Draco pacing behind the glass doors of the parlour. He was nervous, as she knew too well. They had talked about the possibility of 'the French git' showing up a few times, but had nevertheless hoped that he'd just stay away. When Draco saw her approaching he stilled, his stance tense and insecure.
Hermione opened the doors quickly and threw herself in his arms. "He's gone." she mumbled against his chest.
"For good, I hope." Draco growled.
"I think so. He asked me if we'd consider sending Sophia to Beauxbatons. Of course I told him that the idea was ridiculous. I forbade him to come near her again."
His arms tightened around her and he kissed her on the top of her head. "Have I already told you I love you today?"
"As a matter of fact, yes, you have. But it's always good to hear it. I love you, too, Draco." She looked up and caught his lips in a tender kiss. She'd never grow tired of his kisses. Never grow tired of him and his love. She sighed in contentment.
"We should probably get the kids ready to leave...Bill and Fleur are awaiting us..."
"Mum? Who was the man?" Sophia yawned while her mother tucked her blanket under her body.
Hermione paused. "Somebody I used to love very much. We went to university together for a year."
"Oh." the girl yawned again. "He looked at me funny."
"I imagine he did. He wasn't unpleasant, though, was he? Did he scare you?"
"No. Just funny."
The older witch smiled. "Good ...Tell me Sweetheart...Do you ever think about your father?"
"Whatsit 'bout dad? Of course I think 'bout him..." the girl mumbled sleepily.
"No...I mean - your biological father?" Hermione bit her lip, unsure if her daughter would draw the right conclusions from her question. But it didn't seem to be the case.
"Not very oft'n...I have dad..."
"But you know that if you have any questions, you are allowed to ask, do you?"
"Night Sweetheart." She kissed her daughter's cheek and then motioned impatiently at her husband. "For heaven's sake come in and say good night...I've seen you, Draco."
The blond wizard grinned and strolled over to the bed. He bent over and caressed a strand of hair out of Sophia's face before he, too, kissed her good night.
"Sleep tight darling," he whispered, but it only earned him a dreamy sigh from the sleeping girl. He took his wife's hand and led her out of the room. When the door was closed he turned to her and looked at her with a gleam in his eyes.
"Finally home, children in bed...How about we celebrate the good news in our own bed?"
"What good news?" Hermione smiled cockily. "That you're the only important man in our daughter's life or the fact that you will soon have yet another to spoil rotten?"
"How about both?" he scooped her up and carried her bridal style into their bedroom.
Well my dear readers, that's it! I want to thank all of you for following this story, and especially those who rated and reviewed. It was a great pleasure for me to read all your lovely comments, and I am very happy you enjoyed this story. I never thought I'd receive so much feedback for it.
Thank you, until next time!