Hermione Granger was furiously typing a report when the intercom buzzed. Rolling her eyes –she'd told Ashleigh she didn't want to be disturbed until another hour later– she hit the button without so much as glancing at it. "Ashleigh, I know I told you –I do not want to be disturbed."
Ashleigh's stammers came over the intercom. "Miss Granger, there's –uh, there's this –this woman."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "What, are you a lesbian now? Sure, you get five minutes off. Come back after you're done shagging."
"No! What I meant was the- there's this woman here to see you. She claims she has an appointment."
"That's much better, though I don't have any more appointments till tomorrow. Don't you have my schedule?" Hermione shot back, annoyed.
"I –well, I– she says it's extremely important and that you'd probably be glad to see her."
"I highly doubt I'd be glad to see anyone at the moment," Hermione muttered darkly. "Her name?"
"Her name?" Ashleigh repeated dumbly.
"Yes, Ashleigh, her name." Hermione sometimes wondered why she hadn't fired Ashleigh yet. Probably because, as slow as she was, Ashleigh could be very capable. Plus, she was organized. An organized person was that much more likely to stay in Hermione's presence longer.
"She says it's Narcissa Malfoy. Should I send her in?"
There was a long silence. Hermione suddenly didn't know how to breathe. "Shit," she cursed under her breath, as her chest constricted painfully.
"Send her in, Ashleigh." Wearily, Hermione drew the curtains, and tidied up her office with a quick flick of her wand. "Goddamnit," she said, putting her head and her hands. Hadn't she done everything to make sure she wouldn't be found? Anti-tracking charms, moving to the busiest part of London where the streets were insanely crowded, not using her wand at all unless it was absolutely necessary? And yet all it had managed to give her was three years. Pathetic, really. So much for being the brightest witch her age.
"Tsk, tsk, Hermione. Is that how you greet your mother-in-law after years of not seeing each other? I thought we taught you better manners while you were with us."
Hermione raised her head, grimacing at Narcissa's voice. Her mother-in-law stood in the doorway, looking as regal as ever in robes of red satin. "Mother. How… Unexpected."
"If it's any consolation, it was three years of constant searching, with few long breaks." Narcissa raised an eyebrow at Hermione as her jaw dropped in surprise. Could Narcissa wordlessly and wandlessly read minds now? "I know you, Hermione, very well."
"I suppose you would." Sighing, she gestured to the cushioned chair in front of her desk. "Would you like to have a seat?"
"Oh, it's quite alright, dear. We're going out for dinner."
Inwardly, Hermione groaned, remembering how insistent her mother-in-law was. When she declared something, you didn't try to argue without having a full, substantial ten minute long speech entirely prepared beforehand. And as brilliant as she was, Hermione didn't believe she could spew crap from her mouth that long on such short notice. Nevertheless, she tried to. "I have work –"
"Your work can wait. It is your company after all, is it not? In addition to that fact, you're a Malfoy, and you're working overtime." Narcissa said the word "overtime" like it was a disease. Clearly, the Malfoys hadn't experienced any sudden financial issues I the last three years. "It's nearly eight, Hermione. Come, let's go get dinner."
Hermione sighed in resignation. "Of course, mother." Never in the last three years had she been so submissive to anyone. Mainly she'd spent them bossing others around, yelling at them when they weren't being satisfactory with their work. But therein lies the difference. They're your employees. Narcissa is your mother-in-law. In fact, she couldn't really remember the last time she'd been remotely nice to her employees. Being nice, she'd found out, hardly got you anywhere in muggle society.
"Come along, then. And for heaven's sake, tell your poor assistant to get some rest for the night. You've been working her like a house elf," Narcissa berated lightly. "What on earth happened to S.P.E.W?"
"House elves rights are a different issue all together, mother." Hermione turned off the computer, gathering her papers and placing them neatly in a stack. "You head downstairs first. I'll meet you there in ten."
"Don't be too long," Narcissa said, waltzing out of her office as quickly as Hermione had waltzed out of the Malfoy home. As soon as the door had swung shut, Hermione dialed for Ashleigh on the intercom.
"My office. Now," Hermione snapped, running her fingers through her hair. She looked around her office. In her seven years at Hogwarts, she'd never have imagined herself working in a muggle job. And yet here she was. Working overtime, at that. Merlin. Narcissa hadn't said much about her sudden walkout, but that was probably what dinner was for. Merlin, indeed.
"Miss Granger?" Ashleigh stood, looking unsure, in the doorway.
Hermione beckoned her in impatiently. "Sit," she instructed, gesturing to the chair in front of her. Ashleigh silently complied. "Right, Ashleigh, how'd you like a promotion?"
"I- I'm sorry, what?" For once, Hermione didn't blame Ashleigh for being slow on the uptake, or stuttering.
"I'm planning on leaving the company. Some… personal issues from three years back seem to have returned." Personal issues. Talk about an understatement. "You're the one who's had the most experience handling the business out of all the buffoons I've got under me."
"Are you asking me to take your position?" Ashleigh asked incredulously.
"No, Ashleigh. I'm asking you to lay an egg." Hermione stared impatiently at her assistant. "Think about it. If you agree, you start the day after tomorrow, but tomorrow you'll have to start covering me since I'll be on urgent leave." She had to resist the urge to smirk at Ashleigh's shocked expression. How very Malfoy of me. Apparently she hadn't subdued her inner Malfoy well enough the past three years. "Now go home. Rest. And think about my proposition. I'll be calling you tomorrow night, Ashleigh."
"Yes, Miss Granger." Quickly, Ashleigh stood up and all but ran out of the office. Obviously Hermione made her nervous. 'How is the company going to survive?' Hermione wondered. Then, she decided that though it might pain her slightly to see the company fail, she didn't actually care. After all, if she was going back to the Malfoys –and there would be no question of that, Narcissa would surely make sure of it– she'd be one of the richest people in the wizarding world, again. Not that her muggle business was doing all that badly, either. Probably nothing compared to how Draco's business was doing, but –
Draco. How would he react to her sudden reappearance? With his kid, at that. The daughter he hadn't wanted. If he hurts Austine… I might just kill him.
With that slightly sobering thought, Hermione picked up her bag, and left her office. Narcissa was, as promised, waiting for her at the entrance to the building. Wordlessly Hermione followed her into a dark alley, and took the arm that Narcissa had offered. Moments later she found herself standing in front of Amethyst Flame, the restaurant in Diagon Alley that Narcissa favoured. Needless to say, it was extremely posh, and Hermione wondered if her suit was acceptable. Narcissa seemed to have the exact same thoughts, because in a moment she found her suit had been transfigured into a set of expensive-looking emerald green robes. Malfoys and their obsession with Slytherin, Hermione thought, following her mother-in-law into the restaurant where she'd apparently already booked a table. They sat down and ordered, then calmly regarded the other in mutual silence.
Hermione broke it first. "You know, I must say it's good to see you, even if I was the one who up and left." Slowly, she sipped her water.
"Thank you, dear. It's very good to finally see you as well. Lucius is worried, and Draco is beside himself with worry." Her words made Hermione feel a pang of guilt, and she blushed, looking down at the table.
"I suppose you'd like to hear about that?" Hermione sighed, glancing around. She was well aware of the whispers and stares she was getting from the room. After all, she was Hermione Malfoy. The best friend of Harry Potter, who'd stood by his side throughout the war; the muggleborn who'd topped the school in N.E.W.T.S; and the same muggleborn who'd married into the Malfoy family, only to disappear eight months after the marriage. No one had heard from her since. And then she suddenly reappeared in the wizarding scene with her mother-in-law. One could only guess at the rumors that were flying around the room.
"Yes, of course." Narcissa was as polite as ever, Hermione noted. At least that hadn't changed… though it was unlikely that it ever would.
"Where shall I start?" Hermione asked, as their starters arrived. Nervously she picked at her salad.
"Start with why you left," Narcissa demanded.
"Why I left…" Hermione sighed. That was not a question she wanted to address, ever, but she supposed it had to be done. "I… Draco didn't want kids. He said he wanted a few more years before he thought about that, but… I was pregnant." She said the last part in a whisper, staring at her salad, which she poked at moodily.
She didn't notice Narcissa's eyes widen, or a smile spread across her face. "You left because you were with child? And Draco didn't want one at that time?"
"I couldn't do that to Draco! After he told me that he wasn't ready for 'that kind of commitment', I knew he wasn't mature enough to be a father. So I left. I'd intended to come visit at the end of the year." Hermione bit her lip nervously.
"I am going to murder my son," Narcissa growled. Hermione looked up in alarm. "Wait, what do you mean, visit?"
"I upped and left for three years. I highly doubt that I'd be very welcome if I just popped up at the front door and said I wanted to move back in," Hermione said skeptically.
"Silly girl, of course you would have been," Narcissa said, shaking her head. "So you left not because you couldn't stand Draco, or had troubles with us?"
Hermione laughed, attacking what was left of her salad with her fork. "Well, it was nice not to have Lucius dictating how I looked, but I've never really had trouble with either of you. My leave was instigated by Draco's… immaturity, shall we say?"
"And how did you stay hidden so long? We couldn't find any traces of your magic anywhere, not even near your office…" She trailed off upon catching Hermione's widening smile.
"I didn't use magic, unless I had to. Simple, really." Hermione laughed at Narcissa's expression. "Come on, mother. I am a muggleborn. I do know how to survive without a wand."
"Hermione, you are not just a muggleborn, you are a Malfoy," Narcissa scolded softly. "And Malfoys do not submit themselves to muggle means!"
Hermione sighed. Clearly the Malfoys still had that same sense of pride. Well, she hadn't expected anything less. "But I am also a Granger, mother."
"I thought we established that you were a Malfoy first, when you married my son," Narcissa said, slightly irritated.
"Didn't you notice, mother? I used the name Hermione Jean Granger in the muggle world, since my marriage wasn't registered with the muggle ministry." She smirked as the main course arrived. "Plus, I was in hiding. Speaking of which, how did you manage to find me?"
"By chance, I'm afraid. I was in muggle London last Wednesday, and there was an article in one of the magazines in the hotel written by a certain Hermione Granger," Narcissa answered. "I did come snooping around, and finally found out your office address."
"My mother, reading muggle magazines," Hermione said, disbelievingly. "I can't believe that was my downfall."
"It's always the most unexpected things that'll lead someone to you," Narcissa said lightly.
"Don't I know it. The next time I go into hiding I'll be sure to choose somewhere totally low key and get myself a job in a café." Hermione sighed.
"Enough about hiding. I want to hear about my grandchild." Narcissa's tone was expectant.
Hermione sighed happily. "What can I say? She's like a little angel. Draco's hair, but my eyes. I gave her your name," she said quietly. "Austine Narcissa Malfoy." Then she grinned. "But I'm sure you already know that from one of your family trees, no?"
Narcissa nodded. "Imagine our shock when Lucius opened up the book one day and saw a new name."
Hermione laughed. "Guess I should have seen that one coming. Didn't bother to conceal that birth since you couldn't use it to find us anyway. Austine's too young for school, so she isn't registered anywhere."
"We know. After all, we tried." Narcissa laughed at Hermione's guilty expression. "I don't know what you were thinking, though. Running away just because you were going to give us a grandchild!"
"I wanted to give Draco his few more years, even if it meant I wouldn't be with him," Hermione explained, delicately dabbing at the corners of her mouth with the napkin. "He deserved it."
"But he was worried," said an all too familiar voice from behind her. She jumped, spinning around to find Draco, in the flesh.
"Goddamnit, Draco! Don't do that!" Narcissa laughed at her son and his wife.
"Well, you shouldn't have disappeared for three whole years! I think you're at bigger fault here," Draco said, smirking.
"You were the one who told me you couldn't deal with a child then!" Hermione huffed in frustration.
"You didn't tell me you already had a child! I would have supported you through it, and afterwards we could have raised her together!" Draco's tone was indignant.
"Oh, yes. Why didn't you say that before?" Hermione asked sarcastically.
"Oh, shut up, Hermione." He grabbed her by the chin, and kissed her on the lips. Hermione didn't hesitate before returning the kiss.
When they broke apart, Hermione whispered, "I've missed you."
He smirked at her. "I've missed you too," he whispered back. Clearing his throat, he asked, "Shall we return home?"
"I'll need to pick Austine up," Hermione said, with a knowing smile. "You are most welcome to accompany me."
"Where is she?" Narcissa asked.
"At my mother's place." Hermione stood, and Draco put an arm around her waist. "Right. I suppose I'll see you later?" she asked Narcissa, who nodded, and gestured for her and Draco to take their leave.
Once outside, Draco pulled her in for another kiss in the light drizzle that had started to come down while she had been inside. They only pulled away once they found they needed to breathe. "Come on," he said. "I'd like to take my daughter and my wife home as soon as possible."
Hermione smiled. They were finally going home.