A Clandestine Reality: 10. Early Morning Discussions

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The house was empty, devoid of any signs of life. Hermione didn't know what she'd expected to feel upon her return. But this cold, almost unwelcoming sensation that began to build in the pit of her stomach was startling. This had been her home – was her home – yet for some reason its once warm and welcoming décor no longer brought her comfort. Everything was exactly the same and remained unchanged. The walls were still sky blue and the stained floorboards a rustic, worn cedar. Nothing had changed, yet she felt that in someway it had. She no longer felt comfortable or welcome in her own home.
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Perhaps it had something to do with Ron. Everything seemed so up in the air, so uncertain. This had been their home and now…now she wasn't sure she wanted to stay. While she'd been certain that their relationship was over, she hadn't even considered leaving the house. Rose had grown up knowing that this was her home, feeling secure and safe within its walls. But regardless of the memories the house held, it would continue to be a tie to the life she had led. She didn't want to be constantly reminded of what was, of what could have still been if she hadn't told Ron the truth. The memories would haunt her as long as she stayed.
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Ron could have the house – that was if he wanted it. By the time all was said and done, perhaps he would feel the same way. Too much had happened and she was sure the memories of what seemed to be a happy life would only haunt him, mock him like they would her. She would give him a week, maybe two, and if he didn't file for a divorce like she expected him to, then she would. Hermione didn't want to put Rose through it all, especially since the change would be so dramatic for the little girl. But when she looked at things in the long term, this would be better for them…all of them.
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It was extremely early in the morning, even for her. But she had planned it that way. St Mungos had wanted to keep her in for another day or two, but Hermione had flat out refused. She'd just wanted to go home, and now that she was here, she wanted to be anywhere but. Rose was fast asleep on her hip, wriggling every now and then uncomfortably. Her parents had dropped the little girl off close to midnight and waited with her while she gave her statement to the Aurors. They had been there for moral support and Hermione could honestly say that she wouldn't have been able to do it without them.
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"Mummy?" Hermione shifted Rose awkwardly on her hip, trying to get a better hold on her.
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"Go back to sleep, cricket," she cooed soothingly, closing the front door as quietly as she could behind her.
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Rose snuggled closer, her arms wrapping around Hermione's neck as sleep claimed her once more. It was too early in the morning for the little girl – that much was obvious. If there had been another way, she would have taken it. But Hermione wasn't about to risk being seen by Skeeter or one of her lackeys exiting St Mungos. The woman would have come up with some outrageous story, accusing her of whatever popped into that ridiculous blonde head of hers. She didn't want to deal with another article after everything she'd been through in the past couple of days. When the news of her divorce became public…well, there'd be plenty of articles spewing trash about her and Ron then.
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As she slowly made her way up the stairs, Hermione thought back to what Draco had said. Loath as she was to admit it, she had made a mistake. He obviously cared to some degree about what happened to Rose, because if he didn't, he probably would have let her be. Draco didn't have to acknowledge Rose as his daughter, Hermione knew that much. But for some reason he actually wanted to. It confused her that he would risk his marriage for a daughter he barely knew. Admittedly, she knew that his wife, Daphne Greengrass, was far from being angelic. She had pranced around Hogwarts as if she owned it, expecting anyone and everyone to drop at her feet on command. But Hermione reasoned that Draco had to have married her for a reason.
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"Shh, sweetheart," Hermione whispered gently, laying Rose down on the small single bed, pulling its blue comforter up to tuck her in.
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Wriggling tiredly, Rose grabbed the edge of the comforter and hugged it tight to her chest. After placing a chaste kiss on her forehead, Hermione exited the room, gently closing the door behind her. She didn't want to imagine what it would be like when Rose woke up. Richard Hastings, her boss, had given her the rest of the week off despite her protests. Initially she'd been thankful for the time, but after thinking things over she'd come to realise that it might not be the best thing for her. In truth, she wasn't sure she'd know what to do with the extra time. Hermione was always on the go, either working or caring for Rose. But now, for the rest of the week, she'd have enough time to let her thoughts get the better of her.
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She had to get away. Her parents had offered to take her and Rose in for a couple of days, weeks even if she needed it. Perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing. The house would be a constant reminder of what had passed between her and Ron, and Hermione didn't think she could deal with that at the moment. Staying with her parents seemed to be the ideal option. She would be somewhere she felt comfortable and Rose wouldn't feel too put out at the sudden change of location. If anything, Rose would enjoy the stay, knowing that she'd be spoiled rotten by 'Nanna Jean and Gampa Jeffey'.
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Quietly walking down the stairs, Hermione resolved to call her parents later in the morning and ask them if their offer still stood. If there was one thing she was certain of at that moment, it was that she needed her mother and father. They may not have been magical like the rest of her world, but she didn't love them any less for it. For years she had kept them in the dark about her adventures with Harry and Ron, telling them only what they wanted to hear. She'd tell them about her grades and classes, other students and her professors. But she would never tell them about the Philosophers Stone, the Chamber of Secrets and its basilisk within. Hermione had never told them any of it until after the war…and they certainly hadn't been happy when they'd found out.
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Just as she was about to enter the kitchen, Hermione froze. The blonde witch seemed completely unfazed by her reaction, generously filling an empty wine glass with merlot and sliding it across the table toward her, instead. Frowning slightly, Hermione walked over to the table and eased herself into a chair. First Lucius, then Draco and now it seemed Narcissa Malfoy wanted to talk with her. Hell had definitely frozen over – next the devil would be ice-skating a duet with Tom Riddle if things kept going the way they were.
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Cautiously taking a sip of the wine, Hermione surveyed the woman opposite her. It was strange to think that this woman was Bellatrix Lestrange's sister. From what she could see, they were polar opposites. Narcissa seemed more reserved than her late sister – not to mention sane. Hermione didn't know what to make of her. She was exceptionally beautiful, but poignantly so. Her eyes, much like Draco's, were the same indiscernible grey that was common in the Black family. But Narcissa's eyes, unlike her son's, were haunted by the past. Hermione could only imagine the horrors she had witnessed.
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"Malfoy men can be quite stubborn, you know?" Narcissa mused quietly, taking a sip of wine from her glass.
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What was she supposed to say to that? Yes, they're both stubborn and stupid. Hermione doubted that would go down well.
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"I don't mean to sound rude, but do you mind telling me what you're doing here?" she asked, trying to sound as polite as possible.
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"I probably should have explained myself sooner," the blonde witch admitted ruefully. "To put things quite plainly, I am here to save you from the underhanded scruples of both my son and husband. They are decidedly stubborn, as is their nature. Be thankful that I am here in their stead, as you would certainly have one or the other reclined on your couch refusing to leave," taking another sip of her wine, the Malfoy matriarch gave an amused smile in her direction.
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The idea of either Malfoy in her house, let alone reclining on her couch was enough to make her insides lurch. Hermione was sure that the look on her face showed as much because the other woman let out a velvety laugh. Narcissa Malfoy wasn't at all who she expected her to be. Here was a woman who'd been raised with every pureblood ideal imaginable, yet she sat quite comfortably in the home of a muggleborn without a shred of disdain on her face.
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"I don't really understand, Mrs Malfoy," she stated, voice filled with confusion.
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"Call me Narcissa. Mrs Malfoy makes me sound too much like my mother-in-law," the other woman answered, scrunching her nose up briefly at the thought of Lucius' mother.
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"Uh, okay…Narcissa," Hermione said, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
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The older witch smiled. "Malfoys take care of their own, Hermione."
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"My son may have made a few grievous mistakes in his life…along with my husband. But do not mistake us for uncaring, dear girl, because we are. It is…unfortunate that Rose is not a pureblood," at this Hermione bristled. "But inconsequential nonetheless," Narcissa added quickly.
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"I understand that there are a lot of grey areas in life, a lot of questionable decisions made by good people for the right reasons," she said carefully, thinking about her own situation. "But I don't understand why you, your husband or your son care so much about what happens to Rose. Surely this is the last thing you need right now, not to mention the last thing you actually want," Hermione snapped in spite of her efforts to remain calm.
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"Draco cares, as do my husband and I, because regardless of what we need or want, this is what we have," the witch's voice was calm and measured in comparison to her own.
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