19th September 2011
Hermione was five months pregnant for her thirty-second birthday. The Wizengamot was on half-duties with the prolonged walkout, all their friends with Hogwarts age children had packed them off and were still remarking on how quiet it was, but what she noticed was her cat.
Crookshanks had been fussing for weeks. The other cats in the house, mostly his offspring with Bole's kneazle Estelle, had stopped disputing with him about rights to the sunniest spots or comfiest seats.
Hermione watched him now dosing on her father-in-law on a sofa. Both wizard and cat looked washed out. Octavius had been feeling poorly over summer, complaining of the heat. His carer, Mrs Shaw, had concurred with the family that he needed to see a Healer but Octavius had refused to go to St Mungo's for a check-up.
When Treacle heard his Master fall out of bed in the middle of the night, he'd immediately Apparated Octavius to the wizarding hospital on Hermione's standing instructions. Marcus had stood vigil over his father until he roused then they'd had an argument heated enough to see Marcus ejected from the ward.
Apparently Octavius had been having chest pains for weeks and had said nothing, attributing his discomfort to the weather. The damage to his heart was beyond easy mending and the regeneration potions didn't take well, a side-effect often seen in former inmates of Azkaban.
Octavius Flint was dying.
Hermione had made appointment with Squib doctors, bringing them to the Manor as her father-in-law wouldn't leave. He'd started locking his door at night so they couldn't sneak him out to the hospital while he slept. He wouldn't take the Muggle medication the doctors prescribed, not even when Hermione ground up the pills and suspended them in an inert potion medium.
Octavius had put on a good show for Livia's birthday in June but by Septimus's birthday in July he was short of breath and the little boy noticed when his grandfather couldn't play with him. Hermione had the same talk with her children as her parents had when her mum's mum died. Marcus argued with his father.
Her husband was out in the arbour digging holes for the new trellis. By hand. The weaker his father got, the more they fought and the more time he spent in the garden taking out his emotions on the landscape.
He'd remembered her birthday, buying her thirty-two wisteria vines. They wouldn't flower for a few years but when they did, Millettia Satsuma bloomed a dark purplish red, the nearest he could find for Gryffindor colours. It would be beautiful.
"You're not going to stay with me to see the new baby, are you, Crooksie?" Hermione asked quietly, crouching as best as she could to pet her familiar's felt soft ears. He purred rustily, opening one eye to blink at her slowly. The once lambent brightness had faded.
"I didn't ask him to keep me company." Octavius's voice, as rough as the cat's, startled her. She had thought him heavily asleep. The grey tinge to his skin was made obvious by the pallor of sleep and there was a bluish undertone to his lips.
"If you shoo him away, he'll only come back more persistent." The witch remarked, shifting into an armchair as her ankles protested. This pregnancy was more comfortable than the first two except for her swollen legs. The early dizziness had thankfully passed quickly.
"My son or the kneazle?" He wheezed, trying to laugh but not having the air or the verve for it.
"Marcus loves you. He doesn't want you to go." Hermione said it because her husband never would. Octavius made a face but waved her away when she offered him a pain potion.
"We've never been close. He blamed me for his mother dying, and he was right." The wizard stopped talking to resist a cough, shifting on his side to ease the pain in his back. He cradled Crookshanks as he moved so the cat wouldn't be tipped off onto the floor. "I never knew what to say to him. He's too much like my father."
"Telling him that would be a good start." Teenagers were difficult and Marcus admitted he'd been more difficult than most. All his frustrations at school, his feelings of helplessness and loss over Alexandra's death he had projected onto his father. His exile in Moldova at the height of the war had been the final grudge. "Or leaving memories for a Pensieve if you feel you can't talk."
"You care for him." Octavius said, as though he was surprised and thought her biased. "I know you only married him because of that bloody stupid law."
"We divorced." Hermione settled in to explain, petting Crookshanks to keep the conversation non-confrontational. "We remarried because we wanted to, because we loved each other. The Marriage Law was incidental."
"He never would've looked at a Muggle-born without it." He muttered. At her glance, the pallid wizard frowned. "I can read, unlike my idiot son. He didn't tell me but your picture is always in the Prophet. Marcus thinks I don't know."
"He didn't want to argue with you." She hadn't pushed for her husband to tell his father the truth. It made no difference to her. All she had to do was roll up her sleeves and everyone could see her blood status.
"He doesn't trust me." Octavius had believed what he was told, what they were all told. He'd parroted it to his son when Marcus was a boy. But after he'd come back from that place, blood didn't seem to matter any more. Too much had been spilled. "He thinks I'm like Nott and that pillock Dolohov."
"If he didn't trust you, if we didn't trust you, there is no way we'd allow you near Livia and Septimus." Hermione said mildly, downplaying the absolute embargo that would have happened if she'd had any suspicion her father-in-law was a threat.
"He's good with them." He conceded on a sigh. He'd watched Marcus play with his children in a way he never had. Alexandra had tried to encourage him to spend time with the boy but there had been so much to do, dinner parties and hosted meetings. Important things that had turned to dust.
"He is." She smiled, thinking of Marcus playing trains with his four year old son, who insisted that Daddy make all the right noises. Which Marcus did. "You'll miss out on so much. There are rituals we could try and Muggle operations that might work. You could have years more with your grandchildren."
"I've had years." Octavius spoke quietly, his hand touching hers in Crookshank's fur. "I wanted him safe. Tom would've taken him from me. So I sent him away." He grimaced at a deep stabbing ache and didn't resist when Hermione held him against her to drip a pain potion into his mouth. The floating numbness made everything foggy. He hated that. "He's safe now. It's all right now." He breathed a little easier. "You'll keep him safe, clever girl."
Octavius Flint died the day after his son's birthday. A late gift, Marcus snarled when he stormed out of the room. The Healers had said nothing. The bereaved were allowed to be angry and the elder Flint had been a difficult patient. Hermione quietly arranged the funeral and gave a terse statement to the press when she was ambushed leaving St Mungo's.
Flint Manor was quiet. The Potters were looking at houses, Septimus was with Neville and Hannah, and Livia had gone with her tutor to the British Museum. They would collectively be back for dinner, before which she would tell the children their grandfather had crossed the Veil. Hermione went to Octavius's room with the vague urge to do something practical.
Crookshanks was on the bed, in the pool of sunlight from the window. She sat down beside him, her fingers trembling as she touched his head. He was cool. Gone. When Millicent found her, she was still sitting, shaking.
"Hermione." Mrs Potter said with careful gentleness. The other witch pulled out a handkerchief and made a good effort at pretending to collect herself.
"It's alright. I knew this was coming." She rubbed her legs, covertly checking if they'd fallen asleep while she had been oblivious to everything but the loss of the last tie to her parents. Her mum had adored Crookshanks. Her dad had complained about him shedding on the sofa, then slipped him bits of bacon when he thought no one was looking.
The ten year anniversary of their deaths had been fraught but cathartic. They had gone to Australia for the holiday season. A forty degree Celsius Christmas Day had seen them indoors eating ice cream for their Yule feast. New Year's Eve had been fireworks over the river. And the next day, she and Marcus had taken the children to the cemetery. He'd Apparated Septimus and Livia back to the hotel after a little while, to give her some time alone. She'd cried.
She was crying now.
Millie helped her wrap Crookshanks in a sheet. Hermione wondered if she should wait until the children were home so they could say good-bye then decided she didn't want them to remember the big orange cat as anything but alive. Livia and Septimus were old enough to understand about graves. Seeing the body wouldn't make the absence any more real.
Marcus and Harry were outside in the kitchen garden not talking. The two of them did that a lot, finding each other's company restful. Harry had joined Marcus's team in their recreational Quidditch League. Seeing 'Potter' on the back of a green uniform was incongruous, however it meant Harry could play with little fanfare. The Gryffindor team hadn't re-formed. Not the same without Fred.
Crookshanks went into the earth at the base of an oak tree. It was old, passed its prime but it would outlast them all. Harry and Millicent left them, going to intercept Jason Cresswell when he brought Livia back from their excursion. Marcus held his wife, envying her tears. He alternated between numb and furious. His father... he cut off that thought viciously. His father was dead.
"I have to go back to the hospital." Marcus found something to say. He was Lord of the Manor now. Head of the House of Flint. Which he was obliged to tell everyone so they could condole. He would rather Crucio himself.
"I handled it." Hermione loved her husband's strong arms, her shelter from the storm. He needed her now. She shook herself. "They'll do the preparation rituals there. I wasn't sure if you wanted to speak the last rites."
"I don't." He had said those stiff fucking meaningless words for his mother, stumbling and clumsy, embarrassing himself and her.
"I could write them out phonetically for you." She offered and felt his hands clench on her back. "I won't make you. But if there's any little premonition that one day you might regret not doing something, you need to listen to it."
"My father died in Azkaban." Marcus growled, choking down a shout. "The man that came back was just some wizard who looked like him, who my mother pitied."
"Marcus." Hermione took a step back so she could look him in the eye.
"No." He got his teeth into the word. "He deserves nothing from me."
"Then do it for yourself." She pushed, unwilling to leave this wound to scar. "It doesn't have to be public. We don't need to invite anyone. It could be just you and your dad. But don't do nothing." Her eyes flooded with tears. "Damn it." Hermione blinked fiercely. "It matters, being able to say good-bye. Give yourself that."
There was no wake. No ostentatious funerary offerings or speeches. Octavius Flint joined his ancestors in the family crypt, in the double tomb with his wife. Marcus had railed against that. He and Hermione had a shouting match that lasted for two days until he had said she could do what she bloody liked and had gone flying.
The Wizengamot reconvened to acknowledge the passing of the patriarch of one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, a custom that Hermione shamelessly used to hammer through the review on the Weasley and Prewett Seats. She couldn't raise any of the reforms they had been slaving over or table any new legislation but the special circumstances that called everyone together for the Flint Seat applied for all the august families.
"To incestuous, elitist, nepotist bastards." Lord Nott raised a glass of sparkling grape juice to the team who had dug up, translated from Middle English and confirmed the obscure amendment that had allowed him and Hermione to get something done.
"May they never read their own statutes." Lady Flint met the toast. No one much felt like cheering. Padma, who had been instrumental in finding the loophole that had allowed them to pass the bill while the Wizengamot was in official mourning, was at home on Healer mandated bed-rest. Leota was stewing about every other bill in stasis while the International Departments brewed a new treaty on cauldrons. Their staff were frustrated by inactivity. The celebration broke up after one round of non-alcoholic drinks so everyone could go back to filing applications of extension with the Ministry to keep their legislation alive.
"I sent my condolences but Marcus hasn't replied." Theo said once he and Hermione were alone in his office. "I could get some of the lads together and take him out for a drink." He read her expression. "Several drinks."
"We're not talking at the moment." She leaned against his desk. Her back hurt. She would've loved a massage. "Marcus isn't sleeping much. I know he comes to bed but it's after I'm asleep and he's gone before I wake up. He goes flying a lot."
"I'll owl Peregrine and Lucian. They're undemanding company." He poured Hermione another juice, having been lectured by his wife's Healer about dehydration. She drank it without protest then excused herself to go to her own Rooms and shuffle parchment. Which she did for twenty minutes until the sensible little voice in her head told her to go home.
That night Marcus put the children to bed as normal and Hermione read stories, but husband and wife didn't speak. A group of Slytherins showed up, mostly former Quidditch players, all but levitating Marcus out of the house. She had a bath and went to bed early.
It was past midnight when Hermione roused as a large body joined her in their cavernous bed. The cold draught caused her to burrow deeper into the blankets. When he snuggled closer, putting his arms around her, she sighed.
"You smell of beer." Not as badly as she had expected. He was back earlier too.
"I had two lagers and a Firewhiskey." Marcus informed his wife. Mostly what he'd had was a longing to be home, out of the noisy pub. "I'm an old married man."
"You're thirty-seven." Hermione muttered, shifting so she could nestle against him.
"There were scantily dressed barmaids." He smirked at the spousal noise of displeasure. "My first thought, I swear on my broom, was 'I hope they have a Warming Charm'." That was when he knew he wasn't a young buck any more. He had responsibilities. Children he loved. A wife, who against all common sense, loved him. "I'm sorry."
"I was thinking of you." She said to her pillow, angry in that tired, unhappy way that fuelled grudges. "You need to talk to me when you're upset. Don't shut me out."
"I didn't want to shout at you." Marcus confessed, his hands smoothing over her rounded belly. He got a cautionary elbow in his stomach. "I know you're not made of glass." He slid an arm under her so he could roll her over. "And I know everything you did was for me. I'm an arsehole."
"Language." Hermione chided him, smoothing a hand affectionately down his face. "I'll take shouting over brooding silence."
"I didn't know him. So many different things made me angry, but that was what kept stinging." He didn't think that made any sense. It was all he'd managed to figure out flying through squalls, letting the wind batter him hither and yon. "I grew up in his house. He paid for everything I needed. He saved me from the Dark Mark. But I couldn't tell you what his favourite food was or how he tied his tie. All I saw was a foolish man who never forgave himself for believing the same lies I believed."
"I've never experienced that sort of alienation from my family." She shifted the pillows so she could sit up. Marcus slid behind her to wrap himself around her, wanting to protect her from his own emotional turmoil. "But I expect Harry and Neville have."
"They loved their parents." He said into her hair, which smelled of cedar and rosemary.
"But they never knew them. Not as mum and dad." Hermione laced her fingers with his, resting them over her stomach where their third child energetically kicked. "You don't have to bare your soul. Just talk. Maybe ask how they coped with it. I'm sure they trust you enough they'll open up to you."
"Then we'll braid each other's hair and paint our nails." Marcus grumbled, disliking her advice but not able to refute it. His cousin and his cousin-in-law would understand. They'd had it worse. At least his father had been present and compos mentis some of the time.
"You're supposed to be listening to me, not making sexist comments." She warned, tartly. "Do you want to sleep in one of the guest rooms?"
"Not particularly." He tightened his embrace, pinning her against him though careful not to compress her stomach. Too much pressure made her nauseous. Hugging his petite wife while she was pregnant took some contortion on his part. "I love you and I want to be with you." Marcus smirked. "And this bed has the Acromantula silk sheets."
"I am wise to your Slytherin machinations." Hermione turned her head so she could kiss him, letting him change the subject. She wasn't fooled by his attempt to lighten the mood. It was late, though, and neither of them had been sleeping well. "Go slip a note under Jason's door. If he gets the kids breakfast, we can sleep in."
Marcus found that idea extremely appealing. He padded off to do as suggested while Hermione mulled over the notion that she had been considering since the end of summer. Magic and an ultrasound had shown them they would have another boy. She wondered whether Marcus would like to name their son after his father. It probably was not the time to ask. But she would later, when he was more at peace. It seemed the right thing to do.