AN: Here's another chapter, enjoy!
Sins of the Past
"So.." Hermione said, furrowing her brows in concentration, "I'm barely out of the hospital bed after a near-fatal apparating accident, had but a measly day to digest that I've my parents back in my life and now you're telling me that I must apparate back to Scotland by tomorrow the latest or a dozen generations of your family will be what... cursed? Is that it?" The brunette witch summed up what Minerva had been explaining for the better part of a half an hour.
"Side-along apparate", the Animagus corrected dryly. "And yes, that appears to be the situation. My great granduncle's portrait came from the manor all the way to the Australian Council to remind me that there is a full moon tomorrow night."
"Great. Brilliant. And what exactly is the curse?" Hermione asked, still not particularly impressed with the new development. She was slightly sore from the rapid regrowth of her bones and muscles and more than emotionally drained from trying to catch up with her parents. She was more than relieved that her parents were willing to move back to England and thrilled beyond words that they were eager to get to know their grandchild.
"The translation is somewhat difficult to decipher. It has something to do with hot air and balloons. Or hot air balloons. Could possibly be shaving bubbles", Minerva said without a hint of emotion. To all intents and purposes it appeared as if she genuinely believed what she'd just said but the smirk that slowly formed on her lips betrayed her. "It is a load of codswallop if you ask me. But alas, the Ross side of my family appears to believe it and so the tradition must needs be observed."
Next day at the Manor...
Hermione knew that her fussing around with Rose was a rather obvious way to stall for time but if she was being honest, she was nervous. Apparently it was a family tradition that after the first child was born each Ross descendant had to present his or her chosen partner along with their offspring before the family council of elders. Theoretically, if the elders were not pleased with the supposed magical talent of the child they could forbid the relationship. When Hermione was thinking straight she knew how ridiculous that sounded. The tradition had been formed centuries ago when family bonds bore much more significance. 'We've been together for five years for God's sake...it's not like Minerva is going to dump my ass if her great grandaunt or whoever says she ought to!'
Rose appeared to be quite content, her eyes roaming in a circular motion, attempting to focus her young eyes on all the interesting new things that crossed her line of sight. Her ability to focus on individual objects became stronger and stronger with each day but she still primarily relied on her sense of smell. Her mother's smell filled her nostrils, her belly was full of warm milk and she was dry and clean, nothing else much mattered to her. She raised her tiny hand to clumsily grab at the shiny necklace dangling from her mother's neck just close enough for her to distinguish it as a separate object.
The brunette witch was suddenly startled out of her thoughts as two hands she had not been expecting encircled her in a gentle hug. Realizing that it was only her lover and not some unexpected attack from behind, she relaxed into strong arms. "I'm nervous", she admitted, partially turning in the embrace to face Minerva.
"I can see. But there's no need. It is but a formality", the Animagus attempted to soothe her nervous lover. "They know you already. They have known you for close to four years. And in any event, I don't particularly care what their pronouncement will be. I love you", the Scottish witch whispered into the brunette's ear before softly kissing just below her earlobe.
A shiver ran down Hermione's spine at the intimate contact, bringing with it a multitude of memories. Hot and steamy memories of their previous lovemaking, and passionate encounters from their respective offices before they moved in together. Just thinking about it made her breath hitch slightly and she had to close her eyes from the sensory overload.
"I love it that I still have that effect on you." Minerva murmured, allowing her breath to softly tickle Hermione's skin.
"Mmmm, I think I love it too", Hermione admitted, smiling up at the green eyed witch.
"Shall we get this over with? I think I should like to ravish you tonight" the Animagus's voice was barely above a whisper and her eyes smouldered hotly as her own promise ignited a fire inside her veins.
At the Wilkins/Granger residence in Australia
"Well we can always start with my mother, if you're not yet comfortable with the idea", Jean suggested calmly before she took a sip of her tea. The familiar and comforting feeling of the hot liquid flowing down her throat was much welcomed despite the fact that August had a warm spring weather in store for them.
John just stared at his wife for a moment, contemplating their predicament. They'd been in Australia for over five years and they'd left without a single word to either of their parents. The very notion that they'd suddenly just pick up the phone and call either elderly couple was mind boggling. 'What are going to say? That we'd been on an extended vacation and forgot to call them?'
"But what are we going to tell them? That we were so busy living our new life in Australia that we forgot to call them for five years?" John asked, thoroughly agitated at the prospect of explaining to his father why he did not bother to show up for their annual fishing trip. Or birthdays. Or Christmas.
"Well...we can always come up with something. Say we were in the witness protection program. We were not allowed to telephone them because that would have endangered them", Jean replied instantly. It was obvious that she had given the problem a fair bit of thought.
"And how do you know they are even alive?" John countered. The idea presented itself suddenly and raised his anxiety level quite disproportionately. His mother had a heart condition. If she even survived the ordeal of her son vanishing, John Granger was not quite sure if she'd survive his just as sudden reappearance five years later.
"Ooooh, just look at her, Minerva" Alfred Ross cooed from his portrait, attempting to press his nose closer to the magical boundaries of his portrait as a very much alive Minerva stepped closer to the portrait so her great granduncle could see. "Look at that perfect Ross nose. I'm fairly sure she got that from you."
Minerva Ross remained somewhat distant although she attempted to show polite interest. All the portraits around them threw anxious glances in the Ross matriarch's direction to discern her current mood. It was an eerie change and none of them could figure it out. Their talented pride and joy of an ancestor had been positively anxious to meet the newest member of the family until Alfred's recent gossip-mongering. To everyone's mild surprise and relief that had been the last time the hallways of Ross Manor were noisy with Minerva's feisty discussions about family curses.
"Yes, quite", Minerva Ross replied and offered a small smile to warm her dry words. After a brief moment her eyes sought Hermione out. "So...you are saying that some muggle invention confirmed that you are in fact related to the Weasley's?" she enquired with thinly veiled curiosity. There was an eagerness burning in her eyes that were not present while she was inspecting her newest descendant.
"Yes. We have not yet found out how or who it is, but the DNA test confirmed that I am Arthur Weasley's second cousin, once removed." Hermione replied. She had been intimidated by Minerva Ross at first, but in course of five years found an odd sort of rapport with the woman. She'd found that the best course of action was to be bold and frank with her. The woman was a thorough and thorough Gryffindor.
The Minerva inside the portrait stood still and silent for a moment, visibly racking her mind to recall information from the distant past. "I would not be surprised if you turned out to be a descendant of Winston. The ghastly old lecher." Minerva finally said with a truly amused smirk. Upon seeing the confused expression on Hermione's face she elaborated "Winston was Arthur's granduncle. He was Wilfrid's brother and, I presume you know, Wilfrid Weasley was Arthur's grandfather."
"Oh. No, I did not know. Thank you for the suggestion." Hermione said politely. Her mind was already racing in several different directions. 'Who was this Winston? And what did Minerva mean by ghastly lecher? Could he have made a pass at one of my grandmothers or great-grandmothers when they were very young? Before they married? Are either of my parents illegitimate?' Jean Granger's sketchy romance novels that Hermione found during the summer after her third year left a rather prominent imprint on the brunette's imagination. "How do you know Winston?" she asked casually, hoping to find out more about her potential ancestor.
"I used to apprentice under him in his apothecary before I moved on to study for my Mastery" Minerva replied just as casually."He was a very just and generous boss but he couldn't stop flirting to save his life."
"Did he ever try anything with you?" Hermione asked.
Minerva raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at the question. "He did, actually. But I laughed square in his face and he never tried again. He was a gentleman like that."
'I guess that blows any rape theories. Thank the God.' Hermione thought vaguely. As they chattered along she noticed that Minerva Ross appeared to be considerably more at ease than when this whole ceremony started. Hermione was surprised that the ceremony essentially meant that the portraits of all the prominent Ross elders were moved from the hallways to the den in a half-circular fashion and after an uncomfortable first five minutes all the portraits started reminiscing and sharing anecdotes from their lifetime.
Just as yet another of Alfred's rambunctious adventures was slowly coming to an end Hermione remembered the family lullaby and figured that now might be the best time to ask. 'Between all these portraits they have a few centuries covered, I'm sure they can come up with something.'
She addressed Minerva Ross, who was the portrait closes to where she was sitting. "Do you know anything about the history of your family lullaby?"
Much to her surprise the change in Minerva senior's demeanour was instantaneous. Her features became guarded and her squinted her eyes in suspicion. "It is a very old lullaby that has been in the family for centuries. We do not know much about it."
The answer sounded decidedly final but Hermione was stubborn enough to disregard the implied end to this particular conversation. "It sounded very familiar almost from the moment Minerva started singing it. Eventually I found a muggle variation."
Hermione wanted to carry on and explain more about her findings but Minerva senior cut across her explanation with a measure of irritation. "I'm sure that it is a coincidence. Our family is known to have consorted with muggles from time to time. We have even invested in the muggle industry on occasion and employed them in factories. It is likely that they would have heard the song eventually."
"But it seems very odd that the muggle variation would be about Morgana Le Fey's son if there was no family connection, wouldn't it?" Hermione asked, hopeful that she might get an answer if she pressed. However, within seconds of her uttering Morgana's name the entire room feel deathly silent. All the portraits gaped at Hermione at first and some attempted to steal stealthy glances in Minerva Senior's direction, although none dared look at the witch directly.
Hermione looked to her side in search of her Minerva for some help but the Animagus appeared to be just as confused as she was.
Australia Granger/Wilkins residence
"Witness protection program? Witness protection program?" An outraged female voice bellowed into the phone at such volume that Jean Granger had to remove the receiver away from her ear for fear of going deaf. "ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT YOU LEFT WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A NOTE BECAUSE YOU WERE IN THE WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM? IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?"
Jean sat helplessly on the sofa, receiver clutched in her left hand, John's hand in her right, waiting for her mother to stop screaming into the phone. Her mother had always been a fierce woman and allowed absolutely no nonsense in her household and age only made her shorter of temper. Apparently she was not impressed with her daughter's explanation. "Mum. If you are done yelling at me, please let me explain. Yes. The witness protection program does not allow any sort of contact with the protectee's past life. I would have put you in danger."
"What kind of danger?" Jean's mother demanded.
"The dangerous kind? Look, John and I witnessed a robbery across the street from our surgery and it turned out to be connected to terrorism. The police wanted us to testify at court and offered protection until it was safe." Jean said. She hated lying but she tried to convince herself that technically she didn't outright lie. She just paraphrased their situation in such a way that any unsuspecting muggle would be able to accept it without a doubt. From what she understood of Hermione's explanation that Voldemort fellow does sound like quite the tyrant and terrorist and while they had not consented, the whole fiasco was for their protection.
"That sounds like you just read it out of a cheap action movie script," Victoria Greenside accused her daughter.
"I wish I had mum, I wish I had. Anyway, that's all I can tell you. We'll be on a plane tomorrow back to England. Give us a day or two to settle in? Then we've a LOT to catch up on." Jean attempted to placate her mother.
"Oh I say. What of Hermione? I've started receiving Christmas cards but that's about it", Victoria asked, half-placated but still somewhat sullen.
Jean faltered in her reply. She had not thought to add Hermione into her cover story. "Um, she didn't keep in contact? That is odd. I will certainly ask her." Her answer was deliberately vague. Suddenly the implications of Hermione's relationship came crashing around her and it was all she could do to stop herself from hyperventilating. 'Oh GOD. Not only do I have to explain to my mother that I have a granddaughter but also that hers is dating a woman HER age?'
"Okay, mum, I'm sorry but I really have to hang up now, I'll call again after we land in London. Bye. Love you." Jean said hastily before hanging up. She looked at her husband who just gave her a wry grin.
"That sounded like it went well." He said with a teasing grin firmly planted on his face.
"Oh, shush, you. At least I called her. I haven't seen you picking up the phone to call your parents." Jean shot back just as good-naturedly. They had not spent thirty years happily married for no good reason. They knew exactly when to tease and when to be serious with one another.
"That went well." Minerva deadpanned when they finally reached the safety of their bedroom.
"I'm torn between nominating that sentence for the expression of the year award of having it banned forever." Hermione answered wearily as she placed Rose in her crib. "Minerva senior is...scary."
"And Minerva Junior isn't?" the Animagus teased, hoping to relieve some of her lover's tension. Stepping behind her she placed her hands on tense shoulders and began kneading them. An enthusiastic moan was the instant answer.
"No. Minerva Junior is doing a wonderful job right now." Hermione groaned. She hadn't realized how tense her shoulders were until Minerva started massaging them. They stood like that for a couple of minutes enjoying the comfortable silence and each other's proximity. When the Animagus felt that the younger brunette's shoulders didn't tense back up the moment she desisted her ministrations she lead her lover to their bed and made her sit.
"Love, I'm sure great grandma Minerva will come around. I'm not sure what's got into her, but give her time." Minerva said.
"She told me in no uncertain terms that I am never to talk about 'that woman' again or she'd disown me from the family. I think there's no place to come around to from that standpoint." Hermione said matter-of-factly. Her voice was much too controlled and did not reflect the whirlwind of emotions her watery eyes hinted at.
"Yes, well, she's a portrait. She can't do much damage, can she?" Minerva asked, her voice kind and compassionate, as if she were talking to a sick child. "If she gives you much grievance I'll just threaten to move her into the attic", the Animagus said with a grin intended to cheer Hermione.
Hermione, despite her bad mood, softly chuckled. "I guess that ought to give her some perspective", she finally conceded. From her various conversations with portraits she was fairly sure that there was no worse punishment for portraits, particularly ones that did not have duplicates, to be banished to boring old attics that no one visited. A loving smile graced her lips as she leaned in to kiss the woman who not only stole her heart but was a master at mending it.
Please share your thoughts :) I know we're not much closer to the truth but hey, I've decided to flesh out some of the background stories.