"Mummy, Mummy, Granddad said we can go pluck slees with him," Hugo came running towards Hermione on his little legs and threw himself at her.
She looked a bit puzzled for a moment, "Sloes, Hugo."
The little boy nodded impatiently and looked up at his mother. "Can we go?"
"Scoot," she told him and smiled over the rim of her teacup and he was off. Leaving his mother looking at his grandmother.
"They'll be fine here," Judith said quietly. "You know how your father is. He'll have them outside as long as it's possible and by the time they have to come back in they're worn out and won't ask questions. He always did with you."
"Can't have stopped me from asking questions," Hermione remarked. "Ron complained about it occasionally."
"He complained about that?" she asked. "Darling, asking questions is in your blood. It's what you do. No, let me correct that, it is you."
Hermione shrugged. "I loved him, Mum. I really did."
Judith Granger sighed and took hold of her daughter's hand. "I know."
"And now it's over. I can't wrap my mind around it."
"There's no need now for that. You need time. And it'll come to you. You should take a couple of days off from work."
Hermione laughed softly. "I have. I planned even this in advance and put it during my summer holiday. I couldn't take it earlier because of the transfer. He was mad about that as well."
She frowned and lay her head on the table, letting her mother stroke her cheek and the hair out of her face.
He tried to walk slower but that did not really come naturally to him and it greatly annoyed him. But the girl showed great determination to keep up with him – and she was frowning and her face scrunched up. But her legs were short and she was young and of course she couldn't walk as fast.
But if they continued at her pace he could forget about reopening the apothecary. He stopped and frowned – and it was the same frown she wore – and took a deep breath before he bent down to pick her up, carry her – the only way he could hope to be back in time with a child that had never apparated – but her eyes widened and he knew she was still afraid.
"I just want to carry you," he explained slowly, trying to sound gentle – but obviously failing since she shrank away slightly. "Child, I will not hurt you," he added – angry at himself, at her, at her mother. "Remember that."
She nodded silently – shyly - and lifted her little arms as she walked two steps towards him. He rolled his eyes and picked her up.
He couldn't remember ever to have carried a child that small – but the girl made it simple. She shifted immediately and almost sat on his hip, her legs wrapped around him and her arms around his neck – tightly, but not too tightly and he had his arm underneath her bottom.
She weighed almost nothing. And she was tiny. And – she needed to bathe.
"You will take a bath later," he said as he quickly walked towards Diagon Alley. He knew people would be staring, would whisper, would point. He only rarely ventured into the respectable Alley – especially since he could get most things at Knockturn. His food, his clothes, everything else. He knew the stares. He knew the whispers. He knew what people said when he went there in his black coat and robes. He knew and he was used to it – and he did not mind. What they said had no impact on his life – especially – oh the irony of it – since they all came to his apothecary when they needed something special. And then stopped talking.
But – she wasn't used to all this. She was blinded by the light and there were gasps from those who saw him first and he felt her, probably instinctively – hiding her face in his neck and tightened her hold on him.
She was afraid of him – but apparently she was even more afraid of the other people pointing at them. He raised his eyebrows dangerously, glaring back – staring back – and quickened his pace.
Inside, pick something up, outside, back home. And she would get a bath and a nap. That's what he always had to endure after going somewhere with his mother.
"Where we going, sir?" she asked timidly in his neck. "Want to go Mummy."
He wanted to close his eyes – this was not good. He had wanted her to call him father for one simple reason. She was his daughter. He had known since before she had been born. Granted, he had never seen her until a week ago but she was his daughter and everyone who had two more or less working eyes in their head could see that. She looked like him – except for his nose but that could still grow, couldn't it? She had his hair, his eyes, even his ears, for Merlin's sake. His long fingers. And a young girl, even her age, in an apothecary in Knockturn Alley? Making her call him father warded off a lot of people. A lot of sick, strange people – who would not have hesitated to – but no.
She was his duty. And protecting her was his duty. Nothing more, nothing less.
She would be safe by calling him father – letting everyone know that they both acknowledged it.
"We're going to Mister Vanderlego," he replied swiftly and did not know how to tell her that she could never get back to her mother. At least not any better than that idiot Muggle at this idiot Muggle youth welfare office. Mummy is an angel now. What a stupid thing to say. And – to top it off: "You get to live with Daddy now!" That chipper tone – he had wanted to wring that Muggle's neck. The child did not even know she had a father – much less a daddy.
The girl seemed to frown but she said nothing.
He just stepped into Vanderlego's shop and put her on her feet back on the ground. "Pick one," he said, gesturing towards the shelf with the stuffed animals.
She looked up with big eyes – letting them roam over the shelves full of bears, dragons, hippogriffs, snakes, owls and other magical creatures and wrung her little hands.
"Stir that, will you?" she pushed a bowl of dough in her daughter's hands and nodded at her. "Scones later."
Hermione nodded and Judith knew how much she was suffering.
Judith Granger had not warmed to Ronald Weasley the way she should have, and wanted to, to a son-in-law. He had no manners at all, ate like a pig, he had treated Hermione like a friend, not like a wife. He had been a good father – that much she had to admit – but other than that? Not much. He had always insisted on taking Hermione to his family for every major holiday, everything. And he – somehow, she knew – had not felt comfortable around them. Maybe it was the fact that he was always surrounded by wizards and witches – and just felt not as curious about their world as, for instance, his father. Arthur, as he insisted they call him, always asked them question after question after question about things that were normal to them. But at least he had not kept the children from coming to see them regularly.
Rosie and Hugo were wonderful. Both of them – Rose so much like Hermione when she had been that age. Always wanting to know more – finding out things and Judith Granger merely hoped that Rosie would not have the phase during which she decided to collect dead rodents from the garden and bury them to find the bones and study them later. No, she really hoped that Rosie would not enter the phase. That had been – frankly – disgusting and she always had to console little Hermione when the bones were not there any more (and she couldn't really explain that the Wilson's cat next door really liked dead, rotting rodents better than fresh ones).
Hugo – Hugo was funny and bouncing and curious and brave. Very brave. And always acted before he thought and here, the tricycle (Hermione never allowed them to fly their little brooms at the their house – too many Muggles) was his weapon - always on it – fast and not looking where he was going. And then running to Mummy or Granny when he had hurt himself and his chubby, baby knees were bleeding, or his elbows were grazed. On the other hand, he loved to play with all the things in the dentistry (and yes, she had once caught him trying to drill a hole in the chair with a burr).
She would have to cancel some appointments – or tell her husband to take them. Even though she didn't work as much any more – she still wanted to be with her daughter and her grandchildren. Wanted to support her.
Because – really, she understood her being so hurt and crying and aching. She understood and Hermione was – after all was said and done – all the drama, all the tears after the war, the fights they had – her little girl. And her little girl needed her now.
"You know you can stay as long as you like," she said softly and hugged her Hermione from behind – smelling the hair and her little girl. And was glad she had her home. Until she was alright to go out on her own again. Find a flat, life on her own. But not yet. Not yet.
Jonathan Granger looked at his grandchildren with a fond smile on his face. It was rare to have them so to himself. But he felt for his girl and for those children.
It would be tough – especially the next few days and while he knew that Hermione generally came to him, he also knew that his wife was the major consoler in the family. It had always been that way. Hermione ran crying to Mummy, then, when she needed a solution to Daddy. He didn't doubt that it would go the same way now.
His girl would come to him and she would talk when she needed it.
He had not been surprised when she had called the day before. Her and Ron – that had not been a match made in heaven. That had been a match – he wasn't sure what kind of match. No doubt those two had somehow loved each other – but it had not been enough.
Oh, he had hoped they would last – but he doubted there was someone who knew his daughter better than he did. He watched her when she didn't see it – he had watched her since she was born and Hermione worked in a special way. She liked to think. She liked to read. She liked to know.
"Rosie, Hugo, go over there, there are some chrysanthemums that you can pick for your mother," he called to his grandchildren.
It was cold – autumn had come with a vengeance, with fog and rain and coldness and today was one of those cold, dry days and he was glad he could take the children outside for a bit – Hermione had bit the tears back with difficulties and Judith always liked to cuddle their daughter and make her cry in those situations. And it was probably best not to have the little ones in there with them.
Besides, they had the first frost and the sloes were ready to get from the trees – and he never said no to a bit of sloe gin.
And he would hear all about it anyway. Judith always talked. Sooner or later.
She was fascinated by all those cuddlies up there. All kinds of animals she had never seen before. Something that was half horse, half bird. But her eyes had fallen on a dog. With three heads! It was small and squished between a snake and something that looked like – one of those animals in the fairy books that Mummy had given her once. When she had brought her to Madame Sylvie because Mummy had to work. Again. Mummy had worked so often. And she had smelled weird when she had come back home.
But – Mummy wasn't there any more and well, she did miss her. Sometimes. Sometimes, Mummy had drunk that strange smelling stuff, nicely golden coloured and then, Mummy had not been nice. Had called her a burden (and she didn't know what it meant) and that she had her fate cut out for her (and she didn't know what that meant either).
Besides, Mummy had always called her Fiffi. And she did not like the name. It sounded like a name for a dog. Or something. But then, Mummy had gone away and yes, she was a little sad because the man who wanted her to call him father was a little scary. But he had picked her up and Mummy hadn't done that in the longest time. And the food at sir's house was better as well – even though, she didn't understand all that, the stick, and the strange clothes and the smells and the things in jars. But the sir had said that he could not possibly call her Fiffi and had told her that she would be Ophelia from now on. And she liked that name.
Ophelia sounded important. Ophelia sounded beautiful.
But Mummy had always said that she looked like her father and that he wasn't handsome (and she thought handsome meant something like beautiful) and that she would never be pretty. And it was true. She did look like sir. And he had picked her up.
And she was allowed to take a bath. And had a warm bed.
Even though it was a little scary.
But – he looked down at her now – and he was making that scary face again.
"Sir?" she asked meekly and looked up at him.
"Have you picked one?" he asked and it sounded – quite nice. He had a nice voice when he spoke to her like that.
"That one, please," she pointed at the little three-headed dog. She could name each of the heads and had then three cuddly animals. Three! She never even had one. Only a blanket but the aunt who had picked her up from Madame Sylvie after Mummy had not picked her up, had taken it from her and had told her to be brave because Mummy was an angel now. She didn't understand. And she wasn't sure what an angel was.
"The hellhound. But you're not going to call if Fluffy, are you?"
She shook her head, then nodded. Then shook her head again. "One head is Fluffy."
She smiled. For the first time, she smiled. She grasped the hellhound tightly and shyly, smiled up at him.
It was – an odd feeling.