Chapter Sixty-Six: Bitter Truths

Draco is insightful. Hard truths are spoken.

(i) The characters and world of Harry Potter are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no money from this. I wish I did 😊

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Ron was too tired to do anything about Lavender that night. It had been a hell of a day.

He stood looking out over the river, watching the reflection of the lights on the water and sighed. He'd messed that up. But there never would have been an easy way to break up with Lavender. He'd gotten together with her too publicly, he'd taken her everywhere as his plus one, and he knew how much she adored going to the glamourous parties. And yet, he just hadn't had it in him to string her along. He'd enjoyed her company that evening, all the while wanting someone else. That more than anything had been unfair to a woman as vibrant and as decent as Lavender had the potential to be when the Darkness wasn't encroaching on her natural charm and personality.

Nonetheless, to break up with her after telling her about the Malfoys was stupid. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed again. Should he have waited?

But what was done, was done. He had to think about what he had to do next. It seemed pretty obvious that he'd have to ask the Malfoys for more damage control. Kingsley was too honest, too straightforward, and he didn't want the Ministry involved, not in something so personal, not yet. Harry would be a great sounding board, but again, he didn't have the skills that were needed. Damn it, but the Ponce's words still rang in his ears, "Use our name, come to us for help," and he couldn't deny that making sure Lavender's anger did not hurt the peace they'd worked towards was something he could, and should, work with the Slytherins for.

Sighing yet again, he walked slowly through the misty cold of London until he found a secluded spot to Apparent home.

The next morning, Ron forced himself to wake early and Floo the Malfoys. When a house-elf answered, Ron said he'd like to speak to Lady Malfoy.

The elf bowed. "Would Master Ronald Weasley-Malfoy like to join the family for breakfast?"

Ron felt his head spin at the name. But it was correct. He would of course use Malfoy-Weasley, but for a Malfoy elf, the Malfoy name would take precedence. "Thank you. I'll come through in a moment."

Ron pulled on his shoes and Flooed as directed. He straightened, glanced at a conveniently placed mirror to ensure he'd not got soot on his Auror trainee robes and followed the elf to what turned out to be the breakfast room.

Narcissa was dressed in a pale mauve wool dress that looked very Muggle. Ron starred; he didn't think he'd ever seen her in anything but pale blue.

"Ronald," said Narcissa, her face mirroring both surprise and delight. "Lucius said he'd spoken, but we didn't expect you to drop in so soon."

Ron blushed, but straightened his spine and stood up erect. "Lucius said I should come to you if I needed advice and support, especially if it was something that could potentially affect us all."

Narcissa nodded regally. "Of course. And you're very welcome. Please sit, and tell me all."

Ron took the seat offered, and as the elves served coffee, began to narrate how he'd broken up with Lavender the night before. He found it very odd to speak of such personal matters to someone he didn't know. But the cool Slytherin's reactions were so alien, so different to the way his mother would have reacted in the same situation, that Ron relaxed. Molly would have totally taken his side, turned Lavender into a slut and in the end, other than making him feel better not helped at all. The questions from the blonde however were insightful, and she listened attentively.

Once he was done, she nodded and gazed off into the distance. "Have you eaten?" she asked at last.

"No," admitted Ron. "I was too worried about what Lavender might write to bother with breakfast."

"Eat," Narcissa commanded, "and I shall think of the best way to approach all of this."

Ron let out a sigh and began to eat. He had always enjoyed his food, and now that he'd unburdened himself, he allowed himself the pleasure of the marvellous selection of breakfast that was both on the table and on the sideboard.

He'd just filled his plate with steak and eggs, steak for breakfast, when the Ferret entered.

Draco was taken aback to see the Weasel at the dinning table. But he checked himself, nodded politely and went to the sideboard to fill his plate with his own selection of salmon and poached eggs.

Once the two young men had made inroads into their breakfast, the Ferret leaned back and smirked. "What brings you here?"

Ron stifled his instinctive rude remark, and remembering the oath he'd given to Lucius, said placidly, "Your Father said I should come if anything significant was on the horizon that would cause problems with the peace we've achieved. I broke up with Lavender yesterday. Your Mother is thinking of how best to avoid Lav writing shit in the paper as a way of taking revenge. She's showing a lot of irrationality and vengeance, probably a result of the Darkness."

Ron sighed. He'd not spoken to his friends or his family about breaking up with Lavender. And yet, here he was, saying personal things to the Slytherin. What magic had they used to get him to come clean? Is this how Hermione and Harry had been lured in? They listened, and even if the Ferret was smirking, he wasn't being judgemental, not really. How could he, how could they, when they'd done so much worse as part of the Moldyshorts brigade?

Draco listened and his face darkened. He took a sip of his coffee to calm himself, but Ron could see the blond was worked up.

"The problem with you bloody Gryffs," said Draco testily, "is that you think everything is down to Light or Dark. When you do something you think is bad, you think it is because the Darkness made you. You don't accept bloody responsibility for your own damn actions. When we, the supposed Slytherin evil ones do something you think is bad, it is because we must be evil incarnate. We are held totally responsible, no thought given to what pressures we are under, what Darkness may have forced upon us."

Ron starred at Draco, shocked.

Draco snorted. "Lavender is hurt. She thought she was on to a good thing. If you've told her about you becoming a Malfoy?" at this the blond paused, and Ron nodded.

"Well then, she's a bit of gold-digger, isn't she? No wonder she'd peeved you're ditching her just as you're moving even higher in the world."

Ron snorted. But he listened. Everything Draco was saying hit home. He'd never realised he was so biased in the way he looked at Darkness and personal responsibility.

Narcissa watched the boys talk and listened as Draco forced Ronald to understand the prejudice so prevalent in Dumbledore's circle.

She nodded her head thoughtfully. "Don't get me wrong, Darkness is real, and Lavender was savaged by Fenrir Greyback. She's lucky to be alive, and his bite would have turned her normally avaricious and emotional personality Dark. But Draco is right too – it is not all Darkness. What the Darkness does is build on the foundations that are already present. It uses your weaknesses."

Ron nodded. "I know that, and yet…" he broke off, feeling the heat rise in his face. "It's instinctive. I want to blame everything on the Darkness so that neither of us are at fault."

Ron hated that it was the Ferret who had opened his eyes to this. To admit that he had been wrong, they had been wrong and that the Ferret had the right of it, hurt. But he was trying to be a better man.

The blond watched the emotions flicker across the red-head's face. There was no denying the truth that was taking hold of the youngest male Weasley.

Draco read the consternation on his antagonist's face and smirked. "You'll soon get used to admitting I'm right," he teased.

Ron remembered seeing Hermione smack the blond 'round the head. "Pity Hermione isn't here to smack you," he said.

Draco grinned.

Ron frowned. Was he starting to actually agree with Harry and Hermione about the Malfoys?

He didn't even sigh and was actually unsurprised to hear Narcissa giggle.

Severus was seated at the Head Table. Lunch had begun ten minutes ago. The day had passed quickly, and thanks to the article in the Prophet, routinely. But a normal day of administration and financial report writing had meant that he'd not seen Hermione all morning.

Hermione, Astoria and Luna slipped into the Great Hall just as Severus had begun to think that his wife was not going to come to the hall for lunch. Severus felt his heart lighten as he watched the three young women. Their friendship was a beacon of the new world they were building. They were from very different backgrounds and world-views, and yet they had found common ground in their shared values and understanding of their deeper truths. It showed how mature these women had been forced to become at such a young age. They were in truth just school-girls, and yet they carried the burden of women decades older.

His thoughts immediately moved to Molly, who despite bringing up seven children was only now starting to learn to think beyond the obvious and look deeper into what mattered.

He saw Hermione glance quickly at the Head Table, then stop as she noted the glamour he'd worn that morning.

Severus watched as she frowned, but said nothing to her two friends as they all parted company and made their way to their respective House Tables.

Hermione deliberately sat with some second-year boys who ignored her totally so that she could pull out a text book and eat as she read.

He watched, waiting for her to raise her head or indicate in any way what she thought of his disguised appearance. But she didn't glance towards the Head Table for the rest of the meal. Once she'd finished the chicken and mushroom pie and salad she was eating, she looked up briefly, saw him watching her, and grimaced.

Severus was taken aback at the lack of reaction by Hermione. Not that he expected her to show emotion in such a public space, but still, he'd have expected more than a frown and a grimace.

Wanting to speak to her, more urgently than he had previously, he wrote a note and requested a meeting at tea-time.

The third-year Ravenclaw who had the misfortunate to catch the Headmaster's eye, trembled a little, but came forward and took the note. He delivered it to Hermione under the watching eyes of a few curious Gryffindors. But as Hermione opened the note in full view of anyone who would be interested, all the craning heads could read was, "Curriculum meeting: 4 pm. Headmaster's Office."

Hermione turned up for tea promptly at 4 o'clock. Now that she was no longer in class, she could, of course, have joined Severus of her own volition, but somehow, he was afraid she was avoiding him. He'd not seen her alone since she'd left their bed first thing that morning, and although this wasn't odd on a normal school day, today was anything but.

He wondered if she'd be any different. Maybe she'd had time to think about the changes wrought by their magical casting. He had worried himself into a right state of mind when four o'clock eventually arrived.

"I'm so glad you suggested tea today," said Hermione, making herself comfortable in the armchair in the alcove that held the little round table and sofa. "Tansy, tea, please," called Hermione as she set down her book bag and relaxed. "Wasn't Cissy's interview marvellous? I can't believe she's going to write a gossip column."

Severus listened to Hermione's bright chatter and wondered at her lack of mention of his appearance. He glanced at himself in the foe glass that stood just beyond his desk, but he knew the glamour was still holding.

"Cissy's going to love dishing the dirt and twisting things to suit Malfoy sensibilities," continued Hermione. "It's only surprising it's taken her so long to do." Hermione smiled and began to undo her shoes.

Severus kept quiet as he joined her and sat on the sofa.

Hermione slipped out of her shoes, then standing up, moved over and settled easily against him on the sofa. "Mmm…" she said as he put an arm around her.

Severus couldn't hold back his curiosity. "Are you upset about the glamour?"

"What do you mean?" said Hermione, turning her head to look at him fully. The surprise in her tone was obvious.

"Well, you've not said anything, and I know Filius and I have altered my mien to hide the changes brought about by the magic we performed."

Hermione moved a little away and looked at Severus carefully. "I see no difference."

At Severus' blank look, Hermione shrugged. "I think the Dark Veela curse lifted for me so I could see the real you when we performed High Magic at our binding. Since then, I've continued to see you as everyone else first saw you with the breaking of Ginny's curse upon me. So, the glamour doesn't work on me. I'm still seeing you, the real you. I could tell you'd done something when I saw you at lunch, but it didn't register in more detail than a slight blurring at first glance. As soon as I focus on you, I just see you."

Severus sat there feeling discombobulated. He'd not expected this. "But Filius' charm was set to work for everyone. Even Minerva said she only saw the glamour. I was waiting for you to be annoyed." He frowned. "I thought you'd be annoyed but would understand. I didn't expect you to not see the glamour."

Hermione giggled and leaned in to kiss her utterly flummoxed and gorgeous husband. "True love will bring down all and any well-constructed plans."

A/N: Love it or hate it, please let me know what you think.