The Burrow, present day. Nobody is happy. Some people shout; some people run away.
Index || Part I || Part II || Part III || Part IV || Part V || Part VI || Part VII || Part VIII
Notes: Shit’s about to start getting real, guys. And I’m gonna dedicate this chapter to Robert Galbraith, because ♥ ♥
‘Give me back my daughter.’
Ron stares at the thirty-six-year-old woman in navy blue business robes standing ten feet away from him on the dirt track leading up to his parents’ house.
Behind him, there is a bang. He turns around: the front door has been thrown open, and there are Harry and Ginny, Ginny clutching onto her husband’s arm in a failed attempt to keep him inside.
Ginny gasps. Harry’s slack expression of shock doesn’t change.
Ron turns back around.
‘Give me back my daughter,’ repeats Hermione, fists balled at her sides.
‘Our daughter,’ says Ron.
‘He didn’t kidnap me, Mum.’ Ron spins around again to see Daphne brush past Harry and saunter down onto the parched grass, her arms folded.
Harry stares at Daphne with bulging eyes.
‘Daphne?’ shrieks Hermione.
‘How did you get here?’
‘Drove.’ Daphne’s expression remains neutral, but she doesn’t unfold her arms.
Hermione twists around and sees the turquoise car; the heel of her shoe makes a rasping noise against the dry earth. ‘I should have known.’ She turns back to face her daughter. ‘Right, get Craig and then –’
‘Daphne, I’m warning you –’
‘If you think I’m going anywhere with you –!’
‘I’m staying right here and there’s nothing you can do about it, so –’
‘Don’t you dare, Daphne!’
Abruptly, Ron feels very weary.
‘Daphne,’ he says, touching her shoulder, ‘maybe you should –’
‘Don’t touch her!’ Hermione spits, eyes wild. ‘Don’t you – get your hands off her!’
Ron’s hand falls from Daphne. The house and its surroundings are hushed.
He looks into Hermione’s eyes properly. ‘Don’t touch her?’
Hermione’s eyes meet his for a moment; then, she snaps them from his to Daphne. ‘Come here,’ she commands. ‘We have to go.’
‘No!’ cries Daphne. ‘You can’t –’
‘We are leaving, now –’
‘Can’t you hear me? No!’ shrieks Daphne. ‘What are you going to do, Mum, drag me?’
Hermione extends a hand. ‘Come with me, Daphne,’ she says calmly.
Re-folding her arms, Daphne shoots Hermione’s outstretched hand a disparaging look. ‘No. How many times do I have to say it?’
Hermione’s arm falls.
‘This is – these people are my family. My family, Mum. Were you ever going to deign to let me in on that?’
For a second, Hermione stares at her daughter; then, she rounds on Ron. ‘I bet you think you’ve been so clever, I bet you’re proud of this – this – what did you do, come looking for her and tell her to –’
‘How the fuck was I supposed to go looking for her if I didn’t know she existed?’
Hermione’s mouth opens and closes.
‘Is anyone going to explain what the fuck is going on?’ says a voice from behind them.
‘Hello, Harry,’ says Hermione tersely, without breaking her eye contact with Ron.
There is another silence, and then, very quietly: ‘Hermione?’
‘Harry –’ Hermione’s eyes flick to the house behind Ron and her speech falters.
Ron turns around: spilling onto the front steps, most of them with their mouths agape, are all of his siblings, their spouses and Teddy Lupin, with Harry and Ginny at the front.
Harry blinks owlishly; Ginny’s mouth works.
Ron turns back to Hermione.
‘I …’ she falters again. Her gaze roves over the house.
Ron sticks his hands in his pockets. ‘How did you know she was here?’
Hermione’s head jerks slightly. She drags her eyes away from The Burrow and the assorted Weasleys. ‘A friend of mine saw her. A diplomat. He said she was standing in the Atrium of the British Ministry, asking about a redheaded man.’
‘Right,’ snaps Hermione, and with another shake of her head, she marches forwards and grabs her daughter’s arm.
‘Ow!’ cries Daphne as she’s dragged back towards the turquoise car. ‘Get off, Mum, I’m not going anywhere –’
‘Yes you are, Daphne, because I am, no matter what you may wish, still your mother –’
‘And I’m her father,’ says Ron, and then he finds himself laughing hollowly. ‘Or am I? Is that the problem?’
‘Hi, Mrs Granger.’
Hermione spins around to face the bemused-looking teenage boy who’s just emerged from the dirt track leading to the village. ‘Craig,’ she says with something slightly hysterical in her tone, ‘Craig, be a dear and next time my daughter tries to convince you to drive her to London –’
‘Leave him out of this!’
Hermione ignores Daphne and raises her wand: she shrinks Craig’s car to the size of a toy, Summons it, catches it, opens up the huge black handbag hanging off her shoulder and drops it inside. ‘You’ll get it back, don’t worry,’ she says to a gobsmacked Craig as she rummages around in her bag.
‘So I’m not her dad?’ Ron finds himself asking loudly. ‘I mean, Hermione, I may not be the cleverest of men, but I can do simple maths – count up to nine, you know?’
Hermione pulls a scrap of parchment from her handbag, crumples it into a ball and snaps the bag shut.
‘So if it’s not me, then who the hell else were you sleeping with?’ he shouts.
She points her wand at the crumpled ball of parchment with a shaking hand, and then spins around to face him with a wild look in her eyes. ‘You are her bloody father, Ron Weasley. Are you happy now?’
He doesn’t say anything, and for another moment, they stare into each other’s faces.
‘Craig, catch!’ she shouts abruptly, tossing him the crumpled ball of parchment.
‘No!’ shrieks Daphne, but too late: on a reflex, the boy catches the ball, and with a flash of blue, he vanishes.
Daphne rounds on her mother. ‘I can’t believe you just did that, you absolute – bitch, you can’t just Portkey people whenever you feel like i—’
Hermione grabs her daughter’s arm and they vanish.
Ron walks forwards into the space where they stood. He sits down on the brown grass.
He hopes the others will go back inside.
After some time has passed, he gets up and turns back around to face the house. It is deserted: his wish has been granted.
Or so he thinks, until he enters the hall and finds Harry waiting for him.
Harry puts his hands in the pockets of his black robes and focuses on the wall behind Ron’s head. ‘How long have you known?’
‘Three days,’ says Ron. He shuts the front door behind him.
‘Yes,’ says Ron. ‘I didn’t know about – anything, until then.’
There is silence; still, Harry focuses on the wall.
‘So you have a daughter.’
Ron closes his eyes and nods.
‘I never even realised that you two … you know. Got … that far.’
‘Only once. About two weeks before she left.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
Ron opens his eyes and rubs his brow with his hand. ‘Tell you what?’ he asks tiredly.
‘Three days ago. Why did you tell Ginny and not bother telling me?’
‘Because – because Ginny was just there. She asked. I didn’t … I didn’t go looking for her; she was there and she was asking me all these questions, and … I didn’t tell her –’ he begins awkwardly. ‘I only told her that I thought I’d found Hermione. I lied about – the child. Told Ginny she was younger than she actually is.’
He tries meeting Harry’s eyes, but the other man looks away. Ron closes his again.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ This time, Harry’s voice is quiet.
Ron opens his eyes and takes a step forward. ‘Harry – mate –’
‘Don’t.’ Harry shakes his head like a dog. ‘Just – don’t.’
Before Ron can stop him, Harry’s passed him, thrown the front door open and started off down the hill; the second he’s out of the boundaries of the wards that protect the house, he Disapparates.
Behind Ron, the kitchen door bursts open; he turns to see Ginny. ‘Where’s Harry?’
Ron rubs at his face. ‘Disapparated.’
Ginny swears under her breath. ‘Do you know where to?’
She runs a hand through her hair. ‘Fuck. I knew he’d –’ She stops, as if only just noticing that it is Ron that she’s speaking to. ‘So. Daphne’s yours, then?’
He can feel something bitter twisting his lips. ‘She sounded pretty positive, yeah.’
‘You didn’t think it worthwhile to let us know what was really going on?’
‘It’s a lot to take in. I’m her father.’
‘Yeah, well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but that was probably one of the worst displays of parenting ever seen.’ She makes towards the open front door.
‘I’d leave him alone, Ginny –’
‘Don’t try and tell me how to deal with my own husband, thanks.’ She darts down the hill and Disapparates.
Ron shuts his eyes and leans his head against the wall. He has a pounding headache.
He can’t do this. He doesn’t know what it is, exactly, that he can’t do, but he knows that he can’t fucking do it.
‘I can’t fucking do this,’ he says aloud.
‘Ron?’ He looks up: it’s Teddy, popping his head around the kitchen door. ‘The kitchen’s empty now, if you want to come and sit down.’
Gratefully, Ron follows him through into the kitchen and sits down at the table. Bowls and spoons are set for pudding, and both the apple pie and a massive chocolate cherry trifle are sitting, untouched, in the middle, but the room is empty: looking through the open window out on to the back garden, Ron sees that Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Percy, Audrey, George and Angelina are huddled together with their heads bent, fervently nodding, while further out in the garden, the kids are playing.
‘They didn’t want you to overhear them,’ says Teddy, following his gaze.
‘What are they talking about?’ asks Ron dully as Teddy sits down opposite him.
‘Planning. Plotting.’ Teddy starts spooning trifle into a bowl. ‘Maybe even scheming.’
Ron’s head sinks into his hands.
‘I heard yours and Harry’s argument.’
‘Good for you.’
‘Harry can be such a drama queen sometimes,’ says Teddy.
Ron looks up: Teddy’s digging into his helping of trifle. Once, he would have been stubbornly pleased for the support, even coming from an eighteen-year-old, but now is not once. He rubs his eyes. ‘I would have been pissed off too, if I were him,’ he admits.
‘Oh fuck off,’ says Teddy conversationally, ‘he’s being a child. You’ve got more reason to be pissed off.’
Ron’s head sinks back into his hands.
‘So what are you going to do?’
‘Do?’ Ron asks the table. ‘What is there to do?’
‘Dunno,’ says Teddy. ‘She was your girlfriend, right? And now she’s had your kid? You’ve got to do something.’
‘There’s nothing to do but talk to her,’ says Ron tiredly. ‘We haven’t seen each other since we were your age.’
After pulling an expression that demonstrates quite clearly how unfathomable he finds the concept of Ron as an eighteen-year-old, Teddy shrugs. ‘Well, if you don’t do something fast, they will.’ He gestures with his shoulder out the window.
Ron follows the gesture, but his eyes slide onto the children. One of Bill and Fleur’s daughters, Dominique, is holding one end of a Muggle skipping rope, and Percy’s eldest, Molly, is holding the other end, while reading a book. Harry and Ginny’s eight-year-old, Lily, is jumping in the middle as her cousins swing the rope. Ron can’t hear the words of the adults, as they sound only like a vague buzzing – Muffliato must have been cast – but the singing of the children, high and clear, carries over: ‘Apple crumble, apple tart ...’
‘What d’you think they’re gonna do?’ Ron asks Teddy, less out of interest and more just for something to say, because his mind is drifting far away now, away from the children he’s watching and has always been envious of to the child he’s had all along ...
‘Who knows? I suppose Bill will want to go in wands blazing –’
‘Tell me the name of your sweetheart!’
‘Charlie might be a voice of reason, Percy will be all for getting the Ministry involved –’
‘A! B! C! D! E! F! G! H! ...’
‘I’ve got to go after her,’ says Ron abruptly. He stands up. ‘I’ve got to go.’
Teddy grins. ‘Good luck.’
No fucking around with the Muggle bus system this time: Ron Apparates straight to the back of their cottage. He runs around the front, leaps over the wooden gate, ducks under the low-hanging crabapple tree and charges up to the front door. He raises a fist and bangs on it. ‘Hermione,’ he says loudly. No answer. He bangs again. ‘HERMIONE!’
Just as he reaches for his wand the front door opens.
Hermione stares at him. Her face is very pale. She’s changed into Muggle clothes: jeans and a white blouse. She looks so strange with her chin-length bob. ‘What do you want, Ron?’ she asks him stonily.
‘What do I –?’ he splutters.
With a cold, shuttered expression and a tiny shake of her head, she moves to shut the door, but Ron slams his fist against it and holds it open. Her eyes flash with rage. ‘Don’t make me –’
‘I have no fucking doubt you could destroy me with a single flick of your wand and probably Obliviate my entire family along with it, but I don’t bloody well care,’ he says. ‘Talk to me.’
‘I don’t want to talk to you,’ she says. ‘Not right now.’
‘Well I’m sorry the timing isn’t convenient for you, Hermione, but I don’t really give a shit.’ Ron hasn’t sworn this much (out loud) in a long time and fuck does it feel good. ‘And anyway, that’s bollocks, isn’t it? You could’ve charmed this place so that I’d never find it again. But you haven’t.’
‘I have not hidden my house from you, Ron,’ she hisses, ‘because I have been too busy having a screaming match with my seventeen-year-old. Believe me, my lack of having searched for a Secret Keeper in the last half-hour is not an invitation.’
‘Well there’s nothing to be done for the moment then, is there?’ He swallows. ‘You were a decent human being once: talk to me.’
She opens her mouth to say something and then shuts it again. She purses her lips and looks to the side. Then her shoulders sag ever so slightly and she nods. She takes a step back and Ron enters her house.
Ron walks past her into her small, square hall. There’s nothing in the room but a small wooden table with a Muggle land-phone on it. The walls are painted light blue. There are two faded wooden doors, one leading straight ahead of him and one to the left, and a rickety staircase leading upstairs. He takes a few steps forwards.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Hermione barks.
He rounds on her. ‘Am I supposed to just stand by the door?’
‘Look, just –’ She looks around herself almost frantically, as if she can’t believe what’s happening. Ron knows the feeling. ‘In here,’ she says, pushing open the door to their left. ‘So she won’t hear us.’
Ron follows her into what appears to be a living room. The walls are painted grey, this time, and peeling. There is a fireplace, two shabby sofas, a wooden table, pushed up against a wall, and bookcases, crammed with books. Threadbare curtains hang on either side of a large window that overlooks the front garden.
Hermione shuts the door and locks it with a wave of her wand: the lock clicks. Then she waves her wand in another gesture he knows: an Imperturbable.
She folds her arms and looks at him.
‘So,’ he says, sticking his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t really know what to say, but he does know one thing: he’s here for a story, and it had better be good. ‘Shall we start at the beginning? How did you even get pregnant?’
‘We had sex,’ she says coolly. ‘I hadn’t known it was going to happen, and I’d read about the contraceptive charm but I hadn’t practiced it – I performed it wrong.’
This is a reasonable explanation. He rubs his forehead. Where does he start? What does he say? All he wants to say is Why? He takes a deep breath. He decides to use his professional skills: be calm, be authoritative. ‘Where did you go?’ he asks. ‘Have you always lived here?’
‘Eastern Europe.’ Her face betrays nothing but tiredness. ‘I went to eastern Europe.’ She walks past him, over to the window overlooking her front garden. He turns around, but she has her back to him. ‘I wandered around. It was a strange few months. I ended up giving birth in Romania.’
He laughs humourlessly. ‘Romania?’
She looks back at him over her shoulder. ‘Yes, what?’
‘I looked for you there once. About three years ago. Ended up thinking it was a wild goose-chase at the time.’
She looks slightly taken aback. ‘Well, yes, we were long gone by then.’
‘So what then? After Daphne was born?’
She turns back to the window. ‘More wandering ...’ Her voice is distant. ‘A lot of Russia ... When Daphne was four, we stopped in Bordeaux. We lived there for six years.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I worked in a café for a few months. When my French was good enough, I got a job at a Muggle town hall. It was a bureaucratic job. Muggle local government.’
‘When we’d been living in France about a year, I think, a wizard appeared at the office where I was working. He recognised me for what I was quickly. I’d faked Muggle identity papers with magic but of course he noticed, being a wizard. It wasn’t very complicated magic.
‘He took me to lunch, and asked what I was doing working for Muggles. I suppose he suspected I was a war refugee, being British. He was the first magical person I’d spoken to in years, so I talked to him: I explained that after the war in England, I’d wanted to get away, and that I’d more-or-less given up magic. He was from the French Ministry – he offered me a job, working in his department. I think he felt sorry for me. I refused it. And then a few months later, he sent me an owl offering me an administrative job at the International Confederation, which is primarily located in –’
‘Versailles,’ said Ron. ‘I know.’
‘I took it,’ she continues, unruffled. ‘I’ve worked there ever since. When Daphne was almost ten, we moved to Ambleside. She spent a year and a half at the village primary school, and I worked at home, and then she went to Beauxbatons. We still have somewhere in Bordeaux – a flat. I stay there half the time.’ She turns around to face him. ‘There. That’s it.’ For the first time, there is some bite to her voice. ‘That’s where I’ve been.’
‘How did you get away with it?’ he demands. ‘How didn’t you get recognised by someone there?’
‘When I first started working there, I Transfigured my appearance slightly. I used a different name. But after a while, I stopped ... bothering.’ She shrugs. ‘Nobody really cared. Nobody who works at the Confederation full-time is British, and I’m not a politician, I never come into contact with British diplomats. I help draft policy, mainly. And I always stay out of areas of British interest.’ At his slightly incredulous expression, her voice takes on a haughty tone. ‘The war was quite a while ago now. My name was never famous – not in Europe, anyway. And working there, I have a certain level of protection. Some people know who I am and keep my name from being bandied about, but like I said, it’s not really necessary – people outside Britain don’t really know who I am.’
He has forgotten what it’s like trying to argue with someone who’s always right. He swallows. ‘Why did you leave?’
‘Can’t you understand?’ she snaps. ‘I was young. I was unexpectedly pregnant. I had just been through a very traumatic few years. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I –’
‘“Needed to get away from it all”? “Clear your head” a bit?’
He is met with a blank look. ‘Something like that, yes.’
She doesn’t remember. His heart breaks.
Index || Part I || Part II || Part III || Part IV || Part V || Part VI || Part VII || Part VIII