Rose’s Grandma Granger used to get what she called ‘Look Books’ in the post. Catalogs full of everything from toys to pots and pans. Most of them were overpriced and cheaply made. As a child Rose liked to turn the colorful, glossy pages, sometimes marking an item that caught her eye. She’d use a marker and carefully circle something she’d like for Christmas or a birthday gift.
After she went to Hogwarts, she saw her Muggle grandparents less, but there was still the stack of Look Books when she visited; sharing space on the coffee table with National Geographic and the Radio Times, and she could never resist a quick flip through as they waited to be called to the dinner table. But once when she was really young, she saw a quote in a picture frame with a space on the other side showing a photo of a little boy on a man’s shoulders: Anyone can be a Father, but it takes someone SPECIAL to be a Dad. It would be a few more years before she really understood what that meant and how it applied to the wizard who would be the only man she would ever call Dad, even though she didn’t have a drop of his blood in her veins.
Hermione Granger married Lucius Malfoy when Rose was four years old. She’d divorced Ron Weasley when her daughter was still too young to even remember the man whose DNA gave her the fiery red hair that curled like her mother’s and her blue eyes. It was an ugly affair. The Weasleys went from a family that had taken her in as one of their own before she was even a teenager, to one that she didn’t even get a Christmas card from, let alone an invitation to visit the Burrow. But what had started out as childhood sweethearts fulfilling what everyone said they’d seen coming turned into something that forced Hermione to flee the magical world and live with her parents. When Rose’s biological father was mentioned during her childhood, all her mother would say was, “He wasn’t a very nice man.” Rose, being as brilliant as her mother, knew not to press for more information.
Mother and daughter lived with the Grangers for a couple of years before Hermione, realizing she would be better able to support them with a job in the magical world versus Muggle. Smart only took you so far, and passing N.E.W.T.’s with flying colors couldn’t even get her a job asking people if they wanted chips with their meal. Working at the Ministry was out. Ron still worked there, as did Harry. She’d kept a casual friendship with Harry, but he was married to Ginny after all and she didn’t want to make him have to choose between his wife and her. She’d never told him the things Ron had done. As far as everyone believed, she was to blame for the dissolution of their marriage, and was a bad person for keeping Rose from her father. Not that Ron ever asked to see her; nor would Hermione allow it if he had.
Divorcee or not, Hermione was still the brightest witch of her age, and the Ministry for Magic wasn’t the only place to work in the magical world.
“Longbottom Industries?” she read aloud one morning as she poured over the hiring listings in the Prophet and Quibbler while Rose sat in her highchair eating dry cereal puffs.
The company specialized in potions and herbology and the advert was for individuals to fill positions in an administrative pool that various departments could pull from as needed. It was a little below her qualifications, but as she had no experience doing anything else, it couldn’t hurt to apply, she told the toddler. Ron had made it very clear he expected her to be a stay-at-home-witch like his mother, with his dinner ready when he came home every night. In the beginning Hermione had been okay with that. The romance of being a housewitch and all. Using magic, it was easy to keep a house and make meals. She had time to read books for enjoyment; something she hadn’t had a lot of time to do their last few years in school. About the time she started talking about getting a job, she fell pregnant and Ron put paid to those notions, saying she needed to stay home with the baby. At least for a year. And again, the blush of all things new having to do with being pregnant and having a baby made her not mind so much.
The next day was her mother’s off day from her parents’ dental clinic, so she left Rose with her and went in to apply for the job. When the whispers made their way from the hiring office to Neville’s that Hermione Granger was in the building, her old school chum appeared in the doorway with a happy smile on his face and a hug. Then he ushered her to his office and offered tea, asking how she’d been. An hour later, she left with a position in the admin pool. Neville wanted to put her in charge of it entirely, but Hermione insisted she needed to work her way up, not simply be placed over others already there based on her name and reputation.
What she learned on her first day at Longbottom Industries, was that while Neville’s name was on the letterhead, he was only one of three behind the company’s success in potions and herbology research. Draco Malfoy, being as gifted in potions as Neville was in herbology, headed the potions side of the company and his father, Lucius was the one who had put up the funds to start the business and served as the chief operating wizard. But neither one of them wanted the Malfoy name associated with it. They preferred to stay in the background and quietly attempt to redeem themselves. Hermione knew only about the Malfoys from what she’d read in the papers since leaving Hogwarts. Draco married Astoria Greengrass and they had a son who was the same age as her Rose and Harry’s Albus. The senior Malfoys had gotten divorced and Narcissa had moved in with her sister, Andromeda. Together, the two were raising Teddy Lupin and working to increase awareness of Lycanthropy and children orphaned during the war. Lucius had done a stint in Azkaban and was now living quietly in the magical part of London, while Draco and his family lived in the renovated Malfoy Manor.
Hermione settled into her new job, being called to take notes at meetings or floo calls, helping with a new filing system and after she’d been there a few weeks was summoned by Draco to help him decipher some runes in an ancient potions book he’d found. She discovered her childhood bully had matured with age and fatherhood; something she couldn’t say for her ex-husband. They worked companionably on the runes for more than a month before the whole book was translated. The former Gryffindor wasn’t looking forward to returning to the admin pool and taking meeting notes. When she got to work the following day, her supervisor told her she was to report to Mr. Malfoy’s office. Mr. Lucius Malfoy.
“Bloody hell,” she thought, “he’s probably figured out Neville hired me and I’ve been working with Draco and he’s going to sack me.”
The door to Lucius’ office was closed and she knocked lightly.
“Come,” said a slightly muffled voice.
“It was nice while it lasted,” Hermione muttered, before turning the knob and pushing the wooden door open.
The man seated at the desk was hidden behind a newspaper. A Muggle newspaper, Hermione noted with surprise and thought maybe she might get to keep her job after all.
“You wanted to see me, Mr. Malfoy?” She said.
The newspaper flapped and was folded in half, revealing the former Death Eater and Hermione got her second surprise of the morning. Third, if you counted being sent there to begin with. Gone were the long signature platinum locks the Malfoy patriarch had favored throughout her childhood and adolescence. Instead of getting lighter and greyer with age, it was getting darker, with lighter streaks. It was also cut short, in the styles favored by the actors that looked out at her from the pages of her mother’s Radio Times. It suited him, she decided quickly, and drew attention to his eyes. They were the same shade as Draco’s, although a bit more on the blue side, and were magnified a bit by the reading glasses perched on his nose. His suit was stylish and expensive, although without the matching cloak hanging on a nearby coat rack, it could pass as anything worn by a high end solicitor in downtown Muggle London. He looked at her over the tops of his glasses before removing them and smiling. Not the supercilious smirk that had been aimed at her in Flourish and Blotts prior to her second year at Hogwarts, but a warm, sincere smile that had her returning one of her own.
“Miss — I’m sorry, is it still Weasley, or are you back to Granger?” he asked.
“It was never Weasley. I hyphenated when I was married to Ronald and dropped it after the divorce. So yes, Granger is fine,” she replied.
“Very good. Please, sit down.”
Lucius indicated the nearby chair and she sat down on the edge, crossing her legs at the ankle.
She nodded and he filled a tea cup that was near her on his desk and then topped off his own.
Hermione shook her head. “No thank you, black is fine.”
The wizard nodded approvingly. After a sip of his own, he spoke.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve asked you here. I understand you were a great help to Draco the last few weeks. I feel your skills are being wasted in the admin pool.”
“One has to start somewhere, Mr. Malfoy,” she said with a small smile. “This is the first job I’ve had since, well, ever really. Ron never wanted me to work. My daughter and I have been living with my parents, but I’m even less qualified to work in the Muggle world than I am in the wizarding one.”
“What do you know about computers, Miss Granger? And please, call me Lucius.”
Six months later, Longbottom Industries had a PC in every office. It had taken Hermione a while to find a brand that could be made magic-compatible, but fortunately she discovered Seamus Finnegan had shifted his talents from pyrotechnics to electronics and was hired to head an IT department because electronic devices in a building full of witches and wizards required constant tweaking to keep them working correctly.
Once the computer project was completed, Lucius pulled her from the admin pool permanently, making her his, Draco’s and Neville’s assistant. She managed their calendars, travel plans and correspondence. That was when Hermione decided it was time to move her and Rose out of her parents. She found a small, ground floor flat within walking distance of work that had a small patio where she could have a container garden. Losing her parents as childcare for Rose wasn’t even a problem since Astoria had gotten her father-in-law to create a nursery program at the company. It wasn’t a completely altruistic plan; she wanted Scorpius to attend and make friends, not be sheltered like she and Draco had been until they went to Hogwarts.
One morning as she was dropping off Rose, Hermione ran into Astoria, who was doing the same with Scorpius. Since Astoria was a few years younger, Hermione didn’t know her well, and she invited her for a cup of tea before work. The two witches began meeting for tea in the mornings, sharing tales of mothering toddlers. A few weeks later, Hermione was frazzled, running late and dashed into the building with barely time to spare. Astoria was just leaving the nursery as the other witch arrived and noticed her harried disposition.
“Go get your tea,” she told her. “I’ll take Rosie in.”
“You’re a love,” replied Hermione, giving her daughter a kiss. “Mummy will see you at lunch. Have fun today.”
She rushed upstairs to the offices she shared with the three executives, almost running into Lucius. He grasped her arms to head off the collision.
“Hermione, you’re not going to get docked house points if you’re a few minutes late,” he gently chided.
“I’m sorry, it was a rough morning. I slept in, Rosie didn’t want to cooperate --” she broke off. Lucius Malfoy didn’t want to hear about her problems.
“Toddlers seldom do,” he allowed with a smile. “Go get some tea and take a breath.”
Hermione found Astoria waiting in the kitchen, a cup ready for her. She took a large sip, letting the warmth sooth her nerves.
“Not so much bad as a dream I had before I woke up late had me distracted,” Hermione admitted. “And normally that wouldn’t bother me, but --”
“Nightmare? Draco still has them,” Astoria confided.
Hermione shook her head.
“No, this wasn’t a bad dream. Just odd. I dreamed I --” she hesitated, and lowered her voice, not that there was anyone around them. “I dreamed I married Lucius!”
Astoria’s eyes widened and then she smiled, before laughing, making Hermione join in.
“Right? Ridiculous, isn’t it? I don’t know where that came from!”
She took one last drink from her cup.
“I need to get to work. Thanks for taking Rose this morning and for the tea.”
“I’ll walk with you. I have to talk to Draco,” Astoria said, linking arms with Hermione. Then she added, “But you know, Lucius wouldn’t be a bad catch.”
“Don’t you think he’s too old?”
“Pssht. Age is nothing. Draco is older than me.”
“Not that much.”
“Age doesn’t matter for witches and wizards,” Astoria waved her other hand. “He’s changed a lot since the war. He’s great with Scorpius. And he’s quite fit. You should see him in swimming shorts. What? He comes to the Manor to use the pool and we went on vacation together last year. If that’s what Draco is going to look like at his age, I’ll be a happy witch.”
Astoria’s arguments weren’t helping Hermione’s mental state. The fact that Lucius Malfoy was attractive and a different wizard is what contributed to her distraction when she woke up from the dream of her standing on a beach holding hands with him and reciting vows at sunset.
“It was just a dream, Tori,” Hermione assured her friend as they parted. “I’m sure the last thing he is interested in is starting over with a witch who has a child.”
But that didn’t stop her from watching Lucius with his grandson when she picked up Rose at lunch time. The wizard was sitting on the floor in the care center, jacket discarded and shirtsleeves rolled up, playing with the toddler. Not something she ever expected to see from the former follower of the Dark Lord and she remembered her own words when she and Harry had testified at both Draco and his father’s trials: “The Malfoys are deserving of an opportunity for redemption. Who are we to deny someone a second chance?” Maybe that held true for herself as well, Hermione thought. She’d been turning down men who’d asked her out for close to a year, telling herself she didn’t need to get involved in another relationship; that she and Rose were perfectly fine on their own.
Around the time of Rose’s fourth birthday, the two of them came down with the flu. Hermione refused to allow her mother to come and care for them, telling her she didn’t need to be taking it back to her dental patients and they would be fine. On the third day, Jean Granger left a large container of soup on her daughter’s doorstep, along with Rose’s favorite juice, two boxes of tissues and a new book for each of them. Hermione spoke to her mother through the door and promised to try and eat the soup. But before she could open it and retrieve the package once the woman had gone, Rose woke with a coughing fit and Hermione hurried to her room. Once that had subsided, her little nose wiped and fever sweat dampened pyjamas changed, she got the toddler settled in front of the telly with an animated movie and a spill-proof cup of juice. Then she returned to her front door to get what her mother had left. To her surprise, she found Lucius Malfoy on her stoop, holding the reusable tote bag from her mother’s favorite grocery store, hand raised in preparation to knock.
“Lucius!” Hermione gasped, clutching her sweater closed. Both to cover the tshirt she’d been wearing for two days and to keep out the January cold.
“I heard you were ill,” he said. “You haven’t been at work.”
“Flu,” she said, taking two steps back. “Both Rosie and I.”
As if on cue, the toddler began coughing.
Without waiting for an invitation, the wizard stepped inside, put the bag on the floor and removed his coat.
“Go run your shower, Hermione. As hot as it will go. She needs to breathe in the steam,” he ordered.
“Yes, I’ve been doing that,” she said.
“You poor love,” Lucius said to Rose, picking her up from the couch. She didn’t know him but went willingly into his arms, letting him pat her back as she continued to cough.
“Careful, if she coughs too hard she gags and --”
Before she could finish the sentence, the child vomited on his jumper. Cashmere, no doubt, Hermione thought with a wince.
“I’m so sorry, Lucius. Here, let me take her.”
“Nothing a little magic can’t handle,” he assured her, pulling his wand from his pocket and cleaning himself and the now crying Rose. “Now go start the shower.”
The wizard sat atop the closed toilet with the toddler on his lap, showing her the picture book her grandmother had sent, in the room filled with steam from the shower, with, Hermione suspected, a little bit of magical enhancement. She watched with astonishment as the hair at the nape of his neck curled from the dampness, and also the ease with which he interacted with her daughter.
When he deemed they were done, he dried her and his damp clothes and said, “Have you given her any Pepper-Up?”
“She’s too little. Besides, I don’t have any. I don’t like the way it makes me feel, so I don’t keep any in the house,” Hermione explained.
“Hermione, you’ve worked for us for almost a year and you don’t know we’ve marketed a paediatric version?”
Lucius reached into his pocket and removed a vial with a dropper top.
“But I suspected as much, so I brought some with me. She’s three now, yes? Three drops and a nice nap and you’ll be feeling right as rain, Princess.”
He pressed a kiss to Rose’s flushed forehead and the toddler laid her head on his shoulder. Hermione clenched her jaw to keep it from falling open. She administered three drops of the sweet smelling potion to her daughter, waiting for it to be spat back out, but she swallowed it like it was her favorite juice.
“We modified the flavour,” Lucius told her. “It adapts to whatever their favorite is. If the child likes cherry, they taste cherry; strawberry, then strawberry; and so on. It was Draco’s idea. Scorpius got sick when he was less than a year old and he decided there needed to be something that was safe to give young children.”
“Mummy,” Rose said, holding out her arms. “Rock me, Mummy.”
“She’s feeling sleepy already,” he said, handing her off to Hermione. “Go put her to bed. I’ll heat up the soup that looked to be in that bag.”
It didn’t take long for Rose to fall asleep on her mother’s lap as they sat in the old wooden rocking chair that had been Hermione’s mother and grandmother before. But the witch kept rocking, thinking about the wizard who had shown up at her door and who was now, she could hear, opening and closing cupboards in her kitchen. They were closer than typical employers/employees were but she was shocked that he would go to these lengths to make sure she was okay. And the care with which he handled Rose! Ron never helped when their daughter had been sick. He barely changed a nappy. Yet the wizard whom she had always seen meticulously dressed didn’t bat an eye at being vomited on. The subject of her thoughts appeared in the doorway.
“I thought maybe you fell asleep with her,” he said with a smile, and Hermione noticed for the first time, how his smile filled his whole face, and even the lines around his eyes accentuated his expression.
“Almost,” she admitted, standing up with the now sleeping Rose in her arms, and putting her in her toddler bed.
Lucius was taking in the small bedroom that he assumed was the child’s, but clearly was shared by mother and daughter, as there was also a single bed in the room as well. Hermione stood and turned to face him.
“The soup is hot. It smells delicious. Who left it for you?”
“My mother. I wouldn’t let her come in and take care of us for fear of getting sick herself and taking it to their patients. They’re dentists,” she added. “They care for --”
“Teeth, yes, I’m aware,” his eyes twinkled. “Why don’t you freshen up and join me?”
He turned and left the room as if it was his house and she the visitor.
Hermione looked at her reflection in the mirror over the dresser and cringed.
“Bloody hell,” she whispered.
The t-shirt beneath her oversized sweater that was doing double duty as a robe was stained with Rose’s juice, tea she’d made for herself the day before and oh yes, there was some snot from her daughter’s nose. At least her leggings were clean. She’d pulled them on that morning when she changed knickers. Her hair had been pulled back in a ponytail but most of her curls had escaped and were sticking out at random. Her face was blotchy and nose red and dry from her own illness.
Hermione needed a shower, but that would have to wait. Pulling off the sweater, she yanked the t-shirt off over her head, making her hair worse. At least she was wearing a bra, but she didn’t remember when she’d put it on. A clean t-shirt and she ducked into the bathroom to wash her face and attempt to re-contain her hair. Some lotion on her face and balm on her chapped lips and she put her sweater back on.
“Good enough,” she muttered.
Her own congestion had lessened enough that she could smell her mother’s soup as she entered the tiny room that was her kitchen. Thank goodness she’d used a bit of magic to tidy up earlier, Hermione thought. At the table that was barely big enough for her and Rose, let alone two adults, a place was set with a steaming bowl of soup, a plate with thick slices of bread -- had her mother sent that too? -- and a mug that she assumed contained tea; also steaming. Hermione’s stomach growled, reminding her how long it had been since she ate actual food. Rose hadn’t even wanted her favorite soup from a tin, with noodles shaped like princesses, so she’d eaten what the toddler had: plain biscuits, a bit of toast, some dry O shaped cereal.
“Thank you,” Hermione said, sitting down in her chair and inhaling over the soup. The steam instantly made her nose run, and she reached for a tissue in her pocket, turning her head away to wipe it.
“You’re welcome, but heating soup and making tea isn’t that difficult. Now if you want that bread toasted…” he deadpanned and then winked at her. Hermione laughed. He joined in and she realized she had never heard his laugh before. It was a smooth sound that matched his voice.
“Now eat, while it’s still hot.”
Lucius picked up a mug from the counter and leaned against it, legs crossed at the ankles. As she ate, Hermione observed his attire. He wore a jumper, as she’d noted earlier, but she expected to see a starched collar above the neckline and there was none. On his feet were casual leather shoes -- and were those jeans?! She inhaled sharply before she’d completely swallowed her mouthful of soup and set off a coughing jag. Lucius patted her back as he had Rose’s as she coughed into the handkerchief he pressed into her hand. Her eyes were watering by the time she recovered her breath.
“Have you seen a healer, Hermione? That sounded worse than Rose,” he said. “Drink your tea, it has honey and lemon.”
She took a long drink of the tea, which did feel good on her throat and then shook her head.
“I’m not that sick anymore. I choked on my soup,” she explained, feeling her face get warm. “I was surprised to see you in jeans.”
There was that smile again, and it was starting to make her insides feel melty. Or was that the tea?
“Astoria has been a shocking good influence on both Draco and myself. Loosened us up, as it were,” he told her.
“But she’s a Pureblood too.”
“Yes, but younger than you and Draco, and her family went to the States during the war, so they’re a little more, shall we say, progressive,” Lucius said, smiling again.
Yes, it was either the tea or his smile, Hermione thought, taking another drink and letting both warm her insides. She felt warm and relaxed. She looked at her mug and then back at the wizard standing beside her.
“You put something in my tea, didn’t you?”
“A small bit of a mild sleeping draught. I knew if I suggested you nap while Rose is asleep you’d tell me you would but would not.”
He reached out and took her arm, helping her to her feet.
“When was the last time you really slept, Hermione? Not since you both fell ill I’m sure. Go have a nap and you’ll feel so much better. I promise.”
“What about Rose? What if she wakes up?” Hermione argued, trying to fight the effects of the potion. Her limbs felt heavy and she allowed him to steer her in the direction of the bedroom.
“I’ll stay here, of course,” he assured her. “If she wakes and is unhappy I shall rouse you immediately. Do you trust me, Hermione?”
She did, she thought. Merlin help her, but she did.
“Then rest. Your daughter is safe with me.”
Hermione could have sworn she felt his lips brush her temple, before he released her arm and she walked into the bedroom, climbed onto her bed and was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
When Hermione awoke, she was covered in the knitted blanket her grandmother had made, her lingering headache was gone and she felt better than she had in more than a week. The sky outside the window was almost dark, which told her it was late afternoon or more and she wondered how long she had slept. Rose’s bed was empty and she could hear the telly on. Pushing back the cover, she swung her feet to the floor and sat up, stretching her arms over her head. Yes, she felt pretty good. A peek into the main room showed her Lucius and Rose on the couch. Disney’s Little Mermaid was playing on the telly. She smiled. Rose’s favorite. Since they were happily occupied the witch popped into the bathroom before joining them.
“Hey, Rosie Posie, are you being good for Mr. Malfoy?” Hermione greeted her daughter.
“Mummy! We’re watching Ariel. Mr. Luci knows Ariel,” Rose said, jumping down from the couch and throwing herself at her mother.
Hermione picked her up and kissed her forehead. It was cool, and she could hear just a trace of congestion when she spoke. She owed Lucius a thank you. Rose wriggled to be put back down and return to her movie. Lucius stood from the couch and gave her an appraising glance.
“You look rested,” he said.
“I feel better. Thank you, Lucius, for everything. The potion for Rose. Slipping one in my tea.”
She gave him a look of mock annoyance before smiling.
“You’re most welcome. You’re not one to miss work. When I heard you and Rose were sick, I was concerned.”
He returned her smile and Hermione felt that warmth again. But this time, it wasn’t the tea or a potion.