The Christmas holidays came as a much needed break for all students, but Hermione felt she had been back at Hogwarts for mere days instead of months and she couldn’t summon one ounce of Christmas cheer. She wasn’t going home. She was going to Malfoy manor, a place she imagined to be unwelcoming with mistreated house elves and a cold draft that no amount of heat could cure. The only thing that gave her some comfort was that her parents would be arriving the day after her, and Harry and Ron promised they would floo over Christmas day.

Hermione was due to meet the Malfoy’s at the Headmaster’s office in twenty minutes; however, she was still staring sullenly at an empty suitcase. She didn’t tend to wear skin tight clothing; she much preferred a pair of jeans or loose fitting slacks and t- shirts rather than a mini skirt, shorts or strappy singlets. The fact that this was true depressed Hermione deeply as she had noticed her waist line growing and her clothes tightening by her fourth month of pregnancy. Her stomach was never flat perfection, but now she had a definite bulge that proved to be difficult to hide. In the end she packed her stretchiest jeans, that seemed to hug her backside and thighs a little more than they used to, and a couple of skirts and singlets that had some give. Even some of her t-shirts became indecent as her breasts swelled. In the end she packed them all anyway, she was left with little choice.

Making her way to Dumbledore’s office, Hermione took a moment to say goodbye to Hogwarts, it always made her sad to leave. The Malfoy’s were already waiting by the time she got there. She pasted on a somewhat amiable smile and readied herself to floo to Malfoy Manor. Hermione couldn’t suppress the shiver that passed through her from head to toe at the thought of what awaited her on the other side.

She risked a look a Draco, who had been silent since she entered, but was unable to decipher his thoughts from his blank expression.

Narcissa Malfoy approached her, Hermione forced herself to ignore the almost overwhelming desire to take a step back.

“Hello Miss Granger, are you feeling well?” Mrs Malfoy asked with surprisingly soft eyes and kind smile.

Hermione wasn’t considered the brightest witch of her generation without good reason. A few somewhat pleasant words from a known death eater’s wife wasn’t going to shake her suspicions.

She replied, “Yes,” then realising she sounded rather crass she added, “Thank you.”

“Draco, take Miss Granger’s luggage for her.”

Begrudgingly, Draco shuffled over to fulfil his mother’s request.

“That’s not necessary, I’m pregnant not incompetent.”

Hermione was shocked at her own words, despite the fact that she had an all encompassing hatred for the family in front of her, she never outwardly expressed this. But she refused to apologise just the same.

After a few moments of tense silence Mr Malfoy spoke, “Well, I can already tell we are going to have a delightful Christmas together. Shall we take our leave?”

Her room was extravagant for lack of a better word. Hermione felt that this was a room no one could possibly comfortably live in for fear of tainting its beauty. It was not traditionally decorated; the sharp angular surfaces of every piece of furniture inhabiting the room reflected an almost ethereal sheen from the chandelier that adorned the high rise ceiling. Her bed sheets were a rich mahogany red that stood stark against the silvery shine of the walls and furniture.

Malfoy interrupted her quiet contemplation of the room she would be spending a substantial part of her Christmas holidays in, “This is my wing. I’m just next door...” Hermione turned to look at him as he spoke, noticing how Draco was struggling to finish his sentence. He finally concluded with, “So keep the noise down.”

Hermione retorted, “Well, I would be lying if I said I was sorry if my morning sickness wakes you. Now, if you don’t mind I would like to shower before dinner.”

Malfoy didn’t react to her scathing response, instead he welcomed it as a familiar and normal aspect to his currently abnormal life.

“Right, bathroom is through that door,” he gestured to a door adjacent to the bed, “It adjoins to my room so you’ll have to listen out to see if I’m in there.”

“Absolutely not, you must have another available bathroom in this overly exuberant mansion.”

It appeared that Malfoy was no longer in the mood for her sharp tongue; he walked quickly towards her with a frown marring his features. He soon had her backed against the wall, Hermione could feel his hot breath on her face.

“Listen to me Granger, this is my house, in which, you are a guest. You don’t like this arrangement, and neither do I. But I can guarantee that your stay here could be almost pleasant if you simply do what I say.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed dangerously, it was then she realised that any minute progress that had been achieved in their already fragile relationship had been undone.

“And you would think, Malfoy, that as a guest, I would be treated better.”

Malfoy raised his voice substantially, he had moved so close that his nose was almost touching hers, “Oh you think this is bad? This is five star treatment compared to what a person of your inferior blood status rightfully deserves.”

Hermione gasped, clutching her stomach in a protective gesture. She shrunk back against the wall and turned her face away from him. He stood there, breathing heavily for what seemed like forever before abruptly turning around and exiting her room.

Before he took his last step from the room Hermione mumbled something softly.

Draco contemplated ignoring what she said, but stopped anyway and stood facing away from her.

“What was that?” he asked.

When Hermione didn’t answer, he turned slightly and what he saw had his heart tightening painfully in his chest.

She had her back to the wall, her hands cupping her swollen abdomen and her face turned away. Despite this, he didn’t miss her glistening eyes or the tear tracks that marked her cheeks.

“I said... Is that what you think of our child. Inferior.” Hermione’s voice shook with the tears she desperately tried to conceal.

Draco didn’t know how to respond to the crying figure in front of him. He had never broken her like this before when worse things were said. Should he tell her the truth? Or lie through his teeth.

“No.” He said simply.

The truth it was.

A traditional dinner involved hearty food and pleasant conversation.

The Malfoy family departed from this particular convention. Sitting there in tense silence was what passed for a meal, house elves presented each person a dish of exquisitely cooked food and then they would pick up their cutlery, the metal mashing together was the only sound that resounded through the silence, and then they ate with their eyes glued to their plate.

Hermione stared down at her food, suddenly not hungry. This wasn’t right, this wasn’t her family. A wave of homesickness overtook her.

“You need to eat,” Draco said from beside her, his voice startling her slightly.

Hermione had to admit, the elaborately plated lamb cutlets in red wine sauce with polenta and broad beans had a most appealing aroma.

At the conclusion of dinner Mrs Malfoy cleared he throat, “Miss Granger, I wonder if I might have a word with you before you go to bed.”

Hermione nodded, dreading what Narcissa Malfoy could have to say to her in private.

She noticed that Lucias and Draco both gave the woman a curious and furtive glance, indicating that they were not privy to what she had to share with Hermione.

 Thanks to her and Malfoy’s verbal sparring session earlier, she had yet to have a shower.  

Hermione tentatively knocked on the bathroom door, more to preserve whatever of her innocence remained than out of politeness to Malfoy. With no response, she walked in began to set up her toiletries and clothes. Just as she was about to get undressed, Malfoy walked in from his entrance.

“Malfoy! Don’t you have the decency to knock before you enter?”

He didn’t respond, the emotion on his face was difficult for Hermione to gauge.

“Come. And bring your stuff.”

Without another word, he left and led her down the hallway towards a room that had steam escaping from underneath the door.

Draco opened the door, Hermione struggled to hold in the gasp that threatened to escape her open mouth.

The bathroom in front of her consisted of a bath tub at least ten metres long filled to the brim with steaming water and vanilla scented bath bubbles. The shower adjacent was large enough for at least six people. The tiling was a deep purple, giving the room a dark and relaxing atmosphere.

 She turned to face Draco who hadn’t spoken since she walked in, “This... this is amazing.”

“No one else uses this one. So you don’t have to worry about anyone coming in.”

The gesture alone was far more generous than the words he spoke or the tone of his voice.

Draco needed to leave as soon as possible, he feared that Hermione would bring up his parting words from earlier and attempt to make him explain himself. Which, he knew he couldn’t do for himself much less her.

“I’ll leave you to it. Night.”

As he left, he heard her murmur, “Thank you.”

He kept his pace, not turning to acknowledge her gratitude.

Hermione sunk into the pleasantly warm tub, she closed her eyes and took a deep cleansing breath.

An hour later, she emerged in higher spirits, which diminished slightly when she remembered she was supposed to meet Mrs Malfoy before she retired to her room.

After a fairly long walk to the second wing of Malfoy Manor, Hermione rapped her knuckles on the door of the master bedroom. Mrs Malfoy answered with a small smile, Hermione noted that her features appeared much softer when he had her white blonde hair hanging loosely around her shoulders.

 “Was there something you needed to tell me Mrs Malfoy?” she pressed, wanting to get to bed as soon as possible.

The older lady sat on the end of her bed and patted the spot next to her. Hermione settled herself onto the other side of the bed.

“Do you want to find out the gender of the baby?” She asked.

This was not the question Hermione had expected.

“Um... I hadn’t really thought to... Mal – Draco never expressed that he wanted to know, so I didn’t bother asking.”

Narcissa’s expression turned sad and thoughtful

“Yes, I don’t suppose he would... Hermione, I asked you here for a favour.”

Hermione nodded at her to continue.

 “I love my son more than anything. When you become a mother in a few short months you will completely comprehend what it means when I say that,” the look in Mrs Malfoy’s eyes made it impossible for Hermione to dispute her words.

“I have lived with the Malfoy men for over seventeen years, so believe me when I tell you that their words and actions do not necessarily reflect their thoughts and feelings. I am not going to pretend that I know my son’s feelings or thoughts about you or your baby, but as a mother I’m asking you to please give Draco a chance. I’m asking you this because I know how he acts towards you and it hurts me inside to think that I could have raised such a cold and... and cruel man.”

Narcissa paused as she tried to collect herself before continuing, “And as his mother, I know without a doubt that that he can be loving and fiercely protective. And I can see that he is conflicted about something. I’m just asking that you help him show his true self. There is a part of him that remained intact even after years of emotional abuse, but it is buried beneath a harsh exterior moulded by Lucias.”

A wry thought occurred to Hermione, something that should have been on the forefront of her mind but it had surprisingly escaped her. It appeared that the same thing had occurred to Narcissa also.

“But most importantly, what you need to be remembering every moment of everyday day is that your relationship has the cataclysmic power to influence the fate of the world. It is not only your lives that will be impacted upon by your decisions.”

No pressure though, Hermione thought.

They sat in silence, with each second that passed Narcissa grew more anxious that she had failed to reach the young girl.

Hermione placed her hand on top of the woman’s in front of her, Narcissa turned towards her, eyes glistening, shocked at the intimate contact.

“You’re right, I can’t be selfish. I won’t lie, I see something in Draco I haven’t seen before. I don’t know what it is or if he’ll ever let me in to see it again, but I promise you that I’ll try my best to help him.”

A watery smile broke out on Narcissa’s features, “That is all I ask. Thank you.”

On her way to her room, she passed by Draco’s. A light was still on and the door open, he sat in bed reading a book. The light emanating from the lamp beside him cast shadows across his face and chiselled bare chest, from the deep wrinkles marring his pale forehead she knew he was not absorbed by thoughts of the books in front of him.

Without looking up he asked, “What did my mother want?”

“To talk about you. And that’s all I’m saying. My parents are coming tomorrow, remember.”

 He grunted in acknowledgment, but didn’t press her for further information, his eyes never leaving the page.

Hermione understood she was being dismissed, but Narcissa’s words had struck a chord in her. She couldn’t accept his unresponsive nature anymore, and she would do everything in her power to elicit something real from him. The wall built between them would come tumbling down. He had divulged once before, and she would make him do it again.  

“I haven’t forgotten what you admitted earlier, Draco. You might want to be careful or I’ll start thinking you care. Goodnight.”

Hermione left Draco shocked, he had prayed in vain that she would continue on as if nothing were said, but he Hermione wasn’t the type of girl to make it easy for him. He could tell this was only the beginning. She had called him Draco.

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