Chapter 19 : Meet the Parents
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Hermione gave her person a quick check to make sure she had fully materialized before quickly letting go of Malfoyís arm. She had nearly forgotten how uncomfortable the sensation of Apparating was, but Malfoy left her no time to regain her composure as he sped off into the bustling street beyond.
"Wait up!" Hermione called as she staggered after him across the slippery cobblestones.
Malfoy made no sign that he had heard her, but simply wove seamlessly into the crowd at high speed. Hermione felt rather aggravated. A glance at the surrounding shops told her that they had Apparated several streets away from her flat and she anticipated that walking to their destanation would require about fifteen minutes of tedious slipping and sliding.
"Where are you going?" Hermione asked, already breathless, as she caught up with Malfoy and noticed him changing course. He appeared to be making a U-turn towards one of the stores lining the street.
"Just wait here," Malfoy grunted before slipping into the shop in question. Hermione crossed her arms and glared at Malfoy through the window displays of the fancy jewlery store. For the life of her she could not imagine what errand Malfoy had inside it.
The blonde was back in the chill before two minutes had passed, holding a small black box in his hand. He reached it out for Hermione to take and she obliged, popping the lid open and staring down on the content. It was a beautiful, and enormous, diamond ring. She squinted up at Malfoy, uncomprehendingly. "What..?"
"Put it on," Malfoy said shortly, a hint of impatience seeping into his voice.
Hermione stared at him. "What?" she repeated. "Why?"
"Because-" Malfoy said, once again adopting to air of an intellectual explaining something to a neanderthal. "-the job at hand will require a certain amount of planning and investigation, and if we run into anyone from the Ministry it will look highly suspicious if the bride-to-be left her ring at home again."
Hermione glanced down at the ring once more. It was the most magnificent thing, a thousand times grander than the one Ron had bought her from a pawn shop in what seemed to be another lifetime. She was aboslutely certain that she had never held anything this expensieve in her hands before. "You could have bought something a little less extravagant," she muttered as she slipped the ring onto her finger. It fitted her snugly and weighed her hand down. "I might accidentally blind someone."
"I need this scheme to look authentic," Malfoy muttered, glancing around shiftily, as though expecting the brick walls around him to sprout ears. "I canít afford the Ministry to start an investigation. If I had bought you cheap ring people might have gotten suspicious."
"Paranoid much?" Hermione said under her breath as she tucked her hands, and the ring, into her pockets. Malfoy merely grunted in response as they set off towards her flat at a brisk pace.
They had barely walked two blocks when Hermione noticed that they appeared to turn heads. At first she reasoned that she was merely self-conscious because of the ring now nestled out of sight in her coat pocket, but after a while she began to wonder wether it was really all in her head. They seemed to draw a fair few number of eyes, and several gogglers stuck their heads together and whispered in hushed, excited voices as they passed.
Hermione frowned and glanced up at Malfoy, who seemed to be harboring the same apprehension as she was judging by the wrinkle that had appeared between his eyebrows. "Whatís going on?" Hermione whispered out of the corner of her mouth. "Why are people staring at us?"
Just as Malfoy shrugged they walked past a streetlight and Hermione felt an uncomfortable jolt of recognition as her eyes landed on a poster attatched to the cold steel. A fairly unflattering photograph of herself in all her bushy-haired glory was positioned under a bold headline.
Hermione, uncomprehendingly and as though in a trance, made for the poster to read on.
"Hermione Granger vanished without a trace early afternoon on March 1. She was last spotted at the bookstore in George Street, in which she worked.
Witnesses in neighbouring stores have reported seeing Miss Granger talking with a young man they had never seen there before. The man is described as being tall, muscular and blonde.
Police asks anyone who has information they believe to be useful to step forward."
The poster also featured a rather poor sketch of someone who could be Malfoy, although the blonde hair upon the sketchís head was the only characteristic pointing readers in the right direction.
Malfoy, who had apparantly noticed nothing, had almost disappeared into the crowd by the time Hermione had finished reading. "Malfoy!" she exclaimed, unintentionally drawing, not only Malfoyís, but the eyes of a huge crowd of passing shoppers onto herself. Mutters broke out as their gazes flickered from her face to the photo of her on the poster.
Malfoy broke away from the crowd and rushed to her side. His eyes scanned the poster briefly before he grabbed Hermione by the arm and hauled her into a deserted alleyway, away from the limelight.
Hermione felt completely and utterly speechless. She was officially a missing person, Malfoy was a suspect in her kidnapping and all of London were on the look-out for the pair of them.
"Who reported you missing?" Malfoy demanded, his cheeks flushed from either anger or cold, or possibly a combination of the two.
"My parents, I suppose," Hermione said, her voice sounding unusually high.
"I thought you Muggles had ways of communicating without owls," Malfoy said in an unneccisarily sour voice. "Why the hell didnít you think to tell them some story about going away for a month or two? I thought you were supposed to be smart."
Hermione felt some of her blind shock give way to anger. She didnít appreciate the accusations being thrown her way. "I didnít exactly plan this," she spat. "If you hadnít tried to ditch me at Ronís house none of this would have happened."
"None of what, exactly?" Malfoy asked coldly.
"If you would have just cooperated with me from the beginning-"
"If I had just blindly followed the orders of an obnoxious Muggle who stole my wand and my book-"
"How many times do I have to tell you?" Hermione bit back, her temper flaring up. "You. Didnít. Pay. For. It."
The sound of approaching footfalls interrupted their bickering match. Their gazes briefly met and Hermione saw her pale, livid face reflected in Malfoyís silvery eyes.
"Where does your parents live?" Malfoy demanded in a whisper.
Hermione mouthed the directions, and by the time a homeless man stumbled around the corner the alleyway was just as deserted and unremarkable as he had expected it to be.
Hermione was impressed in spite of herself at the accuracy of Malfoyís Apparation, especially concidering the fact that the weather was not ideal. Soft snow was once again falling from the sky as the pair of them materialised on the doorstep of Hermioneís parentsí house. The sharp crack of Apparation must have alerted the inhabitants, leaving them no time to plan their next move before the door swung open to reveal Hermioneís mother standing in the doorway. She was pale, had bags underneath her eyes and her hair was more untidy than Hermione could remember ever seeing it.
A breathless moment persisted before Hermione was nearly knocked over as her mother threw herself around Hermioneís shoulders and began sobbing uncontrollably into her hair.
Hermione saw something flash past them throughout a veil of her motherís hair, and a moment later their reunion was interrupted by the sounds of grunts and yelps from somewhere behind them. Wrestling free from her motherís grip, Hermione turned to see something that very nearly made her laugh.
Her father had tackled Malfoy to the ground and was trying to land a punch on him. Malfoy, while distinctly ruffled, was doing a remarkably good job of avoiding her fatherís fists considering the fact that he was flat on his back in five inches of snow.
Hermione struggled with a sadistic urge to watch how the situation played out, but decided to resolve the scuffle before serious injury was inflicted. "Dad, stop it!" She rushed down the stairs and grabbed a hold of her father from behind. "Dad, donít!"
She was relieved when she felt her father go from rigid to limp and, summoning all her strength, she helped him to his feet. Without a word he enveloped her in a tight hug and seemed reluctant to ever let go. For a moment, while feeling safe and happy in her fatherís arms, Hermione caught herself questioning wether all of this was even worth it. Joining forces with Draco Malfoy to regain a spark of magic that, in any case, would not be enough to win back Ronís good favor. She was roused from her thoughts by the sound of laughter.
Ophelia had appeared out of nowhere and was giggling at the sight of Malfoy clumsily regaining his foothold, shaking snow from his hair and shrugging back into his coat. Hermione resisted the temptation to join in.
Revenge was so very, very sweet.
Ten minutes later found all four Grangers plus Malfoy in the Grangersí living room, each cluthching a cup of scalding tea. Hermione was wedged in between her parents in the love seat. Ophelia was occupying one of the roomís two armchairs, humming as she added spoonful upon spoonful of sugar to her tea, while Malfoy sat quite stoically in the other one.
"So..." Hermione said, thinking that she ought to say something before Malfoy turned to stone beneath her fatherís hard, unblinking gaze. "Iím not missing."
"But... What happened, Hermione, dear?" her mother asked, voice still quavering. "Weíve been so worried. We tried calling you on your mobile phone, but some strange man picked up instead."
Hermione frowned. Where was her mobile phone? In all honesty she had not offered the device a single thought during everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours. The last time she could remember having it was when she and Malfoy had flooed into Ronís fireplace and the ringing had blown their cover. She had fainted shortly afterwards, and when she had awoken the cell phone had definitely not been there. How ironic that the man my parents have paid countless psychologists to convince me is not real picked up the phone when they tried to reach me, Hermione mused.
"Iím really sorry I didnít call," Hermione said sincerely. "I know you must have been so worried, I donít know what got into me, I-" she looked down at her hands as the guilt welled up inside her. Her parents had been so protective ever since she had awoken from her coma, calling her several times a day just to check that she was still conscious.
"Itís quite all right, Hermione," her mother said consolingly, putting a hand on top of Hermioneís. "But what happened? Mr. Newsman called us last night to tell us that there had been a break-in at the bookstore and that he hadnít been able to reach you on your phone, and that lovely woman from the bakery across the street told us that she had seen you with a sinister blonde-" She fell silent and shot the sinister blonde man in question a tentative look.
Hermione felt that introductions were implied. She cleared her throat, mind racing. "This is Draco Malfoy, my, ehm-"
What had she been about to say? Friend? Co-conspirator in a plot to regain the magic her parents believed to be codswallop?
Unfortunately, Malfoy beat her to the punch. "Fiancť," he said, in a strong, clear voice that could not be misheard.
Hermione watched in wide-eyed shock as her parents changed colors. Her father turned bright red, while her motherís complexion resembled nothing more than the snow that covered the lawn beyond the living room window.
Ophelia broke the silence. "Can I be the flower girl?"
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