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A House in the Country

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“Hermione, dear, would you like some more creamed potatoes?”


Smiling at Mrs. Weasley’s doting, Hermione shakes her head in refusal, accepting the bowl for only a moment before it’s passed along to the next voracious Weasley.


It’s a familiar scene around the table with the Weasleys. It’s loud and raucous, but so filled with love and life. And while it’s a balm to her soul most days, there are times when she longs for the quiet company of her parents or the comfortable intimacy of time with a significant other. Those two things have been long absent in her life.


“No, Harry, not tonight.” Ginny’s loud whisper rises above the din of conversation and suddenly all eyes are on the blushing woman and her beaming spouse.


Ron asks the question on everyone’s mind, “What’s going on, you two?”


The look on Harry’s face is one Hermione’s only seen once before almost two years ago when they announced little James’s impending arrival. “Come on, Gin. They’ll know soon enough. Why not tonight?” Ginny shrugs helplessly and motions for Harry to take the lead.


Harry hoists their almost one year old son onto his lap, the mischievious tot slapping the table in approval of his new view. “In nine short months, James will be a big brother!”  The table erupts with glee at the promise of new life in the family.


Since the war, since Fred’s tragic loss, Mrs. Weasley holds everyone a little bit tighter, a little bit longer; and even though she’d made great strides with her mind healer, the infusion of grandchildren had helped mend her soul like nothing else.


Even Hermione can’t resist smiling at the news. Harry is her brother in every way but blood and had lacked a proper family most of his life. The idea of his joy brings her joy. What concerns her is that Ginny’s smile is forced and the tears pooling in her lashes obscure a terrified gaze. 


After the announcement, the dinner is filled with more talk of children and oh, it was only yesterdays, and remember the times. Hermione feels the forced smile on her own face as she thinks about where her life is at the moment.


The evening migrates to the sitting room as it usually does. The children play and make their rounds to each family member soaking in all the attention they can get. Molly reads to Dominique, Bill and Fleur’s youngest. Harry is holding a sleepy James, his body rocking gently to keep the rambunctious boy in that state, and precocious Victoire flits about charming the adults into giving her treats that are promptly confiscated by her mother.


Hermione ducks out to the kitchen for more tea to find Ginny staring out the kitchen window toward the makeshift pitch beyond the orchard.


“Gin? You okay?”


Ginny drops her head between her arms and shakes her head. Stepping back from the sink she turns to Hermione, her face desperate. “I don’t want to give up my career. Am I a horrible person?”


Pulling the terrified woman into her arms Hermione assures her that she is not a horrible person. 


“But how will this work with two kids? It’s so hard with one.”


“I don’t know... All I have is a cat that hates me.”


A snort escapes Ginny at this and soon the two women are choking on suppressed laughter. After a deep breath, Hermione pulls Ginny back into a hug. “You are one of the strongest women I know. You are a fierce and fearless Quidditch player and an amazing wife and mother.”


“You really think so?” she asks, wiping below her eyes as she pulls back.


“Of course I do. And I know if you talk to Harry the two of you will find a solution that suits your family best. Hell, I wouldn’t put it past Harry to quit his job. He’s always looking for an excuse to take a day with you and James.”


Nodding Ginny huffs a small laugh and her expression clears. Her tenacity and resolve suffusing her demeanor once more. “You’re right… of course .” Hermione rolls her eyes at the playful dig, but Ginny pulls her into one more hug, “Thank you, Hermione. You’re the best adopted-sister-in-law a girl could have.”


As she watches Ginny return to her family, Hermione steps out the back door. She sits on the stoop for unknown minutes listening to the bustle of the Weasleys. Finally she trudges off through the orchard and past the wards apparating home to the cat that hates her. 

“Miss Granger, a word.” 


“What is it now,” she grumbles under her breath as her twit of a boss Mr. Carbuncle lumbers toward her. “Certainly, Mr. Carbuncle. What can I do for you this afternoon?”


With a subtle nod of his head the office secretary prances over with a box full of files. A similar box of files sat on Hermione’s desk just that morning. She dutifully reviewed each one and leveled Ministry approval on the files that were in order and rejections on those that weren’t. She’d hoped, foolishly it would seem, that she could devote some time this afternoon to researching policy reform. Her professional hopes were dying a slow death in this Ministry cubicle.


“Got a fresh batch of permit requests for you.” His look far too pleased hitching his pants over his generous middle. “But tomorrow we need your shining face at a ribbon cutting on Diagon Alley. Everyone loves to see the Golden Girl out endorsing all the good the Ministry is doing.” His derisive teasing still floating on the air as he waddles away from her desk. 


Her shoulders slump as a side of the box gives way covering her desk in an avalanche of bureaucracy. She will not be a party to the self-congratulations of the Ministry anymore.


“No.” She might be having an out of body experience, but she thinks not, for the first time in a long time, this feels like the thing she needs to do. “No,” she repeats louder, her voice carrying over the now silent office space. 


“I’m sorry Miss Granger, but what do you mean No ? You have duties to perform.” Mr. Carbuncle has the most aggrieved expression on his face, but she finds she doesn’t care one whit. Standing from her hard, ministry-issued chair, she gathers her purse and with a flick of her wand, the few personal effects she’s allowed fly into the bottomless bag. 


“That’s it, just no. I’ve done my duty to the Wizarding world. I gave up my childhood, I gave up my dreams, and for what… a tiny cubicle in which I put the Ministry stamp on endless permits. No more. I quit. Effective immediately. I think you’ll find I have ample vacation saved up. I’ll owl human resources on where they can send my check.” 


The faces of her co-workers are probably a mixture of shock and awe, but she doesn’t turn to confirm her suspicions and as her steps bring her closer to the lifts, she finds she really isn’t concerned with what anyone thinks.   

“Poe! You insufferable beast.” Her books are everywhere, and her cat is nowhere to be seen. 


A low growl from the top shelf pulls her up short and she locks eyes with the most mischievous cat she’s ever had the misfortune to know. His attempt to hide amongst the shadows of her bookshelves thwarted by the luminous glow of green eyes against his ebony fur.  


Assuming a dueling stance, she watches as Poe crouches lower and wiggles his furry bottom. The Immobulus flies from her wand almost on instinct and the cat’s flight is halted in midair. It’s just a moment more before the cat is levitated within and secured in his carrier, a hissing spitting ball of fury once the spell is released. “Serves you right I’d say, for always getting into trouble when I’m out. You need to learn better than to disturb my books. This is the third time this week.” 


Content to leave the crazy cat in his containment, Hermione makes quick work packing her things, including some of the books, while sending others back to the shelves. 


Her bags now in order, she levels them with a shrinking spell and pockets the lot. Poe growls as she approaches his wicker prison, “I know you don’t like it. Crookshanks never did either. But we’re going on a holiday and it's the safest way for you to travel.”   


“Where are you going, Hermione?”


“Harry! When did you come in?”


“Only a moment ago, but you said you’re going on holiday? The word around the ministry is that you quit. There was quite the bit of gossip about it during lunch.”


She waves him off, scoffing at the ridiculous gossip mongers of the Ministry. “Yes, I am going on holiday, and yes, I did quit.”


Harry looks incredulous, but it’s not his life that was circling the drain. Hermione gathers her wand and double checks the shrunken luggage in her pockets. Picking up Poe’s carrier, the feline emitting a steady growl from within, she strides past Harry and out the door.


Harry follows as she locks up her flat and begins down the hall. “I’m taking Poe here out to the country.” She smiles as she makes her way down the steps to the ground floor.


“Hermione! You don’t mean to...” He nods toward the carrier vibrating with anger.


“What Harry? I’m going to the country. The cat’s going too.”


“But, Hermione, you’re taking the cat… you know? To the country.


She laughs, full and hearty for the first time in months. “No, Harry.”  Her laughter dies and her expression sobers, “My parents had a country house in the Cotswolds. They hoped to retire there. It’s all I have left of them, I couldn’t get rid of it.” Smiling once again, “But I assure you, Poe is safe. I just can’t let him destroy my flat anymore.” 


“What about your job? Did you truly quit?”


Setting Poe on the ground, she turns fully to Harry. “I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t happy. I think the time away will be good for me.”


“You’ll write won’t you?” His smile is so sincere and she is so grateful for the support, she throws her arms around his neck. “Of course I’ll write, Harry.” He sags in relief and squeezes her tighter. Finally releasing her he grins and with a shooing motion of his hands says, “Off you go then.”


With a pop she disappears from her London street.

The weight of Poe’s hamper throws her off balance as she lands on the stone path of the cottage. She can’t remember the last time she spent a weekend with her parents here, but judging by the overgrown vines creeping up the side and the trailing grass covering the path, the cottage has not been inhabited, even for a weekend, in some time.


Poe’s growling and hissing draws her out of her consideration and stepping back she whips her wand at the latch and her seething feline bursts forth.


He sprints to the edge of the fence, turns, gives her a quick hiss and then bolts off into the neighboring woods. Hermione spends only a moment worrying for him as he seems wiley enough to keep himself alive for at least a night.


The yard is overgrown, and the windows look dull; Hermione imagines the inside is equally drab and as her fingers make contact with the hilt of her wand only one thought occurs to her. When was the last time I let my hands get dirty?  


Fishing the keys from her bag, she opens the door to the cottage.


It's hours later when all the furniture has been uncovered and the windows now glow with the lamp light from within. She didn’t get to the gardens today, but tomorrow seems promising. 


Poe hasn’t returned, so she sets out a dish of food and water on the back stoop. When she pulls back the quilt, she forces herself not to think of the hours her mother spent tucking each stitch in, or her beaming face upon its completion. No, she tucks herself in, pulls the intricate duvet up to her chin and falls almost instantly asleep from exhaustion and a bit of heartache.

After two days in the cottage, Hermione is starting to see what she’s been missing toiling away rank and file, a cog in the bureaucratic machine. She’s tired and dirty from pulling weeds and scraping the overgrown dirt and grass from the path but she feels more accomplished with every flagstone revealed than she ever did wielding the Ministry stamp to level approval on so many permits.


It’s as she looks out the kitchen window toward the woods that she remembers her unruly familiar. When she checks the food and water she finds them untouched and decides perhaps she’ll venture into the woods to give a quick look for the rambunctious animal. He’s probably fine she tells herself but she won’t be able to relax until she’s made some effort toward his care.

The woods are more of a thick copse only separating her garden from the adjacent one. Though it's a fairly large expanse, so it's reasonable to assume Poe lost his way, this being a new setting and all.


Walking across the field of high grass she can see a quaint stone cottage, a low stacked wall surrounding a neat but flourishing garden. As she approaches she hears sweet laughter and spies a blond head bounding up from the grass again and again.


Hermione envies those days of carefree childhood. Those days when magic was just a dream, unicorns and elves were fantasies, and wanting to save the world was more an ambition of grandeur than an actual requirement for reaching adulthood.


Nearing the boy's game she sees movement in the grass behind him, but before she can reach him, the entity in the grass leaps and is on the boy’s back. Poe.


She rushes forward ready to stop the cat from tearing the young man to ribbons when she finds the rosy cheeked boy in a fit of giggles as he pets her rapacious cat, all the while Poe licks his cheeks and nuzzles his chin.


Silence falls over the garden when the boy spots Hermione. She steps back, trying to indicate she means no harm as the lad jumps up, cat firmly in his arms.


“He seems to like you better than me,” She offers.


“Ollie is a good cat,” the boy replies.


“Ollie, huh? I’ve always called him Poe.”


“Why would you call him that? His name is Ollie.”


Hermione chuckles as she watches the cat wriggle out of the boy's arms to stalk a bug flying low over the grass. Standing with the boy for a moment they watch the cat and laugh as it flails after the insect.


“Well, it seems like you have a cat now. I’m Hermione by the way, what’s your name?”


Before he can answer her a deep voice comes from the direction of the house, “Scorpius? It’s time to come in for… Scorpius?” There is Draco Malfoy, a half apron around his waist, the sleeves on his button up shirt rolled to the elbow, “Who are you talking to, Scorpius?” He steps off the stoop and toward his son and this strange woman he’s standing with when he stops. “Granger?” 


Hermione waves awkwardly, her voice frozen. “You know her, Dad?”


Draco reaches them and puts his hand on Scorpius’s shoulder, considering Hermione, “Yes, son, I do know her.”


“Ollie was her cat, but she was calling him a dumb name,” he concludes, trying to whisper, but missing the mark by several decibels.


Hermione laughs, “I think perhaps I was calling him the wrong name. He seems to like Ollie more than Poe. He’s certainly friendlier to you than to me.” she grumbled 


Draco wrinkles his nose, “Poe? After the nineteenth century macabre American writer?”


She nods. He might have been a pureblood supremacist in his youth, but it seems fitting that someone like Draco Malfoy would be familiar with Edgar Allan Poe


“Well, some names carry burdensome expectations. Come along, Scorpius, it’s lunch time.” He turns to go back to the house, Hermione summarily dismissed.


“Wait, Dad, can…” he turns to her, “What was your name again?”


Her shoulders shake with amusement. “Hermione,” she answers enunciating the syllables for the young boy.


“Hermione!” he proclaims, his eyes wide at his success with her complicated name, “Can Hermione eat with us?”


Any humor Hermione might have found previously in the situation dissolves and the two adults stared blankly at one another for a moment.


“I think…” Hermione begins.


“I don’t…” Draco starts at the same time.


Hermione sends Scorpius a half smile, and kneels down to be eye-level with him, “I really must be going, but thank you for the invitation. If it’s agreeable with your father, you may keep… Ollie was it?” He nods vigorously, “Very well, Ollie it is. He seems very happy with you and I think his happiness would make me happy.”


Hermione glances over Scorpius’s shoulder to Malfoy’s half-hearted glare, but knows the cat  found a home when his attention leaves hers to reach down and pick up the mischievous ball of fuzz.


“Can we, Dad? Can we keep him?” Draco dips his head in approval as he scratches behind the cat’s one white ear. Hermione was sure Ollie nee Poe gave her a smug look at the news of his new home.


Standing and brushing off her knees, Hermione backs away, “I must be going. I’m just through the woods, and I’ll bring his cat things tomorrow if that’s agreeable. I can just leave them on the stoop.” And with that, she hastens away toward her cottage, the sound of Scorpius’s curious voice drifting over the field.

Hermione lay in her bed that night, the wind and rain battering the house in sweeping gusts and furious drops. As she listens to the barrage it occurs to her that she is alone—truly alone—for the first time since the war. Even living by herself, in her flat, she’d had a cat. And are you really alone in a building filled with people?


Unsettled from the maelstrom outside she wraps herself in the quilt from the bed and wanders the cottage. At a lull in the storm she hears an odd scratching at the kitchen window. As she slowly approaches the window a flash of lightning reveals Poe, now Ollie standing on the window ledge. He jumps down and is soon yowling at the back door. She opens the door only a crack before he runs in.


“I’m actually glad to see you, Poe” The cat growls in response. Hermione holds up her hands in surrender, “Of course, Ollie , begging your pardon, sir.” She flicks a drying spell at him and he rubs against her legs. Surrendering to his affection she picks him up and returns to bed. After almost a year of not connecting with her new familiar, she feels satisfaction at the sound of his pur in her ear and the warmth of his fur on her cheek. She doesn’t think about how she’ll have to take him back to the sweet boy with the grumpy father tomorrow. 


When the fresh dawn creeps in through the windows, Hermione yawns and stretches her limbs; the storm finally gone and the rays of light golden on her face. Ollie is still curled on the neighboring pillow. 


This is the first time she’s slept through the night and into the next morning in almost seven years.