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i.

Haley is pregnant and glowing when she gets the call. Aaron watches as all of the life and color drains from her face. She sways alarmingly, he steadies her, and Aaron is finally close enough to hear what someone with a crisp English accent is telling Haley: her oldest sister and her husband have been brutally murdered.

"Who would want to murder a pair of dentists?" asks Haley tearfully after the call has been concluded. "They were dentists!"

"I don't know," says Aaron helplessly, holding Haley close and rubbing her back. He had never been particularly close to Jane and her husband but Haley and Jane had been close with each other. It had been hell on the phone bill. "Maybe no one. Maybe they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or they made eye contact with the wrong person. Sometimes these things just happen."

Haley cries harder.

A week later, Hotch comes home to the new that Haley has accepted guardianship of her sister's teenager daughter, Hermione, as per the late Grangers' will.

"We both still have to sign some papers," Haley enthuses, her smile looking macabre against her pale face and red-rimmed eyes. "But Hermione is definitely coming here."

"Haley, you can't just make that kind of commitment for both of us," Aaron says heavily, flabbergasted at the scope of what Haley has agreed to, and she draws away from him, her expression shuttering. "This girl, this teenager, is a stranger to us, to our country. She'll require the basic necessities, insurance, therapists, college tuition, and resources that we just don't have to give her. And she's traumatized. She'd be better off being placed with someone closer to home, someone who knows her and understands her. Right now, above all else, she needs familiarity, understanding, and love, things that we just can't give her. Surely, there's someone better suited to providing for her needs, Haley."

"You can't give her, Aaron," Haley snaps. "But you're hardly ever around. I'll be the one who sees her day in and day out. I'll be her primary care provider. And I know that I can give her what she needs."

"Haley," Aaron says, trying to speak rationally in the face of a furious desire to shout at Haley that she does not, cannot, understand how damaged and angry this teenager is going to be. No single person could provide everything that Hermione Granger will need. "You're a wonderful person and an amazing mother, but you don't know Hermione, don't understand what she's been through, and don't love her. You love Jane and you're projecting that love onto Jane's daughter. And when she figures that out, Hermione will resent you for it."

"Don't you psychoanalyze me, Aaron! I'm not one of your deranged serial killers!"

"Haley-"

"We're her family," Haley stresses, one hand pressed over her swollen belly and the baby curled up inside of it. "We're all that she has left. She needs us. We'll make this work."

Aaron wants to argue but he can see in Haley's expression that the conversation is over, at least for now. He can agree to take Hermione Granger in or not but the battle lines have been drawn. Grief has pulled Haley too far away for him to reach. It frightens Aaron.

He wants his marriage to work more than he wants to win. And he is uniquely suited to help a troubled niece. Aaron still has reservations, however.

"Okay. But do me a favor?" Aaron asks. "Wait a week and think it over. If you still want to take her in after that, then we will."

Haley half-smiles and nods, her shoulders relaxing.

"Okay, Aaron," she says. Haley leans up and presses a kiss to his cheek. "Thank you."

 

 

ii.

There are more than a few papers to sign. The distance makes a complicated task even more difficult. Aaron ends up spending a few days of his family leave sorting out Hermione's legal affairs in London. By the time he leaves London, the Grangers' will has entered probate, he has entered preliminary negotiations for the sale of their practice, and he has put everything in the Grangers' house into storage. It is all relatively easy since the Grangers were religiously organized.

Aaron also has a tentative estimate of the Hermione's finances. The Grangers had both been under hefty insurance policies with each other listed as the primary beneficiary and Hermione down as their secondary beneficiary. After all of the necessary taxes and fees are paid from it, Hermione will have a nice nest egg. She will definitely be able to afford to attend any university that she can get into, even without scholarships.

Aaron does not, however, see Hermione herself. The girl is apparently sequestered in a boarding school in Scotland. It is somewhere so rural that both the school and the nearest village lack telephones. Aaron cannot help but wonder how the Grangers had originally found the school or why two such modern people would send their only child to such a place.

The day before he is set to leave, Aaron learns from the Grangers' solicitor that Hermione will visit London the day after next. He leaves a letter for her, introducing himself, expressing his and Haley's condolences, and listing her travel arrangements for the holidays. Aaron includes the information that she will need to claim her plane ticket and a checklist of things for her parents' funeral. The Grangers, apparently deeply organized in all things, have already taken care of most of it. Aaron neatly writes his suggestions next to the few undecided things and includes the necessary business cards, price quotes, and where to send her bills.

 

 

iii.

Two months later, Hermione arrives during what could best be described as a Christmas monsoon. Despite the ambient weather conditions and all meteorological evidence to the contrary, it begins pouring rain about fifteen minutes before Hermione's fight is due to land, instead of snowing like it really should do. Aaron splits his attention between admiring Jack, who is still small, bald, and red, and the storm while Haley watches the flight boards for Hermione's flight number.

"There! It's landed! Exactly on time!" Haley exclaims and holds up her sign. It says 'Hermione Granger' in glittery, golden letters. While Aaron admires her enthusiasm, he sincerely hopes that Hermione will be able to endure it.

A few minutes later, a rush of humanity comes through the security gates. Aaron, who is carefully studying the women in the appropriate age range, knows which one is Hermione Granger even before she begins to move towards Haley's sign. She is pale and wan with red-rimmed eyes and defensively hunched shoulders. She looks nearly lost inside of her heavy jacket. In her left hand, she is carrying the handle for what appears to be a school satchel. Trailing a few steps behind Hermione is a balding, middle-aged man with a weathered face, brown eyes, and the remnants of thin brown hair.

Probably airport security personnel, Aaron decides.

The girl, probably no more than fifteen, stops several feet away from Haley, well outside of grabbing distance. Aaron finds her wariness interesting.

"Aunt Haley?" she asks, her accent as crisp and starched as she herself is not. When Haley moves forward, her arms outstretched for a hug, Hermione takes several large steps backwards. Her right hand slips down to her left wrist and then stops. Aaron wonders if she is bracing herself to brain Haley with her satchel.

"Hermione?" Haley asks, sounding hurt. Aaron winces.

"Where did you meet your husband?" Hermione asks.

"What?" Haley asks, now sounding bewildered.

"Your husband," Hermione repeats. "Where did you meet him?"

"Drama club," Aaron answers, wondering why she did not just ask for some form of identification. Hermione's shoulders slowly relaxed. Her right hand shifts away from her left wrist.

"My mother told me that," Hermione says. "Just before I went to boarding school."

Then the airport official smiles, introduces himself, and asks to see their identification.

 

 

Three days later, it is still raining. The storm drains are filling, the streets drains are either clogged or overflowing, and the rainfall has already smashed several previous rainfall records. People have been asked to stay off of the roads as much as possible, some businesses and schools have declared unofficial Rain Days, and Jack is being unrelentingly fussy. Even Haley is becoming snappish about the weather. Hermione is... nothing. All of her emotions are focused inward.

If it were not for the grocery bill and the fact that he can see her, Aaron would almost swear that it is still just him, Haley, and Jack in the house. Hermione drifts around the house, a book in one hand, silent and pale. Her eyes are still red-rimmed, although Aaron has never seen or heard her crying, and the corners of her mouth are tight.

Haley chatters at Hermione, trying to engage her interest, and it makes Aaron nervous. His wife mistakes Hermione's silences for shyness or grief. Aaron knows better. Hermione is grieving, yes, but her silence is not born of that. Her silence is the outward of manifestation of sheer, unadulterated rage. Given the opportunity and the right stressor, Hermione will kill someone. The only questions in Aaron's mind are who and when.

Aaron tries to speak with her but Hermione merely stares at him with cold, furious eyes until his words shrivel up and die. He sleeps lightly and very poorly with a potential UnSub in the house. His enduring tiredness, from the baby and the stress of having Hermione sloping about his home, leads to Aaron sleeping on his office couch or in the jet more often than not.

One night, Aaron awakens with the sense that something is wrong. He is halfway to the baby's crib before he registers the fact that (for once) Jack is sound asleep. Retrieving his primary firearm from his bedside table, Aaron creeps out of the bedroom to investigate. He clears the upstairs rooms and discovers that Hermione's bedroom is empty. Aaron slinks down the stairs on silent feet.

He discovers Hermione in the living room with two boys, a redhead and a boy with messy black hair. Only the enormous black dog laying across the doorway, half in the living room and half in the dining room, notices Aaron's presence. It raises its head and watches Aaron narrowly but otherwise keeps its own counsel. In the living room, there is a fire burning in the grate. (Aaron had not even known that the fireplace worked.) The redhead sits on the couch and watches with wide eyes as the other boy and Hermione argue with each other, their voices no more than low, furious hisses to Aaron. He watches as Hermione says something that makes the boy pale. Then, his mouth curling unpleasantly, he hisses something back.

Hermione slaps him, the crack of her palm against his cheek like the recoil of a gun in the silent house.

The boy's head jerks to the side and his eyes tear up but he manages to say one final thing that makes Hermione jerk back as if he has slapped her back. Moaning long and low in her throat, Hermione throws herself at her opponent. Standing in the doorway, Aaron watches his niece's arms go around the boy's shoulders. She buries her face against his shoulder and cries as if her heart is finally breaking.

For a moment, the boy is stiff and surprised. Over Hermione's shoulder, he exchanges panicked looks with the redhead that, despite the situation, make Aaron smile. Finally, the boy tentatively wraps his arms around Hermione. When she fails to react to it, the boy tightens his grip and rubs her back. The redheaded boy joins them a moment later. He wraps his arms around Hermione and, incidentally, halfway around the other boy. As the boys murmur to Hermione, Aaron slips back through the doorway.

The next day is as bright, clear, and crisp as it ought to be.

When Aaron heads downstairs, leaving a sleeping Haley and Jack behind in the bedroom, he follows the scent of cooking bacon into the kitchen. The dark-haired boy is standing at the stove, flipping pancakes and shimmying bacon around a skillet with the ease of long practice. The dog is sitting near his feet, alert, attentive, and drooling. Hermione is cutting up apples, pears, and out of season strawberries at the island counter while the red-headed boy sets the table.

"Uncle Aaron?" says Hermione while the redhead goes to fetch another place. "These are my two best friends from boarding school, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. And that's Harry dog, Snuffles. They've come to look in on me. Ron, Harry, Snuffles, this is my Uncle Aaron."

"It's nice to meet you," Harry says politely as Ron finishes making a place for Aaron at the kitchen table.

"Do you have any pumpkin juice?" demands Ron. When the other two teenagers glare at him, he frowns and says, "What? It's an important question!"

"No?" Aaron says, bemused. "I think we have orange juice and apple juice, though."

"Those are both fine, thanks," Harry says hastily. "Don't forget the milk for Hermione, Ron."

"Tch, as if she'd let me," scoffed Ron as he got out the milk, orange juice, and apple juice cartons.

The pancakes are all perfectly golden and the bacon is crisp without being dried out or burned. Harry has obviously spent quite a bit of time perfecting his breakfast foods, despite going to a boarding school for most of the year.

Over breakfast, Aaron discovers that, officially, the boys spent the night on the foldout couch in the living room. (Aaron knows that, unofficially, the boys slept on the floor of Hermione's room. He heard them bickering as they laid out their pallets.) Most of the teenagers' careful conversation washes over him in a polite buzz. Aaron is far more interested in their body language, anyway. And he is relieved that Hermione's air of 'serial killer on the edge of a spree' has finally abated.

After breakfast, Aaron goes about trying to get a handle on the mess left in the wake of two boarding school escapees who somehow secured international transportation through what will probably turn out to be not-entirely-legal means. Aaron is not certain how they made it through customs on either side of the ocean. Or how they got a dog into the country. He is not even sure that he wants to ask them how they made it out of Scotland. When he finally bows to inevitability and just asks, Ron says, "Magic."

Harry and Hermione scowl at their friend, who has the grace to look chagrinned, and Harry ventures to tentatively offer, "My parents left me a bit of money and a few investments. I'm, uh, quite well off? It's, uh, useful sometimes. But please don't tell my aunt and uncle. They'd just steal it all and then I wouldn't be able to attend school anymore."

"Okay," says Aaron, uneasy at the implications. After a moment's consideration, Aaron decides that he is far more interested in Harry's home life than in the specific mechanisms of the boys' transatlantic trip.

Harry smiles. It is a surprising thing, combining genuine relief and gratitude, and it lights up his face. Ron and Hermione relax, looking equally relieved. Of the two of them, however, only Ron smiles at Aaron.

Haley comes down in time to eat lunch, her hair rumpled and her face still a bit haggard after giving birth to their son. When Haley understand where the two teenage boys have come from, she is officially unimpressed by the boys' devotion but obviously touched by it. (And she openly loathes the dog.) When she learns that Harry is making their lunch, Haley is officially, and loudly, impressed by Harry's abilities in a kitchen.

"I cook a lot during the summers," Harry says shortly, mashing a bowl of softened potatoes with more vigor than strictly necessary. Hermione and Ron scowl at Haley as if she has deliberately brought up a forbidden topic. Aaron, who finds the teenagers' responses interesting, changes the subject to soccer. Harry knows quite a bit about it, Ron mumbles something about 'West Ham' that sounds like a question, and Hermione is full of stories of dental-related injuries stemming from the sport.

Harry makes spinach and cheese quiche, mashed potatoes, and hot chocolate with chocolate cake and custard for desert. Everything except for the hot chocolate is made from scratch and Aaron is almost certain that Harry did something to make the hot chocolate mix taste better than usual.

After lunch, the boys make a few international phone calls (three to the village pay phone in Ottery St. Catchpole, one to Little Whinging, Surrey,) and Aaron has a few frankly bizarre conversations with the boys' respective parents and guardians. Ron's parents seem to think that transatlantic phone calls require a great deal of shouting to be heard and, possibly, a pair of chickens. The Weasleys are odd and aggressively out of touch but Harry's relatives are openly neglectful. After Aaron assures them that they will not have to take their nephew for the holidays, Harry's aunt and uncle are painfully, even pathologically, uninterested in his whereabouts or wellbeing. If that is the behavior that they show to the world, Aaron shudders to think how they treat the boy in private.

Eventually, it is decided that the boys will stay for Christmas and New Years and return to the boarding school in the spring with Hermione. After that, Aaron makes a handful of phone calls to Ronald Reagan Washington Airport to arrange return tickets for the boys on Hermione's flight. By the time it is all sorted out, Aaron and Haley are resigned to the boys. Hermione is quietly happy.

Haley is happier when Harry, without even asking, makes everyone dinner.

 

 

Harry is good at making himself unnoticed but helpful. In short order, the house is cleaner than it has been since about two months before Haley went into labor, the yard looks great, and Harry always has breakfast ready when Aaron comes downstairs. Harry is surprisingly domestic, especially for a teenage boy. It is part of a pattern that Aaron cannot help but see (and remember).

When Hermione starts attending therapy, she insists on taking Ron and Harry with her. Since Aaron had expected more trouble about her having to attend therapy at all, he does not complain. Haley laughs.

Later in the month, Sean arrives from New York. When he rings the doorbell, Aaron feels a deep sense of gratitude. He abandons the game of chess that he was losing to Ron in favor of answering the door, hugging his brother, and taking him around to meet everyone who is not Haley. In the living room, Hermione is curled up on the couch, reading, while Jack sleeps in a nearby bassinet. Ron darts calculating looks between Hermione and the abandoned chessboard.

Ron is friendly enough, Hermione is distantly polite, and Harry and Haley are too busy cooking to say more than hello. Snuffles, who is never far from Harry, is in the kitchen too, giving Harry and Haley his full attention.

I'm definitely introducing that Weasley kid to Reid, Hotch vows as Sean gravitates towards the nearest counter. Maybe at the Christmas get together?

Soon enough, Sean is sharpening knives and discussing salads and grilling with Haley and cakes and tarts with Harry. When he learns that Harry and Haley are cooking in anticipation of an unusually large group for Christmas dinner, the seven people in the house as well as whichever of the dozen or so relatives that have promised to drop by on Christmas Day (mostly to see Jack), Sean immediately offers to help. Aaron loses his little brother to Haley and Harry. Thankfully, by the time he re-enters the living room, Ron has persuaded Hermione to take Aaron's place at the chessboard.

 

 

Aaron rents a handful of movies and Sean makes popcorn. By the time Haley finishes up with Jack, settles the baby in his crib, and declares herself ready to watch, the kids have already started stringing the popcorn, using dental floss and needles. Harry throw the occasional handful of popcorn to Snuffles.

Aaron and Sean grin but Haley looks annoyed. Sean quickly pops more popcorn.

When they settle down again to watch the movie, the teenagers curl up together. Harry and Hermione claim the easy chair, sharing the seat between them, while Ron settles against their legs. Haley and Aaron share one side of the couch, curled up together, while Sean claims the other half. When Harry's dog hops onto the couch and drapes his torso over Sean's lap, Aaron's brother laughs and scratches the canine's ears.

"No dogs on the couch," Haley says, fighting what even Aaron knows to be a losing battle, especially with Sean in the house. He dotes on that dog even more than Harry does.

"He's not on the couch," Sean says, even though the dog's hindquarters are clearly resting on the teal cushion to the left of Sean's thigh. "He's on me."

 The dog thumps his tail and licks Sean's wrist. If a dog could be accused of laughing, Snuffles is most certainly doing just that.

Haley's mouth tightens and Aaron squeezes her hand, silently promising to clean up after Sean and the dog later. Haley settles and Sean aims the remote control at the television, starting the first movie.

Harry and Hermione show a healthy interest in the films but Ron is alternately overly fascinated or openly confused by them. He blurts something admiring about muggles (English teenager slang, maybe?) and moving pictures and asks why they always stay in the box. Cuts between scenes, tired old clichés, and common story telling devices confuse him. Later, Harry and Hermione separately take Aaron aside to tell him that, in addition to not possessing a telephone, Ron's family has no television. Hermione says something about taxes and Harry says something about being old-fashioned.

Aaron is very interested by Hermione's odd friends.

 

 

Christmas Day, Aaron is awakened by teenage cries of delight and the pounding of feet on the stairs. When Haley makes a wordless noise of protest, Aaron groans, "It'll be good practice for Jack."

"Mmmm."

They stay in bed until Jack wakes up and begins fussing. Then Haley feeds Jack, they bundle themselves up in their bathrobes, and head downstairs to the living room.

Around the room float twinkling golden bubbles and pale blue snowflakes. The Christmas tree seems to have doubled in size and its scent fills the room. Bright, delicate-looking ornaments, popcorn strings, and Christmas lights practically obscure its boughs. And Aaron knows for a fact that only a handful of presents were under that tree when he went to bed. The living room looks entirely magical.

The teenagers are sitting under the tree amid mounds of presents, shreds of wrapping paper, and dismantled stockings. Harry and Ron are wearing what appear to be homemade sweaters and Hermione is shrugging on a store-bought sweatshirt.

Sean is on the couch, laying on his side with his back pressed to the back of the couch. Stretched out over the other half of the couch is Harry's dog, pressed all along the length of Sean. Aaron's brother is drowsing, one arm around the dog and his face pressed against the animal's furry back. Someone has put a paper crown on the top of the dog's head and wedged a slightly crumpled top hat onto Sean.

"How'd you manage this?" Haley asks, poking a passing bubble with her fingertip.

"Christmas magic," Ron and Hermione chorus with a shared grin.

"Cunningly placed wires," Harry says at the same time. Off of the others' looks, he shrugs and says, "My relatives never allowed things like that."

Hermione's mouth tightens. Ron, whose face is very pink, snatches up a box and presses it into Harry's hands. "It's from me."

"Is it edible?" Harry asks as he tears into the wrapping paper.

"All the best gifts are," Ron assures him and then yelps when Hermione pinches the side of his neck.

"Books," Hermione amends. "All the best gifts are books."

Aaron knows what Hermione bought for everyone.

 

 

When Sean leaves the next day, Aaron is sad to see him go. If anything, Sean seems saddest to leave Snuffles behind. The dog is practically inconsolable. Harry tries to console him, anyway.

"You can still catch up with him, if you want to," Aaron overhears Harry murmuring to his dog. "I wouldn't mind."

The dog barks once, sharply, and lays his head on Harry's knee. Harry smiles and fondles the dog's ears.

"Okay then, Snuffles," Harry says. "But I'd be okay with it if you ever decided to move in with Sean."

The dog whines and draws away from Harry, turning his back on the boy. Harry, however, will have none of that. He grabs the animal's ruff and gives it a firm yank, forcing the animal to roll over onto his back.

"Don't," Harry says sternly as Snuffles whines, kicks his front paws twice, and looks up at Harry pleadingly. "I'm fine with - with you liking what you like. You're the one who's upset about me knowing. And I want you to be happy. If you stay here with Sean, I promise that I'll write and visit and be super careful in - in everything. I'll tell Professor McGonagall about every little ache and scar twinge and funny looking shadow. And you can't come onto the school grounds anyway, Snuffles, so you won't be missing anything. It's okay with me if you want to go live with Sean. I like him."

Aaron has no idea what problem Harry is trying to work out by talking to his dog but the dog must know from Harry's body language what response Harry wants. Snuffles barks, rolls over, and pounces on Harry, knocking the boy backwards and clambering on top of him. He licks Harry's entire face, including his glasses. Under Snuffles, Harry is laughing. When the boy and his pet eventually knock it off, they curl up together, seemingly exhausted and happy. Harry's face is shiny with dog slobber and has thick black hairs sticking to it.

Aaron makes a mental note to speak with Sean about conning an abused orphan out of his beloved dog.

 

 

On the last day in December, Haley and Jack come to visit Aaron at work.

"This is an pleasant surprise," Aaron says as he abandons his desk and paperwork to go kiss his wife and son. He ends up as the one holding Jack. "Unless I forgot something. Did I forget something?"

"No," Haley replies with a smile. "But I think the brat pack is up to something. Can you come home earlier today?"

"Up to what?" Aaron asks as he begins mentally rearranging his projected work schedule.

"I have no idea," Haley admits. "But Harry offered to make dinner for everyone. When I left, he was ordering Ron and Hermione around the kitchen."

"At least they're buttering us up," Aaron says, thinking how much things have changed since Hermione first moved in with them. "I think I can be done by five-thirty, six at the latest. Will that be okay?"

"Mmmm, I think so," Haley says as she moves toward his desk. "Let me just call the kids. Harry wanted to know about what time we'll be home."

Haley calls Harry and spends the rest of the afternoon distracting (one of) Jack's godmothers from her work. Fortunately, multitasking is a way of life for Garcia. Aaron rides home with Haley and Jack, leaving his own car in the parking lot. (Haley will have to drive him to work in the morning.)

"We're home!" Haley calls as they enter the house.

"Great!" Ron shouts back. "Dinner's almost ready!"

"Is there anything that we can do to help?" Aaron asks as Hermione comes out of the kitchen holding a cutting board. On it are two loaves of freshly made bread, half of a stick of butter, and a knife.

"Harry's got it, thanks," Hermione says. "Come sit down."

In the dining room, Jack's highchair has been placed between what are, presumably, meant to be Aaron and Haley's seats. The table has already been set. Arranged across from the three Hotchners are three empty chairs, presumably for the teenagers.

A united front, Aaron thinks as Hermione puts her burdens in the middle of the table and goes back into the kitchen. A moment later, Ron appears with an enormous bowl of salad. When all of the food is on the table, the teenagers claim their seats across from Haley and Aaron. Hermione is sitting in the middle.

"I want to go back to Hogwarts next year," Hermione says, with absolutely no preamble. "And I know that I can afford the tuition if I use my parents' insurance money."

"Hermione," Haley says. "We're saving that money to send you to college."

"If you're worried about Hogwarts' tuition," Harry adds. "I can loan Hermione the money for school. No interest, even."

"We aren't borrowing money from one teenager to pay for another teenager's education," Aaron says.

"Then I'll get the money off of my godfather," Harry says quickly. "He's got even more money than I do. He's practically royalty." From under the table, Snuffle growls and Harry adds, "I said, practically, Snuffles."

"Or strangers," Aaron adds firmly.

"And there are schools in this country," Haley points out.

"But I'm on track to take my standardized exams next year!" Hermione wails. "I've already started revising! And I've already decided what I want to specialize in!"

"And all of her friends are at Hogwarts," Harry says fiercely. "It's her home. She can't live here!"

"And what about the library?" Ron blurts. "Hermione loves the school library. She practically lives there."

"When was the last time that a librarian let a student handle, much less read, a book from the thirteenth century?" Hermione demands. "Madam Pince lets me. She lets me borrow practically any book I want! And if Hogwarts doesn't have it, she'll get it for me! Are your librarians that helpful?"

Aaron takes note of the qualification.

"What if I take my exams here and there?" asks Hermione suddenly. "The ones at home and the ones to go to university in this country? I can do both."

"You can?" Ron asks, sounding surprised.

"We will," Hermione says firmly and Ron wilts. He looks utterly miserable. Harry nods firmly, his expression determined. She adds, "I've been doing some research and I know how much I inherited from my parents. There should be more than enough money to afford both, especially if I win any scholarships."

"You'll win all of the scholarships," Harry tells Hermione, who favors him with a quick smile.

"We'll think about it," Aaron says, more to buy an opportunity to discuss the matter in private with Haley. He already knows that he wants to send her back. Harry and Ron are good for her mental stability and Hermione has shown more passion for going back to her boarding school than she has for anything else since she got there.

But she is still going to therapy when she is in the country.

 

 

Aaron notices about two days before the teenagers are due to leave that Snuffles is missing. When he thinks about it, he cannot remember the last time that he saw Harry's dog. It was certainly before his last out of town trip. When he asks, Harry says, "I took him to visit Sean. And then he stayed. Don't be angry! I wanted him to stay here with your brother."

"But he's your pet!" Aaron says, distressed that Sean would really take a boy's dog away from him. Aaron had gotten busy at work and forgotten to ever have that word with Sean. He cannot help but feel as if he has taken away Harry's dog.

Harry makes a face, seemingly amused and exasperated and maybe a little bit touched by Aaron's concern, and says, "Don't worry. I still have Hedwig."

"Hedwig?"

"My owl. She's waiting for me at school."

"Your... owl."

"Mhmm. Don't worry about me, Mr. Hotchner. Or Snuffles. He's going to be happy with Sean, I think."

"Okay. If you're sure."

"Entirely," Harry assures him. "Hey, are you going to get Jack a dog? Big, black ones are the best."

"Maybe when he's older? But Haley hates dogs."

"So maybe a cat?"

"Whoever heard of a boy and his cat?" asks Aaron. "I don't think cats are really kid-friendly animals."

Harry nods. "Yeah. It would have to be a very special cat, like Crookshanks."

"Crookshanks?"

"Hermione's cat. He's the ugliest animal that I've ever seen but he's super smart and good with kids. He'd be like having a dog."

Hours later, Aaron realizes how neatly Harry distracted him from Snuffles and Sean. When Aaron calls Sean later that week, Sean tells Aaron to mind his own business, his voice tight and clipped. The next week, Harry leaves the country without his dog.