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Confessions: Mystery of Love

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May 2018


 

The revelry in the Great Hall was just too much for him to handle. He stood quietly in the back, sipping his champagne, surveying the scene. Despite all the reconstruction efforts to return Hogwarts to its former glory, it wasn’t the same. Many centuries-old relics were gone, remnants of unrepaired battle damage were clearly visible to those who looked for it, and there was a newness he found unsettling. Above him were scorch marks from stray curses high upon the stone walls. He imagined since they were out of the line of sight, no one bothered to remove them, or perhaps they were left there intentionally. Even the Hall smelled differently. Not like it did in his school years. It didn’t carry the aroma of must and age. After two decades, the wooden tables still smelled of fresh pine and varnish, and the house banners above were crisply laundered and in vivid shades of red, green, yellow, and blue.

The afternoon’s outdoor service was beautiful and somber, but being here, surrounded by laughter and camaraderie, felt...insulting. Not to him personally, but to the all those who were lost, on both sides. Countless lives of men, women, and children, and they were having a cocktail party. A cocktail party in which he had barely spoken to anyone. None of his former housemates returned for the occasion. Not even his in-laws, Theodore and Daphne Nott, who he had sorely wished were there to keep him company.

Draco Malfoy will always be known as someone who was on the wrong side, all up until the battle was almost lost. They called him a turncoat, opportunist, and traitor. Despite the great Harry Potter and Hermione Granger testifying to his defense at his trial, it wasn’t enough to change public perception. To this day, many still see him and his family as questionable at best. So why was he there? Why on earth would he attend the twentieth anniversary of the Battle?

His son, Scorpius, of course.

Scorpius was in his first year at Hogwarts, a Slytherin, like his father. The two shared pointy noses and platinum hair, but that was where the similarities ended. The young Malfoy heir was kind and awkward, an insatiable reader, disinterested in Quidditch, and unabashedly himself. But no matter how genuine and likable Scorpius was, Draco’s dark shadow managed to follow the boy. Scorpius had written home how he was taunted for being the son of a Death Eater, and some even wilder accusations that he was the son of The Dark Lord. The tear-stained parchment ripped Draco and his wife’s hearts out of their chests. They thought they had done their best to shield him, but they were wrong. He had grown too isolated. Too protected. He had never learned to stand up to his enemies—because he didn’t know he had any.

A letter had come in early April from Scorpius asking his parents if they would attend the anniversary service. He also mentioned he missed them and wanted to introduce them to his friend, Albus. Draco didn’t need a Muggle telephone or video chat to hear the anxiousness in his son’s voice. He knew he was needed, and couldn’t deny his son. He couldn’t deny him anything. Scorpius was their miracle.

Almost eighteen years ago, the Healers had given Astoria only ten years to live. They urged her not to have children. They advised her to get her affairs in order. Odds be damned, she was still alive, but just barely. They had kept it from Scorpius, but since his departure to school, she had become weaker and weaker. The blood malediction seemed to accelerate. Her episodes were getting more frequent and more painful, to the point where bedrest was her only option. There was almost a cosmic cruelty in which her body knew that her son was old enough and that she should start letting go.

Draco swallowed hard, suppressing all of his emotions. When he looked up, he didn’t know where he was. Lost in thought, his feet carried through the hallowed halls of his youth. His eyes roamed but he couldn’t find any distinctive markings to give him back his bearings. The paintings were different. The tapestries were gone. Instinctively, he walked to the nearest banister and counted how many flights up he had traveled.

“Seven. I’m on the seventh floor,” he mumbled to himself. Suddenly things became more clear and he headed toward the Room of Requirement. He couldn’t think of anything he required, but maybe there was something the castle wanted him to see.

Before reaching his destination, he bumped into another lost soul.

“I’m so sorry. I—” She looked up. “Malfoy?”

“Granger,” he nodded politely. An awkward silence passed between them. “Why aren’t you at the festivities?”

“Oh, it’s a bit overwhelming...and, I don’t know. Disrespectful? I’m always a bit uncomfortable in situations that blur the lines between mourning and celebration, you know?”

Draco smiled in response. He was unable to recall any time Hermione Granger spoke more than a few sentences to him. Sure, he’s heard an earful from her in a chastising manner, but nothing as conversational as this. Being together, on this floor, a memory from sixth year appeared before him and his chest tightened. It’s odd, because he hadn’t thought about that day in probably twenty years, but that one day played through his mind a million times during his time as a student and gave him solace during its darkest days.

He cleared his throat to answer her. “Same. I don’t feel right celebrating when I— we , lost so much. I just needed some fresh air.”

“Fresh air on the seventh floor?” She questioned playfully. It was a tone of voice he’d seen her reserve for her friends but never encountered himself.

“This is going to sound a bit mad,” he went on to explain, “but I was just walking, thinking to myself, and somehow ended up here.”

“Curious,” she tapped the side of her chin. “That happened to me too. Do you think this castle is trying to play tricks on us?”

Draco shrugged his shoulders. “Not sure, but you know what’s on this level, don’t you?”

“The Room of Requirement.” Her brows furrowed, wondering what they could possibly want from that room. “Do you think it’s still there? After the Fiendfyre?”

“During the reconstruction, I tried getting in. Crabbe’s mother asked me to try to retrieve his ashes so she could bury something. Nothing. The Room wouldn’t open.”

“That was noble of you to try,” she said timidly.

Another uncomfortable silence fell between them.

Being the brave Gryffindor she was, it was up to her to continue the conversation. “I say we check it out. Up for an adventure, Malfoy?”

The Hermione Granger is inviting me on an adventure?” he teased. “Well, this is a historic moment. Alert the media. If I say yes, are you sure McGonagall won’t give us detentions if we get caught?”

She swatted him on the arm. “You’re still a prat. Come on.”

They walked briskly as childlike curiosity took over. “This will embarrass my son terribly, but I have to tell you, he’s read every book about you three.”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, well they are all rubbish and give a terrible account of what actually happened.”

“That’s what I’ve told him.”

“I really should write a book and give our side of the story.” Her rambling was more of a mental note than chit-chat. She turned to him and said, “He’s more than welcome to ask me questions so I can set the record straight.”

“Oh, I don’t know if that would be wise. I think you, Weasley, and Potter have a proper fanboy in the shape of my twelve-year-old,” Draco said, smirking.  

Granger couldn’t control her laughter. “Oh, I’m sure you just love that.”

“Oh, it could be worse. He could be looking up to his grandfather.”

The comment took Hermione off guard, but the smile he gave told her it was okay to laugh, even if it was at his family’s expense.

“Twelve, you say? When is his birthday?” she implored.

“The twenty-ninth of October.”

“Ah, another autumn baby. I know what it’s like to be the eldest in your class. Rosie is in the middle of the school year—tenth of January.”

The two had reached their destination and focused on the bare wall. They knew how to get in. Whether the Room would reveal itself was another story.

Draco stared at the woman before him, and couldn't help but feel silly. A sixteen-year-old version of himself would have loved the undivided attention of Hermione Granger; sharing laughs and looking for trouble. Once upon a time, that boy was so conflicted; bound by duty, weighed down by his conscience. So many times he denied himself the simple pleasures of adolescence, except the one time. The one time that was a faded memory to him and non-existent to her.

“What?” She asked with mild amusement. “Have I sprouted a second head?”

He knew his gaze must have lingered too long. “Just...nostalgia. By the way, Granger. You’re awfully cheery for someone who just attended a memorial service.”

Hermione bit her lip before making her admission. “Too much champagne. It’s my happy drink. I don’t know about you, but different drinks put me in different moods.”

“Ah, yes.”

“Champagne makes me giddy, wine makes me talkative, and whisky makes me contemplative.”

“You’re a whisky drinker?” He asked in surprise.

“Mostly single malt scotch, but I do love bourbon as well.”

“As do I,” he replied. Tipsy Granger had an adorable pink tinge to her cheeks and a dazzling smile, but before Draco allowed himself to revert to the lovesick teenager he once was, he cleared his throat and reminded her, “We need to think about what we need. A place to hide something? See if there is anything left?”

“Sounds good to me.”

They both thought about what they needed and paced back and forth as the ritual required. With bated breath, they awaited the castle’s magic. Moments passed, seeming as though the enchantment had faded, when a door appeared before them.

Hermione gasped, “It worked.”

Draco reached for the knob and extended an invitation for her to pass. “Ladies first.”

She curtseyed and thanked him.

It was there. The Room of Hidden Things—but it was small, no larger than a classroom. A few things had accumulated in twenty years, but nowhere close to the treasures it once contained. They peeked around and found a few things of interest.

“This reminds me of all the contraband from prefect patrols,” Hermione stated.

“Even the dirty magazines.” Draco held up an issue of Playwizard with Ginny Potter on the cover. “Vintage. How did Potter feel when Weasley posed for this?”

Hermione suppressed a grin. “Oh, on the fence. On the one hand, he was proud of Ginny for being picked as 2003 Quidditch Hottie of the Year, because she had trained intensely to get in that shape. On the other hand, he wasn’t keen on every wizarding male getting their spunk on photos of his wife.”   

Draco laughed and put the magazine down. “Speaking of which, I’m not even going to attempt to open this up, because I’m afraid the pages are glued shut.”

As raucous laughter passed between them,  a seating arrangement appeared, and they proceeded to sit down.

Hermione wiped the tears from her face. “I still don’t know what we’re doing here or what we’re supposed to find, but I’m having a good time.”

“Me too.” Draco wiped his sweaty palms on his black trousers. “So my son, Scorpius. He talks about your daughter a lot in his letters. I think he fancies her.”

“Rose talks about Scorpius as well. But she says he’s weird and has no idea why Albus hangs out with him.” Hermione replied. Draco looked as though he was about to say something to defend his son, but she quickly added, “So naturally, I think she fancies him, too. She goes on and on about him, and him having higher marks, and his blondness being so irritating.”

A sly smile appeared on Draco’s face. He can remember a time reporting to his father about a girl with irritating frizzy hair and higher marks than him. “That’s, actually quite adorable. Maybe one day we’ll end up in-laws.”

“Oh, don’t tell my husband that. He may end up shipping Rose off to Ilvermorny or Beauxbatons.” Her warning was more jovial than threatening. She paused and swallowed before changing the subject. “Where is Astoria? I was hoping to see her tonight.”

“You were?” The night continued to surprise him.

“Yes, we were friendly seventh year. I came back to finish out my final year with Ginny and had several classes with Astoria.” Concern washed over her face. “We weren’t terribly close, but I liked her. She’s a brilliant witch. When she didn’t show up tonight—” she paused hesitantly. “Is it the malediction?”

Draco’s jaw tightened nodded his head solemnly. Perhaps it was because he had no one else to talk to, the words just tumbled out. “We have more bad days than good days. Sometimes the Healers keep her asleep for a day or two just so the potions can take effect. Then I worry that she won’t wake up.” He caught himself knowing that he had just burdened someone who was practically a stranger with his woes. “I—I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”

“It’s fine, Malfoy. Sometimes it helps to talk.” She set her hand on his knee. “I am sure this is going to sound like a dumb question, but have you sought specialists outside of St. Mungo’s?”

He wished he had something to drink. Prying his dry lips apart, he answered, “There are specialists, but we’re hesitant to travel, and the treatments require equipment that can’t be brought here, or are either so experimental we are too afraid to try anything. I’ve even devoted almost the past twenty years of my life to potioneering and alchemy looking for a cure, with little result.”

Hermione squeezed his knee reassuringly. “I’m sorry, Draco.”

His eyes met hers. She had said his given name. He still didn’t understand the magic that had brought them together that night, but he was much happier than he was when he arrived. Maybe what he needed that night was a friend. “Thank you, Hermione.”

The silence that lingered between them was not awkward. On the contrary, it was comfortable and almost familiar. Draco looked down at his watch and saw it was close to midnight. “I should get going. Is it alright if I tell Astoria you asked about her? I think she would like that. She doesn’t get many visitors or letters.”

Hermione’s face fell, disappointed in herself, and made a mental note to be better about correspondence. “Please do, and let her know I’ve finally tamed the fluff.”

“You what?”

She pointed up to the formal hairstyle, causing him to chuckle.

He stood first and helped her off the sofa. As they walked to the door, he turned to her. “I almost forgot to ask. Rumor has it you’re running for Minister.”

Hermione struggled to keep a straight face. Her sly smile broke out into a full-blown grin. “That’s the plan. Can I count on your vote?”

“I’m sorry, Granger, when it comes to politics, I’m not as easily swayed as I was in my youth. I’m going to need to see your platform.” He answered with a wink.

“Then I will rise to the challenge and earn your vote.”

“Spoken like a true politician.”

—xoxox—

Draco crept into Astoria’s suite, hoping not to disturb her sleep. Instead, a pair of bright eyes and broad smile greeted him. Happily sitting up in her bed, she was surrounded by hand-written journals and glass vials.

“Hello, Darling. How is our little Cuddlebug?”

He walked over to her and kissed her on the forehead. “Oh,” he said while shedding his jacket, tie, and shoes. “As we expected. Puts on a brave face but I can tell things aren’t great. The worst part is we can’t do anything about it. Growing up seems so much harder as a parent than it felt as a kid. Albus is a nice kid, a bit broody though.”

“Hmm...that sounds like he’s Harry Potter’s son,” she joked. Astoria waved her wand and tidied up her mess, making a spot for her husband.

Draco crawled into the bed, still in his shirt and trousers, and held his frail wife. She was little more than skin and bones, but he missed this. Holding her and inhaling the scent that was distinctly her. Not her perfume. Her.

The episodes kept him up at night. It wasn’t just her symptoms, but the fear they would never pass. Astoria refused to let her condition be the cause of her husband’s insomnia and asked to be moved into her own suite with a 24-hour rotation of mediwitches. Of course, he protested at first, but her solution was sound, and well thought out.     

He kissed her bare neck and murmured, “Tonight was interesting.”

“Oh?” She turned to face him mustering all her energy to show excitement. “Do tell.”

“I spent it in the Room of Hidden Things with Hermione Granger.” He laughed at the absurdity of it all.

“Did you now?” She asked coyly and ran her finger up and down his neck. “Did you talk about how you fancied her in sixth year?”

He groaned and put his forehead to hers. “I wish I never told you that.”

Astoria kissed him and continued her teasing. “I couldn’t help it. Hey, I told you that I fancied Colin Creevey. We all have an embarrassing teenage crush. But what did you and Hermione talk about.”

“Well, we talked about how our children fancy each other,” he pushed a strand of hair out of her face, “and that one day we could end up in-laws.”

“Wouldn’t that be something?” She held her husband closer and tried not to dwell on that thought. “What else did you talk about?”

“You. She hoped that you would show. I didn’t realize you had built up a friendship in your final year.”

“We did.” Astoria’s smile was bright as ever. “I liked her a lot, and she was one of the few willing to put house prejudices aside after the war. It’s just that once school ended, it was just you and me, and I lost track of everyone.”

Draco’s face looked pained, as if being with him had kept her from a better life. One with friends and the outside world.

Already reading his thoughts, she grasped him by the chin, “You’re my everything. I don’t regret this life at all. And I have such wonderful memories to prove it.” Her finger pointed to a spot on the dresser. All the vials that were scattered around the bed were now packed tightly in a velvet-lined wooden box.

“What is it you’re doing exactly?” his face was furrowed in confusion.

“Preparing my memories for my portrait, of course.”

Those words hit him like a ton of bricks. She continually tried discussing her portrait but he evaded the topic every time she brought it up. “Astoria—”

She put her finger to his lips to silence him. “No. You’re going to be quiet and listen.” The tears began to well in her eyes, and fought to prevent them from falling. “I’m running out of time to sit for a portrait and let it pick up traces of my memory and personality, but I found an artist who can mix my memories with her paint. She can even work off of a photo…” her voice cracked as she rushed out the last bit, “because I don’t want you and Scorp to see me like this for the rest of your lives.”

Droplets rolled down her cheeks and he kissed them away. “You’re beautiful.”

“I’m dying, Draco,” she sniffed. “We don’t have much time left. I can feel it. Promise me something.”

“Anything.”

“Stop your research. No new potions. No more alchemy. I want to spend my last days with you and Scorpius. Happy. Aware of the inevitable, but happy.”

He took her hands in his and kissed each knuckle. In the softest whisper, he replied, “I promise.”

“I’m not done,” she laughed through the sobs. “I want to spend this summer traveling. The last hurrah.”

“Astoria, no,” he pleaded.  

“Draco, yes,” she insisted. Wistful and excited, Astoria rattled off her plans. “I want to show Scorpius the little village in France where we got married, and visit Daphne and Theo.  And I want to go to Italy and eat as much pasta as my body will allow. And I want to go to Greece and visit my family. I want to visit Pappous Hyperion’s grave. I want to feel free for just a little bit. I want to make as many memories with you and Scorpius before...before…” All of her emotions caught in her throat, and she could no longer hold back. Her crying became uncontrollable as she gasped for breath. Draco rubbed her back and cooed, trying to calm her. “I’m not going to get to see him fall in love, or get married, or start a family. I’m going to miss it all.”

Malfoy stoicism be damned—he could no longer fight the tears. They had lived with the reality of mortality their whole relationship. It was just that its inevitability was coming closer. “No you won’t, but you’ll be there in spirit. Always. And I’ll be there, for the both of us.” He kissed her tear-stained cheeks.

At his words, her breath began to regulate. His words rang true. In fact, they were almost the same exact words she had told him whenever he thought too far into the future. She had always been the level-headed one out of them, but being alone for the past few hours gave her time to reflect on the days and months to come. What Astoria really wanted was more time, but she couldn’t have that. So making the most of that time was what she would settle for.

“One last promise.”

“You’re awfully demanding aren’t you?”

They both strained to laugh with their throats still tight from the emotional outpour.

“Promise me that when I’m gone, you don’t give up on love.”

“What are you saying?”

“Don’t spend the last of your days mourning me. Find someone to love, who loves you.”

“I could never replace you.”

“I’m not asking you to. I’m asking you to open your heart to love and take it if the opportunity comes along. You need to be loved. You deserve to be loved.”

He breathed heavily and stared into her eyes, committing every color variation of her irises to his memory. “Stop experimental potioneering and alchemy, consider it done. Make travel arrangements for myself, my son, and my wife, I’ll start tomorrow. Finding love again, I doubt it will ever happen, but I won’t deny it.”

“Thank you.” She held him tight, and closed every possible bit of space between them. “Stay here tonight?”

“I promise.”


October 2032


 

The mood in the Malfoy townhouse was frantic. Hermione and Draco had returned to London from their one-year anniversary trip just two days ago. As they had come from Asia, customs was required to hold and search their belongings for twenty-four hours. Apparently, a sophisticated smuggling ring from China had been preying on unsuspecting passengers, breaking through warded luggage and depositing contraband such as illegal potions ingredients and magical creatures.  No one was exempt from the search, not even the former Minister of Magic. While Hermione understood the importance of international diplomacy, it was a major inconvenience.

With their suitcases and trunks finally in their possession, Hermione searched for the gifts for their loved ones.

“Draco. I can’t find it.” Hermione hollered from across their bedroom.

He was finishing up brushing his teeth in their en-suite bathroom. After gargling and spitting, he called back to her, “Just Accio them.”

“I can’t just summon them!” She huffed. “There are breakables.”

“You’re a witch. You can fix it,” he chided with mock condescension, as he walked back into the room.

“You of all people should know that Reparo doesn’t work on everything.” She tried to remain annoyed, but seeing her husband walking around shirtless was entirely too distracting. “Get dressed. The party starts in thirty minutes.”

Draco noticed the way her eyes lingered a half-second too long. He stalked toward her like a predator, and wrapped his arms around her waist possessively. “I guarantee that the baby will not care if we are late to her first birthday party.”

Hermione prayed that this would never get old. Over two years of being together, she still melted under his touch. Oh, how she wanted to give in, but it had been weeks since they’ve seen their family. She sighed in resignation, “And your son’s twenty-seventh birthday? Don’t you want to be there for that?”

He rolled his eyes and gave her a mischievous look. “Scorpius doesn’t care about his birthday anymore. It’s all about the baby…”

CRACK! The appearance of a disapproving house elf interrupted Draco’s advances toward his wife.

“Hello, Jollie. How nice it is to see you,” Hermione grinned as she pushed her husband off of her. “To what do we owe the pleasure.”

“Master Scorpius and Mistress Rose are overwhelmed with the festivities, the staff is stretched thin, and Pear, the nanny, has taken ill. I’m sorry, Master Draco and Mistress Hermione, I know that you’re no longer the lord of the Manor, but your children…”

“Say no more,” Draco responded with a laugh. “Toddlers and parties are a handful.”

“We are happy to play the role of the dutiful grandparents,” Hermione added. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

“Thank you,” the elf bowed. “I shall inform Master Scorpius and Mistress Rose about your arrival.”      

Hermione crossed her arms and looked at Draco with a wide grin. “It’s okay. I missed them too.”

—xoxox—

“Jasmine, no!” The young parents screamed in unison.

The one-year-old giggled and clapped her hands as she watched platters levitate off the table to her and the family bulldog, Titus.

Reflexively, Rose whipped out her wand and counteracted her daughter’s spell. After setting the silver tray back in its place, Scorpius cast a protection charm around the table, lest another bout of untamed toddler magic threatened to ruin her own party.

The tiny heiress was every bit of her family rolled into one. Her hair was the dark ebony of her paternal grandmother but in unruly waves like that of her maternal grandmother, and she had eyes the color of steel like father and grandfather. Her disposition was of any other inquisitive toddler with a dash of Weasley temper, a pinch Malfoy reluctance, and a heaping of cuteness. Surprisingly, she was one of only two great-grandchildren born into the Weasley family, so undoubtedly, she was spoiled rotten by the plethora of cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Then there was Titus, the all-white English Bulldog Rose and Scorpius brought into their little family as a pup, shortly after their engagement. By the standards of his breed, he was a bit of a runt. He wasn’t the typical broad and squat bulldog; he was leaner and more agile—perfect for keeping up with his little sister, Jasmine.

“Jollie!” Scorpius called.

“Yes, Master Scorpius,” the elf answered upon arrival.

“Could you please take Jasmine and Titus to the nursery until guests start arriving? There are a few things we need to do before then.” Scorpius’s eyes pleaded as he held his daughter in his arms and the dog wove through his legs playfully yelping.

The senior elf gave him a disapproving tilt of her head. “Master you do remember I am no longer a nanny, but Head of House, don’t you?” Even with the quip, she took Jasmine in her arms gently. As Jasmine sat on her hip, she held onto Titus by the collar. “I’ve already visited Master Draco and Mistress Hermione and they’ll be here soon to watch over Mistress Jasmine.

“Thank you.” Scorpius smiled brightly. He wasn’t sure how house elves worked in other families, but his were family. Jollie had been his nanny, ever protective and authoritative, and knew how to provide before being asked.

Rose plopped in the nearest armchair and turned to her husband. “Why exactly are we going through all this effort for a one-year-old?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “But you know, the average family gathering is around fifty people or so. Why not just add more stress on top of that and a cake just for smashing. Because teaching our child that food is disposable is a brilliant way to show her we care about sustainability.”

“Yeah, what was I thinking? My grandparents are going to have a fit about me giving so much sugar to a child with four teeth.” Rose groaned. “Thank Merlin our parents will be here soon. I’m so exhausted.”

He crouched down in front of her and took her hand. “And wait until they all hear we’re doing this again.”

Rose covered her face and started tearing up. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. We had a plan.”

Scorpius reached up and kissed her forehead. “Rosie, that’s life. We can’t plan for everything.”

She wiped the tears with the back of her hand. “These damn hormones. I can’t keep it together at all. I’m going to freshen up and wait for Mum and Draco.”

“I’ll stay here and make sure everything gets set up.”

—xoxox—

Jollie played with the toddler and the dog on the floor. While she had many things to do, she didn’t mind caring for the child. It had been years since she had engaged in a task that brought her as much joy as it did her charge. Though, Mistress Jasmine was much naughtier than her father was.

“Jollie!” A younger elf called. She looked manic and unsure. “The cake. It’s ruined.”

“What?” the head of house retorted. “Explain.”

“It just went…” and the elf proceeded to make a deflating sound.

“It’s fine,” the senior elf reassured. She looked at the baby who was happily gnawing on a block. “Titus.”

The bulldog cocked his head as if understanding the elf.

“Jasmine’s Granny and Grandpa will be here soon,” she explained.

“Pa! Pa!” Jasmine bounced eagerly and threw the saliva covered block at the younger elf.

“Not nice, Mistress Jasmine,” Jollie said sternly.

The baby didn’t pout, but gave the servant the biggest smile and flutter of her lashes.

Jollie just laughed to herself and patted the baby on the head. “Oh, you’re most definitely a Malfoy. Titus, you’re in charge until Master Draco and Mistress Hermione arrive.”

The dog barked in acknowledgment.

Before leaving, Jollie charmed the door so that it could only be opened from the outside, not trusting Jasmine’s magic. With a pop, the elves were gone.

Titus ran circles around the baby making her laugh. She tried to crawl away, but he put his big head on her back keeping her in place.

The stocky canine was no match for a toddler with powers. She levitated him enough to free herself and unsteadily rose to her feet. Cautiously, her little legs took her to the bookcase carved with forest animals. She pressed every single one within her reach with her chubby little fingers.

Titus barked and bounded toward the other side of the nursery, hoping to catch her attention and pushed a big rubber ball in her direction.

“Bun!” The baby exclaimed as she found what she was looking for.

The bookcase swung open revealing a secret passage, and she started crawling through.  

The bulldog ran to her as fast as he could. He had caught up with her, but it was too late, the two of them were trapped. While he whimpered and pawed at the entrance, the baby giggled, and hugged him. The house sensed the presence of a Malfoy, and the corridors lit the way for them. Timidly, the dog nudged Jasmine to follow him, hoping to find a way out.

—xoxox—

“Granny and Grandpa are here!” Hermione called from the other side of the door. She turned the knob. “Draco, it’s locked. Can you open it? I’m afraid that it’s booby-trapped with some kind of Malfoy blood magic.”

“Alohomora,” he muttered, “Seriously Hermione. Not everything in the Manor is out to kill you.”

They passed through the doors to find the nursery empty.

“Jasmine?” Hermione called. “Sweetheart? Titus?”

They peeked around the furniture and cast a revealing spell, but they weren’t in the room. Then a dusty spot by the bookcase caught Draco’s attention. He frantically ran his fingers up and down the carvings. “She’s in the passages.”

“How do we get in?” Panic rose in Hermione’s voice.

“I have to find the right carving and press it.”

“Let me help.” Hermione joined him.

“Damn,” Draco cursed. “If she just went through, we’ll have to wait fifteen minutes. There is a failsafe charm in place. All of the passage entries have the same charm.”

“Is there another entrance that connects to this one?”

“Yes!” he remembered, and took her by the hand as they ran out of the room.

—xoxox—

The once inquisitive baby seemed to be losing her sense of adventure, after not seeing another human for some time. She began to cry. Her family magic must have recognized her signature once again as a door swung open.

Titus licked Jasmine reassuringly and nudged her toward the light. They were in an unfamiliar part of the Manor. It was dark and covered with portraits of ancestors.

Their haughty grunts and silver eyes scared the pair. When a soft voice came from behind them.

“Hello, my darlings. Are you lost?” A beautiful woman with black hair and a kind smile looked down at them.

Jasmine looked up at her in recognition. “Nah!”

“Yes, beautiful! Can you follow Nan? Titus, can you be a good boy and help Jasmine?”

The dog woofed happily and continued to accompany his little ‘sister’ down the long corridor.

“Astoria! This is most unconventional!” One of the portraits called as she passed through.

“Oh, Armand,” she scoffed. “The child is lost, and I’m going to lead her out of this spooky corridor to someplace more child-friendly.”

“Spooky. How da—”

Astoria shot the long-dead Malfoy patriarch a disapproving look causing him to shut his mouth. She continued her path through more portraits and landscapes. “Come darlings! We’re almost there.

The baby yawned. She was exhausted from her exploration and stopped in her spot. Titus curled around her, knowing that a nap was inevitable.

“Oh, my little flower. Look at you all tuckered out.” Astoria made herself cozy in the landscape of the grassy meadow. She looked around and smiled. “This almost looks like the lands around Meadow Hall. Maybe Daphne can paint a portrait for me to visit there.”

Jasmine cuddled herself into the bulldog’s soft rolls. All the crawling had caused her to rip her pretty party dress, and was covered in filth.

“Would you like me to sing for you?” Portrait Astoria asked. “It’s one of your dad’s favorites. When you try your best but you don't succeed. When you get what you want but not what you need. When you feel so tired but you can't sleep…”

—xoxox—

“Jasmine!”

“Jas!”

“Titus!”

A search party spread throughout the manor. Through the corridors and the secret passages alike. Because of the enchantments around the home to protect the family, it was impossible to find her. She was so small and the house was so large.

Scorpius and Rose were beside themselves with worry. The birthday party was irrelevant. They just needed to find their baby.

With a quavering voice, Rose tried to get her husband’s attention. “Scorp?”

“Shh…” he instructed. “Do you hear that?”

She strained to hear.

“It’s my mum,” he smiled.

They ran down the corridors and found their sleeping child and her protective older ‘brother.’

Titus looked up at Rose and Scorpius, but didn’t dare move.

“Hello, my scorpion,” the painting said softly. “I tried to get her to follow me, but it was just too much for her.”

Rose bent down to pick up her daughter and held her tightly. “You did beautifully, Astoria.”

“Thank you, Mum.” Scorpius smiled at the image of his mother.

“Can you bring her closer? I really only got to see the top of her head from this angle.”

The proud parents moved closer to the painting to present the child to her grandmother.

“She’s becoming so beautiful!” Astoria gasped and placed her hand over her chest.

“She is, isn’t she?” Came from a familiar drawl.

“Hello, my love,” She responded, and glanced at the woman next to him. “Hermione, how is our husband treating you?”

“Our husband is absolutely wonderful,” Hermione smiled. “We just returned from holiday.”

“Oh, how lovely,” Astoria replied longingly. “I loved traveling. It was just difficult.”

Hermione nodded in understanding.

“Mum, Draco,” Rose interrupted. “We’re going to get Jasmine cleaned up and put her down for a nap.”

“Alright, Rosie. We’ll be back up to the nursery soon.”

“This makes me happy,” The painting said thoughtfully.

Draco seemed confused. “What does?”   

“Our family. Our big, intertwined, happy family,” she replied. Astoria noticed Hermione’s hand twitch, trying to seek her husband’s hand, but unsure of how to act in front of the former Mrs. Draco Malfoy. “It’s okay, Hermione. You can be affectionate. I won’t get jealous. Even if I was, I’m a painting of a dead woman that has been charmed to be sentient. I’m not even a ghost.”

“You know you’re more than that to us,” Draco reminded her.

Hermione took Draco’s hand, and smiled at the portrait. “Your sister’s here today. Would you like to see her?”

“That would be nice.” Astoria ran her hand along the tall grass of the landscape. “Hermione, I never thanked you. For being there for Draco when I couldn’t. I—I hoped it would be you.”

“Me?” Hermione was surprised by this admission.

“You were the friend when he needed one most. Romance aside, you’re a wonderful friend and see the best in people.” She paused to let Hermione and Draco take in his words. Then with a wink, she teased, “And I knew he fancied you.”

They all laughed. Magic and love were both wonderful and mysterious. It wove people together in unexpected ways that bonded them for life and beyond. As they prepared to part, Astoria had one last request for her husband.

“Draco. Promise to take care of her, and let her take care of you. Be each other’s everything.”

“I promise.”