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A dull 'pop' sounded through the dark empty night, followed by shallow gasping breaths. The woman, who had appeared out of nowhere, quickly looked at her surroundings and let out a strangled sob of relief to see that she was alone... well, almost alone. The woman looked down at the small quivering child in her arms, his frightened eyes and light brown hair shining in the moonlight, and held him closer. After only a second's pause, she returned to a fast run, hobbling as she went, holding the boy tightly to her chest.

"Mummy?" the boy squeaked uncertainly.

"Shh..." his mother whispered against the top of his head, her breath turning to mist on the frigid night air. The land all around was dark and quiet but for the sound of an owl in the distance. The woman's pace neither increased nor slowed as she saw a tall, crooked house come into view, but she again shuddered and sobbed in relief.

The small boy clung to his mother, bouncing uncomfortably in her arms, and dared not make another noise. Though he was young, he felt his mother's fright and it silenced him. He glanced at the house in front of them and again over his mother's shoulder, where she herself kept glancing. He watched for them to appear; she expected them to come, to follow them, but at the moment all that could be seen were a single set of footprints in the snow.

Unable to waste time fumbling with handles and locks, the woman pointed her wand at the door and it blew clear off its hinges.

"Mummy?" the boy cried in fear.

"Shh.. shh.. It's okay, love," the mother answered as she stepped over the threshold into a dark kitchen. She glanced around, hastily taking in her surroundings. The overturned table, upset chairs, and shattered dishes broke her heart and gave her an uncomfortable feeling of emptiness, but she couldn't allow herself to think on such things at that moment. She stumbled forward over a chair leg that had caught on her cloak, but managed to right herself. She then blew out a shaky breath as she placed the boy on the floor in front of her, gripped her side, and leaned back against the wall beside the fireplace.

"Mummy, it's dark..." the boy pouted as he looked around the empty room. A fierce wind whistled over the chimney and a small draft from it whisked the cool ashes into a spiral. The boy took another step closer to his mother. "Mummy, I'm cold... and wet..."

The woman lit the tip of her wand and looked down sadly on her pouting toddler. There was nothing she wouldn't have done for him, but just then there wasn't really much that she could do for him...

"It's blood, Mummy. It's blood..." the boy realized as he held his wet hand up for the woman to examine. He looked down at himself to see that his cloak was covered in it as well. "You hurt, Mummy? You hurt?"

"Mummy will be okay," the woman answered as she tried her best to hide her tears. She wrapped her cloak tighter to her side to help slow the flow of blood and to hide her wound from the terrified child. "No time for that, though." The woman slid onto her knees so that her eyes were level with his. Staring into those eyes caused a twisting pain in her gut. Those eyes... just like his father's.

"They're coming, aren't they?" he cried quietly. At his heartrending look, the woman could no longer hide her own tears.

"Yes, love, but it's going to be okay. You're not going to have to worry about them anymore." The woman reached into her cloak and pulled out a folded piece of purple cloth. He watched as his mother unfolded the material to reveal an odd-looking necklace.

"What is it, Mummy?" he asked as she put it over his head.

"It's going to take you to a place where the scary people can't get you," she answered. The boy nodded in understanding. The woman looked on him sadly and tried her hardest to keep her composure. "Now… take this," she continued as she placed a battered wand in his hand, "and don't let go of it. You understand? Don't let go."

The boy nodded again, tears gathering in his eyes. He could not understand what was happening, but his mother's hidden terror radiated off of her and caused him distress.

"Don't be scared, Aurey. You're going to be alright." He watched as his mother tucked a few things into his pockets and bundled him up tightly in his cloak and scarf. "Look at me…" The boy's eyes met his mother's again and her hand gently cupped his cheek. "Aurelian, I love you."

A few silent tears ran down the mother's cheeks and she slowly took her hand away. She grimaced when she saw the bloody handprint that was left behind. Without another word, she picked up the chain around her son's neck, the ornament hung all the way down near his waist. She held the piece in her palm and stared at the tiny hourglass in the center of the three rings. She held the outer ring and started to spin it. The toddler watched in awe and reached out to touch it.

"No, don't touch it," the mother lightly admonished, still counting the spins in her head. She gasped when she heard the silence broken by the familiar sound of apparition. She was out of time. "I love you, Aurelian!"

Three hooded figures burst through the open doorway through which they had come. The boy's eyes widened in horror.

"AVADA K-"

The boy saw his mother's hand slip off of the spinning ornament and she vanished, along with the world around him.

Chapter Text

"Mummy! Mummy!" the small boy cried in panic as a blur of colors swirled around him. As quickly as the spinning began, it ceased and he was left in front of a roaring fire in a brightly lit room. "Mummy! MUMMY!" he screamed with fright.

"Bloody hell!" a voice shouted from behind him, accompanied by what sounded like firecrackers. The boy spun around, tears streaming down his face as he stared at two startled men. Both men were on their feet instantly, the dark-haired man with his wand at the ready. The red-haired man looked as startled as the child; his deck of exploding snap cards, immediately forgotten, lay at his feet.

"Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!" the child chanted. His eyes were shut tightly, as if by hoping hard enough, he could will the world to be as he wished it.

"Bloody hell," the red-haired man repeated dumbly. "Who the hell is that?"

The man with messy, raven black hair adjusted his glasses and shook his head to answer his friend, unable to speak. The sound of the child's cries prevented him from thinking properly.

"He wasn't there a second ago. H-he just appeared," the redhead continued, speaking his observation aloud in hopes that his friend would concur. The black-haired man nodded in response and slowly took a step forward.

"Mummy, mummy, mummy…" the boy continued to chant softly through his hiccoughing sobs.

"Um… er… h-hi," the black-haired man offered uncertainly as he bent over to look at the child's face. The boy opened his eyes to look at the man silently, his tiny face set in a great, frightened pout. His breaths came in sharp, involuntary waves.

"Harry? Ron?" a woman's voice called from above, accompanied by quickly approaching footsteps. "What's going on? I-" The woman's voice cut off immediately as she stepped off the staircase and nearly bumped into the unexpected visitor. "Um… who's this?"

"Don't know," Ron, the dumbstruck redhead, answered as he looked up at the young woman that shared his same ginger color and freckles. "He came outta nowhere. I mean, he wasn't there and then he was there screaming." Harry nodded in agreement.

"But… how could-? I mean… who is he?" the woman asked, unsettled by the child's curious appearance.

"I don't know," Harry answered, ruffling the hair on the back of his head, causing it to look even more unruly.

The woman looked even more frustrated by the lack of help from the two men. She loved them both dearly. How could she not, they were her brother and her boyfriend, but they could be so useless at times.

"Hey, sweetie," the woman said gently as she knelt before the toddler. "My name is Ginny. Can you tell me-?"

"Ginny?" Ron asked uncertainly when his sister stopped suddenly.

"H-he's covered in blood…" the girl said in horror. "Merlin…"

"What?" Harry insisted hurriedly as he too knelt before the tot.

"Are you hurt?" Ginny pressed quickly, trying to open the boy's wool cloak. The boy jerked away, a wave of fresh tears slipping down his cheeks.

"Mummy…" he whined pathetically.

"Look," Harry said, pointing at the boy's face. "A bloody handprint. It's still wet. I don't think he's the one that's hurt."

"Hey… hey, little one." Ginny tried to pacify him with her soothing tone of voice. "Can you tell me your name now?"

"Aurey," the boy answered through his continued sobs.

"Aurey. Right. Now, can you-?"

"What is all this racket down here?" another boisterous woman's voice carried down the stairs just before her appearance. "Oh!"

"Mum? Do you know this boy?" Ginny asked quickly.

"No… should I?" the woman asked as she appraised the child.

"We don't know," Harry answered. "He literally appeared out of thin air."

"Aurey? Whose blood is this on you?" Ginny asked nervously.

"M-m-mummy's. Where Mummy?" Aurey squealed.

"Oh dear." The older woman, Molly, worried as she looked closer. She, too, knelt before the boy.

"We want to find your mummy too, Aurey, but that means we need to know who your mummy is," Ginny explained slowly. "Can you tell us your mum's name?"

"M-mummy," the boy pouted.

"That's helpful," Ron remarked sarcastically. Both women threw scowls at him over their shoulders.

"What about your name, love?" Ginny pressed. "What's your surname? Your last name?"

"Aurey," the boy answered again.

"Yes, Dear. Aurey is your little name, isn't it? But you have a bigger name too, don't you?" Molly asked kindly, the unnaturally high pitch of her voice belying her calm demeanor. "What's your big name?"

"Aurelian," the boy replied, his breathing beginning to calm slowly.

"Very, good," Molly praised. "Aurelian is a beautiful name. But I bet you have a bigger name still, don't you? I bet your mummy says it when she scolds you. What does your mummy say when you get into trouble?"

"Aurelian Jude, come here right now!" the boy barked in a fierce mother's tone, pointing at the floor next to him.

"Very good. And I bet you listen like a good boy, too." Molly smiled, still unsettled by the situation and the blood on the child's face. She itched to wipe it away, but was afraid to frighten the boy any further.

"Jude? It doesn't sound familiar," Ron answered as he looked at the others in question. Ginny and Harry shook their heads.

"No, it doesn't sound familiar," Molly replied over her shoulder, "but I have a feeling that that is only his middle name."

"Aurelian, I know this is hard, but try to think. Where were you and your mummy before you got here?" Harry asked seriously.

"Right here," Aurelian pointed to the spot behind him on the floor.

"No, before you got here," Harry pried, becoming more frustrated by the lack of helpful answers. "What were you and your mummy doing? How did she get hurt?"

The boy looked a little frightened and Ginny scolded Harry for it. "It's obvious he's having a hard time. Don't overwhelm him like that."

"Sorry, but some woman is out there bleeding and losing a lot of blood and we've got to get answers before we're too late," Harry said a bit heatedly. "Now, Aurey, where were you and your mummy? What were you doing?"

"Running. We runned here," Aurey answered with a shy, worried pout.

"Why were you running? What were you running from?" Harry continued.

"From da scawy people." Aurelian hunched his shoulders and his pout deepened at the discomfort of the memory.

"Who are the scary people?" Ginny asked with concern. For whatever reason, she had convinced herself that it must have been an attack by a creature that had caused such a large amount of blood, or perhaps a splinching accident.

"Da people with black. Da ones with silver faces," the boy answered, tears gathered in his eyes once more. "I want mummy…" he cried.

"Death Eaters?" Ron voiced all of their concerns.

"No… not possible," Harry insisted, too afraid to think otherwise. "Voldemort's been dead for two years. Most of the Death Eaters are in Azkaban. The ones that aren't… no one would dare such a risky move on their own. We can't jump to conclusions, especially ones based on a toddler’s account. Enough about 'the scary people,' we need to figure out where he came from."

"Tell us again, Aurelian. Where were you and your mummy before you were here with us?" Ginny asked again, irritated by Harry's temper.

"Right dere." Aurelian pointed again at the wall beside the fireplace. "But, it was dark."

"Wait…" Ginny said, her eyes locked on his middle. "Aurey, I'm going to take a look at your cloak for just a second, okay? I'm just going to take a peek…" Ginny's words were soothing as she slowly reached toward him. Aurey watched her uncertainly as she pulled the front flap of his black winter cloak to the side to reveal his pale green robes beneath. Ginny's fingers were bloody from simply touching the cloak.

"What in Merlin's name is he doing in a winter cloak and scarf in the middle of summer anyway? He must be roasting," Ron observed.

"I think this answers a lot," Ginny said slowly as she pulled the long chain on Aurelian's neck forward so the others could see.

"A time-turner?" Harry asked in surprise. "Aurey, where did you get that?"

"Mummy," Aurey answered.

"Did your mum spin that before you got here?" Ginny asked.

The boy just nodded.

"Why? Why would she send a small child through time on his own like that?" Ginny demanded as she choked on the lump forming in her throat. "He has no idea what's going on. How are we supposed to-?"

"Ginny, dear, calm down a moment," Molly suggested. "I'm sure that-"

"Whose wand is that, Aurey?" Harry interrupted as he stared at the battered piece of wood in the boy's fist.

Aurelian tightened his grip on the wand and looked at Harry warily.

"Can I see it please?" Harry requested and held out his palm.

"Mummy said not let go." Aurelian pulled the wand up close to his chest and held it protectively in both hands.

"I'm sure she just didn't want you to drop it, love. Why not let Harry have a look? He'll give it back, won't you, Harry?" Molly said sweetly.

"Of course," Harry answered, not entirely sure whether he'd comply when the time came.

The boy hesitantly handed over the wand and turned quickly to Molly. "I want Mummy."

"I know dear, but-"

"I am so sorry I'm late," a new voice said hurriedly as a frazzled woman backed into the room and placed a bag next to the front door. "I was all set to leave and-"

"MUMMY!" Aurelian cried with excitement and relief. Every adult in the room started in shock as the small distraught boy, suddenly filled with joy and energy, flew across the room and threw his arms around the newcomer's legs. "Mummy! Mummy! Uppy, Mummy!" Aurelian stretched his arms up, offering himself to the confused woman in front of him.

"Um… er… hello…" the woman answered uncertainly, apprehensive to touch the worn, ragged, unknown child. "Erm… who… who is this?"

The woman's confused gaze wandered over the familiar faces of her friends, but if she was looking for an answer, she would not find it there. Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Molly all stared unblinking, mouths agape, at the curly-haired witch.

"Guys?" She tried again to get their attention.

"Mummy, uppy!" the toddler insisted desperately.

"I'm sorry, love, but I'm not your mum," the witch answered with remorse. She was not really used to being around small children and felt very uncomfortable, but she couldn't help but feel pity for the sad, pleading little boy.

"Er… Hermione…" Harry said in a flat, stunned voice. "I-I think you might be…"

 

Chapter Text

The woman's confused gaze wandered over the familiar faces of her friends, but if she was looking for an answer, she would not find it there. Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Molly all stared unblinking, mouths agape, at the curly-haired witch.

"Guys?" She tried again to get their attention.

"Mummy, uppy!" the toddler insisted desperately.

"I'm sorry, love, but I'm not your mum," the witch answered with remorse. She was not really used to being around small children and felt very uncomfortable, but she couldn't help but feel pity for the sad, pleading little boy.

"Er… Hermione…" Harry said in a flat, stunned voice. "I-I think you might be…"

"Sorry?" Hermione asked in confusion.

"Merlin… I didn't see that one coming," a dumbstruck Ron remarked.

"Mummy, please?" Aurelian pleaded.

Hermione took pity on the boy and, though irritated with her friends' lack of helpfulness, picked the child up.

"Merlin," she gasped. "He's covered in blood. What happened? Are you okay?" She took her hand off of his cloak and stared at her blood-covered hand.

"M'ok, Mummy. You okay? You okay, Mummy?" the boy asked with a pathetic pout.

"Uh… er… yes. I…" Hermione couldn't finish her thought. She was puzzled and grew increasingly worried by the situation. The boy seemed unconcerned by her stuttering and, instead, appeared to take comfort in her presence. He laid his head on her shoulder and nuzzled against her neck. "Hello? Some help?" she demanded irritably to the four adults before her.

"Aurey, dear, I think the grown-ups need to talk. Why don't you come with me to the kitchen and I'll get you a snack? Would you like that?" Molly offered pleasantly.

"Mummy?" Aurelian asked as he looked to Hermione for permission. Hermione looked at Molly with a desperate, quizzical expression.

"I'm sure she doesn't mind, do you?" Molly prompted.

"No… of course…" Hermione agreed slowly in her state of bewilderment. Molly held out her hand as Hermione gently lowered the boy to the floor.

"Mummy stayin'?" Aurelian asked as he stared expectantly at Hermione.

"Yes. She's not going anywhere," Molly assured him. "Now let's get to the kitchen. I just made some biscuits today. Would you like some?"

The conversation became nothing more than mumbling as they left the room.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked uncomfortably.

"I-I don't know where to start," Harry admitted.

"How about with telling me who that child is?" Hermione suggested petulantly.

"He… we… well, see, I guess that's the tricky part," Ron answered.

"Try, Ronald," she insisted as she placed her hand on her hip.

"Well, we think he's yours." Ron swallowed hard and waited for another flare of her temper.

"What? That's ridiculous," Hermione scoffed, certain that her friend had truly lost his mind.

"Nice, Ron," Ginny said sardonically. "He… His name is Aurelian. He… See, we're not exactly sure where he comes from. He just kind of showed up. He… well, he's wearing a Time-Turner."

"What? Where on earth would he get a Time-Turner?" Hermione gasped.

"He said that his mother gave it to him," Ginny answered.

"From what we could get out of him, it looks like Death Eaters were chasing them. They ran in here and his mother sent him back with the Time-Turner," Harry continued.

"I thought that you said it couldn't be Death Eaters," Ginny reminded him, her eyebrow cocked and a slight bite to her tone.

"That was before I knew he came from the future," Harry said, unperturbed by Ginny's attitude. "And, well, we think you might be his mum."

"What? No," Hermione said defiantly. "You jumped to that conclusion just because he called me Mummy?"

"Not many kids mistake a stranger for their parent, Hermione. Not like that anyway. And really, it makes sense, doesn't it? If they were fleeing Death Eaters, how many people would come here?" Ron tentatively offered. "And, well, he does kind of look like you…"

"You're jumping to conclusions, Ronald," Hermione said tartly, unable to deny his logic. "Is there anything else? Any other clue to where he comes from?"

"Well, there's this," Harry said quietly, holding the forgotten wand in his hands for the others to see. "He said that his mother told him not to let it go."

Hermione gasped again. "It's Bellatrix's wand!"

"I know," Harry said quietly.

"But… but she's dead," Ginny said meekly.

"I know that, which raises the question of how he came to possess it. I don't think it's an accident that he came with this wand over any other. Especially… if Hermione's his mother, I'm sure it would be a clue of some sort," Harry reasoned, trying his best to quiet the panicked feelings that arose inside him. "Hermione's right that we can't jump to conclusions… but I really don't think I like this."

"Where do we start?" Ginny asked, sharing Harry's nervousness.

"The blood," Harry answered. "That blood is his mother's. We try to identify it." Harry didn't mention Hermione again, but he looked at her meaningfully.

Hermione was beginning to feel queasy. She desperately wanted to deny the possibility, but being a logical person, she understood that she could not. "Okay…"

Harry summoned a tiny vial from a nearby cupboard and handed it to Hermione. Hermione took a breath and drew her wand over her finger to make a small cut. She filled the small vial and sealed the wound on her finger. It was her job to test little vials like these for Magical Law Enforcement nearly every day. She never imagined that she'd ever need to have her own blood tested.

"I'll just get his cloak," Harry offered. "Then we'll leave." Ron nodded.

"Do you mind if I change first?" Hermione asked. She gestured to the blood on her blue top from having picked up Aurelian.

"Um… I think it's best for you to stay with Aurelian, Hermione." Harry started nervously, but sounded rather firm by the time he finished the sentence. "No matter what the results are, he still believes that you're his mother. He's really shaken… He needs you right now."

Hermione looked rather panicked and Harry placed a hand on her shoulder. "I know this must feel strange to you. It feels strange to us, too, but if we're going to figure this out, then we need to get all we can from him. He's at ease around you. I think he'll open up to you," Harry said seriously.

"But Harry, I'm… I'm not really good with kids. I mean, I've never really spent time with young children," Hermione admitted. Her nervous habit manifested as she bit her lip anxiously.

"Mum will be here," Ron reminded her. "Ginny, too. Just… just talk to him."

Hermione nodded and walked into the kitchen with the others.

"Mummy! You're back!" Aurelian shouted joyfully and stood up in his chair at the table. "I gots biscuits! You want biscuits, Mummy?"

"Um, er, no, thank you," Hermione answered with a forced smile. "Aurelian, I'm going to need to take your cloak."

"I tried to take it off, but he said his mum would," Molly answered apologetically.

"Yes. I'll get it." Hermione walked over to where he stood on the wooden chair, undid his blue-striped scarf, and draped it over her arm. She then unbuttoned his cloak and removed it from his tiny shoulders as she tried her best to ignore his expression of pure adoration. "Okay, now Harry's just going to borrow these for a little while, okay?"

The boy pouted slightly at the thought. "But what if I want go outside?"

"Don't worry, love. It's a beautiful sunny day. You won't need that cloak for quite some time," Molly assured him.

Hermione, despite her discomfort, couldn't take her eyes off of the child. She handed the cloak and scarf to Harry without looking back at him. They were right; he did look a little like her. He had her button nose and long lashes. His hair was light brown with a slight golden tint to it. Though it was lighter, it was still somewhat akin to her own. It wasn't frizzy or thick, but it still had a hint of a curl to it.

Hermione heard Harry and Ron offer some kind of goodbye as they left, but she was still focused on the boy who had started to tell and show her something about the chocolate biscuit in his hands. Hermione swallowed hard as she stared at the dried blood on his face and before she could stop herself, she tentatively reached out to cup his face. A silent sob escaped her when her fingers matched perfectly to the dried print on his cheek. She didn't need any more proof. She knew he was hers.

"Sorry, dear," Molly apologized and broke Hermione out of her thoughts. "I thought of washing his face, but then I thought it'd be better to put him in the bath after this."

"A bath?" Aurelian asked excitedly. "I have a bath?"

"Of course." Ginny smiled. "No scroungy little critters are allowed to run about this house."

Aurelian giggled as Ginny tickled him. For some reason it made Hermione feel even more uncomfortable; Ginny seemed so much more at ease around him than she felt. She had heard that Mrs. Weasley had taken to doing some babysitting once the twins had started school, so she assumed that Ginny had had a lot of exposure to young children, but it didn't help her own feelings of inexperience.

"Yes, so as soon as you're done with your snack, we'll run a bath," Hermione informed him.

"I'm done!" Aurelian smiled brightly, discarding his half-eaten biscuit on the table in anticipation for a good splash in the tub.

"Um... alright then," Hermione said uncomfortably.

"Don't worry. I'll give you a hand," Ginny offered reassuringly. Hermione nodded gratefully to her friend, thankful that Ginny had picked up on her unease.

"It simply won't do to change him back into those dirty clothes when you're through. I think I might have some boys' clothes that size still up in the attic," Molly said thoughtfully. "I'll just go have a look."

The girls watched Molly disappear up the stairs and turned back to Aurelian.

"Ready!" the boy cried excitedly. Hermione offered him her hand and when he took it he made an exaggerated jump off of his chair and raced toward the stairs, pulling her behind him.

Despite Aurelian's enthusiasm, it was a slow march up to the third floor where the bathroom was located. Hermione had just started to run the water when Aurelian began to impatiently tug his robes over his head.

"Hold on there." Hermione chuckled and pulled the robes back down a little. "You have to let me unbutton them first." She had only undone two buttons before he tugged them over his head again. He got farther this time, but still needed help to extract his arms from the tangled material. Hermione and Ginny tried not to giggle.

"Seems you've got a Tornadoes fan on your hands," Ginny smiled as she gestured to the navy and sky blue underpants that had matched his scarf. He turned to smile at Ginny and Hermione noticed the signature "TT" on the back.

"You like Tornadoes?" Aurelian asked excitedly.

"No. I happen to be a Harpies supporter, myself," Ginny admitted. "You like Quidditch, do you?"

"Mm-hm," he answered as he climbed into the bath. "Daddy like Tornadoes, too."

Ginny and Hermione were both shocked by this statement. Both, of course, had wondered briefly who his father might be, but so many things were happening that they hadn't dedicated much thought to it. Aurelian made no notice of the change in atmosphere as he continued.

"You have toys, Mummy? Toys for da bath?"

"What? Er... no. Sorry," Hermione answered.

"Aunt Ginny, you have toys?" he asked. Both girls were surprised again.

"Aunt Ginny?" Hermione asked, her eyes wide.

"Y-You know me?" Ginny pried. Aurelian nodded, confused by their stunned expressions.

"You have toys?" he asked again.

"Um... no. B-But I have bubbles. Would you like bubbles for your bath?" Ginny offered.

"Yes, pwease."

"Definitely yours," Ginny chuckled. "Never met a toddler that used manners without prompting."

"A-Aurelian..." Hermione started hesitantly. "T-tell me about your dad."

"Daddy?"

Hermione nodded. "W-what's his name?"

Aurelian laughed at the question. "Daddy," he said as though it was obvious.

"Right... W-what does he look like?" Hermione bit her lip, her stomach doing flips.

The boy stopped his splashing and pursed his lips in thought. "Big."

"Big..." Hermione said flatly. That really didn't help.

"Really big," Aurelian continued as he stretched his arms up as high as he could. "He picks me way high up so I can touch the ceiling! ...Well, not at home. The ceilings is too high."

"Home?" Hermione asked as she tried to visualize everything.

"Mm-hm. It's way big, too. So tall as da Burrow. My ceilings in my room is up high, too. Da stars blink-blink down on me from my ceilings," Aurelian said proudly.

"It sounds fun. Is that your favorite part?" Hermione asked with a soft smile; the past few minutes had allowed her to feel a little more comfortable with him.

"No, I likes my Quidditch rug best. It looks like real Quidditch ground. I wish it had seats but you say I couldn't lay on it then. I like it to play with my Quidditch people with Daddy. One time, my Crawford flewed right into Daddy's eye. He said not to told you he cried," Aurelian babbled on.

Ginny snorted in amusement as she reentered the room with a bottle of bubble syrup. "Sounds like a typical male."

Aurelian was quickly distracted by the bubbles and Hermione almost forgot that she was actually supposed to clean him. That part felt most awkward of all. She thought that perhaps she should strike up more conversation to help.

"So... D-daddy is big and likes Quidditch..." She left the statement open and hoped he would continue.

"And he a good tickler," Aurelian smiled. His grin quickly fell though. "Mummy... when Daddy be back?"

"I-I don't know..." she replied uncertainly. She tried to think back to the scene that the others had told her about Aurelian's arrival. Was he there with them when she sent Aurelian back with the Time-Turner?

"He still in da castle?" Aurelian pouted.

"Castle? What castle?" Hermione inquired.

"Da castle in da clouds," he answered, his pout becoming more pronounced. At this, Hermione found it quite difficult to breathe.

"A-Aurelian... What happened to your daddy?" Ginny asked apprehensively.

"He went away when the scary people came. Mummy said that the angels took him and Uncle Fwed to the castle in the clouds," he explained.

Hermione's insides swam. She didn't know who this man was, but she still felt a great loss. And Fred... He had to mean...

"I think bathtime is over," Ginny said quietly. Hermione nodded and silently took the proffered towel from Ginny. One glance at the other girl and she knew that she was having a difficult time breathing as well. "Mum..." she called in a voice that was a little higher than normal.

"Right here," Molly appeared and handed over a set of faded blue robes and a tiny pair of red underpants. "And... I found a few things you might want to see, Hermione."

Hermione nodded.

"Don't worry," Ginny said. "I'll dress him and put him down for a nap."

"No! No nap!" Aurelian loudly protested.

"Yes, Aurelian. It's been a long day for you. You need a rest," Hermione stated firmly.

Ginny dried him off with a plush towel as she said, "Don't worry. You won't miss anything. And when you wake, it will be time for dinner. Okay?"

"Mummy stayin'?" he checked.

"Yes... I'll be here," Hermione answered, still uncomfortable with being addressed as Mummy. She left the room and followed Mrs. Weasley down a couple flights of stairs where she stopped on the first floor landing outside Ginny's room.

"I found some things as I was getting ready to launder his clothing. I thought you might want to have a look at them," Molly said softly as she held out her hand. Hermione opened her palm and accepted four items. The first, of course, was the Time-Turner. Hermione pocketed it and looked at the other three items. Her stomach twisted in knots again . In her hand was a ring, a bottle, and a folded piece of paper. "I didn't read it," Molly assured her. "I was afraid it might be private."

At this, Mrs. Weasley left Hermione alone. Hermione watched her go back upstairs, probably to help Ginny, before she entered Ginny's room for privacy. She looked around the room, uncertain of what she should actually do. Part of her chomped at the bit to examine the items closer, while the other part of her dreaded what answers the items might hold. She sat down gingerly on the side of Ginny's bed and took a deep breath before she opened her hand again.

The ring. She picked the ring up and examined it closely. She stared at it in awe. It was beautiful; an antique ring made of platinum in an intricate Edwardian filigree design with a single brilliant cut cognac diamond in the setting. Upon further examination, she found the words 'Eternally Yours' inscribed inside. "This ring could be anything," she told herself. But no matter how she tried to convince herself of it, she was certain that it was her wedding ring. The onslaught of emotions made her feel ill, so she pocketed the ring quickly.

She then examined the small vial and something jumped inside her. This was what they needed: memories. The swirling substance inside was a collection memories. Whose? She wasn't sure, but she knew that this was a crucial piece of the puzzle. After she pocketed that too, she hesitantly opened the paper and immediately wished she hadn't. It was a news clipping. The headline stared up at her in bold newsprint, "Greatest Tragedy In Wizard History." She could barely bring herself to read it.

Greatest Tragedy in Wizard History

The nation mourns today and wizards around the world grieve with us as the gravity of yesterday's attack crushes us all. Yesterday, April 19th, 2006 at 1:15 AM the news reached our office that Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was not only attacked, but completely destroyed, taking with it the lives of over two hundred students and teachers, including the beloved Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall. Officials say that it was a well plotted massacre. Each of the house common rooms were targeted with cursed fire, leaving no escape for the sleeping students, and no chance to fight against it. We all pray for justice, an end to this unending war, but after such a devastating, heartrending blow, this reporter wonders if anyone will even find the strength to wake to another day.

"No..." Hermione breathed.

At a knock at the door, Hermione looked up to see Harry and Ron in the open doorway.

"We just got back," Ron announced, appearing quite nervous.

"Hermione..." Harry started with a condoling tone.

"I know, Harry..." Hermione said softly. "I know he's mine."

Harry and Ron exchanged a quiet glance, unsure of how to approach their subdued friend.

"He had some more things on him. You should probably have a look," Hermione told the two of them. The boys cautiously stepped forward. "It's worse than we imagined."

She handed Harry the newspaper clipping and watched as his hand became unsteady.

Harry looked up at her, his eyes hard, as he stated with firm resolve, "This will never happen."

 

Chapter Text

"Good morning," Hermione greeted flatly as she ascended the stairs and stopped at the third floor landing.

"Morning," Harry returned while he leaned against the wall and rubbed his eyes. "How'd you sleep?"

"You're joking, right?" Hermione replied despondently.

"Yeah, it's been quite some time since either of us has slept here, hasn't it?" he said, as he smiled fondly up the crooked stairwell.

"You know our inability to sleep has nothing to do with where we are," she sighed, leaning up against the wall next to him.

"Yeah, maybe." Harry shrugged noncommittally, knowing full well she was right. "But I'm sure that Ron's snoring still had something to do with it."

A small smile tugged at the corner of Hermione's mouth. "Yeah, maybe in your case then. Speaking of, where is Ron?"

"That's who we're waiting on," Harry informed her, jerking his thumb toward the closed bathroom door.

"He's taking quite a long time, even for a shower," Hermione commented.

"You know how he is before coffee," Harry smiled. "So, uh, where's Aurelian?"

"He's downstairs. Molly's getting him cleaned up. He got rather sticky with the oranges he had at breakfast." Hermione fidgeted, still rather uncomfortable in her thoughts of the boy.

"You two have already eaten then?"

"Yeah… He didn't sleep well either. He… He got frightened in the night and I had to move up to the twins' old room and sleep in the other bed so he wouldn't be alone." She swallowed hard and anxiously examined her fingernails to avoid Harry's gaze. "So… what did Robards say about you taking on a secret investigation?"

"Nothing really," he answered with a shrug.

"Of course. Who would question you?" Hermione rolled her eyes. "What did he say when you specifically asked for my assistance?"

"Again, nothing. Hermione, it's not that uncommon for us to work together."

"While that's true, you usually only ask for testing or paperwork."

"Yes, and while that's true, you're still the best they've got in the evidence and investigation division, not to mention, my best friend. I assure you that it doesn't look strange that I'm seeking you out."

"How's Ron taking it?" Hermione inquired.

"He's a bit sour that he can't work with us, but it can't be helped. While I can work with you, and he can work with you, Ron and I working together would stick out. His work is general crime, not chasing dark wizards. If Robards, or anyone, saw the three of us working on a secret case, there would be panic," Harry reasoned.

"I know, I just hate leaving him out is all," Hermione explained. "I know. I know," she said once she glanced at Harry. "It's not like he's left out. We'll fill him in. I just know that I'd hate to be there, on the same floor, a few offices down, and unable to help."

"Oh, he'll help. Just not directly. Damn it, what's taking him so long? I need a shower too and if he doesn't hurry, we're going to be late," Harry grumbled before pounding on the bathroom door impatiently. "What are you waiting for anyway? You're already dressed," he said as he glanced at Hermione's cream-colored shirt and grey pencil skirt.

"It's the only bathroom here, Harry. I need to use the loo," Hermione chuckled.

"Oh… right. Merlin, this is why it's nice to live alone."

"I understand completely."

The bathroom door finally opened and Harry and Hermione straightened up.

"Merlin, you guys don't need to beat down the door," Ron grumbled with a sour look on his face. His expression didn't have the effect he was looking for though, since he stood there in a towel with water dripping from his sopping ginger hair into his eyes.

"After you, Hermione," Harry offered. She nodded in appreciation.


"Watch your head," Hermione advised as she held Aurelian tighter in her arms and exited the Ministry fireplace. She looked at him, and down at herself, and cast a quick cleaning spell over them which removed the ash from Aurelian's freshly laundered pale green robes.

"Ready?" Harry asked from behind her.

"Yeah, we're ready," she answered. She gently placed Aurelian on the floor and took his hand in hers.

"Look, guys, I'm really sorry, but I gotta leave you here," Ron said miserably. "I'm already running late and if I don't get to my office before Gerty does, she's going to have my head."

"It's okay, Ron," Harry assured him. "I'll catch up with you later."

Ron nodded and took off running. Harry and Hermione walked through the Atrium at Aurelian's hurried pace, which was still slower than they normally would.

"Are you sure people aren't going to ask too many questions about him?" Hermione asked with a sideways glance at Harry.

"You're being paranoid, Hermione," Harry told her flatly. "Of course people are going to be curious, but we'll answer the same thing each time: 'He's a witness in an investigation.' Nothing more."

Hermione nodded. She'd been paranoid all morning, it was true. She knew people would be only mildly curious, but she couldn't help but worry that people might somehow, miraculously, discover that he was hers.

"Morning, Bently," Harry greeted casually.

"Morning, Mr. Potter!" the security guard replied brightly as he folded his newspaper and placed it on top of the counter. "How are you this morning?"

"Doing fine, thanks."

"And what can I do for you this morning?" He smiled and nodded to acknowledge Hermione's presence.

"We have a visitor with us today." Harry gestured toward Aurelian and Bently stood on his toes to lean over the counter to see the visitor Harry was referring to.

"Oh my, and what's this little guy doing here today?"

"This is Aurelian. He's helping with a case we're working on," Harry replied, like it was in no way unusual.

"Of course. I'll just get you a badge," Bently said with a lopsided smile. A loud clink sounded from behind the desk and the man handed Hermione a shiny gold badge that read 'Aurelian, Department of Magical Law Enforcement'. "Must be nice having a visitor that doesn't need to be physically restrained."

Harry nodded and Hermione dropped to her knees in front of Aurelian.

"Here you go. You get your own special badge for today." Hermione smiled as she pinned it on his chest. "Now come on, we have to get to the lifts."

Aurelian never let go of Hermione's hand as they waited in line for the lifts. As soon as one arrived, they scooted in toward the back. Hermione looked down as she felt the many eyes on her. She knew it was because people still recognized her after the war, especially since she was with Harry, but she couldn't help but be uncomfortable. She knew people would wonder about the small boy whose hand she held.

Aurelian pointed excitedly at the memos that hovered over their heads. "Look. Airpanes!"

"Yeah, I know," Hermione said with a smile.

"Is dat one for you, Mummy?" he asked as he pointed at a yellow one near the front.

"W-why would you think that would be for me?" she asked uneasily, hoping no one had heard him call her Mummy.

"You always get lellow ones," he answered simply. Harry and Hermione exchanged surprised glances.

"That's right. Yellow memos are for level two. Have you been to the Ministry before, Aurelian?" Harry asked.

"I come lots a times with Mummy." He smiled broadly.

Harry and Hermione were relieved when the lift finally stopped at level two and they could exit, but as soon as they stepped out, a cheerful voice stopped them.

"Mr. Potter!" a man greeted with delight. "I'm so glad I caught you."

"Oh, er, good morning… uh, it's Gibsley, right?" Harry responded with a courteous handshake.

"That's right! Alan Gibsley. You remembered!" He grinned with pride and shook Harry's hand a little longer than was customary.

"Oh, and who is this with you today?" Mr. Gibsley smiled at Aurelian, completely ignoring Hermione's presence.

"This is Aurelian. He's a witness in an investigation," Harry stated. He tried to be polite despite his frustration with people he didn't really know approaching him regularly.

"Good. Good. So, I was talking to my wife last night about how you-" Hermione was distracted from the man's rambling by a cold hard voice.

"Granger!"

Hermione looked to her right and audibly groaned in frustration, "Ugh… great. Harry I've-"

Harry nodded, looking sympathetic.

"Granger!" the man barked again.

"Yes, Malfoy?" Hermione asked. She left Aurelian at Harry's side and approached the irate blond.

"Where the hell have you been? We had an appointment this morning. I've been waiting here for over half an hour! I know things are pretty lax in your department, but the International Magical Cooperation doesn't have patience for those that waste our valuable time," he angrily growled at her, his signature sneer in place. Hermione stared at him with her eyebrows raised and lips pursed in an expression of bored exasperation. "I have our minister and the Italian minister breathing down my neck about the transfer report for that Italian convict and I need –"

"Daddy!" A scream of delight sounded from behind Hermione. Harry and Hermione's mouths fell open as Aurelian flew forward and wrapped his arms tightly around Draco Malfoy's legs. "Daddy! Daddy, you back! Uppy. Uppy, Daddy!"

"What the-? Who the hell is this?" Draco shouted in disgust.

"Daddy, is Aurey," Aurelian answered, beaming up at the blond man. "Uppy! Uppy!"

"Get off me you stupid little brat!" he ordered as he pushed the boy's arms off his leg.

"Aurelian, come here," Harry said in a level voice. His arms hung dead by his sides as he moved his fingers in request for Aurey's hand. His hardened glare never veered from Malfoy's face. Aurelian slowly moved toward Harry and took the proffered hand.

"He's with you?" If possible, Malfoy looked even more appalled and he brushed the imaginary dirt from his robes. Harry simply nodded. "Just keep it away from me."

Hermione hadn't moved. She stood there in shock and horror. Her lips were parted, but she found herself unable to breathe.

"What are you doing still standing here? I need those papers, Granger," Malfoy barked.

"Godric… no…" Hermione breathed.

"Praying to your house founder is not going to help me. Get your arse-"

"Malfoy!" Harry barked in return, earning him Draco's attention and a scathing look with it.

"Yes, Potter?" he said impatiently.

Harry's voice took on a solid, stoic tone. "The papers can wait. You're coming with us."

"The papers can wait? And who do you think you are that you can-?"

"I said that the papers can wait. We need to talk," Harry repeated in the same steady voice. "You've just become a serious part of our investigation."

"Excuse me?" he demanded in outrage. Aurelian pouted and partially hid himself behind Harry's legs. Harry didn't miss this and gave the tot's hand a gentle squeeze.

"You heard me."

"I don't have time for your games and-"

"You can protest as much as you want, but you know better than anyone that if I summon you for questioning, the law says you must be there," Harry reminded him.

"This is ridiculous! I just…" Draco paused a second to try to regain his composure. "Look, Potter," he started again. He spoke slowly through clenched teeth as he tried to keep calm. "It is very serious, very important to our nation's relationship with Italy, for me to finish my assignment. Just let Granger fetch me the paperwork she has and I will be on my way."

"Sorry, Malfoy, but this isn't a game. You're coming with us. I'll send the papers you need and the correct papers from our department to explain to your superior that you are needed here," Harry said finally. "Hermione, let's go."

"Godric… no…" Hermione breathed again.

"Hermione," Harry admonished.

Hermione nodded and seemed to come out of her stunned stupor. She still looked like she didn't see anything that had occurred around her, like she had completely disconnected from the world.

"This is just fucking great," Malfoy muttered furiously.

Hermione came completely out of her daze to scold him over her shoulder. "Watch your mouth."

Malfoy sneered again and Hermione looked ahead to follow the stiff form of Harry and the toddler with slumped shoulders that held onto his hand. Hermione felt sick to her stomach.

"In here, Malfoy," Harry instructed as he held a door open for the blond man.

Draco stopped and looked into the plain white room with a table with two chairs on either side of it. "An interrogation room? Really?" he demanded with furious indignation.

"I told you, we need to talk," Harry repeated.

"That's it. This is harassment! I want to see your superior." Draco ordered.

"That can be arranged if you want, but I told you that I'm not playing games. Robards will just tell me to use my discretion. Calling him here will just mean that you have to be here that much longer," Harry stated blandly. Draco did not reply. "Just have a seat and I'll be in as soon as I send all the papers to your department head."

"Fine," he muttered and turned into the room. "Bloody prejudiced Aurors!" he shouted as he slammed the door shut behind him. Harry and Hermione watched him plop moodily into one of the chairs through the narrow window in the door.

Harry sighed and looked down at a very distraught looking toddler. "Here, Aurelian. You sit here while we pull some things together. Okay?" he asked as he led the boy to an oak office chair behind a large desk. Aurelian climbed up onto the chair and Harry returned to Hermione's side where she stared at Draco through the window from afar.

Hermione turned to face Harry and was caught off guard by his upset and annoyed expression. "Don't look at me like that, Harry," she ordered.

"Malfoy, Hermione? Malfoy? Really?" he insisted in revolted disbelief.

"Stop it! I'm just as shocked and horrified as you! More so, I’m sure!" Hermione replied angrily.

"Just tell me, have you been seeing him?" Harry demanded.

"No!" she shrieked with vehemence, terribly offended by the accusation. "How can you even ask that? You know I don't like him! Didn't you just witness how we interact?"

"Yeah, but Aurelian had to happen somehow."

"Harry!" she cried indignantly.

"I'm just saying…" Harry replied. He lost some of his anger at Hermione's fervid protests. "Sorry. I just… Please summon those papers he's nagging about while I fill this out."

Hermione obeyed and summoned them from her office a few doors down. A short time later, an orange paper airplane darted off to the offices of International Magical Cooperation. Hermione and Harry looked at the door to the interrogation room where Aurelian waved through the glass at Draco, who scowled back at the boy.

"I don't know about this, Harry," Hermione voiced apprehensively.

"I know. I don't like this either, but you know what's riding on this investigation."

Hermione nodded, strode forward, and let herself and Aurelian into the room. Harry followed right behind.

"Oh, group effort, is it?" Draco quipped. "Going to sic the toddler on me again?"

"Does he scare you?" Hermione jeered. Draco's eyes narrowed.

"Enough. Aurelian is an important part of our investigation. That's why he's here," Harry explained as he took a very business-like attitude. He helped Aurelian into the chair furthest from Draco. Harry sat beside the tot and left Hermione with no choice but to sit next to Malfoy.

Draco leaned back in his chair and said seriously, "If I'm being accused of anything, I want my lawyer."

"You're not being accused of anything… yet," Harry stated, suddenly suspicious of why the man would desire a lawyer's presence.

"I haven't done anything, Potter, so just get on with whatever it is you want from me."

"We have reason to believe that there is some secret Death Eater activity going on," Harry said cautiously.

"What?" Draco asked a bit uncomfortably. He recovered quickly and returned to his disgruntled manner. "So, rumors of Death Eaters and you immediately look at me? You of all people should know my stand on the matter, Potter. It was only with my testimony and assistance that you were able to lock away half the people you did. If I heard anything about Death Eater activity, don't you think I'd be running to you instead of the other way around?"

"Would you ever run to anyone, especially Harry, if you needed help?" Hermione asked skeptically.

Draco scowled at her. "No one asked you. Now, I haven't heard anything, not even rumors. Next question. You do have more questions, don't you?"

"Plenty," Harry said flatly. "The problem is that we don't know how to go about it. The truth is, this is quite a complicated case… and completely confidential. Whether you know it or not, you are very much at the center of it. So, I'm going to give you two options. Because of where you stand in the case, I'm willing to extend an invitation to you to join the investigation and help us at peer level. Or, you can remain in the position you are now, which means I cannot answer your questions, but you'll be coming to see us regularly until this case is solved."

"Those are my choices? I'm stuck in this either way?" Draco glowered.

"I didn't say you'd like the options," Harry stated.

"Harry?" Hermione gave Harry a questioning pleading look. She wasn't sure that she liked the idea of Draco working with them on this. Malfoy frowned at her, uncertain what to make of her reluctance.

"What happens if I agree to help?" Draco inquired, looking between them.

"I fill out more paperwork for your department that excuses you from work to help here. You leave your position for as long as it takes, and your position is saved for when you return. You continue to receive your salary while you're working with us." Harry defined the position quite professionally, taking Draco off guard.

"And if I refuse?" Draco pried.

"We still write your department, explaining that you are needed to gather information, you return to work when we finish asking questions, and you come back here each time we summon you. I assure you, it will look much better to your superiors if you take option one," Hermione explained with a grudging acceptance that it would be better if Draco was involved.

"Option two means I don't have to put up with you as much though," Draco countered. Neither Hermione nor Harry responded while Draco seemed to be having an internal battle. "Fine. Get talking."

"You're agreeing to become an official part of this investigation then?" Harry checked.

"Yes, Potter," he answered flatly, as he avoided Harry's eyes.

"You know that this means you can't speak of this case with anyone, correct?" Hermione pressed.

"I'll bind you to it, if I must," Harry threatened.

"Sweet Salazar!" Draco exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. "I get it, okay? I know what I agreed to. And just who do you think I'm going to be sharing this with anyway? This is not something I'm looking forward to."

Hermione and Harry exchanged looks and nodded. That would do.

"Alright… where to start?" Harry wondered aloud.

Chapter Text

"Where to begin?" Harry wondered aloud.

"How about starting by telling me who the kid is?" Draco suggested with an attitude. "What does he have to do with all of this?"

Harry shrugged. "He is sort of where it all starts," he reminded Hermione.

Hermione nodded in defeat. "Malfoy… this is Aurelian." She gestured to the boy bent over in his chair. His hair was barely visible over the table.

"Aurelian, what are you doing?" Harry asked curiously as bent over to see why the child was hunched over in his seat. Harry became even more confused when he saw that the little boy struggled with something in the pocket of his robes.

"Ron gived me some beans, but dey're stuck..." Aurelian grunted as he tried to remove the small pouch.

"Alright," Harry said. He nodded to Hermione to continue as he helped Aurelian with his pocket. Draco rolled his eyes.

"Aurelian… well, he…" Hermione paused, unsure of how to continue. "Do you know what a Time-Turner is?"

Draco sighed. "Yes, I'm familiar with Time-Turners."

"How familiar?" Harry asked suddenly. His curiosity caused him to pause in his attempts to free the pouch from the tiny green pocket.

"I mean that I've heard of them and read about them. I haven't owned one, if that's what you're suggesting, Potter," Malfoy declared defensively.

Hermione sighed at the two of them and continued. "Well, when we found Aurelian, he was wearing a Time-Turner. That's how he found us."

"Are you trying to tell me you think he used a Time-Turner?" Draco nodded in the boy's direction and asked in bored disbelief.

"No. He was wearing the Time-Turner, but his mother activated it," Hermione said with a sick feeling in her stomach. "From what we know, he comes from at least six years in the future."

"You don't actually expect me to buy that, do you?" Draco smirked.

"You can believe what you want," Harry replied simply as he freed the pouch from Aurelian's pocket and set the bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans on the table in front of the boy. "We're giving you all the information we have and you can tell us what you think when we're through."

Draco sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest as he waited to hear the rest.

"From what he's told us and what we've discovered," Hermione continued again with a glance from one man to the other, "he and his mother were escaping Death Eaters. She was badly injured and sent him back here... to change the future, we're assuming."

"And how can you possibly assume this woman's motives?" Draco challenged.

"B-because... because his mother... because I'm his mother," Hermione finished with her head held high as if she dared Draco to insult either of them.

"W-what?" Draco asked in surprise. "H-how do you...?"

"He, Aurelian, called me Mummy. Honestly, I thought it was a mistake, but we tested the blood on his cloak - there was wet blood all over his cloak - and it matched mine. It was my blood." Hermione summoned strength from deep inside and stated this factually.

"Th-this is your kid? Six years from now, you're dying and send him back here?" Draco asked, a lot less confident than he had been moments before.

"Yes," Hermione stated stoically. "Well, we don't know the exact year, but at least six years from now."

"And you think that in the future you sent this boy back here to save you in six years?" Draco asked with a grimace at how ridiculous their theory sounded.

"No, of course not," Hermione said indignantly. "The concern isn't my life. The concern is the Death Eaters and their victims."

"Meaning you," Draco finished.

"Meaning this!" Hermione said heatedly as she slapped the news article in front of him. "This isn't simply a one-time attack. Hundreds, possibly thousands, suffer at the hands of Death Eaters. Read it! 'An end, to an unending war' It's not just an attack. It's a war. That is what we're meant to prevent."

Draco's face paled slightly as he read the article. "And you think that I have something to do with this because I was a Death Eater?" he asked quietly, an acerbic bite still in his tone.

"No, actually... we think you were helping to fight it," Harry said uncomfortably. He handed another jelly bean to Aurelian while he watched Draco and his reaction.

Draco looked up at Harry, his feelings of confusion and unease clear on his face. "Why do you say that?"

"Well... because of Aurelian," Hermione said slowly as she bit her lip and stared at the small boy. She couldn't help but give a small smile when he made a funny face at the jelly bean he was eating and, unbeknownst to Harry, put it back in Harry's hand.

"He's talked about me?" Draco said skeptically.

"Well, in a way..." Hermione said slowly. "See... you're... we're rather sure that you're his father." She couldn't make herself look at him in that moment. It hurt her just to say it.

"What? You're mental!" Draco cried as he jumped to his feet. "That's what this is about, isn't it? That little whelp called me Daddy and you rush me in here because you believe it. You're-"

"Sit down, Malfoy!" Harry shouted back, as he also got to his feet and stared the other man in the eye. "You will listen."

Draco stared back at Harry as he fought with himself once more on how best to react. In the end, Draco plopped back down in his chair. "Nice fantasy of yours, Granger? I tell you now, there's no way I'd ever sleep with a bloody-"

"I'm well aware of what you think of me, Malfoy." Hermione scowled at him with anger and disgust. "I assure you that I think no better of you. I don't know how things changed, maybe it was stupidity on my part, but I have little doubt that he's yours."

Draco leaned forward and put his face mere inches from hers and snarled, "Then prove it."

Hermione didn't back down. Her eyes were hard, her teeth clenched tight, and her nose scrunched in distaste. "We intend to."

"She's right. We're not just basing this on him calling you 'Daddy.' We're taking this investigation very seriously," Harry assured him. "We-"

"Do you recognize this?" Hermione asked suddenly, taking Harry by surprise as much as Draco, as she held the ring in the palm of her hand.

"Where did you get that?" Draco snarled.

"Y-you recognize it then?" Hermione asked tentatively with a hard swallow. She couldn't help herself; she needed to know for certain and this would be enough to prove it to her.

Draco looked like he was debating whether or not he should claim it, but burst out in the end, "It's mine. Where did you get it?"

"N-no... it's mine," Hermione said quietly. There was no denying it anymore.

"Like hell it is! That was my grandmother's wedding ring. It's been in the family for generations! I don't know-"

"Then you're planning on giving it to your wife, are you?" Harry asked smartly. Hermione was grateful for Harry's support, but at the same time she really didn't appreciate the way he went about it. It stung to think that she had somehow gotten into a relationship with the angry man who sat next to her.

"That's Hermione's ring, which was found in Aurelian's pocket. It still has her blood on it even. That ring comes from at least six years in the future, which means that the ring you own is still probably sitting in your home somewhere," Harry explained.

"And you better believe-"

Hermione didn't hear the rest of Draco's rant as a small set of arms clutched her arm. She turned in her seat to find Aurelian's face set in a pout, as he held tightly to her arm. He looked so frightened.

"Why Daddy's yellin'?" he whispered nervously. Hermione looked at the scene from Aurelian's point of view. Draco, his father, was on his feet with his finger in 'Uncle Harry's' face. 'Uncle Harry' yelled back threats. Both men were quite intimidating. She remembered that only a moment ago she had been yelling, too.

"Come here," Hermione whispered to him. She picked the little boy up and sat him sideways on her lap. "Cover your ears for a second."

When Aurelian had his ears covered, Hermione held her wand in the air and it let out a 'bang' like a cannon blast. Draco and Harry both ducked down instinctively and glared at her when they realized the source.

"That's enough," she explained softly, taking Aurelian's hands away from his ears. "We're scaring him."

"I don't care what-" Draco started only to be cut off again by Hermione's soft tone.

"Malfoy, just look at his eyes," she pleaded. "As I'm sure you're aware, grey is not a very common eye color. He has your eyes. The ring... You know, I'm not going to waste my breath. You'll just try to dismiss our claims one way or another. Harry, just..." Hermione sighed in exhausted defeat and rubbed her forehead as she silently pleaded for her headache to vanish.

"I got it. Open your mouth, Malfoy," Harry ordered calmly.

"What?" Draco said. Panic mixed with his look of defiance.

"You asked for proof. We told you that we're taking this investigation seriously. I need to test your DNA," Harry stated simply. "It's just a simple swab of your mouth."

"My DNA for what?" Draco asked, leaning back even further in his chair. He had heard, if not learned, much about muggle forensics in the months following the war. He wasn't quite sure what DNA was, but he knew that it assisted in sending a few people to Azkaban, thus his skepticism.

"Paternity test," Harry answered.

"It's painless and if you would rather keep denying it, we'll keep the results to ourselves," Hermione said calmly. "Let's just stop fighting and get on with this. I don't care what you think of any of us, Malfoy, but you will keep your voice down from now on. We all will."

"Painless, I promise," Harry repeated. He stood still and leaned over the table with a swab in his hand. Malfoy scowled at the boy in Hermione's lap and a sick feeling sunk in his stomach as he looked into the boy's eyes. Slowly he opened his mouth. It was just as the both of them had said: a simple swipe in his cheek.

Draco sat back in his chair suddenly and asked, "Now, we're moving forward?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, not that you'll appreciate it any more. Aurelian, we have some questions now. Are you ready to answer our questions?"

Aurelian was leaning against Hermione with his head comfortably snuggled against her chest. Hermione encircled him consolingly and rubbed his arm in silent encouragement. He sat up and nodded to Harry.

"Now, some of these questions might sound silly, but we need you to answer them, okay?" Harry asked. When Aurelian nodded again, Harry proceeded. "Okay, Aurey. Can you tell me who your mummy is?"

Aurelian smiled widely and turned to point right at her face, "Dat's Mummy."

"Good. Can you tell us your mummy's name?"

"Mummy," Aurey chuckled.

Draco snorted in amusement and received a glare from both Hermione and Harry. Draco looked away with an expression of feigned disinterest.

"That's right. You do call her Mummy. But what do other people call her? What does your Daddy call her?" Harry continued.

Aurelian paused as he thought a moment. "'Mione."

Hermione and Harry smiled at each other. It was more than they'd been able to get out of him the day before.

"What about me, Aurelian? What's my name?" Harry asked hopefully.

"Uncle Harry."

"Fantastic. Great job. But, do you know another name people call me? Some people call me Mister..." Harry left the sentence hanging hoping for the boy to finish it for him.

"Jamie calls you Daddy," Aurelian answered thoughtfully.

"What? D-daddy?" Harry choked, his eyes wide. "W-who calls me-?"

"Harry." Hermione cut him off harshly. "You're getting off topic."

Harry gaped at the boy and nodded to Hermione. They had agreed earlier that it would be best not to push for answers about the future that didn't pertain directly to the case. Still, he looked like he itched to ask Aurelian to repeat himself.

Hermione bent to the side to get a look at his face. "Aurey, what about your daddy? Can you tell us who your daddy is?"

"Dat's Daddy," Aurelian answered as he pointed at Draco.

"Good," Hermione praised him and kept her eyes focused solely on Aurelian to avoid looking at Malfoy. "And what is your daddy's name? What does Mummy call Daddy?"

"Draco," he answered easily.

Hermione couldn't help herself and glanced up at Draco's sour frown. "And does anyone call him something different?"

After a tiny pause, Harry asked more specifically. "Mister. Sometimes people call your daddy Mister..."

"Pernie calls 'im Master," Aurelian answered.

"Yes, Mister what?" Harry pressed.

"Harry, he said m-"

"How do you know Pernie?" Draco's unexpected participation startled the room. Avid for information, Hermione and Harry were unable to hide their excitement at Draco's fervid response.

"That name means something to you?" Harry asked Draco.

Draco's stare never left Aurelian as he snapped, "Shut it, Potter. How do you know Pernie?"

"She's our elf," Aurelian replied with a tilt of his head as he stared at Draco's face.

"What?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"She's my house-elf," Draco explained, his nostrils flared more in discomfort and fear than with anger. He looked like a frightened, caged animal.

"We have a house-elf?" Hermione cried in outrage. "That's crazy! Harry, I would never have-"

"I! I, Granger, have a house-elf. WE have nothing together," Draco said fiercely.

"Enough!" Harry said seriously. "We're done with the shouting, remember? Now, that was very good, Aurelian. Very good. Can you tell me what Pernie does?"

"S-she cooks for us and cleans da manor," Aurelian answered with an uncertain look between Draco and Hermione.

Hermione apologetically smoothed her fingers through his hair. She had felt how tense he'd become, but he relaxed against her quickly.

"When we go back? When we go home? I wanna go home," Aurelian pouted.

"I'm sorry, Aurelian," Hermione said sincerely, "but we can't go back there, love."

Aurelian pleaded with Draco. "Pwease. Pwease, Daddy. I wanna go home. I'll let you be Brehaut."

"Brehaut?" Draco asked in confusion.

"Is that a Quidditch figurine?" Hermione asked suspiciously.

"Uh-huh. It's Daddy's favorite. Daddy loves Tornadoes like me," Aurelian said with a pout as he stared at Draco with tear-filled eyes. He didn't understand why his father was so upset with him.

Draco looked extremely edgy and tried hard not to look at the boy who stared straight at him.

"Look, Potter, I've had enough, alright?" Draco said forcefully, a bit of desperation in his voice. Harry considered him, and then Aurelian and Hermione.

"Alright," he conceded finally. "Just... just give me a second though, Malfoy. Hermione, I'll be right back."

Hermione nodded and watched the two men leave the room only to stand uncomfortably in front of one another on the other side of the door.

"Look, Malfoy..." Harry started uncertainly. The pity he felt for his childhood rival was not something that happened very often. "I know this has to be tough, but as you can see, this is no game we're playing. Take a break and clear your head, but I expect you to continue to help with this."

Malfoy looked away, unsure of how to respond. He realized that Harry was still waiting for a reply and sighed in defeat. "What time am I supposed to be here?"

"Actually, tomorrow we're going to Hogwarts," Harry informed him. At Draco's surprised look, he explained. "The ring and the paper weren't the only things we found on him. He had a bottle of memories. We owled McGonagall yesterday and she agreed to let us use the Pensieve. If I know Hermione, I'm sure that bottle holds a lot of answers."

"Am I supposed to be there?" Draco asked in frustration.

"I think it would certainly help if all of us had a look at it, but if you really can't... well... If you really can't, I guess we'll have to fill you in," Harry said. "Think about it. We'll be at the gates at nine in the morning. Hermione and I, I mean. Aurelian will be staying at the Burrow. Again, think about it. If not... well, we'll owl you."

Draco nodded and turned away. He mumbled to himself as he left, "Never should have agreed..."

"Well, that went beautifully," Hermione said with bitter sarcasm as she walked toward Harry. Aurelian was draped around her with his head on her shoulder, his arms hanging limply, becoming sleepy in his mother's arms.

Harry gave her a mirthless, sympathetic smile. He had known what was underneath her angry shell and stoic expressions, and it showed as soon as Malfoy left. She was hurt and confused, and, though she didn't want to be, she was stung by Draco's vindictive attitude.

"I'm sorry, Hermione," Harry apologized.

"It's fine," she said defiantly and steeled herself again.

"You're hurt, Hermione. Anyone would be. Just... just try not to let him get to you. Go back to the Burrow and just relax," he suggested.

"It's not even lunch," Hermione said in disbelief.

"It's just about," Harry said with a glance down at his watch. "It may be early still, but it's been quite eventful and we learned more than we thought we would. Not to mention, he looks like he's had enough, too."

"You sure you don't want me to drop him off and come back?" Hermione asked.

"Hermione," Harry sighed, "you need a break, he needs a break, and he needs you. He is the assignment, Hermione. So, take care of you both."

Hermione nodded in agreement and gratitude. "Thanks, Harry."

"See you at the Burrow for dinner?" he asked.

"Yeah... we'll have to fill Ron in." Dread filled her again at the thought.

"I'll talk to him first," Harry offered. "I'll see you at dinner."

 

Chapter Text

The morning sun streamed brightly through the trees and upon the empty grounds of Hogwarts as Harry and Hermione stood patiently outside the gates. Despite the shade, and the fact that it was still morning, the summer heat bore down on them. Hermione rolled a small rock back and forth under her sandal as she waited anxiously.

"Do you really think he'll come?" she asked with a glance up at Harry.

Harry casually leaned back against the pillar that supported one of the winged boar statues. "Yes. He'll come," he answered. The truth was, while he didn't know Malfoy very well, he knew the man enough - worked with him enough in the past - to know that he could not stand to be left in the dark. There was no way that Draco Malfoy could continue his daily life after what he had learned.

Just as Harry had finished speaking, a small 'pop' announced Draco's arrival. He stood with them just outside the gate and nodded to them in acknowledgment.

"Potter. Granger," he said by way of greeting.

"Malfoy," Harry returned as he inclined his head. Hermione merely nodded, unable to find her voice for a moment. Draco certainly wasn't the only one uncomfortable after the previous day's meeting. She didn't quite know how to act around him. She felt embarrassed, a bit angry, and hurt.

"So?" Malfoy asked impatiently after a few seconds of silence. "Are we going to do this?"

"We are, but we received an owl from McGonagall this morning that said that something had come up and she'd need to postpone our meeting until half past ten," Harry explained.

"And you couldn't have told me this before I showed up?" Draco asked bitterly.

"An owl wouldn't have reached you in time," Hermione said simply.

"And you've never heard of the Floo network?" Draco asked derisively.

"You'll have to forgive us," Harry said in a hard tone, "but even without the presence of your father and Death Eaters, Hermione and I aren't very comfortable visiting the manor, even just in part."

"Don't you dare mention my father," Draco responded darkly. Though Draco had played a great part in the capture of several Death Eaters, he was still very sore about his father's imprisonment.

"We apologize for not contacting you, but we still arrived here at the time we arranged," Hermione told him. She hoped this might ward off more arguing and bitter remarks.

"Yeah, but what? You just expect us to stand around here until then?" he replied acerbically.

"You can do what you want," Harry told him loftily. "Hermione and I are going to get some breakfast at the Three Broomsticks. You can join us if you want, but it really makes no difference to me what you do. Let's get going, Hermione."

Hermione started to walk behind Harry, but looked curiously at Draco over her shoulder as she wondered what he would do. Draco seemed just as curious as she did, uncertain whether he wanted to follow.

"Are you coming or not?" Harry asked as he continued down the hill.

"Fine," Draco answered, not in a rush to catch up. Hermione slowed her pace slightly so he wouldn't be as far behind.

"Ah, good morning," Madam Rosmerta greeted as the three took a seat at a table in the corner. "What are you three doing here this morning?" Her voice slowly lost its cheerfulness and she ended the sentence with a frown after taking notice of Draco. Madam Rosmerta had certainly not forgotten Malfoy's use of the Imperius Curse on her five years before; Harry had personally convinced her not to press charges, to forgive the deed. She never quite knew why Harry had asked. He had told her the circumstances - how Draco was threatened and felt he had no choice. He had informed her of Draco's act of repentance and his assistance in providing knowledge and material that would put many more threatening Death Eaters in prison for life. She agreed and forgave him, more for her sake and Harry's than Malfoy's. However, she had never stopped wondering whether Draco had been truly remorseful or just sought a way to keep himself out of Azkaban. She reminded herself again that it didn't matter the reason; she had forgiven him, and it wouldn't help her to dwell on what she had agreed to put behind her.

"Working," Harry answered her with a polite and knowing smile. "We've got a meeting with the Headmistress today."

"Everything's alright, I hope?"

"Yeah, just looking into a lead we have. Malfoy's giving us a hand," Harry said. He had seen Draco's obvious discomfort and did not miss the suspicion in Rosmerta's scrutinizing stare.

"Well, I hope it goes well." Rosmerta's reply closed the subject completely and allowed her to fix her smile back in place. "So, what can I get you today?"

"Two eggs, scrambled, a rasher of bacon, and a cup of coffee." Harry smiled and handed her the menu that he had never even glanced at.

"Just a coffee," Draco said. He tried to look at her so as not to be rude, but he still couldn't bring himself to look her in the eye.

"A cinnamon chip muffin and a Butterbeer, please," Hermione ordered politely, also turning in her unused menu. It had been awhile since either Harry or Hermione had been able to visit the pub, but they had been there enough in the past to know what they wanted.

The three of them sat in silence as they waited for their food to arrive. It wasn't long before it did.

"Butterbeer for breakfast?" Draco asked, as he eyed the mug of frothy amber liquid in front of Hermione.

"Yes," she answered loftily. Her tone dared him to poke fun. "I haven't had it in quite some time. And, well, even though it has low alcohol content," her tone dropped a little, "I'm hoping it will still calm my nerves a bit."

"Hermione…" Harry said in sympathetic exasperation.

Hermione looked at him indignantly. "Don't do that, Harry. Don't pity me and don't judge me. I'm uptight and could really use something to take the edge off. If it weren't half nine in the morning, I'd be considering a Firewhiskey," she said tartly. "Now that I've said it, maybe I should consider it."

"Hermione…" Harry repeated.

"Stop, Harry. I'm not like you. I'm not as strong as you are," Hermione admitted while she stared down at her hands.

A small silence followed before Draco sighed and responded with slight annoyance, "Why do I feel like I'm being baited?"

Harry and Hermione looked at him in confusion, obviously not understanding what he'd meant.

"Fine." He sighed again. "And just why are you so uptight, Granger?"

"You're teasing me." Hermione's tone held a bit of a question to it, though her response was a statement. At Draco's frustrated and somewhat indignant expression, Hermione realized that he really didn't understand her anxiety.

"You're really not prepared for this," she sadly realized.

"What is it that you're trying to say, Granger?" he ordered irritably.

"This… these memories… This is a war we're investigating and, well, I'm afraid of what we'll see. Whatever we're going to see, I'm sure it's not pleasant. I don't want to see any more war." She swallowed hard and nibbled her bottom lip.

Silence followed this statement as well. Draco didn't know what to say. It was true; he hadn't thought much on what they'd be seeing. The possibilities were disturbing.

"So, anything else for you today?" Madam Rosmerta asked kindly as she removed empty breakfast plates. Harry shook his head in polite declination.

Madam Rosmerta was just turning back toward the bar when Draco interrupted her. "Two shots of Firewhiskey, please."

Hermione and Madam Rosmerta looked at Draco in surprise, but Madam Rosmerta just nodded and continued to the bar to get the order. Hermione watched Draco, unsure of what to think. No one said another word. When the barmaid returned with the Firewhiskey, Draco threw his back quickly. Hermione nodded to him and drank her own shot. Harry stood when they were finished and left an appropriate sum to pay the bill. Draco was surprised, at first, to see Harry pay for him, but he said nothing. Hermione thanked Rosmerta on the way out; Harry and Draco nodded their appreciation also. Once outside, the three of them took deep breaths and started back toward the castle.

"Thank you, Professor, for allowing us to come today," Hermione said politely after they were greeted by the Headmistress. "We really don't mean to bother you, but Pensieves are difficult to come by. You have the only one that we know of."

"It is not a problem really," she assured them as she showed them through the school. "I'm glad that I can be of assistance. I only apologize for postponing our meeting on such short notice."

"No, it wasn't a problem. I'm sure you're rather busy," said Harry.

"Cliodne." Professor McGonagall spoke the password to the gargoyle guarding her office and it promptly moved aside, revealing the moving staircase. "After you."

The four of them ascended the moving staircase and entered the office. Harry, Hermione, and Draco stood uncertainly as they waited for McGonagall to speak. She flipped through a few papers on her desk, selected a few from one of the piles, and returned her attention to her guests.

"Well, I'm sure you remember where it is, Mr. Potter." She smiled kindly. "As I'm sure this business is private, I shall leave you to it. I only ask that you find me when you're through. I'm going to Filch's office now, since he has a few things he would like to address with me. After that, I shall be in the Entrance Hall speaking with Hagrid. He has some new curriculum that he would like me to approve." She sighed heavily after she said this. She, like Dumbledore, had always had a soft spot for Hagrid, but she was not as trusting as the late Headmaster when it came to Hagrid's judgment regarding what was and wasn't a dangerous creature.

"Thank you," Hermione said once more. When the Headmistress had left the office, Harry walked over to the large cupboard on the North wall and opened its doors wide to reveal the stone basin that he had used many times in the past.

He looked expectantly at Hermione and gestured her forward. "Okay."

Hermione reached into the pocket of her robes and removed the small bottle. She unstopped the cork and glanced at the two men before she poured the gas-light liquid into the bowl.

"Alright…" Harry steeled himself for what was to come. "Have you ever used a Pensieve?" he asked Draco.

His eyes never left the basin as he shook his head. "No, but I've heard of them."

"Well, from experience, you benefit much more by entering than watching from above. Why don't you go first, Hermione. I'll follow after you, Malfoy," Harry suggested.

Hermione nodded, took a deep breath, and slowly dipped her hand into the cool liquid. As soon as her fingers touched, her body was pulled through. Malfoy felt sick from seeing her simply disappear into the bowl like that. If it weren't for Harry's expectant look, Draco might have reconsidered his decision. Instead, he stepped up and followed Hermione's example. He took a deep breath and reached out to touch the contents of the stone basin.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione had hardly registered the feel of the liquid when she was pulled into the memory contained within the Pensieve. No sooner had her feet touched the floor than she felt herself pulled through the memory. She recognized her surroundings immediately. She was on level two of the Ministry of Magic, the floor where her, Ron, and Harry's offices were located. Just as quickly as she identified her location, she recognized the person she was meant to follow. She jogged to catch up so that she would no longer be pulled by the limits of the memory.

"What… what are we…?" Draco stuttered as he arrived and immediately started toward Hermione.

"We're following me, of course." Hermione pointed at the woman in front of them and answered his unfinished question. Draco did a double take as he looked from the woman beside him to the woman in front. Except for their clothing, they were an exact copy of each other. The woman in front wore a professional outfit much like the present Hermione had worn the day before.

"Just as we thought we would," Harry agreed with Hermione. "Which means they're Hermione's own memories from the future."

"Yes, but what are we supp-" Draco's question was cut short when they rounded the corner and stopped.

"Malfoy?" the memory Hermione said in surprise. The future Malfoy stopped in his tracks and stared at the woman who called his name. "C-can I help you with something?" she asked uncertainly as she warily started toward him. She could not be blamed for her caution for the man looked rather jumpy.

"What?" Malfoy asked, still surprised to see her there.

She gave him a suspicious stare and repeated, "I asked if you needed help with something. I'm sort of assuming you do as you were just pacing outside my office."

Malfoy looked up at the door as though surprised to see it there. He glanced again at her and back at the floor as he thought. "No. No, I don't need anything."

"Wait!" Hermione called and reached out toward him as he turned away to walk down the hall. He only made it a few steps before a different door opened. Draco stepped back in surprise as he stood eye to eye with Harry Potter.

"Malfoy?" he asked in surprise.

Draco turned from Harry to the woman that stood behind him. He felt trapped and it showed on his face.

"Did you need something, Malfoy?" Harry asked curiously.

The internal battle that raged inside showed on his face.

"Malfoy…?" Hermione said tentatively. "Is something wrong? You know we-"

Draco turned away from Hermione quickly, stood straight and stared hard at Harry. It seemed that Hermione's patronizing tone had made up his mind. He would not accept that kind of treatment and so turned to the man that would never dream of taking that tone with him.

"I need to talk," he stated flatly.

"We can talk in my office," Harry offered in a business-like voice. Hermione stood uncertainly in the hall until Harry jerked his head in invitation. She nodded and walked through.

"Keep up," the visiting Harry instructed as he followed after the memories. Hermione and Draco followed after, both slightly jarred to have walked straight through the closed door that had been open only a moment before.

"What's this? The interrogation room?" the memory Draco asked sourly. This was obviously not what he had hoped for.

Memory Harry took the same chair he'd taken the day before in their reality. "Relax. This is just the best place to talk if we don't want to be overheard," Harry informed him. As he finished, Hermione set up wards for privacy. Draco glanced at her and back at Harry. "I assure you, it's not personal. I conduct more business here than I do at my desk. You can have a seat if you'd like."

Hermione stood by the door and waited to see if Draco would sit. When he didn't, she decided she'd be more comfortable standing as well.

"So, what's going on?" Harry asked with sincere concern. He had not personally spoken to Draco since he had assisted them in the few months following the war.

"I was attacked," the memory Draco moodily admitted through his embarrassment.

"By whom?" Hermione asked, her own concern showing again.

"I… I don't know," he muttered his reply as he avoided both of their gazes. When neither spoke he glanced quickly at one, then the other. He wasn't sure what he was looking for but he continued. "Last night, I was at a bar with some friends. We were celebrating Zabini's promotion. I left earlier than the others because I was supposed to work today. I… I was just walking down the road and… I don't know what happened. I woke up in my bed with a cut on my arm." He stopped again and looked at two people he never thought he'd go to for help. He told himself to expect them to laugh, to expect them to doubt him; at the same time, he trusted them not to do so. His trust was not misplaced. They looked at him with concern and waited for him to continue. "I… the wall… a wall to the right of my bed was cleared. The wardrobe was knocked over and pictures removed… Th-there was a message, floor to ceiling… 'blood traitor'… It was written in blood."

Harry and Hermione were silent, both lost in their own thoughts for a moment before Harry answered the shaken man. "Malfoy, I'm sorry for what happened to you. Sincerely, I am," he said earnestly. "But this kind of thing isn't really my department. You should really see the Law Enforcement Sq-"

"I know quite well what this department is, Potter," Malfoy said angrily. Only a few minutes ago he had convinced himself that Potter wouldn't patronize him, and here he was… "I know what your job is and that's why I came to you. I was under the impression that you were smarter."

"Malfoy… are you saying-?"

Harry was cut off by a small concerned voice. "You said the writing took up the whole wall, floor to ceiling?" Hermione asked, a far off look in her eye as she thought. Draco nodded. "If it's in blood then…" She looked at Harry with concern.

Draco finished her thought, "Something or someone had to die to write that message." He then stared pointedly at Harry.

"And if it was… well… I would expect that if anyone wanted to target him, it would say 'Death Eater', not 'blood traitor.'" Hermione said thoughtfully. "Who would write 'blood traitor'?"

"You think it was a Death Eater?" Harry asked him seriously.

"I want to hear you say it, Potter. Do you think it was a Death Eater?" Draco insisted, his eyes hard.

Harry looked at him through narrowed eyes, truly confused.

"You're not telling us something." Hermione's accusation was in no way harsh and she waited patiently for his response. She was right and he wasn't comfortable with it. He didn't want to tell everything, not if they were just going to turn him away. But what did he have to lose?

"The property wards, though not what they once were, are strong. Not just anyone could have gotten in. Also, my mask… my mask was on my bed with an 'X' over it," Draco finished, his eyes on the floor.

"This isn't even two months from now," the visiting Hermione worried aloud. Her voice startled the two men who had forgotten her for a moment. They both looked surprised and scanned the room curiously to figure out how she knew. "There was a calendar above Harry's desk. It said September 2000."

"I'm not dismissing this. This question doesn't get you sent to another department. I need to know: do you know of anyone, friends or enemies, that would do this just to scare you?" Harry asked seriously. "I need to know honestly."

"No," Draco answered without hesitation. "People don't like me, but I don't know anyone that would do anything like that. That and… I haven't seen my mask since the last battle."

Harry nodded and exchanged looks with Hermione.

"Grab your kit, Hermione," Harry instructed. "We're going to need to see your room, Malfoy."

Malfoy stiffly nodded his appreciation. "Potter, my mother doesn't know. No one does."

"Don't worry, we don't-"

The visiting trio was a little surprised to see the scene change as they had been so intent on the conversation that they didn't notice memory Hermione leave the room.

"What's happening?" the visiting Draco asked, as the world around him changed.

"It's a different memory," Hermione explained.

"But, we're right back to where we started," Draco argued.

"Different time," Harry said. "Different clothes."

Draco looked around and saw the young woman. She walked down that same hall that she'd been in when they first fell into the Pensieve.

"Watch for a calendar or any sign of the time," the visiting Hermione reminded them.

The memory Hermione stopped outside her office and tried to open the door. She fumbled with several files, a couple books, and a cup of coffee.

"Hermione!" A voice carried from the other end of the corridor. Everyone looked up and watched as Ron jogged down the silent hall to meet her. When he reached her, he took the cup of coffee off the stack and opened the door for her.

"Hermione, have you seen Harry?"

"Thank you," Hermione said with immense gratitude and relief. With a great sigh, she allowed her books and files to plop onto her tidy desk.

"Since when do you drink coffee?" Ron asked curiously as he stared into the cup.

"Since today," Hermione answered. "It still tastes foul, but I was up all night trying to look over all of this crossover paperwork. But that's not what you're here for… what did you ask?"

"If you've seen Harry. It's urgent," Ron repeated.

"He's taking an official statement from Fred and George," Hermione answered. "But, if it's urgent, I'm sure they won't mind. What's happened?" Ron's face fell and looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She knew exactly what that look meant. He didn't want to have to say it. Somehow it was always harder for him to bring this stuff to her than to Harry. It was like he expected her to be too weak to handle it… or maybe he just felt bad that she had to. "Tell me, Ron."

"It's the Parkinsons," he muttered darkly.

Hermione gasped and covered her mouth. "Did they find her body?"

"Pansy? No. This… Well, it started out like just a regular case. We knew that magic was being used in a Muggle area and we went to investigate. Well… we got there, to the house, and there were two dead Muggles and Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson."

"What?" Hermione asked incredulously.

"They were under Imperius – had to be. Mr. Parkinson was also dead when we got there; killed by his wife, looks like. She looked as if she was tortured first though. She was literally out of her mind. She was twitching and just didn't seem like she was really, you know, there."

"Is she okay?" Hermione asked with concern.

"No, she was still under Imperius, it seems. We got there and – and she took her own life… right in front of us," Ron mumbled.

Hermione looked even more horrified, but her thoughts quickly transformed. "Ron, did you search the area well? Immediately? It either had to be a very strong spell or the person casting was very close."

"I know. We did check. Thoroughly. No luck though. This is above us though. The use of two or more Unforgivables in one crime scene goes straight to Aurors. I'll go meet with Harry for this. He'll be upset if the case goes to anyone else. He's been trying to find Pansy for-"

"We've been trying to find Pansy for seven months," she corrected. "Why, exactly, I don't know. She… We just need closure, I guess. Sorry… I'm kind of..." Hermione paused. She was getting frustrated and emotionally attached to the victims. It was a big 'no-no' to her. If she wanted to do her job well, then she had to step back and breathe. "You're right that Harry will want this."

"And you know he's going to be sending you over there so you might as well get a start. I'll give you the address if you want," Ron offered.

Hermione nodded. She was okay now. She was prepared. She would go and do her job.

"Don't forget, when you go over there, make sure you're escorted-"

"By an MLE officer," Hermione finished for him, her hand held out for the address.

"A seasoned officer, not just some-"

"Rookie," she finished for him again, her hand beckoned impatiently for the paper in his hand. "I've done this before, Ron. I know-"

"I know you've done this before, Hermione," Ron said seriously. "And you're good at what you do. I just want you to be careful. Things aren't like they were before. Things are… I don't know. I just have a bad feeling's all."

"I know. And I appreciate the concern, really." She smiled warmly.

The visiting Draco scowled in distaste, and then rolled his eyes at where this informative conversation seemed to be heading.

"Oh, Ron, you didn't mention if Muggle police were involved."

"Muggle police have been sent away. They think it was a simple 'domestic dispute' or something. This is strictly wizard business now."

"Were the Muggles connected to a wizard somehow then?" she asked nervously.

"Yeah… it's the Creeveys. Dennis' parents." Ron looked down. It was always so much harder when it was said aloud.

"No… not the Creeveys…" visiting Harry said quietly, an ache in his chest as he thought of Dennis. He still clearly remembered the pain and grief in the boy's eyes when he had lost his brother at the last battle.

"Seven months…" Hermione said, her thoughts focused on what her memory self had said about Pansy.

"April," Draco said quietly. "The calendar said April."

Hermione, lost in her own thoughts, looked up at Draco in confusion, before she realized it was true. Pansy was said to be missing for seven months and it had been seven months since Draco's attack. She had heard herself say that she didn't believe that Pansy was alive. Could she have been the one that…

Hermione didn't move until the boundaries of the next memory pulled her along. She looked up to see that the three of them were behind Draco and her memory self as they walked down a sidewalk in a small suburban neighborhood.

A light breeze swept around them and caused small white flower petals from a nearby dogwood tree to flutter down like snow around them.

"Oh, stop complaining," memory Hermione insisted in an annoyed voice. She closed her eyes for a moment to appreciate the soft breeze and the beautiful floral scent that accompanied it.

"I have." Draco scowled at her.

"Yes, but now you're brooding and that's the same thing," she said in a lofty, contemptuous voice. "I know that you don't know her well and this is weird for you. I know you don't want to be here, but she's the first person to have seen any sign at all of Dennis and-"

"I know why we're here, Granger," Malfoy snapped. "I just don't understand why have to be here."

"Yes, you do. You know perfectly well that I can't go alone to any kind of interview and Harry's got quite a bit on his plate. He would come if he could, I assure you," Hermione told him, her head held high, as it often was when she was around Malfoy.

"Yeah, Potter's busy, but that still doesn't explain why I'm here. Somehow, you seem to have forgotten that I'm not actually part of Magical Law Enforcement," he returned, his eyes narrowed as he watched her haughty gait.

"You're part of our full-time investigation of Death Eater activity. Certified or not, you're part of the department now," Hermione said.

"I didn't know that Law Enforcement could be drafted like that. Do you offer jobs to every bloke that gets attacked?" Draco asked derisively.

Hermione couldn't help but chuckle. "Only insufferable, sardonic, stiff necks, it would seem." She smirked in a not unfriendly way. "And you've been working with us for close to a year now, so don't pretend that you-"

"You know, speaking of stiff necks," Draco interrupted her rant, "you seem to be walking a little straight-pinned yourself. Need a little help removing that stick from your-"

Hermione fixed him with a hard glare and he fell silent, a great smirk on his face.

"Well, at least you're smiling," she grumbled quietly. She sighed and lifted her hand to knock on the door. Draco immediately stiffened. His smirk slipped while he schooled himself into a proud, dignified stance. Hermione squeezed her lips together to not allow a chuckle to escape. She had seen him do it a hundred times and it always amused her. He looked like stone when he stood like that. Finally, she knocked and they waited silently for an answer.
Hermione smiled broadly as a tall woman with long brown hair answered the door.

"Andromeda." Hermione smiled in greeting. "It feels like it's been ages. Thank you for-"

"GRANGER!"

The three observers were stunned by the sudden action. From where they stood, it looked like a friendly meeting. They were shocked by Draco's shout and the way he shoved Hermione roughly to the ground, but nothing surprised them more than the green light of a spell that tore through the visiting Harry's body.

"Damn it, Granger!" Draco cursed at the woman who trembled on the ground next to him. "You're supposed to be the expert. What the hell are you doing? 'Wand at the ready.' 'Constant Vigilance.' Isn't that the shite you always spout at me?" Draco's breaths were ragged and he shook as he scolded her.

Hermione looked at him, the place she had been standing, and through the ghost-like Harry at a charred mark on the ash tree on the other side of the street. Slowly, she allowed her gaze to turn and fall on the woman who lay unconscious in the doorway and her trembling increased. "B-b-but…"

"She was under the Imperius," Draco explained. He was certain that Hermione had already come to that conclusion, but he understood that she just needed to hear it from someone else. "Come on. Get up, Granger."

Hermione was surprised to see that he offered her his hand. At her incredulous look, Draco started to regret it. He helped her to her feet and she turned to stare again at the woman she had seen many times over the last few years: the grandmother of Harry's godson.

"Teddy!" Hermione shouted suddenly. It took Draco a second to realize what had happened before he chased after the girl who ran full-tilt through the house. The visiting Hermione looked just as stunned when visiting Harry took off after her as well. He didn't get far though because the scene changed again.

"Damn it! No! What happened? What happened to Teddy?" Harry rounded on the visiting Hermione like it was her fault they were torn from the scene.

"Easy, Potter," Draco said in a hard, but calm voice. He sounded both frightened and threatening at the same time.

"Damn it!" Harry cursed again as he turned away from Hermione. He was embarrassed by his outburst, even more so from Draco being the one to call him on it, but he could still barely register those feelings over his frantic and protective feelings for Teddy.

"Harry? Harry?"

Harry looked up and seemed to remember himself when the form of the memory Hermione called out to him. He looked down the hall and saw her chasing after his memory self.

"It sounds like thunder in these halls. What's happening? Did-"

"I haven't time, Hermione," Harry said hurriedly.

Fear gripped her when she saw his eyes full of fierce, angry determination. It meant one of two things, death or Death Eaters. She dreaded either.

"Harry?" She jogged after him.

"Not now, Hermione," he scolded.

"Just tell me who? Where?" she pleaded. He stopped and turned to her. It wasn't a good sign.

Harry looked her in the eye and said, "The Dark Mark was spotted over the Manor." He didn't need to specify whose manor, for she understood.

"No!" she gasped. "Malfoy?"

"I don't know. That's why I have to-"

"I'm going with you!" Hermione declared.

"Hermione, this isn't your job," Harry said as he gripped her arm to hold her back.

"We said he'd be safe. We said we'd protect him. I'm coming, Harry," she said fiercely. Harry saw his own determination mirrored in her eyes and he knew he wouldn't win.

"Just wear a shield cloak and don't leave my side," Harry ordered as he shoved a cloak into her hand. The visiting Harry and Hermione exchanged looks and made furtive glances at visiting Malfoy for his reaction. They were quite nervous to see what the memory would show next; Malfoy had to be at least doubly so.

The memory Hermione raced into the next room with Harry and before any of the visitors could follow, the world around them changed in a way that they had never before experienced. It was long and narrow with quickly flashing colors and as suddenly as it started, it stopped.

"What was that?" the visiting Harry asked.

"I think I just Apparated," Hermione answered quietly. She spotted herself and Harry walking across the lawn from the gate and pointed them out to the other two visitors. They squinted into the setting sun and jogged to catch up. They had to increase their speed to almost a run as the memory Hermione and Harry rushed into the house. Visiting Hermione kept glancing back at Draco. He looked like he might be ill.

"Nothing's happened yet," she reminded him. "We're here so we can prevent it…"

Draco did not acknowledge her in any way. He held a stoic expression as he walked behind the slowing group. There were about a dozen Aurors moving in and out and around the Manor. Harry and Hermione moved over to a small group huddled around the drawing room.

"Robards?" Harry announced his presence to his boss.

"Potter. Good, can you-?"

"May I check the west wing? Has it been checked?" Harry interrupted. Hermione gasped when one of the Aurors stepped to the side. There she saw a set of stockinged feet in high heels on the floor, a slow stream of blood pooled down toward them. She didn't need to see any more to know who it was.

"I was just going to ask you to sweep that area," Robards informed Harry.

"Malfoy…?" the visiting Hermione probed gently. Draco looked pale, his eyes unseeing as he stared at what he could see of his mother's body. He made to take a step forward and Hermione kindly but firmly put her hand on his arm. "Don't…"

Before they were given a choice, the visitors were pulled along and forced to chase the memory up the staircases to the west wing. Hermione and Harry raced down the corridor, Harry using his wand to throw open each set of doors. Hermione waited anxiously at each door as Harry had to do a quick sweep of each one to make sure that no one was hiding or had been hidden there. At the fourth set of doors that Harry whisked open, they stopped. Hermione had gasped and covered her mouth as Harry stood stock-still, his lips parted in shock.

Visiting Harry and Hermione rushed into the room to see what their memory-selves saw and Draco followed on autopilot. There, on the hardwood floor, Draco Malfoy lay face down and unmoving with his grey eyes unseeing. Memory Hermione knelt near his head and placed her fingers on the pulse point on his neck, tears welling in her eyes.

The visiting Hermione's eyes were watering in much the same way. She looked over at the living Draco, who looked both ill and numb.

"Oh gods, Harry…" the memory Hermione sobbed.

"He's…?"

Hermione sobbed harder. "We said we'd protect him… Damn it! Why couldn't he have listened? Why couldn't he have gone to the headquarters like we asked? God damn it, Malfoy!"

"Hermione… I know… I…" Harry looked down and away, filled with the same guilt, pain, and anger.

"We were supposed to keep this from happening…" Hermione repeated.

"We couldn't make him leave," Harry said quietly. He stopped. He knew it was not what she needed to hear right then. She wanted to blame everyone and anyone, but she would never let Harry place any blame.

"This isn't it. This isn't right," the visiting Hermione said seriously. "You're not dead, Malfoy. You can't be. We haven't seen Aurelian yet. You can't die before that." Harry and Draco both looked at Hermione and she could see that they were both grateful for the reminder; whether they had forgotten, she didn't know, but they had needed the reassurance either way.

"Hermione… I… I still have to-" the memory Harry started uneasily.

"I know, Harry." Hermione answered, her eyes still on Draco.

"They'll send someone to-"

"I'll stay, Harry. You finish what you have to." Hermione looked up at him and forced a look through her tears that she hoped would reassure him that she'd be okay. Harry nodded and left the room, his look of grief still stuck in her mind.
Hermione looked back down at Draco and sobbed again. She took a deep breath and tried to compose herself.

Slowly, she scooted back and tried to turn his body so that he faced up. His body rolled and made a thud when it hit the hardwood floor. She cringed. The sound combined with his unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling felt like a punch to the stomach.

"I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…" She cried as she gently closed his eyes. She turned her head, not able to stand to see him like that… And that's when she saw it. Curiosity replaced some of her incredible grief when her eyes fell upon the tiny vial that rolled out of Malfoy's fingers.

"What is that?" visiting Harry asked.

"An empty vial," visiting Hermione answered, walking around the room to get a closer look, kneeling next to her memory-self. "I'm not sure what-"

Memory Hermione sniffed the bottle and snorted in distaste. She stared at it hard, her mind obviously hard at work. Suddenly, she dropped the bottle and pulled Draco's head to her.

"What is she doing? What are you doing?" visiting Draco demanded suddenly.

"I'm checking… I'm checking… your gums! They're purple!" visiting Hermione said excitedly.

"And what does that mean?" Draco persisted.

"It means-"

"Harry! HARRY!" the memory Hermione shouted as she scampered to her feet. "He's alive!"

Harry raced into the room. "Hermione? What-?"

"He's not dead… at least… at least… I need to take him. Now! Is-?"

"The wards are down. You can Apparate." Harry hurried to cut her off. Hermione nodded. "Update me!"

Hermione heard him but couldn't respond as she was already on the floor, her arms around Draco. She twisted where she was and the world collapsed around the visitors again.

When the world reformed around them they saw Hermione kneeling on the floor in the dimly lit foyer of Grimmauld Place.

"Hello?" she cried desperately.

"Hermione?" Molly called back in worry as she bustled into the room. "Oh Merlin, who-? Malfoy?"

"Can you get him to the couch?" she pleaded. "I need to-"

Molly answered quickly, "Yes. Yes, of course," and pulled out her wand.

Hermione took the stairs two at a time. The visitors were forced to follow, but their eyes stayed on the open doorway to the sitting room.

Hermione stopped suddenly, halfway up the second staircase. "Accio Wiggenweld!"

The visitors were so caught up in the frantic scene that they, too, had forgotten that Hermione had the ability to summon what she needed. A small blue vial flew into her hand and before the visitors could move out of the way, the memory Hermione ran straight through them. Her feet were moving so quickly that it was a wonder she didn't fall. The visitors felt out of breath as they tried to catch up to her.

"Molly?" she cried.

"In here!" was shouted in return. Hermione raced into the sitting room and knelt beside the velvet settee.

"You better hope this works," she whispered. She bit her lip and unstopped the bottle, a stray tear streaming down her heated cheeks. She let out a shaky breath and steadied her shaking hands.

"What is it? What is she doing? What are you doing?" Harry repeated Draco's earlier questions as the three visitors huddled around memory Hermione, all of them feeling desperate and anxious.

"It was Draught of Living Death," visitor Hermione answered in a whisper, hardly able to speak. "The Wiggenweld Potion should revive him."

"But why are you pouring it in his nose?" Harry asked. Draco silently appreciated that Harry asked it, for he was too sick to speak himself.

"He can't swallow. If I poured it in his mouth, the saliva would impede the absorption of the potion, but the lining of the nose is thin and delicate. It will dissolve into the blood stream much faster," Hermione explained. "And haste is what we need because if the other potion is still being absorbed…" She didn't finish her thought; she couldn't. Her brain felt numb as she watched. She knew that Draco would be okay because of what Aurelian had told her about him, but somehow the fact would not sink in. She felt as desperate as her memory self and twice as helpless.

"Come on, Malfoy," the memory Hermione pleaded as she pressed her fingers against his neck and prayed for his pulse to return. "Please…"

A small relieved chuckle escaped with her sob when she felt his slowly increasing heart rate. She turned and smiled up at Molly who watched anxiously. Hermione opened Draco's mouth and poured a little more potion into his mouth. When he did not swallow, Hermione rubbed her finger over his tongue. He made a small gagging sound and swallowed.

"Good… good, Malfoy… One more…" Hermione repeated this action, giving him the last of the potion, and waited impatiently as his heart kept beating faster. Draco took a great breath and both Hermione and Molly chuckled and sobbed together. After another few seconds Hermione gently called his name. "Malfoy…?"

There was no response so she tried again, a little louder, and gently shook his shoulder. "Malfoy, wake up."

Her own heart was beating furiously as she began to panic again.

"Malfoy? Malfoy, wake up," she commanded shaking him a bit harder. "Malfoy. Malfoy, get up!"

The man on the sofa groaned and slowly one of his eyes peeked open.

"Malfoy?" she sobbed, ready to start crying again.

"Granger?" he croaked uncertainly.

Hermione buried her face in her hands and finally allowed herself to come down from the excruciating high.

"Granger?" Malfoy asked again.

"You idiot!" She sobbed angrily, unable to stop herself anymore. She stared at him and so fierce were her feelings that he could feel them pressing down around him. "What were you thinking? Draught of Living Death? Gods, Malfoy!"

Draco was stunned by her unexpected reaction and glanced nervously at Molly. Molly smiled affectionately at Hermione and quietly left the room.

"Granger…"

"I asked what you were thinking!" she shouted. "Do you have any idea…? I thought you were dead!"

"I thought I was going to die, that's what I thought," he said quietly, still looking a little tired. "They showed up and put up wards. I couldn't Apparate away. The only way I could leave was past them. It was seven to one. I was going to die… so I took the Draught of Living Death."

"And that could have killed you! If you had taken too much you would be stuck in either a coma or a casket!"

"I know that, but it was worth the risk. If they found me, I would be dead and they might have even had fun torturing me first. The potion had a chance of death, but it also gave me a chance that I could make it," Draco explained.

"But I thought you were dead!" Hermione's speech halted for a moment. Her face screwed up in grief and the tears returned again. "I thought you were dead. If I had left you to anyone else, you might have been buried alive."

"Which is why I was hoping you'd be the one to find me," Draco said matter-of-factly.

Hermione stopped and looked at him. He tried to make it sound so simple and logical. He just didn't understand. He could see her distress but he just couldn't understand.

"Never again, Draco Malfoy. Don't you ever do anything like that to me again," she said darkly, her voice steady but severe.

"Granger…?" He felt uncomfortable, filled with guilt that he wasn't sure he should feel.

Hermione grabbed his collar and stared him hard in the eye. "Never again…" she repeated desperately.

Malfoy's eyes were locked on hers and his guilt increased. He felt sick from it. He was sorry, sincerely sorry and didn't know what to say. "Never again…" he breathed.

Hermione allowed her head to tip forward, her forehead resting on his, emotionally and physically exhausted. "You have no idea what you did to me."

Draco's heart raced. He still wasn't quite sure where she was, what to think of her, for her emotions seemed to be all over the place. But if it was one thing he knew, she was just too close. Hermione pressed her lips down onto his in a slow, firm kiss. Draco gasped at first contact but quickly joined her and wove his fingers into her hair. It was there, in that moment, that the fog cleared and the world finally made sense. His feelings of anger, frustration, and guilt toward this woman all rooted from the same thing; he loved her.

Visiting Draco and Hermione looked up at each other, their faces were blank and their lips parted in shock. It made no sense at all, but looking at where the memories had led, for their memory-selves, it made all the sense in the world.

 

Chapter Text

"Damn it! This is so infuriating!"

The three visitors looked up in surprise to see that they stood in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. Memory Harry was positioned at the middle of the table while the rest of the room's occupants stared at him in wait. The room was full, with some people standing around the room's edges, since there were not enough seats. The three visitors took a moment to recognize the many familiar faces. Hermione and Draco were there, sitting next to one another. Angelina Johnson, Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, Cho Chang, Lee Jordan, Blaise Zabini, a few of their Hogwarts' Professors, along with Fleur and all of the Weasleys were all there. There were other faces that they knew, but they could no longer look around as Harry's raging called their attention.

"Nothing! Not a single sign of them! Any of them! No Dark Marks in months! No attacks. No destruction."

"That's not a bad thing, mate," Ron reminded him quietly.

"I know." Harry sighed in frustration and ran his hand through his hair. "It's just maddening not knowing where they are. They were tearing the country to pieces and then just stopped. They don't just stop! They're planning something. I just wish we knew what. "

"It's unsettling, Harry, I know," agreed Kingsley Shacklebolt, the current Minister for Magic. "But we're searching."

"I know, but how can we search when we don't know where to look. Even the rumors of their whereabouts are dying. Not a single sight of them for four months." Harry looked down and gripped the side of the table.

"Which begs the question, what am I still doing here?" Draco spoke up, obviously frustrated himself. "With no sign of them in months, why can't I return to the Manor? I'm tired of being stuck here."

"I've lost track of time," the visiting Harry said to Hermione. "When was Malfoy attacked? When are we now?"

"I don't know, Harry," Hermione answered. "I have no idea when he was attacked. It could have been weeks or it could have been years between that and the previous memory. I think it's safe to assume that this is several months after that though. You mentioned that there were several attacks and destruction prior to the calm."

"Well, being dead, Malfoy, you can't exactly go strolling around your neighborhood, can you?" the memory Ron quipped.

"I don't have a 'neighborhood,' Weasley."

"I understand you wanting to get back to your home, Draco." Mr. Weasley addressed him casually. "Believe me, I understand. My family wants to return home also, but it's just not safe yet with how targeted we are."

"We're working on it though," Hermione assured them as she rested her hand on Draco's arm. "The Fidelius Charm is just a lot more complicated than we thought. But Fred, George, and I are close."

"That's right," said Fred. "We're just testing it out. We want to make sure it holds."

"It's working okay as far as we can see right now though. No one's yet found the Christmas cookies and they're hiding in plain sight," George smiled slyly.

"I knew you must have done something with them!" Ron yelled. "I was looking for them and saw you two walking around with some."

"See, Draco, you'll be home before you know it!" George smirked.

Hermione let out a soft chuckle but quickly pushed the joking aside. She looked anxiously at Harry and returned the focus to the main concern. "Back to real business... Harry, I don't think they've been hiding for the last few months. I've been digging around lately, and I've noticed that there have been quite a few disasters and murders in Russia."

"What?" Harry asked in surprise. The rest of the room listened with rapt attention.

"There've been no Dark Marks at any of the scenes, but it still looks like their signature. There have been twenty-five murders there and six more in Finland. There've been fires and unexplainable floods. I've been trying to search other surrounding countries, but I haven't seen much else out of the ordinary."

"They're in Russia?" Charlie asked the room at large. "But what are they doing there?"

"That's what we're going to have to figure out," Harry said. "We're done for tonight. I'm going to look into what Hermione has, but I think we're going to need some volunteers soon. We'll contact you all for the next meeting."

Everyone nodded and many started to make for the door; others waited in line for the Floo. Visiting Harry was surprised to see that everyone listened to him. The Minister for Magic was there along with several adults that he had looked up to over the years, yet each and every one of them followed his direction without question. It made him feel rather nervous. It was extremely uncomfortable for him to think he shouldered such responsibility.

"Draco," memory Hermione asked quietly. "Are you coming to the office again tomorrow?"

"So long as Potter doesn't need his cloak back yet." Draco smiled at her.

The scene changed again and the trio found themselves once again chasing after Hermione. She looked frantic and worried as she strode through the Ministry's Atrium and hurriedly through the security check point. She gasped as she saw a familiar head of messy black hair in front of her.

"Harry," she called out, but tried to not to attract attention at the same time. Her pace quickened. "Harry. Harry!" she called again and again, getting a little louder each time. Harry stopped and looked at her, his eyes wide in surprise.

"Hermione!" he cried as he threw his arms around her and squeezed her tightly. "Oh gods, Hermione!" He pulled back and looked her over quickly, his breaths coming quickly in his overwhelmed state. Hermione's smile looked more like a grimace as she tried to suppress the tears that threatened to form in her stinging eyes.

Before she could say anything, an invisible force pushed her roughly into the lift. She grunted when her back hit the back of the lift, and gasped when a silvery material floated to the floor to reveal Draco. Harry looked around to make sure no one had seen and quickly closed the door to the otherwise empty lift. The visiting trio walked through the closed door and positioned themselves around the memory figures. When they looked up, Draco was kissing Hermione fiercely, angrily. His fists were closed tightly on the material of her cloak at her shoulders. She returned the passionate kiss with fervor and was startled when he pulled away. He seethed through his clenched teeth and glared at her with frightening intensity.

"Damn it, Hermione. Don't you EVER do that to me again!" he shouted, shoving her against the wall again. "You hear me? Never again!"

Hermione gaped at him, trembling, with tears in her eyes. She was frozen in fear, not of him, but for him. She was filled with remorse and guilt and threw her arms around his neck. He held her tightly – almost painfully – to his body.

"Gods, Granger. Do you have any idea…?" He trembled too, unable to speak anymore and unwilling to let her go.

"I'm sorry," she whispered in his ear. After another moment and three more floors announced by the lift, she gently pulled back to look at him. She chuckled, too happy to see him to allow him to be angry with her. "So, I'm Granger again, am I?" she asked lightly as she reached out and stroked his cheek.

Draco looked down, still unable to smile, and gently took her left hand in his. He ran his thumb over the antique ring she wore. "I thought I had lost you…" he breathed dejectedly. "Never again."

"We're married now…" visiting Hermione stated uncomfortably. "I wonder how long it's been."

"We can finish this in the office," memory Harry interrupted. "You have to put the cloak back on."

Draco nodded and did as instructed, but he still wore a forlorn look that placed a heavy ache deep inside Hermione.

The lift doors opened and Hermione felt a tight hold on her wrist. She looked down to see that her hand was still visible, but her wrist was not. Draco refused to let her go. Harry held the door for them both and as soon as the interrogation room door was shut, Harry warded the room and started shouting. Draco whipped off the cloak and watched in silence.

"Where the hell were you? Four days, Hermione! Fred got back on Friday. Four days you've been missing and we've been out of our minds with worry! If I weren't so happy to see you, I could kill you right now!" While Draco's anger had melted to sad relief, Harry's overjoyed relief turned into raging fury. "I'm waiting, Hermione!"

Hermione was shocked by his response and it took her a moment to gather her thoughts. "Harry…" Dread filled her insides like lead. "Y-you just said 'Fred got back.' Wh-what about George?"

Harry's glare turned to the table and his boiling anger reduced to a simmer, his fists clenched by his sides. "George is dead," he said flatly.

"No! No…" Hermione shook her head. "He can't be… I saw him. They… they got away. What happened?"

"That's what I'm asking you," Harry stated. "Fred said that they ran, that they saw you leave also, but then you disappeared."

"The mission wasn't over," Hermione said quietly. Draco stepped up behind her and supportively took her hand. "They demanded a dark binding of members. I saw Fred and George back out. I was on the other side and left out the other set of doors. I saw them outside. I waved them on and saw them disappear into the forest. I cast a disillusionment charm on myself and went back in. I had to see what was happening. It would have been for nothing if I hadn't."

"You went back in? By yourself?" Draco demanded as he glowered at her once more. "You're the one that reminds me over and over that missions are not to be done alone!"

"I know," she said guiltily. Though she felt sorry for their worry and hypocritical for breaking the rule she insisted so heavily on, they could tell by her eyes and her stance that she wasn't sorry for the choice she made in staying. "I know it was stupid, but I saw an opportunity that I needed to take. We needed this."

"Keep going," Harry ordered. His voice was still hard and stern, but the hope for information continued to deplete his anger.

"I thought Fred and George were safe. I wouldn't have stayed otherwise," Hermione explained. "I would have been back sooner but I ended up staying in the building until afternoon the next day. I couldn't risk getting caught by the few that stuck around. Then, because the twins took the international Portkey, I had to try to get one myself. I had problems registering for one with the ministry in Slovenia so I went to Italy. I would have owled, but I kept thinking that I would beat it home."

"You saw the whole thing?" Harry asked. He had been under the impression that she still would have left before the end of it.

"Yes."

"Was he there?"

"No, Harry. It's not him. We've been chasing the wrong person all this time. It's not Voldemort; it's Bellatrix. The rumors are true. She's alive. She was there."

"Bellatrix?" Harry asked, completely flabbergasted.

"Yes. She heads it all. That's why we couldn't make sense of things, why there doesn't seem to be much order, why the Ministry hasn't been targeted. She's not out to rule, Harry…" Hermione looked him in the eye. It hurt to say it. "She's out to destroy. Nothing more. Complete destruction."

The visiting Hermione looked at Harry in horror.

"But Bellatrix is dead," the memory Draco stated in confusion.

"Apparently not," Hermione returned as she nibbled on her bottom lip.

"No. She is. I watched her cremation."

"Which means-"

Hermione stared at Harry in worry, "I know what it means, Harry. It means that Voldemort wasn't the only who made a Horcrux."

The room went silent. Visiting Draco looked from their memory counterparts to the two people accompanying him.

"What's a Horcrux?" he asked tentatively.

"Now's not the time," Harry answered as the world transfigured around them again.

"Harry! HARRY!" Hermione screamed as she ran down the corridor of level two. Behind her, a pair of shoes seemed to run on their own as the invisibility cloak billowed around Draco. "Harry!" she screamed as she threw open the office door. "Harry, are you okay?"

"Hermione, what are you doing here?" Harry seized her shoulders and looked at her.

"You're pregnant," the visiting Harry said in surprise, staring at Hermione's very visibly swollen belly.

"I came as soon as I heard," Hermione panted. "Are you okay? Ginny? James? Was-?"

"We're fine. All of us. We're okay," Harry told her seriously.

"Where are they? What happened?" Hermione asked.

Harry looked over at Draco who had the cloak draped over his arm.

"It's three in the morning," the visiting Draco stared curiously at the clock on the desk near them.

"But what's the date?" Harry asked, looking for a calendar.

"Sixteenth of February, 2004." Draco pointed at the calendar on the wall. "About three and a half years from now."

"We didn't hear much about it," the memory Draco told Harry. "Just that your home was attacked."

Harry nodded.

"How did they find it?" Hermione asked in panic.

"They didn't," Harry answered. "The Fidelius Charm held, but they remembered about where it was located. They set fire to every home within a two block radius of Grimmauld Place. With us recently blocking the Floo, we couldn't get out that way. I couldn't let the wards down either. I was afraid the fire would spread to our home if I did. We went out onto the front stoop and Apparated, but not before we saw it. The fire was everywhere. Everywhere…"

"The wards held the fire off of your property though?" Hermione asked.

"Yes, but we can't go back there now. I just don't feel safe there now," Harry answered.

"You can stay at the Manor. You know that, Potter," Malfoy offered. He and Harry still talked rather stiffly to one another, and it still surprised Hermione to see them on friendly and trusting ground.

"I know. Thank you, Malfoy. But we're staying at the Burrow. It's still safe. Death Eaters have been there in the past, but they wouldn't have a clue where to start attacking; they know that they can't do any harm to it as it is now," Harry explained.

"Is Ginny there now?" Hermione asked.

"Yes."

"You should be with her, Harry," Hermione suggested.

"I can't. I have to-"

"There's always work to do, Harry. Your wife and child need you now." Hermione pleaded on Ginny's behalf. "No one can sooth them like you can right now."

Harry nodded. "You're right. I'll go."

"Thank you."

The memory swirled away like smoke and another swirled in and solidified before them.

"The Manor," visiting Draco said as he walked into the sitting room. It looked much like it always had. He stopped when he saw Hermione. She sat on Victorian style, brocade sofa in a pair of flannel pajamas with a bundle of blankets in her arms. Her eyes were swollen and red rimmed, and tear stains lingered on her cheeks. She looked as though she was on the verge of crying again as she pulled the blankets in her arms closer.

"Aurelian," visiting Hermione whispered and took a few steps closer. There, in the arms of the woman on the sofa, was a baby boy that looked to be about six months old. "What's wrong? What are we supposed to be seeing?"

"She's waiting," Harry answered. "The sun is starting to rise. She's waiting for someone." He was right. As soon as he said it, Hermione knew he was right. It was the same look she saw on Molly Weasley's face every time she waited for a family member to return home.

"Hermione?" a voice called from down the hallway. "Hermione? Where-"

"I'm in here, Draco," Hermione squeaked. Her face screwed up and a few silent tears slid down her cheeks.

"Hermione?" Draco asked as he entered the room. "What are you-"

"Oh, Merlin!" she gasped. "Are you okay?"

Draco glanced down at himself and realized that he should have probably cast a cleaning charm before he came in, but he just couldn't wait to see her. Hermione stared at him, her hand over her mouth while tears fell slowly but steadily. His robes were torn in several places and he was covered in dust and debris. There were a few small scrapes on his face and a considerable one on the back of his neck. The blood there was sticky from the covering of dust.

"What's wrong?" Draco asked with concern, sitting only an inch on the sofa next to her. "What are you doing in here?"

"I asked you first," she replied. She brought her hand away from her mouth but didn't seem to know what to do with it. She looked like she'd like to reach out and touch him, but instead brought it down to help support the weight of the child in her arms.

"I'm okay, but what's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's just… Aurelian's nose was stuffed up and he couldn't sleep," Hermione explained. Draco looked down at the angelic face of his peacefully sleeping son and back up at his wife with a knowing look. "I couldn't either…" she admitted. "I was so worried. You were gone so long… Tell me, Draco."

"Here," he said as he got to his feet. "Let me take him to bed."

"Draco," she pleaded.

"I'll be right back," he said assured her as he scooped the boy into his arms. Hermione bit her lip and closed her eyes. He was just going down the hall, but she couldn't watch him leave again. Two minutes passed slowly as Hermione concentrated on simply breathing. The three visitors looked around uncomfortably; each felt as though they'd intruded on the woman in her grief.

Draco returned and stared despondently at his wife, obviously reluctant to speak, but finally he did. "They came. Just like we knew they would." Draco spoke in monotone. He stared off, unable to look her in the eye. To look at her would make it too hard to speak; it would all feel too real. "They went to the top floor – high security – like we knew they would. We fought them, but there were a lot more than we thought there'd be. We weren't ready. They freed a few of the Death Eaters and killed the rest; killed all the other prisoners on that floor."

"Your father?" she asked with sympathy.

"Yeah. They killed him," he stated without emotion. "We weren't ready…"

"Were… were there-?"

"It's not what we imagined. It wasn't what we planned for," Draco trudged on. "There were so many. I'd guess fifty. Maybe more. But they just…" He stopped and looked up at her with pain in his eyes. "It's gone; destroyed. They didn't just break in; they demolished the entire building. They didn't care at all about the other prisoners. They destroyed Azkaban and everything in it."

"No," she breathed. "Draco… Were-?"

"We weren't ready," he repeated. There was a far off look in his eye again. A great pained frown appeared on his face and tears gathered in his eyes.

"Draco?" Hermione cried as tears once again glided down her cheeks. He knew her question and avoided it, and it scared her. "Who?"

"We weren't ready…" he repeated again.

"Draco, who?" she demanded.

"We can't find the bodies in the rubble, but we know who's missing… we know…" Draco sighed. He had to just say it. "Finnigan. Johnson. Chang. Hestia Jones, and Percy."

"No," Hermione sobbed. "No…"

Draco walked over to her and sat on the sofa. She turned to him immediately and buried her face against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and took comfort in her as well.

"No…" visiting Harry breathed. The visiting Hermione shook her head and bit her lip. She reminded herself over and over that they would change things; that none of the things they'd witnessed would happen.

The three visitors stood still, stuck in their thoughts as the world changed again. Hermione looked at the men on either side of her, ready to beg them for a break. It was too hard to watch. When she looked forward again, she saw that they were still in the Manor. The memory Hermione stood quietly with her hand at rest on the door frame as she stared into a dark room. The three visitors took a step forward to see what she was looking at.

The visiting Hermione knew exactly where she was when she saw the stars twinkle down from the ceiling. She leaned to the side and saw a white crib on the far wall with a small boy in it, peacefully sleeping with his tiny rump in the air. She then looked curiously at the camp bed that set against the wall next to it. There was a pillow at each end and two child sized lumps beneath the blanket.

"Three?" Hermione asked.

"Maybe James?" Harry wondered taking another step into the room.

"Then who's the other?" Draco asked. Harry was about to go have a look when memory Hermione stepped back and closed the door behind her. Harry was thrust into darkness and was forced to follow the group down the corridor.

Memory Hermione walked down the stairs silently. She had a heavy air around her, her shoulders not held back like they once were. The three visitors felt heavy inside as well. They dreaded where the memory would lead them.
It wasn't a minute later that they turned into the drawing room and stopped in surprise. The room was packed with people, some sat, but many others stood anxiously.

"The new headquarters?" Harry assumed.

"It would seem," the visiting Hermione answered him.

The memory Hermione looked just to the right of the door and found Ginny. The redhead's eyes darted nervously around the room as she leaned against the doorframe. Hermione gently placed a hand on the woman's shoulder and Ginny jumped. The whole room looked up at them.

"Sorry," Hermione apologized in a barely audible voice. "They're all asleep."

Ginny nodded in understanding. Harry placed his arm around Ginny's shoulders and Hermione made her way across the room toward Draco, where she took a seat on the arm of his chair. The room was still and silent but for the woman pacing in front of the fireplace.

"Calm down, Molly," Arthur beseeched his wife. He pulled her to his side and softly rubbed her arm in hopes of easing her distress, even just a little.

"They were supposed to be back an hour ago. Where are they?" The woman clamped her mouth closed and tried to remain strong. She allowed her husband to pull her into a comforting embrace.

"They'll be here," Arthur answered as much for himself as for her.

It was only a few seconds later that the fire in the grate flared green and suddenly a man stood there. He stumbled out of the fireplace, completely out of breath. At the sight of the many waiting eyes on his, he straightened up and brushed some of the ash out of his ginger hair. "Sorry I'm late," he apologized.

"Charlie…?" Molly simply called his name, hoping that he would answer the question she couldn't bear to ask.

"Mum," he replied dumbly as he turned to see the woman behind him near the fire. She had startled him. The woman couldn't look at him. She didn't seem to be able to keep her eyes off of the fire.

"Charlie, where's Fred?" Arthur asked in a stern voice.

Charlie's perplexed look was turned to his father. "What? I thought he beat me back here."

At this, Molly let out a sob. Charlie looked around at everyone in the room, hoping one of them would be Fred, or at least one of them could tell him that Fred had arrived.

"No. He's fine," Charlie said with finality. He straightened and looked at his mother with confidence. "He's fine. I saw him. We were running and I wasn't sure I'd make it to the Portkey. I told him to take it. I saw him take it. He took it alone," he quickly added to assuage his mother's fears. "I Apparated away and had to make my own international Portkey. That's what kept me. I don't know what's keeping him, but I swear to you that he got away, Mum. He's fine."

At this, he looked around at everyone in the room. To say that he was not worried would have been a lie, but he had to remind himself of what he knew. His brother had gotten away.

"Charlie, why don't you go ahead and give us a report while we wait for Fred," Bill suggested.

Charlie's heart gave a sudden leap at the subject change, but it plummeted just as fast. His report was not one that he wanted to make. He frowned; the confidence he'd built up just a moment before had already faded.

"They destroyed the Reichstag. Chancellor Merkel and a few other members of the Bundestag were killed. Germany is a mess – the whole country. It's chaos," Charlie stated flatly. It was too hard to speak if he allowed any of his emotions to settle in.

"Katie? Zabini?" Lee Jordan asked apprehensively.

Charlie looked down and shook his head. Everyone had sort of expected this answer when neither had responded, but it didn't hurt any less to hear that had lost two more members of their group.

"Tell us what you know," Harry said despondently.

"Well, as we knew, Katie and Blaise were working with the German Ministry of Magic at Kingsley's request. They told the Ministry about the possibility of attack on the Muggle government. The Ministry listened and took precautions. It just wasn't enough. Henrik Scholz, their Minister for Magic contacted Muggle Chancellor Merkel and she agreed to allow Magical Law Enforcement to help protect her and parliament. The Death Eaters just moved sooner than expected and… there were too many," he looked straight at Harry. "There were too many of them. We tried to talk to Ministry officials but they were too busy. It's madness. Luckily we were able to reach the contact Katie gave us. We were able to find them, the Death Eaters. Too many, Harry. They had over two hundred there and they're still recruiting everywhere."

"Damn it!" the memory Draco suddenly lashed out and pushed out of his chair. "That's the seventh fucking world leader killed in the last two years! They're ripping the whole fucking world to pieces. And Germany. Germany is huge! If this is anything like Spain…" Draco looked at everyone in the room and stopped on Harry. "Over two hundred of them – the largest gathering we’ve seen - but that's only what's been seen. Who knows what numbers they have that we haven't seen? What are we supposed to do?" he asked earnestly.

Visiting Harry felt as uncomfortable as the memory Harry looked, if not more so, by all the pressure put on him. He had often been looked to as a leader, but he'd never felt like the leader type. He didn't like the idea of so many people dependent on his instruction. It hurt even more to know that he seemed to be failing miserably at it. At least, that's what it looked like to the visiting Harry.

The fireplace suddenly blazed to life again and interrupted everyone's thoughts. A very exhausted, but happy, Fred Weasley stepped out of the fireplace.

"Miss me?" he asked Charlie with a grin.

"Where the hell were you?!" Charlie demanded angrily, instantly wiping the smile off of Fred's face. "Your Portkey left over an hour ago!"

A strangled sob pulled Fred's attention to the woman in his father's arms. Arthur stared at him angrily. This was obviously not the welcome he'd expected.

"Yeah, the Portkey left an hour ago, but I wasn't on it," Fred told Charlie with a short glance over his shoulder at his mother again.

"What are you talking about? I saw you leave!" Charlie shouted.

"That's what everyone thought they saw," Fred replied. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth despite his efforts to suppress it. "I'm sorry I worried everyone. Really." Fred glanced at his parents again as he said this. "I just saw an opportunity that I couldn't pass up."

"This better be good, Fred, because you have no idea how close I am to hexing you right now," Charlie said seriously. His fingers twitched near his wand holster.

At this, Fred could not hide his smile anymore.

"What happened?" Neville Longbottom asked. Fred wasn't sure whether Neville knew that his inquiry had just saved Fred a hexing or not, but he was still grateful. "If it wasn't you that took the Portkey, who did?"

"Who indeed?" said Fred. He'd always loved telling tales, especially of his mischief. "Well, Charlie and I were told where the Death Eaters had gone after the attack on... Did Charlie tell you what happened to the German Parli-"

"Yes, Fred," Charlie growled. "Get on with it."

"Right," Fred continued undeterred. "Well, we played dress up with our Death Eater outfits and attended. They're rather cautious now. They have a way of finding sneaks in the group. So Charlie and I were led away by some big guys, wands straight on us. With a little wandless magic, we distracted them and ran for it. We got separated as we ran through the woods toward our Portkey. I heard Charlie yell for me to take it. Well, I tripped and when I disarmed the Death Eater coming after me, his mask slipped off and guess who it was."

"No guessing games, Fred," Bill admonished. "Get to it."

Fred snorted in amusement and continued. "Rabastan Lestrange. No kidding. Ol' Bellabitch's very own brother-in-law. It was, like I said, an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. I used the Imperius Curse on the arsehole, took his mask, and started chasing him!" At this, he laughed. A few others in the room couldn't help but smile, a couple chuckled quietly. "Knowing where the Portkey was headed, I made him take it."

"You sent him to the Aurors' office?" Hermione asked in utter astonishment.

"Pretty quick thinking, eh?" Fred asked, rather pleased with himself. "I'm sure the Aurors there were as surprised as he was. But I figure they're good on their toes. He was confused, outnumbered, and wandless. I think it's pretty safe to say that he's in custody as we speak."

"Wow, Fred..." Ron said, truly impressed.

"Hush now, Ronnie." Fred smiled. "I'll hear your praise when I'm done with my story."

"There's more," Lee stated confidently. He looked quite excited to hear Fred's tale.

"So I took his mask, like I said. Being one of the original Death Eaters, his mask is quite unique. No one questioned who I was when they saw me chase the guy to the Portkey, so I went back with them. Most of the crowd had gone and it was time for inner-circle discussions." Some people looked excited by this while others looked uncomfortable or angry. "It seems we were right. Bellatrix really isn't one to play around with details of world planning. She has others do the plotting and just takes charge of the attacks once they're planned. Her numbers keep growing and the different people in her inner-circle are like her generals. I heard them talking about a plan for Italy. Things are still in early stages, I guess. But one guy, don't know who, brought forth a guy from the Middle East somewhere. He was just asked to help plan attacks over that way. They mentioned some holy city or something."

"Oh Merlin!" Hermione gasped.

"No worries, 'Mione." He smiled. "That guy's not going to be of much assistance to them. I can assure you that." Fred looked down and rubbed at a smudge on his finger then looked up at the faces that stared at him in wait. "I mean, there's not much he can do for them from my flat, now is there?"

"What?!" Molly shouted.

"When he went off, I followed him. Easy target as he wasn't expecting anything. I made an international Portkey that went straight to my flat. He's there now, waiting on ol' Potter and his band of merry men to take him in for questioning."

"Fred... I don't know whether to slug you or hug you right now," Charlie said seriously. He still looked quite upset with his reckless little brother.

"How about we settle with a rough pat on the back then?" Fred smiled.

Charlie slapped him hard on the back. "You're an insufferable idiot, you know that?" he replied fondly.

"I know," Fred said with a small smirk, but then his eyes and voice turned serious for a moment. "I really am sorry for worrying you though."

"I know. If you try anything like that again, I'll hex you beyond repair," Charlie threatened. Fred nodded.

"Hmm... Fred's even crazier than I thought." Visiting Harry wore a small smile while he said it. He was truly in awe of Fred's courage and quick thought, but there was a still heavier feeling inside of him.

"No crazier than what Hermione pulled when she snuck back in with the Death Eaters, in my opinion," visitor Draco said flatly. "He's an idiot."

Visitor Hermione looked at Draco with her brows knit in suspicion. She wasn't sure if that was meant to be accepted as praise or as an insult from him, but that wasn't the part that really stood out to her. He had referred to her, not actually to her, but about her, as Hermione; it was the first time she ever remembered hearing him say her first name. Her attention quickly returned to the memory and much more pressing matters assaulted her thoughts. "Seven world leaders killed within the last two years..."

The memory started to swirl away again and before the next swirled into view, a voice rang out around them, "Hogwarts is under attack!"

The three visitors were thrown into the same sense of panic as the man and woman that sat up quickly in their bed. The room was dark and it was difficult to see anything except for the shadowed outlines of Hermione and Draco and the bright spectral cat that stood on the foot of their bed. They recognized the Patronus and the voice that had accompanied it a moment ago.

The sleepy couple in the bed stared at the ethereal specter in horror of McGonagall's message. Hermione gasped when her husband leapt out of bed. His hand immediately took hold of his wand.

"I have to go," Draco said in a panic as he grabbed his shield cloak off of the hook on the inside of the closet door. He slipped it on over his bare chest. The bottoms of his blue sleep pants were still visible underneath.

"Draco." Hermione worried as she scurried to the edge of the bed.

Draco placed his hand on her shoulder to stop her from getting up. "Put the wards up as soon as I'm out," Draco ordered as he slammed his bare feet into his leather shoes.

"Draco…" Hermione started anxiously. She knew that they needed him, but she still didn't want him to go. "Just… just be careful."

Draco nodded and raised his wand. Hermione felt the shift of magic as the Apparation ward was dropped. There was a small 'pop' sound that accompanied his departure and Hermione was left staring at the place where the shadowed outline of her husband once stood.

Hermione sat in bed for a moment and tried to calm herself. What else could she do? She wanted to help, but she couldn't just leave, not with Aurelian.

Sitting still wasn't good. She couldn't contain the anxiety that made her want to move and act. Hogwarts was under attack. After she paced for another minute, Hermione flicked her wand to light the candles in the room. She wasn't going to sleep now. What could she do? Someone could use her. But where could she go to help that Aurelian would be safe?

"Hermione! Open the Floo!" Ginny's voice cried through the room. Hermione turned around in shock and stared at the spectral horse.

"Pernie!" Hermione called. A small, obviously feminine, house-elf appeared before her. Despite the very late, or very early, hour and the elf's sleepy eyes, she still wore a very pleasant smile. "I'm sorry, Pernie, but it's an emergency. Please open the Floo immediately."

"Yes, Mistress," Pernie smiled, turned, and started toward the door. With a little skip in her step and a 'crack,' the house-elf vanished. Hermione grabbed her shield cloak and wand, and raced down the stairs.

"Ginny?" Hermione cried as she ran into the drawing room. The first person she saw was a handsome boy with dark violet hair. He stood alone in the center of the room, looking uncertain in his pajamas and bare feet. "Teddy, are you okay?" Hermione asked. She hurried over to the seven year-old boy and pulled him into a tight hug.

Visitor Harry and Hermione's hearts leapt to see that Teddy was still alive, but their minds still raced. This had to be the tragedy that they'd read about in the article.

"Hermione," Ginny whimpered in relief when she arrived in the fireplace with a young James, barely two years old, in her arms. "Merlin, Hermione… You heard didn't you? Did Draco-?"

"Yes, Draco went," Hermione answered.

"I'm sorry for coming over like this, but I just can't stay there. I can't just wait there while my whole family is out there! I don't know what to do. I just can't be alone!" Ginny sobbed.

"Me neither. I can't just sit here…"

"Then let's help. They'll need people. People to help heal, if nothing else," Ginny said. Her eyes begged for Hermione to agree. It also happened to be what Hermione hoped for as well.

"I have a few extra shield cloaks upstairs. I need to grab Aurelian's," Hermione rattled off. She was already halfway down the hall, and Ginny had to hurry after her. "You can take one cloak for you and one for Teddy. They're in my closet. It'll be big for Teddy, but I haven't one in his size. Aurelian has another that James can use."

"Thank you," Ginny said as she ducked into Hermione's room. Hermione continued down the long hallway to Aurelian's room and hesitated only a moment before she opened the door and walked in. She felt terrible for waking her son to pull him into things, but she knew she'd be needed. She summoned some cloaks from his closet.

"Aurelian, sweetheart, we have to go now," Hermione spoke softly. The little boy stirred in his crib and Hermione gently picked him up. She held him tightly to her chest as she walked quickly back toward Ginny, Teddy, and James.

"How do we leave?" Ginny asked. She switched James to her other arm so that she could slip her other arm into the cloak.

"I can't let the wards down again and I've already locked the Floo. We'll have to walk outside the Manor's wards and Apparate." Hermione summoned a satchel from her room.

"Hermione, I'm not sure I can Side-Along Apparate with both of them," Ginny worried.

"I can take Teddy with Aurey and me," Hermione replied.

"Are you sure?" Ginny asked.

"Yes," she answered confidently.

"Ginny? What are we doing?" Teddy asked nervously.

"We're going to help at Hogwarts," Ginny told him.

"But Harry said to-"

"I know what Harry said, but they'll need us," Ginny answered. "You'll be fine. I promise we'll keep you safe. You just hold onto Hermione."

Teddy nodded, his features etched in anxiety, and took hold of Hermione's hand. Ginny rushed ahead and slipped one of Fred and George's patented shield cloaks onto her young son as she moved. Hermione wrapped Aurelian's cloak loosely around his body. He'd be fine until they got there. The two women lead the boys into the dark night. They hadn't slowed since Ginny arrived, but it still felt like so much time had passed. They walked a few yards beyond the Manor's gate and stopped.

"Hold my hand tight, Teddy," Hermione instructed. "And don't let go when we get there."

Teddy nodded solemnly.

"We'll meet you there," Ginny said.

"Near the gates," Hermione clarified.

Ginny nodded, held James close, and Disapparated.

"Don't be afraid," Hermione told Teddy. "We wouldn't go if we couldn't keep you safe."

She squeezed his hand and turned on the spot. The world became small and pressed around them. Hermione and Ginny saw each other right away and immediately headed up the small hill toward the gate of Hogwarts. When they got there, they saw that the gate was already wide open. Their pace slowed as the castle came into view.

"Oh gods…" Hermione breathed. She'd tried to prepare herself for a horrible scene, but it was far worse than she had imagined.

The three visitors stopped in their tracks, as horrified as the women in front of them. Both sides of the castle were engulfed in flames; the great oak doors and the center of the castle still looked untouched. Hermione and Ginny both looked up at Gryffindor tower at the same time and Ginny fell to her knees. This wasn't an attack; it was a massacre.

Visiting Hermione's eyes scanned the grounds. Several shadows ran about in front of the castle and both the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw towers had flames licking out of each window. She looked over at the lake to see the water boiling angrily. She remembered that the Slytherin dorms were located under the lake and it made sense. The Death Eaters had actually targeted the children. So many innocent children. There was no way that they could survive an attack like that.

She had just started to scan the people that raced around in front of the castle and those that ran in and out of the oak doors when she was startled again. A person suddenly appeared in front of her, kneeling next to a large heavy load. She knew exactly what it was – a body wrapped up in a white sheet.

"Hermione? Ginny?"

"Dean!" Ginny cried. "Merlin, no… who?"

"I can't," Dean said before he Disapparated.

"What? How did he Apparate?"

"The wards are down," memory Hermione realized. The thought was unsettling. She knew that it should mean nothing considering the whole castle had been destroyed, but Hogwarts had always been so strong, powerful, and safe. The idea that it was so broken that the wards were down was unsettling to say the least.

Only a moment later, Dean returned with another body. "Who, Dean?" Ginny demanded.

"I can't-"

He turned to leave again but Ginny grabbed a fistful of his robes. "Who?"

Dean sighed and looked miserable. Hermione realized that it hadn't only been because of his commitment to duty that he didn't want to stop. He didn't want to let himself think about what he was doing. It was a task that he had not let himself consider emotionally.

"I don't know," Dean admitted. "No one does. They're burned beyond recognition."

"What happened? How many?" Ginny continued.

"Ginny," he sternly reproved. Ginny let go of his robes and he disappeared again.

Just as Dean Disapparated, another person Apparated near them.

"Luna!" Ginny cried.

"Ginny, why is James here? He shouldn't be here," Luna stated simply. She no longer looked like the unaffected youth she once had. Although her voice still sounded somewhat airy, she fought hard and she fought diligently, and knew what she was fighting for. She, like Dean, looked rather emotionally detached at the moment.

"Who, Luna?" Ginny asked as she looked down at another wrapped body.

"I don't know," Luna told her. "We can't identify them as they are."

"Have you seen Harry?"

"Or Draco?" Hermione quickly added.

"I saw Harry, at one time, but only when we'd just arrived. I haven't seen Draco, but it's been mad," Luna said as she looked back at the castle. "The Death Eaters were fleeing when we arrived. We tried to fight them. A few were killed, I think. These… These are ours, we think. They were trying to get to the towers. I…" Luna stopped and looked up. She watched in stunned silence as the Gryffindor tower crumbled and fell into the black lake.

"Luna!" a voice shouted. Luna turned around and saw Dean pointing at the castle. "They say there are a few children found near the greenhouses."

Luna nodded to Dean and Disapparated. Dean left another body near the other three and disappeared again.

"I'm not doing any good here," Ginny whined. "I'm sorry, Hermione, but I have to-"

"Go," Hermione ordered. She was a little upset at the witch for leaving her, but only because it was what she wished she could do. She felt so worthless. Hermione took James out of Ginny's arms and watched as she Disapparated.

"Mummy!" James cried.

"Shh, shh, none of that," Hermione lightly admonished, tears in her eyes. She watched as the people ran back and forth. She thought of all of her teachers, all of the students, and the orphaned children that had stayed there because they had nowhere else to go. She stared down at the four wrapped bodies at her feet and her stomach gave a lurch. Four more Order members and no one even knew which. Her tears fell faster. Every piece of her begged her to run. Half wanted to run away from it all and the other half wanted to run to the action, to help if she could. She wanted to make sure that her friends were okay. It was only her love for her friends and her child that she stayed with the children.

"Teddy, let's sit you over here," Hermione instructed as she led him to a tree on the edge of the grounds. "The grass may be a bit wet, but it's better than standing the whole night. Now… keep an eye on these boys. Keep them close."

"Where are you going?" Teddy panicked. He sat with his back against the tree trunk, as instructed, and Hermione placed two year-old James on one side of him, and Aurelian, only a few months younger than James, on his other side. Teddy was already terrified by what he'd witnessed and the fear and horror in Hermione's eyes; the thought of her leaving pushed him over the edge and he began to sob uncontrollably.

Hermione tried to keep her voice steady, but, despite her efforts, it was high and strained. When she looked at Teddy, she pretended that the tears that ran down her cheeks weren't even there.

"Teddy, I'm not going anywhere," Hermione told him in earnest. "I just want you to sit and try to relax a bit. I don't want you to see more than you have to. I'm just going to move up here a bit and see if I can care for the people they bring back, alright? I'll never leave your sight. Here." She conjured a heated blanket and placed it over the three boys wearing pajamas and cloaks. James leaned into Teddy and snuggled close, but Aurelian reached up for his mum. "You sit here, Aurelian. I'll be right up there."

Teddy placed his arm around Aurey's shoulders and snuggled him in closer, too.

"I promise, Teddy, if you call for me, I'll be right here. You'll see me the whole time."

Teddy nodded and Hermione readjusted the satchel on her shoulder and walked forward. She stopped near the bodies on the grass and looked back at the boys against the tree. From there, they were far enough back and low enough to the ground that they could only see the very tops of the castle and could not see the bodies on the ground very well.

Hermione stared out at the castle and the grounds and felt as if there was a hole in her heart. They had lost so much already. They all knew this was possible, but they never imagined that it would be so devastating. She looked around at the boys again, then down at the bodies to her right. She had the terrible urge to look, to see who they were; she dreaded knowing. It was going to hurt no matter when she found out. She knelt down beside the first body and reached out for the cloth. Her hand stopped a few inches above it.

"No more, Harry!" the visiting Hermione cried suddenly. She turned her back on the scene. "I can't do it. I can't watch anymore."

The memory Hermione gently grasped the cloth in her hand and took a deep breath. Before she could pull it down, a 'pop' sounded behind her.

"Ron!" Hermione cried as she jumped to her feet. Ron looked up in surprise.

"Hermione! What are you doing here?" Ron demanded. "No, never mind, I'm glad you are. It's Charlie," he gestured to the man he had left on the ground. "He's hurt. Can you help him?"

"Yes," Hermione quickly agreed. "I mean, I'll try."

"Wait!" Hermione gasped and sunk to her knees by Charlie. "Ron, did you see Draco or Harry?"

Ron looked as though he were made of stone. "No. But that's a good thing," came his stoic reply. Hermione nodded. "Can I bring others here?"

"Yes," Hermione answered and he Disapparated.

Hermione returned her attention to the injured man lying before her. "Oh gods…"

Half of Charlie's body, the half that faced her, was burned. Most of his clothes on that side were burned away. Charlie's face was screwed up and he groaned and whimpered in pain. Hermione didn't know where to start. She dropped the satchel onto the ground and started to dig through it frantically.

"Charlie. Charlie, look at me. Drink this," Hermione gently commanded. Charlie seemed as though he barely registered she was there. The pain was so excruciating that he was unable to focus on the world around him. Hermione gently cupped the uninjured side of his face with her hand and turned his head to face her. One of his eyes opened slightly. "Drink," she ordered softly. She pressed the bottle to his bottom lip and poured some of the potion inside.

Only a couple seconds after he had swallowed, his expression started to soften and his whimpering began to fade.

"Thank you," he sobbed. Hermione nodded. She had already started to busy herself with the removal of the burnt pieces of fabric stuck to Charlie's charred skin. "How bad is it?"

"I don't know, Charlie. I'm not a healer," Hermione apologized. "You haven't lost anything, but I don't know how it will heal."

"Thank you," Charlie repeated. Hermione nodded again. She looked down at the crinkled, blackened skin and the angry red skin underneath. She wasn't sure how burn paste worked on third degree burns, but it was the best she had.

"What happened?" she asked apprehensively. She tried her best to be gentle as she slathered the paste over nearly the entire right side of his body.

"They were fleeing when we got here," Charlie told her. "Some of the Order started dueling, but I went straight into the castle. I saw the fire and I wanted to help…" Charlie hissed in pain as Hermione dabbed the paste around his eye. Although the potion took away most of his pain, his nerves were still sensitive and stinging. When Hermione moved back down to his leg, having done his arm first, Charlie looked over at the line of covered bodies near them.

His face screwed up again. "We just wanted to help. We were too late though." He sobbed without restraint. "It was cursed fire."

"Fiendfyre?" Hermione whispered with a panicked look over her shoulder at the castle.

"I don't know what it is, but we couldn't put it out. It didn't even touch us. We just got close. I tried to go to them, but I was too late. I was still meters away from the flames when I got burned."

"Tried to go to whom?" Hermione asked anxiously.

Charlie stared at the shrouded bodies.

"You were with them?" Hermione asked. Charlie didn't answer; he just stared longingly through his tears at the line of bodies. "Who?"

"Mum and Dad… and Fleur," Charlie sobbed.

"No…" Hermione whispered. "Charlie… that last one?"

Charlie shook his head. "I honestly don't know. He was in front of us all."

Hermione couldn't breathe for a moment. The pain of hearing about Mr. and Mrs. Weasley was terrible enough. She couldn't allow herself to imagine that it might be Harry or Draco.

"Hermione!" Ron shouted. "It's Lee!"

Hermione rushed to Charlie's left and kneeled over the new patient.

"I've got to go. They found some children near the greenhouses." Ron Disapparated before she had a chance to respond.

Hermione set to work on Lee. She sealed his wounds and mended the broken bones she could see. All the while she continuously glanced over at the three boys under the tree. Before too long, all three boys were asleep. Not long after Lee had arrived, Luna, Ron, and Dean showed up with others, all children. There were twelve total. A few had minor injuries, but they were otherwise unharmed. As soon as the last child was delivered, seven more shrouded bodies were placed in the line.

"Neville and some students," Ron answered Hermione's unspoken question.

"Professor Longbottom helped us out of the castle," a small girl explained, "six at a time. He went back in… but he didn't come back out."

"It turns out that there's a passage near the Hufflepuff common room that comes out near the greenhouses. Tricky though…" Luna explained.

"He was a Gryffindor, through and through," said Dean.

"Come on," Ron ordered roughly before he Disapparated again.

"Hermione?" a voice demanded.

Hermione leapt to her feet and took off at a run before she even saw him. As soon as she saw he was healthy enough to stand, she threw her arms around his neck. "Draco… Oh, Draco, I was so worried."

Draco pulled her back and stared at her angrily. "What are you doing here? Where's-"

"Stop, Harry! Stop!" the visiting Hermione pleaded suddenly. "I can't do it. I'm done. I can't watch anymore right now. Please! I don't want to learn who else. I can't! Not now."

Harry had been watching the scene so intently, so quietly, that he had almost forgotten that Hermione and Draco were with him.

"She's right, Potter," Draco agreed. "We've seen enough for now. I don't want to see more."

Harry heard them, but his eyes never left the scene. Ginny had returned back with memory Harry while Fred spoke to Charlie. Ron and Dean returned with two more shrouded bodies. He stared up at the school as the Entrance Hall collapsed. Everyone there stood like statues as they watched.

"Please, Harry…" Hermione beseeched him.

Harry nodded in response. "Do you know how to leave?"

Hermione shook her head.

"Give me your wrist," Harry requested. "Yours too, Malfoy."

Draco looked uncomfortable about allowing Harry to touch him, but he still held his arm out to him. Harry took hold of their wrists and they were pulled backward out of the Pensieve to land firmly in McGonagall's office. The three of them stood in a triangular formation and looked from one to the other then down and away with their private thoughts.

"We're not going to let this happen. We're going to fix this," Harry declared with fierce determination. He turned and walked toward the door with his fists clenched at his sides.

"Leave Aurelian alone, Harry!" Hermione commanded. She followed him, stopped at the door and called sternly after him. "I mean it, Harry. Stay away from him!" After she heard the gargoyle step back into place, she returned to the room and stared at the floor, pain and anger etched on her face.

"Where is he going?" Draco asked.

"I don't know," she answered quietly.

"But you're afraid of him seeing the boy," Draco asserted.

"No, not afraid, just concerned." She looked up at Draco and saw that he expected more. "Well, you've seen how he gets when he's angry and frustrated; he gets intense. Aurelian's been through a lot. I don't want Harry to scare him."

Hermione walked over to the Pensieve and stared into it. There she looked upon the crumbled, smoldering ruins of the castle and dozens of shrouded bodies on the grounds in front of it. She let out a shaky breath and forced back her tears. She placed her wand above the basin and removed the string of memories from it. After, storing them back in the tiny vial, she glanced at Draco and started toward the door.

"Are you coming?" she asked over her shoulder.

Draco nodded and followed quietly after.

"Miss Granger! What happened?" Professor McGonagall called as the saw Hermione and Draco descend the grand staircase. "Harry just charged away. Is-"

"It's okay, Professor," Hermione assured her. "We just discovered quite a bit and, well, you know how Harry gets about investigations. He's driven."

"Yes, of course. You've found what you needed then?" she asked curiously.

"Well, yes. We've learned quite a lot, but there are a lot more memories than we thought. We weren't able to get through them all," Hermione replied uncomfortably. It was the truth, but not because they ran out of time; she just hadn't been able to stand the idea of seeing more. She didn't want to reflect on the memories at all – let alone view the rest – but she knew that they would have to eventually. "I really hate to ask, but would it be possible for us to borrow the Pensieve, or come back to use it again soon?"

"Yes, of course. I could prepare it for travel this afternoon, and even Floo it to you this evening if you'd like," McGonagall offered.

"I would really appreciate that. I should be home all evening, so you can bring it by any time," Hermione informed her. "And I really do appreciate it very much."

"I'm really happy that I can help. If there's ever anything you need, please let me know."

Hermione smiled and nodded to the headmistress. She was a good woman, a strong woman, and ever since the start of the last war, she had taken an active role in helping to aid in the capture of dark wizards. It was nice to know that there were people like her that they could always trust for assistance.

"So, what now?" Draco asked as they walked across the grounds. Hermione noticed him look over his shoulder at the castle, no doubt remembering the last memory they had viewed.

"I don't know," Hermione answered honestly.

"You said you're going home?" Draco pried.

"Well, I have to go to the Burrow, first. But I hope to be going back to my flat soon. I now have a valid excuse to," she declared. Normally she wouldn't have said such a thing aloud, but at the moment, she really didn't care. She hadn't returned to her flat since Aurelian's arrival and she looked forward to returning to its comfort.

"I see," he replied.

"I don't know what we're doing next. I have no idea where Harry ran off to. I'm sure we're going to be discussing this with Ron, at least, but I'm not sure when. We'll owl or Floo you when we've decided what we're doing. If we don't contact you tonight, just be prepared for when we Floo tomorrow."

Draco simply nodded. With nothing more to say, Hermione Apparated away just outside the gates, leaving Draco alone with his thoughts.

 

Chapter Text

"Hello?" Hermione announced her arrival as she let herself into the Burrow.

"Ah, Hermione, you're just in time for lunch." Mrs. Weasley smiled from the kitchen counter. "So, did everything go alright?"

Mrs. Weasley knew that Harry and Hermione had met with Malfoy and gone to Hogwarts to see Professor McGonagall, but they had decided not to let her know about the memories. The only others who knew of them were Ron and Ginny.

"Yes, we got what we were looking for," Hermione told her. She was still rather unsettled by all the things she'd seen and heard in the Pensieve. It felt strange to stand and talk to the woman that only a short time ago had been wrapped in a white sheet, lying on the ground in front of a burning castle. "Harry didn't stop by here, did he?"

"Harry? No. I thought he was with you," Molly said seriously. Though many things had changed in the two years since the war, and people had become relaxed and comfortable, Molly still bore the internal scars of war. She easily became stressed when people weren't where they were expected to be. And the fact that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had taken up positions in Magical Law Enforcement did not help those feelings.

"Oh, he was, but after the meeting, we went our separate ways and he didn't tell me where he was going. I expect he's back at the office," Hermione replied. "Where's Aurelian?"

"He's out in the garage with Arthur," she answered with a smile. "They've been having a grand time this morning. He's such an adorable and brilliant child, Hermione. You should be proud."

Hermione's insides squirmed. She knew that she should feel proud, but she really hadn't had a hand in raising him. It was her future self, someone she really didn't know, that raised him; her and a future Draco that she really didn't know either. Although, she felt she knew the future Draco better than she did the present day one.

At the look on Hermione's face, Molly's expression changed to one of empathy. Hermione could tell that the woman thought that her discomfort had to do with the fact that Draco Malfoy was Aurelian's father. While it did feel quite awkward, the main part of her discomfort was her own acceptance that she had a two year old son that she'd known nothing about until a couple days before.

Hermione had not had any intention of keeping the identity of Aurelian's father a secret from the Weasleys. Harry, however, had different ideas and insisted that it would be best to tell only Ron and Ginny. Of course, when Ron found out, everyone else in the family did. Hermione wouldn't have been surprised if all of Ottery St. Catchpole heard that she had a child with Draco Malfoy due to the loud volume in which Ron had expressed his opinion on the matter. It had felt like he blamed her for something that she had not chosen. She was just as shocked as he had been to learn that in the future she had married Malfoy. It was something she never would have imagined. After their time in the Pensieve though, it did not surprise her how they came together, under those specific circumstances.

"If lunch is ready, I'll just go call Aurelian and Mr. Weasley in," Hermione offered.

"That would be wonderful. Thank you, dear," Molly said with a sad smile. Hermione groaned inwardly. She didn't want people pitying her.

"Hello," Hermione greeted as she entered the garage. It never ceased to surprise her just how many Muggle items Mr. Weasley collected. The garage was filled with stacks of items that lined every wall.

"Mummy!" Aurelian cried happily. He stood up in the sidecar of Sirius's old flying motorbike and smiled broadly. "Uncle Art has a motorbike! I drivin'!"

Hermione laughed when she saw that Aurelian was wearing an old leather aviator's cap that was much too big for him and a set of 80s style headphones.

"We're not really going anywhere," Arthur assured her. Hermione tried her hardest not to laugh out loud at Mr. Weasley, too. He was kneeling at the front of the vehicle in a set of overalls with a neon green shirt underneath and a bandana that covered most of his ginger hair. A confused expression twisted his brow as he read from a large, detailed mechanics book. So focused in his task, he didn't seem to consider the black grease on his hands before tending the itch on his neck, effectively drawing a dark smudge over his freckled skin.

"I should hope not," Hermione replied with a smile. Hermione couldn't help but wonder if Molly knew about this project of Arthur's. She certainly hoped it wasn't a secret, for who knew what Aurelian would say. "I came to let you know that it's time for lunch."

"Mummy," Aurelian said again as Hermione lifted him out of the sidecar and pulled off the headphones. "Uncle Art has a telly. But, it not works though."

"Someday," Arthur said with a frustrated look at the item in the corner. "Bit tricky, it is."

Hermione followed his gaze to the large 60s television and felt sorry for him. She had a feeling that he'd never get the thing to work, even with magic, but she didn't think that she could tell him so. Perhaps when she bought a new television in the future, she'd give him the one presently sitting in her flat. Just so long as Molly didn't find out.

"Well, you two go on in, I'll be there in a minute." Mr. Weasley smiled.

"Okay, let's go wash your hands," Hermione said to Aurelian.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"Thanks again for lunch, Molly. And for watching Aurelian, too," Hermione said sincerely.

"It's our pleasure, dear," Molly answered. "Are you sure you need to be getting home?"

"Yes, I haven't been home since… well, it's been a few days," Hermione answered, unsure of how to refer to Aurelian's sudden appearance two days before.

"Okay, dear. You just come by anytime though. I'm always happy to watch Aurey if you need me to. Would you like to take home some of the scones we made today?" Molly asked.

"Pwease! Pwease!" Aurelian begged and yanked on his mother's arm.

"Yes, I think we would like that," Hermione agreed. Aurelian smiled up at her.

"Okay, well, here you go. Can we be expecting you both for dinner?"

"No, Professor McGonagall is going to be stopping by sometime this afternoon or evening. Thank you though. Okay, Aurelian, let's get going." Hermione bent down and scooped the boy up in her free arm and walked over to the fireplace. When he saw that Hermione's hands were full, Arthur threw a pinch of Floo powder in for her. Hermione nodded in appreciation, stepped into the flames, and announced clearly, "23 Redburn Street."

Aurelian held his head tight to Hermione's shoulder and didn't pull away until the spinning feeling stopped. Hermione stepped out into the small living room of her one bedroom flat.

"Where are we, Mummy?" Aurelian asked as Hermione placed him on the floor.

"This is my home. Do you like it?" She asked his opinion more to thwart any questions he might have about going to the Manor than to really know his thoughts on her much smaller place.

"It's small," he said.

"Small, but cozy," she replied with a smile.

"You has a telly!" he shouted excitedly as he ran over to the television. "It works?"

"Yes, and I have one in the bedroom, too," she chuckled.

"Dis is a Muggle house?" Aurelian asked curiously.

"Well, sort of. I'm Muggle-born and I still like my Muggle things, but there is a lot of magic here, too," Hermione explained. "But, this is in Muggle London, so we have to be careful to make sure that no one sees our magic. You can have a look around if you'd like."

Aurelian walked around, appraising the flat in a very professional manner, though with a toddler-like twist. He touched the sofa to see how soft it was, then bent down and tried to see if he could squeeze underneath it. He was quite pleased when he discovered that he could. He then proceeded to inspect the kitchen, poking around until he found the cupboard with sweets. After receiving permission to take a Peppermint Toad, he made his way down the short hallway. He peeked into the bathroom, looked at Hermione, and asked the all important question: "You have toys, Mummy? Toys for da bath?"

"No, I'm sorry, but I don't. We'll get some though. We'll go out pretty soon and get you some new clothes and some new toys. Would you like that?" Hermione asked.

"I pick 'em out?" Aurelian asked excitedly.

"Sure. It could be fun," she agreed. "But for now, it's time for a rest."

"No… no nap," he whined with a pout.

"I'm sorry, but you look exhausted. Little boys need their rest." Hermione took hold of his hand and led him into her bedroom. "Whenever you're done with your rest, we'll have a look at what Molly packed for you. I know she said she has some things to keep you busy. I'm sure they must be fun."

"Wow… dat bed too big fer me," Aurelian said, staring at the queen-size mattress.

"It is a bit big, but I like a big bed. And I'm sorry, but it's the only bed in the house right now," Hermione explained. "If it's okay, I thought we might try to share it tonight. If not, one of us could sleep on the sofa."

"I sleep in bed with you?" Aurelian asked. "Pwease, Mummy?"

"Well, not right now. We'll give it a try tonight, okay? You have to test it out now and let me know what you think." With a smile and no more arguments, Aurelian climbed into the bed and underneath the covers.

"Get some good sleep," Hermione said as she ran her fingers through his light brown hair. Aurelian sighed and closed his eyes and Hermione left the room quietly.

She returned to the living room and sighed. It seemed that every time she stopped for a moment, the weight of everything settled back in. She didn't really know what to do with herself. Luckily, she was saved from thinking on it when a tapping sound caught her attention. With a soft smile, she walked to the window and let in a Ministry barn owl. She wasn't quite sure what it was that set the Ministry owls apart from any other, but they were easy to spot. Maybe it was their air of self-importance that made them look different; the way they held themselves perhaps.

At one time in her life, a visit from a Ministry owl would have made her nervous. As part of her work, she began to receive them daily, so that anxiety had been removed. This owl, she knew, would likely be from Harry or Ron. She untied the letter from the owl's leg and gave it a treat from the jar near her window sill. It hooted proudly and returned to the skies.

Hermione smiled at the letter. Harry's handwriting, the somewhat sloppy scrawl that it was, was easily recognized. She opened it, already having a feeling what it might be.

Hermione,
I just wanted to let you know that I'm at Ron's office this afternoon. We're looking through his department's recent reports for any suspicious activity that might pertain to our investigation. We'd love your help if you're interested, but it you'd prefer to stay at home, I completely understand.

Harry

P.S. I'm sorry I left so quickly without telling you where I was going. I hope you weren't concerned.

Hermione smiled and shook her head. It was as she suspected. She hadn't known exactly what he would do, but she knew that he would go over information in his head, research it, or talk to Ron. It didn't surprise her when he chose all three.

She set the letter down and walked into her kitchen where she kept stationary, quills, and ink in a small drawer of her kitchen hutch.

Dear Harry,

Thank you for the letter, but I don't think I'll be joining you this afternoon. I've already picked Aurelian up from the Burrow and we're spending the rest of the day at my flat. I talked to Professor McGonagall after you left and she's allowing us to borrow the Pensieve. She's bringing it by this evening. Either owl or Floo me to let me know the plan for tomorrow.

Sincerely,
Hermione

Hermione walked around her tiny kitchen table and opened the sliding glass door that led to a small balcony.

"Orwell," she called. In response, a medium-sized owl took flight from a nearby tree and alighted on the iron balcony railing next to her.

Orwell was a beautiful, black sooty owl with large black eyes. He had a very round face, and tiny white spots on his head and crest. He'd been a gift to herself shortly after the war, when she had gone to Australia to retrieve her parents. She'd originally thought him a simple, practical purchase. She would need a way to send letters and she no longer had the school owls at her disposal. After the war, she'd felt rather withdrawn and numb and had no desire to form new close connections. To her, Orwell was not to be a pet, only a way to send parcels and letters. However, she soon discovered that Orwell was much more than that. He was a brilliant bird and seemed to know what she needed better than she did. A few times when she'd felt down, Orwell had flown to Grimmauld Place or the Burrow and simply waited for someone to write a letter for her. She very quickly began to consider him a good and faithful companion, rather than just a feathery flying postman.

Things had certainly changed since that time. That was what she liked to tell herself. Things had changed. The world around her changed greatly. She was living alone and was happy with her time of solitude. She had a nice job at which she performed well. She regularly saw her friends at work and spent one evening a week at the Burrow for dinner, as well as Sunday brunch at her parents'. But even with all the changes that had taken place around her, she often felt very much the same. As soon as she had brought her parents home and set herself up with a home and a job, she quickly fell into a routine. She then began to cling tightly to that routine to give her a sense of stability in the only way she knew. Change frightened her. From the day she first received her Hogwarts' letter until the end of the war, her life had been filled with changes over which she had very little control. For the past two years, she'd held on to her routine, not wavering from it; steadying herself in wait of that next blow. And, here it was. Aurelian arrived and her world was, again, changed forever. It frightened her.

"I'm sorry to wake you, Orwell," Hermione gently stroked the owl's head, "but I need you to take a letter for me. It's for Harry. He's at the Ministry, so not a far flight."

Orwell hooted in understanding and took flight as soon as the letter was tied to his leg.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^
Later that evening…

Hermione let out a great sigh, placed a freshly cleaned plate in the rack beside the sink, and wiped her brow with her arm rather than her hand to avoid her wet, sudsy fingers. She could not, since her first day at Hogwarts, imagine living her life without magic, but there were still many things she preferred to do by hand. Washing dishes was one of those things. If she was busy, then she had no issues setting the sponge and sink to clean the dishes themselves, but she very rarely found herself that busy. She'd just placed a pot from dinner into the sink when she found herself in such a position. Her fireplace chimed to announce someone trying to use her Floo. She quickly rinsed the bubbles from her hands, set the pot to be cleaned with a simple swish of her wand, and shuffled quickly into the living room.

"Hello?" she asked as she took a peek into the fireplace. "Oh!"

Hermione stepped back in surprise when she saw the face of Draco Malfoy bobbing inside the bed of green flames.

"Um… uh…er… hi," she greeted awkwardly.

"Hello," Draco said stiffly. He looked quite uncertain himself. "I didn't mean to startle you."

"No, no, it's okay," she assured him, her shock lessening. "Did-?"

"Is Harry there?" he interrupted.

"Oh, no, he's not," she said in an apologetic voice. "I don't know where he is, honestly. I could find him though and let him know that you're looking for him."

"No," he replied a bit harshly. "I mean… I'm not... I wanted to speak with you."

"Oh…" Hermione felt a little uncomfortable again. He wished to speak with her alone… when Harry wasn't with her.

He took note of her apprehension and asked, "Do you mind if I come and speak with you in person?"

"Erm … sure." She'd tried to sound kind, confident, and relaxed, but her unusually high pitch belied her attempt to appear natural and at ease.

Draco nodded and disappeared from the fire. Hermione quickly took a moment to look herself over and groaned. As soon as Professor McGonagall had left, Hermione had changed into sleep pants and a tank top and pulled her hair into a messy ponytail to do the dishes. She looked far too messy to accept company. She quickly became irritated when she caught herself with these thoughts. She shouldn't have felt the need to dress up for anyone, especially Malfoy. He was the one who'd stopped by in the evening unannounced. Hermione hadn't even been aware that he knew where she lived. In fact, she wondered how he'd found out. She quickly caught herself again as she realized she was going too far the other way in her overly harsh reaction. She was sure that he wouldn't stop by simply to stress her out, though it was a side effect; he probably had something important to say if he felt that he couldn't wait until the next day to speak to her. Her thoughts were stopped abruptly when the green flames roared to life in the grate and Draco Malfoy stepped into her small living room.

"Good evening," he said a bit stiffly as he inclined his head.

"Hi," she said again, feeling even more insecure in her night clothes while he still wore nicely pressed robes.

"I don't mean to intrude or anything," he said. Hermione relaxed a bit when she saw that Draco looked as uncomfortable as she felt. He tried to look at her, but his eyes darted away and quickly back repeatedly.

"No, it's okay," she assured him as a bit of a smile pulled at the corner of her mouth.

"So, uh… where's… where's Aurelian?" he asked, in attempt to make casual conversation.

"Oh, h-he's in my room. He fell asleep watching cartoons," Hermione said with a small chuckle.

"What are cartoons?" Draco asked.

"Oh, um. Cartoons… It's television. It's a thing that-"

"I know what a television is," Draco interrupted, his tone a bit defensive.

"Oh right… sorry," she apologized. Knowing how anti-Muggle he had been at school, she had just assumed that he wouldn't know. "So, um… what did you need to talk to me about?"

"Aurelian," he answered seriously. "I want to see him."

Hermione's stomach immediately began to swim with anxiety. Her mouth felt dry and it became a bit difficult to swallow. "I…" She paused and took slow even breaths before she continued, "I don't think that'd be such a good idea."

"I didn't mean now," Draco explained quickly. He suddenly relaxed and looked more casual than she'd ever seen him. "I mean, I don't want you to wake him. I just meant-"

"I know what you meant," Hermione interrupted quietly. His eyes narrowed a bit. "And… I just really don't think it's such a good idea."

"Why not?" He stiffened again and his eyes looked darker under the shadow of his creased brow.

"Things are confusing enough as it is. I just think it would be better if you only saw him as part of the investigation," she answered solemnly.

"I'm his father," he growled.

"I know that," she replied. "But, while that's true… it's not. You're not the person that he knows as 'Daddy.'"

"You're not the person he knows as 'Mummy', either," he countered.

"I know, but that can't be helped. I'm what he has right now."

"And I'm trying-"

"I know, but I think that it's better if you don't," she interrupted. "He's confused. He needs a constant in his life right-"

"But you'll let him see the Weasleys. Half of them are dead to him. He's going to start wondering where James is, if he hasn't already. You don't think that confuses him?" Draco demanded.

"It does, but he's adapting. He has to adapt; he hasn't a choice, but I don't want to make things any harder for him than they have to be. He needs consistency in his life and I think he can find that with me and the Weasleys," Hermione explained calmly.

"But you don't think he can find that with me," he stated.

"No, I don't…" she answered seriously, her voice calm. "You're not the same man that we saw in the Pensieve. You don't-"

"You don't know who I am!"

"I know I don't, which is what makes me uncomfortable with the idea of you being around him."

"I'm his father!" Draco raged.

"Which is why I'm taking this so seriously. You're not just anyone; you're his father. This isn't a game; this is his life," she said earnestly, her voice rising slightly. "Being part of his life isn't something to take lightly. You can't just pop in whenever you feel like it. It's a commitment."

"And you don't think I can make that kind of commitment?" He stared at her fiercely, his jaw set.

"Honestly, no, and I don't want him to get hurt when you change your mind."

"How do you know that I'll change my mind?" he demanded.

"How do I know that you won't?" Hermione retorted. Her temper rose as she added, "You don't like me or any of the other people in his life. How do you think that it could possibly be good for him to see his parents constantly at each other's throats?"

"Then stop trying to slash at mine!" Draco shouted.

"Shut up or you'll wake him!" Hermione ordered.

"Good! It might be the only way I see him!" he argued. "He's my son, whether you like it or not."

"And are you ready to admit that? Are you ready to take him home to show your mother? Are you ready for your friends and family to know that you had a child with me? Making a commitment to play his parent is a lot bigger than you think it is," Hermione stated furiously, her eyes narrowed.

"You don't know what I think," Draco told her, his grey eyes boring into hers.

"My answer is still no, Draco," she answered flatly.

"Yeah, well don't just expect for me to accept that," he replied darkly. "Thanks for your time, Granger."

Draco grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from the leather sack that hung from her mantel and threw it into the fire. He turned and glared at her once more before he stepped into the flames and vanished.

Hermione sunk down onto the sofa and took a deep breath. Angry tears filled her eyes and she wanted nothing more than to curl up in her bed alone, but that would not be possible anytime in her near future. She had already made that big commitment that she'd just explained to Draco. Aurelian needed a loving mother that would always be there to protect him and she would be. Her future self entrusted her with this great responsibility, knowing she could handle it.

After a few steadying breaths, Hermione turned off the lights and returned to her room. She smiled sadly at the small boy in the bed and walked over to him. Gently, she moved him over to the side of the bed that was pressed against the wall. He moaned peacefully and rolled onto his side. She crawled under the covers herself and turned on her side to look at him. He was beautiful, and although he was a big change in her life, it was sure to be a beautiful change; she'd make certain it was.

 

Chapter Text

"My, you certainly ate well this morning," Hermione said with a smile for the boy who kneeled on one of her chairs. "You're going to grow fast eating like that."

"I grow big like Daddy!" Aurelian smiled. Hermione took the bowl and plate off of the table and placed them in the sink.

"Yes, I imagine you will," she said as she tried to hide her discomfort. "Now, let's get you cleaned up."

Hermione took a kitchen towel from the drawer and dampened it in the sink. She started back toward the table when a chime from the living room distracted her.

"Just a second, Aurey. I'll be right back," she told him. She walked toward the living room with her towel in hand.

"Please don't touch anything with those sticky fingers," she added over her shoulder. As soon as she entered, she froze. "Malfoy."

"Granger," he greeted with a scowl.

"What are you doing here?" she breathed nervously.

"What?" he asked with narrowed eyes.

"You don't just walk into someone's home-" she started irritably.

"Potter owled me last night and told me to be here at this time," Draco interrupted. "I was under the assumption that you knew."

"No…" She sighed. "Sorry. Um, you can have a seat if you'd like. I'm still not-"

"Daddy!" Aurelian exclaimed with glee. Draco and Hermione both gasped when the small boy raced across the room and threw his arms around Draco's legs again. "Daddy, you come pway with me?"

Draco glared up at Hermione to convey his refusal to answer Aurelian's question.

"No, he can't play. We have to work today," Hermione answered as she squirmed under Draco's stare. She didn't want to disappoint Aurelian or anger Draco. She really did feel guilty, but she was doing what she felt was best.

"Pwease?" Aurelian begged as he looked up at Draco with pleading eyes.

"I'm sorry, but we really do have to work today and it seems that I'm running a bit late. Excuse us while we get cleaned up," Hermione added to Draco. "Come on, Aurey."

Aurelian reluctantly let go of Draco and walked sulkily to his mother.

"Oh, Merlin, I'm sorry," Hermione groaned as she looked at Draco's robes. "I was trying to clean him up when you arrived. He's gotten strawberry jam all over you. Here, you can try to clean up a bit," she said as she offered the towel to Draco.

"I have a wand, you know," Draco replied.

"Right, sorry," she apologized again. Flustered, she bent down and used the towel to wipe Aurelian's face and hands.
"C-can I get you something to drink or something? Tea maybe?"

"Mummy makes yummy cereal," Aurelian offered helpfully.

"No, thank you. I'd hate for your Mummy to trouble herself over me," he said derisively.

Hermione grimaced miserably. She didn't want him to be upset with her. Malfoy, as a part of the case, made things difficult. His desire to see Aurelian and refusal to understand her stance made it much worse.

"Come on, Aurey, we'll get you dressed." Hermione took his hand in hers and started back the short hallway to the bedroom. "You get to go see Aunt Molly again, today."

Aurelian looked at Hermione and back toward the living room. He looked upset and confused. He could see something was wrong between his parents, but he couldn't understand what. "Uncle Art pway with me again?"

"Actually, I think Uncle Art is at work today, but I'm sure you'll still have a lot of fun with Aunt Molly," she told him as she pulled his pajama shirt over his head. "Take off your bottoms."

Hermione dug through the bag Molly had given her and pulled out a pair of orange underpants and a faded red robe. She sighed as she looked it over. It looked like it had made it through a few children's wardrobes over the years. It bore quite a few signs of wear, which included a few stains on the front. It would be fine for playing at the Burrow, but she really did need to buy him some new things. It wasn't a big deal, and she knew she had enough money to purchase whatever he needed, but it was just another strange reminder of what this meant for her life. She was a mother and there would quite a few things that she needed to change.

"Alright, arms up," she instructed. Aurelian stood on top of the bed and waited for her with his hands in the air. A mischievous grin slowly spread across her face and she attacked the boy with a wiggly finger; he squirmed and giggled loudly. She simply couldn't resist. She laughed with him and found a funny comfort when he threw himself at her and hugged her tightly. She returned the hug, rubbed his back, and pulled away to smile at him fondly. "Alright, no more tickling. We need to get you ready."

The smile she'd gained in the few moments with Aurelian faded quickly as she walked back toward the living room. Her insides twisted when she remembered that Malfoy sat on her couch and he would inevitably see Aurelian again.

"Harry." Hermione smiled with relief when she saw the black-haired man in the middle of the small room. Just as quickly as her relief came, she remembered that she was angry with him. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Er…sure," Harry replied, not missing the lightning fast mood swing. Hermione held onto Aurelian's hand and pulled him back around the corner with her. Harry followed immediately after. "What's wrong?"

"You could have told me that you invited him over this morning!" she hissed quietly. "I wasn't ready. When I heard the chime I expected your head in the fireplace, not Malfoy standing in my living room!"

"Sorry," Harry replied seriously. "I really hadn't thought about it. I meant to talk to you and it just slipped my mind. Is it okay that we meet here? I mean, we could always go back to the office or to Grimmauld Place. I just decided here because you had the Pensieve here."

"No, it's fine. I was just caught off guard is all. We were just finishing breakfast when he arrived and I would have liked to have had Aurelian at Molly's before that," Hermione explained. Her anger had vanished as she was never really angry in the first place. She was just frustrated.

"I'm sorry. Really. It's no big deal though. You can just take him to Molly now. I'll wait here with Malfoy. It won't take you but a minute," Harry assured her.

Hermione closed her eyes and nodded. Harry didn't understand, but she wasn't ready to explain it. "Okay." She looked down and saw that Aurelian no longer stood next to her. She didn't remember letting go of his hand. She and Harry walked around the corner and Hermione instantly felt the desire to cry. This was just too much.

Aurelian had returned to the living room while Harry and Hermione were talking. Malfoy sat on the sofa and Aurelian had positioned himself to stand between his father's knees. Aurelian spoke quite casually to him, and took no notice of the man's uncertainty. The boy picked up the man's hand and placed a toy in it as he continued to talk.

"Aunt Molly gived 'em to me. Dey used to be Uncle Won's. Dis one flies funny cuz him doesn't have a leg. But dis one is my favorite. He likes to roll 'round and 'round," Aurelian explained as he pointed to the Quidditch model toys. Draco looked at the battered-looking figurine in his hand. It was indeed missing a leg and it paced Draco's hand, utilizing its broomstick as a crutch.

"Aurelian, it's time to go," Hermione said flatly.

"Okay," Aurelian answered. "You hold him, Daddy. I come back later, we pway."

Draco nodded, but he knew that Hermione would make sure he was gone before Aurelian returned. The idea frustrated and angered him, but he said nothing.

"Okay, I'll be right back," Hermione assured them as she picked Aurelian up. With a quick pinch of Floo powder and an uttered destination, the mother and her child were gone.

"Sorry about the mix up this morning," Harry apologized. "I meant to speak to Hermione about using her flat today, but I forgot. I hope she wasn't too hostile."

"She upsets easily then?" Draco asked, still rather peeved.

"Well, not always," Harry answered. "She doesn't take surprises well, really, and, like all of us, she's rather stressed about all of this. It's gotta be hard with the extra stress of becoming a mother overnight. Can't really blame her, can you?"

Draco didn't answer. Hermione wasn't the only one that became a parent overnight.

"Sorry about that," Hermione apologized as she reentered the room through the fireplace. "Would you like me to get you some tea, Harry, before we start?"

"Yeah, that'd be great," Harry replied.

"Are you sure I can't get you some?" she directed to Malfoy. Her insides squirmed again when she spoke to him.

"So long as it's no trouble," he responded darkly.

"Of course not," Hermione answered quietly. She turned toward the kitchen and sighed. Harry looked curiously from Draco to Hermione's retreating back.

"How about I give you a hand?" he offered. He followed her before she could answer. Hermione flicked her wand at the kettle on the stove and it whistled immediately. She grabbed three mugs from the hutch and set them on the counter.

"What's going on, Hermione?" Harry asked quietly. As the flat was so small, he had to talk softly so as not to be overheard in the other room.

"Nothing," Hermione lied as she reached into a high cupboard for the tea.

"Don't lie to me," Harry said. He took the tea from her and looked her in the eye. "This is more than you just being upset that he showed up unannounced. What happened between you?"

"Nothing," Hermione said again. She took the tea out of Harry's hands and placed it to the counter. "H-he just came over last night wanting to see Aurelian."

Harry looked a bit surprised and stared at Hermione as she avoided his gaze. She put the tea into the teapot while Harry continually attempted to catch her eyes. "And what happened?"

"I told him no," Hermione answered. Harry stopped trying to get her to look at him and just stared at her in bewilderment. That was not the answer he had expected and didn't know how to respond. He'd immediately assumed that she had let him see Aurelian and Malfoy must have done something to upset her. "I just don't think it's a good idea for him to have contact with Aurey. Things are difficult enough for him," she continued as she pulled the kettle off of the stove. Harry followed after her despite the short distance.

"So that's what this is then." Harry nodded as everything he had seen and heard that morning finally made sense. "Well… as his mother, it's your choice really. You have to do what you think is best."

"Thank you." She wasn't sure if Harry really understood or not. She doubted that he had given it much thought, but she appreciated his support nonetheless.

"This does make things a bit more strained though," Harry told her. "So… so just try to be nice?"

"I am!" she informed him a bit bitterly, frustrated by Draco's attitude toward her. She took the sugar bowl from Harry's hands and set it on the tray. Harry nodded and followed her into the living room. Hermione set the tea tray on the coffee table in front of Harry and Draco. She poured a cup for each of them and waited while they dressed theirs with cream and sugar. The silence continued for a few moments as they paged through their private thoughts.

"So," Harry said when Hermione finally took a seat in the armchair next to him. "Like I told Hermione, after I left Hogwarts yesterday, I went to the Ministry to see Ron and we spent some time going through recent reports, looking for anything suspicious that could pertain to our investigation. We've received permission to further investigate anything we might need to."

"And?" Hermione asked.

"And we really didn't find much. There was a break-in at Spinner's End a couple weeks ago," Harry started.

"Snape's old house?" Hermione interrupted.

"Yes, but we're not sure if it's anything or not. It's happened before. A few times. There were no traces of magic. It was assumed that it was just some kids breaking in for fun. Maybe even Muggle children, but Ron's still going to look into it," Harry informed them.

"What about Robards?" Hermione asked. She was worried about how Harry's boss would take his absence in the department.

"Well, like I said, he trusts me, but he is starting to ask questions. If I have to, I'll talk to Kingsley. He'll authorize my investigation," he stated confidently.

"So, what now?" Draco asked.

"Well, we have a lot of information to look into already, but I think we have to finish looking at the memories first. It may hold the answers we're looking for," Harry answered.

Draco did not respond, but Hermione nodded and got out of her seat. "I'll get it."

Hermione disappeared down the hall and reappeared with a stone basin in her hands. Harry moved the tea tray to the kitchen, cups practically untouched, and rejoined them in the living room. Hermione took out the small vial that contained the memories and, with a slight tremble to her hand, poured them into the bowl. She looked up at Harry and Draco and swallowed hard. She'd prepared for this all night, unable to sleep well because of her anxiety. But this was it. After this, she wouldn't have to see them again; at least, she hoped she wouldn't.

"Ready?" Harry asked.

Hermione nodded and waved her wand over the bowl. The images inside changed and skipped through the memories they had already viewed. They stared into a pool of darkness.

"After you," Harry said to Draco. Draco looked just as reluctant as the other two, but plunged his hand into the bowl. Hermione nodded to Harry and followed after.

The three of them felt a little lightheaded and took a second to view their surroundings. It was dark and hard to see, but they recognized the place they stood as the foot of the bed of in the master bedroom of Malfoy Manor.

"She's not sleeping," Hermione noted. The woman in the bed tossed and turned.

A sudden sound like a cannon startled them all and they swung around to look at the door. The sound was followed by raucous laughter from somewhere in the house.

"They're here!" the memory Hermione shrieked in horror. The memory Draco was already on his feet.

"Grab the bag! I'll get Aurelian!" Draco ordered. Hermione nodded and raced to the closet. Draco was long gone before she turned around. She threw the small rucksack over her shoulder.

"Pernie!" Hermione called in panic.

"Mistress?" the house-elf asked, her fear evident in the way she quivered.

"You have to go. The Manor's not safe. Go somewhere safe and take care of yourself. I'll call for you when we're safe," Hermione ordered quickly. She had taken off running toward Aurelian's room before she had even stopped talking. She listened and was relieved when she heard the 'crack' that signaled the house-elf's disappearance.

The visiting trio ran after her, their hearts pounding in their chests. They had known that the memories they would witness today were likely to be intense, but they hadn't expected to start running as soon as they arrived. They heard heavy footsteps behind them and looked over their shoulders to see a Death Eater run directly through Harry as though he were a ghost. When they faced forward again, they watched as a flash of green light streaked past the memory Hermione's ear.

Memory Hermione looked over her shoulder and shouted through the house, "GO, DRACO!"

She turned in the middle of her step and the world pressed in around them all. When it reappeared a second later, they stood on jagged rocky ground at the base of a cliff.

"Draco! DRACO!" Hermione shrilly cried through the hills.

"In here!" Draco shouted back, his voice sounding like an echo. His shout was immediately followed by the frightened cries of a small child.

Hermione scrambled up the rocks, her feet slipping occasionally on the crumbling rock. She stared up at a dark hole in the side of the cliff and rushed toward it.

"Draco?" she called through the cave.

"Yes," he called back.

Hermione lit her wand and squeezed through the tight gap in the rock. When she found her way through, her eyes fell upon a man with white-blond hair and the crying child in his arms. He stood there shaking, his bare chest rising and falling with each heavy breath, and stared at her as if she were the only thing that mattered in the world.

"Draco," she sobbed. She walked forward slowly and pressed herself against his chest next to her petrified son. Her arm wrapped around her husband's waist and he pulled her close with his free arm. "You're both alright?"

"Yes," Draco answered. "What about you? I heard you yell… I thought…"

Visiting Hermione and Draco looked at each other uncomfortably and turned their attention back to the young family.

"I'm okay. They were just coming so fast. I just wanted to know that you got out," memory Hermione told him. "How did they get in? Draco… our home…"

"I know," Draco replied sadly. "Shhh… shh now, Aurelian… It's okay. We're alright. Calm down."

With fear and adrenaline coursing through them, Hermione and Draco had somehow been able to block out Aurelian's cries, but as those feelings subsided with their slight relief, they turned to soothe the child that screamed between them.

"Shhh… It's okay, Aurelian," Hermione told him gently. She raised her still shaky hand to gently stroke his hair.

"I wan go home…" Aurelian pouted miserably.

"I'm sorry, love," Hermione apologized in earnest. "But we can't go home tonight. We can stay here together though."

"Yeah," Draco agreed, trying to make his voice sound light and calm. "We're going to have a camp out tonight. We get to sleep here."

"Don't wan stay here. Wan go home…" he pouted.

"No, no. None of that," Draco lightly admonished. "This can be fun. You'll see. See that bag that Mummy has? I know for a fact that she's got some neat stuff in there. You want to see the neat beds she has for us to sleep in tonight?"

Aurelian slowly lifted his head off Draco's shoulder to look in his mother's direction. Hermione smiled, relieved to see her child's fear beginning to slip away, but at the same time she felt her own tears ready to burst free again. They were trying to convince their two-year-old son that everything was okay when, in fact, it wasn't.

"Go on, Mummy, show him our sleeping bags," Draco urged. Hermione knelt on the ground and used her wand to summon the sleeping bags from it. "You know what this place is, Aurey?" Draco continued. "This is a cave near Hogsmeade. A friend of Mummy's, named Sirius, slept in here before. And you know how he snuck around? He could turn into a doggy. Mummy's friend could turn into a doggy whenever he wanted. Wouldn't that be neat?"

Draco's lighthearted rambling seemed to ease Aurelian further and when Draco was finished, he pointed at the cave floor. "Look there. Mummy fixed our bed for us. It's my favorite color too; blue."

"I don't wan sleep here," Aurelian pouted again. "I wan go home."

"Well, we're not going home tonight, so let's just have some fun. Hey, look. Mummy has a sleeping bag, too. What color is Mummy's bed? Do you know?"

"Purple," Aurelian answered with his bottom lip pushed forward in a great frown.

"That's right. You are such a smart little boy," Draco praised. A tiny hint of a smile pulled at the corner of Aurey's mouth.

Visiting Harry stepped closer and examined Aurelian. "He can't be much younger here than he is now. Just a few months difference, maybe?"

"You know what else I have in here?" memory Hermione asked, cutting off any answers that the other visitors might have given Harry. "I have Aurelian's favorite sweets…"

"No…" Draco said playfully. "You have Chocoballs in there? Did you hear that, Aurey? Mummy brought Chocoballs for our campout. Would you like one before we go back to sleep?"

Aurelian's smile grew a little more and he nodded. Hermione reached up and placed one into the expectant little palm. Hermione lifted the box a little and asked without words if Draco would like one. Draco let his fake smile fall while Aurelian was busy eating chocolate and politely declined with a shake of his head. It settled them a little to help Aurey, but they were still incredibly tense and worried.

"Alright, love, time to slip into the sack and get some sleep," Draco announced.

"No… I wan go home," Aurelian repeated as his pout returned.

"I know, but we'll be nice and comfy here. You get to snuggle up to me all night," Draco said as he slid into the sleeping bag and tucked Aurelian in next to him. "Come on, Mummy, time for bed."

Though Draco's voice was still light, the look in his eye was not. It was a soft-spoken command. Hermione was never one to allow people to order her around, but this was different in a way that she could not explain. He was doing it for her. She was not angry; in fact, she felt rather apologetic when she shook her head.

"The others… I have to see them," she whispered, trying hard not to cry.

"No," Draco whispered firmly. "You know the rules. Not tonight. Now, come rest."

Hermione's knees were starting to hurt from the way she kneeled on the stone floor of the cave, but she felt like she just couldn't move. She couldn't stop the thoughts of her friends. There was no way that she could sleep.

"For Aurelian?" Draco pleaded.

"Daddy?" Aurelian asked when Draco had said his name.

Hermione nodded and crawled into her sleeping bag. She moved it so that she was right up against the other sleeping bag. Aurelian was spooned comfortably against his father while Draco's arm draped over him. Hermione smiled sadly at the two people who had come to mean more to her than anything and gently reached out to hold Draco's hand. Draco returned her sad smile and gently squeezed her hand.

"Don't think about it," he told her. "Save the worrying for when we know what to worry about."

Hermione couldn't answer. She wanted to soothe her husband as much as she wanted to soothe her son but there was nothing she could say, so she did the only thing she knew would give him comfort: she stayed. Despite her desire to race out and find her friends, she stayed with him.

When the memory faded away, the three visitors didn't move. They stood in the same place when the next memory appeared, only the cave was slightly brighter inside. Draco knelt on the floor, still only in his sleep pants and Aurelian sat in front of him with another Chocoball in his hand.

"Well?" the memory Draco asked hopefully. The three visitors turned to see the memory Hermione in the entrance of the cave with a pained look on her face.

"They weren't there," she said with a strangled sob. "The Burrow is empty. Things were torn apart, chairs overturned…"

"We knew it probably would be," Draco said calmly. "But they knew this might happen. They were just as prepared as we were. I'm sure they're all probably there waiting on us."

Hermione nodded.

"Aurelian and I got all our things packed up, didn't we?" Draco said. Aurelian nodded with a smile, chocolate smeared around his lips. "We're ready to go when you are."

"Where we goin'?" Aurelian asked.

"To see Uncle Harry," Draco answered.

"And Jamie?" Aurelian asked hopefully.

"Yes, I'm sure James is there, too," Draco looked at Hermione as he said this.

"Do we have to spin?" Aurelian asked.

"Yes, we have to Apparate," Draco answered as he stood up and took the boy into his arms. "But it will be quick. And you're a pro at this now, aren't you?"

Aurelian nodded.

"I've got the bag," Hermione announced as she lifted the rucksack onto her shoulder.

"On three," Draco prompted. "One, two, th-"

Before they could hear Draco finish the word 'three', the visiting trio felt the cave squish to their sides and lights flashed around them. When the world expanded around them, they saw two ruddy looking canvas pup tents and three wands trained on the young family.

"It's us! It's us!" Hermione announced quickly with her hands up defensively.

"Hermione!" Ginny cried. The red-headed woman raced forward and threw her arms around her bushy-haired friend.

"Are you alright? Harry said there was a Dark Mark above the Manor."

Hermione nodded, her face screwed up. Ginny pulled her closer.

"Alright?" Charlie asked Draco as he stowed his wand back into his wand pocket. Fred walked over and joined them, also stowing his wand.

"Yeah," Draco answered soberly with a small nod of his head. "Your group? Everyone got out?"

"Hermione? Oh, thank God!" Harry called as he ran out of the tent. "Are you alright? Everyone alright?"

Harry took hold of both of Hermione's arms and stared her in the face. Hermione nodded again, somehow unable to find her voice. Harry looked over at Draco. "Malfoy?"

"We're alright."

"We were scared to death you know. When we hadn't heard from you…" Harry continued.

"Rules, Potter," Draco reminded.

"We know," Fred assured him. "We just got here about forty minutes ago ourselves."

"We were worried, too," Hermione told them. "I wanted to check the Burrow last night, but-"

"Rules," Ginny said again. "Harry broke them. He went to the Manor last night. It scared us all even more, I think."

"Charlie had to steal his wand so he wouldn't go searching for you or try to send out a Patronus," Fred chuckled mirthlessly. Hermione narrowed her eyes at Harry and he looked away.

"What rules are we talking about?" visiting Harry asked.

"Rules for protection," visiting Hermione answered. "It sounds like we both had safe places to go if we were attacked before we met up here. We weren't allowed to try and make contact before then. But, then why didn't we have security questions?"

"If you're so big on rules," memory Harry addressed everyone. "Did everyone pass the security questions?"

"If I were a Death Eater in disguise, don't you think I'd try dressing up a bit more, Potter?" Draco smirked.

The visiting Hermione didn't fail to notice that though Draco had referred to Harry as 'Uncle Harry' for Aurelian, he still called him Potter to his face and Harry still called him Malfoy. It was lighthearted though. There seemed to be no malice left between the old school rivals.

"And this here tot sure looks menacing doesn't he?" Fred asked, smiling at Aurelian.

"Harry's right, though," Hermione said seriously.

"Fine then…" Draco said, thinking for just a second. "Of all the things I've ever called you, Pot Head is still my favorite, followed, of course, by The Scarred Savior."

"Fine, the ferret passes the test," Harry said, shaking his head. Despite the joke, both men still bore expressions of heaviness.

Hermione, on the other hand, didn't even try to force a smile. She looked quite ill as she looked around. "Where's Ron?"

Everyone's smile fell and every gaze hit the ground.

"No…" Hermione breathed.

"Hey, Aurelian…" Fred started softly. "I bet you haven't had any breakfast yet. Why don't you come in the tent and eat some cereal with James and Teddy?"

Aurelian nodded and Draco gently set him down. He sent an appreciative nod to Fred who was leading Aurelian toward the tent.

"Hermione…" Draco said softly, "you already knew."

"No… I didn't. He can't be…" Hermione protested.

"Yesterday afternoon," Charlie said quietly, "we got an owl saying that he never showed up at Dean's house. We waited… Harry and Fred went looking…"

"But then he could still be alive!" Hermione shouted angrily. "We have to-"

"Hermione," Draco said gently, putting his hand on Hermione's shoulder when he saw Ginny's tears and the pained expressions that marred every face. "You've already known. They wouldn't let him live. They got what they needed. With Arthur gone, everyone was a secret keeper and could have revealed the Burrow, but Ron was our secret keeper. The only way they could have broken the charm to get in was with him. You knew that the minute they entered the Manor."

"I know…" Hermione broke down. Draco put his arms around her and held her tightly. Of everyone in the war that they'd lost, this death hit the hardest. Ron was one of her best friends. They had so many memories of their times at Hogwarts; they celebrated so many birthdays, holidays, and congratulations, and she had fought right beside him in so many battles. His death hurt. There was no other word for it. It hurt.

"Come on," Charlie said gently. "Let's get inside and have some breakfast."

The scene changed again and the three visitors stood quietly, not quite prepared to move on, but given no choice. Draco, who had never been close to Ron, had never worked with him, still felt the great loss. It was detrimental to the people with him and so to the efforts of the war. When the world materialized again, they stood around a table in the large interior of one of the canvas pup tents.

The four chairs around the table were occupied by Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Fred. Behind them, joined in the conversation, were Dean, Draco, Charlie, and Luna. The visitors seemed to have arrived in the middle of the discussion. With all the adults gathered, Hermione couldn't help but look for the children and saw them tucked away in the bunk beds on the other side of the tent.

"I just know that we can't go on like this," said Charlie as he ran his hand through his hair in frustration. The visiting Hermione had failed to notice outside the tents that Charlie still bore splotchy scars over the right side of his body, scars from the burns he received in the futile fight to save Hogwarts. "It takes so much effort to track them, not that they're very hard to find anymore, but with our numbers… Their numbers are outrageous and we never even know if she'll be there personally. We can't keep chasing her. It's like trying to catch water with our bare hands."

"I know," Harry said heavily, "which is why we need to change tactics. From now on, we'll make her come to us."

"How?" asked Dean.

"By using her weaknesses against her. Pride and fury. We taunt her." Harry looked older than he had before. He had to be around 26 or 27 and he looked it but for his eyes and his stature. He looked like an Army General the way his eyes had hardened. His shoulders, though they showed signs of fatigue, were still somehow held back with determination. He looked and sounded wise beyond his years. "Hermione, can you reverse a Fidelius Charm?"

Hermione looked surprised by, what seemed to her, the random question. "I don't know… I've never heard of anyone trying. I mean, it must be possible… but why?"

"I want to reveal Grimmauld Place," Harry answered simply.

"Harry, it's in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood that has been completely destroyed. Imagine what Muggles would think to see a house standing untouched in the middle of all that rubble," Hermione worried.

"I know, but it doesn't matter. We need it and we want her to see it. Muggles are already frightened and confused by everything happening in the world. The International Statute of Secrecy means nothing anymore. I want to reveal it at night. The Muggles won't go to it then," Harry insisted. "But can you do it?"

Hermione sighed and searched her mind for possibilities. "Yes," she said confidently. "I don't know how yet, but I will."

"Good," said Harry. "I want to lure her with the Dark Mark. Different places, one night after the other. She'll be outraged that someone would use the Mark, especially us. Whatever she's doing, whatever she's trying to achieve – if anything – I have no doubt that she still does it with honor toward Voldemort. She'll come personally to take care of it. It would work best, though, if the Dark Mark was set at our houses so that she might see that we're purposely taunting her. Dean… You have no idea how hard it is for me to ask, but your house…"

"Yes, Harry," Dean answered before Harry could finish. "My family has gone to safety. You can use my house."

"Don't answer so quickly. I'm talking about luring the Death Eaters to your home. It's very possible that it could be destroyed," Harry said seriously.

"I know, Harry. But it's hardly my home anymore. I'm here, full in, with the rest of you. And if this will work like we hope, we'll be rid of her, and most likely, her inner circle. I'm full in," Dean replied earnestly.

"Alright," Harry said with a small appreciative smile. "Luna-?"

"Of course, Harry," Luna answered before the question was even posed. He knew he wouldn't have to repeat himself. Luna knew what she had just signed up for.

"Mine, too, Potter," Draco offered. "You start at Grimmauld Place and work your way around. Use the Manor as the place of actual attack. It's got the best positioning and the most space."

Harry nodded.

"Harry…" Hermione started tentatively. "I know that we turned down the idea before… but I think we might want to reconsider-"

"No, Hermione, you're right," Harry interrupted, taking her by surprise. "We're too few. We're desperate. We need the element of surprise and they'll never see it coming. You just tell us what we need to do."

Hermione nodded dumbly, unable to believe that he agreed so easily. What felt like a good idea a moment before, suddenly seemed frightening.

The memory started to fade and the visiting Harry turned around to look at Hermione. "Do what? What are we planning? What will they never see coming?"

"Harry, I don't know," Hermione replied a bit defensively.

"We'll see it. You know we will," Draco answered.

When the new memory fell into place, they saw Hermione alone in the field as she stared at the two tents. She took a deep breath and strode toward the tent on the right. She reached for the flap but stopped when she heard the conversation inside.

"Damn it, Potter!" Draco shouted.

"I know you don't like it, but I need to know that you'll follow the plan," Harry answered. Hermione peeked through the gap in the tent flaps and stared at the two men who faced each other with hard looks.

"I know the plan and I have no problem sending the Dark Mark up like all the other times, but I will not just scurry back here and wait and leave everyone – leave Hermione – to fight," Draco raged.

"You have to. You have to stay with Aurelian," Harry ordered.

"Ginny's here with the other two, she can watch Aurelian," Draco insisted.

"The rule, Malfoy! The rules! It's the rule you helped create yourself and have enforced many times before. One parent must always stay with the child. It's as much for Hermione as it is for Aurelian that you stay here with him. We need her. We can't do this without her. And there's no way she's going to be able to keep her head on straight if she's worrying about you."

"Someone else… not her," Draco said with a quiver in his voice.

"I know how you feel," Harry said seriously, placing his hand on Draco's shoulder. "No one wants to see her hurt. We've planned this out though. Hermione says she's gone over it more than a hundred times and I doubt she's exaggerating. She's a brilliant witch. She's a brilliant and furious woman in general. Trust us. Trust her."

Angry tears stung Draco's eyes and his teeth were clenched in defiance. He wouldn't cry. He nodded to Harry.

"You'll follow the plan. You'll come right back?" Harry checked.

"I'll follow the plan. But you better make sure she gets back here safely, Potter," Draco threatened, his ferocity returned.

"I will."

"Draco? Harry?" Hermione called. She acted like she'd just arrived as she continued, "We're ready. It's all set up."

"Alright," said Harry, following her out of the tent. When they stepped out into the night, the others were gathered outside of the other tent.

"We're ready," Harry told them. "Now, we've been over this several times so I'm not going to review again. Just everyone stay hidden and stay safe. After the signal, you run outside the boundaries and hide or Apparate; whatever you need to do. No heroics."

"That goes for you too, mate," Fred reminded him. Harry nodded.

"Aurelian!" Hermione cried in surprise. "What are you doing out here, love? I tucked you in over an hour ago."

"Mummy, where goin'? Where goin', Mummy?" he pouted.

"Mummy and Daddy have some work to do tonight," Hermione told him gently.

"No, no workin'!" Aurelian protested.

"Sorry, buddy," Draco apologized. He then squatted down to the toddler's level. "We'll be back soon though. Daddy will be back real soon."

"No, Daddy. No go." Aurelian pouted. Hermione, again, suspected that Aurelian could feel the tension. He felt their fear and uncertainty, and it scared him.

"Don't worry. I'll be back really fast, okay? Really fast. I promise. I'll be back before you can even miss me. Five minutes. You go in that tent and tell Pernie to set the clock for five minutes and I'll beat that timer. Do you think I can?" Draco said lightly.

Aurelian looked up at Hermione and the others and then back at his father. "Really fast?"

"Really fast. And then I'll tuck you back into your bed. You wait for me."

Aurelian nodded and Ginny took his hand. Before she returned to the tent though, she took Harry to the side.

"You come back really fast, too," Draco told Hermione seriously.

"I will, Draco. I'll be safe," Hermione assured him. "I lov-"

"No. No 'I love you.' You can tell me when you get back," Draco told her sternly.

"I will."

"Okay, let's go," Harry told the group. He looked around and waited for the others to crowd around him. Hermione looked from one face to the other and said a quick silent prayer. Eight people. That's all that was left of the Order of the Phoenix, hiding away in two tents. Eight adults, three children, and a house-elf were trying to take down the largest wizard army that the world had ever known. That night they would try to take down the Bellatrix and her inner circle. It had to work.

All of the adults, sans Ginny, gathered and Apparated away to Malfoy Manor.

"You're ready, Hermione? Absolutely ready?" Harry asked.

"Yes, as ready as I can be," Hermione assured him. "I looked it over more-"

"I know, Hermione. I trust you," Harry told her, his hand on her shoulder. "Now, everyone use the Disillusionment Charm and get into place. Malfoy… whenever you're ready."

Harry rapped himself on the head and slowly started to vanish before their eyes. He was the last one to do so and when Draco saw the last bit of his trainers vanish, he lifted his wand and conjured the Dark Mark. The green glowing skull and snake waved among the clouds. Draco closed his eyes and Disapparated.

Rather than fade or vanish, the memory seemed to skip in time. The three visitors never moved from their spot. They looked around for memory Hermione but did not see her. They then assumed that she was still under the Disillusionment Charm. They hadn't much time to ponder it as they watched dark hooded figures pop into view and descend upon the house. There must have been close to fifty, many more than any of them had anticipated. Most of the Death Eaters looked around uncertainly. Finally, a woman appeared, not wearing robes or a mask like the others. She wore a long dress and had long black hair. They could not see her face, but there was no doubt that they were looking at Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Potter!" she cried angrily, her wand pointed through the open front doors. The visiting trio could see behind her a brilliantly glowing stag standing in the middle of the entrance hall. "Potter's here! Find him!" she ordered. She rushed into the house with the others.

When most of the group was inside, they heard a soft "Expecto Patronum" uttered. Before the visitors could figure out where it had come from, a silver otter streaked a quick circle around the outside of the Manor. Only a second later, a large explosion shook the ground beneath their feet. They looked up in shock at the fire that suddenly burned in the collapsed right wing of the house.

"Bugger me..." they heard the memory Hermione curse from somewhere very close to them. "No! Damn it! Work!"

She looked up and saw a stream of Death Eaters exit the house.

"Fuck!" They heard Harry shout off to their right. "Expecto Patronum!"

Harry had undone his Disillusionment Charm and his body was half visible when he ran out toward the house, his Patronus going before him. The stag trotted in front of the doors and gave the Death Eaters pause.

"It's Potter!" the voice of Rodolphus Lestrange shouted.

"Get him!" Bellatrix commanded as she practically flew outside and directly toward Harry.

"Harry, get out!" Hermione shrieked.

"Harry!" a few other voices shouted. The Disillusionment Charms were disarmed by their owners before they were supposed to be ended.

"NO!" Hermione cried out to them.

"No..." visiting Hermione echoed. "They're using Muggle explosives. Bombs. They didn't go off right. They can't go over there; the explosives may still go off."

Bellatrix sent a well-aimed curse at Harry that he deflected easily and he countered with a disarming spell. From there the spells flew faster, one after another. The other members of the small Order moved in to deflect the spells that the other Death Eaters cast at Harry.

"No!" Hermione cried again. She gave up and let down her Disillusionment Charm. Another explosion shook the ground and the back side of the house collapsed. "No, not now! EXPECTO PATRONUM!"

Hermione's otter reappeared and circled the fighters, which caused more fright amongst the Death Eaters. That, coupled with the last explosion, forced them to begin to flee. Many tried to Disapparate, but were unsuccessful: the Order had reraised the Apparition wards after they arrived.

"Harry! Move!" Hermione screamed loudly and desperately. The Order members had moved back and shot spells to try to keep the Death Eaters corralled in. Harry stood in front of the doors, caught in a fierce duel with Bellatrix, a look of panic on his face.

"Harry! Enough!" Luna shouted as she came to his aid. Even with the two of them fighting, Bellatrix did not seem concerned. She simply looked possessed.

Hermione raised her wand and dropped the Apparition wards. "Apparate, Harry!"

Just as she finished her shout, three successive explosions burst inside the house. "No!" Hermione screamed.

"Run!" Charlie shouted to her angrily.

Hermione turned and ran as explosion after explosion vibrated the dirt under her shoes. She stopped suddenly when she passed a familiar oak with an orange ribbon tied around its lowest branch, a marker of the perimeter. She watched as the Death Eaters ran away from the house at full tilt. Explosions similar to the ones in the house blew a large circle around the grounds, throwing dirt into the air, splintering surrounding trees, and effectively trapping the Death Eaters between the burning house and a wall of flames. Hermione looked on in horror at the bodies of her two friends amongst the debris.

"Ward it!" Fred shouted.

Hermione was already in the process of doing so when Fred had ordered, but it was possibly the hardest decision she ever had to make. She had to trap any friends left inside with the anti-Apparition charm.

"No!" the visiting Hermione shouted suddenly. "No! Godric, how could I do that?"

"Hermione," the visiting Harry said gently.

"Don't!" Hermione commanded as she slapped away the hand Harry tried to use to comfort her. "How could you do that? Again! You had even said yourself – no heroics! Damn it, Harry!"

"Granger…" Draco started calmly. "It wasn't him-"

"It was him who made that decision!" Hermione raged. "You've made it before, so many times! You sacrifice yourself to whatever cause you're in. And this is what it does!" Hermione shouted. She pointed toward the burning house and the fallen comrades in front of it. "I don't want this to happen!"

"None of this is going to happen, Hermione," Harry said vehemently.

"Maybe not like this. Maybe we'll solve this whole thing, but there's always going to be something! Always! You have to stop doing this! Do you see what it does?" Hermione pointed to the new piece of memory that had appeared when the memory Hermione Apparated. There, memory Hermione fell to her knees crying.

"Hermione!" memory Draco shouted as he ran out to her and the others. "What happened? Are you alright?"

Hermione sobbed miserably, unable to speak. Fred had also fallen to his knees; Dean and Charlie stared unseeing into the night.

"Where's Harry?" Ginny asked. She had followed Draco out of the tent and her whole body shook, tears already streaming down her cheeks. She already knew, from Hermione's actions, the answer to her question.

"It was my fault!" Hermione shrieked and sobbed. "It didn't work right. I killed them."

Ginny sobbed and Draco was too stunned for words.

"No," said Charlie. "It wasn't your fault. They went back. You couldn't stop it."

"It was supposed to work… the explosives were supposed to work…" Hermione wailed.

"They did," Fred said softly. "Not in the right time, but they worked. Many were killed. Many."

"But it wasn't worth it…" Hermione sobbed.

"Was she there? Was she caught in it?" Draco asked desperately.

Hermione stopped and thought. She didn't know. She was so concerned about Harry and Luna that she hadn't looked to see what happened to Bellatrix.

"No," Dean answered. "She wasn't there, and it wasn't the explosion that killed them, Hermione. She killed 'em herself. She Disapparated just before the last wave."

"How could she Apparate?" Draco asked. "I thought-"

"I dropped the Apparition wards for Harry and Luna…" Hermione said quietly. It was another thing she blamed herself for. Harry and Luna died trying to defeat Bellatrix and it was Hermione's fault that she got away. "I'm sorry, Ginny… I'm so sorry…"

"It's over..." said Fred. "We can't do this without Harry. It's over."

"No," Draco said with ferocity that surprised them all. "It's not over. Potter's an incredible leader and was the key to defeating Voldemort, but not Bellatrix. We don't stop here. We can't stop here. It would make all the sacrifices for nothing. We sleep, we mourn, and we continue. We don't stop here."

Everyone looked down at the ground and nodded silently.

"I'm sorry, Ginny," Draco said, a hand on Ginny's shoulder as Harry had earlier done to him. "I'm sorry."

The memory around them vanished and they once again stood around the table inside the tent. The small boys played nearby on the floor.

"We bait them again," Draco said.

"What's the point?" Dean asked in frustration. "What's the point if she can come back again once we've killed her."

"The point is, she'll be dead," Draco replied angrily.

"Exactly. We take her down first. It will be nearly impossible for us to find her new Horcrux if she knows we're looking."

"I agree," said Charlie "But-"

The group gasped in unison when they heard several 'pops' outside the tent.

"There!" a man shouted.

"They're here!" Hermione cried.

"Grab the boys!" Charlie shouted.

"How did they find us?" Ginny cried, as she roughly lifted James from the floor.

"Taboo! It's a taboo!" Hermione shouted.

"This way!" shouted Fred.

Spells were already flying into the tent and Fred used his wand to sever the back of the tent. As soon as the tent wall split open, a green flash hit Fred directly in the chest.

"NO!" Ginny cried.

"Daddy!" Aurelian screamed. Charlie sent a barrage of spells out of the tent and pushed forward.

"Go!" he yelled.

Hermione rushed out before him, casting spells in all directions. "Go!"

"Go, Hermione!" Draco ordered, Aurelian bouncing in his arms as he ran.

Hermione looked over her shoulder and her whole world shattered. She watched as Draco fell, face first, onto the ground, the Death Eater behind him still with his wand pointed at his chest. Hermione couldn't breathe, but her heart pounded in her ears. She didn't know what happened around her or to her as she ran to her fallen husband. It broke her heart to see him like that. She wanted to run away from it all and at the same time she wanted to lay down next to him, to give it all up herself; her body continued to move in its own plan despite her wishes. She sent a killing curse to the man that destroyed her husband's life, and therefore her own, and she ripped the small boy out from under his father's body. She raced a few steps forward and Disapparated, leaving all of it, her hopes and dreams, her love, behind.

The visiting Hermione felt as thought she'd been punched in the stomach. She had a difficult time drawing a breath and it looked as though visiting Draco felt the same. The world changed too soon. They weren't ready yet. They needed to recover.

Four. The Order was down to four. Ginny, Dean, Charlie, and Hermione sat around a fire in the cave near Hogsmeade. Aurelian was snuggled in Hermione's arms as she stared despondently into the fire. Ginny looked her mirror image as she sat the same with James on the other side of the fire. Dean and Charlie sat across from each other and Teddy had his head on Charlie's lap.

"We bait them…" Hermione said flatly, still looking quite vacant. "One last time."

"To what end?" asked Dean.

"She's angry. She believes we're running scared now. She'll want to end us, if she can. The word is taboo and I bet she doesn't think we know. She'll be waiting for us to say it again. So we will," Hermione said. Though she had somehow taken the lead in Harry and now Draco's absence, her heart was not in it like theirs; she wasn't as fierce as they were. She didn't want to fight, didn't want to lose anymore, but there was no way she could stop. Draco was right. It would be for nothing if they stopped. They still had a chance.

"You still have explosives?" Charlie asked quietly.

"Yes," Hermione answered just as softly. "They're still hidden. We let her believe we're surprised and then we take her out."

"Make a plan. You know I'm in," Dean said dejectedly.

"Ginny… I'll need you to watch Aurelian," Hermione said quietly. "There's no other way."

Ginny nodded.

"What the hell are they doing?" the visiting Draco shouted suddenly. Harry and Hermione looked at him in surprise.

"They're still going. After everything we did. We did it for them and they're still risking their lives! Can't they see we did it for them? To save them?"

"Of course we can," Hermione said softly. "But it was done for more than just us. The whole world will continue to suffer if they don't stop her. They would be found eventually. They're trying to make it better for everyone, James, Aurelian, and Teddy included."

"Enough," said Harry. "The memories get shorter with Hermione's increasing distress. We have to watch carefully. Everything's important."

Hermione nodded as the memory faded.

"Shield cloaks on. Hoods up," Charlie's voice instructed before the scene had completely formed. Hermione, Charlie, and Dean stood in a triangular formation and looked each other in the eye to share their determination.

"Don't forget the Portkeys," Hermione reminded them. "Keep them on you. A single touch will do. It will set off the bomb, as well, hopefully after the Portkey has taken us away."

"It doesn't matter," said Charlie seriously. "We do it regardless of what might happen. We set it off no matter who is still behind. We might all three die today, but if we do, we're bringing her and as many others as we can down with us. I love you both, but this is more important than that. If I see an opportunity, whether you're there or not, I'm setting it off. I hope both of you will do the same."

"I will," Hermione agreed.

"I will," Dean echoed.

"We're ready then?" Charlie asked. At their nods, he spoke the taboo, "Horcrux."

Hermione gripped her wand in her hand and waited. Only a few seconds later, the silence was broken by sounds of Apparition. She raised her wand, poised to attack, when her wand was pulled out of her hand. She heard Charlie grunt and saw him motionless on the ground. When her head spun again, she was hit hard in the face and thrown to the ground. She tried to quickly push herself up, but a black leather boot crushed her wrist.

"My, my, my."

Hermione looked up at Bellatrix's face with horror. The woman had her wand and was swinging it like a pendulum in her fingers.

"Looks like we've rounded up the last of them," she smiled wickedly. Hermione looked to her right and saw Dean locked in a Death Eater's hold, the man's arm around Dean's neck and a wand to his head. "Although…" Bellatrix continued thoughtfully. "Where are those runts you're always carting around? Finally lose them as well, did you?"

"Dean. Dean," Hermione pleaded.

"Oh, Dean's not going to be able to help you now, is he?" Bellatrix taunted.

"Dean!" Hermione commanded.

Dean looked frozen as he stared at Hermione. He had thought about it, agreed to it, but when it came to it, he just couldn't sacrifice Hermione. She looked so panicked. Hermione struggled to touch the small charm on her shoe that was both the trigger and her Portkey, but was kicked in the chin.

"I don't know what you think you're reaching for, but there's nothing that will save you now," Bellatrix said in a voice of mock sympathy.

"Dean! DEAN!"

"Is Dean bothering you that much? We can solve that easily enough… Avada Kedavra!"

"No!" Hermione screamed.

"Enough of your screaming. What will it get you?" Bellatrix smirked. "Oh… and would you look that…" she said as she bent over, her foot still crushing Hermione's wrist. "I heard the rumor but simply refused to believe it."

Bellatrix removed Hermione's wedding ring and looked it over. Hermione reached for it in vain.

"I was told my blood traitor nephew had taken to you, but the idea was so disgusting that I wouldn't dare believe it," Bellatrix sneered. "A priceless family heirloom on the finger of a Mudblood," she laughed derisively. "Rubbish!" She angrily tossed the ring into the trees.

Hermione gasped.

"You're nothing," Bellatrix growled. "Nothing but a stupid, filthy Mudblood. You were stupid to think you could come after me. Worthless trash like you messing with the minds of good witches and wizards, making believe that they're of same value as you. My nephew…" She shook her head in disgust. "I'll rid the whole world of your kind and anyone who has learned that brain rot you preach about equality."

Hermione suddenly stopped reaching for the Portkey on her shoe and looked up bewilderedly at Bellatrix. "I know what it is…"

"What are you mumbling about?"

"I know what it is…" Hermione repeated in utter shock. "Impedimenta!" With sudden inspiration and a renewed determination, Hermione wandlessly blasted Bellatrix off her feet and silently disarmed her. The Death Eaters were too startled to move, but Hermione did not stop for a second. Holding her own wand and Bellatrix's as well, she summoned her ring, ran to Charlie, and Disapparated.

"Hermione!" Ginny shouted.

Hermione spun around with both wands pointed at Ginny before she relaxed. When she saw where she was, she fell to her knees on the cave floor.

"Merlin, are you alright? What happened?" Ginny demanded. She gasped and looked down at Charlie. "Merlin… no…"

"I… I don't know what happened…" Hermione said miserably. "I should have done it… I should have just set it off. I-I-I thought… Merlin… What have I done?"

"He's alive! Hermione, he's alive!" Ginny shouted.

Hermione spun around and stared down at Charlie. It was true. He was breathing.

"I… I hadn't seen what spell they used and I didn't want to give up hope… but I really didn't believe that he was still-"

"Rennervate!" Ginny called, bringing her stunned brother back to a conscious state.

"What happened?" Charlie asked.

"You're still alive, that's what happened. You'd be dead if it weren't for Hermione," Ginny snapped irritably. Charlie looked at Hermione with narrowed eyes.

"It didn't work," Hermione said simply, not able to find it in herself to reveal what really happened. The truth was, for a moment she thought she could fix things. For a moment, she had hope.

"She didn't tell him," the visiting Draco said in disbelief. "She didn't tell him and we still don't know. What did she mean when she said she knew what it was?"

"The Horcrux," Harry said thoughtfully. "They believed that she had made another Horcrux after she came back. They didn't know what it was. Hermione must have figured it out. Or, she thought she did. Why wouldn't she tell Charlie?"

"I don't know," the visiting Hermione replied, shaking her head in exasperation.

"Ginny, I need to talk to you," the memory Hermione said when the cave reappeared in the next memory.

"Sure," Ginny said uncertainly. Hermione and Ginny walked away from the three little boys that were watching Pernie spin their empty dinner plates like tops. "What is it?"

"When Charlie comes back, I'm not going with you," Hermione said sadly.

"What?" Ginny worried.

"I can't. I can't go. There's one more thing I have to try and I can't leave before I do," Hermione explained vaguely.

"What do you mean? What are you going to do?"

"I think it's better that I don't say," Hermione replied, looking guiltily at the floor.

"Why? Hermione… Whatever it is, don't. Think of Aurelian," Ginny pleaded.

"I am. He's coming with me."

"You're taking him?" Ginny asked, completely bewildered. They had been through a lot together and Ginny just couldn't imagine that Hermione would ever risk him on a mission of any kind.

"Yes," Hermione said as guilt and worry tugged at her insides. "I need him."

"I wish you would tell me…"

"I wish I could, too, but I promise that it's better this way. I just have one last thing to ask of you," Hermione told her, her eyes begging hopefully.

"Anything," Ginny replied seriously.

"Can you wait until morning? Can… Can you just wait here 'til morning?" Hermione pleaded.

"Of course," Ginny said with surprise. "I'll wait a whole week if you ask me to."

"I won't need a week. I want you to leave tomorrow, no matter what. I just… if this doesn't work…."

"We'll wait for you," Ginny assured her.

"No. You'll leave in the morning, no matter what. If Aurelian and I aren't here, then-"

"Then you'll meet us in Romania," Ginny finished for her.

"Ginny." Hermione shook her head and continued grimly, "If we're not here before morning-"

"Then we'll meet up with you in Romania," Ginny repeated firmly.

Tears sprang from Hermione's eyes and she nodded her head. "Until then…"

Ginny sobbed and threw her arms around Hermione. Hermione squeezed her friend tightly.

"I love you, Hermione," Ginny cried.

"I love you, too," Hermione answered.

"Be safe," Ginny said as she pulled back to look her friend in the eyes.

"I will. You, too."

"I'll see you soon," Ginny insisted. Hermione nodded and wiped another tear from her cheek.

"Aurelian, love, it's time to go," Hermione said lightly. Aurelian got happily to his feet and wiped the dirt from his hands onto his light green robes. "It's a lot colder outside, so let's get you bundled up. Hermione summoned the small black shield cloak from the other side of the cave and buttoned it up with a sad smile on her face. "And your blue scarf," she smiled.

"Tornadoes," Aurelian said. "Like Daddy. We see Daddy now, Mummy?"

"Not tonight, love," Hermione answered.

"This is it," said the visiting Harry. "She's going to send him back."

"So quickly," said visiting Hermione. "It's all happening so quickly now."

"Pernie?" the memory Hermione called.

"Yes, Mistress?" Pernie asked. Teddy and James watched curiously from where they sat on the ground.

"Pernie, I'm going to ask you to come with us," Hermione replied.

"Of course, Mistress." Pernie smiled.

Hermione nodded and picked Aurelian up.

Ginny picked the rucksack off of the floor. "Hermione, your bag."

"I won't need it." At the pained look on Ginny's face, she amended. "I'll be back for it."

Ginny nodded even though she knew Hermione did not expect to return.

"Bye, Teddy. Bye, James," Hermione said sadly. She turned to Ginny and a couple of rogue tears fell. "Bye."

"Bye," Ginny breathed.

"Bye-bye, Aunt Ginny," Aurelian waved cheerfully. At this, Ginny broke down in tears.

"It will be alright," Hermione said as she placed a hand on Ginny's shoulder. "I'll fix everything."

Hermione squeezed through the tight cave entrance and took a deep breath of the cold December air. She stared up at the stars that were already shining in the winter's early eve.

"Is Daddy up dere?" Aurelian asked.

"I think you'll see Daddy very soon," Hermione answered. "Pernie?"

Hermione felt bad for the elf who stood barefoot in the snow. "I'm going to Apparate and call for you in just a moment," Hermione told her.

"Pernie will come, Mistress."

Hermione closed her eyes and Disapparated. When the world reappeared for her and the three visitors, they found themselves in a dark, cold, empty house.

"Pernie?" she called. Immediately, Pernie appeared at her side.

"Mummy, where are we?" Aurelian asked. "It's dark."

"We're just going to stop here for a little bit," Hermione told him with a loving smile.

"It's my home… my parents' home," the visiting Hermione announced. She felt sick as she wondered when her parents had been killed, for she knew that she would not have been able to send them away again.

"Here, love, have a drink." Memory Hermione handed her son a bottle with very little liquid in the bottom.

"Eww. Is yucky," Aurelian grimaced. "Yucky, Mummy, yucky."

"I know, but just have one more drink for Mummy, okay?" Hermione asked sweetly. Aurelian pouted and shook his head no.

"Come now, Young Master," Pernie crooned. "Be a good boy and listen to Young Master's mother."

Aurelian pouted again but obediently drank the last of the potion.

"That's a good boy, Young Master. A very good boy," Pernie crooned again.

"Thank you, Pernie," Hermione said with sincere gratitude. She easily caught Aurelian as he collapsed.

"Young Master!" Pernie worried.

"It's okay. It's just a sleeping draught," Hermione assured the house-elf.

"Pernie doesn't understand, Mistress. Pernie thought Mistress had a mission," Pernie asked with confusion.

"I do. But I can't bring him with me. Please watch over him. I hope to be back soon," Hermione told her. "Pernie, if I'm not back in two hours, please take him back to Ginny in the cave. If anyone else comes here, take him back immediately. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mistress." Pernie nervously twisted her long thin fingers.

"Here," Hermione conjured a glass jar, conjured bluebell flames inside, tightened the lid, and placed it on the floor next to the sleeping boy. "This will keep you both warm." Pernie sat down next to Aurelian and Hermione transfigured one of the nearby curtains into a blanket. She pulled the blanket over her son and the house-elf and smiled down with sad eyes. "Thank you. I hope to back soon so he shouldn't wake before then."

Pernie nodded and Hermione Disapparated again.

When she opened her eyes, she stood on a wide, short plinth in the center of the Auror's office, the only other place in the Ministry that one could Apparate besides a specialized place in the Atrium. She was glad that it hadn't been locked. She hurried off the plinth and through the office. She turned her head as she passed Harry's desk. It hurt too much to look at.

"Look at it. It's all dusty," visiting Harry noted of the sloppy desks as they passed. "It looks like no one has been here for months."

"I don't think they have," said Draco. Hermione and Harry looked at him curiously. "The calendar still says the end of August."

"The Ministry is closed then? Or just the Aurors' office?" Hermione asked.

"I don't know," Harry said with a shake of his head. In their discussion and perusal of the office, they had fallen a bit behind the memory Hermione and jogged to catch up to her in the lift.

Memory Hermione thrust the gate closed quickly and caught visiting Draco half in, half out. He looked surprised at first to see the door going straight through him, but shook it off and stepped inside. He watched memory Hermione jab at the lift controls and tap her foot impatiently.

"She's nervous. The Ministry must be being watched," Draco announced.

Being flustered and anxious, memory Hermione pointed her wand at the controls and the lift's speed increased to almost a free fall. The lift jarred to a sudden halt and the occupants grabbed the walls for support.

"Level Nine: Department of Mysteries," a pleasant voice announced. The lift doors clanged open; they sounded incredibly loud in the silent atmosphere.

Hermione raced down the plain corridor and lifted her wand. "Reducto!"

The black door splintered and fell to the floor. Hermione hurried in and stared at the twelve doors that lined the circular room. She slowed down for a second and scrutinized her surroundings. After only a few seconds pause she destroyed the fourth door on the right and raced in. It was obvious to Draco, who did not actually know her well, that she had been there a few times before. His eyes widened as he followed her in. He personally had never entered the Department of Mysteries; very few wizards had. The room they'd entered was utterly amazing. The brightness surprised him. Light sparkled and danced around the room. It was magic in its purest form. He shook himself from his daze and turned his focus back to the woman they followed. She quivered as she reached up toward a small instrument on a high shelf. The entire case looked like it was meant to house several of these items, but there were only three.

"They broke during the battle," the visiting Hermione explained when she saw Draco's curious expression.

Memory Hermione quickly wrapped the selected Time-Turner in a purple cloth and shoved it into the inside pocket of her robes. The treasured tool collected, she took off again, back the way she came. She raced out of the battered black door and gasped. There, in front of her, stood two Death Eaters.

"There!" one cried.

"Impedimenta!" Hermione shouted. The two figures froze mid-step and she raced past them into the lift. She jabbed at the controls again. Her wand trembled in her hand as the lift ascended. "Please… please… please…" she chanted under her breath.

"How did they find her?" Harry asked.

"If no one has been in the Ministry for months, it's likely they have alarms," Draco offered.

"Level Eight: The Atrium," the sing-song voice announced. The gate opened and Hermione ran out full tilt, taking the visitors by surprise. They gasped as the flashes of colored light started to fly from every direction.

"It's Granger! Get her!" one man shouted.

Memory Hermione cast one shield charm after another and silently thanked the Weasley twins again for the protective cloak that had, no doubt, protected her from a few spells. Her heart felt like it had stopped the two times that killing curses had just missed her.

"The fireplaces! Block them!" another Death Eater shouted.

Hermione looked over her shoulder and grunted as a spell hit her side. She fell to one knee and quickly pushed herself back up. With a quick, silent flourish, she summoned a bag of Floo powder from a close fireplace and threw it in as she neared.

"The Leaky Cauldron!" she shouted. The green flames roared up her sides and she spun quickly out of sight. She stumbled out into the musty old pub and startled the handful of patrons. She grabbed her side and fought for breath through the pain.

"Miss Granger?" a woman asked curiously as she got to her feet.

Hermione looked up in fear but saw that the woman was no threat.

"Merlin, it is you… Everyone thinks you're dead," the woman continued.

The woman had caught her off guard. She was turned quickly, ready to Apparate when a hand seized her robes from behind. A Death Eater had followed her via the Floo. She twirled and Apparated away even as she choked because the man still grasped her hood. She had no idea why she chose the place she did except that it was the first place she could think of. She turned as soon as her feet felt firmly planted with the intention of pointing her wand at her attacker, but with his tight grip on her, when she turned, her wand poked the man in the eye. Not being what she expected, she was momentarily stunned. The second her wits had returned, she Apparated away from the crumbled remains of Malfoy Manor and returned to her parents' deserted home.

"Pernie?" she cried.

"Mistress?"

"We have to hurry." Hermione panted. She opened her cloak and looked down at the large gaping wound in her side.

"Mistress is hurt!" Pernie gasped in horror.

"Yes," Hermione hobbled into the living room where she found Aurelian still asleep on the floor. "Pernie, listen to me. Aurelian is going away and I'm not going to make it."

"No, Mistress. Pernie can help. Pernie can go for help," the house-elf pleaded.

"No, Pernie. It's too late. It's okay though. Just… just please go to Ginny. Tonight Aurelian and I will be gone and the Malfoy line will end. You will have no master to look after you anymore. I tell you now, officially, that Ginevra Weasley is my new heir. She gets everything. You do not have to serve her if you do not wish. But if you need a good master, Ginny will care for you, and it would mean the world to me if you cared for her."

"Yes, Mistress," Pernie whimpered, tears gathering in her large glistening eyes. "Pernie will go now if Mistress wishes it."

"You're an amazing friend, Pernie. Take care."

"Pernie will miss you, Mistress."

"Thank you."

Pernie vanished and Hermione fell to her knees. She reached into her cloak and pulled out a small empty vial.

Harry, Hermione, and Draco were caught completely by surprise when they were suddenly lifted out of the Pensieve. Hermione wavered and caught her balance, but Harry and Draco's legs hit the sofa and they fell onto it. They stared at the basin for a few long seconds and then looked at each other. That was it.

The Hermione from the future showed them up to the point where she placed her memories in that vial, the very vial that set empty on the coffee table. It was only minutes before her death, only minutes before Aurelian arrived at the Burrow and startled Harry and Ron. The memories ending there made it all feel more real than it had before. They felt as if they had actually traveled along with him. So many thoughts swam through their heads.

"More tea, I think…" Hermione said blankly.

Draco and Harry nodded, still unable to pull away from the thoughts and visions speeding around behind their unseeing eyes.

"Right…" Hermione breathed. Slowly, she got to her feet and wandered to the kitchen. In a daze, she paused to stare out upon the beautiful sunny day that shown through her window and the weight of all the memories hit her full force. She let out a quiet sob and fell into the kitchen chair.

 

Chapter Text

"Hermione?" Harry called uncertainly when he heard a small sob from the kitchen. He glanced at Malfoy and stood up. "Hermione?" he called again as he entered the kitchen and slowly walked over to the table. "You alright?"

Hermione nodded and stifled another small sob. "Yeah… I just… It's just bit much."

"Yeah…" Harry agreed sadly.

"Harry, I'm so sorry!" Hermione's outburst took Harry completely by surprise.

"For what?"

"It was my fault. Twice. Twice I could have killed her and I didn't," she cried wretchedly. "You, Luna, Fred, Malfoy… you wouldn't have died if it weren't for me."

Draco looked up when he overheard Hermione speak and listened closely to the rest of the conversation.

"Hermione, that's ridiculous," Harry said in disbelief. "It wasn't her fault. She did everything she could. I'm sure I would have made all the same decisions myself. She didn't do anything wrong. Nothing was her fault, and even less your fault. You had nothing to do with any of it."

"She's me, Harry," she reminded him.

"Yes, she's you, but you're not her. You didn't make any of those decisions. And even if you did, there were no bad decisions. So stop," Harry insisted. "You can't take credit for any of that. But, if you're going to try to take credit for anything, then take credit for saving everyone. It was her that sent Aurelian back here. It's because of that decision that none of those people are going to have to die at all."

Hermione nodded while trying to restrain her tears.

"No. Don't just nod. I want you to really believe it," Harry pressed.

Hermione nodded again. "I know… you're right. I'm sorry. You can go back to the living room. I'll get the-"

"No, I'll get the tea. You just sit down for a minute," offered Harry.

"No, it's fine. I can-"

"Sit," Harry commanded. Hermione snorted a small chuckle and obediently stayed seated while Harry moved about the kitchen. Harry had grown so much over the years and it never failed to surprise her. When she looked at him, she could still remember the small eleven-year-old boy with a bit of an attitude, a streak of defiance, and a thirst to prove himself. That boy was now twenty years old and had become a steady and patient leader. Well… not always patient, but he had improved on that a lot. He no longer felt the need to prove himself and his streak of defiance had morphed into a desperate desire to pursue justice. He was strong and commanding in a way that people truly respected.

"Sugar… sugar…" Harry chanted as he spun around looking for the sugar bowl.

Hermione stood up and walked to the counter behind him. She reached past his arm and placed the sugar bowl on the tray. "You set it down near the toaster."

"I knew that," he joked. Hermione smiled softly and walked with Harry back into the living room.

"Sorry about that," Hermione apologized to Malfoy.

"No, it's alright," he replied. Hermione looked at him curiously. She had expected him to either say something cocky or derisive, or say nothing, but he hadn't said a single cutting thing the entire day. Well, with exception of being uptight with her earlier in the day about not being able to see Aurelian. She quickly pushed the thought aside. She had enough to think about without adding that to it.

"So where do we start?" Harry asked.

"Pansy," Draco answered. "If we're right in thinking that she was killed and it was her blood on my wall when I was attacked, then she was the first known victim in this whole thing."

Hermione and Harry were rather surprised that Malfoy spoke up so quickly. They hadn't expected him to participate as easily as he had.

"I agree," said Harry. "She's where we should start as she was the first victim, and the attack that occurred in the future really isn't that far away. We need to find out why she was targeted and make sure we can prevent the attack."

"I think," said Hermione, "that it might be her parents that are actually the targets. I mean, I have a feeling that Pansy might have been killed because of them. Or…" Hermione looked at Draco curiously. "How close are you to Pansy?"

"We've been friends since we were small," Draco answered. "We're still good friends, but we really don't see each other as often as we used to. Why?"

"You don't think that anyone would hurt her thinking that it could be to punish you?" Hermione asked.

"No," Draco replied rather confidently. "If they'd try to punish me by hurting someone close to me, then they'd choose my mother or Zabini. I think you're right that it would probably be to punish Pansy's parents."

"Yes, especially considering they were still targeted after Pansy had gone missing," Hermione reasoned.

"Are you close enough to Pansy that you could have a chat with her?" Harry asked.

"Yeah," Draco nodded. "I was thinking that I could ask her to join me for dinner. We could do some catching up and I could try to figure out what's happening."

"Good. Good," Harry said, lost in his thoughts. "But you have to be careful when talking to her. You can't mention anything about-"

"I know it's confidential, Potter. And I'm skilled at casually addressing topics to gather information," Draco assured him.

"Good," Harry repeated.

"Okay, so Malfoy will talk with Pansy. What next?" Hermione asked.

"Dennis," Harry answered. Hermione nodded as it was her thought exactly. "He was the next target. Well, his parents were killed, so we must assume that it was him they were targeting for punishment since his parents are muggles and wouldn't otherwise be connected to the Wizarding World. But what for? What would they want with Dennis?"

"I don't know," Hermione said seriously. "He seems like such a random target. I mean, not that the Parkinsons were ever involved with Death Eaters, but, well… as a prominent pureblood family, they're much more likely to be targeted. Dennis personally had nothing to do with the war."

"Which means that he might have somehow happened upon their recent business," Harry suggested. "I think he's definitely the next step. We go and talk to him. We find out how he's been and what he's been up to. Tomorrow even. I don't like how little time we have until their first big move – the attack on Malfoy and Pansy. We have to get on this quickly. So tomorrow morning, skipping the office once again, we visit the Creevey's house."

"Unannounced?" Draco inquired.

"Yes," Harry answered. "If something has happened already, he may be apprehensive to speak about it. He never comes to us in the future. He could feel threatened and try to come up with things to hide the truth. He's a good kid, but people don't always have the best judgment when they're scared. In my job, it's best to come unannounced."

Draco nodded in understanding.

"Will you be joining us?" Harry asked him.

"You mean you're giving me a choice?" Draco asked.

"Don't I always?" Harry replied. "You're in this voluntarily. So long as you want to be involved, you're privy to all parts of the investigation. You have very little obligation at this point. The choice of how involved you want to be is completely up to you."

Draco looked away from the two that looked at him in question. It made him uncomfortable when Potter did that to him. It wasn't the first time either. He was open about what the choices were and, instead of just letting Draco go along with things, gently pressured him into giving a concrete answer.

"I already told you that I'd be part of this," he said with a hint of his irritation. "This is as serious for me as it is for you. I won't be left out."

"Good. Thank you," Harry responded. "We really do appreciate it."

Draco's eyes narrowed slightly. He didn't know what to make of Potter. They had quite a history filled with deep animosity that bordered on utter hatred, but somehow, during the war, they had felt pity for each other's roles. For the first time, they had seen each other as just another person suffering. When the war ended, Draco had been frightened of the fate that awaited him. He had pleaded for people to understand that he hadn't wanted to do the things that he had. He was surprised as much as anyone when Potter had helped him and given him the chance to make amends. Potter hadn't seemed pleased to extend the invitation and things were tense between them, but he'd never been unkind. Two years later, not only was Potter 'not unkind,' but he acted like he truly wanted to put everything behind them. Malfoy didn't want to dwell on the past, but he wasn't sure what to make of the man and he really didn't feel comfortable with the idea of building anything that resembled a friendship. It felt odd just to be civil, but civility certainly felt more comfortable than baseless anger. They just had to get used to one another.

"So tomorrow morning at nine," Harry said finally. "Do you mind if we meet here again, Hermione? Just before we leave?"

"No, that's fine. Much easier than messing around with the wards at your place," Hermione smiled.

"I'll work it out soon though," he said to Malfoy who was a bit confused as to why this was directed at him. He quickly realized though that Potter must have some serious wards up considering what a large target he was. It would probably take a bit of work to find a way to let a new person in. "And on the same note, we have to take into consideration that we may have to bring the Order of the Phoenix in on this at some point. If it looks like we're not making enough progress, we'll need help. The Weasleys will be the first to know, and it might not be long before we disclose some things to them as they already know about Aurelian."

"You mentioned Weasley… or… er, Ron," Draco said uncomfortably. "Have you told him about everything?"

"Yes," Harry replied. "Ron is a part of this investigation, just not directly. We don't want to draw too much attention to this and asking Ron to join in the investigation would have both our superiors asking too many questions. Not to mention, it's nice to have someone looking at small crime. I'm sure we'll appreciate him there. He will be filled in on everything though. In fact, I plan to go back there when we've finished here."

"So, we have a start now," said Hermione. "Malfoy speaks to Pansy and we go to speak with Dennis Creevey."

"Now, I don't doubt your ability to speak with Parkinson, but I want to remind you that every detail is important. You'll have to be sure to remember everything the best you can and give us everything you've got," Harry told Draco.

Draco nodded.

"Regarding that, should we ever feel that we might be missing anything, if we ever feel a tiny detail might have been overlooked, McGonagall said that she doesn't actually need the pensieve right now and we can borrow it for as long as we need," Hermione informed them.

"That's perfect," said Harry.

"So… is there anything else we need to address?" Hermione asked.

"There is plenty to address, but we take it one step at a time," Harry answered.

"Yes, but there is still one thing I need to know," Draco spoke up. "What is a horcrux?"

Harry and Hermione exchanged a look that made Draco feel uneasy. They didn't look like they meant to hide it, but they both looked disquieted simply by its mention and they looked uncertain about how to approach it.

"It's dark magic. The darkest magic," Hermione started quietly. "See, when a person commits murder, it's not only a sin against man, it's a sin against nature; it's unnatural. Committing murder damages the soul. It actually rips the soul. There are some dark wizards, very, very few throughout history, as it is so frightening to consider, who take advantage of the damage done to their soul and instead of just accepting the damage that is done, they force the soul to sever completely in half. They then take half of their soul and store it outside of their body. This way, if they're ever killed and that part of their soul is destroyed, half of their soul still survives. The thing that contains a piece of their soul is called a horcrux."

"And what is this thing? What is it that they hide their soul inside?" Draco asked. He could tell by the way people had talked about it in the memory that it was a way to keep from dying, but he'd never imagined how it would be possible once the body was destroyed. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

"Anything," Harry said simply. "It can be anything."

"And the Dark L-… Voldemort. Voldemort had one?" he probed.

"No." Harry answered with a hint of annoyance that Malfoy realized was not aimed at himself. "Voldemort had seven."

"What?" Draco startled in disbelief. "He split his soul into seven?"

"No. He split his soul in half seven times," Harry corrected.

"He didn't just split his soul; he completely mutilated it," Hermione added in disgust. "He was hardly human when he was destroyed."

"So, you had to destroy his horcuxes before you could destroy him. What were they? How did you find them?" The entire idea had Draco feeling a bit angry.

"Well, a horcrux can be made out of just about anything, but Voldemort seemed to prefer treasured items. Not many who would go to such lengths would want to stick something as precious as their soul in something like a tin can. Voldemort, or Tom Riddle, didn't have much at the orphanage when he was a child and started the habit of taking trophies for things he felt accomplished with, like a good use of magic or cunning," Harry explained.

"Wait, what? An orphanage?" Draco asked in confusion.

"Yeah," Hermione replied. "Despite how serious he was about pureblood supremacy, he was a half-blood himself. He was the heir of Slytherin and quite proud of it, but his father was a muggle. Something he never really shared with people."

"Anyway," Harry continued, "he chose things that he considered great treasures and hid them in places of significance to him. The first one was a diary that he created in his 7th year at school. He killed Moaning Myrtle and locked part of his soul in the diary, a special diary. It's a long story, but Ginny had the diary and it possessed her. I destroyed that horcrux in the Chamber of Secrets before we had any idea what it was. Dumbledore recognized it as something truly dark though and began looking into it. He gathered many memories that people had of Tom Riddle. It was in a memory of Slughorn's that we realized that he planned to make seven. There was also a ring that was passed down through his family. Dumbledore destroyed that one himself just before we started out sixth year. That is what cursed him and turned his hand black. There was Slytherin's locket… that one has a very long story. It took us months and it was the reason we broke into the Ministry of Magic. There was Hufflepuff's silver cup that was in Bellatrix's vault in Gringott's and there was Ravenclaw's diadem in the room of requirement. That's what we were after during the start of the battle."

"Horcruxes are difficult to destroy. There are very few things that can destroy them," Hermione continued the story. "We used basilisk venom for all of them. Most of the time we used the sword of Gryffindor because it was imbued with basilisk venom from when Harry destroyed the basilisk. The diadem though, it was destroyed by the fiendfyre."

"But, that's only five. What about the other two horcruxes?" Draco asked seriously.

"The last two were challenging in different ways," Hermione said hesitantly. "His snake, Nagini, was the last horcrux. It was sort of a last minute emergency horcrux, I suppose. At the end, he didn't let the snake out of his sight. It was Neville that defeated it."

"You're still missing one. You said the snake was the last. What was the sixth?" Draco demanded. He felt flustered that they still hid something from him.

Hermione looked at Harry empathetically, but he just appeared a bit exasperated.

"Me," he answered.

Draco looked utterly confused.

"It was an accident. He didn't mean for it to happen and he never even knew it," Harry said with a mirthless smirk.

At Draco's confusion, Hermione continued for Harry. "When Voldemort tried to kill Harry as a baby, he failed because of the protection Harry had gained when his mother sacrificed herself to try to save him. When he failed, the spell sort of backfired. Because Voldemort's soul was so small, weak, and mutilated, the rebounding spell happened to split his soul again. Half of his remaining soul fled, unable to return to its body. The other half was forced into Harry."

"But, how can you still be alive and have destroyed the horcrux?" Draco inquired as he stared at Harry suspiciously.

"Well, now that's the complicated part." Harry seemed doleful, but still somewhat amused by it. "When I learned I was a horcrux, I was resigned that I was just going to have to take one for the team. When he called me out, I went. I went without a fight and he cast the killing curse on me. But that's where the weird part of the Elder Wand comes in. It was because you disarmed Dumbledore, I stole your wand, and Voldemort stole Dumbledore's wand, that Voldemort's new wand would not work against me. But, it could still work against him. When he cast the killing curse at me, it destroyed the piece of his soul inside me, but I survived. Still, I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for your mother."

"What?" Draco was already reeling with the new information, but it was Harry's confession regarding his mother that threw him the most.

Harry wore a small lopsided smile. "I had a feeling that she wouldn't have told you about that. I'm really not sure why. I tell you this not to bring up sore pieces of the past 'cause I really have forgiven it, but it's partly because of your mother that you are not in Azkaban right now. When I was hit with the killing curse, I feigned death. Voldemort asked your mother if I was dead and she lied to his face. She did it for you. She thought that if I could end it all, you'd be safe. I felt that I owed her after that."

"You stood up for me because of her?" Draco asked bewilderedly.

"I said it was partly the reason," Harry corrected seriously. "Someone also confronted me about where I stood on the matter. They said that I was being unfair; that I was being resentful and vindictive because of a ‘childish boyhood rivalry.’" Harry glanced at Hermione out of the corner of his eye. "They told me that they believed you were just one of the many people who were threatened by Voldemort and acted out of fear. So, I decided to give you chance to prove yourself."

"And?" Draco was somewhat affronted by the way Harry spoke of the events that he wished were fully behind him. He had to remind himself that he had just asked the man to give him these answers.

"And I don't regret it," Harry admitted.

Draco was still upset about where the conversation had taken them, but he couldn't help but feel proud, and perhaps even a bit arrogant, that Potter could not dispute his decency or integrity.

"So how did you discover that you were a horcrux?" Draco asked in order to find a way back to their previous conversation.

"The pensieve, actually. As most people know, Snape gave me some of his memories before he died and one of them was a conversation he held with Dumbledore that explained that I would have to die to defeat Voldemort. It all made sense then."

"And you just accepted that?" he asked in disgusted disbelief.

"What else could I have done?" Harry reasoned.

"You could have told your friends," Hermione responded heatedly as she glared at him in contempt.

Harry sighed with exasperation. "Hermione, we've been through this…"

"That doesn't mean that I've accepted it. It doesn't mean I've forgiven it. And after what we've just seen, I'm as upset as ever. You did it again," she angrily reminded him.

"Hermione…" Harry started in tired frustration.

"You did it again!" Hermione repeated with greater force. "You sacrificed yourself in order to try to defeat someone again. Do you have any idea how much that hurts?"

"Hermione, that wasn't me. That hasn't happened. It won't happen," Harry argued.

"Maybe not like that, but I've seen that you are still like that. It might not happen like that, but it doesn't mean that something else might not happen where you act the same way. I don't want to keep losing you."

"You did the same thing, you know," Harry countered. "In that pensieve, you sacrificed yourself to send Aurelian back in hopes of saving everyone. I don't understand how you can be upset with someone over that. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends."

"Yeah, well it's a lot easier to love your friends when they're alive," Hermione retorted. Harry sighed and looked away from her. He realized that it was an argument that she would never even try to see from his side.

"Well, that really depends on the friend, now doesn't it?" Malfoy said with a small smirk.

Hermione and Harry looked at him in surprise and confusion before what he said really got through to them. They looked at each other and grinned before Hermione burst into giggles. Harry joined her laughter.

"You've got a point," he said to Malfoy. Harry chuckled again and looked over at Hermione whose giggles seemed to have become more intense instead of fading as his had done. Her laughter was contagious and he chuckled again as he watched her. Hermione covered her mouth with her hand, but her laughter just couldn't seem to stop.

"Geez, Granger. It wasn't supposed to be that funny." Draco smirked.

"I know," Hermione squealed through her high-pitched girlish giggling. She tried to slow down and took a few breaths so she could speak. "I just can't stop. It's like it all just stacked up…" She took another few breaths, but they were followed by more giggles. "I can't stop."

Harry and Draco exchanged amused looks and both wore lopsided smiles as they watched Hermione try to gain control of herself.

"Geez, did you slip her something, Potter?" Draco snickered.

"Stop," she pleaded as she wiped a tear from her eye. "Don't do that. Don't make me laugh. I'm trying to stop."

Harry chuckled silently again at his friend. She was usually so composed. It was funny to see her like that, but it felt really good, too. It was true that she didn't laugh enough, and he had hardly seen her smile at all in the past couple days. Maybe it had built up and Draco's dry wit just happened to be the thing that set her off.

"Okay… okay…" Hermione said, blowing out slow breaths. Every few breaths, a small tittering laugh would escape, but she really was settling down and getting back her control. "I'm sorry," she said, followed by another soft snorted laugh. "Okay… okay… I'm done." She took one last deep breath and blew it out slowly. "So, right… we've gotten a start today. Malfoy is going to meet with Pansy. We're going to check in on Ron, see what else we can find pertaining to the Parkinsons and the Creeveys and look at fugitive Death Eater files, and we meet here tomorrow at nine, right?"

After a pause when neither boy answered, Hermione looked at them strangely.

"What?" she asked hesitantly.

"I'm just afraid if I say something, you'll start laughing again," Malfoy admitted.

Harry looked at Malfoy and laughed a bit himself. He had been thinking the same thing, but he hadn't wanted to admit it for he was certain she would laugh at that. And she did.

Hermione rolled her eyes and let out another soft string of giggles. "Well, I probably would have been fine if you had chosen not to bring it up." Though her giggling didn't continue, she still wore a painfully large smile, something that only twenty minutes before she would have never thought she'd be capable of for quite awhile.

 

Chapter Text

"Whoa… that's… yeah…" Ron said in a dejected daze. He sat on the interrogation room table with his feet on the chair in front of him and his elbows on his knees. Harry and Hermione had relayed everything they had seen in the pensieve earlier that day and Ron was quite overwhelmed by it. Hermione and Harry both sighed. It was one of the most difficult things they had ever had to witness and it was difficult in a very different way to have to relive it as they spoke the details aloud.

"You know," Ron said quietly, "at first I was pretty upset that I wasn't able to view the memories with you, but I'm really not that envious anymore."

Harry nodded in agreement. He was glad he had information to help him discover a way to prevent it all from happening, but he rather wished he hadn't had to view those horrible events either.

"So, Malfoy is going to speak to Pansy and see if she might tell him about anything that might be going on with her family. And tomorrow, the three of us are going to try to talk to Dennis Creevey," Hermione informed him, glad to be done with the discussion of the events of the future war.

"That's a good place to start," Ron agreed.

"What about you?" asked Harry. "Were you able to have another look at the break-in at Snape's house?"

"Yeah, I went there this morning," Ron affirmed. "There really wasn't anything there. The place was completely empty and everything looked untouched. There still weren't any traces of magic. The report said that the front door was splintered by the handle. It looked like a physically forced entry. I couldn't have a look at that though because the squad repaired it when they left. I talked to Susan about the evidence she collected. There was only a bit of mud, really. She identified that substance they found as just a tiny piece of strawberry taffy. From what I can tell, it really does look like it was just some muggle kids messing around."

"While that's a relief, it also means that we don't have any further leads at the moment," Harry said tiredly.

"I'm not getting anywhere with this either," Hermione said. She sat back in her chair as she continued to scan another profile. "We know that Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange must be involved in this. They were never caught and they were both very close to Bellatrix. If anyone knows about Bellatrix's horcrux, I'd be willing to bet just about anything that it's Rodolphus."

"I'd say that that's a pretty safe bet," Harry approved. "I'm surprised that she would tell anyone about it though."

"Perhaps she left information about it for him to find after she died," Ron offered.

"That's a really good thought," Hermione said thoughtfully. "If she did, it could be very helpful to find that… if we knew where to look."

"I think that a lot of things could be answered if we found the Lestrange brothers," Harry grumbled with frustration. "No one has seen either of them in two years."

"That's not necessarily true," Hermione argued. "Just because no one has reported seeing them, doesn't mean that they haven't been seen. Some might be too afraid to report it, some might not have recognized them, or they could have even used memory charms."

"That still doesn't help us," Harry muttered.

"No, it doesn't," Hermione agreed. "I keep looking through these files on all fugitive Death Eaters and I don't know what I'm looking for. In your investigations after the war, Malfoy mentioned a man named Summers that no one else had ever even heard of, so I don't have a clue if he could be involved or not. Malfoy also mentioned a man called Berk from Slovenia. We were able to get some information on him, but weren't really able to look into it because international prosecution laws. But with the mention of Slovenia in the pensieve, I have a feeling that if he's not involved already, he will be." Hermione closed the file in her hand and slapped it down on top of the large stack of files in front of her. "Where do we start with all this?"

"Well, we start by investigating the Parkinsons and Dennis Creevey, and Ron keeps looking through reports for anything that might possibly have had Death Eater involvement," Harry answered.

"Don't I get the fun job," Ron grumbled.

"Hey, we're here right now helping with it, so stop complaining," Hermione ordered. "Now let's start by going over everything we know about Rodolphus."

"Well," Harry began, "we know that at Hogwarts he was friends with Rosier, Lucius, and Bellatrix and that-"

"No, Harry," Hermione interrupted. "Before that. We start from the beginning. Rodolphus was born in-"

Hermione stopped mid-speech when there was a smart rap on the door. Harry held a finger to Hermione to ask her to wait a moment so that he could drop the muffliato charm. "Come in."

The door opened and a ginger head popped around the door.

"Ginny?" Ron asked in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

Ginny stepped the rest of the way into the room. She seemed a bit sheepish to be at their office in her dirty quidditch robes.

"Is everything okay?" Harry asked, concerned as to why she would turn up so suddenly. Though she often met with them for lunch, she rarely showed up at their offices and almost never left the house without primping first.

"Well, yes, but no. Mum sent me. I guess Aurelian had a bit of an accident," Ginny said, bending to the side to see Hermione past Ron who still sat on the table.

"What?" Hermione cried as she got to her feet.

"He tripped and tumbled down a flight of stairs. He's alright. Mum says she'd have no problem patching him up, but she never actually asked your permission to give him any potions or use any healing spells on him and she doesn't want to overstep," Ginny explained. "She just sent me to ask if you wanted her to heal him or if-"

"Is he okay? I mean… Merlin, Harry, I have to go-"

"Go on, Hermione," Harry interrupted when he saw the panic in her eyes.

"He's okay," Ginny shouted after Hermione. She sighed and her shoulders fell when Hermione Apparated away on the small plinth in the center of the auror's office. "This is not what I meant to accomplish," she told Harry and Ron. "I didn't want her to panic."

"She's a new mother, Ginny," Harry said with light amusement. "Of course she'd panic over something like this."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Well, I'll see you guys tonight, won't I?" Ginny asked.

"I live there, Ginny," Ron reminded her.

"It was my way of asking Harry if he was coming for dinner," Ginny told him.

"Yeah," Harry smiled. "I'll be there."

Ginny leaned in and gave Harry a light kiss on the lips before leaving after Hermione.

 

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"Molly? Molly?" Hermione called frantically as she entered the Burrow.

"Mummy!" a pathetic cry came from the kitchen.

"In here, dear," Molly said calmly.

Hermione rushed into the kitchen. "Aurelian, are you alright?" she asked quickly as she placed a gentle hand on the back of the boy's head, where he sat atop the kitchen table. "Is he alright?"

"Yes, he's just fine," Molly assured her. "He just rushed out after his bath and took a little tumble down the stairs."

"I falled down da stairs, Mummy," Aurelian pouted, great tears still slidding down his rosy cheeks.

"You're okay though, aren't you?" Molly encouraged as she rubbed his back. "He's only got a knot on his head and nibbled his lip there. He also said that he knocked his knee, but there's no obvious bruising."

Molly gently dabbed a cloth on his bloody lip and he quickly turned his head away and whimpered. Hermione softly lifted the hair on his forehead to have a look at the light blue bump above his left eye.

"Oh, Aurelian," she said miserably.

"It's okay. We'll have him patched up in no time. I could have done it myself, but I wasn't sure how you'd feel about that," Molly explained. "I really didn't mean to worry you."

"No, it's okay. I was just concerned. And of course I don't mind if you treat him. I just had to come check on him myself," Hermione told her as she ran her fingers through the soft brown hair on the back of Aurelian's head.

"Of course, dear. I'm sorry he got hurt and I didn't mean to worry you. He would have been okay either way. I know his lip looks bad, but it's really nothing. Mouth injuries usually look much worse than they actually are because they bleed more. I told Ginny to tell you it wasn't anything serious.”

"And I did," said Ginny as she walked into the kitchen.

"I know…" Hermione repeated. "I was just worried."

"It's understandable," Molly assured her. "It's what mothers do. Now you wait here and I'll go get the bruise ointment."

"It hurts, Mummy. It hurts wight there," Aurelian cried and pointed at the bump on his head.

"I know, love," Hermione said. "Did you put any ice on it?"

"Ice?" asked Ginny.

"Yeah, it takes the swelling down. It's what muggles do. When I was little and hurt my mouth, my parents used to give me an ice lolly. The cold would dull the pain and reduce swelling and, being a sweet treat, it used to take my mind off of my injuries," Hermione reminisced. "Of course, I guess ice isn't really needed in the wizarding world as most things can be healed so easily. I used to have to walk around with a puffy lip and bruises for days."

"I think the ice lolly idea is brilliant," Ginny said with a shrug of her shoulders. "It'd have to beat the paste Mum rubbed on us."

"I have ice lolly, Mummy?" Aurelian asked, his fat lip still in a pout and his large grey eyes sparkling up at her.

"I'm sorry, love, but I don't have any," Hermione told him.

"Aunt Ginny do," Aurelian said.

Ginny chuckled at this. "I don't actually, but I could make some really quickly. Just some juice in a mold and a quick freezing spell. Is that okay?" she asked Hermione.

"Yeah, that's fine," Hermione consented.

"Okay, how about some orange juice with a bit of cranberry juice. Does that sound yummy?" Ginny asked. Aurelian nodded and smiled for the first time since Hermione had arrived.

"Alright, here we are." Molly smiled as she reentered the kitchen with a small tub of ointment. "This will rid those bumps in no time."

Aurelian sat still, only wincing a few times, while Molly gently rubbed the ointment on the swollen tissue. He watched Ginny closely as she prepared the ice lollies. He started spitting with distaste when some of the ointment got on the inside of his lip.

"There you go, darling," Molly said as she screwed the cap back on the jar.

"And just in time, too," Ginny said as she held out the frozen juice pop.

"What's this?" Molly asked.

"Muggle remedy," Ginny smiled.

"Look, Aunt Ginny, you wearin' quidditch," Aurelian commented, just taking note of Ginny's quidditch uniform.

"Yes, I am," she chuckled.

"You pway quidditch? You pway quidditch, Aunt Ginny?" he asked.

"Yep."

He continued to take large licks of his frozen treat as he asked, "Gween and Gold. You like a Harpies, Ginny? You like Harpies?"

"Yes, I do. I play chaser for them," Ginny replied, truly impressed that he recognized the team colors.

"Jamie like Harpies. I likes Tornadoes," Aurelian stated matter-of-factly.

"Oh yeah? Who's Jamie?" Ginny asked, making polite conversation with the enthusiastic young quidditch fan. Hermione looked at Ginny in surprise. It took a moment for it to hit her. Harry hadn't told her about James.

"Jamie my fwiend," Aurelian informed her.

"That's enough quidditch chit-chat for now," Molly interrupted. "He needs to finish his treat and take a nap. We've been quite busy and it's already getting into the afternoon. And you, young lady, need to get out of those filthy quidditch robes and get yourself a shower."

"Do I smell that bad?" Ginny teased.

"I didn't say anything about your stench, but if you're asking, you've smelled better," Molly stated.

Ginny chuckled and shook her head. "Feel better, little man.” She ruffled Aurelian's hair before heading upstairs. Hermione was a bit relieved. She didn't want Ginny to find out about James like that. She wondered why Harry hadn't told her.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Ugh," Ginny sighed dramatically as she fell backward onto her bed. She had just gotten out of the shower a few minutes before and her ginger hair was wet and heavy and caused her pillow to become damp.

"Rough practice?" Hermione asked as she turned Ginny's desk chair toward the bed and sat down.

"Was it ever," she replied. "What about you though? How did it go?"

"No, you first," Hermione insisted.

"It was exhausting. We're still getting used to the new coach and she's riding us rather hard. Still, I couldn't imagine a better job." Ginny smiled tiredly. "Your turn."

"It… It was rough. We learned a lot, but," she sighed, "it's just terrible to see it. I don't know what Harry has told you about it."

"Everything from the first viewing," Ginny answered. "He told me about Hogwarts…"

"Yeah," Hermione said despondently. "Today was just as bad, if not worse. It was just… I don't know… It's just terrible seeing all the horrible things we experienced. There were so many losses. And I know it's ridiculous, but this whole thing with Malfoy is just as distressing to me."

"That's not ridiculous," Ginny assured her. "It has to be rather uncomfortable."

"It is. I don't know what to think of him anymore. I can hardly look at him now after everything we've seen. He's always been such an arrogant, bigoted prat, and to see him… to see us so… It's so confusing! He's not that man at all," Hermione said dejectedly. "That man in the pensieve… He was so… I don't know. I loved him, Ginny. I have never really been able to imagine being able to love someone like that, to have someone love me like that. I felt such a loss when he died in the memory. But, I look at Malfoy now and wonder how on earth I could have ever had feelings like that for him. And now, I have to see him every day. It's uncomfortable. And we have a child together!" She whimpered and tilted her head back to rest on the top of the chair. Ginny watched her friend and listened to her rant sympathetically. "You know, he came to my house last night and asked to see Aurelian?" she declared incredulously.

"Really?" Ginny asked, taken by surprise. "What did you say?"

"I said no. I don't know him," she said defensively. "I'm afraid that if Aurelian is around him, he'll get confused. I don't know Malfoy, but I know he's not the man I saw in the pensieve. He's not the person Aurelian knows as Daddy. I don't want him to get hurt."

"Well, you have to do what you feel is best for him," Ginny agreed.

"I know, but whoever Malfoy is, he's still Aurelian's father and he wants to see him," Hermione said miserably.

"I know it's terrible to say, but you can't base your decision on how Malfoy feels about this," Ginny replied seriously. "You have to decide what's best for Aurelian."

"That's just the thing though; I don't know what's best. I tell myself that it can't be good to associate with him, but I have doubts…" Hermione admitted, truly distressed by the dilemma.

"Well… what is Malfoy like around him?" Ginny turned onto her side to face Hermione and propped her head up with her hand.

"He was absolutely horrid to him at first," Hermione said with outrage. "But now… I don't know." Hermione stood up from her seat and slowly started to pace the length of the room. "Aurelian saw him this morning. Harry hadn't told me that Malfoy was coming. Aurelian started talking to him and Malfoy tolerated him alright. He looked uncomfortable, but not unfriendly. He looked rather interested in Aurey, but he was really upset with me still. I don't know, Gin. I really don't know."

"Well, I really don't know Malfoy like the rest of you do, so I really can't help all that much. I mean, do you think Malfoy would ever physically hurt him?" Ginny asked.

"No," Hermione answered quickly. "I don't feel I know much about him anymore either, but I don't think he'd ever physically hurt him."

"Well, that's good. At least you don't have to worry about anything like that," Ginny offered positively. "What do you think his interest is in him?"

"I don't know really. He was appalled at first to think that Aurelian could be his. But, after we watched the first half of the memories… I don't know…”

"Well, you have to consider that Malfoy saw the same things you did. You said that you're really confused by him now. He never liked you either, but he never really had a look at you before. I'm sure it was unsettling for him to see himself so dedicated to you and Aurelian. He was probably rather confused seeing you love him the way you did. You never imagined yourself being loved like that, what if he didn't either?" Ginny offered.

"We're talking about him and Aurelian, not what he thinks of me," Hermione pointedly reminded her.

Ginny shrugged. "It still makes the same point. A person can hardly imagine what it's like to really have a kid. He saw it. He saw his love and devotion toward Aurelian and he sees Aurelian's unconditional love for him. Don't you feel different toward him now? You weren't exactly thrilled to find out you were a parent either. You were rather uncomfortable around Aurelian at first, too. Now look at you, racing to his aid when he gets a bump."

"We're not talking about me, remember?" Hermione said again. "This is Malfoy we're talking about. Do you really think he'd do that?"

"From what you told me about the man in the pensieve, then you've already seen that he's capable of it," Ginny answered. She sat up in bed and looked at her friend seriously. "Now, Hermione, I'm not trying to push you in any direction. I already told you, I really don't know Malfoy. I don't know how he's taking this. You know much better than I do. I'm just speculating over here."

"I know…" Hermione felt more confused and flustered than ever, "Ginny… promise you won't think badly of me…"

"You know I won't," Ginny reassured her, her concern apparent.

"I… I'm worried that I'm mixing my personal feelings into the decision," Hermione confessed. "I'm afraid… I don't feel comfortable around Malfoy. I…"

"It's understandable," Ginny assured her. "No matter what you choose, it will be okay. Aurelian is going to be confused no matter what you choose, but he's also a pretty tough kid. He'll be okay."

Hermione nodded. "Thank you."

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Phew," Hermione breathed as she stepped out of her fireplace and set Aurelian down. "It's been quite a long day, hasn't it?"

Aurelian simply smiled up at her.

"Time to get your pajamas on, I think," she told him.

"No. No bed," Aurelian whined.

"I know you don't like going to bed," Hermione told him as she took his small hand in hers. "But, it's been a crazy day and it's time to get some sleep. Here, you can choose your pajamas tonight. Stripes or shooting stars?"

"Stripes," Aurelian decided without hesitation.

Hermione tossed the other set of pajamas back into the dresser drawer that she had designated as his. Aurelian had already climbed up onto her bed and was trying to remove his still buttoned robe again.

"Hold on. Hold still," Hermione chuckled as she pulled the robes down far enough to unfasten them.

"Found you!" Aurelian shouted and laughed when the robes were pulled over his head.

"Yes, you did. And I found you too," Hermione smiled. Aurelian held onto her shoulders as he stepped into his pajama bottoms. "So, did you have fun playing with Teddy tonight?" she asked uncertainly. She had been rather concerned when Harry brought Teddy with him to dinner at the Weasleys’ because Aurelian had known him to be seven years older, but Aurelian seemed to get along with him okay. He was rather confused, of course, but when Hermione explained that Teddy was now going to be Aurelian's size, he was rather excited.

"Teddy my fweind," Aurelian smiled. "I pway with him more?"

"I think we can arrange that soon," Hermione agreed as she tugged the pajama shirt over Aurey's head.

"Found you!" he squealed again, quite amused by the ongoing game he'd created.

"Jamie pway too?" he asked, plopping down on his bottom when Hermione turned down the blankets.

Hermione continued to hold a smile even though her insides twisted uncomfortably. She knew the topic would come up before too long, but she still didn't know what to tell him. "Jamie's not here anymore, love," she told him gently. He laid his head back on the pillow and looked up at her in confusion. Hermione tenderly ran her fingers through his soft light brown locks in what she hoped was a soothing manner. "Jamie went away. We're not going to be able to play with him anymore."

"Why?"

"Sometimes things just change. A lot of things have changed. Lots of things are happier now, but some things might be a little sad," she tried to explain.

"I like pway Teddy," Aurelian responded. Hermione gave him a small sad smile. The poor little boy didn't understand. It was sad in Hermione's eyes, but she thought it was probably better that he didn't. Eventually, he would forget about playing with James and look forward to playing with Teddy.

"So, I was thinking," she told him as she laid down beside him in bed, still fully dressed. "We should probably start thinking of getting a bed for you, don't you think?"

"Bed for me?"

"Yeah, what do you think? I'd have to extend the room, but you could have your own bed."

"Not big one. I wittle for a wittle one," the toddler told her seriously.

"Yes, you are little. You don't need a bed like this. We'll get a perfect Aurelian-size one. What do you say?"

"I get a bed and we no more camping?" he asked. "I no want camping no more."

Hermione felt another twinge inside. This poor little boy had been through so much. "No, no more camping. This is our home now, okay?"

"I miss Pernie and Daddy," the boy told her with a sad tired look in his eyes. He was quickly drifting toward sleep as Hermione stroked his hair. "Pernie and Daddy come here, too?"

"Just get some sleep, love. We'll talk some more in the morning." She slowly pulled her hand back and gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead. "Goodnight, Aurelian."

 

Chapter Text

Hermione stood in front of her bathroom mirror, pulling her hair back into a clip, when she heard a chime from her fireplace. She quickly fastened the barrette into place and headed toward the living room.

"Good morning, Malf-" Hermione stopped and stared dumbly at the man in her living room.

"What?" Malfoy asked indignantly.

"N-nothing.” She shook herself from her daze and smiled. "I've just never seen you in muggle clothing before." Hermione tried not to be rude by staring, but she couldn't help herself. Draco stood stiffly in front of her with his hands in the pockets of pressed black trousers with a black leather belt. His collared, button down shirt bore tight vertical blue stripes and was tucked in neatly with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

"That's because I don't often wear them. We are going to a muggle neighborhood though, aren't we?" he asked petulantly.

"Yes. And you look good. You look appropriate. I didn't mean to make you feel self-conscious or anything," she said apologetically.

"I'm not self-conscious. I felt insulted," he corrected bluntly.

"I'm sorry, really. I really didn't mean to offend you. It was just a surprise. I just hadn't thought about it. I'm sorry. You look good," she apologized profusely. She felt herself blush when she realized that she had told him twice that he looked good and silently pleaded for Harry to show up and save her from further embarrassment. He did look rather nice, but then he always looked nice. She kicked herself again for thinking such things. It wasn't that she found him attractive; she had never actually considered him in that respect. He just happened to be a well-dressed man. It was quite obvious that he took a lot of care with his appearance. She felt her cheeks get hotter and tried to think of something else to say, but nothing came. Luckily for her, Harry did show up.

"Good morning," Harry greeted. "I'm not late, am I?"

"No, you're right on time," Hermione addressed him with a smile, glad for something to take away the awkwardness that had erupted between her and Draco. She couldn't help notice though that Harry didn't seem at all surprised about Malfoy's attire.

"You look nice," Harry told Malfoy, completely destroying Hermione's last thought. "They look like they fit alright. They feel okay?"

"Yeah," Draco answered quietly. He pointedly looked away from Hermione and when she saw a blush rise in his cheeks, she understood. Harry had given him the outfit. The thing she didn't understand was why he had been so offended. What had he taken from her stunned silence?

"So, did you call the cab?" Harry inquired.

"Yeah, it should be here in just a few minutes," Hermione affirmed.

"The what?" Draco asked.

"The cab. It's personal muggle transportation. A hired car," Harry explained.

"I had assumed we'd be Apparating," said Draco.

"It'd be nice, but I'm really not all that familiar with the area," Harry confessed. "I wouldn't know of a good place to Apparate to. Even if I did, I really don't know how Mr. and Mrs. Creevey feel about magic."

"What do you mean?" Draco seemed completely confused by the comment.

"Well, not all parents of muggle-borns are comfortable with magic. Actually, I'd say that more often than not, muggle parents are a little leery when it comes to magic. Especially after losing Colin... I think, in general, it just makes muggles feel more comfortable when wizards keep the magic to a minimum," Harry explained.

A car horn sounded from outside and Hermione peeked out the window. "That's the cab. Just let me grab my bag and I'll meet you out there."

Harry and Draco walked out of Hermione's door and down the stairs to the street. Draco kept looking around uncomfortably. He'd been to Hermione's home a few times, but he had never set foot outside of it. He was stunned to see how busy the neighborhood was and how many homes were pressed beside each other. Even more disconcerting, were the vehicles driving down the road. He'd seen them before, but the idea of getting into one wasn't something he was excited about.

Malfoy followed Harry toward the black hackney carriage waiting at the curb directly in front of Hermione's building. He looked it over from the red lights and license plate on the back to the 'taxi' sign and shiny grill on the front.

"Is it safe?" he finally asked stiffly. Something in his voice dared Harry to tease him for his apprehension.

"Not nearly as dangerous as playing on a broom, if you ask me," Hermione smiled as she caught up with them. Draco looked at her, not certain what to make of her response. "It's really not a big thing, I swear. It's like the Knight Bus, except not as fast and not nearly as frightening."

"I didn't say I was frightened," Draco said defensively.

Hermione looked at him curiously. "Neither did I. I admitted that I found the Knight Bus frightening. It's okay to be apprehensive."

"After you, Hermione," Harry offered as he opened the door for her. Hermione nodded and climbed in. "She's right you know," Harry told Draco before he could follow. "It's okay to be apprehensive and you don't have to be embarrassed. You should have seen me the first time I traveled by floo. And Hermione still won't get on a broom if she can avoid it… and she usually can."

Draco nodded to Harry and entered the cab after Hermione, Harry following directly after. Draco sat down uncomfortably, again just as uncomfortable with his company as he was with sitting in a muggle vehicle. He still didn't know what to make of them. The more they tried to make him feel at ease, the more uneasy he felt.

"Are you poking fun at me again?" Hermione asked as Harry sat down.

Harry just smirked and acted as though he hadn't heard her. "Moss Lane, Harrow," he told the driver before he sat back and latched his safety belt. "Relax, Malfoy, it's about a thirty minute drive. All you have to do is pretend you're sitting on a sofa and relax."

"Don't patronize me, Potter," Draco insisted.

"I was trying to be supportive, not condescending," Harry argued, "but I see where you're at. So, have you been able to make plans with Pansy?"

"I got an owl from her last night. We're going to meet tomorrow. I was hoping that she would be able to meet me tonight." He tried not to sound disturbed, but Harry and Hermione understood. He was concerned about how little time they had before Pansy would be attacked.

"Don't worry, Malfoy," Hermione said. "We'll protect her one way or another. We still have time."

"So," Draco tried to change the subject, "can you tell me a little about the Creeveys? I know that Colin died during the war, but I didn't hear when and, well, I don't actually remember him."

Harry pulled out his wand and cast a nonverbal muffliato charm so that the driver would not overhear and nodded to Hermione to continue.

"Colin Creevey was the boy with the camera that was petrified in our second year. He and Dennis, who's a year younger, were both wizards, which is rather rare to see in a muggle family. They were both extremely excited by the wizarding world, but I really don't know what their parents thought of it. I know they were removed from school in Colin's sixth year with all that was happening in the Ministry and Hogwarts. I heard that they had to go into hiding, but when the final battle started, Colin snuck into the castle to fight. He was killed there. Still, Dennis returned to school the next year.”

Draco nodded. "You said that many muggle parents are leery about magic. You believe the Creeveys are?"

"My guess is most likely. While the war did affect muggles, it still hardly touched them compared to us. It had to be hard to know that their boys were involved in a serious war that they didn't understand, when they could just return home and continue their lives in the muggle world without problem," Hermione explained.

"Did your parents feel the same way?" Draco asked curiously.

"Well," Hermione started uneasily, "my parents didn't know about any of the things that happened until after the war. I experienced quite a bit in my time at Hogwarts. I was afraid that if they knew about it, they would have me removed from school and that was something I would never have been able to accept. So, they didn't know anything about Voldemort. They believed that the worst thing I had to face were insults because of my birth status. The summer after our sixth year, when I knew I would go into hiding, I cast memory charms on them and sent them to Australia. They didn't even know I existed. When the war ended and I brought them back home, I reversed the memory charms, but I had a lot of explaining to do. Needless to say, they were not pleased and became more than a little wary of the Wizarding World. They had to learn to accept it though, because I could never be talked into leaving the world of magic."

Draco nodded again. He had never actually considered before that day that muggle parents might fear magic. It certainly made sense. He glanced over at Harry and, for only the second time in his life, he wondered at Potter's home life. He had heard that Potter had lived with muggle relatives, but he knew nothing beyond that and he had never cared enough to ever wonder any further. Sometime during the war, he began to see Potter a little differently from just the famous and arrogant hero he had always believed him to be. But with all he had experienced in the last few days, Draco couldn't help but have a new respect for the man and it made him curious.

Harry smirked and snorted a soft chuckle. "You can ask, you know."

It was only then that Malfoy realized that he had been staring at Harry out of the corner of his eye and the man had caught him. Not only that, he seemed to have guessed what Draco was thinking. He felt baited into asking and he suddenly didn't care again. He hated when Potter did stuff like that. But Harry saved him from asking.

"I lived with my aunt and uncle and my stupid cousin, Dudley. They weren't just a bit wary of magic; they hated it. They were the exact opposite of pureblood supremacists. They believed that wizards were worthless, unnatural freaks," Harry shook his head though he still wore a smirk. Draco's interest returned. He had never heard such a ridiculous thing in his life. "They knew I was one, but they never told me. They hated me. I never knew wizards existed, let alone that I was one, until my eleventh birthday when Hagrid broke down the door of the place they were hiding me. They hid me in hopes that I couldn't receive my Hogwarts letter."

"You're making this up," Draco accused.

"He's not," Hermione said. "They were horrible. They gave him a pair of old dirty socks for Christmas. The summer after our first year, they put bars on his windows and Ron, Fred, and George had to go break him out."

"It's kind of funny to share those stories now, but it was miserable," Harry explained. "Things got a little better once I started threatening them. They were really afraid of magic. Things weren't quite as terrible then… for the most part. But, I was never happier than to leave the muggle world behind me. Unlike Hermione, I don't have fond memories of muggle life that I hold onto. I use my wand for everything. After working like a house-elf for the Dursleys for the greater part of my childhood, I don't think I'll ever make my bed or wash another dish by hand."

"You say that you put muggle things in your past, but you still wear a lot of muggle clothes, you still like dining in muggle restaurants, and I know for a fact that you're interested in seeing that new film at the cinema. I saw you looking through my newspaper for show times," Hermione challenged.

"I didn't say I put all things muggle behind me," Harry argued. "Just because I refuse to do chores the muggle way doesn't mean I don't enjoy some muggle things. And yes, I'm quite excited to go to the cinema to see X-Men. Dudley was once given a large stack of X-Men comics for his birthday. Stupid really, as anyone who knew him would know he'd never waste time reading. I salvaged them from the rubbish bin. They're the only comics I ever read and I loved them. Ginny really isn't all that interested in it, but she thought it'd be a nice date. You're welcome to come along if you'd like."

"You're inviting me along on your date with Ginny?" Hermione chortled.

"No. I said that Ginny thought it would be a nice date. That was before Ron invited himself along. Now it's sort of an open invitation to anyone who'd like to come," Harry explained.

Hermione chuckled and shook her head. "I'll think about it. You have to let me know when you're going. Oh, but speaking of muggle entertainment, after you left last night, Fred and George started inviting everyone to the amusement park. They said you had promised to take them again."

Harry sighed in exasperation. "I told them that perhaps we could go back someday. That was hardly a promise. It's quite a task babysitting the two of them in such a highly populated muggle area."

"I know," Hermione said sympathetically. "Maybe next time you should hold onto their wands. I know they can use wandless magic, but they might at least be less tempted."

"That's a good idea," Harry agreed. "Oh, wait. This is it. You can stop here," Harry told the driver. He groaned and dropped the muffliato charm before repeating himself.

The car stopped and Harry unfastened his safety belt and reached for his wallet.

"It's okay, Harry. I've got this," Hermione offered, already taking her wallet out of her handbag. Harry nodded and exited the car with Draco right behind him. Draco was relieved to be out of the close quarters and to escape the conversation that he didn't understand much of, but when he stared up at the white house that Harry was looking at, he became nervous all over again.

"Okay, ready?" Hermione asked as she stepped up next to Harry. Harry nodded and they walked up the path to the front door. Harry looked at Hermione to his left and Draco to his right and knocked firmly on the door. They waited only a few short moments before the door opened.

"Hello," a man answered. He looked curiously at the three people who stood on his doorstep. It was obvious that they had arrived at the correct house for the man who answered the door shared the same eyes and mousy brown hair as his sons, only with a beard that matched.

"Mr. Creevey?" Harry asked.

"Yes," the man answered, his curiosity turning to suspicion.

"My name is Harry Potter. My friends and I were hoping that we might be able to speak to Dennis.”

"Harry Potter?" The man repeated, quite surprised and a little disquieted. Harry's name was quite familiar even to parents of muggle-borns. "But Dennis… I'm sorry. Come in."

Mr. Creevey stepped aside and opened the door for them. Harry inclined his head politely and entered, Hermione and Draco followed suit.

"Right in here." Mr. Creevey directed them to the sitting room, but did not offer them a seat. Hermione and Draco both moved forward at the same time and Hermione accidently bumped into a table near the entrance to the sitting room, upsetting a lamp that shattered on the floor.

"Oh Merlin, forgive me!" Hermione apologized earnestly. "I'm so sorry! I-is it alright if I mend it?"

"Er, what?" Mr. Creevey asked. "Oh, yes. I, uh… thank you." The man seemed rather unsettled and Hermione cursed herself for not being more careful. She quickly pulled out her wand and easily repaired the lamp. She set it back on the table and looked miserably at Harry. Slowly and carefully, Draco and Hermione entered the sitting room.

"Robert?" a woman called as she neared the room. "Who was that at the door?"

"Harry Potter," the man answered bewilderedly.

"What?" the woman asked in surprise. "Harry Potter?"

The woman appeared at her husband's side and stared in shock at the three unfamiliar faces in her home.

"Yes, ma'am. I'm Harry Potter and these are my friends, Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy. We were hoping that Dennis might be available to speak with us for a few minutes," Harry requested.

"Dennis? But… but he's not here," she replied with a worried look. "He's supposed to be at school. Is he not?"

"Er…" Harry felt rather confused and wasn't sure what to say.

"He said that he was having trouble with his studies and that he needed to take summer studies to get caught up before his N.E.W.T.s," the woman explained anxiously.

"Oh, well, we wouldn't know about that as we're not involved with the school. We had just assumed he would be here because it was summer holidays," said Hermione.

"Well if you're not involved with the school, then what do you want with Dennis?" Mr. Creevey asked peevishly.

"Just to speak with him," Harry answered. "We're with Ministry. Magical Law Enforcement." At Mrs. Creevey's gasp, Harry hurried to continue. "Everything's alright. Dennis isn't in any trouble or anything. We just received a tip that someone was planning something against someone that he knows. We're doing everything we can to prevent it, so we just wanted to talk to him to see if he could help us in any way."

Mrs. Creevey still looked extremely unsettled and the three visitors felt extremely guilty for it.

"Thank you very much for your time. We'll be going now. We're sorry we bothered you, and even more for causing you worry," Hermione said sincerely. "As Harry said, we're doing everything we can to take care of this. As we were lucky enough to be tipped off, we're taking preventative measures to see that no harm comes to anyone."

"Thank you," Mr. Creevey replied rather stiffly. He placed a comforting and protective arm around his wife's shoulders.

"We'll see ourselves out. Thank you again," said Harry. He glanced at Draco and Hermione and led the way to the front door. They walked back down the path silently and stopped on the walk.

"Hermione?" Harry asked expectantly.

"I'm working on it," she said as she started rummaging through her handbag.

"Working on what?" Draco asked.

"Don't look at her," said Harry. "Look at me and pretend we're having a conversation while she looks through her bag."

"We are having a conversation while she looks through her bag. But what is she doing in her bag?" Draco said wryly.

"Looking for parchment," Hermione answered distractedly.

"What?" Draco asked, utterly perplexed. "What do you need with-?"

"She's checking the wards around the property," Harry explained.

"And casting one of my own," Hermione added. "There." Hermione pulled a phone out of her handbag and started a casual stroll down the walk. The boys hurried to catch up to her.

"What is that?" Draco asked.

"It's a mobile phone," Hermione answered.

"A what?"

"It's a muggle device that allows a person to contact anyone else that has one," Harry explained while she dialed.

"Like a protean charm?" Draco asked.

"No, not really. It allows people to speak to one another. It's muggle technology. Electronic. It sends out signals in the airwaves to satellites orbiting the earth… or something like that," Harry said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I don't understand it and I'm really not that interested in it."

"You should be interested in it. It's an extremely helpful tool," Hermione said as she folded the phone shut and put it back in her handbag. "I got his voicemail," she explained. "I'll just call him back in a bit."

"Who?" Draco asked, tired of being left in the dark about everything, but getting even more frustrated by having to ask so many questions. It was obvious that Harry and Hermione knew each other well and had worked together on several occasions, as they were able to correctly assume many things about one another.

"Ron," Harry answered.

"Weasley has one of those things?" Draco asked, unsure whether he was more surprised or appalled.

"Yes, which is all the more reason that Harry should have one. The wizarding world is much more convenient than the muggle world in many ways, but communication is not one of them. Mobiles are extremely handy, especially in the Law Enforcement field where owls and floo calls don't do much good when on site," she remarked pointedly at Harry.

"Yes, but I rather appreciate not being able to be reached at all times. And why would I need my own anyway? I'm nearly always with you, Ron, or Ginny, who all have them. You're the only ones I wouldn't mind being contacted by, so if you're looking for me, you call one of the other two," Harry said with a smirk. "But enough about mobiles. I know what I saw in there, but what do you two make of it?"

"Well, he's not at school. That's for certain," stated Draco.

"Right," Hermione agreed. "The staff has always been very firm about students leaving school for summer holidays. If he was really having troubles with his studies, he'd need to turn to another student for tutoring outside of school. And now that I think... wasn't this his last year? He should have taken his N.E.W.T.s before the end of term."

"Exactly," said Harry. "So now we have to figure out where he is and why he told his parents he was at school, if they were telling the truth."

"They were," Draco assured him.

"Yeah, if they were trying to cover for him, they would have chosen something we couldn't check up on so easily. Not to mention, did you see the look in his mother's eyes when she believed he wasn't where she thought he was?"

Harry nodded. "Right then. I'm going to owl McGonagall as soon as we get back to make an appointment to see her tonight if I can. This is now a top priority. Not that Pansy isn't," he quickly added. "We still need to know what's going on with her so that we can protect her and her family."

"I agree, but I can go speak to McGonagall tonight, Harry. I know you have a date with Ginny," Hermione offered.

"No, it's okay. I want to speak to her. Not to mention, you'll have Aurelian," Harry reminded her.

"I could take him with me. I'm sure McGonagall doesn't have a problem with children. If she does, she's certainly in the wrong profession," Hermione smiled. "You can't push Ginny aside for this."

"I won't. This is just really important to me. I'm sure I'll be able to meet with her before our date," Harry replied. At Hermione's stern look he added, "And if I can't, I'll ask you to."

"Alright, fair enough," Hermione agreed. "So then-"

Hermione stopped talking when a tune came from her handbag. "Sorry. Just a second," she apologized as she took out her mobile and answered it. "Ron?... Yes… Really? What?... And?... Yes, I agree…" Hermione's tone became a little discouraged and lost its determination.

"I understand why you don't want one of those things," Draco told Harry. "You look like an idiot talking to yourself." Harry smirked, but kept looking at Hermione expectantly.

"Yes, I had something I wanted you to look further into," Hermione continued talking to Ron. "Could you look up all the crimes that have taken place in Greater London in the last year, particularly anything around Harrow?... Yeah, anything… No. He's missing… Yeah. Do you think you could floo McGonagall for me also? Tell her that Harry's going to be stopping by shortly to see her?" Hermione nodded to Harry after she said this. "Yes. If you can just work on pulling those files, I'll be in to help you with them soon… Thanks, Ron… Yeah. See you soon." With that, Hermione folded up her phone again.

"So?" Harry asked.

"He's going to contact McGonagall right now, so you can probably head over there now," Hermione told him. "Ron found something on the Parkinsons though."

"What?" Draco asked immediately. He perked up a bit with interest, but his insides squirmed with anxiety.

"Did Pansy ever mention to you that her father's office was broken into?" Hermione inquired.

"Yes," Draco answered, looking pensive. "I had forgotten about it though."

"Ron was looking back for anything in the reports that mentioned the Parkinsons and discovered that five months ago, Mr. Parkinson's office was broken into. It appeared that nothing had been taken, but his family's owl was found slaughtered on top of his desk. He filed a report and demanded that the culprit be found and charged, but the next day he came in and said that he wanted to drop the entire thing."

"He said that he had overreacted," Draco recalled. "He said that he's not always well liked by the public and he was bound to be targeted by people from time to time. He didn't want whoever did it to think that it had ruffled him and as there really wasn't much harm done, he thought it would be best to just let it go."

"So, he's being threatened," Harry reasoned.

"That's what Ron and I think, too," Hermione agreed. "The question now is why? What for?"

"I don't know, but at least I have an idea of what I'm looking for when I speak to Pansy," Draco replied.

"Good," said Harry. "I'm going to go try to talk to McGonagall now. We'll meet tomorrow at some point. I'll owl or floo you both."

"I'm going to the office now to help Ron," Hermione announced. She turned the corner so that they were out of sight behind some hedges.

"Good. I might see you there a little later then," Harry told her. He pulled out his wand and nodded to them before he Disapparated.

Draco nodded to Hermione and removed his own wand but Hermione reached toward him. "Wait, Malfoy."

He looked at her in surprise and paused.

"Can I talk to you a minute?" she hesitantly requested.

Draco nodded and dropped his wand hand back down to his side.

"What are you doing today?" she inquired nervously.

"I'm going home for now," he answered. "I don't mind helping at the office, but Potter said that Weasley would prefer to see me only when it's unavoidable."

"Yeah, I know, but that's not what I meant.” She looked a bit flustered as she continued, "I've been thinking about what you said… about what I said… about Aurelian… about me thinking it's best that you don't see him," she clarified.

"Yes," he said stiffly, his attitude gone cold again.

"Well… I'm not sure if it's the best thing. I'm not sure it's not though, either," she quickly added with a bit of force. She sighed and started softly again. "I don't know what would be better for him… I… I was wondering what you were doing because I wondered if you might like to join Aurelian and me for dinner tonight."

Draco stared at her completely dumbfounded. Any resentment he felt a second before had vanished from his expression. He just stared at her with his mouth slightly parted in shock.

"I mean… if you still want to see him, that is," she said slowly and uncertainly.

"Yes," he answered instantly. "Er, no. I mean, yes, I want to see him, but I already have plans tonight. Mother has been nagging me for weeks about coming to this dinner with her…" he spoke more to himself than Hermione. "No… I can cancel. I-"

"No, it's okay," said Hermione. "You don't have to cancel. You… well… if it would be better, you can come tomorrow night. Er, wait. You have dinner with Pansy tomorrow night."

"I'll reschedule," he said so quickly that he startled Hermione. Her incredulous expression mixed with one of suspicion and concern.

"You can't just-"

"It's fine. I'll just reschedule to have lunch with Pansy instead of dinner. It's no problem. When we were making plans, she asked if I'd rather do lunch or dinner. I chose dinner, but it would probably work out better for her too, if we did lunch," Draco explained.

Hermione had never seen Draco act anything like he was and she found it very disconcerting. He looked and sounded eager and perhaps a bit desperate? She didn't understand and she felt extremely uneasy. "If you're sure... I mean, we could find another time."

"No," Draco said firmly. "I'm not going to allow you the time to change your mind."

And it suddenly made sense. That's why he was so desperate and hurried; he was afraid she'd change her mind again. She felt a little sorry for him. "Okay, tomorrow then," she agreed. "I was thinking around half six. Is that okay?"

"Yeah.” He was calming back down to his usual calm demeanor, but she could still see the hope and anticipation in his eyes. She continued to stare in his face as she tried to read him. She wanted to understand what this was to him. She just couldn't understand it.

"You… You can come over a bit earlier, if you'd like, to see him some before dinner," she offered.

"Is six okay?"

"Yes, six is fine," she agreed. They both looked at each other for a few moments, unsure of what to say next. "So, six o'clock tomorrow, but I will still probably see you at some point in the morning tomorrow."

"Yeah, I'll see you then," Malfoy concurred. He gripped his wand and was about to Apparate when he paused. "Granger… Hermione," he corrected. "Thank you."

Hermione's breath caught. Not only did he say her name, not only did he thank her, but he was so serious when he said it. She realized then just how much this meant to him. Though why, she still wasn't sure.

Hermione nodded. "Tomorrow."

 

Chapter Text

Harry ruffled his tousled wet hair, readjusted the belt of his fleece tartan dressing gown, and grabbed his mug of coffee off of the kitchen counter before starting upstairs. His mind swam with many troubling thoughts of the last few days and his sleep suffered for it. He had stayed up late into the night, tossing and turning in bed. When he woke in the morning, he felt even more exhausted than he had before going to bed. He'd trudged into the bathroom for a shower, with hope that it would help revive him. When it didn't, he had asked Kreacher to make a pot of coffee. If that didn't work, the next step was reaching for an invigoration draught.

Harry's feet felt heavy as lead as he trudged up the stairs from the kitchen. He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced.

"Is it to your liking, Master?" Kreacher asked.

"Um, yeah… It's great," Harry lied. Though the Black family house-elf he inherited had become much more pleasant after the war, he also became a lot more clingy. Ever willing to please, Kreacher didn't seem to have enough to do and followed Harry around the house until he was given more orders. Harry tried not to let it bother him, but sometimes it was just too much. He was getting rather desperate for some space and considered either completely dirtying a room that would keep Kreacher busy for a time or sending him to help clean the Burrow.

Harry paused halfway up the stairs and listened intently. "Was that the chime from the fireplace?" he asked. He honestly wasn't sure if it was or if it was his tired mind playing tricks on him because he rarely received company so early, and he certainly wasn't expecting anyone.

"Kreacher thinks so, Master Harry. Should Kreacher check, sir?"

"Yeah," Harry answered distractedly as he wondered who might be calling. He walked back down the stairs and opened the kitchen door.

"Morning, Harry," Hermione greeted brightly.

"Master Harry, you have a visitor. Miss Hermione Granger awaits your presence in the kitchen," Kreacher announced decorously.

"Yes, thank you, Kreacher," Harry said dryly.

"Kreacher is happy to be of service, sir," he said with a bow.

"Uh, Kreacher, do you think you could um…" Harry fished around quickly for a task for the elf, "go purchase some new candles for the chandelier in the foyer? Um, purple ones? We could use some change in color…"

"Of course, Master," Kreacher agreed. With a 'crack' he was gone.

Harry sighed. "I swear the poor old thing gets battier every day."

"Harry!" Hermione admonished.

"It wasn't meant as insult. I feel bad for the poor thing," Harry admitted. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"Nice to see you, too," she chuckled. "I'm here for a couple reasons." Hermione walked over to the long kitchen table and allowed the large heavy stack of files in her arms to thump down onto it. "First, Malfoy owled me last night to tell me that he's not going to be able to help this morning. His dinner with Pansy got moved up to brunch today."

"That's good and that is him helping," Harry said. Hermione nodded in agreement.

"The main reason I'm here, though, is to warn you. I went into the office early today to get the key to the locked file room from Kristof and discovered that Robards is looking for you. If you go into the office today, he's going to corner you," she said seriously.

Harry sighed. "Yeah, I guess I should be prepared for that. He's been getting suspicious with how frequently I'm in and out of the office and that I'm not working with any other aurors. He's seen me working specifically with you, and then specifically with Ron, and then both of you yesterday."

"And when he asked, Felix told him that we were still working with Malfoy. I don't know why that should be a surprise to him as he has all the paperwork for it. Anyway…"

"I've got to talk to Kingsley. I knew I probably would, but I'm still not looking forward to it. I don't know what to tell him either," Harry admitted.

"He trusts you, Harry. I doubt he'll make you reveal too much. And once he okays it, it will officially be a confidential case," Hermione said optimistically.

"Yeah, I know. I'll owl him today," Harry conceded. "So what's all this?" he asked, gesturing to the large stack of files.

"If you don't want a confrontation with Robards today, I thought we'd work here," Hermione explained.

"Perfect." He set his coffee down on the table and took a seat.

"Yes, you don't even need to get dressed," she teased, noting his pajama trousers and dressing gown.

"Hey, you showed up here unannounced so you get what you get," he smirked.

"You know I don't mind, just like I know you don't mind me showing up unannounced. Now, before we get on with these files, you have to tell me what happened with McGonagall. What did she have to say about Dennis?"

Harry stared dejectedly at his coffee cup. "It turns out that he disappeared before we thought. McGonagall said that he left school before the end of term. He hadn't even finished taking his N.E.W.T.s."

"What?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"Yeah… He told her that there was a family matter he needed to deal with. She was rather flustered that he wouldn't tell her about it, but she didn't press him. She offered to speak to the ministry about setting up a date where he could finish his N.E.W.T.s during the summer, but he declined," he stated.

"He declined? Harry, I'm more concerned than ever. This wasn't just him giving his parents a story and taking off. This was premeditated," Hermione said seriously. "Whatever he's doing, he dropped everything. He left school early but still had to return to his parents after term, and now neither the school nor his parents have seen him for over a month."

"I know," Harry said. "I'm really worried about what he's gotten himself into."

Harry and Hermione sat silently with their thoughts for a few moments before Harry continued. "I've been thinking all last night and we're going to have to let the Weasleys in on this. They already know about Aurelian and that we're trying to fix some future event. They've been a lot more patient about getting answers than I would ever be. We need help if we're going to fix this and we owe it to them to tell them what's going on."

"I agree," Hermione said quietly with a small nod. "So, what do you propose?"

"A meeting. Tomorrow. We invite all the Weasleys here. Bill, Fleur, Percy, the twins, Charlie, everyone. I think we need to carefully decide just what we can reveal and what we can't. They shouldn't know everything. It's just too much. It's devastating and disheartening to know everything. I want them to feel our confidence, not our fear," Harry said with a pensive, yet determined expression.

"Malfoy?" Hermione questioned.

"Yes, we'll invite him to be here. I hope that he'll agree, but it's his choice. I'll have a talk with Ron about tolerance," Harry said as much to himself as to Hermione.

"Harry," Hermione started apprehensively. "Speaking of telling the Weasleys, why haven't you told Ginny about James?"

Harry looked surprised by her question and his expression fell to one of immense dejection. "I don't know… I mean what am I supposed to say?" he asked with frustration.

Hermione anxiously nibbled her lip and bit back a great many things she wanted to say. "H-have you told Ron?"

Harry shook his head. "Again, what am I supposed to say?" Harry repeated with growing frustration. "'Hey, yeah, in the pensieve I'm married to Ginny and we have a kid together'. Is that what I'm supposed to say?"

"Harry…" Hermione gently reproved.

"No, seriously, what am I supposed to say?" he demanded. "I don't even know what to think of it myself."

"I haven't said anything about it before now because I know it's uncomfortable, but you have to talk about this, Harry," she quietly insisted. "Talk to me."

"And say what, exactly?" Harry asked. "You were there. You saw it. I had Ginny and I had James and they were living the most miserable life!"

"Harry," she said firmly.

"I know, okay? I know that… I know it's not… urgh, everything's just so… I don't know what to say." Harry sat moodily back in his chair.

"Just say whatever you're thinking. It's not good to keep it bottled up. I know it's affected you. Talk to me," Hermione pleaded.

Harry's shoulders drooped when he realized that he was letting himself get too uptight, getting snippy and frustrated with Hermione when she was doing nothing except trying to be there for him. Hermione watched him deflate as he dropped his defenses and she waited patiently. She could see the pain and conflict inside of him as he tried to find his words.

"You know, Ginny and I have been together for two years now and I've loved her much longer than that. Would you believe that in all that time, we never once discussed marriage?" Harry asked with a sad smile. "I mean, I know she's the one. We're just not ready. I know though, that one day, when the time is right, I'll ask her to marry me. And I know that when we're ready and that day comes, she'll say yes. We've never talked about it. I mean, I've imagined it, of course. I imagined us and I imagined making a family with her, but imagination is nothing. I entered that pensieve and saw that it wasn't just an idea. I saw her, us, and him… He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and I'm never going to see him again."

Hermione sat quietly while she watched and listened to her friend. She had known that it was what he had been thinking, but to hear him say it and see how hurt he was by it, was painful. Harry placed his elbow on the table and ran his hand through his hair in frustration.

"You know about time travel better than I do," he continued. "You know about the butterfly effect. No matter what happens next, things will never be like we saw in that memory. James is never going to exist. Ginny and I will still get married someday and we might have children, but it will never be that boy. I could have a son and name him James, but it wouldn't be him. We could have six children, all girls and I could be so happy but that boy, that son of mine, will never exist and I am never going to be able to forget his face. I'm in mourning, Hermione. I'm mourning a person I've never met and will never get the chance to meet."

"I know," Hermione said softly.

"I just… I feel so terrible. After seeing how much I loved him, after seeing how much Ginny loved him… how can I tell her about him? How can I even begin to explain this to her? He's never going to exist and he's never going to have to suffer all that he did, but I still saw it and I wish that I could see him. I wish that I could just say that I'm sorry," Harry grimaced.

"It hurts, Harry. We saw terrible things and it hurts," she said dolefully. "But, even with how horrible the memories were, there were still wonderful things that we'll never see now. There are things to mourn and I mourn them, too. I-" Hermione sighed and stared down in front of her where she fidgeted with the corner of the file in front of her.

"What?" Harry asked, as it was obvious that she had meant to say more.

Hermione grimaced. She had hoped that he hadn't noticed. "Nothing," she said with a small shake of her head.

"No. You were going to say something," Harry pried.

"It's stupid." She shook her head dismissively.

"I don't believe that. I don't believe that there's a single thought in your head that can be stupid. You said you're hurting, too, and now you won't talk to me. I'm not the only one that was affected by those memories. Talk to me. Don't let me feel I'm the only one," Harry pressed.

Harry knew her too well now. It was the last phrase that got to her. 'Don't let me feel I'm the only one.' He did it because he knew she'd play it down otherwise.

"It's not the same for me as it is you and I know that," she started. "I have Aurelian still. He's been saved from that horrible existence, but he still had to live through all of that. He still hurts and it hurts me. I'm never going to be the mother he knew. I'm never going to be the woman that gave birth to him or saw his first smile, heard his first word, or watched his first step. I feel like I've lost that. His past is something I've never had and will never have and I feel like I'm letting him down because I never will be that woman that he shared so much with. You're right that that future will never exist, therefore, the life he knew will never exist. He comes from nowhere now. His past is gone. I'm what he has now. I can't send him back to where he came from because it no longer exists, not that I'd ever dream of sending him back to that… I just… I mourn his past and…" She sighed again. It was just too much.

"Hermione," Harry said gently but firmly. She looked up at his eyes and saw that he wasn't going to allow her to stop there.

"It's stupid…"

"It's not," he insisted.

She sighed again and paused. Her emotions were so strong and bubbled just beneath the surface. She felt her lip begin to quiver and eyes begin to sting. "I mourn my husband."

She looked up at him and saw that it wasn't anything he could have expected, but he looked concerned. He hurt for her the same way she hurt for him.

"I… I've never had anyone before. I've always secretly hoped for it though, someone to love… someone to love me. I saw it. I had it there. A love I never really believed I could find. Now that I've seen that it's possible, now that I know I've had that, I feel empty without it. It's not Malfoy I'm pining for," she clarified. "I'm not mourning Malfoy. I'm mourning a love that I might have had. A love I may never experience again."

"That's not stupid," Harry assured her. "It's not a stupid thing to mourn a great love, but I don't doubt that you'll one day find that love. You're a lovable person, Hermione. I don't know why you doubt that."

Hermione simply shrugged her shoulders in reply. She couldn't use her voice for she feared she would break down and cry.

"No more," Harry said firmly. He reached out and took her hand in his atop the table. "We've let it out, both of us. No more mourning. Those events are never going to happen and we can't waste time dwelling on them. If that boy means anything to me, then I will do everything I can to make sure that none of my future children will be affected by these events. And you… You have the power to create an incredible future for yourself and for Aurelian. Don't think about what you could have had, think about what you can have."

"You're right," Hermione said with a tiny smile as she squeezed his hand in return. "There are endless possibilities. We need to work on creating the future we want. And with that…" Hermione let go of his hand and slid the top file off of her stack and pushed it in front of Harry.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"Six o'clock now, Mummy? Six o'clock?" Aurelian asked as he trailed behind his mother.

"No, Aurelian, not yet. Soon though," Hermione answered in amused exasperation as she set the last plate on the kitchen table.

"Six o'clock a minute?" the boy asked.

"No, not in a minute. In a few minutes. He's coming. You'll just have to be patient," She smiled as she brushed his hair with her fingers. "While we wait though, we should brush your hair. Then I have to get dressed."

Aurelian giggled. "You already have clothes, Mummy."

"Yes, you're right," she said firmly, more to herself than to Aurelian. She had been nervous about Draco coming to her house for dinner since she had invited him, but her anxiety had continued to build as the time of his arrival drew closer. She'd debated about what she should wear for hours before she began dinner. She thought of trying to look nice, but quickly became angry with herself for thinking it. After all, his intent was to see Aurelian, not her, and she had no need to try to impress him in any way. But then, she had invited him over, so she didn't want to look the part of a bad host. Then she reminded herself again that it was just Malfoy coming to play with Aurelian. She wouldn't dress up for Harry, Ron, or Ginny, so why should she dress up for Malfoy? She looked down at her denim capris and simple white top. They would have to do because she refused to dress up to impress their company. His visit had nothing to do with her. But, she could at least pull her hair up a bit, right?

Hermione was able to get Aurelian to hold still for a couple seconds so that she could brush his hair, but he took off immediately after. His hair was a bit wiry and refused to lay flat. It was by no means as wildly impossible as her own, but it shared some of its properties, like just the tiniest bit of curl to it. Were it longer, it would have been wavy; hair that most women would envy. When she finished with him, she pulled her hair back and pinned it with a barrette.

"Six o'clock now, Mummy?" Aurelian asked as his head popped around the bathroom door.

"No," she repeated. "You'll know when…" she sighed. As soon as she had answered no, he'd run off to the living room again. He made her even more anxious. He was so excited that Draco was coming over to see him and she was afraid that he might be disappointed. She didn't know what to expect herself.

Hermione started back to the kitchen and looked around uncertainly. She had already prepared everything. The table was set, the counters cleaned, and dinner was in the oven. Still, she felt like she should be doing something. She opened the oven door and closed it again.

"Yet, Mummy? Six o'clock yet?" Aurelian asked.

"Aurelian…" Hermione sighed. "He will be-"

Hermione stopped when she heard the chime from the fireplace.

"He here!" Aurelian shouted before he ran into the living room. Hermione took a deep breath and followed after. "Daddy!"

Hermione walked in to see Aurelian squeezing Draco's legs again. Draco's lips quirked into a small lopsided smile. He didn't seem to know what to do, but gently reached down and touched the toddler's head. Aurelian pulled back and beamed up at his father.

"Like your robe. Like your robe, Daddy," Aurelian said, touching Draco's charcoal grey robes. They were in no way extraordinary. They didn't look old, but they didn't look brand new either. It seemed a funny compliment. "You like my robe, Daddy? Like mine?"

Aurelian pinched the front of his robe and pulled it forward to try to give Draco a better look.

"Um, yes. Very nice," Draco answered.

"Me and Mummy buyed 'em today. Dey're blue. I likes blue. You likes blue too, Daddy?" the boy rambled happily.

"Yes, it's a very nice color," Draco told him. "You made a good choice."

Draco looked up at Hermione and felt rather uncertain of himself. He wasn't quite sure how to act in the first place, but just then he felt like he was being graded.

"What that, Daddy? What that?" Aurelian asked, as he pointed to the gift in Draco's hand and another under his arm.

"I got you something," Draco told him, glancing back up at Hermione to make sure she didn't look disapproving. He felt a little better to see that she simply looked curious. Curious was okay. "Here," Draco handed Aurelian a small box wrapped in red striped paper with a matching ribbon. Aurelian clutched the box to his chest and ran over to Hermione.

"Look, Mummy! A present! Daddy got me present!" he squealed with excitement.

"That's very nice," Hermione said with a small smile. "Why don't you ask when he wants you to open it?"

"I open it?" Aurelian asked on his way back to Draco.

"Of course," he answered. "That's what it's for."

The small boy plopped unceremoniously onto his bottom in the middle of the room and started thrashing the paper from the box. Draco chuckled.

"Tornadoes!" Aurelian shouted. "I gots quidditch peoples! Mummy, look!" He jumped up from the floor and ran over to Hermione to show her the contents of the open box. Hermione leaned forward to see seven quidditch figures clad in blue, walking the bottom of the box with their brooms in their hands. "Balls, too, Mummy! They has new balls! See?" Aurelian lifted the box a little higher for Hermione to get a better look and the figures inside stumbled to keep their balance.

"It's a wonderful gift. What do you think you should say?" Hermione prompted.

"You pway with me?" Aurelian rushed back over to Draco.

"I meant that you should say 'thank you'" Hermione corrected.

"Thank you, Daddy. You pway with me?"

Draco chuckled again. "You have to ask your mother that. I don't know when dinner will be ready."

"Pwease, Mummy!" Aurelian begged.

"Just for a few minutes," Hermione said. "Dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes."

"Yay! C'mon Daddy!" Aurelian called. He squeezed the box in one arm, squishing its edges in a bit and grabbed Draco's hand. He started to pull him toward the hall when Hermione called out to stop them.

"Where are you going, Aurey?" she asked.

"To our room. But, I doesn't have quidditch rug no more," Aurelian told Draco sadly.

"No, not the bedroom," Hermione said. "You guys can play in the living room."

"But Mummy's bed good for quidditch," Aurelian pouted.

"Sorry, not this time," Hermione said firmly.

"It's alright, Aurelian. The floor here is nice," Draco told him. "I can make an outline of the pitch if you want. It won't leave any marks," he added quickly to Hermione.

"Yeah, of course," Hermione agreed. "I'm just going to go and check on the-"

"Wait," Draco cut her off. "This is for you."

Hermione was shocked and extremely nervous when Draco handed her the gift bag that was still in his hand. She had completely forgotten about it and certainly hadn't expected it. She stared at him warily.

"For dinner…" he said. He looked extremely anxious by her reaction, or lack thereof. He swallowed hard, his throat suddenly dry. "I didn't know what you were making. I hope red's alright?" He pulled the top of a wine bottle out gift bag and slid it back in. "You don't have to use it tonight. It's for you… I just… um, here."

Draco pushed the bag forward and Hermione nodded as she accepted it. She felt like an idiot. He was a classy person. Of course, he would bring wine or a gift for the hostess. That's what one did when visiting another's house. She just rarely went to such a formal type dinner in which a gift would be given. She certainly hadn't seen their dinner as one of those occasions. It was a play date for Aurelian. She wondered again if she should have dressed a little better. She suddenly realized that she was just standing there looking at the bottle like an idiot and mentally kicked herself.

"Thank you," she said hurriedly. "I'll just go get some glasses."

"You don't have to," he said again.

"No. No, it's great. Very thoughtful. I just… we're only having macaroni and cheese. Aurelian's request. This is good though. It will make the meal a bit more classy," Hermione said awkwardly.

"Daddy, c'mon," Aurelian whined and pulled on Draco's hand.

"I'm sorry…" Draco said uncertainly, seeing that he made her feel uncomfortable.

"No. No, it's very nice. It will go great. Thank you," Hermione replied. "I'll just finish things up."

Hermione set the bottle of wine down in the kitchen and bent over the counter with her head in her hands. The whole thing felt weird to begin with, but she had already made a right fool of herself. She took comfort in the idea that Draco felt as uncertain as she did. Now that she thought about it, she wondered if he hadn't been doing the same thing as she had. Had he debated whether to bring wine? Had he debated about what to wear? No… he always looked nice wherever he went.

She stood up from the counter and removed the cork from the bottle with a quick flick of her wand. She took two empty wine glasses to the table and placed them at opposite sides. She filled the three glasses already at the table with ice and water and returned to the counter to finish preparing the crisp green salad.

A short while later she stood in the open entry to the kitchen and watched Aurelian and Draco discuss the different quidditch figurines that walked around on her carpet. After a moment, she announced, "Alright, dinner's ready. Time to put the toys away."

"Mummy, we not pwayed yet!" Aurelian protested.

"Then what were you doing? I told you dinner would be ready soon," Hermione told him.

"We not ready. We pwayin'," Aurelian whined.

"It's okay. They're yours. You'll have plenty of time to play with them," Draco assured him.

"We pway after food?" Aurelian asked, his full pout still in place. Draco was afraid to answer. Should he not give the right one, he was certain the boy would start crying.

"Yes, you can play after dinner," Hermione agreed, appearing completely unperturbed.

"Yay!" Aurelian cheered and raced for the table.

"Remember to sit in the tall chair," Hermione called after him. Seeing how uncomfortable he had been sitting on his knees at the table, she'd extended the legs of one of the chairs. Aurelian was quite happy with it the first few times, but he very soon began to insist that he was too big for it. "Sorry," Hermione said with a blush when she realized that she'd just shouted with Draco standing right next to her. "Go ahead…"

Draco nodded, walked past her and looked around the small kitchen. There was hardly enough room at the counters for two people to stand side by side. At the other end was a round table with four chairs. It was covered in a crisp white linen tablecloth and three place settings.

"Here, Daddy," Aurelian said, patting the table at his left. "Dis your seat."

Draco sat down and casually placed his napkin on his lap. He looked curiously at the small drinking glass filled with yellow dandelions that sat in the center of the table.

"You like da flowers? I picked 'em for Mummy, but you have 'em if you like 'em. Dey Mummy's favorites. You like 'em?" Aurelian asked.

"No, your mother can keep them," Draco said with a smile.

"We were playing in the community garden and he wanted to pick all the flowers," Hermione explained as she placed the casserole dish of macaroni and cheese in the center of the table near the salad bowl. "I told him dandelions are my favorite and so those are the only kind he picked." Hermione said with a meaningful look at Draco.

Draco's smile grew. The entire wizarding world knew she was brilliant, but that demonstrated to Draco that she was also quite creative and manipulative. With one simple declaration of her 'favorite flower' she'd prevented a toddler from pillaging the neighborhood flowerbeds and at the same time encouraged him to pick the weeds.

"Aren't they beautiful?" Hermione pressed, her eyes begging him to play along.

"Lovely. They give the table the perfect touch of color," Draco smirked.

Hermione poured Draco a glass of the Merlot that he had brought her and mouthed 'thank you.' She then took her seat and looked nervously between the two of them.

"Well, help yourself," Hermione urged, plating the food for Aurelian before herself.

"I love 'roni cheese," Aurelian announced. "You like 'roni cheese, Daddy?"

"I honestly haven't had it in a long time. It sounds really good actually," he admitted.

"It's very gooey and yummy," Aurelian told him with his mouth full.

"Chew first please, Aurey," Hermione asked nicely.

A few moments passed in silence and Draco felt compelled to say something, but he really wasn't sure what to say. "So, it's a nice place you have."

Hermione looked at him strangely.

"I mean, I've been here a few times before, but I've only ever seen the living room," he said.

Hermione chuckled. "It's small, I know, but it's comfortable."

"It's nice. Really," Draco assured her. "I like how you've decorated it."

Though he tried to convince her that he meant it, she still wondered if he did. It was small and in no way elegant, which she was sure he was used to. "It's rather simple, but that's me really. I've never needed much, myself. It doesn't cost much which helps me to put away quite a bit of my pay."

Draco nodded. He could see that she really loved the place and that she wasn't sure his compliments were sincere. He then felt the need to quickly change subjects.

"So, how did things go today?" he asked.

"Okay, I guess. Harry and I discussed quite a few things. He's going to Kingsley tomorrow to officially make our case confidential. That way, his boss will stop trying to look into things. It will also give Harry the discretion to call on whatever help he needs without prior authorization. It will really help us. After that, Aurelian and I went to Diagon Alley to get him fitted for some robes.”

"Yeah," Aurelian said excitedly. "Da lady's measurer went dis way and dat way and all da way around." The boy made large expressive movements to demonstrate and almost knocked over the bottle of wine in the process. Hermione quietly moved the bottle to the other side of the table.

"We only got him the one robe today, as we didn't have much time. We're going back to get him more soon," Hermione continued.

"And I picked dis one," Aurelian said, pinching his robes to show Draco again. "I likes blue."

"Yeah, I know," said Draco. "What else did you do today?"

"I pwayed at da Burrow and drived Uncle Art's motorbike way waaaay far," Aurelian answered with a brilliant smile.

Draco looked sternly at Hermione.

"Just pretend," Hermione assured him. "Mr. Weasley collects a lot of muggle things and Aurelian likes to play with them. He was playing in the sidecar of a motorbike again today."

"And I flyed all da way to da moon!" Aurelian beamed, extending his arm all the way up, pointing his fork at the ceiling. "I show you what I got! Uncle Art said I could keep 'em!"

Aurelian made to get down from the table, but Hermione stopped him. "Not right now. You can show him after dinner."

Aurelian nodded and began to eat faster.

"So, what about you?" Hermione asked Draco. "How'd it go today?"

"Well, I had brunch with Pansy today. It… well, this probably isn't the place to discuss it," he said uncertainly. "It was a nice time. I was glad to catch up with her. I hadn't seen her for a couple weeks."

"Are you two close then?"

"Well, sort of. We always have been. We don't see each other as often as we used to, but we still get on well. It's one of those things where time can pass between visits, but when we see each other next, it's like no time has passed. You know?" he answered.

"Yeah," Hermione nodded. "So… where did you tell your mother you were going tonight?" Hermione looked quite hesitant to ask, but she was quite curious.

"I just told her that I was going to dinner. Though we live in the same house, we hardly ever manage meals together. That's why yesterday's dinner was so important," Draco explained. "She had invited my great uncle on my father's side over for dinner. We haven't seen him since father's… imprisonment." It was obviously difficult for him to speak about. "But Mother doesn't want us, me especially, to cut ties with the family."

Hermione and Draco fell into silence again and in their discomfort took an extra long pull from their glasses. Hermione was pleasantly surprised at how well the sweet oak taste of the wine complemented her homemade macaroni and cheese, not to mention the way it helped soothe her nerves. The gift, she decided, was appreciated much more than as just a kind gesture.

She set down her glass and took a deep breath before she plunged into the question that she'd been wanting to ask. "Are you going to tell her about him?"

Draco was quite taken aback by her question. He had felt that they were playing the game of cordial dinner conversation rather well until that point. That question felt more like one he would be asked in the interrogation room. It felt like a test again and it was a question with a dangerous double edge. He would not let that affect his answer though.

"No," he stated. "At least not any time soon. I wouldn't know how to explain it and considering I was told that this is a confidential case, I'm really not at liberty to discuss it."

Hermione nodded and appeared satisfied with his answer.

"What about you?" Draco asked, turning the tables. "Are you planning to tell your parents?"

"Yes," Hermione answered quietly. "I really can't avoid it, I figure. They'll have to meet him sooner or later and with all that I've hidden from them in the past, I feel it would be best to tell them soon. I really don't know how I'll explain it to them yet, but they're quite used to not understanding or getting full answers at this point. As they've had to come to terms with my decision to remain in the Wizarding World, they've had to come to terms with the fact that odd things happen to me. I really wonder if they believe that such strange things happen to everyone in the Wizarding World."

Aurelian had covered his mouth and began to snicker part way through her explanation and Draco and Hermione looked at him curiously, wondering at the joke.

"Grown-ups don't have Mums and Dads," he giggled.

"Of course they do," Hermione told him. He giggled again. "I have a mum and dad. They're your grandmother and grandfather. You'll get to meet them on Sunday."

"That soon?" Draco said with surprise.

"When Sunday, Mummy? How many sleeps?" Aurelian asked excitedly.

"Two nights 'til Sunday. Tonight, then tomorrow night; two big sleeps. Then we'll see them in the morning." she explained in terms of time that he understood. She then turned to address Draco's question. "And, yes. I see them every Sunday for brunch. It will be a shock for them, but I'll be happy to get it over with."

"Do they know who I am? Will you tell them?" Draco asked, appearing rather unnerved.

"They only know of you as the boy who picked on me in school. And yes, telling them who Aurelian's father is something I feel I should be able to share with them," Hermione declared. "I don't intend to speak badly of you, if that's your concern."

Draco nodded.

"I done, Mummy!" Aurelian proclaimed as he stood up in his chair and picked up his plate to show her that he had eaten everything she had given him. "We pway now?"

Hermione looked at Draco and saw the question his grey eyes asked. "Yes, you can play with Daddy for a little while. You two go on and I'll clean up. We can have dessert in a little while." Draco nodded and stood up to follow Aurelian into the living room.

Hermione cleaned the dishes, giving the boys some time to play together, and set out some clean plates for dessert. When she was through, she went to the living room with another glass of wine for herself and another for Draco. When she handed it to him he nodded with a quick distracted 'thank you' as he was rather immersed in play with Aurelian. The two of them had moved the coffee table to the other side of the room and sat on the floor. All of Aurelian's new Tornadoes quidditch figures, along with Ron's old and worn Chudley Cannon players, flew or walked around the lighted boundaries of a makeshift quidditch pitch that Draco had made for them.

"What's him name again?" Aurelian asked, pointing to the figure holding the quaffle. He was not familiar with these players since the ones he had previously owned were players that were not yet drafted and he asked Draco their names every couple of minutes.

"That's Perchant," Draco answered.

"He your favorite?" Aurelian inquired.

"No, I think my favorite player is Auburn," Draco told him, pointing out another one of the chasers. "He's a damn good flyer. He has quite amazing skills."

"What he do?"

"Well… he's the king of the sloth grip roll," Draco replied. "You know what that is?"

"When dey flip upside-down," Aurelian said knowledgably. Hermione and Draco were both rather impressed. She understood what a serious sport quidditch was in the Wizarding World, but she was always surprised by it, especially when someone so young showed such knowledge and interest in it.

"Yeah, that's right," said Draco. "Auburn uses it as more than just a defensive move to dodge a bludger though. If he has someone from the other team attempting to intercept, his teammates throw it beneath him and he uses the sloth grip roll to catch it. Then he keeps flying forward at the same speed, turning himself right-side up."

"Wow! You show me, Daddy?"

"Well, I haven't played with quidditch figurines for quite a long time. I'm not sure if they can perform a player's specific moves," Draco said pensively. "We can give it a try though, can't we?"

"Yeah!"

"Alright, Perchant, give up the quaffle," Draco ordered the player with the ball. "Okay, Aurelian, get Auburn moving." Aurelian prodded the player in the back and it hopped on its broom and began to fly around the boundaries. Draco scooted backward and laid down on his stomach to get a better view. He strategically set up a small ramp and flicked the tiny quaffle towards the ready chaser. It quickly dove and caught the ball. "Hm, said Draco. "I shot it too far ahead of him. Let's give it another go." Draco aimed again and waited until the figure was where he wanted before he flicked the ball again. The figurine on the broom turned upside-down and caught the ball. A great smile broke over Draco's face. "There we go!" he said excitedly.

"Yay!" squealed the small boy, clapping his hands with glee. "He's great, Daddy! He my favorite, too!"

Hermione chuckled from her place on the sofa. She found the two of them rather amusing.

"You take me to see him?" Aurelian asked.

"Um… I don't know," Draco said uncomfortably. "I haven't been to a game in quite some time," he deflected. "I used to go with Blaise a lot, but I got rather annoyed with him. See, he supports the Magpies and often pokes fun at my team."

"I draw you a picture, Daddy! I draw for you! I draw for him, Mummy?" Aurelian asked hopefully.

"Sure. I'll go get crayons and parchment, but you'll have to color in the kitchen," She told him as she got up and placed her wine glass on the coffee table. Draco got to his feet, also.

"No, Daddy. It's a surprise. You wait here!" Aurelian ordered, holding his hand out to make sure Draco didn't follow. Hermione followed into the kitchen and as soon as she set him up to color, she also was shooed to the living room.

"So..." Hermione said uncertainly, sharing the sofa with Draco. "You and Zabini are rather close then?"

"Yeah, I'd say so. He and Pansy are the only ones I really kept in touch with after the war. He's a good guy. Things were awkward between us after the war, but he seemed to forgive me for it and we started hanging out quite a bit. Like with Pansy, we haven't seen each other as much lately. Still, I see him more than Pansy. It's kind of strange between the three of us. Though we all get along well, we never really get together the three of us. I'll hang out with either of them separately and they see each other without me, also."

Hermione wasn't sure if it was playing with Aurelian that loosened him up or if it was the wine, but she was rather intrigued by how open he was in talking to her about them.

"It's now been about a week and a half since I've seen him," he continued. "I've been meaning to get together with him, but we've both been rather busy. I think it could help us out if I did though. He works for Pansy's father. I don't know if you knew that."

"No, I didn't. I really haven't heard anything about him since school," Hermione admitted. "I really didn't even know the two of you were friends."

"Yeah… yeah, we've been friends since school, but we only really got close after the war." Draco looked rather uneasy when he realized how much he had said.

"You know, Aurelian's been gone quite some time. I think I better go check on him," Hermione said as she got up to head to the kitchen.

"Aurelian!" she cried as soon as she turned the corner. "What are you doing?"

"Is yummy," Aurelian gave in way of explanation. Hermione really needed no explanation as she had caught the little boy with his hands and face covered in whipped cream icing, custard, and crumbs, as he stood on the chair in front of a demolished dessert. "I like strawberries."

"Oh, goodness, Aurelian," she groaned. "We were going to eat it in a minute… Come on, let's go get you cleaned up."

Hermione looked flustered and apologetic when she reentered the living room, steering Aurelian by his shoulder. "I'm really sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to give us a few minutes. It seems that Aurelian couldn't wait any longer for dessert."

Draco wore a large smirk and tried hard to contain the laugh that was dying to escape as he looked at the happy messy child. "Was it good?" he asked.

Aurelian nodded. "I like strawberries."

"I'm just going to give him a really quick bath. We'll be right back out," Hermione said, steering the boy back down the hall. "Oh, no please don't touch… the wall." She sighed and cast a quick cleaning spell.

Hermione reemerged from the hall only fifteen minutes later with Aurelian draped over her front with his damp head resting on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry again," Hermione said. "It seems that your time is going to be cut shorter still. He's quite sleepy as he missed his nap today."

"I not sleepy," Aurelian said, his head shooting up. "I ready pway more. Look, Daddy, I gots star jammies." Aurelian proudly displayed the worn pajamas with tattered cuffs and Hermione felt a bit embarrassed that this was the best she had for him at present.

"You are tired, so you're going to have to tell your daddy goodnight," Hermione insisted.

"Daddy tell me story?" Aurelian asked.

"What?" Draco asked, taken by surprise. He looked a bit panicked. Playing quidditch he could do, but telling bedtime stories?

"Pwease… hopping pot story," Aurelian pleaded, his sparkling grey eyes upon his father's.

"I… I don't think I remember that one well…" Draco said uncertainly. He looked up at Hermione uneasily. Hermione believed that she understood. She knew the tale of The Wizard and the Hopping Pot by Beedle the Bard. It was a story of a wizard that learned to be kind to his muggle neighbors. She also knew that at some point in history, it had been changed so that the wizard in the story punished the annoying muggles instead. It had again been changed back to the original tale, but some pureblood families still told the disgustingly hateful version. Knowing Draco's father, she assumed it was the version Draco had grown up with.

"I don't know that he's ready to tell a story tonight," Hermione aided him.

"No. No, I can…" Draco said, looking at Hermione rather defiantly. He felt he was being tested again. He wasn't sure that it was how Hermione perceived it, but he did and he refused to fail. "I just… what about Babbitty-Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump instead?"

"No, hopping pot!" Aurelian insisted, jumping up and down moodily for effect.

"You won't hear any story if you act like that," Hermione said seriously.

Aurelian pouted, "Pwease…"

Draco looked extremely frustrated and upset, uncertain what to do or say.

"I have a copy of Tales of Beedle the Bard if you'd like to read it to him," Hermione offered. "You really don't have to though. He regularly tries to find ways to put off bedtime for as long as he can."

Draco looked at her uncertainly. She was grading him. He knew it. She had to be. "If you have the book, I would appreciate it," he replied.

"Yay!" Aurelian cheered. "You got to make da noises too."

Hermione handed him the book (not the original copy that Dumbledore had given her) and considered him objectively. She saw how unnerved he was and didn't understand his determination. Did he feel he had something to prove? She simply didn't understand him.

Draco opened the book and began reading rather stiffly. He looked uncomfortably at Hermione when Aurelian again insisted that he make the noises. Taking pity on Draco, she excused herself to the kitchen to allow him to finish the story privately.

"Um… er…" Draco called uncertainly. Hermione returned to the living room and found her son leaning against his father. His lids kept fluttering open and closed, his eyes beginning to roll back.

"Told you he was tired," she smiled fondly at the peaceful toddler. "I'll go put him in bed."

Hermione scooped the limp little body into her arms and he wiggled into a comfortable position.

"I should…" Draco started as he stood up from the sofa. He stopped and amended uncertainly, "Er… Should I go?"

"Not yet. I… I'd like to talk to you a minute… if that's okay," Hermione told him. Draco nodded and sat back down. When Hermione disappeared down the hall, Draco wiped his sweaty palms on his robes. That was it, he was about to be graded. At the thought, he scowled, quite disgusted with himself. It was ridiculous. He couldn't figure out what his problem was. Why was he allowing himself to be judged by Granger? Why did he feel the need for her approval? Yes, he wanted to see Aurelian, but he shouldn't have to prove himself to do it. But, perhaps he desired her approval for more than just the right to see his son? He shook his head. No, this was just to see Aurelian. If he wanted to see his son, he needed Hermione's consent and to do that, he had to pass her test. He thought they all got on pretty well, but Granger was very serious about perfection and good marks. Who knew what she thought of him.

Hermione reentered the living room and stared at the man on her sofa. She felt just as nervous as he looked to sit down and talk. "Can I get you a slice of casada cake?" she offered. "It looks like some of it is still salvageable."

"Um… sure," Draco accepted. He really didn't feel in the mood for dessert, but putting off his talk with Hermione for another couple minutes sounded okay.

Hermione took a deep breath and walked into the living room with two small plates of cake and handed one to Draco before anxiously taking a seat next to him. Draco politely took a bite and waited.

"So?" he prompted.

"I don't know…" Hermione answered quietly. She knew that they needed to talk, but she wasn't sure what to say. "I just… I don't understand you and it worries me," she admitted. "I just need to know… What is he to you?" She looked him in the eye and he could see her apprehension and sincere concern. It felt so strange to look at her like that. In all the years he'd know her, he wasn't sure he had ever really looked her directly in the eyes.

"I…" he started, pausing to truly consider the question. "He's my son."

"I know that," said Hermione, "but being a biological parent doesn't automatically make a person want to become involved in a child's life. What does this mean to you?"

"I don't know," he said with a slight bite of irritation. "I don't know what you're asking me. What is he to you?"

Hermione looked down at her hands as she considered the question herself. She smiled softly and answered, "He's my son." She looked at Draco out of the corner of her eye, now understanding what a difficult question it was. "I feel responsible for him. The future me, the mother of his past, sent him to me, trusting me to care for him. I gave that responsibility to myself and I don't take it lightly."

"Do you love him?" Draco asked suddenly, even surprising himself.

Hermione paused as she considered it and another small smile formed on her lips. "Yes… Yes, I do." She looked up at the man next to her, wondering what he would think of her answer. It had been less than a week ago that she met the child and he was thrust into her care, but there was no denying it; she loved him. "Which is why this is so important to me. He's important to me, so I need to know what all of this is to you. I know why I want to care for him and be part of his life, but why do you?"

Draco looked down and away from her as he thought. He thought he had proven himself enough that night without having to share his private thoughts with her. She had just revealed hers though. She was being honest about what she felt and she was giving him a chance. He sighed. "I walked into work one day, was thrown into an interrogation room, and told that I had a son with a person I absolutely would never had considered. And I mean no offense by that," Draco told her seriously.

"None taken," Hermione replied sincerely. She had been just as stunned.

"I didn't exactly want to see him after that… but things changed. I'm not exactly a well liked person, in general," he admitted quietly, still avoiding her eyes. "It was rather unsettling the way he was so thrilled to see me at first. After watching the memories though… I saw what I was to him. I saw what he was to me. I can't stop thinking about him now. I can't bear the thought of him walking around this world wondering what happened to me and why I'm not around. I can't stand the thought of letting him down." His voice was deep and rough as he said it. His jaw was tight and he was still facing away from Hermione. He never imagined he would have feelings like that and it was rather disconcerting admitting those feelings to someone he didn't trust. Well… he had to admit he trusted her in many things, but certainly not enough to share with her things that he never believed he would share with anyone. And yet, he just had.

Hermione nodded silently and Draco chanced a glance at her. "I understand," she told him softly. She understood quite well, in fact. It was much of what she felt herself.

"Let me see him," he pleaded, his grey eyes finding hers once again. "Please?"

Hermione gave another small nod.

"When? When can I see him again?" Draco continued, a piece of him lightening and another piece of him becoming even more desperate.

"When would you like to?" Hermione asked. She still felt rather nervous around him and knew that she'd see him more often.

"Whenever you'll let me," he replied.

That answer didn't help her a bit. Her question was meant to gauge how involved he hoped to be. Did Draco want to see Aurelian once a week? More frequently than that? The desperate pleading look in his eye told her that once a week would not do.

"Well… this weekend is a bit busy," she told him. "We have that meeting with the Weasleys tomorrow night like we told you. Sunday, I have brunch with my parents. Tomorrow morning Aurelian and I are going shopping again. He only has the two pairs of acceptable robes, you've seen the only toys he has, I also need to look at getting him his own bed…" Hermione grimaced when she realized she was getting off topic. Her planning and list making tendencies had broken through. "But we could maybe-"

"Would it be too uncomfortable if I went with you both tomorrow?" Draco asked quietly. His insides twisted. He couldn't believe what he'd done. He couldn't understand himself and what he felt. He only knew he felt desperate.

Hermione stopped breathing for a second and stared at him with her mouth agape. She was a bit panicked. She knew she'd be seeing more of him, but she wasn't yet sure what she felt about that, and especially seeing him in a public setting with Aurelian between them. It felt a little… intimate? He wasn't unpleasant, though. He was actually rather good with Aurelian. She had honestly found it rather interesting talking to him. He really was trying…

'Just go with it,' Ginny had told her. Hermione hadn't told anyone that Draco was coming over for dinner that night, but she had spoken to Ginny about everything going on. Ginny had told her, like she had in the past, that she simply thought and planned too much. She told Hermione that she couldn't plan for everything. If she was going to get hurt, then she was going to get hurt, no matter how fast or slow she approached things. 'Just go with it and see where life takes you.'

"Um, that… That would be alright, I guess," Hermione agreed. "I was planning on going kind of early. As it's Saturday tomorrow, it's bound to be quite busy and I'm hoping to get there before the crowd."

Draco was actually quite stunned that she had agreed, but more relieved that he'd imagined. "Er, what time then?"

"Do you think you could meet here a little before ten?" She asked, nibbling her bottom lip.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll be here." Draco's stomach was swimming. His emotions had been up and down so many times that evening that he was sincerely concerned that he might become physically ill. Hermione looked rather pale to him, as well.

Hermione nodded. Draco stood up, knowing the evening was then over, and Hermione stood, too. They stared at each other a moment and both nodded, uncertain of what they should say. Their many private thoughts cluttered their minds and prevented them from remembering the steps to the dance that was courteous host and guest manners.

"Thank you for dinner," Draco said finally. "It really was good."

"Thank you," Hermione answered, still nodding. "Um… I'll see you in the morning."

Draco nodded and turned toward the fireplace.

"Draco?" Hermione called hesitantly, stopping him as he reached for the bag of floo powder. He turned and looked at her, taken aback by the use of his first name and her nervous, guilty pout. "I'm sorry for judging you so harshly before. It really wasn't fair of me."

Draco's tiny nod might have gone unnoticed if Hermione had not been looking for it. "Thank you," he said seriously. "Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow."

Draco disappeared in a whoosh of green flames and Hermione started the process of tidying up her flat. Her mind was buzzing with incomplete thoughts that rushed quickly through her head, her emotions being tugged in all directions. She wasn't sure about Draco. She never really had been, but just then she felt more confused than ever before. He seemed alright, but it was a direct contradiction to what she'd previously thought of him. She still wasn't sure she could trust him. He had to have changed some to be able to swallow his pride and talk to her the way he had, but how much had he changed? When had he changed? And why? Did he change his mind after the war? She had worked with him a few times when their departments mingled in a few cases and he had never called her a mudblood on any of those occasions, like he would have when they were at school, but he wasn't pleasant either. Could have viewing the memories really have caused such great changes in him so quickly?

Whatever had changed him, she had to admit, it was a good change. Looking at him the way he was that evening, she saw a little bit of the man in the pensieve. That thought frightened her though. He was not that man and she was not that woman. The events in those memories would not play out the same. She could not love Draco Malfoy. She just wasn't that woman.

 

Chapter Text

"Ten o’clock yet, Mummy? Ten o’clock?" Aurelian asked as he sat atop the toilet lid, watching Hermione French braid her hair.

"Aurelian," Hermione said with exasperation, "he will get here when he gets here."

"Soon?" Aurelian asked.

Hermione sighed. "Yes. Now, why don't you go get a pair of socks out of your drawer and take them to the living room?"

"Okay," Aurelian readily complied, hopping down and racing to the bedroom. Before he made it back to the living room, the fireplace chime sounded. "Yay!"

Hermione smiled and shook her head before slowly walking to the living room.

"Good morning to you, too," Draco told Aurelian who was again squeezing his legs. When he saw Hermione he nodded and greeted her also. "Good morning."

"Good morning," she answered, her insides squirming.

"We go now?" Aurelian asked impatiently.

"In a minute. We have to get your socks and shoes on. What did you do with your socks?" she asked.

"Oh…" was his reply. "I dropped 'em." He ran back down the hallway and grabbed his forgotten socks. He zoomed into the living room, leapt onto the couch, wiggled his toes and stretched out the socks for Hermione. He allowed Hermione to put his socks on, but when she went to put on his shoes, he pulled his feet back and pouted. "I no like shoes."

"Well you can't just walk around Diagon Alley in your socks," Hermione replied.

"I want sandals," he whined. "I like to wiggle my toes."

"Well, I was thinking we could pick you up some sandals today. We have quite a lot to get for you," she told him. She felt her savings in Gringotts weeping at the thought. She had quite a bit saved away, especially with the sum she'd received with her Order of Merlin First Class. She just didn't like frivolous spending and, though everything they planned to get she considered necessary, it hadn't been planned.

"Toys, too. You said we buy toys," Aurelian reminded her.

"And we will," she told him. "Okay, all set."

Aurelian hopped off the couch and walked over to Draco, taking his hand. "I go with Daddy."

"We're all going together," Hermione told him, still surprised that she was going to be walking around Diagon Alley with the two of them.

"No. I floo with Daddy," Aurelian clarified. Hermione looked at Draco in question.

"That's fine," he told her, picking Aurelian up. It was the first time he had done so and though he knew how to hold him, it still felt a bit funny. "The Leaky Cauldron?"

"Yes," she answered. "Just watch his head."

Draco nodded and disappeared in the fireplace. Hermione took her handbag off of the table, closed her eyes to steel herself for the day ahead, and walked into the floo.

"Okay, where to first?" Hermione asked. Both boys looked at her, wondering why she was asking them. "Okay… Madam Malkin's first, I think."

Aurelian held onto Draco's hand and led him to the back door of the establishment. Before they knew it, they were walking in the sunshine down the familiar, old cobble stone street. It was, as Hermione had anticipated, not very busy, but they were sure that would change rather shortly. Saturdays, especially in the summer, were usually outrageously busy. Hermione normally tried to avoid shopping on Saturdays for that reason, but with how busy they were with the case, she doubted that she would get much free time to do it otherwise.

She and Ginny both had to talk Harry into calming down for the weekend. They reminded him that he was meeting with Kingsley and they were going to meet with the Weasleys Saturday night and they could do some more private planning on Sunday. They just would not go into the office. They needed time to clear their heads a bit and they would jump back in with renewed fervor on Monday. Harry had kept protesting that they were trying to prevent a future war, but Hermione reminded him that they had knowledge that it had taken their alternate selves years to discover. It was only then that he conceded.

"There is it!" Aurelian shouted, pointing at the sign of Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. He pulled Draco by the hand toward the shop. He let go to try and open the door, but he needed assistance from his father.

"Good morning," the squat little witch said as she turned and greeted her first customers of the day. "Oh, if it isn't Aurelian. Back already are you? And wearing the robes you picked out yesterday, I see."

"I like blue," Aurelian answered. Hermione felt bad dressing him in the clothes he had worn the day before, but the robes Mrs. Weasley had given her really weren't good for going out in public and the green robe he had arrived in was much too thick for this time of year. The blue one he had chosen was a light flowing material that was perfect for summer. Hermione had washed it before she had gone to bed so that it would be ready for the day.

"And what can I get you today?" Madam Malkin asked, bending down to the boy's level.

"More clothes," Aurelian smiled.

"Good choice," she chuckled. She stood again and addressed Hermione, and only then did she notice Draco. "So what are you looking for today?"

"As he said, more clothes," Hermione chuckled. "The poor little guy has nothing in the way of a summer wardrobe, so we'll be having a look at quite a bit, I think."

"Well, the hard part is over," she assured her. "I have his measurements recorded, so all you need to do is select the colors and styles you like and I'll be able to fix them up in no time."

"I like blue," Aurelian repeated, pointing at an adult-sized blue robe.

"Well, you'll want to look in this section," Madam Malkin said, helping him over to the toddler boys' rack.

"Now, I know you like blue, Aurelian, but you're going to have to choose other colors, too. There are lots of pretty colors," Hermione told him.

"Hmm…" Aurelian said pensively, running his finger over all the robes.

"Would you mind helping him select robes while I find him some underpants, pajamas, and swimming trunks?" she asked Draco.

Draco was surprised by the request. She was the one who would purchase everything. He didn't know what she wanted Aurelian to have. Instead of telling her so, he nodded dumbly. When she disappeared around the corner, he knelt at the child-sized rack next to the boy that was looking at another blue robe. "Let's make good choices for your mum, okay?"

Aurelian looked at him in confusion, not understanding what his father was requesting. "Which one you like?"

"Well… um… let's have a look…" Draco said, holding a burnt orange colored robe under Aurelian's chin. "Hmm…"

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"Is it good?" Draco asked, looking at Aurelian who sloppily licked his ice cream cone.

"Mm-hm," he answered.

"Ugh… this is such an exhausting trip," Hermione groaned, taking another bite of her sundae. The heat of the day had been bearing down on them, so they decided to take shelter in the shade of one of the umbrella covered tables outside of Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor. "It's already after one o'clock and we haven't even had lunch. How on earth did you two talk me into ice cream?"

"This is lunch," Draco said simply.

"Ice cream for lunch?" she asked incredulously as she leaned back in her chair to position more of herself in the shade. Though her light floral sundress kept her nice and cool, it was also exposing her to quite a bit of sun.

"Yeah, ice cream for lunch. Why not? It's not like you do it often," Draco reasoned. "You're too tired to cook or even sit in a restaurant long enough to order and eat. Just enjoy."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Hermione conceded. "Aurelian, lick the side there, love. You're dripping."

"Hermione?" a voice called.

"Luna, hi," Hermione said pleasantly.

"I thought it was you, but because of your present company, I had to double check. How are you?" Luna asked in her regular airy voice.

"Um, fine. What about you?" Hermione replied, looking at Draco to make sure he hadn't been offended. It was hard for her to tell as he bore a rather stoic expression.

"I'm here to meet a man named Rolf Scamander. He's looking for an apprentice in the field of magizoology and I'm hoping to be considered, so I guess I'm doing rather well," she answered. "Who is this?" she asked, looking at the adorable little boy whose face and hands were covered in strawberry ice cream.

"Oh, uh, this is Aurelian," Hermione answered with very little hesitation.

"Hi there, Aurelian," she smiled. "Is he yours?" she asked Malfoy.

"What?" Draco sputtered in surprise.

"I asked if he was yours," Luna repeated, unperturbed by his reaction.

"He's mine, actually," Hermione cut in. Luna looked at her curiously. "Aurelian is involved in a case that Harry and I are working on. H-his parents were killed… so I took him in." Hermione quickly glanced at Draco but was unable to gauge his reaction.

"Wow, really? I never really imagined you as the mothering type," Luna admitted, her voice still light as though they were discussing the weather. "Though now that I think of it, you should probably do quite well. It might even be good for you. I mean, we've all seen how lonely you've been."

Hermione tried to play her grimace off as a smile and nodded.

"Well, I really should be going. It was nice seeing you." Luna waved as she went. "Bye, Aurelian. Bye, Draco."

"That's one of the most callous exchanges between friends that I've ever seen," Draco commented, looking quite disgusted. "Is she always that blunt?"

"Well, sort of," Hermione answered. "She's a really nice person, but she doesn't really play by standard social rules. I'm not sure that she even knows they exist. But, she will always give her honest opinion, so at least you know where she stands."

"She just insulted you, turned it around, and insulted you again, and you're telling me she doesn't even realize it?" Draco said incredulously.

Hermione sighed. "She didn't say anything that was untrue. She just relayed her observance of it."

"Is that what you're going to tell everyone?" Draco inquired. "When they ask about Aurelian, is that what you'll answer?"

"Yes," Hermione confirmed. "There's no point in denying that he's mine, but I shouldn't have to explain everything in detail either. Everything I said was the truth. Some people, very few, will know the full story, and that still won't be until after this… this... whole thing, is solved."

"You know it will show up in the Daily Prophet," Draco said, looking at her with intrigue.

"I know, but I will stick to that basic story. They'll speculate quite a bit. It's what they do. But people can speculate all they want; they're going to anyway." Hermione shrugged with nonchalance that wasn’t completely genuine. With one look at Aurelian, her mood instantly changed. "Oh no…"

Draco followed her gaze and his eyes landed on the exhausted little boy that had fallen asleep with his head on the table and his ice cream cone dangling in his hand, dripping on the ground. Draco couldn’t help but chuckle.

"Well, you did say that it's been exhausting," Draco reminded her.

Hermione sighed. "It has been, and I've decided to leave bed shopping for another day, but we still need to pick up his robes from Madam Malkin's. She should be done tailoring them by now. We're going to have to wake him."

"No, I've got him," Draco assured her as he lifted the tyke out of his chair. Aurelian's body twitched and one eye cracked open the tiniest bit, but only a second later, he had relaxed again and began snoring softly, his open mouth dripping pink ice cream onto Draco's shoulder.

"Are you sure?" Hermione worried. "It shouldn't take long, but he gets heavy rather quickly."

"I said I've got him," Draco said firmly. "Just finish up."

Hermione nodded and walked down the street, hoping she wasn't going too fast or too slow for Draco. She hurried into the shop and quickly collected their bags. It only took them ten minutes from the time they left the ice cream shop ‘til they arrived in Hermione's flat, but by the end of those ten minutes, Draco's arm muscles were screaming for relief.

"Where do I put him?"

"In the bed," Hermione said, pointing down the hall. Draco disappeared from sight and she surveyed the many bags that littered her living room. It was ridiculous. She was never so thankful for her magic skills. She had been able to banish the shopping bags to her flat so that they had not needed to carry them the entire time. But, that also meant that it was the first time she'd seen them all put together. She opened the bag that she had just picked up from the robe shop and started taking out the items they’d purchased. Hermione looked at each of the seven robes that Draco and Aurey had picked out together and laid them one by one on the sofa.

"You know," she said as she heard Draco reenter the room. "I was a bit skeptical when I first saw this midnight purple robe, but now that I really see it, I think it will look incredible on him. Did you pick this one out?"

"Uh, yeah," Draco admitted uncomfortably.

"It's good," she smiled at his uneasiness.

"I didn't know that this place only had one bedroom," Draco said hesitantly.

"Yeah, I told you that it was perfect for me. That was when it was just me though," Hermione stated distractedly as she started going through the second bag, taking out the pajamas she had selected.

"Only one bed though?" Draco continued.

"Yep, which is why we were going to look for one for him," Hermione answered simply.

"Where will you put it?" Draco pried.

"Well, I'm planning on enlarging my room for it," she said, putting the things down and turning to face Draco. She could see he was concerned. "Believe me, I understand it's not prime arrangements, but it'll do fine for now. Eventually we'll look for a new flat with another room, but I can't even begin to consider that with everything that's going on at present. We're okay though."

Draco nodded.

"My goodness, I'm going to have to buy him a toy box next," Hermione supposed as she looked at the bags full of toys.

"I'm sorry," Draco said softly.

"No, it's fine. He needed toys."

"I know, but I shouldn't have stepped in like that. I saw that it upset you. It wasn't fair of me," Draco apologized.

Hermione looked at him quite puzzled. "How do you mean?"

"Well, I mean, I bought the toys and the ice cream and you bought the clothes and shoes. I got the fun stuff and you got the… well, boring stuff. I shouldn't have taken that from you," he explained.

Hermione laughed out loud. "No. No, that doesn't bother me. Children love to be spoiled, but that's not what sticks with them. There are plenty of ways for me to show him I care."

"But, you were upset," Draco pressed, now uncomfortably confused again.

"I… well, it's a pride thing, I guess. I'm working on it," Hermione admitted quietly, looking rather ashamed.

It took Draco a moment to figure out what she meant. "You're just upset that I paid then," he chanced, looking a little upset.

"I told you… I'm working on it," she repeated diffidently.

"I didn't mean to overstep," Draco claimed firmly, sounding a bit harsher than he intended. "I just helped him pick out so many things that I didn't think it'd be fair for you to have to purchase it."

"I know. And I realize that you have as much right to buy things for him as I do. I just… I'm working on it," Hermione repeated. "It's good that he had you there to help him with that. I'm really not that familiar with wizard toys. Even if I were to take him to a muggle toy store, I would feel overwhelmed. I have to work on getting in touch with my inner-child, I guess. You got him a lot of neat things that I'm sure he'll love."

"And you don't resent me for it?" Draco pressed.

Hermione smiled as she thought on it. "No," she answered confidently. She had been, yes, but she realized that she was making a big deal over nothing. What did it really matter in the end? 'Just go with it.'

"Not even upset about the toy broomstick?" he checked.

Hermione laughed. "No. He can't really ride it in the flat, but he'll have a great time with it when he's at the Burrow… when I can't watch him and panic," she added. "Really, it's all okay."

Draco nodded.

"In fact," Hermione continued, "despite the exhaustion, today was actually kind of fun."

Draco nodded again.

"Well, I better get this stuff sorted out. I'll see you tonight though, right?" she asked.

Draco nodded once more.

"Well," Hermione said, getting a bit of a funny feeling in her stomach at his continued silence. "Everyone's gathering at Harry's at six, but Harry wants us to get together at least thirty minutes before to discuss… well, to discuss what we're going to discuss. Oh, and he had me change the wards to accept you, so when you floo over, you won't be sent right back," she chuckled. "Remember that Harry told you the location is called 'Number 12 Grimmauld Place.'"

"Number 12 Grimmauld Place," he repeated.

Hermione nodded this time.

"Thank you," Draco said seriously.

Hermione nodded again, realizing for the first time how close they were. Her heart began hammering in her chest when he took another step closer. She stared at him in panic, unable to find her breath, let alone her voice, as he touched her cheek. His eyes were intense as he looked at her and she felt the world stop when his lips tenderly touched hers. She was so taken by surprise that she was unable to do anything except let it happen. But he was patient, patient enough that the voice in her head had time to repeat 'just go with it.' Hermione responded gently to the kiss, her insides heavy as lead.

He pulled back, his face still close to hers and his eyes narrowed, intense with confusion. Hermione stared back at him, her face still frozen in confusion and fright. Her breath was released with a small quiver and she stared at him uncertainly.

"I'm sorry," he whispered distantly as he started to back away from her.

She couldn't read him. She didn't know what it meant - the kiss or the apology.

"I just had to know…" he said flatly, his voice barely audible. "Sorry."

Once far enough away, he broke eye contact, took a pinch of floo powder, and then turned to her once more before he left. "Bye."

Hermione still stood there after he left, more confused than she ever remembered feeling. She didn't know what to feel. She didn't know what she wanted to feel. She only felt confused, confused to the point that she wanted to cry. Before she could give it another thought, tears started rolling down her cheeks. It was too much. From the moment of Aurelian's arrival, everything had just been too much.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

Hermione checked her watch again. 6:05. She looked around the sitting room and Harry gently pulled her to the side.

"He's not here yet," he needlessly pointed out. "You told him to be here at 5:30, didn't you?"

Hermione nodded, her insides twisting.

"Maybe he changed his mind," Harry sighed. "Everyone's here though so we should probably get started."

Hermione looked about the room again, all of the Weasleys waiting quietly and patiently, with the exception of Fred and George who snickered amongst themselves. Bill and Fleur shared a sofa with Percy and the twins shared another with Charlie with Ginny sitting at their feet. Mrs. Weasley fidgeted silently in her armchair, while Mr. Weasley perched on the arm of it. Ron leaned on the door frame, looking expectantly at Harry and Hermione.

Hermione nodded to Harry.

"Okay, um, I guess we should get started," Harry announced to the room. The twins fell silent and all attention fell on Harry. "I want to start by thanking you all for coming here and for being so patient with us. I trust that, by now, you have all heard about Aurelian. It's true that he comes from the future and that he's Hermione's son." Harry glanced over at the boy quietly practicing gobstones in the corner. "We know now why he was sent back here…" He then looked at Hermione. This was difficult to talk about and each time he thought about Aurelian's entrance into their lives, he remembered the blood all over him and the last memory they watched in the pensieve.

"When Aurelian arrived, he had a few things on him that were meant to help us understand. The most important was a bottle of memories, his mother's memories. We discovered that he comes from seven years in the future. The reason his mother sent him back was to save him and to warn us," he paused and steeled himself before he continued. "We're meant to prevent a future war."

"A war?" Bill asked anxiously, his ginger brows furrowed in instant frustration and anger directed at no one in particular.

"Yes," Harry said simply. "Now before I continue, I know I don't need to say it, but I have to… this can't be told to anyone. We have to deal with this quietly, both to succeed and to not cause panic. This war… if we can't prevent it, is bad… really bad."

"We understand, Harry," Charlie assured him. "You can trust us, to keep silent or whatever else you need."

Harry nodded.

"So what does Malfoy have to do with all of this?" Fred inquired.

Harry and Hermione both looked at Ron, then Ginny, then Molly and each, in turn, shook their heads. None of them had told.

"H-he…"Hermione started awkwardly. She appreciated that no one had spread the news without permission, but she had also kind of hoped that everyone had already known.

"I'm Aurelian's father," Draco answered as he entered the room, taking everyone by surprise.

"Master Harry, Mister Malfoy has arrived," Kreacher announced.

Harry closed his eyes and bit his tongue when he nodded to the house-elf. "Thank you, Kreacher."

"Is Kreacher's pleasure, sir," the elf said with a bow.

"Seriously?" Fred and George asked together, ignoring the house-elf completely.

"You're joking," said Fred.

Malfoy's eyes narrowed at the twins and Hermione closed her eyes and bit her lip. Many might have thought she was simply embarrassed by the announcement, but in truth, she just couldn't bring herself to look at Draco. They hadn't spoken since he left her flat that afternoon and she still didn't know what to make of the kiss.

"No joke," Harry said seriously. "We saw him in the pensieve along with many other things. As he is so closely involved, we invited him to help us in our investigation. It turns out that he was the first target in the war."

"This war…" Percy said. "If he's from seven years in the future, when does this war start?"

"Things are already beginning to start. The first known Death Eater attack happens about a month from now," stated Harry.

"Wait," Charlie said fiercely. "Death Eaters?"

"Yes," Harry said uncomfortably. This wasn't the way he had meant to bring it up. "It's not Voldemort… It's Bellatrix." Harry looked anxiously at Molly, the woman who personally killed the woman they were after.

"Bellatrix?" Mr. Weasley demanded angrily.

"How?" asked George.

"A horcrux," Harry answered.

"Someone has to be helping her then," Percy said, now upset as well. Hermione was becoming even more anxious than before they had started. The Weasleys' heated tempers were infamous and it seemed like each new piece of information added fuel to the building fire.

"Yes, and we're trying to figure out who," Harry told them.

"Is that what he's doing in this?" Fred asked, glaring at Draco.

"Hey," Ron scolded, surprising everyone. "I dislike him as much as anyone, but he's here because he's helping. He's not the bad guy; he's the victim."

Harry and Hermione were gobsmacked and stared at Ron in utter disbelief. Draco looked at the moody redhead warily. He wasn't sure if he should feel grateful that he stood up for him or insulted about the remark about everyone disliking him. Knowing Ron, he decided to try and accept his statement as a positive one in his defense.

"Ron's right, Malfoy is helping us. We have no doubts concerning him," Harry proclaimed. "And concerning the horcrux, we don't know much about it yet. As much as we'd like to start hunting it down immediately, there are other things we must focus on first."

"I don't like ze sound of zat," Fleur said anxiously.

Harry nodded. "The first attack would happen in about a month. The problem with all of this now is that events have changed. Every little thing we do can greatly affect future events, so when Aurelian simply arrived in our time, everything changed. We don't know how everything has been affected, so we don't know when, or even if, the first attack will ever happen. But, we do know some of the people that need to be protected. One of them is Malfoy. Another is the Parkinson family. From what we've deduced, we believe that the Parkinsons are being threatened and probably have been for about five months now. We don't know why or what for, but we know that if they should not comply, it will mean the life of Pansy Parkinson and perhaps her parents. Protecting them all is one of our top concerns."

Everyone nodded in understanding.

"Another of our priorities is Dennis Creevey… He's missing," Harry said with great difficulty.

"What?" Molly asked in horror.

Harry's eyes fell to the floorboards and he nodded. "From what we saw in the memories, we thought he might have happened upon something so we went to speak to him. His parents don’t know where he is and neither does the school. He left before the end of term, before he had even finished his N.E.W.T.s. No one has reported him missing because he gave excuses to both the school and his parents. We don't know if this was of his own will or if he might have been under the Imperius curse. We have the feeling it was his own decision, but either way, it was a premeditated move. We need to know if any of you have seen him since then and we'd like you to try to casually ask around about him."

"Harry… We've seen him," George said, exchanging glances with Fred.

"What? When?" Harry burst out. He knew he had to ask the Weasleys, but he really hadn't expected any of them to be able to give him anything.

"He came into the shop just before the end of school, the Hogsmeade location. It was the last Hogsmeade trip of the school year," said Fred. "He bought quite a bit, if I remember correctly."

"What did he say? What did he buy?" Harry asked frantically.

"Um… we asked him if he was setting up a brilliant farewell to Filch," George answered, his look asking Fred if he was remembering properly. "It was his last year and we thought he wanted to pull something grand."

"Do you remember what he said? What he bought?" Hermione asked.

"Er… I don't remember what he said…" Fred said slowly as he concentrated. George shook his head to show that he couldn't add to that. "I know he bought two shield cloaks though."

"And some decoy detonators," George added.

"Yeah." Fred nodded as he remembered that also. "But I can't remember what else."

"The pensieve!" Hermione cried excitedly. She looked at Harry, hoping he understood. "If they can remember that, then they still have the memory, they just can't examine it properly."

"Brilliant, Hermione. Fred, can you give us that memory?" Harry asked.

"Sorry?" Fred asked in confusion.

"I'll help him," Hermione offered. She pulled a small vial out of her robes and walked over to the twins.

"Bill, do you mind if I had a word with you?" Harry asked. Bill nodded and left his seat. "That's all for tonight, I guess, but we'll try to keep you updated, and we'd like you to contact us with anything you might feel is relevant. Thanks, guys."

Hermione pocketed the memory with a smile. It was a start. The twins both poked a little fun at her, but then told her seriously that they hoped the memory could help. Hermione thanked them and looked back to the corner. She panicked for a moment when she saw that Aurelian wasn't there. She raced out of the room and saw Aurelian standing in the foyer.

"What are you doing?" she asked a little harsher than she meant to.

"I hug Daddy night night," Aurelian answered.

Hermione poked her head back into the room and saw that Draco really had gone. The light feeling she had inside only a moment ago sunk like lead again. Whatever the kiss had meant, it had obviously been detrimental to whatever understanding she and Draco had been coming to.

 

Chapter Text

Saturday Evening - 8:26 PM

"Well, are you going to start talking or just sit there?" Blaise Zabini asked the man who sat in one of the armchairs in the sitting room of his bachelor pad.

"Conversation goes two ways. You could talk too, you know," Draco answered.

"And I am, but you're the one who came over unannounced and looking frantic," he reminded his friend. He finished pouring two glasses of firewhiskey and handed one to Draco. Draco received it and stared intensely down into it, his mind racing, but his lips still.

"You'll have to speak up," Blaise teased.

Draco glared at him. He was trying to figure things out and work out what to say and Blaise's playful pressure wasn't helping.

"Best stop looking like that all the time or it will give you premature wrinkles. Just ask my mum," he snickered and took a sip of his drink.

"Have you talked to Pansy lately?" asked Draco.

Blaise was surprised by Draco's sudden change, as he was expecting a retort rather than a topic of conversation. He shook the thought and considered Draco's question.

"Well, sort of. I talked to her just last week. Why?" he asked curiously.

"Has she seemed a bit off to you?" Draco continued.

"You mean more than usual?" Blaise ribbed. "No, I don't think so. Why?"

"I don't know. I'm just a little worried about her," Draco said in gross understatement. "She didn't seem upset at all?"

"No. I mean, I don't know." Blaise seemed to be getting a bit peeved. "I don't know what it is I'm supposed to be looking for here. What's going on?"

"I don't know. I'm just concerned something might be going on with her or her family that she's not telling us," Draco replied. "Do you remember when Mr. Parkinson's office was broken into and his family owl was left dead on his desk?"

Blaise nodded and sat down in the armchair that faced Draco's.

"Then he dropped it so quickly. It just doesn't sit well with me," Draco said, looking up from his glass to gauge his friend's reaction. At Blaise's scrutinizing stare, Draco took a drink from his own glass, appreciating the searing burn that followed after the liquor.

"Do you ask for you or for Potter?" Blaise asked finally.

Draco looked quickly up at Blaise with a fierce analytical stare. "What do you know about Potter?"

Blaise snickered, rolled his eyes, and shook his head in disbelief. "Not the response I was looking for," he said playfully again. "I was hoping you'd say 'Oh! I completely forgot to tell you about that. I'm working with Potter, so don't come looking for me at work,'" he said in a taunting high-pitched voice. "You know, next time you're not going to be at work, it'd be nice to let me know so I don't waste my lunch hour looking for you."

"You never come to me at work. Why were you looking for me?"

"Well, I was excited and wanted someone to share the news with," Blaise smiled.

"What news?" Draco asked curiously.

"Well, it's not really supposed to be good news, I guess, but Jennings's wife - pretty old now - is suffering from some old person thing and he's going to retire so that he can take her to get treatment somewhere." Blaise gave a dismissive wave of his hand at what he considered unimportant details. "The point is, his position is going to be opening up, meaning that I'm now one of three candidates for a serious promotion."

"That's great," Draco said enthusiastically, hiding his nervousness beneath. He should have thought about it. He had seen it in the pensieve. The very first memory they'd looked at, Draco had told Potter and Granger that he had been attacked when he was leaving a celebration for Blaise's promotion. There were so many other important details in the memories that he had completely overlooked that one.

"Yeah, I know I haven't got it yet, but I have a pretty good feeling about it. It's not just because my boss is Pansy's dad. I've been working my arse off for the last two years," Blaise said seriously as he took another sip of his drink.

"You'll get it, mate," Draco declared confidently and supportively.

"Thanks." Blaise looked at him with a lopsided smile and nodded, truly appreciating Draco's faith in him. "So, back to this thing with Potter…" he said, leaving his words dangling for Draco to take in any direction.

"I can't discuss it," Draco said flatly.

"Ah, confidential then?" Blaise asked.

"Can you imagine Potter pulling me into something that wasn't confidential?"

"No, I guess not," Blaise said with a shrug of his shoulders. "Can you at least tell me if this thing with the Parkinsons is part of it?"

"Now that you've put it like that, I can't answer either way," Draco sneered. Blaise rolled his eyes and Draco became serious again. "Really though, I'm asking because I'm her friend and I really am concerned."

Blaise nodded in acceptance. "She hasn't said anything to me, but I'll listen and watch more carefully around them, alright?"

"I appreciate it," Draco said sincerely.

"I'd still like to know if I should report my findings to you or Potter… or Granger even," Blaise said with a smirk.

"Granger?" Draco choked out.

"Yeah, she's working on the case too, isn't she?" Blaise asked smugly.

"Where'd you hear that?" Draco demanded.

"I have my sources," Blaise replied, examining his fingernails.

"What, you stalking me now?" Draco sounded playful, but he wondered how Blaise knew. Not even his mother knew that he was working with Potter and only a few select people in Magical Law Enforcement knew that Hermione was in on it also. And, well, as of about two hours prior, all of the Weasleys.

"No, but it'd be rather interesting, I think," Blaise smirked. "Sadly, I have no time to waste on such things and not enough money to have you tailed even if I wanted to."

"No, you just have sources," Draco said, trying to read his friend.

Blaise's smirk held and he continued. "So, what does that kid have to do with the whole thing?"

"What kid?" Draco asked, panic beginning to swim inside of him.

"The little boy," Blaise said as though it were obvious.

"Now, I have to know your source, Zabini," Draco said seriously. His nostrils flared as he tried to suppress his building anger and fright.

"I'm playing around with you, Draco," Blaise said lightly.

"I'm not playing," Draco told him, his grey eyes hard. "If you don't tell me your source, then you're going to have to tell it to Potter."

"The kid's that serious in all of this?" Blaise asked, truly stunned.

"Zabini!" Draco demanded.

"Relax, Malfoy. My source is my mother," he answered, eyeing his friend apprehensively.

"Your mother?" Draco recoiled. "She's in the country?"

"Yeah, her fiancé," he said the word with distaste, "is in France for business, so she decided that instead of staying in Italy alone, she'd come and visit me. She's been here a whole week and managed to set aside some time to see me for lunch today. She had to squeeze it in today as she goes back home tomorrow," he said bitterly. "I wish she would have decided to surprise him by showing up in France instead. It'd be good for them both if she caught him with a mistress there. Sleazy, Italian knob… You know he's got a mistress. Has to."

Draco remained silent. He had comforted his friend over this many times and no longer knew what to say. The man had every right to be angry with his mother and her fiancé. Blaise had had many step-fathers throughout his life and didn't think much of any of them. During the war, his mother had left him at school and hid in Italy where she met someone. When the war ended, his mother informed him that she had sold their family home and was moving to Italy permanently to be with a man that was only nine years older than him. Blaise was infuriated and refused to follow his mother. Instead, he struggled to stand on his own two feet. That was when Pansy's father gave him a job and allowed him to stay in their home for a few weeks while Blaise found a flat. Blaise felt quite close to the family now, possibly closer to Mr. Parkinson than to Pansy.

"Digressing though…" Blaise said. "When I met my mum for lunch, she asked when you and Granger had gotten together and told me that she thought your son was beautiful." Blaise snickered. "So I figured that either Granger was working on the case with you and Potter or that you finally opened your eyes and noticed that sexy, proud lioness."

"Merlin, Blaise, I get that you have a thing for Gryffindor girls, but that doesn't mean everyone does," Draco retorted uncomfortably.

"And I know that you feel that way, so I used the mighty power of deduction to assume that she was working with you and Potter. The kid really threw me off so that was a stab in the dark," Blaise admitted. "If he's really that important though, you might not want to take him out in public like that."

Draco fell silent. He agreed with Blaise. He didn't like the idea Aurelian exposed for the world to see. Hermione had told him that she wasn't going to hide him, that people would find out about him eventually, but 'eventually' sounded a lot safer to Draco. He had told her himself that it would end up in the papers and she said that she understood that. She said to let them speculate. But, there were people out there who could be a threat to him. He didn't want to risk that. Still… he understood Hermione's point, as well. It wasn't fair to force Aurelian to stay hidden. So long as no one learned his true origin, he would be safe.

"Is it Death Eaters then?" Blaise asked. "Potter finally get somewhere tracking the last?"

"Blaise, I'm going to have to leave if you keep this up. I can't talk about it," Draco growled.

"Alright, alright. I'll drop the case," Blaise conceded. "But, I'm not dropping the topic of Potter and Granger. What are they like now?"

"What do you mean?" Draco asked, perturbed by his friend's insistence to continue a conversation that made him uneasy.

"Well, I haven't heard much about either of them in the last two years," Blaise said with a shrug. "I mean, I heard about them receiving Order of Merlin First Class and Potter becoming an auror and tracking down Death Eaters with your help, but then they pretty much disappeared off the map. What are they like now?"

"They're Potter and Granger. What do you want?" Draco muttered moodily.

"Yeah, well, they had to have changed some. Last time you worked with Potter you were coming over here kicking and cursing every night," he reminded him.

"Yeah, we've both grown up a bit since then, I guess," Draco conceded. "It feels even more awkward now though."

"How so?"

"Well… Back then we both knew where we stood. We were angry and hated each other. Now he's… civil," Draco admitted.

"Say it ain't so," Blaise laughed. "How can you stand to work with a man that's civil?"

Draco threw him scathing look but it melted away to a lighthearted smirk. It was hard to be upset with Blaise when he smiled and laughed the way he did. Draco understood himself to be a person that was offended much too easily. He had to regularly remind himself that Blaise was only being playful and never really meant any of his taunts.

"I'm not complaining. It's just weird," Draco clarified. "He hasn't forgotten the past, but he brings it up so easily. He acts likes everything is behind us now."

"Everything is behind us now," Blaise reminded him.

"That doesn't mean that people don't hold grudges. Potter and I have a long history that goes back years before the war. I don't know how he's let it go so easily. Last time I worked with him, he looked like he could never forgive."

"It's true that people hold grudges. It's nice to know that Potter's not one of them, but I doubt it was easy for him. You've got to stop thinking of yourself as unforgivable, though. You did a lot to make up for your participation in the war. Much more than you had to."

Draco nodded.

"So? What about Granger then? What's she like now? She's in Magical Law Enforcement, too, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she deals with evidence and paperwork. And if I'm honest, I can't say that I ever really knew her. I mean, what did we ever know about her except that she was Potter's friend and the know-it-all top of our class?"

"I know that her witty retorts used to piss you off to no end," Blaise smirked. "You've been working with her for a bit now, haven't you? You have to know something about her."

Draco was silent for a moment. "It was her that convinced Potter to give me a chance after the war," he stated quietly.

"Really?" Blaise asked, sitting up in interest. "Potter told you that?"

"Not by name, but he said that someone did and I saw the way he looked at her."

"Wow… that's something," Zabini replied. "Do you know why? I mean, not that you didn't deserve it, but if Potter needed convincing, why her?"

"She's very serious about equality. The same sense of justice for everyone," Draco answered, unable to hide his respect.

"A true Gryffindor. I think I like that girl," Blaise declared, nodding in approval. "Go on."

"She acts like Potter; she's civil. She's more defensive than he is though... You can see that her mind is always working, but she only shares her thoughts when she feels it necessary. I don't know if it's just around me or if she's always like that. Like I said, she's defensive. She looks at me kind of warily sometimes, but I still think she trusts me," Draco said distantly, lost in a pensive daze.

"Merlin's pants… You fancy her!" Blaise burst out. His eyes lit up with glee.

"What? No!" Draco denied heatedly.

"Yes. Yes, you do." His smile grew.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Draco insisted.

"I think I do," Blaise disagreed. He crossed his arms and sat back in his chair with his taunting smile. "You lie, Malfoy, and you're exceptionally bad at it… at least with me. Now why deny? She's a good person. You just admitted it yourself."

Draco sat stiffly in his chair with his jaw set. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know why he was denying it. He and Zabini had talked about women a lot in the past. Blaise knew all the women he had eyed up in the last two years. Why did he have such a hard time owning this?

"This is why you came here. I know it is now. You've got a thing for her and it bothers you. Why?" asked Blaise. His tone became softer, the teasing tone gone from his voice as he saw just how upset his friend seemed.

"Because it's Granger!" Draco shouted in exasperation.

"No, I don't buy that," said Blaise. "Yes, I'm sure it makes things feel a bit weird, but not like this. You're really upset. What's going on? Does she know? Does she feel the same?"

"I don't know," Draco replied in frustration. He got to his feet and ran his fingers through his silky blond hair.

"Well, you have to know something. Something happened. What?" Blaise insisted.

Draco looked around the room as if considering escape. His heart raced painfully fast. He took a deep breath and a grumbled confession fell from his lips. "I kissed her."

"WHAT?" Blaise blurted out, sitting up in his chair again, his eyes wide with surprise. "When?"

"Today," he murmured. "We took the boy back to her flat and the two of us talked for a couple minutes. It was out of nowhere and surprised me just as much as it did her. I just… I just kissed her."

"And? What did she do?" Blaise pressed urgently. "What did she say? What did you say?"

"I don't know," Draco mumbled, looking away.

"Well, did she kiss you back?" Blaise pried.

"Well… I… sort of," Draco replied, completely overwhelmed.

"How does one 'sort of' kiss?" Blaise had to force himself to calm down again. Draco was completely unnerved and Blaise wasn't doing a good job of making him feel better.

"I didn't really give her much option," Draco admitted.

"But, she didn't push you away?" Blaise asked carefully.

"No."

"That's a good sign. And she did actually participate? Even if it was hesitant?" he probed gently.

"Yes, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing," Draco said, beginning to pace behind his chair now. "I don't know what I was thinking. I wasn't thinking. It was so stupid to do. You should have seen her face. She looked completely horrified."

"Horrified?" Blaise said skeptically. "No… terrified, I could see, but not horrified."

"What's the difference?" Draco demanded scathingly.

"Horrified gives the impression that she was repulsed. And I refuse to believe she was, as she didn't try to push you away," Blaise explained. "But if this, as you said, came out of the blue, then I'm sure she was rather startled and maybe a bit afraid. Girls always get frightened when they don't know what to feel."

"I don't know how to feel!”

"And, don't you feel frightened by it?" Blaise asked. "The difference is, you default to anger when you get like this. Totally natural."

"And her? Is she going to be pissed off at me?" Draco demanded.

"I don't know. I don't know her," Blaise shrugged helplessly. "But, you still haven't told me what you feel about this."

"I don't know what I feel about this. You can't begin to imagine how much I regret it. And contrary to your belief, I don't know what I think of her. I just… I don't know how to explain it to you… There's potential with us. I know there is. And I just… urgh!" Draco tugged at hair in frustration. "I guess I just wanted to know what it felt like. I just needed… urgh!" Draco turned away from Blaise and pressed the palms of his hands hard into his closed eyes. He needed to talk about it. He needed to tell someone, but he couldn't and he couldn't properly tell Blaise what he was feeling without explaining what he had seen in the pensieve.

Draco just needed to know what it felt like to kiss her. He couldn't stop wondering what her lips felt and tasted like. The pull of them had just been too much to resist.

"You just needed to know if you felt anything?" Blaise chanced.

"Yeah," Draco grunted dejectedly.

"And what did you feel?" Blaised persisted.

"I was as confused and frightened as she was," Draco admitted.

"And?"

"And I felt something. I already told you… there's potential for us. Or there was…"

"Then there still is," Blaise assured him.

"There's not," he argued miserably. "I know what I saw. I know what I want. I see the way she looks at me but it's not me that she wants, it's him. She tolerates me, nothing more."

"Wait, wait…" Blaise interrupted, trying to make sense of what Draco just revealed. "Who's 'him'? Does she like someone else?"

"No. Sort of… When she looks at me, sometimes she sees someone else, someone she wishes I was," Draco said bitterly.

"Is she with this guy or trying to get with him?" Blaise asked, upset on his friend's behalf.

"No. He's no one. She's in love with an idea." Draco was seething as he tried to suppress the many emotions raging inside of him.

"I'm sorry, mate, but you've lost me here…" Blaise apologized, looking warily at Draco.

"I know. I'm sorry. I just… This is so complicated. I don't know what to do. There was potential and I ruined everything. I moved too fast. Things aren't supposed to work like this. I fucked everything up," Draco fumed.

"I'm not following well here anymore, but I still think you're wrong. Relationships are confusing. You may have moved too fast, and you can't take it back now, but that doesn't mean that you can't work things out. You can't run away from her because you're working together now. That might be in your favor really, whether you believe that or not. You're just going to have to talk to her."

"And say what?" Draco demanded.

"The truth. Tell her that you like her and you didn't mean to frighten her. Tell her that you understand that you moved too fast. Just talk to her," Blaise urged. "It sounds as if she is just as uncertain as you are. She'll be glad that you want to talk about it. It may feel awkward, but it can't feel any more awkward than this, can it?"

Draco sighed. Blaise didn't understand and he couldn't. This wasn't just about himself and Hermione. This case was important and they couldn't allow their feelings to get in the way of it. But just as important to him was Aurelian. Hermione was the gatekeeper. If he wanted to see Aurelian, he had to go through her. If things were not okay between the two of them, then he wouldn't be able to see his son.

"You're right… I just have to hope this is fixable," Draco muttered.

"Good. At least we have a slightly positive statement out of you. Let me refill your glass and you can listen to me go on about my bitch of a mother. Fair?" Blaise asked, raising the bottle of firewhiskey in question.

"Well, so long as firewhiskey's involved…" Draco teased, a small smile quirking at the corner of his mouth.

"I can't mention my mother without it," Blaise said bitterly.

"I know…" Draco replied sympathetically. "So, let me do the pouring, as I do so more generously, and when this meager bottle runs out, we'll replace it with one of mine."

"And that is why I talk to you about her and not Pansy," Blaise smirked.

"Yeah, she doesn't understand the true healing powers of liquor," Draco agreed. He poured generous amounts of the amber liquid into both of their glasses and handed one to Blaise.

"You are truly an understanding friend," Blaise said, raising his glass. Draco raised his glass also and they drank. Blaise took a deep steadying breath and began unloading his frustration.

Sunday Morning - 11:14 AM

Hermione held Aurelian close to her body and cautiously surveyed their new surroundings. When it seemed that no one had seen her Apparate beside the large hedge at the corner of an intersection, she gently placed Aurelian next to her and readjusted her dress. Aurelian quietly took in his surroundings, curious about the strange place he had never before seen the likes of. He walked around the hedge and stood on the paved walk beside the road in a quiet suburban area in Oxfordshire. The street was empty and quiet. Fine brick houses lined both sides of the street, all looking very similar, except the different patterns and colors found in the flower beds and strategically placed bushes in each well-manicured lawn.

"Ready?" Hermione asked.

"Uh-huh," Aurelian nodded.

Hermione rubbed her sweaty palm on her cotton sundress before taking hold of Aurelian's hand. He smiled up at her and she did her best to smile in return. They walked slowly up the sidewalk and Hermione and Aurelian both looked at each house as they passed. The late morning sun was climbing toward its peak and pressed the muggy heat down around them.

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah-huh," he answered, tugging on her hand as he walked quite oddly.

"Then why are you walking like that?" Hermione tilted her head to get a better look at him.

"My legs feel naked," he said, tugging at his pair of denim shorts. "And dey keep walkin up my bum."

Hermione pinched her lips tightly together and chuckled, trying not to burst out laughing at the toddler's obvious discomfort. She had learned only that morning that he had never before worn muggle clothing. The only trousers that he had ever worn were pajama bottoms and he had never worn denim of any kind, so wearing the shorts she had gotten him was definitely a new experience for him.

"I'm sorry, I guess they may take a little time to get used to. They aren't too uncomfortable, are they?" she asked sympathetically.

"I like 'em, Mummy. I do," Aurelian said earnestly. And as uncomfortable as he looked, she believed him. He sounded thrilled when she told him he needed to wear muggle clothing.

"Okay… we're here," Hermione said, stopping at a cobble stone path that led up to the doorway of one of the many brick houses. Hermione bent down a little as she walked so that her whispering better reached her son. "Now, when we get inside, I'm going to need to speak to them for a few minutes, okay?"

"Okay," Aurelian answered.

Hermione stopped in front of the door, took a deep breath and knocked firmly.

"Oh, Hermione," a kind woman smiled when she opened the door. "You're right on time. But where... Who is this?" she asked looking down at Aurelian who was again tugging at his shorts.

"This is Aurelian," she introduced simply.

"Well," she held her smile, but it did not cover her puzzled expression, "when you said that you'd be bringing a guest, I guess I sort of expected someone a little older… No problem though. Come in."

Hermione walked in and looked nervously around for her father. Aurelian followed after and closed the door for them.

"So, did I hear her right? Your name is Aurelian?" Hermione's mother asked the boy kindly. The boy nodded.

"Hermione," her father greeted as he met them at the door. "I thought you said you'd be bringing a guest."

"She did," Mrs. Granger answered, stepping to the side to reveal the curious toddler. "This is Aurelian. Aurelian, my name is Helen and this is William. We're Hermione's parents."

"I know," Aurelian answered simply.

Mr. and Mrs. Granger looked from the boy to Hermione, expecting one of them to explain more of who this child was and why he had been invited for brunch.

"I… If you don't mind, there's something I was hoping to talk to you about before we sit down to eat," Hermione said hesitantly. Hermione's parents exchanged stern looks and both nodded slowly. Whenever Hermione addressed them that way, it meant that they were not going to like what she had to say. Hermione nodded and knelt down next to Aurey. "Now, Aurelian," Hermione started, taking a small pouch out of her handbag. "I have two chasers and a quaffle in here. Why don't you take these into the sitting room and play for a few minutes. And mind they don't break anything."

Aurelian nodded and took the bag. "Okay, Mummy," he smiled and scurried off into the room Hermione had just pointed to. She stood up abruptly and gaped at her parents.

"Did he just call you Mummy?" Helen asked, looking at her daughter and husband completely gobsmacked. Hermione stared horrified at her parents. This was not the way she had hoped to tell them.

"Hermione Jean, you had better explain," her father growled, his eyes narrowed.

"Dad, I…" Hermione started. She fished around for a proper way to explain, but she wasn't sure that one existed. "I don't know how to start…"

"You can start by telling us why that child referred to you as 'Mummy,'" her mother said. It was obvious that the woman was searching for a reasonable explanation, while it was just as apparent that Hermione's father did not believe for a moment that the boy had been mistaken.

"I… well, I am… sort of…" Hermione managed to get out. She didn't often have problems speaking, but speaking to her parents about things of importance made her so unnerved that she regularly stumbled over her words and did not know how to respond to their inquiries.

"Sort of?" William said skeptically. His face was stone-like, and his tone low and stern.

"Yes, it's… complicated," Hermione bit her lip. "It's always complicated." Hermione's face screwed up and she struggled to keep her tears at bay. "D-do you remember the time-turner that I told you about? The device that was entrusted to me in my third year at Hogwarts? I used it to go back an hour here and there so that I could make it to all my classes?"

Hermione's parents made no sign that they had even heard, let alone understood, but she knew that they did. At their silence, tears began to well up in her eyes.

"Aurelian showed up a few days ago. He's from seven years in the future… and he's mine," Hermione explained.

"Of course," her father said derisively.

"William," her mother admonished.

"He… things went bad in the future, very bad, and his mother, my future self, sent him back here to protect him and to prevent certain events," Hermione said quietly.

"Now, I'm certain that every other wizard probably owns a time-turner and this kind of thing is rather common, but do you mind explaining this a little better for a set of ignorant muggles like ourselves?" William quipped.

Hermione bit her lip and took a small pause before continuing. "This is actually extremely rare. I've never heard anything like it. Time-turners are monitored very carefully by the ministry and usually can’t go back more than a few hours, let alone years. To use one like this is actually kind of illegal… It was just serious enough that it had to be done."

"You mean that you did this illegally?" Her mother asked incredulously. "Are you going to be in trouble for it?"

"Well… technically no. Technically I didn't do anything. I personally made no decisions regarding this action and even if I had, nothing was technically stolen as that specific one hasn't even been created yet," Hermione said anxiously.

"And were you able to prevent the events that you mentioned?" her mother asked, her voice and demeanor still stern.

"Things have already changed, yes," Hermione said evasively.

"And what does that mean for him?" William asked, jerking his thumb in the direction of the sitting room.

"Well… when events change here, it changes everything. The world he came from no longer exists as he knew it. So… at this point, if we were to have a look at the year he came from, he would have never been born. So… So, he's here now," Hermione explained the best she could.

"Who is his father?" William snapped suddenly.

Hermione stared at her father's face and had to remind herself to breathe. She steeled herself and stated as flatly as she could, "Draco Malfoy."

"Malfoy?" Her father roared. "That evil child that made your life hell for all those years?"

"Things change. People change," Hermione responded quietly.

"Leave it. Leave it now. Leave that whole damned world behind you," her father ordered.

"Dad, I can't…" Hermione answered in a whisper. Unable to look him in the eye, she stared at the rug beneath her feet.

"You said that he's here now permanently. Am I right in assuming that you plan to keep him?" her mother asked.

"Yes," Hermione answered with a nod. She chanced looking up at her mother and her insides squirmed. Her mother looked quite disappointed and distressed, but held herself straight. Hermione had a hard time reading her.

"Hermione Jean, I'm telling you to leave that place. Leave that whole damned world behind. It's nothing but pain and chaos. Leave it. That's an order," he said firmly. "You go back to that flat of yours and start packing right now. I will put a stop to this and-"

"Dad, I can't…" Hermione said miserably. The tears finally came, sliding one by one down her cheeks. "I can't just leave it behind. My friends, my work…"

"You can and you will. I'm not-"

His speech was interrupted by a sound from the sitting room. There was a 'tink' of china and a steady dripping sound.

"Aurelian?" Hermione called and hurried into the sitting room. She looked around but did not see the child in question. "Aurelian?" she called a little more worried.

She walked toward the other side of the room but stopped when she looked at the small table beside the sofa. There sat a tea tray covered in spilled milk that dripped onto the floor. The floral china creamer lay on its side. Hermione frowned. No longer frightened, she carefully surveyed the room and saw that the drapes behind the armchair were swaying. She sighed and walked over to the armchair.

"Aurelian, please don't hide from me. Come out, please," Hermione said in an even voice, kneeling beside the chair. Slowly Aurelian crawled out from behind the armchair. "Thank you. I see there was a little accident. Can you tell me what happened?"

Aurelian's lip stuck out in a large pathetic pout and he sniffled. "Dey throwed da quaffle into da milk. I tried to get it out and it went all over," he explained.

"It was an accident. Accidents happen. You can't run and hide from them, though. Next time something happens, you need to come and tell me so that I can help fix it, okay?" she asked kindly. Aurelian nodded and Hermione pulled out her wand. She flicked it over at the tray and the milk vanished and the creamer righted itself. "See? No harm done."

"Mummy…?" Aurelian leaned around Hermione and looked anxiously at his grandparents before leaning in to whisper in her ear.

"Oh…" she answered. She looked around behind her and cast a quick spell at the VCR. The cassette door opened and a figurine on a broom zoomed over to her. "Why don't we put them back in the bag for now?"

Aurelian nodded and did as he was told. Hermione stood up and faced her parents again with renewed faith in herself.

"Dad, I know how you feel about-"

"You brought him here to meet us, didn't you?" William interrupted. "Judging by the look on that young man's face, he never met us in his own time."

Hermione didn't know how to answer that. It was true, but she couldn't tell her parents that they never got to meet him because they were most likely dead.

"I'm not asking this time. You told me just a minute ago that your future self sent him back here to protect him. So do it. Leave that god-forsaken world and all the tragedy that comes with it. If you want me to accept that child as my grandson, then you will take him out of that world and never look back."

"Dad…"

"William," Helen warned again.

"I mean it. I'm not going to invest myself in that boy if you're just going to let him suffer like you have. I won't. The choice is yours." William Granger took one last look at the worried boy in front of him and left the room.

"Dad!" Hermione cried after him. She dropped her face into her hands and took long deep breaths, trying her best to remain calm. Helen Granger rubbed Hermione's back consolingly.

"I'll talk to him," she told her daughter. Hermione nodded, unable to speak.

"Why him mad, Mummy? Why him mad?" Aurelian asked, slowly walking up to Hermione. "You okay, Mummy?"

"Yes, Mummy's fine," Hermione answered lightly touching Aurelian's head to soothe him.

"Yes, he's just a bit upset right now," Helen assured him. "He'll be alright. We should go eat though. I bet you're probably pretty hungry now, aren't you?"

"Yeah-huh. My tummy growleded," he told her seriously.

"Well, the food is all set up in the kitchen here. Why don't you go pick out a chair?" Helen offered.

Aurelian went ahead and Helen held Hermione back for just another moment.

"He will be alright. He's upset. You know how he gets, but you also know that he loves you. Give him time," Helen suggested, tucking a wild curl behind Hermione's ear.

"And you?" she asked nervously.

"I don't like the world you've chosen to live in either, but it's not my choice to make," Helen answered seriously. "If we're honest with ourselves though, that world sort of selected you. The chaos in your life didn't start when you entered the wizarding world, it just made sense then."

"I know it's hard for you to understand, but despite all that's happened to me over the years, I like my life. I-"

"I know, love. We both know you do. You don't have to explain it. It's just hard to watch your child suffer… as you'll soon discover," Helen told her. She looked into the kitchen and saw Aurelian sneak a grape from the fruit bowl and quickly pop it into his mouth. Hermione chuckled when she saw him. Helen patted her daughter on the back again and left her to find her own chair at the table.

"What would you like to drink, Aurelian?" Helen asked. "We have orange juice or milk."

"I have pumpkin juice?" he asked.

"She doesn't have pumpkin juice," Hermione told him. "She said orange juice or milk."

"I don't like milk," Aurelian stated.

"I know, so what do you think you should answer?" Hermione prompted.

"Orange juice, pwease," Aurelian said, his 'please' ending with a cheesy grin.

"Orange juice it is. And don't just sit there, Hermione, start serving. The food is already getting cold," the woman smiled genuinely.

When her mother's back was turned, Hermione cast a quick warming spell over the hot dishes. And with another quick swish of her wand, all three of their plates were evenly proportioned with a bit of everything. She was a bit sad when she looked at her father's empty plate, but took a deep breath. She wouldn't let it ruin her time with her mother and Aurelian.

"So," said Helen as she set a glass of orange juice in front of Aurelian and a glass of milk in front of Hermione, knowing it was her choice without asking, "has Aurelian been staying with you?"

"Yes, he's been staying at my flat," Hermione affirmed. "It's sort of small, but we've been doing alright, haven't we?" she asked Aurelian. Aurelian nodded as he continued to shovel down his meal. Both women smiled, knowing that the toddler had answered without having a clue as to what he'd been asked.

"What are you doing with him while you're at work?" Helen inquired.

"He's been staying with Molly… er, Mrs. Weasley, Ron's Mum," Hermione replied. "She loves watching him, but hasn't asked for payment yet. I know she'll never ask really, so I don't yet know how to broach the subject. I don't want to insult her, but I can't ask her to watch him all the time for free. Luckily, my hours have been quite flexible lately, so he's only ever had to be over there for a few hours a day."

"And what do your friends think about this?" she asked.

"They're really supportive. They know this is difficult. They're… they're really supportive."

"Would you like some more eggs, Aurelian?" Helen offered.

"Yes, pwease," he answered with a smile.

"Such nice manners," she smiled, piling more scrambled eggs onto his plate.

"What do you say now, Aurelian?" Hermione prompted.

"Thank you," the little boy answered through a mouthful of eggs. Hermione shook her head, smiling fondly at her son.

"So what about this Malfoy boy? Does he know about him?" Helen questioned, looking a little displeased at the mention of the boy that put her daughter in tears more than a few times.

"Yes. He does."

"You said that people can change. Has he?" she pressed.

"Yes. He has."

"And?"

"And, I don't know… I honestly don't know what to make of him. I've let him see Aurelian, though. He's really good with him. I just don't know-" Hermione was cut off by the tune of her mobile phone. She took it from her handbag to check the caller ID. "I'm sorry, Mum. I have to take this."

Mrs. Granger nodded and Hermione stood up and walked into the sitting room to take the call.

"Ginny?" she answered.

"Hermione, I'm sorry to call you now. I know that you're with your parents, but I need you," Ginny pleaded.

"Why? What happened?" Hermione asked anxiously, her heart racing in panic.

"It's Harry. He heard from Hagrid and now he's ready to run off. He won't listen to me, but he'll listen to you. He always does. I hate to ask but-"

"No. It's fine. Where is he now?" Hermione asked hurriedly.

"Here at the Burrow. Ron's upstairs trying to talk to him right now," Ginny answered.

"What is he trying to do? What did Hagrid say?" Hermione asked quickly.

"Hagrid saw Dennis."

"I'll be right there," Hermione said. She closed the phone without a goodbye and rushed into the kitchen.

Aurelian and Helen looked up at Hermione with concern.

"I'm sorry, Mum, but I have to go. Harry's-"

"I understand," her mother sighed. "It's always something."

"Mum, I-"

"It's okay. Really," she reassured her daughter. "Now, go stop Harry before he does something rash."

"How did you-?"

"It's always Harry, isn't it?" her mother asked. Hermione nodded and smiled sadly. It was true. If it wasn't her in trouble, it was Harry.

"We going now?" Aurelian asked in confusion.

"Yes, sweetie, you get to go see Aunt Molly and Aunt Ginny," Hermione answered.

"But, I not finished eatin'" Aurelian pouted.

"It's okay, Molly will have food for you," Hermione assured him. Aurelian still pouted.

"Would you like to take that muffin with you, Aurelian?" Helen offered.

"Can I?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course. You take care and I'll see you next Sunday, okay?"

"Thank you," Aurelian beamed. He jumped off his chair with the muffin in his hand and Hermione scooped him up in her arms.

"I'm sorry, Mum. I'll call you soon.”

 Helen nodded and Hermione Disapparated with Aurelian.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione Apparated directly into the Burrow and stood at the bottom of the stairs.

"Ginny?" she called.

"Hermione," Molly greeted. "Ginny's upstairs with Harry. They're in Ron's room."

"And Ron?" she asked, noticing that his name was left out.

"He was already running really late for Bill, so when he heard Ginny was phoning you, he left," Mrs. Weasley said, looking rather nervous. "They haven't told me what's happening, just that Hagrid met with Harry. Is everything alright?"

"I really don't know," Hermione admitted. "I'm here to find out. I-"

"I'll take care of Aurelian. You just go up and speak with them," Molly insisted, taking Aurelian out of Hermione's arms. Hermione nodded in reply.

"Look, Aunt Molly. Helen gived me a muffin," he smiled.

Hermione grimaced at the way Aurelian referred to her mother by her first name, but decided that it was not the time to discuss it. To save herself the time and energy of running up all the stairs to the top floor, she Apparated outside of Ron's room. She quickly knocked and entered without waiting for a reply.

"Hermione?" Harry asked in surprise. "What are you doing here? I thought you were at your parents' today."

"I was, but Ginny called," she explained.

Harry sent a glare at Ginny, who crossed her arms in defiance. Hermione noticed that Harry's wand was gripped tightly in Ginny's right hand.

"What's going on, Harry? What did Hagrid say?" Hermione asked.

Harry didn't answer. He just stared at Ginny, looking rather betrayed.

"I'm going to go downstairs and see Aurelian," the redhead announced. Harry held out his hand for his wand, but she acted like she hadn't seen and left the room, still in possession of his beloved wand.

Harry huffed in frustration and turned to Hermione. "McGonagall had talked to Hagrid and let him know that Dennis was missing. He had seen him and came to tell me in person."

"When? Where?" Hermione asked hurriedly.

"About a week ago in Knockturn Alley."

"Knockturn Alley?" Hermione worried.

"Yeah."

"So, what is it you're planning? You just want to go there and look for him?" Hermione took the same irritated tone as Ginny when she realized what he had been thinking.

"If that's where he was, then that's where I'm looking," Harry said with a scowl.

"That was a week ago, Harry. You can't expect him to still be there. And if he went back, that still doesn't mean you'll find him. Not to mention, not many people like you in that area. We have to think this through."

"Knockturn Alley is a dangerous place for someone like him. People there know when someone doesn't fit in and they're not very kind about it. We need to figure out why he was there and hopefully find him," Harry argued heatedly.

"And how do you plan to do that? You can't just go around asking people if they'd heard his name or seen the boy in this picture." She snatched a photo of Dennis off of Ron's bed and waved it in front of him, again guessing at Harry's plan. "If people find out we're looking for him it could put him in a lot more danger and potentially ruin many of our efforts toward solving this whole thing."

"I can't do nothing!"

"I'm not suggesting that we do nothing!" Hermione contested indignantly. "I'm suggesting that we look at everything we know and make a proper plan."

"We don't have time to waste. Who knows what kind of trouble he's in?"

"Agreed. So let's start planning now instead of arguing. We still haven't looked at Fred's memories and I still don't know exactly what Hagrid told you. Why don't we go back to my flat and see what we can come up with," Hermione suggested forcefully. Harry still looked fierce, but nodded in concession. "Okay, well, I'll go see if Molly or Ginny can keep an eye on Aurelian for a little while and you go see if Ginny's willing to give your wand back now."

"Alright," he agreed. "We can floo Malfoy as soon as we get to your place then."

Hermione's stomach did a flop at the mention of him. She still didn't know what to think of Draco and felt anxious about seeing him again.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Okay," said Hermione as she walked into her living room with the pensieve in her hands. "Can you move that notebook for me, Harry?" She nodded to the notepad and quill in the center of her coffee table and Harry quickly moved them, seeing that the stone basin was heavy in her hands.

"What's this for?" Harry inquired, looking at the neat loopy writing on the first page of the notepad.

"Just a notepad to keep our thoughts on. That way we don't overlook any important details that we think of," she explained.

"Good. That's a good idea," Harry agreed, setting it back on the table beside the pensieve and taking a seat on the sofa. "Malfoy said he'd be here in just a m-"

Before Harry could finish, the fireplace chimed to announce Malfoy's arrival.

"What is it? What happened?" he asked hurriedly as he stepped out of the fireplace.

"N-nothing… Harry, what did you tell him?" Hermione asked a bit irritably.

"Nothing. Just that we had new things to discuss and that we were going to start planning immediately," Harry answered.

Hermione sighed. "You threw him into a panic."

"I didn't mean to." Hermione's admonishment caused Harry to feel guilty.

"It's fine. Just, what's going on?" Draco asked, a little frustrated that he still had no idea why he was there.

"Hagrid contacted Harry today. He saw Dennis in Knockturn Alley," Hermione informed him. "We were just concerned and wanted to look into this as soon as we could."

"Were you busy?" Harry asked. "Because I didn't mean to interrupt anything. If you want-"

"It's fine, Potter. I was only sitting down to lunch," Draco answered as he sat down in the armchair next to Harry.

"You haven't eaten yet then? I could make you something if you'd like," Hermione offered.

Draco looked up at her as if only taking notice of her then. "No. It's fine. I don't want you to-"

"It's no trouble," Hermione interrupted. She remembered how he had told her quite spitefully that she should not trouble herself over him the first time they gathered at her flat. She was then rather embarrassed after she said it.

"Really, it's fine. I can just-" Draco stopped and both he and Harry looked at Hermione when her stomach grumbled loudly.

"You haven't eaten yet either, have you?" Harry asked miserably.

"No. Things didn't go so great at my parents. We were just sitting down to eat when Ginny called," Hermione admitted.

"I'm sorry," Harry said dolefully. "I shouldn't have jumped on this like I did. I was just worried."

"It's okay, Harry. I'll just make us something really quickly and we can-"

"I told you not to worry about it," Draco said seriously.

"But-"

"Pernie," Draco called.

There was a loud 'crack' and a petite house-elf, garbed in a tidy pink pillowcase, appeared at Draco's side, smiling brightly when she saw him. "There you are, Master. Pernie was wondering where you had gone without your lunch."

"Yes. I'm sorry, Pernie, but I would like to take my lunch here, please. And could you bring another plate for Hermione?" he requested politely.

"No!" Hermione interjected firmly. "I told you that I could make us something. I don't want you bothering your house-elf for-"

"Granger!" Draco interrupted her just as firmly. Harry closed his eyes, not prepared to deal with this. "Pernie has already prepared lunch. Don't you feel that it would be terribly rude and wasteful to reject it after the work she has already put into it?" he said flatly, his hard eyes challenging her.

"It is no trouble at all to Pernie, Miss. Pernie is very pleased to serve Master Draco and his friend," the house-elf beamed.

Hermione quietly huffed at the indignity of the position Draco had put her in. "Thank you," she quietly told the elf.

"Thank you, Pernie. That is all.” At Draco’s obvious dismissal, the elf disappeared.

"Wow, I wish it were that easy for me to send Kreacher away," Harry smirked.

'Crack!'

"Master Harry is calling Kreacher?" the wizened house-elf asked as he appeared at Harry's feet. Harry sighed and sat back on the sofa, rubbing his temples.

"No, Kreacher, I didn't call you," he said, trying his best to hide his exasperation from the kind elf.

"Since Kreacher is here now, is there anything you are needing, Master?" Kreacher asked, a large hopeful smile accentuating his many wrinkles.

"No, Kreacher, I'm doing just-"

'Crack!'

"Here you are, Master," Pernie smiled proudly with a heaping plate in each hand. "Are you needing a table, sir?"

"No, thank you," Draco nodded and accepted his plate.

"Pernie?" Kreacher asked in surprise. The other plate in Pernie's hand was almost upset, but she managed to steady it. Relieved by her save, she handed the plate to Hermione before looking at the house-elf that had addressed her.

"Kreacher?"

"What is Pernie doing here?" Kreacher asked curiously.

Pernie looked at Draco nervously, unsure if she should answer as it was not a house-elf's place to be seen or heard apart from completing their duties. Draco nodded his permission.

"Pernie is bringing lunch for her master and his friend," Pernie explained.

"But Master Harry has already taken lunch," Kreacher said, looking rather horrified. "Is Master needing anything more to eat? Kreacher will be very pleased to bring Master Harry a-"

"No, I'm fine Kreacher. The food wasn't for me," Harry assured him. "But, how do you know Pernie?"

"Pernie is Kreacher's niece, sir," Kreacher answered. "Pernie is the daughter of Kreacher's younger sister, Darvi."

Pernie nodded proudly.

"You're Darvi's brother?" Draco asked in interest.

"Yes, Darvi, too, had served the noble house of Black. Her mistress was your mother, if I am not mistaken," Kreacher answered.

Pernie nodded again.

"Was? What happened to her?" Harry asked, remembering the treatment Dobby had received in the Malfoy residence.

"Thank you, Pernie. That is all," Draco dismissed the elf. Pernie nodded was gone.

"Why did you send her away like that?" Hermione demanded. "She was speaking with her-"

"Granger!" Draco fiercely interjected again, silencing the stunned but angered girl. "I sent her away because her mother's death is still difficult for her and I didn't want her to have to hear it discussed again."

"Pernie needs to learn to accept her mother's death as Kreacher has done. Darvi had served her mistress well and Pernie should be proud," Kreacher said seriously.

"What happened to her?" Harry asked, becoming more upset. He believed he would not care for the answer.

"The Dark L-…Voldemort," Draco amended, "killed her."

"Why?" Hermione asked in outrage.

"Because he had no qualms whatever with murder. Darvi was my mother's house-elf and served our home, meaning our 'guests' as well. It seems that Voldemort did not believe she was fast enough in serving him and killed her."

"As is the natural way of things," Kreacher stated simply.

"The natural way of things?" Hermione said in disgust.

"Yes, of course," Kreacher said, not understanding Hermione's attitude. "When a house-elf is too worn to be of service, it is the duty of a master to properly end the house-elf's service. Darvi was a good elf and served for many years. She had even seen that her mistress was given her child, so that it might also serve the honorable house of Black by way of Mistress Narcissa's son."

"So, when a house-elf can no longer serve, their master kills them?" Harry demanded.

"Of course, sir. It is the natural way of things. Kreacher is prepared for such a time and he too has an heir to provide his master," Kreacher said simply.

"What?!" Harry blurted out. "You have a child?"

"Yes, Master. Kreacher has a daughter that shall pass on to serve you and your future heirs," Kreacher told him, looking at him warily as if wondering if this was somehow a test.

"You never told me you had a daughter!" Harry said, his eyes wide. He didn't want to see Kreacher die, but he had assumed that whenever he did, he would no longer have a house-elf.

"Kreacher was waiting to tell Master Harry for when Kreacher's daughter is of age to serve," Kreacher explained. "But, should Kreacher no longer be able to serve before then, Kreacher's daughter will be delivered by her mother."

"W-what… b-but… I-I…" Harry couldn't seem to be able to put his thoughts together.

Kreacher looked around the room while Harry sputtered. "Kreacher is sorry to be interrupting you, sir. If you are not needing anything than Kreacher shall be returning home."

"No, wait," Harry said suddenly. "I want you to clean the bed linens today."

"All of them, Master?" Kreacher asked, his eyes shining.

"Yes, please," Harry said, still looking rather unnerved.

"It will be Kreacher's pleasure." The house-elf bowed and disappeared with a 'crack'.

"That was one of the most horrible things I have ever heard," Hermione breathed. She fixed Draco with a hard scathing look.

"Don't look at me like that," Draco ordered scornfully. "My mother never had any intention of killing Darvi. Neither Darvi or Pernie have ever been mistreated."

"And what do you consider the treatment Dobby received in your home?" Harry asked bitterly.

"Dobby was my father's house-elf, not mine. I never did anything to him. My mother loved Darvi and would never allow her to be treated that way. It was something my parents never agreed on," Draco stated. Their accusatory looks were making him quite angry and defensive.

"And just how many house-elves do you have?" Hermione demanded.

"Only Pernie. My father had Dobby who had allegiance to the Malfoy line. Darvi served my mother and the Black family since my mother's birth. When I was eight, Darvi made mention to my mother that she had just had a child. When I was ten, Pernie was presented to me and I have never mistreated her from that day ‘til this," Draco replied.

"She started working when she was only two?!" Hermione exclaimed. "She is now only twelve years old?"

"Yes. You know, Granger, for someone who so fiercely protests the services of house-elves, you certainly don't seem to know much about them," Draco quipped. "House-elves are not humans. They may be sentient creatures, but they are not humans and do not live or age like humans. At two years of age, house-elves are the same stature as full-grown house-elves, speak like grown house-elves, and are nearly as skilled as grown house-elves. I did not ask for Pernie. Darvi presented her to my mother when she was two and told her that she was ready to serve the Black family and its descendants."

"If they age so quickly," Harry started, "how old do they get?"

"It's rare to see a house-elf live past sixty," Draco answered.

"How old do you think Kreacher is?" he inquired uncomfortably.

"I really don't know, but I imagine getting rather close to that," Draco answered, his anger fading a little as he began to feel a bit of sympathy for Harry. "He made mention of it. You can see he's preparing for it, especially mentioning his child to you."

"Wait…" Harry said. "If house-elves start working at two years old, then Kreacher's, er… child, must be less than that. Isn't he rather old to be… erm…"

"House-elves are not human. Even female elves can have children late in life. It's rare for elves to have children before they are thirty. They usually only have enough children to fill a family's need," he explained.

"Are you saying that Kreacher felt it was his duty to provide me with a replacement?" Harry looked flabbergasted.

"I'm assuming, yes," Draco answered.

"But, who is its mother?" Harry continued.

"I wouldn't know. House-elves prefer their privacy in that area. I don't know who Pernie's father is either."

"But when…? Where…?" Harry looked so confused.

"Again, Potter, they prefer their privacy. I have tried asking Pernie what she does with her time off, and she must answer, but she is as evasive as she can be and it upsets her greatly, so I've stopped asking. She has a right to her own private life."

"You give her time off?" Hermione asked with surprise.

"No. House-elves do not need to be given time off. They have enough time to do with as they wish," Draco answered. Hermione's eyes narrowed and Draco continued. "It makes them feel unwanted if you schedule time where they do not work. They have plenty of time to themselves though. You don't really think that they can cook and clean every hour of everyday, do you? Even in a house as big as mine, there is only so much that needs to be done and they make quick work of it with their magic. There are also many times when Mother and I are out and do not need meals. And we usually go on holiday twice a year, which means that Pernie has very little or nothing to do in that time."

"Still, they are not paid. They believe they are below the wizards that they-"

Harry gently cut Hermione off, "This is not the time for this kind of discussion. We've gotten very far from what we came here to do." Draco was grateful, but Hermione still looked a bit peeved. "Alright, do you have Fred's memory, Hermione?"

"Yeah," Hermione said quietly, summoning the vial from the top shelf of her bookcase.

"Nice to have a memory to view that shouldn't be scarring, for once," Harry commented as she poured the memory into the stone pensieve. Hermione and Draco nodded in agreement. "Who wants to go first?"

Hermione and Draco looked at one another, but did not say anything. Without a word, Draco lifted his arm, shook his sleeve out of the way, and dipped one finger into the pensieve. He gasped as he was pulled in, still not used to the sensation. When he felt firm and safe in the memory, he took a second to look around. He stood in front of the cash register at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Hogsmeade location, a place he had only seen once before. It was the same building that was once Zonko's joke shop and had the same basic setup, but the decorations and displays were much louder and busier than Zonko's had ever been.

Hermione stepped up beside Draco and was looking around also. Unlike Draco, she had been there several times before and was, therefore, looking for anything out of place. It looked quite normal to her. It was, as Fred and George had told them, the last Hogsmeade trip of the year. There were quite a few students walking around, perusing the merchandise, but not nearly as many as would normally be on a Hogsmeade weekend. That certainly had to do with it being that last trip of the year. Most students were attending the last outing, but not as many were drawn to the joke shop because they didn't feel as much need for joke items when school was not in session. Instead, most students could be found at Honeydukes, stocking up on sweets for the summer, or having a last butterbeer of the year with friends in the Three Broomsticks.

"Ouch! Watch it," George chuckled. Fred looked up and laughed. It appeared that he was trying to fix a reusable hangman game when the head shot off and hit George in his good ear.

"Whoops. Sorry, mate," Fred apologized. "Merlin, what on earth did that kid do to this thing?"

"He said that his cat got ahold of it," George informed him.

"Well, that would explain the scratches and bite marks, but not why I can't repair it and keep it together," Fred grumbled. "I like making money doing repairs, but I'm not a miracle worker."

"There he is," said Harry, pointing out the tall, mousy-haired boy who stood in front of the skiving snackboxes. The three visitors started over toward him when he suddenly moved toward the register. He placed a size three pewter cauldron on top of the counter and then started to unload the items he wished to purchase from the crook of his arm.

"Hey, if it isn't Creevey," Fred greeted. He stood from his stool and set the reusable hangman game upon it.

"Hey, Dennis, how's it going?" George asked.

"Alright," he shrugged, not looking very convincing.

"Wow, got quite a bit here, don't ya?" George commented. "Decoy detonators."

"Puking Pastilles."

"Two shield cloaks."

"Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder? Planning on going out with a bang this year?" Fred asked with a lopsided smile.

Dennis returned the smile half-heartedly and gave a little shrug.

"This is your last year, isn't it?" George asked. "Happy to be leaving it all behind?"

"I don't know," Dennis shrugged again. "I think I might miss it some."

"Yeah, I know how you feel. We miss it too sometimes," Fred admitted. "The fun, not the classes."

"It's good though. You'll-"

Harry didn't get to hear the rest of George's speech of reassurance because Hermione interrupted. "Harry, I can't see what's in the cauldron," she told him, standing on her tip-toes to try to peer over the top of the cauldron on the counter.

Excited by Hermione's idea, Harry stepped up next to her and stole a peek into the cauldron to have a look at the merchandise Dennis had already purchased around town. "Standard potion refill and some other ingredients… I don't recognize them straight off…"

"Let me see," Draco requested. Harry stepped aside and Draco peered in. His eyes narrowed as he analyzed the contents in the jars. "Fluxweed, for certain. And boomslang skin. And… I don't know. It's some kind of powder… light brown with flecks of white. Powdered dragon claw, maybe?"

"Powdered bicorn horn?" Hermione asked nervously.

"Yeah, it could be," said Draco. "They're rather similar. Why? Do-" He stopped when he noticed that Hermione looked frozen. He could see that her mind was moving quickly and he didn't want to interrupt. He looked at Harry who seemed to feel the same. Harry had seen that look of epiphany on her many times and knew better than to interrupt her thought process.

"It's polyjuice potion. I'm sure of it. If that is powdered bicorn horn then he is most certainly mixing polyjuice," Hermione declared, looking anxiously at the memory of Dennis Creevey.

"Polyjuice? But what would-?"

"It makes sense," Harry interrupted. "Look at these shield cloaks. They're two different sizes and both are too big for him." Harry pointed at the cloaks on the counter between the three boys still chatting mildly. "Hagrid had said that Dennis had physically run into him. He looked up in panic and ran off. The only other thing Hagrid could tell me was that Dennis was wearing clothes that looked rather baggy on him."

"He was probably running away because the polyjuice had worn off," Hermione continued for him.

Draco stared at the boy while Fred Weasley packed all of his purchases into a bag and gave him one last warning about being careful around Filch. Dennis nodded, grabbed his cauldron off of the counter, and left the shop.

The three of them were surprised when they were suddenly pulled out of the pensieve, but they landed gingerly on their feet. Harry returned to his seat on the sofa and Hermione sat next to him. Draco stared at the bowl in thought for another moment before returning to the armchair on Harry's other side.

"Okay," said Harry, his mind still moving too quickly for him to verbalize his thoughts. Hermione picked up the notepad and her ever-ink quill and quickly began to write as he spoke. "So going over what we know and suspect, Dennis was in Knockturn Alley last week and is most likely using a polyjuice potion."

"Yes, but why?" Hermione asked.

"Meeting with someone?" Harry asked.

"Or looking for someone," Draco proposed.

Hermione finished making the list of things items that Dennis had purchased and was carrying with him, adding a question mark next to powdered bicorn horn and looked up at the boys who were watching her expectantly. "I have a feeling that Draco might be right," she said finally. "Harry… I'm not sure, it's just a hunch, but I think Dennis is doing this on his own. He's not under the imperius curse, at least not at this point, and I'm not even sure he's being threatened. I just have this feeling that… What if he had seen something or someone and he's trying to take action on his own? Did you see the look on his face? In his eyes? He looked nervous, but extremely determined. I think he might have seen someone, probably a Death Eater, and is trying to take matters into his own hands."

"You think, like revenge?" Harry asked.

"Maybe," she said. "He just… the look in his eye reminded me a little of you."

"And that's why he was in Knockturn Alley, trying to find signs of Death Eaters?" Draco asked. "It's not a bad idea. There are a lot of rumors that float around there. Few, if any, have any truth to them, but it'd be a good place to look, especially if he already has some kind of information."

"So what do we do now? How do we find him there if we don't know what we're looking for? And do you think he'll go back?" Harry asked.

Hermione pursed her lips and ran the tip of her feather quill under her chin as she thought silently. "Yes, I think he'll go back. The polyjuice potion takes over a month to brew, which means he had already started brewing it before we saw him in this memory, but if he had to use the ingredients he bought, then it would have just been ready before he used it last week. If he used that cauldron he bought, then he probably has a rather large store of it. If that is the case, which is a lot of speculation, then he probably plans to be using it frequently for trips like that."

Harry and Draco were both secretly impressed and grateful for her incredible powers of deduction and waited patiently to see if there was any more that she had to add. Hermione didn't seem to notice them as she was still lost in contemplation.

"We could go and just try to keep an eye out, but I don't think we'd get anything like that. We'll have to draw him out," Hermione said, looking disappointed but resigned about the prospect of such an approach.

"How?" Harry asked. "You have a plan, don't you?"

Hermione nodded slowly and uncertainly. She looked at Draco as she thought and worried her bottom lip.

"I don't like that look, Granger. What is it?" Draco asked, watching her suspiciously.

"If we're right, if he's looking for Death Eater activity… then we could draw him out with you," she said hesitantly.

"I think I'm liking this even less," Draco said, staring at her with narrowed eyes. "You want to use me as bait?"

"Well, yes…" Hermione replied, feeling a bit guilty by the way he phrased it.

"Go on," Harry encouraged her.

"Well, if he's looking for Death Eaters, I'm sure that you'd stand out to him," Hermione told him as gently as possible. "I don't mean any offense by that, it's just-"

"The truth," Draco finished caustically. "I get it. But what is it you want me to do?"

Hermione took a breath of relief and continued. He may sound uptight, but he wasn't dismissing it and despite his tone, he understood that she in no way wanted to insult him. "I think just showing up and making yourself seen is bound to catch his attention. You rather stand out there I expect. Not many people in Knockturn Alley dress very fashionably." Hermione blushed when she said this, realizing that she had just complemented his style. Draco lifted a suspicious eyebrow, wondering if she had said it to try to flatter him into doing what she wished, or if it had just slipped out. "Then, when we feel like you've most likely have been noticed well enough, we have you start acting suspiciously. Well, in what Dennis would see as suspicious."

"And what does that mean in simple terms?" Draco asked.

"Start talking quietly to a barman," Harry suggested, sitting forward. This was a topic he knew well as he often had to recognize suspicious behavior. "Go to Borgin and Burkes. They know you there and will act familiar with you. Buy something strange from one of the shops. Look around as though you're concerned that someone might see you. Appear, overall, nervous."

"Yeah, it sounds like it'd definitely draw him, or someone like him, out of the shadows, but I really don't fancy getting hexed for this," Draco said acerbically.

"And I'm not asking you to. I wouldn't make you go alone. In fact, I wouldn't let you go alone. I'll be there under invisibility cloak the entire time," Hermione assured him.

"You?" Harry asked disapprovingly. "No. I'll go."

"No, Harry. I said me for a reason" After she said it, she paused. She looked like she was fishing around for the best way to explain what she was thinking. "I don't know how to say it without offending you…"

Harry's eyes narrowed at her admission.

"I'm sorry, but you can be a bit impetuous and you know it." Hermione sounded miserably apologetic as she said it.

"You think I'm too brash," Harry said sitting up straight and looking affronted.

"I love you, Harry. You know I do. There's no other person I would go to if I were ever in trouble, but you know that you have a hard time focusing if you're upset by something. Knockturn Alley is notorious for its shady characters and business dealings. I don't want you to get upset and lose focus. It's not that-"

"She's right, Potter," Draco agreed. "Meaning no offense, she's better for this. I don't know if you've tempered that temper of yours or not, but I do know that Hermione is very focused and observant. You know how much more she took from that pensieve than you or I did just now. If we want to find this kid, we need to be sharp and observant and she's better at that than either of us."

Harry nodded. This was a fact that he could not dispute. "Alright. You're right."

"Harry…" Hermione started apologetically.

"No. It's okay, Hermione. Everyone has their flaws," Harry stated in a low voice.

"And their talents," she said, not wanting him to feel bad about himself. He gave her a lopsided smile. She was a kind person and he knew that she never meant to insult him.

"So, you'll do it?" Harry asked Draco.

"Yes.”

"Good. When?" Harry asked, looking at Hermione expectantly.

"Wait," Draco interrupted. "I don't know what you think of this, but we might want to speak to Andromeda." The name felt strange on his lips. Though the woman was his aunt, he had seen her very few times. The time that stood out to him was when he had seen her in the pensieve.

Harry and Hermione waited for him to continue.

"In the pensieve, we said that she had claimed to have seen Dennis. I know that it was about a year from now that she said it, and it might even just been something to lure us to her as she was under the Imperius curse, but I don't think we should overlook it."

"No, I agree," said Harry. "He might have made contact with her for some reason or another. It's best to gather all information we can on him before we find him."

"Agreed," said Hermione.

"I'll owl her today. So long as she doesn't have other plans, I'm sure she'll see us tomorrow," said Harry. Draco and Hermione nodded. "Well, I guess we've done all the planning we can for today. Thank you both." Harry got to his feet and so did Hermione and Draco. "I'll owl Andromeda, now."

"You can use Orwell, if you'd like," Hermione offered.

"Thanks," Harry nodded.

Draco nodded to them and turned toward the fireplace. He stopped suddenly and turned around. "Hermione?"

Hermione had spoken his name at the same time and both of them were too surprised to continue what they were going to say. They stared at each other with bated breaths, standing several paces from each other. Harry had stopped his walk toward the kitchen when they had spoken and stared at them uneasily. He couldn't understand what passed between them, but he could see that they were unnerved.

"Go ahead," Hermione offered.

"I just wanted to know if we could talk," he said in a low voice.

Hermione nodded slightly, her insides twisting anxiously.

"Um… you know, I think I might just go back to Grimmauld Place and wait for Ron," Harry said slowly. "I'll owl Andromeda from there…"

Hermione and Draco looked at Harry and nodded, not moving from their places.

"I'll contact you both when I've received her reply," Harry finished. He felt awkward as he made his way across the room and between the two unmoving figures. He purposely kept his eyes off of them as he threw the floo powder into the fire and disappeared in the flames.

"Um… well… d-do you want to sit?" Hermione asked uncertainly.

Draco nodded and sat back down in the armchair. Hermione sat down in the middle of the sofa, having it to herself. They glanced at each other out of the corner of their eyes and looked back down at their hands. Moments passed in silence as they both considered what they wanted to say, and even more, what they were actually willing to say… if they had it in them to say anything at all.

"I'm sorry about yesterday," Draco said finally. "I shouldn't have kissed you." Hermione did not look up from her hands. "I won't say that I regret it though," he pressed on. The last part sounded more forceful, like it took all his strength and courage to say it. Hermione looked up at him in surprise. "Things are different between us. Confusing. I don't know what to make of what I did. I hadn't planned it."

Hermione nodded. "I know… We need to talk…"

Draco nodded. "But what do we say?"

"I don't know," she admitted, twisting her fingers in her lap.

"We both saw what we had in that pensieve…" Draco said slowly, "we could have that."

Hermione nodded. "I-I want that…" She paused, unable to believe that she had admitted it to him. "But I don't know you." She looked up at him nervously. "You're not the boy I knew in school… but I don't know that you're that man in the pensieve."

Draco nodded in understanding. "I don't know you either," he stated. He looked up at her in curious wonder. "I want to."

"Me too," Hermione said quietly. There was another uncomfortable pause where they both examined their own personal thoughts and feelings. Hermione swallowed hard and avoided his eyes when she spoke. "Would you like to come over for dinner again? …not just to see Aurelian?" She squeezed her eyes shut. She had never actually asked a man for a date before, except for the one time that she and Ron had given it a try, and she'd never felt as vulnerable. She found it difficult to breathe as she waited for his answer.

"Yes. When?" he asked.

Hermione breathed again, opened her eyes, and looked at him timidly. "Tonight?"

Draco nodded. "Will Aurelian be here?"

"Yes," she answered. "I mean… if that's okay…?"

"Yes," he said hurriedly. He wanted to get to know Hermione, but he still wanted to get to know Aurelian, too. "Half past six?"

"Yes," she said. "I think maybe we'll eat at seven?"

"Okay," he said as he got to his feet. "I, uh, I'll see you tonight then."

Hermione stood with him and nodded. He nodded again, unsure if there was something else he should say. Coming up with nothing, he turned silently and disappeared in the fireplace.

Hermione took a deep breath. She could not believe the conversation she’d just had. She was extremely nervous, but also a little excited. The nervousness won out though. She looked down at the two dinner plates that had been left forgotten on her coffee table. She felt bad that they hadn't eaten them, but hoped Draco wouldn't come back for them because she didn't think she was ready to see him again so soon.

She took the plates into the kitchen, moved the food into storage containers that she put in the icebox, and washed the plates. She opened the icebox again and began to ponder what she should make for dinner. No matter what she decided to make though, she knew that she wouldn't have to debate about what to wear. That night, she would most certainly dress nicely.

 

Chapter Text

"Oh, Hermione, you're back already," Mrs. Weasley said in surprise when Hermione gave a little knock and let herself into the Burrow.

"Yeah, we're finished for today," Hermione answered. She made her way to the kitchen where Molly was cleaning the table and Ginny was perusing the sports section of the Daily Prophet.

"Harry?" Ginny asked as she folded up the paper.

"He's okay now. We've made a plan."

"So, he's not going into-"

"No, he's not going into Knockturn Alley," Hermione reassured her.

"Thank you," Ginny said ardently. "I know he could probably handle himself but… I don't think anyone should go there, but most certainly not him."

"I know," said Hermione. She knew how hard all of it was for Ginny to accept. Harry rarely told her much of what he did at work for that very reason. She worried for him. She knew her friend would worry for her too, if she knew that Hermione would be going to Knockturn Alley in his place, so she thought it better not to mention it. "So where's Aurelian?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, dear. We didn't think you'd be back so soon. He just went up to the orchard with Charlie to try out his toy broomstick," Molly apologized. "Ginny, why don't you go get him for Hermione?"

"No, no. Don't worry about it. He can play for a little while," said Hermione.

"Well, you're welcome to go watch them if you want," Molly offered.

"No, definitely not. I would ruin all of the fun with my worrying. I still have a hard time seeing Ginny and the guys pulling some of the tricks they do. I might have a heart attack watching Aurelian on one," Hermione chuckled nervously.

"It's only a toy broom," Ginny reminded to assuage some of Hermione's fear. "They fly low. His toes will barely be off the ground."

"I know… I'll just let him have fun with Charlie and tell me about it later."

"I bet Charlie's having as much fun as Aurelian," Molly smiled. "When I told him that Aurelian had a toy broom that he hadn't yet tried out, he was thrilled to take him up there."

"I hope you don't mind, Hermione. It seems our family has adopted him as a nephew," Ginny chuckled.

"It's good for him," Hermione replied. "It really means a lot."

"He means a lot to us too, love," Molly told her. "It's been quite some time since we've had little ones around here. Now we get both Aurelian and Teddy to liven the place up a bit."

"So, are you coming to dinner here tonight? Harry is bringing Teddy again," Ginny informed her.

"Oh, I'm not going to be able to make it tonight…," Hermione replied apologetically. "Hey, Gin, since Aurelian's going to be playing for a bit, do you think I could steal you away to talk?"

Ginny and Molly looked up at Hermione with interest and she blushed, making the two women even more curious.

"Sure, let's go." Ginny answered. She pushed out of her chair and started for the stairs. Hermione followed after and glanced back at Mrs. Weasley. The woman wore a warm and knowing smile which caused Hermione to blush more deeply. There was no way a veteran mother like her did not recognize the signs of boy/girl issues.

"So?" Ginny asked, plopping down on her bed.

"He's coming to dinner again," Hermione declared, her stomach twisting into knots.

"Okay…" Ginny said uncertainly. "I don't see why you're so nervous, though. You said things went rather well on Friday. It was a bit awkward, but it should be a little easier this time."

"Yes… it did go well. While we're on that, you still haven't told Harry or Ron, have you?" Hermione asked.

"No, I haven't, but I still don't understand why you are afraid to admit it to them. I think Harry's actually hoping that you will give Malfoy a chance with Aurelian. I think he feels a bit bad for the guy, really."

"Yes, but tonight… tonight isn't just about Aurelian. I… I invited him over as a date," Hermione hurriedly admitted. She closed her eyes and bit her lip, feeling incredibly self-conscious.

Ginny's eyes widened in surprise. "Really?"

Hermione nodded and felt quite silly about how she was acting about the whole thing. Unfortunately, feeling foolish about her insecurities did nothing to quell them. "Ginny, I'm so nervous!" she blurted. "I've never asked a guy out before. Well, with the exception of Ron and that was an awkward catastrophe."

"Well, that's understandable, though. You and Ron had been best friends for several years then, grown up together. You were already very close. It's hard to change that into something else," Ginny reasoned.

"Yes, but Draco and I severely disliked each other for those same years," Hermione reminded her.

"Yes, but you've both grown up since then. You're not children anymore. You have the ability to see each other for who you really are now," Ginny said supportively. "And 'Draco', is it now?"

Hermione blushed. She didn't know when it happened, but she had started referring to Malfoy by his first name. "I just… I don't know what to do! It is so weird between us. I don't know what to expect. I don't know what to say or do."

"Whoa, calm down," Ginny urged. "First, are you sure he knows it's a date? I mean, are you sure he doesn't think that it's just to see Aurelian?"

"He kissed me," Hermione blurted out.

"What?" Ginny gasped. Her eyes were wide and she openly gaped at her friend in shock. "When? Where?"

"Yesterday. At my flat. When we got back from taking Aurey shopping. He just kissed me," Hermione said, worrying her lip once more.

"Wow… that's great, but I meant where on-?"

"On the lips," Hermione interrupted.

"Wow… that's rather unexpected," Ginny chuckled.

"Unexpected for you? I was stunned dumb. I couldn't say anything. And then, I didn't think he was coming to the meeting last night, and he left right after and-"

"Okay, okay…" Ginny said, trying to slow Hermione down again. "So, neither of you were really prepared for that. But, it's not a bad thing. You know he's interested now and he's even coming over for dinner tonight."

"Oh, Ginny, I can't do this," Hermione whimpered. "This isn't like a normal date. He's been feeling the same way I have about the memories and about-"

"Stop," Ginny ordered. "You're getting yourself too worked up about this. This is different because you both are looking way too far ahead at what you could possibly have. Don't. You're looking at a large picture, seeing potential love and potential catastrophe. Don't. If you look too far ahead then you'll trip up with what's right in front of you. Just go with it. Think optimistically and just go with it. See where tonight takes you and then you can start planning for the next time you see him. If you plan any further than a day ahead, then you're going too fast. The two people you saw in that pensieve had a lot that they experienced before they got where they were."

"I know. I know that," Hermione told her seriously. "But that's much easier said than done. I feel like I've already seen so much of him. I feel like he has expectations for me and I'm not sure that I'll reach them."

"And that's you looking too hard again. Just focus on having a nice dinner tonight," Ginny insisted. "Speaking of, what are you wearing tonight?"

"Well, I'm certainly not going to be as casual as I was last time. I want to look nice without being fancy. I was just thinking about one of my sundresses… One of my nicer sundresses," Hermione added quietly with a blush.

"Good. That's sounds perfect. You want to feel comfortable, but also a bit sexy," Ginny said simply.

Hermione's eyes widened when she heard the word 'sexy'.

Ginny laughed aloud at her friend's look of panic. "Feeling sexy isn't for his benefit. Feeling sexy or pretty makes you more confident and therefore more comfortable," Ginny explained. "Now, hair? Make-up?"

"I don't know about my hair, but I think simple with make-up. I rarely wear any so I don't want to… I don't know. Just something light and very natural, I think," Hermione answered, looking for approval. Ginny hadn't had to do much impressing since school as she and Harry found themselves in a very comfortable and stable relationship, but Ginny loved playing fashion and dress-up with her friends. The whole conversation was thrilling her and she looked as if she was having a hard time containing it.

"Good. That's perfect for you. You wouldn't want to do anything that doesn't fit you and your personality. And hair… hmm," Ginny looked at her for a moment. "You want to be you, naturally you. I say, grab some Sleekeazy's Hair Potion and give it a little run-through. Not too much. Just let it bring down a bit of the frizziness and let the natural curl still take over."

Hermione nodded, gratefully accepting Ginny's tips.

"By the way, what are you planning on making for dinner?" Ginny asked.

"Something pretty simple as I really don't know his taste, nor Aurelian's for that matter. I thought maybe a salad and pasta with a vodka cream sauce?" she asked.

"Sounds fantastic. Dessert or no?"

"Always," Hermione smiled. "Chocolate mousse? It's easy, but delicious."

"You're making me wish I was coming," Ginny chuckled. "See? This will be great. Just a nice relaxing dinner."

"I hope so…"

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Mummy," Aurelian started, "Is it-?"

"No, Aurelian, it is not 6:30 yet," Hermione smiled. "He'll be here when it is and you will know. You just have to be patient."

"Okay…" Aurelian pouted. Hermione reached down and habitually combed his hair into place with her fingers.

"I know it's tough to wait, but it's not too much longer. I'm going to ask you to stay out of the kitchen, though. It's hot in here and I don't want you to get hurt," Hermione requested.

Aurelian nodded, but held onto his little pout. Instead of going into the living room, however, he walked over to the other part of the kitchen and sat down at the table. The table was already set and looked almost exactly the same as it did last time, complete with a fresh arrangement of dandelions. In addition, Hermione had already placed wine glasses at the table for both herself and Draco. She wasn't sure he'd be bringing wine again, but she had a perfect bottle that she'd purchased to compliment the meal.

"Daddy bring me 'nother present?" Aurelian asked.

"I don't know, but I don't want you asking him. He just bought you a lot, yesterday," she reminded him.

"But, I likes presents…"

"Ahh!" Hermione shrieked. Aurelian looked up and laughed. "Aurelian, please get your troll off of the kitchen floor."

"Him likes cookin'," he told her, not understanding the problem.

"Well, why don't you take him to the table and he can pretend to cook with you. I almost stepped on him," Hermione took a deep breath to calm herself. Aurelian was the sweetest child she had ever had the pleasure of knowing, but little things like that were still frustrating and she was trying to get used to it.

Aurelian hopped off of his chair and crawled across the floor to get his troll figurine, which was beating one of the cupboard doors with its club. Just as he reached it, the chime from the fireplace sounded through the flat.

"Daddy!" Aurelian cried. He crawled under Hermione, almost knocking her over, and scrambled into the living room. Hermione took another steadying breath, and when her frustration with the interruptions in the kitchen melted away, she was filled again with the incredible anxiety of having Draco over as a date. She set the salad bowl on the counter, removed her apron, smoothed out her dress, and walked into the living room.

"Hi," Draco greeted her, Aurelian wrapped around his legs again.

"Hi," she smiled shyly.

"You look nice," he stated timidly. He looked her over quickly and looked down at Aurelian, hoping not to appear as though he were trying avert his gaze. She had surprised him a bit. He knew this dinner wouldn't be quite as casual as the last time, but he hadn't seen Hermione dress up in any way since the Yule Ball nearly six years prior. He had seen her in sundresses for two days and appreciated that she looked nice in them, but this one was different somehow. It was a little more fitted and the solid white color, lacking in decoration, urged him to see her, rather than his vision being drawn by busy prints and beads. Her hair was as wild as ever, but hung in bouncy satiny curls that framed her face. It was then that Draco realized that he had somehow ended up staring at her, despite his efforts.

"Thank you," Hermione blushed.

"Present, Daddy? You bring me present?" Aurelian asked, looking at the cloth bag in Draco's hand.

"No, actually… it's another bottle of wine for your mother," he said a little guiltily. He removed the bottle from the bag and handed it to Hermione. "I hope it fits alright."

"Not quite with our dinner tonight, but I have a bottle. I can use this for next time." Her blush deepened when she realized that she had inadvertently revealed that she hoped they would have another dinner together. If Draco noticed, he didn't show it. His attention had returned to Aurelian.

"I did bring you something though. I thought that since I was bringing a fancy drink for your mother and me, I could bring you one, too. Do you like Grubbles Fizzy Soda?" he asked, taking out a bottle of lime green colored soda.

"I do! I do!" Aurelian exclaimed excitedly. He reached up for the soda and jumped up and down gleefully when he received it. "I have pretty cup, too?"

"Yes, I think you can have a fancy glass, also," Hermione agreed. "I'm still preparing dinner, so I thought you boys might like to play a little."

"Sure," said Draco.

"We color? You color with me Daddy?" Aurelian asked.

"If that's okay," he said, looking up at Hermione for permission.

"Yes, but we have a rule that coloring must be done at the table. Is that alright?" she asked.

"As long as we're not in your way."

"No, it's fine. Aurelian, you know where the crayons and coloring books are. And make sure you remember to keep your coloring on the paper," she reminded him sternly. Just the evening before, when talking with Harry before the meeting, Aurelian had taken his crayons away from the table and started coloring the walls. She was quite mortified by it, but Harry just laughed. Kreacher had been happy to have something to do.

"Okay, Mummy," Aurelian agreed a little too quickly. He took hold of Draco's hand and started to drag him into the kitchen. Hermione casually snatched the glass beverage bottle out of Aurelian's hand as he passed and followed them into the kitchen. Only a couple minutes later, Draco and Aurelian were hunched over coloring books at the table. Hermione chuckled. She had never imagined she would ever see Draco Malfoy quietly and contentedly coloring with crayons.

Returning her attention to dinner preparation, she took up her spoon and donned her vintage frilled pinny. She glanced over her shoulder at Draco, feeling a little self-conscious in her apron. She shook the thought, determined not to allow her feelings to be based on Draco's approval. What should he care anyway? It appeared that he didn't. He still hadn't looked up from his or Aurelian's coloring books. She dropped the dried linguini into the boiling water and started rinsing a few raspberries to top the chocolate mousse.

Despite his effort to concentrate on Aurelian and his coloring book, Draco couldn't seem to stop peering over at Hermione every few seconds. There were only a few times in his life that he had actually watched someone cook. He had grown up with the service of house-elves and really took for granted how the prepared food ended up on his plate. It looked like there was quite a bit to it, but Hermione flitted around the small kitchen with ease. She was in her element and floated gracefully from one task to the next. He loved the adorable, pensive look she wore when she tasted the sauce. After only a second's pause she seemed to know exactly what she should add to improve the flavor, because when she tasted it next, she looked quite satisfied. She was such an intriguing creature and he just couldn't stop glancing at her.

"Daddy! No purple hair," Aurelian admonished, bringing Draco back to his task. He looked down and noticed that he had accidently picked up a purple crayon instead of the brown. The witch he'd been coloring had quite vivid violet hair.

"And why not?" he asked, making as he had done it on purpose.

"It's silly!" Aurelian giggled.

"Is it sillier than… green skin?" he asked, picking up the green crayon and coloring the witch's face with it.

Aurelian burst into hysterical giggles.

"Or… a pink broom?" he smiled, quickly coloring the broom's handle.

"More Daddy!" Aurelian insisted.

"…with blue spots?" he added spots to the broom.

"Orange. Orange hands, Daddy," Aurelian requested.

Hermione looked away from her cooking and laughed at the sight of them. She still couldn't believe how good Draco was with Aurey. It was almost like he was still a kid himself. That, too, was something that she'd never imagined; Draco Malfoy as a toddler. She wondered what he had been like.

"Alright, guys, it's time to put the crayons away because dinner's ready," Hermione announced.

"Mummy! Mummy, look what Daddy drawed. He color her funny," Aurelian giggled behind his hand, holding up the picture for his mother to see.

"He certainly did," Hermione smiled.

"I put it on icebox?" he asked.

"Sure."

"Put it on the icebox?" Draco asked curiously.

"Um, yes. It's tradition to hang children's artwork and award certificates on the icebox with magnets. Just a way to display them. I didn't realize that was a strictly muggle thing," she mused.

"Well, it might not be. I've just never seen our icebox. The kitchen in our home is set apart where only the house-elves go," Draco explained.

Hermione nodded. She was rather surprised to find that she wasn't as upset at the mention of house-elves this time.

"Can I help with anything?" Draco offered.

"I think I have it. Although, you could pour Aurelian's drink, if you don't mind."

"Of course." Draco moved all of the place settings back into place, while Aurelian put the coloring supplies away, and then he poured the green soda into Aurelian's small wine glass. Aurelian looked positively giddy at the sight of it. Hermione brought the dishes to the table and offered for Draco to help himself while she began to pour the wine. This time she remembered to place the bottle away from the busy tot.

"What dis?" Aurelian asked, looking at the pasta on his plate. Draco was sort of glad his son had asked. It was obviously some sort of pasta, but he wasn't sure what kind of sauce it was.

"It's linguini with vodka cream sauce," Hermione told him.

"I can't like dat," Aurey said with a sneer at his plate.

"Of course, you can. It's spaghetti," Hermione said, putting it in terms he understood.

"Oh," he said brightly, digging his fork enthusiastically in the nest of pasta. Hermione rolled her eyes and Draco chuckled. Hermione took a bite herself and secretly watched Draco to see if he liked it. She really wasn't sure if he was a picky eater, but she assumed most people liked pasta with a tomato sauce. She relaxed when she saw he enjoyed it.

"So," Draco started, "Potter said he was meeting with Weasley this afternoon. He was supposed to have met with Bill?"

"Yeah," Hermione replied, "Bill works for Gringott's and they're working together to see if they might be able to secretly have a look at records connected to the Parkinsons. If they're being threatened, it might be for money or supplies of some kind. Either way, they would probably need to make large withdrawals and we're hoping, if that's true, that we can find a pattern, or a flaw in the pattern of withdrawals. The problem lies in getting the goblins to allow us to have a look. They are very serious about client privacy. While that's appreciated, we wish they would relax about that when the Ministry makes inquiries for legal investigations. Bill said that it might be better to try to butter the goblins up without mentioning the Ministry first, as they might protest even more if they know the Ministry is involved. They don't much care for Ministry involvement."

"Yeah, they don't much care for wizards, in general. I think one of the only reasons they tolerate us is because of the hold they have over us in the banking system," Draco agreed. "About the Parkinsons, I spoke with Blaise last night. I mentioned my concern about Pansy and her family, being rather vague. It turns out that he knows that I'm working with you and Potter on something, but I told him it was confidential. He agreed to keep an eye out for me. He'll let me know if he notices anything."

"That's great. And Harry did speak with Kingsley today. The case is officially confidential now," Hermione informed him. "Enough about that though. I like your policy of no work at the table. Well… I kind of agree with that. I have to admit, I'm rather curious about your work in International Magical Cooperation."

"What about it?" He asked curiously.

"Well, I've worked with you a few times for international crimes, but I know that that's extremely rare for you to deal with. I guess I'm just curious about what you do. How did you ever get into it?"

"Well… I actually became sort of interested in it around the time of the world cup when I was fourteen. Seeing everyone from so many backgrounds, I realized I didn't know much outside of my own life. Then Beauxbaton and Durmstrang came to the school and I felt even smaller," he explained. "The war ended and I was able to take my N.E.W.T.s after only two months' study and did rather well. I still didn't know what I wanted to do. When I was looking through my options, that one stood out. It mentioned that traveling would be required and that sealed it for me."

"Do you travel often then?" she asked.

"Depends on what you call often. I tend to travel about once or twice a month, but it's usually only for two or three days at a time," Draco told her. "It's usually paperwork, compromises, and deals. I'm sent in as representation of our department, just a messenger really."

"You say that like it's a small position, but it's rather impressive how high up you are only two years after joining the department," Hermione said seriously.

"Thank you," Draco said, surprised and flattered by her comment.

"What kind of places have you visited? What’s been your favorite?"

"I've traveled quite a bit really, mostly just around Europe. I've went to the United States once. I've also been to Singapore and Japan," he stated. "Japan was definitely my favorite experience. Depending on when we finish all of this, I might get to go back soon. Japan is to host the final of the next Quidditch World Cup, so we've a lot of talks to have with them."

"The next World Cup is still a little over two years away," Hermione said incredulously.

"And they started talks about it two days after the last one," Draco chuckled. "We've been in contact with the other hosting countries too, but as the final game gets so much attention, there is a lot to go over about security, transportation, language barriers, proper dress… You know, this is all terribly boring. You can't be interested in this."

"I am though!" Hermione insisted. "I certainly haven't seen much of other wizarding cultures and I think it's rather fascinating."

"Really?" Draco asked a little skeptically. He caught the look on her face and realized that she meant it.

"Yes. So what makes Japan your favorite so far?" she asked.

"Well, it really is different. I think a lot of people have the image of Traditional Japan in their minds, and it's there, but there's so much more," he said excitedly. Hermione smiled at the fire of passion in his eyes. "Much of the older generation of wizards still dress and perform tasks in traditional Japanese fashion, the ancient way. But, much of the younger generation is a little more modern. On the whole, most people there seem rather extroverted compared to us. They weren't at all shy to come up and try to talk to me. Many of them even touched my hair because they found the color so different."

Hermione laughed.

"Teddy hair different," said Aurelian, trying to keep up with the adult conversation.

"Yes, it is, isn't it?" Hermione smiled. "That had to be rather uncomfortable for you, huh?" she asked Draco.

"Yes. Very disconcerting. I got over it though. I realized that they just don't have the same social boundaries as we do. But, they also have tighter social boundaries in other aspects. They have manners and mannerisms that are expected that would seem rather formal here. It's just commonplace there. The coolest thing there…" Draco started out sounding extremely excited, but then became very unsure of himself and just stopped.

"No, go on," Hermione urged.

"Well…" he said, working his courage back up. He found all of it very fascinating, but he really didn't know of anyone else that did. His mother politely listened and Blaise laughed at him. He shared some of it with a guy he worked with, but as that man had been there much longer than Draco had, it wasn't as thrilling to share. Hermione seemed interested, but he was afraid he would appear silly and childish with his enthusiasm.

"Really, I'm dying to know what you were going to say," Hermione pressed.

"Me too," said Aurelian, having no idea what was being discussed. He picked up a piece of pasta with his fingers, set it on his fork, and brought the noodle to his mouth before slurping it in.

"Well," Draco continued a little more calmly. "They don't use the floo network in Japan. They have something they call, Koutai-Monko. They take a crystal-like powder that feels like sand and sprinkle a line of it in front of a doorway. They speak where they want to go, open the door, and then walk into that doorway. It can be used at any door, but only opens to the specific door named. For example, if I were to use it here, I would address it just like a would the floo, but it would go to your front door and not, say, your bathroom door. But also, so they are not rude, every home has a foyer, so when someone enters, it's not directly into the house."

"That's really neat. It must be rather convenient, too. You could use it to easily leave a muggle home or anywhere with a door, instead of only a fireplace connected to the floo network," said Hermione.

"Yeah, I thought so, too, at first. I wondered why we didn't choose something like that for national transportation."

"Until?" she asked.

"Until I realized just how easy it is to make a mistake. See, when one can use it on any door, there's always the other side of the door. They use a special knock on the door to allow the person on the other side to know not to use that door because it's being used for travel. Well, no one told me that. I heard someone knock on the door and I opened it. I ended up traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo , having absolutely no idea what happened," Draco chuckled. Hermione had to cover her mouth and hope not to choke on her dinner as she giggled.

"Yeah, and whoever was originally going to travel didn't realize it or something, because no one came looking for me," he continued. "I quite surprised the family I popped in on. Luckily, their teenage daughter spoke a tad of English. She was able to tell me how to get back."

"That's hilarious. It must have been nerve-wracking at the time, but what an adventure," Hermione chuckled silently. "You really make it sound incredible. You've made me want to visit there now."

"Me, too," Aurelian repeated.

"What about you? What drew you to work in Magical Law Enforcement?" Draco asked.

"The war. At first, I told myself that I never wanted to do that kind of thing again, that someone else could do the tracking and investigating and such, because I was done. Well… Like you, I studied for my N.E.W.T.s for a couple months, while Harry and Ron jumped right into Auror business, skipping most of training because of desperate need of help in that area. After I took my N.E.W.T.s, I saw how torn apart the world really was and how badly the law enforcement department was suffering. I decided I couldn't just say that someone else should do it, because that's what everyone was saying. I just had to do it. Once I got into it though, it wasn't so bad. I found my place in evidence, examining, and filing. I still go to crime scenes, but most are, well, they're not serious crimes. Extreme violence and murders were more rare when I came in and have stayed that way, luckily. It became like playing with puzzles, trying to make everything fit."

"You said Ron went to being an Auror right away, how did he change to the Magical Law Enforcement Squad?" Draco asked.

"It just didn't feel right to him. He thought it would be more exciting. When it turned out that they did a lot more tracking on paper than in the field, he started looking at the MLE Squad. And I don't know where it came from, maybe a combination of quidditch skills and chess skills, but Ron's a really good strategist. He fits in there well. I really think it's good for him to be separate from Harry, too. He's lived in the shadows of his brothers and then Harry his whole life. Working as an Auror with him would have meant he'd feel like he'd never find stand in his own light. He's good where he is. He's valued for who he is and I think it's great for him… And I'm babbling terribly. Merlin, I'm sorry," Hermione apologized.

"Is okay, Mummy," Aurelian said, patting her hand consolingly.

Hermione chuckled at him. "Thank you, Aurey.”

"He's right. Though you may have started babbling, we forgive you," Draco smirked. Hermione started blushing. She was supposed to be talking about herself, not Ron.

"Well, why don't you bring us back to topic by telling me what you like to do when you're not working?" Hermione suggested.

"Um, alright," he said. "Well, I really like quidditch still but, as I said before, I haven't been to a game in months. Blaise and I hang out after work sometimes, but we mostly sit around chatting. I'm really rather a boring person, I suppose."

"D-do you date often?" she asked timidly.

"No, not really. I've dated a couple of girls, but only for a few weeks. The last few months the only dating I've done was bringing someone with me to social engagements and those have all just been charity events. I've tried to persuade my mother to allow us to attend the charity events as just the two of us, as we're already going together, but she insists that it's not proper. She says it's fine that she go without a date considering my father… well… But, she insists that I must bring my own date with me. I think she does it because she's worried that I'm not actively seeking a relationship like she thinks I should."

"Sounds like my friends," said Hermione.

"Oh, that's just my mother. Blaise and Pansy are far worse than she is," Draco chortled. "What about you? Do you date often?"

"Um… no. Not at all, actually," Hermione admitted, blushing furiously.

"What about you and Weasley… er Ron?" Draco asked. "You seemed, uh…"

"No," Hermione said hurriedly. She laughed and continued, "No. No, nothing like that. We're just friends. We tried once. Just one date and it was so awkward… We decided mutually that there just could not be anything between us."

Draco nodded. He wouldn't let her see it, but he was quite relieved. The way she'd talked about Ron a few minutes before, so fondly, had concerned him a bit.

"Alright then, since you chose the topic. What kind of things do you like to do when you're not working?" he asked.

"Well, I enjoy unwinding by watching some television sometimes," Hermione offered.

"Me, too!" Aurelian said excitedly. "I like Fireman Sam! Fireman Sam and da Teletubbies! You like 'em too, Daddy?"

"Um… I don't know," Draco said uncertainly. "I've never watched television before."

"We watch it? We watch it now, Mummy? I show him Teletubbies?" Aurelian pleaded.

"We're eating dinner right now. We'll see how we feel after that," she answered evasively.

"You watch it with me, Daddy? Watch it after dinner?" Aurelian asked hopefully.

Draco glanced at Hermione, not knowing what to say. She glanced at Aurelian and when she saw that he wasn't looking at her, she shook her head 'no' to Draco. He could see that she was doing it for him and was even more curious to know what it was, but he decided to take her advice. "I'm not sure about tonight, but we might be able to play a little something before you go to bed. I see that your troll was out."

"Yeah! We could play my troll!" Aurelian said excitedly.

"You have to finish dinner, though," Hermione reminded.

"So, you were saying," Draco prompted.

"Oh, right… Well, I'm a rather boring person myself, I suppose. As everyone seems to remember about me, I like to read," she offered.

"That's a very broad statement. What do you like to read?" Draco inquired.

"Well recently, I've kind of taken to magazines. I subscribe to Popular Potions and I really find it fascinating, but it only comes out every three months. I just started a subscription to Witch Weekly a couple months ago. I used to scoff at it when I was in school, but they have some really good recipes and useful spells and tips for keeping house. But, magazines get finished too quickly. I'm really a person who enjoys novels, muggle or wizard. I enjoy both. I'm currently reading Agatha Noel's Werewolf Tragedies series."

"Really? And what do you think?" he asked curiously.

"I'm really enjoying them. I only discovered them about a month ago," she said.

"And which are you on?"

"I'm a little more than halfway through the third book. Why? Have you read them?"

"Yeah, it's my favorite series. Not that any reach the spot as my favorite book, but certainly my favorite series."

"Have you read the fourth? That's the most recent, isn't it?" Hermione asked excitedly.

"Yeah. It's fantastic. I can't believe that in the end she-"

"Don't!" Hermione shrieked. Aurelian jumped in his seat and Draco burst out in a hearty laugh. Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, uncertain of what to make of his reaction.

"I'm sorry," he apologized, trying hard to school himself back into a calm state. Hermione still looked at him warily, but started to relax a bit when she saw the wide, genuine smile he wore. "I'm sorry," he apologized again. "I couldn't help myself. I wasn't going to say anything. I just wanted a reaction. Pansy did the same thing when I did it to her. Although, you must be a little more restrained than she is, as I'm not wearing your wine."

Hermione had settled, but she still couldn't bring herself to smile. She felt uncomfortable in a different way then. She and Draco Malfoy were not only carrying on civilized conversation, he had had joked with her, no cruelty involved, just played with her to get a laugh. It was just like something Harry or Ron would pull. She realized that she was beginning to become comfortable around him, but it seemed so comfortable that it then became uncomfortable. Only… did he see it like that, or just her?

"I'm sorry," he said once more, his smile beginning to fade when it didn't look like his joke had been accepted well.

"No, it's okay," Hermione said, putting on what she hoped was a convincing smile. "You just really played with my emotions there for a second. Apparently, I'm a little more serious about the books than I should be."

"I like books," said Aurelian. "I like Hopping Pot."

"That's right. I got to read that to you the other night, didn't I?" Draco said with a smile. Realizing that they had left the little person out of conversation, he asked "So, tell me, Aurelian, what did you do today?"

Hermione stood and began to clear away the dinner plates.

"I went with Mummy to see Helen and… What was da grumpy guy's name, Mummy?" Aurelian asked casually.

Hermione stopped mid-step, the cup of chocolate mousse frozen in her hand a few inches above the table. She shook herself and placed it down in front of Aurelian. "You can call him Granddad. And do you think you could try to call Helen 'Grandmum'?"

"Okay," he smiled. "We went to see Helen… erm, Grandmum and Granddad today."

Draco looked up at Hermione. She had avoided looking at him when she set the dessert down in front of him. She looked so hurt and injured that he wanted to say something, but he didn't know what he could offer.

"And she gived me lots of eggs and a muffin to take to Aunt Molly's," Aurelian continued cheerfully.

"Did you have fun there again?" Draco asked him, still keeping his eyes on Hermione.

"Yep! Charlie helped me fly on my broom today. I went so fast!" he shouted, standing up in his chair with his arms in the air. "Charlie chase me everywhere all around, but I too fast!"

"Sounds like a brilliant time," Draco said with a smile at the enthusiastic tyke.

"Uh-huh. I went zoom, zoom, zoom and runned right into da tree," he laughed.

"What?" Hermione asked suddenly.

"Yeah-huh. I got a owie on my knee and broked the broom, but Charlie made it all better," Aurelian assured her.

Hermione did not look comforted.

"He's fine," Draco told her. "Look at him. It hasn't deterred him at all, so he didn't really get hurt. And those brooms really aren't fast. If he says it was broken, it was probably just a tiny snapped twig. It's nothing to worry about, I promise you," he reassured her. "When I was his age I thought I was king of the world on my toy broom, too. But, I also thought I was the fastest runner in the world. Don't worry about him."

"You take me flying, Daddy? You pway me and da broom?" Aurelian asked.

"I'd like that. We'll have to see though," Draco told him, uncertain when or where he'd have the chance.

"Alright," Hermione said, standing again. "Looks like we've finished dessert. Do you two want to play a bit before bed or-?"

"Yeah, we'll play," Draco told her. He enjoyed their conversation at dinner, but he felt quite guilty that Aurelian had been so left out.

"Yay!" Aurelian cried, rushing off to the living room. Draco smirked and followed after.

Hermione spent the next ten minutes cleaning up the dinner plates and the kitchen counters. She wanted to give the boys some more time to play privately. When she was through, she walked into the living room and sat on the sofa, handing another glass of wine to Draco who nodded in appreciation. He was again sitting on the floor with Aurelian with several figurines in front of them. They had two trolls and a handful of witch and wizard figurines. Hermione was personally unfamiliar with the figures, but the way Draco had explained them to her, they were fictional characters that were much like muggles' superheroes. She was amazed, even more than before, when she saw the way Draco played with Aurelian. Quidditch was something that most adults could appreciate, but there he was making voices and grunts for the troll and wizard he was in charge of. At one point, she had to stifle a giggle. Draco had seen her though and sneered playfully.

"You know, Aurelian. I think your Mummy should get down here and play, too. What do you think?" Draco suggested with a sly smirk. If she could laugh at him for playing, then he thought they should be on the level ground.

"Yeah, Mummy!" Aurelian said excitedly.

"Sorry, guys, not this time. A rain check though," Hermione replied.

"Oh, come on," Draco goaded. "You're not afraid of a little ol' troll are you?"

"Of course not. Just after playing with the real thing, how can toys compare?" she said playfully.

"Oh, that's right…" Draco said, the memory returning to him. "It was you that found that troll in our first year."

"No. It found me," Hermione corrected.

"Huh," he laughed. "That seems like so long ago."

"Well, it was wasn't it?"

"Well… sort of. It's been ten years, but those ten years have really flown by."

"Daddy," Aurelian grumbled, upset that his father's attention had been stolen away.

"I'm sorry," Hermione apologized. "But actually, it's about time we get you into bed anyway."

"Aww…" Aurelian whined. "No bed!"

"Hey, you don't tell your mother 'no'," Draco admonished gently. "Good men mind their mothers."

Hermione looked at him with a soft smile, surprised by him once again. It was nice to have his support, but what was even more significant, was his use of the word 'men'. It was one thing to say 'good little boys', but he had said 'good men'. It spoke louder somehow. It included him when he said it. It felt more like a suggestion on how to live instead of just how to act.

"Hopping PotHopping Pot, Daddy?" he pleaded.

Draco looked at Hermione, seeking her permission. She smiled, nodded, and summoned the book for them.

"Okay," said Draco, "but when I finish this, you go to bed with no more fuss, right?"

"Right!" Aurelian agreed, climbing onto Draco's lap.

When the story was finished, Hermione excused herself and Aurelian so that she could put him in bed.

"Pwease, Mummy? Pwease my song?" Aurelian begged as Hermione pulled his pajama shirt over his head.

"I'm sorry, but your father is out there waiting," Hermione apologized.

"Pwease! Pwease, pwease, pwease, Mummy!" he pleaded.

Hermione sighed, pushed his hair off his forehead, and stared into his silvery eyes. She smirked and shook her head. He was simply impossible to say no to. "Alright. Get under the blankets and close your eyes." Aurelian quickly did as he was told and Hermione turned out the light. She sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed his back as she sang:

"Goodnight my love, the tired old moon is descending,
Goodnight my love, my moment with you now is ending.
It was so heavenly, holding you close to me,
It will be heavenly to hold you again in a dream,
The stars above have promised to meet us tomorrow,
Til then, my love, how dreary the new day will seem,
So for the present dear, we'll have to part,
Sleep tight my love, goodnight my love,
Remember that you're my sweetheart."

When the song was finished, she leaned forward and placed a kiss on his forehead. "Goodnight, Aurelian."

Hermione opened the door and gasped to see Draco standing there.

"Sorry," he apologized quickly. "I… I didn't mean to startle you. I just had to use the toilet and when I came out, I heard you singing… I was pretty nosy, I guess."

"No… no, it's fine. I was just startled, is all," Hermione told him. Regardless of what she said, she was embarrassed to know that she had been overheard.

"So, what was that song?" Draco asked, as they both walked back to the living room.

"Oh… it's something he asked me to sing. I guess I used to sing it to him most every night. It's an old muggle song by Ella Fitzgerald. My dad used to sing it to me," she finished quietly.

Draco looked at her sadly. He didn't know what happened at her parents' house that day, but he knew it hadn't gone well. He wanted to ask, but knew that if she wanted to talk about it, she would. He didn't want to pry. It was too personal.

"It's a nice song," Draco commented.

"Yeah, I really don't do it justice though," Hermione said bashfully.

"I think you sing quite nicely."

Hermione blushed deeply. "Well, um, thank you. I still don't do it justice, though. It's big band music, so the instruments are a large part of it."

"Big band?" Draco asked.

"Yeah, jazz music," Hermione told him as she sat on the sofa. "Sorry, I forget that wizards don't have as many music styles."

"What do you mean?"

"Well… there are a lot of different genres in muggle music. Here there's basically music like Celestina Warbeck or like The Weird Sisters," Hermione explained.

"Tell me then, what other kind of music is there?" Draco asked.

"Oh, tons," Hermione replied. "Way more than I could mention. There's jazz, classic rock, punk rock, rap, techno, pop, then ethnic styles like salsa and reggae. There's so many…" Hermione stopped and her excitement faded. "Sorry…"

"What?" Draco asked, looking rather confused.

"I'm sure you're really not that interested in hearing about muggle things and I have a tendency to go on and on about them," Hermione admitted apologetically.

"No, it's okay," said Draco.

"Really?" she asked skeptically. "I mean… you've always seemed…"

"Against all things muggle?" he offered. "Yeah… well, I was always taught that there was one right way to be; one right way to do things. I guess… over the years I started wondering about how other people did things. I started working for the International Magical Cooperation and I started travelling and seeing all different kinds of people with a lot of different backgrounds and traditions. I thought… well… they can't all be wrong. I guess, well, muggles might be kind of the same way. I don't think they're wrong… just different."

"Really?" Hermione asked. It meant so much to her that she didn't know what to do or say. She was overwhelmed.

"It's still really different. I still don't really know much about it. It's a strange culture." As soon as he said it, he quickly added, "But that's not a bad thing. Just… a bit… intimidating."

"I know. I had a lot to learn when I entered the wizarding world."

"Do you miss it? Living in the muggle world?" Draco wondered.

"Um… no," she admitted truthfully. "I never really left it. Well, that's how I see it. We're in the muggle world right now. I'm sure you've seen that I still hold onto some muggle things. I have electric lights and television. I listen to muggle music and still wear many muggle clothes. I use more magical things than muggle, but I think I've learned to live in both worlds quite well."

"You might have to show me that television thing sometime," Draco said looking a bit flustered. "All muggle-borns and even some fascinated wizards talk about it. Why did you want me to say no to Aurelian?"

"Because the show he wanted you to watch is hardly tolerable. It's a very annoying children's program that must have been thought up when someone was taking psychotropic drugs." Draco laughed at Hermione's vehement distaste. "I wasn't about to let that be your first impression of television. No, if you're actually interested, I'll put in a film or something sometime."

"Yeah, I think I'd like to see what it is," he agreed.

"You know, if you ever have a question about muggle things, you can ask. But, if I ever start going on about them and it's a bit much, you can also ask me to tone it down. I won't be offended. Ron gets quite fed up with Harry and me going on about stuff sometimes," Hermione told him.

Draco nodded. They sat in silence for a few moments before Draco stood. "Well… I guess I should probably go."

Hermione stood and nodded. "Yeah, I guess… I mean, you don't have to," she said suddenly. "I mean… I'm not making you. I just…" She blushed deeply. She couldn't seem to be able to verbalize what she meant.

"I understand," he told her. "Thank you, again, for dinner. It was really nice. Very good. I really enjoyed talking to you."

"I enjoyed it, too," she smiled. She was starting to get uncomfortable once more. They stood rather close to one another again and she couldn't stop thinking about the kiss he had given her the day before. She couldn't decide if she wanted him to do again or not. She thought she rather wanted him to, but… she just didn't know…

He looked both curious and anxious as he reached down and took her hand in his. He didn't fully understand his action, he had just realized that he had never really touched her before. Her hands looked so small and delicate; her fingers so dainty. He ran his thumb over the soft skin of her knuckles and his eyes returned to her face. She looked nervous, not frightened as she had the day before. He smiled. It was a start.

"I'm going to kiss your cheek," he told her.

She nodded dumbly and her eyes closed slowly, so many delicious feelings flooding her, as his lips alighted on her soft rosy cheek.

"Thank you," he said. Hermione's eyes fluttered open. She wasn't sure whether he was thanking her again for the meal or for the kiss, but she wasn't sure what to answer to either.

"Thank you," she returned. "I… I'll see you tomorrow."

Draco nodded. "Goodnight."

 

Chapter Text

"Master Harry, Miss Hermione Granger is here to see you," Kreacher announced from the entrance to the sitting room.

"Good, thanks," said Harry. "You did tell her just to come in here, didn't you?"

"I knew that on my own," Hermione said, from behind the house-elf.

"Master Harry is in the sitting room if you wish to see him," Kreacher belatedly informed her.

"Thank you, Kreacher," she said kindly.

"Morning, Hermione," Harry smiled.

"Good morning.”

"So-"

"I'm seeing Draco," she hurriedly announced.

Harry's eyes widened at the forwardness of her statement, but slowly a lopsided smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "No need to beat around the bush. You can be frank with me," he teasingly remarked.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Hermione apologized. "I know this is-"

"It's okay, Hermione," he interrupted her.

"It is?" she asked anxiously.

"Yeah," he said with a small shrug. "I mean, after what we saw, I kind of figured you guys would give something a try at some point. I'm still a little surprised, I admit. Last I knew, you still weren't letting him see Aurelian. I thought maybe you were making negotiations when I left yesterday, not…"

"I changed my mind. He came over for dinner on Friday to play with Aurelian. Last night, he came to dinner… er… for me, too," Hermione fidgeted as she said it and glanced up at Harry when she was through. "You're really not… er…"

"Upset? No. Does it feel awkward? Well…" Harry rubbed the back of his head. "Just be careful with this. Both of you. Right?"

Hermione smiled and nodded.

"So, uh… yeah…" Harry said uncomfortably. "About Ron…"

"He's not going to take this well," Hermione assisted him.

"Yeah. It's not that he's… He didn't see what we did in the pensieve. Had I not seen it myself, I don't think I'd take this as well, either."

"Nor I!" Hermione agreed. "Nor Draco. I guess some things are just too hard to imagine without help. Just… How bad do you think it will be?"

"With Ron, it's hard to tell, but I think he might surprise you," Harry told her honestly. "He won't like it, but I think he's had to play around with the idea a bit already. I mean, Ron understands the basic biology of it. Aurelian had to happen somehow."

"Oh Godric, Harry," Hermione whimpered, covering her face in mortification.

"Yeah… that was a little too deep into it," Harry swallowed hard.

"Morning," Draco greeted as he walked into the room.

"Master Harry, Draco Malfoy is here to see you," Kreacher croaked. "Kreacher informed him that he may seek you here."

Harry and Hermione stared at Draco, both blushing a deep crimson color.

"What?" Draco asked, confused by their welcome, or lack thereof.

"Nothing," Harry said hurriedly. "We were just talking. Eh, good morning."

"Morning," Hermione said quietly, her cheeks getting hotter when she remembered the light kiss on the cheek she had received the evening before.

"Well," said Harry, glancing at his watch, "it looks like we're running just on schedule. Andromeda asked us to be there about eleven. Since neither of us mentioned the floo, we'll be arriving by Apparition. Do you know where it is, Malfoy?"

"No, I don't," Draco admitted. Just like in the pensieve, he felt a little uneasy about meeting his aunt for the first time. He hoped that Potter had remembered to mention that he would be coming with them, but he couldn't bring himself to ask.

"That's fine. You'll just have to side-along," said Harry. Both he and Hermione offered their arms simultaneously. They looked at each other in surprise and Harry quickly lowered his arm. Hermione blushed and Draco looked at them both suspiciously. After a second's pause, Draco lightly took hold of Hermione's proffered arm. As soon as he did, he felt the familiar pulling and stretching sensation of Apparition. When his body felt firm and natural again, he took a moment to survey his surroundings.

The three of them stood on an empty sidewalk of a very familiar looking residential neighborhood. It was one that Harry and Hermione had seen many times before, but Draco had viewed only once in the pensieve. He recalled that memory well and automatically reached for his wand pocket. Harry stayed his arm.

"You won't need that. This isn't the memory and I saw her just yesterday at the Burrow when she picked up Teddy," Harry told him.

Draco nodded. "Habit."

"A good one, but we don't want her to feel uneasy or suspicious."

Draco nodded and he and Hermione followed after Harry. Their walk through the neighborhood was a quiet one, each of them concentrating on their own thoughts and questions. It was only a few minutes later that their walk led them up a small worn path to the front door of a small white house. Harry knocked twice and the door opened almost immediately.

"Ah, Harry," Andromeda greeted when she opened the door. "Right on time, as usual."

Harry glanced at his watch and saw that it was indeed eleven o'clock on the dot. He was actually rather surprised. He was almost exactly on time whenever he came to pick up Teddy to visit, but that was because he was usually excited to see the boy and waited by the floo for the clock to strike the hour. He loved his godson very much and desired to be a large part of his life. Arriving by Apparition with two guests though, he was surprised at how well they managed to time things.

"Thank you," Harry said as the woman let him in.

"Hermione," she nodded. "Draco."

Draco was surprised to hear her use his first name, but even more surprised by the ease with which she spoke it. They had never technically met.

"Nice to see you, Aunt Andromeda," he said cordially.

"You don't have to say that, you know," she told him.

"No," he said, taken aback. "I mean it." He was rather surprised to find that he actually did. It was difficult for him to accept that he had so few living relatives. But even more troubling was that he had two living relatives not far from him that he had never met because of an old, petty family dispute.

"Well, in that case, I'm pleased to finally meet you," Andromeda returned with a smile. "But, let's not just stand at the door. Let us move to the sitting room. Harry?"

The house was quite small, so Harry, being at the front of the group, led the way. When they entered the small sitting room, Harry took a seat at the far-side of the settee. Hermione sat next to him and Draco took the other end. Andromeda smiled to them and summoned an armchair, so that she could sit opposite them across the coffee table.

"So, may I offer you some tea?" she asked before sitting.

"Uh, no, thank you," Harry declined. "This is just meant to be a short visit."

Andromeda looked at him sternly. "It does not matter how long the visit or how well one knows their guests, it is proper to have tea with a conversation," she stated. Draco stared at the woman and felt that he knew her so much better already. That very phrase had been told to him by his mother many times. Even just between the two of them, a proper conversation could not be made without tea. She looked rather like his mother also. In fact, Andromeda looked like a rather perfect cross between her older and younger sisters. Her long shiny hair was medium brown in color and was swept into a sleek French twist. Her heart-shaped face was neither as soft as his mother's, nor as sharp as Bellatrix's. She looked both youthful and worn. She was a woman who had lived a difficult, but satisfying life, and it shown in her eyes.

"Of course," Harry replied. "I didn’t mean to be rude. We would love some tea, thank you."

She smiled at him fondly, much as a mother would a child, or more like an aunt would her nephew, and politely excused herself from the room.

"Harry!" a small voice shouted with glee. Harry was able to look up just in time to see the flash of a smile before a toddler hopped onto his lap.

"Hey, Teddy. Did you miss me already?" Harry asked.

"Uh-huh. You miss me, too?" the little boy beamed.

"You know it. So… what's with the color today?" Harry asked, running his fingers through Teddy's thick black hair.

"Like Harry's," Teddy told him, lightly patting Harry's black hair in return.

"Of all of the fun colors in the world, you choose black? I thought you said black was yucky?" Harry said.

"Black yucky lots of time, but not on your head," he said seriously.

"Oh, of course, but don't choose it just because of me."

"I won't. Colors take dere turns."

"Yeah? Well, what color do you think you'll have tomorrow?" Hermione asked.

"Um… his!" Teddy said, pointing at Draco. Draco looked stunned and confused.

"Oh, he's a metamorphmagus," Hermione explained. "He changes his hair color rather frequently."

"Makes sense why his hair was purple in the pensieve then. His mother was one also, wasn't she?" Draco asked.

"Yes, she was. It's quite rare, especially two generations in a row," Andromeda answered as she entered the room with a tea tray. "Teddy, why don't you go play in your room while we talk?"

"But, I want to stay with Harry," he pouted.

"It's really up to you, Andromeda," Harry told her.

"Alright, you may stay, but you must be quiet and if I tell you it's tall-talk, you must leave the room with no fuss," Andromeda told Teddy seriously. He nodded and smiled. "So, what brings the three of you here today?"

"A case we're working on. We were wondering, do you know who Dennis Creevey is?" Harry asked as he finished stirring sugar into his tea.

"Dennis Creevey? Yes, I believe I do. His brother was lost in the last battle, poor boy," she said sadly. "How is he doing?"

"Well, we're not sure, but we don't think well. He's gone missing and we're asking around to see if anyone has seen him recently. We were wondering if you might have," Harry explained.

"Oh dear, how long has he been missing?" she asked with concern.

"We don't know the exact date, but he went missing sometime around the end of the school term."

"Oh, I… no. No, I haven't seen him," she answered looking worried.

"Can you remember the last time you did?" Hermione asked. She jumped in surprise when her handbag started vibrating. "Sorry," she apologized as she dug through her bag and found her phone. She saw that it was Ron and ignored it. She could speak to him soon. "Sorry, go on."

"Well, I haven't seen him very many times," she said pensively. "I've only seen him three or four times since the memorial services. I may have seen him out while shopping and not realized it, but the other times I had seen him at the cemetery. He was visiting his brother, I supposed. The last time was… well, it must have been winter as we wished each other pleasant holidays."

"Oh, so you haven't even seen him in the last six months," Harry said looking a bit disappointed.

"No," she said remorsefully. "I must ask though, why do you ask me? I really don't even know the boy."

"Well, I apologize that we can't really answer any of your questions pertaining to the case, but really we're asking about anyone we can think of. We'd also appreciate if you could keep an eye out for him. We don't want people knowing that he's missing, but if the chance ever arises to mention him, if you hear anything about him, we'd appreciate if you would let us know," said Harry.

"Of course. And, I ask you to let me know when he's found," she requested. "But, is that all that you came here for?"

"I did say that it'd be a short visit," Harry reminded, looking at his teacup that was still more than half full. As he was looking into it, Teddy dropped another sugar cube into the cup. Harry chuckled.

"Well, I'm very sorry that I couldn't be more help," Andromeda apologized. "That's really all you needed then?"

"Well, yeah, I-"

"Actually," Draco interrupted uncertainly. Andromeda and Harry turned to him like they had forgotten that he was even there. "I apologize. It's quite random really," he warned, "but I was wondering if you could tell me a little about my grandmother's ring."

Andromeda was taken aback by the question. To her, it did seem quite a random request. To Harry and Hermione though, it was taking hold of a brilliant opportunity. There was little they knew about the ring and so much they wanted to know. They hadn't once thought to ask Andromeda, though they wouldn't have known how to approach the question if they had.

"Well, I suppose… but I don't really know what it is that you're asking. Obviously your mother has told you that it was our mother's wedding ring, passed down through generations. What is it that you wish me to tell you?" Andromeda inquired.

"Well, Mother has mentioned those things, yes, but she has always been quite reluctant to talk about it. I was told once that there was quite a dispute about who the rightful owner of the ring was," Draco said tentatively.

"Ah, you speak of Bellatrix then," Andromeda said, the subject quite clear to her then. "Yes, I suppose it would be quite difficult for your mother to discuss." Andromeda paused and the three guests on her sofa waited with bated breath, trying their hardest not to appear overly interested. "The ring has been in our family for a few centuries now. Our father was given the ring by his grandmother and gave it to our mother when they were wed. It is quite a coveted piece, ancient, delicate and pure, goblin-made. Our mother died during the first war, natural causes. I was not there. I had been shunned by our family several years before then. She died only a few months before you were born, Draco. It was upon her deathbed that she spoke to your mother and gave her that ring. My mother was certain that you would be a boy and wanted you to give that ring to your wife one day. It was a serious slap in the face to Bellatrix to whom the ring was supposed to have been given."

"Why was the ring supposed to go to Bellatrix?" Harry asked.

"Well, it is an heirloom. It is meant to be given to the next male in line to be married, but as none of us had sons, it should have gone to the next woman in line to be married. That would have been my Dora, but I was no longer considered part of the family. Therefore, the ring would go to the eldest child – Bellatrix. Now, I know that one would think that our mother gave it to Narcissa because she was with child, but my sisters and I know that it most likely would have gone to Cissy anyway," Andromeda chuckled mirthlessly. She sounded a tiny bit spiteful the way she said it, but she shook herself from it and her kind and simple explanation continued.

"See, your mother was our mother's favorite from the day she was born. Mother looked on her and thought she was the most beautiful and pure creature that had ever touched the earth. Even her name suggests it, as Mother deviated from the tradition of naming children of the black family after the stars. Instead, mother named her Narcissa after the nymph Narcissus, who is known widely as the most beautiful and proud creature in history. It was no secret at all that she was Mother's favorite, and though I admit that it stung me, it was nothing to the way Bellatrix felt about it. She always believed that being the oldest meant that she had the right to more respect. She and I had been on pretty even ground before Cissy, but Bella was… angry," Andromeda said, looking quite frustrated as she remembered. "Oh, but listen to me. This is not what you asked for. I'm sorry I-"

"No, please go on," Draco pleaded.

Andromeda looked at him thoughtfully and continued. "Well, as I was saying, Bella was angry. There is no other word for it. Bella had always been an angry child and easily became jealous. She tried often to upstage Narcissa, but always fell short in Mother's eyes. There were a few times when she took her anger out on Cissy, but it only served to drive the wedge between Mother and Bella deeper and caused Mother to pull Cissy closer. Your mother, I admit, had nothing to do with it. She provoked nothing. In fact, I believe she tried to remain quiet and average, but Mother thought it only made her seem more angelic," Andromeda explained. "Bella tried in so many ways to take your mother's place at the top. She truly thought she might have found it the day she married Rodolphus. What better way to impress our parents than to marry a pureblood man of good standing? It didn't have the effect she was hoping for. She turned to you-know-who, she and Rodolphus. Though I'm sure she did it because she believed in what she was doing, I also believe that she was seeking Mother's pride and approval. She hated Lucius, Bella, I mean, not our mother. Lucius also joined you-know-who, but while mother said nothing of Bella's involvement, she disapproved of Lucius's involvement because she didn't want Narcissa involved. You truly can't understand what it was like simply by hearing it. There was so much tension, anger, and sadness simply because of my mother's blatant favoritism. I gave up. I wasn't Bella. I knew I'd never earn Mother's love and approval. I found love with my husband, Ted Tonks. I was disowned for it, but it was worth it to me. And, I'm digressing again," she chuckled sadly.

"I-I'm sorry Aunt Andromeda," Draco apologized sincerely. It had gone much deeper than he had imagined. He wanted to tell her that she didn't have to continue, but he'd never wanted someone to continue so badly. His family rarely shared so much and certainly not so openly.

"No, it's okay. I see your interest in it, and I'm now finally getting back to answering the question you actually asked," she smiled softly. "As I said, your mother was only a few months from giving birth to you when our mother passed. Our mother giving that ring to Cissy, regardless of the reason, was a slap in the face to Bella. It was the proverbial 'straw', I suppose. She left; disappeared. Even Rodolphus didn't know where she went. Your mother was frightened. She didn't know what to do. She came to me, seeking advice."

"Mother met with you? But, I thought…" Draco looked confused. He knew what it meant to be disowned from the family. That person was shunned completely. He was surprised that his mother would have made contact with Andromeda.

"Yes, she did," she smiled genuinely. "We still meet from time to time. Some bonds are just too strong to sever completely. She needed me then. I was the only other person who understood about Bella. Cissy thought about just giving Bella the ring in hopes that it would assuage her. She never got the chance though. When Bella returned, it was with a new air about her. We'd learned then where she'd gone. She'd run to you-know-who. With him, she found the acceptance and pride she was seeking. She had devoted her everything to him, wishing nothing more than to do whatever he asked and gain his favor. The fact that it gave her an outlet for her anger probably appealed to her, as well."

"And the ring then?" Hermione asked curiously.

"Bella said no more about it," Andromeda answered. "I think part of it was finding power, pride, and acceptance. The other part… Well, our aunt, Walburga Black, Sirius's mother, felt sympathetically toward Bella. She believed that our mother was in the wrong to offer the ring to Narcissa over Bellatrix. Having no daughters of her own, Aunt Walburga gave Bellatrix the opal necklace that once belonged to our grandmother, Irma. That, though I hate to admit it, rather upset me as that was once promised to me. I had long dreamed of giving it to my daughter. That was before I was disowned from the family. I knew that when I went with Ted that I would lose all of it, but that didn't mean it didn't sting. As you can tell, those silly little trinkets certainly meant a lot to us. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, but it is what it is. Oddly enough, my Dora still got it in the end."

"W-What do you mean?" Harry asked in confusion.

"I don't know how – fate, I've decided - Dora was found after the battle with that opal necklace in her hand. Kingsley said that it was Bella that killed her." At this, tears began to well up in Andromeda's eyes. "I thought that maybe I should hold onto it to hand it down through Teddy, but I just couldn't. I saw what trouble heirlooms can cause. I don't want that for the future generations. As I've said, I believe it always should have belonged to my Dora and some higher power seemed to agree, so I didn't take it from her."

"What do you mean?" asked Harry. "Where is it now?"

"With Dora… buried with Dora," At this, a rogue tear slid down Andromeda's cheek. "I'm sorry. You'll have to forgive me."

"No. No, you'll have to forgive me," Draco said quickly. Standing up, he retrieved a handkerchief from inside his robes and handed it to the tearful woman.

Andromeda chuckled and nodded at this. "Your mother has certainly raised you properly, it seems."

Because of her laugh, Draco couldn't decide if it was a compliment or not.

"Thank you," she said, kindly and genuinely. Draco nodded and sat again.

"Well, Andromeda, I'm really sorry we disturbed you like this. I assure you that it wasn't our intention," Harry apologized.

"No, Harry, really it's alright," Andromeda reassured him. "Sometimes it does a person good to remember such things, and it most certainly helps those that hear it to not make the same mistakes."

Draco realized that, as the ring's owner, the statement was directed at him. "Thank you again, Aunt."

"And thank you for coming, Draco. Perhaps we might see each other again," she said. "And, Harry, when did you say you'd be picking Teddy up next? I've already forgotten."

"Well, I'm not sure actually. Regretfully, I'm rather busy now. I assure you, I'll be owling or flooing soon," Harry told her. "But for now, I think I better go place him in bed for you." Harry lifted the sleeping toddler in his arms. All the talking had put him straight to sleep. Harry disappeared around the corner down the hall.

"Nice to see you again, Hermione," Andromeda smiled. "You take care of those boys, right?"

"Always," Hermione smiled. It was a task not often verbalized, but she knew that many, including the Weasleys, trusted her to keep reigns on both Harry and Ron. "Thank you."

Harry reentered the room and said his final goodbye before leaving with Hermione and Draco. They walked silently back to the place they had Apparated to earlier and stopped.

"Well, we didn't really learn anything about Dennis, but that certainly was an informative trip," Hermione stated.

"Yeah, good on you asking about that ring," Harry told Draco. Draco nodded, lost in his thoughts. "We've learned much more about Bellatrix than I ever thought we would. A look into her mind and she seems even more frightening. She has no motives now. She's simply angry and wishes to punish the world."

"Quite disturbing," Hermione agreed. "It's frightening really to think that this all went back to their mother. If she had only taken a little more interest in Bellatrix, she may have never turned out like this. It's scary to see just how much influence a mother has on a child's life."

"So, what now?" Harry asked.

"Oh, Ron!" Hermione remembered. "I need to phone him back. You don't mind, do you?"

"No," said Harry. "It might help us know where to go next."

Hermione took out her mobile and called Ron. Draco blocked out the half-sided conversation and tended to his own thoughts. He went over the many times he had seen his mother and Bellatrix together. His mother had always seemed stiff and uncomfortable with Bellatrix around, almost defensive, and Draco had never understood why. Bellatrix, though cruel to nearly everyone, seemed kindest to his mother. The worst he had seen of her toward his mother was stern disapproval, but it was nothing more than he would have expected of a big sister with concerns for her younger sibling. It all made so much sense now. His mother was afraid of Bellatrix. She though, by Andromeda's explanation, did not want to hurt her youngest sister. Though it was doubtful that Bellatrix consciously recognized her motives, her attitude toward Narcissa had come from the insatiable desire to please her mother.

"Draco?" Hermione asked tentatively.

"What? Sorry," Draco said, snapping from his thoughts.

Hermione glanced anxiously at Harry, worried about how Draco seemed to take all of it. "Well, Harry just said that he's going to go meet with Bill. It seems that he might have found a few goblins that might be interested in negotiating an exchange of information. Harry wanted to know if you and I would like to try to go to Knockturn Alley today or just prepare for tomorrow."

"Um, well, we were originally thinking tomorrow because Hagrid had seen him there on a Tuesday, right? So, let's just plan everything for tomorrow and hope Tuesdays have a special meaning to him," Draco suggested.

"I agree," said Hermione.

"Alright," said Harry. "I'll speak to you both in the morning before you head out."

"Alright, Harry," Hermione smiled. Harry nodded and Disapparated. "So, back to my flat then?"

"Sounds fine. I just Apparate outside your front door? Or, is there a better place?" Draco asked.

"No, outside the door is fine. See you there in a second." With that, Hermione Disapparated.

Only a second after she arrived on her doorstep, she was joined by Draco. She smiled at him and unlocked her door with a quick wandless spell.

"Make yourself at home. I just want to make a quick call to Ginny," Hermione told him. Draco looked around uncertainly before taking a seat on her sofa. Hermione disappeared into the kitchen with her phone already in hand.

"Ginny?" Hermione asked, when she received a friendly hello.

"Hermione," she returned cheerfully. "Don't tell me you're done already."

"Yep. It wasn't meant to be a long visit. How are things going?"

"Fine. We're doing great," Ginny answered.

"Good. Well, Harry is getting together with Bill now, so Draco and I are just at my place getting ready to do some planning for tomorrow. I thought I might come pick up Aurelian."

"Why?" Ginny asked in confusion. "You're still working. We've got him alright. In fact, I was sort of hoping you'd call because I wanted to ask you if it'd be alright if I brought him to my practice with me this afternoon. I know how much he loves quidditch and the girls would just eat him up."

"Oh… well, yes, I guess that'd be fine. I just don't want you to have to keep him longer than needed. I really feel bad about asking you and your mum to take care of him every day," Hermione said remorsefully.

"You haven't needed to ask. Mum and I are happy to watch him for you. You can't possibly expect to be able to work well with him under foot all the time. And, we love having him around, really," Ginny replied ardently.

"You're sure, Ginny? I don't want you to feel obligated to-"

"Hermione, stop," Ginny insisted. "If it was a problem, we'd tell you. Us watching him is nothing, really. It's different for us than it is for you. There are a lot of people here to watch him and we're all quite used to having little ones around. You became a mother just a week ago and have been either working or watching Aurelian every second since then. You know what? I've changed my mind. I'm not even giving you a choice now. We're keeping Aurelian for the day. He's coming to my practice and he'll even be staying the night here. You need a break."

"What?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"Yep. Mum just agreed with me. You're taking the day off. You need it," Ginny stated matter-of-factly.

"Ginny, you don't need to-"

"Of course we don't need to. We want to. You need a little time to yourself, some time to just breathe. Don't worry about us. Aurelian will be fine. We'll make sure he has the time of his life while he's here. You can come and get him when you're done working tomorrow and no sooner. Take some time to relax."

"Ginny…"

"No arguing. This is good for you. Now, stop worrying and finish work so you can do something fun," Ginny ordered.

Hermione smiled and shook her head. "Thank you, Ginny, and thank your mum for me, too."

"I will. See you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow." Hermione closed her phone and walked back into the living room. "Sorry about that."

"No, it's fine," said Draco. "What was all that about?"

Hermione blushed. She had forgotten how easy it was to be overheard in her small flat. "Ginny said she's kidnapping Aurelian to give me a day off. I'm not allowed to retrieve him until after we're done working tomorrow."

Draco smirked. "I always suspected she was a rather feisty one."

"That she is, but she's a really great friend," Hermione said with a warm smile. "So, I'm getting a bit hungry. How about you?"

"Yeah, I guess I could go for something. What did you have in mind?" Draco asked.

"Do you like Chinese food?" Hermione asked.

"Yes."

"Well, there's a good Chinese restaurant just two streets down. I was thinking we might do some take-away so we could get some planning done. Does that sound alright?"

"Sure, that's fine," Draco agreed.

"Do you know what you'd like or would you like to look at a menu?" Hermione asked.

"I think about everywhere has kung po chicken. I'll take that if they have it," he said.

"Okay. I'll just call and place our order," she announced, flipping her phone open again.

"You use your phone for that?" he asked curiously.

"Yes. It's a muggle restaurant. All muggle businesses have phones. It's rather sad, but I have their number memorized. When I lived alone, I didn't really eat as well, as it seemed like a waste to spend so much time cooking just for myself. Anyway, I'll give them a call and we can get started."

As soon as she hung up, she grabbed her note pad and quill and sat down in the armchair near Draco. They went through details of the layout of Knockturn Alley, the different types of people there, the places they planned to visit, and different complications that could arise. They had just about everything planned out when the Chinese food delivery man rung the doorbell.

Hermione retrieved the food and returned to the living room.

"We'll just eat in here," she told Draco as she handed him his order and a set of chopsticks. "So, I think we've got everything sorted rather well." She opened her cardboard take-away container and started eating directly from the box.

"Yeah, I'd say so," he agreed. "How much do I owe you?"

"Oh… I don't know. It's in muggle money anyway, so don't worry about it," Hermione told him.

"But, that's three times I've eaten here now. I don't want to take advantage of you," Draco insisted.

"You're in my home and I offered each time. Don't worry about it," she said dismissively.

"So, what are you planning to do with the rest of your day off?" Draco asked conversationally.

"I'm not sure, really. I'll probably just stay around here. I'm pretty tired," she said.

"I suppose it's been a pretty tiring week for you."

"Well, yes, but I really haven't been sleeping all that well. I'm not really used to sharing my bed, yet," she replied.

"I forgot about that. I imagine it's quite a change. He's not very big at least," Draco said, trying to look at it positively.

"But, he's very snuggly. Every time I move away, he seems to follow me," she chuckled.

"So he's not bothered by sharing then?" he asked.

"No, but when we… er, they were in hiding, he slept every night with either you or me. He tends to wake rather frequently if I'm not sharing the bed with him. It's going to be a challenge switching him over to his own bed, I think. We'll make it through okay. I only hope that he'll learn to stop getting up before the alarm." Her last word was stretched into a yawn. "Sorry."

"He's an early riser then?" Draco asked.

"Quite an early riser. I woke up this morning just a few minutes before six to a crash in the kitchen. Aurelian had somehow snuck out of bed without me noticing and decided to try and make us some breakfast. When I went into the kitchen, a full dozen eggs were cracked on the counter and the jug of milk was spilling all over the floor. Not really my favorite way to start a morning," she said with a worn smile.

"Wow… does he get into mischief a lot?" Draco asked with a stern sort of concern.

"Well… I hate to call it mischief really. He always means well. He's just a very independent little boy. That coupled with being overly helpful and very creative tends to create a lot of mess, but he's in no way malicious. I actually feel rather bad when he sees me flustered, because I know he just wants me to be proud. And I am… I'm just not used to all of this yet," she said guiltily.

"You seem like you're doing great at it though… if it's any consolation," Draco told her seriously.

"Thank you," she replied with genuine appreciation for his commendation.

"Sounds like your friend Ginny was right when she said you needed a break," he said seriously. "I… I can't take him home with me… not without my mother knowing about him, but if you need a break sometime, I can come and take him somewhere for awhile. I mean… if you're okay with that."

"Thank you, but it's really not that bad. I don't want it to seem like he's a hassle or anything. I really do love having him here. It's a big change for me, but it's… it's an amazing change really," she said with a fond smile.

"I'm not saying that it isn't. It doesn't mean that you have to do this alone though," Draco told her. Hermione stopped and just stared at him. It was an odd feeling. An image from the pensieve came to mind. She remembered the memory of herself clinging to Draco with Aurelian in his arms. It was sad. That family had been so frightened and clung to each other so desperately. Her imagination replaced those people with the people that she and Draco were at present. Would they ever be able to be that close?

"So, you're just going to sit around here today?" Draco asked, changing the subject.

"Yeah, I'm thinking about just popping a movie into the television. I haven't been able to watch anything but children's shows for the week," she said. "You can join me if you'd like… you know… if you're not busy."

Draco looked surprised by her invitation.

"You can say no. It's okay," she said, feeling self-conscious.

"No, I think I'd like that," he replied. "But… well, when I said I knew what television was, it might have been a bit of an exaggeration. I know that it's moving people in a box, but I don't know anything beyond that."

"Oh, well, it is, but when you put it like that, it sounds more like a wizard portrait. It's really more like a play. There are a lot of different film genres. There's drama, romance, action/adventure, comedies. It's a lot of fun," Hermione offered.

"It sounds interesting. What were you thinking of watching?"

"Well… I don't know. Harry mentioned before that there's a movie that he thinks just about everyone can appreciate. Ron and Ginny really liked it. It's about war, so it's an action movie, but it's also a drama and romance. It has a bit of humor and history in it, too. And, it's not really over the heads of wizards." She suddenly realized how the last statement may have come across and quickly added, "Not that wizards are stupid or anything. I only meant that-"

"I understood what you meant," Draco interrupted. "It's okay. I understand that there is a lot of muggle culture that I'm not familiar with. You don't have to worry about offending me all the time."

"But, I do," Hermione said quietly. "I never mean to offend anyone. Sometimes what I say just comes out wrong."

"I know you don't mean offence, so don't rush to defend yourself all of the time. You'll know if I am offended," he told her. Hermione smiled and nodded. "So, what is this movie called then?"

"Braveheart. It takes place in the 1290s and is very, very loosely based on historical events surrounding a Scottish man named William Wallace that led a rebellion in the wars of Scottish Independence," Hermione explained.

"Yeah, that sounds interesting. Let's see it," Draco agreed.

Hermione put the DVD in the player and joined him on the sofa. She took up her box of Chinese food again and pulled her feet up onto the cushion, being sure to give Draco plenty of space still. She found that she had to do a little bit of explaining in the beginning. He needed help to understand the events that were simply insinuations in the story and she needed to explain the passing of time and how the adult they were watching was meant to be the same person as the boy in the beginning of the movie. He caught on quickly though and began shushing her comments. She just smiled, happy to see him so enthralled by it. At one point, Hermione saw Draco look at her quite suddenly in objectionable horror. When she finally understood what he was must have been thinking, she choked on her lunch. She had completely forgotten about the sex scenes in the movie. She quickly assured him that it would not show anything explicit and further added that the actors were just acting and they weren't actually having intercourse. Still, both of them felt rather uncomfortable throughout the scenes; Draco by the scenes and Hermione from having had to explain them. They took secret glances at each other and both still had rosy cheeks several minutes later.

Hermione awoke on her sofa rather confused. She was stretched out and covered with a light blanket. She sat up quickly. Draco wasn't on his side of the couch. She looked at the television and saw that the DVD menu was up. Her eyes jumped to the clock and saw that it was 6:30 in the evening, several hours since they'd sat down to watch the film. She looked again at Draco's empty place and noticed her note pad propped up in the corner of the sofa with a note from him on it. She leaned forward to read it.

Dear Hermione,

I'm sorry to have left without a goodbye, but I didn't want to wake you. The show was incredible and the story is one that will always stick with me. Watching television was a rather fascinating experience and I thank you for inviting me. If I know you at all, then I'm sure that you're feeling guilty for falling asleep. I insist that you don't. You obviously needed the rest. I will meet you here at noon tomorrow. Thank you again for sharing the movey with me. Enjoy the rest of your day off.

Sincerely,

Draco

Hermione sighed. Regardless of what he said, she was sorry. It wasn't just about being a rude host though; she was sorry that she'd missed watching the rest of it with him. After a large yawn, she got off the sofa and went to the kitchen to make herself a sandwich. She returned to the living room with her quick dinner and a glass of milk and took up the DVD remote control. She didn't care if she'd seen it many times before. It was a great film and she was going to finish it, all the while wondering what Draco had thought at different scenes.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione glanced up at the clock on her mantel and continued to anxiously pace her small living room. It was nearly noon which meant that she had been pacing her flat for over an hour. At one point, she had gone to the kitchen and made herself a quick lunch, but she had only taken two bites. She was much too nervous to eat. She reminded herself that this mission she and Draco were going to do was a rather simple one. It was nothing compared to some of the things she had done over the years. But even with all of her positive thinking, she was all nerves. She hadn't done any missions since the war. She tried to tell herself that it was not like anything in the war, it was more like when she, Harry, and Ron used to sneak around Hogwarts when they were students. But then she remembered that even all of the petty rule-breaking they had done had made her sick to her stomach. She sighed and looked at the clock again. Just as it began striking the hour, her fireplace chimed. She stopped and watched as Draco stepped into her living room.

"Hi," she greeted. She could tell just by the way he held himself that he was as anxious as she was.

"Hi."

"Are you ready to go?" she asked.

"Yeah. Where's Potter? I thought he was supposed to be here with the cloak. He said he'd be waiting while we're gone."

"He stopped by a couple of hours ago with the cloak," Hermione said, picking the invisibility cloak off of the sofa. "He talked to Bill yesterday and had a meeting set with a few goblins at Gringotts for eleven. He was hoping he'd be back before we left, but he told us to go even if he wasn't. He'll be here waiting for whenever we get back. He has Ginny's mobile phone in case of an emergency. Ron has his, as well. I'm sure we won't need them, but it's extra precaution."

Draco nodded. "Well, we know the plans. Are you ready?"

"Yes. Let's go over the signals once more though. Two taps?" she asked.

"Wait."

"Three taps?"

"Go ahead."

"Four or more taps?"

"We leave."

"Good," Hermione said, sounding satisfied.

"And you stay close. Behind me at my elbow at all times," he reminded her. "I don't want to lose you."

"I know," she replied. "So… no point waiting any longer."

Hermione threw the silvery flowing cloak over herself and disappeared under it. Draco heard her footsteps, but even with as close as she was to him, he couldn't tell where she was and it made him tense. "Where are you?"

"Right here," she answered from his right side. She reached out and touched his right shoulder.

"Put your arm out so that I can Apparate us to Diagon Alley," he ordered a bit more harshly than he meant to. He was edgy and things often came out as a bark when he felt like that. He reminded himself not to take it out on the person standing next to him. They were partners today, voluntarily, and he needed to remember that she was anxious, also. She removed her hand from his shoulder and he reached out, blindly groping for her arm. He felt her raise her arm to meet his hand and lower it to its previous position. He tried to remember its height. He needed to be very conscious of her. He looked over to her again. It was a strange sensation to feel her small forearm in his grasp, to feel the silky material under his palm and feel her heat through it, yet be unable to see any of it.

"I'm ready," she told him.

"Okay." Draco led them onto the front stoop of her home, closed his eyes, and after a deep breath, Disapparated.

When he opened his eyes, his black leather shoes were firmly planted on the smooth cobblestones of a very bright and cheery street. People were buzzing about with large smiles and overflowing shopping bags hanging from their arms, all enjoying the perfect summer day. Knowing he and Hermione would soon be leaving the jolly atmosphere of Diagon Alley made the colorful people and buildings feel surreal.

Draco looked down and saw his hand frozen in a 'c' formation, seemingly holding nothing, but still lightly grasping Hermione's forearm. Tentatively, he released her. He stood very still and just waited. He breathed deeply when he felt a light grasp on his elbow and steeled his nerves before he proceeded. He had been to Knockturn Alley several times in his childhood and nothing remotely dangerous had ever happened to him. But then, a small voice inside of him reminded, he had been a different person. He had felt so powerful and untouchable in his youth. He scowled at the thought. There was no reason he could not feel just as powerful now. He straightened himself, holding himself tall with pride and resolution and started for the dark alley just left of Gringotts.

Hermione was startled by Draco's sudden change in demeanor. He had been quiet and still since he arrived at her flat, but he'd instantly donned his mask of pride, his face carrying a hint of an arrogant sneer. It was a look she had seen many times before, but not in a very long time. It looked rather foreign and out of place after seeing him so comfortable the past few days. Looking at him in that moment, she remembered why she had once been so intimidated by him; he could be quite intimidating. She wondered as she watched his purposeful and confident stride, if he was as nervous as she was. It was hard to imagine with the way he looked.

Butterflies were fluttering madly in Hermione's stomach as they walked the descending path into the heart of Knockturn Alley. The feel and the look of the area correlated with the street's purpose and those that frequented it. The further they walked in, the darker and colder it became. Though the sun was at its high and it was the middle of summer, the tall buildings on either side of the narrow alley cast cool shadows around them. The effect made the dull grey buildings look even more forlorn and the people they passed look even more dubious.

As Hermione had predicted, Draco quite stood out among the others around them. His immaculate black business robes, though matching the theme of dark colors, were vivid and impeccable. Hermione had imagined that their drab surroundings would cause Draco's light hair and skin to look quite pale, but in the paleness around them, he looked almost as if he glowed. He may have looked cold to those around him, but to her, he was warmth and comfort in their dodgy surroundings.

Draco looked straight ahead as he walked. Occasionally, he would glance at someone out of the corner of his eye, but his head never turned. Everyone else, however, stared rather blatantly in their direction. Draco walked straight down the center of the narrow street and the people around him naturally moved to the side. It wasn't that he was recognized, it was simply the air in his step; his attitude of self-importance. Whether people realized it or not, whether they revered, despised, or recognized the man at all, they responded to him the way he meant them to. Hermione, on the other hand, noticed each and every person that they passed. Unlike Draco, she surveyed each of them warily. An ugly old hag, leaning on her cane shuffled along slowly and stared at them through suspicious, wary eyes. Two wizards, going the opposite direction, wore hard expressions and glanced leerily at Draco. Taking in Draco's dress and demeanor, one of the men sneered and proudly pulled his tattered cloak closer around him. Though she knew she was not visible to any of them, she pulled herself a little closer to Draco. It was as soon as she did that he stopped. She had to halt quickly so as not to stumble into him.

She looked up at the building on the left, the building Draco faced. She knew it must be the place they were looking for, but it was hard to tell simply by looking at it. They had decided it would be best for Draco to make himself seen in the most common meeting place in Knockturn Alley and he'd immediately mentioned this bar. From the outside, she would not have guessed it to be one. It was as plain, grey, and dingy as all of the other buildings. She was staring at a sturdy looking wooden door with a large handle and a large window next to it. The window was extremely clouded. Hermione honestly couldn't tell if it had been painted so that no one could see in or if it was just that dirty. The place had no outward appearances of being a business establishment except for the small, weathered wooden plaque beside the door. It was barely legible and if Draco hadn't told her that it was called 'Brim's Goblet', it was doubtful she would have been able to decipher that from the sign.

Draco promptly opened the door and started in. He let the door close smoothly, so that Hermione was able to follow him in. Hermione blinked rapidly as she stepped in, not to adjust her eyes to the light, but to guard them against the smoky air that engulfed them. A sour, bitter smell hit her immediately and churned her empty stomach. She suppressed her discomfort the best she could and looked around. She was quite surprised by the size of the place as it was much larger than she had imagined from the outside. It was approximately the size of the Three Broomsticks with a little over a dozen tables, but it was far from having the same inviting warmth. It was quite shabby looking with dull rickety tables, each lit with a single candlestick. The grungy, hard look and atmosphere was very reminiscent of the Hog's Head, but even that place had a little more of a welcome feel to it.

Hermione had had to trust Draco when it came to planning this mission. She had secretly questioned his judgment when he assured her that the bar would be quite populated at noon, but he had not been wrong. More than half of the tables were occupied, as well as a few bar stools.

Draco ignored those that had looked up when he entered and walked over to an empty table in the center of the room. The table and its ring of mismatched chairs were as shoddy and untidy looking as the entire establishment. Draco pulled out his chair and sneered. He looked down at the hand that had touched it and wiped it on his robes. He took out his wand and cast a silent cleaning charm over the table and its surrounding chairs. If the people there had not taken notice of him when he first came in, they certainly did then. Hermione had asked him to stand out and look suspicious, but she couldn't help but wonder if he might have done the same thing even if he wasn't on the mission. Draco sat in his chair and waited with Hermione standing invisibly behind his right shoulder. People around the pub watched him curiously. After a few minutes, though Hermione knew this was not a place where staff went around to take orders, the barman approached Draco.

The man, rather old and disgruntled looking, gruffly asked if he could get Draco a drink. Draco looked at the man hard and shook his head no. The man scowled at him, but begrudgingly left him there, choosing to ignore him completely. Hermione could feel the frustration radiating off of Draco, but could do nothing to assuage him. She could only imagine what it felt like to be scrutinized by everyone around him in such a way. After a few minutes, people seemed to lose interest in him.

"You can sit, you know," Draco muttered quietly without moving his lips.

Hermione smiled warmly. It was a kind offer and she was sorry that she could not accept it. She bent forward so that her lips were right behind his ear. "I appreciate it, but I can't. I have to see and be ready."

Ready for what, neither of them knew. They had tried to decide how long to stay in the bar the day before, but neither felt comfortable selecting an approximate amount of time or even a time limit. They decided that they simply had to play it by ear. The only thing that they had agreed on was that it would probably be more than half an hour.

Forty-seven minutes passed quite slowly to Hermione. During this time, she watched each and every person in the bar with great scrutiny, but she was becoming tired. Her legs ached from standing in one place for so long. She felt the need to bend her knees and shuffle her feet a bit, but she was afraid to make too much noise. Her stomach had growled a few times and she cursed herself for not eating earlier that morning. There was a swirling feeling in her head and she felt herself begin to sway. She wasn't sure if it was simply an effect from standing still so long or if it might have something to do with the noxious smoky air. She highly suspected the second as she was not used to being around people that smoked, not to mention, she had no idea what was burning in the pipe of the goblin in the corner. The blue swirling smoke that issued from it was a sure sign that it was not simply tobacco.

Unlike Hermione, Draco had absolutely no idea of how much time had passed. Taking his manners from his father, he refused to look at his watch. Though in his everyday life, he often overlooked his father's teachings, it was times like this that he remembered them all. 'Only the foolish are impatient.' He had heard it more times than he could count, as patience was a virtue that did not come easily for him. But his father was right in this case, impatience would get them nowhere. He sat back in his chair, never, even for a moment, allowing his straight and proper posture to slump. Malfoys were people of great prestige and, when in public, it was his duty to conduct himself with dignified propriety. He glanced around occasionally, appearing indifferent of the people around him, and spent just as much time staring at the cuff of his sleeve, the grain of the table, and the bottles behind the bar. It was Hermione's job to survey their surroundings. It was his job to simply sit there and allow people to wonder about him. Hermione was so still and silent that a few times Draco had moved his arm back just to feel that she was still there. He had to admit that he was rather impressed by her discipline.

He was lost in a bored daze and was rather startled when he felt three soft, even taps on his shoulder. It was time to act. He wasn't sure if she had seen something or not, but she had decided it was time to move forward. Draco watched as a man at a nearby table set down his empty tankard and stood up from his chair. As the man passed, Draco nodded to him in acknowledgement. The scraggly looking man, though

confused, returned the gesture. To anyone around them, it probably seemed that this man was someone that Draco knew, as Draco had not acknowledged anyone except the barman since he arrived, but it was untrue. The man was no one. Draco had never seen him before in his life and he understood that he meant nothing to Hermione either. It was simply part of the plan. As soon as the door closed behind the burly stranger, Draco pushed suddenly out of his seat and walked straight to the bar. The barman eyed him suspiciously as he approached. Draco leaned over the bar and whispered hoarsely to the barman so that only those nearest had been able to hear him. The old barman looked a little disgruntled, but nodded and proceeded to the back room.

Only a moment later, the barman reappeared with a clean glass and a dusty old bottle. He stared at Draco as he opened the brand new bottle and poured a double of the steaming liquid. Draco nodded and threw down his drink. He placed two gold galleons on top of the bar and walked out without a word, Hermione grasping his elbow.

"A double?" she whispered the playful tease in his ear. He smirked over his shoulder and walked on at a comfortable pace.

They walked back up the street the way they had come, but Diagon Alley was not their next destination. Draco slowed as he neared the door to the apothecary. Unlike the bar, this establishment was unmistakable. There were several jars of assorted items and dried herbs hanging in the front windows. Just outside the door were two large, foul smelling barrels. One was filled with slimy black moving creatures that looked much like leeches, only prickly, and the other could only be described as looking like small inflated spheres of human skin. Draco glowered at the barrels in disgust and entered through the open door. While the air in the alley was considerably cool for summer, the apothecary was stiflingly hot.

Without hesitation, Draco walked to the counter and waited for the plump, warty old witch to help him. She had glanced at him, but continued to weigh the frog spawn on the scale, scooping out of the jar with her fingers. When she was satisfied with it, she wiped her hands on her filthy apron and approached Draco. He asked for five rabbit spleens and the woman disappeared through a door behind the counter into the back of the shop. There was nothing extraordinary about the order - it was something he could have easily asked for in Diagon Alley - but, it was something that needed to be stored behind the counter and had to be kept in a small leather sack, which would again have the public, especially anyone taking interest in him, curious.

He paid for his order and turned around when he felt two soft taps on his shoulder. It was the signal to wait. Draco's stomach flopped. She had seen something and it concerned him. Of course, the point was for her to see things, but it still frightened him. Draco turned to the shelf beside him and pretended to take interest in a jar above him. His heart beat faster than usual as he waited for Hermione to whisper something to him, but instead, he felt her hand pull away from his arm. He stiffened and instantly became angry with her. He'd told her again and again that she wasn't to leave his side. It was only then that he realized that she had never actually committed to that and it frustrated him further. He took a step back, hoping that she had just taken a few steps back, but she wasn't there. He wanted to move around the store in attempt to find her, but he would not deviate from the plan. If she told him to wait, then it meant she'd be back for him. In the meantime, he just had to feign interest in the disgusting substances before him.

It was only a minute later, though it seemed much longer, that Draco felt three taps on his shoulder. It was the sign to move on, but he didn't budge.

"What is it?" he muttered almost inaudibly.

He felt Hermione's body press against his back and she stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. The cloak's soft material slid across his neck and he twitched. "I think we're being followed. The man outside was in the bar." Draco tried to casually look out the window, but felt three raps on his shoulder. The way she did it was her way of scolding him. He wasn't allowed to notice the man. He had to appear completely unaware that he was being followed.

With Hermione's hand on his right elbow again, he exited the store and continued back up the hill. His heart hammered as he wondered who was following them. He hoped that it was just Dennis Creevey in disguise, but he knew that it could really be anyone. An image of his uncle's scowl flashed in his mind and the whole mission suddenly felt much more dangerous. Hermione was as close as she could be without stepping on his heels, but she felt too far away. He wished that she would just give him the four taps on his shoulder so they could leave.

Receiving no further instructions, Draco followed their premade plan and walked into Borgin and Burkes. The shop was empty except for him and the hidden Hermione, but when the bell above the door rang, a slender man with oily white hair and bushy white brows appeared behind the counter. He narrowed his eyes and squinted to get a look at the man approaching him. Finally, the man picked up a small set of lenses and when he was able to see his customer clearly, he stepped back in surprise. Fear flashed over his face, but almost instantly his features melted to a patronizing smile.

"My, if it isn't young Master Malfoy, or should I say Mister Malfoy as you are now the man of the house?" the man said with a sick, oily voice. "It's been so long since I've seen you. What can I do for you today? You wouldn't by chance be interested in this rare and-"

"Enough, Borgin," Draco interrupted with a sneer. The man and his shop were a part of a past that he had never wanted to see again. "I know what I'm here for today, so you can stop trying to sell me your silly little trinkets."

"Oh, a man of business like your father, I see," he stated by way of compliment. Draco was not fooled. Borgin never liked his father; he feared his father.

Draco's answer came by way of a small envelope that he slid across the counter. Mr. Borgin looked quite hesitant to take it and did so tentatively, as though it could bite. His hands shook, possibly just with age, as he opened the paper. He looked a little flustered and bitter when he read it. He folded it up and slid it quietly into his pocket.

"I see," the man answered, looking downhearted more than anything else. "I will see to it, Mr. Malfoy."

"You'd better," Draco said seriously. He understood the man's attitude and didn't blame him, but he did not feel sorry for him either. The paper Draco had given him was a copy of the legal note, signed by the chief warlock of the Wizengamot, that proclaimed him the heir of his father's legacies, including all debts, duties, and credits. Draco had presented Mr. Borgin with the request to close all accounts that have been made in his father's name. He expected the full amount owed to his father to be placed in his Gringotts’ account. It was indeed terrible news to the shop keeper, as he owed Lucius Malfoy quite a hefty credit.

Draco walked a little slower as he began to exit the store, giving Hermione the opportunity to stop him if she needed to.

"I saw extendable ears under the shop door," Hermione whispered. "We leave now. Be conscious of your wand."

Draco took a deep breath and exited the shop. He turned up the hill and tried to keep his pace steady. Hermione audibly gasped when Draco stopped in his tracks. He stood unmoving for a moment and Hermione looked around frantically for what he might have seen that would make him stop so suddenly. She couldn't see anything. Without warning, Draco turned around and started walking down the descending path once again. He was going the wrong way. Hermione became frightened by his impetuous decision and rapped him four times on the shoulder. Her signal did nothing to slow him, in fact, he seemed to speed up. She was then forced to jog to keep up with him. She tapped him urgently on the shoulder again. When he still did not respond, she gripped his elbow hard and tried to forcefully slow him down. She gasped again when he fiercely threw her off. Unprepared for such an action, she stumbled. She was just righting herself when someone brusquely pushed past her. She fell to the ground with a grunt and stared up in horror when she saw a large man in a black cloak quickly walking after Draco. She tried once again to get to her feet when a witch tripped over Hermione's hidden body. Forgetting the witch, Hermione scrambled to her feet and ran after the two men at full tilt, bumping into people as she went. She saw Draco turn into a narrow alley between buildings and the large man followed.

"I knew it!" the man said with an angry, gruff voice. "I knew you were still nothing but a rotten, bloody Death Eater."

Draco stood with his back to the brick wall at the end of the alley. He stared impassively at the large, surly man who confronted him.

"Harry Potter never should have trusted you. Justice should be determined by those who are not afraid to give vile creatures like you what they really deserve," the man snarled. "Feel justice."

Draco lifted his hand and clutched his own throat tightly. A gargled grunt escaped him as his body struggled to take in air.

"Dennis, stop!" Hermione screamed in horror.

"Who's there?" the man shouted, spinning around to face the speaker.

"Expelliarmus!" Hermione cried. She ripped off the invisibility cloak just in time to catch the man's wand.

"Hermione Granger?" he gasped in surprise.

Hermione paid him no mind. She stared at Draco who was still tightly gripping his own throat. She was frantic, panicked, and unsure what to do.

"Stupefy!" she shrieked. The stunned man between Draco and herself collapsed unconscious to the ground. Hermione rushed to Draco and tried to physically pull his hand away. "NO! Finite Incantatum!" As soon as she said it, Draco's hand fell away and she sobbed in relief. "Draco?"

Draco blinked in horror and coughed as he gently massaged his throat. His breaths came quickly and his heart raged in his chest. When it appeared he was beginning to gather himself and his eyes snapped to Hermione with his lip curled in disgust. "Gods, Granger! What the fuck were you doing? I thought that's what you were here to prevent! I-"

"I'm sorry!" she shrieked. Without warning, she threw her arms around Draco's neck and clung to him tightly. "Gods, Draco, I'm so sorry. I was so scared. I was so frightened that I couldn't stop it. I didn't know what to do. I hadn't realized you were under Imperius when you turned around. I was… I'm so sorry," she bawled into his shoulder.

Her actions and emotion took him by surprise and his rage vanished instantly. He uncertainly wrapped his arms around her waist and she squeezed him tighter.

"I didn't understand. I thought that when he was disarmed, the spell would break. Then again when he was unconscious. I'm surprised that Finite Incantatum even worked. I was so scared," she rattled off.

"It wouldn't usually work," Draco said in a flat far off voice. "His spell wasn't that strong. Though strong enough…"

Draco pulled her back and looked down into her tearful brown eyes. He felt lost, but he felt so… full. He stared into her and saw it. He found the one thing he wanted more than anything else. It was the girl in the memory. He remembered quite vividly the scene where she thought he was dead, the time he had taken the draught of living death. He had replayed it over and over in his mind. The torturous look on her face, the immense grief she felt and the spark of hope she had when she knew he might still survive. He could still picture her diligence and desperation as she fought to pull him from the death-like sleep and the painfully strong relief when he was revived. He had since looked at the present Hermione with desire, hoping that she might one day become that woman. But, as he looked at her just then, he realized that she was already that person. She was all he wanted.

Without another wasted thought, his lips crashed down upon hers. He felt no pause; she returned his kiss with fervor. He tightened his arms around her and her fingers wove into his hair. Their mouths moved perfectly together and he didn't hesitate to glide his tongue along her lip and gain entrance to her mouth. Hermione started at first, as she had never before been kissed that way. Her apprehension disappeared quickly though, and her tongue met his.

Draco was not ready for the kiss to end, but Hermione gently pulled away. He looked down at her and fear gripped him when he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. He was afraid he'd done it again, moved too quickly.

"Th-this isn't the place," she said breathlessly.

Draco could breathe again. She did not regret it. This just wasn't the time or place for it. He nodded, temporarily unable to speak.

Hermione turned around and looked at the large man with the grizzly ginger beard who had attacked Draco only a minute before. She was afraid to approach him, but gathered her courage.

"I'll take him back to my flat," she announced.

"I'll meet you there," Draco told her.

She nodded, reached down, and grasped the man's heavy upper arm. Draco nodded and Disapparated, and Hermione followed after him.

 

Chapter Text

"Potter!" Draco shouted, pounding on Hermione's front door. There was a shuffling inside and the door flew open.

"Malfoy! What happened?" Harry asked in a state of panic.

"I was attacked," he stated.

"Where's Herm-"

Harry's words were cut off by a 'pop' and his question was answered when he looked down at the woman kneeling on the front porch with a man facedown next to her.

"Is this him?" Harry asked quickly.

"I'm almost certain," Hermione answered.

"Almost isn't good enough," Harry replied. "Ron, help me with him."

Draco looked up and saw the red-haired man move in front of Harry. Ron took the man's feet while Harry struggled to lift the large man's upper half. Their steps were small and as soon as they had made it into the room, they lifted him up and flopped him over the back of the sofa.

"What happened?" asked Ron. "Is it him?"

"I think so," said Hermione.

"Not good enough," Ron repeated Harry's earlier statement. "Incarcerous." Ropes shot out of the end of Ron's wand and bound the man's hands and feet.

"What happened?" Harry repeated.

"He tried to kill me!" Draco growled angrily. It was obviously not the answer Harry or Ron had expected. Hermione started from the beginning.

"We were in the bar. He was in the bar," Hermione said, pointing at the unconscious man on her sofa. "He was drinking from a tankard, but he still took a drink from a hip flask. I suspect it was polyjuice." As she said this, Ron dug into the man's cloak and found the hip flask. "He followed us to the apothecary and listened in with extendable ears at Borgin and Burkes. We were leaving Knockturn Alley when Draco just stopped. He turned around and went back the other way. I couldn't keep up and I fell and I had no idea what was happening. I didn't realize that he was under the Imperius curse. When I found both of them… he…"

"He tried to make me kill myself. He called it justice," Draco finished. He was seething. His lip was twitching and his hands were shaking. Hermione gently set her hand on his upper arm. He looked down at her and closed his eyes, trying to calm himself.

"So we know he's under polyjuice," said Harry, sniffing the flask that Ron had handed him. "But that doesn't mean that it's Dennis."

"The extendable ears, though," Hermione offered. "Not many people, except those that grew up with them at school, would think to use them."

"And this is definitely one of Fred and George's shield cloaks," Ron announced, examining the hem of the man's cloak.

"I agree, but we still have to be careful. Hermione, put the pictures down. I don't want him to know whose home this is," Harry requested. Hermione nodded and from her place behind the sofa, swished her wand and all the photos, magic and non, flipped over.

"Where's his wand?" Ron asked.

"I have it," Hermione offered, handing the wand over to Ron.

"What about the cloak?" Harry worried suddenly.

"I have that too," Hermione had blushed when she reached behind her and took out the cloak. She had told Draco to leave, but she didn't know what to do with everything so she simply stuffed the cloak halfway into her shorts and it had been swinging like a tail. No one but Hermione saw anything strange about it.

"When did he take the polyjuice?" inquired Draco.

Hermione checked her watch. "He'll be changing in just a few minutes. I tried to time it well."

"Alright…" Harry said heavily. He had been more worried about finding Dennis than just about everything the past few days, but finally having him there, and knowing what he'd been up to, Harry was peeved. He pushed the man up into a sitting position and trained his wand on him. "Rennervate."

The man startled awake and his eyes darted around.

"Who are you?" Harry demanded instantly.

The man's eyes focused on the raven-haired, bespectacled man before him. "Harry Potter…" the rugged red-bearded man breathed.

"Yes. And, I asked who you were," Harry said firmly.

"D-Dennis," the gruff man stuttered.

"Dennis who?" Harry pressed. He was taking no chances.

"C-Cr-Creevey."

"Prove it," Harry ordered.

"What?" the man who was so fierce and confident only a few minutes before in the alley, suddenly looked nervous and uncertain.

"Prove it. What happened to you on your first trip to Hogwarts?" Harry demanded.

"I-I fell into the lake. The squid saved me."

Harry and Ron exchanged looks and nodded. Ron released the ropes around Dennis's arms and legs. Harry just stared at him. Dennis watched him anxiously as he rubbed his wrists, unsure what to make of Harry's continued silence.

"Where am I? What happened?" Dennis asked.

"What happened? You tried to fuckin' kill me you bloody, little coward. I should snap your flippin'-!"

"What's he doing here?" Dennis shouted with both outrage and fear. Since Draco and Hermione had been behind him, he hadn't noticed them until Draco spoke.

"Me? I' m here b-!"

"Malfoy," Harry interrupted, his face set in hard lines. His buried anger was so strong that it was almost tangible. He looked rather frightening in this unpredictable state. Draco became silent. His curiosity to see what Potter would do trumped his own anger for the moment. "Malfoy is here by invitation. He's been working with us," Harry explained calmly.

"You still work with him? He's a Death Eater! I saw him. You should have seen him in Knockturn Alley! He was-"

"I did see him," Hermione interrupted angrily. "I saw everything he did from the moment he stepped into Knockturn Alley until we Apparated here. He did only what we had previously discussed."

"What? But he-"

"But, I what? I had a drink in a bar, bought some rabbit spleens, and settled my father's old accounts!" Draco raged. "What are you accusing me of? You tried to kill me you bloody wanker! You want justice? Then I-"

"Stop," Harry said calmly. "No need for debates. He's been working with us. The suspicious looking activity was meant to draw you out. We assumed you would follow him." Harry stopped there. Everyone could tell that he had meant to keep going, but thought better of it.

"What do you mean you were trying to draw me out?" Dennis asked, looking quite sour. Harry didn't think the look fit the body he was in at all. Just as he thought it, Dennis's skin began to bubble. His muscle and bones shifted and shrank. The people around him, though they had seen transformations many times before, turned their heads. When they looked back, they were staring at a scrawny looking eighteen year old boy with brown hair and fierce hazel eyes. Though he was frightened and his emotions were torn, his eyes held a certain light of defiance.

"We've been looking for you. We were working on a case and discovered that you were missing, which was quite a surprise to your parents and your headmistress," Harry said.

Dennis paled quickly. "My parents think I'm missing?"

"Yes. After I spoke with Professor McGonagall, she went to speak to your parents personally. I'm surprised that you would do this to them after all they had been through," Harry admonished in a flat voice.

"You don't know anything about it!" Dennis shouted angrily.

"Don't I? Do you think I don't know what it's like to lose people to war?" Harry's control was slipping rapidly, his words getting louder and more heated. "You don't think I'm angry with those that caused all the suffering? It's my job! It's what I've dedicated my life to! I know what you're doing. I know that you're hunting Death Eaters and I want to know, what the hell is wrong with you?"

"What do you mean by that?" Dennis demanded indignantly.

"I mean, what the hell were you thinking dropping out of school like that? Telling no one where you were going? Running off to chase after Death Eaters? The most idiotic thing I've heard in ages!" Harry berated.

"You have no right to scold me!" Dennis returned angrily.

"Yes, I do! I was the one that had to track you down. Our investigation had to be paused so we could find you! The four of us have spent the last few days exhausting ourselves just to find you. Your family, teachers, friends had no idea where you were and are still scared out of their minds right now. How do you think they'd feel if you showed up dead? Or, not even at all? You were stupid! Stupid and careless."

"I wasn't stupid! I was careful. I knew what I was doing," he declared.

"Bullshit! We found you in less than a week!" Harry said incredulously. "And, you're lucky we did. 'Careful,' you say. You confronted what you thought was a Death Eater. What if he was? What if it was someone other than Hermione under that cloak? You'd be dead right now!"

"What if he was?" Dennis said in disbelief. "He is!"

"He was. He isn't now," Harry corrected.

"Because you forgave him. You let him go!" Dennis growled angrily.

"I let him defend himself and work off his crimes. But, you don't know his case – what he has or hasn't done. You have no right to judge what you don't know. Not everything is as black or white as you'd like to believe. But, you should believe it now. I thought you were a good kid and you think you're fighting the good fight, but you just used an unforgivable curse to try and kill an innocent man!"

Dennis chanced a glance at the man who still shook angrily behind him and looked back at Harry. He suddenly looked concerned. "Wh-What are you going to do?"

"Me? I don't know what I'm going to do," he cried in helpless frustration, pacing in a small circle with his balled fists on his hips. He turned back and faced Dennis. "Yes, I do know what I'm going to do, at least right now. You're going to tell me what you know. I want to know what you saw and heard."

"W-What?" Dennis asked, not expecting this response.

"I need to know what you saw; what got you started on this whole vigilante idea. You saw Lestrange, didn't you? Where?" Harry interrogated.

"H-How did you-?"

"It's my job to know, remember?" he said bitterly. "Now talk."

"But wait… What's going to happen to me?" Dennis asked nervously. He chanced another glance at Draco and Hermione, and then looked to Ron. He didn't feel hopeful speaking to Harry.

"I don't know," Harry replied honestly. "I'd like to not see a kid like you in trouble, but it's not really in my hands. I'm not going to say a thing about your unforgivable curse. It's that man you should be pleading with," Harry said seriously, pointing at Draco who was scowling down at Dennis. "It's up to him whether he wants this taken to court."

Dennis swallowed hard and looked up at Draco, the full weight of his actions pressed down on him. He understood what he had done and was positively terrified. "I-I…" He couldn't speak. There were no words.

"Do you want me to think with your sense of justice? Or Potter's?" Draco asked derisively, staring down at the boy in disgust.

"I…" He was shaking under Draco's scowl.

"Dennis," Harry said, calling the boy's attention back to him. "Talk."

Dennis swallowed hard and nodded. He thought that maybe it was what Draco meant. Perhaps if he could help, he could make up for his actions. He looked back at Draco again. His fate depended on the man he had just tried to kill.

"Dennis," Harry called again.

Dennis looked at Harry and took a deep breath. "I-I was in the cemetery, the memorial cemetery, when I saw 'em."

"Who?" Ron asked.

"The Lestranges. The brothers," Dennis clarified.

"When?" Hermione asked.

"A few weeks before the end of school. I had snuck out at night. I-I just went to go see Colin," Dennis answered. "When I got there, there were two men. I didn't know who they were. I saw that they were digging at someone's grave. I wanted to just leave, but I got angry. I thought… if it had been at Colin's grave… whatever grave they were messing with, someone loved that person. I just wanted to get close enough to see if I could identify them…"

"And?" Draco probed.

"And I realized who they were and I panicked. I just hid until they left. But, I had heard them talking. I didn't hear much, but I had heard them talk about picking something up on Tuesday near Brim's Goblet. I went back to the school and started thinking. I was angry… and the more I thought about it the angrier I got. I wanted to punish them."

"Why didn't you go to the authorities?" Hermione asked in frustration. "You could have gone straight to Harry if you wanted to."

"I…" Dennis looked away, unable to speak what he felt.

"You wanted them to suffer," Harry declared. Dennis was startled by Harry's accusation, mostly because it was true. "Don't think that I haven't had that same feeling. But causing people to suffer because of the things they've done isn't justice; it's revenge."

"Azkaban didn't seem like harsh enough punishment to you, but now that the possibility awaits you, how do you feel about it?" Draco asked him darkly. "Judgments should not be made by people who are biased."

"Whose?" Ron asked suddenly, surprising them all. "Whose grave were they digging at?"

Dennis looked up at Harry. The defiance that had been in his eyes earlier had washed away. He looked truly miserable and remorseful, but greater still, he looked like he dreaded answering the next question. "Nymphadora Tonks."

Dennis's concern for their reaction was not without reason. Harry's fists were clenched tightly and he looked to be struggling to contain himself again. Dennis watched all of the meaningful looks between the four people who stood above him.

"We're done here," Harry said finally.

"What do you mean? What's going to happen?" Dennis asked in a panic.

"We're going to work and you're going home," Harry said.

"What? I-I can just go home?" Dennis asked hopefully.

"I told you, your problem is with him, not me," Harry reminded him. It was completely the truth. Harry didn't want to see Dennis punished for an Unforgivable Curse, but it was not in his hands. Whatever punishment Dennis received, it was on his own head. Harry could think this so firmly only because it was his belief that Dennis would not suffer full punishment.

"Mal… Dra… uh… Mr. Malfoy," Dennis said uncertainly.

Draco sneered in disgust, shoved his hands in his pockets, and turned his back on the bumbling idiot. The room was silent for a moment, everyone's eyes on Draco's back.

When it appeared that Draco had nothing to say on the matter, Harry began to speak. But, Harry had barely made a sound when Draco forced out, "Judgments aren't to be made by the biased." He whipped around and looked Harry hard in the eye. "Justice, Potter, not mercy. I put it on you. Fix him right."

Never before that week would Harry have believed Draco possible of making such a decision, but it was a testament to how life changing the memories had been to them. He had a new respect for Malfoy and with that came faith, a faith that Malfoy also had in him. He knew that Draco saw a piece of himself in Dennis. Draco's situation was not much like Dennis's because Dennis made his decisions without being threatened, but Draco still saw a stupid, confused kid like he was just two years before. Draco didn't want Dennis to get away with what he did, but the kid didn't deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison either. He knew that Potter felt the same. Harry had given Draco a second chance, and Draco would let him do the same for Dennis.

Harry also saw a lot of himself in Dennis, probably more than Draco did. Knowing what he did, being in the place he was, Harry could easily see all of Dennis's mistakes and berate him for it, but he had played the role of careless vigilante through all of his teen years… even before then. He had often thought he had the right and that he knew better than others. The truth was that he had only survived the way he did and as long as he did because of a lot of luck and mercy.

"Ron," Harry said. "I need you to work up some papers for me. Dennis is now under house arrest for interfering with an official investigation and will remain under it until his disciplinary hearing."

"What does that mean?" Dennis asked.

"It means Harry and Malfoy just saved your sorry arse from rotting in Azkaban," Ron piped up. "If I were you, I'd start lookin' through a catalogue for some nice gift baskets to send."

"Or, owling your headmistress about rescheduling your N.E.W.T.s," Harry suggested.

"You taking him home then, Harry?" Ron asked.

"Yes. I'll be back in less than an hour, I hope," he told Hermione and Draco.

"We'll be here then," Hermione answered. Harry waited until Draco looked his way and caught his eye. Harry nodded slowly and meaningfully with appreciation and respect. Draco's curt nod in reply was almost nonexistent; it could have easily been mistaken as merely a twitch, but Harry had seen it. He took Dennis by the upper arm, drug him outside of Hermione's front door, and Disapparated.

When Harry had left, Ron swiped the discarded hip flask from the armchair to take to the office as evidence. He looked at Hermione and Draco and rolled his eyes. They were doing nothing but standing there watching him; simply the idea of the two of them together repulsed him. He stopped and eyed Draco with curious scrutiny. After a strange and uncomfortable moment, Ron nodded to Draco and headed toward the front door. "See you at dinner tonight, Hermione?"

"I'll be there."

With a final nod, Ron walked out the door and Disapparated with a 'pop.'

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked, turning to Draco.

"I'm fine," Draco said darkly.

"No, I mean it," Hermione said, gently placing her hand on his arm again. "Are you okay?"

Draco sighed, dropping his hard defenses, and nodded. Hermione tilted her head to the side to examine his neck.

"You're already bruising. I'll go get you some ointment and something for the pain," she quietly offered. Just as she started turning away, Draco took hold of her wrist to stop her. She was surprised and looked up at him. His eyes were locked on hers and she saw the deep pain inside them.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you," he said solemnly.

She smiled at him softly. "It's okay."

"No. It's not," he said seriously.

"It's okay, Draco. I understand. You were scared. I was scared…" at the admittance of her fear again, her lip quivered and her eyes began to water. "I was really scared…"

As she stared into his expressive grey eyes, she was overwhelmed again. It was all happening so fast. They had barely tolerated each other a week before, never imagining that there could be anything beyond basic tolerance. But as the days moved on she found herself wanting to see him more and more, waiting for when she would see him next. Still, he had seemed possibly just a new fascination. It really hit her when she saw him in the alley, clutching his own throat. She had been positively horrified. It was pure terror at first; she would have felt that way if she had seen anyone in Draco's position. But once she had saved him, the magnitude of it hit her. She had almost lost him. It seemed a silly thought, because she didn't really 'have' him yet, but she knew that it was anything but silly. The thought of never seeing him again had devastated her. What she was fine without before, had become a necessity. She couldn't say that she loved him yet… but he meant a lot. She didn't know what. There were no words to describe it. He was simply hers and she would be devastated without him. Looking into his eyes, though it made her feel quite presumptuous, she believed that he shared those feelings.

Hermione glanced down at her wrist which he was holding and he relinquished it at once. Hermione raised her hand and gently cupped his cheek. It was far too late to protect her heart from him. She was already in much deeper than she had imagined. She lifted herself up and gently guided him down until their lips touched in a tender delicate kiss. She pulled away and smiled warmly at him. She petted his cheek and blushed lightly. "I'll go get the ointment."

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Hermione?" Harry called through the flat as he stepped through her front door.

"In here, Harry," she called back.

Harry walked into the kitchen and found Hermione and Draco at the table eating.

"Sorry. We didn't think you'd be back so soon," Hermione apologized.

"We can go if you're ready though," Draco told him.

"No, it's fine. I didn't know you two hadn't eaten yet," he replied.

"Have you?" asked Hermione.

"Uh, yeah. Ron and I kind of stole your leftover Chinese food," Harry admitted, rubbing the back of his neck guiltily. "I can pay you back if you want. I-"

"No, Harry, it's fine," Hermione chuckled. "I'm glad you ate it, actually. It probably would have gone to waste otherwise. So? How did it go?"

Harry sighed and leaned against her counter. "Alright, I guess. I made him tell his parents what he'd been doing. They were quite angry, as you can imagine. I didn't make him tell about what happened in the alley. I didn't feel it was my place," he explained. "I assured them that we were searching for the same people he was. I told them that we didn't believe they knew about Dennis, but that we were setting up protective wards around their house. I also set up the wards so that he can't leave the property. His parents seemed quite pleased with that part, but they're quite nervous about his disciplinary hearing. I told them that when they receive the owl about the hearing, it would also give them information on how to contact someone who could come and explain everything to them."

Hermione nodded. "What about your meeting at Gringotts today? How did that go?"

Harry was standing at her open icebox, pouring himself a glass of pumpkin juice and paused when she asked her question. He huffed as put the bottle back into the icebox and closed the door. "I hate goblins. Greedy bastards, the whole lot of them."

"Harry, that's not fair," Hermione admonished. "You can't judge a whole species based on-"

"Fine, all the goblins I've ever met are stupid, greedy bastards," Harry amended with a roll of his eyes. "I told them that the information I wanted on Mr. Parkinson was in no way for my own gain. I was asking for it because I was concerned for the safety of the family. Whether they believed me or not, they didn't at all seem concerned about the point of it. They looked like they couldn’t care less about their clients' safety. I told them that I didn't need to see their vault, know their vault number, any balances, or even account deposits or withdrawals. I told them that the only thing I was interested in was the log of all the times that Mr. Parkinson had entered the bank in the last six months."

"And what did they say?" Draco asked curiously.

"Well, they certainly seemed surprised. I understand how protective they are about the privacy of their clients, so I knew to ask for as little as possible. To them, this request is not personal information at all. If someone had wanted to, they could have stood outside the door every day and made the log I was asking for. It's not secret. But, as soon as they realized my request was reasonable, they immediately asked what I was willing to give in exchange for the information," Harry grumbled. "They will never be helpful without reward, and usually a quite outrageous reward."

"What did you offer?" asked Hermione.

"Well, I took Bill's advice. He wasn't there today, but from when I spoke to him yesterday. He said to avoid bargaining with goods, especially gold and valuables. There are several reasons behind that. So I took his advice again and went to the Goblin Liaison office and requested to look at each of their files. There are three of them in on this, by the way. It turns out that one of them, Croubat, has an issue filed there. It seems that he was turned down by a witch for a place of residence because he's a goblin. The way things are run there, complaints against goblins are usually put first, so files like Croubat's usually take a few months to get to. I asked Wayne Hopkins, he works in that division now, if it was possible to move a case up if I asked and he said it wouldn't be a problem. So that's what I offered."

"And?" Hermione prompted.

"And they told me that they would have to think it over and they'd get back to me," Harry answered. "Bill says that it's a good sign. They weren't able to haggle with me. It was definitely something that would interest Croubat. Goblins never agree without giving an offer its due consideration. And most likely, Bill said, Croubat's going to have to make some extra bargaining with the other two. Still, he told me to be ready for their acceptance tomorrow."

"That's good," said Draco. He was quite anxious to get to the bottom of the Parkinson thing. Obviously, they believed the Parkinsons were being threatened for money. It wasn't the only possibility, but the most likely in their opinions, and also the easiest to investigate.

"Would you like some more or are you finished?" Hermione asked, gesturing at Draco's empty plate.

"No, I'm finished, thank you. And I'm ready to go when you are," he said to Harry. Hermione nodded in agreement.

"Alright, let's go then," Harry said, setting his empty cup in the sink. Hermione and Draco followed after. Once outside her door, he turned to face them. "I'll meet you at the gate."

Hermione Apparated first, arriving only seconds before them. The three soon stood at a large iron-gated arbor at the entrance to the war memorial cemetery on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. The decorative arch was just that, a decoration, as the rest of the cemetery boundary was marked by a short hedge. The cemetery had been constructed only a few short days after Voldemort's defeat. There had been losses on both sides, but that cemetery was the resting place for those that had bravely fought to restore the peace, as well as the innocent victims of Voldemort and the Death Eaters during Voldemort's second reign. There had been families that preferred that their loved ones come to rest in family cemeteries, but the overwhelming majority had been proud to have their loved ones honored at the war memorial cemetery. The original plan was for it to be quite a small cemetery, but as the numbers of those lost in those three years were tallied, the cemetery had expanded to hold over a hundred plots.

"Colin's grave is over there," Harry directed, pointing to a place not far to their right. He started moving toward it. "And Tonks and Lupin are in the back row over there." Harry pointed toward the back left row. "So, if he had been kneeling on Colin's grave, they wouldn't have seen him very easily. He said he got closer then. He would have had to move quite far if he was able to identify wouldn't he? How could he be sure?"

"Were I in his position," said Hermione, "I would have crawled in front of the gravestones and hidden behind the obelisk. It wouldn't be a lot of movement and he'd have more cover. I think it would be close enough."

Harry followed Hermione's suggested path on foot. He walked six graves toward the left and two back and found himself standing in front of the structure at the center of the cemetery. It was a monument dedicated to all of the people who fought in the war; a smooth six foot black stone obelisk upon a two foot plinth that read, 'We Will Never Forget.' He peered around the edge of it and found that Hermione was right. It was still a bit of a distance from Tonks' grave, but Dennis would have been able to count gravestones and possibly identify the Lestrange brothers. They were, after all, very memorable people; it would be difficult to misidentify them. He wasn't trying to prove that Dennis's account was false; he wanted to believe him, but the investigator in him needed to prove that Dennis's story was possible, therefore he needed to try to disprove it. He was quite relieved to find no flaws.

"Okay… let's go," Harry led the way again through the graves, this time toward the back left. He stopped and looked sadly down on the graves of Nymphadora Tonks Lupin and Remus John Lupin. He didn't think it mattered how much time would pass; it would always hurt to visit them there. "Alright, Hermione, let's have a look."

Hermione pulled out her wand and knelt beside the grave.

"Wait!" Draco said quickly. "Have a look? You don't mean you're going to…"

Hermione looked a little confused for a moment and then her eyes widened in understanding. "What? No! No, we're not going to - to dig or anything. Merlin, no."

"Hermione's quite skilled with a spell for ultrasonic sight," Harry explained. At Draco's confusion he tried to explain a little better. "It's like an ultrasound machine." Harry realized that that was no help at all once he'd said it. "Hermione?"

Hermione sighed and rolled her eyes. Harry and Ron both preferred working with her over the other people in her department and when asked why by their peers, they loved to talk up her abilities. At first, it was just explaining their decision, but then it sort of turned into bragging rights because Hermione, no matter how busy she was, seemed to find a few minutes to help either of them with something special. The funny part of it all to her, was that Harry and Ron only understood what she was trying to accomplish half of the time and could hardly ever find a way to explain it to others.

"Ultrasonic waves are high-frequency sound waves. The spell I use sends out those waves, then it accepts the sound back and creates an image in my mind," she explained. "See… hm… Well, take this as an example. We know that Tonks, like most here, was cremated. Her remains are in a small metal box. If I send the sound into the ground, the ground will resonate at a certain frequency, the metal will resonate at its own frequency, and the ashes will be quite different still. The sounds will be received in order and in time so that it can map out a rather basic, but accurate, idea of what is there without having to actually look. Does that make sense?"

"Yes… but where did you ever learn a thing like that?" Draco asked bewilderedly.

"Madam Pomfrey, actually," Hermione answered. "In the muggle world, ultrasound machines are primarily used for medical diagnostics. Madam Pomfrey pioneered its use in the magical world. She had the idea and it took her over a decade to perfect, but she had quite a few test subjects, also. When I found she was able to do it, I thought it could be very useful in detection on the field."

"Brilliant, isn't it?" Harry asked.

"Yeah," Draco agreed, looking rather impressed.

Hermione blushed and purposely kept her head bent so that they could not see it. "It definitely has come in handy a few times, but it only works if I can concentrate and in the environment is quiet."

"Sorry," Harry and Draco apologized together.

Hermione closed her eyes and concentrated as she slowly moved her wand back and forth over the grave, concentrating on a small square patch. Her wand slowed to a stop and she sighed, her shoulders slumping. She looked up at Harry and shook her head. "The ground is solid and compacted around the box. It hasn't been touched since it was buried. The ground in front of it is looser, though. It fits with Dennis's story about being dug up recently, but there's no necklace. They took it or else someone had taken it before then."

"You think it's the horcrux?" Harry asked. None of them had asked it before then, but he was rather sure that in no one having asked, that they all assumed the same thing.

"It's my guess, yes," Hermione answered. "We can't know for sure with the information we have, but it seems likely. Bellatrix received the opal necklace around the same time she had gone off with Voldemort. It's no secret that he valued her above the others. We know that she had to learn about horcruxes somewhere. I believe that she learned it from him then. It's also something that she valued very much. Not to mention, why else would Rodolphus and Rabastan feel the need to take it?"

"I agree. But, how do we know? And if it is, is it still a horcrux or has she already been restored to a body?" Harry asked. The three of them pondered it quietly.

"Her wand," Draco answered. "We know that she has her own wand again in the memories. Hermione even has it in her possession now. But, the wand was buried with Bellatrix's remains, just as the necklace was with Nymphadora."

Hermione stood and smiled at Draco. "It's definitely something to consider. You know where she's buried?"

"Yes, in the Black family cemetery," said Draco. He extended an arm to Hermione and the other to Harry. They nodded and took hold. Draco closed his eyes and concentrated before Disapparating. When the three of them opened their eyes, they were standing in a different graveyard. This one was much larger and they were able to easily look out over it from their place at the back treeline. The cemetery was clearly several centuries old. They could tell from where they were that it was organized by time. The graves at the very front were much older, many of them severely weathered, and at the back where they stood, were the more recent graves.

"Right here," said Draco, leading them down a few paces. They stopped at a small gravestone that simply read 'Bellatrix Lestrange née Black, March 28, 1951 – May 2, 1998.' There was no wish of 'Rest in Peace' or a heartfelt epitaph. She simple was and was not. At least, that was what it seemed by the look of her grave. In truth, it was anything but simple.

Hermione swallowed hard and approached the grave. It felt nothing like what she had just performed over Tonks's grave. It felt much heavier, darker. She apprehensively knelt beside it and closed her eyes. Her hand was a little unsteady at first and she scolded herself for her nervousness. There was nothing special about the task. It wasn't a person in there; they were the ashes of body that was once a person, nothing more. With new determination, her wand moved slowly over the grassy soil.

She opened her eyes, got to her feet, and dusted off her knees before looking at Draco and Harry. "It's not there. It looks just like Tonks's grave. The soil around the box is firm, the ground in front of it has been turned up more recently. There's no wand there," she stated matter-of-factly.

"While it's certainly something helpful to know, it still doesn't tell us whether the horcrux has been used or whether it still houses her soul," Draco said with mild frustration. It had been his idea, and he had hoped it would somehow answer their questions, but it only caused him greater fear to know that her wand had already been retrieved.

The three of them fell into deep thought, chasing the same thoughts around their brains over and over again. Hermione stared at Bellatrix's headstone with determination and it suddenly hit her.

"Bone of the father…" she breathed quietly. "Harry, if she learned about horcruxes from Voldemort, what if she also learned how to come back from one? What if she followed the same ritual?"

"Bone of the father, unknowingly given," Harry said, looking at Hermione in stunned disbelief. "Her father's grave, where is it?"

"Just over here," Draco announced. He started leading them a few graves down and stopped suddenly. Hermione and Harry stepped to the side to see what he was looking at. There, in front of them, was overturned dirt on a grave that no one had bothered to recover. Harry's eyes followed up the grave to the headstone that read "Cygnus Black III."

"That's him, isn't it?" Harry asked. "Was Cygnus her father?"

Draco nodded. "My grandfather."

"There's no question now," Hermione said quietly. "This proves it in my book. There's no way that this could all be coincidence. She's back."

Harry stared, unblinking, at the grave. His face was as stone. "It's not good news, but we already knew that it was not only possible, but likely. We're not wondering anymore. We have an answer and now we plan."

Hermione nodded. "It's time to plan."

"My place?" Harry offered. Draco nodded. "You can Apparate directly outside the front door."

Draco watched the other two Disapparate and took one last look at his grandfather's grave before joining them. When he arrived, the front door of Grimmauld Place was open and Hermione was waiting expectantly inside the threshold. Draco smiled softly at her and entered.

"Welcome home, Master Harry," Kreacher greeted. "And Master has guests. May Kreacher bring tea?"

"No, but maybe some pumpkin juice," answered Harry.

"Is that all Master?" Kreacher asked.

"Um…" Harry thought for a moment. "I'm going to the Weasleys for dinner tonight. Maybe… Could you please make a couple of pies for dessert?"

"Yes, Master!" Kreacher replied with a great smile.

Harry sighed. He felt bad asking favors of the house-elf, but it seemed to mean so much to him. "In the sitting room."

Hermione glanced at Draco and walked beside him as they followed Harry. Harry stood in the middle of the room, making no move to sit, so Hermione took a seat on the sofa, looking at him uncertainly. Draco sat beside her, made nervous by Potter's edgy demeanor.

"We need to plan," Harry repeated, rubbing his forehead in frustration, "but I don't even know where to start."

"We start with basic objectives," Hermione stated.

"We need to kill her," Draco declared simply.

Hermione was a little taken aback. "Well… They will probably use killing curses toward us, and we do have permission to use killing curses on Death Eaters that are still at large in this country, but our objective is to capture her."

"Not 'probably,' Hermione. They will use unforgivables the second they see you. You can't hesitate," Draco insisted.

"Agreed," Harry said firmly. "And she's already dead, Hermione, so there are no ethics involved."

Hermione nodded, but still took the conversation in another direction. "In the memories, we strongly believed that after she returned, she made a new horcrux, so we need to know if she's already made a new horcrux or not."

Draco did not respond. Hermione wasn't sure that he had even listened to the last part. He was still staring at her with nettled doubt.

"She would need to commit murder to make a horcrux. There have been no recent murders," Harry stated.

"There've been no known recent murders in the wizarding world, but we really don't know about the muggle world. She could have picked any random person," Hermione reasoned. "That would be a good place to start. I'll ask my mum about recent news and watch the news on TV in the evening. I bet my parents have at least a week's worth of newspapers."

"Good," said Harry. "What else?"

"Potter," Draco said seriously. "I need to speak with my mother."

Harry and Hermione both looked a bit surprised.

"She has reason to fear Bellatrix. In the memory, it looked like there was no hesitation for her to kill my mother. She has to know," Draco explained.

"Yes," Harry agreed.

"What may I tell her?" Draco continued.

"So long as we can trust her to be silent, anything," Harry said, surprising Hermione.

"Thank you," Draco replied solemnly.

"Would you like me to be there?" Harry offered.

"Actually… yes," Draco admitted. "She needs to know that this is serious. I don't want her to doubt it."

"D-Do you want me t-to-?"

"No!" Draco answered quickly. He saw the frightened and injured look on Hermione's face and rushed to explain. "This is going to be overwhelming to her. I don't know how she'll take it. And… and I'm going to tell her about Aurelian. I think it might be better if you weren't there when I explain that part to her. It's not against you… I just…"

"I understand," Hermione assured him. It was very difficult for her to explain the bare minimum to her parents and it didn't go well. It was frightening to imagine if she had Draco there with her when she explained. That had to go two ways.

"Tomorrow, Potter? For dinner?" Draco asked.

"Yeah, just give me details tomorrow," Harry agreed like it was not at all concerning to him. "Now, back to the plan."

 

Chapter Text

"Hey," Draco dully greeted as the door to Blaise's flat opened on him. He stood there with his hands in his pockets, feeling rather silly for just showing up at Blaise's home unannounced again.

"Hey," Blaise returned. He was looking smug as he leaned against the door frame with a rocks tumbler in his hand. "'Bout time you got here." He tilted the glass around, watching the amber liquid slosh up the sides.

"What are you talking about?" Draco asked indignantly.

"I've been expecting you," Blaise explained.

"I only just decided I was coming here five minutes ago," he scowled.

"Fine, but I was still expecting you. It's Tuesday. You kissed the girl on Saturday. If you didn't show up tonight, I'd have had to go out looking for you tomorrow," Blaise smirked. "Here you go. Come on in." Blaise stepped aside and handed Draco the tumbler.

"Cocky bastard," Draco sneered. "You even poured me a drink?"

"No, actually, that was going to be mine, but I'll pour another," Blaise chuckled. "Have a seat."

Draco accepted his offer and sat down in one of the armchairs in front of the empty fireplace.

"Well, start talking," Blaise smiled as he poured himself a glass of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey.

"I don't know where to begin," Draco admitted, taking a sip of his drink. He grimaced, but appreciated the familiar burn.

"Well, last I heard, you kissed Hermione Granger out of the blue and left without talking about it. That was three days ago. What happened when you saw her next?" Blaise asked.

"We – we talked… sort of," Draco said, remembering the awkwardness between them.

"Well, that clears it all up for me then," Blaise replied sarcastically.

"She invited me to dinner," Draco declared.

"Really?" Blaise asked excitedly. "I was right then. She was interested. So, when do you meet her?"

"We had dinner on Sunday.”

"You already went out?" Blaise asked with surprise. "She asked you to dinner the same day you 'sort of' talked?"

"Yeah," Draco said, narrowing his eyes. He wasn't sure what to make of Blaise's astonishment and wondered if he should be offended.

"Well, how did it go? Where did you go?" Blaise asked with enthusiasm.

"I went to her place. She made dinner," Draco answered. "It was nice."

"She can cook?" Blaise asked, looking rather impressed.

"Quite well," Draco smiled.

"And dinner was just 'nice'?" Blaise pressed.

"It was… It was really nice. We talked a lot. I…" Draco looked like he was struggling a little with what to say. "Damn it, she's the one, Blaise."

"Sorry?" he asked, startled by Draco's outburst.

"She's the one. She's the girl, the one I want. She's… Gods, she's it, and I'm terrified. I don't know what to do. I don't want to screw this up," Draco rattled off anxiously.

"Whoa, whoa, hold on," Blaise ordered, trying to catch up. "The one? You mean…? You know, I think we skipped over quite a bit here."

"We've skipped over a lot. It's happening so fast," Draco replied.

"That's not what I meant. I meant – Wait… Merlin, did you shag her?" Blaise blurted out.

"No!" Draco hastily exclaimed, his eyes wide.

"No need to get defensive. Nothing wrong with it if you did. You just said it was moving fast and you skipped over a lot," Blaise commented. "So what are we talking about here? You said you think she's the one?"

"No, I know she's the one," Draco corrected.

"How? I mean, the other day you were telling me how impossible it was and now she's 'the one'?"

"I just know. I feel it. I can see it when she looks at me. No one's ever looked at me like that. I look at her and talk to her and I just know that it has to be her. It could never be anyone else now. I can't screw this up, Blaise. If I screw this up it will be the biggest mistake I'll ever make. I-"

"Whoa, you're doing it again. Calm down and take a drink," Blaise suggested. "Now, you're right. This is too fast. You're much too intense here. If you want this to work, your first step is to not act like this."

"I don't act like this! You know me. Have you ever seen me like this?" Draco demanded.

"Drink, Malfoy," Blaise ordered sternly. "And no, I haven't. It's quite frightening, really."

"I'm not like this in front of her. I'm too quiet most of the time. I'm too nervous to say much. I catch myself smiling at her though. I feel just as stupid then. She probably thinks I'm-"

"Cute," Blaise cut him off. "She probably thinks you're cute. It's a girl thing."

"Really?" Draco asked skeptically.

"Seriously," Blaise insisted earnestly. "When a guy gets nervous or wears a goofy smile, girls think it's adorable."

"I don't think I like being considered adorable," Draco said uncomfortably.

"You will. Adorable doesn't mean soft. It goes right along with being handsome. Girls can say a guy is adorable and 'sooo masculine' in the same sentence," Blaise smirked.

"Where do you get this rubbish?"

"Doesn't matter; it's true. So don't worry about the weird smiles. Now… let's try something simple. Tell me about her. Not what she does or her friends. Tell me about her."

"She… she's fascinating," Draco said with a small lopsided smile. "She's brilliant. I mean really brilliant. I've never known anyone so observant and understanding. She can be very well-spoken, but when she gets excited or nervous bumbles and rambles."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Blaise asked curiously.

"It's cute," Draco smirked.

"See, this is better," Blaise said in a patronizing tone. "Talking calmly and rationally. So next, what does she think of you?"

"I don't know…" Draco said uncomfortably, becoming stiff and anxious again.

"No, don't do that. Think about it. Talk about it," Blaise admonished. "You have to have an idea of what she thinks of you."

"She… She likes me," Draco said uneasily.

"That's good. Keep going. What does she like about you? How does she act around you?"

"She seems comfortable around me sometimes, but then, just when I think things are going well, she gets quiet and looks worried and uneasy," Draco said miserably.

"Natural," Blaise said dismissively. "You have to remember, she's probably as nervous as you are. The fact that you strongly disliked each other in school probably plays a part in it. The fact that you both get really comfortable around each other is a good thing. It sounds to me like things are going well. I don't know what you're so worried about."

"Things are going well. Too well. It's too fast. Everything is happening too fast. One day I was just me and now…" Draco stopped short. There was too much he couldn't say. Everything that was happening was too much. His life had been turned completely upside-down. "This is what I want. I can't screw this up."

"The same things again. You say it's too fast, it's what you want, and you can't screw this up. It's like a really twisted mantra. I think you're panicking over nothing. You admit that it's going well. I don't know what you think is moving too fast. You haven't shagged her yet. You seem to be taking this at a responsible pace if this is serious to you," Blaise reasoned.

"It is too fast. Things are happening completely out of order. We-" Again there were so many things he wanted to talk about that he just couldn't. How could he explain to Blaise that they were learning to become parents together before they even started getting to know each other? "It's like we were at point A and jumped to point C. We haven't had B yet."

Blaise shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about. You're not going too fast. You say that you're at point C, thinking you've already been through stages. What on earth can point C be if you haven't shagged her yet? And then what is point B that you think you're missing? The only thing that you've said that seems you're rushing things is the declaration that she's 'the one.'"

"And that's it," Draco said seriously, becoming quite frustrated again. "Point C is knowing that she is the one. It's knowing that… and that we… urgh! People start out getting to know each other and they work through things. Point C is when they finally realize true trust and dedication."

"Aaaand…? And you think you're at point C? Both of you?" Blaise asked skeptically.

"Well… yes, sort of. I am. I… Urgh! I just can't explain it, okay?" He found himself suddenly shouting.

"Whoa… calm down, Malfoy," Blaise said placatingly. "It's alright. Just… just explain what you can, alright? What is it that you feel you've missed? What's point B?"

"Everything in between," Draco said vaguely. He didn't know how to explain. He was afraid he would slip up like he did last time. He needed someone to talk to though, someone to try and understand. "Fighting," he said finally. "We've missed fighting."

"Like arguing?" Blaise questioned, looking rather baffled. "You're upset because you haven't argued in the three days that you've been kind of seeing each other a little?"

"I'm being serious. If you put things like that again, I'll hex you and leave," Draco threatened with a belligerent glare.

"Okay, I'm sorry," he said sincerely, "but I seriously don't understand what you're upset about."

"Fighting, Zabini. Arguing. It's like… things are… I can't explain things. Things are further ahead and we've missed the middle. We've come to accept each other without going through the struggle. Now whenever we hit that stuff, it's going to be a step back rather than forward," Draco grumbled in despondent frustration.

"Okay, I'll just take your word on that for now," Blaise acquiesced. "What is it that you're afraid you won't be able to work out?"

"I don't know. That's the problem," Draco stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. "House-elves!"

"What?"

"She doesn't like house-elves. She's disgusted with people that own them. I own one," Draco said.

"Well, that doesn't have to be the end of a relationship. It sounds like something that you might want to discuss at some point, but it doesn't mean you have to fight about it. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree. You just ask Pernie not to come around when you're with her."

"Yeah, but for how long?"

"I don't know. I don't know what you're… Oh Merlin, you're already picturing marriage, aren't you?" Blaise said in stunned disbelief.

"No," Draco said a little too quickly. "I mean, I don't know. I can see it, but I can't. It's all wrong. I've seen it, but I can't imagine it now because… Ugh."

"Okay, stop. You're scaring me, Draco. I'm really happy that you found someone that makes you so happy that you've actually started thinking that far ahead, but you can't think like that. You can't live like that. You have to live today before you get to tomorrow. Just slow down and stop worrying. Just go with it. If she's really 'the one' then it will all work out in its own natural time. If this house-elf thing really bothers you then maybe you should talk about it. But, I'm talking about discussing it, not you provoking her into a heated argument. You like her. Just enjoy her and what you have going. Okay?"

Draco took a deep breath, sighed, and nodded. "You're right. I'm thinking too much."

"Of course I'm right. That's why you come to me," Blaise smirked.

"Really? I thought it was just for the liquor and a good laugh at your unnatural feminine insight," Draco retorted with a smirk of his own.

"Nothing unnatural about it. Just like in school, I merely study the subjects that interest me most," Blaise replied. "Now drink up you adorable little arse-wipe."

"Now that is a good piece of advice," Draco said, emptying his glass in one.

"In all seriousness, if you take only one piece of advice from me today, then let it be to just go with it. Don't look too far ahead. Just go with it," Blaise repeated.

Draco sighed again. "Just go with it."

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"And they was so fun." Aurelian smiled as he continued telling his mother about all the things he had done with Ginny and the other Weasleys. He stood on the bed and held onto Hermione's shoulders for support as he stepped into his pajama bottoms. "They even let my flied my broom on da real quidditch ground! They sayed my flying so good maybe I pway big quidditch when I growed up."

"It's certainly possible." Hermione smiled fondly at the little boy. He looked absolutely exhausted, even his smile was tired, but his eyes still twinkled with happiness. "I'm so glad you had a great time. I really missed you though." She ran her fingers through his hair and he leaned forward into a hug. Hermione chuckled when he didn't let go.

"I miss you too, Mummy."

"Well, we should have nearly all day together tomorrow. What do you think of that?" She asked, absently rubbing his back.

"We have fun?"

"Of course. But in order for tomorrow to start, you have to put your day to bed. Time to sleep now, love."

"No. No sleep."

"Yes, sleep."

"No. My don't want you to go."

"Go?" Hermione asked, not sure what he meant. "I'm not going anywhere, love."

"You stay here sleep with me?" he asked hopefully.

"Oh, I see. No, but I'll be back soon. There's just a little more work I want to get-"

"No. No work. No leave. Pwease, Mummy. Pwease stay. Pwease?" Aurelian begged.

Hermione looked miserably torn. "If I come to bed with you now, will you let me read my papers at breakfast?"

"Uh-huh," Aurelian nodded excitedly.

"Alright," Hermione smiled. "Scooch over."

Hermione's heart warmed at the beautiful, genuine smile Aurelian wore. He moved over to his side of the bed, the side pressed up against the wall, and Hermione slipped in next to him. As soon as she settled into a position on her side, facing him, he moved back over to her and snuggled up to her body. Hermione had initially been uncomfortable with his freely-given affection, but as the days passed, she became quite used to it and rather enjoyed it at times. She draped her arm over him and rubbed his back again.

"I love you, Aurelian," she whispered softly.

"You miss me, Mummy?" he asked.

"Yes, I did," she smiled, running her fingers through his hair.

"My miss you, too. I love you, Mummy," he said, pressing his head closer into her. "My love Daddy, too."

"I know you do."

"You love Daddy?"

Hermione was surprised by his question and wasn't quite sure what to say. "I care about your daddy. He's a special person," she replied. Her answer was sufficient to the toddler, but it had her once again examining her feelings for Draco. It had been a very long and emotionally exhausting day. She recalled, again, the horrifying image of Draco attempting to take his life under the Imperius curse. It was a terrible vision, but so was the picture devised by her imagination, the image of Draco no longer being there. Their relationship was so new that it could hardly even be defined as a relationship, but the thought of losing it, of not seeing him anymore was a devastating one. 'You love Daddy?' Aurelian's words replayed in her mind.

Not yet, but soon, she thought to herself. I don't know what it is, but I already know... He's the one…

Hermione leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on Aurelian's head. "Goodnight, Aurelian."

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Daddy here!" Aurelian cried excitedly as he raced into the living room.

Hermione followed at a leisurely pace and smiled when she saw Aurelian wrapped, once again, around Draco's legs.

"Good morning," Draco greeted the small boy, ruffling his hair. "Good morning," he said as he looked up at Hermione. His heart skipped a beat when he saw her.

"Good morning," she returned, overwhelmed by the way he looked at her.

"Just go with it," Draco whispered to himself.

"Sorry?" Hermione asked, unable to hear what he had said.

Draco slowly walked over to her, hesitated a second, and then brushed his fingers into her hair and bent forward to give her a tender, but passionate, kiss. A soft hum escaped as her hands came to rest on his chest.

"No more. Time to pway," Aurelian insisted, pushing on Hermione's legs in attempt to separate his parents. Hermione smiled and pulled away from the kiss as she blushed and looked away bashfully. They had only kissed a couple times before. It was quite a surprise to be greeted in such away. She looked back up at him and an anxious feeling immediately twisted in her gut. Draco was frozen in place with a solid and challenging mien. She followed his gaze, once she realized that it was not directed at her, and gasped when she saw Harry staring at them from the kitchen doorway.

"Uh, I was just wondering if you were done with your breakfast so that I can wash the dishes," Harry told her.

Hermione's blush deepened. "Yes, thank you."

Harry nodded and disappeared back into the kitchen.

"Erm, Harry got here a bit early today to watch the news on the telly," Hermione explained, nervously nibbling her bottom lip.

"He didn't look surprised," Draco noted, still staring warily over Hermione's shoulder.

"Well, I'm sure he was a little… but no, he's not surprised," Hermione admitted.

"What did you tell him?" Draco asked curiously. Slowly and reluctantly, he pried his eyes from the empty doorway and set them upon Hermione's calculating gaze.

"That we were seeing each other," she stated. "That's okay, isn't it?"

"Yes. I'm just a little surprised by his reaction… or lack of," Draco said, glancing at the kitchen doorway again. "Weasley knows too, doesn't he? That's why he looked at me strangely yesterday."

"Well, yes, but he probably would have looked at you like that anyway," Hermione chuckled. "You expected them to protest?"

"At the very least, I expected to be threatened," Draco admitted.

"I was a bit nervous, too.”

"Yeah, well, you'll soon discover that protesting something that Hermione is passionate about isn't a smart idea," Harry chuckled as he entered the room. Draco and Hermione looked at him in surprise, having thought he was still in the kitchen. He plopped down onto the sofa with a smirk. "Though usually sweet and reserved, she's nothing to mess with when she's cross. Quite like my Ginny, actually."

"A common lioness trait, I'm told," Draco said with a smirk, remembering Blaise's predilection for feisty Gryffindor females.

"I'm standing right here," Hermione said indignantly.

"And, nothing has been said that should come across as an insult," Draco assured her.

"So, ready to get back to our discussion?" Harry asked.

"Yes," Hermione answered, joining him on the sofa.

"No," Aurelian protested. "I need clothes so I can pway."

"I know," Hermione told him apologetically. "I'm sorry. We've gotten really behind schedule this morning. I'll change you out of your pajamas soon, love. You can still play in your pajamas and I'll change you when we're done talking."

Aurelian pouted and moved toward the toys piled in the corner. "No, Daddy!" Aurelian protested again when Draco sat with Harry and Hermione. "You pway with me."

"I'm sorry, Aurelian," Draco apologized. "But, I need to hear this."

Aurelian harrumphed and started moodily digging through his toys.

"Okay, so Harry and I were watching the news today for any stories of recent murders. Muggles are rather good at determining cause of death and they don't know of anything like the killing curse, so finding no evidence as to why a person died would baffle them," Hermione explained. "There was a story today about a girl that was found dead outside of an entrance to the underground three days ago. They said that the police still have no leads as to who the killer might be. They didn't mention anything in the story about how she died, so we're a bit curious. They would usually mention if the person was stabbed, shot, or beaten."

"The place she was found also happened to be only two blocks from the Leaky Cauldron," Harry added. "So, we're discussing how we might-"

"Help! Help!" Aurelian's muffled cries reached them from behind the sofa. Hermione turned around on her knees to look behind the sofa. She chuckled and pouted in amused exasperation when she saw Aurelian sitting on the welcome mat, tangled in his pajamas. His bottom half was completely bare and his pajama top was stuck halfway off his arms and head so that he could not remove it or even push it back into place.

"Oh, Aurelian, I told you that I'd change you soon," Hermione groaned. She and Harry had been trying to discuss this piece of news for about an hour, but kept getting interrupted. "I'm sorry, Harry. We're never going to get through this conversation at this rate. Hold still, Aurey, I'm coming."

"No," Draco said, holding out an arm to stop her. "I can get him dressed if you want."

Hermione looked pleasantly surprised by the offer, but Harry looked positively stunned by it. He had not really seen Draco interact with Aurelian. Draco walked over and helped free the struggling boy from his rebellious garment.

"Um, thank you," Hermione smiled warmly. "His clothes are in the bottom drawer of the dresser in my room. But, Aurelian, why don't you use the toilet before you get dressed."

Aurelian grinned and ran down the hallway. Harry smiled and shook his head as he watched the naked child's retreat with his father right behind him. "I still can't believe he's yours."

"I know," said Hermione. "Crazy, isn't it?"

"He's incredible though," Harry told her seriously.

"Thank you."

"So, how do we go about getting more information about this murder?" he asked.

"Well, I think it wouldn't be worth our time to ask the press, because if they didn't mention it in the report, then they may not know the cause of death. I think the best bet would be to go straight to-"

"Um, I'm sorry to interrupt," said Draco from the hallway, "but where do you keep your cleaning supplies?"

"Oh no," Hermione groaned. "What now?"

"Well, I was standing in the hall while he used the toilet, but he had left the door open. When he saw me, he yelled 'piracy' and slammed the door. Well, he had to move away from the toilet when he closed the door and he sort of urinated, er, everywhere," Draco explained. "I vanished it all, but I thought I should sanitize it also."

"'Piracy?'" Harry asked, trying to suppress his laughter.

"Privacy. He can't pronounce it correctly. And I'm sorry, I'll get it," Hermione offered, getting to her feet.

"I can handle it," Draco assured her. "I know how to clean. I just need to know where the products are."

"Okay. I just meant… Well, the cleaners are locked under the bathroom sink. And well, just make sure you lock it back up when you're done," said Hermione. "Are you sure you don't want me to help?"

"He's fine," Harry assured Hermione. Draco had already disappeared before she asked. "He offered and told you he was quite capable. Let him do it."

Hermione nodded and continued on her last thought pertaining to their investigation.

Draco cleaned the bathroom quickly and efficiently and locked the cleaners away before ducking into the bedroom.

"What are you doing?" he asked. Aurelian was standing on the opened bottom drawer and was rummaging through the top drawer. Several sets of child sized robes and underpants were strewn across the floor.

"I lookin’ for my orange robe," Aurelian explained.

"Well, you're not going to find it there. Your mother said that your clothes are in the bottom drawer. You're going to get hurt climbing up like that." Draco told him. He took a firm hold on the boy's tiny wrist and helped him to climb back down.

When Aurelian had his feet firmly on the ground again, Draco noticed that he was still holding onto a garment from the top drawer. He held out his hand to receive it and blushed when he realized that it was a pair of Hermione's knickers. He quickly stashed them in the top drawer and closed it. He desperately hoped that Hermione wouldn't think that it was him that had dug through the drawer when she opened it next.

"Now, you said you're looking for the orange one?" Draco asked. Aurelian nodded. "Well, you can't find it when you rummage through like this. You have to keep things tidy to find what you're looking for." With a wave of his wand, Draco caused the clothes on the floor to fold and arrange themselves neatly in the bottom drawer. "There now. Why don't you have a peek in there and see if you can find the orange one without moving them."

Aurelian knelt down and looked carefully through the drawer. All of the robes were stacked front to back instead of on top of each other, so that the boy could see each one. After a moment of scanning, Aurelian pointed to the orange robe and smiled triumphantly up at Draco.

"Good job. Now take it out carefully and grab a pair of underpants," Draco instructed.

Aurelian followed orders and Draco closed the drawer for him. Draco knelt down in front of the toddler and held out his hand for the garments.

"No. I do myself," Aurelian told him proudly. He sat down on the floor again and slipped on his underpants, giggling when he allowed the elastic to snap against his waist. He picked up the robe and started to pull it on over his head. Draco watched skeptically and wasn't sure what to do when Aurelian was obviously trying hard to push his head through one of the arm holes.

"Can I give you a hand?" he offered.

"No, I do it!" the child insisted, grunting as he tried harder to force his head through.

"Even brilliant men like you need to ask for help sometimes," Draco told him. "Let me help just a little."

Aurelian stopped struggling and just stood there with his hands still grasping the fabric. "It won't go."

"Here, just a little help…" Draco pulled up on the sleeve and moved it just an inch to the side. "Now give it a try." Aurelian pulled again and his head popped through.

"My did it!" Aurelian exclaimed proudly.

"I knew you could," Draco smiled. He tugged the sleeve back a little to make sure it didn't go on backward and told Aurey to put his arms through. As soon as he finished dressing, he raced to the living room to share the news of his success.

"I dressed me!" he proclaimed with his arms spread wide to proudly display himself.

"Great job," Hermione smiled.

"Very nice," Harry commended.

"So," Hermione continued with Harry. "I agree. The Confundus Charm is the best option. I'll see if I can go to the police station either later today or tomorrow."

"Good."

"Now, I know you get a bit annoyed with my compulsion when it comes to details, but I really think that it's helpful to gather everything we can on this, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. I feel it'd be irresponsible if we overlooked anything that has the potential to be helpful in some way," Hermione said seriously.

Draco looked at her curiously, wondering not so much about what she was thinking just then, but what things they had looked into in the past that made her insecure and defensive in bringing forth her idea.

"Hermione, I always want to know what you're thinking," Harry told her.

"Well, it might be helpful to see if we can narrow down the time frame of when she may have been returned to a body," Hermione suggested. "I was thinking, if she used the same ritual as Voldemort to return, then they'd need an extremely large cauldron. Not many people own a cauldron that size so not many are sold, either. What if they needed to purchase one? I was thinking that maybe we could check with Potage's Cauldron Shop to see if they remember selling any cauldrons that size in the last month."

"That's not a bad thought. It'd be nice to narrow down the time when she returned so we can try to guess at what she’s planning," Harry reasoned. "And it's a long shot, but they might remember something about who they sold it to."

"Checked up on easily enough, too," Draco added. "I could have a look into that this afternoon. I'll check both the Diagon Alley location and Hogsmeade."

"Thank you," Hermione smiled fondly.

"So then we just need to worry about-" Harry stopped short when he heard the doorbell ring.

"Oh, Merlin! What time is it?" Hermione panicked. "Godric, is it really eleven already?"

"Um, yes," Draco answered after checking his watch. "What's the matter? Who-?"

"Just a minute!" Hermione shouted at the door as she ran to the kitchen to hide their research.

"Who-?" Draco started.

"Her mother," Harry answered before Draco could finish asking.

"What?" Draco asked, his eyes widening in surprise.

"Yeah, she invited her mum over today. We got rather behind schedule this morning and it seems that we've lost track of time," he replied.

"Her mother?" Draco asked, staring warily at the door. He unconsciously glanced over his shoulder at the fireplace and bag of floo powder.

"Yeah. She obviously forgot to mention it." Harry smirked at Draco's discomfort. "Don't worry, Malfoy, we're not invited to stay. In fact, if you're thinking of going to the cauldron shops now, I could tag along."

"Yeah," Draco answered slowly. He pried his eyes from the door and tried to focus on what Harry had just said. "Yeah, you'd probably get answers easier and you wouldn't have to look menacing to do it."

"Just a second! I'm coming!" Hermione shouted through the flat again. She raced into the living room with stacks of files and books in her arms and then down the hall. Aurelian was giggling at his mother's frantic behavior. "Notepad, Harry," she added quickly when she reentered the living room. Harry picked their notes off of the table as Hermione sped around the couch and stopped at the door. She blew out a breath and opened the door. "Morning, Mum."

"Did you forget that I was coming?" Helen Granger asked with an amused smile.

"No, of course not. I just really lost track of time. Come in," Hermione said, stepping out of her mother's path.

"Grandma Helen," Aurelian smiled, stepping up next to Hermione.

"You remembered," Helen beamed, lowering herself to one knee.

"We already eated breakfast," Aurelian said apologetically.

"That's okay. So did I," she replied. "I came over to talk today. And maybe we can go get lunch or a snack somewhere later."

"Okay," he said enthusiastically. "What in your bag?"

"Oh, well, mostly some old newspapers for, uh, your mother, but I did bring a couple things for you," she answered. She reached into her bag and pulled out a box of toy cars.

"Look, Mummy! Cars!" Aurelian exclaimed. "I pway them?"

"Sure," Helen answered before Hermione could. Aurelian took the box and raced into the kitchen. Helen smiled, but it slipped a little before she stood up to rejoin the adults in the room.

"Thank you, Mum," Hermione said ardently.

Helen nodded with a kind, but sad, look in her eyes. The conflict inside of her was unmistakable. She was torn when she looked at her daughter. She looked like she wanted nothing more than to pull her daughter tightly into her arms and hold her, but she just could not bring herself to do so. She was simply too afraid to trust her daughter the way she once had. It wasn't that she didn't love her daughter, for there was nothing she loved more than her family, but she had just been too hurt by Hermione's past deceits. They had been working through it over the past two years, and Helen truly felt the strength of their bond building, and then things suddenly changed again when Aurelian was introduced. She thought no less of her daughter, but life had taken another sudden turn for them and she wasn't sure where it placed them.

"Good morning, Dr. Granger," Harry greeted.

"Harry," she returned with a smile. "How are you?"

"Alright, I suppose," he answered.

"You're Draco Malfoy, aren't you?" Helen asked, her eyes narrowed suspiciously at the blond man next to Harry.

Draco swallowed hard. "Yes, ma'am."

"Uh, yeah, I'm sorry," Hermione apologized, looking rather uncomfortable. "Mum, this is Draco Malfoy, as you guessed. And, Draco, this is my mother, Dr. Helen Granger."

Draco wished that Hermione had foregone the formal introductions for formal introductions were ceremonious and called for proper mores.

"A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Granger," Draco said cordially as he presented himself before her. Only with long-practiced discipline was he able to extend his hand to her without it shaking with his nerves. Helen looked at him warily and extended her hand. Draco took it and gently placed a light kiss on her knuckles. The woman looked completely bewildered by this action and Hermione nearly groaned. What was proper for the traditional upper-crust wizarding society seemed quite out of place right then. Still, she couldn't help but think how adorable he was.

"Well, uh, we have to get going," Harry announced suddenly. "It was nice seeing you again, Dr. Granger. I'll, er, see you later, Hermione?"

"Please." Hermione answered with a plea in her eyes, gaining curious looks from Helen and Draco.

Harry nodded and pulled Draco out the door with him.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione sat with her back against the arm of the sofa and pulled her legs up to her chest. She delicately held the stem of her wine glass between her fingers and gently tilted it in circles, watching the deep red liquid swirl inside. She sighed, took another sip, and allowed the side of her head to fall against the back of the couch. She glanced at her coffee table out of the corner of her eye. It was covered in parchment, newspapers, and books. She had been trying to get some work done that evening but finally gave it up as a lost cause. She simply couldn't concentrate. There was a light knock on the front door and Hermione's eyes moved in its direction, but she was unable to see it without lifting her head.

"Come in," she said lazily.

She heard the soft click of the door being magically unlocked just before it opened. Hermione lifted her head and smiled softly.

"You know, in the future you might want to ask who it is before you tell them to come in," Harry smirked.

"I knew it was you," Hermione said simply.

"Do I have a unique knock or something?" Harry asked as he walked around the sofa and took a seat at the other end.

"Well, I would probably be able to guess by that, but I knew you'd come," she answered. "You said you would."

"Wine?" Harry asked curiously, looking at her glass.

"Yeah, would you like some?" Hermione offered.

"No, I had some at dinner, actually," he said slowly. "But, I don't think I've ever seen you drink wine except for special occasions."

"Well, that's normally the only time I drink, but it seems to have become a regular thing now," she replied.

Harry frowned. "How much have you had?"

"Relax, Harry. This is my first," Hermione responded with a lopsided smile. "I just needed a little help relaxing."

"Why? What happened?" he asked with concern.

"Nothing."

"It's not nothing. What happened? Is it that girl? Did you go to the police station today?" he pressed.

"No. I mean, yes, I went to the police station, but no, it's not what we were looking for. The poor girl was robbed and stabbed to death," Hermione answered sadly.

"Then what is it?" Harry asked.

"Nothing. It's just… everything," Hermione replied, staring into her wine glass. Hermione glanced up at him and saw that he was waiting for her to continue. "It's just, during the day, I busy myself with tasks. It's a puzzle, just a case that we're working on and I can keep myself together for the most part. But when evening comes and it gets quiet, it just all presses in."

"Then talk about it," Harry urged.

"I don't know what there is to talk about," Hermione said honestly. "It just is what it is."

"What is?"

Hermione sighed. "Everything. I…" Her insides twisted and she finally let all that she'd been holding in just fall out. "My life has just been flipped upside-down. A couple weeks ago, everything seemed so simple. Now… We're trying to bring down a nefarious witch who returned from death. I have visions of real memories where I watched my friends die. I have a two year-old son. My relationship with my mum is strained. My father won't speak to me. I'm seeing Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, who is the father of my child, whom I just met. And now, Narcissa Malfoy knows about it. I mean… he did tell her, didn't he?" She wasn't sure if she wanted him to affirm or deny that. She knew that she'd be upset either way. She did not know Narcissa, but she didn't feel comfortable with the woman knowing about her and Draco, let alone knowing about Aurelian. But at the same time, she would feel hurt if he could not admit those things to his mother.

Harry nodded.

"So how did it go?" she asked nervously.

"Just as planned, really," Harry replied. "She didn't seem surprised to see me, but she didn't look happy to see me either. Still, she wasn't unkind. She really didn't say anything. Dinner was uncomfortable. No one said anything. It was silent from the time we sat until the meal ended. It's really not anything to discuss over dinner and Malfoy and I couldn't think of anything to say. When we finished dinner, we went to the drawing room. Malfoy apologized to her for worrying her, but told her that there really wasn't anything comforting that he could say. He told her that he had been working with me for a couple weeks on a confidential case and that, though it's still confidential, we felt that she needed to know what's going on. He went right into explaining after that."

"What did he say?" asked Hermione.

"Well, he told her that we received a warning of a future war and that we were looking into it. He mentioned the memories, but not what was in them. Then he came straight out and told her that it's Bellatrix and that we just discovered that she had returned from death. She looked shocked and horrified, but the look vanished as quickly as it came. It seems that Malfoy's stoic façade comes as much from his mother as it does his father. She said nothing; asked nothing. Still, I saw it. She's frightened," Harry said seriously, feeling somewhat guilty as he remembered her expression.

"Did he tell her about Aurelian?" Hermione wondered aloud, noticing that Harry hadn't said anything about him.

"Yeah," he answered. "When he mentioned him in the beginning, he just told her that he was your son from the future. When he finished explaining about the memories and Bellatrix return – he didn't tell her about the horcrux – he came straight out and said that Aurelian was his son."

"And?" Hermione prompted, her heart pounding in her chest.

"And it was one of the only times she spoke. She said that she thought Malfoy said that the boy was your child. He told her Aurelian is yours and his. She said, 'I see.' It got rather uncomfortable, so that's when I said something. I told her that we were working our best on it. I told her that her and Malfoy's safety was really important to us and that we will do whatever we have to to keep them safe. I told her that I could put up some wards over the property right then if she'd like, but I told her that you are the most skilled person I know when it comes to spatial wards, knowing just about everything except fidelius charms, and that you could come by tomorrow to ward their home."

"Actually, I'm working on the fidelius charm," Hermione informed him. "But, what did she say?"

"She thanked me for my concern and said that she would consider it."

"Consider it?" Hermione cried incredulously. "What is there to consider?"

"I don't know," Harry shrugged.

"Consider it?" Hermione repeated in outrage. "I can't believe that. What is there to consider? We're talking about setting up protection. Is she really so prideful that she would risk her son's safety rather than accept help from either of us? Draco is one of the first targets. He needs to be protected! I can't just-"

"Calm down," Harry urged. "I talked to him when he saw me out. He said that he's going to give his mother a little time to consider everything, but if she doesn't come to him about it by tomorrow evening, he's going to ask you to come over and put up the wards. He is the head of the house, but he still wants to respect her."

"Good," Hermione said fiercely.

"You really care about him, don't you?" Harry asked softly.

"I just don't want to see him get hurt!" she replied vehemently.

"I know. Neither do I, but you didn't answer my question."

Hermione looked flustered and a bit sheepish as she averted her eyes. "Yes."

"I'm not going to protest you seeing him, but I have to admit that I'm kind of worried," he told her seriously. "Things are going a lot faster than I thought they would with you two. I just want you to be careful. It's like you told me, he's not the guy from the memory."

"I know I said that, but I'm really not sure anymore," Hermione admitted. "I've seen a lot of him lately. You haven't seen him like I have and even you have said that he's changed. He's far from the boy he was in school."

"I know that he's changed, but neither of us really know who he is," Harry reminded her. "He's still an angry person."

"He's searching just like the rest of us."

"I know. I'm not saying he's a bad person. I just don't want to see you get hurt," he said earnestly.

"I know… but if I get hurt, it will be my own fault for moving so fast and opening my heart the way I am," she said with a grimace.

"Okay, now I'm really worried," Harry said, looking a bit angry. "What happened, Hermione?"

"Nothing."

"You're afraid he'll hurt you. What's he done?" he demanded.

"Nothing, Harry. Really," she insisted. "I just… This is all really new to me. I've never been in a relationship before. I mean, I've dated a few times, but it never even got to a second date. I'm just worried. Especially…" She let her sentence die, sighed, and took another sip of wine.

"Especially what?"

Hermione shook her head.

"No. Tell me."

"It's nothing. I'm being melodramatic," she chuckled mirthlessly at the realization.

"Relationships are difficult." Harry's tone was one to encourage her to continue. Hermione looked up at him rather apprehensively and he sighed. "I know I'm not Ginny. I don't claim to have any answers, but I can listen."

"You don't even like him," she said cautiously.

"I don't dislike him so much anymore. And, I do care about you."

Hermione worried her bottom lip. "I just don't know what I've gotten into. I don't know what to expect. I don't know what he expects and… I'm worried about his mother."

"Narcissa?" Harry asked in surprise.

"Well, yes. Draco hadn't admitted to seeing me when he talked to his mother, but he's going to have to soon. I know she doesn't like me. I don't know how much she dislikes me, but I know that she certainly doesn't think I'm good enough for her son. You heard her response when Draco admitted that Aurelian was both his and mine. She hadn't said anything about her sister returning from death, but she was upset when she learned of Aurelian."

"Narcissa Malfoy doesn't like many people," Harry said flatly. "There are only a select few that she would consider good enough for her son. Don't concern yourself with her opinion of you."

"I can't help it. It worries me," Hermione replied miserably. "I'm not concerned about her so much as how Draco will respond to her opinion. In the memories, his mother wasn't there when we got into a relationship. She had been… well, she'd been killed. It's not that I wish that on her!" she hurriedly added. "But she wasn't in the equation. I guess that I'm worried about how she and the world around us will influence his opinion of me. We're going to prevent this war. You know we will. We'll be living in a different world than we were in the memory. What if he talks to his mother or his friends and decides that I'm not good enough?"

"Then you’ll know he's not worth your time," Harry stated. "If he or anyone else believes you're not good enough, especially because they let others influence them, then he's not worth your time."

"I know…" she said with a frown. "But, that won't make it hurt any less. I… I do like him. I don't want things to end so soon."

"One step at a time, Hermione."

"I know."

"You're going to have to stop worrying, you know. I'm not saying to trust him, but you can't really be happy with him if you're worried all the time," Harry told her.

"I know," she repeated.

"Just… Just see what happens. Be careful, but… but enjoy what you've got," he suggested with a shrug. "And if he hurts you in any way, shape, or form, you've got me and every one of the Weasleys to make his life a living hell."

Hermione snorted a chuckle and then laughed even more when she saw that Harry was absolutely serious.

"Okay. Thank you, Harry," she smiled warmly. "So… on to other things. Did you check out Potage's with Draco today?"

"Yeah," Harry answered, immensely relieved by the change of subject. "The shopkeeper in Hogsmeade said that he sold one just a few weeks ago. We asked for a specific date and he said he wasn't sure, but he knows he can find it in his records because he remembered having a special repair that same day. We asked if he remembered the person who bought it. He said that he didn't recognize them straight off, but they felt familiar. He said that he would think on it and if he remembers anything, he'll let us know."

"That's great," Hermione replied. "If it was only a few weeks ago like the shopkeeper believes, then she hasn't had much time to put any plans into action. I hope he can find the date. Even more, I hope he remembers the buyer."

"Me, too," Harry agreed.

"What about the goblins? Have you heard any more from them?"

"Yes, and they agreed. If I get Croubat's case moved up, they'll give me the information. The only set back now is that they don't trust wizards. They said that they already have the information set aside and will keep it up to date, but they won't hand it over until they see my side fulfilled."

"Meaning?" Hermione asked.

"Well, I told them that I don't have any influence over the outcome, but I'd see that it was made a priority. They said they understand that, but they're waiting to see movement on the Ministry's part. I talked to Wayne. He said that he's already pushing it for me. As soon as he fills out the paperwork, a date for a dispute summons will be sent to both the witch and Croubat. I think as soon as Croubat receives the owl with the court date, he'll consider my end fulfilled. Wayne said that should only be a day or two."

"That's great," she said brightly. "And you can't blame them for not trusting wizards."

"Yeah, I know, but I still wish they could. It would move things along so much faster," Harry grumbled. "Well, that's really all I came here for. I'll talk to you tomorrow, I guess."

"Thank you for coming, Harry. I would have worried the whole night, otherwise," Hermione said with sincere gratitude.

"I know. No more worrying now though. Goodnight." Harry took a pinch of floo powder and disappeared with a whoosh inside the green flames.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

The next day Hermione sat alone on her sofa once more, bent over uncomfortably, as she intently studied the pad of notes she had just written. Quite suddenly, she ripped the top sheet of paper away from the rest, crumpled it up in frustration and threw it into the fire. She tossed the notepad onto the armchair next to her and returned her attention to the ancient looking treatise on the center of her coffee table. She gripped her hair in her fingers as she stared at the text. She had never before studied anything so complex and it was frustrating, to say the least. It was written mainly in Latin, but much of it was still in ancient runes. There was even a bit of arithmancy involved just for good measure, she decided. At first glance, she had thought that it looked impossible to figure out. After two hours of intense study, she believed it even more. Though she was quite skilled in translation and arithmancy, the page before her just looked like a jumbled mess of roman letters, both eastern and western Arabic numerals, and runic and deviant symbols.

Hermione sat up straight, took a long cleansing breath, and forced herself to relax. After taking a second to collect herself, she attacked the mess in front of her from a new angle. She was determined to decipher the texts and master the fidelius charm if it was the last thing she ever did. She gently shifted the ancient text to the side and pulled the photocopied sheets toward her. Arming herself with a tri-sided highlighter, she got back to work, now coloring each set by language. She had just gotten to the second line when there was a knock on her front door.

"Just a second," she said, still pulling the pink tip of her highlighter across a long Latin piece of text. As soon as she got to the end of it, she dropped the triangular shaped marking tool and whipped out her wand. With a quick swish and a jab, the moving photographs froze and Aurelian's magical toys tucked themselves away in the toy box. Hermione was still quite distracted when she opened the door and gasped when she saw the blond man standing there. As soon as she saw him, a smile broke over her face. "Draco."

"Hi," he said. "I'm sorry to just come by like this, but I really didn't want to wait for an owl. I thought about the floo also, but I wanted to give you the chance to ignore me."

"What?" Hermione asked, surprised by his candid admission. "Why do you think that I'd want to ignore you?"

"No specific reason. Sometimes people don't want to be bothered and it should be their right to choose to ignore the world," he stated simply.

"Yeah, I guess, but I wouldn't turn you away. Come in," she invited with a warm smile. Their eyes met and Hermione felt the flutter of butterflies in her stomach. A sudden urge to kiss him came over her, but she became nervous when she noticed the slight anxiety in his demeanor. He returned her warm smile and entered.

"Where's Aurelian?" he asked as he surveyed the quiet apartment.

"Oh," she said. Her heart dropped when she thought that he might have only come to see Aurelian. She realized that Draco hadn't really spent much time with him in the last few days, but she selfishly wished that he had come for her. "He's sleeping. I'm sorry. I only just put him down for a nap a little bit ago. If I had known that you'd be coming to see him, I'd have-"

"No," he interrupted. "I mean, it's not that I wouldn't like to see him, but I came because I was hoping that I could talk with you."

"Oh, of course. Have a seat," she offered casually as her stomach twisted into an anxious knot. It was the very thing she had just been hoping for, but the way he said it made her increasingly nervous. How was it that everything he did and said so profoundly affected her emotions?

Draco nodded and took a seat on the sofa. Hermione followed and sat down next to him. "So what's going on?" she asked.

"Well, you know that I had invited Potter over last night so that we could speak to my mother… and we did," he stated.

"I know," Hermione answered. "Harry came over last night and told me about it."

Draco looked up at her suddenly and she saw a flash of jealousy in his eyes that took her by surprise. "I'm sorry. I should have come over myself. I would have, but I thought that my mother might want to talk to me more privately when Potter left."

"No, it's okay. I understand," Hermione assured him. "But, did she?"

"Did she what?" Draco asked in confusion. Hermione tried to hide her smile. She couldn't help but feel flattered by his adorably distracted state due to his unnecessary jealousy.

"Did she talk to you after Harry left?" she clarified.

"Yes. She took a little time to herself before she called for me. She didn't say much. She's rather disconcerted by the news. She…" He sighed. "She's scared."

Hermione nodded. Anyone would be frightened by the news of Bellatrix's return, but it had to be especially difficult for Narcissa. Hermione felt sorry for Draco. She could see that he truly cared about his mother and that it hurt him to see her scared. "Did she discuss putting wards around the property?"

"No, not yet," he answered, still lost in thought. "She called for me again today, just a little bit ago, as I thought she would. She… She asked about Aurelian."

"What?" Hermione said, taken by surprise.

"She wants to see him," Draco told her. He looked into her eyes, trying to judge her reaction. She looked startled and worried, which was exactly what she felt.

"I-I-I… er…" She didn't know what to say. She didn't even know what she should feel about it. "I… I don't want to be distrusting, but… Draco, I really don't know your mother. Though I do trust you, I really don't think I could be comfortable allowing you to take him there when I-"

"No," he interrupted. "You misunderstand. I wouldn't expect you to just hand him over to me and my mother. You are both invited."

"By your mother?" Hermione asked uncertainly.

"Yes."

Hermione looked at him skeptically and he felt forced to elaborate.

"She just learned that she has a grandson and wishes to meet him. Even she does not expect you to turn him over to the company of a stranger," he explained.

Hermione nodded, satisfied by this response. "When?"

"Tonight. For dinner. If that works for you."

Hermione nodded, hardly able to breathe for her intense apprehension. "Does she know that we're, uh, s-seeing each other?"

"I don't like to keep things from my mother," he replied by way of answer.

Hermione nodded again. She thought for a moment before hesitantly asking, "What does she think of me?"

Draco looked caught off guard by the question. "She doesn't know you," he answered uncomfortably.

Hermione was irked by his evasive answer. It was a difficult thing for her to ask. "I know that, but, well, your mother doesn't really like… people of my parentage."

"My mother doesn't hate muggle-borns," Draco answered fiercely, incensed by the feeling that his mother's character was being called into question. As soon as he reacted, he remembered who he was speaking to and calmed himself. He knew that Hermione was not trying to insult his mother. He had told her before that she didn't have to worry all the time about offending him, but when she tried to carefully address her concern and he had become angry. She was apprehensive about seeing his mother and now she looked even more disquieted. Draco looked at her apologetically and continued slowly, choosing his words carefully. "My mother does not dislike muggle-borns. She… she sees them as a necessary part of society, but she…" He struggled for words, not knowing the best way to describe what he wanted to say. There was no nice way to put it. "She considers muggle-borns beneath her… us… me… It was the way she was raised. She does not have any problems doing business with them. She just doesn't associate…"

"On a personal level," Hermione offered gently when she saw him struggling. He looked up at her when she said it, only realizing then that he had been avoiding her gaze. His eyes looked sad, frustrated and desperate. He needed her to understand and the tender tone of her voice and soft, but the hesitant look in her eyes told him that she was trying.

"Yes. But, that doesn't mean that she has a problem with me associating with them. If I had a muggle-born friend, she would not protest," he told her.

"A muggle-born friend? As in just one?" Hermione asked, trying to feel out his example as it felt cryptic in its evasiveness.

Draco looked even more uncomfortable. He had not thought of it in that way, but thinking on it now, this was probably true. His mother might be able to accept it if he had one muggle-born friend, but if all of his friends, the majority, or even just more than one of his friends was a muggle-born, his mother would probably show concern. "I'm sure that she probably prefers that I mainly associate with pure-blood or half-blood wizards."

"You said 'friend' though. Your mother would not protest a muggle-born friend. What about someone more… significant… than just a friend?" Hermione diffidently inquired. Her insides ached with tension.

Draco sighed. "You have to understand… My mother has had a vision of what she wanted my life to be since before I was born. She thought it was all lost, everything, when the Dark L- Voldemort returned. When I was pardoned for my crimes, my mother felt like she could hope again. The one thing she had always hoped for most was a pure-blooded wife for me. She has been trying to encourage me in that direction for some time now." He could not look at her as he said it. "So… the idea of me…she thinks…" He was lost for words again.

"I'm not good enough," she dejectedly supplied.

"I didn't say that!" he shouted indignantly.

"I know… but that's what she thinks, isn't it? She thinks that I'm not good enough for you," Hermione smiled sadly.

"Because she doesn't know any better," Draco said fiercely in his mother's defense. He was incredibly frustrated. He didn't want Hermione to get the wrong idea of his mother. This was all making her sound like a questionable person. At the same time, he didn't want Hermione to ever believe that she wasn't good enough. "I don't know why you're so concerned about her opinion anyway. It doesn't matter. If she or anyone else can't see you for who you are because of what you are then they aren't worth your time." Though he strongly believed it, it still hurt a little to say for he knew that he was one of those people not long ago.

"But she's your mother," Hermione said quietly.

"I said anyone," Draco said firmly, staring her straight in the eye. "Why do you care what she thinks at all? She's nothing to you."

"I only care because she means a lot to you," Hermione answered, staring deep into his slate grey eyes.

Draco was dumbstruck by this answer. He stared at her in disbelief as the conversation finally became clear to him. "You're only concerned about what her opinion means to me?"

"She means a lot to you. I see that. So her opinion-"

"Her opinion is her own. She can think what she wants. It has no bearing on my own feelings. I can and will choose for myself and she knows that," Draco proclaimed fervently. "Is that what all of this is about?"

Hermione looked sheepish as she nodded, but she was too relieved to care.

"I don't care what anyone else thinks," he vehemently declared. "I have enough to think about without concerning myself with others' opinions. It's taken me how many years to see you properly? You think I'm going to let my mother's preconceived ideas decide things for me?"

"I-I was concerned, yes," Hermione admitted quietly.

"Don't," replied Draco firmly.

Hermione's eyes shined and her chest rose and fell with the quick breaths that accompanied her immense relief. Draco scowled, only then seeing how overwhelming her concern had been. He was upset that he hadn't seen it sooner… that she'd felt it at all. He reached out and gently pulled his fingers down one of the rogue curls framing her face. Hermione pushed herself onto her knees, cupped her hand around the back of Draco's neck and pulled him into a slow, ardent kiss. Draco responded with equal passion. His lips were pressed firmly against hers and coaxed her mouth open. Her tongue danced with his between their open mouths and a deep throated moan escaped her when his hands came to rest on her hips. A lightheaded feeling overwhelmed her and she allowed her body to fall back on the sofa, guided by Draco's strong arms.

He pulled back and looked down on her in wonderment. "You were worried that I was going to quit you," he realized. She stared up at him, breathing heavily, and nodded timidly. Her admission and the innocence in her eyes stirred a fire inside of him and he buried his head in the crook of her neck, placing zealous, but tender kisses on her soft skin, causing her to gasp and pant. "Get over it, Granger," he whispered softly in her ear. "You're mine."

She moaned in pleasure and whispered his name. She gasped and said his name a little more firmly. "Draco, too fast," she panted. Draco stopped immediately, but couldn't bring himself to move. His heated breaths chilled the moist skin that his kisses had left behind and sent a shiver down her spine. Draco breathed slowly as he collected himself.

"I'm sorry," he said as he pushed himself back into a sitting position. His apology was sincere. She was right that he'd moved too fast; his kisses and words had been so impassioned and he was afraid of what it would mean for them. Their relationship seemed so fragile. Never had he wanted anything more than to make their relationship work, but he was afraid that his intense dedication to her would frighten her away.

"No," Hermione breathed, dismissing his apology with a shake of her head. She scooted back into a sitting position and stole one last kiss. "Just… just too fast." Draco nodded and gently touched her cheek. She smiled warmly with beautifully flushed cheeks. "So, what time is dinner?"

 

Chapter Text

Hermione closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and blew it out slowly.

"You gonna knock, Mummy? We gonna knock?" Aurelian asked, looking up at his mother expectantly.

Hermione opened her eyes and smiled down at the small boy holding her hand. "Yes." She looked up at the large black doors in front of her that belonged to the large grey stone Jacobean mansion that was Malfoy Manor and rapped her knuckles smartly on the door. The door opened promptly and they faced a small, smiling house-elf in a pink pillowcase toga.

"Good evening, Miss Hermione Granger and-"

"Pernie!" Aurelian shouted joyfully as he threw his arms around the thin little house-elf.

"Eee!" Pernie shrieked in surprise.

"My miss you, Pernie," Aurelian told her, his arms still wrapped firmly around the house-elf's neck. It was rather odd looking, as the two of them were almost the exact same height, but proportioned so differently. While Aurelian looked gleeful, the house-elf looked terrified.

"Aurelian," Hermione called for his attention. She tapped him on the shoulder, trying to get him to release the elf.

"P-Pernie is thinking you are mistaken, young sir," Pernie stuttered, unsure of what to do in such a situation.

"Aurelian," Hermione said more firmly. "You have to let Pernie go. She is trying to do her job."

At this, Aurelian let go, but was still beaming at the house-elf. Pernie stared nervously at Aurelian a moment before speaking. "Master Draco is expecting you. Pernie will lead Miss and Young Sir if they just follow."

Pernie seemed uncomfortable having her back to Aurelian and kept glancing curiously and apprehensively over her shoulder.

"We go my room now, Mummy?" Aurelian asked hopefully.

"No, Aurelian. I told you that we're not here to play today. And you know this isn't our home anymore. We're here to have dinner and meet someone new," Hermione replied in a whisper.

"Miss Hermione Granger and young A-Aurelian have arrived," Pernie announced as they entered the drawing room. Hermione looked around the room uncomfortably until her eyes met Draco's.

"Thank you, Pernie. Would you please go tell Mother that our guests have arrived?" Draco requested.

"Yes, sir," Pernie took one last curious look at Aurelian and disappeared.

"Daddy!" Aurelian cried excitedly. Draco knelt onto one knee and allowed Aurelian to hug him properly for the first time. It wasn't until his arms were around Aurelian's small body that he realized it. It felt a bit strange, but he enjoyed the closeness. A lopsided smile appeared on his face when he caught the scent of Aurelian's hair. It smelled like coconut. He assumed it was his shampoo, but he couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the child had just gotten into something in the kitchen again.

"Miss you, Daddy."

"I missed you, too. I'm glad you could come here for dinner tonight," said Draco.

"Mummy says no playin'" he pouted.

"Yeah, no playing tonight, but it will still be nice. Are you ready to see your grandmother?" Draco asked.

"Grandmum Helen here?"

"No, not Grandmum Helen. Grandmum Helen is your Mummy's mother. Tonight you meet my mother, your Grandmother Narcissa," Draco explained.

"Gramma Cissa?" Aurelian asked.

"I think it would be best if you just called her Grandmother," Draco told him. Draco stood up and looked sadly at Hermione. It was obvious that she was uncomfortable. It was then that he realized that they were standing in the exact spot where she had been tortured by his aunt a few years before. He kicked himself for not thinking of it. "I'm sorry," he told her.

"It's okay," she said. "I'm just nervous. I thought your mother would be here waiting with you."

He was a little surprised that she seemed more concerned about his mother than the room. He admired her courage on both parts. "I thought it would be more comfortable if I got to talk to you first." Draco stepped toward her and ran his fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes as she accepted his comforting touch. Draco Malfoy's comforting touch. She couldn't stop the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth as she thought it. She was falling for the amazing person she was discovering he was, but it was still funny to her to think what her younger self would say to the idea.

"Don't be nervous," Draco urged. "I already told you that her opinion does not affect my own. She only wants to meet Aurelian anyway. Just try to relax."

Hermione just nodded. It was a lot easier said than done. Draco bent forward and placed a delicate kiss on her lips.

"You'll be fine."

Hermione nodded again and Draco took a step back to look at her.

"You look quite beautiful tonight," he commented as he looked over Hermione's cream colored dress robes. When it came to dressing up, Hermione usually wore a nice muggle dress. But for occasions where she would be in the presence of wizard families or co-workers, she stuck to traditional dress robes.

"Thank you," she said bashfully.

"Mother," Draco greeted as Narcissa Malfoy appeared in the entrance of the drawing room. "I would like to introduce Miss Hermione Granger. Hermione, this is my mother, Narcissa Malfoy."

Narcissa nodded in acknowledgement and Hermione returned the gesture. She felt that she should have said something, but she knew it would be a lie to say it was a pleasure.

"And this," said Draco, guiding Aurelian to the forefront, "is Aurelian."

"'Ello. You Grandmother?" Aurelian asked.

"Yes, I suppose I am," Narcissa answered, curiously surveying the child.

"I like your robes. They pretty blue," Aurelian said, lightly touching the flowing pale, ice blue robes.

"You like blue?" she asked conversationally.

"Yes, my favorite, like Daddy. Like tornadoes," he answered. His eyes were wide, bright, and innocent.

"You have very lovely blue robes, too, I see," she said.

"Mines is darker," he said, looking down at his robes. "And little. You is big."

"Yes, it appears I am a bit tall for you, doesn't it?" she said.

"Yeah, your chin is too high to see your eyes," Aurelian told her. Hermione and Draco exchanged looks, wondering how his mother would respond. To both of their surprise, she gracefully sank onto her knees.

"Is that better?" she asked.

"Yes. I see Grandmother's eyes," Aurelian said. Narcissa had to quickly close one of her eyes as the toddler gently prodded her closed lid in demonstration. "Your eyes pretty blue, too."

"And yours are grey like my Draco's," she said, studying the boy's face curiously.

"Master Draco," Pernie addressed as she entered the room. "Dinner is ready to be served in the dining room when Master is ready."

"Yes, we'll take it now please," said Draco. Narcissa only needed to glance at her son and Draco walked over to her and offered his arm to help his mother up. Narcissa glanced at Hermione and walked past her out of the room. Hermione looked at Draco uncertainly. Draco rubbed her shoulder in encouragement and Hermione followed Narcissa from the room with Aurelian catching up to hold Hermione's hand.

Hermione kept a comfortable, yet still polite, distance from Narcissa as they entered the exquisitely decorated, formal dining room. At the center of the room was a rectangular table. It was rather small for the room with only four chairs and place settings, but was still almost twice the size of Hermione's table. It was the perfect size for their group and Hermione assumed that the size of it was changed regularly for the number of diners. She also noticed that one of the chairs, though it matched the others, was higher than the rest, adjusted just for Aurelian. She escorted Aurelian to his seat and helped him up. Then, when she looked up, she noticed that Draco was holding out her chair for her. She blushed as she allowed him to push her chair in for her and whispered a quiet, 'Thank you.'

Hermione looked up and saw that she and Narcissa were at the ends of the table. Though they were the furthest apart, they also sat eye to eye. Narcissa, as always, held herself tall with pride. Though Draco was officially the head of the home, Narcissa still had the most powerful presence. Narcissa moved and Draco and Hermione followed her lead. Narcissa unfolded her napkin and daintily placed it on her lap. Hermione and Draco did the same and then Hermione helped Aurelian smooth his over his lap.

"When Master Draco is ready, Pernie has the nettle wine that Master requested," Pernie announced.

"Thank you, Pernie. And-"

"And the black cherry soda for the young sir, yes sir," Pernie smiled proudly. Draco nodded. Pernie snapped her fingers and the glasses appeared at each place. With another snap, four bowls of soup appeared.

"Look, Mummy," said Aurelian, "I gets fizzy soda to match you drink. But, it's in a fancy cup." Aurelian pouted at it. "I want my orange cup. Pernie get my orange cup with the handle?" he asked, looking at the house-elf in the corner.

Pernie let out a small squeak and disappeared with a crack. She appeared at Aurelian's side only a few seconds later with a small orange plastic cup with a handle in her hands. "Eee… Eee…" she squeaked nervously. Her tiny body trembled and she looked both confused and frightened. "Pernie doesn't understand, Master," she said to Draco. "Pernie is having to listen to Young Sir. Young Sir is Pernie's master. Pernie is not understanding, sir. P-P-Pernie-"

"Calm down, Pernie," Draco said placatingly. His eyebrows had risen with intrigue, but now he simply looked amused with a tiny lopsided smile. The house-elf looked panicked. "Aurelian is my son."

Pernie's eyes widened. "Master Draco's son? Master Draco is still Pernie's master? Master Draco is having a son? Sir… Master… Master Draco, Sir, Pernie was not knowing you have a son. Young Master, Pernie was not knowing you are Pernie's young master, Young Master." Pernie finished with a curtsy so deep that the top of her head might have touched the ground if she had bowed any further.

"Pernie funny, Mummy," Aurelian laughed behind his hand. Hermione, appearing uncomfortable, looked at Draco, hoping he would stop things, but she said nothing.

"I'm sorry, Pernie," Draco apologized. "I should have informed you of it earlier."

"No, no Master Draco. Pernie is sorry. Pernie is still confused though, sir. Young Master knows and recognizes Pernie, but Pernie is not having met Young Master. Pernie does not understand."

"It's rather confusing, Pernie, but now is not the time. I shall explain it to you later," Draco told her.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. But Pernie is wanting to ask one more thing, sir." When Draco said nothing to stop her, Pernie continued uncertainly. "Pernie knows that Miss Granger is Young Master's mother. Pernie knows that Master Draco is the father of Young Master. I-Is Miss Granger being Pernie's Mistress?" Pernie looked so confused, frightened, and uncertain that it was heartbreaking.

Draco looked at Hermione with a curious and calculating gaze, considering the matter in all its complexity. "I don't know," he said to no one in particular. "Give her an order," he casually suggested to Hermione.

Hermione looked at the house-elf, then Draco, and back at the house-elf. "No, thank you," she said quietly.

"Come now, Miss Granger. It is only an experiment," Narcissa urged.

Hermione had not forgotten that the woman was in the room, not for a moment, but had purposely been trying not to notice any of the woman's reactions. This however, she most certainly couldn't ignore. Hermione looked at the polished, aristocratic woman across from her and then to Draco. She felt the pressure and didn't feel comfortable with the situation at all. She had never given a house-elf an order and never wanted to.

"No, thank you," she repeated. She watched as Narcissa's shoulders straightened and she looked down at Hermione with a lofty, scrutinizing gaze. Hermione looked at Draco instead, who looked a little worried by her discomfort as well as her firm, yet polite, refusal.

"It's okay," he said quietly. Pernie uncertainly stepped back into the shadows.

"So, Miss Granger," Narcissa said. She delicately sipped her soup and placed her spoon beside her bowl. "I don't remember reading anything about you in the paper this past year. What is it that you've been up to?"

Hermione tried hard to keep her emotions covered; she did not want Mrs. Malfoy to see how uncomfortable she was. She looked at the woman uncertainly and had a feeling that her refined manner and dignified air was a natural behavior for her, at least in most company. But, Hermione also had a feeling by the way the woman looked at her and spoke to her that she was being looked down upon or even that, behind the mask, the woman was laughing at her.

"Not much, really. I've been working in Magical Law Enforcement in Evidence Evaluation and I also do some background research for both the Law Enforcement Squad and the Auror's Department," Hermione stated.

"Sounds like an important position. Is that how you came to be part of this case?" Narcissa asked.

"Well, no, not really. It's more because of my relationship to Aurelian."

"Of course. But I'm curious, just how did you discover that Aurelian is your son?" Narcissa inquired.

"Y-You didn't tell her?" Hermione said in confusion as she looked at Draco. Draco shook his head.

"Oh, well," Hermione started uncertainly. She was becoming a bit flustered under Narcissa's mask of casual and innocent curiosity, but held her kind and cordial demeanor despite it. She scolded herself with a reminder that she really didn't know what Mrs. Malfoy was thinking at all. Perhaps she was just trying to make casual conversation. "My future self sent Aurelian back to our time to The Burrow, the home of the Weasleys, presumably so that we could learn who he was. As soon as he saw me, he called me 'Mummy.' It did take much to see that he was right." Hermione looked at Aurelian who smiled at her before returning to his soup. It was obvious that the conversation was going right over his head.

"I see. How then did you learn that Draco was the boy's father?" Narcissa continued.

"In much the same way, actually. Harry and I had taken Aurelian to the Ministry to ask him some questions. When he saw Draco, he called him 'Daddy.'"

"And you simply accepted that?" Narcissa pressed.

"No…" Hermione said uncertainly. It was the way the woman had asked it that made her unsure of what exactly was being asked. "We could not just take his word on it. We discovered it was the truth as we asked Aurelian questions. We only knew for certain from the DNA test and the memories we viewed."

"Oh yes, the memories," Narcissa replied. She did not expound upon the thought, leaving Hermione to wonder just what she meant.

"May Pernie bring the salad now, sir?" Pernie quietly asked Draco.

"Yes, please, Pernie," Draco answered.

"My don't want salad," Aurelian whined. "I want fruit. Pernie bring me cup of-?"

"No," Hermione interrupted firmly, pulling all the attention to herself. She lowered her voice to speak quietly to Aurelian, but in the silent room, Draco and Narcissa had no problems overhearing. "It is rude to ask for something else. Pernie has prepared salad for us and we will be grateful."

Pernie looked uncertainly at Draco. Draco nodded to her. Pernie disappeared with a 'crack' and the soup bowls vanished with her.

"But, my don't want salad," Aurelian pouted.

"Then you only need to take two bites to be polite and wait for the next course," Hermione whispered.

The salads appeared before the four diners and Aurelian crossed his arms and pouted moodily at his plate.

"Aurelian," Hermione admonished, her eyebrows raised in challenge. Aurelian huffed and gave another sour pout, but picked up his fork. "Thank you."

"Good man," Draco told Aurelian quietly. "You mind your manners and mind your mother and we'll have some strawberry sorbet for dessert."

"I like strawberries," Aurelian said, cheering up quickly.

"I know. That's why I asked Pernie to prepare it," Draco told him. Aurelian quickly took a bite of his salad.

Hermione tried hard not to look at Narcissa's reaction, but could not help but glance up at her. She was, as always, quite unreadable.

"So, Miss Granger," Narcissa started again, "Draco tells me that you've taken an interest in him."

"What?" Hermione said in surprise.

"Mother," Draco whispered in admonishment. It was obvious by Draco's response that that was not the way he had put it when speaking to her.

"Is this not true?" she asked innocently.

"N-No, it is," Hermione said uncomfortably.

"He also told me that you have asked him to dinner at your home, not once, but twice," she said conversationally.

"Yes," Hermione answered, watching the woman suspiciously.

"I can't help but wonder if this was connected to work or if it was solely because of your romantic interest in him," Narcissa stated. She set down her fork and pushed her salad plate away. As soon as she did, the salad plates vanished and were replaced with the main course.

"Actually, the first time I invited him over, it was because of his interest in seeing Aurelian," Hermione declared. "The second time was because, as you put it, I had taken an interest in him and wanted to get to know him better."

"Because of what you saw in those memories?" Again, her voice sounded like she was innocently curious, but it still felt accusatory.

"Because I began seeing a side of him that I never had before," Hermione corrected, feeling flustered and defensive. Still, she remained calm and composed.

"Miss Granger, what are your intentions with my son?" Narcissa asked, dropping all amicable pretenses.

"Intentions?" Hermione looked rather disconcerted, completely taken aback by the question.

"Mother," Draco hissed his disapproval.

Narcissa waved a dismissive hand in Draco's direction and did not take her eyes off of Hermione. "Yes, intentions. Because from what I can see, you had absolutely no interest in my son until you discovered that he was the father of your child."

"I… I can't say that I have any intentions. I simply enjoy his company," Hermione claimed.

"In what way?" Narcissa pressed.

"Mother," Draco said more firmly still. "If you don't stop this, I'll put an end to this dinner right now."

Narcissa waved him off again and waited patiently for Hermione's reply. Hermione was having a difficult time keeping her composure. She felt a small sour pucker on her lips and tried to force it away. "It's true that I hadn't had interest in him prior to this. Our history is not a very friendly one, but we have both grown since then. Through this investigation and the time we have seen each other apart from the investigation, I have discovered that Draco is quite an incredible person. I do not have expectations regarding my relationship with him, nor his relationship with Aurelian. I simply enjoy spending time with him. My only intention is to get to know him better."

"I see," Narcissa replied stiffly, still looking down on Hermione imperiously.

"I like Daddy, too," Aurelian announced. He was extremely lost on the conversation, but he understood that they were talking about liking Draco. "I like him play with me."

"So I hear," Narcissa replied, a small smile reappearing. "I hear that he bought you a lot of nice toys."

"Yes. He buyed me quidditch people, a broom, and trolls and lots a stuff," Aurelian beamed. "I like pwaying with Daddy, but Mummy says no pwaying tonight."

Hermione stared down at her plate with her jaw tight as she prodded her potatoes. Despite hardly touching her salad and only taking one bite of her beef, she was not very hungry. She knew it would be an uncomfortable dinner experience, but she certainly had not expected it to go like it had so far. She hadn't expected Narcissa to say much of anything to her. She poked her fork into a small piece of potato and took a bite. Even though she was not hungry, she could not just let her food sit there. It wasn't for manners, but more that Pernie must have put a lot of work into preparing the meal.

"I likes pwaying with Daddy, but I miss pwayin' in my room. I miss my quidditch rug and my stars on da ceiling."

"It sounds like a lovely room," Narcissa told him.

"You not seen it? I show you!" Aurelian said excitedly. "It's up, up the stairs and down, down, down the hall."

"Your room is here?" Narcissa asked, her eyebrows raised.

"No. It's up, up the stairs and down, down, down the hall," Aurelian told her, pointing as he spoke.

"Aurelian," Hermione spoke gently, though she was feeling quite exasperated, "your room isn't here anymore, remember?"

"Yeah, dat what she say," Aurelian told Narcissa, as if demonstrating that this was a regular thing. He sighed and pouted. "Mummy say we live in her little home now, but my miss my stars and my Daddy."

"Understandably," Narcissa replied.

"Pernie, we'll take dessert now," Draco said, his eyes narrowed at his mother. She glanced at her son, but showed no hint of emotion. She looked neither cross, nor apologetic. Pernie, on the other hand, looked quite distraught. Narcissa had ended the salad course when they had hardly touched it and Draco ended the main course after only two minutes.

"Yay! Strawberry ice cream!" Aurelian shouted excitedly. "Thank you, Pernie!"

"Y-yes, Young Master. Pernie is glad Young Master is pleased, but is hoping it is okay. Pernie has prepared sorbet… not ice cream. Is it to your liking, Young Master?" Pernie asked tremulously.

"Is the yummiest, Pernie," Aurelian said enthusiastically. "Pernie is the bestest cooker."

Pernie beamed at this, her eyes sparkling.

The next few minutes passed in silence. Hermione stared at her bowl of sorbet and ate quietly, suppressing the urge to glance at any of the other diners. Draco, on the other hand, barely looked at his bowl as he ate. He looked at Hermione with concern and then kept his eyes sternly on his mother. Narcissa Malfoy watched the young boy next to her delightedly devour his sorbet with great zeal, and pointedly ignored her son's meaningful stare.

"Finished?" Narcissa asked, as Aurelian licked the last off his spoon. Aurelian nodded. "Wonderful." She then stood and moved away from the table, signaling the end of the meal.

"Thank you, Pernie," Aurelian said as he hopped of his chair and went to follow his grandmother.

Hermione sighed and stood up, leaving her dessert unfinished. "Thank you, Pernie," she said softly. She left the room with Draco right behind her.

"I believe this ends our evening," Narcissa announced as she stopped in the large entrance hall. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Aurelian. Thank you for joining me this evening."

"I like you, too," Aurelian answered. Narcissa smiled back at him.

"I think I shall be retiring for the evening, Draco. Do you think you could see our guests out?" Narcissa asked.

"Yes, Mother. Goodnight," He answered, looking rather stiff and annoyed. Narcissa nodded and turned toward the staircase at the back of the large hall.

"Oh, wait, Miss Granger," she added as an afterthought. She turned around and addressed Hermione from a few meters away. "Mr. Potter seemed to think that you were of high enough skill to properly set up property wards around our home and also mentioned that you were willing to be of service. I believe I shall accept that offer." Before Hermione could respond, she turned her attention to Draco. "I believe you can oversee her work, Draco?"

"Yes, Mother," Draco said flatly. Narcissa nodded and slowly ascended the staircase. Hermione gasped with surprise when her mobile phone began to ring in her purse. Mrs. Malfoy stopped on the stairs and looked down at Hermione curiously. Hermione ignored the sound of her phone completely and stared back at the woman. Narcissa's chin rose a little higher at Hermione's stoic expression, then she turned and resumed her ascent.

Draco watched along with Hermione until his mother was out of sight. He then turned a worried look at Hermione. Her jaw was set firmly and there was a spark in her eyes. He could see that she was near the edge, but wasn't sure if she was ready to lash out or cry. "Are you alright?" he asked softly.

"No," she answered. Her face screwed up and he knew that she was close to tears. "This was a disaster."

Draco took a step closer to her and put his hand consolingly on her upper arm.

"Don't touch me," she said, pulling away from him a little. It wasn't said harshly or angrily; she was overwhelmed, flustered, and uncertain. She wasn't sure what she wanted or needed just then, but she didn't want to be touched. Draco took his hand away, looking hurt and helpless. That look turned to determination. He took another step closer and gently cupped her cheek. Hermione's face screwed up tighter, but she did not reject his touch. His fingers slid up into her hair and he tucked a few loose tendrils behind her ear.

"What was that?" she demanded in frustration, her eyes going to the place she last saw Narcissa. "I mean, I knew she wouldn't like me, but I certainly didn't expect that. Not only did she make me feel humiliated and worthless, she made me feel pretentious and like a bad mother on top of that! I knew she wouldn't like me but… urgh."

"Hey," he said in a soothing voice, running his fingers through her hair again. "First, no one ever questioned your skills as a mother. You're amazing with Aurelian. Even my mother could find no fault in you there." Hermione stared into his eyes and her insides twisted. She felt even closer to tears. "And my mother was terrible. There have been very few times in my life that I have ever seen her so rude," he continued, "but you handled her well. She's quite impressed with you."

"What?" Hermione demanded angrily, taking a step back from him. "Impressed? You can't be serious!"

"I am."

"Impressed? Were you in there?" Hermione said heatedly, gesturing wildly in the direction of the dining hall.

"I was," Draco said with a small endearing smirk, taking a step toward her again. "And despite your usual, admirable perspicacity, I think that I saw a bit more than you did in there."

"And somehow, with all that happened in there, you believe she likes me?" she said sardonically.

"No, I didn't say that she likes you… She doesn't," Draco said with obvious disappointment. "I said she was impressed by you."

Hermione's eyes narrowed at him and she crossed her arms. She was curious and a bit hopeful at the idea. She didn't understand it, she didn't want to hope, and she didn't even want to listen to Draco at that moment, but her curiosity and insecurities won out over her indignant pride. "And why do you believe that?"

"My mother prides herself on being unreadable. It is a trait that she and my father have tried hard to instill in me. It is only because I have known her my entire life that I am able to follow her thoughts and say with confidence that you impressed her," Draco explained. "And it started with your parenting skills. You were kind, yet firm, when you spoke to Aurelian and corrected his manners. It was rather frightening how much you looked like my mother when speaking to him. It was exactly the way she admonished me when I was young, and I hope that you can accept that as a great compliment from us both."

Hermione wasn't sure how she felt about that statement.

"It was because of that that she decided to test you. I repeat that she was horribly rude and I'm extremely upset with her right now because of it, but that is what 'all of that' was. It was a test. She meant to be rude and upset you. You conducted yourself with pride and honesty. You did not flinch, deflect, or reciprocate my mother's provocation." Draco smiled softly and with great admiration as he combed his fingers through her hair again. "You were incredible, so much so that even Mother could not help but be impressed."

"I don't know if I can believe that," Hermione admitted quietly.

"I guess I can understand that," Draco replied, delicately stroking her cheek. "It can't be easy to simply accept my assessment when it so greatly contradicts your own, but I tell you again, her opinion of you means nothing to me. Be angry with her for her rudeness, but I don't want you to let it bother you beyond that."

Hermione closed her eyes and allowed his touch to soothe her. But, as comforting as it was, it wasn't as simple to let go of her frustration as he made it seem.

"But, as I see that it does bother you," he continued, "I ask you to consider just one more thing."

Hermione opened her eyes and stared into his. She looked so vulnerable.

"My mother just asked you to protect us," Draco stated. Hermione's eyes widened in surprise. "I know that she didn't come straight out with it like that, but, in essence, that's what she did. My mother trusts very few people. I have very rarely seen her accept help from others. She just placed a lot of trust in you. Don't take that lightly. She didn't."

Hermione just stared at him. She hadn't considered it like that. She was skilled in charms. Property wards were one of her specialties. She used them quite frequently as her friends and co-workers had complete confidence in her abilities. It was nothing to her. She realized though, after Draco had brought it to her attention, that it must have been difficult for someone like Narcissa to put so much blind faith in her.

"Think no more on it now, though," Draco urged.

Hermione nodded slowly. "You're right. Now is time for business," she said, concentrating on the task in front of her. "Harry and I have discussed it between ourselves and we think it would be best to use full protection wards over your property, meaning every property ward that I know. Well, all that pertain to this situation."

"That's fine. Thank you," Draco answered.

"Don't answer so quickly," Hermione warned. "You have to consider it first. That means that I would put up a ward that would only allow certain people that I specify to enter the property. You wouldn't be able to invite guests over without me coming to adjust the charm. I would, of course, come to adjust it if you ask. It is not a problem for me, but it could be an inconvenience to you and your mother."

"That's fine," Draco repeated. "We rarely have guests anymore. If my mother wishes the company of her friends, I'm sure that, considering the new circumstance, she would feel more comfortable meeting them elsewhere anyway."

Hermione nodded.

"I would appreciate it if you allowed Blaise and Pansy for me," he requested.

"Of course," Hermione answered. "That's all?"

"That's all. Well, except for you and Aurelian. And Potter…"

Hermione gave a lopsided smile when he grudgingly added Harry to his list. "Those were a given. Another spell to consider before agreeing is… well, I don't know what to call it. It allows me to see all the comings and goings of anyone within the boundaries. It would list the names and times of entering and exiting the perimeter. I would like to place it 150 meters beyond your immediate property limits."

"That's fine, but I've never heard of that spell before," he said, looking at her curiously.

"That's because it's my own design. Well, I hate to say it like that. I really just stole elements from the Marauder's Map, a time recording spell, and a basic boundary spell. I just… it comes in handy," she said lamely.

Draco smirked and shook his head. "Is that all?" he said jokingly. "It sounds astoundingly brilliant to me."

Hermione blushed. "Well, the other spells are rather basic and shouldn't impede your daily life at all. I can get started on it right now if you can just keep an eye on Aurelian for me." She looked down where Aurelian had been snooping just a moment before and felt her stomach drop when she didn't see him. Draco realized it as well and they both started looking frantically around the obviously empty entrance hall. "Merlin, can you check his old room… or, er… I mean…"

"Yeah, I'll check there. Do you want to check the-?"

"M-m-master Draco…" Pernie timidly spoke from the entrance to the dining hall. "P-Pernie is sorry to interrupt, sir," she continued, twisting her fingers nervously, "but Young Master Aurelian i-is in Pernie's quarters, sir…"

"Oh no," Draco groaned.

"Pernie is sorry, sir!" she squeaked. "Pernie is not knowing what to do, sir!" Pernie looked frantic and extremely distressed. Draco knew that look, she was ready to punish herself.

"No, Pernie," he said fiercely. "You've done nothing wrong. I apologize for my son entering your quarters. I understand that it is your private space. Would you prefer that I retrieve him, or would you prefer to bring him here to me?"

"Eee!" Pernie squealed. She didn't know what to do. Her master asked her opinion and she didn't know what to say. "P-Pernie is… Pernie does not wish to overstep by touching young sir, Sir… but… Eee!"

"Your space is your own, Pernie. I respect that. Would you please bring Aurelian here to me?" Draco asked.

"Yes, sir!" Pernie disappeared with a crack. It was obvious to Draco that Pernie had felt really uncomfortable about him entering her space. But, she was also terribly worried about moving her young master without a direct order.

"Sorry," Draco told Hermione. "She's not used to children."

"No, I just feel bad for her. We should have been watching him. He's just so fast."

'Crack!'

"Mummy, Daddy," Aurelian smiled brightly. "I found Pernie's home."

"That home is her private area," Draco scolded. "You are not to go there. I think you know that, too."

Aurelian pouted with guilt.

"I think you should apologize to Pernie," Hermione told him.

"No! No, please," Pernie said quickly. "Pernie is sorry. Young Master need not be sorry."

"My sorry, Pernie," Aurelian told her.

"Eee…" Pernie squeaked uncertainly. "Pernie… Pernie is…" She whimpered, not knowing what to say.

"Pernie, perhaps now would be a good time to clean your quarters and make sure they are in order," Draco suggested.

"Yes, sir!" Pernie smiled and disappeared.

Draco looked uncertainly at Hermione. He knew she didn't like him giving orders to his house-elf. She looked at him with the same uncertainty.

"Um, so I'll go get started on those spells then," she said.

"How many are there?" he asked.

"In total, six," she answered.

"It's a large property, even larger when you add an extra 150 meters on all sides for that one spell. Would you like to borrow a broom?" he offered.

Hermione bit her lip as she considered the offer. She wasn't really looking forward to walking around the property so many times, but she really didn't care for flying either. Draco could see the conflict inside her.

She sighed. "Okay. I think I'll accept that offer."

Draco summoned his broom and handed it to her. "Take your time, alright? Aurelian and I will be fine."

Hermione nodded and walked out the front door with Draco's old Nimbus 2001 in her hand.

Once started, Hermione was glad that she had taken up Draco's offer to use his broom because even with its aid, it took her over thirty minutes to setup all the protective wards. The property was larger than she had imagined. When she returned to the house, her hair was rather tousled and she was quite happy to have her feet back on the ground.

"How did it go?" Draco asked as she handed him back his broom.

"It's all finished," she reported. "You now have one of the securest homes in Britain."

"Thank you," he said sincerely.

"You don't need to thank me. I was going to do it with or without your permission," she smiled coyly.

He smirked. "Why? Are you worried about me?"

Hermione averted her eyes bashfully and a light blush rose to her cheeks. Draco had said it jokingly, knowing she was concerned about safety, but it wasn't until he said it aloud that he realized how true it was. She was sincerely concerned about him. A light feeling rose in his chest at the thought and he smiled fondly at her flushed cheeks. His eyes traveled to her wind-swept hair and his smile grew. Hermione gasped when she realized what he was smiling about and immediately started brushing it down with her fingers.

"Don't. I like it," he said seriously, combing his fingers through her hair. "I don't think I've ever seen you on a broom."

"It's not a common occurrence," she assured him.

"We'll see about that," he smirked. "Oh! I forgot. Your mobile thing was, er, singing while you were outside."

"What?" Hermione asked, starting to worry. Once she had gone outside, she'd remembered that she had missed a call and should have returned it before seeing to the wards, but she didn't think it would hurt to wait until she was finished. Two calls so close together was concerning. Only three people ever called her phone: Ron, Ginny, and her mother. If someone called twice, then it could be serious.

"Yeah, er, just ten minutes or so after you went outside," Draco said, also worried because of the look on Hermione's face.

"What wrong, Mummy?" Aurelian asked.

"Nothing. I don't know," Hermione said as she dug through her purse. She pulled out her mobile and saw '2 missed calls'. "It's Ron. I'm sorry, but do you mind if I call him now?"

"No, go ahead," Draco answered. The light feeling in his stomach suddenly dropped like a lead weight.

Hermione's foot tapped impatiently as her phone dialed.

"Hermione?" Ron's voice came through.

"Ron? What's wrong?" Hermione asked immediately.

"Where have you been? I was just about to call you again," Ron told her.

"I'm at Malfoy Manor," she answered.

"Oh," he replied flatly.

"I was putting up property wards when you called," she continued without pause.

"Oh," he said again, his tone lighter and much more accepting.

"So what happened? What's wrong?" Hermione asked, having no patience for his opinions regarding Draco.

"What?" he asked. "Nothing's wrong. Is it?"

"What? What are you calling about then?" asked Hermione.

"I was looking for Harry. Is he there with you?"

"No, why? What's wrong?" she repeated.

"Nothing's wrong. Why do you keep asking that?"

"Because you called me twice in thirty minutes and were ready to call again. I assumed it was urgent," she said, sounding irritated.

"Well, I just called back because you didn't answer," he said defensively.

"Because I was busy. I can't always call back right away," she replied, her voice rising.

"I thought you might have just ignored it," he reasoned.

"So you decided to pester me until I answered? Ron, if I don't answer just wait for me to call you back. Don't keep calling unless it's an emergency. Now what is it that's so important that you need to talk to Harry about that you pestering me just to find him?"

"Uh… Just… I just wanted to know if he had the chance to meet with the goblins at Gringotts today," Ron answered nervously, hoping not to further provoke Hermione's ire.

"Was he supposed to?" Hermione asked, her frustration turning to curiosity.

"He mentioned that he might. He received an owl from Wayne today. It said that the court summons had been sent out to Harry's goblin, Croubat or whatever, and to that witch the goblin's peeved at. He was hoping the goblins would get right back to him," Ron explained.

"I'm curious now as well, but I haven't seen him all afternoon. I thought he wanted to see Ginny tonight," Hermione told him.

"Well, he's not with her because she's here at The Burrow with me. He's not at home either. I guess it's not that big a deal though. I can just talk to him tomorrow," Ron decided. "Sorry for bothering you though. Really."

"It's okay," Hermione sighed. "I'll talk to you-"

"Wait," Ron interrupted. "You're with Malfoy, aren't you?"

"Yeah…" she said, wondering why that piece of information would be important to him.

"Can you give him a message for me?" Ron asked rather irritably.

"Yeah…" she repeated hesitantly.

"Tell him that I'm not a messenger, especially not his," Ron grumbled. Hermione could picture the disgruntled sneer on his freckled face. "Working on this investigation does not mean that he works for the Law Enforcement Department. I don't want any more goons he calls friends showing up here and poking around for him."

"Someone came to the office? Your office?"

"He went to the Aurors office first, tossing Malfoy and Harry's names around. They sent him to me thinking I might know where Malfoy was. I told him I'm not the bloody ferret's keeper and I don't take messages," Ron stated. "And you can tell that to Malfoy, too."

"But who was it? Who came looking for him?" Hermione asked, sounding a bit worried.

"Who came looking for whom?" Draco interrupted. Hermione was startled when she remembered that Draco was standing right behind her. She silently gestured for him to give her a minute.

"Huh? Oh, Zabini," Ron answered.

"Zabini? Blaise Zabini?" Hermione asked.

"What? Blaise what?" Draco worried. Hermione gestured to him again.

"Yeah," Ron answered. He sounded a bit annoyed that Hermione was not sharing his disgust.

"But what did he say?" she pressed.

"Just that he was looking for Malfoy," Ron stated. "He said it was important."

"Then why didn't you tell me that first?" Hermione demanded.

"Slytherins are selfish. They think everything about themselves is important," Ron declared.

"Ugh," she sighed. "I know you don't like playing messenger, but Draco's part of our case. If someone is looking for him there, then it's important, okay?"

"Is Zabini part of this somehow?" Ron asked.

"Sort of. I can't explain it. I have to go," Hermione told him.

"Alright. I'm sorry…"

"It's fine. I'll see you tomorrow." Hermione sighed and folded her phone shut.

"What's wrong? What happened? What about Zabini? Is he okay?" Draco demanded.

"Slow down," she said, placing a soothing hand on Draco's shoulder.

Draco did not calm.

"I guess Blaise came looking for you at the Ministry today. He went to the Auror's office looking for you and they sent him to Ron," Hermione told him.

"And what did he say? What did he want? Did he say?" Draco pressed.

"Just that he was looking for you. I guess he said it was important," Hermione said, feeling rather miserable even though she had no control over the passing of the message before then.

"It has to be," Draco said, looking rather panicked. "He would never come looking for me there unless it was really important. I… I…" He was frantically pacing the entrance hall, running his fingers through his hair. Hermione felt more anxious just watching him. Even Aurelian looked concerned by Draco's distress. "I have to go see him. I'm sorry, Hermione, but I have to go. I don't know what-"

"Calm down," Hermione urged placing her hands on his shoulders. "I'm sure it's alright. If it was really serious he would have either told someone at the Law Enforcement office or he would have been banging down your front door during dinner."

Draco nodded. She was right.

"Is it… Would… Do you want me to come with you?" Hermione asked tentatively.

Draco looked at her as he considered it. With his eyes locked on hers, he nodded.

"Then give me just five minutes, okay? Ten minutes tops," she said, her voice still soothing. His eyes couldn't leave hers. He was sincerely worried and her eyes were a steady calm. "I'll take Aurelian to the Burrow now so someone can watch him and I'll be right back."

Draco suddenly started feeling a little foolish when he thought that they needed someone to watch Aurelian if she came with him. It might not be that important…

"No, Hermione, I… You don't have to-"

"Really, I want to come. I'm as certain as you are that it's important. The Weasleys don't mind in the least and Aurelian will be excited to visit them," Hermione assured him.

"My see Aunt Molly and Aunt Ginny?" Aurelian asked.

"Yes, love."

"Yay!"

Hermione scooped Aurelian up in her arms without taking her eyes off of Draco's.

"Five minutes," she said firmly. "Meet me at the front gate of the manor. We can Apparate from there."

Draco couldn't answer so he just nodded. It took a lot of effort for Hermione to pry her eyes from him. He was scared, genuinely frightened, and she didn't want to leave him like that. She decided then to do it quickly. She took a pinch of floo powder and tossed it into the large fireplace near the front doors. She glanced at Draco once more before stepping into the flames with Aurelian and announcing her destination, 'The Burrow.'

 

Chapter Text

Draco stood at the gate outside of Malfoy Manor and anxiously checked his watch. It had only been three minutes since Hermione had left with Aurelian but he was impatient. He was sure that he was making much too big a deal over the simple fact that Blaise had come looking for him at the Law Enforcement Office, but he couldn't shake his overwhelming anxiety. Blaise was his best friend and he knew him well. Though they often dropped in on each other at home, Blaise had only ever stopped by his workplace once, twice if he counted the time that Blaise recently stopped by International Magical Cooperation when he was off with Potter. Blaise would not have stopped by the Law Enforcement Office unless it was important. The question was, what did he consider important enough to seek Draco there?

Draco checked his watch again. Four minutes. He had to calm down. Hermione was right. If it were something very serious, Blaise would have come to his home. In fact, that was probably what Blaise should have done in the first place. Why didn't he?

Draco was startled from his thoughts by a 'pop' sound and a sudden presence beside him. He glanced up at Hermione and down at his watch in surprise. It had still only been four minutes that had passed. Though she said five minutes, he actually believed it would be a bit longer.

"Okay," she said, "I just dropped him off."

"Just like that?" Draco asked.

"I told Ginny that something important came up that we need to look into. She understood. She even said she'd take Aurelian back to my flat and put him to bed," she told him.

Draco nodded. Ginny seemed like a very kind and dependable friend to Hermione and he was thankful to her, even if he decided never to reveal it to her. He brushed the thought away. It was his own friend that he was concerned with now.

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked him.

Draco shook his head no. "Can we go now?"

"Of course," she said softly. She was feeling rather nervous because of Draco's reaction to it all, but she suppressed it. She became the strong, calm support for Draco, for it was what he needed. She wove her fingers into his.

Draco looked down at their joined hands and a tiny half-smile tugged at his lips. It was the first time they had ever held hands, and even with everything going on, he felt a light fluttering in his stomach. His eyes met hers as he took a deep breath and Disapparated.

Hermione was surprised when she opened her eyes. She had never before been to Blaise Zabini's home, but it certainly wasn't what she had expected. Blaise's family, that is to say his mother, had quite a fortune. Perhaps it was his money, the fact that he was a Slytherin, and/or his upper-crust, pureblood status, but Hermione had always sort of imagined he'd be living the high life under his mother's roof, much like Draco. Instead, she stood in the hallway of a wizard apartment building. She was actually familiar with it as Hannah Abbott shared a flat with Padma Patil, just down a few doors down.

Draco stepped up to the black door and knocked. Hermione stood a little to the side. After realizing how little she knew about Draco's friend, she decided it might be better to be cautious. They both heard movement from the other side of the door and it flew open.

"Malfoy. Merlin, where have you been? I've been waiting for you all afternoon," Blaise said immediately.

"I was at home," Draco answered, looking his friend over, analyzing his tone and stature.

"That's the first place I went," Blaise told him. "I went there just after lunch, but Pernie said you weren't there. I told her not to worry about it, I'd find you. Then I went to the Ministry and they didn't know where you were either. I was just about to come break down your door! Scared the bloody piss outta me, no one knowing where you are and you're mixed up in this… Granger?" Blaise's ranting stopped immediately when he noticed the curly-haired woman standing beside his front door. His eyebrows were raised in surprise. He looked at Draco and then back at Hermione and the corner of his mouth arched up into a large smirk. "I'm so sorry. I hadn't seen you there. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?"

"Um, well, really it's me that should apologize for coming over uninvited like this, but I was with Draco when we received the message that you were looking for him – "

"Which was actually less than ten minutes ago," Draco interrupted.

Blaise's eyes narrowed, but he quickly shook it off and looked back at Hermione with a brilliant, charming smile. "No need to apologize, Granger. It's a pleasure to see you."

"Are you sure, Zabini?" Hermione asked. "I really don't want to be rude. I only came because, well, since you came looking at Harry's office, we assumed it might have something to do with the investigation. But, I really don't want you to feel – "

"I'm honored, Granger. Truly," Blaise insisted. "And please, call me Blaise."

A light blush rose to Hermione's cheeks. "Um, thank you… Blaise. And you, er, can call me Hermione."

"A pleasure, Hermione."

Hermione's insides squirmed when Blaise's eyes locked on hers. He wore an enchanting smile as he took her hand and placed a kiss upon it. "Please won't you come in?" Still delicately holding her fingers, he gracefully guided her inside. She followed uncertainly, looking over her shoulder at Draco.

Draco noticed Hermione's timid flush and scowled at Blaise. Blaise did not let go of Hermione's hand as he had guided her to an armchair near the fireplace, where he offered her the seat. Draco roughly bumped Blaise with his elbow as he passed and muttered, "Watch it, Zabini."

Hermione had looked at him when she heard him speak, but had obviously not heard what he had said. Blaise acted like he had not heard him either, but Draco could tell that he had when Blaise's smirk grew.

Draco was closer to Blaise than anyone else and he knew that one of the reasons their friendship had become so strong was that Blaise was not intimidated by him. In turn, Draco never felt threatened by Blaise… with the exception of times when he turned on the charm with girls they both liked, like he'd done with Hermione.

Draco considered himself an attractive man. Girls often took an interest in him because of his looks. It was not something he really cared about, as he was often annoyed when vapid girls decided to pay attention to him solely because of his looks. But Draco also knew that his looks could not hold a candle to Blaise's. Not only was Blaise handsome, he had an undeniable, ambrosial charm with the ladies. He was one of those men that had to the ability to woo any woman he wished, and often did. It was a trait he could turn on and off like a switch, as he had just done with Hermione. One moment he was casual Blaise and the next he had Hermione locked in the enthralling gaze of his dark eyes. Women found him attractive enough without him trying. His dark umber skin was flawless, his features were strong and masculine, yet soft and enticing, and his smile was inviting and irresistible. It disgusted Draco. For though they were both attractive men, charm was one skill that Draco felt quite deficient in.

"May I get you a drink?" Blaise asked Hermione politely.

"Um, er…" She glanced at Draco in question but felt even more indecisive by the intense, but otherwise unreadable, look on Draco's face. "Yes. Yes, thank you."

"I apologize, but the only thing I really have to offer is gentlemen's tea. I hope that's alright," Blaise continued, pulling a glass tumbler from the small cupboard behind the sofa.

"Gentlemen's tea?" Hermione asked looking strangely at the cup in his hand.

"Firewhiskey," Draco answered flatly.

"Discussions between men are rarely what they should be without it," Blaise explained. "It's not often that I bring women here to talk, so I find myself rather unprepared. I do hope firewhiskey will be okay."

"Um, well, I-I don't know," Hermione hesitated. She didn't know what else to say. She wasn't sure that she'd like to have some, but she also didn't want to be rude.

"I'll just have to take that as a yes then." Blaise smiled as he poured the amber liquid into the glass. He handed it to Hermione and went back to his place, pulling out another glass. "Draco?"

Draco nodded irritably. "Just get on with it, Zabini."

Blaise smirked at Draco and started pouring two more drinks. Hermione watched him and then looked back at Draco. His eyes met hers and he felt a little of his tension slip. He was uptight wondering what Blaise so badly wanted to talk to him about and flustered by his friend's need to entertain, as it was getting in the way of talks. But the added frustration was Blaise turning on his full charm with a girl he knew Draco was serious about. Draco was insecure enough without Blaise interfering. That one look from Hermione though, was enough to calm him a little. Though Hermione was blushing at Blaise's attention, she looked confused rather than captivated. Though obviously flattered, she appeared curious and amused by Blaise's behavior. Draco felt rather smug at that point. His girl was not lured by Blaise's suave gentility. 'His girl.' He wondered when he started thinking of her that way. He decided it didn't matter. She was his girl, at least from his point of view.

Blaise handed Draco a glass of firewhiskey and took a seat on the sofa, leaving the other armchair for Draco. Draco glanced at it but remained standing.

"Get on with it," he repeated. "It's Pansy, isn't it?"

Blaise looked up at Draco in shock and his smile fell. Time for niceties was over. It was time to talk. His shoulders drooped. "This investigation does have to do with the Parkinsons then…"

Draco and Hermione exchanged looks. Draco hadn't meant to reveal that. Blaise sighed heavily. "I was at work today. I had a meeting with Mr. Parkinson scheduled just before lunch. It was business, but since you asked me to watch more closely, I thought I'd take the time to have a personal chat with him as well. I was waiting outside his doors as his prior meeting had run over and he was still with a client. While I was standing there, Katie Bell came up and started waiting, too. You'll know her, Katie Bell, she was a Gryffindor a year above us," he directed at Hermione and she nodded.

Draco looked away from them both. He certainly remembered her and he remembered her with great guilt. It was one of the greatest regrets of his life… when Katie was cursed by the necklace that she was meant to deliver to Dumbledore.

"She works for the company," Blaise continued, not noticing Draco's reaction. "I'm sure she has a pretty job title, but in essence, she's a delivery person, a messenger. Mr. Parkinson is rather old-fashioned in that sense. He believes that business should be personal, which is how he runs his company. Some deliveries and messages should be delivered in person, rather than by owl, which is rather impersonal. It's very rare then that one of these delivery people be summoned by Mr. Parkinson, as he prefers to do such business himself. I really didn't think much of it at first though. She was a pretty girl just standing there with me, so I started chatting her up a bit. That's when I realized that she seemed rather anxious. I mean, a lot of people are nervous when called to see the president of the company, but she seemed more anxious than she should."

Draco and Hermione watched him, their looks of concern growing, but they did not interrupt.

"The door to the office opened and Mr. Parkinson was seeing his client out, smiling and clapping him on the back. He's one of the company's oldest clients… literally. His smile fell the second he saw Katie though," Blaise's eyes looked glazed, as if he were replaying the scene in his head. His handsome face was marred by a look of great frustration. "I know my appointment with Mr. Parkinson was next, but I gestured for Katie to go in. I listened. I used a charm to assist me in eavesdropping. I'm not ashamed of it," he added defensively to Hermione. He was afraid the proud Gryffindor would judge him for it, but she looked completely unperturbed. "She's making a delivery for him tomorrow."

"On a Saturday?" Hermione asked. "Is that a common occurrence?"

"No. I told you that he's old fashioned in business. It's his belief that business is only to be conducted during regular business hours, Monday through Friday. 'Personal relationships may enter the business world, but business will never find its way into personal time.' But that's not all that I heard… It's… They discussed that the delivery would be like the others. She confirmed with him that 'it' should be placed in the second barrel in the alley that runs behind Brim's Goblet."

"In Knockturn Alley?" Hermione asked in surprise.

Blaise nodded. "That's all that was said between them. She left just a few minutes after she went in there. This is it, Malfoy. If something's happening, if someone's after the Parkinsons, this is it."

Draco nodded curtly.

"Was she carrying anything?" Hermione asked, startling both men from their thoughts. "When she left the office, was she carrying a package?"

Blaise looked as if he was ready to answer immediately, but then paused to really think back on it. "No. She definitely wasn't carrying anything. She could have shrunk something down, or it might have been small enough to fit in her robe pocket, but she might not have actually taken something from him. She could possibly need to pick it up."

Hermione nodded as she got lost in her thoughts, as well.

"I want to know what's going on," Blaise said suddenly, drawing Draco and Hermione's attention upon himself. "What do you think is happening? Who do you think is after them?"

"Blaise, I can't tell you that. You know that," Draco answered.

"Urgh…" he growled in frustration. "Then at least tell me that you're protecting them. Tell me that they're not going to get hurt or in trouble in this."

"We… we don't know enough yet," Draco said quietly. He wouldn't lie about it.

"Fine, but at least tell me you're doing what you can. Tell me that their house is warded. Tell me you have people watching over them."

"We can't do either without their permission. We would like to go to them with that offer, but we can't until we know exactly what we're dealing with," Hermione explained gently.

"Damn it, then tell me what you know so I can help better. Tell me what you know and I'll get you more. I'm close to them. I can help you," Blaise insisted.

"You know I can't tell you," Draco said, becoming increasingly frustrated himself.

"I know, but I have to know. I can't just go about my life knowing that they're in trouble and not know what's going on," Blaise said in frustration. "I want to be part of this. I already am part of this. I told you everything I know. I want to help."

"You have helped," Hermione told him. "You've helped a great deal."

"So let me in on it. Tell me what's happening. Let me be part of this," he demanded.

"You know I can't do that. This is a legitimate, confidential case. I can't just sign you up to-"

"But she can," Blaise said, staring hard at Hermione.

"No… actually, I can't," Hermione said with an apologetic voice. "This isn't my case. This is Harry's-"

"Then where is he? If you knew this was about the investigation and came yourself, then where's Potter? Why isn't he here listening to this? I want-" Blaise stopped suddenly, things fitting together in his mind. "This isn't the investigation, is it? If it were then nothing would stop Potter from being here. This is just a tiny part of it. This is just a blip in the investigation. That's why you're not protecting them. This is nothing to you, is it?" he accused harshly.

"Nothing to me?" Draco shouted, taking a step toward Blaise. "You can't possibly believe that! I've known Pansy and her family my whole life. Of course I'm concerned for their safety."

"But you don't deny that it's nothing to Potter. This is a small piece of a big picture, something that your investigation watches in the periphery." Blaise's lip curled in disgust and he stood up, fitting Draco with a glare.

"This is not 'nothing' to us," Hermione proclaimed. She was aghast and offended by the accusation. "It's true that this is not the full of our investigation, but this is certainly our priority. No one wants to see them hurt. We're doing everything we can-"

"You're not!" Blaise said firmly. "If you were doing everything then you'd let me in on this. I'm close to everyone in that family. I am employed by Mr. Parkinson and my desk is very close to his office. I can find out just about anything you want to know. That family means far more to me than my own family ever could. I want to know what's going on and I want to help protect them. Stop telling me it's confidential and that you're doing your best. Do better! Tell Potter to let me in. I refuse to stand by and just let this be handled by people who could hardly care less!"

"Blaise, mate," Draco said placatingly. "I know that this must be-"

"Don't patronize me, Malfoy!"

"Blaise," Hermione said cautiously as she rose to her feet. "I'm sorry. I-"

"Shut it, Granger! I don't want your apologies. I want promises and information!"

Hermione bit her bottom lip. She wanted to say she was sorry again, but she didn't want to upset him more.

"Zabini," Draco said warningly. He did not fail to notice that Blaise had returned to using surnames.

"Get out," Blaise said darkly.

"Zabini," Draco repeated, this time his tone pleading for Blaise to see reason.

"Out. I've given you everything I know and if you can't return anything to me then get out of my home," he growled through his teeth.

Draco breathed deeply and nodded. He took a small step closer to Hermione and extended his hand to her. She took it gently and looked up at Blaise with a miserably sympathetic and sorrowful look in her eyes. He sneered and looked away from her.

Draco opened the door for Hermione, but paused in the doorway. "I love them too, Blaise. I'm better than the man you just accused me of being. I will do everything I can."

"Fuck off," Blaise muttered. Draco nodded and closed the door behind him, leaving Blaise standing in the middle of his empty living room with a full glass of firewhiskey, which would likely be emptied and refilled very quickly.

"Draco, I'm sorry," Hermione said in earnest as she stood with him in the hall.

"No, it's fine. He's just upset," Draco said. He looked like everything was anything but fine. "Let's get going."

Hermione nodded and Draco took her hand in his.

"Wh-" Hermione's words were cut short. Before she had the chance to say anything, they were standing at her front door. She chuckled and continued with what she was previously going to say. "Why don't we go back to my place?"

"I'm sorry. I should have asked…" Draco said seriously.

"I was just teasing," she smiled warmly. Hermione knocked twice on the door so as not to surprise Ginny and then let herself into the flat.

"Hermione!"

Hermione was startled when Harry ran around her sofa and grabbed her by the arms.

"What happened? Where were you? Is everything alright? Are you alright?" Harry rattled off quickly.

"Harry… What are you doing here?" Hermione asked, trying to catch up with everything he'd just asked.

"Waiting for you," he answered.

Hermione looked at Ginny who smiled and explained. "Kreacher told Harry that Ron was looking for him so he went to The Burrow. They told him I was here watching Aurelian because you had some emergency and he hasn't calmed down since."

"So, what happened?" Harry asked again.

"You first," Hermione said, crossing her arms. "Ron had me rather worried when he said he was looking for you and couldn't find you. Where were you?"

"Visiting Andromeda and Teddy," Harry answered, annoyed by the change of subject. "I wanted to let her know that Dennis was okay."

"Oh," Hermione answered. She was frustrated with Ron again for worrying her. "Ron said you might be meeting with the goblins again. Did Croubat give you the information?"

"Yes, now get on with it," Harry ordered.

"D-Did Mr. Parkinson go to the bank today?" Hermione asked.

Harry looked a little surprised. "Yeah, why?"

"Because we just got done talking to Blaise and-"

"Zabini?" Harry asked.

"Ron obviously didn't tell you either," Hermione sighed, although she thought she might be grateful for that. It could have made things a lot worse if Harry had just showed up at Blaise's door.

"What happened? What did he say?" Harry urged.

"Katie Bell works for Mr. Parkinson. She's making a delivery for him tomorrow. She's dropping something off in the alley that wraps behind Brim's Goblet."

"What?" Harry asked in surprise. He was quite sure he heard everything she said, but he was flabbergasted. "How does he know that? Are you sure?"

"He works for Mr. Parkinson and has been staying alert for strange behavior," Draco answered. "He personally listened in on their conversation."

"Tomorrow? When?" Harry asked.

"We don't know," Hermione answered. "But at least we know where and what day."

"Yeah… yeah…" Harry breathed. He looked lost in thought as he wandered into the living room and took a seat in the armchair. Hermione and Ginny took the sofa and Draco stood near the fireplace with his arms crossed as he leaned against the mantel. "What time?"

Hermione looked at Harry with concern. "Harry, we just told you that we don't know what time."

"I mean, what time do you think I should be there?" Harry clarified.

"What?" "Never!" Hermione and Ginny spoke at the same time.

"It's not going to do us any good to know where and what day if we're not there," Harry said as though it were obvious.

"That doesn't mean that it has to be you. We haven't talked about this," Hermione said irritably.

Ginny, again, spoke at the same time, "You don't have to be there to see what's going on!"

Harry looked back and forth between the two women, overwhelmed by their response. Hermione looked at Ginny curiously.

"You could use some sort of charm for surveillance," Ginny offered.

"Someone would still need to be close for that," Hermione reminded her. "But that doesn't mean that it has to be you, Harry."

"I am the Auror and the person in charge of this case," Harry stated, daring them to argue that.

"That doesn't mean you're the only choice!" "I don't care what titles and rights you have; I don't want it to be you!" Hermione and Ginny shouted in time again.

"I'm just as skilled as you are," Hermione continued. "We may be skilled in different areas, but I'm just as skilled. We agreed last time that I was the better choice to enter Knockturn Alley and there's even more reason this time as I know exactly where Brim's Goblet is located. Not to mention, I know the exact spot where the delivery is supposed to be planted."

"Are you withholding information?" Harry asked darkly.

"You never asked and I'm not giving it up until we've discussed this thoroughly," Hermione said loftily.

Harry sighed and rolled his eyes.

"I still don't understand why anyone has to go there," Ginny said with a sour look that was covering an anger just below the surface. "We are all brilliant witches and wizards. I'm sure we can devise a way to see the alley without setting foot there. At least not setting foot there during the drop or pickup."

"It's a good thought, Weas-… Ginny," Draco spoke softly, "but it's not good enough. I'm sure that whoever is coming is prepared. We have no idea what they'll do. They might use a spell that will have them undetectable by area spells. It has to be a person. We can't take chances with this as this might be the only chance we have."

"Agreed," said Harry. "So-"

"So, I'll go," said Hermione.

"No," Harry said firmly. "I'm the one in charge of this and that means that-"

"Shut it, already," Draco interrupted. "It's got to be me." He did not look pleased when he said it. He wasn't arguing; he was resigned. The three others in the room looked stunned. "Face it. No one knows the area like I do and no one knows the suspects like I do."

"But-"

"Stop arguing for a second and think about it," Draco ordered, his voice was strong and steady. "I know what that alley looks like. We think it might be Rabastan or Rodolphus, my uncles. I'm sure you would recognize their faces, but I can even recognize them by their walk or the dirt under their nails. I've also seen the faces of Death Eaters that you've only ever heard the names of. If you want to do this right, then you know I'm the best choice for it. Just give me the damn cloak and drop it." It was quite clear that, though he knew it was the right choice, he still didn't like it. He was firm though and his logic could not be challenged.

"What? No," Hermione protested anxiously.

"If you believe there's something that makes you more qualified, then please," Draco said, knowing full well that she did not have a valid argument.

"Malfoy," Harry said slowly. "This isn't just about being qualified, you have to-"

"I know exactly what this is about," Draco interrupted. "This is about three stubborn Gryffindors worrying about their friends' safety over their own. You're all so busy worrying about keeping each other safe that you're not concentrating on what needs to be done. So, if you can kick your feelings to the side for a minute, you will see that I'm the only right choice for this."

The three seated Gryffindors looked at each other uncertainly. "No disputes from you two? And I hear no protests from the red-head either. We'll assume it is her logic at work and not that she's unconcerned about my safety."

Ginny's eyes narrowed and she bore a sour, indignant expression as she looked at Draco. "I never said-"

"Relax, Ginger, it was a joke," Draco smirked.

"Then perhaps you should work on your sense of humor," she responded.

"Looks like I might need to," Draco replied. Harry smirked and when Ginny got a good look at Draco's smug expression, she snorted a small chuckle.

"Now, as it appears the arguing is finished," Draco went on, "I think I should lay out some details, so you can have something new to protest. I take Potter's invisibility cloak. Shops open at ten, so I figure I should be there at ten 'til nine. I've actually been in that alley before, and if nothing has changed, I know of a place that I can hide near the end of it. I stay and watch Bell make the drop and I watch for when it's taken. I identify the person and end game, right?"

Draco waited for a response, but none came.

"What? No arguments?" Draco asked. "Really?"

"You're right, Malfoy," Harry said finally. "And I see no flaws in your plan."

Ginny nodded. Draco's eyes fell on Hermione. She was twisting her fingers in her lap and stared up at him with a look of severe anxiety. He didn't know what to say to her. He would feel the same if it had been her going. Despite the way he made it seem, he had done the same thing as them. It was true that he was the best person for the job, but he accepted it to protect both Hermione and Pansy. He didn't want Hermione to take the mission and the mission protected Pansy and her family. They needed to know as much as they could and he knew he was the one for it.

"Just… Just be careful," Hermione said quietly. "No heroics."

"Did you forget I'm Slytherin?" Draco smirked. "All about self-preservation, right?"

"Okay," Harry said, standing up. "Meet at my house at 8:30 tomorrow morning. I'll have the cloak there waiting. We'll discuss anything else that might come to mind."

Draco nodded.

"Mummy!" a soft cry was heard from down the hall.

"Oh no…" Hermione groaned. "I'll see you tomorrow, Harry. Draco don't leave yet."

"Aurey should be okay," Ginny said worriedly. "I just checked on him." Ginny followed Hermione down the hall to check in on Aurelian. Draco was rather grateful for the interruption.

"Potter, wait," he said, stepping toward Harry before he used the floo. "I didn't want to say it in front of her."

"Go on," Harry said, looking skeptical.

"I'm not just going to identify and take off. We already know who we think it is. We need to know where they're going. And I know it's an argument you were dying to make," Draco said seriously. Harry just looked at him, not knowing what to say to that.

"I'm going to follow them. I'm rather hoping it's on foot, but if they look like they're going to Apparate, I'm grabbing the hem of their cloak," Draco declared.

"Hermione will hate you for it," Harry said flatly.

"Which is why I'm not telling her this," Draco told him.

"Then why are you telling me?" Harry asked curiously.

"Because it's what you would have done and it's information you're dying for."

Harry nodded, letting his guard down. "You're right. And I thank you for it. Just… Just be careful. I'll try to think of an emergency escape plan."

Draco nodded.

"Slytherin Self-Preservation?" Harry asked with a smirk.

"It may be higher on the priority list than in Gryffindor, but there are more important things. Not to mention, I don't plan on getting caught."

"It's a good plan, Malfoy," Harry smirked. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Harry grabbed a pinch of floo powder and disappeared in Hermione's fireplace.

"He's fine," Hermione assured Draco as she reentered the living room. "He just gets scared sometimes when I'm not in the bed."

Draco nodded.

"I'm meeting Luna for lunch tomorrow, so I'm not going to be able to be there, but you better call me as soon as you hear anything, okay?" Ginny told Hermione.

"I will." Hermione hugged Ginny and the red-head disappeared just as Harry had.

Hermione looked at Draco and her anxious look returned.

"Do you lack faith in me?" Draco asked simply.

"No, not at all," Hermione answered.

"Then why do you worry like that?"

"Because I care about you and things don't always go as planned," she replied.

Draco stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. "I'm going to be careful. I don't actually want to get hurt, you know."

Hermione laid her head against his chest. "I know, but if there were a better choice, you wouldn't want to go at all. And even if you're careful… look at what happened last time we were there."

"We were purposefully baiting that time," Draco reminded her, wishing that she hadn't reminded him.

"I know. I'm just worried because… because I care about you."

Draco relished those words and the feelings behind it. He held her closer and pressed his nose into her curly hair. His. She was his and that was all he wanted anymore. He pulled back and looked down into her eyes.

"Don't go," she said pathetically. "You don't have to leave yet, do you?"

"No, I don't suppose so. Why?" he asked curiously. His eyes traveled down to her lips.

"It's all been so crazy this evening. I just… I don't know… I…"

"Hermione." He forced her eyes to meet his and hoped she would just say what she was thinking.

"I was hoping that you would just hold me a bit longer," she said quietly as she looked down and away. Her eyes couldn't meet his. She felt pathetic and needy coming out and saying it the way she had.

Draco forced her chin up. His eyes met hers for only a second before his lips pressed hers. His fingers let go of her chin and gently stroked up her cheek. He pulled away slowly and stared at her rosy cheeks.

"I'd love that," he finally answered. He led her to the sofa and sat down with her, wrapping his arms around her so that her head rested against his chest. Hermione took a deep breath and sighed. She was worried about what the next day would bring, but at least for that moment she could relax and finally enjoy his company.

 

Chapter Text

Thump! Screee…

Draco startled awake and looked around frantically. The first thing he noticed was the weight upon him and the mass of curly hair splayed across his chest. At the sight of Hermione and her living room, he calmed slightly. His heart still raced from his sudden wakening and he looked around the room slowly. While it was still rather dark, the sky outside the window was beginning to lighten and the sound twittering birds met his ears. It was morning.

Draco thought back over the events of the evening and how they led him to the place and position he found himself in. It all felt like a funny dream. The only real thing that still existed from it was the woman wrapped in his arms. He had been happy to hold her the previous night when she'd asked, but he had only intended to stay like that for a few minutes. He certainly hadn't expected to fall asleep, but he was happy he had. Though he'd dated in the past and even been intimate with a couple of women, he had never before woken with a woman in his arms. It somehow felt much more intimate than any of his other experiences.

Mine, he thought.

Thud!

Draco looked up at the sound, remembering the sound that had startled him into wakefulness. The girl in his arms stirred at the sound. Her head lazily rolled to the side and snuggled to his chest. A split second later, she sat bolt upright in surprise. Draco smirked at her surprise and the funny way her hair fell.

"Good morning," he greeted softly.

"What-?" She looked reasonably disoriented. He could see her trying to put things together in her mind. He reached out and gently stroked her cheek.

"Oh, Merlin, I did it again, didn't I?" she asked miserably. "I am so sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep again."

Draco smiled at her warmly and his fingers brushed her cheek again as he studied her face. Even in her early morning state, she was beautiful.

"Y-You stayed," she realized.

"Yeah. I fell asleep, too," he told her. "I might have even fallen asleep first, so no apologies." Draco leaned forward and placed a light kiss on her lips. Hermione sighed contentedly and slowly let her eyes flutter open again once he retreated. What an incredible way to wake – a warm solid body beneath her and delicate kiss that made her dizzy. She laid her head against his chest again. Just for a moment, she told herself.

"I could stay like this all day, you know," Draco whispered into her hair. "I don't want to you to move yet, really… but I'm afraid that Aurelian might be in the kitchen."

Hermione sat upright quickly again. "What?"

Screee…

"No," she groaned. "Aurelian?"

Hermione stood up and walked quickly to the kitchen.

"Oh, Aurelian…" she sighed.

"'Mornin', Mummy," Aurelian smiled brightly. He was standing on a chair that he had pulled over from the table and was working at the kitchen counter.

"Aurelian, what did I say about making breakfast?" she asked with a pout.

"Mummy say Mummy do it," Aurelian told her. "But Mummy and Daddy sleepin'."

"If I'm sleeping you have to wake me up, right?" Hermione reminded him.

"Daddy, too?" Aurelian asked.

"Um, yeah," she answered. She blushed and looked behind her to see Draco smirking at them both.

"Planning on having me stay the night again?" Draco teased, kissing her neck.

"No… well, for him it's just easier to… I didn't mean…"

"I love to get you flustered, you know," Draco smiled and kissed her neck again, which sent shivers down to her toes.

"Do you want to stay for breakfast?" she asked breathlessly. "Or, do you need to get home now?"

"Kind of early for breakfast isn't it?" Draco asked.

"Six o'clock is normal breakfast time since Aurelian," Hermione told him. "But, if you don't want-"

"I'd love breakfast," he told her.

"I making breakfast," Aurelian told him proudly.

"Aurelian, we talked about this," Hermione told him, looking at the mess on the counter. "Mummy does the cooking. Not Aurelian."

"My make toast and jam," Aurelian beamed, still not looking at all remorseful.

"Looks like you forgot to toast the bread," Draco observed.

"I can't reach toaster," Aurelian said simply. Draco snorted a laugh.

"And, you're not supposed to use a knife either, are you?" Hermione said with her hands on her hips.

"My didn't," he said, pulling a sticky spoon out of the jar of jam.

Hermione sighed again, deciding that it wasn't worth her effort to scold him any further. "I know you like to help, but I do the cooking. I'm going to clean this up now. You can have a bite if you want, but then what do you say to helping me make Belgian waffles with strawberry topping?"

"Like he could refuse that," Draco smirked. "There are three guaranteed ways to make that boy smile – the color blue, quidditch, or strawberries."

"I likes strawberries," Aurelian smiled. "I help you cook, Mummy?"

"If you can listen well, yes."

"Daddy cook, too?"

"Erm, if he wants to," Hermione said, looking over at Draco curiously.

"Er…"

"Or, you can ask if he might want to P-L-A-Y," she spelled out for him. "Or, well, I don't know if you plan on going home before going to Harry's or not, but you could shower here if you need."

"I think I'll take you up on that offer. It might look a little suspicious to my mother if I come in at this time," he smirked.

"Oh, Merlin, your mother," Hermione whimpered.

"My mother won't know a thing unless she asks Pernie the right questions. I doubt she'll be suspicious though. She retired for the evening before I left and it's not uncommon for me to go out late in the evening or leave the house early in the morning. She'll just suspect that I left the house before breakfast," he assured her.

"I don't even know why I care what she thinks after the way she treated me last night," she said grumpily.

"I know. She was horrible and you were wonderful," Draco crooned, leaning in to kiss her neck once more.

"Okay, you have to stop doing that," she said quietly. Her eyes were closed and she bore a small smile and flushed cheeks.

"What? Kissing you?"

"Well, like that, yes, and talking like that. It makes me feel like you're playing with me," Hermione said. Draco could tell by her smile that she did not dislike either treatment.

"And what game do you think I'm playing?"

"I don't know. That's what makes it frustrating," she smiled bashfully.

"I like pwaying'" Aurelian told them.

"I'm playing no games, Hermione," Draco told her seriously. "I just like you."

A light feeling swooped through Hermione's body when his lips found hers.

"I like you too, Mummy," Aurelian said, making his way to stand between his parents. Hermione and Draco couldn't contain their laughs and parted.

"I love you, too, Aurey," Hermione told him.

"Me too, little man," Draco said, ruffling Aurelian's hair. "I'm going to go have that shower now."

"Okay, we'll start breakfast, won't we?" Hermione asked the jam covered toddler. "And after breakfast, I think you'll need to get washed up, too. Now, do you think you can very carefully get two eggs from the icebox?"

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Good morning, Miss Hermione, Mr. Draco, Mr. Aurelian," Kreacher greeted with a small bow. "Master Harry is expecting you. He awaits your company in the sitting room. Kreacher shall go ahead to announce your arrival."

"Thank you, Kreacher," said Hermione.

Aurelian ran ahead of them and trudged quickly up the kitchen stairs.

"Careful, Aurelian. Don't trip," Draco called after him. Hermione smiled at Draco and followed after the toddler at a casual pace.

"Morning, Harry," Hermione greeted. "Ron?" she added in surprise. "I didn't know you were going to be here."

"Morning," he and Harry greeted together.

"Yeah, well, I'm actually just here to pick up Aurelian," Ron told her.

"What?" Hermione asked.

"Oh, uh, Harry said that it might be best that someone watch after him in case something comes up and you need to move quickly," Ron replied. "Ginny's got plans with Luna. Mum said she'd take him, but Aunt Muriel says she's sick and that Mum needs to look after her. Today's my day off, so I'm what's left. There's no way I'd let that poor kid suffer Aunt Muriel, and I don't mean because of whatever illness she thinks she's got."

"You?" Draco asked skeptically.

"Yeah," Ron answered, pulling his shoulders back proudly. He looked rather indignant at Draco's distrust. "Just you and me today, sport."

"Yay!" Aurelian said excitedly. "What we do?"

"I don't know," he said. "What do you think, throwin' back some firewhiskey or pickin' up some nice lookin' witches?" He smirked at Draco as he said this. Draco's eyes narrowed.

"Ron," Hermione said in exasperation.

"Or, maybe we could go back to the Burrow and play some games," Ron told Aurelian. "What do you think?"

"What games?" Aurelian asked.

"Don't know. Your choice," he answered.

"Thank you, Ron," Hermione said sincerely.

"No problem," he told her. "And I'm sorry about last night and that message thing. I'll take that kind of thing more seriously from now on."

"Thank you."

"And Malfoy… be careful." It looked like it was rather difficult for Ron to say, but it meant so much to Hermione that he did. Draco was stunned dumb and simply nodded.

"Okay, Squirt," Ron said, his casual voice returned. "Tell your mum goodbye for now."

"Bye, Mummy," Aurelian said, hugging his mother's legs. She bent down and gave him a proper hug and he gave her a quick peck on the lips. He then moved to Draco to do the same. "Bye, Daddy."

Draco looked quite uncomfortable when the little boy puckered up his lips. He glanced quickly at Harry and Ron before giving Aurelian a quick little kiss. When he stood back up, he looked unnerved and Hermione squeezed his hand. Ron rolled his eyes at Hermione's move rather than Draco's.

"We'll see you later," Ron told them. "Come on, Aurey."

Harry checked his watch. "Are you ready for this, Malfoy?"

"Of course," Draco answered.

"Hermione," Harry addressed her, "Malfoy and I mentioned last night that it might be a good idea to be cautious and maybe have an emergency escape plan. I was wondering… Well, I know that you know how to make a portkey, but do you know how to make the ones like we saw in the pensieve? Something that will activate upon touch?"

"Um…" she thought for a moment. "Yes, I think I can. I've never done it before, but I understand the basic principle. I think that's a rather brilliant idea, too. If it works alright, I think we might want to start putting it into regular practice."

"It is rather brilliant, but I'm willing to bet that it was you that came up with the idea in the first place," Harry smirked.

"After seeing it in practice," Hermione said, "even though it looked like it wasn't very helpful, I think that the shoe would be the perfect place for it. If it were anywhere else on the body, it might be touched too easily."

"I agree," Harry answered.

"You think the shoelace would be good?" she asked.

"That's fine," said Draco. "Just make sure that it has a spell on it so that it doesn't come untied."

Hermione knelt on the floor and surprised Draco by removing his right shoe.

"Sorry, I should have warned you," she smiled. "In case it goes wrong while I'm casting, it would be best for you not to still be in it. I'm going to have it send you back to this exact spot, alright?"

"Fine," Draco answered, "but how am I going to put that back on without touching the laces?"

"Just lift your foot," Hermione instructed. As soon as Draco's foot was off of the floor, the shoe fitted itself onto his foot and the laces tied themselves.

"You're really going to have to teach me some of these spells of yours," Draco told her, staring in awe at his shoe.

"I know," Harry chuckled. "Me too."

"So that you can both learn to be lazy? I think not."

"Alright, Malfoy. It's just about time. Here's my shield cloak for you to borrow. We'll buy you your own soon. And here's the invisibility cloak also," Harry said as he handed over a thick black cloak and a flowing silky cloak.

"I can Apparate under the invisibility cloak, right?" Draco asked.

"Yes," Harry answered. "Now, I'm sure you already realize, but we really don't know how long you're going to be there. I mean, I hate to say it, but-"

"I could be there until nightfall. I understand, Potter," Draco assured him. "I'll be there as long as it takes and no longer than that."

"Good," said Harry. "But in case the longer possibility is it, I had Kreacher pack you a little food. It's really, really not much, just a sandwich cut in two, but it's something."

"Thanks," Draco responded with an odd look on his face. He was glad Harry had considered it as he hadn't, but it was still strange to have Potter thinking, not only of his safety, but his comfort.

"No problem. Just be careful," Harry said seriously. Draco nodded.

"Right shoe," Hermione reminded him. Her eyes were shining. She was scared. The fears of having no contact with him and having no idea when to expect him back, were nearly as frightening as the idea of what could possibly go wrong.

"I'll be fine," Draco told her. Hermione nodded, looking no less worried.

"I'll walk you out," she offered.

Harry looked away from them uncomfortably and walked further into the sitting room to give them privacy. Hermione walked Draco to the front door of Grimmauld Place and stopped.

"Be careful, please," she pleaded. "I'm not just saying it. I want you to be cautious. Stay back. Stay hidden. Don't go poking around. Okay? Please?"

"I'll be cautious. Constant vigilance, right?" he smiled softly. He stared deep into her eyes. He knew that he should be feeling insanely nervous, and he was sure that he was, but it was just a quiet hum in the background as he stared at her. He still couldn't believe that she cared so much about him.

"Constant vigilance," Hermione repeated quietly. Her hands reached up behind his neck and pulled him down for a passionate kiss. It was perfect, intoxicating, but it wasn't enough. She left him wanting more. It was an itch that he felt she'd placed on him to make him want to return all the more. He wouldn't be able to forget it until he was able to continue it when he returned.

"Try not to worry," he told her. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

She nodded and nibbled her bottom lip as he opened the front door to leave. "I'll be waiting."

Draco had the shield cloak in place and threw the invisibility cloak over top. He vanished from her sight before he vanished from the property. It wasn't until she heard the familiar 'pop' of Apparition that she closed the front door. There was nothing to do but wait.

Draco Apparated directly to the alley beside Brim's Goblet right after he said goodbye to Hermione. He checked the street to see if it was clear and watched as one man with a set of keys jingling in his hand passed. He was the only other person there; a shopkeeper going to open for the day, Draco assumed. As soon as the man passed, Draco set up a charm on the entrance to the alley he was hiding in. It was a spell meant to warn him of anyone entering the area. He then turned around and surveyed his surroundings.

The narrow alleyway formed an "L" shape around one side and the back of the pub. The part that was visible from the main street was empty, but when Draco went around the back, he found it very cluttered. The wall against the back of the pub had a single handle-less door, and on either side of the door were piles of rubbish. There were large empty barrels and crates, two half-rotted broken chairs, a tall rickety ladder, and several other items. Draco looked around cautiously and moved toward the second large barrel, the spot where the delivery was to be made. Three empty crates sat on top of it and he levitated them so that he could have a look inside. He found nothing but a large assortment of empty bottles.

Draco placed the crates back down on the barrel, just the way he found them, and walked to the end of the alley, where a simple brick wall matched the building. Long planks of lumber stood up in one corner, the tops of them rising above the wall. They were loosely covered in a tattered piece of tarp, presumably to protect them from the elements. Draco decided that spot would provide a nice place to wait. It wasn't far from the barrel, but far enough and sheltered enough to feel safe and out of the way. The only problem with it was that it seemed like a perfect hiding place. If he were the one conducting business there, it would be the first place he would look to see if someone was hiding. His method of hiding was the cloak, and it would probably be safer to stand in the open rather than someplace where someone would look. Draco, instead, walked to the empty corner and began the process of simply waiting.

A short while later, Draco decided that waiting was terrible. He had never been a really patient person and the idea that he could possibly need to wait there until nightfall was frustrating. He tried to tell himself that he probably wouldn't have to wait very long, but even then he was looking at probably a few hours. He thought back to when he and Hermione had to simply wait inside the pub only days before. That was frustrating at the time, but it seemed like nothing compared to what he faced. He hadn't liked everyone watching him, but at least he'd known that Hermione was close. In the alley, he was alone and getting more frustrated with waiting after only a few minutes.

It wasn't long before he started making up silly little games to occupy his bored mind. He started counting the bricks on the wall and measuring items by brick size. The barrels were about twelve bricks tall while the height of the alley walls were forty-seven bricks tall. He himself measured in at about twenty-three bricks. He had to check that figure several times as it was difficult to judge when he was not visible under the cloak. When he grew bored with counting bricks, he started to try and guess the next place the fly, the only other being in the alley, would land next. He was surprised by how long the fly would stay in the air and began counting the seconds as well.

Draco was disgusted with himself for coming up with such stupid games to occupy himself, but was even more frustrated that they didn't seem to take up enough of his time. After a couple hours, he could no longer concentrate on his stupid mind-numbing activities. The heat of summer had hit him the moment he stepped out of Grimmauld Place, but it seemed to get worse each minute. If the heat and humidity weren't bad enough on their own, Draco was buried beneath Potter's wool shield cloak. He caught himself pulling at the collar every few seconds as he sweated profusely. He felt the perspiration soaking the edges of his hair, as well as his clothing. Every couple of minutes he felt a droplet condense between his shoulder blades and slide down his spine. Hell, even his eyelids were sweaty.

He considered removing the heavy cloak several times and desperately tried to convince himself that it'd be perfectly fine to do so. Why would he need a shield cloak if he had the invisibility cloak anyway, right? He knew it wouldn't be safe to do it though. Safety first. He would just have to suffer through it.

He wasn't sure he had ever felt as thankful for magic as he did then. He was at least able to conjure a glass and fill it with water to keep himself hydrated. He couldn't do it too often though, as he still needed to be cautious. He was hidden under his cloak, but conjuring made noise. It was rather quiet, but he needed to be silent. He stood there most of the time, dreaming of ways to cool down. He told himself all the things he would do when he left there. He would get some ice cream or an ice lolly. He would take a shower. Maybe he could talk Blaise into going swimming with him. He felt a twinge when he remembered how angry Blaise was with him. He wasn't about to let that dissolve his dreams of coolness though. Maybe Hermione would go swimming with him. He was sure Aurelian would probably like it, too. Hermione had just bought the little guy a swimsuit.

At some point in all of his daydreaming, his prayer for water was answered in the form of rain. Just when Draco had managed to blur his thoughts, the heavens opened wide and began to soak the world in a contemptible, torrential downpour. Draco had only a second to ponder if the invisibility cloak was water resistant before the question was answered. Only two minutes after the rain started, he was soaked through. Thirty minutes after that, the rain was still fierce, his clothes were heavy and pulling him down, he was shivering, and his skin was beginning to shrivel; his fingers becoming pruney. In his misery, his daydreams moved on to things along the lines of laying his fist into Potter. He wasn't sure why the thought was so appealing, but it was. He was miserable and irritable and all he kept thinking was 'Why didn't I just let Potter do this?'

Draco let his head fall back against the wall and sighed. Just as he did, he felt a strange sensation, a shiver-like rumble ran through his body. He tried, at first, to convince himself that it was just the close thunder that created the sensation, but he knew it wasn't. It was his spell. Someone had just entered the alleyway. He stood tall and quiet, his hand on his wand. If this was what he was thinking, then it should be Katie Bell coming around the corner any second. He had no intention of harming her. He just needed to be on guard.

Draco's body stiffened when he saw the tips of her black leather shoes appear, followed by the swish of her long black cloak. She walked slowly, each step hesitant. He knew it was her the second she came fully into view. She was clad in a long, black, hooded traveling cloak, which hid her face, but he knew it must be her. The form was undeniably female and the demeanor was one of great apprehension. If he still had any doubts, they were quashed the second she started to nervously check her surroundings. She looked like she would rather be anywhere but there.

Katie walked straight up to the second barrel against the wall and looked nervously to her right and left again. Draco couldn't move or breathe when she seemed to look directly at him. He was relieved though when she took no notice of him. Potter's cloak certainly was incredible.

She levitated the crates above the barrel and reached into her cloak. Draco waited with bated breath to see what she would produce. She looked around nervously again and Draco became irritated. He wished that she would just get on with it. She looked so reluctant. Draco listened to the 'tink' sound that the rain made upon the empty bottles in the barrel, becoming more and more impatient. Finally, she opened her cloak and quickly slipped something into the barrel. Draco nearly cursed aloud when he was unable to see what it had been. The way she had opened her cloak had blocked his view. He could tell by the way she moved that it must have been heavy, but he had no idea even its relative size.

Katie replaced the crates and stood unmoving. She stared at the barrel unseeing. Without seeing her face, Draco understood she was thinking, but had to suppress the urge to tap his foot impatiently. What was she doing just standing there in the rain? He watched her hand clench tightly around her wand. Her shoulders pressed back with determination. She looked down the alley, the direction from which she had come, and then looked at the wall at the other side, the place where Draco stood. She turned and walked resolutely toward the place where the alley dead-ended. Draco looked panicked, worried for a moment that she sensed his presence. When she came to the wall, she reached out and touched the lumber that leaned against it. She took a deep breath and stepped into the thin sheltered area beneath it. Draco stood there gaping at her. What was she thinking?

Draco's heart began to race. This girl was being an idiot! She was trying to catch whoever it was that was coming to collect the delivery. Of course, so was he, but it was different. She was being stupid about it. She didn't have any idea what she was up against and she certainly didn't have protection or good hiding like he did. She was putting herself in danger and could very likely screw up the whole plan. He knew that something might go wrong with this mission, but he certainly hadn't expected Katie to be it. Stubborn Gryffindor. Even with as angry as he was with her, Draco couldn't help but admire her bravery. It was beside the point though. She couldn't be there. It was dangerous and bound to make the entire mission a disaster.

His mind worked frantically to figure out the best way to make her leave. In his panic, his mind only seemed capable of half thoughts that went full circle. He thought of everything from politely asking her to leave to using the Imperius curse to make her leave. The thought of the Imperius curse actually made him feel ill. He wouldn't dream of using that curse again, and most especially not against her. She had been the one that suffered the last time he used that curse. It wasn't directed at her, but his use of the curse on Madam Rosemerta is what put the deadly cursed necklace in Katie's hands. Draco shook those thoughts away. It wasn't the time for guilt; he needed to figure out how to make her leave. He knew that he really couldn't risk revealing himself, so the only logical idea that came to mind was finding a way to frighten her away.

The minutes passed faster than Draco liked as he desperately tried to think of a good way to scare her away. He thought of a light little shock, but she would likely start sending random spells at the unseen attacker. Just about all other spells he thought of would have her reacting the same way. He had to think of something that would scare her that she would not believe came from a person. Finally, an idea came to him and he prayed it would work. He took a deep silent breath and mutely mouthed a spell. He watched as a galleon-sized chunk of brick near her feet transfigured into a large living spider. It made his skin crawl as he watched it and waited for Katie to take notice. With its size, it wasn't hard to notice and Katie gasped, forcing herself further into the corner away from it. She looked terrified and ready to run, but then she surprised Draco by shooting a quick fire spell at it, incinerating it instantly. In case that wasn't enough, she proceeded to vanish the ashes that were left behind.

Draco's panic turned suddenly to anger. Why wouldn't the stupid girl just leave? She was ruining the original plan and then even destroyed his only good plan to try to get her to leave. He didn't know what to do. She had already been standing there for thirty minutes. He didn't know when the person was due to collect whatever she'd hidden in the barrel, but he had to assume that it could be any minute.

After a few more minutes of thinking, Draco was shaken by the return of the sensation produced by his charm. Someone else had just entered the alleyway. Draco's panic increased tenfold. Seconds. He had mere seconds to act. He stared at the girl standing completely unaware under the towering planks. There was no way he could send her away now. He had to protect her.

Silencio. He thought with a quick jab of his wand. As soon as he cast the charm, he grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her to him, throwing the invisibility cloak over the both of them. She struggled fiercely but silently against him.

"Shh. Shhh…" he whispered for her to calm. "I'm a good guy."

Katie's head whipped around and her eyes bulged when she recognized her captor. She struggled even harder.

Damn it! He silently cursed. Stupefy.

The girl immediately fell limp in his arms. Draco thanked the heavens and the maker of the cloak that it was able to hide the flash of his spell, for just as he cast it, a figure came into view at the other end of the alley.

The figure stood staring straight ahead. The person wore a black hooded traveling cloak, much like the one Katie was wearing, but this person was most definitely male. He was tall and held himself with pride. Draco wasn't sure what it was about the man, but he could feel his anger and determination. There was no way the man was there by accident; he had a purpose.

After a moment of surveying the alley from where he stood, the man walked straight toward the barrels along the wall. He looked from one barrel to the next as Draco studied him intently. The man was definitely not one of his uncles, but there was something about him that felt very familiar. Draco studied the man's stance, hoping for a face to surface in his mind that would match the unknown figure.

The man studied the second barrel, examining the outside and looking at the crates on top. Draco wondered what he was doing. Before he lifted the crates, the man looked around the alley again. He leaned to the side to check that the space under the standing lumber was empty. Draco clenched his teeth in anger. Katie could have been cursed into oblivion if she had still been hiding there. Satisfied, the man returned his attention to the barrels.

Draco struggled with all of his will power to focus solely on the man in front of him, but found it incredibly difficult as he also struggled with all of his physical ability to keep from dropping the girl in his arms or making any noise. Katie was rather average in both height and weight, but she was, to Draco, insanely heavy at that moment in her dead weight. His right hand firmly gripped his wand, trying to keep it trained on the stranger. His left arm was wrapped around Katie's torso and she hung limply forward. The combined weight of both of their heavy, wet clothes felt like they were dragging him down. Her body felt like it was slipping down out of his grasp and he bent with her, as he tried not to lose her. Left with dropping her as his only other option, Draco heaved her upwards to readjust his hold. As he did, his shoe scuffed on the gritty dirt-covered cobblestones beneath his feet.

The man at the barrel turned immediately and Draco's eyes widened. That wasn't how it was supposed to happen. He wasn't supposed to be caught. He desperately hoped the man would see that the corner was empty and believe that the noise had been just his imagination.

The man reached into his cloak and took out his wand; the tip was aimed just to Draco's side. He then took a few cautious steps forward. He looked behind the lumber again and stared at the empty place.

Katie was sagging in Draco's arms again and he squeezed her as tightly against himself as he could. Still, her weight was pulling him down. His knees were ready to buckle, but he couldn't chance moving again.

A sudden flash of red light startled Draco. The man had cast a spell into the apparently empty area beneath the towering planks. The spell bounced against the brick and the man seemed satisfied. He turned his back on Draco and started back toward the pile of rubbish. He only made it one step though.

Draco's body could no longer take the strain of Katie's weight without readjusting and he fell to one knee. He only just barely contained an exclamation in pain, but the crack of his knee against the cobblestone and scuff of his shoe were not things the sound of the rain could mask.

The man spun around again, this time with his wand trained precisely upon the place Draco knelt. Both men gripped their wands firmly. It was then, with the man coming nearer, Draco recognized the wand the man was holding. He knew that walk. He knew that wand. He knew that hand. He knew that man.

"Petrificu-"

"Stupefy!" Draco shouted, cutting off the other man's spell. The man instantly lost consciousness and his body collapsed at Draco's feet. Draco groaned and removed the invisibility cloak, stuffing it inside the wool shield cloak. He gently guided Katie's body to the ground next to him and slid himself closer to the unconscious hooded man. He flung back the man's hood and watched as the rain spattered down on his face.

"Dammit, Zabini. Why couldn't you have just trusted me?"

Still on his knees, Draco grabbed hold of Blaise's cloak in one hand and Katie's cloak, along with his wand, in the other and Disapparated with them both.

 

Chapter Text

Draco Apparated directly outside of Hermione's front door, with Blaise and Katie's bodies on either side of him. He immediately tried to stand and cried out in agony. Pain shot from his injured knee and through his entire left leg. He reverted to his kneeling position and flicked his wand at the door, successfully unlocking it and opening it wide. He crawled forward into the house and turned to sit on his bottom. With practiced skill, he levitated Katie's body into the flat and laid her out gingerly on Hermione's sofa. He then preformed the same action on Blaise, but lifted the levitation spell early, allowing Blaise's body to fall roughly into the armchair. He was too upset with his friend to show him any extra care.

Draco flicked his wand to close the door and scoot backwards across the floor until he was sitting in front of the fireplace. He summoned the bag of floo powder and tossed a pinch into the grate. Green flames roared to life and Draco didn't hesitate to stick his head into it. The warm flames felt nice against his cold wet skin. Droplets of water dripped from his hair and sizzled in the fire. "Grimmauld Place." The swirling sensation made Draco slightly dizzy and he closed his eyes.

"Mr. Malfoy?" Kreacher's voice asked.

Draco opened his eyes. "Kreacher, tell Potter and Hermione to come to Hermione's place immediately," he ordered. "Please?" he added as an afterthought.

"Of course, sir. Kreacher shall relay the message immediately, sir," Kreacher smiled.

Draco said nothing further and pulled his head from the flames. He sat calmly with his eyes closed, his face screwed up in a grimace. He was still quite out of breath from everything that had just happened, and being able to stop for a moment, realized just how severe the injury to his knee was. Not twenty seconds had passed before the front door burst open.

"Draco?" Hermione cried in panic. She saw him near the fire and raced around the sofa toward him. "What happened? Are you-?" Her eyes widened when she saw the two unconscious bodies in her living room. "Katie? Zabini? What - ?"

The fire roared behind Draco and Harry stepped out so quickly that he almost tripped over Draco. He and Hermione had been in the same room talking when Kreacher passed on Draco's message and they took off full tilt together, both trying to get to their destination as fast as possible. Hermione went to the front door and Apparated while Harry continued down the stairs to the kitchen and flooed. Harry briefly wondered if Hermione's path was faster or if she herself was.

"Malfoy!" he shouted in a panic. "Blaise? Katie?" he exclaimed when he saw the two others in the room.

"Draco, what happened? Are they okay? Are you okay?" Hermione asked frantically as she sank to her knees in front of him.

"Fine. I think I fractured my knee, but other than that I am just wet and really pissed off!" his tone turned into a harsh growl as he finished and glared in Blaise's direction.

"What happened?" Harry demanded.

"Harry!" Hermione scolded. "He said he's hurt."

"What happened?" Harry repeated, paying Hermione no mind.

Hermione delicately took Draco's left leg in her hand and extended it. Draco hissed in pain and grimaced, looking miserable.

"They happened," Draco sneered. "Too damn nosy for their own good. Watch my shoelace," Draco added in warning, reminding Hermione of the portkey she had created on his other leg. Hermione nodded, tapped the shoestring with her wand, and muttered a spell to deactivate the portkey. She then pushed his robes up to reveal the swollen bruise covering his knee. It had already begun to turn blue and purple in color.

"I showed up and waited and finally she showed up," Draco continued, gesturing toward Katie. "She put whatever it was in the barrel. I didn't get to see it. Then, instead of leaving, she decided to stick around and wait for whoever was coming for it. I don't know what she was intending to do, but she sure was foolish about it. I tried to get her to leave but-" he hissed in pain again.

"Sorry," Hermione apologized. She had waved her wand over his knee and uttered a softly spoken spell. He actually felt the bone of his kneecap seal itself together. "It was just a tiny fracture. All fixed." Draco's eyes fixed on hers and he completely forgot what he was saying.

"Malfoy!" Harry snapped irritably, bringing Draco out of his gaze.

"Oh, but, uh…" It took him a second to regain his thought. "I didn't know what to do to get her to go. Before I was able to, this idiot showed up." Draco gestured at Blaise. "I didn't know it was him. I thought it was our guy. I silenced her and threw the cloak over her so she wouldn't be found. I tried to reassure her, but when she saw it was me, she freaked out even more. I had to stun her so she wouldn't give us away. Blaise still heard us and was ready to hex us, so I ended up stunning him, too."

Harry nodded, his expression severe. He looked angry and frustrated, but Draco was glad to see that none of it seemed to be aimed toward him. He remembered his daydream of punching Potter in the face. Though he was certainly angry enough and it could feel wonderful to release some of his aggression, he decided Potter was the wrong target. If he had to choose anyone at that moment, Blaise would probably turn out to be the unlucky person on the receiving end.

"How did you get hurt?" Hermione asked with concern.

"I fell," Draco answered simply. He glanced at Hermione who was then dabbing bruise ointment on his knee, but looked away quickly before he could be distracted. "I didn't know what else to do," he said to Harry. He looked quite helpless, but defensive at the same time. "I couldn't stay there with the two of them passed out. I thought of sending them back via portkey without me, but the portkey wouldn't work for them because they can't get to Grimmauld Place because of the fidelius charm."

"No, this is what I would have done," Harry said. He couldn't say that Draco had made the right choice because they probably hadn't considered all options. It was just what had to be done. "We should have considered the fidelius charm. Hermione and I should have waited here."

"There," said Hermione, wiping the ointment off her hands with a towel she summoned. "How does it feel?"

Draco bent and extended his knee a few times, testing it out. "Great," he answered. It was still a little tender, but he knew that the ointment would finish healing it within the next few minutes. He stood up and wiped his hands on his still sopping robes. Hermione finished screwing the lid on the ointment and Draco helped her to her feet. "Thank you."

"Of course," Hermione answered, thinking nothing of it.

"No. Really, thank you," he said earnestly, hoping his eyes would speak more than his words. Hermione's eyes became trapped in his gaze.

"We should probably revive them before they surprise us by waking on their own," Harry suggested, looking from Katie to Blaise.

"We should wake them, yes. But, with as fierce as I was in casting, I don't think either of them would wake for another few hours on their own," said Draco. "It's probably best if I'm not in the room when you wake her though. I don't want to scare her."

"That's fine," Harry agreed, trying not to sound insulting while doing so.

"Why don't I take Blaise while you talk to her?" Draco offered.

"Yeah, you can take him into my room," said Hermione. "Do you want me to come with you?"

Draco recognized and understood her concern. Blaise had been quite furious when they had seen him the night before, and Draco's anger was apparent. "I can handle him," he replied.

Hermione nodded. Draco raised his wand, ready to transport Blaise when Hermione stopped him. "Just a second…" Hermione cast a quick drying spell over Draco and then Blaise.

"Thank you," Draco said again. Hermione could see it in his eyes and even feel his desire to kiss her, but Draco's eyes moved to Harry and he took a step back from her. She felt a little disappointed, but gave him a small smile. She knew it would be awkward to kiss in front of Harry, but she didn't care as much as Draco seemed to. She was actually a little amused by his apprehension.

Draco cast a levitation charm on Blaise and walked him down the small hallway. When he entered Hermione's room, he set Blaise's body down on the bed. His fists were clenched by his side as he stared at his friend. He wasn't sure he was ready to revive him, but he knew that his anger would not cease and nothing would be solved by leaving Blaise unconscious any longer. With that thought, Draco reluctantly lifted his wand. "Rennervate."

Blaise's eyes flew open. He stared at the ceiling for just a fraction of a second before springing into a sitting position and looking around wildly. "Draco!" he said in surprise. "Where am I? What happened?" he asked frantically.

"You're a sodding idiot," Draco said in disgust.

"What?" Blaise asked, looking both confused and indignant.

"You're a sodding idiot and you could have gotten yourself killed. What the hell were you thinking going into that alley? I asked you to trust me and you didn't. You fucked the whole thing up," he answered bitterly.

"I didn't ask for your opinion. I asked what happened," Blaise stated in an equally bitter tone. His initial relief at seeing his friend was gone completely.

"That's not opinion; that's fact," Draco replied. "You were an idiot walking into that alley the way you did. You had no idea who was there or what you were trying to go up against. You-"

"I can handle myself just fine," Blaise growled.

"Against what? You don't even know who you were looking for! I was there the whole time! You weren't cautious at all! You couldn't even handle yourself against me! You have no idea what you trying to go against. You had no idea I was there. You had no idea that it was almost me and Katie Bell that you hexed. And, had I been anyone else, you'd very possibly be dead!"

"Katie was hiding with you? She's in on it? You let her in on this whole thing and not me?" Blaise demanded furiously.

"Damn it, Zabini! Is that the only thing you got out of what I just said? I said you almost hexed us. I told you your stupid mistakes and told you that you could have been killed and you're worried about what Bell does or doesn't know! She knows nothing, you dolt! She was as nosy and unprepared as you were. I thought you were the person we were waiting on. I had to hide her so she wouldn't get herself killed either," Draco heatedly explained.

"Oh and you're so much more careful?" Blaise sneered. "I heard you, didn't I? I almost hexed you."

"And that was Katie's fault!" Draco protested. "I had to stun her so she wouldn't give us away. She was bloody heavy! I-"

"Don't insult her like that!" Blaise shouted.

"I said she was heavy, not fat," Draco scowled. "We were both drenched. I was trying to support her dead weight with one arm. I busted my knee trying to keep silent and not drop her!"

"And I suppose you'll try blaming me for that, too?"

"I blame you for all of it! I asked you to trust me! I was trying to take care of it. I wasn't only going to identify the person; I was going to follow them so we could get them. We lost the only chance we had. Why couldn't you trust me?"

"Why couldn't you trust me?" Blaise demanded.

"I did! I trusted you to let me handle it!"

"That's not trust."

"It is! This is a confidential case. You know that I couldn't tell you."

"She's my friend! Her family is-"

"I know what she and her family are to you, Blaise! They're the same to me. I've known them since I was in nappies. That's not what got me in on this investigation. Confidential. Do you really understand what that means? You think you should be privy to all information concerning this when not even Potter's boss is allowed to ask questions? This has been signed off by the Minister for Magic himself! If I speak a word that I shouldn't, I could be locked away. You'll be lucky if Potter chooses not to send you to Azkaban and charge you for knowingly, purposefully, impeding this investigation. Are you starting to see how serious this is yet?" Draco demanded.

"Sod off, Malfoy," Blaise said, looking away from Draco.

"Gladly," he replied, starting toward the bedroom door.

"Wait! You still haven't told me where I am," Blaise said, sounding a bit concerned. Draco made no acknowledgement as he left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Draco's anger dissolved completely the second he slammed the door. In his fury, he had forgotten that Potter and Hermione were talking privately with Katie. He considered returning to Hermione's room, but sneered at the thought of reentering just to resume feuding with Blaise.

"Draco?" Hermione called from the living room. Of course she had heard him slam the door. How could she not? Draco hoped they hadn't heard his and Blaise's heated exchange.

"You can come out, Malfoy," Potter told him.

Draco sighed, but before he took a step, Blaise pushed past him, a threatening ferocity in his step. Draco followed after, now on his guard. It was very rare for Blaise to be so upset and he was suddenly worried how he would act toward Hermione.

"Blaise," Hermione said in surprise when Blaise entered instead of Draco. Draco was only a couple steps behind and Hermione's tense shoulders relaxed when she saw him.

Blaise stood stiff with his shoulders back and his fists clenched by his side. "Where am I?" Though he was most obviously upset, his temper, at least in his voice, was quite restrained.

"You…? I – " Hermione looked uneasily between Draco and Blaise. Draco had stepped forward and stood shoulder to shoulder with his best mate. They glared at each other out of the corners of their eyes. Obviously, the talk hadn't gone so well. "You're at my flat. Erm… Why don't you sit down?"

Blaise scrutinized her skeptically before slowly walking to an armchair and sitting. He looked over at Katie who was sitting on the couch near him. At the uncomfortable look on Katie's face, Blaise's cold look softened a little. Harry, Hermione, and Draco remained standing and looked rather uncertain as they looked at their unexpected guests.

"Can I get you some tea?" Hermione politely offered.

"No." Katie and Blaise answered in unison. They looked at each other uncomfortably. Katie had sounded rather despondent, while Blaise's answer was a bit harsh. Hermione looked uncomfortably from Harry on her left to Draco on her right. She didn't know what to say and wished one of them would say something.

"Kati- er… Miss Bell," Draco said uneasily. "I want to apologize for scaring you… for stunning you. I hope you understand that I only meant to protect you."

Katie nodded. She was pale and looked anxious as she sat tall with her hands in her lap. Her bottom lip held the tiniest hint of a pout. She looked wracked with guilt and a little worried. Though Draco was certain that Hermione and Potter had spoken quite softly to her, she looked like a scolded child.

"Are you okay?" Draco asked gently.

She nodded again.

"Well, I'm not," Blaise said acerbically.

"Yeah, well, I wasn't as gentle with you," Draco confessed with no signs of remorse.

"That's not what I meant," Blaise scowled.

"Guys," Harry admonished. "Ugh… I don't know what to do." Harry sighed heavily ran his fingers through his messy black hair. "I mean, I really don't know what to do. I would really like to just send you back there," he said to Draco. "I don't want this all to be for naught, but I can't say that it'd be safe. We can't take a risk like that. I-"

"No, we can't," Hermione agreed firmly. Her tone was a dare for Harry to change his mind.

"It doesn't matter. It's too late," Draco informed them.

"What?" Harry asked.

"He already came," Draco declared. "At least, that's what I'm assuming. The boundary sensor I put up went off about ten minutes after we left the alley. I allowed the sensor three warnings. It was meant to mark Katie's coming and going and then the entrance of our guy. It marked her entrance, then Blaise's, but didn't mark either of them leaving as we Apparated. The third mark must have been him. Well… it could have been someone else, but-"

"But it's most likely him," Harry agreed.

"Who?" Blaise asked.

"What?" Harry responded.

"Who is it? You know. You must," Blaise said darkly. "You keep saying 'he'. Draco said I didn't know what I was up against like he knew. And this couldn't get taken to the Minister for Magic without you having something. I want to know who it is."

"I want to know, too." Katie spoke quietly, but she seemed firm. Blaise looked at her and a small lopsided smile appeared. She may have looked nervous, but she wasn't going to accept only what Harry wanted to disclose.

Harry sighed again.

"Don't think for one second that I'm going to let this go. You can take me to court for my interfering today, but it's not going to stop me from-"

"What?" Katie asked. She looked quickly at Blaise and then to Harry.

"Don't worry, Love," Blaise said to her. "Me. Not you."

"Not you either," Harry said. He was frustrated and lost. This was their chance to really get somewhere. He had been so pleased to hear that Draco wanted to follow whoever it was and now they had nothing. Their one good chance had failed. This was bound to make things much more difficult and take more time than he was willing to sacrifice.

"Who?" Blaise asked.

"Death Eaters," Harry answered flatly, staring unseeingly out the window.

"What?" Katie asked in surprise and horror.

"Who?" Blaise repeated. His anger and frustration turned instantly into fear.

"They're gathering again?" Katie worried.

"What do they want with the Parkinsons?" Blaise asked quietly. His breaths were shallow. Draco was right. He hadn't been ready for that.

"Right now? Money, we think," Harry answered. He looked at Katie in question for he was certain she knew. She nodded in affirmation.

"Right now?" asked Blaise. "What do you mean 'right now'?"

"They will either ask for more and Mr. Parkinson refuses, or they ask something more that he's not willing to give," Harry stated.

"How do you know? How can you know what either party is planning?" Blaise asked.

"I…" Harry hadn't thought about what he was saying.

"What do they want with the money? Who is it?" Katie asked. "Is it a group of them? Are they gathering?"

"We're not sure how many. Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange for certain. And-" Harry stopped. He wasn't sure if he should continue that. He wasn't sure why he had started in the first place.

"And what?" Blaise asked.

"And who?" Katie asked.

Harry looked hard at the two of them and dropped his eyes to the floor as he considered their questions. They were determined. Blaise was not going to drop this and Katie… Did he owe her an explanation beyond what he had already given? It wasn't fair to send her away with only partial answers, but he didn't want to frighten her. This shouldn't be about what he owed anyone. Everyone deserved to know about the danger, but he couldn't allow the information to spread beyond what was necessary. But in the pensieve, they had both given their lives to the cause. Those people, to those people that had lost their lives in that future, Harry owed an explanation. He looked at Hermione and Draco, but their expressions were unreadable. They simply waited to see what Harry decided to say.

"Bellatrix," he said finally.

"Bellatrix Lestrange?" Katie asked in confusion.

"But she's dead," Blaise replied, eyeing Harry skeptically.

"Not anymore," Harry stated flatly. The two seated guests looked more unsettled than ever.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Hermione sighed and finally spoke. "Tea," she said. Harry nodded and Hermione disappeared into the kitchen.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"…and that's where we're at now," Harry finished. The explanation he had just finished giving Katie and Blaise left them both gobsmacked. Harry had withheld nothing. He had described, in great detail, the events witnessed in the pensieve, the definition of a horcrux, and all of the actions they had taken since Aurelian's arrival.

"So you have no idea what her new horcrux is?" Blaise asked. He was overwhelmed and unsettled by the entire thing and, after hearing about the taboo in the pensieve, he felt uneasy about using the word horcrux at all.

"Or even if she's made a new horcrux yet," Katie added. There was no question in her voice, only great anxiety.

"That's right," Harry confirmed.

"But we're working on it. We first need to discover if she has made a new one. As it takes murder to create a horcrux, we've been looking into all recent deaths in the country, wizard and muggle. There have not been many wizard deaths. It's a little more difficult to look into muggle deaths, but we're working on it," Hermione told them.

"What is your next plan of action?" Blaise asked.

"Our first priority is still protecting the Parkinsons," Harry proclaimed.

Blaise looked rather guilty at this statement. He had realized his wrong and how much it affected the investigation. They could have gotten much further if Draco had had the chance to follow the Death Eater in the alley. "I'm sorry," he apologized, his head bowed in shame.

"Me too," Katie said quietly.

"You didn't know what was going on," Blaise said in Katie's defense. "You were trying to help, not knowing that someone else knew about it."

"But I should have gone to law enforcement rather than sitting around to watch. I was just afraid for Mr. Parkinson. He's a good man. I didn't want him to get in trouble," she admitted.

"What's done is done," Harry said. To say that he was no longer upset about their interference would be an outright lie, but he knew there was no sense in holding onto frustration over something that could not be changed.

"What about Draco?" Blaise said seriously. At their confused faces, he clarified. "You said the Parkinsons are the main priority, but Draco was attacked the same time you think Pansy was."

Draco felt an incredible gratitude toward Blaise just then. No matter how frustrated they had been with each other, they were still best mates. Draco's small smile told Blaise that all that had passed between them was forgotten.

"Of course he's a priority, too," Harry said, sounding a bit affronted by the idea that he had not dealt with that already. "Hermione placed several strong wards in addition to what was already on his home. You, Zabini, are one of the very, very few still admitted. We hope to do the same for the Parkinsons."

"Good, but I want to help. What can I do to help?" Blaise asked. His shame visually changed to strong determination.

"Me, too," said Katie.

"I don't know," said Harry, running his fingers through his hair.

"I won't sit idly by, Harry," Katie said firmly. When she spoke, her demeanor changed drastically. She had looked so quiet and docile just a moment before. She shifted, sat tall, and looked quite regal the way her chin jutted out with pride and her long silky black ponytail hung behind her. "Once part of Dumbledore's Army, always part of Dumbledore's Army."

Harry smirked. "I wasn't denying your assistance. I was saying that I wasn't sure how you could help at present."

"Oh," Katie blushed furiously, shrinking back into herself a bit. Blaise looked her way and smiled appreciatively, to which she blushed even more deeply.

"There is much to think on, and I'm sure we can use both of your help," said Hermione, "but we need time to plan. Harry, I think you should still speak to Mr. Parkinson. You know enough. We know when it started, we know now for certain that it is money being exchanged, and we know that at some point it was either Rodolphus or Rabastan picking up the delivery. It was probably one of them that had made contact with him in the first place. They were in charge up until the time Bellatrix returned."

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing," Harry said as he looked deep in thought. "Malfoy?" Draco looked up at Harry, his face quite unreadable. He had been quiet through the entire explanation.

"I'd like to speak with him tomorrow, if I can. I think he might be more comfortable to speak with me if you would accompany me," he stated. "Your opinion?"

"Yeah…" he said thoughtfully. "You're probably right. I'll come."

"Me, too," Blaise said quickly.

"No," Hermione said quickly. "I mean, if you're to help us in this, it's best that he doesn't know you're involved in this investigation. We don't want him to feel pressed in on. You work quite closely with him. Stay personal."

Blaise nodded, proudly accepting the position.

"Early afternoon," Harry stated. "I'll send an owl wh- …but wait. You might have plans," he said to Draco, coming down from his authoritative position.

"No," he answered. "I don't h-" Draco stopped when he saw the looks pass between Harry and Hermione. Harry looked uncomfortable and questioning, while Hermione looked bashful and uneasy.

"What?" Draco asked skeptically.

"Nothing…" Hermione said quietly. "There was just something I had meant to ask you. It doesn't matter though. This is important."

"No, early afternoon tomorrow isn't a good time," Blaise piped up. "Elyos, Pansy's older brother, has a quidditch game tomorrow. It's just a ragtag team some of his friends put together, but Mr. Parkinson means to go watch."

"Thanks, that saves us some time. Is there a good time to visit?" Harry asked. Draco was still watching Hermione curiously, only barely paying attention to the conversation.

"After dinner tomorrow would be good. It's still the weekend so he won't be stressed by work. They'll be done with dinner by seven. Write him, wishing to see him at a quarter after and he'll have no excuse to turn you away," Blaise said with confidence.

"Good," Harry replied.

"You better owl me right after, Potter," Blaise said seriously, underlined with a threatening tone. "If I don't receive a good update by morning, I'm going to be pounding down your door."

Harry smirked. "First, Zabini, you will never find my door without hearing the location directly from me. Second, I don't plan to keep either of you in the dark. As you both are close to Mr. Parkinson, well trusted by him, obviously, you will know all we do about them. In exchange, we want you to keep us updated on all activity regarding him. Let's meet tomorrow night after our meeting."

Katie and Blaise nodded, but Hermione looked hesitant. "Er, Harry… uh… If the meeting doesn't start until a quarter after seven, then… well, Aurey needs sleep," Hermione stated uncomfortably as she avoided looking at Katie and Blaise. She was quite comfortable talking about her son to Harry, Draco, and the Weasleys, but it strange and quite embarrassing in front of Blaise and Katie.

"Wow… you – you really are a mother now, aren't you?" Blaise said. His voice was gentle, as was his gaze. He looked on her with both admiration and pity. It took Hermione off guard. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but that wasn't it.

"Erm…" Harry thought. "Well, we could have it here if you want, but there really isn't all that much room. I… I don't want to make things hard for you. I know Aurelian's been with the Weasleys a lot lately, but I know they'd have him over night again. Or wait, you and Aurey can stay the night at my house tomorrow, if that works, so you don't have to leave him. And, actually, if you want, I could just fill you in Monday."

Hermione was feeling even more embarrassed by how much effort Harry was putting in just to make things work for her and her son. "I'm sorry… I think maybe we'll stay the night at your house."

"Kreacher will be thrilled," Harry smiled. Blaise looked between Hermione and Harry, then to Draco, wondering what he thought of his girl staying Potter. Draco was, as usual, quite stoic looking with his hands in his pockets. "Right. I think that does it for now. I'll call on you both tomorrow and let you know where to meet us."

Katie and Blaise nodded solemnly and stood from their places. Harry felt his insides twist uncomfortably. His last statement was obviously meant to close the discussion, but he still felt a little bitter that they accepted it so easily. People had started taking orders from him in his fifth year when he headed the DA, but it had never stopped feeling uncomfortable. He still felt that he was 'just Harry' and couldn't understand how he had somehow become such a powerful presence and a leader that was followed, usually without question. He had concluded the discussion because he was overwhelmed by having to go over everything from the past couple weeks, but he hadn't expected either Katie or Blaise to accept it so easily. Had he been in their place, he would have continued to milk him for every detail.

Harry allowed Hermione and Draco to lead the group toward the door and followed after the four of them. Blaise piqued everyone's curiosity when he gently guided Hermione to the side. Draco watched suspiciously out of the corner of his eye.

"Granger, er… Hermione," Blaise said quietly. "I want to apologize to you about the way I acted toward you last night. I don't know if you can believe it, but I'm rarely in a state like that. I should have never been so harsh and rude to you. I hope you can forgive me."

"Of course," Hermione smiled softly. "And don't worry, Blaise. We're going to take care of all of this. It's not going to be like the world in the pensieve."

"It isn't already," Blaise answered. "You and Draco…" At this, he gave her a lopsided, amused smile. "He tried to tell me that I couldn't understand the dynamic between you two."

Hermione felt a fluttering in her stomach. She had realized at Blaise's the night before, that Draco must have told his good friend that he was seeing her, but she was more than curious at just what Draco had said. Her curiosity was just too great to deny. "What – What did he say?" she asked bashfully.

Blaise crossed his arms over his chest and smirked down at her knowingly. "As his friend and confidant, I'm not sure I should answer that."

"But you have no qualms in torturing and teasing him," Hermione replied with a chuckle.

"Why, whatever do you mean?" Blaise asked in mock innocence.

"You were doing it last night and you're doing it as we speak. You're trying to make him jealous by the way you talk to me," she said. There was no sign of condemnation in her voice. She was simply amused by their relationship.

Blaise looked at Draco appraisingly and returned his attention back to Hermione. Knowing that Draco was watching, Blaise leaned forward and whispered into Hermione's ear, "And he's so easy to upset, too."

Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"You know, I feel I owe it to you though…" Blaise said, looking at her with sincere interest. "I don't know that I've ever seen him so certain and uncertain at the same time. I won't tell you the things he's told me, but know, and don't ever doubt… He likes you, Hermione. He likes you a lot."

Hermione blushed, unsure of how to respond to that. She and Blaise looked over at Draco and though he had been watching them most of the time, he was then speaking privately with Katie. Harry looked curious as he stood alone behind the group.

Part way through Hermione and Blaise's conversation, Katie pulled Draco to the side, taking him quite by surprise.

"Malfoy," she started uncomfortably, unable to meet his eyes. "I… I want to say thank you."

Draco's eyes widened. Of all the things this girl might have said to him, that was not anything he had expected.

"I… I was pretty stupid today and I realize that I could have gotten really hurt… or even killed. You might have saved my life. I just want to say thank you," she said. She stared at his shoulder as she spoke, refusing to look down and appear meek, but still unable to meet his eye.

"Please don't," Draco requested. As she thanked him, he was filled with guilt the weight of lead. Her eyes finally found his and she looked confused. She wasn't sure what to make of his response and whether or not she should feel offended.

"I don't deserve your gratitude, now or ever," Draco explained quietly, looking down and away. His lip was curled in bitter disgust as a wave of self-loathing washed over him. This was an opportunity that he played out several times in his head, but he had never been sure if he would be bold enough to take the opportunity if it presented itself. He couldn't hold onto it forever. "I already apologized to you today for scaring you, but I still haven't directly apologized to you for… for before." Draco was overwhelmed by the many emotions brought on by the memory that he usually kept locked deep inside. The memory was difficult enough on its own, but it always brought with it, many more terrible memories. Allowing it to surface now, with Katie standing right before him, he felt the urge to drop to his knees and cry or curl up in his bed at home and sleep until the memories were locked away again. The urge was not a strong one, and certainly one that he would never perform, but he still had a nagging feeling to leave immediately and try to forget.

"The cursed necklace," he continued with difficulty, "is the greatest regret of my life." Draco looked directly at her and spoke in earnest, "I am sorry, very sorry, that you suffered because of me. You might have lost your life because of it. Trying to protect you means nothing when you consider that if it weren't for Madam Pomfrey, you might have died because of me. Nothing I do could ever make up for that."

"No, I suppose not," Katie said quietly as she seriously considered what he said. "Forgiveness isn't something you can earn. It's just given. I forgave you long ago, Malfoy. It hurt too much to hold onto. I… I appreciate this though. It really… It helps to know that you regretted your actions. It helps to know that you're not like that. But I've already put that behind me. That has nothing to do with today."

"You've forgiven it?" he asked dubiously. It was something he hadn't considered before. It astonished him that she could forgive such a thing.

She nodded. "It's not something I've forgotten, but it helps nothing to hold onto it. Your apology means a lot. Hopefully, seeing where we are now, we can both put it behind us."

Draco nodded slowly. He was dumbstruck.

Katie smiled softly. At first, it had felt quite difficult to face him, but it wasn't so any longer. It felt awkward, yes, but there was a feeling of peace in their resolution. She felt sorry for him, seeing how much his regret plagued him. Slowly, she extended her hand to him. He stared at her bewilderedly and then apprehensively shook her proffered hand.

"Alright," said Harry. Draco jerked his hand back quickly and looked up at Harry in surprise. He saw that Blaise and Hermione were watching them, also. He wondered if the others had heard anything and the urge to flee returned. "I'll contact everyone tomorrow."

Blaise and Katie nodded and exited Hermione's home, followed by Harry. Harry nodded to Hermione and Draco before he left. Draco looked at Hermione and wondered if he should leave also, but she took hold of his hand.

Draco looked down at her, still wondering if she or the others had heard any of his talk with Katie, but he couldn't bring himself to ask. "What did Blaise want?" he asked instead.

"To make you jealous by talking privately to me," Hermione smirked.

Draco's eyes narrowed. Was she teasing him? It sounded like something Blaise might do.

"That and he wanted to apologize for being so upset last night," she told him.

"Good," he said seriously, still a little upset about the way Blaise had acted.

"Draco, are you really okay?" Hermione asked seriously. It was the first time she was able to ask him without others around.

"Yeah," he said downheartedly. "I'm just upset it was for nothing."

"But you're okay. All three of you are safe, and you and Harry get to speak to the Parkinsons tomorrow. And it must feel good not having to hide anything from Blaise anymore," Hermione said, hoping to help him see the bright side of events.

"I'm still angry with him," Draco declared firmly; he wanted there to be no mistake. He sighed dejectedly and softened. "But, yes, it feels good to be able to speak with someone else about it. It's nice to have someone that shares my concern for Pansy. Not that you don't care," he added quickly. "He just… we're friends."

"I understand," Hermione assured him, squeezing his hand.

"I don't know what I'm going to say to Mr. Parkinson. I've known him so long. I… I'm afraid for them. Whatever the situation, I'm sure he feels trapped. He'll be frightened that we know," Draco stated, staring out as he imagined it. He shook the thought, not wanting to dwell on it. He just had to take it as it came. Tomorrow night…

"Wait," Draco said, his brows scrunched in thought. "What was that with you and Potter? He said I might have plans. What was that?"

"Oh," Hermione responded uncomfortably. "I meant to talk to you last night, but things were so crazy, and this morning, I was so busy thinking about the mission. I just forgot."

Draco waited patiently for her to continue. Her nervous behavior made him uneasy.

"See, I meet my parents for brunch every Sunday and, well… they want me to invite you… So I meant to invite you to brunch tomorrow at my parents' house," she told him as she slipped her hand from his and nervously began to wring her hands together.

Her statement seemed to take Draco off guard and he simply stared at her. It took Hermione a few seconds to understand why he wasn't responding – she still hadn't asked him.

"So… would you like to join us?" She nibbled her bottom lip.

"Would you like me to?" he asked. She told him that her parents told her to invite him. He couldn't tell if she was nervous about how he'd respond or if she dreaded him meeting her parents.

Hermione worried her bottom lip even more as she considered the question and the answer she ought to give. "Only if you want to."

"What kind of answer is that? I asked if you would like me to come."

"Yes…" she said quietly, "but, only if you're comfortable with it. I don't want you to feel pressured."

"I was curious before, but I didn't want to be rude and ask, but… I was under the impression that your meeting with them last week didn't go very well…" Draco responded. He left the statement hanging, hoping for her to explain without him asking directly.

"No, it didn't," she replied, looking down at her fidgeting fingers. She paused and thought and then moved into the living room and took a seat on the sofa. Draco followed after and sat beside her. He hated to see her look so downcast. "Like I told you before, my parents don't think very highly of the wizarding world anymore… not since I admitted to altering their memories and taking part in a war they never knew of. Things were getting better, but my father still regularly tried to talk up the muggle world in hopes that I would leave the wizarding world. When I told them about Aurelian and preventing a future war… Well, they were rather upset. My mother didn't know how to respond. She was angry, but I don't think it was really with me… just everything. My dad was quite clear about how he felt…" Hermione paused and twisted her robe in her lap. It was hard to talk about. She had yet to say it aloud to anyone, including herself. "He gave me an ultimatum. He told me that if I didn't leave the wizarding world behind, he would have nothing to do with me or Aurelian."

Draco was stunned, horrified, and infuriated at the idea. How could a parent say such a thing? And to ask a witch to leave all things magic was something a muggle could never understand the weight of. Magic was a part of who a person was. To ask Hermione to leave behind the magical world wasn't just asking her to leave her friends, her job, and her home; it was demanding that she bury a piece of herself.

"But he still expects you at brunch?" Draco asked, trying to hide his angry emotions from her.

"My mother talked to him," Hermione explained. "She tried to make him see… I can't leave. I just can't. I received a call from her yesterday, just after you invited me to dinner. I still haven't heard directly from my father, but my mother said that he was the one that mentioned brunch and he was even the one that suggested inviting you."

Draco took at moment just to look at her. He tried to read her. Her anxiety and pain were evident, but he wondered how she felt about each little thing she said. He wanted to know what she expected, what she wanted, what would help her the most.

"What do they know about me?" he asked.

"They know that we were on rather unfriendly terms during school," she said, looking quite despondent.

"You mean that they know that I tormented you throughout your entire school career?" Draco smirked, trying to make it sound lighthearted, but he felt guilty and ashamed. That was all that she had thought of him while they were at school and that was what her parents knew of him. They weren't likely to let it go as easily as Hermione. But was that all they knew?

"Yeah," Hermione answered, attempting a smile that she did not feel. "But I told them that you've changed. I tried to remind them that we were only children."

"Your mother looked quite displeased to see me the other day," Draco stated.

"She… well, she was being my mother. She saw that I had feelings for you and she wasn't thrilled by the idea." Hermione finally looked into Draco's eyes and saw the question that he was trying not to ask. "They don't know about your place in the war, if that's your concern. I'm quite honest with my parents now, but I do not tell them everything. They would never fully understand what the war was like even if I gave them every single detail."

Draco nodded, still considering all that she had said. After a few moments, Hermione tried to urge a response from him. "So?" she asked.

"So?" Draco asked in confusion.

"You haven't given me an answer yet," she told him, her stomach doing flips.

"Oh, sorry. I thought my answer, but I guess I didn't say it. I agreed when you said that you wanted me to come."

"You're sure?" she asked.

"Are you unsure?" Draco asked skeptically.

"I want you to come, yes, but I'm afraid of you feeling uncomfortable," she admitted.

"You have no idea how many uncomfortable meals I've had in my life," Draco chuckled. "I think I'd like to meet them, no matter their opinion. Even if I didn't, I owe it to you after setting you in front of my mother. Your parents can't possibly be worse than that."

Hermione chuckled nervously.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione Apparated beside the same hedge she had a week prior, with Aurelian in her arms and Draco's hand in hers. She put Aurelian down and looked around quickly to make sure that no muggles in the area had seen their sudden arrival. When she felt confident they had not been seen, she turned around to look at Draco. Rather than surveying the area, Draco was staring down at his attire.

"You're sure I look alright?" he asked.

"You're wearing the exact same outfit Harry gave you last week," Hermione smiled. "My answer is the same as it was then. You look good."

"Yes, but when you said it then, you were just trying not to insult me," he reminded her.

"Which I failed at, obviously. You look great, Draco," Hermione said earnestly. Draco looked down at his button down shirt and black trousers one last time.

"And you're sure it looks okay with the sleeves rolled up?" he asked.

"Yes, it's perfect. Really, you look wonderful. By muggle standards, you are quite nicely dressed, but still look casual," she told him. "It suits you well. You look great."

Hermione took Draco's hand and started pulling him onto the sidewalk. Her other hand already grasped Aurelian's.

"I look great, too," Aurelian stated happily. He wore muggle clothing again also and was quite thrilled about it. It felt like playing dress up to him.

"Yes, you look quite handsome," Draco told him.

"Daddy handsome, too," Aurelian returned. "Mummy handsome, too."

"Yes, she's quite pretty," Draco agreed, causing Hermione to look away bashfully. When Draco finally peeled his eyes off of the woman beside him, he started appraising the neighborhood they walked through. "The houses here are quite nice," he commented. "Is this where you grew up?"

"Yes," Hermione answered, gazing fondly around the street. She remembered taking walks there with her parents and even learning to ride her bicycle on that very sidewalk with her father running after her. "It feels like home and so foreign at the same time. Not much has changed, except perhaps the neighbors. That's likely a good thing though. A few too many of them had witnessed different pieces of my accidental magic."

"It was no surprise then to get your Hogwarts letter?" Draco smirked.

"Well, of course it was," she said, "but a lot of things made sense then. I didn't believe, even for a moment, that it was a joke."

Both of them fell into silence as they thought back to their beginnings at Hogwarts. Draco thought back to some of their first classes together. He had known immediately that she was a muggle-born, but he had still been quite impressed with her natural talent with magic. He had been rather bitter about it, along with her great enthusiasm, but looking back, he thought she was adorable.

"Um, Draco," Hermione said hesitantly. "I wanted to say… well… When you greet my mother today-"

"Don't kiss her hand?" Draco asked with a smirk. Hermione chuckled in response. "Don't worry, Hermione. I know how to play social games. I was just uncertain when I met your mother. I wasn't sure of your family's social status and, well… she kind of conducted herself as my mother would, so I treated her accordingly."

"First," Hermione responded. "Muggle society doesn't really have levels of status anymore. Just about everyone is treated with the same respect, except perhaps, for heads of government. They're treated quite properly to their faces and talked about horribly behind their backs."

"And second?" Draco asked after a pause.

"What?"

"You said 'first' so I was assuming that you were going to add a 'second'."

"Oh," she said, having no desire to explain further.

"Second, you'd rather I not compare your mother to mine?" Draco chanced. Draco knew that he had guessed correctly when she looked away in attempt to hide her embarrassment. "I don't blame you. My mother was horrible to you. It wasn't meant as an insult though."

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm sure that your mother is usually quite cordial," Hermione told him.

"Er, Hermione, really quickly," Draco said, pulling her to a stop. He had seen her slowing and staring at a home near them. He hadn't much time left to speak to her privately.

"Yes?" Hermione asked.

"What is a dentist?" he asked anxiously.

"What?" Hermione asked, taken off guard by the random question.

"You said that your parents both bore the title of doctor, and I know that those are like muggle versions of healers, but then you said that they are dentists. What are dentists?" Draco repeated.

Hermione laughed. "Sorry. I know you're both curious and uncomfortable, but it just seemed… silly to hear that question asked so seriously. Sorry. Muggle healers, doctors, don't have potions and spells to aid them, so healing is much more complicated. Because of this, there are many fields of specialized study. Dentists tend to people's teeth and gums. Muggle hygiene, when it comes to the mouth, isn't as efficient as a wizard's mouth wash and they need their teeth professionally cleaned from time to time and repaired if there are problems." When Hermione finished her explanation, she was glad that he had decided not to ask her in front of her parents. They would have felt greatly insulted to hear their daughter talk about how inefficient their profession was in comparison to wizard care.

"Okay," Draco said with a nod. That answer explained enough for him. He really didn't care about whatever their jobs were, he just didn't want to be ignorant should it somehow become a topic.

"We stop standing here? My hungry," Aurelian piped up. "You think Grandmum Helen have muffins?"

"I don't know, Aurelian, but why don't we go find out?" Hermione replied with a smile. He was a good boy and quite patient for his age. "You ready?" she asked Draco.

Draco nodded. Hermione gave his hand a squeeze. He smiled down at her, but took his hand from hers, and put his hands in his pockets. It would be uncomfortable to greet her parents while he was holding her hand. Hermione knocked on the door and Draco looked down at the beaming toddler that waited with great anticipation. He wondered whether Aurelian was excited to see his grandparents again or whether he was just looking forward to the food.

The door opened and Hermione's mother stood before them with a kind smile.

"Good morning, Mum," Hermione greeted.

"Good morning, come in," Helen offered, standing to the side. Hermione entered and hugged her mother. When she looked up, she saw her father.

"Good morning, Dad," she said with both hope and apprehension.

Dr. Granger waved her forward and pulled her into a tight hug. She pressed her cheek hard to his chest and inhaled deeply, relieved by her father's acceptance. She released him and took a few steps back, looking rather sheepish at what she felt was childish behavior. "Draco, you've already met my mother, Dr. Helen Granger. I'd like to introduce my father, Dr. William Granger. Mum, Dad, this is Draco Malfoy."

"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Draco said. He waited to see how Hermione's father responded. He normally would have offered a handshake, but when Dr. Granger only nodded, Draco returned the greeting.

"It's nice to see you again, Mr. Malfoy," Hermione's mother greeted politely. "I'd like to thank you for joining us today."

"Thank you Mrs.- er, Dr. Granger," Draco returned, correcting himself partway through. Having two in the house addressed as Dr. Granger was rather confusing.

"Hi, Grandmum Helen!" Aurelian said brightly. "You have more muffins?"

"Hello, Aurelian," Helen beamed in return. "Yes, I do happen to have muffins prepared. I know how much you liked the last ones, so I was sure to make more for today."

"Yay!" he cheered.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

"Yes, really hungry," Aurelian answered quite pathetically.

"Then why don't we all head to the table?" she suggested. Helen reached down to take hold of Aurelian's hand and led the way to the dining room where a large meal was spread out over the table. Helen helped Aurelian into a seat on one side of the table, while Hermione and Draco sat on the other. Hermione's father waited for the others to be seated before he took his position at the head.

Draco quickly scanned the room and those around him, appraising his surroundings. It was a rather nice looking home. His eyes fell on Hermione's and he felt himself relax some. He quickly snapped back into reality when her father cleared his throat. His gaze moved from Hermione to her father and then back to his empty plate.

"Please help yourselves," said Helen as she started helping Aurelian with his plate.

Hermione reached for a platter of eggs and spooned some onto her plate. She then reached for a basket of breads. When she looked up, she saw that Draco still hadn't reached for anything. She offered him the basket. He nodded and began serving himself. Though he never had to serve himself at home, it was not foreign to him. He had served himself all through school and often when he visited others' homes. The circumstances, however, made him feel very awkward. He felt self-conscious merely placing food on his plate. He was certain that it was Hermione's father that made him feel that way. Draco could feel the man's eyes on him; scrutinizing him.

Unable to help himself, Draco looked up at the man called William Granger; the father of the girl he had quickly come to adore. The man had yet to speak a single word since they had arrived. Just through the short walk to the dining room, Draco had seen a few family portraits in which Hermione's father looked like a rather kind and pleasant man. It was hard to believe that man on the other side of Hermione could be that same person. He looked so stern and a bit intimidating.

"So how have things been this week?" Hermione asked conversationally.

"Not bad," Helen answered, adding a sausage to her plate. "It was a rather stressful in parts, but your father did take me to the cinema Friday night." She smiled at her husband who gave a soft smile in return. Draco had only glimpsed it for a second, because the instant Dr. Granger looked at him, his stern expression returned.

"I would consider asking you about your week," Helen continued, "but I'm sure there is not much that you can tell." Hermione felt a little guilty. She had confessed to her mother that they were still working on a very serious case, but that she wasn't able to disclose any information about it. "But we have a number of other things to talk about… like this quiet, young man sitting at our table. To be quite honest, Mr. Malfoy, Hermione has told us very little about you."

Draco gave a small nod, unsure of how to respond to that statement. He happened to be rather glad that Hermione hadn't said much about him, as anything she might have said probably would have caused them to think badly of him.

"Well," said Hermione, "Draco and I didn't really know each other very well in the past."

"I understand," Helen replied, "but we know even less. Why don't you tell us about yourself, Mr. Malfoy? Do you mind if I call you Draco?"

"No, please do," Draco answered quickly as being addressed as Mr. Malfoy in that setting felt awfully strange. Everything about the visit felt awfully strange though. He took a breath as he entered the most awkward part: discussing himself. "And I'm not really sure what to say about myself. I'm an only child. I was born and raised in the wizarding community. I started school at Hogwarts at the same time as Hermione."

"And where were you educated before that?" Mrs. Granger asked curiously.

"At home, by my governess," Draco answered.

"A governess?" she said with surprise.

"Yes, most children in the wizarding community are educated at home. Some families form small groups to be taught by tutors. Some parents educate their children themselves. Then there are others, like myself, that are privately taught by a governess," Draco explained. "I've also heard of a few families, those that have a muggle-born parent, that send their children to muggle school, but that isn't as common, as it's hard for young children to keep the International Statute of Secrecy."

"I see," she answered. She became quiet as she thought on what he had just explained. It made her wonder what kind of education Hermione was planning for Aurelian. When no one else tried to continue conversation, she felt that it was her responsibility to break the silence. "So, what is it you do now?"

"I work for the Ministry of Magic in International Magical Cooperation," said Draco.

"That sounds interesting," she replied.

Hermione was as surprised and pleased as Draco that her mother was making an effort to be cordial and polite in conversation.

"It can be," Draco told her. "I do enjoy the traveling that's involved from time to time, but, for the most part, it's just pushing papers. I make sure documents are signed, filed, or delivered properly."

"Tell us about your parents," Hermione's father requested. Draco was stunned to be addressed by Mr. Granger, but then became rather anxious about discussing his parents. He wasn't sure what to say about them.

"Well, er, my father…" Draco started slowly and hesitantly. "My father is not with my mother and me any longer." Hermione looked at him sympathetically. It obviously caused him great pain to mention his father. She couldn't imagine how difficult it must be for him to know that the man that had raised him was sentenced to imprisonment in Azkaban for the rest of his life.

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Granger apologized sincerely. "We don't mean to pry. We're only curious about you."

Draco nodded. He couldn't help but take a glance at Hermione's father. The man did not look at all apologetic for Draco's discomfort and it appeared to him that the man certainly had every intention to pry where he could. Though he knew that Hermione's mother was honest about merely being curious, and acted kindly, Draco could feel that she was uncomfortable with him. He knew that she did not approve of him, but was trying to be open minded for Hermione's sake. The effort she made spoke volumes to Draco. The woman obviously cared very much for her daughter.

"What about your mother then? Am I right in assuming that you still live with her?" William asked, sitting back in his chair so he could appraise Draco better. The man was making himself comfortable to properly interrogate; at least, that was how Draco saw it.

"Yes, sir. I have taken over my father's position as head of our home. My mother… I consider myself close to her. She does not work… well, unless you consider the great time and efforts she puts into shopping and dinner parties as work." He smirked as he said it, remembering how he and Blaise joked about his mother's 'profession'. "Well… that's not entirely true, or fair to her. While she does enjoy hosting large dinner parties, she does many for charity. She has also helped St. Mungo's plan a few charity balls elsewhere. Though St. Mungo's is the largest scale charity events she helps with, she also supports some protection of rare magical creatures. Her heart though - her heart lies in the personal scholarships she offers to some students that wouldn't otherwise be able to attend Hogwarts."

Hermione stared at him, her mouth slightly parted in speechless astonishment. She had known that Narcissa Malfoy occasionally liked to attend charity dinners, but she had no idea just how involved she was in them. She felt ashamed to admit, even if only to herself, that she believed that the charity Narcissa showed was simply an outward show. She felt wrong for judging the woman so harshly. She then felt quite bitter about this newfound guilt when she remembered how rude the woman was to her at dinner two nights before. She could not be blamed for her judgments about Narcissa. It was obviously the way the woman wished to be seen.

"I see," William Granger said in response. "But, I can't help but ask – Where does she find the money for all of these charities? Surely you don't make enough money with the Ministry to support your home, your mother's spending habits, and the many charity events she attends." It was quite obvious that Dr. Granger believed that Draco was lying. The man looked angry.

"No, sir. My salary…. I…" Draco was struggling for a proper way to explain himself. "My employment with the Ministry is not as much for financial purposes as it is for personal growth and to be an active part of society."

Both Hermione's mother and father narrowed their eyes as they dubiously scrutinized their guest. Aurelian looked around at everyone at the table, unable to understand what was going on.

"Draco comes from a very old and, er, wealthy family," Hermione uncomfortably offered in the way of an explanation.

"In taking the position at the head of the family, I inherited the financial obligations. I've inherited my father's investments and have already made a few of my own," Draco explained further. He didn't know what Hermione's parents might have been thinking, but he felt that it was better to explain a little further to satisfy them.

"Aurey, please use your utensils," said Hermione. Draco looked over at his son who was sticking his thumb into his scrambled eggs and smiled. Conversation was becoming rather heavy. Seeing Aurelian's smile and allowing himself a tiny chuckle did much to lighten him.

"Mr. Malfoy, I'm going to admit to you that I do not know much about the wizarding world. I have heard though, that there is a belief that people with long wizarding bloodlines are considered to be above people like my Hermione simply because her parents are muggles," Mr. Granger said. Hermione looked aghast that he would bring up such a thing.

"There are some people that believe that, yes," Draco said flatly.

"Some people? Do you consider yourself to be in that group? For if I remember properly, I believe it was your name tagged in some of the angry and tear-filled rants that Hermione came home with. Your name, I believe was labeled as my daughter's greatest tormentor," Mr. Granger stated. He looked and sounded quite calm but for his flaring nostrils.

"Dad!" Hermione berated. She could not believe that he would bring up such a thing in front of anyone she knew, and most certainly not as an accusation like he had.

"My family raised me to believe that muggle-born witches and wizards are inferior. I admit that, for part of my life, I believed it. I am ashamed to admit that I was unkind to Hermione during our school years, but my opinion since then has changed."

"You're certain it has? Because it seems to me that you are quite uncomfortable in me and my wife's presence," Mr. Granger quipped.

"Meaning no disrespect, sir, but I don't think you mean this engagement to be comfortable," Draco replied. Hermione smiled softly. She loved her father, but she was glad to see that Draco was not going take her father's provocation, nor would he rise to it. "And I would not desire Hermione's company had my opinion not changed. She was actually one of the first to make me question that belief. I didn't understand how someone that was supposed to be inferior was as proud, witty, and clever as she. I no longer live by those beliefs. In fact, I know that your daughter is above me," Draco proclaimed, glancing at Hermione. Hermione was rather surprised by his declaration.

"Mr. Malfoy, I'm going to get straight to it. I know that my daughter fancies you and I'm not convinced that you're good enough for her. I agree that she is above you and I want to know just what your intentions are for her and for my grandson," Mr. Granger said frankly.

"Dad!" Hermione shouted.

"William," Mrs. Granger admonished, scowling at her husband.

"I believe it is a perfectly fair question," Mr. Granger defended.

Draco sat back in his chair, taking the same position as Mr. Granger as they scrutinized one another. "I agree," said Draco. "It is a fair question." Mr. Granger nodded. "I have come to care about your daughter very much. I enjoy her company. As for intentions, I have no specific intentions. I intend to enjoy the time I get to spend with her so long as she will have me. As for my son, I intend to be a father to him."

"And should your relationship with my daughter break?" Mr. Granger pushed on.

"I sincerely hope that it never does, but my relationship with Hermione will have no bearing on my relationship with Aurelian. He is my son and I intend to fill the role of his father in any way that I can; supporting him financially and emotionally," Draco declared.

Mr. Granger's eyes narrowed as he considered Draco. Mrs. Granger quickly took advantage of the pause to take hold of the conversation herself.

"So Hermione," she said. "I didn't really get to speak to Harry the other day. How is he doing? Is he still with Ginny?"

"He's doing alright; as well as can be expected under the circumstances. And yes, he and Ginny are still together," Hermione answered. She was very grateful to her mother for forcing another conversation. She had had quite enough of her father's grilling.

"Still no ring yet?" she asked.

"No, he still hasn't proposed. Someday though, I'm sure of it," Hermione smiled. "What about Uncle Albert and Aunt Lorna? Have you heard from them recently?"

"Yes, just the other day, actually. Paul is about to graduate from the university and Sarah is pregnant," Mrs. Granger was excited to announce.

"Sarah? Really?" Hermione asked, no longer making play conversation. "That's wonderful. When did she find out?"

"Just a few days ago. Aunt Lorna is thrilled."

"I always thought she and Peter were a perfect match. Are they still going to live in France with Uncle Horace?" Hermione asked curiously.

"No, Sarah decided that she'd really like to raise her child here. She'll be moving back to England in only a few months."

Hermione's mouth fell open. "That's wonderful! I…" Hermione's enthusiasm quickly started to drain. Sarah was a very dear cousin of hers and she was very excited to hear of her return, but then she realized how difficult things would be. By the look on her mother's face, Hermione understood that her mother had already had the same thought. How was Hermione going to spend time with Sarah? How was she going to explain a son that was nearly three years old? She angrily forced the thought from her mind. It was not the time to think about it. She would figure out an answer later. She would make it work. She always did.

"So tell me about Paul," Hermione said, forcing conversation once again. The rest of the meal was played mostly between Hermione and her mother, though occasionally, Mrs. Granger asked Draco little things about work and such; things she considered 'safe' subjects.

When the meal was complete, the group made their way back to the foyer.

"Mummy, I has to use da toilet," Aurelian announced.

"It's the first door on the left," Mrs. Granger informed him, pointing down the hall.

"Where's left?" Aurelian asked.

"I'll help him," Draco offered, taking his son by the hand. Hermione smiled and watched him leave. She appreciated his perceptiveness. She had really wanted to speak to her parents privately for a minute.

"Dad, why did you have to do that to him? You embarrassed me terribly. He didn't deserve that," Hermione said with a pout.

"It's a father's right," Mr. Granger said without remorse. "The first boy you bring to meet us and it just so happens to be a name that you inspired us to dislike."

"He's grown up, Dad. And I gave as good as I got when we were in school," Hermione protested.

"I admit that I was skeptical," said Mrs. Granger, "but he does seem like a nice, responsible boy. It's obvious that he's rather taken with you. He's rather good-looking, as well."

"He is all of those things. He's great, and absolutely amazing with Aurelian, too. I really hope you come to see that, Dad," Hermione said ardently.

"He's not as bad as I expected," Mr. Granger admitted somewhat grudgingly.

"You're going to give him a chance then?" Hermione asked hopefully.

"I haven't much choice, have I?" Mr. Granger responded. A small lopsided smile formed as he looked fondly on his daughter. "It's quite obvious that you have feelings for him. Just be careful with yourself and don't be afraid to hex him if you need to."

"Thank you," Hermione said sincerely, giving her father another hug.

"Mummy, da soap smells like yummy apples," Aurelian announced as he reappeared, sniffing his freshly cleaned hands. Draco emerged behind him with his hands in the pockets of his trousers. He still looked uncomfortable and was relieved to be leaving shortly.

"We want to thank you for joining us today, Draco," Mrs. Granger said with a smile. "I hope that you might join us again soon."

"Thank you very much for having me. It was nice to meet you both," Draco said. He was rather stunned when Mr. Granger extended his hand. Draco tentatively accepted the handshake.

"Be good to them," Mr. Granger said seriously, giving Draco's hand an extra firm squeeze.

"Of course, sir," Draco answered with a nod.

"Well, see you next week," Mrs. Granger told Hermione. She knelt down to meet Aurelian eye to eye. "And we'll see you, too. You take care, okay?"

"Bye-bye Grandmum Helen," Aurelian waved with a big smile

"Goodbye, Aurelian. I look forward to seeing you again," Mr. Granger told him, holding his hand out to him. Aurelian stepped forward and hugged the man's outstretched arm.

"Bye-bye, Grumpy-pa," Aurelian smiled up at him before releasing his arm. He was innocently unaware of his mispronunciation. Mr. Granger looked at his wife with concern, but she just chuckled.

"Bye, Mum, Dad." Hermione smiled, opened the front door, and followed Draco and Aurelian out.

"Can't be as bad as your mother, you said?" Hermione chuckled as they started down the sidewalk. "I'm so sorry, Draco."

"It was uncomfortable, yes, but I understood your parents' concern," Draco assured her. "Other than the light grilling, it was rather nice. Your mother seems kind."

"She is. She thinks you're good-looking, too," Hermione grinned, expecting him to be embarrassed.

"Yes, but everyone knows that," Draco smirked.

"Oh, aren't you Mr. Modest?" she snickered.

"Grumpy Guy call him Mr. Malfoy," Aurelian told her.

"That's 'Granddad,'" Hermione corrected.

"So what's the plan now?" Draco asked.

"All we have planned is a nap for Aurelian when we get home," Hermione announced.

"Nooo," Aurelian pouted. "No nap."

"Yes, nap," Hermione said firmly. "What about you?" she asked Draco.

"No plans before dinner. I have to make sure I'm home then so that I can redress and make sure I'm presentable for visiting Mr. Parkinson," he replied. "Why? Did you have something in mind?"

"No, not really, but I thought that if you were interested, we could watch another film," she suggested. "I promise not to fall asleep this time."

"That sounds great," he said, taking her hand in his.

"No nap…" Aurelian pouted softly.

 

Chapter Text

Draco and Harry walked down the long dirt lane in silence. Though they were getting used to working with one another, things were still rather uncomfortable between them. They walked in step, but with a fair distance between them, both with their hands buried deep in their pockets. Draco looked down at the tall grass lining the road to avoid staring into the setting summer sun. Harry spent his time gazing around at their surroundings, as he had never before been to the area. Despite his company, Harry considered it an enjoyable walk. The view was beautiful as they were in the center of a large grassy moor and the setting sun cast orange and golden rays over the hilly terrain. He had never considered it before, but it seemed like a perfect place for wizards to live. There was plenty of space to fly brooms without fear of being seen.

Just as they made their way to the top of the large hill, the Parkinson Family Estate came into view. As Harry had expected, it was a mansion nearly the size of Malfoy Manor, but even in the distance it looked more welcoming. He thought that, perhaps, Malfoy Manor only felt foreboding because of the events he knew had taken place there.

The Parkinson Estate was constructed of light brown stone with a dark roof. As Harry got closer, he began studying the unique gardens surrounding it and the smaller details, such as the white lattice windows and black shutters. The style of the home made him believe that it had been there for a couple centuries, but it was in such wonderful condition that it looked like it could have been built only the week before. Again he was astonished by the preserving powers of magic.

"You ready?" Draco asked as they walked through the large, wrought iron gates.

Harry nodded. He glanced at Draco when they took the final step up to the front door. Harry took the heavy brass knocker in his hand and knocked three times. He clasped his hands in front of him. It looked like a casual stance, but having gotten to know Harry more, Draco realized that in that position, with his hands in front, rather than behind him, his wand was close and easily accessible, if needed. Harry felt Draco studying him and returned Draco's smirk. For two people who considered themselves quite different, they seemed to have a pretty keen understanding of each other.

The door opened suddenly and Harry and Draco's expressions returned to those of proud men on business. Harry very quickly studied the man in front of him. He had seen him before, but never up close. Mr. Parkinson was a bit of a portly man. He was not overly obese, but his belly was quite prominent the way he held his shoulders back with his hands clasped behind him. His stance, Harry believed, combined with his staid expression, was meant to be intimidating. The stance did not seem to fit the man's personality, but only because his formidable front was belied by the softness of his face and his deep smile lines.

"Mr. Potter," Mr. Parkinson greeted stiffly. The moment the door had opened, his eyes had fallen upon Harry. As unperturbed as the man tried to appear, his tension could still be felt. Harry Potter, after all, was an intimidating man in name alone. To stand before him was even more unsettling. Even in his casual state, Harry's piercing green eyes were filled with strength. His presence was far more intimidating than Mr. Parkinson's when he tried.

After a quick study, Mr. Parkinson finally looked at the man to Harry's left and his eyes widened in surprise. "Draco…" he breathed. His brows knit together with concern as he studied the young man he had known for so many years with wary curiosity.

"I'd like to thank you, Mr. Parkinson, for agreeing to see us this evening," Harry said formally.

"Yes, of course," Mr. Parkinson responded, his eyes lingering on Draco for another second. "Please, come in."

Mr. Parkinson stepped to the side and opened the door wide. Harry and Draco entered and inclined their heads as they passed him. Harry took a moment to quickly scan his surroundings; a precaution that had long ago become a habit. They stood in a large entrance hall that was approximately the size of a small ballroom and it was furnished just as elegantly. Harry, through his career, had seen the inside of many homes, quite a few of them belonging to families as wealthy as the Parkinsons, and was no longer impressed by the grandiosity of them. His look around was solely for safety purposes; he could never be too careful. He noted the staircase to his left, the two doors and a hallway to his right, and the double doors in front of him that led to a courtyard. They were both points of possible danger and emergency escape. However, he did notice in his quick assessment, that the Parkinsons' home felt much warmer and lived in than many other stately houses he had visited.

"I thought we might speak in my study, if that is okay with you," said Mr. Parkinson.

"That would be great, thank you," Harry replied.

"Follow me then," he instructed, leading them to their right, across the large silent hall.

"Draco?" a pleasant voice called cheerfully from behind them. The party of men stopped immediately and turned toward the large staircase. There, halfway down, stood the young woman that had so frequently been on all three of the men's minds. Her eyes were bright and happy at the sight of Draco; her smile warm and cheerful. "It is you. Why did you not tell me that you were coming-?" She stopped suddenly and her smile vanished in an instant. Her brows scrunched in confusion and anxiety. "Potter?" she asked only loud enough for them to hear.

"Pansy, these gentlemen are here for business," Mr. Parkinson stated.

"What business?" she asked, taking a couple slow steps down the staircase.

"None that concerns you, I'm sure. Now don't you think you should be in bed?" he said sternly.

"Dad, it's only just after seven. Not to mention, I'm quite old enough to stay up until whenever-"

"Well, you have had quite a full day with your brother's game and such, I'm sure that you're quite interested in some time to yourself," he interrupted in challenging tone. Pansy crossed her arms over her chest. She appeared indignant at the way her father treated her, but she made no move in either direction.

Not acknowledging his daughter any further, Mr. Parkinson turned from her and continued toward his study. Harry and Draco followed after him, but it took great effort for both of them to peel their eyes from Pansy. Harry had never taken an interest in her, even a little. He disliked her from the start because of her friendship with Draco, his greatest rival at school, but then also for the insults that she herself made against his friends. After school and the war were over, he had to admit that he hadn't thought on her at all until the start of the investigation. But he found himself, despite the fact that he didn't really know her, quite worried about her. Pansy, like everyone else in the world, had a life filled with happiness, sadness, trials, and hopes. Whatever her story, she did not deserve to be hurt. He could only imagine how much harder it was on Draco.

"Please, have a seat," Mr. Parkinson offered as he gestured to two leather chairs across from a large oak desk in his study. Harry and Draco sat themselves as Mr. Parkinson made his way around the desk. "May I get you gentlemen something to drink? Tea? Brandy?"

"Thank you, sir," said Harry, "whatever you prefer."

Mr. Parkinson nodded and moved to the corner of the room where a small bar cabinet stood. The room was silent as he removed the brandy and poured the liquid into three glasses. It was as he placed the stopper back in the bottle that he finally spoke again. Harry had to force himself to focus on the man's words as he carefully watched each move Mr. Parkinson made. Constant vigilance.

"I have to say, Mr. Potter, that I was quite surprised to receive your owl yesterday. I admit that I am quite unnerved by your presence, as you had not hinted as to why you wished to see me," Mr. Parkinson said stiffly as he handed a glass of brandy to both Draco and Harry. "I do not mean to offend you by that statement, but you must understand that your name and occupation are connected with many uncomfortable topics. I am even more confused by Mr. Malfoy's presence here."

"I appreciate your honesty and openness regarding your concern, so I'd like to be forward with you, Mr. Parkinson. Mal- Mr. Malfoy and I are working together on an investigation and we believe that you can help us," said Harry.

"An investigation? Concerning what?" Mr. Parkinson asked.

"I cannot reveal much to you, sir, but it does concern you and your family," Harry answered.

"Oh?" he asked, looking rather leery.

"Yes, sir, and I believe you already know what I am talking about," Harry told him.

Mr. Parkinson said nothing. He took a sip of his brandy and waited for Harry to continue.

"We know that you and your family are being threatened, sir, and I'd like you to tell me about it," Harry said frankly.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Potter, but I'm not sure I know what you're talking about," said Mr. Parkinson.

"I believe you do, sir," Harry said. He was getting a bit agitated with the man already.

"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you're going to have to be a bit more specific."

"Alright. We know that your family's safety has been threatened for the last five months and we know that, for the last five months, you've been having a sum of money delivered to the alley outside of Brim's Goblet to ensure your family's safety. I wish you to tell me how this started and exactly what the terms of this arrangement are," Harry replied, a hint of impatience in his voice.

"Might I inquire as to your source?" Mr. Parkinson responded. Draco watched the exchange silently and watched as Mr. Parkinson's expression became more severe and his knuckles became white as he gripped his glass tighter.

"You may inquire, sir, but I cannot reveal my sources. I can assure you though, that I am quite certain about these facts. I wish you to tell me what you can," Harry persisted.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Potter, but I'm afraid that I'm unable to help you," he replied.

"You mean that you won't," Harry corrected.

"As certain as you believe you are about these 'facts', it seems to me that you are following rumors and suspicions. I'm very sorry, but I cannot help you," Mr. Parkinson maintained.

"Mr. Parkinson, please," Draco pleaded. "We know who you are dealing with and we understand your apprehension. We're not here to bring any charges against you. We're here to try to help you protect your family. To do that though, we need to know the details."

"I thank you very much for your concern, Draco, as I see that it is real, but I assure you that my family is just fine. We are in no need of protection," Mr. Parkinson declared.

"Sir, don't do this, please…" Draco said earnestly, seeing the man's stubborn resolve. "You can't keep this up. You know that eventually they will ask for more than you can give. What then? Think of your family. Think of Pansy. I don't want to see any of you hurt over this. Let us help you."

"I say again, Mr. Malfoy," Mr. Parkinson said acerbically, "My family is just fine and in need of no protection."

"If that is where you stand, Mr. Parkinson, then that is where Mr. Malfoy and I will drop it," Harry told him. "I will tell you this now though - Mr. Malfoy was right that we do not wish to press charges against you, but if you continue to fulfill their demands, it will, from this point on, be considered abetting a felon. Truthfully, our number one reason for being here is to protect your family. Please, sir, I just ask that you consider that."

Mr. Parkinson looked like he was doing just that. He looked stubborn and affronted, but he also looked unsettled and undecided, keeping his eyes averted from theirs.

Harry sighed heavily, finished his brandy, and got to his feet. His movement brought Mr. Parkinson's eyes back upon him. Draco stood up also, understanding their visit was over.

"Well," said Harry, setting his empty glass on the desk, "I'd like to thank you again for seeing us, Mr. Parkinson. I'm very sorry that this meeting has not gone the way I had hoped, but our part has been said. Should you change your mind, you can contact either Mr. Malfoy or me. I hope you have a good evening. We can see ourselves out, if you wish."

"No…" Mr. Parkinson replied uneasily. "I… I'll show you out."

Draco's shoulders drooped and he could no longer look the man in the eye. He refused to even look in the man's direction. Mr. Parkinson looked like a completely different man as he walked them to the door. He no longer tried to hold up the intimidating ruse; he looked quite despondent. As frustrated and upset with the man as he was, Harry felt sorry for him.

Draco looked up at the staircase and saw Pansy standing now at the very top. She was holding onto the banister with both hands and she looked down at them with worry. Her eyes were pleading with Draco for assurance, but he turned away, unable to stand the terrible ache he felt inside when he looked at her. Her life was on the line and her father was making the wrong decision. He had to think and think hard. They just had to protect her.

Harry nodded a silent farewell to Mr. Parkinson and Draco was about to follow when Pansy cried out to him.

"Draco!"

He looked up at her and felt his heart breaking from the fear and uncertainty in her voice.

"You'll owl me, right?" she asked.

Draco nodded. He wouldn't have been able to find his voice if he wanted to. He stopped as he was moving past Mr. Parkinson and stared the man hard in the eye. Draco had often looked up to Mr. Parkinson. He was a wealthy and dignified businessman like his father, but he was also kind and loving to his family in a way his own father had never been. But, in that moment… he saw the man as he really was. He was just a man. When all the money and pretense fell away, he was simply a frightened man that didn't know what to do. But no matter how frightened the man was, Draco could not forgive him for turning down the help that could save his daughter's life.

Draco swept away furiously and Harry was forced to jog to catch up. As soon as they were through the gates, Draco slowed down a little.

"This doesn't mean that we're done," Harry told him.

"I know," Draco replied. "I'm just angry with him. He's too scared to make any move at all. Were I him, I'd pack up the family and send them abroad or something. He can't just let them stay in that house."

"We can't judge," Harry told him. "We will work this out though. We'll do whatever we have to."

Draco closed his eyes as he continued walking. Whatever happened, Pansy just had to be okay.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Mr. Zabini. Miss Bell. Welcome to the noble house of Potter," Kreacher greeted with a bow. He pulled the front door open wide to them. "Master Harry is out, but is expecting your presence."

"Noble house of Potter? That's new," Blaise chuckled as he stepped over the threshold and began to look around the front hall. He was actually quite surprised by the grandness of the home, as he had heard that Harry was raised by poor muggles. He realized that it could very easily have been a rumor though. It surprised him just how little he actually knew about Harry. He knew only what showed up in the paper or circulated through gossip circles. He made a mental note to ask Draco a bit about Potter sometime.

"Actually, sir, the Potter family happens to be quite an old wizard family," Kreacher replied.

"Now that I knew," Blaise smirked. Kreacher looked at Blaise curiously, as though he were concerned something was off about him. Blaise returned the skeptical appraisal.

"Hi," Hermione greeted as she entered the foyer. She looked as though she was about to say more, but Kreacher spoke first.

"As Master Harry is not yet in, he has asked that Kreacher present you to the company of Miss Granger. Miss Granger, Master Harry's guests have arrived," Kreacher said with a bow. Katie also looked quite warily at the elf at that point.

"Thank you, Kreacher," Hermione sighed.

"Can Kreacher bring Master Harry's guests some tea?" he offered.

"Erm, yes please," Hermione answered. As the hunched old house-elf slowly sauntered away, Hermione finally turned her attention back to Blaise and Katie who still stood near the front door. "You guys are early," she commented. She didn't fail to notice that they had arrived together and looked at them suspiciously. A light blush rose to Katie's cheeks and she bashfully turned her attention to examining the room. Blaise took no notice as his eyes were fixed to a place just behind Hermione. Hermione curiously followed his gaze.

"Daddy back, Mummy?" Aurelian asked as he walked into the room. The small boy was the object of Blaise's interest.

"Your daddy only just left," Hermione told him.

"Who them?" he asked.

Blaise's eyes never left the small boy and he slowly walked toward him. "He looks a perfect mix of you both," he said in awe. He took a knee and stared directly into Aurelian's grey eyes. There was no question that he was the son of his dearest friend. "Hi, Aurelian. I'm Blaise. I'm a friend of your dad's."

"Magpies not best," Aurelian said in response. Blaise blinked in confusion and looked up at Hermione in question.

"Aurey has quite an infatuation with quidditch and an incredible memory for anything related to it," Hermione offered in way of explanation.

"And your dad told you that I support the Montrose Magpies?" Blaise smirked. Aurelian nodded. "And I suspect that means you're a Tornadoes fan, also." Aurelian nodded again.

"The tot has good taste in quidditch teams," Katie smiled.

"No, not you, too," Blaise moaned as he looked up at her. "I'll have you both know that the Montrose Magpies do happen to be the best. They have won the league cup thirty-two times. That's far more than any other team in the league." Blaise felt a bit embarrassed when he realized that he was defending his favorite team against a toddler.

"Nuh-uh!" Aurelian scowled. "Tornadoes has best! Dey winned last five cups before quidditch died!"

"Whoa, whoa. Calm down, buddy. I didn't mean to upset you," Blaise said gently.

"What is he talking about?" Katie asked uncomfortably. "The Tornadoes are suspected to win this season, but this would be the first in a few years."

"He means in the future," Blaise reminded her.

"I understand that," Katie said, "but what does he mean 'before quidditch dies'?"

"Draco was talking about taking Aurelian to a game sometime. Aurelian told him that quidditch died. From what we could make out, five and a half years from now, all of the quidditch stadiums are burnt down. At least, in the time he came from," Hermione explained. "He's still confused about what is and was. I don't know that he'll ever really understand. He'll just come to accept what is."

"You pway with me?" Aurelian asked excitedly, completely putting all previous discussions behind him. "I has quidditch peoples Daddy buyed me."

"Uh, sure," said Blaise.

"You don't have to if you don't want to," Hermione assured him.

"No, it's fine. It'll give me a chance to get to know him. I mean, if it's alright with you, Granger," Blaise said, not wanting to overstep. He was having a hard time accepting the reality of it. He was agreeing to play with the woman's child; the child of his best friend, whose existence he'd only learned about the day before.

"It's fine so long as you stop calling me Granger," she smiled.

"Hermione. Sorry… This- this is just all so…"

"Surreal," Hermione finished for him. Blaise and Katie both nodded. "Well, why don't we go to the sitting room while we wait? Aurelian, Mr. Blaise says he'll play with you, but I can only give you a few minutes. We need to get you ready for bed."

Hermione led the way into the sitting room where Kreacher was setting a tea tray on the coffee table in front of the sofa.

"Over here, Mister," Aurelian said excitedly as he pulled Blaise toward the far corner of the room where his quidditch figures peeked over the top of a cardboard box.

"Uh, just call me Blaise, alright? Your very existence makes me feel too old as it is," Blaise smiled.

"Would you like some tea, Blaise?" Hermione asked as she poured a cup for herself and Katie.

"No, thank you. I'll have some once we're finished playing," he said as he got down on his knees.

"You make a light for da field?" Aurelian asked hopefully.

"Um, I've never done it before, but I bet I could. My mother's third husband used to make quidditch rings like that for me," Blaise thought aloud. "You know, what you really need is a quidditch rug. My mother's fourth husband bought one for me. I think I still have it actually. Mr. Parkinson is holding some of my things until I get a bigger place. I won't need that anymore, I'm sure. I could get it for you if you'd like."

"Really? Mummy, Mr. Blaise says he give me quidditch rug!" Aurelian shouted as he got to his feet.

"That's very nice. You should thank him," Hermione replied.

Aurelian said a quick thank you and plowed directly into discussion, showing off his prized figurines. Hermione sighed and took a sip of her tea.

"I can't believe this is real," Katie said quietly as she stared pensively at Aurelian. "I've been replaying yesterday over and over in my mind and it just feels so… surreal."

"I know," Hermione sighed again.

"I mean, I was walking down Diagon Alley today and everything was the same as it always is. People were going about their business with no idea. With news as large as this, it feels like the world should - I don't know – match," said Katie. Her brows were furrowed as she stared into her cup.

"Believe me, I understand," Hermione said seriously. "That's not usually the way things work though. It's like the war with Voldemort." Katie shuddered at the name. "Each year that we were at Hogwarts, something happened. There was always something that we needed to solve. Each time, it felt so big and so heavy that it felt like it should quake the ground and proclaim the events to the world. It wasn't until after the battle in the Department of Mysteries that the world knew and felt the fear that they should. Us too, though… Harry, Ron, and I were always somehow in the middle of it all, but it never felt as real as it should, not until it was staring us in the face."

"The future has a face now though," Katie said, looking at Aurelian again. "Seeing him makes it all feel real to me now and it's frightening. I can't imagine how you're taking all of this. You saw everything there and now have a son from it."

"Surreal. There's no other word for it," Hermione answered. "You never know what life is going to give you. This whole thing feels like a terrible tragedy, but it's a blessing really. We've been given a chance to prevent a terrible future. And though becoming a parent overnight was rather overwhelming, Aurelian is an incredible blessing himself. He's an amazing kid. It's hard to believe that he's mine."

"It's not for me," Katie said as she thought on it seriously. "I mean, it's a shock that you're suddenly a mother, but it doesn't surprise me that you're a good one. What's hard to believe is that he's Draco Malfoy's son, also." Katie looked up at Hermione in horror. "I am so sorry! I didn't mean it like that. I mean, I didn't mean it as an insult. It's just a shock. You know… you and Malfoy were, well… not on best terms in the past."

Hermione smiled, sealing her lips tightly together as she tried not to laugh. "I know. It was quite hard for me to believe at first, too. He's – He's a great guy though. He’s been wonderful."

"He does seem like he's okay. He's obviously matured… but still, Draco Malfoy…"

"Blaise Zabini?" Hermione countered, lifting an eyebrow in challenge. Katie blushed again.

"We just met for drinks," she said quietly. "It was nice to have someone to talk to about this."

"He's a real charmer," Hermione stated, noticing Katie's starry eyes as she watched Blaise on the other side of the room.

"Hermione?" Harry's call through the house caused Hermione to leap to her feet. Harry and Draco strode into the sitting room together and stopped instantly. "Oh, they're already here."

"Daddy! You back!" Aurelian cried excitedly. He leapt up from his place on the floor with Blaise and ran over to his father who simply patted him on the head. Hermione's stomach flopped. It was obvious that it didn't go well.

"You're back so soon," she commented.

"Yeah. It didn't go as well as we hoped," Harry stated flatly. "Do you want to put him to bed?"

"Yes, I'll-"

"I've got him," Draco interrupted her. He didn't want to miss any of the discussion, but he didn't want everyone to wait for Hermione to return. Without waiting for a response, he forced a smile and lifted Aurelian into his arms. "Ready for bed?"

"But, Mr. Blaise…" Aurelian pouted looking back around at Blaise.

"I'll clean up your toys and maybe we can play another time, okay, sport?" Blaise answered. Aurelian's pout grew, but he nodded.

"I'll be right back," Draco said as he left the room.

"What happened, Potter?" Blaise asked. A simple flick of his wand sent the toys back into their cardboard box.

Harry and Blaise made their way over to where the girls were sitting, but remained standing. Hermione had apprehensively taken her seat again, but seeing Harry still standing made her want to as well. For some reason, people seemed to believe that sitting was the best way to take bad news, but Hermione found that it was much more comfortable to stand when filled with anxiety. Still, she remained seated.

"We spent more time walking there and back than we did talking. We got right to the point. We tried to give him the opportunity to tell us without prying. Nothing. We told him that we knew he is being blackmailed for money. We even told him that we knew how long it had been going on, where the money was dropped. He danced around admitting or denying anything. He said that he and his family are safe and he can't help us," Harry explained, looking rather frustrated.

"That's it?" Blaise asked. "He didn't say anything else at all? What did he sound like? How did he act? Was he nervous or angry?"

"Calm down, Blaise," Draco said as he reentered the room. Blaise's eyes narrowed at the request, but he felt a little better when he saw that Draco looked anything but calm himself. Draco seemed to be struggling to hold down his anger and frustration. "He was apprehensive. He's considering it."

"What?" asked Harry. It was obviously news to him.

"He's in a terrible position and I understand his apprehension. He needs time to consider the position he's in," Draco explained.

"Time isn't something we have a lot of," said Harry. "We have no idea how different things are from the pensieve timeline now. Because of our rush in investigating, things might move faster on their side as well. We have no idea-"

"I know, Potter!" Draco snapped. He forced himself to calm down again. "I didn't say that I liked it. I said that I understood."

"It's like your mother," Hermione offered. "She said she needed time to consider warding your home."

"I don't know about everyone else. I don't know if it's aristocratic society or Slytherin influence, but Draco and I were always taught not to rush things. Never allow yourself to be forced into making a hasty decision," Blaise explained. "Mr. Parkinson definitely lives by those rules. He has to assess both sides and the possible harm in choosing either."

"You might have mentioned that earlier," Harry said stiffly to Draco.

"Despite understanding it, I was as hopeful as you were that he would accept our help. Just because I understand his side, doesn't mean that I'm not furious with his decision," Draco ground out. "I got to see Pansy just standing there. She looked confused and worried and I couldn't say anything… Damn it! We don't have time for Parkinson's indecision. I will not let Pansy get hurt in this!"

"Can't we just set up wards?" Blaise asked. Though he was just as upset as Draco, he felt a calming strength in knowing that Draco was as serious about the situation as he was. "I mean, what could they really say if we go around and put wards up?"

"We can't. It's illegal," Hermione answered.

"But you're an auror," Blaise stated, looking at Harry expectantly.

"Being part of the law doesn't put us above it. We have to follow the laws even more strictly," Harry sighed. He had rather liked Blaise's idea.

"But what would Mr. Parkinson say about it?" Katie asked. "He doesn't want anyone to know anything about this business. If he were to tell about Harry's use of wards against his permission, it would only be drawing attention to himself."

"I understand, but we can't chance anything like that. It could have Harry permanently taken off the case. Not to mention, we don't know if there are any other wards already there. We don't know if there's any threat that has been made by the blackmailers about wards and if the Parkinson's don't know about the wards, it could just cause so many problems," Hermione said dejectedly.

"We can't do nothing. We can't just wait," Blaise said, balling his fists at his sides.

"Well…" Hermione said as she was turning an idea around in her head. "We could still have them monitored."

"What do you mean?" asked Draco.

"That monitoring spell of mine that I told you about. I called it a ward, but technically it's not. It's an area monitoring spell," Hermione explained. "Though protective wards are illegal to use without permission of the land owner, monitoring spells on private property are allowed, so long as they are only motion monitoring, meaning not audio or visual, and are placed a distance of at least twenty meters from any door or window. This, of course, is only allowed by members of Magical Law Enforcement, but it could help."

"What kind of monitoring spell?" Blaise asked.

"It will name the true identity of anyone that passes into or out of the spell's borders, as well as the time," Hermione explained. "It's not completely accurate because one must physically pass through it to be monitored, but most homes are warded with an anti-Apparition ward. One can Apparate within the ward or outside of the ward, but not from in to out or out to in."

"I know how anti-Apparition wards work," Blaise said indignantly. Draco narrowed his eyes, not appreciating his tone. "That sounds like a brilliant spell though. It's legal, you say, so will you use it?"

"I didn't say it was legal, I said that it was technically not illegal," Hermione corrected, still apprehensive about using it. "Motion monitoring wards don't usually record information, just the presence of movement."

"It's either legal or it's not," Blaise said impatiently. "And to be honest, I'm not really all that concerned with legality. So are you offering or not?"

"Not everything in law is black and white. I think it'd be safe going by technicality," said Hermione. "And yes, I'll use it. I wouldn't have mentioned it if I didn't intend to."

"Thank you," Harry said, clapping a hand on her shoulder.

"When?" asked Blaise.

"Tonight," Hermione replied, "after we're done here."

"Good," said Blaise. "So what happens now?"

"We continue planning," Harry answered. "Since we didn't get the information we hoped to from Mr. Parkinson, we do what we can to find it on our own. Now, Hermione and I were talking earlier and we're wondering why the Parkinsons would be a target over anyone else. Out of all of the wizarding population, why them?"

"How do we know they were chosen above others?" Katie asked. "I mean, what if there are other families being blackmailed as well?"

"That's exactly what Hermione and I were thinking," Harry told her. "Which is why we want to know why they were chosen."

"Money, for one," said Blaise. "They're one of the richest wizarding families in the UK."

"That's definitely part of it, I'm sure," Harry nodded. "But it can't be the only reason. If it were, then Malfoy would be the first targeted."

"Yeah, but his family was in with the Death Eaters and his family betrayed them in the end. That's not someone I would target if I were them. And you know I mean no offense by that," Blaise added with a look at Draco, who nodded in understanding.

He knew that it was just fact and that Blaise held no ill feelings about it. It still hurt to remember it all, but Draco reminded himself that he was a better person.

"Exactly," Hermione answered. "The Malfoys would make a bad target because they would not be a safe target from a Death Eater point of view. They need families with money, but also who will be inclined to keep silent."

"Mr. Parkinson is a dedicated family man," Katie stated. "He cares very much for his family and would do whatever he had to to keep them safe."

"They're also an old pureblood family of good standing," said Hermione. "The Lestranges are very serious about blood purity and I don't think they would ever make a deal of any kind with a muggle-born. Also," she said pensively, "they didn't have any involvement in the war, did they?"

"No," Blaise said firmly. "They stayed out of it completely."

"How does that work though?" Hermione asked in confusion. "I mean, Voldemort was recruiting everywhere with anyone that was not muggle-born or a known blood traitor and he wasn't one to take no for an answer. How does such a prominent pureblood family stay out of his service without being punished for it?"

"Because he was involved," Draco answered quietly.

"What?" Blaise scowled.

Draco sighed. "He was not directly involved, but there was no way he could just hide in the shadows either. I never talked to him about it; I only knew because of what I overheard during the war… from my side… or…" He sighed again and Hermione took his hand supportively. "He was able to do exactly what he's doing now. He paid for his family's safety. That's what it was considered by both sides. It was not supporting the Dark Lord; it was protecting his family, paying to remain neutral."

"Giving financial support is donating to the cause," Katie protested.

"I knew someone would say that, but that's not what it was," Draco argued. "The man was given a choice – become a Death Eater, become an enemy, or pay a fee so his family would not be slaughtered. It wasn't an option given to many. He did what he felt was safest."

"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Blaise asked.

"I didn't feel that it was my place to," Draco answered. "I hadn't told a soul before now."

"Who else, Malfoy?" Harry asked. "Are there other families that you know about that were offered that option?"

"Er…" Draco covered his eyes as he thought. "The Greengrass family; Daphne and Astoria's father, not their uncle. Erm… Dodson and… Pritchard. There might have been more, but those are the ones that I had heard about."

"Good. Very good," said Harry. "This is enough to help us for now. We need to think on it a bit and make a plan. I'll contact you, but if you think of any other pertinent information let me know. Try thinking of any other families that might be in the same position. Never put any information in an owl though. Owl me to let me know that you'd like to meet instead."

Blaise and Katie nodded. Everyone's attention then fell on Hermione.

"I'll just grab my cloak," she told them.

Katie stood and joined the group heading toward the foyer as Hermione disappeared up the staircase. The group's steps were accompanied by an uncomfortable silence. With official talks being finished, no one knew what else to say.

"He's a cute kid," Blaise said, hanging back a few steps with Draco. "A serious quidditch fan already."

"Yeah, even I wasn't that serious about quidditch at his age. Although, I suppose there wasn't much to occupy him when we were on the run… In his time, I mean," Draco thought aloud.

"We should take him to a game sometime. How old is he anyway?"

"He has to be close to three now," Draco answered. "We haven't actually done the math yet."

"You don't know his birthday then," Blaise realized.

"We'll make one for him." Draco and Hermione both felt rather guilty for not knowing his birthday. With all they had witnessed in the pensieve, Aurelian's birthday seemed rather unimportant, but they still wished that they had an official day for him.

"How are you going to explain him to the world?" Blaise asked curiously.

"We don't know yet. We're not there yet."

"He seems like a great kid and I can already tell he means a lot to you. I'm really happy for you, mate. Hermione seems like an excellent mother too; no doubt, the reason your son is so brilliant. I mean, he certainly didn't get his brains from y-"

"You better not talk to her like that ever again," Draco said darkly.

"What?" Blaise said, surprised by Draco's sudden change. He tried to remember himself and what Draco was referring to. Looking back, he did snap a bit at her. "Draco, I never meant to be rude to her. I was just charged up with the conversation. You know that I'm not usually like that. I'm just worried about-"

"I don't care how worried you are," Draco said seriously, "if you talk to her like that again, I'll hex you." Blaise nodded slowly. "She's under a lot of pressure right now. She's working her ass off to help in this. Don't ever believe that she's not giving her best."

"Seriously, mate, I didn't mean to be rude to her. I like her. I really do. I was just heated. I'll watch myself though, alright?" Blaise didn't take his eyes off of Draco until he nodded. "We're alright then?"

"Aren't we always?" Draco asked.

"Yeah, but it's usually you that makes an ass out of himself. This is my second time in two days. I'm feeling rather lost," he smirked. "Mind teaching me a sheepish grin? Or at least a shame-filled eye aversion?" he gibed.

Draco threw a quick backfist to Blaise's ribs and smirked at his pained look. "You don't need me to teach you a thing. You've already got the grimace of regret down perfectly."

"You're such a prat," he sneered, rubbing the sore spot on his chest.

"Birds of a feather," Draco smirked. "Take care, mate. We'll get this all figured out. I promise."

"I know," Blaise said seriously, shaking Draco's hand. They stopped at the front door where Katie and Harry were waiting for them. "Let me know absolutely any further detail about the Parkinsons immediately, alright Potter?"

"You've got it, Zabini," Harry answered, shaking his hand. "Take care, Katie. I'll be in touch."

Katie nodded and gave Harry a quick hug before leaving. Draco and Harry looked at each other uncomfortably as they stood there alone.

"So…" said Harry.

"Alright, I'm set," Hermione said as she entered the foyer. "I just wanted to take one last look in on Aurey before I left. Also, I was wondering, can I borrow your broom, Harry?"

"You're going to fly?" Harry asked.

"It's a large property, is it not?"

"It is," Draco answered. "And you're going to need help."

"With what?" she asked.

"You're planning on placing the charm just inside the anti-Apparition boundary, aren't you?" At Hermione's nod, he continued, "Well, the Apparition ward isn't set directly around the building like this house or yours. The boundary there is a good quarter mile from their door. You'll need a spell to help you see a visual outline of the borders and you won't be able to cast it while setting your charm. I'll come with you. I can keep visual on the border and do the flying while you cast the charm."

"You mean, I fly with you? On the same broom?" Hermione asked nervously.

"It's a good idea, Hermione," Harry told her. "He knows the area and he's a good flier."

Draco, though getting used to Harry, was still surprised by those subtle compliments. "You'll feel much more comfortable playing passenger."

"I know. It's fine," Hermione assured them.

"I'll grab my broom." Harry was about to summon his when Draco interrupted him.

"I'll use my own," Draco raised his own wand and, with an advanced summoning spell, summoned his broom directly into his hand.

"He'll need to borrow your shield cloak though," Hermione said to Harry.

"No, I'll be fine," Draco assured them. "Those things are damn hot."

"No one ever goes on a mission without one," Harry said seriously. "And Fred and George are in the process of working on some made of silk rather than wool, for warm weather."

"Fine," he conceded.

Harry walked over to the closet at the end of the hall and Hermione turned to Draco. "I hope you don't take my apprehension personally. I don't really care for flying and I've actually never flown with anyone else before."

"We'll have you sit sidesaddle in front of me. You'll feel even safer than if you were flying on your own. And I know you're nervous. I won't go too fast," Draco reassured.

"Speed isn't the concern as much as height," Hermione grimaced.

"Then you'll feel even better. We'll be flying over the moor so I can stick close to the ground," he said, tucking a rogue curl behind her ear.

"Malfoy, I know you can fly, but still, be careful," Harry instructed. "And I want you both back here immediately when you're done with your task. No poking around. And if-"

"You have no idea how much you sound like Molly right now," Hermione chortled. "I know the rules, Harry. We'll be back in just a few minutes. Aurey should be fine, but don't forget about him."

"Never. Now go and hurry back," Harry ordered. Hermione smiled, pulled her hood over her wild hair, and followed Draco out.

 

Chapter Text

At the sound of a fireplace chime, Hermione looked up from her newspaper. "Good morning," she said with a smile as Draco stepped out of the green flames and into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

"Good morn-"

"Thank goodness. You almost missed me. What took you so long?" Harry interrupted.

"I only got your message an hour ago." Draco stared at Harry looking affronted. Harry didn't seem to notice as he stared at his reflection in a large shiny pot that hung over the kitchen counter. He dipped his comb into a glass of water and tried fruitlessly to tame his wirey hair. Giving up, he tossed the comb grumpily onto the kitchen table.

"Yes, but I thought you'd be ready," Harry told him irritably.

"Sorry, Potter, but I don't sit by my fireplace waiting for you to call," Draco scowled.

"Don't mind him, Draco. He's in a foul mood," Hermione told him.

"Very grumpy," Aurelian agreed. Draco looked around for the small boy and found him under the table with a plate of grapes. Draco looked at Hermione in question.

"He's pretending he's a troll in the dark forest," she explained in a whisper.

"I'm not grumpy," Harry argued. "I'm just in a rush and I've been waiting for you to show up."

"You didn't have to wait, Harry. I could have talked to him," Hermione said, repeating what she had told him several times in the last hour.

"Yes, but I wanted to ask him myself," Harry insisted.

"Ask me what?" Draco asked. "And what are you dressed up for anyway?"

"I have to be at Dennis Creevey's hearing today. Which means that I have to make this quick," Harry said, checking his watch again. "We were reading the paper this morning, muggle and wizard, and we found some things that interested us. Specifically, we saw that Bartolomeu Burke passed away."

"Yeah, I saw that, too," said Draco, eyeing Harry curiously.

"He's related to you, isn't he?" Harry asked.

"Was, yes," Draco answered. "How did you know that?"

"Hermione looked it up in one of the many genealogy books around here," Harry answered offhandedly. "I don't know about you, but we found it awfully suspicious that they kept his death as secret. The family says that he died of natural causes a week ago. He was never seen by a healer, nor examined by a mortician. It is, as you know, part of the law that bodies must be examined by a registered healer or mortician before being prepared for burial or cremation. The family privately buried him the morning after his death without reporting the death to anyone at all. A legal battle has now started over whether the body should be exhumed and examined or left to rest."

"Yeah, I saw that," said Draco. "So what is it you're getting at?"

"Well, we're wondering if there's more to it. Are they hiding something? We're looking for the possible use of a killing curse by Bellatrix to make a new horcrux. I want to know if this could be it. As you're family, I was wondering if you might be able to find out more about it. They'd only get defensive with me or any other official. But you… are you close enough to them to-"

"I see what you're getting at and yes, I think I can talk to them. He was the husband of my great aunt on my father's side. My mother had mentioned that we should send them something. I'll just pop in with a gift basket or flowers or something," Draco agreed. "You want me to take care of that today then, I'm assuming?"

"Yes, that and the guy from Potage's Cauldrons owled. He said that he found that information about when he sold that large cauldron and he thinks he remembers the guy a bit. He said that he's busy today, but he should have some time around noon if one of us could swing in. I'm desperately hoping that this court thing won't take that long, but I can't count on it. And, damn, I'm going to be late if I don't get moving," Harry groaned as he twisted the watch on his wrist.

"I've got it, Potter. Now stop whining and get out of here," Draco said.

"Thanks," Harry said quickly. "If not sooner, I'll see you guys tonight." Without a pause, Harry grabbed a pinch of floo powder and disappeared in the fireplace.

"You weren't kidding when you said he was in a foul mood," Draco commented.

"He gets like that every time he's required to attend court proceedings. This case is rather hard on him, too," Hermione explained.

"He didn't have to wait for me."

"I know, but he doesn't like to ask favors of people. He hates passing requests through others even more. On top of that, I think he was a little worried about how'd you take his desire to investigate your family. He didn't want you to take it the wrong way," she explained.

"I'm just as concerned as he is. Mother and I were discussing it this morning," he replied. "But what did he mean when he said he'd see us tonight. Does he have something else planned?"

"Well, sort of. Molly asked us to invite you to dinner at the Burrow tonight." Draco's eyes widened and Hermione had to suppress a giggle. "You're under no obligation to accept. Harry just assumed you would. Fred and George have been working almost nonstop on producing new shield cloaks, made of silk, for the entire family. They're making them for you, me, Harry, and Aurelian, as well. They've asked everyone to meet at the Burrow to be fitted for them. Molly invited everyone to dinner. If you'd rather not, I'm sure the twins wouldn't mind if you went to the shop to get fitted tomorrow or something."

"Erm… no, that's fine. I can attend dinner," Draco said uncomfortably.

"I'm sorry. I know it's awkward," Hermione said sympathetically. "It’s just one uncomfortable meeting after the next."

"Speaking of," Draco stopped speaking as his and Hermione's attention was stolen away by the movement of a red grape that rolled out from under the table. They heard Aurelian make a growling roar before his hand darted out and swiped the grape back into his lair.

"Remember that those grapes are for eating," she reminded him.

"Trolls no eat grapes. Eat rabbits. Num, num, num!" Aurelian growled again as he viciously consumed his runaway grape.

"My mistake, but make sure you don't make a mess of those rabbits, okay, Mr. Troll?" she smiled. "I'm sorry, you were saying?" she asked, returning her attention to Draco as he sat down in the kitchen chair across from her.

"You were talking about one uncomfortable meeting after the next and, well, I had something that I wanted to ask you," he said, looking uncertain about how to proceed. The way he approached the subject made Hermione decidedly anxious. "I told you before that I am obligated to attend formal banquets with my mother. It happens that I am required to attend one Wednesday evening and, as always, it is expected that I should bring a date. I was wondering if you would like to accompany me." Draco forced himself to remain calm, but as soon as he finished, he felt like kicking himself for his delivery. He had had no difficulty inviting women to join him in the past, but with Hermione it was different somehow. He actually desired her company and felt cruel inviting her to an event that he really didn't want to attend at all. In the end, he didn't make it seem like something she would want to say yes to.

"A banquet?" Hermione asked, nervous butterflies erupting in her belly. He was asking her on a formal date. Even those terms didn't seem to do the invitation justice. Draco Malfoy was an aristocratic socialite that dined with the richest, most famous, and powerful people in wizard society. Because of his wealth, his long, pure bloodline, and all of the personal connections he had made in the social arena throughout his life, he was quite a prominent person in the wizarding world. He was part of a strange upper society that she really didn't understand. She herself had been to a few formal banquets in the past couple years because of her involvement in the war. She, Ron, and Harry were actually guests of honor at a state dinner where they were presented with their Order of Merlin First Class awards. It felt so funny to her though. She was honored to be in the group, but just didn't feel like she fit in like some of the others there. Draco had been raised in the group.

The idea, though it made her a little anxious, was exciting. Draco was inviting her on a formal date. They would be revealed as a couple to the public. It felt like a declaration. Her feeling of girlish giddiness plummeted when she imagined the photos that would be taken of them and the possible stories in The Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly. Both she and Draco were too well known for it to be overlooked. And then there was Draco's mother, who would be in attendance as well. Hermione wasn't looking forward to another dinner with Narcissa Malfoy anytime soon.

"When your mother insisted you bring a date, I'm pretty sure that I'm not what she had in mind," Hermione stated hesitantly.

"I talked to my mother this morning. She was already under the assumption that I would be inviting you," Draco told her.

"And?" Hermione prodded.

"And she accepts that," he said. "She didn't like the way I pressed the issue further, but I did. She has assured me, in her own way, that she will be on her best behavior."

Hermione nodded slowly, lost in her own thoughts.

"It's an invitation, Hermione, not an obligation. If you prefer not to go-"

"What? No," she said, shaking away her private thoughts. "I'd love to join you. I'm honored that you'd invite me."

Draco eyed her skeptically. "Really, if you don't feel comfortable with it, that's alright. I'd understand."

"No, really. I'd love to spend the evening with you. I just get a little nervous about big social gatherings sometimes." At Draco's expression, she hurried to continue in her reassurances. "I really would love to join you. It sounds nice, actually. And besides, I can be a rather jealous person at times. I don't think I'd be able to survive the thought of you going with someone else if I were to decline." She wore a playfully smug little grin, but a small blush still rose to her cheeks.

"No… if that's the reason you want to accept then don't. I don't want you to feel pressured. I-"

"Draco, please," Hermione pleaded, "I accept, and not because of that. I was teasing when I said that. I mean, it's true that I would be jealous, but I really would like to go with. Honestly, truly, I would."

"You don't need to be jealous," Draco said seriously. "If you were to decline, I was just going to ask Pansy. I have no intention of pursuing other girls while I'm seeing you."

Hermione felt her heart swell with relief and gratitude, but she kept the mood light. "You act like that would keep me from feeling jealous."

"What?" Draco said in surprise. "You'd still be jealous if I took Pansy? Hermione, Pansy is just a friend. It'd be like taking an extra talkative, shoe-obsessed Blaise. I-"

"I understand that," Hermione interrupted. "But she's still a girl and, on top of that, you dated her in our sixth year."

"I hardly call that dating," he protested. "And-"

"And how would you feel if the roles were reversed and I took Ron or Harry?" Hermione challenged. Draco's expression changed instantly, a fire roaring to life in his eyes, and Hermione chuckled. "Exactly. I'm not saying my jealousy is rational, but you'd obviously feel the same way."

"I see your point, but I think that's something we're going to have to work on then. I don't want you to ever feel jealous or have doubts when you're not around," he solemnly replied. "I'll admit that I have my faults, but I am a faithful person. I swear to you that I won't even consider another woman while I'm with you."

The butterflies in Hermione's stomach began fluttering madly. "I'm a faithful person too, Draco. I don't want you to ever worry about that, especially with Harry or Ron. They're like my brothers."

Draco nodded. "Now that that's settled, jealousy aside, do you really want to go?"

A warm smile broke over Hermione's face and she reached across the table to take his hand. "Really, I would. I think it will be a great time. You have me curious now though. What-?" Hermione's speech was cut off by the chime over the fireplace. She and Draco looked up curiously. "Merlin, if Harry-" Hermione stopped again as Ginny stepped out of the fireplace garbed in her quidditch uniform.

"Ginny?" Draco said in surprise.

"Uh, hi," she said uncomfortably as she looked at Hermione and Draco's clasped hands atop the table. Noticing Ginny's object of focus, Hermione quickly withdrew her hand and looked away bashfully.

"Uh, hi. Erm, I'm sorry, but Harry's not here," she said.

"Oh, I know. I came to talk to you. I… Well, I feel bad having to tell you, but Mum's not going to be able to watch Aurey today."

"Oh," Hermione replied. It was a potential problem as she knew that she herself would not be able to watch him because of a prior commitment she made to her mother. Draco, too, was busy. She looked under the table and was startled to see nothing but an empty plate. "Aurey? Aurey, where are you?" It was her first reaction to panic and, though she knew he had not left the room, she immediately looked to the still closed kitchen door.

"What, Mummy?" Aurelian asked. His tiny head and shoulders appeared over the top of a large cauldron in the back corner of the room.

"What are you doing in there?" Hermione asked. Her panic washed away, she looked quite puzzled.

"Playin'" Aurelian answered. Hermione nodded slowly and Aurelian disappeared back into the cauldron.

"Er… Right. What was I saying?" Ginny asked. "Oh yeah, Mum went to check on Aunt Muriel and it seems that this time she's not faking. She's come down with Dragon Pox and Mum had to take her to St. Mungo's. She would take Aurey with her, but she wouldn't want him to be exposed to it," Ginny explained.

"Heavens, no. Is Aunt Muriel going to be okay though?" Hermione asked with concern.

"I'm sure she will be. It's quite treatable now. You never know though. Aunt Muriel's been convinced for the last seven or eight months that she's too old and this will be the year she dies. She's too ornery to conk out, if you ask me. Annoying people always stick around too long," Ginny rambled. Draco chuckled at this but quickly dropped his smile when he realized that she was actually serious. "Anyway, Mum's not going to be able to watch him and, unfortunately, neither am I. I have practice today. I was able to take him last time, but this practice is going to be pretty intense as it's one of the last before our game against Puddlemere United. I just won't be able to keep a good eye on him. You know I would if I could," she said ardently.

"I know you would, Ginny. It's okay. I understand," Hermione assured her. Although she did understand, she was starting to worry about what to do with Aurey for the day.

"I know you're in quite a spot today so I asked around for you, but I really can't find anyone. Dad, Bill, Fleur, Charlie, and Ron are all working. I tried Fred and George because normally they wouldn't mind having him at the store, but they're also working on those shield cloaks. I even tried Percy… I-I really don't know what to say," Ginny said miserably.

"No, it's okay," Hermione repeated, becoming increasingly worried.

"Is it? Do you have someone else in mind?" Ginny pressed.

"Well, no, not yet," Hermione answered quietly. "My dad is at work and I have to meet with my mum at the bank. I can't bring him with us to the meeting. This is just too important to her. She needs me. This business loan they're after could make or break their practice. She can't do it without me. I…" Hermione sighed as she considered who else might be able to watch her son. She'd never found herself in a position like it before.

"Well, what time is the meeting? Couldn't I watch him until you're done?" Draco offered.

"You have things to do also, remember?" Hermione told him. "That meeting with the man at Potage's is important and so is what we might possibly learn from the Burkes. It's okay though. I'm sure we can find someone."

"I'm really sorry, Hermione," Ginny said earnestly. "I really do have to get going though…"

"I know. Really, it's fine. We'll figure it out," Hermione reassured her.

"You know, it may not be your first choice, but I bet Luna would watch him. I think she's free today," Ginny recommended.

"Thanks. You better get going though," Hermione suggested. Ginny had been backing up toward the fireplace as she'd spoken. It was obvious that she needed to leave, but felt miserable leaving her friend in such a position.

"Alright, well, I'll see you tonight, right?"

Hermione nodded in response, afraid that if she kept answering, Ginny might find the need to keep responding also.

"See you later, Aurey," Ginny called.

"Bye!" Aurelian's head popped out of the cauldron and right back in.

Ginny gave a final wave and stepped into the fireplace.

"So what are you thinking?" Draco asked.

"I don't know," Hermione said, worrying her bottom lip. "I've never been in this position before. I can think of a few people, but I can't ask just anyone. They'll want to know who he is and I can't really explain that right now. I mean, Luna would be okay, but… I don't know…"

"Hermione," Draco said tentatively. "What about my mother?"

"What?" Hermione asked in shock.

"I know you don't have the best impression of her. And that is her fault," he added, "but she'd watch him. She doesn't work and she doesn't have any plans today." At Hermione's silence, he continued. "She would be good to him. She was telling me just this morning that she'd like to see him again."

"I-I don't know…" Hermione replied, nervously considering the option.

"She would be good to him, I promise. And she wouldn't dare speak badly of you or any of your friends in front of him," Draco assured her. "I know it might not be easy for you to believe, but she's always been a good mother to me and she'd really like to be a good grandmother, too."

"I-I don't doubt that, but I… I really don't know her. I'm afraid to trust her with…" Hermione's speech drifted off with her thoughts.

"I understand," Draco told her. "I won't be offended if you say no. You don't know her and it's hard to trust her with something as important as the care of your son, but if you're not sure if you can trust her, do you think you can just trust my judgment?"

Hermione stopped and looked up at him, her eyes meeting his. The boy who was once so closed off looked at her with mild candor and asked her to trust him. Her eyes held his as she nodded slowly. "Yes, I trust you. If you trust her then so do I."

Draco smiled warmly in response. Though he'd said he would not be offended if she decided against it, it still meant a lot to him that she could trust him in that way. "Alright, I'll go speak with my mother now then to make sure it's alright. Perhaps you can gather some toys for him?"

"Okay. Aurelian, come on out. We have to get you ready. You get to go see your grandmother again," Hermione said, trying to sound cheerful.

"Yay!" Aurelian cried, his voice echoing in the cauldron. His head popped up again and he quickly scurried from his hiding place.

 

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

Hermione kicked off her heels as she made her way into her living room. She then dropped her blazer and purse onto the coffee table and fell lazily onto her sofa. Her aching feet pointed and flexed, happy to be free of their uncomfortable confines. Closing her eyes, she smiled and sighed contentedly. The meeting had lasted longer than she had expected and she was pleased it was over. She was glad that she was able to be there for her mother, but it certainly wasn't an atmosphere she enjoyed. The execution wasn't that hard, as Hermione had run the numbers and planned every detail weeks in advance. That was the reason her parents had asked for her help in acquiring the business loan in the first place. She had a real talent with both numbers and presentation. No, the difficult part of it was the attitudes of all involved. The bank officials reviewing the loan held an air of aloof skepticism the entire time, asking many detailed questions that were of little or no consequence. Her mother, though usually quite composed, was a nervous wreck and couldn't seem to keep her voice steady. Luckily, Hermione was not intimidated and was able to make an almost flawless presentation. Her work had paid off and her parents' loan was approved.

Hermione's smile grew. The entire ordeal created a strange feeling inside. It had been stressful, but enjoyable at the same time. It was nice to have a stressful event that had a finite end; a tense situation that had nothing to do with new motherhood, relationships, or saving the world. For a few hours, she was a normal human being. She sighed again in a moment of pure content.

The moment passed quicker than she would have liked or expected. The image of a familiar lopsided smile surfaced in her mind and she felt a small tug at her heart. It answered the question she hadn't meant to ask. What could make this moment any better? That was her answer – Draco. He had been coming to her mind a lot the last few weeks. Every time she found a moment alone, his face was the first thing that came to mind. It started out as just thinking of him and who he was and what they were doing as a group, but it seemed that over the last week, she found herself wishing for his company. Though no one else knew of these feelings, Hermione was a little embarrassed by them. She felt rather childish, consumed by "puppy love" or something of the like. Certainly, she was falling for him, but that didn't mean she had to be desiring his company around the clock. A tiny voice inside wondered if he was possibly feeling the same about her, but she quashed it, insisting that she would not allow herself to be consumed by foolish, lovesick thoughts.

She was startled from her thoughts by a knock at the door. It was a moment before she sat up and made her way over to it as her mind was fishing around for possible visitors. When she opened the door, a great smile broke over her face.

"Draco." Her heart fluttered when she saw his face light up also. The feelings delayed her logic momentarily, but not for long. "Where's Aurey?"

"He's still with my mother. I made sure that she knew you were insistent about him taking a nap on time, so when I finished up and headed home to check on them, she shooed me away, saying I was not to interfere with the nap that I so fiercely ordered," Draco chuckled. "She asked if she could hold onto him until three o'clock. That way, they can have a little snack when he gets up. I told her that I thought it'd be okay. Is it? And, uh, since I didn't have anything else to do right now, I thought I'd see if you were here. I hope that's alright, too?" It had all sounded like a good plan when he was leaving the manor, but standing on Hermione's doorstep, he realized that he had presumed quite a bit.

"No, that's fine on both accounts. Please come in. I'm sorry for holding conversation with you out on the street." She blushed as he entered.

"So how did it go?" he asked.

"What? Oh, right. It went fine. My parents' got the loan," Hermione said proudly. "You though… How did it go with you?" Her smile faded and the concerned wrinkle in her brow returned. It was back to motherhood, relationships, and saving the world.

"Erm, well…" Draco stopped and tried to think of where best to start. His day had already been quite busy.

"I'm sorry. Forgive me again," Hermione apologized. She easily slipped her hand into his and guided him with her. "Let's sit."

Draco allowed her to lead him to the sofa and sat beside her. She moved to extract her hand from his, but he gave it a small squeeze and rested his hand, with hers, on his leg. "Well, I visited the Burke family and it's not what we were thinking. I could tell by the way talked that there was nothing they were hiding about his death. He simply died of old age. The reasons behind all the secrecy were just family disputes."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.

"Well, as you know, Bartolomeu Burke was my Great Uncle by marriage. His wife, Zilphia Burke née Malfoy is the sister of my father's father, Abraxas Malfoy. I guess my Great Aunt Zilphia has known for a few months now that her husband was dying. The reason she and their children buried him so quickly after is because of a dispute with the Burke family, specifically Bartolomeu's sister, Almeta. She wanted him buried in the Burke family cemetery, while Zilphia insisted that he be buried in the Malfoy family cemetery," Draco explained.

"Isn't it customary to for a man to be buried in his own family's cemetery? I mean, a woman could be buried with her husband's family or her birth family, but aren't men always buried with their families? In pureblood wizard traditions, at least."

"Yes, it's certainly customary, but things are rarely as simple as they should be. Great Uncle Bartolomeu was rather estranged from his family. He was not disowned, but rather close to. I'd rather not go into details right now," he added quickly, seeing Hermione's interest. "The drama and nonsense could take days to explain. In short, Zilphia wanted him buried with the Malfoys and had him buried there quickly and quietly so that Almeta wouldn't get in the way. Almeta can pitch a fit all she wants, but it's illegal to exhume a body without proper cause that is authorized by the court."

"Well, you're right. That certainly doesn't sound like someone's trying to cover a murder," Hermione agreed. "What a headache though. I feel rather sorry for Zilphia."

"Do you?" Draco asked curiously. "Why?"

"Well, that was her husband. Customary or not, it should be left up to the spouse to decide what is done to the remains. If Bartolomeu trusted her enough to marry her and share their lives together, then I'm sure he would want her to do what felt right to her when it came to his remains. I mean, when a man marries, he leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife. A tie to a spouse far outweighs the tie to one's family, with the exception of children, because the relationship is bound with promise and commitment. And I'm going on and on again, aren't I?" Hermione ended with embarrassment. "Please, don't let me rant like that. I tend to get up on my soap box without ever meaning to."

"No, you're very opinionated. I rather like it," Draco mused.

"You won't if we're ever of opposed beliefs," she told him with a grimace. "Anyway, what about the man at Potage's Cauldron Shop?"

"The cauldron was purchased a few days before Creevey visited the graveyard. The date isn't really all that important anymore though. We already have an approximate date on when she returned. He remembers what the customer looked like… It wasn't either of my uncles, but I know who it is," Draco said with a look of defeat. "He said the man had shaggy, frazzled hair that was on the border of dark blonde or a very light brown and he had a long scar over the right side of his face. It's Summers."

"Summers? But that means…"

"That means they're already recruiting," Draco finished when her voice faded away with her thoughts.

"It means that they were recruiting before Bellatrix was even back," Hermione corrected. "That's… That's…"

"That's enough," Draco told her. "Don't overthink it right now. Potter's going to want to hear it and it will send us into a long circular conversation then. Let's put it aside ‘til later. Can we do that?"

Hermione looked at him, her brows scrunched with worry and frustration. She closed her eyes and let it slip away the best she could. Draco was right. She had been so glad to get a break from it all for a few minutes. She'd wished for time with him and she had it. With a life a crazy as hers, she needed to compartmentalize. It was time to relax. She opened her eyes to the lopsided smile that she had been thinking about earlier and everything else melted away.

"So," she said, "Why don't you tell me about this banquet that you're so dreading? Is it another charity ball of some sort?"

"Well, first," he smiled, "I'm not dreading it nearly as much now that I get to spend the evening with you. And, no, it's not a charity ball. It's a banquet hosted by St. Mungo's in honor of my cousin."

"Your cousin?" Hermione asked in confusion. She had never heard of him mention a cousin before. The only cousin she had known about was Tonks.

"On my father's side," Draco offered.

"Your father's side? I didn't know. I had always assumed your father was… wait… I was just looking at your family tree this morning. Well, part of it, anyway. I remember now that there was another name. I didn't pay it much mind. I had just always assumed that your father was an only child. It didn't register to me that he had a-"

"Sister," Draco finished. "Yeah. My cousin is through her."

"It feels so strange that I never knew. Your family is so well known. I feel that I should have known you have a cousin.”

"Yeah, well, we're not very close; in age or relationship. My aunt is quite a bit older than my father. My cousin is only six years younger than my father, so she has always felt more like an aunt than a cousin," Draco explained. "Anyway, the banquet is to honor her for her latest developments in healing magic. She's been working for the past several years on therapy to help restore brain function to those who have suffered brain damage either from physical or natural causes. Only a month ago she submitted her completed research to the board; a combination of potions and charms that have proven quite successful. While it's still new and somewhat experimental, it has just been approved as possible treatment options."

Draco surveyed Hermione uncertainly. Throughout his explanation, her face had lit up in awe and her mouth hung open.

"Y-Your cousin is Angelica Preston?" she exclaimed in shock.

"Yes…" he affirmed, his eyes narrowed in puzzlement. "You know her?"

"Well, I know of her," Hermione said, as though everyone should. "I read about her work in Popular Potions magazine months ago. I was curious so I looked into her work. She is incredible. She's helped the magical medical field in so many ways. Do you know she was only twenty-two years old when she patented a new treatment for Dragon Pox? She's the reason that Dragon Pox is so rarely fatal anymore."

"You know, I should really stop being surprised by your studious habits by now, shouldn't I?" Draco asked with a smirk. "And yes, I knew that. Dragon Pox was the original reason she became a healer. Our grandfather, Abraxas Malfoy, died of Dragon Pox."

"Wow, I was honored to be attending the banquet with you before, but I'm even more honored now that I know what it's for. It's so exciting. I was just telling Neville about her work last month. With her treatment approved, he's already set up an appointment to have her see his parents to see is she can help recover their memories as well as general brain function. She's already looked at their files and believes that her treatment will be able to help, at least to some degree," Hermione rambled excitedly.

"You've certainly made this event something to look forward to now. I never knew you were so interested in the healing arts."

"I told you before that law enforcement wasn't something I was aspiring towards. During the war, I saw so much suffering and I felt so ill equipped to help. I was always fascinated by magical healing. I had seen enough of it in school with as many accidents as my friends and I had. It's something I'm still interested in; it's just not my occupation," she explained.

"If you didn't feel like law enforcement needed you, would you have become a healer?" Draco asked curiously.

"Well… yeah, probably. I mean, there were many things I