“Oh, this is simply TOO delicious!” Librette Malfoy swirled around the room in a giddy, graceful dance, an unrolled scroll of parchment in one hand. “Did you open yours yet, mon cher?”
Draco had just finished shrugging out of his evening cloak and had not yet tackled the pile of mail lying in “his” and “hers” silver trays on the Louis XV table beside the door. He and his wife had returned moments earlier from an evening at the theatre. Librette had pounced on her stack of mail as she did everything else, with the unrestrained enthusiasm of a small child.
“I’ve not had a chance,” he replied. “What is it?”
“An invitation, Draqueau!” she replied, coyly withholding more information.
Draco sighed to himself. Though he knew it was meant as an endearment, he disliked his wife’s Frenchified version of his name— a version that she had imaginatively created.
Librette was no more French than a French kiss. She was born Elizabeth Brettingly Nott, younger sister of his classmate Theodore Nott. She’d been a 4th year student during Draco’s final year at Hogwarts, but her parents, out of fear of the Dark Lord, had whisked her off to finish her education at Beauxbatons.
It was there that she became a devout Francophile, adopting all sorts of French mannerisms, including expressions both real and imaginary. Draco despised the nickname “Draqueau”. It rhymed with “Jocko” and made him feel a bit like a monkey.
“What type of invitation, Princess?” he asked, keeping a hint of weariness out of his voice and maintaining marital peace by feigning interest.
“You’ll never guess! Go on, try!” Librette was all excitement.
“A dinner party? A country house weekend? Someone’s birthday? There, that’s three guesses, and I give up.”
“You lose then, and though we didn’t wager, I’m claiming a new pair of shoes as my prize.” Librette, who owned dozens of pairs, never wavered in her quest for more. “It’s an invitation to a Hogwarts reunion, and the way it’s been planned is divinely clever! Go on, open yours!”
Draco untied the purple and gold ribbon that held his invitation and unrolled it in a crackle of stiff parchment.
The Hogwarts crest at the top of the page was followed by the title in bold, flowing script:
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Presents:
A Class Reunion Weekend
For All Witches and Wizards Who Attended Hogwarts
Between 1985 and 2005
Before Draco could read further, the door to the master bedchamber creaked open and his son Scorpius glided into the room.
“Mother, Father— good evening. I apologize for the interruption, but Sharlotte insists on wishing you a
bonne nuit.” Scorpius, twelve years old and ready to begin his second year at Hogwarts, had been placed in charge of his younger sister while their parents were out for the evening. Along with every one of the Malfoy house-elves.
Forget the old maxim about needing a village to raise a child, Draco thought. In the case of his daughter, an army would have be more appropriate.
Sharlotte followed her brother into the room, sliding in around the door frame, hands clasped behind her back. She was six years old, tall for her age, with the same white blonde hair as her father and older
brother, which, like Scorpius, she wore closely cropped. Her mysterious, dark eyes gave an exotic look to her pixie-like, pointed small face.
While Draco loved both his children, there was something about Sharlotte that alarmed him. His serious, brilliantly brainy son had been sorted into Ravenclaw, but Draco fully expected Sharlotte to be queen of Slytherin one day.
Her quiet, watchful nature seemed at times to border on the sly and calculating. Typical Slytherin traits, it was true, but in Sharlotte, Draco sensed the barest hint of a dark shadow. It was no more substantial than smoke dissipating across the face of the moon, but he found it disturbing all the same.
Though he shared this thought with no one, something about Sharlotte reminded him of his Aunt Bellatrix. He knew his mother sensed it, too, though they had never discussed it. Narcissa showed a marked preference for Scorpius, treating Sharlotte with cool distance. Lucius, however, was wrapped tightly around his granddaughter’s exceptionally long little finger.
Librette knelt, holding out her arms, and both children went to her for a good night hug. Draco, awaiting his turn, gazed at this sweetly domestic tableau with fondness. For all her silly French affectations, Librette really had made an excellent wife. Their home ran like a well-oiled machine. Librette threw parties and formal dinners with elegant style. An invitation to a Librette Malfoy soirée was a coveted prize among the upper crust of Wizarding society.
Draco had known her growing up, of course, when she’d been Lizbet Nott, Theo’s little sister. He hadn’t realized then that she’d turn into such a beauty. After Beauxbatons, Librette had become a model and was living with the guitarist of the wizarding band Evanesco when Draco had bumped into her during a Christmas shopping trip to Paris.
Their courtship had been brief, the wedding lavish, and their marriage successful. Both had been ready to settle down, and in the fourteen years that they’d been a couple, Draco hadn’t strayed once.
At night, when Librette wrapped her long legs around him, murmuring French words both real and faux, Draco would bury his face in her silky, ash blonde hair and almost imagine that he loved her. But then a voice in his head would remind him that romantic love was a myth, one that he didn’t buy into for even a second. There was attraction, to be sure, followed by honest lust, followed closely by loads of fucking if one were lucky—but love? Pure shite. No such thing. Never existed, never would. It was an illusion more far-fetched and damaging than any fairy tale…
Scorpius and Sharlotte moved from their mother’s arms to their father’s and Draco hugged them both tightly, smiling at Librette over the tops of his children’s blond heads. In spite of life’s little imperfections, Draco knew he was a very fortunate man. Wasn’t he?
When the boy and girl had gone, he turned his attention once again to the invitation and continued reading the body of the message.
Join your former classmates during the Third Weekend in August
for Three Days of Fun and Frolic!
Activities will include:
Dinner in the Great Hall on Friday night,
Saturday picnic lunch
followed by a Quidditch tournament for former players,
and our Pièce de Résistance:
A SATURDAY NIGHT COSTUME BALL
THAT YOU WILL ATTEND WITH A MYSTERY DATE!!
For one evening only, you will be paired with the person from your
years at Hogwarts whose Astrological Chart is most compatible
Who is the Witch or Wizard most suited to you?
Whom did you miss out on during your Hogwarts days?
Is your significant other really the One?
IN THE SPIRIT of FUN, COME and FIND OUT!
RSVP by AUGUST 1st.
“I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” Draco replied in a dubious tone.
“Ah, mon cher, of course it is!” Librette wound satiny arms around his neck and pressed against him. “You wouldn’t want me to be disappointed, would you?” she pouted. “And I’d be très triste if you didn’t want to show me off to all our old classmates! Besides, I will make it so worth your while if you promise me that we can go.”
She took his hand and pulled him toward their bed. Draco followed willingly, Librette was very good at making things worth his while. But this evening he was distracted by a feeling of foreboding. What if the Star Charts made some sort of dreadful mistake like pairing him with Potter? Or the very worst of all, with Hermione Granger?
Five thousand miles away, Hermione Granger straightened up and brushed sand from her hands. She stood in the middle of a high, barren plateau crisscrossed by strange markings. From her point of view, the marks resembled simple, deep scorings in the earth. But from the helicopter she’d exited four hours ago, the markings took on the shapes of fantastic beasts, amazing in their gigantic proportions and visible only from high above.
These were the Nazca Lines of Peru, and Hermione was investigating them for magical elements. After two weeks of exploration, measuring, calculation, and divining for magic, she’d come to the conclusion that there was nothing supernatural here. Whatever ancient peoples had created these marvels, they’d done it without the help of long-ago wizardry.
The Nazca Lines had not earned a place in Convergence, the definitive tome Hermione was writing on all the places of the earth where the magical world and the natural intersected.
She’d already spent years exploring Stonehenge, the Pyramids and Sphinx, digging in the Middle East and South America for buried ruins, and traveling the world in quest for the lost city of Atlantis. Her book was far from finished. But just lately, Hermione had found herself growing restless.
She sank down on a folding camp stool, opened a canteen of water, and pulled out of the back pocket of her khaki shorts the message that had been delivered to her base camp this morning. It was an invitation to a Hogwarts class reunion.
Hermione stared out across the wide plain, lost in thought after reading through it again.
While she couldn’t wait to visit Hogwarts and thought with longing of seeing old friends and acquaintances, it was possible that her appearance would stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy. Surely after all these years, talk had died down and she was no longer the topic of interested speculation she’d once been.
Surely, after eighteen years, people would have forgotten about those months she and Harry, two 7th years, had spent living together in a tent in various woods. Then there was that little matter of Snape’s will. And the fact that six months into her relationship with Ron Weasley, she’d run off to Romania with his brother Charlie.
She and Charlie had lived happily together for five years while she researched sites in Europe for Convergence. She’d left him with regret, but only a little. Since then, there’d been a string of men in and out of her life, some of them married, some of them not, but no one with whom she cared to settle down and live out her days. No one with whom she could call herself “in love.”
Bah! “In love”—what did that mean, anyway? Love was nothing but a bad joke played by one’s hormones, most like. There was only one boy she’d ever imagined herself in love with. She’d given him the entirety of her young girl’s heart and seen that love crumble to dust like one of the ancient artifacts she handled during her explorations. No, love was for fools and dreamers.
Hermione stood up and stretched like a lean, elegant temple cat. The premise for the reunion was intriguing— pairing up people according to their Star Charts, if only for one evening. A sure recipe for trouble, that.
Maybe she’d get a nice, safe married man to devil. Hermione grinned wickedly, folded her camp stool, and headed back to the helicopter where her pilot waited for liftoff.
Across the ocean, it was night. Draco lay wakeful beside his beautiful, sleeping wife, his body satisfied, his mind and heart not satisfied at all. The class reunion invitation had shaken him more than he’d cared to admit.
Draco had not set foot in Hogwarts in all the years since his graduation. He preferred never to remember his time there. Now, eighteen years later, the simple invitation had opened a floodgate, leaving him unable to stop a torrent of worries from pouring out.
Draco had known that someday he would visit Hogwarts again. But he’d imagined that entering the grounds as the proud parent of a successful student would take away the sting of past mistakes. Instead, going back for a class reunion would open old wounds. He’d be meeting former classmates as an equal, as someone there to share memories, and he was not at all sure he was up to the task.
Cursing himself for a fool, Draco kicked back the bedclothes, rose, and stomped out into the hallway in his pajama bottoms, heading for his study in the hopes that a nightcap combined with a bit of reading would put him in the mood for sleep.
At the head of the stairs, he paused. Below him, light spilled from the library door onto the darkened lower level of the Manor and the night hush was broken by the dulcet sparkle of a child’s laughter.
Draco descended the staircase and entered the study to find his daughter seated on the floor, surrounded by a child-sized fortress of books. Sharlotte had meticulously stacked volume upon volume in meter-high piles around her, leaving only a small, narrow gap for exit.
Open in her lap was her favorite, a picture book that had been Narcissa’s as a child— a book that Draco had never cared for. There was something just a bit malevolent about the woodland sprites and pixies of Faerie Rustica that had made him uneasy as a small boy. After looking at it a few times, Draco had always felt a compulsion to keep the cover closed tightly to prevent the slyly grinning faeries from escaping from their world into his.
He shivered now at the sight of Faerie Rustica in his daughter’s hands.
“What’s the matter, ma petite? Could you not sleep?” he asked her in a gentle tone. “And who were you talking to?”
“There’s no one here but me and Leviathan,” Sharlotte replied, never looking up from turning the pagesof her book. In the crook of one arm, she cradled her most prized possession, a silver sea dragon from thehead of one of her Grandfather Lucius’ walking canes. She preferred it to any toy, and though her parentsfound it impossible to understand how she could enjoy sleeping with a piece of metal cuddled in her arms, Sharlotte refused to be parted from it.
Draco knelt beside the book fortress and peered in at her. “I love what you’ve built, and I promise you it willstill be here in the morning. But it’s time you and Leviathan were in bed.”
“May I bring Faerie Rustica?”
“Yes, but only if you promise to put it back on the shelf in the morning. It was Grandmother Narcissa’s book and it’s very old.”
“I think Faerie Rustica is probably five hundred years old. Is Grandmother Narcissa?”
“Not quite.” Draco hid a grin, imagining what Narcissa would say to that question.
He scooped up his daughter and carried her up the stairs and down the long hallway to her bedroom.Sharlotte was already drowsing, head on his shoulder, arms around his neck, long legs dangling,Leviathan grasped in one long-fingered fist.
As Draco reached the door to Sharlotte’s room, he felt a chill across the back of his neck, as insubstantial as the gossamer brush of a cobweb. He turned to peer down the moon-shadowed hallway, suddenly ill at ease in his own home.
The brief excursion to the library had done nothing to quiet his dissatisfied heart and mind. He tucked his daughter into her bed, and then crossed to his son’s room to stand in the doorway gazing down at the boy who looked so like he had as a young man.
What will Scorpius’ school years be like? he wondered. Bloody hell. I want them to be ten thousand times better than mine were. I want him to be happy.
Draco stood very still, recalling that once, long ago, he had believed in love. As a boy just beginning his time at Hogwarts, he’d spent long, secret hours drawing and sketching a certain pretty face and writing love poems to that face’s owner. After all, that was what Lucius had done for Narcissa. In those days, Draco had wanted to emulate his father as much as possible.
He’d been a child himself then, in love with a girl he could never have. A girl his family would never have accepted. In order to please his father, he’d turned his back on the romantic leanings of his heart, and treated the girl with hateful disdain instead. She’d grown to despise him and he, in turn, had abandoned all confidence in the existence of real love.
Turning from his son’s room, he headed in the direction of his study. A drink to relax was no longer an option. Draco Malfoy planned to get knee-walking, fire-pissing drunk.
Hours later, when he finally slept, his dreams were filled with stars in perfect alignment suddenly going dark and spiraling out of control.
In the morning two surprised house elves found him sprawled face down on the rug in front of the study’s fireplace. The empty whiskey decanter came as quite a shock to them for Master Draco was usually
circumspect in his consumption of alcohol.
Beside him lay an invitation to a Hogwarts class reunion, a broken pencil, and a half-finished sketch of a pretty young woman neither of the elves recognized. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows. It was possible that the mistress would not approve of this drawing at all.
Trusting the liquor to dim the master’s memory of the previous evening, they tossed the drawing into the fire.
Many, many thanks to eilonwy, who beta'ed this work all those years ago and who has been a wonderful friend and confidant ever since!
Chapter 2: Worlds in Motion
Worlds in Motion
Morning — Malfoy Manor
Draco woke up on the library floor with a hellish headache and a sour taste in his mouth.
One hangover potion, one steaming shower, and one thousand thoughts later, he had determined that he wasn’t attending any bloody class reunion.
He would put his foot down, plain and simple. Librette would just have to live with what he'd decided. She could choose not to attend, or to attend without him, but he would not be going. And the sooner he let her know, the better. Confident of victory, Draco set off to find her.
His wife was where he expected her to be, drinking coffee in her pink and green morning room, her heavy, ash blonde hair tied back with a ribbon that matched the satiny pyjamas she wore.
“Good morning, darling.” Draco greeted her with a kiss to one cheek, wincing as he noticed the reunion invitation open on the table beside her cup and saucer.
“Ah, cheri! Good morning! I was just planning a shopping trip to choose our costumes for the ball we’ll be attending at the reunion.” Librette was all enthusiasm.
Draco pulled out the chair opposite his wife and sat down. It was best to get this over without delay. “Librette, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve decided I’m not going to the reunion.”
“Not going? What do you mean?” She paused with the cup halfway to her lips, surprise evident on her face.
“Exactly what it sounds like I mean. I don’t plan to attend. I’ve no interest in spending a weekend with old school mates twenty years on. I’m not comfortable with the idea.”
Her startled look was replaced with one of swift anger. Draco could see thunderheads building in her sky-blue eyes, reminding him of one of those sudden summer storms that had sometimes caught him outside as a child. They’d passed through with noisy ferocity, leaving him dodging lightning, drenched and unhappy.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Draqueau!” Librette cut across his argument. “Why would you be uncomfortable? You are wealthy, successful, handsome, and you have a beautiful wife to show off!”
Draco’s sigh was heavy. “Nevertheless, I’m not going,” he replied. There was no reason to discuss the finer points of his decision; these would not be welcomed or even understood. Emotional depth had never been one of Librette’s strong suits.
The row that followed rivaled the world’s greatest battles in ferocity and intensity. With the determination of a great general, Librette rolled out her twin weapons of No Sex and No Peace and marched, flattening every argument Draco placed in her path.
In the end, he capitulated. Librette— mollified but still in a state of pique— left to spend the weekend shopping in Paris with the promise to return Monday evening, at which time they would discuss their costumes for the reunion ball.
Once Librette had gone, the Manor seemed almost eerily quiet. Draco, requesting that breakfast be brought to his study, retreated there to plan his day and to ponder two astonishing thoughts that had ricocheted though his mind like stray curses at the height of the battle.
In the raging peace that followed Librette’s departure, Draco had time to consider the fact that he just might have caused that fight deliberately.
After fourteen years, the pattern of his married life was very clear to him. Any major disagreement between himself and Librette always resulted in her disappearing for several days, either to lounge on a Mediterranean beach somewhere, or to shop to the point of satiation, leaving Draco to his own devices. The pleasure of that time alone had become almost worth the unpleasantness and expense of her temper fits and voyages to the Continent.
The second thought was one he wasn’t sure he dared to contemplate. Draco took his time buttering toast, spreading on orange marmalade, and taking a large bite before gazing out the study window and letting the thought emerge fully into his mind.
During his and Librette’s argument, he had begun to realize that he did want to go to the reunion after all. There were certain people that, upon further consideration, he wanted to see again— and one particular witch that he wanted to see very much.
The previous autumn, nineteen years after the War ended, that witch had appeared unexpectedly among the crowd on Platform 9 and ¾, standing with the other two-thirds of the Golden Trio, helping them to send their children off to Hogwarts.
For a brief moment their eyes had locked, and all that had never passed between the two of them hung suspended in the air above the platform, in the space between his life and hers.
She'd made a sudden motion, as if to start toward him, as if to speak. Then her eyes had flitted to his family. The spell broken, both of them had turned away. And bloody hell, but he'd been thinking about her off and on ever since...
He was curious about her, that was all, curious to know if life and time had treated her kindly. Nothing wrong with going to the reunion out of curiosity. Not a damn thing.
There was that old saying, of course, about curiosity killing cats. But as he’d never heard of it causing harm to dragons, snakes, or ferrets, he should be fine. Draco smirked at that last thought and found he was beginning to look forward to the third weekend in August.
In the meantime, he had his home and his children all to himself for a few days. He promptly sent an Owl to Lucius and Narcissa at their townhouse in London asking if they’d like to come for dinner and an overnight while Librette was away.
Life seemed good.
Evening— Luxor, Egypt
The setting sun torched the Nile River into a ribbon of flame as Hermione arrived home, weary from her travels.
For several years now, home meant a spacious, airy apartment in the West Bank sector with views across rich farmlands to the mystical desert mountains on the horizon.
This fairy-tale setting was partly a practicality for Hermione. It gave her easy access to the rich archeological treasures of the surrounding area— the Valleys of the Kings, Queens, and Nobles, the magnificent temples of Karnak and Hatshepsut, the ruins of the ancient city of Thebes.
The location was perfect not only for her research for Convergence, but also for her work as an archeological consultant, a salaried position she maintained with the various Muggle outfits that excavated in and around Luxor.
Hermione’s apartment had been chosen and decorated with care. The rooms flowed into one another through wide, arched doorways, while matching arched windows gave the place a light, open feel. She'd overlaid the floors of grey-veined marble with Persian rugs in rich shades of red, gold, and blue. A navy leather sofa anchored the sitting room as the only heavy piece of furniture. The remaining pieces followed the clean, graceful lines of Egyptian design, a look thousands of years old yet oddly timeless.
Hermione threw her bag onto the sofa, propped her feet on the ebony coffee table, and blew out a long breath. So good to be home. She would stroll out to one of the nearby cafes for dinner after the sun had set, but first, there was a small matter of business to attend.
Swinging her feet to the floor, Hermione picked up a brass lamp from the table. The lamp was beautiful, with raised flower-and-leaf patterned etchings and a graceful, snake-shaped handle. Its plain brass base was encircled in hieroglyphs— a quote that Hermione knew by heart. To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again.
“Snape,” she intoned softly. The lamp glowed, vibrated, and released a plume of curling smoke which quickly resolved itself into the shape of the former Potions professor and late Headmaster of Hogwarts. The lamp was a Horcrux, created by Snape during the dark, early days of Voldemort’s ascendancy.
Dressed in the black, priest-like garb he’d favored in life, hands clasped behind his back, Snape looked for all the world as though he were about to deliver a lecture on the properties of clabberwort to a class of bored fifth years. But Hermione knew she was in for a lecture on a very different topic.
“Time is running out, Miss Granger,” he told her in his most menacing classroom voice. “Have you at last done what I asked you years ago to do?”
“Severus, I…,” she began.
“You persist in calling me by my given name, even though I have never granted you permission to do so?”
“Well, it’s not as though we’re strangers, Professor. We’ve been more or less living together for twenty years. And after all, I’m nearly as old as you are, now.”
“Changing the subject, are we? And practicing avoidance as well. Hmmm…in this one thing, your much-vaunted Gryffindor courage has failed you. I left you half of my considerable fortune, with only one stipulation— that you befriend my godson at some point. Twenty years on, you’ve still not done so.”
Hermione had been as surprised as the rest of the wizarding world to learn, upon Snape’s death, that he had been a wealthy man.
Snape’s grandfather Prince had disowned his daughter Eileen for marrying a Muggle, leaving her to raise her only child in penury. But the old man had had a death-bed change of heart. He’d left Snape, the last surviving wizard of the Prince family line, with a fine fortune.
In a miserly fashion worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge, Snape had invested and hoarded, spending little on his own creature comforts.
Three weeks after the War’s end, Hermione and Harry were summoned to the offices of wizarding solicitors Mssrs. Braithwaite and Rath, for the reading of Severus Snape’s will. Snape’s considerable assets were to be divided evenly between Mr. Harry Potter, only son of Lily Evans, and Miss Hermione Granger.
The terms of the will were generous. Hermione was to use her share to finance a project she’d once described in an essay— pursuing her dream career of archeologist and author.
The only stipulation was that she befriend Snape’s godson, Draco Malfoy. And she had until twenty years after Snape’s death to do it. Hermione was stunned and puzzled by her good fortune.
So was the wizarding world in general.
What followed was a mad, overwhelming time in her life: The cruel, speculative gossip over why Snape had left her so much money. The lingering effects of a traumatic war. The fact that she’d jumped too soon into a relationship with Ron.
When Charlie Weasley suggested she relocate to Romania to begin writing Convergence, Hermione left with little more than a Goodbye and Sorry.
And oddly enough, never looked back.
Shifting her focus to the here and now, Hermione found Snape staring at her down the length of his pointed nose, his black eyes mesmerizing her with dark-star intensity.
“Lost in thought, Miss Granger? Or merely overcome with typical Gryffindor guilt at having failed in the one task I gave you?” His tone was scathing.
Hermione reached into her bag, removed the class reunion invitation, and threw it onto the table in plain view of her former teacher.
“As a matter of fact, Professor, I’ll soon have a perfect opportunity to interact with your godson. I’ve no doubt he’ll attend this reunion. It’s not likely Malfoy would miss a chance to flaunt his wealth, success, and model wife.”
Hands still clasped behind his back, Snape perused the invitation with interest, then nodded his approval.
“As you say, a perfect opportunity. Be sure you take advantage of it, or your inheritance will be forfeit. My generosity has allowed you the freedom to research Convergence in comfort and style. It would be a pity to find yourself forced to repay it all to the Prince family trust.”
“After all this time, I still don’t understand why you feel it’s so necessary that I befriend Malfoy.”
Snape gave a put-upon sigh. “I’ve spoken to you before, Miss Granger, of the prophecy I received from that dotty old bat Trelawny a few months after Dumbledore’s death. I will never forget the night she stumbled into me in the hall, trembling from head to toe, her voice deep and filled with portent. The words she spoke chilled me to the bone. I am convinced she spoke the truth: “The Malfoy/Black line breeds darkness for our world, a threat in the blood, beyond the end of war …”
“You’d already created this Horcrux.” Hermione interrupted his recitation.
“Of course,” Snape shrugged. “It was de rigueur at that time among the Dark Lord’s followers. I knew that in the event of my death, I would be able to maintain a limited contact through my single Horcrux. But I needed a corporeal someone to be my eyes and ears, hands and feet, in monitoring the danger to my godson and his future family. You, Miss Granger, with your impressive intelligence, were the one I needed. But you have failed miserably in doing as I asked.”
“It’s true that I haven’t contacted Malfoy myself, yes. But I’ve kept tabs on him through Zabini and Goyle for years now. He seems to have the perfect life, with no problems or threat of any kind!”
“Nevertheless, it’s high time you spoke with him in person. I’m expecting you to fulfill the conditions of my will during this class reunion, or suffer the financial consequences.”
“Severus…why, after all this time, have you not crossed over? Your regret about Dumbledore’s death left you free to go…”
The uncharacteristic ghost of a smile touched Snape’s mouth, a ghost seldom seen during his tenure as professor. “Ah, Miss Granger—I have crossed over. What you see of me now is merely a shade, a way of maintaining contact to help ensure the safety of my godson. Having no child of my own, Draco was always very special to me.”
His look turned severe again. “I’m counting on you, Miss Granger. If nothing else, I would not think you want failure on your overdeveloped Gryffindor conscience. Goodnight!”
The quick grey whirlwind of smoke left behind by Snape’s sudden departure disappeared into the spout of the lamp, leaving the room quiet and still.
Hermione sighed, rose from the sofa, and stumbled off in search of dinner as the moon climbed in an arcing path over the city of Luxor.
Shadows reached across the lawn, darkening the green summer landscape little by little with the charcoal fingers of approaching nightfall. Draco sat beside Narcissa at a patio table covered in the remains of a sumptuous picnic supper, both of them sipping Napoleon brandy. Scorpius had been invited on a last-minute camping trip by his friend Gunter Goyle, leaving Draco alone with his parents and daughter.
In the middle distance across the garden, Lucius strolled hand in hand with Sharlotte. They were on a search for the fireflies that she insisted were faeries in disguise, awaiting the coming darkness before morphing into their true faerie selves.
“Don’t you know anything Grandfather?” she asked in exasperation, after explaining to Lucius the cleverness of the whimsical creatures' disguises. “The fairies don’t want us to know they are here! But they get tired of waiting for night to come so they can start their dance. At twilight, they turn into fireflies for as long as they think we’re watching. Then they can dance all they want!”
Lucius gave her an indulgent smile. “Your imagination knows no bounds, ma petite. Did you dream this up all by yourself?”
“Of course not,” Sharlotte replied serenely. “The faerie queen told me.”
“What faerie queen, princess?” Lucius, enchanted by his granddaughter’s creative turn of mind, decided to play along.
“The one I go to visit sometimes—the one with black wings.” Sharlotte’s matter-of-fact statement rang with such childlike truth and honesty that it gave Lucius pause.
He couldn’t say why, but the thought of Sharlotte visiting a faerie queen with black wings, even if imaginary, sent a tiny shiver down his spine. He decided to probe further.
“Just where does this faerie queen of yours live? I rather fancy a visit with her myself.”
“She lives in the woods where it’s always autumn. But you can’t visit her, Grandfather. Only girls are allowed there. Scorpius and Daddy can’t go either. But I can,” Sharlotte said proudly.
Lucius’ alarm was growing with the direction the conversation was taking. He waved his hand toward the forested parkland surrounding the Manor. “Sharlotte, you must promise me you’ll never go into the wood alone!” he exclaimed.
“No, Grandfather— the faerie queen doesn't live in our wood,” Sharlotte rolled her eyes at Lucius’ ignorance. “Besides, I’d never go in there —I’m smarter than that! Scorpius says the Big Bad Wolf lives in Malfoy Wood!”
A vast sense of relief washed over Lucius. If the wood around the Manor was not the one to which Sharlotte was referring, then her visits with the black-winged faerie queen must happen in a strictly imaginary location.
He decided to give it one last try. “Then how does one get to the autumn wood, darling girl?”
But Sharlotte had grown suddenly reticent. She gazed up at Lucius, catching and holding his attention as she so often did, with her beautifully expressive, oddly coloured eyes. Sharlotte’s dark irises, outlined by a ring of deepest grey, shifted back and forth from brown to charcoal with the changing patterns of daily light.
“Autumn Wood is just a game, Grandfather.” Her eyes slid away from his and she tugged at his hand. “Let’s go back to Daddy and Grandmother Narcissa now. I’m thirsty for more lemonade.”
A sly, secretive look had flitted across Sharlotte’s elfin face as she spoke, sending a second frisson of alarm to temper Lucius’ normal grandfatherly pride. Sometimes Sharlotte exhibited a bit too much Slytherin cunning for one so young.
Draco has his hands full with this one, Lucius thought. And that brainlessly oblivious wife of his is no help. Draco claims Librette is a good mother, but if that’s true, then why is she not here with her family again this weekend? She leaves the three of them on their own far too often…
Lost in concern, Lucius allowed Sharlotte to pull him back across the garden through the lengthening graphite shadows, a newly risen moon glowing with the sheen of fresh cream against the darkening sky.
As Draco and Narcissa watched them come, a powerful feeling of foreboding hit Draco with the force of a blow. The unexpected suddenness of it prodded him to blurt the thought that had hovered darkly in his mind for an age now.
“Mother, Sharlotte sometimes reminds me of Aunt Bellatrix.”
So, it is out in the open at last. A reluctant Narcissa turned from watching the pair in the distance and focused fully upon her son.
“Why do you say that, Draco?” she asked calmly. Ever the dissembling Slytherin, she saw no point in voicing her own deep-seated concerns on this score until the reasons for Draco’s were made plain.
“I don’t know! It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. Mostly, Sharlotte’s all sweetness and light, but there are those times when she seems…drawn to darker things.”
“Last week, I found her out here on the terrace. She’d caught a butterfly. She was studying it with such…concentrated intensity. It seemed so far beyond the norm for a six- year-old…”
“Bright and clever six-year-olds can be surprisingly focused,” Narcissa interrupted with a gentle smile. “I raised one, you know. And I was one myself once.”
I suspect neither of us was ever as coldly analytical as my daughter, Draco thought.
“Mother, without taking her eyes off the butterfly, Sharlotte asked me what would happen to it if she were to pull its wings off,” he said aloud.
Narcissa felt a drop in the pit of her stomach, like the steep, sudden swoop of a broomstick dive.
Now, that did remind her of Bellatrix. No butterfly, moth, grasshopper, spider, or goldfish was safe if caught by the dark-haired, dark-souled child that had been her sister. With an involuntary shudder, she remembered her kitten Ipswitch, who, in spite of Narcissa’s best efforts at protection, had not survived to adult cathood.
“What happened to the butterfly, Draco?” she asked in a strangled voice.
“I told Sharlotte that to remove the wings would kill the creature. She laughed and let it go.” Draco’s voice was grim, remembering how disturbed he had felt at Sharlotte’s high, sparkling, and inappropriate laughter. "When I asked why she was laughing, she answered, ‘Because I get to choose.’"
They said no more. Sharlotte and Lucius arrived on the terrace— Sharlotte announcing that Lucius’ hadn’t caught a single firefly, Lucius defending himself with the excuse that faeries must have put a spell on his eyeglasses.
Night— Paris, France
Librette Malfoy tightened the belt of her Armani trench coat as she stepped up to the door of a tall, elegant brick townhouse on the Île de la Cité. Streetlamps wore angelic halos against the dark that had just fallen. A misty rain had come up at dusk and the pavement sparkled wetly.
She did not bother to knock; there was no need. This townhouse was as familiar to her as Malfoy Manor. It was the home of Ian Harkrider, lead guitarist for the band Evanesco, her former and current lover.
Ian was just descending the staircase as she entered the foyer. He bounded down to meet her, his mobile, expressive features brightening with a look of joy. Pulling her into his arms and wrapping his whipcord slim body around hers, he murmured against her mouth of the untold pleasures he had planned for her this night.
Librette sighed, her body responding, the rest of her life forgotten in the heat of his kiss. Ian kicked the front door closed with one foot, shutting out the darkness.
Midnight— Malfoy Manor
Sharlotte looked over at the delicate, hand-painted clock on her bedside table. She wasn’t good at telling time yet, but she knew that when the clock’s two hands came together and pointed straight up at the winking moon just above the number twelve, the faeries in Faerie Rustica would come to life.
Climbing quietly out of bed, she placed Faerie Rustica on the floor and opened the book to the first page— the one with the path leading into the Autumn Wood. The picture glowed with the deep, beautiful shades of turning leaves, rich hues of russet, berry, gold, and amethyst.
Sharlotte knew that down that path, the sprites and pixies would be waiting to take her hand, to dance with her and to lead her to the faerie queen.
Far in the distant recesses of the Manor, she heard the Grand Wizard clock begin to chime the midnight hour. She counted the deep bass notes to herself, one by one, then carefully laid Leviathan, her silver sea dragon and favorite possession, to one side. Leviathan was not welcome in the Autumn Wood.
“Don’t worry; I’ll be back soon,” she whispered to him.
At the stroke of twelve, Sharlotte leaned forward and placed one long-fingered hand flat on the open page of Faerie Rustica, her charcoal eyes glowing like antique silver.
A bright flash of light shot upward and then disappeared, leaving the book open on the bedroom floor and Sharlotte Malfoy nowhere in sight. It would have taken a seasoned witch or wizard to detect the faint residue of dark magic that lingered around the spot where Faerie Rustica lay.
Draco stood at the entrance to the Great Hall of Hogwarts. Its bewitched ceiling reflected a beautiful evening sky, clouds drifting above the heads of the diners across a deep blue, star-spangled expanse. It was the third Friday night of August. The class reunion was about to get under way with a celebratory welcome meal.
At Draco’s side, Librette clung to his arm, eyes scanning the crowded tables for Gregory and Alannis Goyle, the couple they were to join at dinner. Draco perused the crowd himself, looking for no one in particular.
And then he saw her— the person for whom he wasn’t looking. Hermione Granger, sitting alone at a table halfway across the Hall, surveying her surroundings with cool, poised elegance.
Granger turned her head. Their eyes met, and locked. Slowly, she began to rise from her seat. Draco hungrily took in the way her wine-red dress clung to her every curve, its low, draped neckline accentuating the creamy skin above the mounds of her breasts.
Her lips parted as though to speak. Then Draco was striding toward her with no memory of shaking off Librette’s grasp.
In moments, he was at Hermione’s side, one arm reaching out to encircle her waist, the fingers of his other hand sliding into her thick tangle of curls, winding into a tight fist around a handful of them, and pulling her face toward his.
Their mouths met in a rush of heated breath and twining tongues. They were falling, falling— she landing on her back on the white linen tablecloth, he coming down hard on top of her. China, silverware, and goblets went flying to the floor with sharp crashes and musical tinkles; wine spilled across the snowy cloth in a blood-red rush.
Draco was vaguely aware of the other diners’ stares and exclamations of outrage, of a shocked Librette frozen at the entrance to the Great Hall, mouth open in a silent scream. But he continued on, devouring Granger with the hunger of long starvation, while she responded with a voraciousness to match. Then his hand was sliding up her smooth, bare thigh, reaching the damp crotch of her knickers...
Draco sat straight up in bed, sweat-soaked, sleep-fogged, disoriented, his heart racing as though he had just out-flown Potter in quest of the Golden Snitch.
Outside, a midnight storm raged around the Manor. There was no Granger, and Librette was far away, in Paris.
Bloody…fucking…hell… He was alone with perhaps the most insistent erection of his life,
and he was sure he had never had a more erotic dream. H eand Granger had been about to fuck on a table in the middle of the class reunion dinner with crowds of people watching, and she’d wanted it as much as he had….
With a gasp, Draco fell back against the pillows to continue the fantasy, though Granger’s lovely body had dissolved into only-a-dream, and the sole warm and willing thing in his bed was his own rosy palm.
Hermione sat in the Flower of the Nile restaurant, sipping her third zibib of the evening. She had meant to return to her apartment following dinner, but had found herself too keyed up from her long voyage to even think of sleep. And in an empty bed, at that.
Late in the evening, the Flower of the Nile became a club where tourists and the expatriate community of Luxor gathered to spend the wee hours drinking, dancing, and enjoying each other’s company.
Now, just after midnight, music played with a sensual, insistent beat. Throughout the room, low red lights throbbed like a heat in the blood. Cigarette smoke curled lazily into the air, creating a hazy illusion of limbs entwining in the languorous dance of foreplay. Hermione felt light-headed, dizzy, wanting.
A sudden movement at the doorway caught her attention. Someone was parting the curtain of glistening beads that draped the entrance and sliding into the pulsing redness of
Her head turned, and she found herself staring straight into Draco Malfoy’s eyes.
Her first, illogical thought was that she would not have to wait until the class reunion to speak with him, after all. Snape would be pleased.
Malfoy moved toward her table with a fluid, snake-like grace, the smoky red haze opening before him as he walked. His eyes bored into hers with the intensity of glowing metal. They would fuck before the night was out. She was sure of it.
Then someone exiting the club bumped her chair, jolting Hermione back to reality,
She’d been caught in a waking dream, a victim of her own overactive, alcohol-soaked imagination. Hermione sighed, deeply regretting that third zbib with dinner.
Signaling a waiter, she paid the bill then walked slowly back to her lovely-but-silent apartment. No throbbing music. No phantom Malfoy. And no chance in hell of getting to sleep.
She was alone, her helicopter pilot, Hector, with whom she had spent several entertaining nights while in Peru, five thousand miles away.
Might as well try to accomplish something useful, if sleep is going to be elusive for the next few hours.
After pouring herself a glass of cold water, she stumbled into the living room and curled into one corner of the sofa, legs folded beneath her, glass pressed to her forehead. Her mind whirled with speculation.
This was all Snape’s fault. Their earlier conversation, coupled with his increasing insistence that she befriend his godson, must have brought Malfoy into her mind…
Oh, is that so, now? asked the brilliant desert moon, winking at her as it sailed high and free past her open, balconied window.
“Yes, it is!” she replied aloud to the moon. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d take your bloody romantic beams someplace else! You can come back another time, when I’m not so alone.”
Hermione crossed the room, slammed the balcony doors and rolled down the bamboo blind, snagging Snape’s lamp on her way back to the sofa..
Setting it down in front of her, she threw herself against the cushions, arms crossed over her chest, and spoke his name for the second time that evening.
In moments, his shade was standing before her again.
“Professor, about that prophecy…” she began.
“What’s the trouble, Miss Granger?” Snape ask in a voice of poisonous silk. “Could you not sleep?” He raised one eyebrow quizzically and smirked at her as if he knew exactly where her thoughts had been earlier.
“No, I…I can’t. The moon is especially bright tonight.”
“Ah, pity. Then let’s do discuss the prophecy, shall we? I take it you have some questions, some concerns?”
“Yes. Several, as a matter of fact. Would you repeat the prophecy for me, please?”
Snape stood up straight and allowed his gaze to focus on an Otherworldly something that Hermione could not see. He began to speak in an eerie, portentous voice.
“The Malfoy/Black line breeds darkness for our world, a threat in the blood, beyond the end of war…Yet from the Dragon springs the riddle of the ages. Where six and seven become one, where lion lies down before maiden, a time of testing and of choice, a threat of shadow greater than our world has seen…silver darkness rising…”
In spite of herself, Hermione felt the hair lift on her arms and a chill scuttle down her spine. “I’ve heard the prophecy from you several times before, Professor, but this time it seems somehow…much more ominous.”
“I believe that the moment of its fulfillment is drawing near,” Snape responded. “There is heightened activity on this side, a sense of urgency, an alignment of stars.”
”Why do you not do something about it?”
“It is not the function of those who have crossed over to rise up and handle threats to the world of the living. We can advise and warn, but the work lies with you.” His smile was grim.
“Then we had better set out to untangle the prophecy’s meaning.”
“As you should have done when I first spoke it to you. Time is of the essence, now.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and replied flippantly, “Better late than never. The Malfoy family seems to be thriving just fine without any help from me.”
Suddenly Snape was on the table, a massive black shadow towering above her, his swarthy face wreathed in anger.
“I left you a fortune that allows you to live your life as you please, and I asked only one thing of you in return!” he hissed. “Do you not care what happens to my godson, Miss Granger? There was a time when you cared very much indeed.”
Hermione was taken aback at this unexpected display of ire from Snape’s shade.
“That was a long time ago! We were only children!” She spoke defensively, and then stared up at Snape as realization dawned.
“Wait a minute! How did you know about …you couldn’t have known that, unless Malfoy told you!” she sputtered, appalled that Snape seemed to be privy to her most closely guarded secret.
Coupled with the erotic imaginings of Malfoy that she’d had earlier, this new revelation seemed almost too much to take. Hermione’s mind whirled with mists and memories. This had to be the root cause of Snape leaving his fortune to her.
“Certainly, Draco told me of your feelings for each other! I was his godfather and the closest thing the boy had to a confidant at that time. In the case of your relationship, I advised him to ignore his father’s maxims and follow his own heart. But as you and I both know, that advice was not taken… And Miss Granger?” Snape’s face seemed to grow even more darkly angry. “One more thing. Never, ever let me hear you discount the love that grows between children. Do you understand me?”
“Yes. I understand.” Hermione nodded wearily. “And I’ve had enough of your godson for one night, Professor. I am going to bed. I hope to dream about nothing but sand and camels. We’ll continue the discussion of this damned prophecy some other time.”
She spoke over her shoulder as she stalked toward her bedroom. “The class reunion is only a month away. Surely Malfoy can manage to keep his arse and his perfect family out of trouble between now and then!”
Sharlotte stood at the entrance to the Autumn Wood, wiggling her bare toes through the soft, leaf-strewn dust of the path. Before her, the burnished shades of the woodland trees stood out in bright relief against a sky the color of old vellum.
She breathed in the deep, earthy smell of the wood, loving the faint, mysterious, smoky tang that lingered in the air. Though she was dressed in a short summer nightgown, she felt no chill at all.
The gown she wore was a deliberate choice, for it had a floaty skirt perfect for twirling and dancing with the faeries. Her favorite, it was twilight-colored and patterned all over with twinkly, silver stars that reminded Sharlotte of her father's eyes. She always felt close to him when she wore it, even in a faraway place like the Autumn Wood.
For the Autumn Wood was indeed a faraway place. Though Sharlotte entered it through a book from her very own daddy’s library, laid out on her very own bedroom floor, she knew instinctively that the Autumn Wood of Faerie Rustica belonged to a world outside the one in which she lived, a world much older, where magical things had no need to be well hidden.
Now, as she ran down the path into the wood, twin pixies, fierce-faced and dragonfly-winged, rose from their positions as guardians atop two large, black and orange mushrooms.
“Greetings, Sharlotte Malfoy. We are glad you have come.” They spoke in unison, their voices high-pitched and sibilant, as though the language they used in addressing Sharlotte felt foreign upon their sharp-pointed, pixie tongues.
“Hullo, ‘Ryllis and Acantha,” Sharlotte replied. “I am here to dance and to see the queen.”
“The queen is waiting for you. It has been a long time since you visited her.” The sound of their admonishing voices combined in an eerie vibrato.
“The queen was angry at me, so I didn’t want to come back for awhile. And I was angry at the queen, too.” Sharlotte said candidly.
“But all is forgiven now?” the pixie sisters asked, watching Sharlotte carefully from beneath the lush lashes that framed their slyly watchful eyes. "You have come alone this time. A wise decision."
Sharlotte shrugged without replying and gazed down the path, not meeting the twins' eyes for a moment. Then she turned her attention back to Amaryllis and Acantha.
"I'm all alone," she told them, holding out both of her hands to show they were empty. “And I am ready to dance,” she added in a commanding tone.
The pixies grabbed her hands then, their wings beating with the swiftness of hummingbird hearts, and flew down the path leading deep into the Autumn Wood with Sharlotte dangling between them. The ground raced by below, a multi-hued sea of fallen leaves, its surface broken here and there by the dark, lurking tentacles of twisted tree roots.
Up ahead, where a burbling stream ran over moss-covered rocks, a clearing appeared, and in it, the faerie dance was already under way. Sharlotte could hear the haunting strains of her favorite song, which just happened to be the favorite of Grandfather Lucius as well. It was a song from the long-ago days when he had fallen in love with Grandmother Narcissa at Hogwarts.
Tabor, lute, cornamuse, and flute melded together to create the lovely, lilting melody. As Amaryllis and Acantha dropped Sharlotte’s hands, she spun into the middle of the dancing circle.
“O I give my life so lightly
For my gentle Lady
Give it freely
To my Lady …”*
Around her faeries, pixies, and sprites pirouetted, their costumes a kaleidoscopic mingling of woodland colors— mossy greens and smoky purples, coppery orange, peacock teal, nut brown. Two sprites took Sharlotte’s hands and she followed them without hesitancy into the intricate steps of the dance.
Faster and faster they spun, until Sharlotte, dizzy and laughing with the unfettered joy of one for whom dance is a natural expression, fell down into the leaves. The music stopped as if on cue, and she knew the faerie queen had come.
Sharlotte hopped up and made a low, beautiful curtsey, aristocratic grace and poise evident in every line of her slender body. Above her, the faerie queen descended into the clearing in a whirling melee of red and black.
The queen lit upon the earth, her gaze fastened on Sharlotte with a hungry look. She stalked toward Sharlotte on long, stilt-like legs, her skin an odd silver-grey color that absorbed the light as she moved.
Her hair and eyes were ebony, her gown a drifting confection of cardinal feathers, as rich as fresh-spilled blood. From her back sprang the tall, intricate, filigree-patterned black wings that Sharlotte had described to Grandfather Lucius that very afternoon.
Resting atop the faerie queen's raven hair was a crystal crown, a sharply pointed cluster of diamond-bright thorns that seemed to burst straight out of her head. Sharlotte’s gaze drifted to the crown. The queen had promised that someday, she would be allowed to wear it, as a princess not only of the faerie realm, but of her own world as well.
The queen took in Sharlotte’s gaze and smiled slyly to herself. The child was no doubt already envisioning the crown on her own head. Children were such shallow, self-centered beings. With enough flattery and promises, it should be an easy matter to accomplish all of her plans for this young girl.
Sharlotte, however, was thinking that the crystal reminded her of a pair of silly, fancy shoes her mother owned, and that Grandmother Narcissa would say the crown was gaudy.
“Sharlotte Astariel Malfoy,” said the Faerie Queen loftily, unaware that Sharlotte’s thoughts of her were less than flattering. “At last, you are here again! And I am more pleased than I can say that this time, you have come alone.”
"Yes, Your Majesty" Sharlotte inclined her head gracefully and did not meet the queen's eyes. “I came alone."
The queen gave Sharlotte a smug smile, sure that the girl's desire to do her bidding had over-ridden any childish attachment for the foul, loathsome creature Sharlotte had brought with her on the last occasion. Children were, after all, so malleable and easily influenced.
"Come then, child, and sit with me awhile. It seems long since you were last here and we have many things to discuss."
The queen led Sharlotte to a grouping of rocks in the shape of a broad-seated chair beside the stream. She clapped her hands; the pixie musicians began to play once again, and the dance resumed.
"The time is fast approaching, Sharlotte," said the queen, "when all that I have promised you will come to pass. At the rising of the new moon, at the Ascendancy of the Lady, I will place my crown on your head and you will become a faerie princess. And someday, we will rule not only in my realm but in yours as well."
Though she had little interest in the crown, there were two things the faerie queen possessed that tempted Sharlotte mightily. "And when I get the crown, that’s when I'll get my wings— black and lacy and tall, just like yours?" she asked.
"Of course, child. Did I not promise it to you? You will be powerful, able to fly far and wide. People will see you and marvel!” The queen watched Sharlotte with an intense gaze, while Sharlotte thought of the wings with longing, her hunger for them plainly etched on her pretty, elfin face.
How surprised her family would be when Sharlotte got her wings! She would be able to fly circles around Scorpius on his broom, then she and her brother would have fun flying together. Maman would be sorry she had refused to let Daddy give Sharlotte flying lessons. She would show Maman that she was not too young to be in the air!
And maybe, just maybe, if she could fly, Grandmother Narcissa, whom Sharlotte admired greatly, would come to love Sharlotte as much as she loved Scorpius!
Sharlotte cared little for the queen’s crown and nothing for power, but the promise of the wings had been the lure that drew her back into the queen’s realm after the unpleasantness of the last visit.
On that occasion, Leviathan had come with Sharlotte and the consequences had been disastrous.
Upon seeing Leviathan, the Faerie Queen had flown into a frightening rage. Shrieking like a madwoman, she had summoned her two fierce-faced pixies to fly Sharlotte back to the entrance of the woods and eject her into her own world. Sharlotte was commanded to never, ever bring that monstrosity into the queen’s presence again!
Sharlotte had been unsure what a monstrosity was, but it seemed to be a word similar to ‘monster.’ She had been angry with queen for calling Leviathan that. He was special to her, more special than anything else. The silver dragon had once been attached to the head of Grandfather Lucius' walking cane, until Sharlotte begged to have him for her very own. Now, the queen had insulted him.
The queen's tantrum had made Sharlotte furious, more furious than she had ever been.
Back in her bedchamber, she had longed to grasp Leviathan in her fist and slam him over and over into Faerie Rustica until the pages were pulp and the queen and all her pixies lay crushed into broken heaps on the Autumn Wood floor.
That night as Sharlotte had lain in her bed, cuddling Leviathan’s cold, silver body close to hers and angrily flicking tiny bubbles of fiery light from the ends of her fingers, she told Leviathan that she would like to do just that. Leviathan had trembled in her grasp as if he wished it as much as she, but he gave only one word of counsel—Wait.
Now Sharlotte thought on these things while sitting at the faerie queen’s side, the queen’s silvery-grey fingers running through Sharlottte’s short, finely textured blond hair.
“So like Draco’s hair,” the queen said. “And Lucius’…and dear Narcissa’s.”
“You know my daddy, and my grandparents?” Sharlotte looked up, surprised and a little disturbed to hear their names on the queen’s lips. Though Sharlotte had visited the Autumn Wood many times, the queen had never before spoken of her family.
“Oh, yes, child— I do, indeed. I’ve always known them.” The queen’s voice was silky, sly, insinuating
“But how do you know them?” Sharlotte asked, puzzled.
The queen let out a high-pitched, inelegant and distinctly un-royal cackle. “We have a family connection, you and I. Before I became the faerie queen, your Grandmother Narcissa was my sister. I am your Great-Aunt Bellatrix.”
* lyrics (and the tune in my head) for Sharlotte’s favorite song : “For My Lady” from the Moody Blues’ Seventh Sojourn album.
Chapter 4: Opening NIght
Friday Evening, August 20
Librette Malfoy looked around the Great Hall with obvious disgust. She had not set foot in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since transferring to Beauxbatons as a fourth year, and she had forgotten how antiquated, how positively medieval the old castle was.
The contrast between Beauxbatons, housed in an elegant Renaissance chateau on the banks of the Loire River, and this forbidding pile of stone was, well, obvious. As obvious as the difference between her own svelte self and the plump little witch waddling up to greet her, a wide smile of delight on her dumpling face.
“Lizbet Nott! Do you remember me?” the woman squealed. “I’m Dadaelia Wendower. We were classmates before you left for Beauxbatons. Seems like, oh, a jillion years ago! You’ve grown up to be so beautiful. And, you look as if you’re still in your twenties!”
“Of course, I remember you, Daedalia! How I could I forget? You’re just as …round as ever!”
Now, this was more like it. Here was the admiration Librette had been anticipating, and from a former classmate whose appearance made a pleasing, frumpy foil for her own classic blonde beauty.
"Dadaelia, I’m called Librette now,” she corrected the little witch. “That was the name I adopted when I chose modeling as my career. And the last name is Malfoy, darling!” She laid a slender, proprietary hand on the arm of the man standing next to her, a man who seemed lost in thought, gazing out over the heads of the dozens of other reunion attendees with a look of bored disdain.
Immediately, Daedalia's eyes were drawn upward and she blushed, sure she had never seen anyone quite as handsome as Librette’s husband. He looked like some pale moon god stepped down from the night sky to grace the reunion with his icy presence.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr….ah…Malfoy,” Daedalia held out a pudgy pink hand, her palm sweaty in Draco’s grasp. Damn, but he was fine! Made her want to scamper off and find her own chubby Simon, so she could drag him up to a bedroom and indulge in some serious role playing.
After Daedalia had gone, Librette turned her attention to Draco. He was standing ramrod straight, yet bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. A sure sign that he was nervous, the disdainful look merely a protective façade.
“Mon cher, there’s not a thing to worry about!” she chided him. “That silly business with Voldemort was years and years ago. And the Ministry hushed up so much of what happened at the Manor. Why, the general wizarding public has no idea that people were imprisoned and tortured in our home! I’ve told you before— since I didn’t see it happen, it doesn’t bother me in the least, and I’m sure anyone who is anyone would feel the same!”
“You don’t understand, Librette.” At her side, Draco spoke through clenched teeth. “It was so much more than what went on at the Manor. There was that whole Death Eater mentality back then, the arrogant way I treated the other students when I was here. Those people are all around us right now. They don’t know that I’ve grown up in my thinking, that I have regrets!”
Librette sighed. This was perhaps the tenth time since the reunion invitations arrived that Draco had broached this ridiculous subject and her patience with the whole tiresome topic was beginning to wear thin.
“Draqueau, now is neither the time nor the place for this discussion,” she hissed.
"But that's just the bloody problem, isn't it?" he growled back. "When it comes to weighty matters, there never is a time or place as far as you're concerned! I'm going to register our arrival." He stalked off angrily, leaving Librette standing alone.
She was just about to follow, when across the vast hall, she caught a glimpse of Ian Harkrider. She’d not seen him since their weekend together in Paris, but Ian had told her then that he would be attending the reunion. His band Evanesco was set to perform at the costume ball on Saturday night.
Ian was ten years older than Librette and had graduated from Hogwarts the year Draco began. Back then, there had been no inkling of the rise to fame he was soon to enjoy. Ian had always played guitar, but as Hogwarts kept strict rules against students forming rock bands, his development as a musical genius remained thwarted until after graduation.
By the time Librette began her modeling career, Ian had transfigured himself into the lead guitarist for the most popular band in the wizarding world. Librette had met him at a party and fallen instantly in love. Young and adventurous, she moved in with him less than a month later.
But six months after that, she had run into Draco Malfoy, school mate of her brother Theo, on a Paris street, and chosen the course that defined her present life.
Always one to hedge her bets, Librette had considered how briefly a rock wizard's star might shine, how swiftly that star might flame out, how steep the fall from glory could be. Though Ian had her heart, Librette saw nothing wrong with giving Draco her body, accepting in return the Malfoy name and a share of the family fortune. As for staying power, life as Mrs. Draco Malfoy seemed the better bet.
But Ian and his band had surprised everyone. Twenty years on, Evanesco was still one of the most well-loved wizarding bands. And two years ago, Librette had re-connected with Ian
Seeing him now across the room sent a shiver of desire through her. Librette struggled to resist. Never before had husband and lover been in the same place at the same time and it was going to prove difficult to ignore Ian’s presence. Nevertheless, she resolved to focus on Draco this weekend. After all, he was the one she had chosen to marry.
Draco appeared to be very tense about this reunion. Though his tension was not something Librette understood well, she could be counted on to rise to the occasion and relieve it in the best way she knew. Determined to put Ian out of her mind for now, she crossed the room to find her husband, turning heads with her long-legged, catwalk prowl.
Reaching Draco’s side at the registration tables, Librette slid her arm through his, nipped his ear lobe, and stage-whispered about the interesting things she planned to do to him later in the evening when they were alone.
The witch working registration couldn't help overhearing. She dropped the quill she was about to hand to Draco, knocking over her inkpot as well.
Draco gave his wife a spiteful grin. "I hate to piss on your little fire, darling, but none of the things you just mentioned is going to happen tonight.” He waved one hand to cast a wordless Scourgify over the poor registrar and her ink-stained class reunion forms.
“What do you mean?” Librette asked, annoyed to see that Draco’s mood had apparently not improved. He was fast putting a damper on her determination to focus on him for the weekend.
"The rooms at Hogwarts are dormitories, remember?” he replied with an evil smirk. "For the next two nights, we'll be bunking in with the same sex, just like we did as students. With one major difference—we won't be divided according to what House we were in during our school years. We've been divvied up at random. You are staying in the Ravenclaw tower. And I'll be far away, in Gryffindor. See you at dinner, Princess.”
With a shout of “Blaise— Oi, Zabini!” Draco turned on his heel and walked off, leaving a pink-faced Librette standing alone by the registration table, the object of ogling stares from several strangers who had overheard every word of the heated little exchange.
Smug, hateful bastard. How dare Draqueau talk to her like that in front of other people! It was both hurtful and embarrassing. Perhaps, after all, he was not so deserving of her attentions this weekend.
Her eyes flew to where Ian still stood, chatting with a group of older witches and wizards that Librettte did not know. She watched her lover with speculation. Maybe, if they were very careful, she and Ian could arrange a deliciously secret midnight tryst in some secluded corner of the castle. Tossing back her long blonde hair, Librette set off in Ian’s direction.
Darkness descended on Hogwarts earlier than usual for a summer night in August. From her window high in the Gryffindor tower, Hermione could see a storm rolling in from the west, overtaking a fiery band of sunset clouds that struggled to hold on to the south. Streaks of lightning made jagged rips in the dark fabric of the sky.
Hermione hoped this wasn’t an omen. Her midnight blue cocktail dress was rather tight- fitting, making it difficult to bend and retrieve the stiletto-heeled evening sandal that had somehow managed to work its way under her bed.
In spite of her eager anticipation of the reunion, Hermione had lingered on a dig in the Valley of the Kings, where the recent discovery of a new tomb kept her absorbed and busy until the last minute. She had arrived late, everyone else having gone to the Great Hall for the festive welcome meal.
Hermione gave herself one last glance in the mirror, fluffing her wild curls and quickly slicking a berry stain across her lips and cheek bones. She’d meant to look elegant and perfect for this dinner, but she had stayed too long at the tomb and there was no more time…
Rushing down the steep stairs that led from the deserted dormitories to the Gryffindor common room, Hermione stumbled and came close to falling in the near dark. Flea-bitten balls of a whoreson camel driver! Someone had forgotten to attend to the sconce lights lining the stairwell, which were not Charmed to come on automatically during July and August when no students were in residence.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she lurched into the equally dark common room and swore again, this time in surprise.
A tall, shadowy male figure stood outlined against the high windows. His back to her, he appeared to be looking out across the battleground of the sky, where sunset and storm vied for dominance like warriors on a dark and bloody field.
A quick flare of lightning revealed the white-blonde hair of Draco Malfoy and the impeccably tailored, charcoal grey back of his dinner jacket.
“Hermione Granger.” He spoke her name without turning.
“Malfoy!” she exclaimed. “What…what are you doing here? And how did you know it was me?” A startled Hermione could think of nothing else to say.
“I would think that was obvious.” His tone was dry. “Like you, I am attending the class reunion. And, apparently like you, I’ve been sorted into Gryffindor for the duration. A bit ironic, that.”
He turned to face her. “As for how I knew it was you— I heard you coming down the stairs, cursing fluently in Arabic. I admire a woman who can curse well in any language. And I would recognize your voice anywhere.”
Then, “Inflammari.” Draco waved one hand and the logs waiting in the common room fireplace sprang to blazing life.
He moved across the room until they stood facing each other, separated by the back of a leather sofa and twenty years of space and time. Outside, thunder spoke with a booming voice of portent that both of them ignored.
“Why aren’t you at the welcome dinner like everyone else?” Hermione asked.
“Gods, Granger. I heard Umbridge had died but I wasn’t aware she’d appointed you Grand High Inquisitor in her place. I’m here for the moment to retrieve my wife’s diamond earrings, which she foolishly left in a pocket of my other jacket.”
The words were flippant but his eyes raked over every inch of Hermione's body and face, while a separate compartment of his brain registered the fact that the form-fitting dress she was wearing happened to be his favorite color— a deep, sapphire blue.
His eyes swept over the golden hue of her skin, its burnished look courtesy of long days spent exploring in sun-drenched lands. A light dusting of freckles danced like cinnamon flecks across her nose and cheekbones and down her bare arms. Draco had a sudden clear vision of that dream he’d had of the two of them going at it on top of a dinner table in the middle of the reunion.
Hermione matched him stare for stare, her hungry, stray-cat gaze clawing its way up his sleek grey jacket to his face. Merlin. He was still as pale and handsome as some mythical Nordic king. And it was so good to see him again.
Somewhere, a carefully constructed dam began to break, rivers of feeling threatening to inundate Hermione’s parched interior landscape. Gods, no...This was the very reason she had avoided Draco Malfoy all these years, why she'd ignored Snape's instructions to befriend his godson.
Draco's voice and eyes softened; his face lit with bright remembrance. He took a step toward her. “It’s been a long time, Minnow.” And just like that, Hermione was lost.
Minnow…how long had it been since she’d heard that name, the first name by which he’d ever known her? In some secret, interior grotto, Hermione’s soul drew rings around Draco Malfoy. He was her first love; he would always be the one. She could ignore it; she could pretend it wasn't so. But pretense didn't change a bloody, fucking thing.
Desperately, she sought to protect herself from the rising flood of feeling by retreating to higher ground.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she told Draco in a brisk, business-like voice, purposely ignoring his use of her pet name and the tenderness in his eyes. Her voice was a bit unsteady in spite of her best efforts. “We need to talk about the prophecy.”
The light in his face glanced off her hasty, makeshift defenses and went out.
“Are you mad, Granger?” he asked. "In case you’ve forgotten, your mate Potter fulfilled the prophecy twenty years ago.”
“Don’t be thick, Malfoy, I’m referring to the prophecy concerning you and your family. You needn’t pretend with me; I’m fully aware that Trelawney foresaw danger for the descendants of the Malfoy/Black line. For you or possibly for your children.”
“I’ll repeat it slowly. Are…you…mad? I’ve never heard of any prophecy about my family, from Trelawney or anyone else! Who told you this?” His voice held puzzlement and concern, his tone cooling from summer warmth to autumn chill. "Fuck all! You can’t mean Scorpius and Sharlotte…” he muttered, running one hand through his hair.
“Snape told me. Trelawney spoke the prophecy to him, some months after Dumbledore’s death. And the time of fulfillment seems to be…”
“My godfather never spoke to me of danger to my family!” he interrupted coldly. “If any of this were true, I’m the one he would have told, not you!"
The stresses of the day were taking a toll on Draco— the reunion itself, the fight with Librette, seeing Granger again, and now this. In response to tension overload, he chose to reject the message and to turn on the messenger.
"And what business is it of yours, Granger? Why would Snape have shared information about my family with you?" His voice froze her, his eyes filled with shadows as he awaited her answer. There was no trace of the earlier warmth that had radiated from him like a familiar fire.
Hermione stared at Draco, her own voice stilled for once. How could she tell him that for twenty years, she had kept his godfather's shade in what amounted to a magic lamp, like some sort of Aladdin-style genie? There was only one solution to this. He'd have to be shown.
But Draco had decided not to wait for her response. "I see you have nothing more to say," he sneered. "Now, if you don’t mind, I need to join my wife for dinner.”
But he swept out of the Gryffindor common room, leaving Hermione stunned by this display of sudden bad temper and puzzled by his lack of knowledge about the prophecy.
After his departure, the fire seemed less bright, the room less inviting. Hermione wandered to stare out the window, where the breaking storm had completely routed the sunset, unleashing its fury on the land.
Could it be that Snape had never told Draco about the prophecy? She needed to talk to both of them again, right away.
And why had Draco’s mood turned so quickly from friendly to frigid? Hermione had been unprepared for the powerful feelings brought about by seeing him face to face after so many years. If she didn’t know better, she would say that their unexpected meeting had hit him hard, as well.
What a ridiculous thought! she chided herself. Malfoy has a beautiful wife who is waiting for him downstairs, and I mean nothing to him.
For now, speculation could wait. She was late for the welcome dinner and eager to see her friends. The reunion had just begun; there would be plenty of time to sort things out with Malfoy. If she could get him to agree, it looked as though a midnight rendezvous might be in order.
Hermione allowed Draco to get a head start on his way to the Great Hall, and then hurried down to dinner filled with anticipation of the evening ahead.
Narcissa sat in a wing-backed chair in the study of Malfoy manor, sipping a relaxing glass of Chardonnay before bedtime. A fire, unusual for August, crackled in the fireplace, warding off the evening chill that had descended as a series of storms roared through Wiltshire. Lucius was at his club in London, leaving Narcissa alone for the moment with Sharlotte and Scorpius.
All three of them were reading. Narcissa had chosen a leather-bound copy of Antony and Cleopatra. In the matching chair opposite her, Scorpius perused Greatest Quidditch Matches of the Twentieth Century. Sharlotte sat on the floor beside the hearth, humming to herself and dreamily turning the pages of Faerie Rustica, Leviathan in her arms, as usual.
The room was quiet and still except for the low, hungry cackle of the fire as it consumed the wood, and the occasional distant peals of thunder from the storm moving away across the hills.
Narcissa was enjoying her wine and this quiet time with her grandchildren. Lucius would arrive before midnight. Tomorrow Scorpius would go to Gunter Goyle’s to finish out the weekend practicing Quidditch moves before the upcoming school season. But for now, it was nice to have her former home, and Draco’s children, all to herself.
An unexpected clap of thunder suddenly shook the whole room with its invasive booming. All three of the readers jumped.
“How odd,” said Narcissa to her grandchildren. “That sounded very close. I thought the storm had already passed over the Manor.”
As if on cue, Sharlotte unfolded long legs, stood up and approached Narcissa’s chair. Faerie Rustica was open in her hands, Leviathan tucked securely beneath one arm.
Narcissa closed her own book and laid it aside as Sharlotte placed Faerie Rustica in her lap.
“Grandmother, something is wrong with this part of Faerie Rustica,” Sharlotte told her. “I’ve never been able to open it. The pages are stuck. Can you fix it?”
“Let’s see, child.” Oddly, the last two pages did seem to be stuck together. As often as Sharlotte had poured over the old book, she had never asked for help before tonight. Narcissa wondered why.
Sliding one long, manicured nail between the joined areas, Narcissa found she could work the pages apart with only a little carefully applied pressure. She folded them back, curious herself to see what was there. Though Faerie Rustica had been her own book, she did not remember these last pages.
The parted leaves fell open and Narcissa sat staring, frozen to her very core. On either page was a dark, rusty-brown smear. And fashioned from the same chillingly brown substance were words, written in a spiked, slanting hand that she recognized at once as her sister Bellatrix’— a handwriting she had not seen in twenty years.
Her eyes darted over the two pages, then her mind stilled itself long enough to absorb the words Bellatrix had written. Narcissa’s hands flew to her throat and she felt suddenly as though she could not breathe.
<>i>Faerie Rustica tumbled from her lap as Scorpius looked up from his own book, alarmed. “Grandmother, are you alright?”
“Yes…just a sudden light-headed spell. I’m not as young as I used to be” With a shaking hand Narcissa reached for her glass of wine, splashing droplets of it across the side table, the arm of her chair, and the front of her blouse.
“But Grandmother, what does it say?” asked Sharlotte, who was now kneeling beside Faerie Rustica where it had fallen and burning with curiosity over this previously hidden part of the book. Though she was a good beginning reader, the spidery cursive writing was too much for her to decipher.
Scorpius knelt beside her, his own curiosity aroused. “Grandmother doesn’t feel well, Shar…This looks like a poem. Here, I’ll read it for you—I saw you standing in Rosemary Lane…”
Narcissa made a strangled sound. “Not a poem. A song.”
Scorpius looked up, but his grandmother had closed her eyes and laid her head against the back of her chair.
He started again:
I saw you standing in Rosemary Lane
I asked the sky to open and rain
I caused your foot to step in the vine
I told an angel that your soul was mine
Spring…spring…spring o’er the brook
Turn all the pages but try not to look
Ink turns to water, to silver and gold
I will be there when you ransom your soul.
As Scorpius read, the years tumbled away and Narcissa could hear in her mind Bellatrix’ high, childish voice— cold and pure as a bell— singing the eerie tune. Bellatrix had sung it while waltzing around the house, hummed it while lying in her bed at night. And each time Narcissa heard it, it had made her blood run cold. There had been a child who had died in Rosemary Lane, which ran down one side of the village where she and her sisters had grown up.
Narcissa never asked where Bellatrix learned the song. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. For her, it had always had the feel of an incantation, and a dark one at that. The first dark one she had ever heard. She had not allowed the memory of it into her mind in years.
Great Merlin! What was she thinking now, allowing her grandson to read this to her granddaughter?
Narcissa sat up straight in her chair, momentary weakness shaken off. “Scorpius, give me that book immediately,” she said briskly.
“Cool poem, Grandmother,” said Scorpius as he rose from the floor. “Wish we knew the tune so we could sing it! But that brown ink it’s written in, and the stains that stuck the pages together… that looks like dried blood!”
Narcissa fought back another attack of light-headedness. “We need to put the book back on the shelf now. Sharlotte, darling girl, let’s see if we can find something else for you to read before going to sleep.”
Sharlotte stood quietly in front of the fire, watching the proceedings from beneath her lashes. Firelight played off the angles and planes of her face, throwing her elfin features into pronounced relief.
Dried blood in Faerie Rustica. Sharlotte found the thought both repellant and fascinating. She didn’t mind that Grandmother had taken the book and put it away on a high shelf. Sharlotte could reach it easily by moving a chair to climb on, after everyone had gone to bed.
While the spidery writing and the dried blood were both of interest, Sharlotte was even more enthralled by the picture she had noticed on the opposite page— a picture of a branching, unexplored path, its entrance blocked by a spun-silver web. The path rambled off into a part of the Autumn Wood where the trees stood thick and the shadows lay long across the leaf-strewn ground.
At the end of the path, through concealing autumn branches, Sharlotte had caught a glimpse of something dark. A building, maybe? She’d never noticed any building in the realm of the faeries and her curiosity was highly piqued.
Come midnight, she would be asking the Faerie Queen to take her there.
Chapter 5: Synastry
In the Great Hall at Hogwarts, the festive welcome meal to kick off the class reunion was already under way. Draco Malfoy paused at the Hall entrance to get his bearings, his face a picture of studied nonchalance that hid the seething turmoil underneath.
High above, the charmed ceiling put on a show reflective of the storm outside. Vast lightning bolts cracked the sky from west to east, brightening the dark heavens with random silver steaks. Clouds roiled overhead, their movements a perfect match for the churning sensations in the pit of Draco's stomach.
Spying Librette at a large round table surrounded by their closest friends, he shot his cuffs and set off across the Hall with his long-legged stride, nodding curtly to reunion-goers who called greetings to him from their tables as he passed.
Moments later, Draco sat down before a plate of prime rib au jus, roasted potatoes, and asparagus hollandaise. He would be lucky if he could eat a bite. Damn Granger, damn this whole bloody reunion. Come to think of it, damn his whole bloody, fucking life.
So many things seemed off-center all of a sudden, as though he’d just awakened to find his personal life haunted by a series of missteps, poor choices, and bad decisions. With the notable exception of Scorpius and Sharlotte, of course. Double damn Granger for implying that a problem could arise there, of all places, with the two people he considered most precious.
Picking up his fork, Draco attempted to eat. But his current mood turned the delicious meal as unappetizing as a plate of Bubotuber pus.
Around him convivial conversation flowed. Draco tuned it out with sour disregard. The laughing circle gathered at his table was practically a roll call of prominent Slytherins. The Gregory Goyles. Draco's brother-in-law Theo Nott with wife Anjelica, twin sister of Goyle's Alannis. Blaise and Isabel Delacour Zabini. And rounding out the group, Pansy Parkinson Walsingham Borley, who seemed to be suffering no ill effects from her recent second divorce.
No one sat in the chair beside Pansy, and she jokingly remarked that it was reserved for her future third husband, identity as yet unknown. But the entire group knew the seat had been left deliberately unoccupied to honor Severus Snape, former head of Slytherin House and one-time Hogwarts Headmaster.
For Draco, the empty seat cast a somber shadow. Gods. Yet another mistake staring me in the face tonight. If only things had been different, if only we had realized back then how misguided we all were. Severus might be with us still.
At his side, Librette picked delicately at her salad and continued to give him the silent treatment. She spoke with sparkling animation to their tablemates but the frosty waves of displeasure emanating in Draco’s direction would keep a magnum of champagne nicely chilled for the rest of the evening.
Draco speared a bite of asparagus, and then looked up to see Hermione standing in the doorway of the Great Hall, her eyes scanning the tables. No doubt looking for bloody fellow war heroes.
Draco watched her cross the room to join a laughing, beckoning table of mostly former Gryffindors. His eyes followed her as she walked.
Bloody hell, but she looked good. Her body was as toned as a teenager, and he freely admitted to himself that he coveted it. Coveted as well her bright smile and the unrestrained burst of laughter she'd just let out in response to something George Weasley had said to her. Alcohol appeared to be flowing at the Hero Table, adding to the group's jolly mood.
Downing his own glass of champagne, Draco watched George make room for Hermione at his side. Draco remembered hearing that the remaining Weasley twin was just this side of a nasty divorce— his third.
Now George draped an arm across the back of Hermione’s chair and leaned over to whisper conspiratorially in her ear. He’d placed a champagne flute in front of her and she was sipping from it in between peals of laughter.
Draco signaled the waiter to bring him something stronger than champagne. He shouldn’t have been so harsh with Granger earlier, but it had been a hellish day and he was already on edge. When he saw her again, all those old feelings came had come rushing back. Then she’d started in with that codswallop about a prophecy that could signal danger for his children.
Pure shite, surely. But Granger wasn’t one to make things up. Sooner or later, he would have to seek her out and ask just what the hell she’d meant.
Across the Great Hall and unaware of Draco’s watchful gaze, Hermione reveled in the gathering of her friends.
Besides George, her tablemates included Harry and Ginny Potter, Ron and Lavender Weasley, Neville and Hannah Longbottom, and Luna Lovegood with her husband Rolf Scamander. Two years ago, Luna had replaced Trelawney as professor of Divination. Her husband had taken over the Care of Magical Creatures classes from Hagrid, who’d finally married Madam Maxime and gone to live at Beauxbatons.
“Luna, your idea for the costume ball tomorrow night is brilliant,” Ginny commented. “People have been buzzing about it for weeks now. And it’s all I’ve heard since Harry and I arrived this evening.”
Luna turned her wide blue eyes in Ginny’s direction. “Pairing everyone according to our star charts seemed like a good way to create a mixer. Too many people ignore the stars when choosing a mate, or else don’t credit them enough for their influences. It will be fun to see who got it right and who should have been with whom, at least astrologically. And it’s only for the one night.”<
“Matching up all those charts must have been a massive amount of work for you, Luna,” Hermione observed, forking up a bite of roasted potato.
“Oh, I had help,” Luna replied serenely. “I held a week-long summer Divination workshop for my most gifted students. We spent the entire time on synastry— the comparing of pairs of individual star charts. It was wonderful practice for them!”
“Well, let’s hope they got it right,” George murmured in Hermione’s ear. “I wouldn’t want to be accidentally paired with a Slytherin.”
The tone of his voice was glum, and Hermione’s heart contracted in sympathy. George would never recover from the loss of his twin in the war with Voldemort. He still found it hurtful that many of his Slytherin peers had come from former Death Eater families. But at least no schoolmate had been directly responsible for Fred’s death. Perhaps this reunion would be a place to start in the healing of old wounds.
Hermione was suddenly very conscious of George’s arm along the back of her chair. Maybe she should allow herself to be tempted. She had always liked his red-headed good looks and jolly ways.
Her relationship with Ron, followed closely by one with Charlie, had ended years ago. It would be so easy to become involved with a third Weasley. To her way of thinking, George's three marriages had been unrecognized attempts to replace Fred. George needed somebody in his life who understood him…she ought to give it a go. But— no.
She let her gaze drift to the table where Draco sat beside his beautiful wife, only to find him looking straight back at her with an intent stare. Her insides lurched. The two of them used to lock eyes over dinner in just the same way when they were students here.
Would she ever get over Malfoy? Could it be possible that he was the reason she’d never settled on any one man, after all these years? No, the thought was too ridiculous. The right one had just never come along, that was all.
What you need is a man who’ll bite you on the arse her inner voice sagely advised. Then maybe you'll get a clue.
No one asked for your opinion. Hermione told it.
Maybe she really should consider George. But first, she needed to meet with Draco again and set him straight about that prophecy.
The men at her table were engaged in an animated discussion of the upcoming Quidditch World Cup. Hermione removed a thin, Muggle ink pen from her evening bag and jotted a note on her cocktail napkin. When the moment was right, she would send it across to Malfoy.
The meal ended, and the empty plates vanished in preparation for the appearance of a variety of sweets.
Professor Neville Longbottom rose from his seat at Hermione’s table and made his way toward the platform to give the welcome address. Neville, youngest Headmaster in the history of Hogwarts, had taken over after Professor McGonagall’s retirement two years earlier
All eyes turned expectantly toward him and a hush descended on the room, broken only by the sound of the storm as it thundered its way across the Scottish mountains.
Neville raised his hands, a serious expression on his face. “Ladies and gentlemen, before we begin…has anyone seen a small, brown toad? I can’t seem to find Trevor anywhere.”
Appreciative laughter broke out at the joke. Neville in his early days had been a rather fumbling, inept wizard who was forever misplacing his familiar. Except for a Dumbledore-like twinkle in his eyes, there was little trace of that boy in the calm, self-assured wizard who now stood before his peers, his history of courage and wisdom proving him more than competent to run the great school of Hogwarts.
Neville’s expression turned serious as the laughter subsided.
“Welcome, welcome, all of you. I hope your stay here will bring back only happy recollections. But for those of you whose memories are sorrowful, may your visit be a time of healing, a time of comfort in the presence of the friends and schoolmates who share your past and who know you best. Our generation is a great one, for we have claimed peace for our times. May that peace surround all of you this weekend!”
“Now, on to practicalities,” he continued with a wide smile. “Feel free to get as shitfaced as you like” –cheering erupted across the Hall— “And keep in mind that, though our sleeping arrangements are segregated by sex for the reunion, Hogwarts has more than a fair share of hidden nooks and crannies. Most of you have taken advantage of those in years past, and you are more than welcome to use them again. Hannah and I certainly plan to!”
Neville’s voice was drowned by roars of approving laughter; he waved both hands to the large gathering and stepped from the platform, making his way back to the table of his closest friends and his laughing wife.
Just as Neville’s speech ended, Draco felt a tingling in his right palm and opened his hand to find he was holding a folded cocktail napkin. He smoothed it out on the top of his thigh and glanced down surreptitiously to read the words written on it.
Cadro Flamoy the note began. Meet me at midnight on the Lake Tower, southern ramparts. Minnow
His eyes widened with memory at the scrambled letters of his name and softened at the sight of her signature.
Draco looked over to the Gryffindor table to find Hermione watching him, awaiting his answer. His response was a brief nod. Before he turned away to reply to a remark from Theo, Hermione saw the faintest glimmer of a smile touch the corners of his lips.
By midnight the storm had gone, leaving a windy, moonless sky where stars shone with uninhibited brilliance. Some wandered across the sky alone, others grouped themselves into the prominent constellations of August. Cygnus, Aquila, and Lyra drifted high overhead, seemingly oblivious to the comings and goings of humans on the earth.
Hermione leaned against the southern ramparts, looking out across the dark lake and watching the small whitecaps kicked up by the night wind. The air was chilly and she’d thrown on a long cloak Charmed to match the sapphire hue of her dress, pulling the snood over her springy hair to hide her identity.
The simple disguise was unnecessary; there was no one else on the tower. Most of the other revelers had headed to warm common rooms to continue drinking and visiting, or gone to bed to rest before Saturday’s full day of activities. Hermione grinned into the dark, wondering who might have sneaked off for clandestine sex in one of the hidden corners Neville had mentioned in his welcome speech.
The sound of shoes on stone made her turn. Her heart leapt momentarily at the sight of the tall, cloaked and hooded figure walking toward her. Malfoy, coming to her under the guise of a ghost from her past.
“Thank you for meeting me here. It’s a brilliant night,” she told him.
His eyes gleamed from beneath his hood, face as still and pale as a marble angel’s. “The storm seems to have cleared the air,” he replied.
“Maybe storms are needed sometimes, for that very reason. You were angry with me, earlier…” Her voice trailed away.
He shook his head and made a swift negating movement with one hand. “No, not at you. Just a hellish day, Hermione. That’s all. You needed to speak with me?”
“Yes. I… I know that it’s difficult for you to accept and understand, but there really is a prophecy concerning your family. Were you truly unaware of this before?”
“Your mention of it tonight is the first I’ve heard. But if the prophecy is something real, a genuine threat, then I need to learn more.” As in the Gryffindor common room, he was studying her intently, eyes boring into hers as if mining her for some deeply buried vein of truth.
Hermione had the distinct feeling that the look in his eyes had nothing to do with the words coming from his lips.
She moved backward, a protective gesture, and said lightly, “How much have you had to drink tonight? I want you to be able to remember, in the morning, what I’m going to tell you now.”
He took a step toward her that put him even closer than before. “In answer to your concern, I’ve had a large amount to drink. But I have an amazing talent—a family trait, actually—for being able to conduct business even while seriously shitfaced, As I am now. Oh yes, Granger, I’m drunk. Very, very drunk. But go ahead and state your case. I won’t forget by morning.”
“Hmm. If you are sure?”
“Believe me, I’m fucking positive, Hermione.” His voice held a rough huskiness that raised shivers along Hermione’s arms beneath her thin cloak. Was he gearing up to be difficult, again?
“Listen, Malfoy. I thought you said you weren’t angry with me. Maybe after all it’s not a good idea to discuss this tonight!” Her eyes sparked brightly.
In response, Draco grabbed her arms, pulled her to him, and kissed her.
The kiss was neither soft nor gentle, but electrifyingly bruising. Hermione, who’d had a fair amount of champagne herself, found she wanted nothing but to respond. Swift as the storm that had passed over Hogwarts earlier, her senses ignited and she kissed him back, long years of denial falling away like broken, gossamer cords.
Draco backed her against the ramparts, kissing her until she felt dizzy, until she felt the hardness of his erection pressing into her stomach. He slid one hand inside the low neckline of her dress, cupping the smooth roundness of her breast and teasing his thumb across the nipple as she gasped and strained toward him.
Through the lust and champagne fog, Hermione struggled to fight her way back to sanity. She’d had married men before, but this was different, this was… wrong; it was all wrong! They couldn’t. Not here on this tower, while somewhere below them his wife was waiting.
“Draco, we can’t! We’ve got to stop.”
His reply was muffled as he bit her neck. “No. Been wanting this, wanting you, since I was twelve.” His mouth moved back up to hover over hers. “Don’t make us stop. Please, Minnow. Don’t.” Hermione’s senses whirled with desire, but deep in the recesses of her sensible Gryffindor brain, she knew they couldn’t go through with this. Not here, not now. Fumbling in an interior pocket of her cloak, her fingers closed around Snape’s lamp.
Draco’s hands were on her shoulders, sliding her dress down to free her breasts. Then his mouth closed over her right nipple, nipping and sucking. Oh, gods, she was dying, she was already in heaven…His fingers moved to the silken skin of her inner thigh, and the lamp clattered to the paving stones as Hermione moaned “Snape” in a desperate attempt to summon her former professor’s shade.
Draco’s head shot up. “What did you call me?” The lust-filled breathlessness of his voice couldn’t cover the shocked tone.
“Not you,” Hermione whispered, raising one finger to point at something behind Draco’s back.
He looked over his shoulder then, where the shade of his godfather hovered dark and fully formed in the night air.
Without a sound, Draco sank to the paving stones in a dead faint.
He awoke to a nightmarish pain in his head. Lying still, Draco became aware of two things— cold, uncomfortable stone beneath his back, and voices engaged in what seemed to be the middle of a conversation.
“He assured me that he could hold his liquor.” Hermione was speaking. “A talent he said he’d inherited, like all the Malfoy men. But from his behavior tonight…”
“Bah! Just because they are able to retain that icy, arrogant demeanor when drunk doesn’t mean the Malfoy men are good at holding their liquor! My cousin Lucius could maintain his aristocratic composure through round after round, but he was always the first to pass out. That would be the Malfoy family talent, Miss Granger.”
That voice…it sounded like…but it couldn’t be. Draco opened one eye and looked up from his prone position on the cold stone to the translucent face of Severus Snape. He promptly passed out again.
When he next came around, Draco found he was propped on a bench in the lee where the tower joined the castle. Hermione was pressing a steaming cup of coffee into his hands.
“Here, drink this. The Hogwarts staff set up Charmed coffee urns on every floor tonight for people in need of a sobering up or who want to stay up late visiting.”
Draco took a sip. The coffee was lightly sweetened but cream-free, just as he liked it. “How did you know…”
Hermione gestured grandly with one hand, forcing Draco to focus on the spot behind her left shoulder where Snape’s shade floated. “He told me, she replied.
Draco blinked twice, finally accepting that what he was seeing was real. Then his eyes filled with tears. “Severus,” he began.
Snape looked down at his godson, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“I’ve just assured Miss Granger that the main talent of a drunken Malfoy is the ability to pass out cold,” he said. “Please do not contradict me now by going off into a maudlin crying jag. After all, I’ve been dead for twenty years. Any display of additional sorrow after so much time would be superfluous.”
“But how…why?” Draco wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, then took another drink of the bracingly potent coffee.
“How much do you know about Horcruxes, Draco?”
“Is that what I’m seeing, Severus? A spectre, a… a phantom, created by the death of someone else?”
“Blunt. But accurate, to a point. What you are seeing is my way of maintaining contact from where I am now.”
“But why?” Draco’s voice held both puzzlement and frustration at something he couldn’t grasp.
“For you, my boy,” Snape’s dark eyes softened. “What Miss Granger has been trying to tell you about a prophecy concerning danger to your family is true.”
Draco leaned back against the stone wall of the tower as though poleaxed, shaking his head to clear it. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing…”
Hermione had been sitting quietly beside him, allowing him to interact with Snape’s shade. Now she placed two fingers at his right temple and said softly, “Irisium.”
A series of rainbows flashed in front of Draco’s eyes and his mind cleared. He could still feel the effects of the alcohol, but with much less impact. His eyes met Hermione’s and a look passed between them
Sorry. Not sorry about what just happened between us.
Hermione’s lips quirked in a small, secret smile. Leave it to Cadro Flamoy to make her feel good, even when she shouldn’t.
Then, “Draco, it’s time you heard the prophecy. Professor Snape feels its fulfillment is approaching. Listen, and see what you make of it.”
Draco stared at Snape. He still had so many questions. This whole night seemed surreal as hell, but he found he was able to concentrate.
Snape spoke, his voice once again full of portent. “The Malfoy/Black line breeds darkness for our world, a threat in the blood, beyond the end of war. Yet from the Dragon springs the riddle of the ages—where six and seven become one, where lion lies down before maiden, a time of testing and of choice, a threat of shadow greater than our world has seen…silver darkness rising…”
Draco realized he was holding his breath. He let it out in a gusting sigh. “Heavy words.”
“Yes, but perhaps not as bad as it seems,” Hermione tried to cheer him. “The word threat is used twice. A threat, to my way of thinking, is a warning of something that may or may not happen. As for the rest, does it mean anything to you?”
“Well, the first part is obvious. We know that my family is definitely involved, and that the time frame is after the War. So, it doesn’t refer to anything in my past. The line about something springing ‘from the Dragon’ does seem to point to my children, if the Dragon is actually me. I suppose we have to go with that assumption, for now. But, as for the rest, I’ve no idea!”
“Do the numbers six and seven have any meaning that you can think of?”
“Hmmm…one thing. Sharlotte is six, and she will turn seven on Monday. We have a big celebration planned after we get back from the reunion.”
His voice died away as full realization struck him. The prophecy mustbe true, and it seemed to point to his baby girl, whom he loved so dearly but for whom he had such fears and concerns. He leaned forward and buried his hands in his hair. “Gods! Not Shar!”
“If the prophecy concerns your daughter, then the time truly is short.” Hermione laid one hand on Draco’s arm. “We’ll sort it, Draco. Our Potions Master is with us— at least at night. And I’ll help you in every way that I can.”
Draco covered her hand with his. “Thank you, Minnow,” he said simply.
Unnoticed by either of them, the shade of the Potions Master smiled a rare and rather smug smile.
Midnight, Malfoy Manor
Sharlotte stood in the doorway of the darkened library, listening for sounds that might tell her if anyone else was out of bed and moving through the Manor.
She scampered across the carpet and began to push the wing chair close enough for her to climb up and retrieve Faerie Rustica. from its place on the high shelf..
That evening, Sharlotte knew two things, and she knew them well. She talked about them to Leviathan as she worked.
“The Queen won’t take me to see the spooky house tonight,” Shar told him, stepping from the seat of the chair, to the arm, and then balancing on the high back. “No matter how much I beg, she’ll make me wait.”
She reached on tiptoe for the book, hopping lightly down once it was in her hand. “But I ‘m good at waiting. I don’t like to do it, but I can. I can do it better than the Queen.”
She stood for a moment, staring down at Faerie Rustica.
Dried blood. Creepy words. A strange, far-away house peeking through tangled tree branches. What else was inside the faerie’s world, that she didn’t know about yet?
Sharlotte opened the book and knelt on the floor. “I’ll be careful,” she promised Leviathan.
The library lay hushed and still after she’d gone, the only light coming from her silver dragon, glowing ghostly on the seat of the tall, wing-backed chair.
Chapter 6: Revenant
At three a.m. Draco slid quietly into the Gryffindor common room after whispering “Godiva,” the password for those staying in the dormitories during the reunion. The Fat Lady turned up her nose at the sight of a Slytherin entering her domain, but her portrait swung aside to admit him just the same.
Draco crossed to the low-burning fire and warmed his hands, lost in deep speculation. The night had been a strange one, ranking high on the list of strangest in his life. There were others, of course. Some, from the days of the War, he didn’t like to remember. And one in particular that he did, following the Yule Ball during fourth year.
But this night had been surreal, and no mistaking it. Seeing and talking with his godfather’s shade. Discovering that the prophecy was most likely true, and that it seemed to revolve around Sharlotte.
Then, there was that little matter of having Granger in his arms tonight…
Draco looked up as the door swung open to admit another latecomer. Ian Harkrider stepped into the room. Through the years, the two men had met several times at parties on the Continent, but other than an awareness of Ian’s fame as a musician, Draco hardly knew him at all.
He nodded now in acknowledgment of the other man’s presence. Ian paused, giving Draco a long, serious, speculative look. Then he nodded curtly and disappeared up the stairs to the dorm rooms.
Moments later, Draco did the same, moving by wand light to the bed reserved for him for the next two nights. He had no idea who his roommates were, but one of them was snoring like the Hogwarts Express chugging its way up a steep mountainside.
Draco undressed, drew the curtains around his bed, and then cast a white noise charm to block out the sound of the snorer. He lay back on the pillow, arms crossed behind his head, senses lulled by the gentle whirring that surrounded him.
His mind whirred too, desperate for answers.
He had never gotten over Granger— that much was bloody obvious after his drunken actions this evening. And based on her response, he’d say she hadn’t gotten over him, either.
He smiled in the dark, remembering the taste of her lips, the feel of her nipple against his tongue, the soft skin of her inner thigh beneath his fingers. Fuck it all, he was working himself into a raging erection, but he refused to wank off here, in a room full of grown men, like some randy schoolboy.
Besides, there were more important issues at stake. He had a wife, somewhere on the other side of the castle. A wife who trusted him…
Draco jerked his thoughts away from Librette as if scalded. Though he had been slowly coming to the realization that their marriage was outwardly successful but inwardly hollow, the implications were not something he wanted to think on at three in the morning. Especially after being exposed tonight to the heady intoxicant that was Hermione Granger’s body.
He relished the thought of spending the moments before sleep reliving his encounter with Granger, but the prophecy deserved all of his focus now. Though the threat to Sharlotte was a puzzle for the most part, Hermione had promised to help him unravel it.
Hermione, who had unlocked a Pandora’s box of old memories by sending him that note at dinner addressed to Cadro Flamoy, from the girl he’d once known only as Minnow…
Loch Ness, July, 1991
In the sky over Urquhardt Park— a hidden wizarding picnicking ground on the shores of a deep Scottish loch— the summer sun played a teasing game, showing its bright face to the boys and girls gathered beneath it, and then ducking back behind clouds to hide once again.
The group of laughing eleven-year-olds was set to begin at Hogwarts in six weeks’ time. Traveling via the Floo network from homes that ranged from ancient Pureblood to newly magical Muggle, the children had met for a Get-Acquainted-Early party.
Not all future first years were able to attend. Harry Potter had not yet received the letter inviting him to Hogwarts, and Ronald Weasley was in Romania, visiting his brother Charlie.
But among those gathered were a wide-eyed Hermione Granger and a curious Draco Malfoy, who stood facing each other as instructed by Professor Pomona Sprout, head of the group into which they’d been randomly placed.
Within each group, boys and girls paired off with a “mate” for the day. They were to spend time getting to know each other in the hope that friendships would spring up prior to their Sorting, leading to greater unity between the Houses.
“Cadro Flamoy.” Hermione read the Charmed tag on the front of Draco’s robes. The party planners had chosen a game of Scrambled Names as a fun ice-breaker.
“Eerminoh Renggar,” Draco read back. “Mind if I call you… umm…Minnow until I can unscramble your name? It shouldn’t take me long.”
Remembering his aristocratic good manners even while boasting, he stuck out his hand and the two of them shook solemnly.
Draco had protested bitterly about having to come today, to mingle with schoolmates he felt were inferior to his family. But his mother had insisted. If Lucius hadn’t been away on business, Draco could have called on his father to intervene.
Narcissa, however, had views of her own on numerous issues. She thought it wise for her only son to get to know some of the first-years outside his small circle of mates. One never knew what alliances might form or allegiances develop from childhood acquaintances.
Now Draco was glad she had forced his attendance. He found himself instantly drawn to his partner for the day. The girl’s hand felt warm in his as they shook. And she was pretty, with untamed hair and big brown eyes that sparkled brightly in the middle of a small, pert face. Best of all for Draco, who was several years away from his adolescent growth spurt, she was shorter than he was.
The young witch set out confidently to unscramble his name. Draco set about with equal determination to impress her by listing his many possessions.
Soon she knew his first name and the name of his pony, too. But it was not long before the bragging fell away and the two of them began to truly talk. About everything, from favorite activities, to funny adventures, to their lack of siblings.
As the day passed, they chased each other in and out of the trees, climbed among the ruins of an ancient castle on the lakeshore, and twined around each other’s souls with the joyful incaution of childhood.
The girl showed him a book of stars that she carried in the pocket of her robes. Draco found she had a telescope of her own and could reel off dozens of star names as well the constellations to where each star belonged.
This was a refreshing change after a childhood spent playing with Pansy, whom Draco had had to marry repeatedly during countless games of ‘wedding.’ Or Millicent, who had challenged him to wrestling matches that left him squashed, bruised, and defeated.
Hermione hadn’t known he was a Pureblood. At that time, she would neither have understood nor cared about the significance. And Draco hadn’t realized she was Muggle-born. It never occurred to him that the blood of such an enchanting witch could be anything other than pure as his own.
Early on, he gave up trying to unscramble her name. He was too busy falling in love.
As the semi-dark of a summer evening descended, they stood together, holding hands and watching fireworks burst over the old castle ruins. Draco turned to Hermione.
“It’s almost time to go, and I still don’t know your name.”
“I suppose you’ll just have to keep guessing then.” Her eyes danced wickedly in the flaring rocket bursts and the thought occurred to Draco that this girl was a witch in more ways than one.
He leaned over and kissed her then. It wasn’t a first kiss for either, Spin-the-Bottle being a popular game at parties in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds. But it was the first kiss to have any meaning
His lips were cool and dry against hers; hers were incredibly soft under his. Draco felt slightly dizzy and had a feeling she’d be very, very good at this.
They parted moments later and Hermione dropped his hand. The fireworks were over. Both were suddenly shy and self-conscious, aware that the kiss and the day meant something for them far beyond surface appearances.
“I’ve got to go,” she said, beginning to back away.
“See you, then. I…I had fun today.” He didn’t want her to leave.
“Me, too.” She turned and scampered off.
“Hey, wait— Minnow!”
“See you in six weeks—maybe we’ll get sorted into the same House!”
“I’ll wish on a star for it!” She raised hands showing crossed fingers. “Bye for now, “Cadro!”
Lying now in a comfortable bed in the Gryffindor tower, the adult Draco remembered sadly the child Draco’s naïve plan to ask his father to petition hers for a betrothal. It was a practice that had fallen into disuse among the Pureblood families. But Draco had confidently believed Lucius would be able to resurrect it. Why not, when he'd already found the girl he wanted to grow up to marry? Once he got around to unscrambling her name, of course.
His dreams of Minnow had died hard, carried off by the cold light of reality and later by his own misguided decisions.
Exhausted, Draco drifted into a deep sleep, troubled toward dawn by a vivid dream of himself, wrestling Millicent Bulstrode for the privilege of spending a night with Hermione Granger. As usual, Millicent won.
Malfoy Manor, Three a. m.
Scorpius Malfoy was a night owl. He enjoyed sneaking about the Manor in the dark, or sitting up late to send messages via his Mercurious—a small board bordered by the alphabet, with a stylus for tapping out words that appeared instantly on the matching boards owned by his friends.
His father thought it was ridiculous, but his mother only laughed, saying Draco shouldn’t forget what it was like to be twelve.
Scorpius, who would turn thirteen in late October, was hungry most of the time. On his way to the kitchen for a piece of chocolate cake left over from dinner and a glass of milk to wash it down, he noticed a dim light spilling from the Manor library.
Forgetting about food for the moment, he pushed open the library door and saw Faerie Rustica lying open on the floor. Leviathan lay alone on the seat of a wing chair shoved against the high bookshelves that rose up to disappear at the shadowy ceiling.
Obviously, Sharlotte had been at work. But where was she now? Scorpius scanned the room, even looking under the wide desk and behind the pooling, evergreen draperies that lined the tall windows. There was no sign of his younger sister.
She might have gone back to bed or into the kitchen for a snack of her own, but he didn’t think so. It wasn’t like Shar to travel even a few feet without Leviathan. The small silver sea dragon accompanied her at all times, an ever-present partner-in-crime.
Scorpius had just turned to leave the room and continue on his quest for cake when a strange, heavy thump sounded behind him. He whirled to see Sharlotte standing on the carpet beside Faerie Rustica, small hands clenched into fists, eyes roving wild and unfocused in her pretty, elfin face.
He darted back across the room and grabbed his sister by the shoulders. “Shar! How…how did you get here? I looked all over the library! Where were you?” Then, “What’s the matter?”
Sharlotte was staring at Scorpius without seeing him, her eyes deep, black pools that looked much darker than their usual old-pewter color.
“Where have you been?” he repeated. “You weren’t in this room! I looked!”
Sharlotte’s eyes roamed blindly over his face, then slid away. She turned without replying, bending gracefully to retrieve Faerie Rustica and then moving to scoop Leviathan from the chair where he lay.
But as her fingers closed around Leviathan, she jerked her hand back as though scalded.
“Ouch!” she cried. “Leviathan is hot!”
Scorpius walked over and picked up the silver sea dragon. “No, he isn’t. He feels the same as always. What’s wrong, Shar? What are you doing with Faerie Rustica? You know Grandmother said you weren’t to have it tonight.”
Sharlotte gazed down at Leviathan with a stricken look. When she turned her eyes up to Scorpius, she was his little sister again.
“I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone! Not Grandmother or Grandfather, and never Daddy or Maman!” She stretched out a tentative finger toward Leviathan. This time his touch did not burn.
With a gasp of relief, Sharlotte snatched him up. Cuddling him to her chest, she wriggled into the tall wingback chair that she’d moved earlier to reach Faerie Rustica.
Scorpius dropped into a cross-legged position on the floor. “I promise not to tell,” he replied. “How did you just appear like that? What’s going on?”
“I…I’ve been to the Autumn Wood, to visit the Faerie Queen.”
”What Autumn Wood? You mean you’ve been outside in the dark?”
“No— the wood in Faerie Rustica. The Faerie Queen lives in there, and guess what, Scorpius? She’s our Great Aunt Bellatrix!”
“You’re making that up! No one can go inside a book! And besides, Great Aunt Bellatrix died a long time ago.”
“You’re wrong, Scorpius. Aunt Bella isn’t dead! Everyone was mean to her, so she ran away to live in the Autumn Wood. The faeries made her their queen.”
“I think you’re just pretending, Shar. You’re just playing a baby make-believe game!”
“No, I’m not! It’s real. I go to the Autumn Wood sometimes at midnight to dance with the faeries. And on my birthday, the queen is going to turn me into a princess and let me wear her crown!” Sharlotte reluctantly stopped herself from telling Scorpius about the promised wings, she wanted those to be a surprise to him. But his disbelief was making her both angry and sad.
“Well, if you’re telling the truth, prove it! Make the faeries dance or something.” Scorpius got up from the floor and came to stand beside Sharlotte, lifting Faerie Rustica out of her hands. “There’s no queen with a crown anywhere in this book, Shar,” he told her, rifling through the pages.
“Yes, there is!” Sharlotte said angrily. “And she really is our Auntie Bella! She’s promised next time to take me to the dark house, the one on the page that was stuck with dried blood. It’s where she lives and where she keeps her most special treasures. Aunt Bella’s inside her house now; that’s why you can’t see her in any of the pictures!”
“Oh, of course she is.” Scorpius gave a smirk reminiscent of Draco’s. “If any of this is true, then how do you get inside the book?”
“I put my hand down on the first page— the one where the path starts. But it has to be midnight or nothing will happen!” Sharlotte’s lower lip started to tremble as she realized she had no way to convince her brother to believe her.
“Right, Shar… right,” Scorpius nodded sagely, his voice dripping with a twelve-year-old’s sarcasm. “Let’s just see if we can summon “Auntie Bella”, then. If you can’t go to the Autumn Wood right now, then maybe this queen of yours will come to us.”
He walked over to the desk, placed Faerie Rustica flat on its glossy surface, and laid his hand on the open page. Closing his eyes, Scorpius began to speak with a deep, playful intonation:
Ruler of the Realm of Faerie
Lady of Autumn and of Twilight
Mistress of Mystic Power!
Hear me now!”
Scorpius’ voice trembled with an unexpected surge of magic, his words no longer a mocking chant but a dark incanting.
Goddess of shadow and storm
Arise and show yourself strong!
Awake, night-black revenant!
Come forth and crown my sister
Bringer of Silver Darkness…”
In response to Scorpius words, Faerie Rustica flew out from beneath his hand and flipped off the desk, landing face down on the rich Turkey carpet that covered the center of the library floor.
Scorpius’ already pale face had turned sheet-white. Both he and Sharlotte ran to the place where the book lay.
Gingerly turning it over, they found it was open to the last two pages. One contained the blood-written song. The other held the picture of the shadowy woodland path that had once wound its way to the dimly seen dark building.
To the Malfoy children’s astonishment, the picture had changed.
What had been a scene of the Autumn Wood brushed by the deep shadows of late afternoon was now a scene of night. The trees had thinned to show plainly the ancient ruin of a house, appearing much closer than it had before. A sliver of new moon gleamed in the sky above the house, its incandescent beauty threatened by the long, curling fingers of an approaching dark cloud.
Below the picture were new words, written in the same slanting, spidery hand that had crafted the mysterious song from blood— Speak the words and it shall be.
“Scorpius, you did magic!” Sharlotte exclaimed. “You aren’t supposed to do magic outside of school!”
“But I…but I didn’t!” Scorpius looked shocked. “I swear, Shar! I didn’t do that on purpose! One minute I was making up words, just being silly, and the next the feeling…changed. Like I wasn’t myself anymore!”
“I don’t mind that you changed the picture,” Sharlotte replied serenely. “Now I can see Auntie Bella’s house. Before, it was too far away through the Autumn Wood trees.”
“C’mon, Shar. Let’s put Faerie Rustica back where Grandmother had it. I don’t think we need to be around it anymore tonight,” Scorpius’ voice was unsteady. He felt weak and shaky all over as he climbed up to return Faerie Rustica to the high shelf, and then shoved the wing chair back into its original place near the hearth.
Walking hand and hand with Sharlotte up the dark stairs to their bedchambers, Scorpius kept glancing over his shoulder. Were those rustlings and creakings actually movement in the shadows? The hair rose on the back of his neck as he felt something brush across it, whisper-soft as a light breeze, or the delicate touch of a hand.
“I’m sorry, Shar, but I think we need to tell Grandmother and Grandfather that there’s something strange about Faerie Rustica,” he said.
“No, Scorpius! You promised!” Sharlotte protested.
“I know I did, but that was before…”
Sharlotte whirled toward him, small fists clenched, eyes snapping with silver fire. In that moment she looked every bit her father's daughter. “If you tell, then I will tell Daddy that you’ve been riding his antique Firebolt when he’s at his office and Maman is away shopping!" she hissed. "I’ve seen you do it loads of times!”
Her words startled Scorpius. He’d been very cautious in sneaking off to the far corner of the Manor grounds with the Firebolt and felt confident that no one had ever seen him.
"I will tell, Scorpius! I'll do it!" Sharlotte threatened. Then her tone turned to one of pleading. "Faerie Rustica is my special book. They’d take it away from me if they knew! Please, Scorpius. Please keep it a secret!"
"Well…I guess it would be okay not to say anything for now. But, Shar, you need to stay away from that book for a little while!” Scorpius’ voice trembled again as he remembered the feeling of power that had radiated from the old book. “I'm going to Gunter Goyle's for the rest of the weekend, but I'll be back for your birthday on Monday. Promise me that you won't touch Faerie Rustica while I'm not here. Once I’m home, we can get it down again."
"All right, I promise not to touch it. Goodnight, Scorpius." Sharlotte’s hands were hidden behind her back, one fist curled tightly around Leviathan, the fingers of her other hand crossed in the age-old gesture that turned spoken words into a lie.
"'Night, Shar. Pleasant dreams.”
The Cotswolds, Three a. m.
In a small, secluded valley in the heart of the ancient Cotswold hills, a witching-hour wind moaned through the trees and chased itself around the corners of an isolated dark house. Taking no notice of the wind's bluster, the house waited still, silent, and withdrawn, standing as it had for centuries, marking time by the stars that rose, wheeled, and set overhead.
The property was a holding of the Black family, built in the fourteenth century on land that had been known since time immemorial as a place of deep magic.
Muggles avoided it as a haunted place and in fact, the house was bespelled to remain unseen. To the occasional passerby, nothing was visible but a copse of trees where no Muggle wanted to venture, for birds did not sing there and the constant wind spoke with an almost human voice.
In 1881, the property passed to Elladora Black, the beautiful black-haired sister of Phineas Nigellus. She lived there for fifty years with her gypsy wizard lover, Jupicus Romine. The sense of mystery that had always surrounded the place deepened with their tenancy.
For decades, speculation about the couple ran wild, along with rumors of eldritch magic, of murder, mayhem and the practice of dark rituals in a certain eerie meadow reached by traveling west down a winding, shadow-shrouded path.
At Elladora’s death, the house passed to Cassiopeia Black, her niece and protégé, a blonde, fair, and fey beauty. The rumors persisted, fueled by speculation about the girl's relationship with Antares Romine, Jupicus’ son, who many said was Elladora's son as well.
There were claims— never proven— that spectres roamed the strange old house, that the walls ran with blood, that the dark revels of Elladora’s time continued unchecked in the clearing to the west.
It was a perfect inheritance for Cassiopeia’s niece, Bellatrix Black Lestrange.
Chapter 7: Rising Signs
Gryffindor Tower, Three a. m.
Hermione sat cross-legged on the end of her bed, hands wrapped around a mug of cocoa. She’d left Draco on the lake tower at half two in order to meet her most treasured female friends for some after-midnight fun.
As the reunion's primary planner, Luna Scamander had arranged for the five friends to stay in the same dormitory for the weekend. She’d also brought along a charmed chocolate pot from her cottage in Hogsmeade, to combat the effects of all the champagne they’d drunk.
Based on the laughter swirling through the room, it wasn’t working.
There was, in fact, an open champagne bottle floating magically about the room, offering itself to whoever was willing. Both Ginny Potter and Lavender Weasley had been making good use of it.
"Ron has a big one!" Lavender was gleefully reporting. "That first time, during sixth year, when I slid my hand down the front of his trousers, it came as a pleasant surprise!"
"Came being the operative word,” Hannah Longbottom said dryly. The others groaned but still shouted with laughter.
They’d heard it all before, at countless get-togethers in the post-Hogwarts’ years. It was always the same. Lavender would drink too much, then brag about her sex life and Ron’s penis size, often with a sly glance at Hermione.
Hermione always ignored it. There was no denying that she and Lavender did share a ‘first.’ But that was old news. She was happy for Ron and Lavender’s happiness.
Someday, though, she might have to tell Lav that Charlie was actually more gifted. And talented.
The thought made her giggle and then snort. Better pass on the champagne bottle when it comes round again her inner voice suggested.
In spite of the bright smile and unrestrained laughter, neither Hermione’s heart nor her mind was really present at this little gathering tonight. Both were still with Malfoy, back on that chilly, wind-swept tower beneath the August sky.
The desperate concern he’d shown for his daughter after hearing the prophecy, the tears that formed in his eyes when he’d seen the shade of Snape— both of these things had touched Hermione deeply.
Then there was that other matter. Her thoughts returned again and again to the feel of Malfoy’s hands and lips, to the husky rasp of his voice as he pleaded with her not to stop the two of them from going in a direction she knew would be all wrong at that point.
Hermione stared out the dark window toward the diamond-fire brilliance of the distant stars.
In her mind’s eye, she was seeing the top of Draco's blond head as he bent over her breast. She could almost feel his mouth fastened on her nipple, nipping and sucking, his fingers gliding up her inner thigh, igniting tiny sparks of dragon fire on her bare skin.
"Hermione? Where are you this evening? You're far too quiet!" Lavender was calling to her. "You've probably had more adventures in sex than the rest of us put together! C'mon, tell all— who's your fave, ever?"
Hermione caught herself just before blurting "Malfoy.” Taking a big sip of cocoa, she resolutely pushed away a sudden wishful vision of Draco's long, aristocratic fingers and the magical things they could do. High time she returned to the here and now.
"Well,” Hermione replied brightly to her friends, “Going back to the topic everyone was discussing a bit earlier— I was sitting by a certain shit-faced Weasley at dinner, when I accidentally put my hand on his crotch under the table. No, truly! I swear it was accidental!” she continued, as everyone fell about laughing. “George had made the best joke and I meant to grab his knee. But what I grabbed instead was impressive!"
Both Ginny and Lavender began screaming, for different reasons.
“No! George couldn’t possibly have a bigger broomstick than my Won-won!” squealed Lavender.
“Bloody hell! Can we please talk about some other family’s dangly bits?” Ginny grabbed the floating champagne bottle and turned it up, ignoring the cup of cocoa that was gently nudging her arm.
“Harry’s, then!” Lavender shouted.
“Not on your life, Lav. That’s sacred!”
Hermione silently thanked George for providing a distraction from her own mad thoughts of Malfoy and from the speculative look Luna kept giving her. Almost as if Lunes knew where Hermione had been this evening and exactly what she was feeling about it.
“Someone else’s turn to share,” Ginny gasped, wiping tears of laughter from her cheeks.
“Luna. What's Rolf like?"
"Well," Luna replied serenely, "Rolf's penis resembles the horn of the Crumpled-Horn Snorkack in the way that it curves when….”
“Are you saying Rolf’s knob is crumpled?” Hannah yelled. “Or that it goes off all curli-cued to the left?”
Everyone fell about laughing again.
“Neither.” Luna smiled enigmatically. “I just meant that it’s really quite fantastical.”
“Hannah, I thought Neville said in his speech that the two of you would be sneaking off to shag in some dark corner tonight,” teased Lavender.
“Ha! Neville had way too much firewhisky for that. Sneaking and shagging will have to wait ‘til tomorrow night!”
“Speaking of sneaking for sex,” broke in Ginny. “I saw something interesting tonight, on my way up from the dungeons. Harry got assigned to stay in Slytherin, so after we left the Great Hall, I walked down with him to visit awhile. It must have been around half one when I started on my way back up here. And I saw Elizabeth Nott— you know who I mean? Draco Malfoy’s wife, bit of a stuck-up bitch. Graduated from Beauxbatons.”
“She’s called herself Librette ever since she went into modeling years ago,” interrupted Lavender. “In the early days, she was a hot property model. And a party girl. She just recently came out of retirement to do a spread for the all-ages issue of Beguiled.”
“The word ‘spread’ comes to mind but not in the way you mean,” Ginny snarked. “When I saw her tonight, she was backed into an alcove beside the statue of Warrick the Witty and Ian Harkrider was all over her. I wouldn’t have noticed them except that she let out a moan just as I was passing by. I don’t think she ever saw me.”
”Librette and Ian were a couple a long time ago,” Luna spoke, her dreamy voice full of sympathy. “Poor Draco!”
“That's right! Librette left Ian for Malfoy! I remember when it was the hottest item of gossip, about fifteen years back. I wonder if Malfoy knows what’s going on now.” Lavender shrugged her shoulders. “Or if he even cares. Maybe they go whatever way they please.”
Hermione had been listening to this exchange with horror. With a possible threat to his children based on clues from the prophecy, Malfoy didn't need the added complication of marital problems.
But what did she really know of the inner workings of the Malfoy marriage? Maybe Lavender was right and they had an arrangement where the partners were free to stray without repercussion.
Is that why he was all over YOU, then? asked her inner voice.
Hermione ignored it.
She did not like the feeling of being privy to such a dangerous piece of knowledge as had just fallen into her hands. Not given the close contact she would have with Draco throughout the weekend as they tried to untangle the prophecy. Coupled with those old resurrected longings that were surging between them, it would be a recipe for the heady brew of temptation.
Maybe nothing was wrong between Draco and his wife. But Ginny seemed quite sure that what she had witnessed was a cheat in action.
Since Hermione had not been the one to see Librette with Ian, she decided to say nothing to Malfoy. Instead, she’d wait, watch, and maybe do a bit of prying into the state of his marriage.
She and Draco had agreed to meet at ten on Saturday morning in the library, the perfect quiet place to work on unraveling the prophecy. Hermione planned to do some research into an idea she had concerning the meaning. Something about one particular phrase— where lion lies down before maiden—had sounded familiar.
She would need several hours of sleep to rest and focus her mind. But for the next few minutes, she was determined to enjoy the laughter of her friends.
"Did I ever tell you about the archeologist I met on a dig in South America," she began. “He was so good-looking, with that dark hair/dark eyes/dark skin combo. But he showed up for our dinner date wearing an artifact necklace of dried, shriveled penises. He said it was for good luck!”
“Mmm, I’ll just bet it was!” Lavender leaned forward, eyes glittering in the lamplight. “Details, Hermione, details. We want all of them. Right now!”
Ravenclaw Tower, Three a. m.
Librette Malfoy flopped onto her side in the narrow bed she was to occupy for the next two nights. Merde! The discomfort level of this mattress was incroyable!
She, who was used to only the finest accommodations, was now expected to settle down here, like a common Hogwarts schoolgirl? C’est chiant! She stretched her long, shapely legs curling her toes beneath the warm bedclothes. At least the bed was snug— the night had grown ridiculously chilly for August.
Plumping her pillow one last time, Librette nestled in for a sleep that might possibly prove elusive due to her swirling, spiraling thoughts. Again tonight, her lover, Ian Harkrider, had asked her to leave her husband.
Ian had first broached the subject during their weekend together in Paris in mid-July, though divorce was a topic he had hinted at repeatedly in the three years since they’d rekindled their affair.
“I really love you,” he had said. “Always have done. And I'm tired of waiting, tired of sharing you. I need you in my life, Librette, and mine alone.”
In middle age, Ian wanted to settle down.
“But the children...” Librette had argued.
“I'd make them an excellent stepfather. I know a thing or two about parenting,” he'd replied. Ian had a ten-year-old-son, Cosmo, with a French songstress witch. The two of them had split up ages ago, but Ian's son was with him often.
“Having me in their lives would broaden your children's horizons,” he’d argued. “I'd teach them all about music. And of course, we'd live in Paris.”
Librette thought of a Paris-based life with longing. France— and Ian— would always hold her heart. It was true that Scorpius was already away at school now; he could split his holidays between her and Draco. But Sharlotte... Librette wanted her pretty, puzzling daughter to attend Beauxbatons as she herself had done.
She'd have to fight her husband for Sharlotte's custody, and truthfully, she hated to do that to him. Draqueau had been good to her. The Manor was a beautiful home; he had given her free reign in redecorating it after their marriage. He allowed her unlimited funds for frequent shopping excursions, and never minded the rare modeling gig. Yes, leaving him would be hard and custody of Sharlotte could be a problem.
Still, it might be time for a change. Librette allowed herself to dream for a moment of life in France with Ian. A townhouse in the most chic arrondissement of wizarding Paris. The country chateau and vineyard that Ian had promised her as a wedding gift. For all her British birth and ancestry, she really did feel most at home in France. And as she'd grown older, she had realized that Ian was the one man she'd ever loved.
Librette hated to hurt Draqueau, she truly did, but with sudden and startling clarity, she made her decision. She would tell him after Sharlotte's birthday on Monday.
Hogwarts, Saturday, Eight a. m.
The August day dawned sunny and cool after the storms of the previous night. Perfect weather for a picnic and the Quidditch match to follow, a match that had generated talk and speculation both at dinner and at breakfast.
There would be two teams, the Black and the White, made up of all the reunion attendees who had once played Quidditch at Hogwarts. The players had met several times over the summer to practice, and the matchup promised to be nothing short of spectacular.
Hermione heard the excited buzz as she passed along the Great Hall tables looking for a seat to grab a bite before meeting Draco in the library.
Nearly everyone had recovered from the night before. Small juice pitchers of hangover potion stood at regular intervals on all the dining tables, guaranteed to complete banish the after-effects of too much liquor.
Sitting down across from Luna, Hermione poured herself a small glass. It tasted pleasantly orange-y, and Hermione smiled. It was so much better to be a witch than a Muggle on mornings like these.
Harry, Ron, and Ginny had gone to the Quidditch pitch to check that all was in order for the match; Lavender was still in bed, and Hannah had joined Neville in the Headmaster’s suite. No need for sneaking and shagging if you actually lived in the castle.
"Where's Rolf this morning?" Hermione asked.
Luna's husband was a nice-looking man with kind, intelligent brown eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. Hermione couldn’t help remembering Luna's description of his mysterious, fantastical penis. She signed. Trust thatreally are suited to your post as Divination teacher! And I do have a reason for asking— there's a problem, you see. A serious problem, involving Malfoy's children. It's a long story, but I'll be glad to explain."
"You can tell me later." Luna smiled. "The scrolls containing the name of everyone's partner for the ball will be handed out here in the Great Hall after the Quidditch match. I'll see to it that you and Malfoy are paired up. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to join Rolf and see if we have a new baby."
"Of course And Luna… thank you." Hermione's voice trailed off as Luna drifted away.
She put her hands up to her flaming cheeks. How ridiculous to feel embarrassed over this request! It made perfect sense! She needed to partner with Draco so they could continue to discuss the mystery of the prophecy.
It wasn't likely that the two of them could unravel it during a few hours of work in the library this morning. They would need to be together at the ball so they could bounce ideas off each other. They might even need to slip out to call on Snape, who could only be raised during the hours between sunset and sunrise.
Yes, all good excuses for pairing off with Malfoy said her inner voice smugly.
No matter that you want him, that you've always wanted him, that he's haunted your dreams for the better part of your life! The two of you came within a hairsbreadth of losing your virginity to each other after the Yule Ball, even though you had been at serious odds for several years before that! It's always been him, now hasn't it? He's the reason you couldn't stay with Ron, or Charlie, or Derek of the penis necklace, or anybody else.
The voice was turning nasty and scornful. Hermione rose rapidly from the table, giving her head a fierce shake. She had to meet Draco in a matter of minutes; it wouldn't do at all to have these sorts of thoughts and feelings running in the background. She needed a clear mind in order to focus on the prophecy.
Striding purposefully down the Great Hall to meet the very demon she was trying to outrun, she noticed said demon and wife seated at breakfast with Blaise and Isabel Zabini.
The sight of Malfoy with his beautiful, blonde Librette struck Hermione like a dowsing of cold pumpkin juice, effectively silencing the voices in her head. Draco may have shown last night just how badly he wanted her, but he was thoroughly married to someone else. An incontrovertible fact.
Hermione tossed her bouncy curls and strode out the door.
Looking up from his eggs, Draco watched Hermione go and thought with pleasure of the time he would spend with her this morning. His wife, who could not resist shopping in any and every locale, was going into Hogsmeade with Isabel Zabini for the rest of the morning, leaving him free to meet Hermione in the library.
Librette's icy mood of the evening before had vanished, causing Draco to wonder at the gentle tenderness with which she was treating him over breakfast. He'd not told her of the prophecy. Why worry the mother of his children over something that might be nothing more than a never-realized threat?
Besides, Librette lived very much in the here and now. She would say the prophecy was no doubt a mistake, or a silly joke someone had planned to play years ago with no importance for the present time. No, she would be no help in solving the riddle. It was best to keep her in the dark for the time being.
Draco stood, brushed his lips perfunctorily across Librette's cheek, told her to enjoy her morning with Isabel, and left the Hall.
Librette watched him walk away with a frisson of sadness. C'est bien dommage. She would miss Draqueau when she was with Ian. But not too badly.
Isabel spoke to her then, interrupting Librette’s thoughts. She turned back to her friend, the two of them chattering away in French, the momentary sadness pushed to the back of her mind by the joys of the impending shopping expedition and the larger, future picture of la vie en France.
Saturday morning, Malfoy Manor
Scorpius and Sharlotte sat at the breakfast table, eyeing each other warily over Belgian waffles with strawberries. On either side of them, the Malfoy grandparents sipped coffee, having breakfasted earlier.
Lucius perused the Prophet; Narcissa was gazing out past the terrace, studying the state of the formal gardens. The Manor and its grounds, she admitted, had thrived with Librette as overseer. Her daughter-in-law had perfect taste and style.
In spite of that, Narcissa had never felt that Librette was a good match for her only son. The woman could be a bit shallow and brainless at times. Luckily, the children seemed to have inherited their father's intelligence and depth of emotional range.
She smiled fondly at the two of them now, thinking that Sharlotte had indeed been on her best behavior this weekend, as requested by Draco when he'd kissed his daughter goodbye.
Perhaps, after all, Sharlotte was less like Bellatrix than Narcissa had feared. A ray of morning sunshine struck pale highlights in her granddaughter's white-blonde hair, creating a halo effect. It made the child look the very antithesis of the wild-eyed, long-dead Bellatrix.
Maybe Sharlotte was growing out of whatever fascination she'd had toward darker inclinations. The evening before, Sharlotte had submitted to having Faerie Rustica placed out of her reach with no fuss whatsoever.
Narcissa admitted to herself that she had been guilty of favoring Scorpius, whose nature reminded her of her sister Andromeda's as a young person— kind, serious, a bit above age level in wisdom and maturity.
She would make a special effort to spend time with Sharlotte during this visit. Her granddaughter loved to dance; she would ask Sharlotte to put on a grandparents-only "recital" this afternoon. Maybe the two of them could arrange some flowers and decorate the blue parlor as a temporary recital hall.
Narcissa turned her attention back to the gardens, just missing the look that passed between Scorpius and Sharlotte.
"He won't tell," Sharlotte was thinking. “He's too afraid about getting into trouble over Daddy's Firebolt."
"She might tell anyway," Scorpius thought. "She's done it before. And I still don't believe all those things she said about Faerie Rustica. It's probably just one of those old-fashioned picture books where different scenes are Spelled to appear automatically."
Scorpius' bravery had returned with the morning light, the odd happenings of the previous night shrinking into implausibility under the bright sun. Shar has a great imagination. It's just like I said; she's making up all that shite about the Faerie Queen and our dead Aunt Bellatrix.
He pushed back his chair and stood. "Grandmother, Grandfather— I'm off to Gunter's now. I'll be back Monday morning."
Scorpius hugged Lucius, kissed Narcissa, and squeezed Sharlotte's shoulder, giving her a meaningful look.
"Bye, Scorpius. Have fun!" Sharlotte gave him a serene and innocent smile. Faerie Rustica was safely hidden in the bottom of a box of toys beneath her bed. She had gone straight back to the library to retrieve it after telling Scorpius goodnight in the wee morning hours.
Sharlotte would be visiting the Autumn Wood without fail this evening. The Faerie Queen, her Auntie Bellatrix, had promised to tell her a special, spooky story. This was something the Queen had never done before, and Sharlotte was not about to miss it.
Chapter 8: Words, Between the Lines of Age
The Hogwarts library lay hushed and still under the midmorning sun, dust motes dancing down the sunbeams streaming through the tall, mullioned windows.
“You think my daughter is a Sphinx?” Draco asked incredulously.
“No, Malfoy. You’re not paying attention! I didn’t say she was a Sphinx, I said she was a riddle.” Hermione shook her head in exasperation, her springy curls bouncing.
The brightest witch of their age had been holding forth for the last half hour. Constellations. Egyptian temples. Zodiac signs. Ancient sky lore. Draco felt he might drown under the flood of information flowing out from this human fountain of knowledge.
And she was right—he hadn’t been paying close attention.
Sitting beside Hermione in the warm sunlight at a table spread with old books, Draco had allowed his mind to drift. In spite of the hangover potion he’d downed this morning, he was still groggy from last night’s indulgence and from the all-too-brief period of sleep that had followed.
Most of all, he found it damnably hard to focus with Granger so nearby.
His thoughts presented him with a continuous loop of the time they’d shared on the lake tower at midnight, and he kept imagining her breasts beneath the crisp white shirt she was wearing now.
The morning sun brought out golden highlights in her hair and touched the fine lines webbing the corners of her eyes— lines caused by years of looking into the sun and laughing often. And the way she smelled of citrus, honey, and almonds. Like an exotic marketplace, where one could pick and choose from all sorts of ripe, lush, juicy…
Draco shifted in his seat and tried to focus on what Hermione was saying.
“So Sharlotte isn’t a Sphinx?” he asked. Good one, Malfoy. Of course Shar isn’t a sphinx— she doesn’t sport wings or claws, now does she? Draco’s memory conjured up the winged Assyrian sphinxes he’d seen depicted in books.
He couldn’t seem to stop himself from coming off as stupid this morning. Gods, Granger would think he’d lost his mind. Or didn’t have a shred of intelligence to begin with. For something to do, he picked up the scrap of parchment she’d used to jot down the prophecy and read through the middle portion again.
“…Yet from the Dragon springs the riddle of the ages—where six and seven become one, where lion lies down before maiden, a time of testing and of choice…”
“In the past,” Hermione was speaking, “when I’ve thought about the prophecy, the identities of the lion and the maiden seemed straightforward. They’re a reference to the Zodiac signs of Leo and Virgo. But the numbers six and seven made no sense to me, until you provided the information about Sharlotte’s age.”
"Right. She'll turn from six to seven on August 23. At around three in the morning, to be precise." Draco supplied.
"Her birth date falls near the point where the sun signs change over from Leo to Virgo. In other words, the Lion lies down and the Maiden arises— though astronomically, that isn't the case. We pattern our modern Zodiac after an ancient Babylonian one. The night skies are different in our age from those seen by the ancients."
Draco nodded to show that he was awake, alive, and paying attention. "But it looks as though there’ll be some sort of danger for Sharlotte at her birthday— a time of testing and of choice.."
He had already sent an owl this morning to Lucius and Narcissa, alerting them to keep a close watch on Shar.
Draco’s first instinct had been to travel to the Manor himself, to make sure that all was well. But once his initial panic had subsided, he'd decided the wiser move would be to inform his parents and remain at Hogwarts to help Granger in untangling the oblique wording of the prophecy
“The middle segment appears to refer, in part, to the Sphinx— a standard and well-known symbol for riddles. Since the riddle of the ages springs from the Dragon, we can deduce that there is a mystery surrounding Sharlotte, your offspring."
"If the dragon is actually me." Draco looked up then, and their eyes met.
The two of them were sitting close, on the same side of the table, in order to look at the books together. Hermione had put a professorial tone into her voice, to let him know all bets from last night were off. But her business-like stance was only pretense.
She was in reality terribly aware of Malfoy's nearness. While she was lecturing him on prophetic mysteries, her thoughts had been darting like mad among the memories of last night. Draco's hands, Draco’s lips, Draco’s body— and then back again to her current surroundings.
Hermione's senses were alive this morning, dancing with sensual little flames that were likely to catch fire at any moment and burn out of control.
This close to Malfoy, she could see a delicate line etched on either side of his mouth. Could be smile lines, of course, but her intuition told her these were the marks of dissatisfaction.
She longed to reach up and trace her finger down one of them, and fan across his lips to the other. He would grab her hand, nip at her palm, slide his tongue between the jointure of her middle and index fingers, and then pull her onto his lap...
Hermione looked away quickly, but not before Draco had seen the flare of desire in her eyes.
To cover her feelings and put them back on track, she grabbed one of the heavy old books and pulled it toward her.
"To me, the reference to the Sphinx is a warning that there’s more to this prophecy than meets the eye. That we have to dig deeper in order to solve the meaning. If you'll look at this picture. Here…" she pointed, "It's an temple artifact called the Zodiac of Denderah. You'll notice the lion of Leo, the maiden of Virgo, and here between them a rendering of a sphinx."
"I'm looking," Draco told her. He leaned over suddenly to set his chin on her shoulder.
"Many experts think this placement is significant." Hermione swallowed hard.
His breath was as warm as August heat in her ear and on her cheek. "To some scholars, the sphinx, with its lions' body and woman's head, represents a melding of Leo and Virgo. It symbolizes the place where the Zodiac circle should end and where it should begin."
"So, if we are thinking in terms of riddles," he murmured, his voice low, "We might be looking for an ending. And a beginning."
"Yes," Hermione replied. "In the case of your daughter, one period of her life will end at her birthday and a new one will begin."
Draco's arm slid around Hermione's waist. With one hand, he brushed her hair aside and began to nip at her neck, in the same way he had done on the tower at midnight.
"If I remember correctly," he mumbled between bites, "Six and seven have magical significance. Six is a number of imperfection, while seven is just the opposite— a perfect number, highly magical and full of portent..."
"It would seem," Hermione replied with a ragged gasp, "That your daughter's date and time of birth are very important. That is where six and seven become one, for her. But what if there's more?" She suddenly sat up straight as an idea occurred to her. "Six and seven also become "one" when added together to make thirteen. Does that number have any significance that you can think of?"
"Personal significance, you mean? Well, actually, it's the number of times in one day I 'd like to fuck you. Once every other hour, on the hour, and one extra time, for luck." He put his hand under her chin, turned her head toward his, and kissed her.
The kiss held all the tempting sweetness of candy shared under the morning sun, flavored with a sharp tang of desire. It occurred to Hermione to say "you have a wife,” but she realized that no one knew that better than he. She had the feeling that, after what had happened between them last midnight, he had weighed the consequences carefully and come to an irrevocable decision.
As if he'd read Hermione's mind, Draco spoke. "I've never strayed, in case you're wondering." His lips were moving down her neck as his fingers unfastened the buttons of her shirt, one by one. "Been tempted— hell, yes. But it never seemed worth the bother, really. Until now. Minnow... it's always been you. Always. Will you have me?" His voice, already low, had dropped to a whisper as he buried his face between her breasts. “Please.”
Fuck all Hermione thought. This man knows how to seduce. Even if she'd been unwilling, that sensual, longing-infused plea would have changed her mind in one heartbeat.
"Draco... yes." she murmured back.
With lightning speed, she moved from her chair to straddle his lap. Draco slid down in his seat in order to place her directly atop his erection. His hands slid around to unhook her lacy bra and her breasts popped free. Hermione closed her eyes, threw back her head and moaned as his mouth closed over one breast for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. But this time, she didn't plan to stop him.
Until a creaking of the ancient floorboards alerted her that they were not alone. Hermione's head turned as Draco raised his from her breast.
Luna stepped around the corner of the book shelves, her blue eyes widening with a look of knowing innocence at the scene before her. "Hmm. The star charts indicated someone was going to be lucky today," she said, "but I had no idea this is what they meant."
“Luna!” Hermione gasped. She bent quickly to snatch her shirt from where it lay in a discarded heap and jammed her arms into the sleeves, leaving her bra crumpled on the table, an abandoned froth of lace that looked very out of place among the scholarly tomes. “Were…were you looking for me?”
“Yes,” Luna replied gazing dreamily past Draco and Hermione’s heads to a sky filled with floating clouds. “I was hoping you might help me. Since there’s a picnic lunch today before the Quidditch match, the tables in the Great Hall won’t be needed again. I’d like to set out the scrolls containing the names of everyone’s dates for the ball tonight.”
“Of… of course, I’ll help,” Hermione replied, casting Draco an apologetic look and receiving an unreadable expression in return.
“Good. I’ll meet you in the Great Hall in a quarter of an hour, then.” Luna nodded her head and disappeared around the shelves as suddenly as she had come.
Hermione turned her back to Draco as she removed her shirt once again and fitted her bra back into place. It would be unkind to tempt him further with something that must remain out of his reach. For now.
She turned to face him with what she hoped was a cheery smile, to find him studying her somberly. With a sigh, he unfolded his long body and stood up.
“I’m really sorry, Draco,” she began, “but Luna is one of my oldest friends…”
“No need to apologize. The mood’s rather broken now, isn’t it? And I suppose I could apologize as well. But it’s been years since I was caught out at something and I’m enjoying the feeling too much to be sorry.” He grinned at her and she gave him an answering smile of relief.
A look of understanding passed between them. Draco reached out and tucked a stray curl behind Hermione’s ear.
“Minnow, I’ve a favor to ask. May I borrow Snape’s lamp?”
“I don’t mind, but he doesn’t come out in the daytime, you know. Still, you could have it with you to use after the ball tonight. The lamp is in a bag beneath my bed, the one to the right of the window in the Gryffindor girls’ “C” room.”
“Poor Severus. Reduced to hiding out in a magic lamp under Hermione Granger’s bed,” Draco teased. “Though truthfully, I can think of no place I’d rather be.”
“Under my bed, you mean? Or inside a magic lamp?” she teased back.
“Either would do,” he grinned. “Maybe then we wouldn’t be interrupted.”
Hermione and Luna moved along a section of tables in the Great Hall, arranging the pairing scrolls in alphabetical order.
The tiny scrolls were a delicate pale iris color, tied with a purple ribbon so dark it appeared almost black. Luna and her Divination students had charmed the parchment so that the name of each person’s partner for the ball would not appear until the correct owner unrolled the scroll.
Hermione was glad the task was simple. She was finding it very difficult to concentrate. The tedious repetition of alphabetizing seemed to calm her wildly surging emotions.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Luna spoke suddenly. “I’m sorry that I interrupted you and Draco, and of course I won’t say a word to anyone...”
“Oh, Luna, I…”
“I really did want your help with the scrolls,” Luna ignored Hermione’s interruption. “But there’s another reason that I was looking for you this morning. I needed to tell you that I didn’t change the name on your scroll so that you’d be paired with Draco tonight, as you had asked me to do.”
“Why not?” Hermione looked up in puzzlement from where she was placing “Longbottom” between “Lombard” and “Lott.”
“Because there wasn’t any need. I found that the star charts had already paired the two of you.”
Hermione stared at Luna in amazement. “But I’m a Virgo and Malfoy’s a Gemini,” she blurted. “As far as astrology is concerned, those two signs are notoriously incompatible!”
“On the surface, that would appear to be the case. But synastry goes far deeper than a simplistic match up of sun signs. You have a Sagittarius rising, which happens to be the polar opposite of Draco’s sun in Gemini. That combination creates one of the most powerful attractions possible.”
Hermione nodded in response, though in truth she had no more than a basic knowledge of astrology. Most of what she knew related to archeological discoveries.
“Also,” Luna continued, “the placement of both of your moons in Aquarius forms another strong bond. And Draco’s Venus in your sun sign of Virgo caps it off very nicely, as does his sensual Taurus ascendant, a perfect complement to your bold, earthy Maiden.”
Hermione felt as if the morning sun had just aimed a solar flare straight at her midsection, striking her with a bright explosion of possibility. According to Luna’s interpretation of the star charts, she and Draco had been right in their feelings for each other, all those years ago.
“A word of caution,” Luna advised, “The stars guide. They do not force. It is still a matter of one’s own choice, one’s own free will, and sometimes, one’s circumstances.” She gave Hermione a look of gentle sympathy.
Draco stood outside the Room of Requirement and focused his thoughts on the space within. Moments later, a door appeared. He opened it, half expecting to find a line of hotel rooms filled with happily shagging reunion goers.
Instead, he stepped into a handsome office containing several shelves crammed with books, a highly polished desk, and antique floor globe in a wooden stand. A window behind the desk looked out on a sky where night had fallen, though in reality the time was exactly noon.
He placed the brass lamp in the center of the desk, seated himself in the chair, and once again focused, this time on his godfather. “Snape,” he said in a low voice.
The lamp vibrated and a plume of charcoal smoke erupted, swiftly resolving itself into the shade of the Potions Master. “Ah, Draco,” he said. “You wished to speak with me?”
“Fooled you, Severus. We’re in the Room of Requirement, and it isn’t night;” Draco waved one hand toward the blackened window. “It’s noon.”
Snape smirked in a way that clearly showed his worthiness as a Malfoy godparent.
“Miss Granger must have told you that I could only be summoned between sunset and sunrise.” He chuckled. “In reality, I can be called upon at any time of the night or day. I didn’t want to be constantly bothered by Miss Granger’s presumptuous bossiness, so I felt a small lie was in order. She’s believed it. All these years.”
Draco grinned appreciatively, then asked, “Severus, why… why did you leave the lamp to Hermione? Why not me?”
Snape sighed and turned to pace across the small chamber, hands clasped behind his back.
“Since I am dead, I had thought never to have to answer that question,” he replied. with a tiny quirk of the lips. “But I’ve already admitted to one lie in the five minutes that I’ve been with you. It’s best that I tell the truth this time around.”
“Draco,” he continued. “Are you aware that I harbored deep and abiding feelings for Lily Evans?”
Draco nodded but did not interrupt. This had become common knowledge in the years following Snape’s death.
“Perhaps what you did not know is that, beneath my rather…forbidding exterior, lies the heart of an old romantic. Lily Evans was my best friend. She was also the love of my life.” Snape gazed out the darkened window as though staring down a corridor of years to another place and time. “But I chose to follow a course that put me at ever increasing odds with her. In the end, she was lost to me.”
He turned back to Draco with a serious expression. “When I saw how it was with you and Miss Granger, I was reminded strongly of my own circumstances. There was an amazing plethora of parallels between your life and mine. Think about it! The friendship that began prior to your arrival at Hogwarts. The Sortings into rival Houses. The rise of the Gryffindor relationships”—this said with a sneer— “And the choices you and I both made, to align ourselves with the darker element. To take on loyalties that guaranteed an estrangement from the girls we valued most. Our paths were so very similar!”
“You tried to tell me, Severus. So many times, you advised me not to put Death Eater ideals above the leanings of my heart. But things spun out of control…”
“Alas, my boy. For you, they did. That’s why I left her the lamp. I realized I might not survive the coming cataclysm, so I arranged for her to stay in contact with you in the hopes that once the war was over, the two of you might find your way back to each other.”
“Heavy shite, Severus.” Draco’s voice was somber. “I miss you, still.”
“And I you. You’ve grown to be a fine man, Draco,” the Potions master said softly.
Draco’s eyes were wet as he gazed back at his godfather’s shade.
“Ah, there’s no reason for sadness, now,” Snape told him. “You’ve serious work to do, and through it all, you’ll have Miss Granger at your side.”
“Are you…are you happy, where you are?”
“Godson, here there are more ways of being than you can begin to imagine. Possibilities that never played out in life have a way of coming to pass, in the end.” A small, amused smile touched the corners of Snape’s mouth and there was a soft light in the depth of his dark eyes. “Now, perhaps we should speak of the prophecy, and of your concerns for your daughter.”
From one difficult subject to another, then.
Draco took a deep breath and began. “There are things about Sharlotte that remind me of Aunt Bellatrix…”
Malfoy Manor—Saturday, Twelve Noon
Sharlotte stood as still as a statue in the middle of her bedroom and listened.
At first, she had thought it was only her imagination, but now she could clearly hear hissings, whisperings, and rustlings coming from under her bed— where Faerie Rustica lay hidden beneath a pile of favorite toys in an old wooden box.
This was very strange, because Faerie Rustica never came to life in the middle of the day. Sharlotte had only just finished lunch and had gone to her room to play while Grandmother and Grandfather took an afternoon nap.
She had planned to choose her costume for the dance recital that Grandmother had asked her to perform later, and to practice leaping and spinning a bit. Every good dancer practiced, though Sharlotte knew that in her case, there was really no need. She got plenty of practice during her frequent visits to the Autumn Wood. And in her dance class, where Sharlotte shone as Madame Sworetzka’s star pupil.
But now, her attention was drawn by the noises under her bed. Those very familiar, yet always mysterious, sounds that meant the faeries were awake and calling to her.
She could never make out any particular words. But when this happened, she felt drawn to the book, filled with a yearning to touch it, to keep it close, to be part of the world that it depicted.
That was exactly how she felt now.
She knelt quickly, after placing Leviathan gently on the top of her bed. Reaching far underneath, she retrieved the wooden box. The rustlings and murmurings were growing louder. She could hear the sibilant voices of Amaryllis and Acantha, the Queen’s special pixie guardians, speaking her name.
It was so unusual. Sharlotte wondered what could be the matter.
“Sharrr…lotte…,” the voices whispered. “Come to us now! Come, Sharlotte…Put your hand on the page where the path beginsss…The Queen wants to see yooou…”
“I’m coming!” Sharltotte replied, hastily tossing aside a stuffed pink unicorn, a tub-time giant squid, and a crumpled pale-green gown that had once been Librette’s but had been altered for her daughter to use when playing princess.
Seconds later, Sharlotte’s hands closed around Faerie Rustica. It vibrated and trembled with an urgency that she had felt only once before, on her first visit to the Autumn Wood and her first meeting with the Faerie Queen.
Sharlotte flipped back the front cover and opened the book to its beginning, where a surprise awaited her. The leaf-strewn path was there, as usual. But the pages themselves had turned a shadowy grey-blue, as if night, or a storm, was coming to the Autumn Wood.
Sharlotte stared, hesitant. Somehow, the wood was not as inviting with this strange darkness hovering over it.
Then the pixies’ voices called to her again. “Hurry, Shhharlotte… it is time for the story that the Queen promisssed you!”
Sharlotte smiled then. She loved a spooky story, and her Auntie Bellatrix had promised to tell her a good one.
Daddy and Maman did not allow Sharlotte to hear scary stories; they felt she was too young. This had always puzzled her. Weren’t the fairy tales they told at bedtime usually spooky stories?.
And she could always count on Scorpius to add ghostly tales of his own, once Maman and Daddy had said ‘good night.’
For a moment, Sharlotte wished her brother were coming with her on this visit to the darkening Autumn Wood. But Scorpius was away at Gunter’s. Besides, the Queen had told her the wood was for a place for girls only, girls who belonged to the old and most noble house of Black.
Sharlotte placed her hand on the open page, felt the familiar, tingling at her belly button, and disappeared, leaving her bedroom still and silent under the bright, August sun— empty except for Leviathan, who lay abandoned in the center of her bed, a beam of sunlight striking a rainbow of haloes from his silver body.
The first thing Sharlotte noticed, besides the unnatural twilight that had descended, was the utter stillness that seemed to grip the Autumn Wood. It felt as though everything in this strange world that existed alongside, yet entirely out of, her own was holding its breath, hushed and waiting.
The faerie world seemed bathed in a silvery blue haze, the vivid autumn colors muted and misty, deepening the mystery of this realm and creating a perfect backdrop for the promised spooky story.
When Amaryllis and Acantha rose from their mushroom perches, Sharlotte held out her hands to them without a word. She couldn’t wait to be in the Queen’s presence for the treat ahead.
Flying low with them down the winding path to the clearing where the Queen held court,
Sharlotte puzzled over the changes. The woods looked almost as the Malfoy woods did at twilight, except that here, there had never been a sun in the sky that Sharlotte had seen.
That must be the reason for the odd color. Night was coming to Faerie Rustica. She glanced up at the normally parchment-colored sky and saw that it was an odd silvery grey, and that in the distance, away over the tops of the trees, darkness was gathering.
Then she stopped puzzling, as the pixies swooped into the clearing and deposited her before the Queen.
Great-Aunt Bellatrix was sitting on the carved rock that she used for a throne; her obsidian eyes alight in the gloaming like marsh lights.
Sharlotte made her usual deep and graceful curtsey, then hopped up to sit beside the Queen, her own oddly colored eyes dancing with curiosity.
“Hullo, Auntie Bella,” she began. “I’m here for my story. It is time, isn’t it?”
“Yes, child. Indeed it is. High time you heard the story of those who came before you, whose blood you share. It is the tale of those who devoted their lives to shaping this place and to honoring the dark magic which imbues it! Before your birthday arrives, and before I pass my crown to you, you must hear of your Black family ancestresses, so that you will understand the importance of your lineage and your position.”
Sharlotte did her best not to sigh at the Queen. She was here for the spooky story, not a school lesson!
She hated when the Queen rambled and used big words. It was boring. Grandpère Nott did that same thing at holiday dinners, causing Sharlotte to squirm in her chair with misery and sometimes earning her a pinch under the table from Maman. She did her best to keep still now. She felt sure that a pinch from the Faerie Queen would be much more painful.
But the queen fell silent almost immediately.
“Auntie Bella,” said Sharlotte. “This will be a scary story, won’t it? A spooky one, like you promised?”
The Queen let out a loud and raucous cackle. “Ah, child! Of course, it will be a scary story! Some would say the scariest story they ever heard, for it was the last!” She cackled a second time. “Let’s begin, shall we?”
A/N-- *The chapter title comes from a song by Neil Young, from the album Harvest.
Chapter 9: Lucky Stars
Hogwarts, Saturday evening
To the west of the old castle, the summer sun slipped from the sky in a fanfare of flame and cloud, as the day's activities gave way to those planned for the night ahead.
The sumptuous picnic feast had been polished off to the last crumb. The Quidditch match, played to a rousing conclusion, was fading into a spectacular memory that would keep reunion-goers talking for weeks to come.
Laughing, shouting, and arguing over various plays, the satisfied fans straggled back to the castle to gather in the Great Hall, dispersing alphabetically about the long tables.
It was time to open the scrolls that would reveal the identities of their dates for the evening’s ball.
As each attendee unrolled his or her scroll, the proffered name appeared in a magical flourish of gold and silver sparkles. Soon the Hall echoed with surprised laughter, disappointed groans, and several shocked exclamations.
Hermione stood alone as she untied the deep purple ribbon and uncurled her scroll. Though she already knew what hers would say, her heart hammered in anticipation. There was an unaccustomed clumsiness in her fingers. As the name Draco Malfoy flickered to life in a beautiful calligraphy of loops and swirls, Hermione wanted to twirl and dance with joy.
She glanced down the long line of tables to where Draco stood with the other M's, a look of astonishment on his face.
He caught her eye, raised his brows, and gestured wordlessly to his own scroll. Making sure that no one was watching, Hermione gave him a conspiratorial wink and then turned away to comfort Anna-Katherine Gartner, who was upset to learn she'd been paired with a much younger former Slytherin, rather than her husband, Oliver Wood.
Draco stood and watched Hermione over the heads of the crowd, overwhelmed with a sense of aliveness he had not felt in a long, long time.
At his side, Librette opened her scroll with the giddy delight of a small child, and became the second Malfoy to read with stunned surprise the name written there— Ian Harkrider. Librette felt as though she could hardly breathe. She'd been paired with Ian!
Without a word to Draco, who in any case wasn't paying attention, she turned and slipped out of the Hall to digest this new development in private.
It seemed she and Ian would make their first appearance as a couple a bit earlier than anticipated. Ian would be the star of the evening, since his band was slated to perform. Now, she could be at his side, basking in reflected glory.
Librette ran up the stairs toward the Ravenclaw tower to begin dressing, bursting with excitement for the night ahead.
Hogwarts, 9 p.m.
Hermione stood before a mirror in the Gryffindor Tower, checking her look for last-minute touchups, her ball gown rustling as she tweaked her curls and made certain her dangling earrings
Her heart fluttered as madly as it had on the night of the Yule Ball, during 4th year, before she’d gone downstairs to join Victor Crum in the Parade of Tri-Wizard Champions.
It was far from the first time she’d reminisced about that long-ago night.
But something about being here in the very same place, before another ball, brought it all back, powerful and new as yesterday. The glamourous beauty of the wintertime decorations. The awed crowd. The excitement she’d felt as she took Victor’s arm…
And then another memory came. The one, if she were honest, that she really wanted to think on. The one that was her true reason for standing here reminiscing. when all her dorm mates were already downstairs…
Herself and Malfoy, after the Yule Ball, snogging in the snowy Hogwarts courtyard.
He’d followed her outside where she’d gone to catch her breath, her evening ruined by some silly schoolboy scuffle between Ron and Victor.
“Minnow.” He’d crept up behind her and spoken in a low voice.
“Malfoy,” she’d hissed. “What are you doing here? And why did you call me… that name?”
“I… I needed to talk to you…”
“What could we possibly say to one another? You’ve made it clear how you feel about me! Why do you hate me, Draco?”
“Then why are you so cruel to me— the hateful names, the meanness?”
“To keep you safe,” he’d hissed back. “If they knew how I really feel, they might kill you!”
“Who? Who would kill me?”
“Death Eaters. You were at the Quidditch World Cup, you saw. I… I can’t say more. But it’s deeper than anyone knows.”
He’d spoken the truth that night. At the time, neither of them had known exactly what lay ahead, only that it was pulling them in different directions.
Her heart skipped a beat now at the thought of teenaged Draco, protecting fifteen-year-old Hemione, in the only way he knew— from a threat even he didn’t fully understand yet.
“I don’t hate you,” he’d said. “I swear it! I feel the same about you as I did that day we met. Believe me.”
Then, suddenly, he’d grabbed her and covered her mouth with his.
They’d stood in the Hogwarts courtyard as snow fell all around them. The air was sharp and cold. Breathing it had felt like breathing crystal, the white flakes whirling just as the dancers had whirled earlier.
And Hermione had believed.
After all, it was a magical night.
They’d hidden behind the stone columns, moving hand-in-hand about the courtyard to stay out of sight of Snape and Igor Karkaroff, who were alternately arguing and pulling kissing couples out of the parked carriages.
When the older wizards had gone, she and Draco had climbed into one of those carriages and stayed, snogging, whispering, touching, and discovering, steaming the windows and almost, almost going there, until the curfew gong sounded.
It had never happened again.
Their two worlds had spun even further apart. The next year, there’d been Umbrage. The year after, Dumbledore’s death. Then war.
But Hermione had never forgotten their one night. The way Malfoy had smelled, of evergreen and old sterling. The newness of being close. The intense desire, the rightness of it all.
She’d never forgotten the magic. Apparently, neither had he.
What would tonight hold?
Ballgown swirling, Hermione ran down the stairs, to find Draco and find out.
At ten p.m., the metaphysical became tangible as the mysteries of the astral world shimmered to life beneath the charmed ceiling of the Great Hall.
The ceiling itself reflected a moonless, night-blackened sky scattered with the silver stars of the summer constellations.
Above the heads of the growing crowd, the twelve signs of the Zodiac performed a stately, midair pavane, their twinkling patterns interspersed with glowing representations of the planets. Comets trailing wispy, fiery tails orbited the room, throwing off occasional shooting stars that arced above the crowd in a sparkling burst of flame.
Across the platform where the Headmaster and professors normally sat, a beaming moon sailed high, waning into nothingness at the end of its journey, then rising as a tiny, promising crescent to wax full again.
The floor before the platform, set aside for dancing later, was enchanted to match the ceiling, creating the impression that dancing couples were floating through the night sky like binary stars
In one corner of the Hall, a waterfall of winking lights cascaded into a mist-shrouded pool, where partygoers could use a silver dipper to ladle out a luminous, potent beverage known, at least for tonight, as Nectar of the Gods. In place of dinner, there were loaded tables of canapes, hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, and all sorts of snacks and sweets.
As the crowd grew, the air buzzed with commentary at this latest transformation of the Great Hall, mingled with women’s voices exclaiming over each other’s gowns.
In one respect, the arrival of the reunion invitations in July had sent a wave of dismay through the wizarding populace— the wording had specified that this was to be a costume ball.
The wizards, for the most part, had groaned at the thought of wearing costumes. Groaned, and then rebelled. The majority of men in attendance were wearing formal dress robes.
The witches had been equally disappointed. But with the ingenuity of expert sorcery, they had set out to create ball gowns that were both beautiful and in keeping with the astrological theme of the evening.
The outcome was now on colorful display. The room looked as though a rainbow had broken apart and fallen to earth beneath the orbiting heavenly bodies.
Near the doorway, Luna stood accepting congratulations for the successful culmination of her hard work in planning and executing the ball.
She'd chosen to dress as the planet Saturn, which, in her words, had been given a black eye in the astrological charts. The body of her gown was beautiful, with colors of sky blue, pale gold, and peach melding into an otherworldly dawn. Around her neck, the rings of Saturn revolved like a strange, interplanetary Elizabethan ruff.
At her side, Harry glared across the Hall to the spot where Ginny, representing the Vernal Equinox in a gown of spring green scattered with emerald iridescents, floated on the arm of Marcus Flint. Flint, a professional Quidditch player, had captained the Black Team to victory at the reunion match this afternoon. Now he and Ginny chatted animatedly about the game while Harry scowled from a distance.
Luna's husband Rolf strolled with Millicent Bulstrode, in a gown of rich, coppery red that she called ‘Mars.’ Her life partner had remained on their ranch in Australia, to tend their herd of rare, magical sheep. Millicent's face lit with joy as she and Rolf discussed the difficulties of breeding the sheep, prized for their glowing wool but known to burst into flame during mating season.
Near the pool filled with Nectar of the Gods, George Weasley and Pansy Parkinson stood side by side, giving each other veiled glances. George had erupted with anger upon learning that he'd been paired with the one type of partner he did not want— a former Slytherin. But Pansy was bloody attractive, he had to give her that.
Tonight, she was dressed in a glowing orange gown that she told him represented a harvest moon. The low-cut bodice revealed a generous portion of her lush breasts. Across the bare skin, she'd applied a sparkling golden shooting star, the tail of which disappeared under the top edge of her gown into the creamy, interesting space beneath.
George found his eyes repeatedly drawn to the star. He’d decided that before the night was out, he might just have to track that meteor to its source. Pansy smiled a small, secretive smile as she watched the path of his eyes. George was fun, nice-looking, and quite sexy — in a Gryffindor sort of way.
Not all married couples had been separated by the pairing scrolls. Lavender Weasly, dressed as Venus in a feathery swirl of pink, had been annoyed to find her partner for the evening was her husband, Ron. She had been looking forward to the chance to flirt with someone new. So had he.
Headmaster Longbottom and his wife Hannah circulated together. Years earlier, their relationship had begun because of Luna's match-making through their star charts, their marriage a shining example of synastry at work.
Of course, there could be no good ball without drama and intrigue.
The appearance of two couples was causing more of a stir than all the others combined.
Startled looks and unconcealed stares had greeted the sight of Librette Malfoy, in a silvery, Art Deco moon-maid gown, on the arm of Ian Harkrider. Everyone remembered Librette as the young model who had traded Ian for Draco Malfoy years ago.
But even more astounding was the pairing of Malfoy with Hermione Granger.
“I'm not certain if you've noticed,” Draco commented dryly as he and Hermione passed through the crowd, her arm looped securely through his. "But every eye in the house appears to be on us."
"How could I miss it?" she replied. "They aren't exactly being subtle with the staring. And Ron's mouth is hanging open. I believe he has drool on his shirt."
They looked at each other and laughed, causing the couples nearest them to put their heads together in speculative chatter. Granger and Malfoy, paired by the star charts— paired together and laughing. After all the animosity between them during their school years, it seemed astonishing and... weird, as though the magical world had suddenly wobbled on its axis.
Hermione was dressed in a gown of indigo satin with tiny spaghetti straps, an Empire waist, and a full, flaring skirt Spelled to mimic the night sky. Across the rippling blue-black, the summer constellations winked just as they did on the charmed ceiling high above, while the back of the gown flowed with a river of argent sparkles, the Milky Way in miniature. It was the perfect complement to Draco's attire, the wizarding version of black tie.
"You look very beautiful, Minnow," Draco told her as they walked. Librette might dress with fashion-model flair, but Hermione had a quiet elegance that Draco much preferred.
"So do you." Her eyes danced wickedly at him. "And we need to talk about that, actually."
"About how beautiful we are?"
"No, Cadro!" She gave his arm a playful jerk. "About my frock. There's something on it that I want to show you, a constellation that may pertain to the prophecy. Here." She pointed to the front and center of her skirt where winking spangles formed a kite-shape graced by a long, rambling tail. "This is your constellation. It’s Draco, the Dragon."
Draco stopped and stared, a curious sensation flaring to life in the pit of his stomach. She was wearing a dragon, at least in star form. His symbol. In a most prominent location. He felt a wash of pleasure.
"A thought occurred to me, after our...er...talk...in the library this morning..." Hermione began.
Draco gave her an evil smirk.
"Be serious!" she hissed, but her eyes danced like bright desert stars. "I asked Luna to tell me all she knows about the constellation Draconis. It seems there are thirteen stars in it that have proper names!"
"...where six and seven become one..." Draco quoted from the prophecy. "The number thirteen. It's probably too much of a coincidence not to mean something."
"Exactly! Since the Lion and Maiden references of the prophecy seem to point to star lore, then maybe the Dragon reference does, too."
They had reached the pool where the Nectar of the Gods bubbled invitingly. Upon seeing them, Gregory Goyle, in the process of ladling a dipper full, missed his glass and poured the beverage onto his shoe.
Draco took the dipper from him, filled Greg's glass, and then did the same for himself and Hermione.
She accepted her drink with a pretty smile. Draco offered his arm again and the two of them continued to stroll, the netting beneath Hermione’s skirts hissing a gentle susurration against the stone floor.
They passed a table for two where George and Pansy chatted, oblivious of those around them, their bodies attenuated to each other as if they didn’t want to be very far apart. George's arm curved along the back of Pansy's chair, his thumb swirling suggestive circles over the skin of her shoulder.
Hermione smiled, then glanced across the room to where Librette stood near the platform, deep in conversation with Ian. His band Evanseco waited to take the stage following a set by Professor Flitwick's charmed string quartet.
Hermione wondered if the pairing of those two couples was the work of the star charts or perhaps that of the chart mistress/Divination professor herself. Luna Lovegood Scamander would have made a deviously perfect Slytherin.
Draco followed Hermione's gaze to where his wife was just turning to leave the Hall, Ian’s hand against the small of her back.
The sight gave Draco a jolt, It changed the evening into an odd coin— exhilarating hope on the one side, backed by a feeling of disquiet on the other. Librette had been his wife for nearly fifteen years; it seemed strange to see her with her former lover. Yet his love for Hermione dated back much farther…
He turned to Hermione now as she touched his arm.
“Draco,” she said softly. “There’s something else about the prophecy that you need to be aware of. As much as I’d like to stay and listen to Professor Flitwick’s quartet, we need to walk up to the lake tower before Evanesco plays.”
“I’d think this was a ploy to get me alone, except that you sound rather serious,” he replied, as they made their way quietly from the Hall.
“I wish I didn’t have to spoil our evening with serious conversation, but I think you need to hear this,” Hermione told him.
Hand in hand, they followed the stone corridor that led to the lake tower. "There's a star I want you to see, if it's visible tonight," she told him. "It isn't one of the brighter ones, but I believe it may have a role to play in the prophecy concerning your daughter. It’s called Thuban, which translates “head of the dragon”— though the star itself is actually part of the Dragon's tail. Luna told me that in ancient cultures, it’s sometimes referred to as the star of silver darkness.”
“Sweet Merlin. That’s…another phrase from the prophecy. The one that sounds so ominous!”
“The name Thuban seems familiar. Didn’t we study it in Astronomy class, years ago?” he asked.
“We did. And I’ve become familiar with it over time through archeological research. In ancient times, Thuban was the polestar.”
Draco pushed open the tower door and Hermione preceded him into the fresh night air. They walked toward the northern ramparts and leaned side by side, arms touching. In spite of the gravity of the moment, both remembered the evening before, when, on this same tower, they had kissed for the first time in twenty years.
Neither could fully ignore the arcing, magical current leaping between them now, propelling them toward each other like twin stars drawn into the same orbit.
Hermione’s eyes scanned the heavens, seeking to distinguish the constellation Draconis from the myriad fiery pinpoints visible in the dark sky
Gradually, she and Draco became aware of sounds coming from a secluded corner area where the tower and castle joined. Someone was using a concealing charm but not a silencing one. They grinned at each other in as the grunts and cries of pleasure escalated toward an impending climax.
Suddenly Draco froze in disbelief as a male voice burst out “Gods, Librette!” followed by a high-pitched French exclamation in a voice that was clearly his wife’s.
Hermione's heart plummeted in horror, and then began to pound with such ferocity that she felt dizzy.
At her side, Draco stood stunned into an alabaster sculpture, his white-blond hair luminescent against the blackness of the night.
With robotic movements, he reached into the pocket of his evening robes and removed his wand. Pointing it in the direction of the sexually charged moans, he murmured Revelato in a strangled voice.
The air shimmered as the concealing wards came down, revealing a couple caught at the height of shagging.
Backed against the wall of the tower, her dress rucked up in foaming layers of pink, was Librette Malfoy. Her legs were wrapped tightly around the waist of Ian Harkrider, and there could be no doubt as to what was going on between them.
"Draqueau," she gasped, loosening her hold on her lover and sliding out of his grasp in an unsuccessful attempt to right her clothing and cover their actions.
Ian whirled, starlight catching briefly on his erection before his cloak swung shut to hide it.
For several seconds, all was silent. Then Draco took a step toward Librette, his eyes glittering like a hard-edged frost. “I hadn’t realized,” he said icily, “that the mother of my children should never have been the mother of my children.”
Ian leaped toward him then, held back only by Librette’s plea of “Ian, NO!” as her fingers closed around his arm in a restraining grip.
“You took her from me, years ago!” Ian spat. His pent-up anger towards Draco contorted his normally kind face. “You had no right! She’s alwayss belonged with me!”
Like Librette, Hermione laid a hand on the arm of the man at her side. But her intent was to comfort rather than restrain. Her touch calmed Draco, as did her soft whisper of, “I’m here. It will be all right.”
Draco stepped back and squared his shoulders. With tremendous effort, he refrained from pointing out to Ian that Librette had become a Malfoy by choice, not force— and then hexing the man into oblivion.
The rational portion of Draco’s brain reminded him that he wasn't being fair. He and Hermione would have shagged each other senseless by now if not for interruptions, making the two of them no better than Ian and Librette.
But logic tended to fly out the window at the sight of one's spouse with her legs wrapped around another man.
Instead, he turned to his wife. “Is this the truth, Librette?” he asked, his low voice holding the dangerous edge of a honed dagger. “Have you always belonged to Harkrider?”
Librette dipped her head gracefully, as if gathering her courage, and then looked up at her husband. “Yes,” she replied softly. “It’s true. I’ve always loved him. Je suis desolée, Draqueau. I’m so sorry.”
Without a word, Draco turned his back to them. He grabbed Hermione by the hand and strode away, the skirt of her indigo gown billowing in his wake like the sail of a pirate ship. She struggled to keep up with his long-legged gait in her high, silver heels.
When they reached the far edge of the tower, Draco stopped and stood, breathing hard. He then reached out and wrapped his arm around Hermione’s waist, pulling her tightly against him.
With a muttered incantation, Draco leaped over the tower’s edge.
The cold night wind rushed past and the Forbidden Forest rose to meet them. Hermione found she had time neither to think nor to react due to the dreadful swooping sensation in the pit of her stomach.
Seconds later, Draco landed lightly on his feet, stumbling only once, his grip like an iron band around her waist to keep her from falling.
“Draco! What the fuck are you doing?” she shrieked. Shaking off his arm, she whirled to face him. "Are you insane? How did you...”
“Snape taught me, during the War,” Draco cut through her exclamations. He was still breathing hard, from exertion and emotional overload. “Said it might prove useful someday. I’m…I’m sorry I scared you, Minnow. But I needed to get off that tower. Far from her— and him.”
His voice shook as he continued. “I want…to see my children. Scorpius is away from home, but Sharlotte is there. Will you come with me, to the Manor, to check on her?”
Hermione stared at him, nonplussed, and then nodded briefly.
Without another word, he grabbed her around the waist again and apparated both of them out of the forest.
Chapter 10: One of These Nights
Midnight, Malfoy Manor
Sharlotte stood at the far edge of the woodland clearing where so many times before she had danced happily with the folk of the faerie realm.
But this time, the glowing, hazy autumn landscape she usually visited had been replaced by a dark, night-shrouded one.
Overhead in a blue-black sky, high, thistledown clouds had entangled a silvered piece of moon. Wind soughed deeply through the branches of the trees, stirring the long grass so that it tickled her bare legs.
With only the moon for light, Sharlotte imagined she could see opaque shapes crouching low in the darkness beneath the trees, as though the shadows of the wood had gathered to watch the night’s proceedings.
Sharlotte watched with them from her unseen position at wood’s edge. And while she looked, the hushed, waiting clearing stirred to life.
Down the path that led west from the ancient ruin of the house, young witches, cloaked in silver and thirteen in number, came gliding.
Silent and wraith-like, one after the other, the women wended their way toward the center of the clearing in a long, snaking column. Moonlight glanced off the silver of their costumes, turning them to twinkling, earthbound stars against the midnight blackness.
The first five witches drifted toward each other. Like a well-choreographed, music-less dance, they formed themselves into a shape resembling a lopsided kite, with a single witch in the middle. The other eight witches stopped one by one, in an arcing, sinuous, tail-like pattern that curved from the heart of the clearing outward from the clearing to edge of the wood..
The Faerie Queen had told Sharlotte that the witches were making the shape of a dragon. A dragon from the night sky, made out of stars, whose name was Draco— the same as her daddy.
Hidden by the tall, dried grass and the dark swath of shadow at the wood’s edge, Sharlotte was close enough to touch the silver stuff of the nearest witch’s cloak.
But she remained still, hardly daring to breathe, for she knew what was going to happen next. It had all been there, in the words of her Auntie Bellatrix.
Far away, from the depths of the trees, a flute began to play— high and lilting, airy as the night breeze, insubstantial as the shades that lurked beneath the veiling branches.
As one, the witches began to sway, supple, lithe-limbed saplings bending in an unseen wind. They bowed, and then whirled all at once, their cloaks flaring wide like the moon-touched wings of huge, nocturnal moths.
As they danced, two figures emerged from the blackness of the trees. The newcomers were also dressed in silver mantles, heavily patterned with runes and other mystic symbols that moved of their own accord, the way starlight runs over fast-flowing water.
Sharlotte knew, for the Faerie Queen had told her, that these two were her aunts, Elladora and Cassiopeia Black, though with more greats in front of their names than Sharlotte cared to count.
The two women wore their hair unbound, Elladora’s falling down her back in a midnight curtain, Cassiopeia’s the white-blonde of streaming moonbeams.
On their heads were metallic circlets of tiny, twisting branches leafed out in silver. At the front of the circlets, the branches emerged from the leaves and twined upward into a single, sharply spiked silver horn.
One of the women— Elladora— drifted away across the clearing, disappearing into the densest part of the wood as if drawn by the sound of the flute. The other, Cassiopeia, floated to stand beside the witches who had formed the Dragon’s head. Her hair, so like Sharlotte’s in color, rippled to her waist.
Suddenly the haunting lilt of the flute stopped. All was silent.
The waiting figure raised both hands to the sky and began to incant in a tongue not spoken outside of dark revels for several thousand years.
As she chanted, the young witches creating the tail of the Dragon began to move in a slow, inward spiral, coiling tighter and tighter, until the eight of them completely encircled the five who made up the Dragon’s head.
Then the figure with hair like the moon dropped her hands.
It was a command. And a signal.
From beneath their silver cloaks, the witches of the Dragon’s tail each drew long, slender objects, obsidian black, jagged-edged and sharp-tipped as death.
The other five screamed as they realized that this night was to be far darker than they had ever imagined…
Sharlotte opened her eyes and found she was staring at the underside of the canopy that arched above her bed in Malfoy Manor. It was midnight, and she was in her own home, not the darkened, bloody clearing of the Faerie Queen’s story.
She wasn’t sure if she had been dreaming just now, or simply looking through a window in her mind’s eye, one that had been tightly shuttered before, but was now thrown wide by her Great-Aunt Bellatrix’ words.
Shar flopped onto her side, sighing as she heard the shadows rustling and hissing in the far corners of her room. At least it was not Faerie Rustica calling to her again. After her unusual noontime visit to the Autumn Wood, the old book had remained silent and still. This pleased Sharlotte, for she did not want to see the Faerie Queen or hear any more of her stories for a while.
Sharlotte had decided she did not like the Queen’s tale.
It was a story with too much blood and too many dead things. She admitted that a little blood was exciting, and maybe one dead thing. Especially if it turned into a ghost after, as happened in the stories that Scorpius told her.
But the Faerie Queen had spoken of blood and death with such relish that Sharlotte had felt sure she could see those coal-black eyes beginning to glow red and a tiny line of blood trickling from the corner of the Queen’s smiling mouth. She had wanted to ask if the Queen kept a handkerchief handy, but decided it would not be good manners.
Reaching under her pillow, she drew out Leviathan and lay running her fingers over his smooth, hard surface, her gaze fixed on the darkest corner of her room. “I’m not afraid,” she whispered to the shadows. “I know who you are.”
Sharlotte drifted off to sleep with one small fist curled under her chin, the other wrapped tightly around her silver dragon, her mind set on happy thoughts— of the dance recital she’d performed for her grandparents just that afternoon, and how pleased it had seemed to make Grandmother Narcissa.
The Grand Wizard clock was chiming the quarter hour as Draco and Hermione apparated into the front hall of Malfoy Manor. Draco took Hermione’s hand and led her toward the main stairway rising to the upper levels of his home.
“My parents are here, staying with Sharlotte,” he told her. “But we won’t see them. They should be sound asleep at this time of night.”
In spite of the shock to his system from the sight of his wife in the arms of her lover, Draco was mindful of the fact that Hermione’s only previous visit to the Manor had been one of nightmare and pain, rather than pleasant socializing.
“Are you alright?” he asked her softly as they climbed the stairs.
“Yes,” she replied, as if reading his thoughts. “I’m fine. The war was over a long, long time ago. I survived. Others were not so lucky.” Her mind flew to Snape inside his lamp within a pocket of Draco’s cloak.
“A more pertinent question would be— are you all right?” The picture of Librette Malfoy with her legs wrapped around Ian Harkrider remained a powerful image. Hermione imagined it had to have been a hundred times more disturbing for Draco.
Draco didn’t reply but pulled Hermione down the long, richly carpeted hallway to where a turn in the mansion created a separate wing for the children.
Sharlotte’s and Scorpius’ bedrooms were here, as well as a large playroom, two extra bedrooms for the children’s overnight guests, and a schoolroom replete with maps, globes, a telescope, art supplies and a potions-making set.
Actually, Draco felt far from all right. But he knew he would be better shortly. Stopping at the second door on the left, he gently turned the knob and stepped into his daughter’s room.
Sharlotte sat up slowly, rubbing sleepy eyes against the intrusion of wandlight into her darkened bedchamber. Draco’s tall figure stood outlined in the doorway. He came toward her as she murmured, “Daddy?”
Then Sharlotte’s eyes fell on Hermione, who lingered at the door, uncertain whether entering would be intrusive.
“Mummy?” Sharlotte asked.
“Daddy’s here, Shar,” Draco told her softly, seating himself on the edge of the bed. “This is… my special friend, Miss Hermione Granger.” He motioned for Hermione to join him, and she rustled into the room, captivated by her first glimpse of Draco’s daughter.
The little girl looked amazingly like her father, but in Sharlotte, Draco’s handsome features had been transformed into something prettily elfin and altogether feminine.
The child’s short, white-blonde hair stuck up on one side, where she had lain on it wrong, and she studied Hermione with grave, deep-grey eyes, taking in Hermione’s dangling diamond earrings and full-skirted indigo ball gown.
“Are you a princess?” Sharlotte asked finally.
“Tonight, I am,” Hermione replied, moving to sit on the bed opposite Draco and falling totally under the spell cast by his enchanting little daughter. “In everyday life, I’m an archeologist.”
“I know what that is.” Sharlotte spoke to her with serious aplomb. “It’s a person who digs up bones and old stuff. Scorpius— he’s my brother— told me. That’s one of the things I want to be when I grow up. I did want to be a unicorn but Scorpius says I can’t, unless I’m an an-i-ma-gus.”
Hermione smiled at the child as Sharlotte turned to her father, and then her heart plummeted at Sharlotte’s next question.
“Daddy, where is Maman?”
Draco didn’t hesitate in his answer, but his voice faltered slightly. “She’s at the ball, little love. She’s… she’s dancing and dancing, just like you like to do.”
“Does Maman look beautiful?”
“She does. Her frock is silver— she showed it to you, remember?” Draco’s voice caught in his throat. After tonight, the dynamics of his family would change. For both Sharlotte and Scorpius, things would be forever different.
For all her faults, for all the hollowness of his marriage, his wife did love her children. And his children loved their mother. Unbidden, an image came to him from a few years back, of Librette chasing them in the garden. Her hair long and golden in the sun, she’d been laughing in that unrestrained way of hers, as she ran. Sharlotte would have been two or three, running unsteadily on chubby baby legs. And Scorpius would have been eight or nine.
Now, Draco would have to share his children. Their lives would be split between the Manor and the unknown place Librette would call home. One day, when they were all used to it, it would be the normal way of things, as it was for many of his friends and acquaintances, and their children. But for now, the thought of his Scorpius and his Sharlotte having another home besides the Manor hurt like hell.
“Come here, my brave dragon-girl, and give Daddy a hug.” Draco’s voice was low and hoarse, and Hermione felt tears start in her eyes.
Sharlotte went immediately into Draco’s arms, her own arms going tightly around his neck. “You sound sad, Daddy,” she told him, her voice muffled against his shoulder, two fingers of her left hand rubbing a section of his hair.
“I’m just tired, that’s all,” he replied. “It’s very late, and you must be tired, too. Let’s tuck you back in and send you off to the land of Nod.”
“May I hug Miss Granger?” Sharlotte asked suddenly.
“Of course you may,” Hermione answered, touched, and Sharlotte scrambled across the bed.
Hermione’s life had not lent itself to children thus far, and while this was a regret, she also loved the path she had chosen for herself. But having Sharlotte in her arms however briefly was…well, it was phenomenal, awakening a powerful urge to comfort and protect.
“’Night, Miss Granger,” Sharlotte whispered.
“Good night, Sharlotte. Pleasant dreams.” Hermione stroked her hand over Sharlotte’s sleek blonde head and let her go, rising from the bed and slipping out into the hallway to allow Draco a moment of privacy to tuck in his daughter.
“All right, Shar, back into bed. There’s a good girl,” Draco straightened the rumpled duvet around her. “I see Leviathan is here to keep you company, as always. But where is Faerie Rustica?” Narcissa’s old book was almost as ever present as the silver dragon. Sharlotte liked to sleep with it lying somewhere on her bed.
To Draco’s consternation, his daughter’s gaze slid away from his, to the farthest corner of her room, the evasive shifting of her eyes accentuating her pixie-like features. A sly look flitted across her face— one Draco had observed many times before, one that always caused him disquiet.
“I’m tired of looking at Faerie Rustica. For now,” she replied, staring off into the darkened shadows as if focusing on something that Draco could not see.
A frisson of alarm traveled along his spine, chased quickly away by an overwhelming exhaustion.
The next moment, Sharlotte looked back at him, her eyes clear, and her smile sweet. “G’night, Daddy. Love you!”
“Love you, too, ma petite.” He kissed her forehead.
Moments later, Draco emerged from the bedroom looking a bit ashen, his face drawn in the soft glow of the hallway night-light. He ran one hand through his hair and let out a deep sigh. Hermione’s heart contracted in sympathy.
“Draco.” She touched him lightly on the arm. “I’ve an idea. It’s late and we need a place to spend the night.” The thought of returning to Hogwarts to finish out the class reunion was appallingly unthinkable. “Let’s go to Luxor, to my apartment.” Hermione suggested. “I think…it would be good for you to get completely away for a bit. A total change of scene, a chance to unwind…”
Something flared to life in Draco’s eyes then, visible to Hermione even in the low light of the hallway. He said nothing, but nodded. Hand in hand, they made their way toward the staircase.
They Apparated to London, and then took the Inter-Continental Flooway to Egypt.
The ICF had opened a few years after they’d left school, offering a vastly improved means of travel for the populace of the wizarding world. While it didn’t work well for transoceanic travel, it had become a perfect, quick means for transporting witches and wizards to foreign locations on the same side of the pond.
By three a.m. Hermione was opening the door to her apartment in Luxor and welcoming Draco inside.
Kicking off her silver sandals, she headed straight for the small, well-stocked bar set up in the corner of her living area, her ball gown hissing against the floor tiles as she moved.
“Make yourself at home,” she told Draco.
After discarding his cloak, he threw himself down on her leather sofa and began removing his shoes.
“What are you drinking?” she asked from behind the bar.
“A fire-whisky. The stronger, the better.”
“I’ve Springheel Jack?” Hermione held up a half-full bottle of warmly glowing amber liquid.
Draco nodded tiredly. “Perfect.”
She swished across to join him, and they sat in silence after clinking glasses at Draco’s ironic toast to “class reunions.”
It wasn’t long before their tumblers sat abandoned on Hermione’s ebony wood table, the empty Springheel Jack bottle lying on its side on the carpet underneath. Draco was stretched out full length on the sofa with Hermione perched on his abdomen, the skirts of her ball gown billowing around them like an indigo storm cloud as she leaned forward and massaged his temples.
“Gods…feels good, Granger,” Draco hiccoughed softly as Hermione’s firm, swirling fingers relaxed him, though a certain other portion of his anatomy was anything but relaxed.
“You know,” he continued, “People at the reunion are going to be wondering why neither of us were at the ball later. They’ll have added it all up by now and realized we must have left together.”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve been fodder for the gossip mill,” she replied with a wicked grin. “Years ago, people actually thought that Snape and I had been lovers because he willed half of his fortune to me. You should have seen his reaction when I told him! I’d no idea a dead man could laugh like that!” Hermione giggled at the memory.
Draco suddenly reached up to still her ministering hands, and then gazed at her with a serious expression. “Minnow,” he said softly, “when you’re done laughing, why don’t you use that pretty mouth of yours to kiss me?”
He cupped his hand around the back of her neck and pulled her down toward him, their mouths meeting and fusing, both tasting of the warm-toned, amber liquid they’d consumed earlier. Draco whispered, “Tombez” against Hermione’s lips and the sparkling silver pins that had held her hair in its elegant upsweep clattered lightly onto the table as her curls fell around her shoulders.
They kissed until Hermione felt dizzy with need and Draco felt dizzy, period. He struggled to sit up with a muttered, “Sorry… I’m sorry, Minnow. Don’t feel so good all of a sudden.”
“It’s all right,” she told him, stroking her hand along his forearm. “Let’s walk out onto the balcony for some fresh air. It’s not long until dawn and we can watch for the first light of daybreak.”
Hermione led him out onto her balcony into the fresh, pre-dawn air. They leaned on the railing, arms touching as they had done on the tower before the joy of last evening had evaporated at the sight of Ian Harkrider shagging Librette.
Both of their thoughts seemed to be running in similar channels. Draco bowed his head
“Are you alright?” Hermione asked him once again.
It seemed to be the question of the evening. One that deserved an honest response.
“I shouldn’t have let the sight of my wife with her… with Harkrider upset me as much as it did,” Draco told her. “The moon’s closer to the sun than I’ve ever been to Librette.”
“But it’s understandable that you’d be disturbed by what we saw, Draco. Librette’s been part of your life for many years now, and she’s the mother of your children.” Then, “Draco. Why did you marry her?”
Draco paused before he spoke. ”I hate to say I don’t know. That’s the answer my children always give when caught out doing something wrong and asked why.” He chuckled wryly and shook his head. “Let’s just say she was beautiful, and fun. As well as good in bed. It was… time to settle down. I wanted a home and family; I wanted what my parents have always had.”
She tilted her head at him quizzically and he continued. “Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Black are the loves of each other’s lives. They’ve spent their years of marriage in total devotion to each other. Yes, my father had those damnable Death Eater ideals. But he’s always cherished my mother.”
Hermione said nothing. It was a view of Lucius Malfoy far different from any she could have imagined.
“When it came to marriage, I patterned myself after them. I tried to fool myself that what I had with Librette was what my parents have. But fuck, Granger— it wasn’t even close. I did my best, but I can’t say I ever really loved my wife.”
There was pain in his voice, but he continued speaking.
“Right after the war— when I saw you that time and apologized— I should have tried, then. But you were with Weasley! And I was so messed up with all that Voldemort had put us through. With the realization that it was all stupid, all dust! I felt then like Hogwarts looked— blasted to pieces in places and badly in need of repairs. So, I let you go.”
”Oh, Draco.” Hermione eyes were dark with regret. “Your apology was the reason I broke it off with Ron! It was you I wanted. But, at the time, you seemed so distant. I wasn’t sure any more how you felt. And when you said nothing… well, in the end, when Charlie offered, I ran.”
“By the time I’d heard you were free of one Weasley, you’d already gone off with another.”
“Eventually, Charlie and I were together, but it didn’t last. Nothing ever has!” Her voice became unsteady and she turned to stare out over the sleeping city. “Let’s face it. Maybe tonight is not really our night, either. Too much interference. From the past, the present, and the future.””
“You could be right. Maybe one of these nights, then?” Draco smiled ruefully. “Do you have a guest bedroom I can use?”
Hermione turned to lead him back into her flat, past the kitchen and toward her tiny guestroom.
Then, “One of these nights, my arse. Let’s see where this night goes.” She swung around and flew into Draco’s arms.
He felt the spark leap between them, magical and fierce.
This was what he’d been waiting for. This was Hermione, the bold, Gryffindor lioness.
They came together with force, teeth clashing as their mouths joined, the kiss tasting of blood. Hands tangled in each other’s hair, then frantically groped, trying to be everywhere at once.
No thought of stopping entered their heads; they’d both always known, without conscious acknowledgment, that if it ever came to this there would be no turning back.
Hermione’s bedroom was done up in black and white, the ebony wood bed frame draped in layers of sheer netting and faerie lights. They stumbled toward it, casting spells and leaving a trail of reunion ball finery all along the way.
Draco scooped Hermione up; her legs went round his waist and they fell together onto her bed, swathes of netting tearing and tangling around them.
He entered her in one smooth gliding movement, as a perfectly matched rhythm of sexual thrust-and-parry took over their surging bodies.
Hermione’s head was banging against the headboard, guttural growls erupting from somewhere low in her throat. They suddenly pitched off the edge of the bed and landed with a jarring thud on the floor, taking the faerie lights down with them. It barely registered.
In their lives, neither had been starved for sex, but both had been starved for each other.
Draco, reveling in the fact that she was as good at this as he’d always imagined she’d be, was startled to feel her already spiraling into orgasm. With the sound of her screams in his ear, he exploded into his own climax, black stars of pleasure erupting behind his closed eyelids. He collapsed in a sweaty heap on top of an equally sweaty Hermione, and the world went utterly still.
They lay sated, wrapped sleepily in each other’s arms as dawn flooded the room with the clear light of a hot Egyptian morning.
I love you had been understood since childhood.
“I’ve never had tear-the-bed-down sex before,” Draco murmured drowsily. “Bloody, fucking amazing. Always knew it would be, between us.” He twined one of her curls around his finger. “Glad to finally find out just how you like it, Minnow. You know I’ve always wondered.”
Hermione stretched, cat-like, and gave him a Cheshire smile.
“Oh, I like it many ways, Cadro. The point is, I like it very much. And very often.”
“Lucky stars, then.” Draco smirked.
Lying on the floor among the torn netting and tangled faerie lights, they slept.
Chapter 11: Portals of the Night
Sunday, August 22-- Luxor, Egypt
The day passed as one of the most pleasurable Draco and Hermione could remember, long periods of earth-shaking sex interspersed with the sweetness of sleep, while the bright god Ra traveled across the sky in his sunboat, turning morning to early evening.
In the late afternoon, they reluctantly left the apartment to stroll hand and hand to the marketplace for fresh bread. Hermione then prepared a simple meal of omelets with olives, tomatoes and cheese, accompanied by coffee and white wine.
Draco, his body relaxed and sated, had stretched out once again on her couch, listening to her hum in her small kitchen as she created the omelets.
He’d offered for them to go out, but Hermione had replied, “Cooking is something I adore. When I’m away on a site, it’s not really possible, so I enjoy it doubly when I’m at home. And to have you here to do it for only increases the pleasure.”
The look she’d given him at that last word, her eyes straying to his lips, then back to meet his gaze again, her hand resting lightly on his chest, almost caused Draco to forego the meal for another round in the bedroom. (they’d Reparo’ed her bed ). Or the shower. Or the living room rug. But Hermione had skated lightly out of his reach and told him they’d have no strength left if they didn’t eat something.
Now they sat at her small table, the balcony doors thrown wide, enjoying the meal she’d prepared.
“Back to the prophecy, I think,” Hermione commented, breaking off a piece of soft, fresh bread.
“Yes. It becomes critical now, since after midnight we’ll reach Sharlotte’s birthday.”
“I loved meeting her, Draco. She’s beautiful. And there’s something so special about her. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but it’s almost as if she’s… more magical than magical, if that makes sense?”
“It does,” he replied. “She’s always had that quality. A touch of Otherwordly-ness, for want of a better word. It’s almost as though, in spite of Shar being a witch, her abilities reach farther than most of us can see. I hesitate to use the word fey but sometimes…”
Hermione waited quietly while Draco struggled to put into words what he’d long sensed about his daughter. He didn’t want to make definitive statements, because what he felt about Shar wasn’t easily defined. There was nothing concrete, only a sensation— of something nebulous, mysterious, and far-reaching.
“I don’t mean fey as in mad. It’s as though Shar harks back to a time when magic was more wild, less practical and tamed than it is in our day. Even when we speak of the Dark Arts, we speak of practicing them. As if all magic, dark or light, is something controlled, something that does our bidding!”
Hermione nodded and he continued. “There was a time when magic was more intuitive. More a part of what one is, rather than what one does. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“Yes,” she replied, fascinated. “Even in our History of Magic classes, it was never touched on—those elemental qualities that make us unique as magical beings.”
“To me,” Draco went on, “it feels sometimes as though Sharlotte has reached back and got some of that… that intuitiveness. Often, it seems as though something calls to her from elsewhere, and she responds. She seems to be listening to things I can’t hear, and seeing things I can’t see.”
Suddenly, floodgates opened and Draco’s long-held worries for his daughter came spilling out. “But there’s a darker element at play that I can sense on occasion.” He looked at Hermione, his grey eyes clouded with concern. “Minnow, she sometimes reminds me of my Aunt Bellatrix.”
Hermione stared in return. “Oh, Draco. Surely not! I didn’t sense that at all from her!”
“But you’ve not lived with her for nearly seven years as I have. Shar sometimes seems…drawn to darker things,” Draco unconsciously used the same words he’d spoken when expressing his fears to Narcissa.
Hermione did not respond, but sat looking at Draco with sympathetic eyes. Solving the prophecy was doubly dire, with this new bit of information.
The previous night’s revelations about Librette and Ian, coupled with what that would mean for Draco’s family, receded into a problem to be dealt with much later.
She reached across the table and touched his hand, overcome with a longing to haul him off once again to her bedroom, to hold him close and give comfort with every centimeter of her body. But the time for that had passed. Midnight would signal the arrival of Sharlotte’s birthday, and if nothing else, Draco needed to be at his daughter’s side when that time came.
“We really need to concentrate now,” Hermione told him. "I think we should focus on the constellation Draconis, since the words ‘silver darkness’ figure prominently in the prophecy and Thuban, star of silver darkness, is part of the Dragon’s tail. The two are inextricably linked."
Draco nodded and she continued. "I also think we should consult Snape to see if he can further advise us."
"That's a good idea. He may be aware of things that we can’t know, from his vantage point as One Who Has Crossed Over." Draco grinned and Hermione smiled back.
"Yes, but unfortunately, we can't summon him until the sun has fully set." She glanced through the balcony doors toward the lingering daylight.
"Minnow. I don't like to carry tales, but my godfather hasn't been exactly truthful with you. He's told me he can actually be called at any time."
"That old reprobate! I might have known!" She laughed. "Summon him, then. Let's see what our Potions Master has to say for himself."
Draco fetched Snape's lamp from the pocket of his cloak where it lay discarded on one of Hermione's leather chairs. In moments, the shade of their former professor was hovering before them.
Snape took in his surroundings, pleased to note that the three of them were in Hermione’s Luxor apartment and that there was a small, satisfied smirk on his godson’s face. Draco had the look of a sleek, elegant, Siamese cat who’s just had all the cream he can handle.
Snape's gaze then shifted to Hermione, who was glaring at him, her scowl tempered by the tiny smile playing at the corners of her lips.
He nodded haughtily, shrugged transparent shoulders, and spread his hands in a placating gesture. "The two of you require my assistance?" he asked.
"Severus." Draco spoke. "Was there never talk among my family that would have bearing on the solving of the prophecy? Did no one ever mention the words ‘Thuban’ or Draconis, or the phrase ‘silver darkness’ within your hearing?"
"Hmm," Snape grew thoughtful as he searched deep within his memory for an answer. "Never those words or that particular phrase. And only one person from your family ever spoke to me of a foretelling. It was Bellatrix."
"Bellatrix," Draco murmured.
Beside him, Hermione felt a chill at hearing the hated name in conjunction with the prophecy concerning Sharlotte. Was it possible that Draco’s fears had some basis?
Snape drifted across the room, his dark eyes fixed on a time and place neither of them could see as he began to speak once more.
"Bellatrix was enamoured of the Dark Lord, of course. But once, toward the end of things, when he had…punished her— well, she was angry with him. And ranting to me. It had long been foretold, she said, that a descendant of the House of Black would one day arise with great power. More power than the Dark Lord had ever dreamed.” Snape paused, floating just in front of the open balcony doors.
“I asked what she meant, but she laughed and said no more. When I told Bellatrix her words were treasonous, she replied that she wasn’t referring to herself, but someone in the future.”
Snape's far-off gaze returned to focus regretfully on his godson. "I'm sorry, my boy. I know nothing more."
"Who would know, then?" asked Draco. "There's almost no one to ask. Aunt 'Dromeda distanced herself from that kind of knowledge when she married years ago. There's only Mother..."
"Or Phineas Nigellus," supplied Snape. "If what Bellatrix spoke was not the rambling of a deranged mind but knowledge of an actual foretelling, then it’s possible Phineas would remember. He was head of the Black family once, as well as Headmaster of Hogwarts, before his unlamented departure."
"We could consult his portrait," Hermione suggested. "But that would mean returning to Hogwarts." She turned to Draco. "The reunion is over, but what if everyone hasn't gone?"
"If by everyone you mean Librette and Ian Harkrider," Draco replied drily, "I've no doubt they've gone. Most likely to Paris, where Harkrider lives." He shook his head. "As often as Librette traveled to Paris in the last few years, I should have put two and two together. No, Hermione— no worries that those two would linger anywhere near Hogwarts."
Draco looked up to find Snape's dark eyes regarding him with a look of sympathy that barely concealed a triumphant gleam.
Bugger all. You probably knew about Librette all along. Probably hoped she’d play false, if truth were known. Draco couldn't help giving his godfather a small, rueful smile.
"Back to Hogwarts, then," he told Hermione.
Snape nodded briefly to the two of them and vanished into his lamp in a swirl of dark mist.
"Let me just lock things up here and I'll be ready." Hermione cast a quick tidying spell over her dining table and small kitchen. Draco stood quietly watching her, a part of him reluctant to leave her pleasant, elegant flat and the temporary sanctuary it offered from the problems he faced at home.
Hermione moved toward her balcony doors to close and secure them prior to departure.
“Wait, Minnow,” said Draco, following her. “Let’s step out here for just a minute.”
He took her hand and they walked out onto the balcony. The sun was beginning to sink in a hot, shimmering, red ball, the air filled with the sense of mystery that came with every twilight.
Draco stood just behind Hermione, staring off above her head toward the Mountains of the Moon, while people moved along the street below them, heading home as the day ended.
“I’d like to come back here,” he told her. “When there’s more time. I’d like for you to show me the temple, and the Valley of the Kings.”
“I’d like that, too.”
He pressed himself against the length of her back and Hermione relaxed into his warmth, as his hands came around to cup her breasts.
“Minnow,” he murmured, his voice threaded through with desire. “I can’t get enough of you. I want you one more time. Before we leave.”
Hermione’s body responded to the low, sexual thrum beneath his words, need flaring between her legs as Draco’s hands dipped down the front of her jeans.
His fingers traveled slowly across the smooth flesh of her belly and slipped under the wisp of lace covering her crotch. He then joined his thumbs and index fingers at the tips, creating a triangle that perfectly framed the mound of her sex. She tilted her pelvis upward, wanting him to reach further, to touch more.
He rubbed his body against the crease of her buttocks, the feel of his lean strength coupled with his hardness causing heat to pool in the pit of her stomach and flood downward.
Hermione had thought she was physically satisfied after the hours spent in his arms through this day. But when it came to Cadro Flamoy, maybe she was just a wee bit insatiable.
His hands now moved upward, his fingers undoing the fly of her jeans and beginning to peel them slowly from her hips.
“Draco,” she gave a ragged gasp.
“Shhh, Minnow,” he whispered into her hair. “No one can see us where it counts. The stone wall around your balcony blocks their view of our more…interesting points.” He knelt behind her, nipping the flesh of her buttocks while removing her jeans and knickers, leaving her naked below the waist.
She glanced over her shoulder to find him looking up at her, his eyes glowing hotly. Her gaze locked on his with an answering heat and a look of understanding flashed between them. There was a frisson of magic as Draco cast an oubliant— a charm of forgetting what has been seen— into the air around the balcony.
He stood then and undid his fly, requesting that Hermione lean forward. Her back to him, she braced her elbows on the stone wall, legs spread, her shapely bum rising into the air to give him better access to her center.
Draco entered her with a swiftness that made her gasp. He began to move with a slow, easy grace, pulling back so that he was almost entirely withdrawn, then sliding far inside her.
Hermione had had erotic experiences before, but this one hit with unexpected intensity.
Below her, people passed by on the crowded street, going about their business as the day wound down, oblivious to the fact that, just above their heads, she and Draco were…
Forget going at it “doggie style” her inner voice snarked. This is how dragons fuck.
“Gods, Draco,” Hermione growled, grinding her bum hard against him, her curls dancing as she tossed her head from side to side.
Draco reached around her to drag his fingers lightly back and forth across her clit, and then his thumb settled in to trace a repeated circular pattern, lazily at first, and then with increasing rapidity, while his cock stroked her from inside, faster now, and harder.
“Minnow,” his voice was dark syrup veined with golden honey. “All those people…in the street below us…they’d be wishing it was them, if they knew. Or they’d want…to watch...”
His warm breath at her ear sent sensual shivers traveling all over her body.
Sweet Merlin, how had he known…?
She thrust her buttocks more firmly against him, her nipples touching the stone of the balcony through her shirt and bra, creating a teasing friction that made them swell and ache. This was a thousand times better than any fantasy…
Hermione hadn’t thought she could experience another orgasm after their intense sessions earlier in the day.
She thought wrong.
The erotic thrill of having sex in the open, coupled with the feel of Draco deep inside, his words spurring her on, pushed her completely over the edge. She flexed her thigh muscles, causing the exquisite sensations to peak. She bit down hard on her bottom lip to contain her cries of pleasure as she quaked and clenched around him. He buried his face in her hair, his own shouts only partly muffled.
Both of them sagged to the floor of the little balcony, weak-kneed, breathless and laughing.
“That was… bloody amazing. Again!” he gasped.
“Guess those star charts knew exactly what they were about, in pairing the two of us.” Hermione grinned. “I take back every mean thing I’ve ever said about Divination.”
Casting a wordless Scourgify, she grabbed her discarded jeans and scuttled into the apartment to re-dress out of sight of the passing crowds.
Malfoy Manor, Seven p.m.
Sharlotte sat cross-legged on her bed, the skirt of her favorite lavender-and-white sundress frothing around her like a fallen twilight cloud. She was awaiting the summons to dine with her Malfoy grandparents. At her side, Leviathan lay propped against a pillow; Faerie Rustica was open in her lap.
After the unpleasant tale that the Queen had told during Sharlotte's last visit to the Autumn Wood, she had planned not to look at Faerie Rustica for a while.
But the lure of the old book was strong. Sharlotte had come up to change for dinner following a romp in the gardens with Grandfather Lucius, and felt the pull of its magic the moment she had opened her bedroom door.
No voices called to her; Faerie Rustica had lain quietly hidden in her box of favorite toys. But she’d been overcome with a longing to hold it, to touch it, to stroke her fingers over its crisp, antique paper.
Running to kneel beside her bed, reaching for the book once again, Sharlotte had been awash with relief by the feel of it in her hands. And as she leafed through its so-familiar pages, she was startled to see it had undergone another strange change.
The pictures now showed an Autumn Wood set entirely in night, with no beings of any type in evidence, though here and there faerie lights gleamed between the blackened trees.
Sharlotte ran one finger over the words her Auntie Bellatrix had crafted on the next to last page— the words of the eldritch song, its lines written in blood. Sharlotte hummed the tune quietly to herself. Here was that bit of blood she found exciting, and that one dead thing.
How would it feel, she wondered, to take something that was alive and make it dead, as her Great Aunt Bellatrix had done to the girl in Rosemary Lane? How did one make a choice like that?
Sharlotte knew about choices. Some were easy, like wearing her pink hair ribbon instead of her pale green one, or choosing to have apple tart for pudding instead of trifle.
But other choices were harder and required one to be grown up. Or nearly so.
Auntie Bella had been just fourteen when she'd decided to kill that girl in Rosemary Lane and to use the girl's blood to write the words of her dark, magical song in the pages of Faerie Rustica.
A sudden vision of a quill hard at work popped into Sharlotte’s mind and she shivered. Beside her, the evening sun slanting through her bedroom window struck the silver of Leviathan and he seemed to shudder as well.
Then the faraway music of the summoning bell called Sharlotte to dinner. As though a spell had been broken, she closed Faerie Rustica, tucked it under her pillow, scooped up Leviathan, and danced lightly from the room.
Hogwarts, Ten p.m.
The clocks in the Headmaster’s study were chiming the hour as night descended on the old castle like a darkly drifting veil.
Arriving from Luxor, Draco and Hermione had held a brief consultation with Neville, to explain the direness of their situation and their urgent need to speak with the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black.
Now, they approached his painting, the light from the candles in the Headmaster’s study showing a soundly sleeping Phineas.
“Sir…sir? Phineas Nigellus? Wake up, please!” Draco’s words were polite but forceful.
The man in the painting stirred to life, eyes flying open in alarm. “Wha…what? Is Hogwarts aflame?”
“No, sir. There's no danger," Draco replied soothingly. Then, "Grandfather Phineas, I’m your great-great-great…”
Fully awake now, the former Headmaster gave Draco a long, appraising stare. “I know who you are!” he snapped. “What I don’t know is why you have disturbed me! And who is that woman with you? She looks like an older version of that Granger baggage—the one who kidnapped my portrait during the Late Unpleasantness.”
“Keep her away! Don’t let her get her hands on—”
“Calm down, Grandfather Phineas. No one is going to steal you. We only want to ask you some questions about the Black family’s …um…illustriousness.”
“Then why didn’t you say that in the first place?” the old Headmaster barked.
Hermione stepped forward. “Sir, your help was invaluable during the war with Volde—“
“Do NOT say the name of that exceeding great fool in my presence!” Phineas interrupted.
“Yes, well…” Hermione hid a smile at this accurate assessment of the late Dark Lord. “Because you gave us such indispensable assistance during the war, we thought you would be the perfect one to turn to now, in our time of need.” She spread placating hands, eyes pleading convincingly.
Phineas preened and Draco spoke. “Sir, there’s been a prophecy that we think directly affects a descendant of yours—my daughter, Sharlotte Astariel Malfoy.”
“Well…always willing to help a family member,” Phineas replied, and then his look turned sly. “Heard your chit’s mother left you for another man.”
“Apparently, good news travels fast,” Draco’s tone was dry.
Phineas Nigellus gave a raucous male version of Bellatrix’ trademark cackle. “You’ve a quick wit. I like that! Shows you to be a true scion of the most noble House of Black. As for your wife, few things are hidden from those of us on this side, you know,” he added cannily.
“If that’s the case, then you should be able to help us,” Draco continued. “We need information— any knowledge you might have of a prophecy concerning a descendant of the Black family line, someone foretold to… to arise, imbued with a dark power.”
“I don’t know of any prophecy,” Phineas' voice grew thoughtful. “But my sister Elladora used to brag of a foretelling— some nonsense spoken over her by an old Traveler woman, one of the band that used to camp in the woods around Blackley Manor, where Ella and I grew up. Descendants of the Adsincani, they were! And Pureblooded. Truly Pureblooded...” He shook his head in amazement. “Elladora ran off with one, you know!”
“A Traveler?” asked Hermione.
“Yes. Jupicus Romine, from the same band that camped near our childhood home.” Phineas settled in to tell his tale, pleased to have a rapt and willing audience.
“Elladora was Father’s favorite, and a more wild, spoiled, and willful piece I’ve never seen. Beautiful she was, with white skin, blue eyes, and raven-black hair. For her sixteenth birthday, Father wanted her portrait painted. He hired a young man from the camp, a man with a growing reputation for being a skilled artist. The old miser thought that a Traveler would cost him less! But Father got more than he bargained for with Jupicus Romine.”
Phineas cackled as though at a great joke and then continued. “Jupicus and Elladora fell in love. His wild ways suited my sister. She used to slip out at night and go into the woods to dance around the campfire… until Father found out. He beat Elladora, locked her in her room, and chased the Traveler clan out of our woods. But there was no stopping what had already been set in motion.” Phineas again shook his head, his eyes focused on a distant memory.
“The next spring, around the time of Elladora’s seventeenth birthday, the clan passed near Blackley Manor again, and she ran off with Jupicus. We heard nothing of her for fourteen years. Father disowned her, of course, but on his deathbed, he recanted. She always was his favorite.” Phineas chuckled in amusement at his father’s apparent weakness.
“Father forgave Ella, and left her the Somberwoode properties, out in the Cotswold hills— a small manor house and a large, adjacent forested tract. Strange, deeply magical place. Elladora and Jupicus took up residence there. I saw them from time to time. But my sister seemed somehow…changed.” His eyes continued to hold their faraway look, his voice growing quiet with remembered concern.
“She’d always been wild, but now she was...without restraint…almost mad at times. And she never aged. I last saw Elladora at the age of seventy-five and she looked no older than she had at thirty-one, at the time of Father’s funeral. Through the years, I heard strange stories of dark occurrences at Somberwoode. I kept my distance. Wouldn’t have done for a man in my position, Headmaster of Hogwarts, to be involved.”
“But the foretelling, Grandfather Phineas?” Draco prompted.
“Elladora always bragged that one from our lineage would rise to great and dark power, silver darkness, she called it. Said that she would have a hand in the rising; it had all been foretold when she was sixteen. Ella seemed to think the special one might be my granddaughter Cassiopeia, whom she adopted as a protégé. But nothing ever came of the foretelling, that I‘ve ever heard.”
Phineas looked at Draco and Hermione. “Further than that, I cannot tell you, nor do I know what dark rituals were performed at Somberwoode. But I’ve always felt that those revels, whatever they were, were somehow tied to Elladora’s belief in the foretelling. Find out what she and Cassiopeia did in that clearing to the west of Somberwoode House, and you’ll have a key piece of your puzzle.”
A/N—The chapter title is taken from the following quote:
"How lovely are the portals of the night, when stars come out to watch the daylight die..."--Thomas Cole, Twilight