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i.

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

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

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

Haley cries harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Haley-"

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

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

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

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

Haley half-smiles and nods, her shoulders relaxing.

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

 

 

ii.

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

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

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

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

 

 

iii.

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

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

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

Probably airport security personnel, Aaron decides.

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

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

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

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

"What?" Haley asks, now sounding bewildered.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron is very interested by Hermione's odd friends.

 

 

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

"Mmmm."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron knows what Hermione bought for everyone.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Or strangers," Aaron adds firmly.

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron takes note of the qualification.

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

"You can?" Ron asks, sounding surprised.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

"Hedwig?"

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

"Your... owl."

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

"Okay. If you're sure."

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

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

"So maybe a cat?"

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

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

"Crookshanks?"

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

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

Chapter Text

iv.

Birthday cards mysteriously appear on Jack and Aaron's birthdays, pleasantly surprising Haley and Aaron.

Jack's card comes with a stuffed dragon. It is blue, fuzzy, and the perfect size for Jack to tuck under his arm, which he promptly does. Jack names it Gon and drags it everywhere with him, gnawing on its yellow horns and babbling nonsense at it. He is delighted to discover that, at odd moments, his stuffed dragon actually growls.

Aaron's card comes attached to a large box of something called Cockroach Clusters. Haley refuses to taste the novelty candy but Aaron does and he quite likes them. When he takes the box in to work, JJ and Gideon refuse to try them and Reid nibbles on the edge of one before 'accidentally' dropping it. Morgan crunches through one and declares, with a meaningful look towards an oblivious Garcia, that he likes it sweeter. But Garcia, who quite enjoys the salty crunch of them, quickly becomes as addicted to Cockroach Clusters as Aaron is. She even writes a thank you note to go along with Aaron's.

Hermione writes back. It is a brief note, mostly containing vague references to her classes, Ron, and Harry but Aaron dutifully writes back, aware of how fragile and fleeting attempts to reach out can actually be. He writes about Haley and Jack and Garcia. Hermione writes again, still confining her topics to her classes, Harry, and Ron. In short order, Aaron is regularly exchanging letters with Hermione. It is strange and awkward and Aaron cannot help but notice that Hermione's letters never have the expected stamps or postage on them. He does it, anyway.

When Hermione writes and asks if Harry and maybe Ron can come visit the coming summer, Aaron discusses it with Haley and writes back that they can. Hermione's next letter is about her classes, Ron, Harry, and her roommates. Aaron savors the proof of his progress.

 

 

v.

Aaron and Haley time their annual vacation to coincide with the first few weeks that Hermione will be home from boarding school. Aaron takes off of work a few days before Hermione is due to arrive to laze around the house and start making inroads on the gutters and garage.

"Hotch!" shouts a familiar voice as Aaron walks through the bullpen on the last day before his vacation. "Hotch, wait!"

Aaron turns to find Garcia hurrying his way. He braces himself for bad news and instead gets a brightly wrapped package shoved into his hands.

"It's a welcome home gift for my pen pal," Garcia says breathlessly.

"Your pen pal?" he asks, bewildered. It is a familiar, even comforting feeling. Between the bright colors, her usual rush of information and emotion, and her general aura of Garcia-ness, Aaron is usually at least slightly  befuddled around his team's technical analyst.

Looking guilty, Garcia shifts her weight. Her bright red heels, which are adorned with sunny yellow polka dots, rustle against the gray carpeting.

"Don't be mad," she pleads. "It's just, after you sent her the thank you notes, she wrote back to me. So I wrote back to her and she wrote back to me and it became this whole pen pals thing. And she's a really smart, funny kid, sort of like Reid, so it wasn't any trouble. And I get what's it's like when your parents suddenly die and, well, I thought maybe it would be good for her to talk to someone who's been there. Sort of, I mean, since my parents weren't murdered, that I know of, anyway. And I do counseling for victims' families so I know some of the things that she maybe needs to hear and-"

"Garcia," Aaron says, finally breaking into Garcia's rambling. "It's fine. I'm glad that she's been talking to you. You're one of the best, most unwaveringly cheerful people that I've ever met. I'm glad that she reached out to you."

"Oh!" gasped Garcia. "I'm so glad. I mean, I didn't think I was doing anything wrong but I didn't want you to be mad at me for interfering with your niece."

"It's fine," he emphasizes, warmly. "I'm glad that you've been her pen pal. Thank you. And thank you for the gift."

"It wasn't anything," Garcia insists, pinking pleasantly. "Really."

This time, Hermione's arrival at Ronald Reagan Washington Airport coincides with the beginning of the worst heat wave in Virginia's history. The temperature jump is so sudden that it almost feels like it arrives with Hermione, who disembarks with Harry and an airport official in tow.

Hermione looks better than when she left. She strides through the crowd, her shoulders back and her hair practically crackling with energy. Harry, who is walking with her and lugging an enormous cat carrier, looks smaller and hunched in on himself. He looks decidedly unwell.

When Hermione spots them, she nudges Harry and changes direction, heading directly towards the Hotchners. Harry walks with her most of the way and, for a moment or two, Aaron thinks that they are going to have him as an unexpected guest again. Next to Aaron, Haley tenses. At the last minute, Harry peels off and goes to greet a nearby man. Aaron watches from the corner of his eye as Harry and the dark-haired stranger exchange quiet words then loud greetings and tight hugs. When the man ruffles Harry's hair, Harry finally relaxes and straightens his shoulders.

When she reaches them, Hermione stops a few feet back from the Hotchner family. She asks, "Why did you invite Harry and Ron to stay with us over the Christmas holidays?"

Haley peers at Hermione as if bewildered by the question. Aaron, who remembers the peculiarity from Hermione's last visit, says, "We didn't. They came on their own."

Hermione beams at Aaron then shakes hands with he and Haley. She smiles up at Jack (who is sitting on Aaron's shoulder and gnawing on one of Gon's horns), and joggles one of Jack's feet. After a bit of awkward chitchat, Hermione led them over to her friend. Harry introduced the stranger as his godfather, who had recently moved to New York.

"When I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Surrey, they were having a heat wave too," Harry says as he passes the pet carrier to Hermione. The animal inside of it looks vaguely like a lion with a squashed face. It could only charitably be called ugly. "This summer, it's hotter there than it's been in over a century."

"Global warming," Hermione replies so nonchalantly that Aaron is immediately suspicious. She is probably right but Aaron has a suspicious soul.

"You've already visited your aunt and uncle, Harry?" Haley asks sharply. "How long have you two been out of school?"

"I stayed with Harry and his relatives for a few days before my flight," Hermione says with an overly casual shrug of her shoulders. "It was a very productive visit. We got a lot of studying done."

Aaron is more interested in the fact that Hermione had been planning to follow Harry home (and presumably act as a buffer between him and his relatives) since the Christmas holidays, than in the teenagers' study schedule or the fact that Hermione had lied.

"We'll talk about this at home," Haley says tightly and Hermione nods.

On the way home, Hermione is livelier than she was the last time that they brought her home from the airport. She looks out the car's window, remarks on what she sees, and asks questions. When she thinks that he and Haley are otherwise occupied, Hermione plays with Jack and Gon. At home, Hermione and Aaron put her trunk in her bedroom.

"What's that?" Hermione asks when she sees Garcia's gift on her bed. "It's not my birthday for a few months yet."

"It's a welcome home gift from Garcia," he says and then, when Hermione looks confused, says, "Penelope?"

Hermione's smile is quick and bright. It makes up for the awkwardness that Aaron feels in voicing Garcia's first name, even outside of her presence.

Haley sternly tells Hermione off and Aaron stands next to her, providing a united front even though Hermione is fifteen, spends most of her time separated from their influence by an ocean, and is apparently very strong-minded when she is well. Hermione quietly endures Haley's lecture, apologizes, and promises not to do anything like it again.

Aaron refuses to believe her. He does, however, believe that she will take more care not to be caught in the future.

When Aaron goes out to the garage, to continue cleaning it, Hermione follows him. She tries to help him sort through the accumulated debris of his life with Haley, asking him questions and listening carefully when he tells her the stories attached to various things. Aaron loves his wife but he hates talking about himself, a remnant of an unhappy childhood. However, he is aware that moments like this are what will bind Hermione to them and so he makes the effort to share.

Aaron looks up from telling Hermione about the very first time that he ever laid eyes on Haley, and how that led to his first and last stage role as the worst Fourth Pirate in history, to see Haley watching him from the threshold of the laundry room's door. She is wearing the sweetest, soppiest expression that he has seen in awhile. Aaron's words peter out under the sheer emotion in that look.

"Uncle Aaron?" Hermione asks and then turns to look where Aaron's attention is focused.

"Keep the pirate gear," Haley says. Then, with a meaningful look, she goes back inside the house, shutting the laundry room door behind herself. Hermione giggles and Aaron feels himself blush.

"You heard your aunt," he says. "Put it with the things that we're keeping."

 

 

Two days later, while Aaron is relaxing on the back porch, Haley comes to sit on the porch's swing with him. She kisses his cheek and snuggles into his side. Together, they watch Hermione play hide and seek with Jack.

"We should have another one," Haley says, breaking the quiet between them. "A girl this time, I think."

"Haley..." Aaron starts and then peters off, uncertain of where to go from there. Things between them are nowhere near bad but definitely not as great as they could be. Finally, he asks, "Why?"

"Because you're a great dad," Haley replies. "And I'm pretty sure that you're meant to have at least one daughter. Look what you did for Hermione with a few letters."

"It wasn't just me. She had the boys. And two therapy sessions. And apparently Garcia's her pen pal."

"The boys are teenagers," Haley says dismissively. "Two therapy sessions probably didn't even scratch the surface. And Garcia wasn't the one that I saw writing to her every week. It was you."

"And you," Aaron insists as he squeezes Haley's side. "I mostly wrote to her about you and Jack."

"Stop being modest," Haley orders and shoves his side, but gently. "It was you, Aaron."

Hermione looks up just then from tickling Jack with Gon. She smiles at them, at him, as if she knows what they are talking about and Aaron stops arguing. He may not have done it by himself but he did help to put her back together.

"I'd like another one," he says as Hermione looks down, returning her attention to Jack. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a girl, though."

"You were meant to be someone's dad, Aaron Hotchner," Haley declares. Aaron takes that to mean that they are trying for another baby. He is excited, of course, but Aaron cannot help but know this to be a poor decision. Rather than following that thought to its logical conclusion, however, Aaron hugs Haley close and enjoys his afternoon.

 

 

"Harry wants me to tell you that he's having screaming nightmares," Hermione tells them over dinner one night. It is near the end of the summer and Hermione will soon be returning to her boarding school in Scotland. "And he understands if you take back his invitation to visit."

Although her tone is cheerful and casual, Aaron can practically hear the 'but I will never, ever forgive you if you do,' in it.

"Why is he having nightmares?" Haley asks, sounding startled.

"Harry was kidnapped and tortured at the end of term by one of our teachers," Hermione says, her tone implying that this is somehow a normal, perfectly reasonable occurrence. It chills Aaron's blood. "Except he wasn't really our teacher. It turns out that the kidnapper had attacked our proper teacher before the start of term and taken his place, his whole identity, really. He'd spent the whole year undercover, trying to get at Harry."

"That's awful," Haley says with genuine distress. "Why Harry?"

"Harry's parents worked for our government, like Uncle Aaron does for yours. They were very important," Hermione says carefully. Aaron understand the impulse to humanize Harry's parents by drawing on a common point of reference but Haley will take the parallels further than that. He wishes that Hermione had not made the comparison at all. Oblivious, Hermione continues. "Harry's parents were murdered right in front of him. To protect Harry, his mum killed everyone else in the house just before she died."

Aaron, who has worked similar scenes, cannot imagine how a dying victim would turn the tables on her killers. It is all too easy to imagine a young child, Jack's age perhaps, watching such a scene and then being left alone in a corpse-filled room for an indeterminate length of time. Aaron shivers.

"So Harry's a symbol to some people," Hermione says. "I guess the fake teacher wanted vengeance on Harry's parents for what happened that night, except Harry saved himself and got away."

"That's really terrible," says Haley, who is empathetic toward children in a way that she is not toward any other demographic. "Tell Harry that he can come visit if he wants to, right Aaron?"

"Right," Aaron says weakly.

Later that night, Aaron is called into work to deal with an UnSub with a fixation on Arthurian legends.

 

 

A week later, Hermione calls Aaron at work. Aaron wonders how she talked her way past no less than three secretaries and JJ, all of which had been instructed that he was not to be disturbed for anything less than a national emergency until that afternoon.

"Hullo, Uncle Aaron, it's Hermione," she says when he answers his extension. "I'm calling to remind you that Jack's doctor's appointment is this morning. He and Aunt Haley just left for it."

"Oh," Aaron says blankly, stunned into honesty. "I'd forgotten about that."

"Maybe you could take an early lunch?" Hermione suggests. Her voice tight, she adds, "That's what Mum and Dad always did when they needed to take me to an appointment."

"Good idea," he says. "I'll do that. Thanks, Hermione."

Aaron arrives only slightly late for Jack's appointment but in plenty of time for the actual testing portion of it. Haley's pleasure in his thoughtfulness makes Aaron feel slightly guilty about needing a reminder from Hermione. Mostly, he feels grateful. If this is the shape that Hermione's gratitude for letting Harry come to visit takes, Aaron can live with it.

 

 

By the day that Harry is due to arrive, Aaron has scheduled therapy appointments for both teenagers with Dr. Welchbury, Haley has turned the basement into a semi-cozy guestroom for Harry, and Hermione has won her learner's permit.

"Do you think he'll like it?" Haley frets.

"He'll love it," Aaron guarantees. "It's probably a better room than he has at home."

"That doesn't make it okay," Haley fusses as she straightens a pillow. "Maybe we could have treacle tart the night he comes? Hermione says that he likes that."

"If you want to," Aaron agrees and Haley smiles at him.

 

 

When the teenagers leave at the end of the summer, Aaron is on assignment in Oklahoma. A few days later, when he is safely ensconced on the team's jet and winging his way back home, Aaron finally feels relaxed enough to call Haley.

"They left gifts," Haley says, managing to sound simultaneously pleased and aggrieved. "They both left hosting gifts, something for Jack, and Hermione left something for my birthday. Aaron, I don't know how I didn't notice the pile of presents on the dining room table."

"You were probably busy."

"It's very large," Haley says doubtfully. "And the wrapping is all so eye-searingly bright that I could have sworn I saw the pattern moving on one of them."

Aaron laughs, drawing glances from his team. "Have you opened them yet?"

"No, I was waiting for you... and my birthday."

"Shake one," Aaron orders and Haley giggles.

"Nothing's rattling," Haley reports.

They spend the rest of Hotch's flight talking on the phone and playing with their wrapped gifts.

 

 

vi.

Hotch heads to Chicago two days before Christmas to bail Morgan out of jail. He is still there on Christmas Eve. Hotch goes to bed in a cheap hotel room feeling cold, miserable, and irrationally angry with Morgan for something that he knows intellectually is not Morgan's fault.

He wakes up with his Christmas stocking and a pile of presents across the foot of his bed. In a panic, Hotch calls home. Thanks to the wonders of having children in the house, everyone is already awake. Haley is as mystified and frightened as Aaron is. They are in the middle of reviewing security threats and planning to move Christmas when Hermione says something in the background.

There is a pregnant pause.

"Hermione says that she did it," Haley says tightly. "She says it's Christmas magic."

"Put Hermione on the phone," Aaron orders.

It takes about three minutes of interrogation for Hermione to confess that she used some of Harry's contacts to get his presents to him in Chicago and arranged across the foot of his bed.

Aaron is not impressed.

He tells Hermione so at such length that he actually ends up missing that morning's meeting. When Hotch gets to the police station, Reid reports that Morgan panicked and escaped not more than fifteen minutes ago. For Aaron Hotchner, Christmas Day is long and miserable.

 

 

vii.

Haley leaves Aaron about six weeks before Hermione is due to arrive in Ronald Reagan airport. Aaron does not mention it in his letters to Hermione. He fully expects Hermione's letters to cease when she comes home to discover that he and her aunt have separated. Instead, she continues writing to him every week as if she were still at boarding school. The only difference is that she addresses his letters to his apartment. She calls him an awful lot more, though.

"Have you eaten today, Uncle Aaron?" Hermione asks. "Harry always forgets to eat when he's unhappy."

"I've eaten," Aaron lies as fishes a package of peanut butter crackers from one of his desk drawers. Perhaps hearing the rustling of cellophane, Hermione makes an unconvinced noise. Aaron sighs. "I'm in the middle of something."

"Should I call and remind you again in a couple of hours?" Hermione asks and Aaron hesitates, torn between wanting to accept the little kindness and knowing that he should be better than that.

"If you want to," he says at last and Hermione hums.

She calls back in precisely two hours and nags Aaron into taking a lunch break. While he eats a tasteless tuna on rye from a deli down the street, she tells him about her friends at school and her long distance boyfriend, Victor Krum, who apparently attends a boarding school in Russia. Somewhere along the way, Hermione had finally let Aaron in.

"Aunt Haley says that Harry can come visit this summer, too," Hermione says happily. "I've already written to Harry and told him so."

"Written? Wouldn't it be easier to call him?" Aaron asks. "A pre-paid international calling card would make it a fairly cheap call."

"Harry's aunt and uncle don't like it when he gets calls," Hermione says repressively. "It's easier if he gets mail since it's one of his chores to pick it up for the Dursleys, anyway. They're terribly lazy. In any case, Sirius has already sent Harry a ticket to come and visit him and- and his roommate in New York. So that's good."

Aaron makes a mental note to follow up on his feelers in the British government regarding one Harry Potter's living situation. The teenager is nearly old enough to live on his own but it is not yet too late for criminal charges to be filed against his guardians.

Hermione calls to remind Aaron to eat the next day too and Aaron, who suspects that she is mothering him as a substitute for mothering Harry, allows her to nag him into taking a lunch break. This time, she tells him about driving Haley and Jack around while he eats another sandwich, this time a Reuben.

"You sound tired," Hermione says a few days later instead of a greeting.

"It's been a long day," Aaron says dismissively, even though he is tired. He was at the office all night, rather than going home to his empty apartment. Fortunately, he keeps a change of clothes and a small iron in his file cabinet.

Hermione reminds him about an appointment of Jack's that is coming up in a few days and makes him eat lunch. She only says goodbye after Aaron promises to go home early.

Aaron always keeps his promises.

 

 

Morgan walks in on one of Hermione's nagging phone calls. He listens patiently as Hotch promises to eat lunch and hangs up.

"Anything I can do for you?" Hotch asks brusquely. Even though he has already privately admitted to Morgan that Haley left him, Hotch does not particularly want to discuss anything pertaining to his family right then. It is all too close and too painful and too embarrassing.

"Want pizza?" Morgan asks, rather than whatever he had come in for.

"It's not necessary to-"

"No, really, Hotch. I skipped breakfast and Garcia was talking about ordering a pizza. Splitting it three ways is better than splitting it two. Fewer leftovers."

"If you've already ordered..."

Morgan grins. "Probably. Garcia was in charge of that."

Hotch flashes Morgan the beginnings of a smile and nods. "Is there anything else that I can do for you?"

"Yeah, I had a question about one of the cases that you assigned me to look over," Morgan says as he strides into the room and claims the one of the visitors' seats across from Hotch's desk.

About forty minutes later, Morgan knocks on Hotch's door again. This time he has a couple of enormous pizza box in hand. At Hotch's surprised look, he shrugs and grins.

"The others heard and wanted to get in on it," he says. "They're meeting us downstairs, in Garcia's office."

Hotch nods, logs out of his computer, and stands. In the elevator, he carefully refrains from looking at Morgan as he says, "Haley's gone and the hell of it is, her niece still acts like I'm there. It makes me think that I was home even less often than I thought I was."

"Or maybe she just likes you," Morgan says. "Kids do that."

"She says that I remind her of one of her best friends from boarding school," Hotch admits. "I'm not sure whether to be flattered or mortified by the comparison."

"He one of the friends who invaded your place when your niece first moved in?"

"Yeah."

"It could be worse."

 

 

Once, after Hermione has gone back to boarding school, Aaron writes to Hermione that, while he enjoys their epistolary relationship, he cannot help but wonder why she still calls and writes to him since, technically, they are no longer related. It is a short note, only a few sentences, and he puts it in the priority mail before he can rethink his decision to ask the question.

Her short reply comes with the next morning's post. If Aaron had ever believed in such things, he would have labeled it magic.

Dear Uncle Aaron,

I like you. And you're a good person. You can't help having a saving people thing.

If it helps, you saved me.

--Love Hermione.

Aaron carefully refolds her letter, puts it back in its envelope, and tucks it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

It helps.

Chapter Text

viii.

Garcia is shot at the beginning of December. Morgan claims that her survival is his Christmas miracle. Hotch's miracle shows up a few days later.

"Daddy!" shouts a familiar voice. Aaron turns to find his son barreling down on him in the corridors of F.B.I. headquarters, faithful Gon's tail clutched tightly in one hand. "Daaaaadddddyyy!"

Aaron catches Jack and swings him up into his arms for a quick, fierce hug.

"Too tight!" squeals Jack and Aaron modifies his grip. Over Jack's shoulder he watches as Hermione and Harry, trailed by one of the odd agents that seem to follow Harry everywhere, stroll down the hall in Jack's wake.

"Where's your mother?" Aaron asks Jack.

"At home! 'Mione took us present shopping!" Jack tells Aaron importantly.

"I'm sorry that I didn't call ahead," Hermione says with a shrug. "But we were driving by and we thought that maybe you'd like to go out for lunch with us?"

"Can you wait a few minutes?" Aaron asks, quickly rearranging his schedule in his head. "I've got to make a couple of phone calls."

"Sure," Harry says, surprising Aaron. "Can we meet Penelope?"

Hermione elbows Harry, hard, and Aaron grins. Aaron's only comment is, "That can be arranged. Unfortunately, she isn't here right now. But I'm sure that she'd like to see a few fresh faces."

"Where is she?" Hermione asks as the three of them start walking towards Aaron's office.

"Hopefully, in her apartment," Aaron says, a trifle grimly. "She's a terrible patient."

Hermione elbows Harry again but this time he rolls his eyes at her.

"I'm an excellent patient," Harry insists. "I do exactly as Madam Pomfrey - the school nurse, Mr. Hotchner - says. You're the one who sneaks out of bed."

"You did too!"

"Once. Because you made me," Harry says to Hermione. To Aaron he says, "She's a terrible tyrant, Mr. Hotchner."

Aaron nods and says, "I've noticed that, yes."

He grins when Hermione scowls at him and Harry.

 

 

Hermione and Harry practically move in with Garcia, who has apparently taken it upon herself to tutor them over the Christmas holidays. Aaron hears half of a conversation about magical swords, finding things that are hidden, and healing spells and decides that he would rather not know which internet role-playing video game Garcia is tutoring them in. It is enough to know that Hermione and Harry have hobbies.

They visit Garcia every day, taking Jack with them more often than not. And, since they always invite Aaron out to lunch on the days that they have Jack, Aaron sees a great deal more of his son than usual. When Aaron sees Jack at lunch, either before, after, or between their daily visits to a recuperating Garcia, his son babbles nonsensical stories about toy brooms, toy dragons that blow fire, and moving newspapers. Aaron listens to Jack's stories gravely, happy that his son is having the whimsical childhood that he had been denied.

Aaron is happy to see Jack, Haley is happy to have free babysitting, and Morgan is happy that Garcia is suitably distracted from (Kevin and) her status as an invalid. Jack, the teenagers, and Garcia are all disgustingly happy.

When Haley calls to invite Aaron and his brother and his brother's (mysterious) new significant other and her kid to Christmas with the Brooks family, Aaron eagerly accepts. He counts Haley's invitation as his second miracle of the season.

Haley's parents' house is just as tall, proud, and stifling as his own childhood home was. Aaron hates it almost as passionately as he hated his parents' house. Haley's parents, however, are the polar opposite of his own.

There is a slight kerfluffle when Sean arrives with Harry's godfather and Harry in tow. Sean shoots Aaron a defiant look and aggressively introduces Sirius as his significant other, his arms crossed over his chest and a ferocious scowl on his face. Sirius smirks and tosses his head, looking for a moment as handsomely arrogant as any noble in a fairytale. Harry, who is standing to Sirius' right, has his hand wrapped around Sirius's right wrist. When Harry shoots Aaron an expectant look, Aaron shakes off his surprise, tries on a smile, and offers Sirius his hand.

After a quick, dubious look, Sirius shakes off Harry's restraining grip and takes Aaron's hand. His grip is loose and then firm as he adjusts it to Aaron's shake. Then Aaron hugs Sean, quick and hard. The gesture is as awkward as it is sincere.

"I'll be fine with this," Aaron murmurs to Sean, "as long as he's good to you and not a wanted criminal."

In his arms, Sean stiffens, relaxes, and finally laughs. He pounds Aaron on the back a few times, lets go, and moves to greet Haley.

A few hours later, Aaron finds Hermione and Harry in the kitchen, stacks of books around them. From the looks of the ones they have open, they are currently studying for their S.A.T.s.

"Did you know that this was going to happen?" he asks the teenagers, who share bright, evil grins. Answering his own question, Aaron says, "Of course you knew that this was going to happen. Why didn't you give me a heads up?"

"It seemed very important to Sean to tell you himself," Harry replies with a shrug. "We didn't think you'd take it badly, though, if you didn't know ahead of time."

"And you didn't," Hermione says with obvious pride.

"I'd... had my suspicions about Sean's preferences," Aaron admitted. "Even if Sean hadn't ever brought a man home before."

Aaron tries not to profile his friends and family or to notice things that they would rather keep private but profiling is second nature to him now. Sometimes willful blindness is beyond Aaron's abilities. The only surprise was who Sean had brought home with him.

The teenagers both nod and that is the end of that.

Aaron keeps a close eye on Sean's boyfriend but Sirius seems as devoted to Sean as he is to Harry. Haley's parents love him practically on sight and Jack starts calling him 'Unca Sir'us' before the end of the first day. Before dinner is over, even Haley is halfway in love with Sirius, who smiles, winks, and says, "If only I hadn't met Sean first. Alas, ours was a doomed love, Cousin Haley."

Christmas morning, all of the mysterious decorations from that first Christmas reappear. For Aaron, it is as good as a confession from Harry as to being the source of the Christmas cheer. And, just like that first Christmas, the pile of presents multiplies itself into a veritable mountain of gifts, most of which are addressed to the younger generations. Judging by the way that Sirius watches Harry shred wrapping paper and laugh, at least half of the mountain is from him.

Even though it takes place in an overcrowded colonial house in Virginia, this Christmas is thoroughly... magical.

 

 

In the spring, Hermione writes to say that she will not be able to make it home that summer... and that she will not be attending her boarding school in the fall.

I'm sorry, Uncle Aaron, but I won't be able to write for awhile. Harry's in trouble and he needs my help, she writes in her last letter to Aaron. So Ron and I will be going with him at the end of term. I can't say too much but we should have the last of his parents' affairs sorted by sometime next year. Don't worry. We'll keep up on our studies and, hopefully, graduate on time. I've already started applying to universities, mostly in America, and Harry is applying with me. He says that, after everything that's happened, attending uni abroad will be like taking a long holiday. Ron's a bit put out with us but, hopefully, he'll come around. We'll have all year to work on him, so there's that for a silver lining.

See you soon. (Hopefully!)

--Love, Hermione.

Aaron carefully folds Hermione's letter up and puts it back into its envelope. This letter joins that other, more worn letter from Hermione in Aaron's breast pocket. A week later, Aaron learns via a phone call from a morose Sean that Sirius has also returned to England.

"He said that he'd be back," Aaron says, trying to be comforting.

"But it's so dangerous!"

"What is?" Aaron asks sharply.

There is a long, pregnant pause before Sean says, "Never mind. Don't worry about it. If they didn't tell you, you're probably better off not knowing. Sirius probably shouldn't've told me."

"Sean."

"Ask Hermione and Harry the next time that they visit."

Aaron fully intends to.

 

 

Two months later, when a colleague in England e-mails him that Vernon and Petunia Dursley have pled guilty to an assortment of child abuse and battery charges, Aaron feels a warm glow of satisfaction. He asks Garcia to do him a favor and get the court transcripts and recordings, if there are any, which she cheerfully promises to do. She is less cheerful when she has actually obtained them, however.

"Be warned, it's grim stuff," she says. Her full mouth tights into an unhappy line before she adds, "Especially the parts where the old walrus claims that what they did shouldn't count because it was just that freak nephew of his wife's. Everyone had to have known what was happening in that house. It's too bad that no one else was charged for letting it happen."

Hotch's hands tighten on the edge of his desk and his stomach clenches. He has the fleeting thought that his father may have well said the same things about himself, his brother, and his mother, if anyone had ever challenged the old man about the way that he abused his family.

There are reasons that Hotch refuses to work in any office that primarily handles abused children or issues relating to them.

"Sometimes, we have to take what we can get," Hotch says tightly. "Thanks, Garcia."

"No problem-o."

 

 

ix.

Hotch falls into bad habits without Hermione around to nag him, by letter or by telephone. He loses weight, works too hard, and sees too little of his son. Despite that, Christmas is surprisingly magical.

Sean comes down from New York to spend the holidays with him and, on Christmas morning, he wakes Aaron up with his laughter and a few rough shoves. Strewn across the foot of Aaron and Sean's beds are Christmas stockings, straining at their seams with fruits and trinkets, and small piles of brightly wrapped presents. This time there is a note from Hermione among Hotch's gifts.

Dear Uncle Aaron,

I know this makes you crazy but you need a little magic in your life.

So Merry Christmas! And Happy New Years!

--Love, Hermione.

P.S. Do you want to meet up this summer? Check yes or no.

When Hotch ticks the YES box at the bottom of the note, it disappears in a flash of fire. Hotch determinedly attributes that to wishful thinking and still being half asleep. Sean thinks that it is the neatest trick, ever.

In the living room, they find that Hotch's small, plastic tree has grown, turned into a real tree, and sprouted more ornaments. Scattered about its base are at least a dozen brightly wrapped gifts, most of which are addressed to Jack.

In the afternoon, Haley drops Jack off for a second Christmas. At the sight of the Christmas tree, Jack squeaks and claps his hands, his little face alight with childish enthusiasm. Jack tears into his gifts with an adorable amount of glee.

Aaron has Jack and Sean for another few days then Sean rushes back to New York in time for the New Year's rush at his restaurant. Then it is just Aaron and Jack for a couple of wonderful days. After the holidays, Hotch is surprised to discover that somewhere along the line, Sean sneakily fattened him up.

Soon enough, though, Hotch loses the next few months in work and stress. And, after his jailbreak, every one of Hotch's spare moments is filled with tracking the Reaper instead of Jack or fun or even hobbies.

Hermione calls Hotch in late spring, when the team is on the jet and winging their way back to the States after a case in Canada.

"Hermione!" Hotch says, genuinely pleased to (finally) hear from her. Ignoring his teammates' sudden, pressing interest, Hotch asks, "Where are you? Are you safe? Hurt? How's Harry? How did you get this number?"

"We're in flight, yes I'm safe, we're all fine, and I got it off of Garcia about ten minutes ago," she says, surprising him.

"We, meaning you and Harry, I presume?"

"Yeah, Ron was needed at home," Hermione says, sounding sad. "And Harry thinks that maybe Sean and Sirius will want some, er, private time when Sirius gets back."

"Are you staying with your aunt?" he asks.

"No, she and Jack are out of town, visiting Aunt Jessica," Hermione says. "Harry and I were thinking about getting hotel rooms or staying in a youth hostel or something. We don't really have any plans. We just needed to get out, you know?"

"If you don't have any definite plans," Aaron says, "you're both welcome to stay with me as long as you'd like."

"Are you sure?" Hermione asks, sounding startled.

"Yes," Aaron says, already imagining how nice it will be to come home to an apartment with other people in it. His apartment might even start to look lived in.

"Thanks, Uncle Aaron!"

"I can't meet your flight," Aaron says regretfully, despite the shooing motions that Rossi and Prentiss are making at him. "We've just finished up a case and I'll be needed at the office for a few hours. If I give you my address, will you be able to find my apartment on your own?"

"Is it the place I send your letters to?" Hermione asks.

"Yes," Aaron confirms and then gives her his address again, just in case. He also tells them where he keeps his hide-a-key and the combination for the box.

"Go home," Rossi bluntly orders when Aaron finishes his call. "We can manage to do the wrap up without you, just this once."

Reid chimes in with a statistic as to the health benefits of relaxation and Prentiss adds, "We'll get it done tonight and the file will be waiting for you to look over tomorrow morning."

Hotch hesitates, tempted.

"Go home, man," Morgan urges. "You've got to have a life outside of this and, to be honest, yours has been suffering lately. It'll be good to know that you're not going to be sleeping on your office couch, for once."

"Thank you," Hotch finally says, enticed by the promise of not spending the night alone in his sterile, little apartment. "All of you. This really means a lot to me."

"Don't mention it," Morgan replies while Reid smiles and nods. Prentiss and Rossi very determinedly look out their windows.

Hotch orders Chinese food from the plane and picks it up on his way home.

His apartment is dark but, for once, Aaron does not mind. He unlocks the door, dumps his keys and the bags of Chinese food on the little table near the front door, and heads straight to his wet bar for a glass of red wine. The sound of wine splashing against glass does not drown out the familiar click of a safety being removed. A familiar voice rasps, "Welcome home, Agent Hotchner."

As he slowly turns to face Foyet, Hotch thinks, I'm glad they aren't here yet.

Then the Reaper shoots him.

 

 

Hotch has been shot before. The pain is always unimaginable.

While Aaron is still reeling under the searing agony radiating from his shoulder, Foyet briskly ties Aaron's hands together and to the leg of the couch. Then he roughly yanks off Aaron's shoes and ties his ankles together. Aaron, who has been shot and tied up before, finds that the experience is about like he remembered it being: painful, frightening, and vulnerable.

Having his clothing cut off of him is a new experience, though. As Foyet hacks at Hotch's sleeves, slicing skin as often as fabric, Hotch decides that he dislikes it.

After Foyet has cut down the length of Hotch's arms, over his armpits, and across the line of Hotch's collarbones, Foyet pulls all of the fabric down, bunching the remnants of Hotch's suit jacket, shirt, and undershirt around Hotch's waist. Foyet saws them off, up one side and down the other, a gleeful grin on his face as he gouges his blade into Hotch's flesh.

Despite himself, Hotch hisses and gasps at the pain of it. Every time that he flinches away from the blade, Foyet chortles and presses his fingers and thumb into Aaron's bleeding wounds. Hotch gasps and curls away from the pain then, when the fingers disappear from his side, forces himself to lay still and be impassive as he watches Foyet lick the blood off of his digits with obvious relish.

"Agent Hotchner, this is going to hurt," Foyet says and smirks around curve of his thumb.

Foyet grabs a handful of white fabric and wrenched at it, tearing the front of Hotch's shirt and undershirt off. He wads up the fabric, buttons and all, and slams it down on Hotch's bullet wound.

Aaron groans loudly, his voice going high and pained, and arches away from Foyet's hands.

Foyet catches his breath and, a moment later, his hands disappear from Hotch's chest. Aaron, who can only hear his own pounding heartbeat and gasps, has no idea where Foyet is or what he is doing. In Foyet's absence, Aaron concentrates on staying conscious.

When Foyet returns, he straddles Aaron's waist. He leans over Aaron, his hair flopping into his eyes and his hands shaking, and roughly forces a pair of knotted up socks into Aaron's mouth. He slaps a length of duct tape over Aaron's mouth and then arranging the remnants of Aaron's shirt over Aaron's injury. Foyet carefully lines up one of the buttons with the edge of Aaron's wound then, with one hand, Foyet presses down on the wadded up shirt again.

Aaron screams, his voice muffled by the gag of socks and tape. He tries to curl away from the agony but there is nowhere to go, caged as he is between the floor and Foyet's body. Foyet roughly duct tapes Aaron's shirt to his shoulder, his breathing ragged.

Then Foyet sits where he is, leaning over Aaron and pressing down on the gunshot wound through the makeshift bandage. The button digs into the edge of the wound and Aaron screams helplessly, jerking and squirming against Foyet's weight. His gasping breath warm against Aaron's face, Foyet watches Aaron's suffering with greedy fascination.

"Oh, Agent Hotchner," he says, his voice deepening. There is a teasing lilt in his tone. "I've never felt this way about another man before. A pretty young girl, yes, but a man? Never."

"Looks like you're my exception," Foyet purrs as he rolls his hips against Hotch's stomach and Hotch stiffens, suddenly and illogical terrified in a new way. He knows the Reaper's profile, he knows it. He wrote it. But Foyet is hard against him and leering down at him. Aaron panics.

He jerks and thrashes as best he can, adrenaline overriding the pain in his shoulder. And Foyet, who is still on top of him, laughs and rides Hotch as a cowboy might bust a bronco. And, just like a bronco, Aaron's struggles leave him weak and tired and hurting. He lays still until Foyet stabs his blade into Hotch's triceps.

Then Aaron shouts and strains as the blade enters and leaves his flesh. Foyet moans and does it again and then again, grinding himself down against Aaron's heaving abdomen.

"You're truly one of a kind, Agent Hotchner," Foyet pants as, with a last, provocative grind against Aaron's stomach, Foyet clambers off of Aaron.

"When I feel like this, I like to be able to see my work," Foyet says conversationally as he slices his blade down the outside of Aaron's leg, parting Aaron's suit pants and skin with easy strokes. "See my entire canvas, so to speak. But why am I telling you this? You know me better than anyone. You know exactly how I work, don't you Agent Hotchner?"

Having reached Aaron's ankle, Foyet begins slicing up the length of Aaron's leg, near the seam of flesh where Aaron's legs are pressed together by the rope tied around his ankles.

"Except, as you well know, I've never felt this way about another man," Foyet muses. "And you didn't predict it, did you, Agent Hotchner? So maybe an old dog can learn new tricks. Maybe, you don't know everything about me."

Having reached the apex of Aaron 's thighs, he drags the remnants of Aaron 's pants down to his other ankle. Straddling Aaron's knees, Foyet shoves a hand into the seam of Aaron's legs, between his thighs, and drags his hand up to Aaron's groin. He grips Aaron's genitals and squeezes, hard.

Aaron, who had never quite managed to stop whimpering against his gag, shouts and tries to twist away. His thighs tighten and strain, clamping down on the hand.

Foyet keeps his hand where it is but eases his grip. Instead, he hooks his fingers under the edge of Aaron's underwear. He slides his fingers upward, pulling Aaron's white briefs away from his body.

"Try not to move, Agent Hotchner," Foyet advises as he slips the tip of his blade under the stretched edge of Aaron's underwear. The straight, blunted back of the knife is cool against the top of Aaron's thigh. Aaron shudders. "Otherwise, this could hurt."

Chapter Text

Aaron is laying on his stomach, his bonds twisted around his hands. He had lost feeling in his hands awhile ago. It was too bad that he could feel every other inch of his body. They all hurt. A lot.

By all rights, he should be unconscious. Unfortunately, Aaron is not only conscious and alert but also trapped in the moment rather than floating away in a haze of endorphins and pain to that safe mental space at the back of his head, a remnant of an unhappy childhood. He is aware of every cut, stab, and slash. Foyet, who is currently sitting on the back of Aaron's thighs and tracing thin lines of pain down either side of Aaron's spine, is truly a master of his medium.

"There's a first time for everything," Foyet muses to himself as he delicately traces the tip of his knife down between Aaron's buttocks and whorls it around Aaron's anus.

Helpless to stop himself, Aaron automatically tenses and thrashes, terror pumping through his veins.

Foyet, who easily rides his heaving body, presses something rounded, smooth, and asymmetrical into Aaron. The intrusion, although painful on many other levels, is surprisingly physically painless, save for a low level burn that is nothing in the grand scheme of Aaron's suffering. For a single, solitary moment, Aaron feels something dangerously close to gratitude toward Foyet, despite the violation of something slowly, inexorably being pressed into him. He goes limp with relief.

But Foyet keeps pressing the object into Aaron and, although it is rounded and blunt, the thing continues to get wider and wider, as if it has no edges. Uncomfortable, Aaron squirms, forces himself to still, and then squirms more at the pain of being forced to accommodate something that is too wide, despite its wonderfully smooth edges. By the time the object reaches a particular, set width, Aaron is whimpering. When he feels himself close around the wide, rounded girth of something, a long shudder of relief wracks Aaron. It hurts.

Laughing, Foyet presses the object straight down into Aaron, its texture abruptly switching from smooth to rough. Foyet forces it into him in a long, excruciating slide of pain that rubs Aaron raw and destroys any burgeoning sense of Stockholm syndrome.

Aaron tries to writhe around the intrusion, the gag stunting his choked cries into breathless wheezes but is held more or less immobile by Foyet's weight on the back of his thighs and the press of Foyet's other hand at the small of his back. Aaron pants and chokes for air, never getting enough, and tastes spring fresh-scented fabric softener on his tongue. It tastes a lot like visceral horror and abject degradation.

Underneath him, the carpet's fibers are either soft and clingy with wet blood or stiff and bristly with dried blood. Aaron's face is mashed into the carpet, blotting his tears and muffling his gasps and groans into nothingness, as Foyet ruts into him. He focuses on the scents trapped in the threadbare fibers (blood and feet and some sharp chemical cleanser) and the way that the carpet's fibers alternately stick to the edges of his wounds or poke into them, rather than the feel of Foyet's savage thrusts, the heat of Foyet's hand against the small of his back, and the feel of tearing. Despite his best efforts, the sensations sear themselves into Aaron's memories.

Not entirely impotent, Aaron thinks, mentally amending the Foyet file. Extreme sexual sadist requiring a toxic combination of obsession, control, and an unwilling partner to experience sexual arousal. Inflicting mental and/or emotional distress onto the target of his obsession over a period of time prior to their encounter, letting that person know of his interest so to speak, serves as foreplay to him. This can, in the right circumstances, outweigh gender preferences.

Aaron is distantly grateful to discover that, somewhere along the way, his emotions have shut down. He is an empty vessel filled with nothing (except Foyet's steel cock.)

Knock! Knock! Knock!

"Were you expecting company tonight, Agent Hotchner?" Foyet hisses, his hand jerking. It shoves the thing deeper into Aaron, who spasms and cries out. Aaron mutely shakes his head in negation.

"D'you reckon he's home?" Harry's muffled voice asks from the other side of the door.

"His light's on," Hermione replies. "Maybe he's in the toilet. I'll keep knocking. You go get the key."

No, Aaron thinks, Hermione's knocking echoing the pounding of his heart. He knows that there is nothing he can do to save himself, much less the teenagers, but he shouts into his gag as best he can. Behind him, Foyet's thrusts are speeding up. His hot hand leaves Aaron's sweaty back. Go away! Goawaygoawaygoaway-

For a single, shining moment, though, Aaron thinks that Hermione might have heard him. Her persistent knocking stutters then hesitates and Aaron prays, please! Pleasepleaseplease-

Knock! Knock! Knock!

Aaron's fragile hopes (for rescue, for their sake, for escape) are shattered.

Foyet comes, shuddering through his orgasm, and lays bonelessly over Aaron's back. His hot, panting breaths are punctuated by Hermione's persistent knocks on the front door.

"Was it good for you too, honey?" Foyet asks then laughs breathlessly as he pulls out of Aaron in one smooth wrench of agony. Darkness eats at the edge of Aaron's mind and is stubbornly resisted, even though unconsciousness was everything that he had aspired to five minutes ago. The sound of Foyet's clothes rustling and his zip rising echo through Aaron's head, giving Aaron something to focus on.

When Aaron can afford to pay attention to the world outside of himself, Foyet is squatting next to him. He roughly turns Aaron over onto his back and arranges his bound body for maximum visual effect.

"Harry?" Hermione calls, her voice muffled and her tone sharp. "What took you so long? I was beginning to think that you'd caught Professor Moody's sense of direction."

"Not a chance," Harry replies, his tone careless. "Constant vigilance and all that."

His shoulders shaking with silent laughter, Foyet stands and moves closer to the door. The fingers of one hand are wrapped around the handle of his knife, which is bloody up to about halfway along its length. There is an asymmetrical loop of metal at the bottom of the knife's handle, perfect for hooking onto a belt or ring. Dried flakes of blood fleck off of the weapon and onto Foyet's hand, his clothes, the carpeting under his feet. The sight of the knife, of its handle, freezes Aaron.

When the door swings open, Foyet raises his gun and aims it in one smooth movement. One of the teenagers gasps. The other makes a tight, strangled noise. Aaron, transfixed by the sight of the knife, no longer cares who sees him or why. Nothing matters, except the knife.

"I think that you should join us," Foyet says and Aaron can practically hear his grin. Louder, he says, "Agent Hotchner, she's a pretty one. And he looks a little like you. That's... interesting, too. Imagine what I could do with them."

The damn teenagers step into Aaron's thrice damned apartment, moving between Aaron and his line of sight on the knife. They are both pale, their eyes fixed on his naked, bleeding, and shaking body, and their left hands clamped on their right wrists. Hermione's mouth is tight. Harry's eyes are dark and Aaron, who is having trouble breathing anyway, suddenly feels as if a great pressure has been dropped onto his chest. Across the room, Foyet staggers.

In that moment, Aaron is filled up. He is no longer an empty vessel, accepting whatever happens to him. He wishes that he was empty again.

"You've made a terrible mistake," Harry says as he turns to Foyet, drawing both Foyet's and Hotch's attention to himself. "We're going to kill you."

Aaron, who has a wider view of the teenagers than Foyet does, watches as Hermione takes advantage of her Harry-shaped distraction to kick the front door shut behind herself.

Crack!

In the split second Foyet's attention snaps towards the swish of movement and crack of sound, both teenagers pull sticks out of their sleeves. Harry dives for Aaron, curling his upper body over Aaron's while, at the same time, Hermione shouts, "Sectumsempra!"

There is a flash of blinding white light around the dark edges of Harry's body and Aaron swears that he can feel it crawling over his skin in a slow burn of comfort, dipping into his injuries and burning away the traces of filth (Foyet) clinging to his body. Just past Harry's left shoulder, around the edges of the nimbus of light, Aaron sees a thin, blue line whip through the air. A second after that Foyet's head sails past Harry's shoulder, his expression shocked. Blood splatters against the white light, sizzles, and disappears.

Foyet's head hits the far wall with a thump and a splatter of gore.

"Done," Hermione says and Harry sits back, the nimbus of white light flicking out as if Harry has flipped a switch inside of himself. While Hermione stalks first into the kitchen and then down the short hallway to the rest of Aaron's apartment, presumably looking for other intruders, Harry's green eyes track over what he can see of Aaron's injuries.

Shame, visceral horror, and abject humiliation flood through Aaron, flowing in the wake of Harry's critical gaze. He closes his eyes, feels a prick of panic, and opens them again in time to see Harry slash his stick towards Aaron's hands and then feet.

The ropes burst apart, as if violently shredded.

Aaron, who still cannot feel his hands, tries to force his body to sit up. That is a terrible, terrible idea. The pain and the weight of Harry's left hand, lightly resting on one of Aaron's forearms, are more than enough to keep Aaron where he is.

"You're going to be okay," Harry promises, his voice low and very calm as he begins waving his stick over Aaron in sinuous, serpentine patterns. "We're going to fix this."

Aaron wants to tell Harry how unlikely that is but a silver blur of motion to Aaron's right draws Aaron's attention to it. He watches as his cell phone wrenches itself out of the remnants of his suit and literally throws itself at Harry's head. Harry's left hand darts up and out, catching the cell phone without Harry ever even missing a swish with his stick.

"All clear," Hermione says, returning to the living room. She casually steps over Foyet's body.

Harry tosses her Aaron's cell phone and begins singing.

Aaron's very last impression is of his blood lifting itself off of his skin and out of the fabric of his clothes and the carpet, which is clearly a sign that he passed out long before he blacked out.

 

 

Aaron is pulled from darkness by the beep beep beep of his wristwatch. When he clumsily reaches to turn it off, his hand is caught on something and it hurts. Aaron puts his hand down again, where it does not hurt, and decides to ignore it.

He falls asleep while waiting for the damn thing to shut off.

 

 

The next time that Aaron swims up from the darkness, he thinks, Not a wristwatch. A hospital machine. I'm in the hospital.

When he remembers how he was hurt, Aaron's heart and stomach clench. Adrenaline floods him, snapping Aaron into full wakefulness. He jerks upright, ignoring the pain, and opens his eyes, scanning the room for Foyet.

He sees Garcia, knitting. Frowning, she drops her craft project and leans towards him.

"Hotch?" she asks. Next to her, the knitting needles and bright pink fabric are floating in thin air. Entranced by the busily clicking knitting needles, Hotch barely hears her say, "It's okay. Lay down, Aaron."

Dragging his attention from the knitting needles and back to Garcia, Aaron blurts, "Hermione and Harry! Foyet had-"

"They're fine," Garcia says, interrupting him. "You're fine, too. And he's dead. Your niece sliced his head clean off."

"Hermione?" Aaron demanded, torn between shock and horror.

"Hermione," Garcia agreed with a cheerful smile. "Exactly what you'd expect from a war hero with her reputation."

"War hero? Reputation?"

"As the bloodiest witch of them all!" Garcia says with a little head nod.

"How long was I unconscious?" Aaron asks seriously. "Am I still unconscious? Tell me the truth, Garcia."

Laughing, Garcia reaches out to carefully rest her hands on Aaron's shoulders. The warmth of her touch makes up for the pain of it.

"Lay down, Aaron, and go back to sleep," she urges. "You'll feel better the next time that you wake up. I promise, I'll explain everything to you then."

Aaron does as she wants, knowing that things will be better when he really wakes up. Still, he asks, "Foyet-"

"Is really, really dead," Garcia promises. It would be comforting but Aaron knows better than to trust anything he learns in dreams. But where there is Garcia, there will also be Morgan. It is true enough in real life and probably doubly true in a dream. If Harry and Hermione are in danger, or if Foyet sneaks into Aaron's hospital room, Morgan will do the things that need to be done.

Comforted, Aaron closes his eyes and relaxes into the sedatives and painkillers. Thankfully, he dreams of nothing.

 

 

The next time that Aaron wakes up, Harry is sitting next to Aaron's bed. Aaron knows that he is still asleep because the pictures in Harry's newspaper are moving, just like Jack used to say that they did.

Aaron means to go back to sleep but his throat is so dry that he cannot help but try to ask for a drink of water. It comes out as a hoarse gasp of sound. The pictures in the newspaper immediately stop moving.

"Mr. Hotchner?" Harry asks, dropping his newspaper beside his chair. He leans forward. "How are you feeling?"

Aaron tries to say, 'thirsty,' but it comes out as a cracked grunt. Harry must understand it, though, because he immediately stands and moves to Aaron's beside table. Aaron cannot see Harry but he can hear the sounds of water being poured into a glass. When Harry reappears in Aaron's line of sight, he is holding a glass of water with a white and red stripped straw poking out of it.

Harry leans over Aaron, like Foyet did, and Aaron tenses. The heart monitor's beeping speeds up to a galloping whine of sound.

Harry freezes, still leaning over Aaron but haloed by the harsh, florescent lights overhead. It reminds Aaron of another dream, where Harry had enveloped him in white light and burned all the traces of Foyet away. Comforted, Aaron relaxes again, the heart monitor slowing down to its previous, steady beep-beep-beep.

"Mr. Hotchner?" Harry asks, his tone uncertain, and Aaron opens his mouth. After a moment's hesitation, Harry pokes the end of the straw past Aaron's dry lips.

The water is hot and flat and delicious.

Aaron means to stay awake, to ask where Hermione is, to protect Harry from Foyet but he falls asleep again between one blink and the next.

 

 

The next time that Aaron opens his eyes, he feels awake, alert, and positively energetic. His injuries are, at best, a slight nagging tenderness. Aaron attributes that to the excellent pain meds pumping down the length of his IV tubing.

Garcia is sitting next to him, her fingers tapping across the keys of a laptop. When he shifts his weight and hoarsely rasps, "water," she looks up from her computer.

"Hotch!" she gasps, sounding delighted. Garcia dumps her laptop into the empty visitor's chair next to her, rather than expecting it to float on its own, and moves to get him a glass of water. It is as warm, flat, and delicious as his last glass.

"What's been happening?" he asks after he drains the cup.

"Aaron, there are a few things that Hermione should have told you and Haley when she moved in with you both," Garcia says, her tone uncommonly serious. The bottom of the glass clicks against his plastic bedside table. "And there are several things that she and Harry definitely should have told you when Harry first started coming around."

"Garcia, you're making less sense than you normally do," Aaron complains, as patiently as he can manage. "Where's my niece and her friend?"

"Debriefing with Supervisory Special Agent Hornwell from the F.B.S.," she says and then , off of his look, adds, "the Federal Bureau of Spellcasting."

"Garcia, there's no such thing," Aaron says and Garcia's lipsticked mouth stretches into that bright, slightly terrifying grin of hers.

"Oooh Hotch, you're missing an entire dimension of reality," Garcia tuts. "And I'm not talking about the wonders of the internets this time. Hey, what do you know about recessive genes, Hotch?"

"Garcia..."

"It'll connect back up! Scouts honor!" Garcia chirps and waves three fingers in his general direction. "But we're American so we do better if we approach this whole thing from the science-side of the fence."

When Garcia finally connects her recessive genes tangent up with the Federal Bureau of Spellcasting, Hotch groans and buries his face in his hands.

"Garcia, this is insane," Hotch feels obliged to point out. More than anything he wants to lay down and go back to sleep again because surely, surely he has not yet woken up. Failing that, he would like to go sit quietly in his office until he has his thoughts sorted out. Sadly, neither option is available to him at the moment. "Can you prove any of this?"

"Honey," Garcia drawls. "I can prove all of it."

"Garcia," Hotch reproves, taking comfort in the familiarity of this exchange. He drops his hands from his face in time to see Garcia draw a slim wooden stick from her bright red handbag. "I told you: Don't call me 'honey'."

Garcia grins.

She happily shows off her magic, making her laptop float around the room and transfiguring Hotch's water glass into a variety of whimsical objects, including something called a bat-boogy. When she transforms herself into a housecat and hops up onto Aaron's bed, Aaron has to concede that magic is real and Garcia is a witch. Hermione is a witch. And Harry is a boy-witch, whatever those are called. (Wizards?) Knowing that gives Aaron an entirely new perspective on Jack's rambling stories about his cousin.

"This explains a lot," Hotch says as Garcia pads up the length of his hospital bed. "A lot. Does Morgan know about this?"

Garcia favors him with a flat, unimpressed look.

Aaron stares back at her.

Garcia makes a dangerous, unhappy noise that Aaron takes for an 'of course not! And don't you dare tell him, Hotch!' noise. Then she drapes herself across his thighs and shamelessly angles for pets. Bemused, Aaron obliges by scratching her under her chin.

Garcia's rumbling purr is actually incredibly soothing.

"So I guess that your knitting really was floating that other time I woke up," Aaron says slowly. "And Jack really rode a toy broom and..."

Harry actually did glow white, he thinks and then refuses to think about the implications of that dream being real.

"Can we maybe stay like this for awhile?" Aaron asks, his fingers rubbing the thick fur over Garcia's chest. "Just - Just a little while, Garcia."

Garcia lazily licks the inside of Aaron's wrist, her tongue as rough as sandpaper, and rubs her cheek against the heel of his hand. Aaron takes that as an affirmative.

 

 

"So, you're a witch, huh," Aaron says when Hermione, sans Harry, comes to visit him later that day. Whatever Harry had done or sang to him had (probably saved his life and) cut his recovery time in half. Unfortunately, that still left him confined to a hospital bed and feeling pretty awful whenever his pain meds waned. Apparently, even magic could only do so much in the face of sixty-three stab wounds, a wide assortment of cuts, scrapes, and abrasions, and a violent rape.

Aaron's thoughts skitter away from those thoughts, back to the safety of contemplating the research materials that he had requested from Garcia - copies of the International Statute of Secrecy, the F.B.S.'s rules and regulations, several modern wizarding history textbooks, a few textbooks pertaining to magical law and magical law enforcement, and anything else that she thought might interest him. Aaron has every intention of becoming thoroughly familiar with this new dimension of reality.

(He also intends to Have Words with his little brother. The only problem is figuring out where to start - the stabbing, the fact that Sean is cohabitating with one of Britain's most notorious and wanted criminals, or the fact that Sean knew that there was an entire, incredibly dangerous magical world out there and decided to keep it secret from his brother. Aaron is leaning towards shouting at Sean about Sirius Black first.)

"Surprise?" Hermione offers weakly, thankfully distracting Aaron from his own thoughts. He is not okay. But he can pretend to be as long as there is something to distract him.

"Come tell me what's really been going on and we'll call it even," Aaron says, nodding at the chair next to his bed. "The truth, this time."

Smiling, Hermione crosses the room and perches on the edge of the indicated seat. Tucking a lock of her frizzy hair behind her ear, she asks, "Where should I start?"

"At the beginning."

"Did Penelope tell you anything about accidental magic?" Hermione asks with a grin.

Chapter Text

Hotch receives seven regular visitors (Haley, Jack, Hermione, Harry, Sean, Sirius, and Garcia) and two visits from the F.B.S. while he is in the hospital.

"The rest of the team wants to come visit you," Garcia assures him on several occasions. "But they can't get clearance to the hospital's Spells Ward."

"I'm sure they're taking that well," Hotch says, knowing that the reverse is true. Telling Morgan, Rossi, JJ, or Prentiss that something is off-limits or forbidden is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Reid, who is far less aggressive, has probably framed it as an intellectual puzzle. Reid cannot abide an unanswered puzzle.

"Of course they are," Garcia agrees with a broad grin. "I told them that Harry and Hermione put you in a private hospital. They're trying to gain security clearance to it right now."

"Will they gain clearance?" Hotch asks, feeling hope and fear in equal measures.

"The kid in the room to your left has wings and talons and the guy in the room to your right is covered with singing purple boils that ooze green puss," Garcia informs him. "They aren't going to get clearance no matter how many hoops they jump through."

Hotch is surprised to discover that he is deeply relieved. He wants to see his teammates, he does, but not until he is back on his feet and feeling less raw and exposed. To keep from dwelling on his emotional responses, Hotch asks, "And no one finds it at all suspicious that you can come and go as you please?"

"Harry and Hermione have always liked me," Garcia cheerfully informs him. "Everyone knows that. And the team is taking that as well as can be expected, too."

Which means that Morgan alone is taking Harry and Hermione's favoritism toward Garcia well. Despite being vehemently not at all in love with Garcia, not even a little bit, Morgan takes universal adoration as Garcia's due.

"I don't want this to create schisms in the team," Hotch says as he gingerly shifts his weight in his hospital bed. Even with all of the pain killers, movement still hurts.

"Crisis already averted," Garcia assures him. "Since he's the only one wealthy enough to afford the sort of care that you're rumored to be receiving - and are, in fact, receiving, I hasten to add - Harry has taken then hit and accepted the blame for your seclusion. No one is holding my preferential treatment against me because they're all united in disliking him... when they aren't abjectly grateful to him for taking such good care of you, of course."

"Garcia..." Hotch begins, only to realize that he has no idea where he wants that sentence to go. He needs the breathing room, Hotch is self-aware enough to recognize that. But he does not want a group of adults to gang up on a teenage boy for his supposed benefit.

"Don't worry about it," says a new, somewhat familiar voice from the doorway. Hotch turns to see Harry standing there with Hermione and Jack, who promptly races across the room and begins the arduous task of climbing up into Hotch's bed with him. Harry finishes his thought while the teenagers more sedately follow Jack into the room. "While being treated with ambivalence is new, it's loads better than what I'm used to. Believe me, Mr. Hotchner, I can handle it. Easily."

The agent assigned to Harry stops at the room's threshold, content with waiting there for her charge.

"Harry doesn't care what people think about him," Hermione informs Aaron. She beams up at Harry as she adds, "He never has."

"Just the ones who matter," Harry corrects her with a fond grin as he tucks a flyaway bit of frizzy brown hair behind Hermione's ear. Watching them, Aaron feels a peculiar tightness in his chest.

"So you see," Garcia says, interrupting the teenager's moment and hauling the conversation back onto its tracks simultaneously. "We've covered all our bases. There's nothing for you to worry about, Hotch."

"Please don't worry, Uncle Aaron," Hermione says earnestly, her attention now all for Aaron. "We're going to take care of everything for you."

"It's kind of what we do," Harry agrees with a crooked grin. When Hermione elbows Harry in the ribs, hard, Aaron grins.

 

 

In between reading textbooks, history books, and newspapers, Hotch finds himself taking on Sirius Black's case, pro bono. Partially, because it is one of the most appalling cases of abuse of authority and injustice that he has seen in awhile. Mostly because Sean is desperately in love with the man. Also, Aaron is very, very bored.

To Aaron's surprise, Hermione and Harry take it upon themselves to act as his disturbingly enthusiastic legal secretaries. Sean brings Aaron carefully balanced meals and snacks to help build Aaron's strength up. Jack makes pictures for Aaron and Haley lets Jack spend enormous amounts of time in his cousin's care, on the understanding that Hermione is taking Jack to see Aaron in the Spells Ward. Sirius contents himself with being terribly amused by all of the coddling that Aaron is receiving.

"Thanks for this," Sirius says once, while the teenagers are softly bickering over an ancient book of legal precedent from the Blacks' library. Sean and Haley are at work, Jack is sleeping curled up at the foot of Aaron's bed with Gon, and it is just the two of them sitting together, more or less alone. Time alone with Sirius happens less often than Aaron would have expected. "Really."

"You'd be better off with a solicitor and barrister who are barred within your own country," Aaron says.

"If you think you need 'em, retain 'em. I'll pay whatever you think is fair," Sirius replies. "Otherwise, I'm happy enough with my legal representation as it is. It's the best I've ever had."

And that, to Aaron's mind, says everything that needs to be said about Britain's magical community.

 

 

Harry, Hermione, Jack, Sean, and Sirius are all present the day that Aaron is discharged from the hospital. Aaron, who cannot help but feel uneasy at all of the unnecessary attention, is grateful that Haley and Garcia chose to go to work rather than taking time off to deal with his problems.

His five well-wishers help Aaron to pack up his room then, while Aaron is filling out the discharge paperwork, Sean goes down to pull Aaron's car around to the front of the hospital. A nurse wheels Aaron down to the hospital's front door in a wheelchair, towing Hermione, Harry, and Sirius, who is carrying Jack, in Aaron's wake.

True to his word, Sean and Aaron's car are waiting for them right across from the hospital's front doors, where Aaron can easily seem them through the glass.

While Aaron eases himself into the backseat with Jack's car seat, Aaron's things are stored in the trunk. Sean claims the driver's seat and, after a quick round a glances between the magical types, Sirius claims the front passenger's seat, his leather jacket creaking against the seat as he gets comfortable and buckles himself in. Harry and Hermione wave at the car as Sean pulls away from the curb.

"Aren't they coming with us?" Aaron asks. "How are they going to get home?"

"Harry's going to apparate them back to your apartment. They'll be there before we are," Sirius says comfortably. After a moment's reflection, Aaron remembers what the term 'apparate' means. "Hermione's brilliant, and she does many things very well, but the woman has less spacial sense than a pygmy puff. She accidentally splinched Ron twice during the war. And Merlin only knows how many Death Eaters she got that way."

Remembering what splinching entails, Aaron shudders and asks, "But Harry's better at... apparating?"

"One of the best," Sean assures him, surprising Aaron. "Apparating with Harry is less awful than apparating with anyone else."

Aaron has the awful, sneaking suspicion that Sean has been apparated by multiple magical people. He says a small prayer that none of those magical people were Hermione.

"Oi!" Sirius protests, his tone laughing. "I'm right here! At least wait for me to leave the room before confessing to your brother that you prefer my godson to me."

"It sounds tawdry when you phrase it like that," Sean says with mock primness and a wide grin.

"And how would you phrase it?" Sirius demands.

"Someone once said that every woman needs three men in her life," Sean begins and Sirius groans.

"Are you quoting dead American actresses at me again?" Sirius demands. "Because having been in a black and white film doesn't make someone wiser or better than everyone else. I should know. The wizarding world has loads of black and white pictures of me."

"A man who challenges her physically, a man who challenges her mentally, and a man who is her lifelong companion," Sean continues, ignoring Sirius entirely. "Which one or ones she marries is irrelevant. Admittedly, I'm not a woman but I think the same principle applies to gay men."

"And I'm the physical one?" Sirius asks with a playful leer.

"You're the companion and mental challenge," Sean informs Sirius. "Harry's the physical one."

"Oi! Again!" Sirius yelps. He clutches at his chest and sags in his seat. "You wound me, sir!"

In the back, Aaron lets their playful banter wash over him. Holding one of Jack's hands, he drifts off to sleep.

 

 

Aaron is quietly, unspeakably touched when he realizes that the couch and carpeting have been replaced. By then, Sean, Harry, and Sirius have gone back to New York (Aaron was careful not to ask any questions regarding their mode of travel.) and Hermione is telling a fairytale to Jack as his son goes down for his nap on said new couch. There is no one to ask about the change or thank for it.

Instead, Aaron treads across the new (and obscenely thick) carpeting and into his bedroom, which looks exactly the way that he had left it. There mere sight of its sterile familiarity is a comfort to Aaron, who stands still, breathes deeply, and soaks it in. Eventually, he crosses his room to settle himself into his own bed, leaving the door open. The sheets have been washed in his absence (probably by Harry) and Hermione's voice is a low, comforting drone as he drifts off to sleep.

 

 

Aaron does not immediately go back to the B.A.U. Instead, he is on leave while he receives counseling and therapy to deal with his ordeal. The time that is not spent working through his issues is spent with his family. Despite everything, that period of his life is like a long, restful vacation.

And then one day, while Hermione is out with her aunts and Jack, Garcia calls to tell Aaron that the team is planning to invade his apartment like the barbarian hordes sacking Rome. They will also be bringing pizza, including one with sausage and mushroom toppings which is Aaron's favorite.

Aaron very quietly freaks out.

"I could hide the apartment," Harry offers, inadvertently cutting Aaron's distress short. Remembering that Harry is home, present in the room, and making lunch for him is enough to cause Aaron to wrest his emotions under control again. Although Aaron quite likes the teen, Aaron wishes that Harry were almost anywhere else just then. "Or I could stand in the doorway and send them away. Larry would have to protect me if they tried to shoot me."

"Larry?" Aaron asks, momentarily distracted.

"The guy assigned to me today," Harry replies, looking uncomfortable. "I'm considered a big political figure in, uh, certain circles. I probably should've mentioned that at some point. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Aaron says lamely. "I remember."

He does now, at any rate.

Matching the towering legend of the Boy Who Lived Twice to the teenager standing over his stove, stirring a pot of summer soup, is impossible. Harry is too... normal, too unassuming, to be the strongest wizard of his time, the protector of a Scottish boarding school, or the de facto leader of magical Britain. And yet, Aaron knows from his research that Harry is currently all three.

Of course, Aaron still has trouble believing in magic despite ample evidence to the contrary so his perceptions of Harry and modern magical history may be somewhat skewed.

"There's no accounting for taste," Harry says with a quick, awkward grin and a shrug. "I suppose we should do a quick bit of cleaning after lunch?"

"That would be good," Aaron agrees and, surprisingly, it is. Aaron enjoys doing something productive to take his mind off of his discomfort. When the doorbell rings around six-thirty, Aaron goes to answer it with Hermione about three steps behind him.

"Hotch!" Garcia says warmly and then envelops him in an equally warm hug. The rest of the team's greetings are just as warm and just as easy as the other file past him, into the apartment. Morgan, who is carrying four pizza boxes, is relieved of his burden by Hermione. There are a few cold, sideways looks at Harry that Harry pretends not to notice as everyone files into the apartment's living room.

After the plates, pizza, cups, and bottles of soda are arranged on the coffee table, the teenagers make themselves so scarce that Aaron suspects them of taking advantage of the situation to sneak off together. Remembering the looks that they had exchanged in his hospital room and that they probably had the apartment to themselves for the better part of his convalescence, Aaron cannot find it in himself to be surprised or even disapproving. Living with him is probably cramping their style.

When Dave asks something about his retirement package, Aaron blinks at Dave and says, "But I'm not retiring. Are they saying that I am?"

"Well, we just assumed..." Dave flounders, exchanging awkward looks with several other members of the team. "Hotch, you were stabbed sixty-three times. We didn't think you'd physically be able to-"

"Of course he'll be able to," Garcia sharply interrupts. For once, she sounds irritated. "He's Hotch. He can do anything."

"Baby Girl," Morgan says with the air of a man who has had this argument several times, knows that he is doomed to failure, and yet cannot stop himself from having it again. "Foyet damaged himself pretty bad and there's no way he was as careful with Hotch as he was with himself."

"No, he wasn't," Hotch says, his voice steady and cool despite the way that his guts are shivering inside. "But I was lucky. Harry was my first responder. The hospital said that his work was beautiful. No one else could've done what he did, especially under the circumstances. Those are direct quotes, by the way. So there'll be no physical limitations or long-term drug usage in my future. I'll have a few scars, though."

More than a few, in all honesty, and not all of them would be on his skin.

"That's great!" Reid yelps, visibly brightening. He grins at Hotch then at everyone else. "Isn't that great?"

Everyone agrees that it is and the lingering tension in the group finally seems to melt away. Hotch basks in finally being at ease.

 

 

Aaron has trouble sleeping. Not every night but often enough that he has a routine for the nights that he does have trouble with his sleep cycle. That night, after Harry and Hermione have returned and the team has all left, Aaron has a nightmare and wakes up shouting and covered in a cold sweat.

Aaron sits in bed, clutching at his sheets, and wishes that his gun was not in his bedside drawer. He leaves it there, anyway.

After he settles his breathing and nerves and stops thinking that every shadow is Foyet waiting for the opportunity to gut him, Aaron gets out of bed and goes to the kitchen. Harry is already there, sitting at the kitchen table. He is writing a letter, a mug of tea cooling at his elbow.

Harry has trouble sleeping often enough that he is actually part of Aaron's ritual.

Aaron makes himself an Irish coffee, retrieves some leftovers from dinner from the refrigerator, and joins Harry at the table. They work in silence, Harry at his correspondence and Aaron at Sirius' legal case.

Later, when the night is beginning to lighten, they move to the living room and sit at either end of the couch. Aaron turns on the television and then turns the volume down so as not to disturb Hermione. They watch terrible late night movies in relative silence.

"If you ever want to talk about it," Harry says quietly, his voice easily drowning out the action scene flickering over the television screen. "I'd listen. I'm not studying to be a mind-healer or anything but I'd listen. So would Hermione, if you wanted to talk to her."

"No!" Aaron blurts and half turns to look at Harry, who is studiously staring at the television screen like it holds the answers to the universe. Aaron appreciates that. When he has his emotions better under his control, Aaron says, more carefully, "I'd rather not."

Harry nods and says, "My offer's still open. I don't know a lot about being a muggle but I know a lot about getting through the part after the awful part. Because there's always an afterwards."

Aaron studies the younger man for several moments, the glare from the television gleaming off of his glasses and obscuring most of his expression. Finally Aaron asks, "Are you through the afterwards, yet?"

"Not yet," Harry admits, his head finally tilting towards Aaron. He is fairly certain that Harry is looking at him when he says, "But I'm getting there."

"Me too," Aaron says as he settles back on his couch.

They say nothing else to each other.

Much later, Aaron wakes up half-curled over the arm of the couch. He is covered by a thin blanket. When he slowly straightens, working the crick out of his neck, he sees that Harry is still asleep, covered by another thin blanket and half-curled over the other arm of the couch. His glasses are on the coffee table. And, in the kitchen, Aaron can hear Hermione humming to herself as she scrapes at something in a pan. The air smells ever so faintly of charcoal.

After a moment's debate, Aaron lays down on the couch, his head on the middle pillow and his legs hanging over his arm of the couch. Curled up in his blanket and half asleep already, he decides to leave Hermione to whatever it is that she is burning.

Aaron is nearly asleep when a hand comes to rest on his forehead. Its weight and calluses are familiar. Aaron drifts off to sleep to the now familiar feeling of having his hair smoothed back.

 

 

"D'you mind if Ron comes to visit?" Harry asks one morning over scrambled eggs, toast, and sausage. Since Aaron cooked it, nothing is burned. "He can share my half of the guest bedroom. And we can transfigure an extra bed for him."

"Your half of the guest bedroom," Aaron says slowly, remembering the dimensions of the room in question. It is very small. "I didn't think that room was large enough to be worth dividing in half."

Harry and Hermione exchange guilty looks.

"Did you two do something magical to my guest room?" Aaron demands sternly.

"Just a few enlarging charms," Hermione hastens to say. "We'll undo it before you move out of here."

"See that you do," Aaron says, even though he is itching to see what they have done to his spare room. Judging by Harry's grin, at least one of the teenagers knows it, too.

After breakfast, while Hermione is washing up and Harry is in the shower, Aaron gets his opportunity to peek into the magically modified room.

It is disconcertingly large, as if the teenagers stretched it out between them. There are two beds, only one of which Aaron purchased, one on either side of the room. The bed that had been purchased with Jack in mind has that odd, stretched quality to it, too. It is certainly bigger than Aaron remembers it being. The dresser and mirror look the same, however. The second bed, the two bedside tables, the battered steamer trunks pressed against either wall, and the broom casually resting in one corner of the room are all new, though.

Aaron quietly shuts the door and goes to his room for a bit of quiet time.

 

 

Sirius' pardon comes on a Tuesday. Sean and Sirius start celebrating that very same afternoon. They are still celebrating on Friday. So are Harry and Hermione... and Aaron, who is not quite certain how he got dragged along for the ride. He does know two things, however: Firstly, that the drinking age in the magical community is much lower than it is in the muggle one. Secondly, that fire whiskey smells like gasoline, tastes like fire, and makes honest to goodness smoke shoot out of his ears.

On Sunday, Aaron calls Rossi to pick them up from Connecticut. How they ended up in Dover is something that Aaron is still a bit fuzzy on. He could ask Harry's bodyguard, of course, but Fritz's presence is something that Aaron is currently refusing to acknowledge. Aaron is not the only one studiously ignoring the smugly smirking Fritz, either. So are about a dozen other agents, three maids, an assortment of strangers, and seven chefs, all of whom had had the misfortune of running into Sirius or Harry at some point in the proceedings. Apparently, no one parties harder than Gryffindor quidditch players, whatever those are.

Despite a three hour drive, Dave is still laughing when he finally wanders into the motel's lobby. Aaron, who is not entirely certain how he ended up there or barefoot and wearing a Hawaiian shirt and damp red swim trunks, is happy to see Rossi. Mostly, because Dave brought aspirin, water, and a blender full of suspicious green goop that he swears is a hangover cure.

"I borrowed Morgan's SUV so there's plenty of room for everyone," Dave says while first Harry and then Hermione swig Rossi's hangover cure with admirable determination.

"Thank Merlin," Harry sighs as he passes Sirius the blender, who gulps down a few mouthfuls of it no problem. "Because if I had to be in charge of getting us home, we'd splinch."

"What?" asks Dave.

"Don't ask," Aaron advises as he takes the cure from Sirius. The goop is the most disgusting thing that Aaron has ever had in his mouth, ever. He chokes and Sean whacks him on the back, making him inadvertently swallow the stuff.

"Do you even have taste buds?" Aaron demands of the other three , appalled, as Sean claims the blender from him. "That was disgusting!"

"Old Italian recipe," Dave says with a wicked smirk.

"I've had worse," Harry replies.

"You want to ride the lightning, you've got to pay the price," Sirius says philosophically. When Sean starts choking and hacking on the cure's dregs, Sirius helpfully whacks Sean on the back. Like Aaron, Sean ends up swallowing despite every instinct to the contrary.

"Quidditch players," Hermione says in tones of deep disgust. She starts to shake her head, winces, and holds very still.

"All ready to go?" Dave asks solicitously. The gleam in his eyes is only slightly evil.

"Not yet," Aaron says. "Where are my clothes? And shoes?"

"You don't remember?" Harry asks, sounding surprised.

"Forget it, They're dead to you now," Sirius advises, cutting in before Aaron can get any more information out of Harry or anyone else. "If that's a problem, I'll buy you more. I'll buy you a closet full of clothes if you want me to."

Dave starts laughing again.

"I don't want to know," Aaron decides. "Let's just go."

He ends up at the very back of the SUV with Harry and Hermione. Sirius and Sean are tangled up in the middle seats together, and Agent Fritz gets the front passenger's seat. Aaron, who has never been a big fan of unsolicited touching, is surprisingly okay with being squashed between Hermione and the side of the vehicle.

Probably because I'm used to her, Aaron decides sleepily. Harry and Hermione are already asleep and Sean and Sirius are being suspiciously still and quiet. Full of aspirin, water, and anti-hangover slime, Aaron follows their good examples.

 

 

Six days later, on a Saturday, Aaron attends Sean's nuptials. Coincidentally, Harry's adoption is the same day, timed about an hour later. The wedding, which takes place inside a New York justice of the peace's office, is brief, to the point, and officiated by an ancient man in robes. The adoption takes place in the same office. Afterwards, while Harry is signing papers that will legally change his name from Harry James Potter to Harry James Black-Potter, Hermione explains about Wizarding inheritance, both in the magical and more prosaic senses of the word.

"Harry and Sirius are already distantly related," Hermione explains. "But Sirius is the current head of the family and Harry's not really close to the direct line of inheritance. That's a problem because Sirius hates everyone more closely related to him. And he really loves Harry, anyway. By adopting Harry before he's fully grown, which he definitely isn't, Harry can inherit the Blacks' magic as well as their money and position from Sirius. Even if Uncle Sean and Sirius never have any kids, the other Blacks aren't ever going to inherit from Sirius now."

"That seems a bit harsh," Aaron cautiously opines.

"They're a bit harsh," Hermione says tightly. "Trust me, Uncle Aaron. Sirius doesn't come from nice people."

To Aaron's relief, there is only very light drinking at the reception, which is an elaborate dinner at a five star restaurant owned by an Italian witch. When Sean and Sirius leave on their honeymoon, everyone goes home, mostly sober.

 

 

When Aaron (finally) goes back to the B.A.U., Garcia gives him cookies, Reid gives him odd looks, and Harry and Hermione use the lack of adult supervision to magic a third bedroom complete with furniture onto the apartment, through means that Aaron would rather not think about too closely.

Nominally, the room is for Jack. But, since Jack insists on sneaking into Aaron's bed every night that he stays over, it mostly serves as a place for Jack to start out the night.

"Hey, I was talking to Agent Fritz on the way back from Connecticut," Rossi says casually one afternoon. Aaron, who is frantically trying to catch up on his paperwork before the team is called back into the field, nevertheless looks up and gives Rossi his full attention. Rossi takes that as a sign to step into Aaron's office and shut the door behind himself. He settles in the seat across from Aaron's desk. "Funny thing about that Potter kid that's staying with you. Fritz seemed to think that he's someone important."

Aaron briefly weighs up his potential answers before settling on, "The way that I hear it, he is. Sometimes, I think he's running a significant chunk of the free world from my kitchen table."

"Scary kid."

"Not really," Aaron says, his mind going yet again to that shining moment before he had woken up in the hospital. "Not in his downtime, at least."

"So that thing with the hospital..."

"I think he did for me what he'd want done for himself in a similar situation," Aaron says carefully. "Don't spread it around, but I'm almost positive that they re-grew and transplanted some of my organs."

Rossi whistled. "They can do that now?"

"Not officially."

"Gotcha."

 

 

Ron arrives at the end of the summer, bearing strange wizarding candies and a thick, perfumed envelope which he immediately delivers to Harry. Aaron watches Hermione, who is biting her lower lip and looking distressed, as she watches Harry disappear into the kitchen with the missive.

"Hey, is there anything to eat around here?" Ron asks, the new pink scar across his throat catching the light and gleaming in a way that is unnatural.

"We should go out," Hermione decides, turning her attention away from the kitchen. "Uncle Aaron, would you like to come out to lunch with us?"

"I can't," Aaron replies. "I've got an appointment later. I should take a nap."

An appointment to meet up with the team at a certain pub for a little downtime is still an appointment.

"Okay," Hermione says, as Ron leads her towards the front door. "Bye, Uncle Aaron! Bye, Harry!"

Harry and Ron somehow end up staying in that third, magical bedroom when Ron comes to visit. The dynamics in the apartment change, too. The understated comfort that had been present before is lost. Instead, things between the teenagers are strained and tense. Even Aaron, who is rarely home and always out of the loop these days, can feel it.

"I always thought it was you and Hermione," Aaron confesses to Harry one night, after Harry casts a silencing charm on Hermione's bedroom. Suspicious amounts of giggling had been emanating from it, despite three separate visits from Aaron. On every occasion, Ron and Hermione had been clothed and a decent distance apart. Aaron suspects that he is the victim of magical misbehavior.

"It was for awhile during the war and after it, too," Harry admits, his tone overly careless. He is curled up in a corner of the couch with a thick, hardback book. Garcia would probably make fun of him for his old-fashioned reading technology. "Hermione's always had a thing for Ron, ever since we were eleven. And Ron's always had a dog in the manger thing for Hermione. So Hermione and I broke up about a week before Ron arrived."

"That's not very flattering," Aaron says, frowning at the door to his (original) guest bedroom.

"Hermione's brilliant but she doesn't get Ron," Harry says while turning a page in his book. "Never has."

"Someone could tell her," Aaron points out, remembering the looks that Harry and Hermione had exchanged in front of him over the years. He and Haley had looked at each other like that. Knowing what Harry and Hermione have lost before they even discovered it makes Aaron's heart hurt for them.

"Hermione needs this," Harry says, finally looking up from the book on quodpot that he is nominally reading. His smile is crooked and somewhat unpleasant. Looking at it makes Aaron uncomfortable. He looks away as Harry adds, "She'll either have Ron, get him out of her system, and get over him or they'll get married and pop out a tribe of red-headed kids. But either way, she'll be happier for knowing what could've been with Ron. And I'll be happier for knowing where I ultimately stand."

When Harry looks down at his book again and makes an effort to look engrossed in it, Aaron wisely shuts up.

Later that night, when Harry tersely tells Aaron that he is going to Sirius and Sean's place in New York for a bit, Aaron cannot blame him. Nor can he think of a way to ask Harry not to become a stranger. Instead, Aaron says goodbye and watches as Harry disappears between one breath and the next with a quiet pop.

Two days later, Sean tells Aaron that Sirius and Harry are going to Scotland to help rebuild Hogwarts, Harry and Hermione's old boarding school.

"Does it need rebuilding?"

"Apparently there was some sort of major siege or battle there. The students were all fine but the castle's worse for the wear. Apparently, the teachers have spent the summer surveying the damage and drawing out the spells they'll need to repair the place, or whatever. At any rate, Sirius and Harry are going to give them a, er, power boost."

"Of course," Aaron says flatly.

"It could be weirder," Sean opines.

"But not much."

 

 

Two days later, an owl takes to pecking on Aaron's kitchen window. Aaron quite sensibly ignores it. The damn thing continues pecking at the window, though, until Hermione and Ron come into the kitchen. When Ron opens the window, the poor little thing practically falls into the room. The owl circles the kitchen twice and lands on Ron's head with a happy hoot. It is only then that Aaron sees that the bird has a red envelope tied to its leg.

"A Howler?" Ron groans. "For what?"

"Better find out," Hermione says practically.

Ron opens the red envelope with the same expression that Prentiss might wear while deliberately detonating a bomb.

"RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY!" shrieks a young, female voice. Ron winces. "WHAT DID YOU SAY TO HARRY? HE WON'T GET BACK TOGETHER WITH ME! IF YOU TOLD HIM YOUR THEORY ABOUT WITCHES DIGGING SCARS, I'LL CURSE YOUR FACE OFF!"

Then, in a familiar flash of fire, the red letter disappears.

"That's my sister, Ginny," Ron says to Hotch, his tone awkward. His blush is fiery. "She's, er, passionate."

"About Harry," Hotch agrees, his ears still ringing. "If she sends any more of those, send them back. Or destroy them with magic. Or something. I'll get kicked out of my apartment if you keep making that much noise."

"Right. Yeah. Okay. Sorry," Ron says. "I'll just, er, write to her."

By 'write to her' Ron evidently means 'send her a counter-Howler.' After the second red envelope arrives and shouts at Ron, Hotch takes about three aspirin and throws Hermione's boyfriend out, magic or no magic. Not having to come home to an empty apartment is definitely not worth that sort of hassle.

 

 

Harry returns with as little fanfare as he left. He claims Jack's room again, much to Jack's open delight. Harry is full of stories about someone named Hagrid's many dangerous pets, how to raise a castle's magical wards, Sean and Sirius, and gossip about their old classmates.

Aaron listens to the happy cadence of Harry's voice as he talks about things well beyond the scope of Aaron's imagination and feels a wash of contentment. He likes Hermione's boyfriend well enough but somewhere along the way, Aaron has grown used to Harry. Fond of him, even.

Aaron makes a mental note to look up whether a step-nephew is even a recognized familial connection.

 

 

About three weeks into their first semester at college, Aaron realizes that Harry and Hermione are still living in his apartment. The cleanliness, the groceries in the kitchen, and the paid rent are all subtle hints of cohabitation. The fact that Harry is always there when Hotch wakes up from a nightmare or suffers from insomnia might also be construed as a clue.

"Not that I mind," Aaron says to them one night over dinner. "But don't you want to live in the dorms? Or closer to one of your campuses?"

They are attending both the University of Virginia and the Salem Institute part-time.

"We like it here," Harry replies around a mouthful of spinach. "Between apparating, the floo network, and public transportation, nothing is very far from this apartment."

"Floo? Doesn't that involve a fireplace?" Aaron asks suspiciously.

"Yes," Harry agrees. "And floo powder."

"I don't have a fireplace."

"You do now. It's in Hermione's closet."

"The point," Hermione hurriedly interrupts. "Is that we like you and we like it here."

"And Sirius and Sean are still doing the honeymoon thing," Harry says with a grimace. "It's scarring over there."

"And you like having us here, filling the place up," Hermione adds. "Can't we live here, Uncle Aaron?"

"Fine," Aaron allows, trying not to sound as pleased as he is. "But no Howlers, no Ron, and no using magic on me to get away with things. In fact, no using magic on me at all."

"Not in the apartment," Hermione bargains.

"Never without your permission?" Harry offers at the same time.

"That'll do," Aaron agrees, accepting all of their terms. "Can I see my new fireplace now?"