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Evanesco by winkingdobby

Format: Novella
Chapters: 37
Word Count: 88,532
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: General, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Ginny, Neville, Pansy, Albus, Hugo, Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, OtherCanon
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/OC

First Published: 10/25/2019
Last Chapter: 01/14/2020
Last Updated: 05/12/2020

Summary:

 Set after Cursed Child- Hermione Granger decides to help Draco and others find a way to remove their dark marks. The scars of the past need to be examined and everyone needs to work together to heal them. Dramione slow burn.  Slight A/U I DO NOT OWN HARRY POTTER OR HIS WORLD, unfortunately. 



Chapter 1: Chapter 1
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Chapter 1

 

Hermione Granger heard a slight knock on her office door as she tidied her desk.

              “Come in.” She called.

              To her surprise Draco Malfoy opened the door, looking timid and unsure of what to do next. Finally, he looked up and spoke, “Minister, please excuse my interruption, but I do have a request. May I have a moment?”              

              “Sure, Mr. Malfoy. I was just finishing my day. How can I help you?” Hermione asked.

              “Scorpius and I wanted to have a celebration for the quidditch players to end the season. He has made friends with many players on all the house teams since the resorting and would like to invite everyone. I thought it would be a good way to promote inter house unity and build friendships, so I agreed to host his party at the manor,” He stopped and looked up quickly. He continued, “If that’s okay, if you think it’s not appropriate, we can always find another location. Wherever you think is best.”

              This was not at all what Hermione expected. She tilted her head and scrutinized his demeanor and thought about the difference in the forty-two year-old man in front of her and the boy she had known in school. The years had not been kind to him, and he was humbled more than she ever thought possible.

              Attempting to put him at ease she smiled broadly.

              “Mr. Malfoy, I think that is a wonderful idea. Thank you for your support with the decision to resort the N.E.W.T. students. It has been a pleasure to see how the students have grown and been allowed to change as they matured.” She smiled again to reassure him that she had let go of old prejudices herself. The stupid Gryffindor versus Slytherin feud had nearly been allowed to destroy the school. Hermione decided the one thing Dumbledore had been right about was the fact that students were sorted too early. Who has any idea at eleven years old who they can become or what they will learn to value in later life? The man in front of her was a testament to change.

              He glanced in her direction before looking over her shoulder, “Of course Rose will be invited. If you would prefer her not to come to the manor, I would understand,” he finished quietly.

 The allusion to past events at his family’s residence did not escape Hermione’s notice. They were both uncomfortable remembering that terrible night so many years ago and how it had affected them both. The past was better left in the past for both. She understood his hesitancy to bring up his home in her presence and was grateful. But it was still his home and he should be able to create good memories for himself and his son.

“The manor should be a good place for the kids to get together. I’m sure they will enjoy the party. Rose has spoken highly of Scorpius and would love to attend,” Hermione replied.

At this Draco actually looked at Hermione. His relief at her not opposing the manor was evident on his face. The words didn’t seem to be coming easily to him.

              “Of course, you may come with Rose if it would make you more comfortable,” he rushed his words out.               

              “Thank you for the invitation, but unless you need my help with the party or supervision, I’m sure Rose would be glad of my absence. You know kids, parents always mortify them,” she tried to make light of the situation but did not want to go near the manor.              

              “Thank you, Minister,” he said. “I will send invitations for the day after the quidditch final.” He offered a little smile of his own and turned away.

              He sped out the door leaving Hermione to think over the odd encounter. Draco Malfoy seemed conciliatory and a bit afraid of her. The way he had addressed her respectfully and cautiously made her feel slightly concerned. Their past could never be erased, and they had never become friends, but she wanted him to know that she no longer harbored any ill will toward him. She did want the Ministry to be a safe place for all the staff.

 

 

 

 

 

                             

 

              Rose sent an owl the following day asking permission to attend Scorpius’s party. It was scheduled the day after the quidditch final. Rose would be playing keeper for Ravenclaw against Hufflepuff for the trophy. Scorpius had been resorted into Hufflepuff and played as seeker. Draco Malfoy would of course be at the match. She must remember to thank him for his inviting Rose and for the rest of the players again.

              She sent her permission back immediately. Sudden realization that Ron probably had no idea about the party just came into her mind. He had never let the past go and still eyed the Malfoys with suspicion and would not be pleased with Rose ever setting foot inside Malfoy Manor. Well, tough shit, Hermione thought, there are a lot of things Ron had done recently that did not please Hermione. She could definitely wait to see him.

              They had not been on good terms since the divorce. It had been very hard on her and the kids since divorce still carried a major stigma in the wizarding world. Almost no wizard family ended in divorce. In the thousand years of history, fewer than 100 wizard divorces had been recorded in Great Britain. Still she had seen no other way to move on with her life. Ron had certainly moved on with his, she thought resentfully.

              Perhaps their backgrounds were too different. Perhaps they married too young. Perhaps they had simply grown apart. Whatever the reason or myriad of reasons, Hermione realized that her children kept him a constant in her life and she would have to learn to accept it. Not being one to back down from a challenge, she knew there was no time like the present. She gathered her quill and parchment to let Ron know that she had discussed the party with Malfoy and that her permission had been granted for him to have the party and for Rose to attend.

              She would see him and probably his new wife at the match on Saturday. Hopefully, he would not make a scene. The day should be about Rose, maybe he would let bygones be bygones. She dispatched the owl with dread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              No reply had come from Ron, and Hermione had put the situation with Rose and Malfoy Manor out of her mind. She had seen neither Ron nor Malfoy. It had been a good week and Hermione was looking forward to seeing the children at Hogwarts. Rose would be elated if Ravenclaw won. Quidditch still hadn’t earned a place in Hermione’s heart but it was so important to Rose that she would never miss the game.

              As Hermione gathered her things a loud knock startled her.

              “Come in,” she called.

              Ron pushed open the door.

              “I got your owl about the party. Are you sure this is a good idea?” he questioned.

              “We have to let her grow up. Scorpius has been a good friend to Rose, and Malfoy seemed excited to have the party. We talked it over and I think the children will have a good time,” Hermione said.

              Ron frowned and said, “But do you really trust the ferret?”

              “Ronald, we are not in school anymore and Malfoy has been working for the Ministry for years. I think he’s earned our confidence.”

              “If you say so,” he sighed. “Will you be there tomorrow?”

              “Yes, I can’t wait to see the children. I might stop in and say hello to some of our old school friends as well. Are you going to be able to see Hugo as well?” she asked.

              “Me and Mandy are going to take the kids to Hogsmeade for lunch after the match. It’s not Hogsmeade weekend but Headmaster Vector said it would be all right,” he replied.

              “That sounds nice. I’m sure the kids will enjoy it,” Hermione said. She was glad they could be civil, and that Ron had been mostly mature about the party situation.

              For all her hopes of maturity Ron once again let her down. As he was turning to leave he snorted, “Oh, and have fun saying hi to the ferret.”              



Chapter 2: Chapter 2
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Chapter 2

 

              Hermione arrived at the quidditch pitch. The day was warm, and she felt good being back at Hogwarts. A lot had changed about the school since her days there, but the quidditch pitch looked exactly the same. All four houses had a stand and in the middle was the box for members of the Ministry. She thought about sitting in the Ravenclaw stand but decided against it as the Ministry stand would afford her a better view of the game. Besides, as Minister of Magic she really shouldn’t show a preference. It would be best to be seated in neutral territory.               

              She made her way to the stand and looked around. It was full. Most of the staff had children who played or used to play themselves. There were a few empty seats scattered about so she scanned to see if she could distance herself some from Ron and Mandy. She didn’t want to create any tension. She liked Mandy well enough but still felt it was too soon to intrude on the new couple.               

              As she looked around, she heard a voice call out.

              “Minister, would you like a seat? I have an extra,” Draco Malfoy asked.

              Relieved at his kindness she went to sit. She did note that Ron turned around and looked a little gob smacked.

              “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. I would like that,” Hermione said. The only problem was that she didn’t know what else to say. Malfoy looked as if he hadn’t thought of anything either.

              They sat in an awkward silence not looking at each other or anywhere but straight ahead. The quidditch players finally made it to the pitch and the announcements started. A little tension lightened. When the announcements ended Draco cleared his throat.

              “Would you like a refreshment?” he asked Hermione.

              “Oh,” she stammered, “thank you, but no. I’m good”

              “No problem, I was going to get a drink so I thought I would ask,” Draco told her.

              His thoughtfulness surprised her a bit. He had offered her a seat and a drink. This was strange. She decided to focus on the match. Rose had just prevented a score from the Hufflepuff chaser. She stood and cheered.

              Just after cheering, Malfoy arrived back at his seat.

              “I see the match is starting off well for Rose,” he said.

              “Yes,” Hermione stammered, “Looks like it’s going to be a good match.”

              “Looks like,” Draco answered agreeably. He looked away quickly.

 

              Twenty minutes later, Hermione noticed Malfoy fidgeting with his collar and robes. He noticed her watching.

              “I’m off to concession stand. Would you like anything? Water or pumpkin juice?” he asked her.

              “Still good, thanks,” she told him.

              After returning, Scorpius spotted the snitch and began chasing it. He was very fast and made a good effort but at the last second lost sight of it after it disappeared behind the Slytherin stand. The game continued and Malfoy finally sat back down. He was still smiling and watching his son.               

              “He’s quite a flyer. I thought he had it for sure,” Hermione said.

              “Yeah, it’s in the blood,” Malfoy stated proudly. Realizing immediately what he said and to whom he was speaking, he flushed scarlet.

              “I just meant, he inherited the love of quidditch,” he stumbled, “The Malfoys and Blacks have played quidditch for decades. That’s all…I didn’t mean anything else.”

              She shrugged, “Don’t worry. I know what you meant. And it’s okay to proud of your son.”

              “I wish I could say Rose was a good keeper because of me, but that’s all her dad. I hate flying,” Hermione added.

              “Still?”, he asked her not remembering to be embarrassed.

              “Yep, I even hate airplanes. But Mum and Dad insist on asking me and the kids on holiday every summer,” Hermione told him.

              Uh, Granger-Weasley, what is an air…plane?” Malfoy asked her.

              She laughed loudly drawing eyes their way. She covered her mouth so as not to embarrass him further.

              “An airplane is a Muggle vehicle that relies on motorized propellers to travel long distances. Like wizards would use a portkey to travel overseas, muggles fly in an airplane,” Hermione explained.

“And it’s back to plain old Granger now,” she added.

              He looked at her questioningly, “I never know how to address you now. Not since the…”, he stopped clearly trying to avoid the word divorce, “since things ended with Weasley. Uh, Ron, um, I mean um sorry. I’m still just Malfoy.”

“So how do those airplanes work?” he added.

Hermione pulled a puzzled face. “I don’t really know. I never studied the mechanics or physics of it. Flying is just not for me,” she admitted.

“Physics? What is that?” Draco asked.

“Muggle studies of motion and stuff. Like forces of gravity and things like that,” Hermione tried to explain. She really didn’t know how to explain it simply because she didn’t have enough grasp on the subject.

He considered it for a minute before responding, “Sounds interesting. Definitely not on the Hogwarts curriculum though.”

“No, but maybe we should add chemistry and physics,” Hermione added thoughtfully. Then realizing that another goal had been scored she shook out of her school mode to cheer the Ravenclaw chaser.

Settling back into watch the quidditch match in a more comfortable silence, they both cheered their respective child’s team. Occasionally one would give the other an antagonizing look when the other praised one team too vehemently.

Two hours after the start of the match the score was tied 60 to 60. Malfoy continued to fidget with his robe. He kept pushing his hair away from his face and fanning himself. Hermione thought she could hear a faint cooling charm being cast and glanced over. He looked overheated.

When he saw her glancing his way and jumped up.

“Would you like a drink, Minis… er, Granger?” Malfoy asked her for the third time.

He was being so polite that Hermione felt too bad to turn him down again.

“Some water would be nice. I could go this time, if you would like to watch the match,” she said.

“No, no! Stay here. I’ll get it,” Malfoy said as he made his way from the seats. He bolted so fast that those in sharing the row looked from him to Hermione. Feeling their eyes on her she kept her eyes squarely on the Ravenclaw rings Rose was guarding. Yes, he was a strange man, Hermione agreed. But she had no idea why he kept running off.

After a short while Malfoy returned carrying two flagons of water. He seemed calmer than when he had left. He quietly made his way over and offered her a water with an appeasing smile.

“I hope it’s still cold. I ran into Pansy and Longbottom. They are having another little one,” Draco told her.

Hermione nodded. “Wait, they already have ten! Are they really having another one?”

After gulping down his water he said, “Yes. Whoever thought Pansy and Neville Longbottom would get together?” He then rooted for the Hufflepuff chaser making off with the quaffle.

“He seems to have been really good for her though,” Draco said after the chaser scored.

They watched as Ravenclaw beaters tried to redirect the bludger that almost collided into a chaser. Hermione heard him cast another cooling charm and noticed that he had unbuttoned his robe. The Hufflepuff tee shirt peeked out. Imagine, she thought, Draco-the Slytherin Prince-Malfoy wearing a Hufflepuff shirt.

“Malfoy, if you’re too warm you can take off your robe. Or are you afraid someone will see that Hufflepuff tee shirt?” she teased him.

“It’s not the shirt I am afraid of people seeing. I don’t want to humiliate Scorpius or make anyone else uncomfortable,” he said with his head hung.

“What on earth? How would you humiliate Scorpius?” Hermione asked not understanding.

“I don’t want anyone to see the Dark Mark,” he answered in a low voice.

Hermione started at the mention of the mark. “Oh, Gods, Draco, I’m so sorry. I forgot about the mark,” she apologized.

He looked up at her and could see the concern on her face.

“Thank you,” he said, “for forgetting.”



Chapter 3: Chapter 3
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Chapter 3 

 

 

 

Monday arrived and Hermione decided to take action. There were enough reminders of Voldemort. He needed to be at least removed from people’s skins. No one should have to wear their mistakes like a scarlet A. Malfoy must feel like Hester Prynne. She doubted he had ever heard of Hester Prynne, but she was going to help him. If he would let her.

 

She sent Malfoy a memo requesting a meeting. Even if he didn’t want to help her find a way to remove the Dark Mark she needed him to know that he could be comfortable around her and that she left the war behind. She was focused on healing the wounds and moving forward.

 

Right at 4 pm she heard the same slight knock he had used a few weeks ago. She went to open the door.

 

“Mr. Malfoy, thank you for coming. I have a request,” Hermione told him.

 

“Yes, of course, Minister. How can I help you?” he asked her.

 

“Mr. Malfoy, please sit with me,” Hermione asked as she motioned to two leather wingback chairs.

 

He followed her to the chairs and sat wondering what was happening. Hermione did not sit but continued to a small table behind the chairs. He could hear her bustling around but could not see and would not turn to look.

 

“Before I get to my request, Mr. Malfoy, would you care for some tea or some biscuits perhaps?” she asked.

 

“Tea would be nice, thank you Minister,” he replied.

 

She returned carrying two teacups and a small pot on an engraved tray. He took a cup and began to sip. Hermione took a deep breath.

“Before we begin, please accept my thanks for the quidditch party yesterday. Rose had a wonderful time. It was very thoughtful of you to host the quidditch teams. From what I hear everyone enjoyed it tremendously,” she told him trying to set him at ease.

 

It seemed to work a little as the look of panic subsided a little.

“I was glad to do it. Thank you for okaying the party and letting Rose attend. Scorpius was delighted to have her finally visit,” he said.

 

“You do realize that you can have a party in your home and invite anyone you like without permission of the Ministry don’t you?” she asked him.

 

“For most people, I’m sure that is true. However, given the circumstances, I thought it best to ask. For what it’s worth, I thought I would get a more favorable answer from you than from Weasley. Or at least, I expected the Minister of Magic not to kill me and vanish my body,” he added with a slight smile. He took another sip of tea.

 

Hermione looked a little sad. She realized that this would probably take more time and persuasion than she had previously thought. He had returned to his formal stilted manner of speaking since the quidditch match. If she was going to convince him that she really wanted to help him she first had to be honest about their history.

 

“That’s what I was afraid of,” she told him.

 

He simply gazed at her confused without speaking.

“Mr. Malfoy, I am going to have to amend my previous statement of one request to two,” Hermione said.

 

Malfoy continued to study her without speaking. Hermione was very worried to upset him like she had on Saturday but couldn’t see any other way but to be honest about what she had thought about since the mention of his dark mark. Summoning up her courage she decided to continue.

 

“How long have you worked for the Ministry?” she asked him.

 

“Since we defeated Delphi. What three years now? Is there a problem with my work? I apologize if there has been an issue. How can I fix it?” he asked.

 

“No, your work has been exemplary. I hope you are enjoying the Department of Mysteries. I have nothing but praise for your work here. That is not the case at all,” she responded. 

“I was thinking of how long we have been acquainted. We have been acquaintances for more than thirty years and co workers for three of those. Our children are best friends, for the gods’ sakes! And we still tip toe around each other like one is going to break. The one thing we do know for sure about the other is that we are not going to shatter by having a difference of opinions,” Hermione concluded.

 

Draco chuckled a little and said, “That is something we can agree on.”

 

“Good, I’m glad you agree that we can indeed agree,” she stated in a way that was very reminiscent of Minerva McGonagall.

 

“Saturday, at quidditch was the first real conversation we have ever had. I do apologize again for reminding you of the past. It was a reminder to me as well that I should have done more in the Ministry to promote unity and trust amongst my fellow workers. So, my first request Mr. Malfoy is that we start over,” she said. She reached her hand in his direction and continued, “My name is Hermione Granger. Please call me Hermione.”

 

He looked astonished at her hand and then her face and saw that she was indeed serious. He took her hand and shook it.

“My name is Draco. I’m very pleased to start over, Hermione,” he said.

 

“Shoo, well, now that we are on a first name basis, I am going to drop all this formal language and talk to you like a real person,” she told him.

 

“Er, what do you mean? You’ve been very cordial. There is nothing to apologize for at all,” he tried to assure her.

 

“When you are at home with Scorpius or any of your friends, do you always use perfect grammar? Do you ever just let loose and joke?

 

You talk to me like you’re in a Jane Austen novel!” she explained.

 

“I am unfamiliar with Jane Austen, I do joke, but yes I do like good grammar. It’s quite a turn on in fact. A grasp of language shows thoughtfulness and an organized intelligent mind,” Draco said with a smirk.

 

That was the Draco she recognized. She tilted her head and wondered if she really just heard him say “turn on”. Never in her life had she thought of turn on and Draco Malfoy in the same sentence. Shaking the thought from her head she blushed a little.

 

“Thanks for that. You can loosen up, good to know. Jane Austen was a muggle author who lived about 200 years ago. Her novels are still popular, with muggles anyway. Speaking of muggle novels, have you ever heard of The Scarlet Letter?” Hermione asked.

 

“No, I haven’t really read very many muggle novels,” he admitted.

 

“It doesn’t matter. I was just reminded of it because of what happened Saturday. And then I thought about you all weekend,” she said.

 

Hermione sensed his eyes widen in shock and quickly continued so as not to give him a wrong impression, “and the individuals like you, who are stuck with that awful mark. No one wants it and there has to be a way to get rid of it.”

 

“It’s permanent,” he said. “Voldemort made sure it was. It was my choice. I took it knowing that. Now I have to live with it.”

 

“Horse shit! Voldemort thought he was permanent too, and you see how that worked out for him don’t you?” Hermione huffed.

 

Once again Draco gawked at Hermione. “All this time, the bad language coming from your tables at school I assumed it was Weasley. But it was you! I owe him a drink for all the points I docked due to foul language,” he told her as he laughed.

 

“Ha-ha. Where do you think I picked it up?” she asked. “Really though, I would like to get back to the reason I asked for the meeting.”

Draco took a minute to stop laughing, then straightened himself and waited for her to resume speaking.

 

“My second request is for your help finding the solution to ridding the public of the dark mark,” Hermione said.

 

“I told you. It’s permanent. There is no solution. It’s been tried. Nothing removes it. It has faded a little, but nothing removes it. Healers have tried on, me, Bletchley, and Pucey. They tried to help Daphne Greengrass before her death. Nothing helps,” he said.

 

“But we haven’t tried. I think two of Hogwarts top students can find a solution. I know you hate it. Let me help you,” Hermione said.

 

“Why do you want to help me?” Draco asked.              

 

“Because we are on the same side. We both know how much damage has been done in the past. We both want to move toward a better future where all the old prejudices don’t matter and people can just be people and not judged by blood status. We have fought a war and come out on the other side, still hopeful things can change. They can. We are seeing evidence of those changes everywhere. And our kids are friends now,” she said simply.

 

“Thank you for saying that, but it has been tried. I’ve learned to live with it. It’s not even me that I care about. The others who were forced to take it shouldn’t have to live with it. But there is no removing it. If it could be done, it would have disappeared after he died. But it’s still here. I’m useless. I can’t help my friends and you shouldn’t want to be my friend. Not after everything I’ve done to you. I never helped you when I could have. I’ve never done anything but be an arse my whole life,” Draco said.

 

“Draco, if you won’t try for yourself at least try for the others,” Hermione urged. She sighed then continued, “Do you not remember that Harry Potter is my best friend, and that I was married to Ron? I know how to deal with an arse.”

 

 

 

 



Chapter 4: Chapter 4
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Chapter 4

 

 

After Draco left her office, Hermione cleared away her things. She was planning to spend the weekend studying the effects of dark curses and their remedies. At least she had been able to convince Draco that she was serious about finding a way to remove the Dark Mark from those who had never wanted it. He had not said he would help but had asked for time to think about it. She understood his hesitancy. After years of disappointment it would hard to open old scars. Emotional or otherwise. She would give him time to think but decided to get started right away. She set the wards on her office and closed her door.

 

“Good evening, Ms. Granger how lovely to see you. I can’t help but notice that in two weeks Mr. Malfoy has left your office with smiles. Not for the life of me, if you’ll forgive the expression, did I ever expect to see this,” Albus Dumbledore’s portrait said from the wall outside her door.

 

Hermione turned and looked at the portrait, “Well you see, something I’ve learned about life is that it doesn’t always go the way you expected.”

 

She turned on her heel and promptly left.



Chapter 5: Chapter 5
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Chapter 5

 

 

              Hermione sat in her office studying some new laws being proposed by the department of Regulation of Magical Creatures. She was so happy to finally have someone in the department that cared about house elves that she was thinking to go down and speak to the official who drafted the proposal for a little clarification and to encourage him to continue when her office door banged open. She looked up to see a very perturbed Draco Malfoy coming closer.

 

              Hermione sat in her office studying some new laws being proposed by the department of Regulation of Magical Creatures. She was so happy to finally have someone in the department that cared about house elves that she was thinking to go down and speak to the official who drafted the proposal for a little clarification and to encourage him to continue when her office door banged open. She looked up to see a very perturbed Draco Malfoy coming closer.

 

“So, I’m Hester Prynne, am I?” Draco demanded. “I don’t need your bleeding-heart pity, Granger. I told you I can deal with my problems on my own so you can just move on to some other sucker for a pity rescue. What is it with you Gryffindors? Why don’t you ever learn to bloody leave well enough alone?” He stood sneering over her desk and threw a copy of The Scarlett Letter on her desk.

 

              Hermione took a deep breath before responding, “I never thought you would actually read it. And I don’t want to help you because I pity you. Before you swear off the project there is something you need to see.”

 

              She placed her own arm on her desk and pulled out her wand. She tapped the wand against her arm and said, “Scourgify!”

 

              Draco could see her secret. The word MUDBLOOD stood out in a jagged and deranged script. It was exactly like the madwoman who had branded her. Draco could see Bellatrix Lestrange in that scar.

 

              He dropped his head and said nothing. Hermione could see the tears forming in his eyes. She hadn’t wanted to rub that night in his face, but he had to see that she knew what it was like to be Hester Prynne. She also knew what it was like to be Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale secretly wearing the shame. She hated knowing how the people around her closed up and tried to shield themselves from her after seeing the scar. They didn’t want to be reminded of those terrible times. For a long time she had hated that scar and the isolation because she thought it made her look weak. But she realized that scar was a testament to her strength, her badge of courage. She covered her scar because it upset others to see it not because she was ashamed.  

             

              She narrowed her eyes at him and said, “You are not the only person with scars from the past. I cover this up everyday because everyone wants to see the victor, but no one wants to see the price of victory. Yes, I know about the whispers and I understand wanting to hide from the stares. I’m not the one standing here throwing myself a pity party.”

 

              “I’m sorry,” Draco whispered. “I’m sorry I didn’t stop her. I’m sorry I didn’t lie to try to save you. But I couldn’t, she knew. Mother knew it was you. I was so afraid. Harry or even Weasley would have saved you, but I just watched. I was so afraid, but I knew I should have stopped her. I was afraid she was going to kill you, but I chickened out and only did what I could to save my own skin. I’m so sorry!”

 

              The words rushed from him without his thinking about what he was saying or why he was saying it. Hermione watched him struggle against the urge to continue speaking. It seemed like he was losing that battle because the words kept coming.

 

              “I’m sorry I hurt you that night. I shouldn’t have used that stunner, but I didn’t know what else to do. You were screaming and waiting for me to stop her. I could see your eyes pleading with me, begging me to stop her. And she was on top of you cutting into you with that appalling curse. You were bleeding and screaming. Then she was using the cruciatus and cutting again. More blood and then more, it was everywhere. Everything was red. It was all I could see, that blood red everywhere. So, I used the stunner because I knew I had to stop her, but I couldn’t because she would see, and the Death Eaters would see. They would have killed my parents. They would have killed me. Then Bellatrix would have tortured you some more and killed you anyway. Harry would have died and Weasley would have died. I should have stopped her. I shouldn’t have cared what happened to me, but I couldn’t stand to see anyone else die. I never wanted that to happen to you, but I was too afraid to stop her. I’m sorry I let her do that to you.” The words poured out while he sobbed in front of her.

 

              He continued, “I hate myself for letting her do that to you,”. He reached toward her scar as he spoke but pulled his hand back as quickly as if the searing heat still radiated off it when he realized what he was doing.

 

              “Draco, you didn’t use a stunner on me that night,” Hermione said.

 

              “I did. When Father sent me to bring the goblin…” Draco began.

 

              “Griphook. He was Griphook,” Hermione interjected.

 

              Draco nodded, “Yes, him. I went to get Griphook from the dungeon. But I hid around outside the door and stunned you so she would stop. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. She would never have stopped. I didn’t mean to hurt you more. I just wanted her to stop.”

 

              Hermione let him cry until he had no more tears left. She hated reliving that night in her memory as much as she hated that he was reliving it now. When she felt she could finally face him without letting him see her own tears she turned back to face him.

 

              He sat in the hard wooden chair in front of her desk slumped over with his face in his hands. He was trying to hide his tears as well as his shame. He had been ashamed of his actions for so long it was hard for Hermione not to give into the pity that he so despised.

 

              “Draco,” she said softly, “that stunner probably saved all our lives that night. She never would have stopped torturing me if I hadn’t passed out. It was a mercy and I’m grateful you did that.”

 

              “I should have stopped her before then. But I was afraid. I was a coward,” he said.

 

              “If you had done anything else. We all would have died. You know that,” she told him truthfully.

 

              “I don’t think it was cowardly to protect your family. You were sixteen when faced with the decision to join Voldemort or watch your family and friends die in front of you. You could have run and hid and left them to fend for themselves. Many older wizards did just that. You stayed and did what you had to do to protect them, no matter the cost to yourself. You nearly died trying to save them. Harry told me about the memories taken while waiting for your trial after the war. I can’t condone the decisions you made or the prejudices you had then, but I understand wanting to protect family and friends. You were willing to die; you were sure you were going to die but you wouldn’t leave them to Voldemort. That wasn’t cowardly. It took a lot of bravery to love them that much,” Hermione finished.

 

              “No what you did, sending your parents away, and staying to fight no matter the cost was brave. All I cared about was me and my family. Even though what I did was wrong, and what they did was wrong I stayed and did what I was told,” he said shamefaced.

 

              “How do you know what I did for my family?” Hermione asked shocked.

 

              “I asked Harry if they survived because I knew Voldemort would go after them to stop you. He explained what you did to save them, that was brave. Not me,” he said.

 

              “Harry told you that? When did he become such a big old gossip?” Hermione snorted.

 

              “I could have gone to Dumbledore and asked for help. Snape told me to. He told me the Order would protect us, my parents and me. I didn’t believe him. I never thought Dumbledore would help us. I didn’t believe anyone would. We didn’t deserve it,” he recounted to her.

 

              “Well, I can’t recall Dumbledore giving you any reason to think he would help you if I recall correctly. But if Snape had brought you to the Order, we would have done everything we could to protect you. Why didn’t he do that?” Hermione asked.

 

“I wouldn’t let him. He would never agree to bring Mother and Father. The Order members hated them, especially Father. They would never agreed to help us,” Draco said. 

             

“Unlike Snape, the rest of us would have been able to overlook personal feelings. We needed help, you had information we could have used. Why couldn’t Snape ever see beyond his own big nose?!” Hermione exclaimed.

 

“I thought you liked Snape. He was on your side. Harry named his kid after Snape,” Draco said.

 

“I love Harry and respect his opinion on a lot of matters, but I also know that sometimes Harry only sees what he looks for. I do need some words with him though,” Hermione said.

 

“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked. It wasn’t any of my business. I didn’t mean to cause a problem for you and Harry,” Draco said.

 

“No, not about that I just had some questions for him about something I remember about the prisoner numbers on inmates from Azkaban. They all had a number on their necks. I need to know how that mark is made. Harry works with the Azkaban officials all the time. He may know something that can help us! That is if you agree to help me find a way to remove the Dark Mark,” Hermione said.

 

“May I see your arm a little closer?” Draco asked.

 

“Sure,” Hermione said holding it up for his inspection.

 

“It doesn’t have any raised areas like a normal skin carving would. Can I touch it?” Draco asked.

 

After she consented, he gently ran his fingers across the word.

 

“I think Bellatrix used the same kind of spell to make this as Voldemort used to brand the Death Eaters,” Draco told her.

 

Hermione gasped. She have never realized it was a cursed scar like the Dark Mark. She had always assumed that Bellatrix cut into her arm with her wand and that Voldemort had created a brand similar to a muggle tattoo. All the years she had carried a dark curse and she never knew, she wondered why she had missed the signs.

 

“I will help you find a way to remove this, and the others, the ones who had no choice. You lot don’t shouldn’t have to carry this through life, no matter what my choices merit me,” Draco told her.

 

“Good I will send a message to your department head that you will be working with me on a special mission. But Draco, I’m keeping my scar. I earned it. It shows me everyday that all those sacrifices and hard times are worth it so that my children and everyone else can have a better life. One where we are working toward equality and life without fear. I will continue to use concealer in public, but I am proud of what I have accomplished,” she said.

 

“You should be proud of your accomplishments. I’m proud to call you my friend now,” Draco said. “By the way, Granger, what sort of concealment charm are you using? I didn’t detect any signs of magic around it.”

 

“I don’t use a charm. It’s concealer, a kind of muggle make-up,” Hermione said.

 

“Oh” said Draco, impressed, “it’s really good.”

 

“Thanks,” said Hermione. “So can you clear your calendar for a bit in the foreseeable future? I don’t know how long this project will take but from what I read about cursed scars there has never been anything exactly like these before. I don’t know exactly what he did to make them stay after his death. Harry’s scar is gone. What can be worse than being made into a Horcrux? How exactly did these marks change the body, or have they done worse? We’ll have to find out before we can ever attempt to remove them.”

 

“Please keep in mind this may be impossible. I will do everything I can to help you with this. Thank you for including me. I know I shouldn’t be. I earned my mark too,” Draco said.

 

“The past doesn’t matter now. I’m still fighting for the future. I won’t let Voldemort keep hurting people. He doesn’t get to win,” Hermione said.

 

“So let’s make that appointment with Harry, shall we” Hermione said. She then sent to memo to Harry’s office. It was returned almost immediately with an appointment for the following morning.

 

“See you first thing at Harry’s office tomorrow, Malfoy,” Hermione said.

 

“Yes, Minister, first thing,” Draco said with a grin.

 

He turned and headed for the door. Hermione went back to work on the piece of house elf legislation she had been working on before Draco had stormed in. She heard the door open again and looked up to see that Draco hadn’t left.

 

“Hey, Granger, that book was pretty good. I mean not the insinuations and your double meanings of course,” Draco smirked.

 

“I didn’t think you would read it, Malfoy!” Hermione huffed and bit her lip. “I never thought you would even be interested in a muggle book let alone look it up and read it!”

 

“I’ve added a lot to the library over the years,” he shrugged. “Do you have any of those Jane Austen novels? I didn’t find any in the manor library.”

 

“Yeah. My mum bought me a set when I was twelve. Do you want to borrow them? she asked in shock.

 

“No, thanks. I’ll download them on my Kindle app,” he said and closed the door.

 

Hermione Granger was left speechless.



Chapter 6: Chapter 6
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Chapter 6

 

On Tuesday morning Hermione arrived at Harry’s office to hear him call out to someone inside.

 

“Cheers, mate! What brings you here?” Harry asked.

 

To her surprise she heard Draco Malfoy drawl, “I’m working with Granger on the project she asked you to help with. I thought she would already be here.”

 

 “Not seen her yet. How is Scorpius doing? Is he ready for summer holiday?” Harry asked.

 

“What is happening here? Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy discussing holiday plans?” Hermione laughed.

 

“Hey, you made this appointment and were late,” Harry chided congenially.

 

“I know,” Hermione replied a little stiffly, “I just didn’t know you two were so chummy.”

 

“After fighting a war, and then saving our kids from Voldemort’s spawn, our past differences just don’t seem as important anymore, Hermione,” Harry said. “Not to mention those said kids have been best friends for years along with your own daughter Rose. Remember her?”

 

“Of course I know all that,” Hermione said. “I’m glad to see this. It will make everything so much easier.”

 

“Granger, I almost thought you were rescinding your offer of friendship,” Malfoy teased.

 

“Wait, wait! Hermione and Draco Malfoy working on a project and friends. I’m out. This is not happening! Has someone messed with a time turned and changed our whole lives?” Harry kidded.

 

“Actually, yeah that happened a few years ago, Potter,” Draco lazily drawled.

 

“Now that we’ve all had this happy reunion, let’s please get to work,” Hermione said.

Both men laughed.

 

Harry was the first to speak up, “What information do you need that I can help you with?”

 

“We are trying to find a way to remove the Dark Mark from those who were never convicted,” Hermione said.

 

“Cursed scars are not able to be removed. Lupin couldn’t heal George’s ear and Snape couldn’t heal Dumbledore’s hand. If it could be done, they would have known how Hermione. I’m sorry,” Harry said.

 

“I told her so,” Draco said with a trace of disappointment.

 

“We don’t want to heal the mark we want to erase it.” Hermione stated.

 

“It’s been tried, Hermione. Tell her, Harry,” Draco said.

 

“When the first band of Death Eaters were caught the Ministry officials tried to remove the marks to keep them from being able to communicate with Voldemort. No one found a way,” Harry said.

 

“When the Death Eaters broke out the last time I noticed a number on Lucius’s neck just above his collar. Sirius had one too. Do you remember Harry?” Hermione asked.

 

“Those were just cell numbers. They are supposed to bind the prisoners to the cells,” said Harry.

 

“How do they work? Do all prisoners receive a number or just ones with a life sentence?” Draco asked.

 

“All prisoners receive a number. Its pretty simple really. A series of numbers and a rune are engraved over each cell. The rune on the end is charmed with a containment spell. A glamour of that number and rune is cast onto the neck of the inmate boarded in the cell. The containment charm over top the cell latches onto the rune of the glamour creating a barrier to anywhere outside the cell. There are more wards and enchantments around the prison but that sums up the cell holding number,” Harry explained.

 

“What happens to the numbers after a prisoner is released? I’ve never seen a number on anyone being brought back from Azkaban,” said Hermione.

 

“No because the containment charm is ended the glamour is vanished. We create a new charm for each inmate,” Harry said.

 

“How is the glamour vanished? Is it something created especially for Azkaban?” asked Hermione.

 

 “No, just a regular “Evanesco”. The prisoners are stripped of wands and all the wards make any attempts at magic unworkable,” said Harry.

 

“That helps none. Thanks anyway, Potter,” Draco said.

 

“Wait, the rune containment charm sounds similar to a horcrux theory,” Hermione stated.

 

“But Ministry officials aren’t running around making horcruxes, Hermione. I know everyone in my department and I am sure none of them are using dark magic,” Harry said.

 

“No, I wasn’t implying anyone was using dark magic. No, I meant the way the Dark Mark contains a way to communicate with Voldemort or let him communicate with the Death Eaters. Like he’s always there,” Hermione continued.

 

“There’s no way the mark could be a horcrux. We know those are all gone, but you might have something with the container idea. What charm did you use for the galleons we used for the D.A. in fifth year?” asked Harry.

 

“A protean charm,” said both Hermione and Draco.

 

“I copied it in sixth year,” he explained with a shrug.

 

“So the Dark Mark could be a combination of spells. But we have no idea what kinds of spells would have been used. Draco, can you remember any incantation when you were being marked?” Hermione asked. “Sorry, I am sure you don’t want to think about it.”

 

“We all have things we would rather not think about,” he agreed. “But I agreed to do this. So I have to think about it.”

 

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room while Draco gathered his thoughts. Hermione looked to Harry to see him silently summoning a phial. He offered it to Draco.

 

“Would you prefer to just give us the memory?” Harry asked.

 

“No, I think I need to talk it over. I want to feel the ideas so I can figure what comes forward and feels most important. Besides, Astoria used to tell me it helped her to feel better when she talked things out,” he said with a slight frown.

 

“The actual marking ceremony didn’t take long. Voldemort didn’t really care to give recognition to anyone but himself. There was no great gathering or a public display. He didn’t want the Death Eaters to know exactly who was in or what they were doing. It would be too easy for them to give up someone else if they were caught. A lot of that happened. Bellatrix and Snape knew I was being marked to replace father but no one else knew at the time. Voldemort had the parchment with Father’s consent for my being marked,” Draco said.

 

“Hold on, why did it matter if your father gave consent?” Hermione asked.

 

“I was under age,” Draco said.

 

“But you wanted the mark,” Hermione interjected.

 

“It’s the law though. Anyone under seventeen has to have consent to enter into a magical agreement outside blood ties,” Draco explained.

 

“Voldemort wasn’t exactly a law abiding citizen, Draco,” Hermione pointed out.

 

“Yes and no,” Draco argued, “He did not follow Ministry laws or human imposed laws, but even he was bound by the natural laws of magic.”

 

“Like Gamp’s Law and the exceptions?” asked Hermione cottoning onto the idea. “But why would age matter? That can’t be so because in fifth year with the D.A. everyone signed the parchment agreeing to keep all D.A. activities secret. We were all underage at the time, but the jinx on the parchment worked. Marietta Edgecomb confessed to Umbridge and carried those spots a long time. So age couldn’t change the magical agreement.”

 

“I remember that. That was harsh, Hermione. I feel bad for her now. I mean, I didn’t then I took the mickey every chance I got. I regret that now but I was a arse to everyone then. Not just you three. That was very Slytherin of you to do though, Hermione,” Draco said. “That example is not the same for many reasons. First, this was not a life arrangement. You lot were not changing your life circumstances or agreeing to custodial change. Second, the only purebloods in the mix didn’t care about such traditions if they even knew about them.”

 

“What do you mean life circumstance and custodial change?” Hermione asked.

 

“Pureblood families were very different from the others in a lot of ways. Now I don’t mean they really were superior in anyway. That idea has been shot to hades with anyone who can open their eyes and look around. Besides all magic must come from somewhere. It really doesn’t matter the origin, and blood status certainly doesn’t. But age does. We’ll get to that in a bit, but I need to explain the traditions we followed. The pureblood families are patriarchal. Wives and children are property of the husband,” Draco explained.

 

Hermione snorted and exclaimed “Gods! That’s medieval!”

 

“Pureblood tradition was alive and well in the middle ages,” Draco acknowledged. “Not much has changed for those who still hold to it. Throughout most European history the royalty and nobility follow this patralineal order. The pureblood families are often wealthy and in powerful positions simply due to continuing in that same manner. Wealth and power are maintained in the small group by arranging marriages such as the monarchs used to do. It is the father’s job to provide a suitable marriage for his offspring to be sure the family line continues and that the wealth and prestige of the family name is carried on. Because wealth and power frequently equal prestige in the minds of many those who have access to the wealth and power are thought to be superior to those who do not.”

He stopped for a minute and then continued his thoughts, “By creating an arranged marriage before the child is seventeen the magic is sealed to continue in the fathers’ wishes. Because Pansy was seventeen when she ran from Voldemort and slept with whoever she slept with that our marriage contract was broken.”

 

“You had a marriage contract with Parkinson?” Harry asked.

 

“It was arranged when we were thirteen, but I think our mothers planned before then because they had been friends since their school days. It wasn’t official until we were thirteen though,” Draco answered.

 

“How did Pansy sleeping with someone else break the contract though?” Hermione asked.

 

“She was still property of her father because her custody had not transferred to me upon the sealing of marriage vows. Virginity is expected of purebloods when entering marriage. For a witch the consequences are far worse than for a wizard. Usually a witch loses everything she stood to inherit from her family and is completely abandoned by family and the pureblood community. That’s why Pansy boarded at the Hog’s Head after running from the battle of Hogwarts. She figured it was better to be there than handed over to Voldemort for breeding,” Draco told them.

 

Realization of what Draco was telling them washed over Hermione. She had never understood why Neville had ever forgiven Pansy for giving up Harry that night. She had believed the worst in a girl who admittedly never shown her best traits when it came to Hermione. Pansy Parkinson had antagonized her any chance she had gotten in Hogwarts. Even now she had never really warmed up to her despite her marriage to Neville.

 

Draco continued his explanation of the pureblood traditions, “That is why wizard divorces are so rare. We are taught that marriage is an arrangement not supposed to provide love or companionship in the way that others believe. That is why virginity is so important in pureblood culture. Sex has its own magic that is supposed to be used to bond and strength family bonds and pass only the superior magic and talents to offspring. So someone who has extramarital sex is considered damaged property and unfit to continue the pure bloodlines.”

 

“That is beastly,” Hermione said. “That thinking strips away a persons independence and basic rights to their own bodies and making humanity. Good grief, why haven’t witches rioted over the centuries?”

 

Draco’s face was flushed from uneasiness. Harry noticed.

 

“Malfoy, why so red-faced? Is the sexy Slytherin really just a big old prude? I had no idea!” Harry laughed.

 

Draco arched an eyebrow, “So you think I’m sexy do you Potter? You’ve fancied me since when, sixth year?”

 

“I’ve heard Ginny and her friends talk. There’s this one friend of hers that keeps begging for a set up. Besides, you know you aren’t the worst looking bloke around,” Harry said.

 

Malfoy smirked and preened a little, “So the great Harry Potter and his wife fancy me?” he drawled.

 

“Are we going to get any work done here? Or do you two need some privacy?” Hermione rolled her eyes.

 

“Sorry, Hermione,” Harry said, “and sod off Malfoy! I just meant you are a little above Greyback, maybe, in the looks department. Seriously what do women see in him?”

 

“Harry! Can we get back to work?,” Hermione admonished. “I understand the idea behind the custody part but how does age matter?”

 

” Haven’t you ever wondered why wizards come of age at seventeen instead of eighteen like muggles?” Draco asked her.

 

“I just assumed it was because their basic education ends in seventh year. Most muggles are eighteen when they matriculate. After secondary school they can attend university of course but there are other options but they are legally recognized as adults after receiving a basic education,” Hermione explained.

 

“In the wizarding world it’s the opposite. Basic education ends because you are an adult. Seventeen wasn’t just a random number chosen for adulthood. A person is born magical or muggle. This we all know, yes?” Draco said.

 

Hermione and Harry nodded their agreement and waited for him to continue.

 

“A person is not born with all the magic they will ever have though. Take Longbottom, for a long time no one knew he was such a powerful wizard. We gave him a hard time because as a pureblood he was supposed to be better than everyone else. In fact, he grew to show up a lot of those who tormented him. I ask him for help and his thoughts on how certain plants will effect potions and such. He’s a whiz at herbology whereas I don’t have a knack for it. Which goes back to how aging affects magic. Magic can be improved upon as we age and we can certainly are able to do things that we are not great at but a person continues to develop aptitudes for certain areas of magic just like any other talent. Think of singing, most people can learn to sing a decent “Eensy, Wincy Spider” but only a really talented singer can do justice to an aria. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. That is because at seventeen the magic has settled into the person and developed in fullness.” Draco explained.

 

He continued, “Hermione, how do feel about divination?”

 

“I know that some parts are real, I suppose but most of it is a load of rubbish,” she said.

 

Draco said, “You liked arthimacy I recall. It could be argued that arthimancy is a branch of divination. It uses combinations of numbers and numeric formulas to determine outcomes of events or how birthdate determine a persons fates. It could be said that its just a more precise way to track the future than astrology or tea leaf reading.”

 

Hermione, who couldn’t logic out an argument still didn’t understand where he was going with this reasoning. “But how does it correlate to age? Third years can take either subject?”

 

“The subject doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that you believe it matters. A birth chart based on arthimancy will ultimately end up looking very similar to a birth chart based on astrological sun signs. A person can divine the future through either chart, though the arthimantic chart will be a little more detailed a precise on time line. But for all purposes a person can use either to see their future. It is only your belief that arthimancy that makes it so to you. Granted we all know Trelawney was full of codswollop. Did you know I supposed to have been eaten by the giant squid before the Christmas break in fifth year?” he added the last bit in an offhanded manner.

 

A paused a beat and then carried on, “Now it could be possible that I am alive because I never put any belief into the prophecy rather than arguing that she never did see this in her crystal ball, but really lost the plot years ago. Or rather if Voldemort ever knew Trelawney would he just written it off all together as rubbish? Or if he really, deep down, believed all the pureblood nonsense why not believe it meant Neville? The circumstances laid out could have meant him as well? Was he supposed to be “The Boy Who Lived”? Speaking of Neville, everyone could see how much better he performed in school after he gained some confidence. He didn’t change from squib to magical but his belief in his abilities did as he grew into his full magic.”

 

He gave the others a few minutes to think over what he was telling them before proceeding.

 

“So as to whether magic can be sealed by an underage wizard I don’t know. But it wouldn’t have worked that night for Voldemort because we believed it wouldn’t. As he was not a blood relative I could not make a magical contract with him.” he finished.

 

“But you just said you didn’t know for sure,” Hermione pointed out.

 

“But we were always taught to believe it wouldn’t work so it wouldn’t have for us. I could cast a “cruciatus curse on you all day while casting it completely correctly it wouldn’t hurt anymore than a rictumsimpra because I don’t believe it will work without meaning it,” he clarified.

 

“Taking the mark gave Voldemort the rights to control everything that person did. Nothing belonged to that person anymore, their wives, children, homes-nothing at all. Everything became Voldemort’s if he requested it. In the ways of purebloods I was still my father’s property so he had to consent to my custody transferring to Voldemort,” Draco finished.

 

“As to the actual ceremony, it wasn’t really a ceremony it just happened,” he said flatly. “We were in the dining room. Voldemort came in grabbed my arm and did the spell. I didn’t memorize all the wand movements but the incantation must have been silent because he never spoke. The only one who did was Bellatrix, and she was screeching on about her devotion to him.”

 

Harry spoke up, “So you had to consent to receiving the mark for it to work?”

 

Draco shook his head, “The person receiving the mark didn’t have to actually have to give consent. A husband can consent for a wife or father for a child; even if they are screaming and fighting it. That’s why there were so few female Death Eaters.”

 

Hermione pulled a disgusted face. “Wouldn’t he just have killed anyone who turned him down?”

 

“Not if he had a purpose for them. He marked them anyway and tortured them until they submitted to his will. I saw it happen,” Draco said and dropped his face into his hands.



Chapter 7: Chapter 7
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Chapter 7

 

The three reconvened in Harry’s office the next day to continue the investigation of the Dark Mark. As much as Draco had shared about pureblood families traditions, they still had not learned much about the mark itself. They hadn’t even found any predecessor that the mark could have been built upon. Hermione wondered sarcastically why he couldn’t have just used a regular old tattoo like every other tyrant that had come along.

 

Harry thought more about the protean charm aspect of the Dark Mark. He was thinking that it couldn’t be like the charms placed over top the cells of Azkaban because the magic around the mark was not only much darker but didn’t have the same qualities of any charm work he had ever encountered. He had spent much of the previous evening at Azkaban.

 

Harry related his findings from the evening before. According to him, none of the Death Eaters in Azkaban could remember Voldemort ever uttering even a single syllable while marking them. No one else had a ceremony of any kind as well. It seemed to Harry that Voldemort worked in complete secrecy, as Dumbledore had suggested. Only during the thick of the second war had he ever given a Mark before witness. Most of those had gone to those who would have chosen otherwise. He reasoned that maybe those who willing took the mark had some form of charm and those who didn’t maybe had a mark in the form of curse.

 

Draco admitted he had never asked anyone for help to remove his mark. He had heard of too many failures others had faced. The farthest anyone had gotten was faded to almost skin color, but under careful inspection they were still visible.

 

Hermione in no way believed the mark to be a charm. She marched over to Draco and began to pull up the sleeve of his robe and exposing his arm. Her wand was pointed straight at his arm. Draco looked stunned but didn’t budge.

 

“Hermione, what are you doing?” asked Harry shocked.

 

“If you are so sure this is a charm we should start with the basics,” she replied, “I thought we’d start at the beginning. Finite Incantatum, Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1.

 

Hermione cast the enchantment and Draco began to scream and clutch his arm.

 

“Draco, I’m sorry! Oh gods, I didn’t mean too!” Hermione cried. “I’m sorry!”

 

He continued to shriek and began to flail his arm as Hermione became more and more upset.

 

“Harry help me!” she cried and looked over to him.

 

His hands covered his face and his shoulders were shaking. He was laughing. Hermione’s jaw dropped open as looked back at Draco just in time to catch him sending Harry a conspiratorial wink.

 

“You stupid git! You foul prat! You scared me to death!” she railed as she smacked him with her wand.

 

Once again the office filled with the sounds of the two men’s laughter. Hermione pursed her lips and tapped her foot until they tried to regain their composure. She briefly wished Trelawney had been right about that giant squid. When she narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips they at last began to clear their throats and stand straight again.

 

“Thank you, Hermione, that showed us nothing helpful at all,” Harry stated.

 

“Not so, Potter,” Draco insisted, “it showed us that she still has a temper.”

 

“I wouldn’t test that temper too much if I was you. I learned my lesson last time.” Harry told him straight faced.

 

“What happened?” he asked Harry.

 

“I found out that I liked my head on shoulders more than up my arse. I had to be taken straight to St. Mungo’s. Took Padma an hour to sort me out,” Harry said. “My eyes stayed brown for another month.”

 

Draco looked over at Hermione.  “It was a bad time,” she answered. “Harry was taking Ron’s side over some stupid argument Ron and I were having during the divorce.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry was called away from his office so Hermione and Draco decided to work the rest of the day in her office. Harry had assured them that some kind of charm work had to be involved in at least the way Voldemort used the mark to communicate with his Death Eaters. So they researched charms a little more.

 

“Since we are doing this, we should do it properly,” Hermione said to Draco.

 

“Have you found something?” he asked.

 

“No,” she admitted, “but I still think we should try absolutely everything we can. Even going back to the basics.”

 

Draco asked, “What do you have in mind?”

 

“I want to try a vanishing spell.” she said. “Can I have your arm?”

 

“You know Granger,” Draco drawled, “most women at least buy me dinner before they keep trying to get my clothes off.”

 

He pulled up his sleeve and reached over so she could try the spell.

 

“Somebody needs to vanish that big ego of yours,” she replied.

 

 She pointed her wand and said “Evanesco!”

 

There was no change to his Dark Mark.

She bit her lip and sighed. “I didn’t think it would work but I want to be able to say we were completely through and tried absolutely everything possible. I’ve read all I can find about magical markings and nothing has been helpful,” Hermione said. “I’m tired of reading!”

 

Draco’s jaw dropped, “I never thought I anyone would ever hear those words in that order from Hermione Granger! Have you come down with something? Spattergroit maybe?”

 

Hermione chuckled and said, “Of course not. I’m just tired of coming up with nothing. It’s like trying to reason with Ron these days.”

 

“Er sorry...” Draco said. “I was surprised when I heard you had gotten with Weasley. I always thought it was Harry and you.”

 

“Whatever made you think that?” Hermione asked and scrunched up her nose. “Harry’s always been like a brother. We get on great but there’s no passion. Ron and I didn’t always get on well. To be honest we spent a good many years arguing but it got the blood flowing and my heart racing. Eventually we went from fighting to ...well, you know.”

 

“Ergh! Please use an evanesco on that image,” Draco said sneering.

 

Hermione laughed. “Don’t worry we went back to fighting soon enough. He started finding the other elsewhere.”

 

“I didn’t know. That’s awful. I knew he wasn’t the brightest but I never thought he’d do something like that. You deserve so much better,” Draco said. “You must have been devastated.”

 

“Not really. By the time he started up with Mandy, I was relieved to have him gone. We wanted completely different lives and had nothing in common after leaving Hogwarts. Some days being in the same house with him was unbearable. He refused to grow up, or to see that things weren’t always black and white. I felt tied down to someone I had nothing in common with and no respect for. I kept pushing and pushing him away, so I wasn’t surprised when he found someone else. I had practically told him to. I was only staying because I knew Rose and Hugo love us both and need two parents.  Then one night he came home and told me Mandy was pregnant and he was leaving. He said the kids were already at Hogwarts and wouldn’t care if we still lived together or not. I refused to let him move them out of our house entirely but he wanted to. Having a big family was something he always pushed for. I love my kids, I do, but I also love being here in the Ministry coming to work everyday with a way to help make a better world for my kids,” Hermione said.

 

“That must be why you’re such an effective minister. You really believe in what you’re doing” Draco said. “That and being bossy.”

 

“Hey!” Hermione said.

 

“It’s not a bad thing. You were so good at giving orders when we were facing off with Delphini. I realized I like taking orders from you, Granger. So I joined the Ministry,” Draco said.

 

Hermione looked nonplussed.

 



Chapter 8: Chapter 8
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Chapter 8

 

 

“Ronald Weasley is an arsehole!” Hermione shouted to no one in particular.

 

She stood in her kitchen reading the owl post he had sent this morning. She had been planning to see her parents in muggle Muxton. He was supposed to retrieve the kids from the Hogwarts Express and take them with him to his new home. He left London for the confines of Ottery St. Catchpole after the divorce. Molly and Arthur, despite how things had happened between Ron and herself, were happy to have at least one of their children living in their village.

 

But had to Mandy go shopping for new baby clothes and they didn’t think they could possibly be done in time to meet the train. Would it be a bother for Hermione to explain to them and assure Rose and Hugo they would stop in and get them next week? Hugo and Rose had been looking forward to visiting their family in the country. As happy as Hermione was to see them she hated being the one to have to tell them and see the looks of disappointment on their faces.

 

End of term had always been a joyous time for Hermione. She loved Hogwarts but missed her parents dreadfully while at school. She made her own practice to visit them every year at the end of term. In they past they had gone on holiday to various places around the world but her parents still had a soft spot for Australia. So normally they would have been preparing for camping in the Outback or soaking up sun on the Gold Coast but they had pushed back their holiday because Ron couldn’t wait to show them his new home, the Adytum. And he didn’t even have the balls to show. Instead of Shropshire, Hermione would be going to King’s Cross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around seven, Hermione stepped over through the barrier of platform 9 3/4. She spotted Harry and Ginny and went to wait with them. Ginny was carrying several large bags from a smart shop which catered in home decor. Overhauling Number 12 Grimmauld Place looked to be going well according to the way Ginny was waving paint samples excitedly.

 

Because Walburga Black had permanently stuck her portrait to the wall of Harry’s home he had never felt it was home. Ginny, on the other hand, told Harry in no uncertain terms that it had been Sirius’s wish that Grimmauld Place be Harry’s home and so, by the gods, she would see to it that it would be his home. Harry had not been one to argue with Sirius’s wishes or Ginny’s. He gave her her way when it came to overhauling the former Black family residence and making it into the Potter family home.

 

When all magical means were exhausted, Harry and Ginny bought a muggle saw and sawed a hole around her portrait, plaster and all. It had been patched and covered. Mrs. Black’s painting had to be stunned into silence. It was then donated, much to Hermione’s chagrin, to the Ministry of Magic, along with the taxidermist heads of generations of Black family house elves. Hermione had them stored deep in the basement, near the main plumbing lines. The sounds of flushing helped to conceal Mrs. Black’s incessant shrieking.

 

“Hello, Ginny, Harry!” Hermione called out.

 

“Hermione!” Ginny said. “We didn’t expect to see you. We made plans with Ron and Mandy for dinner with the kids. You’re welcome to come. I’m sure no one will have a problem with it.”

 

Hermione briefly explained the owl he sent her earlier and Ginny proceeded to curse her brother. Harry cleaned his glasses and looked away until Ginny finished her rant and then seconded Hermione invitation to dinner. She decided to leave it to the children.

In no time at all it seemed the train rolled into the station and everyone gathered around to meet and greet their children. The hustle and bustle on the platform made Hermione want to run as fast as possible to her own quite home. Until she saw Hugo pulling his trunk from the train car. Rose and Albus made their way out next closely followed by Scorpius Malfoy and Lily Potter. They seemed deep in conversation and had no idea they were being followed by Roxanne and her extend-able ear. She was holding a toilet seat in her other hand. Hermione laughed to see how much like Fred his niece was. She waved the children over.

 

Rose and Hugo ran into Hermione’s waiting arms. They began telling her everything that had happened since she saw them last. They eventually noticed their father’s absence. Upon seeing their letdown expressions Ginny hastily invited them to dinner. They began to plead with their mother to be allowed and when they gained permission Rose turned and asked Scorpius to come along.

 

Harry turned to Draco, “Got anything better planned, Malfoy?”

 

“No, I don’t want to intruded. You lot go ahead,” he said.

 

“Come on, it’s just a little get together at the Leaky Cauldron. Order anything but the pea soup and we should all have a good time. Seriously, when is the last time you spent an evening outside the manor?” Harry said.

 

“Come on, Dad. Just this once.” Scorpius said.

 

Draco sighed but couldn’t say no to his son. “All right, we’d be happy to join you.”

 

Everyone left for the the Leaky Cauldron.

 

 

As they all settled at the heavily worn table all the students began talking at once. The adults let them carry on while they ordered food for the table. A chicken and ham pie with boiled potatoes were enjoyed by all while they loudly laughed and swapped stories. The only exception was Draco Malfoy. He ate his food quietly and only looked up to encourage Scorpius occasionally with a smile. His quiet demeanor starkly contrasted with the cacophony of noises bouncing to and fro throughout the stone room. Most of the customers seemed to be celebrating as well and there was no shortage of laughter and shouts from any table in the pub Hermione noticed. He seemed to be the only one with nothing to say.

 

The kids were all reluctant to break up the gathering. Albus and Scorpius were talking about some missions and levels they were planning to enact when Albus suggested Scorpius come to his house. He looked over at his father who obviously wanted to say no. Harry spoke up first to shut down the tension.

 

“Tonight is probably not the best time. I’m sure Scorpius wants to go home and sleep in his own bed and I know Draco is eager to get caught up with Scorpius as well. Besides, the house is a wreck. Your mother has decided that the time has come to deal with main parlor.”

 

That was when Draco found his moment to break the tension. He suggested another get together for Scorpius and all his friends at the manor when Rose and Hugo returned from their father’s house. If it was all right with their parents, of course. Everyone agreed to the plan and left the Leaky Cauldron full of good foods and plans for a good summer.



Chapter 9: Chapter 9
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Chapter 9

 

The house was already full of noise when Hermione awoke the following morning. She could hear Hugo shouting instructions to Rose that sounded strangely like battle commands. Electronic sounds accompanied their shouts so she wasn’t too worried about any actual damage. Slowly she opened her eyes still sleepy from the hectic night before.

 

Instead of checking in on them she decided to surprise them with breakfast. Hermione still enjoyed cooking the muggle way. The repetitive motions and soothing smells gave her sense of immediate satisfaction when most of her projects did not. The project with the Dark Mark was not going very well at all. So far the only thing they knew for sure was that the mark was not a horcrux and that they had known going in. The simple ins and outs of cooking and a full stomach was exactly what she needed.

 

It must have been what the kids needed as well because they soon followed the smells emanating from the food into the kitchen. The waffles had fluffed up nicely and turned a crispy golden brown and the whipped cream had come along perfectly. Hermione was washing the fresh blueberries when Rose and Hugo came into the kitchen.

 

“Morning Mum, that smells delicious,” Hugo said, “Can’t wait to eat. I’m starving.”

 

“You’re always starving,” Rose said.

 

“Good morning,” Hermione replied, ” Hugo please set the table and Rose, dear, please pour us all some milk while I finish the sausages.”

 

“Yes, Mum.”

 

Both kids set about their tasks as Hermione began plating the breakfast. She took them to the table where the kids sat waiting. The Daily Prophet had already been delivered but the headlines had nothing that could interest Hermione more than the two kids in front of her. How much she missed them while they were at Hogwarts never hit her like it did when they returned home for a break. Seeing their faces, smiles, and hearing all about their joys and worries relieved Hermione of all the worries she had while they were away. She knew that the dangers of Voldemort were behind her and that days at Hogwarts were very different from those of her children. So much of her relief came from the fact that got to be children instead of facing the horrors that she, Ron, and Harry should never had known as children.

 

“What kind of game were you playing this morning?” Hermione asked.

 

“World of Warcraft. We were in the middle of a level with Scorpius and Albus when we took a wrong turn and lost our way. It’s all right though, my stomach was growling just from the smell. Any more sausages, Mum?” said Hugo.

 

“Sure there are some more on the counter,” Hermione said, “Do slow down so you won’t get choked though.”

 

“You should see him eat school. Its like he has no manners at all. Just shoveling anything he can reach into his mouth. I don’t see how the other Gryffindors can stand to sit at the table with him,” Rose said.

 

Hermione laughed. “You sound just like your Aunt Ginny describing your dad to Grandma Molly one summer when we stayed at the Burrow. To be fair to Ginny, your dad did have a great love of meal times at school.”

 

“Speaking of your dad, are you two excited to see him and your two little brothers? They are very sweet little boys. Are they having Benji’s birthday celebration while you will be there?”

 

“Dad did say they were going to have the party when we could be there. And about parties, he seemed really upset about you letting me go to Scorpius’s party. He was going on about how the Malfoys shouldn’t be trusted and that I shouldn’t be spending so much time with Scorpius,” said Rose.

 

“Yes, he did say he thought it wasn’t a good idea,” Hermione said.

 

“He was saying something about you spending time with Scorpius’s dad. Is that true?”

 

“We are working on a project together at the Ministry,” Hermione told her. “Your dad does know that you and Scorpius are just friends right?”

 

“Well, he should. I mean, I know we went out that one time in fifth year, but it was too weird. Besides, Albus was always there and it was just not going to happen.” Rose said.

 

“Yeah, he’s over you,” Hugo said. “I think he likes Lily. He said she’s really pretty and hopes she gets resorted. I think he wants sometime in the Hufflepuff common rooms with her. Albus never leaves them alone. He’s so dense that he doesn’t even see Scorpius likes her.”

 

“Lily! Are you sure he likes her,” Rose asked. “I thought maybe he did. Did he tell you?”

 

“No, I can just tell,” Hugo nodded.

 

“Uncle Harry will pee his pants when he finds out who likes his little girl,” Rose said giggling.

 

“To be fair, Harry will pee his pants when he finds out anyone likes Lily,” Hermione said.

 

They continued to talk and laugh over the course of breakfast until they had to get on with their day. Hermione was so glad to see her children laughing and talking about their family and friends with such ease and comfort. She had never felt a part of a group until Harry and Ron came to find her in first year. If not for a mountain troll, she would probably still have no friends.

 

The same electronic beeps and explosions continued throughout the day as Hermione read about scar healing potions. She was sure all the potions listed had been tried by the healers and found nothing that seemed likely to help. In all the books she found only the same lists over and over so she decided to go another route. Maybe the muggles had something that could work. She would have to try a scar fading cream. Malfoy seemed much less resistant to muggle ideas nowadays. So on Monday she would give him all the options she could round up. She opened her laptop and began Googling scar treatments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday morning Hermione toted a large box into her office and thanked goodness for two day shipping. Maybe she should have ordered tattoo removal cream too just to try. If all else failed she thought they may have to look into laser surgery, if he would even consider such a thing.

 

She heard his hesitant knock and knew Malfoy was outside her office.

 

“Come in,” she called.

 

“Good morning, Hermione.”

 

Draco Malfoy came into her office carrying two books and a strange metal contraption she had never seen before. He looked slightly mystified as he unconsciously shook his head.

 

“Does Professor Dumbledore sing Celestina Warbeck songs often?” he asked.

 

“What? He’s out there singing? Gods! I hope he isn’t disturbing everyone in the Ministry!”

 

“An old song Mum used to listen to. “A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love.” Off-key too.”

 

Hermione sighed. Even in portrait form he was eccentric. Then she laughed.

 

“That is Molly Weasley’s favorite. Fluer still hates it!”

“Fluer, used to be Delacour. She was Beauxbatons Tri-Wizard champion in fourth year. She married Bill, Ron’s eldest brother.” Hermione went on to explain seeing his questioning expression.

 

“Oh, yes I remember her. All the Slytherins were in a competition to see who could get her to go to the Yule Ball with them. I can’t really remember why all us guys were so crazy about her. She was pretty but that attitude!”

Hermione snorted.

 

“What? She was really arrogant.” he said

 

“Isn’t your picture in the dictionary under arrogant? Or did it get put in under pretentious?” chided Hermione.

 

“Of course, its under arrogant. Who would want to wait all the way to the P’s to see this face?” he drawled.

 

“Malfoy, you’re still a prat! It’s not your face I care about anyway. I did get some stuff to try on your scar though.”

 

“You found something?”

 

“I was reading some old potions books and they all had the same remedies that have been tried by Healers. So I was thinking about what doctors, muggle healers, would use. So I searched up topical scar creams and ordered the ones that had the best ratings and were available over the counter."

 

“Over the counter?”

 

“Not prescribed by a doctor, or a healer. You know, just available to anyone like a pepper up potion. Not like a healer only potion.” Hermione proceeded to pour out the contents of her box onto her desk. Nearly twenty jars, boxes, and random containers skewed across the shiny oak top.

 

He stared at the random assortment before him then reached out slowly and picked up a blue jar with white script. Hermione could see he was scanning the ingredient list. He seemed to understand what he was reading. It must be what had made him such a good potioneer. Silently nodding his head as he continued scanning, he began sorting through the different products and sorting them into three separate categories. She said nothing and watched while he continued looking over her offerings.

 

Finally after perusing the ingredient list on the last box he spoke. “Some of these are similar to the potions tried before. When the Healers were working with Miles, Bletchley, he kept in touch to let me know how things were going. I remember Daphne had several potions with the ingredients similar to these. After all the potions failed she gave up.”

 

“Were you close to Daphne?” Hermione asked. “I know she was your sister in law.”

 

“We got close while she was at the manor, before I married Stori. I wish I could have done more to help her. I missed so many signs. If I had paid her more attention I could have saved her.” Draco said.

 

It looked to Hermione as if he was talking more to himself than to her. She wanted to know what happened to Daphne but wasn’t sure how to ask about it. She had never even heard him speak about his wife very often let alone hearing him talk about her family. There was so much she knew about this man without knowing him at all. She bit her lip and thought how about how many people he had lost. She knew that Harry had been able to set aside their differences and seemed to be friendly with him.

 

“Sorry, drifted off from the subject there,” he said.

 

“It’s okay. Have I told you how sorry I was to hear about Astoria? She seemed like a kind woman. I’m sure Daphne was as well,” Hermione said.

 

“Thank you, they were both kind and caring people. I wish they could have had better lives than they had. Both of them certainly deserved better than they had,” Draco said. He looked down at the floor.

 

Hermione was at a loss. There was nothing she could say, as she hadn’t any knowledge of either woman’s life. She only knew both women had died very young, and that Daphne had committed suicide. It had happened about a year or so after Draco had married Astoria, but Hermione hadn’t heard any details about her life or what had caused her to end her own life.

 

“I never had the chance to get to know either of them, but if you need to, or just want to, talk about them I will always be here. I’m sure Harry would also be willing to talk to you about them as well, if you would like. He’s lost many people close to him too. While I can’t say I know how it feels, I’m always available to listen.”

 

“Thanks. Actually, I have talked to Harry quite a bit. Ginny too. It did help. They certainly have been wonderful with Scorpius. After Stori passed, he spent a lot of time with them. It was Ginny that really stepped in and helped me out of my funk. She could see I was having a much harder time than I let on.”

 

“That sounds like Ginny. She always was able to read people. Don’t feel bad, she’s done it to all of us. She could see what was going on with Harry, after sixth year. She knew he was leaving and never tried to stop him because she knew he had to go. And with Ron and me, she could see what was happening there before we ever had a clue.”

 

“I like her. If it wasn’t for her pushing I don’t think I would have ever left the manor again. She sent Harry round every couple weeks to check in. Then wouldn’t stop until I agreed to have dinner with them and let Scorpius stay over holidays with them.”

 

“Rose said they had some good quidditch games over at the Potters. You know they are obsessed with some computer game called World of Warcraft now. A computer is a device...”

 

He chuckled, “I know what a computer is. I have one. So does Scorpius.”

 

“You have a computer?”

 

“Of course. I use my iPad more often, but I do have one. Don’t you?”

 

“Well yes, but I didn’t know electronics would work at the manor. Last time I was there I don’t recall seeing anything like that.”

 

“That was what twenty years ago? We didn’t have the modern conveniences then that we do now. After Father passed, I had the place connected to the electric grid. Had to tell the man who installed the wiring that the manor was a museum. He seemed to accept that, he did. Said he had never even known the place was there.”

 

“You have electricity and an iPad? What else are you going to spring on me?”

 

“What did you think I had a Kindle app on? A charmed crystal ball?” he drawled.

 

“No, I just never thought,” she stammered. “I don’t know what I thought, but I never guessed all that.”

 

“I did download those books. I only had time to read Sense and Sensibility so far.”

 

“You read Sense and Sensibility?”

 

“Yes. When I was reading it I kept hearing Colonel Brandon as Snape, for some reason, and Elinor sounded like Professor Trelawney. If she had been sensible of course, Trelawney.”

 

Hermione laughed. “That certainly changes the reading now. Did you like it?”

 

“It was interesting but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending really. It seemed natural enough that Lucy would give up Edward when he had given up his inheritance. I have found wealth is very attractive to some people,” he drawled. “But it didn’t seem a natural ending for Marianne to have ended up with Brandon.”

 

“Why not?” Hermione asked.

 

“For them to come together she had to completely change who she was. Her liveliness and joyful spirit seemed broken. Not at all the Marianne Brandon had longed for. She seemed to be settling for the only option left when he was only replacing some long lost memory of woman he could never have. Neither character seemed to really value the other person. I thought it was a sad ending for them both,” Draco said.

 

“It’s strange that you heard his voice as Snape. They were more alike than I ever stopped to consider. It’s funny you should have come to that conclusion. Many people never bother to look beyond the fact that they married and therefore it must have been a happy ending.”

 

“How was Brandon like Snape? What you know of some great love he pined for? I don’t think Snape ever liked a person let alone fell in love. He never even seemed to care much about the Slytherin classes unless it was to give some other house trouble.”

 

“He did give trouble to the other houses for sure, but yes at one time he did love someone. When that didn’t work out for him, and I think he gave up on people.”

 

“Wait, Snape was in love? With a person? I didn’t think he loved anything except maybe the drought of the living death. He did speak of that with affection but nope no person. He could be awful when he chose. Who in the world would have loved?”

 

“He did choose to be awful. A lot. But yes, he did at one time love someone. He just didn’t know how to love properly I think. His bitterness turned to obsession and he lost her forever. He was already hanging around with some of the Death Eaters. She couldn’t overlook that, in the end I suspect.”

 

“Wait, how do you know this? Snape was not in love. Sounds more like a plot in one of those muggle novels you’ve read than any Snape I ever knew.”

 

“Haven’t you ever wondered why Albus’s middle name is Severus?”

 

“He was an agent for the Order. Everyone knows that. I assumed Harry was honoring Snape because he gave his life for the Order.”

 

“Well, yes, but there is more to it than that. You saw in class that Harry and Snape were never on good terms. Why honor someone who bullied you and generally went out of his way to make life hell for you and everyone you cared about?"

 

“Snape did NOT love Harry! Do not tell me he professed his love for Harry!”

 

Once again Hermione broke into a fit of giggles. Just the idea was so completely ludicrous. This would take some explaining.

“Let’s discuss this over lunch. I need to get out of this seat,” she said.

 

 

Hermione and Draco left her office. When they stepped into the hall they were greeted by Dumbledore’s portrait.

 

“Mr. Malfoy, Ms. Granger. What can have the two of you all shut up in that office all day long? It’s been such a fine day at the Ministry. So much buzzing and all the gossip, keeps us portraits quite busy I daresay.”

 

Hermione sucked in a breath, “We have work to do. No time for gossip and plotting I’m sure.”

 

She could see Draco looking shocked at her response. Everyone thought Dumbledore was still high on list of admired and respected people. That had started changing when she read Rita Skeeter’s biography. She knew better than to take Rita at her word, but she also knew there was a lot Dumbledore could have and should have done differently. In her eyes, he wasn’t the kindly old mentor everyone assumed he had been. If he hadn’t been so sure he knew everything or if he had bothered to share what little he did know with anyone things could have been so very different in her life, Harry’s, and who knows how many others.

 

Dumbledore seemed unperturbed by her response and began humming a tune that sounded, once again, like “A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love”.

 

When they walked out of earshot of anyone in the surrounding area Draco asked “I thought you were fond of Professor Dumbledore. What happened?”

 

“At Hogwarts, I was fond of him and respected him as much as anyone else seemed to, but as I got older and the more I learned about him the less it seemed like I really did respect him or the choices he made. Some people want to hold him to different standards.”

 

“Oh. Is that why you put him out in the hallway?”

 

“Yep. Do you have any idea what it’s like having someone over your shoulder telling you how you should be doing everything better? All the time?”

 

“Yes. I do. Now you have to tell me all about Snape loving Harry.”

 

“Not Harry, you great prat! I’ll fill you in when we get to Fortesque’s.”

 

They continued onto Diagon Alley and she told him all about what they had learned about Snape and his history with Harry’s parents and his time in the Order, and what ultimately turned him against Voldemort. Draco never knew any knowledge of these things. They spent more than the lunch hour talking over Snape and trading bits of information.



Chapter 10: Chapter 10
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Chapter 10

 

 

When they finally got back to the Ministry offices they rushed past Dumbledore’s portrait and into Hermione’s office. After putting away coats and settling into the leather wingback chairs Draco pulled the boxes of scar cream toward them. He began sorting the ones with ingredients he recognized as useful to one side.

 

“I still think you should try some of the others. There may be a chemical mixture that might work. Some muggle remedies are really good you know.” Hermione said.

 

“Yes, so you’ve said. But we have no idea how these will affect the scar at all. The idea of rubbing this stuff on and hoping for the best just doesn’t sit well with me.” Draco said.

 

“Come on! Choose one and we will monitor it for a fortnight. If it does nothing we can try something else. While we are waiting on that we can be looking for other solutions. Just choose one. What have you got to lose?” Hermione said.

 

“My arm,” Draco drawled, “And my time.”

 

“I can’t make promises about time, but you are not going to lose an arm. Stop being sarcastic and choose.” Hermione said.

 

Finally after giving the creams another look he chose a white jar with a purple script and read the instructions for its use. “It says to use every morning after shower. Wear all day without rinsing. They claim it will begin to lighten and soften any scar, new or old, after one weeks use.”

 

“Okay so in the morning put it on. Shouldn’t be a problem.” Hermione said.

 

“Whatever. If any potion Healers have tried or any that you researched didn’t work, I really don’t think this will.” Draco said.

 

“Well what do you think will work?” Hermione asked. “And nothing is not an acceptable answer.”

 

“All this talk about Professor Snape got me to thinking that he might have something that could help us at Spinner’s End. I need to get in there to see what we can find. He has thousands of books and parchments full of Dark Arts, curses and counter curses. If anyone knew exactly how he made the mark it would have been Snape.”

 

“Where is Spinner’s End?” Hermione asked.

 

“It was Snape’s home, in Cokeworth. He left it to Hogwarts. I think he left it so it could be used as a place for the Order if it was ever needed. We would have to get permission from the Headmistress to enter though.” Draco said.

 

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Hermione answered. “I’ll send an owl to Headmistress Vector right now.”

 

She went directly to her desk, unrolled a piece of parchment and sent a note to the Headmistress. “Is there anything else you have thought that may be a possibility?”

 

“I can try going over my alchemy notes again but that has been absolutely no help in all the years I’ve been studying. Down in the Department of Mysteries, I went over and over everything they had available when I started. They tried thousands upon thousands of ideas in the last 40 years alone.” Draco said.

 

“Should you be talking about what you’re doing down there?” Hermione asked.

 

“It’s fine. I’m not an Unspeakable. I work with Alchemy. I assumed you knew.” He said.

 

“No, sorry. I knew you started in the department but I didn’t know more than that,” she admitted. “What does turning metal to gold or a philosopher’s stone have to do with curing a scar anyway?”

 

“That’s a common misconception. Alchemy is not just about immorality or riches. I started studying when I found out about Stori’s curse. A panacea, or universal cure, has been sought for centuries. I work with ginseng frequently. The department has been testing alkahest for years. That is a universal solvent, a solution to remove anything.” Draco said.

 

“Are you all getting anywhere with that?” Hermione asked.

 

“We have made way with reversing the effects of splinching. We’ve been able to stem the bleeding and speed up recovery by almost 1/3 of the previous rate just this year.” Draco said.

 

“I’m glad to hear of the department’s progress. I’m certain you’ve been a good addition to them.” Hermione said.

 

“I do enjoy the work. Being in the Ministry allows me access to resources that I didn’t have before. Even with the Malfoy galleons, there is trouble procuring manuscripts and tools for alchemical studies. The department has thousand year old works that would take centuries for me to translate alone. I spent so much time working alone at the manor that I forgot how valuable the input and learning of others could be. In fact, I don’t think I ever learned its value before starting here. I had been alone so many years that I just learned to rely on myself and never thought to include anyone else.” Draco said.

 

“It’s good that you have others now,” Hermione said. “It’s hard to always be alone.”

 

“You have so many friends and your family. I’m surprised you ever have time to get lonely. Surely you have a ton of men wanting your time and attention. I mean, you’re Hermione Granger, one third of the Golden Trio, Gryffindor Princess, Minister of Magic.” Draco said. “I’m just an ex- Death Eater, son of Death Eaters. I don’t think it compares.”

 

“Why does it have to be a competition?” Hermione asked.

 

“There is no competition. You wouldn’t stand a chance,” Draco said.

 

“You have no idea,” Hermione said with a sigh. “Do you remember when we first came to Hogwarts? I was the little girl with hair everywhere and huge teeth. You remember, my hand was always in the air. The one that had no friends until after Halloween.”

 

“I do remember that indeed. Still it wasn’t long until all was right in Gryffindor world,” Draco said.

 

“Only took a mountain troll,” Hermione agreed. “We need to focus though. I got an owl back from Headmistress Vector. She said we are welcome to come to Hogwarts and talk over our request with her. Apparently, she has to have the board of governor’s consent to let anyone onto property owned by Hogwarts outside the castle grounds.”

 

“When is our appointment?” Draco asked.

 

“A perk of being Minister of Magic, Mr. Malfoy, is that I get appointments very quickly. She will be expecting us at nine tomorrow morning. Being a favorite student doesn’t hurt either, I suppose.” Hermione smirked a little of her own.

 

“Yes, I do indeed remember that little girl. She was a know-it-all and a bit bossy too,” he grinned her.

 

“Until we can get to Spinner’s End, is there anything we can work on today? Or maybe you have recalled something about the mark or anyone else who took the mark willing or otherwise? Is there anything at all?” she asked.

 

“Nothing more about who took it but I am still wondering if Bellatrix used the same curse on your arm to make that scar. It looks and feels the same. Would it be all right if I used a few spells to see what kind of magic it is?” Draco asked.

 

Hermione rolled up the sleeve of her pale blue oxford shirt and held out her arm. “Do whatever you need to do,” she said grimacing.

 

Slowly Draco waved his wand over her arm and muttered a few incantations. Nothing seemed to be happening nor did he seem to have anymore idea what to try when he finally snapped his head up and said, “It can’t be the same. She must have just cut into your arm and the heat must have prevented it from raising because none of the spells are showing that its the same.”

 

“Oh,” was all Hermione could muster. Even though she was planning to keep this scar she was still relieved not have whatever hocus pocus Voldemort used on her body. She had to steel her nerves to keep from visibly shivering.

 

“When you were explaining pureblood traditions, you said that a woman was considered unworthy of marriage or damaged if she was not a virgin. Why did Voldemort choose her? After all, Bellatrix was married. I would have thought the “oh great and mighty Dark Lord” would have wanted his child carried by some untouched pure woman,” Hermione said.

 

“You are correct in that he did want some untouched virgin,” Draco said. “Everyone knows she was married to Rodolphus. What they don’t know is that she used occulmency two days before the wedding to find out that his great great grandfather on his mother’s side was a half blood. They were French on that side so it was easier to keep secret in Britain.”

 

“You mean he wasn’t pureblood and no one knew?” Hermione asked.

 

“It happens much more frequently than the purebloods ever let on, but yes,” he said.

 

“Why did she marry him? There’s no way she would have gone through with it,” Hermione said.

 

“She had to be forced. After the Lestranges admitted the truth, they held the Blacks to the contract. Remember, there were the magical bonds already completed and in place. She could not back out. The ceremonies are life binding, similar to the Unbreakable Vow. Marriage in pureblood custom is until death. The bride price had been taken and spent too by Grandmother. They needed the money too. The last time I saw the place it was really run down.” He said.

 

Hermione was a little amused by that. Did he not know where Harry and his family lived now? It was easy to forget just how connected everyone in their little society really was. She had forgotten that his mother was a Black before she married.

“So she was forced because the magic had been done and her family needed the money? As much as I hate to feel sorry for her, she was just sold off?” Hermione asked.

 

“Well yes,” said Draco. “But that’s how it was done. Don’t feel too bad for her though. They were only married in name, you understand. She refused to live with him at all. He was allowed muggles and squibs for his compliance and silence but she always wore the proverbial pants. She had been madly devoted to Voldemort before she married him but he had no money and even less interest in marriage. She settled for being whatever he would have her to be. As the kids say, she was batshit crazy.”

 

She could not disagree with that assessment as she had thought exactly the same thing many times over. She could not hide her revulsion of the idea of sleeping with Voldemort.

 

“Who would have thought him still human enough to reproduce?” she asked disgusted.

 

“He could reproduce but he definitely wasn’t human. Whatever bit of humanity he ever had died long, long before Bella ever got pregnant,” Draco said.

 

“The horcruxes definitely left him the snake he was,” Hermione agreed.

 

“No, it was more than that,” Draco insisted. “Yes, they stripped him of his physical humanity when he split his soul but it was more.”

He dropped his head and seemed to be recalling something he had been fighting to forget. His body began to shrink into itself and he began rubbing his arms like he was overcome with an icy blast. He shivered and looked up.

 

“When he took over the manor,” Draco said, “he wasn’t a person. He had no feelings, or sympathies. It was obvious that none of us meant anything to him. We were all just pawns in his game. He didn’t consider anyone but himself to matter. The things he did, no person, no one with any humanity, could have done. All that was left was evil.”

 

She had nothing to say. There was no telling him he was wrong because he wasn’t. She knew the horrors she had faced because of Voldemort but couldn’t imagine what what Draco had seen trapped with him. Stuck in his own home and forced to endure the atrocities of a madman up close, how he sat in front of her as composed as he was shocked her. She understood why he tried so hard to forget. She wanted to reach out, but his body continued to shrink away.

 

“It is getting late,” she said trying to ease him. “If you want to meet in Hogsmeade, we can see about getting permission to search Spinner’s End and then maybe have some tea later on.”

 

“Yes, I’ll see you there,” Draco said.

 

“Don’t forget to use the scar fading cream,” she added.

 

He said nothing but gathered the creams in the box and began to head for the door. Without being able to stop herself she reached out and gave him a pat on the back as he left her office.



Chapter 11: Chapter 11
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Chapter 11

 

 

Early the next morning Hermione pulled her curls into the same high bun she wore to work everyday. She looked at the outfit she had chosen for the day. Her work uniform, a button down and dark trousers, looked so somber when she thought about being back at Hogwarts. Summer on the grounds of Hogwarts was so rarely seen by students, but she could recall the days of rebuilding after the final battle so many years ago.

 

While the highlands were usually not very warm, they would be mild and sunny. She knew the sun would be shining on the lake making the water sparkle. The grass would be bright green and the daylight would extend hours beyond those the students would recognize. She so longed to spend the day outside with a copy of Hogwarts a History. The weatherman was calling for a clear day. Hermione could almost taste a cold pumpkin juice and a sugar quill. But she had work to do instead.

 

Uuuhhhggg, Draco Malfoy and his damned dark mark. Of course, it had been her idea to start this project. She hadn’t thought about all the painful memories it would stir up for her or Malfoy. He had seemed so defeated in her office. She watched as he shrank into a shell. He’d had a hard time opening up and had been doing much better according to Ginny. She hoped he wouldn’t have a set back, or worse, collapse completely into himself. She put on her oxford and trousers and apperated into Hogsmeade.

 

 

 

 

She appeared outside Honeyduke’s sweetshop. She thought about going in a getting the kids some sweets when she saw Draco apparate on the other side of the shop. The treats would have to wait she supposed.

 

“Good morning, Granger,” he drawled slowly.

 

“Good morning, Mr. Malfoy,” Hermione said. “Did you have a good evening?”

 

“It was fine. Scorpius ordered pizza and we played a couple games. It wasn’t bad. Except the pineapple. I prefer it in a fruit salad I suppose,” Draco said.

 

“You eat pizza? Like a normal person? I mean, you are a normal person, just I meant a normal muggle person,” she stumbled over her words. “Wizards generally don’t eat pizza, except Harry, but he lived a long time in the muggle world.”

 

“It was actually Harry who introduced Scorpius and me to pizza. Do you reckon the Canadians know that their bacon isn’t really bacon but just ham?” Draco asked.

 

“I should have known,” Hermione said. “Have you tried the stuff the Americans call bacon?”

 

They fell into step walking toward Hogwarts up the dirt path. The conversation stayed light and flowed easily. She thought back to the many times she had traveled this path with Harry and Ron on their visits to Hogsmeade. The place still held magic for her and made everything seem as possible as it had when she first visited during third year. She was sure that some answers could be found at Hogwarts.

 

They arrived at the massive gates and Hermione released her otter patronus.

 

“I never learned to produce a patronus,” Draco admitted.

 

“When we finish all this, I’m sure Harry will teach you. He taught us all in fifth year,” Hermione said.

 

“How do you choose what you’re patronus will be?” he asked.

 

Just then they heard heavy footsteps thudding to the gates. The locks clicked and humongous arms swept around her before she could answer.

 

“Hermione, it’s so good to see ya. It’s been ages. What brings you here?” Rubeus Hagrid, the Keeper of Keys and Grounds of Hogwarts, held her in a suffocating bear hug.

 

He put her down at last and as she adjusted herself she heard that he had seen Malfoy. Hagrid had never seemed to trust any of the Malfoys and if she was being honest with herself she knew that he had good reason in the past not to trust or even like Draco but hoped that in all this time he could move past it. She knew that old prejudices could linger and hoped it wouldn’t be awkward.

 

“Malfoy,” he said with a sharpness.

 

“Professor Hagrid, how are you, sir?” Draco asked. “Scorpius speaks highly of your classes. He especially enjoyed your lesson on Valcores and their relationships to giants. He’s thinking of going into the Ministry to assist wizard and giant relations.”

 

Hagrid eyed him slightly before answering, “That Scorpius is a good boy, he is. Got a real knack for magical creatures. He seems to be a good friend too.”

 

“He’s been a wonderful friend to Rose and Hugo, not to mention Albus of course,” Hermione said.

 

“They’ve been good friends to him as well. We’ve been lucky to have them all,” Draco said.

 

“Now, Hermione, you be sure to stop in and see me more. I know you’re busy an’ all bein Minister o Magic but you gotta make time fer old friends. I got some fresh rock cakes and a couple new baby hippogriffs added to the flock. You should come see them, sweetest little ones. They eat lots o ferrets though, I s’pect they’ll be gettin big anytime.” Hagrid said.

 

At the mention of hippogriffs Hermione felt Malfoy slink behind her slightly and repressed an urge to giggle.

 

“We have an appointment with the Headmistress this morning, Hagrid. But I will try to get up here to see you more often. Hogwarts just wouldn’t be the same without seeing you,” She said with a placating smile.

 

“You do that, Hermione,” Hagrid said. “And you be sure to tell Harry an Ron to get up here an see me too. Been too long since I got to see my favorite students. Not that I treat any student any different, mind.”

 

“You’re a wonderful professor, Hagrid,” Hermione said. “All the kids love your classes.”

 

“Well, you two best be gettin’ on to your appointment. The headmistress will be waitin,” Hagrid said.

 

Hermione leaned in to give Hagrid one more hug. “It has been wonderful catching up and I will get up here more,” she promised as she held his enormous hand.

 

“Malfoy,” he said with a dismissive nod.

 

“Good to see you as always, Professor,” Draco said.

 

 

 

They went on up the steps to the ancient oak doors and stepped inside. Their steps echoed off the stone floors. Both looked around. It looked the same as it had twenty-five years ago when they themselves were students. The quiet was the only difference. The hustle and bustle of the school day was actively missing from the stone hall. They headed slowly to the hall where the golden eagle stood silent sentry before the Headmistress’s office. Slowly it turned, and they stepped into the office.

 

The room was very different from the place Hermione would have recognized as Dumbledore’s office. No longer were his golden tools and artifacts littering every surface. The heavy wooden furniture and dark drapes were gone. Professor Vector had changed the office to a cleaner, less cluttered area. Bright white silk curtains replaced the heavy old velvet drapes. Glass shelves and cabinets held various magical accouterments and objects in a neat orderly fashion. An indigo and white wool rug was placed in front of a smooth gleaming glass desk. There was a single bronze astrolabe setting on top. The only thing that remained the same was the portraits of the previous heads.

 

Professor Vector welcomed them with a smile. “Good morning, Minister, Mr. Malfoy,” she said. “How may I help the two of you this morning?”

 

“Good morning, Headmistress. You know we have been working on a project and Mr. Malfoy believes that Professor Snape may have left some writings or works that could help us remove the last traces of Voldemort. But we think it’s at his former home.” Hermione explained.

 

“Do you know of anything certain that would be there?” Professor Vector asked.

 

“No, Professor, we are only speculating. But I assumed that if anyone had insight into Voldemort, it would have been Professor Snape. He had a wealth of spells and potions left behind as well.” Draco said.

 

Turning to his portrait behind her, Professor Vector, asked, “Severus, is there anything at Spinner’s End that could aid them on their quest?”

 

The portrait Snape looked carefully at the pair of ex students in front of him before speaking. “I would not have guessed the two of you could have gotten this far in peace if it had not been for Professor Dumbledore’s insistence that you were indeed working together.” His voice caressed the words exactly as they had when he had been alive. Though he said nothing of consequence his silky tone hinted at a secret.

 

“I assure you, Mr. Malfoy and Ms. Granger, that I would not have been foolish enough to write down any observations I would have made about the Dark Lord. I spent much of my time trying to hide my thoughts and observations. What, exactly, is this project you have undertaken?” Snape asked.

 

“We are trying to erase the dark mark from those who should never have been subjected to it. We want to erase it from              existence,” Hermione said.

 

“The Dark Lord made sure that would be impossible,” Snape said.

 

“Do you know what incantation he used? Is it a curse or cut or something else?” Hermione asked the portrait of her old potions professor.

 

“The dark mark is all those things, Ms. Granger. It is curse upon wizard kind. It is a cut from decency and it is something else entirely. That detestable mark is something of the Dark Lord’s own mind. No one, including myself, ever knew exactly how he created it or how he bent magic to control and destroy his followers by branding their skins. I assure if I knew how to help you or had anything at Spinner’s End that would assist in ridding the world of any reminder of him I would provide it instantly.” Snape said.

 

Professor Vector turned back to the Ministry officials. “I am sorry we could not be of more assistance, but I really have to be getting back to Hogwarts business. Please make yourselves at home here, but I must be stepping out.”

 

“Thank you for meeting with us, Headmistress. We’ll be going as well,” Hermione assured her.

 

“You may want to walk them out, Headmistress. She has been known to steal,” came the voice of Severus Snape.

 

“It was one time! And I had a good reason!” Hermione insisted.

 

“It was more than one time, Ms. Granger.” Dumbledore’s portrait piped up. “There is the matter of the books containing horcrux information accioed from this office shortly after my death. Severus, surely though, she is not going to steal from the potion closet. It seems Mr. Malfoy has been a good influence on Ms. Granger. At least she asked permission before acting.”

 

“Mr. Malfoy, a good influence?” Snape more to himself than anyone.

 

“If you had just provided the information, or any information at all, I wouldn’t have had to take those books would I? But no, you chose to keep us all running in circles so that maybe at the perfect time everything would work just the way you plotted!” Hermione said, her voice rising to a screech. The look in her eyes was filled with malice.

 

Professor Vector observed wide eyed at Hermione’s words. She cleared her throat a couple times but seemed at loss for words.

“Let’s go,” Draco said to Hermione. “Thank you Professors,” he said to the other three. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the stone hall.

 

 

“Are you all right?” he asked looking intently at her.

 

“Yes,” she sighed. “I know I shouldn’t let him get to me. After all this time, he still acts like he’s the big hero. He was so willing to let us die just because he couldn’t finish Voldemort himself. Or because he never stopped him when he had the chance. Instead of filling in the Order or the Ministry, he kept all this information to himself. And he used us, Harry, Ron and myself. He knew we would put our own lives at risk while he could have just shared a little of his knowledge with the adults around us. But no he spent his time in secret grooming Harry to die! What kind of monster decides to sacrifice a child to another monster?”

 

Hermione began to cry. The pent up rage and anger that she had because of the injustice and unfairness of those years came pouring out.

 

“He let you suffer, in sixth year, instead of stepping in and asking for help from the rest of the Order. They would have hidden you and your parents, but because he had some great master plan he let you flounder. Voldemort took over your lives, he took over all our lives while Dumbledore sat back and pretended to be God! Are we all supposed to just forgive him for treating us like toys while he planned his great plans? How can hate Voldemort? He’s just like him. Two sides of the same galleon?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Draco said as he wrapped his arms around the crying woman in front of him. “But you need to forgive him and move on, for you. Don’t let him have the last say. You made it out, Voldemort is gone whether or not Dumbledore’s plan succeeded. You are all still alive.”

 

“But he didn’t care!” she shouted, her voice echoing, “He manipulated and controlled us every bit as much as Voldemort manipulated and controlled the Death Eaters! He didn’t treat us as equals, he didn’t trust anyone else to help! He just acted as if he knew better than everyone else around him. How can I forgive him? Everyone I loved cared for him and trusted him, while we fought his enemy, his way without him ever being honest and open with us?” The tears continued to fall.

 

He reseted his forehead on hers before lifting her chin to meet his eyes. She could see through her tears that he was hearing her. So many people before were quick to defend Dumbledore that they never stopped to hear her.

 

“You should forgive him. Not because he was right or wrong, but because holding the anger and resentment gives him power over you,” Draco said.

 

“Dumbledore was a great wizard. Most people will never be able to understand how you are feeling because all they will ever know is the legacy and tales of Dumbledore, not the man himself. You know better than anyone that he was just a man. He made mistakes, and I am not saying I agree with everything he did. I wish he would have stepped in and stopped me in sixth year but he didn’t. I can’t let anger at him control me. I learned when Stori died, that I have to move on. I hated my father for years because he dragged us into service of Voldemort. He gave control of us to a madman. That hate set up like poison for years. I isolated myself from everyone. I didn’t trust or care about anyone. I could have let Scorpius grow up to be bigoted and cruel like I had been brought up to be. But I didn’t because I was able to forgive my father and remove that legacy from our lives. Now Scorpius has a full life with friends and people who care about him. He’s going to go on and have a full rich life and care for others as well.” he finished.

 

Hermione’s tears dried to a sniffle as she released herself from his grip. “I know, its just all the hero worship he gets, and no one ever thinks how many people might have been saved if he just hadn’t been so damn sure that he knew better than everyone else. But you’re right. We did live, and we all have good lives.” She offered him a small smile.

 

“That’s right, I guess I’ll even be friends with you now,” he drawled. “But only because you’re minister of magic.”

 

She giggled a little and wiped at her eyes. “Sod off, Malfoy!”

 

He grabbed her wrist again and said, “Come on, let’s go the greenhouses and find Neville.”

 

Hermione said nothing because she was shocked that Draco Malfoy was pulling her out the doors of Hogwarts in order to find Neville Longbottom.

 

 



Chapter 12: Chapter 12
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Chapter 12

 

 

Draco pulled Hermione across the green grounds of Hogwarts. They checked the first two greenhouses with no success. Draco walked into the third greenhouse when they heard rustles and thumps. Hermione shouted a warning about Devil’s Snare being housed in greenhouse three when she heard Draco call out to Neville.

 

In just seconds a smiling Neville came out and swept Hermione into a hug. 

 

“What are you two doing here?” Neville asked smiling.

 

“We’ve been working on project at the Ministry,” Draco said. “No luck so far.”

 

“Too bad,” Neville said. “What are you working on?”

 

Draco pointed at his arm and said, “Getting rid of this.”

 

Neville grimaced and nodded his head. “I gave you everything I could think of years ago when the Healers were trying. Has there been a break through?”

 

“Nope,” Draco said and cocked his thumb in Hermione’s direction. “This one is convinced that we can find a way to erase it. Won’t give up even though I told her it’s useless.”

 

Neville threw his arm over Hermione’s shoulders and gave her another squeeze. “That’s the thing about Hermione. She always finds a way to get things done.”

 

Draco only grinned at them, and asked “How’re Pansy and the kids?”

 

At the mere mention of his family Hermione saw Neville Longbottom light up. She knew he loved his family more than anything else in his world. Even though she watched him marry and raise a family with her, she still couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that Neville Longbottom had married Pansy Parkinson of all people.

 

“They are all doing great!” Neville exclaimed.

 

“Wonderful,” Draco said.

 

“Well, Pansy was a little out of sorts with me this morning,” Neville said with a lopsided grin, “She’s had a little trouble carrying the little one. Ankles swelling, you know.”

 

“How many more are you two going to have?” Draco asked with pretend exasperation.

 

“This is number eleven, and Pans says after one more I have to get a vasectomy.” Neville said with a wrinkled nose.

 

“What is a vasectomy?” Draco asked.

 

Hermione stifled a giggle, knowing full well what a vasectomy was but couldn’t believe Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy were discussing them outside greenhouse three on the Hogwarts grounds. They only thing left to happen was for the giant squid to jump onto dry land and tap dance. What had happened in the last twenty five years and why didn’t she know about it?

 

“That’s when a doctor goes in and cuts off a man’s...” Neville was beginning to explain.

 

“Cuts off a man’s what?” Draco asked, voice rising in alarm and eyes wide.

 

“Well let’s go to the Hog's Head and get lunch. Pansy will have my head if I don’t bring you two by.” Neville said.

 

“Ready for lunch?” Draco asked as he turned to her.

 

“Sure,” she said and followed the two men as they continued their discussion of muggle birth control methods.

 

 

 

The Hogs Head was another place that had changed into somewhere unrecognizable to Hermione in the last twenty odd years. After Aberforth left it to the Longbottoms in his will Pansy had set about making it into a more hospitable place. Gone was the grease and grime that used to cover every surface replaced by well used but clean and comfortable surroundings. The Three Broomsticks was still the Hogwarts students preferred hangout on Hogsmeade weekends she knew, but Hermione had no objections to her kids patronizing the Hog’s Head at all. The seedy element that it used to be known for was no longer a problem and Pansy had made it a true family establishment.

 

When they walked in Hermione could see a few customers scattered throughout the pub and Pansy behind the bar grabbing butterbeer bottles.

 

“Oi, Pans, look who has come to see us for lunch,” Neville called out.

 

Pansy looked up and her face broke into a huge grin. Hermione knew the grin was not for her. Despite the years she had been married to Neville, she and Pansy had never really warmed up to each other.

 

Pansy came flying from behind the bar and threw herself into Draco’s arms. Hermione felt her chest tighten slightly as she heard Pansy call his name and welcome him. She turned to observe Neville’s reaction and saw that his face was basking in his wife’s joy. If he felt no reason to be jealous, Hermione certainly wouldn’t be for him.

 

Hermione saw Pansy peel herself away from Malfoy and turn to her, “Minister, how good to see you.”

 

“Hermione, please,” she said.

 

“Certainly, come sit.” Pansy said. “What can I get you to drink?” She asked both Hermione and Draco.

 

“Butterbeer,” Draco answered immediately.

 

“Green tea, please,” Hermione said.

 

“Be right back,” Pansy said to them and placed her hand on Neville’s shoulder, “What would you like, hon?”

 

“A butterbeer would be great, my flower,” Neville said looking up at her with adoration.

 

Pansy left the group who were chatting and catching up on old times. Hermione noticed again the ease and open friendship between the men. She didn’t know when they had become friends as, she hadn’t realized Draco and Pansy were still close. Draco was also friends with her own best friend, Harry. She had missed that as well. She admitted to herself that she had not paid much attention to Draco Malfoy in the last twenty five years, but she was glad to be getting to know the man he had become instead of remembering the boy he had been.

 

After a few minutes, Pansy returned to the table with a tray of sandwiches and crisps along with the requested drinks.

 

“Still craving the lemonade, luv?” Neville asked as she cuddled into his side.

 

“Always, this little one likes the tanginess. All the boys liked sweets and the girls liked salty, but I tell you, this one is going to be its own little person,” she said patting her swollen midsection and smiling at her husband.

 

“I was just explaining to Draco here,” Neville said cocking his head in Draco’s direction, “about your plan for me, with the muggle doctor. He thought they were going to cut it off!”

 

Everyone laughed again before Pansy said, “Oh well, Draco, it’s not like you’d miss it! Do you even think about women anymore? What about that Romilda Vane? Mandy and I could set that up for you. She’s been dying to go out with you.”

 

“Pans!” Draco yelped red faced and blushing furiously. “I’m not ready to date yet.”

 

“Draco,” Pansy said softly, “it’s been years. Stori would want you to be happy.”

 

He looked down at the table, and answered, “I know.”

 

“If you like I can talk to Mandy. She’s good friends with Romilda.” Pansy reminded him.

 

At the second mention of the name Romilda, Neville seemed to work out where he had heard it before and looked startled at Hermione.

 

“Hey Hermione, Romilda, she was the one who slipped Harry that love potion one time at school right?” Neville asked.

 

Both Pansy and Draco looked straight at Hermione with interest. She bit her lip and suppressed a grin.

 

“Yes, that was her, we think . There was never any conclusive proof, but we are pretty sure it was her. It was a long time ago. But Draco, you may want to be careful there if she’s serious.” Hermione added the last bit as a joke.

 

“Don’t sit there so smug, Hermione,” Pansy said. “When was the last time you went out on a date? Harry does not count.”

 

It was Hermione’s turn to blush. “I’ve gone out a couple times. It’s just that I’ve been very busy at the ministry and now that the kids are home on holiday. How are your kids, by the way?”

 

Hermione knew Pansy was always sidetracked when talking about her children. It seemed as if she and Neville could not have planned a happier family life than the one they had. Though both worked, it was their family that was their pride and joy. Their love of the domestic reminded them very much of the Weasleys.

 

“Richard is working with Dean’s son, Halbert, at Ollivander’s. They trained with him before he passed. There just aren’t that many knowledgeable wandmakers anymore. Well they took over the shop in Diagon Alley. We’re so proud of him aren’t we, Nevvie?” Pansy said.

 

“I think I had heard that it was reopened,” Hermione said with relief. Anything was better than discussing her love life with Pansy.

 

“I told Richard I would ask you, Malfoy,” Neville said, “about adding metals to the insides of the wands. He kept going on about conductivity. I knew you looked into that ekeltricity stuff and told him I’d ask.”

 

“Electricity,” Draco answered in an off hand manner. “Have him send me an owl. I don’t know much about wandlore, but I’ll help out anyway I can.”

 

“They are experimenting with merperson hair,” Pansy said. “I heard that other wand makers use hairs of other creatures as cores in their wands. Who knows what they’ll come up with?”

 

“How are your others?” Hermione asked eager to keep the conversation away from her own personal life.

 

“They are all such good kids,” Pansy said. “We’ve been so blessed with all our children, Neville and me. Have either of you thought of having anymore?”

 

At that question Hermione sucked in a breath and tried to formulate an answer to satisfy mother-incarnate across from her when she heard Draco speak up.

 

“I would like for Scorpius to have siblings, but he’s almost grown now. Besides, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards for more than one Malfoy a generation.”

 

“Oh, bah,” Pansy said, “Draco, you’re still young. I want to see you happy and settled. We just want you to have what Neville and I have, don’t we hon?” She looked adoringly at Neville again as he smiled his familiar smile back at her.

 

“We want that for you too, Hermione,” Neville added.

 

“Speaking of Scorpius, I have gotten to hear all about him and how great he is from my Maisie all summer long. I do think she fancies him.” Pansy said.

 

“I wonder if that’s who Scorpius has been sending owls to all summer,” Draco said.

 

“No,” Pansy said, “she hasn’t heard anything from him.”

 

“Oh, I thought he was acting like there was someone, other than Albus and Rose, poor Maisie. I’m sure he’s sending owls to someone he fancies though. He won’t let me see a word of them.”

 

“According to the gossip at my house,” Hermione intoned, ” Scorpius has his eye on none other than Lily Potter.”

 

“Harry will kill him!” Neville joked.

 

“Nope, Ginny will get him with on of those bat bogey hexes she was always so good at, ” Draco laughed as he shook his head.

 

“I thought Ron was going to lose it when Rose went out with him that one time,” Pansy said. “Don’t you remember it, hon? Him sitting here complaining about it to us and Mandy the whole time he waited for their date to end?”

 

“Ron was here,” Hermione asked. “We weren’t even divorced then.”

 

“Oh gods, Hermione,” Pansy said her eyes wide with realization. “I’m so sorry, I forgot.”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Hermione told her. “I knew they were together before Ron and I separated. It’s okay. Nothing to worry about.”

 

“Next time I see Ron, I’m going to kill him,” Pansy told her.

 

“Do you see him often?” Hermione asked with surprise.

 

“All the time. I was friends with Mandy for years,” Pansy said. “I’m sorry, I thought you knew. I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

 

“Really. Pansy, it’s fine.” Hermione reassured her.

 

“Good,” Pansy sighed with what seemed to be relief. “I did mention to him that our Nigel is only a year older than Rose.”

 

“Good gods, Pansy, are you trying marry everyone off?” Draco asked.

 

“Not marry off, just set up a few dates, Draco,” she said.

 

“Pansy, dear,” Neville said, “maybe we should let everyone work out their own dates.”

 

“I know, honey, I just want everyone to be as happy as we have been,” Pansy said simpering to her husband.

 

He leaned over and placed a kiss on her forehead while she gazed up at him. Hermione looked anywhere but at Neville and Pansy.

 

“Can you stop?” she heard Draco drawl, “We just ate.”

 

“Shut it, Malfoy!” Pansy said and stood.

 

“Thank you, Pansy, Neville, lunch was wonderful,” Hermione said.

 

Pansy was already clearing the table and headed back to the bar.

 

“How much longer does she have to go?” Draco asked Neville, pointing to Pansy’s middle.

 

“About a month,” Neville said. “She starts getting sappy about this time.”

 

“How about we get together before she has the baby. Just a little get together at the manor, play some cards. I’ll let Harry know. And Miles. You wanna let Dean know?” Draco said.

 

“You play cards with Harry?” Hermione asked with astonishment.

 

“Sure,” Draco said. “Hey Pansy, thanks!”

 

“Wait, wait!” Pansy called out coming from the behind the bar.

 

She ran once again into Draco’s arms for a long hug. “Don’t stay away so long next time. And do bring Scorpius by. He’s such a good boy.”

 

“I will. You take care of yourself and all those babies,” Draco told her and gave her a final squeeze. He turned to shake Neville’s hand. “See you at the manor.”

 

Hermione leaned over to hug Neville goodbye and got in just a short squeeze before she felt Pansy’s hand on her arm.

 

“Just a minute, boys,” Pansy said to Neville and Draco. “Hermione, I’d like to show you something.” She indicated that she wanted Hermione to follow her.

 

 

 

 

She followed her to the kitchen behind the bar. Pansy had never been one to invite her into confidences. All she could do was wait.

Pansy finally turned to her and said, ” I know we have never been friends...”

 

Hermione tried to stop her to assure her that she had no hard feelings toward her, but Pansy held up her hand.

 

“No, it is true that we never really have become friends,” she continued in her characteristically truthful way.

 

“Draco has had a lot of hard times. After losing Stori and what happened with Daphne, it took him a long time to open up to anyone. Just be sincere if you really are trying to help him. I couldn’t stand it to see him get his hopes up just to be disappointed and withdraw from everyone again. I don’t think he could take it either.”

 

“Pansy,” Hermione said. “I really am trying to help. And I appreciate you wanting to take care of your friend.”

 

“Draco’s more than my friend. He’s like my brother,” Pansy told her. “He saved my life, helping me escape from Voldemort. I probably would have killed myself too if I had lived through what she went through. Draco tried to help her but he couldn’t. No one could have stopped Voldemort, but he still blames himself.”

 

“He’s never said anything about why she killed herself,” Hermione said.

 

“I know. I don’t think he ever will. Just be careful with his feelings. He doesn’t like anyone to know but he’s a lot more sensitive than he lets on.” Pansy told her.

 

 

 

They went back into the barroom and she gave Hermione a pat on the arm before adding, “I hear Cormac is single.”

 

Hermione turned to ask, “Cormac?”

 

“Cormac McClaggen,” Pansy said.

 

Hermione laughed and said goodbye to Pansy and Neville.



Chapter 13: Chapter 13
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Chapter 13

 

 

 

“It was a useless trip then?” Harry asked.

 

“No, not at all,” Hermione said. “We found out that Snape knew no more than we do now. We also got to have lunch with Neville and Pansy. Oh, and Hagrid will be expecting to see you and the family soon.”

 

“We really should go and see him,” Harry said adjusting his glasses.

 

“Yes,” Hermione agreed. “We all get busy and forget poor Hagrid.”

 

“True,” Harry said. “Did he offer you rock cakes?”

 

“Yep,” Hermione said, ” and he offered to let us watch him feed ferrets to the baby hippogriffs. He seemed really interested in showing us that.”

 

Draco cleared his throat and paled a little. Hermione laughed at the expression of hauteur and passing alarm. It was clear that he knew Hagrid had never grown fond of him.

 

Harry guffawed at his expense.

 

“So Hagrid still doesn’t like me,” Draco drawled.

 

“Hagrid is quite set in his ways, Draco” Hermione said. “He is very loyal to those he cares for and in his defense you were a right foul prat to him and us.”

 

“I was a kid,” Draco said. “and the ferret thing was out of line. Transfiguration should not be used as a punishment.”

 

“Punishment! For the rest of us it was a lifetime reward!” Harry wheezed. “That memory has given me joy for years! Watching you go bounce! Bounce! Bounce!”

 

“I hate you, Potter” Draco drawled.

 

Hermione and Harry continued to laugh.

 

“I’ll go check in with the kids,” Draco said. He went down the and Hermione could hear him still muttering as he went.

 

 

“We’ve wounded his pride, Harry,” Hermione said trying to stifle the laughter.

 

“He’ll live,” Harry said.

 

“Harry, do you know what happened to Daphne Greengrass?” Hermione asked.

 

“She committed suicide,” Harry said instantly mirthless.

 

“I know that, but do you know why?” Hermione asked.

 

“I wasn’t involved with that investigation. I was still in training then,” Harry said.

 

“Has Draco ever said anything to you about it?”

 

“No, why? Did he say something to you?”

 

“No, but Pansy said he blamed himself for her suicide, and that Draco saved her from whatever happened to Daphne. I’m starting to think there is a whole lot we don’t know about that happened those months in the manor.”

 

“Hermione, I don’t think I want to know. Maybe it’s just time to leave well enough alone. I’m just glad its over.”

 

“As long as that mark is on his arm, it will never be over for him. Or Miles Bletchley, or Adrian Pucey. They were all forced to take the mark. Can you imagine living with that everyday of your life trying to hide it? Being judged because of it?”

 

“Hermione, you are my best friend and I love you but you have to let it go. The healers did everything they could when the war ended. Aurors tried, curse breakers tried. It’s done. And I really don’t think Malfoy even believes it can be done. Pucey left. He passes it off as a tattoo in the States. No one looks twice at it there. And Miles, well, I don’t think he gives two shits about it. It’s a waste of time.”

 

“But Harry, if you could have seen Draco at the Quidditch final, and how desperate he was to hide so it wouldn’t embarrass Scorpius, you would understand. I just felt so sorry for him.”

 

“You have a big heart, Hermione, I know that. But Draco Malfoy does not want pity. From you or anyone else. Don’t make him a pet project.”

 

“Pansy said the same thing. Since when did he have so many friends anyway?”

 

“Ginny forced him over here after Astoria died. She and Pansy kinda tag teamed him and then we started playing cards with Neville. He’s doing good. If you wanna be friendly it’s fine but you should really give up the rest.”

 

“I just wanted to help.”

 

“I know. It’s okay just to let people be, you know.”

 

“We’ve only been working on this for three weeks. We can’t give up.”

 

“You can. Malfoy has.”

 

“So Neville and Malfoy really are friends?”

 

“Have been for years. Since Neville married Pansy anyway. You were at the wedding.”

 

“I didn’t realize. I guess I just never thought about it.”

 

“You think he’s playing games with the kids?”

 

“Does he do that?”

 

“Anytime they let him.”

 

 

Just then Ginny came through the floo.

 

“I got take away!” she yelled

 

“Hi, sweetheart!” Harry called to his wife.

 

“Hey, where is everyone?” Ginny asked.

 

“Upstairs,” Harry said. “I’ll go get them.”

 

“Thanks, honey,” Ginny said as she started unwrapping the containers.

 

Hermione went over to assist Ginny with setting up dinner.

 

“Thanks, Ginny, for letting the kids stay over. They love coming over. It reminds me of my summers at the Burrow,” Hermione said.

 

“You know we love having them over,” Ginny said. “At least we don’t have to keep as close an eye on them as Mum did. These kids are all family so they won’t get up to anything.”

 

Hermione laughed a little, “You’ve forgotten a certain little blonde boy, haven’t you?”

 

“Scorpius?” Ginny scrunched up her nose. “What about him? He’s been around so long he’s as good as family.”

 

“The same thing could have been said about Harry and me too,” Hermione reminded her.

 

“Hermione, what do you know?” Ginny asked, with her eyes narrowed and waving a serving spoon in the other witch’s direction.

 

“According to speculation at my house,” Hermione said, “he has his eye on Miss Lily.”

 

“Lily?” Ginny asked and left her mouth hanging open.

 

Hermione only nodded.

 

“Lily,” Ginny repeated. “Harry will piss himself.”

 

The two women began to laugh. “I guess there goes the rest of my carefree summer.”

 

 

Thundering footsteps came into the kitchen as Harry and Draco rounded all the teenagers downstairs and into the kitchen.

 

“What is this?” Draco eyed the orange concoction on the table.

 

“Tikka Masala,” Ginny said. “What were you expecting, lamb shanks and mint?”

 

“Well, no,” Draco insisted, “I’ve never had this before.”

 

“You’ve never had tikka masala?” Ginny asked in an incredulous tone. “Even when you spent all that time exploring the muggle world?”

 

“No,” Draco said, “I’ve never tried it.”

 

“Well, tuck in,” Harry said.

 

 

Everyone grabbed plates and began eating. Soon the Potters dining room sounded exactly as Hermione remembered the Burrow sounding in the past. Everyone shouting happily and utensils clinking. There was a joy of family and friends. She realized the quiet nights she had at home could sometimes be a little lonely and was glad to be here in the din of all the kids. She had missed out on a lot of nights with Harry and Ginny since her divorce.

 

 

Lily jumped up from her seat with a fork still in her mouth. “We forgot music!” She eyed Draco mischievously.

 

“No,” Draco said.

 

“Oh, yes, Dad, oh yes!” Scorpius said.

 

 

Lily hurried over to the old CD player and shuffled through a stack of discs. She looked back at Draco and smiled.

 

“I know it’s your favorite. Scorp told us!” She held up a copy of Spice, the old album by the Spicegirls. “Wannabe” came floating out of the speakers.

 

Everyone started laughing and the kids sang along. It seemed to be a long running joke that everyone, but Hermione, was in on. Each person at the table knew every word.

 

“It is not,” Draco said as he looked at Scorpius. “My favorite is “MMMbop” by Hanson.”

 

“You listen to Hanson and the Spicegirls?” Hermione asked shocked.

 

“Malfoy here, he loves ’90’s pop! Can’t go anywhere in a car with him,” Harry said.

 

“Do you still have your subscription to Sirius radio?” Ginny asked looking at Draco. She then turned to Hermione, “All he listens to is the ’90’s on 9.”

 

“Well not anymore,” Draco said. ” Not often.”

 

“Where did you ever even hear this?” Hermione asked.

 

“And how can you stand it?” Harry asked.

 

“It’s catchy,” he said nodding along to the beat. Then he faced Hermione.

 

“It was after the war. I had grown up hearing how different Muggles were from wizards but I never knew any myself so I went out to muggle London to see for myself. They were different with their technology and cars and stuff but they were still just everyday people from what I could see. Anyway, I was walking along in some park after riding the tube around for a few hours and the Spicegirls were doing some show. They were just fun. I needed to have fun then. I didn’t hurt that they were good looking.”

 

“You just stood around watching good looking girls all day, Dad?” Scorpius asked.

 

“No, not all day,” Draco said. “Only the dancing ones.”

 

“Which one was your favorite?” Ginny asked.

 

“Scary Spice,” he answered without hesitation. “There she was, all that wild hair flying as she danced around in those little short shorts. Man, she was hot.” He shot a wink in Ginny’s direction. “If you know her, I’ll be ready for that set up you’re always going on about.”

 

“Sorry, but I do know someone with wild hair, if that’s what gets you going,” Ginny said with a wicked smile.

 

“No, Ginny,” Draco said with firmness.

 

“Leave him alone, hon,” Harry said. “He’ll find someone when he’s ready.”

 

“Well, I wish you would get your own life and quit butting into mine,” Scorpius said.

 

“It is my job to butt into your life,” Draco told his son. “I know where all those owls have been going.”

 

Hermione turned in time to see Lily shrink into her seat as her face turned as shocking red as her hair. Scorpius stopped speaking in a hurry and was shooting furtive glances between Draco and Harry. Ginny thinned her lips and held back her laughter while Harry remained blissfully oblivious.

 

“Let’s clear up,” Hermione said and waved her wand. Dishes shot themselves into the sink while leftovers wrapped themselves. Rose and Hugo looked at her in astonishment. She normally did chores by hand.

 

“Go on, kids,” Hermione said with authority. “Have fun!”

 

“Thanks!” Ginny said looking around her cleaned kitchen.

 

 

 

The kids fled upstairs to continue the video games they had been playing before dinner and the adults made their way back into the living room.

 

“Anyone want anything to drink?” Harry asked holding up a bottle of mead.

 

“Sure,” Draco said.

 

Ginny just held out a hand and waited for a glass.

 

“You, Hermione?” Harry asked.

 

“Why not,” Hermione answered.

 

He poured four glasses of mead and sat back down on the blue linen sofa and snuggled close to Ginny.

 

“So Malfoy,” Harry began, “how are all the creams Hermione has you testing going?”

 

“I had forgotten about them,” Hermione admitted.

 

“Lucky you,” Draco replied.

 

“Why what’s happened?” she asked.

 

“The first one burned. The second one made a mess on all my sleeves, and this one smells like a woman,” Draco complained.

 

Hermione sighed, ” Okay I guess we can give up on the creams. If you want we can stop searching. We’re getting nowhere.”

 

“Thank the gods,” Draco said. “Here you can take this back too.” He pulled out a small white squeeze tube and handed it over to her.

 

“Why are you whinging? This says it’s scentless,” Hermione said to him.

 

“It is not! It smells all girly,” Draco said. He pulled up his sleeve and stuck his arm under her nose.

 

“Smell it,” he insisted, “it’s smells like green tea and pears. It took forever to figure out what it was but when you ordered that tea at the Hog’s Head I figured it out.”

 

She gave it a light sniff. She scrunched up her nose and sniffed again. She pulled his arm closer while Harry and Ginny stared at them.

 

“It does have a scent,” Hermione conceded, “I don’t know what it is but it does smell strong. I wouldn’t say its girly at all. Kind of minty and like, I don’t know the outside after it rains.”

 

“It smells like all fruity and like tea,” Draco said. “Potter, smell this!” He pushed his arm under an unsuspecting Harry’s nose.

 

Harry jerked his head back. “I am not smelling you, Malfoy!”

 

“Just smell it,” Draco said. “Tell her it’s girly.”

 

Harry eyed him and sniffed a little. He considered the smell.

 

“Smells like Ginny’s perfume,” Harry finally said.

 

“Let me smell!” Ginny demanded and pulled Draco’s arm over to herself. She sniffed.

 

“Harry, that doesn’t smell anything like my perfume!” Ginny said.

 

“Yes it does. The one in that fancy bottle on the dresser,” Harry said. “You know, the one you wear when we have grown up time.”

 

“Yuck!” Draco cried looking at Hermione. “I smell like Potter’s “grown-up time.”” He pulled a disgusted face. He started wiping his arm to remove the cream.

 

“It does not smell like my perfume,” Ginny said with a temper. “It smells like polished wood. Like a new broomstick. And it’s sort of salty.”

 

“It says right here,” Hermione said pointing at the label of the tube, “scentless. There is no way it can smell like all that. It does smell like mint and some kind of clean scent but its not girly. Or salty.”

 

“Give me that,” Draco said as he snatched the tube back from Hermione.

 

He scanned the label and turned to the list of ingredients. He stared at it for a minute and then began to chuckle.

 

“What is it?” Hermione asked.

 

“The first four ingredients create the base of Amortentia,” he said. “Get rid of this!”

 

He handed the scar cream back to Hermione as Harry refilled all their drinks.

 

“Do you reckon it is scentless to muggles?” Ginny asked.

 

Hermione shrugged her shoulders.

 

“I better go check on everyone upstairs,” Ginny said getting up and heading to the stairs.

 

 

When she came back, Harry, Draco, and Hermione were discussing daily events at the Ministry. Hermione noticed her face was scrunched and she seemed to be sniffing again.

 

“What is it, Ginny?” Hermione asked. “Surely you can’t smell the cream all the way over there.”

 

“This is not Amortentia!” Ginny cried. “Can’t you lot smell that?”

 

“No, I don’t smell...” Harry said. And then sniffing, his face turned sour. “What is that?”

 

Hermione smelled the air around her. This was not Amortentia for sure. Whatever it was, it was putrid. The smell burned at her nostrils. She held her nose.

 

“What is that smell?” Ginny demanded. “Where is that coming from?”

 

They all looked around, except for Draco, Hermione noticed.

 

“All right,” he burst out, “I’m sorry! My stomach’s not used to all those spices!”

 

“Go to the bathroom!” Ginny called out to him.

 

“Malfoy, go home!” Harry said.

 



Chapter 14: Chapter 14
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Chapter 14

 

 

 

The following Monday morning Hermione was in a rush. She had several meetings on her schedule. She truly had less than zero interest in helping Hagrid apply for a breeding license for Blast Ended Skrewts but she still felt guilty for neglecting him. The skrewts were the best on the list for the day. In her rush she had failed to post a closed sign for her office and left her door open wide.

 

Draco Malfoy walked in carrying the box of scar creams they had examined. He looked to be in chipper mood.

 

“Morning, I brought these back. Maybe you can send some of the unused ones back. That or distribute them to some muggle organization,” Draco said.

 

“Just put them down on the desk. I’ll sort out everything later,” Hermione said pulling her jumper on.

 

“Where are we going?” Draco asked.

 

“I have a meeting with Hagrid and some officers from the Department of Magical Creatures Breeding Control,” Hermione told him.

 

“So we won’t be working together today?” Draco asked.

 

“I thought you wanted to stop,” she said looking up at him. He seemed to have forgotten the conversation they had had at Harry’s Friday evening. Or maybe she had misunderstood.

 

“We don’t seem to be making progress,” he admitted quietly. “But thanks for trying anyway.”

 

“I told Muldoon you would be able to resume your post in the Department of Mysteries. If you would like to try again I can check my schedule, but there has been a lot of regulation and meetings I’ve had to push back in order to work on our project,” Hermione said.

 

“No I understand. You gave it a good try,” he said.

 

Hermione thought she could detect a tinge of sadness in his voice. She hoped he wouldn’t have a set back like Harry and Pansy had warned her about.

 

“We can try another time if like,” she said again.

 

“It’s all right,” he assured her. “How about lunch of your meeting?”

 

“Oh, I can’t,” she sighed. “I’ll be out all day.”

 

“Are you sure it’s not about Friday night?” he asked.

 

“Friday?” she said.

 

“I promise nothing spicy today,” he smirked. “That was a bit embarrassing.”

 

There was that handsome smirk she was used to seeing, she thought to herself. Maybe he was going to be fine after all.

 

“I cried all over your shirt at lunch, Malfoy,” she said. “I think we’ve moved beyond being bothered about embarrassment. Still can’t though. My schedule is full all day,”

 

His smirk faded. “I’ll  get out of your way then.”

 

“I’ll be stopping by Harry’s later to see Rose and Hugo before Ron takes them for the rest of summer holiday. Will you be picking up Scorpius?”

 

She saw something flash in his eyes before he grinned. “I will. Miles will be there. He’s coming in for our game at the manor tomorrow. He’ll want to say hello.”

 

Hermione had not seen Miles Bletchley since his last year at Hogwarts and could not remember ever saying as much as hello. But things had changed so much since their time at Hogwarts she didn’t figure she’d be the one to stop the progress being made by asking questions.

 

“Our little wizard society really is like an English village,” she said amused. She took his arm and started out her office door.

 

“Which of Austen books was your favorite?” Draco asked as they stepped into the hall.

 

Hermione was a little taken aback by the fact that he understood the reference. She found that she had underestimated Draco Malfoy in a lot of ways.

 

“Persuasion,” she said.

 

He cocked his head and gazed at her for a second before responding. “That’s the one about second chances, right?”

 

“That’s right,” she said.

 

“I’ll see you tonight,” he said as he squeezed her hand and gave her a genuine smile.

 

 

She watched him walk down the hallway once again contemplating the changes he had made since being that silly snobbish boy she had known at Hogwarts. Her thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Albus Dumbledore’s portrait. Why had they stopped right in front of it, she thought mildly irritated by her lack of foresight.

 

“It is my belief, Ms. Granger, that Fanny Price has always been an under appreciated heroine,” he stated. “She was very steadfast of character and always had the uncanny ability to see others exactly as they were.”

 

“She was steadfast,” Hermione said, “but she was so perfect that she was unrelatable to most readers. Myself, I always thought she would have been much more interesting if she had thrown her steadfastness out the window and had good romp in the hay with Henry Crawford. Good day, Professor.”

 

She promptly left the portrait of the professor chuckling in his frame. On to Hagrid, she thought while walking over the cool stone floor of the Ministry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When her day of meetings and appointments were done for the evening, Hermione Granger was exhausted. Still she was going to Harry’s. It would probably be a few weeks until she would see Rose and Hugo again. It would probably be at Harry’s birthday party and then they would stay with Ron until it was time to go back to school. She would only have a little time to see them this evening and so she stepped into the floo and called out, “Harry Potter’s drawing room.”

 

The drawing room at Grimmauld place was still the dark room with dusty old furniture that had been for many years. It was one of the few rooms Ginny had not yet gotten around to redoing and as a result she hardly let company in the room. Hermione used that floo most frequently for the privacy it offered. She hated arriving anywhere covered in soot and ash that was inevitable when traveling by floo. She was busy dusting herself when she noticed she was not alone in the room.

 

Ginny Potter sat on the old green leather sofa with Mandy, Ron’s new wife. On her lap was their second son, Toby. She was visibly pregnant with a third. They had not had many interactions and certainly no real conversations. Hermione had not been expecting to see her there, but knew she should not be surprised. Mandy was Ron’s wife now and that meant she was Harry and Ginny’s family now, along with their children. She tried to mask her discomfort.

 

“I didn’t think anyone would be in here,” she said to the two women.

 

“Mandy came to help me figure out what to do with this room. It’s still so gloomy in here,” Ginny told her.

 

“It is dark,” Hermione agreed.

 

“Hello, Hermione,” Mandy said clearly as uncomfortable as Hermione herself.

 

“Hi,” she said back. She turned her attention to the little boy, who was after all, her own children’s half brother. “Hello there, little guy.”

 

“He’s very sweet,” she said to Mandy trying to ease the tension. “How old is he now?”

 

“Just over a year,” Mandy said doting on the little boy.

 

“Let’s find everyone else,” Ginny suggested seeming to notice the tension. “The kids are upstairs. I’ll send Harry after them.”

 

 

 

In a few moments Harry returned with the kids thundering after him. They were still as rambunctious and loud as any kids she had known, but these were hers and she knew she would miss the chatter and constant noise while they were away. Hugo, at least called out to welcome her while Rose ignored her completely lost in cuddling her little brother.

 

She was glad to see her children embracing their new family, but it made her wistful to know those days were over for her. It had been so long since she had seriously considered dating a person that she had given up on the idea of remarriage. Neither had she any desire to raise more children, despite being surrounded by all the happily married and pregnant women she had encountered as of late. The feelings must have been showing on her face as she stared at the happy little family, most of whom used to be her family, shared embraces and joy in being together. It was hard to admit to herself that those moments no longer had a place in her life, even if the life she’d had with Ron was less than perfect.

 

 

“Do you still love him?” she heard Draco ask from behind her.

 

“Of course,” she muttered, “he’s the father of my children.”

 

She felt him squeeze her shoulder. When she turned he was already walking away. She turned her attention back to her children.

 

“Are you all leaving already?” she asked.

 

“We have to get going,” Ron said. “Mum has plans for a big family breakfast at the Burrow in the morning. We have to pick up Sammy from Percy’s and get him and Toby here to sleep. You’d be welcome, if you’d like to come. To breakfast. ”

 

She was sure added the last bit to spare her feelings. “Thanks, but I have tons of work to catch up on, so I’ll probably get a start on it in the morning. But send your Mum and Dad my love.”

 

“I will,” he said. He looked at Mandy and seemed to try to hurry her along.

 

“Come, give me hugs,” she said to Rose and Hugo.

 

She hugged them each in turn and made them promise to call. They assured her that they would see her at Harry’s party in just a couple weeks. She kissed and hugged them one last time for good measure. First Rose and then Hugo disappeared in the green flames. She would be lonely without them. They would be spending their time with cousins and family at Adytum and the Burrow, and she would be in their little flat, alone.

 

 

“Come into the kitchen,” Ginny called to her. “Have some tea with us.”

 

Hermione followed her. There were a few more people than she expected. One face stood out clearly. It took her a minute to recognize the man she had not seen in almost twenty five years. She was astonished to see Miles Bletchley sitting and chatting away at Harry Potter’s kitchen table. She as quickly recalled her conversation with Draco from earlier and remembered her manners.

 

“Miles Bletchley,” she said extending her hand, “it’s very nice to see you again.”

 

“You too, Ms., or is it Minister Granger?” he said shaking the offered hand. She noticed, in contrast with Draco, that Miles wore short sleeves. She could see a faint Dark Mark on his tan skin. He clearly wasn’t fussed over it.

 

“Just Hermione, please,” she smiled at him.

 

“Just Miles is fine,” he replied.

 

“How have you been?” she asked.

 

“Good, I’ve been good,” he said.

 

“What are you doing now?” she asked trying to make polite conversation.

 

“I’m a doctor,” he said.

 

“At St. Mungo’s?” she asked, never having heard a healer call themselves a doctor.

 

“No, Abbot’s Hospital, in Guildford,” he said.

 

“You’re a medical doctor, for muggles?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” Miles stated.

 

She had a thousand questions she wanted to ask but did not want to overwhelm him or come off rude.

 

“That’s wonderful,” Hermione said. “Are you married or have any children?”

 

“Confirmed bachelor,” Miles said before adding, “not code for homosexual. To tell the truth, I’ve never batted for either team as it goes. No children. Forgive me for not inquiring more about you, but as you are the Minister of Magic, a lot of your professional, as well as personal business tends to end up in the Prophet.”

 

“That is an unfortunate bit of my job,” Hermione conceded, “but I hadn’t meant to imply anything earlier asking about your private life.”

 

“I’ve found its always easier to be up front than deal with the speculation,” Miles told her. “Although, Draco here,” he said cocking his thumb in Draco’s direction, “tells me that you curse worse than a navy man. I told him it was impossible but he swears it is.”

 

“You’ll find Miles to be rather outspoken” Draco said scowling.

 

Hermione only smiled at them and looked to Ginny, “How about that tea?”



Chapter 15: Chapter 15
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Chapter 15

 

 

 

True to her word, Hermione spent her Saturday morning catching up on work that she had put to the side while she worked with Draco. She hated to give up but sensed his reluctance to continue. It seemed that Snape had been his last hope. Since Pansy and Harry both warned her away, it seemed prudent to follow their advice. After all, they knew Draco better than she did. Besides, it wasn’t like there weren’t another hundred projects and problems needing her attention. Still in the back of her mind, she felt as if she were abandoning him.

 

Before she could feel too badly about it she made herself another cup of green tea and began to pull up some drafted legislation concerning manticores. She wished sometimes that she hadn’t done so well in Care of Magical Creatures so she could fob off such work. She had only done so well for concern for Hagrid and now he was hounding her about Blast Ended Skrewts. Her musings were disrupted when she saw Ron’s head in her fireplace.

 

 

“Ron!” Hermione exclaimed.

 

“Sorry to pop in,” he said. “Have you got a minute?”

 

“Sure,” she said, “Come on through. Is everyone all right?”

 

“Everyone’s fine,” he assured her before he materialized in her living room.

 

 

 

He stood there, surveying the room before he began to speak.

 

“I heard you last night, Hermione, telling Malfoy you still love me,” Ron began.

 

She opened her mouth, shocked to hear that he had overheard and afraid of what might be coming next. She hoped he didn’t have the wrong idea.

 

“I know you didn’t mean you’re in love with me,” he said.

 

She let out a breath. At least he wasn’t here to get back together or let her down easy.

 

“I don’t know, how to say what I’m thinking,” Ron admitted, “I’ve never been great with feelings. You were always better at that part.”

 

Hermione smiled to encourage him to go on.

 

“Well, it got me to thinking,” Ron continued. “I messed things up really bad.”

 

The words were out. She was shocked to hear him say them.

 

“I should have never cheated on you. I know we didn’t have the best marriage, but it was really bad of me to have done that. You never would have done that to me.” he confessed.

 

“Ron, that’s not true,” Hermione said. “In my own way, I did cheat on you.”

 

He looked up alarmed.

 

“Not with a person, but with work and even the kids. I put them both before our marriage. That was wrong of me, and I’m sorry.” Hermione said. “Come sit down.”

 

 

“Thanks,” he said sitting in the squashy plaid chair next to the window.

 

She sat across from him on the sofa and waited for him say anything else.

 

“You didn’t have a baby with someone else at least,” he said. “I mean, love my boys and Mandy. I just wish I had done things differently, you know?”

 

“I’m happy for you Ron,” Hermione said. “I can’t say that I was at first. I was hurt, of course, but I’m happy for you now.”

 

“The old Hermione would have hexed my balls off,” he said. “I expected that, you know.”

 

She laughed a little, “I’m sure you did. I did think about it. A couple times, well a couple hundred times, maybe.”

 

He looked at her and smiled. “It’s nice talking to you again. I’ve missed this, Hermione. Talking to you as my friend. We were friends a long time before I bolloxed everything up.”

 

“You weren’t alone in that mess, Ron. I knew we wanted different things when we got married. But it was the next step and it was expected. I guess I just expected magic to make everything all right. I’m really sorry about my part in all this too.”

 

“I really did love you,” Ron said sadly. “I still love my best friend Hermione.”

 

“I do love you, Ron. I love the life we had together when it was good and I love our children. I’m sorry we couldn’t make things work,” she said.

 

“I know, me too. I just wish I hadn’t messed up so bad,” he told her.

 

“It wasn’t all you,” she remeasured him. “I pushed you away. Instead of working on our problems, I buried myself in my career. Face it, we both made a dog’s dinner of our marriage.”

 

“We did, Hermione,” said Ron. “We did.”

 

 

 

They sat in a companionable silence for a minute before Hermione spoke, “How far along is Mandy?”

 

“Around six and half months, I think. This one might be a girl. It’s been a long time since I had a baby girl running around the house. Mandy’s hoping it will be,” Ron replied.

 

“I know you always wanted a big family,” Hermione said. “I’m glad it’s happening for you. But I can’t imagine having babies running around.”

 

“It’s harder than I thought,” he admitted. “I’m not getting any younger. Slower and balder, but not younger.”

 

Hermione laughed. “I know what you mean! It seems like a new grey hair shows up everyday!”

 

“Grey hair and nappies shouldn’t mix,” Ron said shaking his head.

 

“I wouldn’t know what to do with a kid who couldn’t walk, talk, and wipe his own butt at this point. I do not envy you that, Ronald,” Hermione kidded him.

 

He laughed too for a minute and then gave her a serious look.

 

“Are you sure about that?” he asked.

 

She blanched at his tone, wondering what in the world he could be thinking.

 

“Oh, I’m certain, all right,” she said.

 

“You mean you wouldn’t want to get married again? Maybe have another one, yourself?”

 

“No, I don’t see that happening, Ron,” Hermione said.

 

“Well I guess Ginny was wrong,” Ron said.

 

“What is Ginny wrong about, Ronald? What has she been saying?” Hermione demanded.

 

“She kinda thinks that you and Malfoy have something going,” Ron said.

 

“What do you mean, “something going” exactly?” she asked through gritted teeth.

 

“Well, Ginny just hinted at it and then Rose and Hugo were talking about all the time you’ve been spending with Malfoy. So I thought, maybe something was up there.” Ron said.

 

“You thought, “something was up there” did you? Why in the gods' names would you think that?” Hermione asked, exasperated.

“Really, Draco Malfoy, of all people. Draco Malfoy!” She snorted.

 

The very idea was ridiculous and here Ron, Ronald Bilius Weasley, who hated Draco Malfoy more than anyone she knew was talking about her and Draco Malfoy having “something up.”

 

“He’s hanging around all my other friends now. Why not you?” Ron asked, his voice edged with jealousy. “Even my kids go to his house and spend all their time with him and his son.”

 

“Not all their time. Really, Ronald,” Hermione huffed. “He does seem to have become friends with all our friends. How did that happen and why didn’t we know about it until now?”

 

“I guess we were so busy avoiding each other that we avoided everyone else too,” he said with a shrug.

 

“That was insightful, Ron,” said Hermione, pleasantly surprised.

 

“Always the tone of surprise,” he sing songed back.

 

“There is nothing “up” with Draco and me. We were working on a project at the Ministry. It wasn’t going well so we called it off. I guess we’ve become friendly but nothing else,” Hermione told him.

 

“Are you sure he knows that?” Ron asked. There was no teasing in his voice.

 

“What are you talking about? And since when are you so concerned about Malfoy’s feelings?” Hermione asked, still shocked.

 

“I don’t care! About Malfoy’s feelings I mean.” Ron said. “You just didn’t see his face after you said, you know, about still loving me.”

 

“What are you talking about? Neither of us have ever even thought about anything except friendship. I’m sure he just felt sorry for me, knowing how much I am going to miss the kids,” Hermione said.

 

“If you’re sure,” Ron said. “From the way Harry and Ginny talked you and Malfoy had been on a date, and then Pansy was telling Mandy all about you two having lunch at the Hog’s Head.”

 

Hermione sighed, “It was not a date. It was a work day lunch. We had to be at Hogwarts and thought it would be nice to catch up with Neville. Really, I must say Ginny and Pansy are getting as bad as old Rita Skeeter, if they’re making something out that.”

 

“Still, Hermione, I’d like you find somebody and be happy,” Ron said.

 

“I am happy, Ron,” Hermione said. “I admit that I sometimes feel a little lonely when the kids are gone. But I like my life. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am. And I’m proud of the work I’m doing. I feel like I’m making a difference.”

 

“I know, Hermione, we, the kids and me, we’re proud of you too,” Ron said. “I know I’m late telling you, but you should know. I just don’t want you to be alone.”

 

“I’m not alone, Ron,” Hermione said. “I have plenty of friends and family. I am happy. You don’t have to worry about me.”

 

“I know you have all of us, but you deserve to be loved,” Ron said, “the right way this time.”

 

“So you came to what, give Malfoy your blessing?” Hermione asked. The idea was still ridiculous.

 

“You could do worse. He seems like a decent enough bloke these days” Ron said.

 

“Do you even hear yourself? Have you been on the end of a confundus charm?” Hermione asked, still incapable of believing Ron.

 

“Just be happy, Hermione,” Ron said.

 

“I am,” she responded.

 

“I guess I should go. It looks like you have lots to do,” he said looking at the pile of papers setting on the table in front of Hermione.

 

“Thank you for coming, Ron,” Hermione said. “I’m glad we got this chance to talk.”

 

“Me too,” Ron said. “I really have missed you, you know?”

 

“Well, now we can stop avoiding each other,” Hermione smiled.

 

“It’s a deal. I’ll see you at Harry’s party,” Ron said.

 

He leaned over and hugged her tightly and then stepped back into the fireplace.

 

 

“One more thing, Ron,” she called. “Go visit Hagrid next time you’re in Hogsmeade.”

 

“I will,” he said and then was gone in a green flash.

 

 

 

 

 

As the evening wore on Hermione found herself distracted from her work. Ron’s words continued to echo in the recesses of her brain. He had stunned her with his apology and while she didn’t need it she was gratified to know that their friendship and their past meant enough to him to try to make amends. If Draco Malfoy could make inroads with everyone she cared for, surely she and Ron could work out their differences. Just where did Draco fit in all this anyway? She reconsidered Ron’s words and found herself laughing aloud.

 



Chapter 16: Chapter 16
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Chapter 16

 

 

The mundane tasks of the Ministry kept Hermione much busier than she had previously thought they would. The exciting bits never seemed to last nearly as long as the drudgery but at least she had not had time to dwell on the kids being gone. Constant working had let the weeks pass by without her realizing how much she had isolated herself. If she had not looked at her calendar she would not have remembered Harry’s party tomorrow.

 

It was unusual for Hermione Granger to think about clothing. Her wardrobe consisted of her work uniform, a black blazer and sweats for home. Ginny had insisted on cocktail attire for tonight’s party. Nothing Hermione owned fell into that category. The thought of shopping was completely unbearable. She searched her closet to see if she had anything that could be transfigured for the evening. She found only a black plaid patterned skirt she had worn to a Ministry breakfast the previous year and a Weasley jumper Molly had given her for Christmas about seven years ago.

 

The skirt was fine, Hermione decided. The jumper needed help. For some reason Molly had decided Hermione’s jumpers should be lime green. It was not a color Hermione could ever remember wearing or mentioning that she even liked but Molly always had her own ideas. She had accepted them with grace and stored them after the family photos were taken. After a few waves of the wand the jumper became a lighter knit and a nicer celedon color. She shrank it to fit.

The jumper and plaid skirt still needed a little something. The strand of pearls her mother and father had given her as wedding gift would have to do. They were her only real jewelry. Her black pumps would have to do as well. Her hair was pulled neatly into a high bun and was ready to go.

 

 

 

 

Hermione used the old drawing room floo to Harry’s party. She made her way through the house seeing more people than she had expected. Ginny had told her this was going to be drinks with friends not a soirée. Everyone she saw were dressed in frills and expensive suits. She felt just as frumpy and out of place as she ever had at Hogwarts. Still she held her head up and went to find Harry.

In the main parlor stood Harry. He was surrounded by several of their friends. Even his hair had been tamed and he looked respectable and handsome in his suit. Ginny of course was as beautiful as she ever was in a shimmery satin dress. Ron, in his suit accompanied by Mandy in a pink chiffon that highlighted her glowing skin, were dazzling as well. She smoothed her skirt and went anyway.

 

“Happy birthday, Harry!” Hermione said. She handed him a wrapped box.

 

“Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said taking the gift in one hand and leaning in to pull her into a hug with the other.

 

“I’ll bet,” a voice behind her drawled, “it’s a book.”

 

Hermione turned to see Draco Malfoy standing behind her. He was in a dark navy suit. His tie was the same silver as his eyes. Hermione felt her breath catch in her throat. She saw that he was no longer the pointed faced boy he had been. He had become a man. The change suited him, she thought to herself. And then she remembered who she was thinking of and shook the thoughts away.

 

“It is not a book,” Hermione insisted.

 

“Nope,” Harry said, “it’s poached pears with candied walnuts.”

 

“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed. “I thought you liked poached pears. I keep them on my desk for you. And just why are you so sure that’s what is in that box?”

 

“I do like them. I know that’s what’s in the box. It’s what you’ve given me every birthday for the last five years,” Harry told her. “It’s what you’ve given everybody for the last five years. Well, except the kids.”

 

“So I’ll have to wait until next June for mine?” Draco asked smirking.

 

“You’ll have to wait until June for what?” asked the stunning woman who slipped her hand into Draco’s.

 

The woman, Hermione was sure she had seen before but knew if she had she would remember her. The bright sable eyes lit up as she smiled at Draco. Hermione just knew her teeth would be perfect, and of course, they were. She had long black curls that spiraled and sparkled down her back. The simple pale yellow sheath she wore perfectly complimented her mocha skin. She was the most exotic looking woman Hermione had ever seen, but there was a niggling familiarity about her too.

 

“Hermione, you remember Romilda? She was at school with us,” Draco said.

 

Hermione’s heart dropped to her stomach and she fought the urge to vomit it up. This was Romilda Vane. The Romilda Vane who had slipped Harry a love potion in chocolates. This was the Romilda who had wanted Harry because of his status as “the Chosen One”. This was the Romilda Vane who had apparently been dying to date Draco. How could he fall for the act? She was as vain as her last name.

 

“Romilda, of course,” Hermione said offering her a simpering smile.

 

“Hermione Granger!” she said. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. You’ve done so well for yourself. I just love telling people that I was friends with the Minister when we were at school. We had so much fun!”

 

Hermione peered at her for a few seconds before responding, her voice dripping sarcasm, “Yes, I had so much fun with all my friends.”

 

Ginny, as Hermione knew, was not overly fond of Romilda either, stepped in.

 

“Hermione, would you like to get a drink with me?”

 

“Yes,” Hermione rushed.

 

“Excuse us, Romilda,” Ginny said slightly bumping the raven haired woman to the side.

 

Ginny walked away pulling Hermione in tow. She could tell Ginny was seething.

 

 

 

 

 

“I can’t stand that cow!” Ginny roared when they reached the drawing room.

 

She poured a fizzy liquid from an ornate bottle setting on the table beside her. She handed Hermione a glass and poured another for herself.

 

“She’s a stupid, ugly, insufferable old cow!” Ginny continued.

 

“Insufferable and stupid, yes. But Ginny, you know she is not ugly,” Hermione said despite wanting to agree with everything Ginny was thinking.

 

“Ugly, she is not,” Harry said with a low whistle. He was looking back at Romilda with a self satisfied grin.

 

“Harry Potter,” Ginny growled, “if you don’t get your eyes back in your head I will hex them so badly they’ll never go back in.”

 

“Don’t be silly, Gin,” he said somewhat sheepishly. “She used to have that little crush on me, do you remember?”

 

Hermione instantly knew that was the wrong thing for him to say. She was afraid the situation would turn ugly.

 

“She only liked you because she thought you were “the Chosen One”, Harry,” Ginny retorted.

 

“Well, you’re my chosen one,” Harry said, placing emphasis on the my. He then leaned over and kissed Ginny’s nose.

 

She seemed mollified by the comment and said nothing else about Romilda. Instead she began abusing Draco.

 

“I can’t believe he’s here with her,” Ginny said. “I thought he had more sense than that.”

 

“What’s wrong with Romilda?” Harry asked.

 

Gods, Hermione thought, he could be obtuse.

 

“Harry, Romilda gave you chocolates with a love potion in them. Ron ate them and then instead of being cured he was poisoned,” Hermione said. “One of your best friends almost died because of her.”

 

Harry cocked an eyebrow and adjusted his glasses, “How do you work that out? She didn’t use the poison. Slughorn gave Ron the poison. And really it was Draco’s fault the mead was poisoned anyway. If we’re blaming anyone, shouldn’t we blame Malfoy?”

 

“Then we’ll throw out both those idiots,” Ginny insisted.

 

“Ginny, they are our guests,” Harry said.

 

“No, he’s our guest,” she said with a sharpness. “Why did he bring her? I thought he liked...someone else.”

 

“Ron said Mandy set them up,” Harry said.

 

“Mandy,” Ginny huffed, “I’ll just have to go talk to miss Mandy.” She stormed off.

 

Harry put a hand on Hermione’s elbow, “I have to go,” he said, “I need to calm her down. I don’t know what she’s so upset about, but you know Ginny.”

 

Hermione did know Ginny, “Go on, Harry. It’s fine.”

 

She watched Harry follow Ginny. She hoped poor Mandy wouldn’t get too much of a telling-off. She had no way of knowing the history there. Hermione started back into the dining room when she heard someone calling her.

 

 

 

 

“Ms. Granger!” came a voice she had not heard for many years but immediately recognized.

 

“Professor, how are you?” Hermione smiled down at Minerva McGonagall.

 

“I’m doing very well, Ms. Granger. Sit down here with your old professor,” Professor McGonagall said and patted the sofa cushion beside herself.

 

“It’s so good to see you, Professor,” Hermione said as she clasped the elderly lady’s hand.

 

“Yes, dear, it has been a long time,” the older woman said. “I must tell you I am so very proud of you. I’m proud of all my students, certainly. But I always knew you would do well.”

 

“Thank you, Professor,” Hermione said, touched by the words. “I learned so much from you. I was so lucky to have you.”

 

“Ms. Granger, there has been very little luck involved with you. You work much too hard to leave it to luck,” Professor McGonagall replied crisply.

 

“I have to make Hogwarts proud. Especially the Gryffindors,” Hermione said and gave her another squeeze of the hand.

 

“Hermione Granger, you owe nothing to anyone,” Minerva McGonagall snapped. “And I know that you are not still caught up in all those foolish prejudices between the school houses. Nothing but rubbish, I say.”

 

“Minerva, there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition at school,” came the voice of Albus Dumbledore.

 

Harry had framed a picture of himself with the old Headmaster. Hermione could still remember the day Colin Creevy took that picture.

“Oh, do shut up, Albus,” said Professor McGonagall as she plopped the silver frame over.

 

“I will never forget your sorting, Ms. Granger,” the elderly woman began. “There have been only two hat stalls in the whole of this century. And here, we both sit.”

 

Hermione looked expectantly at Professor McGonagall and waited for her to continue.

 

“Both you and I were considered for Ravenclaw, but chose Gryffindor. I knew then, that you were one to watch. And as I watched you all these many years, I find you reminding me much of my younger self.”

 

Hermione was intrigued but pleased by the comparison. “I take that as a great compliment, Professor.”

 

“Yes, you helped to bring down the darkest wizard we have ever faced and yes you have become Minister of Magic. No one can deny your achievements. But you remind me of myself in too many other ways. I too buried myself in my career when I was younger. I did it to escape a terrible marriage. I didn’t have the courage to leave mine like you did. I just endured it until he passed.” Minerva paused for a moment.

 

“You have two wonderful children. They deserve a happy mother. Oh, I know you will insist that you are happy. I’m sure you are. But Hermione, you are a brave young lady. Stop dressing like your old professor and go out and have some fun.”

 

“Professor, what do you mean stop dressing like you? Hermione chuckled. “I’m sure you have fun.” She looked down at the Professor’s plaid dress robes. No one under one hundred still wore dress robes.

 

“I have plenty of fun now.” she said, “It took me many years to learn how. Too many, really. And don’t you think Ginny and Molly don’t keep me up on the news. You haven’t had a date or a so much as night out in over a year. You act like you are in a retirement home instead of me. Ms. Granger, you’ve even stolen my hairstyle.”

 

Hermione gawped at her former professor, and then reached up and smoothed back her own hair. She was sure the burning in her cheeks was visible.

 

“You go on, now,” Minerva said. “Stop working so hard, and learn how to have some more fun.”

 

“Yes, Professor,” Hermione squeaked and stood.

 

“Go enjoy this party!” Professor McGonagall instructed and shooed at her leave.

 

“Thank you, Professor,” Hermione said and turned to leave.

 

 

 

 

She could hear the rustles of Professor McGonagall dress robes as the elderly lady adjusted herself and then she heard her voice again. It was as strong and demanding as ever.

 

“Draco! Draco Malfoy! Bring me some tea,” Minerva McGonagall called across the Potters’ drawing room. “And a ginger biscuit!”

 

All noises ceased until she at last heard him answer, “Yes, Professor.”

 

She considered eavesdropping for a moment and then thought better of it. It would be nice to hear how he had managed to draw her ire, after being upbraided herself. However the thought of being accosted again was not as appealing. Now was the perfect time to scraper.

 

 

 

 

Hermione made her way on to the kitchen where she found her kids and their many cousins perusing the food table. She was shocked to see them all looking so grown up. They may have looked grown up but Hermione knew they were not. The shouts and food zooming around the room betrayed them.

 

“Rose, Hugo!” Hermione called to them.

 

“Hi, Mum!” Hugo called back.

 

“Mum, have you tried the cake?” Rose asked.

 

“I haven’t. Is it chocolate?” Hermione asked reaching for a plate.

 

“No. It has some kind of treacle filling,” Rose said. “It’s so good.”

 

“It sounds nice,” Hermione said and then took a bite. She nodded, “Uhmm, it is good.”

 

“Mum, you didn’t give Uncle Harry poached pears again did you?” Rose asked.

 

“Yes, he loves them,” Hermione said slightly embarrassed.

 

“Granny told me and Rose that he hates them,” Hugo butted in.

 

Hermione bit her lip. “I really have to go shopping,” she sighed.



Chapter 17: Chapter 17
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Chapter 17

 

 

 

The pounding in her made her sure that all the potioneers in the world were stupid. They had to be a bumbling band of baboons. For centuries humans had been brewing potions as well as alcohol. Someone should have been able to produce a hang over cure in all this time. Everyone had a surefire cure, but none of them had ever worked for her.

 

The light streaming through the curtain panels made her head throb all the more so she scrunched her body into the fetal position. Until her butt, her naked butt, made contact with a naked someone’s some naked part. Why was she naked and why was someone else naked in her bed? Hermione knew she had drank well past her limits last night.

 

She turned slowly to see who was behind her. The man was tan skinned and had dark hair. She had no idea who the man beside her was but she suspected she knew why they were naked. She hadn’t had a one night stand since she had hooked up with one of parent’s muggle neighbors before she married Ron. As the brunette man rolled and snorted in her bed, images of the night before flashed inside her mind.

 

Hermione could remember speaking with Professor McGonagall at Harry’s party. From there she had joined Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas in a round of drinks. They were living in a small village outside Killaloe. Hermione hadn’t seen Seamus since before his break up with Terry Boot and had not heard that Dean and Seamus were together. She knew Dean had a son, but also that he had never married. Hermione told them that she expected to see them more often now that she knew Dean played cards with Harry regularly.

After that they were joined by Miles Bletchley, another regular card player. A game of muggle Texas Hold- Em began then, she could remember. She also recalled Ron bringing over a bottle of fire whiskey and joining the game. They all drank a several glasses.

 

Most of the guests started to leave around midnight she recalled. At this point Harry brought over Scotch because the fire whiskey was gone. Most of the men Harry played cards with were still in the game, but Romilda had wanted to go home. Draco left with her. Ginny popped the cork on another bottle of champagne. She and Hermione had finished the bottle.

 

Sometime, during their chat they had been joined by Professor McGonagall, who insisted Hermione call her Minerva. She had brought Harry a bottle of imported elf made wine for his birthday. Harry’s card game had broken up. Seamus and Dean bid them all goodbye and were gone. Ron and Mandy said farewell too and took their kids and Harry’s too with them back to Adytum. Minerva cracked that bottle of wine open and began passing the glasses around.

 

They had continued their chat until the talk became a little X-rated. Ginny and Harry went upstairs after telling Hermione, Minerva, and Miles to stay as long as they liked. Minerva had begun to reminisce about a man she had known before she had married her husband. It was after she described in detail what a good lover he had been that it donned on her that the elf made wine had aphrodisiac properties. She decided to go home and urged them to do the same.

 

It was obvious to Hermione that they had done the same. They had just not done so separately. Miles had joined Hermione at her house that evening and she was fairly certain they had had a nightcap. It was then that Miles told her to never wear that ugly skirt again. After he had degraded it, Hermione flashed back to Miles sliding the skirt off her hips and letting it fall. It was then that he told her the pink cotton briefs were terribly unappealing.

 

She had not stopped him from pushing her onto the sofa as he kneeled in front of her and pulled those away too. She did not object when she felt his hands sliding up her legs and pushing her knees father apart. She had not thought to say no when he pressed his tongue to her and began to make her forget everything else. Instead she had leaned back and pulled him closer.

 

Getting in the bed had been much easier than getting out. She had edged herself out as gently as she could so that she would not disturb him. She used a nonverbal accio to summon her robe and sneaked out the bedroom door. She needed something strong to get rid of pounding in her brain.

 

She put the kettle on and grabbed the P.G. Tips when she heard the bedroom door reopen.

 

Miles entered the kitchen, still starkers.

 

“Good morning,” Miles said. “Did you sleep well?”

 

“Well enough. How about you?” Hermione asked keeping her eyes on the tea kettle.

 

Miles sniggered across the table. “Are you uncomfortable with nudity?” he asked.

 

“No, not all,” Hermione rasped.

 

“I’m always shocked by the number of people who are. Every person alive has a body: hence the common word everybody,” Miles said amused at her obvious discomfort.

 

Without looking at him, she said, “I guess. I never really thought about it.”

 

He only chuckled.

 

The tea kettle screamed to a boil causing Hermione to start. “Would you like a cup?” she asked.

 

“Let me get dressed,” Miles said dismissing himself from the kitchen.

 

 

 

She found two mugs from the upper cabinet and set about pouring the tea. She took a sip of her own tea and tried to block the morning sun. Miles made his way back into the kitchen wearing pants and his button down from the night before. She saw him stuffing his tie into his pocket. She smiled and held out the other mug of tea.

 

“Sorry about earlier,” he said grinned. “I see so many naked bodies I don’t even think about it. Part of a doctor’s day.” he shrugged.

 

“It’s fine,” Hermione said. She messaged her temples. “It’s this headache.”

 

“Take two aspirin, and call some other doctor,” Miles laughed. “this one is hung over.”

 

She managed a giggle, “Me too. I haven’t drunk that much since Harry and Ginny’s wedding. I have to stop drinking with them.”

 

“I’ve never seen Harry drink so much. It was really Professor McGonagall with that wine. Who knew she could hold so much liquor?” Miles asked.

 

“Liquor?” Hermione, asked thinking back, “did we have liquor?”

 

“No, but I think it was all we didn’t have.” Miles kidded.

 

Hermione put her head face down on the table and moaned a little.

 

“Seriously, take those two aspirin,” Miles instructed. “Be sure to drink a lot of water. It’ll help you rehydrate.”

 

“Yes, doctor,” she groaned.

 

“Finish up your tea,” he said as he began clearing his mug and the tea accouterments from the table. “Go sit on the sofa. I’ll clear up in here.”

 

She rose up and went into her living room. She threw herself onto the sofa and slung her arm across her eyes. Her head continued to thump.

 

Miles came in and sat beside. He sat a little to close for Hermione’s comfort. She knew it seemed a bit hypocritical after last night, but in the cold light of soberness she realized that she knew next to nothing about the man sitting so close beside her. She squirmed and pulled her robe tighter around herself. She had no idea how he felt about what happened or any idea of what his expectations were. She had to let him know that she had no interest in pursuing this any further. As far as she was concerned it was a one time thing.

 

“Um, Miles,” she managed to stammer, “about last night. You know we were both really pissed. I’m glad we got to catch up but I’m not in the right place for this right now.”

 

“Oh, I’m not looking for anything either,” Miles reassured her.

 

“Oh, good,” Hermione blurted out. “I mean, I’m glad you’re on the same page.”

 

“I told you, I don’t do relationships,” he said.

 

“I don’t remember talking about relationships,” Hermione said, screwing up her face trying to recall.

 

“I don’t bat for either team,” he said, “I meant I’m asexual.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Hermione said slowly, “last night was very sexual.”

 

He laughed again. “Asexuality is just a broad term for a larger spectrum of human sexuality. Asexual can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Me, I do have sex on the rare occasion. I do not seek sexual relationships with either men or women but can find myself attracted to any individual without wanting to create a long term sexual partnership.”

 

“Oh, okay,” Hermione said considering his words and wondering if she should be offended.

 

“It’s not that you’re unattractive,” Miles said, “you’re clothes definitely, but you are not.”

 

She gave him a playful swat. “I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who is asexual before.”

 

“It’s the term I’ve found that best fits. Never wanted the partnership or marriage,” he said.

 

“Hhmm,” Hermione considered, “that would make things easier in some ways. I do kind of miss the everyday life and all the little things that go with marriage though. It would be nice not to ever think about wanting someone in my life.”

 

“Not that I dwell on it,” she hastily added.

 

“You just said you weren’t in a place for a relationship,” he told her with pretend scorn.

 

“Just because I’m not there now doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to be,” she said.

 

“Well, that’s something,” he said. “So if you don’t mind my asking, how are you doing with the divorce and everything. All the gossip and speculation must be tough. That and seeing him with a new family when you still miss him.”

 

Hermione sat up quickly, “I don’t miss him!” she shouted! “Not like that!”

 

He looked surprised and a little abashed, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

“No,” she snarled, “you shouldn’t have. I really don’t care to discuss my private life.”

 

“I didn’t mean anything. Just wanted to lend a shoulder if you needed one,” he apologized.

 

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to lash out. It seems that everyone suddenly has all these comments on my personal life.” Hermione said.

 

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he repeated. “It was just when Draco said you were still in love with your ex-husband, I didn’t want you to get all upset over last night.”

 

“Last night would have never happened without loads of alcohol.” Hermione said.

 

“Oh, I know,” Miles said, “Same.”

 

They both laughed.

 

“What do you reckon was in that wine anyway?” Miles asked.

 

“I have no idea,” Hermione said and shook her head.

 



Chapter 18: Chapter 18
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Chapter 18

 

 

 

Miles bent his head and dropped a kiss on the top of Hermione’s as Ginny popped her head into Hermione’s grate. She jumped back from both in shock.

 

 

“So is this not a good time?” Ginny asked from the green flames.

 

“I’m on my way out,” Miles said to her. “He then turned to Hermione and said, “I look forward to seeing you again. Would you like to meet up sometime next week or so?”

 

“I’d like that, Miles. Send me an owl and we’ll find a good time for both of us,” Hermione said.

 

Ginny said nothing but watched the exchange wide eyed.

 

Hermione sighed, “Ginny, either come on through, or go home. Miles needs the floo.”

 

Ginny came on through. Her mouth was a thin line and her eyebrow arched, “Bye, Miles. Thanks for coming to Harry’s party.”

 

“Bye,” he in a low voice to Hermione, patting her arm. “See you all later.”

 

He swooped out the fireplace and was gone.

 

 

 

Ginny turned on Hermione, “Who pissed in your porridge this morning?”

 

“Save it, Gin. I have an awful headache,” Hermione said.

 

“I did come to check on you. You don’t have to be so rude” Ginny said.

 

“I am not in the mood right now,” Hermione grouched.

 

“Seems like you were in a mood last night,” Ginny hinted and wagged her brows.

 

“Well, not I’m not,” Hermione said flat toned. “Go make something of that.”

 

“What are you on about?” Ginny asked.

 

“Last night happened because I got so drunk I didn’t know what I was doing,” Hermione wailed, “Minerva McGonagall told me it was time for me to loosen up and have some fun! Because you and Molly keep telling her what a goody-two shoes I am and that I have no life!”

 

“I never said that!” Ginny sqwalked.

 

“Ron also said how you felt so sorry for me that I was pining away for Draco!” Hermione cut across her. “Draco Malfoy, of all people!”

 

“I didn’t say you liked him!” Ginny yelled. “I said he likes you!”

 

“What?” the consternation coming out in her voice.

 

Ginny clapped her hands over her mouth and flushed scarlet. “He never said. It was just the way he acted around you.”

 

“He acted like we were getting to know each other and maybe being friends,” Hermione said, her voice dripping sarcasm.

 

“No, Hermione,” Ginny said equally sarcastic, “Draco spends all his time with friends.”

 

“I don’t know what Draco does, but I know I can take care of my own life. And I don’t like being talked about,” Hermione said.

 

“He hardly ever leaves the manor, Hermione. He’s not around if you’re not around,” Ginny said.

 

“So what? Maybe he feels less like a third wheel if it’s not just him,” Hermione said.

 

“Hermione, he asked you out!” Ginny said.

 

“No, he didn’t,” Hermione argued.

 

“A couple weeks ago, when you dropped the kids off at our house,” Ginny said.

 

“No,” she said. “He never asked me out.”

 

“He said he asked you to lunch and you weren’t interested,” Ginny said.

 

“Not for a date. It was just lunch. We had lunch a lot when we were working together. I’m sure you misunderstood.” Hermione said.

 

“Maybe,” Ginny conceded. “He did bring Romilda to the party. Gods, I hate her.”

 

“She’s such a fake,” Hermione agreed. “What does he see in her, you reckon?”

 

“She’s easy and easy to impress would be my guess,” the redhead snarked.

 

“Must be it,” Hermione giggled and concurred.

 

“So you never thought about him?” Ginny wheedled.

 

“No!” Hermione said, “besides you’ve heard him say he’s not interested in dating. What made him change his mind, you think? ”

 

Ginny narrowed her eyes at Hermione, “That doesn’t sound like you’ve never thought about it,” she observed. “I don’t know. All Mandy said was that Draco told her was that he couldn’t stand being at the Manor alone all the time anymore.”

 

“No, Ginny,” Hermione said, “I was just surprised he changed his mind, is all. Especially, for her.” she added the last with a snort.

 

“Me too,” Ginny scowled.

 

“Listen to us. We’re sitting here gossiping like school girls,” Hermione said laughing at herself. She then started massaging her temples again.

 

“I get hear all the good school gossip,” Ginny said. “Perk of being the cool mom.”

 

Hermione laughed.

 

“I guess it has to be you,” Hermione said. “I’ll never get put into that category.”

 

“You know I love you, Hermione. But no, cool is definitely not your category.”

 

“You are a terrible person, Ginny,” Hermione said.

 

“But you still love me and I still love you,” Ginny joked, “Now tell me everything that happened with you and Miles last night. I thought he wasn’t into...well you know.”

 

“What? Sex, Ginny?” Hermione said, annoyed. “You can say the word. We both have children. We know what it is.”

 

“Hush,” Ginny said. “Now tell me what happened.”

 

“I can’t tell you anything if I hush,” Hermione said. “It’s nothing, Ginny. We drank way too much of that elf-made wine and everything else. It’s not going to happen again.”

 

“Yeah, I never would have put you and Miles together,” Ginny said with her nose wrinkled.

 

“Why not?” Hermione asked. “You were ready to fob me off on Malfoy.”

 

“I said I might be wrong,” Ginny said. “But I wasn’t the only one who thought you two might have something going on.”

 

“Please leave my love life to me,” Hermione said with exasperation. “Why is everybody so interested in my life anyway? Even Minerva McGonagall told me to loosen up and have fun.”

 

“Minerva told you to loosen up?” Ginny hooted.

 

“Yes and she implied that I dress badly,” Hermione said.

 

Ginny laughed while Hermione covered her ears and groaned some more.

 

“Shut up Ginny!” Hermione said. “My head hurts.”

 

“Sorry,” Ginny apologized.

 

“She also told me that you and your mother give her updates on my life. Please stay out of my life,” Hermione said.

 

“I will never stay out of your life,” Ginny said insulted. “But I will mind my own business. Or at least I’ll try to. Most of the time.”

 

“That’s all I ask,” Hermione said. “Please keep this about Miles to yourself too. I feel like an idiot dragging home some man I barely know.”

 

“No one would believe me if I told them,” Ginny assured her. “Besides, Rose told me you want to go shopping!”

 

“Ugh, Ginny, not today!” Hermione said and buried her head in the sofa cushion.

 



Chapter 19: Chapter 19
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Chapter 19

 

 

An owl flew into Hermione’s window and landed on her desk. She handed the small brown owl a bit of poached pear from the box on her left as she unrolled the parchment. Pansy Longbottom had delivered a health baby girl, Robin. Hermione sent Neville a quick congratulatory note back. She then went to find Harry.

 

Harry was in his office but he was not alone. Draco Malfoy was in his office as well. They seemed to be having an animated conversation. Hermione thought she had heard the word bludger. What was it with these two and quidditch anyway?

His door was open. She gave a quick rap on Harry’s door before walking on into his office.

 

“Hi, Harry, Draco,” Hermione said. “I just got an owl from Neville. Pansy had a little girl. They’re both doing well. Neville’s over the moon.”

 

“That’s great, Hermione,” Harry said.

 

Draco simply nodded in her direction and said nothing.

 

She felt bad because she knew that she had dropped their budding friendship recently without any explanation. She was much too mortified to explain that she didn’t want to give all their friends the wrong idea about them. She was sure if he knew what they had been saying he would think they were all a bunch of nutters and probably never trust any of them again. She knew she should make some kind of gesture so she screwed up her famous courage.

 

“I’m thinking of going up to Hogsmeade to see them this evening. Pansy would love to see you, Draco if you’d like to come with me.” Hermione invited.

 

“Romilda will be waiting for me. She’s probably already making plans,” Draco said.

 

“Oh, erm, of course,” Hermione said. “Today might not be good for me. If you do  get up there to see them soon, please give Neville and Pansy my best.”

 

“You’re still seeing Romilda?” Harry boomed. “How’s that going?”

 

Draco shuffled around slightly and flushed, “Fine.”

 

“Just fine? C’mon,” Harry pushed.

 

“Harry,” Hermione scolded, “you’re getting as bad as Ginny!”

 

He laughed. “Scorpius has mentioned she’s around a lot is all.”

 

“She’s fun,” Draco said. “She helps me forget about stuff I’d rather forget.”

 

“Good,” Harry said.

 

Hermione felt it was anything but good. Draco shouldn’t be dating she thought. Draco shouldn’t be dating Romilda Vane, she quickly amended. Romilda was selfish and inconsiderate. All the things Draco used to be, Hermione would admit if she was honest with herself. But he wasn’t those things anymore, she argued internally. But what did she really know about Draco Malfoy, her logical side demanded. Maybe he liked Romilda because he was still a lot like her. But how could he have changed enough to be friends with Harry if he was still like he had been before, her emotional side argued.

 

“I have to get back,” Hermione said.

 

She turned to leave, but heard Harry yell goodbye. Draco said nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

The following afternoon Draco Malfoy unexpectedly stopped into Hermione’s office.

 

“Pansy asked me to let you know that she would like to see you so she can thank you in person for little Robin’s gift,” Draco said lurking in the doorway.

 

“I’ll be sure to stop in on them. Thanks for bringing her message, Draco,” Hermione said.

 

“Sure, Granger,” Draco drawled.

 

“Draco,” Hermione called after him as he had already turned to leave.

 

He turned around with a scowl, “Yeah?”

 

“Draco, have I offended you in some way?” Hermione asked.

 

“It doesn’t matter, Minister. I come here only to work everyday,” he sneered. “I would prefer to leave my private life at home. If you don’t mind, I must be getting back to the bottom floor.”

 

“If you would prefer to discuss the matter after work I will be available for dinner,” Hermione replied losing her temper.

 

“I don’t want to go to dinner with you, Granger,” Draco said with the sneer remaining in voice.

 

Anger overcoming her Hermione unconsciously cast a nonverbal spell causing the door to slam behind Draco forcing to jump forward.

 

“What the hell, Granger!” Draco yelled.

 

“Since dinner is out of the question, we’ll talk about it now,” Hermione said determined.

 

“What is it you want to talk to me about now? You have some other pity project in mind?” Draco drawled.

 

“Pity project?” Hermione asked. “What do you mean by that?”

 

“Don’t give me that innocent face! You know what I’m talking about. As soon as our project started getting difficult you called it quits. You couldn’t get that mark to move so right back to the basement with the Death Eater for me,” Draco said in a low voice, his eyes narrow slits.

 

“That’s not what happened!” Hermione exclaimed.

 

“Yes, it is,” Draco drawled, “After Professor Snape said there was no way, you quit even thinking about me. When I tried to talk to you, you made it clear that I was no longer needed upstairs. And you certainly had no time for me. Busy schedule you had, until Ron was involved.”

 

“Ron?” Hermione asked btow wrinkled.

 

“That night at Harry’s, you only had eyes for Ron. You even said you are still in love with him,” Draco said.

 

“I did not!” Hermione argued. “I said I love him because he’s the father of my children. Why do you even care how I feel about Ron? You’re seeing Romilda Vane!”

 

“Romilda told me about you,” Draco sneered.

 

“What did Romilda tell you about me?” Hermione demanded.

 

“She told me she wasn’t surprised you dropped me as soon as things didn’t go your way. She said that’s how you’ve always been. You only have time for someone when they can do something for you. Remember Cormac McClaggen? Everyone knows you used him to make Ron jealous. Then when he wasn’t good enough for the Slug Club, back here comes McClaggen. Romilda reckons you only went after Ron because you hated the Brown girl so much. Said she was shocked you ever went through with marrying him. But then it made you look good to the wizarding community didn’t it? Settle down with a hero from a family that’s always been on the right side of things. She swears you don’t even care about him, you just can’t stand to see him happy now that he’s with Mandy.”

 

“Fuck Romilda Vane,” Hermione shouted. “and fuck you too, if that’s what you really think of me. I gave you a second chance to prove you weren’t that same bigoted arsehole who tormented me and treated me like shit for years. I saw everyone else letting the past go and I know that Scorpius is a good kid. So I thought to myself, surely for Scorpius to be such a good kid, Draco had to turn out better than Lucius. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe you don’t care about blood status, but you’re still a self righteous son of bitch who thinks you’re better than everyone else.” Hermione fought back the tears that were flooding her eyes. She was too angry to let Draco see her cry.

 

Draco’s hand grazed his wand and Hermione stared at him unmoving and unblinking.

 

“Don’t ever talk about my father again,” he said in a voice low and dangerous, “you have no idea what you’re talking about. He’s dead.”

 

She said nothing and did not move.

 

“You use people, Granger. You used the Weasleys to get in good with the Ministry, and here you are Minister of Magic. When you got what you wanted, there went Ron. You use all those people at Hogwarts so you can come and go and change anything you please at anytime you please. You use Harry’s fame to bolster yours and cover up for you. You couldn’t let Harry have the glory of ridding us of Voldemort. No, you wanted to “erase the memory” of him and when you couldn’t prove just how great of witch you are, you had no more use for me. Surely, the only reason you’re speaking to me now is because I can do something for your benefit,” Draco drawled. His face was twisted in disgust.

 

Hermione inhaled sharply, “That is the stupidest thing you’ve ever said.”

 

“Stupid,” Draco said drawing the word out, “Add it to all the reasons you think you’re so superior to me.”

 

“You think I act superior to you?” Hermione raged.

 

“Do not try to pretend otherwise,” he sneered. “You would never even have noticed my existence if it wasn’t for this!” He thrust his bare arm in front of her; the black serpent and skull glowing on the pale skin of his forearm.

 

“You said you wanted to try to get rid of it! I gave you an option. I would have left it alone if you had said no,” Hermione insisted.

 

“Of course I want to be rid of it!” Draco shouted. “You have no idea what I see when I look down. You don’t see all those faces staring at me. All the ones begging me to help and change things I can never change!”

 

“I was trying to help you!” Hermione insisted.

 

“You weren’t trying to help me. You were trying to add to your list of accomplishments,” Draco replied in a scathing tone. “Open the door, Granger.”

 

She did not move but the door swung open behind him, “Get out,” Hermione said without looking away from him.



Chapter 20: Chapter 20
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Chapter 20

 

 

“Neville, dear, would you mind stepping out to the Three Broomsticks and asking Rosmerta if she has any of that fizzy lemon seltzer,” Pansy asked her husband. “We are all out and my lemon craving is terrible still.”

 

“Sure, sweetheart,” replied the round faced man. “Hermione, would you like anything while I’m out? I’d be happy to pick up something for you.”

 

“Thanks, Neville, but I don’t need anything just now,” Hermione smiled. She sat in the Longbottom’s small drawing room holding their newborn baby happily inhaling her fresh new baby scent. She sank into the comfort provided by the baby’s softness and innocence.

 

Neville placed a kiss on his wife’s cheek and shuffled from the drawing room. Hermione was equally curious and unnerved at being alone with Pansy. Even though she had been decent the last time they had met up Pansy had admitted they were not friends. She tried to fathom why Pansy had sent Malfoy as messenger to invite her here anyway. Hermione guessed Pansy had some idea of Malfoy’s anger.

 

“Thank you for the quilt you sent to Robin. It’s beautiful,” Pansy said setting aside the pink cotton confection.

 

“You’re welcome. She’s beautiful,” Hermione replied snuggling into the infant.

 

“I did ask you here for more than just to thank you for the quilt,” Pansy informed her.

 

“I thought so,” Hermione sighed. She bit her lip and waited for the other witch to begin.

 

“Draco told me that you’ve not been seeing much of each other since you decided not to continue working on the dark mark. I expected better of you really,” Pansy scolded.

 

“You’re right, I should have made more time for him or at least explained how much work I had let pile up,” Hermione conceded.

 

“He was opening up to you. He doesn’t let many people in and you just dropped him when things got hard,” Pansy continued.

 

“He let me know he was unhappy about that, you can be sure,” Hermione said. “There’s nothing you can say that he hasn’t already. Or that bitch, Romilda Vane.”

 

“I heard all about that little do in your office. Draco said everyone on the floor must have heard because everyone was turned and taring at the door when he left,” Pansy said with a little laugh.

 

“Then you can understand why I really don’t want to hear anymore about it. He made his point. I will stay out of his way from now on,” Hermione added waspishly.

 

“And they say you’re the smart one,” Pansy said rolling her eyes. “You can’t believe he was so angry because he wants you to stay out of his way.”

 

“Yes! I believe he’s done with whatever friendship we had started,” Hermione stated.

 

“You really don’t know your onions, do you?” Pansy asked. She sounded a little sad.

 

“What are you talking about?” Hermione demanded. “He said stay away, so I’ll happily stay away. Especially, if he’s listening to that bitch he’s seeing.”

 

“Is she a bitch or a bitch because she’s with Draco?” Pansy inquired.

 

“Oh, she’s always been a bitch,” Hermione snarked.

 

“I only know her a little through Mandy. I never knew her much at Hogwarts. She was a Gryffindor, sworn enemy of Slytherins. All that and so on,” Pansy waved her hands dismissing the past.

 

“You married the second Gryffindor in command,” Hermione laughed.

 

“Yes, I did. But he is so much more than that. He’s kind and loving and forgiving. He’s the best man I have ever known. I know I don’t deserve him. No one has to tell me,” Pansy said with sincerity that shocked Hermione.

 

“You don’t have to sell me on Neville. I know he’s a wonderful person,” Hermione said.

 

“That and now that he’s lost all that puppy fat. Whew! It’s like having my own underwear model at home! Who wouldn’t want to see that everyday waking up?” Pansy added.

 

“I’m happy for you,” Hermione said with her nose wrinkled. “I just don’t want to think about Neville in his underwear.”

 

Pansy laughed heartily at her face. “Neville’s so good to me, I’m really lucky to have him.”

 

“I never knew how that happened,” Hermione said.

 

Pansy took a deep breath and turned her eyes sharply on Hermione. “I know you’ve heard stories about me after seventh year. Most of them were probably true. Or at least had bits of the truth.”

 

She stopped for a minute and seemed to weigh her words. “You were there the night of the battle, the final one.”

 

“Yes,” Hermione said. Draco’s words about her being bred came back to her. Could he have been right about that?

 

“So you heard me give up Harry. I was ready to him over to Voldemort. Everyone knew that, but Neville was the only one who ever asked me why,” Pansy said even toned and unrepentant.

 

“Why Pansy?” Hermione finally asked. “I know you always hated us, Harry, Ron, and me but I don’t think even Neville could have forgiven you for siding with Voldemort. It’s not like you ever changed your mind, not like Draco did. He never said, but I think he was trying to help that night, in the battle. He knew we were looking for something. He stopped Crabbe from killing Harry in the Room of Requirement.”

 

“He wasn’t there to help you,” Pansy said. “He would have done anything including handing Harry over to get Voldemort of the Manor."

 

“It seemed like he wanted Harry alive, though. He didn’t fight us,” Hermione said disappointed.

 

“You have no idea what was happening in that house. We were fighting for our existence too,” Pansy said. “I was next on the Voldemort’s list. Like Draco, I did anything to try to save myself. I know you can’t understand that.” Pansy said, her last sentence scathing.

 

“No, I’m sorry I don’t,” Hermione replied stiff and cold.

 

“Why do you think I hated you school?” Pansy asked unblinking.

 

“Because I was a Gryffindor and a mudblood,” Hermione replied not backing down.

 

“No,” Pansy said. “I was told we purebloods, were better than muggleborns, of course. My family never got carried away with that nonsense. Not like Draco’s family. That was all he had to know about you. But I didn’t really care about that. I hated you because you were always such a swotty little priss throwing your superiority, moral and otherwise, in everyone’s face.”

 

Hermione snorted.

 

“It’s true. You had to prove how much better you were than all of us. You practically jumped out of your seat to answer professors’ questions. Anytime you heard anyone say anything you were quick to tell them why they were wrong and make them look stupid. It had nothing to do with your blood,” Pansy said.

 

“I had no idea you felt that way,” Hermione said insulted.

 

“I like you better now,” Pansy added. “Neville told me some old stories. You are not the goody two shoes everyone thought huh?”

 

“No,” Hermione said miffed. “I have my faults, same as everyone else.”

 

“Yes you do,” Pansy said. “You don’t see what’s right in front of you when it’s there. I told you Draco opened up to you. He doesn’t do that. Not for many people. He thought you were seeing beyond that mark and seeing him as a person. He’s hurt that getting rid of his mark meant more to you than he did.”

 

“It doesn’t,” Hermione said. “I only stopped because you and Harry told me to. You both said he didn’t want to continue so I didn’t want to force him to keep working on something when he didn’t want to.”

 

“You never listened to anyone before!” Pansy exclaimed “Why start now?”

 

“Because the two of you know him better than I do!” Hermione said exasperated. “Pansy, why did you give Harry up? I still don’t understand.”

 

“I was next on his list,” was all Pansy said.

 

“Why, what would Voldemort want with you? You weren’t standing in his way or anything?” Hermione questioned.

 

“Hermione, do you remember how upset Draco was because of the rumors about Scorpius’s parentage?” Pansy asked.

 

“Of course, no one would their child burdened with that,” Hermione said.

 

“Where do you think those rumors got their start?” Pansy asked boring into Hermione.

 

“He had a child with Bellatrix Lestrange,” Hermione said figuring on what Pansy was trying to imply.

 

“Yes, he did,” Pansy slowly answered. “That gave him the idea he wanted more.” She said nothing more as she waited for the weight of her words to register.

 

“Why?” Hermione burst out. “It’s not like he wanted a family or anything. I thought he was just using Bellatrix because she was there and willing.”

 

“He didn’t want a family. He wanted an army,” Pansy concluded.

 

“But he had the Death Eaters,” Hermione replied in shock.

 

“But his way he could start the indoctrination right away. He could create potentially thousands of extensions of himself. That’s all they would have been. Just more of himself that he could control from the very second of their births.” She shuddered visibly at the thought.

 

Hermione couldn’t believe what Pansy was telling her, and thanked everything good, internally, that his plans had failed.

 

“He also didn’t care if the women were willing,” Pansy said, the hatred seething in her voice.

 

“The first one was Bellatrix. We all know that. Were there more?” Hermione asked.

 

“Merlua Snyde was next,” Pansy said. “She was held until she delivered a little boy.”

 

Hermione started, outraged by the idea.

 

Pansy continued on. “He was told the baby was a squib. He threw it into a cauldron and boiled it alive. He fed the body to his snake, the one Neville killed. He made Merlua watch. When she cried he called her a bloodtraitor and hit her with some curse that caused her body to cook itself. Draco said the blood poured out of her everywhere; her eyes, her ears, and nose. Any opening she had was pouring congealing blood.”

 

Hermione began to sniffle while listening to Pansy. She couldn’t imagine the horror and sorrow the poor woman had faced being raped and forced to bear a child to a monster only to see him kill the child. It was worse than anything she had imagined.

 

Pansy continued, “There were others. Some of the ones that went missing during that time, they were some of the ones Voldemort took. He held them at the Manor. There was enough rooms for them. Any pureblood woman he wanted, he found a reason to take.”

She watched Hermione shudder.

 

“Another woman Draco knew who delivered, had a girl. She was deformed. He never told me how, just that she was deformed. Voldemort gave the little girl to Greyback. She was no older than Robin there. The mother was given to some of the Death Eaters. Lucius finally stopped them after Narcissa threw up. I don’t know what they did to that woman, but even Lucius couldn’t stand it. He blamed it on them getting blood on some old rug but he really just couldn’t stand watching it anymore. Voldemort was irritated that Lucius ruined his fun. He was hung in the dungeon and starved for days.”

 

Hermione had stopped trying to stifle the tears that streamed down her face. She hugged little Robin tighter wondering how anyone could hurt something so innocent. The Voldemort Draco and Pansy had faced was worse than any Voldemort Hermione had ever known.

 

“Do you remember Daphne Greengrass?” Pansy asked. She was crying now as well.

 

“Yes,” Hermione said.

 

“I won’t talk about what exactly he did to her,” she sobbed. “I can’t. But he took her Easter weekend of seventh year. Draco was home. He knew what was being done to her. He tried to help her. He did everything he could to help her. But he couldn’t stop Voldemort. He still blames himself for everything that happened. And then there was all the stuff that happened with you, Harry, and Ron the same weekend. ”

 

“He’s spoken of her, but I never knew,” Hermione said.

 

“No. He wouldn’t tell anyone else. We were all friends. We had grown up together. That was when Astoria fell in love with him, after she learned how Draco had tried to protect he sister and what he had done to help her when he couldn’t protect her” Pansy was now sobbing.

 

“Why though? The Greengrasses never stood up to him. I never heard anything about them opposing him?” Hermione choked out.

 

“Don’t try to use logic to figure out Voldemort. It won’t work,” Pansy said. “In Daphne’s case, it was about Conchobar McNair.”

 

“Who is that?” Hermione asked.

 

“He was betrothed to Daphne. They hadn’t been bonded yet. His father was a Death Eater.” Pansy said.

 

“He must have been around our age, but I don’t remember him,” Hermione replied.

 

“You wouldn’t,” Pansy told her, “he attended Durmstrang. A lot of the Death Eaters sent their kids to Karkaroff.”

 

“I think Draco mentioned that once,” Hermione said, “years ago.”

 

“He wouldn’t join the Death Eaters. He ran away so Voldemort took Daphne as punishment,” Pansy said. “Voldemort was furious with Draco when the three of you escaped. He blamed him for not sending word sooner.”

 

“But Dobby came. He saved us,” Hermione whispered.

 

“The details didn’t matter to Voldemort,” Pansy continued. “He told Draco that he would face the same consequences as Conchobar. Draco owled me to prepare me. But I had no way to escape. I had nowhere to go. So when Harry showed up I was desperate. I would have done anything to save myself from being raped over and over by Voldemort. What if I had bred with that barbarian?”

 

“Pansy,” Hermione cried. “I had no idea. I never heard any of this.”

 

“No, we would never give up these women’s secret, or let anyone know the shame these women faced. They did nothing to deserve the brutality they suffered. If people knew, they would never be able to live it down. Daphne couldn’t live with it,” Pansy murmured.

 

“How many women were there?” Hermione asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Pansy said shaking her head. “But I know Draco told the Lovegood girl to swear she was only half-blood. That’s one of the reason’s she testified for him before the Wizengomot during his trial. He was afraid Voldemort would take her too.”

 

“That must have been what he meant when he said he could still see their faces,” Hermione said horror stricken.

 

“He was there more than a lot of the others. These things happened in his home,” Pansy said.

 

Hermione looked up, “I’m glad Voldemort’s dead. And I’m glad he never got to you and that you found Neville.”

 

The witch across from her took the small pink baby from Hermione’s arms and cuddled her and said, “Me too.” Her face was still streaked with tears.



Chapter 21: Chapter 21
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Chapter 21

 

 

The thud of the door slamming behind her made Hermione Granger grab her wand. She whipped around with it held high. After hearing Pansy’s story, she’d had nightmares and flashbacks of the years before, when Voldemort had been more than a nightmare.

 

“Granger, put your wand away,” Draco Malfoy drawled.

 

Her hand instantly dropped. “You should have knocked,” she sighed.

 

He scrutinized her closely and stepped a little closer never taking his eyes from hers. He was so close she could smell his aftershave. He smelled of the outdoors and clean like snow or rain Hermione thought. That and a tobacco base with just a hint of mint she, detected which caused her to step back instinctively.

 

 When he spoke his voice was a little softer, “Granger, I need you stay out of my life.”

 

Hermione was taken aback by his words. She hadn’t had any contact with him, unless he knew about her conversation with Pansy. Her eyes widened.

 

“Yes, I talked to Pansy. I know she told you about the women and girls held at the manor,” he said.

 

“She did,” Hermione said.

 

He dropped his head, “Did she tell you about Daphne too?”

 

Hermione considered her words. The truth seemed to be the best. “She told me Voldemort took her to punish the boy she was betrothed to, but she wouldn’t tell me anymore than that.”

 

“She shouldn’t have told you,” he said, “she should have never told you about Daphne.”

 

“Do you need to sit down?” she asked as he turned even more pale.

 

Without answering he dropped into the wooden chair before her desk. He sat with his head in his hands, unmoving.

 

“Do you want some water or tea?” she asked knowing neither could wash away the atrocities he had been forced to endure.

 

“Tea,” he said without looking up.

 

She summoned the pot and cups to her desk. She knew he took neither cream nor sugar. She poured the tea and set it in front of him and then went to sit in the chair behind her desk. He took the tea and sat. They stayed in the chairs, Draco sipping his tea and Hermione not looking away from him, for minutes. The minutes became long and the silence unbearable to her any longer.

 

“Are you all right?” she asked quietly.

 

He rolled his eyes, “Yes, Granger, I’m all right.” He rubbed his forehead.

 

She wanted to contradict him but waited because she was not ready for another row after the one just yesterday and the one she’d had with Ginny after Harry’s party. Sure, she and Ginny had made up instantly but they had been friends for thirty years. She and Draco had just started down the river of friendship but that ship had sailed, as the muggles so aptly said.

 

“You can’t tell anyone,” he looked up and said. “Daphne never wanted anyone to know.”

 

“I will never tell,” she told him. “I promise.”

 

He seemed to be considering her words. His eyes betrayed his mistrust.

 

“Draco, if she had let someone know, she might have been able to get help. Muggles have people to talk to, professionals called counselors to help. You might want to find someone yourself, maybe a healer can help you,” she suggested.

 

“I’m not mental,Granger,” he drawled.

 

“I know, but they’re not for mental people, Draco. They help with a lot of things, like grief. I saw a counselor after my divorce,” she said noticing that the sound of his name brought his eyes to meet hers.

 

“You did? What about after the war?” he asked.

 

“I couldn’t go see a muggle doctor about the war, could I? Statute of Secrecy and such, but I did see someone after the divorce. Marriage and divorce span cultures it seems,” she said.

 

“Why haven’t you already hexed me? After yesterday?” Draco asked. “Why would you tell me about that? Why would you care if I got help?”

 

“We’ve both dealt with enough pain. Why make more?” Hermione reasoned.

 

“But I was a complete tosser yesterday,” he argued.

 

“You were,” she agreed and smiled. “I didn’t mean to just drop you, you know? Harry and Pansy told me that you weren’t really wanting to continue finding a cure, for that.”

 

“I have mixed feelings,” he admitted, “about a lot of things really.”

 

“That’s understandable,” she said, “but if you want to continue I will help you in any way I can. If you don’t want to work with me, it’s okay. I will make sure you have you have access to anything you need or anywhere you need to go, if at all possible. No one needs to know I was ever involved at all or in any form.”

 

“Why would you be willing to do all that?” he asked. It was obvious that he didn’t believe her.

 

“The same reason I took this post,” she said. “I want to do some good.”

 

“Why, Granger? What do you get out of it?” he asked still questioning her motives.

 

“Nothing,” she said. “There doesn’t have to be a reason to do something for someone other than it being the right thing to do.”

 

“Most people I ever knew didn’t do anything for anyone unless there was something in it for them,” Draco told her.

 

She put her hand on top the his. “That’s really sad. I’m sorry,” she said.

 

He tilted his head and looked at her, but didn’t pull away.

 

“You’re sorry for me?” he asked. “You should be glad to see me get everything bad that comes to me.”

 

“I don’t wish bad on people. Or at least, I try not to,” she admitted.

 

He grinned.

 

“Not even me?” he asked.

 

“No, Malfoy not even you,” she said in a mocking tone.

 

“You should though. After all the years I tormented you. That was the word you used, tormented, right?” he asked.

 

“I did say that,” she said.

 

“Wow,” he sighed, “I never thought my opinion mattered enough for you to care what I said to you. But I did say those things and they were hateful. I don’t have any excuses and I’ve learned there is no reason to purposely hurt another person. I’m sorry.”

 

“Thank you,” she said. “And so you know, I resent everything you said about me using people. Especially Ron, I would never do that. True, there was that one time with Cormac, but everyone does things they’re not proud when we are children. I’m not proud of it, but I did do that. It was wrong. I have broken a lot of rules, and treated others with less kindness and forgiveness than I should have. I never even thought about helping you remove the mark as an accomplishment. I really did want to help. So please don’t use my past against me either. That was hurtful.”

 

“I spoke out of anger, but I know that doesn’t make up for anything,” he said.

 

“If it makes you feel any better,” Hermione said, “I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it since school. I didn’t think about you at all really. I didn’t even notice that you were friends with Harry and Neville until recently.”

 

“Ouch, Granger, you know how to hurt a man,” he drawled.

 

“What?” she said shrugging.

 

“You just told me I wasn’t worthy of your notice after I poured my heart out in offering an apology,” he frowned at her.

 

She laughed. “It’s not like you spent your time thinking about me either. Now that I’ve started to get to know you though, I actually like you. The adult you.”

 

“You saying you fancy me, Granger?” he smirked. “I’m blushing.”

 

It was her turn to roll her eyes. “I’m glad to see your ego has recovered.”

 

He grinned up at her. “Don’t worry, Granger, I know you’d never think of me that way. At least, now we can meet as common and indifferent acquaintances.”

 

“You are a strange man, Draco Malfoy!” Hermione said. “Who talks like that? The best I can do is agree not to hex you for bursting into my office.”

 

He grinned at her again, “I’ll take it.”

 

“Do you want to try again,” she asked, “to find a way to remove the dark mark?”

 

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I can try anymore,” he said. “Where are those pears you keep on your desk?”

 

“I fed the last bit to Neville’s owl. Turns out everyone hates them,” she said.

 

“Well, I like them,” he drawled. “Have some available next time I have to be in here.”

 

“I am not your house-elf!” Hermione said. “And you were not invited.”

 

He laughed at her again.

 

“How much does Pansy hate me?” Hermione asked.

 

“She doesn’t hate you. Anymore. I think you won her over last night. She defended you,” Draco answered.

 

“Oh,” Hermione said, “I will never see her the same way.”

 

Draco replied sharply, “She doesn’t want your pity.”

 

“I don’t pity her,” Hermione said. “Not at all. I now see a woman who had no options and no where to go, but instead of running she faced her problems in the end. She built a life for herself, despite those who opposed her. She’s a strong woman, and I respect her.”

 

“Respect,” Draco nodded. “she’ll accept that.”

 

“Was I as bad as she said?” Hermione asked.

 

“What did she say?” Draco said.

 

“That I was a swotty priss who looked down on everyone else,” Hermione said straight faced.

 

“No, worse. Much, much worse,” Draco said, but did not keep a straight face.

 

“Go away, Malfoy,” Hermione said.

 

“Granger,” Draco said. He sighed heavily, shook his head and continued, “Never mind.”

 

 

He got up and left without saying anything else. She had no idea what to make of the conversation they just had. Were they friends again or not? Or were they just, what was the phrase he had used, she thought back. She had a niggling inclination that she had heard those words before. “Common and indifferent acquaintances” he had said. Of course she knew those words. Jane Bennett had said them about Mr. Bingley, in Pride and Prejudice, when she was denying her lingering feelings for him to Elizabeth and to herself.

Why would he read the books just because she had mentioned them? And why would he quote them back to her? He was unlike Robert Martin, from Emma, who did not read either Romance of the Forest or The Children of the Abbey. But what had that mattered, he still married Harriet. She baffled herself at the thought of Draco and marriage. Draco was certainly no Jane Austen hero, Hermione knew. She certainly did not think Austen heroes existed and was not seeking one as a partner in her own life. There was no chance of her ever considering Malfoy, no matter what anyone else hinted at, she assured herself. If even they could ever put the past away and get on together. But their past would have been enough fulfill even Catherine Moreland’s lust for Gothic stories. While he may not be a Wickham or even a Mr Elton anymore he was certainly not like anyone else. Draco Malfoy was indeed a strange man.



Chapter 22: Chapter 22
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Chapter 22

 

 

 

Despite her being unable to think of anything but her last meeting with Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger had not spoken with him since. She found herself replaying their conversations in her head over and again. She analyzed all the hints and insinuations about the two of them multiple times. He was someone she wanted to help. Sure his reading the books she mentioned and love of 90’s muggle pop music was endearing, but that didn’t mean anything other than friendship. Harry had a thousand endearing qualities but she never thought of him in anything but friendly terms.

 

Draco, who was very much with Romilda Vane, had indicated that he had even very little interest in being her friend. She questioned the idea that she had gone home with Miles was a foolish reaction to seeing him with Romilda. By the end of the night, she was sure she had forgotten all about Draco and Romilda and simply given into all the alcohol. That must be the reason. She knew he was still keeping to his regular card games with Harry and the others because Rose had mentioned Scorpius talking about them. He made no effort to make anymore contact with her. He had even said he knew they would never fancy one another when he had made a joke about it. When she thought about it from his perspective she thought to herself it was all “Much Ado About Nothing.”

 

Seeing him at Platform 9 and 3/4 shouldn’t be any more awkward than seeing him there than it had been any other year. She hadn’t even noticed him except for the one time at Rose’s first year. Well, then and last year when she went to get the kids from the train. But it had been Harry who had called him over. So really, seeing him today should be nothing to worry about, she told herself. September 1 had come quickly. She should be focusing on Rose and Hugo.

 

Rose would be entering her seventh year and Hugo his fifth. N.E.W.T. and O.W.L. years, she recalled. How had her children grown up so fast? It seemed she should still be studying for her O.W.L.’s in the Hogwarts library not sending her children off for another school term. She was unconcerned because both had always done well academically and had a large group of friends. They had none of the cares she had when she had been their ages. It was quite a relief knowing they would do well.

 

She pulled on a tee shirt and jeans since she was going to King’s Cross instead of her office. When she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror an image of Minerva McGonagall flashed in front of her. She took her hair out of the high bun and retied it in a ponytail instead. She was not about to try to do anything with Sleekeazy’s today so it would just have to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King’s Cross was as busy as Hermione had ever seen it so she was careful to remain unseen as she slipped inside barrier of the platform. It too was full of excited and busy people.She searched her over the crowd in order to spot a gang of redheads. In her experience that was the easiest way to find the Weasleys. And there they were to her left.

 

She saw Ron, along with Mandy and their two boys with the Potters. Hugo’s curly brown hair stood out in the middle of his relations. Only Harry and Albus, and Mandy were the other non gingers in the group. She concerned not to see Rose. She pushed her way through the crowd to where Ron was standing. To get his attention over the cacophony of noises she had to place her hand on his arm.

 

“Where is Rose?” she shouted.

 

Ron looked at Mandy and smiled, then turned back to her.

 

“Over there,” he said and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

 

She saw Rose talking to a young man that she did not recognize. He had a round face and a short nose that tipped up. Something about him was familiar to Hermione but she could not pin it down. She saw him tip his head down and kiss Rose goodbye. Rose held the strange boys hands longer than Hermione liked.

 

She rounded on Ron.  “Who is that boy?” she demanded.

 

“Relax, Hermione,” Ron said shaking his head.

 

“He’s really a nice boy. His name is Nigel, Pansy and Neville’s son,” Mandy explained.

 

Rose had made her way over to join the rest of her family.

 

“Where did you meet that young man?” Hermione asked Rose with her eyes narrowed.

 

“At Neville’s,” Rose said. “when we went to see the new baby. I mean, I knew him a little from school, but he was in the year ahead of me and in Slytherin.”

 

“He’s an okay bloke,” Albus interjected. “He’s always been decent enough to us at school. And he is Neville’s son, so that has to count for something, even to you.”

 

Hermione pursed her lips, “I don’t think you should be kissing some boy on the platform. I really expect you to set a better example for the younger students. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to be kissing someone you don’t know very well anyway. You really should spend some time getting to know him first.”

 

Hermione heard a “Hmph,” and a snigger from Ginny. She did not turn around to face her.

 

“I told you she wouldn’t take it well,” she heard Scorpius Malfoy drawl as he came up and slung an arm around Rose.

 

“Yeah, you shagged Miles right after my party,” Harry laughed.

 

“Ginny!” Hermione gasped as she heard the voice of Draco behind her.

 

“You shagged Miles?” he said equally shocked.

 

“I can’t believe you told Harry!” Hermione spat at Ginny. Her face turning pink.

 

“I didn’t mean to,” said Ginny. “And you weren’t supposed to say anything!” she yelled at Harry.

 

“Mum!” Rose exclaimed. “You were lecturing me on getting to know someone! Who is Miles anyway? And why are you shagging him?”

 

“You shagged Miles?” Draco repeated quietly.

 

Luckily for Hermione, the gleaming Hogwart’s Express rolled in at that time, distracting everyone from the conversation. Everyone turned their attention instead on helping the children gather their trunks and giving loving send-offs. All the kids climbed onto the train as the parents watched for them to settle into their compartments and wave their final goodbyes.

 

Ginny’s eyes were shooting daggers in Harry’s direction as he was still laughing.

 

Mandy didn’t seem to notice as she turned to Draco.

 

“You really shouldn’t be worried about who anyone else is shagging, Draco,” she said to him. “Perhaps if you started doing a little shagging of your own, Romilda wouldn’t be complaining all the time about how boring you’re being. You should take some pointers from my big, ginger beast here,” she finished rubbing her very pregnant tummy and smiling up at Ron.

 

“She complains, does she?” he sneered back. “And please, never say that again. That is disgusting.”

 

“Get bent, Malfoy,” Ron said without any malice.

 

“Does anyone want to grab a drink at the Leaky?” Harry asked to everyone in general.

 

Ron and Mandy happily agreed and began to set off with the Potters.

 

“You coming, Hermione, Draco?” Mandy called to them.

 

“I can’t,” Malfoy said peering at Hermione.

 

She could see that he was observing her but it didn’t seem to be with judgment or anger. His face only showed what looked to be disappointment. He put his hands in his pockets and turned away when he saw that she had noticed.

 

“Me either,” Hermione begged off. “I have tons of things to get done, but you lot have a good time. We’ll catch up another time, okay?”

 

“You sure?” Ron asked.

 

“I’m sure,” Hermione said, glad to be on good terms with him again.

 

“Malfoy, you coming to play this weekend?” Harry called. “Or will you be out with Romilda again?”

 

“I’ll be there,” he remarked and turned away. With a loud crack! he was gone.

 

“See you, Hermione!” Harry said.

 

Ginny looked at her and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say anything, honest. I’ll talk to you after while.”

 

“It’s all right, Gin,” Hermione said.

 

She watched them walk away and then apperated home to her own flat.



Chapter 23: Chapter23
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Chapter 23

 

 

 

Ginny had invited Hermione over for a visit during Harry’s card game. While she was put out with Ginny’s big mouthed inability to restrain from gossip, Hermione had thought an evening out would help her clear her head. Besides, she knew she would be able to catch up a little with Dean and see Neville again. So what if Draco Malfoy just happened to be there? It could have nothing to do with Hermione. He could go back to ignoring her if he so chose.

 

She went ahead and flooed to the old drawing room at Grimmauld place. There was no one in there upon arrival so she took the time to vanish the soot and tidy herself before searching for everyone else. She found them around the old scrubbed table in the kitchen. Ginny was pouring butterbeers and gabbing away happily. Everyone else held a hand of cards and were noisily tossing chips and throwing out bets. Hermione was still shocked to see wizards sitting around playing muggle poker. She smiled.

 

“Hi, Hermione!” Ginny chirped. “Want a butterbeer?”

 

“Sure, thanks Gin,” Hermione responded.

 

Harry looked up and cheekily added, “Better limit those or Miles, over here, might not be safe.” He nudged the man beside him.

 

“Potter, really,” Miles said showing mild irritation.

 

Everyone else in the room laughed. With the exception of Draco Malfoy, who took on a hard sullen look, Hermione noticed.

 

“Shut it, Potter,” Hermione sighed and turned pink once again.

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Ginny added in what was supposed to a conciliatory tone. “It’s not like either of them are seeing anyone. Why can’t they have a little fun?”

 

As Ginny was speaking Romilda Vane made her way through the Potters’ kitchen along with Ron and Mandy. Ginny inhaled sharply and shot Ron a death glare over the heads of the poker players surrounding the table.

 

He shrugged and said, “Mandy and Romilda are on their way out for the evening. Romilda wanted to stop in and see Malfoy.”

 

“I sure did,” Romilda simpered as she walked over behind him and wrapped her arms around him. “Did I hear you talking about fun?”

 

“Yes, we were having fun before we were interrupted,” Ginny said with rancor.

 

Romilda bent closer to Draco’s ear, “You know what would be fun?” She nibbled on his ear. “If we played strip poker. Even the Minister wouldn’t object after her little escapade with Miles,” the words came out in a mocking tone.

 

“Langlock!” Hermione exploded flourishing her wand and shooting the jinx at Romilda. “It is none of anyone’s business if I hump a whole herd of hippogriffs, you nasty mouthed cow!”

 

In the shock of seeing Hermione lose her temper no one spoke until Draco quietly said, “Finite Incantatum,” and released Romilda’s tongue from the roof of her mouth.

 

Hermione stood , seething waiting for the other witch to say anything else at all.

 

“Romilda, you need to leave,” Ginny said looking very much as fierce as Molly ever had. “You are not welcome here anymore.”

 

“But she attacked me!” the black haired woman shrieked.

 

“Romilda, let’s go,” Draco instructed trying to pull her from the kitchen. His face was blank of all emotion and so was his voice.

 

Mandy, at last, said, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have come. Really everyone, I apologize.” She did seem contrite and followed Romilda and Draco from the kitchen.

 

No one said anything but continued to stare at Hermione, waiting for the fallout. Or listening to the very loud row between Romilda and Draco on the next floor. The words could not be heard but their tones was very clear. They were equally unhappy. Internally, Hermione smiled to herself when she heard two people exit in the floo.

 

Draco returned to the kitchen, a stony look on his face.

 

“Potter, I’ll have to fold this hand,” he said. “I have to cut out. Romilda is having a right fit.”

 

“You can stay, Draco,” Ginny was quick to announce. “It’s just Romilda we hate.”

 

Draco rolled his eyes. “She can be difficult," he said." Good night everyone.” He turned to go and then stopped. Instead of leaving he turned back and faced Hermione. “You know Granger, it would be impossible to “hump a whole herd of hippogriffs,” he drawled.

 

“What?” she asked, incredulous that this was all he had to say in defense of his girlfriend.

 

“Hippogriffs travel in flocks, not herds,” he asserted with a smirk.

 

Hermione stood mouth gaping as he left the kitchen. Everyone else still had their eyes trained on her. She huffed and went to get a butterbeer from Ginny.

 

Ron looked at Harry and said, “I think he could grow on me, Malfoy.”

 

The tension in the room broke and everyone went back to tossing poker chips and betting. Ginny eyed Hermione and seemed to find nothing to be concerned about and went back to her own butterbeer. She indicated for Hermione to follow her.

 

 

 

 

The two women left the others to their cards and went into the parlor.

 

“Can you believe Mandy brought her here?” Ginny snorted.

 

“Forget Mandy!” Hermione said, eyes wide, “can you believe Romilda had the nerve to say that about Miles and me? I swear, I hate her!”

 

“She is horrible! Why would he even want to go after her? He told Harry, that Romilda is fun! What would be fun about seeing that insufferable hideous cow? That was a good jinx by the way,” Ginny said with a chortle.

 

“Whatever he sees, I don’t want to see,” Hermione said wrinkling her nose.

 

Ginny nudged Hermione with her elbow, “So has anything else happened between you and Miles?” the redhead whispered.

 

“No!” Hermione said. “I haven’t even talked to him since then.”

 

“He said he was going to owl you!” Ginny said, outraged for her friend.

 

“He hasn’t,” Hermione said. “Maybe he’s just as embarrassed as I was.”

 

“So absolutely no chance of anything there huh?” Ginny asked.

 

“I am not at all interested in Miles Bletchley,” Hermione assured her. “Besides, he has said he’s not really into relationships or anything.”

 

“Well as long as you’re all right,” Ginny said. “I am sorry about everyone finding out. I didn’t think Harry would be thick enough to shout about it on Platform 9 and 3/4. Sometimes I am shocked at how thick he can be.”

 

“When has anyone been able to keep anything quiet around here?” Hermione asked.

 

“When we were fighting the war,” Ginny said. “but we did know everyone’s personal lives even then. You know, we’ve never kept anything quiet really.” The ginger witch laughed.

 

“That is not true, I can keep lots of things to myself!” Hermione stated. “It’s the rest of you lot!”

 

“Sorry! Geez!,” Ginny said. “Harry said that you and Draco had a row at work.”

 

“I’m going to fire Harry,” Hermione raised an eyebrow.

 

“He said everyone was talking about the shouting coming from your office!” Ginny said.

 

“We did have a disagreement,” Hermione grudgingly admitted.

 

“Ooh what about?” Ginny fired. “Was it Romilda again?”

 

“No, it was about gossip actually,” Hermione said, spewing acid.

 

Ginny chose to overlook the slight. “Well, what did he say?”

 

“He seems to think that I cared more about my reputation than treating him as person,” Hermione said.

 

“When he was at school, he never treated you like a person,” Ginny observed. “Funny how things change when he doesn’t have the power anymore.”

 

“Do you reckon he still thinks like that?” Hermione asked.

 

“No, I guess not,” Ginny said. “Since his wife died, I think he’s really changed, Hermione. He’s not the Malfoy we knew at school.”

 

“He shouted about me acting morally superior to him. And then Pansy said I was a swot. It all got out of hand, really,” Hermione said.

 

“Pansy,” Ginny said, “Neville’s wife, Pansy? What was she doing there?”

 

“She wasn’t there,” Hermione said. “She said it when I went to see their baby. Have you and Harry visited them yet?”

 

“We did,” Ginny said. “We stopped in for a chat with Hagrid too.”

 

“So what do you know about this Nigel, Rose fancies?” Hermione asked.

 

“Not much really,” Ginny shrugged. “No more than Albus said .”

 

“It worries me,” Hermione said. “All the little ones growing up and pairing off. I just don’t want them to go through all the heartbreak that goes with it.”

 

“I know,” Ginny said, “but it’s part of it. Dean broke my heart in school! Didn’t ya, Dean?”

 

He had found his way to where Ginny and Hermione sat. He looked over at them cheerfully, “I did not! Everyone knows you were the heartbreaker at school!”

 

They all laughed, recalling the debacle that had been Ginny and Dean’s attempt at a relationship at school. Hermione was curious to know if either of them ever realized how jealous Harry had been seeing them together.

 

“Still, I’ll ditch Seamus if you ditch Harry!” Dean kidded her.

 

Harry sat down next to Ginny. “She would never ditch me!” he smiled.

 

“Don’t be too cocky Harry!” Ginny shot at him. “Who knows who might have the best offer.”

 

“Hey!” Harry said, with mock hurt.

 

“Did you lot finish your game?” Ginny asked.

 

“We did,” Harry said. “Ron cleaned us out!”

 

“Well, you were always rubbish at any game besides quidditch,” Ron remarked.

 

“Miles, come on in here with the rest of us!” Harry called out.

 

Miles entered the parlor. He sat down beside Hermione.

 

“Oi! Miles!” Ron said, “You’re one of them doggles.”

 

“Doctors,” Miles corrected.

 

“Yeah those,” Ron said. “Let me ask you. Mum says Mandy is carrying the baby high so it must be a girl. Is that true you reckon?”

 

“There is no scientific evidence to say one way or another. But I work with genetics, not obstetrics. It’s just an old wives tale as far as I know,” Miles said.

 

“Genetics?” Hermione asked. “That must be really interesting work.”

 

“It can be,” Miles said. “I’ve been thinking on finding a way to map the wizarding population genomes and comparing them to those of the muggle population.”

 

“That would be fascinating,” Hermione said with excitement at the possibility. “Would the Ministry be able to offer you any help to get started? I’m certain we could find some supporters for this. What would you need?”

 

“More wizard geneticist to start with. A lot of the wizarding world still has little to do with muggle world unless they are muggleborn or half-blood with a muggle parent,” Miles stated.

 

Hermione nodded, “That’s true but I have seen a lot of changes in the last 20 or so years. I can’t imagine any wizard or witch would have thought about mapping genomes before now. What made you think of it?”

 

“Working with muggles, honestly,” Miles said. “You would be surprised at how many of them actually have just a bit of magic. None of them have enough to meet wizarding levels of course. It’s more like just little things, like knowing what song will come on the radio next or knowing to take an umbrella along when the weatherman calls for a sunny afternoon, but there is a sudden downpour.”

 

“So can muggles be seers?” Harry asked.

 

“Not in the sense of giving prophecies or anything, but there are muggles who practice forms of divination. They call themselves psychics. Really it’s no more than just a tittle worth of magic. So it got me wondering if muggles and wizards have inherently different sets of DNA and if they do, how are they different and how are they the same,” Miles explained.

 

“So do all muggles have this little tittle worth or just a few?” Hermione asked.

 

“Definitely not all,” Miles said. “There was this one man who came in a while back, from Surrey. He was raving on about some weirdos and a pig tail. He was just a huge man, all purple faced and wearing a stupid mustache. He didn’t have a drop of magic in him.”

 

Harry began to guffaw, “That sounds just like Uncle Vernon!”

 

Hermione though, was thinking more about DNA. “Miles, do you reckon Voldemort somehow changed people’s DNA when he marked them?”

 

“I wouldn’t reckon so,” Miles said disconcerted. He unconsciously rubbed his own arm where he had been branded by the madman.

 

“It’s just that everything we tried, Draco and I, failed,” Hermione said. “Would you be willing to test the DNA?”

 

“I wouldn’t have a sample from before the mark to test it against,” Miles observed.

 

“Oh,” Hermione said defeated. “It was just a thought. But would you be willing to test the skin cells from the mark against unmarked skin cells?”

 

“I’ll have a look,” Miles agreed. “If Draco agrees, I’ll have a look at his too.”

 

“Why wouldn’t he?” Hermione asked. “I know he wants it gone and I’m sure he would trust you to do it.”

 

“He’s not overly fond of me right now,” Miles said with a frown.

 

“Why not?” Hermione urged.

 

Dean laughed, “Because he stole his woman!”

 

“Bollox, Miles can’t stand Romilda!” Ginny said.

 

“Not, Romilda, Ginny,” Dean continued to laugh. “Not Romilda.”

 

Everyone seemed to know who Dean was referring to except Hermione. She assumed it was some from some story Miles or Draco had told them about their past. But why would Draco be on the outs with him now, about someone from the past? Had Miles avoided her because he was not actually uninterested in relationships but uninterested in her? Was he seeing someone else, someone Draco had fancied? The whole idea baffled her.

 

 

After another hour or so the group began to file out of the Potter’s home. Miles lingered behind.

 

“Hey, Hermione,” he began. “Er, I’m sorry about not owling before like I said I would. I meant to. I really did. It’s just that, well it was kind of awkward after not seeing you for so long and then everything that happened.”

 

“It was a little awkward,” Hermione allowed.

 

“Well, that, I really should have sent that owl,” Miles said. “Then Draco heard about it and was put out. He had a right go at Professor McGonagall!”

 

“Why?” Hermione asked brow wrinkled.

 

“He said it was irresponsible. A woman of her age shouldn’t be getting pissed. Bad for the health and all that,” Miles said.

 

“No, not about Professor McGonagall, why was he put out over... us, ” Hermione said, the last word adding to her discomfort.

 

“Because I know Draco,” Miles said. “I shouldn’t have let things go that far.”

 

“But why does he care what you do?” Hermione asked. “You’re an adult and can make your own choices. It’s really none of his business.”

 

“It’s not me he’s worried about,” Miles said his gazing into her eyes.

 

“Well my private life is none of his business either,” she said full of spite.

 

“He knows that now,” Miles replied.



Chapter 24: Chapter 24
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Chapter 24

 

 

The idea of genetic testing niggled around Hermione’s mind for weeks. The idea of testing the skin cells of the mark and comparing them to other skin cells intrigued her. Could he have mutated them in some way to match his own genetics when he took custody of the Death Eaters? She had none of Tom Riddle’s DNA, nor any offspring nor any other relative so there would be no way they could ever be certain. Part of her thought it best to never mention this speculation because if he had would anyone want to know that his DNA was still being carried?

 

She awaited Mile’s response to her owl asking if he had looked at his own skin cells or asked Draco for samples. With modern microbiology there could be a real possibility of discerning exactly if that mark had changed the marked person. At last his reply flew in on the leg of a large mottled brown horned owl. After unrolling and reading the parchment’s contents, she was disappointed. He had looked at skin cells of each sample closely under a microscope but found no differences in the cellular structure. He could run more testing if time permitted, but did not expect to be successful.

 

Draco had refused any sorts of testing. Miles did not expect any differences in Malfoy’s mark, but had to admit his own curiosity about it. Malfoy’s mark had not faded over the years. His own and Pucey’s had faded. Even some of the Death Eaters who were serving sentences in Azkaban had faded marks. The healers Miles had worked with over the years had kept him abreast of their findings concerning the mark. Draco’s had always seemed different to them. Miles suspected it had more to do with the magic of the mark and its effects on Draco than his being any different from that of the others. But Draco had said no.

 

Because Hermione always sought the answers she had to know why Draco refused Miles’s offer. It seemed as if there was any chance he would take it. She knew the faces of the women Voldemort defiled still lived in his memory. He had told her those faces haunted him. Would he never let go of the guilt he carried? How long would he force himself to suffer their shame? He had told her to stay out of his life but she couldn’t.

 

 

 

 

Since the Department of Mysteries was in the basement that is where Hermione would go. She made her way down the hall and through the grand atrium to lifts. When she came to the Department of Mysteries she had to be escorted to the Alchemists labs because she had no idea where they were. She thanked the kindly old witch who had shown her the way and then set about finding Draco.

She spotted his white blonde head bent over a large dusty looking tome filled with a language she did not know. There were several bits of foliage around him and list he seemed to be checking off with his quill.

 

“Draco Malfoy, I want your blood and some skin cells!” Hermione demanded.

 

He dropped his quill and shot his hands into the air, the universal sign of surrender. “But I haven’t done anything,” he stammered.

 

The Ministry Officials around the room were startled. They looked as if they did not know whether to pull their wands or to surrender as well. Hermione would have been amused by the situation if she had not recognized the fear in his eyes.

 

“No, no,” she said as she tried to contain her mirth, “put your hands down. I only need a sample. I’m not here to kill you.”

 

“Well you shouldn’t shout about wanting my blood,” he drawled.

 

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” she sniffed. “I should have stated my intentions more clearly. Mr. Malfoy, If you would please allow me to extract a small sample of blood and a few skin cells to be scientifically analyzed? I would be most grateful.”

 

He looked around and saw all his coworkers staring in his direction with questioning looks. He flushed a deep scarlet and dropped his head.

 

“Do you think this is the best place for this?” he drawled stuffing his hands into his pockets.

 

“You’re right,” Hermione said, searching the faces of the Ministry workers surrounding them. “We need to set up a time to do this properly in Mile’s laboratory.”

 

“No,” Draco said.

 

“Why?” Hermione said. “Miles told me you didn’t want to do it, but I really think it could help us. With the project we were working on and maybe others in the future. Did he ever tell you about wanting to map Wizarding genomes?”

 

“I can’t talk about this now,” he said sounding desperate. He did not look her in the eye.

 

“Finish up here and report to my office, Mr. Malfoy,” Hermione said kindly, but firm enough to communicate that it was an order not a request.

 

 

She walked out of the Department of Mysteries and waited outside the door that led to that maze of a department. The other departments were so much easier to navigate, she found herself musing. She did hope Malfoy wouldn’t take long because she didn’t want to be caught waiting for him, looking like some lovesick teenager waiting outside his classroom to spot the boy she fancies. People were already starting to talk around the Ministry and in her circle of friends.

 

After a bit Draco emerged from the door Hermione had been watching. She snapped her head up when she heard it open and bit her lip. His face was still stony but he looked surprised to see that she had waited for him. He did not, however, look happy about it.

 

“What was that in there, Granger?” he complained. “You humiliated me in front of everyone in the department. You know most of them still don’t trust me. They must think I’m being sent to Azkaban! You coming in there demanding blood like some lunatic!” He rolled his eyes and huffed, hands shoved in his pockets.

 

“I’m sorry!” Hermione whispered, “I didn’t think.” She stepped closer and placed her hand on his arm to try to calm his temper.

 

He shook her hand away. “I always have to consider what they are thinking and saying! Can you imagine what that’s like?”

 

She looked up at him, eyes wide, “I said I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I was just excited because I think Miles can help us.”

 

“Yes, Miles is great at helping,” he spat.

 

“He wants to help you, Malfoy,” Hermione rushed, “I talked to him and he has some really brilliant ideas.”

 

“His interest does not lie in helping me, Granger,” he said still full of venom. “I don’t want to talk about this anyway. I do not want to continue this project of yours.”

 

“What if he can help?” Hermione asked wanting to reach out and shake him to his senses, but she didn’t dare to touch him again after he already shook her hand away.

 

“I’ve told you over and over, no,” his voice still angry. “Nothing can help me.” He dropped his head when he muttered the last sad sentence.

 

She stepped closer again and placed her hand on his chest and waited until he did finally look at her, “I want to help you. Let me help you.”

 

This time he did not pull away. He only peered down into her eyes and studied them. The storm clouds in his own eyes faded as he began to frown.

 

“Not here,” he said still gazing at her, “we can’t talk here in the hallway.”

 

She inhaled slowly. When she did she could just perceive the slight clean scent of rain and mint. She bit her lip again and tried clear her mind. The words she had not planned came tumbling out.

 

“Would you like to discuss it in Diagon Alley over tea or coffee?”

 

“Granger,” he smiled. “You attacked my girlfriend Saturday. I can’t be seen in public with you without her going into a tizzy.” He seemed to notice the short distance between them and backed away.

 

“It was just a jinx,” she replied trying to defend herself.

 

“It was beneath you to use a schoolyard jinx,” he said. “Let’s get out of the hallway. Please.”

 

 

They made their way through the hall and into the lifts. When they had entered Hermione noticed that Draco stood a respectable distance from her. She desperately fought the urge to continue to defend herself against Romilda but respected the boundary. Only after the lift stopped outside the atrium did he speak.

 

“After you, Minister,” he said as he stepped aside and ushered her out. His body was stiff and tight, his eyes never glanced in her direction. He said nothing else at all until after the door of her office closed behind him.

 

“Granger,” he said as he reached out and turned her around to face him, “just stop. You can’t help me.”

 

Hermione gasped at his contact. She had not expected him to react this way at all. This Draco stood too close, once again, his stormy eyes boring into hers. He still had held her elbows in his hands. She knew she should pull away but she only wanted to step closer. Before she could act on it, his hands fell away and he turned from her.

 

“Why?” she demanded, though she was unaware if she wanted to know why he turned away or refused her help.

 

“I can’t keep trying and failing,” he said, his voice as heavy hearted as she had ever heard it.

 

“Maybe this time we won’t fail,” Hermione said. She stepped toward him again. “If you just let Miles have some samples, we could get a better idea of how the mark has affected your skin. Maybe we could even laser it off.”

 

“What if I try all those things and fail again?” He peered down at her. “Will you stop? Will you finally see that it tells the truth about who I am? I’m no better than any other Death Eater who took this mark,” he said wrenching himself away from her.

 

“You are not a Death Eater!” Hermione cried. “You had no idea what you were doing when you agreed to join them.”

 

“I knew exactly what I was doing,” he insisted. “I was even proud to do it! My father was rotting away in Azkaban. My mother was forced to turn the manor over to Voldemort. All this I ignored because I was asked to join the Death Eaters. I thought he was right! I believed his madness! When I called you mudblood all those times, I meant it. I really relived you were filthy, like some swine in slop! I was glad to be able to put you in your rightful place. You and everyone like you. I thought it was a privilege to step in and take over for Father. I was honored when he told me to murder an innocent man. I tried, but I failed over and over. I almost killed the Bell girl and Weasley because I was too much of a coward to face Dumbledore.”

 

“You don’t believe those things anymore and you’re not a killer. You have never been a killer!” Hermione said. “You were a child in a terrible situation, led to believe those things preached at you endlessly.”

 

“I’m not a child anymore,” he said once again clutching her upper arms, “but I’m still a failure. I failed to keep Daphne alive after I couldn’t keep her safe. I failed as a husband, Astoria is dead. My son has no mother! I have failed to even give him a happy home.”

 

“Your son is happy,” Hermione stated. “Your wife was happy and she loved you and Scorpius. That does not make you a failure.”

 

“There are parts of my home that stay blocked off,” Draco said, “because of the horrible things done in those rooms. Women raped, you tortured, people killed in those rooms. There are hundreds of dark objects enshrined in glass cases. But I can’t let them go and I can’t leave the manor. Because it’s Malfoy Manor, and I was raised to believe there is nowhere better than Malfoy Manor and no one as good as the damned Malfoys. I cannot walk away! I cannot give up being a Malfoy! My stupid pride fails me every time I try! I can’t walk away but I can’t stop hoping for better. I can’t stop hoping the Malfoy name can become better in the eyes of the world. And I can’t stop hoping that no matter how many times I fail I can be better.”

 

He pulled his hands away and ran his hand through his hair, turning his back to her. Hermione reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder blade. He shrank from physical contact.

 

“Draco,” she began.

 

He cut across her, “That can’t happen though. Things can never get better and I can’t be better.” He whipped around facing her. He thrust his arm forward, “This thing reminds me everyday of who I am!”

 

“No!” the word burst from Hermione as she rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him.

 

“Let me go, Granger,” he said, sadness edging his voice.

 

“No,” she said and held tighter.

 

“You can’t change who I am by changing the Dark Mark,” he said and pulled away.

 

“I don’t care about the mark!” she shouted. “You are not that person and you should not have to live with that!” She gestured to the black symbol marring his skin.

 

“If I wasn’t that person my scar would have faded!” Draco shouted. “Everyone else who has renounced Voldemort, their scars have faded. The people who were forced to take it, their marks are almost gone. Mine is still, as black as ever. What does that say about me?”

 

Hermione sighed, “I don’t know. But we can figure it out.”

 

“No, you can’t help me,” he shook his head. “You can’t even see me as anything beyond being someone who needs you’re help. And you definatly don’t see who I am.”

 

She tried to reach out to him again but he stopped her and turned to the door. He reached for the knob as Hermione grabbed at his hand.

 

“You can’t just give up,” she pleaded.

 

“Let me go, Hermione,” he said. “I’m not free.”



Chapter 25: Chapter 25
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Chapter 25

 

 

Draco was gone from her sight as she stood outside her office. She could feel the tears prickling at her eyes, threatening to spill over. The fact that everyone had turned to stare in her direction did not matter. She heard an old, long familiar voice behind her.

 

“Ms. Granger, I really do think you should listen to the young man and let him go.The more I see you together, the less happy you each seem to be. Alas, time does not heal all wounds. As we’ve come to see. It is unfortunate that he refuses to be helped, but that is, indeed, his way. I do recommend stepping back from the situation and using that logic you’ve proven to be so adept at using, and let him go,” Dumbledore’s portrait admonished.

 

“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t believe he can’t be helped.”

 

“Surely Ms. Granger,” the painting continued, “you can understand that he has told you who he is and what he desires. Since he has been young he has been left to follow his inclinations in pride and conceit. For as much as he has become a different man, he remains the same in that respect. Do not waste your time, my dear. Or your heart.”

 

“How can believing that anyone can becoming a better person can be a waste of my time or my heart? Perhaps, if you had ever believed the best in others you would have trusted others to help Harry more. You would have gone to Sirius and asked what happened and not let an innocent man be held in Azkaban for crimes he did not commit. No, he only mattered when you had need of him! And Harry! You raised Harry and only taught him enough to become a weapon! He loved you! He thought you loved him as well. But I guess that would have been a waste of time and heart,” Hermione snorted back at him.

 

“Ms. Granger, please forgive my interference,” Dumbledore quoted, “it was kindly meant.”

 

“Draco says I should forgive you,” Hermione stated. “Is he still so much a waste of time and heart?”



Chapter 26: Chapter 26
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Chapter 26

 

 

 

Harry must have heard her shouting or have been told about the incident that happened in the Department of Mysteries because he came striding toward her, his green eyes blazing. He stopped in front of Dumbledore’s portrait. The man pictured looked quite insulted. He looked back at Hermione.

 

“What is happening?” asked, irritation in his voice.

 

“Nothing for everyone to concern themselves about,” Hermione announced loudly. The onlookers quickly turned away and went on about Ministry business.

 

“Something is going on here Hermione!” Harry insisted. “I have Muldoon running to my office informing me that you arrested Malfoy. Then Beaumont, the lift controller comes in saying you and Malfoy are screaming in your office. Again, I might add. What is happening here?”

 

“I did not arrest Malfoy, Harry.” Hermione sighed. “It was a misunderstanding. I will have to go clear this up for Draco. He’s already concerned that he’s not trusted by many of his fellow department workers.”

 

“You still haven’t answered me, Hermione,” Harry said looking at her with concern.

 

Hermione exhaled loudly and went to sit in the leather wing back chair in the right corner of her office. She turned and waited for Harry to join her in the opposite chair. He sat.

 

“We have a a difference of opinions about the Dark Mark project we were working on,” Hermione said.

 

“A difference of opinion?” Harry asked, brows raised, “People all over the Ministry are talking about the shouting matches coming from your office!”

 

“Well, if they were attending to their own work they wouldn’t have time to attend to mine,” Hermione said nose in the air.

 

“What is really going on?” Is this about Romilda?” He asked.

 

“No!” Hermione yelped. “Well only once, but not today.”

 

“Can’t you just let it go, Hermione?” Harry asked. “So you didn’t like her in school? So what? She teased you about Miles, we were doing that. We took the mickey from him too.”

 

“No, Harry!” Hermione stated. “I do not like Romilda Vane and I never will, but that is not the problem. Miles had a brilliant idea and Draco doesn’t want to cooperate.”

 

“I told you not to push,” Harry said. “If he wants out, I think you should leave it.”

 

“But Harry!,” Hermione began.

 

“No, ” he said with startling firmness. “This time you’re wrong.”

 

“Harry, how much do you trust Draco?” she asked.

 

“I trust him in my home with my family, Hermione,” he answered.

 

“Why?” she asked.

 

“We were never friends, that’s true enough. But when he was faced with the decision to save his own skin and family, during the battle with Delphini, he didn’t make that choice. He could have used that time turner at any time without the Ministry ever finding out but he didn’t. He could have used Delphini and all his knowledge of Voldemort against us, but he didn’t. He worked with us. He fought at our sides. I never trusted him before, you know that. After seeing how important Albus is to him, even if it’s only because he’s important to Scorpius, I had to admit that Malfoy is not the same bloke he was,” Harry explained.

 

“I understand that Harry,” Hermione said. “I do. I mean Scorpius is friends with Rose and we’ve all let the kid into our lives. Even I could see how lonely he was. But are you really sure Draco is different?”

 

“Yes, Hermione,” Harry said once again. “Ginny forced him to start coming by after the mess the boys caused. He was lost to the world, Hermione.”

 

“It was a bad time for him, I know, ” she conceded.  "When did it change from you being suspicious of Malfoy to me?"

 

“If you and Ron hadn’t been having troubles, you would’ve seen it,” Harry said.

 

Hermione laughed a little, “That’s what Ron said.”

 

“Ron said something good about Malfoy?, Harry asked amused. “Usually he just says something about him being a ferret.”

 

“He gave me his blessing, you know, with Malfoy?” Hermione said.

 

“Who,” asked Harry startled. “And what, blessing to do what with Malfoy?”

 

Hermione was laughing heartily now. “It seems your wife had some ideas about my relationship with Draco. From what Ron said, she shared those ideas with him, Ron. He came to my flat and said, and I quote, I “could do worse.” Hermione gestured air quotes around the last of the sentence.

 

“Wait,” Harry said now laughing as well, “Ron gave you permission to see Malfoy, in a romantic sense? What the hell?”

 

“I don’t know,” Hermione snarked, “It was your wife’s idea, I said.”

 

He stopped and considered Hermione for a minute and then asked, “Hermione, do you fancy Malfoy? Is that what all these questions are about?”

 

“No,” she blurted out, “No, of course, I don’t fancy Draco Bloody Malfoy! At least I don’t think I do.” She could not look up at him.

He chuckled, “This is a bit of a sticky wicket, yes?”

 

“Really Harry, a sticky wicket?” she asked. “Are you a hundred years old?”

 

“What do you want me to say?” Harry asked.

 

“That it’s mad,” she cried. “The whole idea of my fancying Malfoy is mad! That I’m just confusing my compassion for his circumstances for something else! Tell me anything!”

 

“I can’t,” Harry said. “You’re the one who knows this stuff, not me! I reckon this is more Ginny’s area. Maybe you should talk to her about this.”

 

“She’s the one who planted the stupid idea in my head,” Hermione griped.

 

“It must not be that stupid, if it’s true,” Harry pointed out.

 

“I didn’t say it was true, just that’s mad and there might, maybe be just the tiniest possibility that there could be just a little truth to it,” Hermione said returning her nose to the air.

 

Harry laughed at her. “Is that why you hate Romilda?”

 

“No,” she replied. “I just hate her. Ginny does too. She is exactly like she used to be at Hogwarts. All she cares about are names and being the center of attention.”

 

“Ginny is still bent out of shape because Romilda used to fancy me!” Harry said.

 

“She did not,” Hermione replied waspishly, “she fancied your status.”

 

“Same thing really,” Harry smiled.

 

“It is not, Harry Potter!” Hermione shrieked. “And you know it is not! It’s probably why she’s with Draco too, his wealth and connections!”

 

“Sounds like you’ve given it some thought,” Harry chided.

 

“It doesn’t take any thought,” she said giving him a scathing look. “It only takes knowing Romilda Vane.”

 

“You sure about those feelings?” he asked looking very concerned.

 

“No,” she admitted. “He thinks I see him as a project not as a person.”

 

“Do you?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know,” she fretted.

 

“Then I think you should keep it to yourself,” Harry said. “What if this passes and you realize you don’t really fancy him at all; you might just be feeling sorry for him.”

 

“Do you really think so?” she asked.

 

“Yes, I do,” Harry stated. “Malfoy does not want people to pity him.”

 

“He’s made that clear,” Hermione said.

 

“Well then steer clear if that’s all this is,” Harry said. “I know you don’t like Romilda, but he does. She gets him up and out the manor. They have fun together. Ron really said he wants you to go out with Malfoy?”

 

“He stopped in to apologize about everything,” Hermione told him.

 

“I noticed you were getting on again. It’s good,” he said.

 

“We’re not having sleepovers and braiding each others’ hair, but yeah. It’s good for the kids too,” she said.

 

“It is good. Will they be staying with you or Ron over the holidays?” Harry asked.

 

“They’ll spend time with us both, I hope. Why?” she asked.

 

“I do know that Malfoy is planning some big Christmas thing at Malfoy Manor, with Romilda. He was talking to me about wards for certain wings of the manor, ” Harry said.

 

“I’m sure it will be lovely,” Hermione said. “Please enjoy the evening.”

 

“You’ll be there,” he said.

 

“If this is Romilda’s do, she’s not going to send me an invite,” Hermione said nose wrinkled.

 

“She hates you for sure, but you’re the Minister. She’ll invite you.” Harry said.

 

“Like that’s a good reason to turn up!” Hermione cried, insulted.

 

“Maybe that’s not, but maybe there’s another reason to get cozy at Malfoy Manor,” Harry suggested cheekily.

 

“Harry!” she squealed.

 

“Hey, you’ll probably be allowed a plus one,” he continued to kid. “So we’re not arresting Malfoy for some nefarious plot against the Ministry?”

 

“Not today, Harry” Hermione said, “Maybe tomorrow.”

 

“I’ve been trying to get him for years!” Harry said laughing.

 

 

 

 

 

After Harry left her office Hermione had time to reflect on her day. She thought to herself that maybe she should have stayed in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. At least there she didn’t have to deal with many people. The house elves were much more pleasant and presented far fewer problems. She then realized she still needed to respond to Miles’s owl. Draco’s unwillingness to continue would not stop her. She needed to work with Miles. The idea of mapping genomes may be the key to ending all the prejudice that had permeated the wizarding community for so long. She sent a reply informing him that she would love to visit his lab and discuss the possibility of beginning working with magical genetics.

 



Chapter 27: Chapter 27
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Chapter 27

 

 

 

Miles had suggested they meet for a drink at a wizards’ pub in London the following week. She didn’t know why but she felt guilty as she searched for him in the crowd. There was nothing strange about meeting a friend for a drink. They had plans to talk about magical and muggle genetics.

 

She went to the bar and ordered a hard cider. After the last time drinking with Miles she thought it best to limit the drinks to one safe drink and stick to water or club soda later. She felt as if she was betraying Draco by even being here. But that was bonkers, she thought to herself. She had not promised to give up searching for answers even if he had. Besides, there were other reasons to be concerned with mapping genomes. Still his face, as he confessed his feelings of failure, flooded her brain.

 

She sat alone, waiting for Miles, without touching the cider in front of her. Her thoughts stayed on the blonde man who had begged her to let him go while she waited for the brunette man who finally arrived. He ordered a lager and sat down across from her.

 

“Sorry so late,” he said. “My department has received a message from the government of Benin requesting our help. Some of the western country’s tribes are having terrible deformities amongst their cattle. We’ve been asked to help them discover the source of the problem. It’s unclear whether this is a genetic malady or something else.”

 

“That’s terrible,” Hermione said.

 

“I’ll be flying to Benin and setting up camp with a few other geneticstss and some microbiologists. A lot more doctors and scientific teams should be coming out and working with the villagers as well,” Miles explained.

 

“Oh, I do hope you can help those people,” Hermione said.

 

“We will do all we can for them. They depend on the cattle for almost all their livelihood. It’s necessary to keep them from losing their culture. Some of the peoples are of the nomadic tribes that have walked the lands for centuries,” Miles stated.

 

“It sounds like an interesting adventure as well as a good mission,” Hermione said. “I’m a bit disappointed that we won’t be able to start on your idea of genome mapping.”

 

“That won’t be able to be a reality until we can get many more wizards to even think about the possibilities of muggle medicine. As far as I know I am the only wizard that is even a qualified doctor let alone a geneticist. We are much farther behind in accepting their ways than they are ours, as far as technology and medicine are concerned. Healers only started using stitches at St. Mungo’s about 20 years ago,” Miles said.

 

“Still,” Hermione sighed, “it’s such a brilliant idea. I just wish we could get others interested.”

 

“No go for me, so far,” Miles said. “Most people in the magical community think I’m mad to want to work with muggles.”

 

“We’ll just have to see it as something to look forward to in the future then,” Hermione said trying to hide her own disappointment.

 

“I’ll drink to that,” Miles said throwing back his glass and swallowing heartily.

 

“Have you had a chance to analyze those skin cells?” Hermione asked.

 

“I did,” Miles said, “There seemed to be no genetic change to the cell itself. I couldn’t find any structural damage or changes. I don’t know what that crazy bastard did to make these marks.”

 

“I guess we never will,” Hermione said.

 

“Why?” Miles asked. “Did you give up the search or did Malfoy?”

 

“Both,” Hermione stated.

 

“He didn’t seem to want to talk about it when I asked,” Miles said. “What happened there? He was chuffed to be working on it with you in the beginning. Then just a few weeks later he’s done with all of it. Refuses to even talk about it with me.”

 

“He really got his hopes up and then there was some miscommunication. It’s been a big cock up really,” Hermione said.

 

“So I take it the two of you tried a lot of stuff from what he’s told me. I told him not to set store in getting rid of it. Mine has faded and all but his just won’t fade,” Miles said.

 

“I know!” Hermione exclaimed, “It eats at him. I did everything I could think of. We tried everything. And I do mean everything, even a common vanishing spell.”

 

“What you mean you took his arm and said, “Evanesco!” Miles said as he brandished his wand over his dark mark.

 

“Yes, I wanted to be sure,” Hermione said and then glanced at Miles’s arm. “Miles’s your arm! Look at your arm!”

 

The dark haired man looked down at his arm. There was nothing in the place the dark mark had been. He looked back at her in shock.

Hermione sat slack jawed, her eyes darting back and forth from Miles’s arm to his face. His eyes showed his own amazement at the simple spell removing the mark after so many years of failed attempts.

 

“How did you do that?” Hermione gasped.

 

“I don’t know,” Miles said, still flabbergasted. “I wasn’t even really thinking about it. It just worked. We have to find Malfoy! We have to tell him!”

 

Hermione’s could feel her heart palpitating. Her first thought when seeing the mark vanish was to tell Draco so he could finally be free of it. But he had begged her to stop. If she went running to him now, with this information he would never accept that she cared for him, not just making his mark disappear. She did care more for him than the mark she admitted to herself.

 

“I can’t,” she breathed. “I can’t tell him. He told me to stay away. He will never accept that I can see past that mark.”

 

“He won’t care as long as he can remove it,” Miles nearly shouted. “Wait. Why do you care about how he thinks you see him?”

 

Hermione felt the heat rising in her face and could not look at Miles. She knew that he would see the truth there.

 

“Hermione?” Miles said, “Is there something happening between you and Malfoy now?”

 

“No!” she cried with more emotion than she had meant to reveal. “You know he’s with Romilda Vane. It’s just that he told me he wanted to stay out it when I tried to get him to meet with you.”

 

“You fancy Malfoy, don’t you?” he asked. “No it’s more than that isn’t it. You really do care for him.”

 

“He’s had a hard time moving on from his past, and I wanted to help him,” she said trying to make a reasonable excuse.

 

Miles sat across from her nodding his head. She continued to look away from him. She knew that she was blushing but Draco had told her to stay out of his life. She wouldn’t force her way in and she didn’t want to suffer the pity Miles would have, nor did she want to sit there while he gloated. And he looked as if he wanted to gloat.

 

“Well I can tell him,” Miles said rationally.

 

“You can’t,” Hermione gasped again.

 

“He hates that mark!” Miles argued. “Why wouldn’t I tell him to try again?”

 

“Please don’t tell him I was involved when you talk to him,” she begged.

 

“Your name, or feelings, will never be mentioned, ” Miles smirked. “Er, now I’ll have to cover this with a bandage and tell everyone at work I had it lasered.

 

 

 

Hermione returned to her flat still confused about her feelings for Draco Malfoy. She admitted to herself that she believed he was a changed man, a better man, but he still didn’t believe. Was she wrong or was he? If she was wrong, he had the potential to destroy the wizarding world she had fought so hard to build and make better, and if he was wrong he the potential to break her heart.

Her heart beat faster and her breaths came shallow even acknowledging that he may have made some effect on her. He had been upfront about admitted he couldn’t imagine her in such a way. He may be friends with nearly everyone in her social sphere but he had never extended an invitation to her outside of work and ministry duties. Only when he thought Scorpius might be disappointed by Rose’s absence at his party did he ever even think to speak to her. It was true that she had not spared any thoughts for him before that and frequently forgot him afterward but now he was never far from her thoughts.

 

Then there was always the ever present and nagging image of Romilda Vane in her mind. Harry had said that Draco had fun with her. She could see how shallow and thoughtless Romilda could be considered fun. Romilda was always wanting to be out and in the center of things surrounded by people with important names. It must be better than sitting alone, night after night, in a dark old manor that had to be sectioned off just to be bearable. Romilda didn’t care about the past obviously and pulled him away from drowning in his own misery, while Hermione would not have been bothered with him if it were not for that past. She had only decided he was worthy of her notice when she could hope to erase that mark. Working on that project with Hermione had only pushed him back into the headspace he had hated for so long. Just as he was learning to leave his self imposed imprisonment and have a life she came along and reinforced the idea that he deserved to be there for all his past failures. Was he wrong that she wouldn’t even care about him if his arm was bare?

 

Another thing Hermione hated to admit and knew she was being petty just to admit was that fact that Romilda had grown into a stunningly beautiful woman. Hermione had lately been deemed “not unattractive”. She knew that she was an intelligent and attractive woman in her own right, but she also knew men were visual creatures. Hermione had no pretensions to upstaging Romilda in the looks department. Even Harry had said, and in front of Ginny no less, that Romilda was a looker. She was fun and she was beautiful those were two things Hermione did not consider herself to be.

 

Draco had also defended Romilda to her, so he must have some sort of feelings for the woman. It was possible that he maybe admitted to himself that Hermione was provoked but he had scolded her for attacking. “A schoolyard jinx” he had called it, and then he had told her to stay out of his life.

 

No matter her feelings, real or imagined, she decided to honor his wishes and simply stay away. It had not been difficult before. The very fact that she had stayed away was one reason he insisted she continue to do so. Resolving her feelings was really a matter of forgetting him. Still, she wished their last words had not left him thinking so badly of her. Nothing, it seemed, could erase the past so she went to bed with only her recollections and regrets while he was probably going to bed with Romilda.

 

 

 

 

Hermione awoke to a quite home. It was normal when Rose and Hugo were away at school, but it was amplified to her today. She set down with her parchment and quill and wrote long letters to each child asking after them and all their friends. It had been a while since Rose had written to her. Hugo hardly did and only sent word with Rose.

 

While she sat writing to Rose, Harry’s green form spun through her fireplace. He was smiling so she hoped he had good news at least.

 

“Hi, Harry,” she said as he stepped into her living room scattering ashes and soot around her hearth.

 

“Hey, Hermione, I’m glad you’re in,” he said.

 

“Of course, I’m in.” she sighed. “Where else would I be?”

 

“You should be at the Hog’s Head,” Harry stated. “Neville’s having cards over at the pub. I thought you might like to get out and visit with your friends. You know, just take your mind off things at work?”

 

“That sounds nice, Harry” Hermione said. She was relieved to be able to take the night off from her worries over Draco. “I’ll be along after I finish these letters to Rose and Hugo. Tell everyone I’ll be along.”

 

“See you in a bit then,” Harry called from the flames and was gone again.

 

Hermione finished her letters and sent them off with her owl, Picatrix with the parchment tied securely to her leg. She then went to dress and set off for the Hog’s Head. It was when she was fishing for a clean pair of jeans that she thought of Romilda in her always stylish garb. The thought of Romilda instantly brought Draco’s image to mind. Why had she not remembered that he played cards with them? Why had she not said no?

 

“Sod all,” she sighed and zipped the jeans. It was too late now to back out she thought.

 

It wasn’t like she had planned to intrude on his life this time. Harry had invited her. She would avoid speaking to Romilda or Draco as much as possible she decided as she set off for the Hog’s Head.

 

 

A/N Sorry it says novella. There was more to this story than I thought, but it's going to heat up soon so thanks for hanging in there.



Chapter 28: Chapter 28
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Chapter 28

 

 

 

Hermione landed outside the Hog’s Head with the loud crack! accompanying apparition. Though she had decided not to let dread of meeting Draco ruin her night she was still nervous. The conversations she’d had with Harry and Miles ran circles in her memories. There was also the possibility that Miles talked to Draco about vanishing his mark. It could be possible that Draco’s mark was vanished now as well. Hermione knew Draco would never trust that her feelings for him were real if he vanished his mark before he knew how she felt. There was no way he could know because she was still unsure. There was no way to be sure but to go inside and act normal, or as normal as she possibly could be.

 

The smell of butterbeer and stronger spirits hit hear nasal passage as soon as she stepped inside. She noticed Pansy poring drinks and shouting over to Neville to play his queen. Two people she had not expected to see were present, Ron and Mandy. She realized she should not be surprised to see them since Ron had played in the last game and Pansy had told her earlier that she and Mandy had been friends for many years. The face she did not wish to see was the one that drew her eye. His eyes searched her face too, she couldn’t help but notice. She glanced away.

 

“Pansy, can I help you with anything?”Hermione called out.

 

“No, no have a seat!” Pansy said back. She was smiling and rummaging around making herself busy. She looked happier and more at ease than Hermione could recall seeing her in a long time.

 

 “Hermione!” Ginny shouted and whipped around. “Come over here!”

 

 Hermione went to join Ginny and Mandy. She still was a little uneasy with Mandy, but it was natural due to their circumstances she reckoned. The woman had tried to be nice and make amends with Hermione, but she still slept with her husband. That was the kind of thing Hermione found hard to forgive no matter the state of Ron and her marriage. Mandy was kind and caring with her children though, and that did soften her dislike a very little.

 

“Did you hear that Lily stayed in Gryffindor during the resort?” Ginny asked.

 

 “Rose sent word in her letter. She said Lily refused to be sorted into any other house. It’s obvious how much a Weasley she is. Hugo was resorted to Ravenclaw with Rose,” Hermione said. She had secretly hoping at least one of her children would remain a Gryffindor.

 

“That’s fantastic!” Mandy exclaimed. “I’ll have to let him know about the secret compartment behind the statue of Ravenclaw. That’s where everyone hides their contraband in the house.”

 

 “I forgot you were in Ravenclaw, Mandy” Ginny said.

 

 “I was,” Mandy said.

 

Pansy emerged from the kitchen behind the pub with a huge tray of fried battered fish in her hands and a larger platter of chips bobbing after her. Hermione grabbed the levitating tray of chips and carried it over to the table.

 

 “Thanks for that,” Pansy said to Hermione.“Oi! Mandy can you grab the bottles of ketchup and vinegar and bring them along?”

 

                                

Ginny made her way to the table with arms full of butterbeer bottles while Mandy grabbed the other requested bottles. Pansy sat down beside Neville and swept the cards away with a flick of her wand. The game players protested and groaned but she shushed them all.

 

“Draco,” Pansy said, “budge over so Hermione can sit.”

 

 He did as bid not looking at her at all. She sat silently as well.

 

“Well tuck in,” Neville urged.

 

 Everyone began filling the plates that appeared before them and several other side dishes appeared on the table as they filled the plates.

 

“Pansy, you really have a knack for food and service charms,” Hermione said admiring the other witch’s efficiency.

 

“Thanks, Aberforth taught me loads when I started working with him,” Pansy said.

 

“Everyone thought he was barmy but he really knew his stuff when it came to running this place. He told me that he learned a lot of it when he was taking care of his sister Ariana.” She pointed to the portrait that still hung on the wall.

 

 “I never really thought of all the ins and outs of running this place, but I love coming here now. Back in school we all stayed far away,” Hermione said.

 

 “Except for our first D.A. meeting!” Harry piped up. “It was your idea, Hermione, to meet here. And then we got in such trouble because we were overheard.

 

“Well yeah,” said Ginny, “but it was these prats who turned us in.” She indicated Draco and Pansy. Then continued, “Stupid Inquisitorial Squad.”

 

 “We all did things in school,” Draco drawled and scowled at her.

 

“Not for Umbridge!” Ginny snorted. “She was foul!”

 

 Mandy added, “Squatty toad looking hag. Did you know that I once hexed all those silly cat plates to scream every hour on the hour? It was after the Marietta incident.”

 

Ron looked over at her with pride, “I never heard about that one, but I wish I had gotten to see her face.”

 

 They all laughed at the memories of Umbridge getting a little comeuppance.

 

 “Draco, where is Romilda?” Pansy asked while eying him and Hermione simultaneously.                           

 

“Romilda decided it was best not to come along tonight,” he said in a stiff tone. “She knew some of the present party would not be agreeable to her company.”

 

 “No I wouldn’t,” Ginny spat. “I cannot stand that stupid insipid shallow cow! I wish you would find someone decent, Draco. You I can forgive but not her.”

 

 “Why because she used to fancy Potter?” he asked. “You should really hate me then, he followed me around all sixth year like a lovesick puppy.”

 

 “You know, I’m not really in the mood to be making jokes about that time in our lives,” Harry said. “Let’s drop it before wands are pulled.”

 

“Romilda’s still a loudmouthed harpy” Ginny whispered to Draco tongue stuck out.

 

 “If you start a fight at my table Ginny, I will hex your mouth closed,” Pansy warned.

 

 “Oh Hermione did that to Romilda,” Ron yelled his mouth still full of peas. “You should have seen it! She whipped her wand out and hexed her before Romilda even stopped speaking!”

 

 Pansy and Neville turned their eyes on Hermione, disbelieving.

 

“Hermione!” Neville scolded.

 

 “Whatever made you hex her?” Pansy simpered with a knowing smile.

 

 Hermione cleared her throat, “I let frustration get the best of me. I never should have resulted to schoolyard tactics.” She heard Draco cough beside her.

 

“Draco, surely you defended the woman you love,” Pansy said narrowing her eyes at him.     

 

“Romilda and I are not that serious, Pansy,” he scowled.

 

 “But she sent us an invitation to a Christmas party at the manor,” Neville said confused.

 

“We’ve decided it will be good publicity for her,” Draco said while rolling his eyes,“She’s been allotted a column in the Daily Prophet. Since Rita Skeeter has stopped writing as many articles as she used to, Romilda has been given a chance to fill in for her.”

 

“Do remember to invite Luna,” Neville said. “It’s been a while since she’s been in from abroad but she did send me the best specimen. It’s a bladderwort native to some Icelandic caves she has been excavating in search of huldufolk.”

 

“What are are hullofolk?” Ron asked.

 

 “Huldufolk,” Neville corrected. “They are supposed to be small elf like people who hide in rocks and cavernous areas in Iceland. She hasn’t reported spotting any yet.”

 

 “I always thought you’d end up with Luna,” Ron said to Neville.

 

“I love Luna, of course, as a friend, but I think she might be mad,” Neville said.

 

“I know she is, luv,” Pansy added kissing Neville on the cheek.

 

“She’s been a good friend,” Neville said quietly to Pansy. “I’ve always been able to count on her.”

 

 “Oh, honey, I know,” Pansy said. “It’s just that she has some funny ideas and I never really got to know her as anything but Looney Lovegood.”

 

“She’s not Looney,” Ginny said defending her. “She’s been a good friend to all of us.”

 

“I have already sent her an invitation. I owe her a lot of gratitude for her kindness to me in the past. Not everyone can see past our mistakes,” Draco said ending the matter.

 

 Hermione wanted to respond but knew that she was better off not to say a word. She couldn’t trust herself with the matter of forgiveness and mistakes, or Draco Malfoy. She spent her time pushing her food around her plate and trying to avoid calling attention to herself.

 

 

 

The plates and food vanished from the table when everyone finished. Hermione decided to get up and stretch her legs. At the same time Draco rose from his seat, knocking into her. She felt herself falling backwards when his arms encircle her. She gained her footing and stood steady long before he removed his arms. They stared at each other for sometime before Harry cleared his throat. Draco instantly dropped his arms.

 

“Sorry,” Draco muttered to Hermione.

 

“It’s okay,” she said. “My fault anyway.”

 

“No,” Draco insisted, “it was me.”

 

Pansy sniggered, “Looks like it’s both of you!”

 

 

Hermione could feel her face turning pink. She bit her lip and asked to be excused. She made her way to the loo and waited for her blush to fade and her heart to return to a steady beat. So far her plan to avoid him was not working in her favor and Pansy seemed all too ready to call attention to it. Why did Romilda have to be absent tonight of all nights she thought to herself.

 

When she returned to the main room of the pub everyone was back at their card game. Ron seemed to have returned to his winning streak as the others groaned and mumbled every time he played a card. Mandy was all to happy to cheer him along. Ginny was with Harry and Pansy was snuggled in her usual position beside Neville. It was like Noah’s Ark in there. Two by two they sat. Except Draco, he sat alone. Why was it always Draco?

 

“Hermione,” Ginny shouted. “You missed it!”

 

“What?” Hermione asked. Part of her was afraid to find out after the stumbling incident.

 

“We’re pregnant!” Neville announced gleefully.

 

“Wow, number 12!” Hermione exclaimed. She hoped the shock sounded like joy.

 

“This is the last one, Neville Longbottom,” Pansy said firmly.

 

“Gin,” Harry said, ” have you ever thought about having another one? I miss having a little one running around.”

 

“I don’t know, Harry,” Ginny said. “Seeing little Toby and Sam and the little Robin has been kinda nice. It’s been a long time though. Do you think you’re up for it?”

 

“It looks easier than it is, mate,” Ron warned. “Nappies and toilet training!”

 

Mandy sat wide eyed rubbing her swollen midsection, “And you get to do it all again, my big ginger beast.”

 

Ginny made gagging noises along with Neville. Pansy laughed and Draco looked as if he were going to be sick. Hermione could never remember a time that she would have considered Ron a beast; not even in the honeymoon phase.

 

Harry finally spoke, “You have got to stop calling him that in public!”

 

Ron and Mandy sat and grinned. Just great, Hermione thought, not only is it like being on Noah’s Ark, but the animals are breeding.

 

“Where is Miles?” Pansy asked.

 

Everyone looked around noticing, as they had not before, his absence. Yet another topic Hermione had wished to avoid this evening. She knew where he was but hoped she wasn’t the only one. She sneaked a glance at Draco’s arm. He still wore long sleeves. No one else answered.

 

“He had to report to a camp in Benin to help out with some medical issues facing a small village there,” Hermione finally told them.

 

She could feel Draco’s head whip around to face her and his eyes boring into her. She didn’t dare look over to meet his gaze.

 

“How did you find out?” Pansy asked.

 

“He told me last night,” Hermione said trying to keep her answers vague.

 

“You saw him last night?” Mandy asked. There was a hint of suggestion in her tone.

 

Hermione shrugged, “We met up to discuss some scholarly interests.”

 

“That’s not what you said you discussed the last time you met up! Are you sure there is nothing going on there, Hermione?” Ginny asked wagging her eyebrows at Hermione.

 

“Of course there’s nothing going on with them,” Draco drawled. “The idea is ridiculous.”

 

Hermione sucked in her breath and involuntarily looked over at him and bit her lip. It was a ridiculous idea. It had just been one alcohol induced night, but why did he sound so angry about it? He sneered over at Ginny.

 

“Draco,” Pansy simpered, “why is it so ridiculous?”

 

His face flushed when he realized what he had said. He looked over at Pansy and began to stammer, “Well, you know, it’s Miles.”

“So what about Miles?” she asked in that same false sweet tone.

 

“He just...” he stammered, “he’s not...Well and Granger...shit, Pansy! He’s not into pairing off and Granger has more sense than that.” His face was still scarlet and sullen. He peered at Pansy in a threatening way.

 

Hermione tried not to turn as red as Draco. “What do you mean by more sense than that?” she demanded. “What’s wrong with Miles?”

 

Draco dropped his head but looked back up at her, “Do you fancy Miles?”

 

“No, for the record and just so everyone knows, I do not fancy Miles, nor does he fancy me,” Hermione huffed with her face still burning.

 

Ron tilted his head at Hermione and scrunched his nose. “We just want you to be happy, like I told you last time we talked.” He patted her hand across the table.

 

“Thank you, Ron,” Hermione sighed and withdrew her hand.

 

“If you think Miles is such a poor choice,” Pansy began with her eyes narrowed, “do you have any better suggestions for Hermione, Draco?"



Chapter 29: Chapter 29
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Chapter 29

 

 

 

 

It was later in November when Mandy gave birth to her third son, Stuart. Ron had arranged for Rose and Hugo to spend an extended weekend with the new baby at Adytum. Hermione set off for Ottery St. Catchpole to visit with the children and to say hello to the other Weasleys. She was expected at the Burrow for an early supper.

 

She set down in a field east of the Burrow and inhaled the familiar scent of grass and cold air that surrounded the once familiar house. It still looked the same, crooked and leaning with additional rooms added willy-nilly. It was the first all magical home she had ever known and was certain that magic alone held the Burrow and all its inhabitants together.

 

The wards had been opened to her and she crossed the gate. Beside the door were two brooms she saw that looked very new. The Weasley’s, other than George and Angelina, rarely used brooms and she knew that despite the earning’s of the shop in Diagon Alley and the franchise in Hogsmeade, they couldn’t afford to be away from the shops at this time of day or these late model brooms. She shrugged and knocked on the door.

 

Arthur Weasley greeted her with a hearty pat on the back and pulled her inside.

 

“Hermione, dear, it’s been too long since we’ve seen you! You must be so busy with work. Do come in, dear,” shouted Molly Weasley from the doorway into the kitchen.

 

The house smelled like firewood, fresh bread, and something roasting. It smelled and looked exactly as she remembered. But there was something different than she had ever sensed at the Burrow, something that didn’t fit with the other scents.

 

“Hello Arthur, hello Molly!” Hermione said. “That dinner smells delicious. Are you making something with mint? A desert or tea perhaps?”

 

“No, dear,” Molly said shaking her head. “Why do you ask?”

 

Hermione sniffed the air once more and scowled. “I thought I caught the scent of something minty.”

 

“No dear, no mint, but would you like a cup of tea?” the older witch asked. She was a bit plumper and her hair had greyed but she still had the same abilities to manage a household. A few flicks of her wand set the cups on the table top and sent the kettle to pouring the steaming liquid into them. Each cup jumped onto a stoneware tray. Creamer and sugar bowls followed behind the cups. After the final pour the kettle settled itself onto the tray as well. Hermione was still impressed by Molly’s wondrous charm work. There were nine cups on the tray. Hermione had guessed correctly that the two brooms outside the door belonged to visitors.

 

“Hermione, dear, would you mind taking the tea into the sitting room?

 

 She carried the stoneware tray into the sitting room and saw Ron plunked onto the sofa across from the doorway holding his newborn son. Rose and Hugo were on either side. They glanced up at her with smiles. Mandy sat beside Hugo. Across from them was a head of black curls and another head of silvery blonde. Hermione gasped but tightened her grip on the tray in her hands. She pasted a false smile on her face.

 

After setting down the tea she held out her arms to hear children who ran into them.

 

“It’s so good to see you both,” Hermione said as she squeezed her children.

 

Hugo pulled back first, he seemed down to Hermione. She hoped to find some time later in the evening to speak with him. It was unlike him to withdraw.Rose, however, began to chat with her usual animation. She told Hermione all about little Stewie and everyone at Hogwarts before Hermione even had a chance to sit. At least Rose was doing well, Hermione thought to herself.

 

“Hello everyone,” she greeted the lot. “Congratulations on the little one.” Hermione nodded in the direction of the baby in Ron’s arms.

 

“Thank you,” Mandy said as Arthur came shuffling into the sitting room.

 

He made his way to a puffy chintz chair that had been patched in several places and showed wear in many others. He adjusted his glasses and settled himself in.

 

“Hermione, do you know Romilda?” he asked. “She’s an old friend of Mandy’s. She brought a basket of goodies for the baby. And Mr. Malfoy, of course.” He tacked the last sentence on with a little edge in his voice.

 

“Draco, please, Mr. Weasley,” Draco insisted.

 

“Yes,” Hermione said again with her fake smile, “we are all acquainted.” She sat down beside Rose who was admiring her new little brother.

 

“Where are the other two?” Hermione asked looking around for Ron and Mandy’s other two small sons.

 

“Upstairs,” Mandy breathed. “We finally got them down for a nap. Draco and Romilda were just telling us about their plans for the big Christmas celebration at the Manor!”

 

“Draco, sorry, Mr. Malfoy, told me I could come!” Rose exclaimed. “He said he would be happy to send an invitation for Nigel and me! Can I go?”

 

Hermione’s eyes swiveled from her daughter to Draco. He nodded that he had invited her. 

 

She looked back to Ron expecting an argument from him, “I don’t know. I suppose, if it’s all right with your dad.” She bit her lip and hoped he would say no.

 

However, being Ron, he did not. “Sure, it’s okay with me as long as you are back at the Burrow no later than midnight.”

 

“Thank you, Daddy!” Rose squealed and leaned over to kiss his cheek. She jumped off the sofa and headed for the stairs. “You’re the best!”

 

“Hugo, you are welcome to come too,” Draco said. “You may bring a date as well.”

 

“Thanks Mr. Malfoy, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make it,” Hugo mumbled and slumped further into the sofa.

 

“Oh, I wish I could be there,” Mandy pouted as she took the sleeping infant from Ron. She gazed down at the boy’s face and cradled him closer.

 

“Are you sure you won’t be able to come?” Romilda asked. “It’s still a month away.”

 

“I know, but I won’t feel comfortable leaving the children alone so soon after the birth. He’ll still need me and Sammy and Toby will still be adjusting,” Mandy explained. “Do you have a date lined up yet, Hermione?”

 

Hermione jolted to attention when she heard her name. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

 

“A date for the Christmas celebration?” Mandy asked again. “Who are you taking?”

 

Hermione looked over to see Romilda’s eyes shooting sparks and her lips pursed tightly, Draco on the other hand seemed to be holding his breath. He shook free of Romilda’s hand as she tried to clasp his.

 

“I was not aware of the celebration,” Hermione said trying to keep her tone pleasant and neutral.

 

“Haven’t you received the invitation?” Romilda simpered.

 

“I haven’t,” Hermione said.

 

“It must be an oversight. I’ll be sure to send another owl,” Romilda smiled and crinkled her nose in Hermione’s direction. “It’s black tie.”

 

“Supper’s ready everyone!” Molly called from the kitchen.

 

 

Everyone in the sitting room returned their teacups to the tray and followed Arthur Weasley to the kitchen. After pulling out chairs and scuffling for a spot everyone was seated.

 

“Thanks everyone, for coming to supper and sharing in our joy,” Molly said. The plates began to fill in front of each person.

 

“Molly, dear, supper looks wonderful,” Arthur said smiling to his wife. “Let’s eat, shall we?”

 

Everyone began to dig in. The food, Hermione noted, was delicious. Molly certainly had a way in the kitchen that she had never mastered. She could cook a few decent meals the muggle way but her magical abilities with food were rubbish. The roasted beef and cabbage warmed her insides and she tried to forget Draco and Romilda and stay focused on the children.

 

“Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, I would be honored if you would accompany Ron and Rose to the celebration at the Manor,” Draco said politely to his hosts.

.

Arthur put his fork down and removed his glasses to wipe them with the cotton checkered napkin that had been in his lap. It was clear that he was uncomfortable and wanted to decline the invitation. Hermione knew there had been much bad blood between Lucius and Arthur even before the rise of Voldemort. Molly, on the other hand, did love an occasion to dress up and she had so few these days. Hermione also knew Molly spent most of her days encrusted in food and drowning in her grandchildrens’ nappies.

 

“We would love to attend, Draco,” Molly beamed. “It’s so very kind of you to include us in your evening. It sounds lovely, dear.”

 

“Thank you, Draco,” Arthur managed to choke out.

 

“Poppy, you can’t wear those old light blue dress robes,” Rose said, ” the ones with the ruffles on the front. They are so not in style!”

 

“Rose, your grandfather looks wonderful in those dress robes,” Molly scolded. She then turned and placed her hand on Arthur’s and said, “They bring out your beautiful blue eyes.”

 

Romilda took the chance to ingratiate herself, “I’ve always thought Ron had his dad’s eyes. Don’t you think so Mandy?”

 

Mandy, who had just taken a bite had to force it down quickly to answer. “Sure, yes, oh yes. He has Arthur’s eyes.”

 

Hermione noticed once again that Hugo was being unusually quiet. He was stirring his food around around his plate without eating it. He sat frowning into his mashed potatoes.

 

“Hugo, if everyone else is going to Mr. Malfoy’s,” Hermione began before being cut off.

 

“And Romilda’s,” the black hair witch added with a tinkling laugh.

 

“Yes, and Romilda,” Hermione added with a frown, “are you certain you wouldn’t like to attend? I’m sure Scorpius would love to have you.”

 

“He won’t care about anybody but Lily being there,” Hugo sulked.

 

“Lily is mad for that boy of yours,” Molly laughed to Draco. “Arthur and I were about their ages when we started up.”

 

“He couldn’t find anyone better,” Draco said diplomatically, “but I do encourage them to focus on school while they are still students.”

 

“Oh yes, I certainly agree,” Arthur nodded.

 

“Mum, can’t I just stay home with you?” Hugo asked.

 

“Sure, sweetheart, we’ll stay home and make hot chocolate if you want,” Hermione assured him.

 

“Oh, drats, you won’t make it?” Romilda asked barely containing her smile.

 

“No, it seems we won’t,” Hermione said.

 

Draco glanced over to her and said, “You’re both welcome to come if you change your mind. I would really like to see you.”

 

Ron studied his ex wife and son. “Hey, why don’t you come with me, Hugo? We might even teach you to play a couple of those card games when you get a bit older.”

 

“That sounds wonderful!” Mandy said.

 

Hugo shook his head and kept pushing his food around the plate, “No, I don’t think so.”

 

No one else said anything about the party and continued to eat in silence. When everyone had finished the tea kettle sprang to a boil again. Molly once again set the dishes to clearing and washing while she ushered all the visitors back into the sitting room. She asked Arthur to light the fireplace so they would all be cozy.

 

Hermione stayed in the kitchen with Molly in order to assist with clean up but also to see if his grandmother knew what was bothering Hugo. She also heard Draco asking Hugo if he would like to see his new broom and heard the two step outside. She followed them.

Draco handed the broom to Hugo who was only mildly interested. Hermione knew that Rose would be much more likely of the two to want to talk about brooms. Still they chatted up the brooms stats and specs for a few minutes.

 

“Hugo,” Draco said looking away from the broom and to the boy, “is there something else you would like to talk about? Are you and Scorpius having a problem maybe?”

 

“No, Mr. Malfoy, there’s nothing wrong between me and Scorp. We’re still friends and all,” the boy said looking off.

“Is there something else?” Draco asked.

 

“Well, you said I could bring a date,” Hugo said.

 

“I did,” Draco agreed.

 

“There’s a girl,” Hugo admitted. “But she would never be interested in me.”

 

Draco placed his hand on Hugo’s shoulder. “Why not?”

 

“Well, she’s a sixth year,” Hugo stated and slumped his shoulders. “And she’s in Slytherin.”

 

Draco had spotted Hermione. She didn’t know if she should go back inside or go to her son. But Draco waved her over. When Hugo saw her his face turned pink.

 

“Why does it matter if she’s in Slytherin?” Hermione asked.

 

“I don’t know. Scorpius and Albus are in Slytherin but she seems different,” Hugo scrunched up his face trying to explain.

 

“What do you mean?” Draco asked. “How is she different?”

 

“Well, she’s older and she just has everything all figured out,” Hugo said.

 

“Honey, no one has everything all figured out,” Hermione said with a laugh. “Sometimes I feel just as confused and silly as I did when I was your age. What makes you think she won’t be interested? Have you talked to her? ”

 

“Would you like to talk to your dad about this? I would understand if you would rather talk to him,” Draco asked.

 

“No!” Hugo yelped. “Dad’s not good with this stuff.”

 

“What kind of stuff exactly because I’m not too good at the girls stuff either?” Draco asked.

 

“What do Slytherin girls like and what should I say to her? You were in Slytherin,” Hugo rushed his words.

 

“I was,” Draco said. “But, Hugo, no two people are the same. I have found that the sorting hat doesn’t change things girls like. Most girls, no matter their house, seem to like someone who is kind to them and others. But really, you’re asking the wrong person what to say to a woman. In my very limited experience I’ve messed it up a lot. Even now that I’m older I still make wrong choices and say the wrong things. You should just be honest and friendly with her,”

 

“Mum, do you mind if I talk to Mr. Malfoy alone?” Hugo asked.

 

“Not all,” Hermione said to her son. She looked up to Draco and mouthed the words “thank you” silently and left them alone.

 

 

Inside, Rose was now playing with Sammy and chatting about dresses with Mandy and Romilda. Hermione promised Rose a new dress for Christmas. Looking around seeing everyone so at ease with one another she began to feel out of place. Romilda and Draco were visiting Mandy and her new child and Hermione was still torn about her own feelings for him. No matter how she felt she had vowed to herself not to come between them.

 

Hermione told everyone inside the Burrow goodbye and congratulated Ron and Mandy on the new baby again. Closing the door to the Burrow was not as difficult as she had expected. Since Ron had come and apologized she felt easier and more free to leave the past behind. Maybe they would be able to salvage the friendship they had once had. The Weasleys had been such a huge part of her life for so long that it was good to be with them again.

 

 Draco was still sitting outside with Hugo. Whatever was on his mind, Hermione was thankful that the young man felt he could talk with Draco. Hermione wished she could open up to him. But he didn’t want that so Hermione would let him go as he had requested. She waved to Draco and Hugo as she passed them heading for the field outside the Burrow’s wards and apparate home.



Chapter 30: Chapter 30
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Chapter 30

 

 

 

              It was only a few days later that Hermione had a letter from Rose telling her all about a bronze dress she had found in Hogsmeade and that Nigel had agreed to be her escort. Lily had grudgingly been given permission as Harry and Ginny would be there as well as Albus and his date Angel Berger. Hugo would also now be attending as he had worked up the nerve to ask Mae McBurn to the celebration. Hermione smiled as she thought about how Draco had encouraged him and continued to include him in the celebrations.

An invitation to Malfoy Manor’s Christmas Celebration had arrived at her home not long after Rose’s own owl had brought her letter. Hermione supposed that Ginny had been right about Romilda being unable to resist having the Minister for Magic at her bash. From everything Hermione had heard it was certainly intended to a coming out party for them as a couple.

 

She had decided that whatever burgeoning feelings she had for the man must not develop into anything else because he was not free, and had told her so. Even if it weren’t for his relationship with Romilda there was the fact that they still had so many differences. Those differences often became heated arguments, and her relationship with Ron had devolved into a disaster after suffering many long heated arguments. When they were not arguing she felt as foolish and confused. She saw a woman in the mirror that looked sophisticated and confident. She needed to find that Hermione before she ever worried finding another relationship.

 

 

Monday morning came and Hermione Granger flooed into the Ministry atrium as she did most every morning. She saw Harry standing beside the fountain of Magical Brethren. Gods, she still hated that stupid fountain. She had suggested replacing it with a memorial to Dobby and his bravery and service during the war but had been voted down. The older witches and wizards of the Ministry had stated they wanted to rebuild the current one in order to preserve tradition. Hermione focused on making changes where she could and gave up that fight and moved on.

 

“Hermione,” Harry called out waving her over in his direction. His face was serious and glum, and not at all encouraging to a good morning.

 

“Hi, Harry,” Hermione said. “Is there something the matter?”

 

“No, nothing’s the matter, per se, but I do need to have sometime to speak with you later,” Harry said. “Maybe before lunch and then we can grab a bite afterwards.”

 

“Sure, Harry,” Hermione answered. “Are you sure you don’t need to speak with me sooner?” She was concerned by his aloof manner. It was unlike him.

 

“Yeah, it can wait,” he assured her and left for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

 

 

 

 

Hermione had so many things on her schedule that she had nearly forgotten Harry’s request, and she had decided to decline the invitation to Malfoy Manor. The Ministry business did not stop just because the holidays had arrived she constantly reminded herself and others. The celebration at Malfoy Manor seemed to be all anyone around her talked about, even her children and best friends. It seemed that she was the only one who had decided to skip it.

 

Harry knocked on the office door interrupting her thoughts.

 

“Come on in, Harry,” Hermione called to him.

 

He came in looking more tired than Hermione could recall having seen him in a long time. She really looked at him for the first time in a great while. His hair, while still untamed had new strands of grey around the temples and a smattering on top. Time had also blessed him with a few laugh lines surrounding his mouth and a few matching lines crinkled around his eyes as well. He was no longer the Boy Who Lived, nor was he the Young Hope of the Wizarding World. He had finally grown into the man he had wanted to be for years, he was simply Harry.

 

“I’ve been thinking over,” Harry began, “Well, I received a letter at the beginning of the new school term at Hogwarts. Headmistress Vector has informed me that Professor Parapet will be leaving the school.”

 

“I see,” said Hermione.

 

“The post of Professor for the Defense Against the Dark Arts will be vacant. She had asked me if I would like to accept the position,” Harry explained.

 

“Have you made your decision yet?” Hermione asked and bit her lip.

 

“We talked it over, Ginny and I, with the children and they think it could be good for our family. The truth is, Ginny is pregnant again,” Harry said running his hand through his hair.

 

“Harry, that’s wonderful news!” Hermione exclaimed.

 

“It is,” he said, “We hadn’t made up our minds to try again but we had been talking it over. I spent a lot of time away from the others growing up while I was training and then working my way up the ranks. I don’t want to miss out on this last chance.”

 

“Harry, I understand that. Really, I do. Are you going to take the post at Hogwarts?” she asked.

 

“I am,” he confirmed.

 

“Why do you sound so sad about it?” Hermione asked. “You will be fantastic in that post! I learned so much with you in the DA that I’m kind of jealous of the kids who will get to have you as an actual professor. Oh, Harry this is wonderful!”

 

“Really, you’re happy about it?” he asked.

 

“Yes, why wouldn’t I be? It will be a good thing for your family and a good thing for the students of Hogwarts. I will miss having you around here but I am so happy for you and Ginny,” she told him.

 

“That’s a relief,” Harry said with a large exhaling breath. “I was afraid of how you would take it. I know it’s going to add to your schedule searching for a replacement. I didn’t want to add anymore to your job than necessary.”

 

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Harry,” Hermione said, “but it is my job to find your replacement. But you are my friend first and always. I will always want what is best for you so don’t worry about anything here. Though if you have any recommendations I would love to look over them.”

 

“That went so much better than I hoped,” Harry said then handed over a rolled and sealed parchment. “This is my formal resignation letter. Ginny and Arthur helped with it.”

 

“Do all the Weasleys know you’re leaving for Hogwarts?” Hermione asked.

 

“They probably do now,” Harry told her.

 

“Are you sure you want to work with Professor Percy and his maniacal nemesis Peeves?” she asked him laughing.

 

“It shouldn’t be too bad,” Harry said, “the Defense classroom is pretty far from History of Magic classroom. And I can always use “langlock” on Peeves.”

 

Hermione laughed and said, “I am so happy for you, Harry, but I’m also hungry. Let’s go eat some lunch.”

 

“Sounds great!” Harry agreed.

 

The two of them set off from her office to the fireplaces in the grand atrium. The footsteps of Draco Malfoy rushing across the marble floor attracted Harry’s attention.

 

“Oi, Malfoy!” Harry called out and waved the blonde man over.

 

Hermione stepped back a little behind Harry in order to avoid anymore awkward conversations with Draco. She was still working on being more confident when speaking to him and in determining how to deal with her own feelings for him.

 

“Potter, Granger,” Draco drawled in greeting stopping only to nod.

 

“What’s the rush?” Harry said. “We’re off to lunch. Want to come along?”

 

“Can’t,” Draco said. “I have to get over to Van Cleef and Arpels in Knightsbridge.”

 

“Wow. That’s a smart shop, Malfoy,” Harry said with a low whistle. “I thought you said you and Romilda weren’t that serious.”

Hermione shuffled on her feet and swallowed but did not look up to meet his eyes. That did not stop her from turning pink when she felt his gaze sweep over from Harry and land on her.

 

“We’re not,” Draco began turning his eyes back to Harry. “I’m shopping for Mother. She will stay in Italy with Mrs. Parkinson for Christmas. I’ll probably need to send Mrs. Parkinson a small trinket too, won’t I?”

 

“It would be considerate,” Harry said. “Why isn’t she coming to the big Christmas party at the Manor?”

 

Once again Hermione could feel Draco’s eyes shift in her direction and she forced herself to meet them this time. He seemed to a little embarrassed himself.

 

“Mother met with Romilda and me a few weeks ago,” he confessed. “After Romilda left, she told me that she would rather see her house elf Lulu replace her as mistress of Malfoy Manor than “that shallow gold digging harridan”.”

 

Hermione tried hard to repress her smirk but Harry had no qualms in laughing aloud.

 

“So when will you be announcing your engagement to the lovely Lulu?” Harry asked.

 

“Stuff it, Potter,” Malfoy drawled again. “Sorry, have to run,” he said directed to Hermione while pointing to his golden watch.

 

“Yes, of course,” Hermione said. She watched him spin upwards and out of the green flames in front of them.

 

“Ready?” Harry asked.

 

“I am,” Hermione said and joined him in the fireplace.

 

 

 

 

 

Harry and Hermione ate sandwiches and soup at the Leaky Cauldron as they had done many times over the years. Hermione realized that with Harry gone from the Ministry she would be seeing him much less often and was saddened by that. It seemed that everyone’s life was changing before her eyes. Hers had been tumultuous since the divorce. Until recently her life had settled into a nice hum and she had been very content.

 

It was during her reverie that someone had approached the table where she sat with Harry. She heard someone clearing his throat and looked up.

 

“Is the invitation still open?” Draco said.

 

“Sure, have a seat,” Harry said.

 

He did not sit, but turned his eyes to Hermione’s. “Do you mind, Granger?” His voice was questioning and low.

 

She shook her head and indicated an empty chair. “It’s fine,” was all she managed.

 

He sat and ordered just a tea.

 

“So how did you finish all that shopping so quickly?” Harry asked. “It takes me ages to pick out anything for a woman. I used to hate shopping for them until Ginny took it over.”

 

“Mother, has a similar taste to most of the women in her sphere,” Draco drawled. “Generally any piece of jewelry that costs more than a few galleons. I picked up a diamond necklace for her and a brooch for Mrs. Parkinson.”

 

“What no diamonds for your mother’s house elf?” Harry chortled. “That’s no way to treat your lady.”

 

“Don’t be stupid, Potter,” Draco chided. “I did not buy her any diamond. I bought her the largest, most expensive one I could find.”

Even he laughed at his joke. “I did ask Neville for some gilleyweed for her though. She does enjoy gilleywaters on her days off.”

 

Hermione looked up surprised to find that Draco had bought a Christmas gift for his mother’s elf and that he considered and knew the elf’s preferences. She was impressed by his thoughtfulness. It was certainly unexpected in the Wizarding community.

 

“That is very kind of you, Draco. Most wizards don’t remember to include their house elves. I’m sure she will appreciate it,” Hermione said.

 

“She’s gonna ask you to join spew if you’re not careful, mate,” Harry said.

 

“What is spew?” Draco asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

Hermione pursed her lips and glared at Harry before answering. “It was not spew, Harry.

 

It was S.P.E.W., ” she said turning her eyes to Draco. “The Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare.”

 

“Is that a thing then?” Draco asked. “I haven’t heard of it and most charities make themselves well known to the Malfoys.”

 

“It was something I was doing in school,” Hermione said looking away and biting her lip.

 

“Why did you drop it?” Draco asked. “I remember hearing about how important elf rights are to you when you were working in the Magical Creatures Department. You changed a lot of the legislation and rights for house elves and their owners. Many people were upset by a lot it really. So were a few of the elves.”

 

“Their rights are still important,” Hermione said. “But so are the rights of all magical creatures. I still make it a priority to make sure that section of the population is not overlooked.”

 

“What ever happened to make you so concerned with them though?” Draco asked. “Muggleborns I’ve spoken with generally know very little about house elves and the lot.”

 

Hermione inhaled deeply. He should have known the answer to his questions. His own family had treated their house elves terribly and it was Harry that had freed Dobby. She titled her head and narrowed her eyes at him.

 

“Dobby,” was the only word she said in return.

 

Harry looked at Hermione, she could feel the tension rising at the table. Neither of them wanted another row between Hermione and Draco, especially one in the Leaky Cauldron. It would certainly make the Prophet. Keeping the rumours circulating about them was getting difficult to control within the Ministry walls.

 

Draco dropped his head. He seemed to have figured out what she meant by the name. He must be remembering Dobby coming to the rescue of them at the manor that night. Hermione was astounded to think that he wouldn’t understand how important Dobby had been to them all.

 

“Dobby was a good elf. My father did mistreat him,” Draco finally said. “He was lucky you freed him, Potter. He escaped the hell of living with the man.”

 

Hermione had never heard Draco speak ill of his father, and by the shock on Harry’s face so was he. He seemed to search for words as he adjusted his glasses.

 

“Dobby was a good elf, and a good friend to me,” Harry responded.

 

“I wasn’t thinking,” Draco whispered. “I should have realized where the idea arose, and why. It was crass of me to question you and I apologize.”

 

“It’s fine,” Hermione said.

 

“Yeah, it’s all right,” Harry agreed. “I’ve got to be getting back, mates. We’ve got a new trainee starting tomorrow. Loads of paperwork."

 

“Okay, just let me clear out my things here,” Hermione said as she began to stand.

 

She felt a hand cover hers and looked up startled.

 

“Please,” his eyes pleaded with her, “I just need a word.” His fingers caressed hers lightly but he did not look away.

 

She looked up at Harry and nodded for him to go on without her. He must have understood because he gave a her a quick smirk and wink.

 

“I’ll see you two later then,” Harry said and walked away.

 

Hermione sat back down and looked questioningly at Draco. Neither had moved their hands from the table or pulled away from the other.

 

“I would like to apologize again for not remembering Dobby’s role in that night. I didn’t do it because he was unimportant to you, but I don’t like thinking about it,” he said moving his gaze away from hers.

 

“I understand,” she said quietly and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “I was surprised by your attention to your mother’s elf though. I hope everyone can learn from Dobby’s story about how important it is to treat everyone kindly. I can tell you’ve learned that lesson.”

 

“Not as well as I should have,” he said with his head still hung.

 

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked. “Not many people I know even think of elves during the holidays but you did.”

 

“I wasn’t kind to you, in your office. I shouldn’t have pushed you away for wanting to help me. I know that is part of who you are, and I should not have thought it was anything else,” Draco said and untangled his hand from hers. “You offered me friendship, and I mistook it for something else. I’m sorry. You’ve suffered enough because of me.”

 

“Please stop apologizing to me, Draco,” Hermione said in a very determined voice. “I will not apologize for caring about you. You are not just another accomplishment to me.”

 

He reached out to take her hand again. There seemed to be a million things left unsaid in his grey eyes.

 

“Thank you for caring,” he said. He gazed at her holding her hand for a while before hastily adding, “and being my friend.”

 

His last words shook Hermione out her daze. She lowered her gaze to his hand, holding hers. She pulled away this time.

 

“I’m glad to be your friend,” she said. “We’d better get going. What would Romilda think if she heard about us sitting alone in the Leaky?”

 

“Romilda writes a gossip column,” he drawled. “I’m certain she will hear about it.”

 

Hermione turned a little pink and said, “Well, I don’t want to cause a problem for the two you before your big party. Everyone will be expecting a happy couple not a grumpy one.”

 

“Is everyone expecting a happy couple?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.

 

She widened her eyes, “Yes, isn’t this like some kind of high society coming out party to announce that the two of you are together? Like some sort of débutante party?”

 

“No,” Draco said and swore loudly. “Is that what Romilda said?”

 

“No,” Hermione said. “But that’s what everyone else is saying so I just assumed it was true. I guess not.”

 

“No, it’s not,” he responded. “I was telling the truth when I said it was just to help Romilda’s career. I thought if enough people were there she would be able to make some new acquaintances to network.”

 

She had forgotten that he had been a Slytherin for a reason. Of course this sudden party with all the Ministry and other important people was a way to create contacts and meet the news makers.

 

“You’re girlfriend is lucky to have someone who would go to all this trouble to help advance her career,” Hermione said.

 

“I wouldn’t call her my girlfriend,” he said seeming to taste the word. His expression made it seem unpleasant.

 

“Well everyone else does,” Hermione told him with a shrug.

 

“Are you coming?” he asked.

 

 

She shook her and said, “No. I won’t be able to make it. I really do need to be going now.” She stood up and left without any other explanation. She wouldn’t show up at his stupid party with puppy dog eyes and a broken heart in order to advance Romilda’s career even if he didn’t have the nerve to call the woman his girlfriend.

 



Chapter 31: Chapter 31
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Chapter 31

 

 

 

Hermione sat on her sofa buried under a warm, fluffy blanket and rewatching Love Actually for what may have been the one millionth time. Every Christmas since she and Ron had started fighting she had retreated into the world of muggle London shown in the film. She forgot her stress while getting lost in the characters and the soundtrack. It was a familiar comfort and she was as happy to bury the feelings of disappointment and loss as she was to bury herself in the blanket. She needed the warm and fluffy.

 

She saw Ginny’s green face staring out of the fireplace before the movie progressed too far in. She paused the film not wanting to share it or miss a minute.

 

“Hi Ginny,” she said.

 

“Hey are you busy?” Ginny asked.

 

“Nope, come on through,” Hermione told her.

 

Ginny spun out of the fireplace and swept the ashes off her shirt. Hermione noticed that the red haired witch did not bother to vanish the ashes from the floor.

 

“Ginevra, do you really need to make such a mess on the carpets?” Hermione scolded.

 

“You are not even going to care about the carpets when you see this!” Ginny stated. “Why haven’t you seen this?” She was holding out a copy of the wizarding newspaper.

 

“It’s on the kitchen table but I haven’t even unrolled it yet,” Hermione said with her nose wrinkled. “It’s not like they actually focus on anything important anymore.”

 

Ginny held The Daily Prophet up for Hermione to see. On page 6 was a large picture of Draco Malfoy and herself holding hands across a table at the Leaky Cauldron. The headline above it read “The Minister and Malfoy: More Than Friends?”. Hermione watched Draco caressing her hands in the wizarding photo.

 

“What is going on here?” Ginny asked pointing to the photo.

 

“It is certainly nothing that it looks like,” Hermione huffed. “We were discussing Dobby and house elf rights. Harry left the table just minutes before this was taken.”

 

Ginny looked down at the photograph again. She then looked back at Hermione. “I never would have guessed from the way Malfoy’s looking at you that you were talking about house elves. From the heat between the two of you, I would have guessed Rita Skeeter got it right this time. Are you sure there was nothing else?”

 

“Actually, yes, there was,” Hermione hinted. “We talked about his girlfriend, Romilda.” She scowled at Ginny. “You know this is pure bunk. There is nothing going on between Malfoy and me. He’s with Romilda and throwing her a party to help her advance her career. That is what that stupid party everyone is so excited about is really for.”

 

“Damn,” said the redhead in defeat, “I was hoping one of you had got it over with and confessed you fancied each other.” Ginny sat down beside Hermione.

 

Hermione sat upright unbelieving of what Ginny said. She reached out and grabbed the newspaper away from her and gave Ginny’s arm a rap with it.

 

“We do not fancy each other,” Hermione insisted.

 

“Please, Hermione,” Ginny said rolling her eyes. “It is obvious to everyone who sees the two of you together. Mandy told us that Romilda is jealous because Draco won’t commit to her, and she thinks its because of you. Harry says the rumours are flying about the two of you shut up in your office for hours. Face it Hermione, there is more here than you are admitting.”

 

Hermione stared at her, her mouth hanging open. Hermione had heard others talking about the party but she had heard nothing being said about Draco and herself. She wasn’t even sure of her own feelings until now, so how had everyone else been speculating about them for weeks? Ginny was wrong about Draco, Hermione knew, because he had said he was glad she was his friend. That was all that she had offered and that was all that he wanted.

 

Hermione sighed and rubbed her temples. “There is nothing but friendship between us. No matter his level of commitment to Romilda, he only sees me as a friend. That is all.”

 

“You sound sure of that,” Ginny said. “But you didn’t say you only consider him a friend. Is there something you haven’t told me, Hermione?”

 

“There’s lots of things I haven’t told you,” Hermione said shrilly, “You have a big mouth and I didn’t trust you not to say anything.”

Ginny’s face and ears turned red, much like Ron’s always had when he was embarrassed or angry. “I didn’t know that’s how you really felt.”

 

“I asked you not to say anything about Miles and then you told Harry!” Hermione said.

 

“I only told Harry because he’s my husband, and he wanted to know what I was laughing about when I got back home that day,” Ginny added shamefaced. “I didn’t mean for it become a running joke. I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s fine,” Hermione said. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t really care about that anyway.”

 

“So,” Ginny wheedled, “you forgive me?”

 

“Didn’t we already have this row?” Hermione asked joking.

 

“You do admit to fancying Draco?” Ginny asked eyebrows disappearing into her hair.

 

“I did not say that,” Hermione said in her familiar swotty tone. “I am trying not to think of him at all.”

 

“Why?” Ginny persisted.

 

“Because I may have let my feelings for him get confused with wanting to help him with that stupid dark mark. I may have gotten pity confused for something more,” Hermione admitted.

 

“So it is pity and nothing else?” Ginny asked. The confusion was showing on her face.

 

“I don’t know,” Hermione sighed. “I talked to Harry about it and he wasn’t much help.”

 

“Harry?” Ginny asked. “You talked to Harry about fancying Draco?”

 

“He is told me not to act on it if I was sure it wasn’t anything more than wanting to help him,” Hermione explained. “I had even convinced myself that is all it is, but I admitted to him, Draco I mean, that I care probably just seconds before that picture was taken. And he thanked me for being his friend. So it doesn’t matter how I feel because he does not reciprocate.”

 

Ginny scoffed, “Hermione, we have been taking bets about how long it will take the two of you to figure it out! Everyone agrees you’re as thick as he is when it comes to relationships.”

 

“Who is everyone?” Hermione demanded.

 

“You know, me and Harry, Dean and Seamus, Pansy and Neville. A few others too,” Ginny told her smirking.

 

“So you all just sit around discussing this behind our backs?” Hermione shrieked.

 

“We throw hints out to both of you, but you’re like a pair of tolls and don’t catch on,” Ginny remarked.

 

“I told you before that Draco was interested,” Ginny told her. “Before he started seeing Romilda, but you blew him off.”

 

“I didn’t blow him off,” Hermione said. “I mean, I didn’t mean to, and I hadn’t even thought about anything like that then. I was enjoying getting to know him and he was easy to talk to, but I never thought he would be interested.”

 

“Thick as a troll,” Ginny snorted.

 

Hermione hit her again with the rolled Daily Prophet.

 

“So when did it happen for you?” Ginny asked narrowing her eyes at her.

 

“I don’t know. It was a combination of times and things I guess,” Hermione sighed. “When we were working together I started getting to know him again. We talked about books and school, and I noticed that he was friends with all the people I am. Why hadn’t I known that before?”

 

Ginny shrugged and urged her to go on.

 

“We started spending time with you and Harry and the kids and he was just a regular person. He wasn’t some pretentious prat that he had always been at school. He’s become this guy who listens to sappy music and doesn’t eat spicy food. Not some pureblood snob that is too good to even look at muggles and muggleborns anymore. He had all these horrible things happen in his life, like we all did. Instead of becoming like Lucius, he learned better ways.”

 

“You really don’t fancy him do you?” Ginny asked softly. “You’re way past that.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Hermione said frowning, “He’s still with Romilda. I wouldn’t say anything to him because of that. Even if it is Romilda. I know what it’s like to have someone else in the picture, and I won’t be that person.”

 

Ginny laid her head on her friends shoulder. “Hermione, I don’t know what to say.”

 

“There is nothing,” Hermione said shaking her head. “If there had been a chance, it’s gone. But oh my gods, have you ever smelled that man? He smells incredible!”

 

They both laughed and talked over things in their lives carefully avoiding the topics of Draco or Romilda. When Ginny left she was sure to take her copy of the Daily Prophet.  Hermione snuggled back into the sofa and restarted her film and tried to forget everything else. After finishing her film the pull of the Daily Prophet laying on her table in the kitchen proved to be irresistible. She had to know what had been said about her and Draco. She shuffled into the kitchen and summoned the paper over to her. She flipped until she found the photo and accompanying article.

 

 

THE MINISTER AND MALFOY: MORE THAN FRIENDS?

by: Rita Skeeter

 

 

Earlier this evening in the Leaky Cauldron the Minister for Magic Hermione Granger

was spotted with none other than ex- Death Eater Draco Malfoy. The pair of them

looked very cozy holding hands and whispering across the table. Sources from the

Ministry say this is not the first lunch the two of them have spent together.

 

The sources also say the twosome have spent many days locked away in her office.

According to another source, the pair have been spotted flitting around Hogsmeade

looking quite cozy together. The Ministry source says that in the beginning the wealthy

and handsome Mr Malfoy used to come from the known man chaser Granger’s office

nearly floating on air, but things seemed to change and the situation seemed to sour

as Mr. Malfoy redirected his attention elsewhere. Everyone in the Ministry, even the portraits are are talking, seems to have heard lovers quarrels escalate into screaming matches from the bushy headed hag’s office.

 

Miss Granger has always seen fit to canoodle with well connected wizards.

Mr Malfoy is only one in a long string of men this plain but overrated witch

has toyed with. For all his gold in Gringotts, no one can understand what

would bring the two long time adversaries together. Could it be that Mr Malfoy

was beginning to set his sites on a younger, more beautiful witch that made

him appealing to Granger?

 

 

Obviously the Mad Muggleborn can’t stand to see anyone else happy since she

has been so unlucky to lose Mr Malfoys attentions and affections, but this picture

shows that she is most definitely trying to insinuate herself back into his life. She

must not be done with him yet as she is attempting to thwart his happiness.

 

 

Our own Daily Prophet writer, Romilda Vane has been seen out and about

with the reclusive Mr Malfoy. It is well known that the wonderful couple are

hosting a Christmas Soirée at his Manor in Wiltshire. Everyone who knows

the couple have been expecting them to announce their engagement at this

party.

 

I, Rita Skeeter, took the opportunity to show Miss Vane the photo and ask for a

quote. Poor Miss Vane looked simply devastated but chose to protect Mr Malfoy’s

reputation. She stated that she and Mr Malfoy had on occasion stepped out

together but they most certainly are not exclusive and that she is enjoying

the company of many suitors.

 

She did indicate that she had known Miss Granger to be chasing Mr Malfoy’s

attentions for a while. She indicated that she pitied the shrill “battleaxe”, as no

 man could ever find her company appealing. It is well known that she nasty

 tempered and offensive to civilized society. Even that odd Weasley man she

 roped into marriage wised up and left her. He is now thrilled to be married to

Miss Vane’s long time friend Mandy Weasley nee Brocklehurst. Like his parents

before  him, they have too many children to count.

 

Let’s hope the poor Mr. Malfoy, who has had a terrible past, (See my upcoming

book The Maledictions of the Malfoys, coming April 2027) doesn’t fall prey to

the clutched of the muggleborn maneater.

 

 

 

Hermione noticed two things in Skeeter’s article, first that she was hung up on the fact that Hermione was muggleborn and second that Romilda had said they were not exclusive. Even she had thought the gossip about Draco and Romilda was true, but it seemed that he was telling her the truth when he had said Romilda was not his girlfriend. She still was not going to chase after him, but it made her feel better to know that he had been truthful with her.

 

 

 

 

It was early the next morning that Hermione set off for the Ministry. She decided to apparate to her office instead of using the floo in order to avoid onlookers and gossips. Harry had warned her that people were talking but Skeeter’s article was sure to stir the cauldron. If Rita hadn’t moved to France, Hermione would have had her out of business years ago. Why couldn’t the old beetle bother the French for a change?

 

After having spent the whole of the morning in her office uninterrupted she chose to peek out the door to see id she could make her way to Harry’s office without being spotted. Two reporters that Hermione had spotted from Witch Weekly and another gossip rag whose name she had forgotten. She quickly closed the door to the shouts and interrogations flying at her. Apparating out was her only choice.

 

Grimmauld Place was her first thought and she landed on the pathway to the Potters’ house. She knocked on the door thinking to only find Ginny home, but it was Harry who opened the door. He seemed as shocked to find her at his door as she was to have him open it. He gave her what looked to be a sly smile and invited her inside.

 

She followed Harry through the hall leading into the sitting room, carefully avoiding the troll leg umbrella stand that Tonks had knocked over so many times in the past. Harry had kept only in remembrance of her. He seemed to rush through as if waiting on a tasty treat.

 

“Harry, why are you here instead of at the office?” Hermione called after him.

 

“Just came home for lunch today. We didn’t think it would be best to be spotted in Diagon Alley today,” Harry smirked.

 

“Why shouldn’t you,” Hermione began, “Harry, is there someone else here?”

 

“Just come on in and grab a sandwich,” Harry said opening the heavy old door to the sitting room.

 

Just inside Hermione could see Ginny sitting on the new sofa with her legs tucked under her eating a sandwich. She seemed to be engaged in conversation with someone across from her.

 

Hermione glimpsed his pale white hand as reached from the oversized chair to lift another sandwich from the silver tray on the coffee table in the middle. She gasped and turned to flee back down the hall, but Harry stopped her.

 

“Come on, Hermione, Ginny made us a big lunch,” Harry boomed. “We don’t care to share do we, Malfoy?”

 

The pale blonde man turned quickly in his chair staring straight into Hermione’s widened eyes. His face faded to an even more pale shade than normal. He did not, however, look away.

 

“Are you hiding too?” he asked, seeming to regain his composure.

 

Hermione couldn’t repress a small laugh, “I am.”

 

Ginny looked from Draco to Hermione and then said, “I thought it was a lovely photo. I didn’t enjoy the article as much though. She wasn’t as nasty as normal though.”

 

“She can’t taunt Hermione too much if she ever wants to come back from abroad though can she?” Draco asked. “We all know she’s an unregistered animagus so she has a hard time even sneaking in now doesn’t she?

 

“I wouldn’t have her locked in Azkaban,” Hermione said. “Nope, it would be years of community to service for her. Surely trash needs picked up along the street in Diagon Alley, every day for three or four years. In an orange jumpsuit like the muggles wear.”

 

Everyone giggled at the picture Hermione painted of Rita Skeeter, collecting rubbish from the sidewalks in a hideous jumpsuit. Hermione knew her hair would be lank and grey by this time. The green glasses she wore would have lost their sparkle and the long nails she was particular about would be chipped and broken. Then there would be the stench. It would be a fitting punishment for sure.

 

“I was surprised to read about her new book,” Draco drawled. “I wasn’t even asked for an interview or tour of the manor.”

 

“I’ll be sure to lend you my copy,” Ginny said flippantly, much more interested in her food than the Rita Skeeter. “I’m so hungry all the time anymore.”

 

“That comes with the territory, honey,” Harry said while patting her tummy.

 

Hermione realized they were all avoiding the topic the article alluded to. She was a bit relieved that they had done so because she was sure Ginny would press the topic. Hopefully they could forget about the whole thing.

 

Hermione did not get what she hoped for because Draco said, “It looks like you’ll have to come to my Christmas celebration now. If you don’t people will believe the article is true.”

 

“Why do you say that?” she asked him confused.

 

“It will look like you’re trying to cover up our friendship,” he said.

 

“I didn’t think about it that way,” she admitted.

 

Ginny let out a whoop of joy. “You should be with all your friends for the holidays. I hate the idea of you being at home alone rewatching that movie again over and over, and we can finally go shopping!”

 

Hermione wrinkled her nose, “I would only watch once a night, Ginny. I am not shopping with you.

 

"We'll see," Ginny cackled.

 



Chapter 32: Chapter 32
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Chapter 32

 

 

Despite her reservations Hermione began to dress for the celebration at Malfoy Manor. The idea of being back in the place she was tortured so many years ago made her stomach lurch. Harry said he understood because he still got jitters when visiting but he promised to stay near her during the evening. Ron would be there too, with Mandy. She would never have guessed all those years ago the three of them would voluntarily go back for anything other than arresting a Malfoy, but they were celebrating Christmas with Draco instead.

 

The winter white silk dress she had chosen for the evening was accented with pearls along the deep vee cut of the neck and at the wrists. She had planned to wear a pair of sensible white pumps until Ginny had shown her the nude heels with a slight iridescent sheen that she purchased in place of the pumps. It was also Ginny that had talked her into wearing mascara and a light lip gloss. Hermione had decided to free her hair from her daily bun and use a little Sleekeazy’s hair potion to tame her bushy brown hair into chestnut spirals that fell just past her shoulders. Other than the Yule Ball, so many years before this was the only formal event Hermione ever attended. Even her wedding had been casual, so when she looked at her reflection she decided she looked all right.

 

Pulling her cloak over her shoulders she called for Rose and Hugo. Rose came into the sitting room and Hermione was astonished to find young adults standing in place of her children. There was Rose in her long bronze gown that she had been so excited to wear. Her red hair flowing and her brown eyes wide and excited. Hugo, in his tux, fiddled with his boutonnière. He glanced up in Hermione’s direction and grinned. He would be using the floo to pick up his date for the evening, and Nigel, Rose’s date, should be arriving any minute.

 

“Mum, you look fantastic!” Rose said.

 

“Yeah, Mum, you look great,” Hugo added.

 

“I can’t believe how big the two of you have gotten,” Hermione sniffed. “Where are my two babies who used to hug my knees and beg for hot chocolate?”

 

“Mum,” Hugo whined.

 

“You shouldn’t have dates,” Hermione insisted, “You should be trying to search out your Christmas gifts and fighting about who had more candy.”

 

“We’re too old for that,” Rose said.

 

“No, you’re never too old,” Hermione said misty eyed. “You will always be my babies no matter how old you are.”

 

It was then that they heard someone coming out of the fireplace. A man with light brown hair and a round face reached out and pulled Rose into a tight embrace. When he backed away he turned and offered a hand to Hermione. She pursed her lips and shook his proffered hand.

“Good evening, Ms., er, Minister Granger,” the young man mumbled. “I’m Nigel Longbottom.”

 

“Hello Nigel,” Hermione said. She smiled to try to set the young man at ease.

 

“My dad talks about you all the time,” he told her returning her smile.

 

Hermione could see why her daughter was taken with the young man. He had Neville’s easy smile and happy manner. His eyes and nose were Pansy’s however.

 

“Yes, I’ve been lucky to have him as friend for many years, and I’ve been just as lucky to get to know your mother better too,” Hermione said.

 

“Mum,” Rose said, “we have to get going or we’ll be late.”

 

“It was very nice meeting you, Nigel,” said Hermione.

 

“You too,” Nigel said and helped Rose into the hearth. The green flames swished around them taking them to the manor.

 

“Hugo, its your turn,” Hermione said handing him a small pot of Floo Powder.

 

She watched as her son took a small bit of the powder and called out “3102 Tatterley Park.” He vanished in the flames.

 

Hermione would be apparating outside the gates of Malfoy Manor. She began the incantation and felt the squelch of her bones as she was transported to her destination. The forbidding stone estate lay before her. She caught her breath at the sight. She had thought the dank chill she had experienced would be what she noticed first, but it wasn’t. The whole place felt different. The atmosphere was changed to a lighter happier air. It was clear that this place no longer belonged to Lucius or his fellow Death Eaters. Nothing of him remained except the white peacocks that strutted up and down the lanes and across the snow covered grounds.

 

Fairies lit the trees and shrubs that surrounded the stone manor house. The diamond paned windows were all lit with candles and the portico was festooned in greenery and ribbons. More light shown from the gilded lanterns hanging beside the ebony doors leading into the main house.

 

An elf wearing a black fur trimmed uniform opened the door as soon as Hermione raised her hand to knock.

 

“Good evening, Minister Granger, Master Malfoy and Miss Romilda are receiving guests in the ball room. Please follow the other guests. If you need anything at all please call for Spinks.” the elderly elf said.

 

He had the same batlike ears as the other elves Hermione had seen but was much more rotund and jolly looking. He reminded her of the mythical muggle Santa.

 

“Who is Spinks?” Hermione asked squatting down to his level.

 

“I am Spinks,” the elf answered surprised to be questioned.

 

“It’s wonderful to meet you Mr. Spinks,” Hermione said. “Please call me Hermione.”

 

“Yes, it is Spinks’s privilege to meet you,” the elf bowed a deep bow.

 

She heard laughter coming from behind him and looked up to see Draco coming her way.

 

“I should have known you were in here trying to start a revolt with my house elves,” he drawled. His face barely hid his mirth.

 

“Spinks, please take Hermione’s cloak,” Draco said.

 

She stood and removed the long black cloak and handed it to the elf who magicked it to where ever the other guests things were. She looked up to see Draco staring at her wide eyed and mouth agape. She looked behind her and saw no one.

 

“You look beautiful,” he breathed not looking away from her face.

 

She felt the intensity of his gaze and the began to blush a rosy color. She dropped her eyes from his and managed to say, “Thank you. I’m glad I came after all. Your home is lovely.”

 

He came closer to her and offered his arm, “Shall we go to the ballroom then?”

 

She stole a shy glance in his direction, almost unable to believe the man before her was actually the Draco Malfoy she had known, and placed her hand gently in the crook of his arm and strolled into the ballroom with him.

 

All the years Hermione had spent in the wizarding world still never prepared her for the grandeur of Christmas. Only the Great Hall decorations at school surpassed the Malfoy ballroom. Unlike the grey stone of Hogwarts the Malfoy ballroom was decked in white marble. A magnificent ornately carved mantelpiece that seemed to grow from the floor was trimmed with greenery that matched the greenery over the entrance. It had a lively fire roaring inside and a faintly cinnamon and clove scent seemed to be emanating from the flames. Several trees had been decorated with fairies and crystal bulbs had been placed around the perimeter of the room. An atmospheric charm had been applied to enchant the ceiling. Hermione watched millions of snowflakes falling from the 30 foot expanse of the room but never land on a guest. Thousands of white candles floated and cast a shimmering luminescence over everything. Hermione felt she had finally seen a true winter wonder land.

 

“This is beautiful,” she gasped as her eyes darted taking in as much of the scenery as possible. “Are those real fairies?”

 

“They are, and you look like their beautiful queen,” Draco said with his eyes trained on her.

 

“Thank you,” she whispered and bit her lip.

 

It was then that she saw Romilda and a few others staring at the pair of them. She recalled that she was still holding onto his arm and promptly dropped it. She could tell that Draco had not noticed the stares, and if he had he did not seem to care. Hermione felt her face turning pink as Romilda made her way over to them.

 

Her black ringlets had been swept up in an elegant knot. She wore a tiara covered in gemstones that shimmered in the candlelight. Her floor length emerald evening gown accentuated her long lean frame. Hermione felt like someone’s frumpy spinster aunt beside her.

 

“Good evening, Minister,” Romilda dripped in her sickly sweet voice.

 

“Hello, Romilda,” Hermione said.

 

“It’s so good of you to join us this evening,” Romilda sing songed. “Would you like to come meet my editor? He’s just dying for a word from you.”

 

“Romilda,” Draco scolded. “Hermione hasn’t even gotten a drink yet.”

 

Romilda pooched out her glossy red lips and pouted up at him while still managing to bat her eyes. “Okay, but do be a dear and come say hello soon please.”

 

She offered a phony smile to Hermione and another bat of the eyes to Draco before flouncing away in the direction of group of reporters from the Daily Prophet.

 

“Let’s get you a drink,” Draco smiled and guided her toward a large table laden with food and drinks. His hand had not moved from the small of her back as they crossed the room.

 

Hermione noticed more of the guests and distinguished Molly Weasley and Pansy Longbottom standing in front of Draco and herself. Molly’s hand was resting on Pansy’s growing abdomen.

 

“It’s so wonderful to see young people so in love,” Molly was saying to Pansy. “Not many magical families have many children anymore. You and Neville have such a lovely family.”

 

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Weasley,” Pansy said. “It does get difficult sometimes with so many little ones around. I’m afraid the magic may be slipping a little in our marriage lately.”

 

“Oh Pansy dear, it’s so important to keep the magic alive in the trying times,” Molly said. “Love is the most important thing for a family. Make sure Neville knows you still love him. Arthur and I still make love at least twice a week, you know.”

 

Hermione wished she had never overheard the conversation between the two witches in front of her and apparently Draco had been disgusted by Molly’s revelation as well. She could hear him clearing his throat before he leaned very close to her ear.

 

“Ugh, Granger, I wish someone would obliviate me right now,” he whispered with a chuckle.

 

“Mistletoe!” Hermione heard a voice shouting. She looked up and there was a green bough glistening above her head. She inhaled and felt her body temperature rise at least a few degrees from the heat of embarrassment. Draco Malfoy was standing right in front of her under the mistletoe with her. She could see that he looked a little less composed than usual.

 

“It’s tradition,” he whispered and cupped her face in his hands.

 

She lifted her chin as he dropped his face closer to hers. She heard his breath coming slowly as she closed her eyes. His lips reached hers with a soft gentle pressure. Without thinking

 

she leaned into the kiss deepening it. Draco moved his hands down to pull her in even closer. Hermione brought her hands from her side and slid her arms around his neck. It was when she sensed his tongue caressing her bottom lip that loud wolf whistles and whoops interrupted them. They both dropped their hands and pulled away without looking at the other.

 

Hermione looked up into Romilda Vane’s burning eyes. She raven haired woman’s face was crimson with fury. The champagne flute she held exploded in her hand. Gasps filled the silence, and Romilda stalked away from the crowd of people she had been speaking with.

 

Hermione felt Draco’s hand on the small of her back again then heard him drawl, “Excuse me. I have to get that mess cleaned up.”

She nodded and made her way in the direction opposite of the way he was going. She then spotted a group of welcome faces in the crowded ballroom and made her way over to them.

 

Luna sat with Neville and Ginny. They seemed to be in a heated debate.

 

“Hi,” Hermione said to everyone as she sat down beside a laughing Harry who had just wandered over.

 

“Hey Luna,” Harry said between laughs, “why didn’t you warn them about the nargles?”

 

Hermione, Ginny and Neville looked at Harry as if he had lost his mind. It was clear that none of them had ever heard of nargles, but Luna didn’t seem fussed. She remained as placid and peaceful as ever. She only tilted her head a little as if evaluating his words.

 

“Harry, don’t be silly,” Luna said shaking her head. “It takes weeks for nargles to infest mistletoe in a natural setting. It would have taken them ages to infest that one, seeing as Ronald just conjured it. Besides, it was evident that they wanted to kiss each other.”

 

“Ron?” Hermione gasped. “Ron conjured mistletoe above Draco and me?”

 

The group burst out laughing. Eyes from the crowds surrounding them turned in their direction. Ron, Hermione could see,was determined not to look her way. Mrs. Weasley sat beside him with her eyes wide. Pansy said something to her that Hermione could not hear and then made her way over to where Neville sat with Luna.

 

“You missed it Pans,” Neville said to his wife. “Luna is the best!”

 

“What did I miss?” Pansy asked the blonde woman in front of her.
 

Luna shrugged and said, “I don’t know. We were only talking about Hermione and Draco wanting to kiss. It did seem to be a very passionate kiss.”

 

Again everyone around Hermione roared with laughter. Hermione tried to scrunch down in her seat as Pansy wedged in beside her. Pansy looked again from Luna to Hermione and back again.

 

“You are great, Luna,” Pansy said still giggling. “I think I like you.”

 

“That is nice,” Luna said without malice. “You weren’t very nice in school. I like you much better now. Neville said I would.”

 

Pansy raised an eyebrow and sneaked a look at Neville who, like Hermione, scrunched down in his seat.

 

“So Luna,” Pansy said, “are you enjoying the party?”

 

“Oh, yes. It has been wonderful meeting up with my friends,” Luna said airily. “Draco told me I could look for brombleshprings in his library. They love old parchments and I hear the Malfoy library is full of them.”

 

Pansy looked confused as if she didn’t know whether Luna was serious or not. She opted not to laugh or to argue.

 

“Come on,” Pansy urged her. “Draco and I are old friends. I know where the library is. We’ll go find those bromblethings.” Pansy jumped to her feet.

 

Luna stood as well, but shook her head. “Not bromblethings, brombleshprings,” Luna annunciated.

 

“We’ll find those too!” Pansy exclaimed tugging Luna behind her.

 

Hermione watched the two most honest people she had ever met leave the room together. She envied their self confidence and ability to say what everyone was thinking. Neither worried what anyone else thought. Luna said whatever came to mind because she didn’t know better and Pansy because she couldn’t help herself.

 

Hermione was pulled away from her thoughts as she saw Romilda marching back into the ballroom and Draco following behind her. He scanned the room until his he found her and offered her fleeting smile, but he then turned away. After a small gesture of his hand, Hermione heard the first strains of music float over the ballroom.

 

Waves of guests separated as Hermione watched Draco lead Romilda to the middle of the ballroom. She wore a dazzling white smile and exhibited it freely as the flash bulbs of cameras popped from all corners of the room. They began their waltz. Halfway through the dance other couples began to join them on the dance floor.

 

Harry escorted Ginny out to dance. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley was on the floor. Neville looked round at Hermione.

 

“Want to give it a whirl?” her old friend asked as he held out his hand to her.

 

“Sure,” she said accepting his hand.

 

They made their way to the dance floor and waltzed along with the other couples. Neville stepped on her toes more than once, but Hermione only smiled. She remembered his dances with Ginny at the Yule Ball so many years ago at Hogwarts and how Ginny had rested her feet all the following day. It was worth the sore toes to indulge his love of dancing. From the corner of her eye she saw Pansy and Luna return. The song ended and Neville made his way to his wife after a small bow to Hermione.

 

Hermione then started to go speak to Luna when another song began. Luna, in her long fluorescent flowered print robes was swaying to the music. She flapped her arms to her own beat ignoring all the others around her. Instead of bothering her, Hermione stood feeling the rush of friendship and affection for her. Luna would never change and Hermione was glad for that.

 

It was Ron who offered her a dance. She accepted his offer with a smile and they fell into the rhythm of the music. Ron said nothing while they danced so Hermione did.

 

“Did you conjure that mistletoe, Ronald?” she asked.

 

He smiled a mischievous smile at her then looked over at Romilda before answering, “I did. You can’t tell Mandy though, she’ll avada me.”

 

“Why?” Hermione asked.

 

“She’s friends with Romilda, but I can’t stand her. She can’t stand you. So I thought what would Fred have done?” he reasoned.

 

“Fred would have conjured mistletoe,” Hermione admitted. “But only if he thought it would piss off Romilda.”

 

“It did!” Ron gushed. “Did you see that glass shatter?”

 

They were both laughing and enjoying the dance when Draco tapped Ron’s shoulder.

 

“May I cut in?” he drawled.

 

Ron stepped out of his way and waited for Hermione to agree. She nodded to him and Ron left them with a knowing grin.

 

Draco lead her in the dance while the pops of flashbulbs nearly blinded her.

 

“Are you having a nice time?” he asked.

 

“Yes, everything has been charming,” Hermione stated.

 

“Good,” he smiled down at her.

 

“Do you think we’ll make the Prophet again?” Hermione asked him.

 

“Probably. I was told that no less than twenty photos were taken of us under the mistletoe. Rita Skeeter will pop an antenna with envy of that scoop,” he laughed.

 

Hermione could feel the heat rising in her face and looked down at her feet. She felt him step a little closer. The outdoorsy scent of rain and air combined with mint surrounded her. She breathed it in. They continued the song in silence.

 

When it finished Draco pulled away.

 

“There is Professor McGonagall. I have to go dance this next one with her,” he said.

 

Hermione saw her old professor and smiled over at her and was greeted with a smile returned. Draco leaned in closer to her and placed a kiss on her jawbone right under her ear.

 

“I’ll try to make my way back,” he promised her before going to offer his hand to Professor McGonagall.

 

Hermione stood in shock until Ron came back over.

 

“He could grow on me yet, Malfoy,” the red headed man said to her nodding his head slowly and watching the crowd.

 

 

 

 

By the time the guests had begun leaving, Hermione had not had another chance to speak with Draco. She had lost track of him as he had made his laps around the dance floor with various ladies of importance. Romilda had made sure to claim another dance with him Hermione had noticed. Most everyone was leaving when she saw him huddled in a far corner with Romilda. He looked to be holding her hand.

 

Once again it was Ron that came over to her. She knew he was watching Draco and Romilda as well. His mouth was twisted into a frown.

 

“Come to the Burrow tonight,” he urged her. “Everyone will be there, including Rose and Hugo. You know that Mum and Dad will be able to find a spot for you.”

 

“What about Mandy?” Hermione asked.

 

“Mandy understands the importance of family. You’re still family, Hermione. No matter what happened in the past,” Ron said.

 

Hermione was overwhelmed with the request and thoughtfulness from Ron. She held back her tears and agreed to stay at the Burrow.

 

“Good,” Ron said walking over to the immense fireplace with her. “I don’t want you alone tonight, huddled under a blanket crying and watching Love Actually again.”

 

“You know about that?” she sobbed.

 

“You’ve been doing it for years, Hermione,” Ron scowled and handed her the pot of floo powder down from the mantelpiece.

 

She took a bit and stepped into the flames and called out “the Burrow.” She thought she heard Draco call her name as the green powder twisted her up the chimney piece leaving him and the rest of the night behind.



Chapter 33: Chapter 33
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Chapter 33

 

 

The sound of the creaking foot board at the bottom of the old rusty bed woke Hermione from her sleep. Molly was tiptoeing out but turned when Hermione sat up in the bed.

 

“Good morning, dear,” Molly whispered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

 

“It’s okay,” Hermione said rubbing the sleep from her eye.

 

“I’m sorry I don’t have a Weasley jumper for you this year,” Molly frowned. “I wasn’t expecting you, not that you’re not welcome, of course.”

 

“I understand, Molly,” Hermione said. “Ron invited me last night and I thought it would be nice to see everyone. I wasn’t expecting anything at all.” She eyed the brightly wrapped packages Molly had placed on her bed and smiled up at her former mother in law.

 

“I was able to whip up a little something for you,” Molly smiled down at her. “It’s so good to have you with us again. I still remember the first Christmas you spent with us. You were just so eager to learn about everything around you. You were so patient with Arthur and his love of muggle things. I still think of you as my own, Hermione.”

 

Hermione reached up and pulled her into a tight hug. “Thank you. I still love all of you like family too.”

 

Molly patted her back and hurried her to get dressed and come downstairs. Hermione could smell the bacon and flapjacks cooking all the way from her bed. She hurried and pulled her jeans and an old button down from the well worn beaded bag before heading down.

Most of the Weasleys were already downstairs waiting for breakfast. The Burrow was full of chatter and noise that summed up family life to Hermione. She noticed all of them were wearing their bespoke Weasley jumpers in the myriads of colors that Molly scrounged through the year. She looked over and saw that Ron was once again in the maroon shade he had hated but refused to tell his mother. Mandy was wearing an orange one, Chudley Cannons orange if Hermione was correct. Only Bill, Fluer, and their children were missing. It had long been their custom to spend Christmas in France and New Years here.

 

Percy was sitting and reading an old copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to the younger children. It was the same copy Hermione had gifted the family the year she and Ron announced their engagement. It brought a bittersweet memory to her before she spotted Hugo chatting with Teddy Lupin.

 

“Teddy!” Hermione cried out as she fled over to embrace the young man.

 

He was wearing turquoise hair and a pig snout. Hermione laughed remembering all the times his mother had used her metamorphagus abilities to entertain herself and Ginny.

 

“Aunt Hermione,” Teddy said reverting into his normal self. “I can’t believe you’re here. Hugo was telling me all about your evening last night. Everyone was talking about you and cousin Draco.”

 

She had forgotten that Draco was his cousin and frowned.

 

“Don’t worry,” Teddy said, “even if Hugo hadn’t told me, it’s front page of the Daily Prophet.”

 

Hermione looked down and saw the paper for herself. It was still folded in half but she could still see the bottom of the photo. It showed Draco sliding his arms around her waist and pulling her closer in black and white. George and Angelina took it upon themselves to start up the chorus of whistles and whoops that had interrupted that kiss the night before.

 

“That’s enough of that,” Arthur scolded and cleared his throat. “Mistletoe.”

 

Hermione was grateful that he had stopped them because Hugo seemed as embarrassed as she felt. Rose took it in stride. She was laughing along with the rest of the family. Hermione sat down beside her son and asked him about his evening. They talked over the previous evening with a few interjections and comments thrown in by Rose until Molly announced that breakfast was ready.

 

 

Because of the snow and cold the tables could not be set up outside. Everyone grabbed a plate and sat where ever they could find a spot. Hermione found a place near enough to Harry and Ron that it felt like old times. The men sat talking about Christmas gifts they had given and gifts they had received. Hermione said nothing, but wondered if Picatrix had delivered the gift she finally worked up the nerve to send Draco. She would never tell the two of them or Ginny what she had sent. Everyone would think she had gone round the bend for sure.

 

After breakfast was over and clean up done everyone began to gather up their things and head for home. Hermione had already given Rose and Hug permission to stay at Adytum with Ron and their brothers for the remainder of the holiday. She knew they would be off visiting other friends as well. Harry invited her back to Grimmauld Place with him and Ginny knowing that James would be out with his friends and Albus and Lily would be wherever Rose and Hugo were. She left with Harry and Ginny.

 

 

 

 

They arrived at Grimmauld Place early in the evening. Ginny’s pregnancy was wearing on her and she went to nap. Harry and Hermione decided not to cook and unwrapped a mound of leftovers Molly had pushed on them before they left. Harry took the chance to ask Hermione about the night before.

 

“How did you end up at the Burrow?” he asked.

 

“Ron thought it would be good for the children, and I wanted to catch up with everyone,” Hermione said. “Why did it bother anyone?”

 

Harry shook his head, “No one said anything.”

 

“Oh, I thought maybe Mandy was put out,” Hermione said with a wrinkled nose.

 

“She was but about Romilda,” Harry explained.

 

“What about Romilda?” Hermione asked.

 

“Romilda her best friend,” Harry raised his brows at her, “The best friend she introduced to Draco Malfoy. The Draco Malfoy you were snogging on the front page of the Prophet.”

 

Hermione’s face turned pink once again, “I know who they are, Harry,” she snarled.

 

 

 

Ginny had come back down from her nap. She sat down with Hermione and Harry and began helping herself to a large helping of potatoes and rummaging through the rest of the plates.

 

She finally heaped her food on the white plate in front of her until she was satisfied and then looked up at them to have them finish conversing.

 

“Was it anything like you imagined?” Ginny gushed.

 

“What?” Harry and Hermione both asked her between bites.

 

Ginny took a minute to finish chewing her food before answering, “Shut it Harry! I was asking Hermione about that kiss with Malfoy.

Hermione nearly choked on the green tea she had been sipping. “It was just a kiss under the mistletoe, Ginny. It’s not like I ever sat around an imagined kissing Malfoy.”

 

Hermione saw a look pass between Harry and Ginny but neither of them spoke. The three sat in silence and ate the leftovers from Molly. When they all had their fill of food they agreed to play a few rounds of Exploding Snap and turn in for the night. Ginny told Hermione to take the room they used to share during their Order days.

 

 

 

 

To be an Auror, Harry was not the most stealthy person, Hermione grumped to herself. His clumping down the stairs woke her earlier than she would have liked but she got up and dressed anyway. Going down the stairs she heard an unmistakable voice. After to pausing to take a deep breath, she continued on into the drawing room.

 

“Good morning,” Hermione said upon her entrance.

 

“Morning’, Hermione,” Ginny replied. “Look Draco brought gifts!”

 

He sat in the same chair as he had the last time she saw him. When he looked up at her, he gave her a flash of a grin. “Thanks for your gift. Lily and Rose have made me watch it four times already.”

 

Hermione giggled at the thought of them watching over and over. She sat in the chair opposite of his.

 

“What did you give him?” Ginny asked with a raised brow.

 

Hermione giggled again. She had been hoping not to share but the idea of the girls watching the movie with Draco Malfoy over and over again was too irresistible not to share.

 

“I sent him a Blu Ray of Spice World,” Hermione said.

 

Ginny laughed and Harry only looked confused.

 

He finally asked, “What is that?”

 

Ginny laughed some more along with Hermione.

 

“It’s an old film with the Spice Girls in it,” Draco drawled.

 

“I didn’t know if you had it, but thought you might enjoy it if you didn’t” Hermione gasped between giggles.

 

“The film would have been more enjoyable,” Draco frowned, “if Scorpius had not torn into the package before I saw it. Or waved it around for everyone to see.”

 

Hermione quickly stopped giggling, “Who saw it?”

 

“Just the kids,” Draco said. “They are all at the manor.”

 

“I thought Rose and Hugo were staying with Ron,” Hermione said.

 

“They came over last night. Albus is there too with Lily,” he said looking from her to Harry and Ginny.

 

“He said he was going to be at Ron’s too. She was supposed to be the Burrow,” Ginny said.

 

Harry lifted his glasses to adjust them, “Maybe Ron gave them permission to go.”

 

“Maybe,” Hermione sighed.

 

“They all came in this morning,” Draco explained. “After Scorpius saw it and opened it, the girls demanded we watch it. So that’s what I’ve been doing all day. Listening to them sing along and forcing the boys to dance with them.”

 

“What do you mean all day?” Hermione asked. “It’s what 9 or 10 in the morning.”

 

“No it’s not. It’s 2 in the afternoon,” Ginny said.

 

“Why did you let me sleep so late?” Hermione shrieked.

 

“You seemed like you needed the rest, and Harry said to let you sleep,” Ginny said. “Anyway look! Draco gave us a new set of quidditch balls.”

 

“Albus mentioned the older one was getting worn,” Draco said. “I brought you something too. But before I give it to you I have to say, as enjoyable as it was and as much as I appreciated it. I am disappointed not to have received poached pears.”

 

Hermione’s face fell. “I didn’t think you would,” she began to stammer.

 

It was his turn to laugh. “I’m only joking,” he said. “Though I really do like them. Don’t see what Harry was fussing about.”

 

“Shove off, Malfoy,” Harry said and smiled.

 

Draco handed Hermione a small square package. It was meticulously wrapped in silver foil with a white ribbon.

 

“Thank you,” she said as her shaking hand reached out to accept it. She was unsure if he expected her to open it now or wait until later. She opted to hold on to it and wait until she was alone.

 

Hermione watched Ginny watching Draco through narrowed eyes. She said nothing about the gift he handed Hermione, but she had a niggling feeling that Ginny would have some questions for her later.

 

“So Draco, did Romilda have a nice evening?” Ginny questioned.

 

“Professionally, I think she deemed it a successful evening,” he dodged.

 

“Oh, so she didn’t have a good time then?” Ginny kept on.

 

“No, Ginny. I know what you are getting at,” he sighed. “I know how much you dislike her. I don’t understand why she’d go for that speccy skinny bloke but she was young and foolish then, I reckon.”

 

Harry tossed a ball of rolled up Christmas wrapping at him. He smiled and batted it away.

 

“So she’s to be Mrs. Malfoy huh?” Ginny snorted.

 

“No, Ginny, she’s still foolish,” Draco conceded. “We split last night. It had been coming for a while. It was just a couple fun get togethers. I don’t know why anyone thought it was anything more than that.”

 

“Because you haven’t been with a woman in years!” Ginny shouted. “Then when you do go out with someone you chose Romilda Vane.”

 

“Not the best choice, maybe,” Draco drawled. “But Pansy said I should give her a chance since she was a friend of Mandy’s.”

 

Ginny kept tossing pointed looks at Hermione that Hermione pointedly ignored. She said nothing about Draco’s personal life. She didn’t need to offer Ginny gossip ammunition.

 

“You going to the Hog’s Head for New Years?” Harry asked.

 

“I told Pansy I’d be there,” he said. “Did she tell you about her and Luna hunting for some flying bug in my library? Pansy said Luna had almost convinced her they would find something. I just went along with Luna when she asked if she could have a look. It seemed to be easier than figuring out what she was on about.”

 

“Luna is open minded,” Hermione said diplomatically.

 

“That she is,” Harry agreed. “Did I tell you Pansy invited you too?”

 

“No,” Hermione said.

 

“I guess I forgot. Sorry,” he said. “You’re invited too.”

 

“Thanks, Harry,” Hermione said to him and scowled.

 

“Albus told us he was invited to stay over with Rose and Hugo at Ron’s. I think Lily has plans to stay there too,” Ginny said. “So you’ll be free to come won’t you, Hermione?”

 

“I am going to have to check with the kids to make sure they are going to be at Ron’s,” Hermione sighed. “They were supposed to be there instead of bothering Draco.” She looked over at him and apologized.

 

“They’re no trouble,” he drawled. “It’s nice to have some liveliness at the manor.” His face clouded a bit as he seemed to be thinking of darker times past. “I really do need to be getting back to check on them though. I just wanted to bring your things by.” He stood.

 

“Thanks, Draco, for the quidditch set,” Ginny said and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

 

“Thanks, mate,” Harry said and shook his hand.

 

“Harry, do we have any left overs from Mum?” Ginny asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Harry answered.

 

“Well come with me to look,” Ginny said and nodded her head toward the door. She took his hand and pulled him along.

 

“Bye, Draco!” Ginny called over her shoulder.

 

He smiled but did not reply to her as he watched them go out the door. He turned and looked at Hermione.

 

“I hope you’ll get to come to the Hog’s Head with us,” he said to her.

 

“I’ll try,” she responded. “And thank you for your gift.”

 

“I hope you like it,” he said and stepped a bit closer. “Thank you for thinking of me too.”

 

Hermione smiled, but felt herself blushing. “I’m sorry the kids gave you a hard time about it. I didn’t expect them to find it.”

 

“Like I said, I had fun with them,” he said as reached out to wrap a loose curl around his finger. “Maybe you can watch it with me sometime? Sing along and dancing if you like.”

 

Hermione smiled, “Sounds like fun.”

 

He leaned in a placed a kiss on her cheek and whispered, “Happy Christmas, Hermione,” before disappearing in the fireplace.

 



Chapter 34: Chapter 34
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Chapter 34

 

 

Hermione unwrapped the gift he had given her. Inside the wrapping was a small square felt black box. She pulled the top open and saw a small round stone. It sparkled all colors of the rainbow. She knew it wasn’t a diamond but thought she had read about the stone. She then saw a fine golden script embossed on the lid.

 

The Luminorius Stone is said to give the

possessor clarity and insight. It is also known

to guide one to the correct path if unsure

  which direction to take .

 

She picked up the small stone and watched it sparkle in the light. It had been carved so that it could fit onto the end of a wand. She had indeed read of the Luminorius stone. It was very rare and said to have many magical properties. Hermione suspected that Draco had spent time and galleons searching for one. His thoughtfulness never ceased to amaze her. Hermione felt bad because he had put so much thought into her gift while she had only given him a lousy Blu Ray. It was no wonder he beloved she felt so little for him She also hoped the stone worked as well as she had heard as she had so much to make up for.

 

Hermione wished the stone would guide her with Draco. He seemed to return her feelings but she was unclear how to tell him of her own. She didn’t know if he would ever trust her fully to accept him as he was. There was also her knowledge about Miles’s mark vanishing. If it hadn’t been for that mark on his forearm she would never have approached him and nothing would have ever developed between them. In her heart she debated telling him what she knew but then logiced that they had tried vanishing his mark and nothing had changed it.

 

Miles had mentioned that while others’ marks faded Draco’s had remained the same. Why was his so different and had he been telling her he was different from the others? What if she told him she knew about Miles’s mark vanishing? Would he be angry that she kept it from him when he had a chance to be free from that cursed thing or would he believe that she could never care for him as he is? She never saw a clear path when it came to Draco Malfoy.    

          

Hermione had not heard from Miles and wondered if he would be at the Hog’s Head tonight. If he was and Draco learned the truth she would deal with it then. As for the present time she decide to spend her New Year’s Eve with her friends and if wanted to be her friend or more she would accept it. And perhaps she would ask him for a dance this time.

 

 

 

 

Normally going to the Hog’s Head was a pretty casual affair, but tonight Hermione added a little polish to her everyday look with a little mascara and gloss. The Sleekeazy’s potion was also a useful little tool. She admired the way it tamed her frizz into glossy curls. She promised to thank Harry tonight for his ancestor’s invention when she met up with him and Ginny.

 

She entered the dark old parlor of Grimmauld place and stepped outside the green flames. The room was empty as she had expected so she took a moment to remove the residue of floo travel from herself and set out in search of the Potter’s.

 

She found them in the sitting room that had recently been refurbished. Ginny sat half dressed on the white linen sofa sobbing. Harry paced the floor running his hand’s through his ever messy hair. His nose was wrinkled and lips were pursed.

 

“What’s happened?” Hermione asked frightened.

 

“I’m too...” sobbed Ginny, ” fuh fat for my dress!”

 

“You’re not fat, you’re pregnant,” sighed an exasperated Harry.

 

Hermione stifled a giggle remembering the hormonal swings that accompanied her own pregnancies. She sat beside her and patted her back patiently while Ginny blew her nose.

 

“Ginny, take the dress off,” Hermione instructed.

 

Ginny looked around at her scandalized. Harry looked at her as if she had gone mad.

 

“Just take it off and hand it to me,” she said again.

 

Ginny gave her another funny look and slipped out of the dress and handed it over to Hermione who then proceeded to charm the dress to a larger size around the waist and hips.

 

Ginny and Harry were dumbfounded that neither one thought to do the same.

 

“Magic can be helpful,” Hermione said kindly as she handed the dress back to Ginny.

 

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Harry muttered.

 

Hermione laughed and even Ginny managed a hiccuping giggle. The rest of the time getting them ready went uneventfully until Ginny noticed the stone at the base of Hermione’s wand glittering in the lamp light.

 

“What’s that Hermione?” Ginny asked. “It’s beautiful.”

 

“Draco gave it me for Christmas,” she answered hoping to avoid further questions.

 

“He gave you that?” her voice incredulous. “I bet it’s real too.”

 

“He did. I saw that he gave you and Harry a new quidditch set,” Hermione said. 

 

“Yeah, it was great. All new balls for the kids to use. Honestly the last quaffle we had is almost worn out. A couple more games and it would have flattened,” Ginny prattled away.

 

Hermione knew when a Potter or a Weasley was involved the best way to distract them was quidditch. After so many years it was nice to finally have a use for the game. She smiled to herself as they rounded up their things for the evening and set off.

 

 

 

 

 

Setting down in Hogsmeade right in front of the Hog’s Head left Hermione a little dizzy. The combination of apparating and the thumping music streaming out of the pub made her head spin a little. After a second or two to balance herself she realized the song was one from her old school days. It might have been by the Weird Sisters if memory served. She smiled at Harry and Ginny and waited for them to go in door.

 

The pub was full of people. Some people Hermione recognized and others she did not. It took a bit of searching but it was only after hearing Seamus’s Irish brogue that they found a group of their friends. Seamus and Dean were sitting at a wooden table with Draco Malfoy. The three men smiled at the group approaching. Hermione tried to slow her breathing.

 

“Where’s Neville?” Harry shouted over the music.

 

“Helping Pansy behind the bar!” Dean called out.

 

“What are you drinking?” Seamus asked. “I’ll grab a round!”

 

“No, thanks, nothing but pumpkin juice for me,” Ginny said patting her stomach.

 

“Harry, Hermione, what about you?” Seamus offered again.

 

“Butterbeer, please,” Hermione said with a smile.

 

“Me too,” Harry said. He grabbed a couple chairs for Ginny and himself.

 

“Sit with me,” Draco said grabbing Hermione’s hand and nodding to the seat beside himself. She grinned and sat with him.

 

“I’m glad you came,” he leaned over and whispered to her.

 

“Me too,” she said back.

 

Seamus came back with the butterbeers and Ginny’s juice bottle. The men resumed their conversation about the Holyhead Harpies’ chances of winning the next cup. The conversation got very heated as Ginny joined in to defend her team against Dean’s insistence that they had no chance at winning. Hermione sat back and sipped her butterbeer while realizing that she was still holding hands with Draco.

 

It took a little bit before Pansy and Neville made their way to the table. Pansy looked tired but happy. She sat down with Ginny and they began to discuss their pregnancies and all the symptoms and sicknesses that accompanied the condition.

 

“Do you ever think about more children?” Dean asked Hermione.

 

She loathed being asked that question and could feel everyone staring at her. She bit her lip and wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know. Not really, but I never rule anything out seeing as how life changes quickly.”

 

“Well I say if you’re gonna do it, you better get a start,” Pansy sighed. “The older I get the harder it gets.”

 

Hermione felt Draco scooting in his seat but he wisely said nothing. She was certain that he expected to receive a pointed barb from Pansy but it did not come. Instead she closed her eyes and leaned on Neville’s shoulder.

 

Ginny spoke up, “Hey Pansy, did you and Luna find what you were looking for at Malfoy’s? I didn’t realize the two of you were friends.”

 

“We weren’t until then, but Neville convinced me to give her a chance. She’s not so bad, mad, totally stark raving mad, but not bad.”

Everyone laughed a little until Dean turned again to Hermione and Draco. He seemed to notice the hand holding too. He smirked at them and asked, “So what happened to that other bird from Christmas and when did this happen?”

 

“Romilda and I decided to part company,” Draco drawled. He ignored the second part of the question. Hermione was very curious as to how he would answer that part.

 

She pulled away and sipped her butterbeer only for Ginny to respond.

 

“Don’t worry Malfoy,” Ginny said. “Mandy says Romilda has been spending plenty of time with Roger Davies; even before Christmas. She reckons they could be getting pretty serious.”

 

“Roger Davies,” Seamus recalled, “wasn’t he a few years ahead of us in school?”

 

“He was,” Pansy said. “I think in Ravenclaw, or maybe a Hufflepuff. Either way, he was the one who opened the chain of wizarding night clubs all through London.”

 

“Oh I remember him now!” Hermione piped up. “He had to get a bunch of permits and go through loads of red tape to get permits.”

“Why?” Harry asked. “Why so different from the Leaky Cauldron or Fortesque’s? It’s just a business right?”

 

“No, because those businesses are in Diagon Alley. A wizards’ area, but the nightclubs were scattered all over, even in muggle areas,” Hermione explained. “Imagine a muggle walking in and seeing goblins and elves everywhere! It would be a nightmare for the Ministry.”

 

“I think we should all start dancing seeing as there are only a few minutes till midnight!” Pansy said. “Everyone get up! Go!”

 

“Wanna dance with me?” Hermione said turning to Draco.

 

“Let’s go,” he drawled and led her to the crowded floor of the Hog’s Head.

 

Someone had conjured a clock to countdown the time over the dancers. Hermione looked up to see a little less than 2 minutes left until the new year. Draco pulled her closer to him and she could smell the familiar scent she had come to recognize as him. They watched until the counter landed on Happy New Year!

 

Hermione felt Draco’s lips brush her cheek. He gazed at her as if he was unsure if that had been all right. Wanting more Hermione stepped up on her tip toes and snaked her arms around his neck. She kissed him, a hungry, searching kiss. She felt his body shift as he responded. His lips were warm and soft with a taste of the firewhisky he had been drinking. She could feel his hands running along her back and behind. Neither minded the crowd around them.

 

She let her hands travel into his hair and down his neck. Her tongue explored his mouth and she dropped kisses over his mouth and worked her way down his jaw and to his neck. She felt his teeth nipping at her ear and could hear his heavy breathing. She knew her breathing must be as heavy as his while she worked her way back to exploring his lips and tongue with her own. Breathless she had to pull away.

 

“Happy new year, Draco,” he whispered to himself and gave her a flirty wink.

 

“Happy new year, Draco,” she repeated her voice still husky and pressed her lips to his again.

 

He kissed her again and laughed. They then noticed the others staring at them. Pansy wore a smirk and had her hand held out in Neville’s direction. From the flashes of gold, Hermione could tell he was counting out galleons.

 

“I knew it,” Pansy said told him. “I told you. Luna agreed with me you know. She said they wanted to kiss under the mistletoe. Looks like she was right and of course, I was right.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Neville frowned “just take your gold. You won the bet.”

 

The others were laughing and drinking back at the table watching Neville and Pansy fuss. Pansy waved her wand and a new song came on with a loud driving beat. Seamus and Dean began to pass drinks to everyone in sight. Ginny pulled Harry back out to the dance floor. His dancing was as atrocious as Hermione remembered but it didn’t matter because she knew he was having fun. She smiled to see all those around her and reflected briefly and who they had been and who they all were now.

 

 She looked back at Draco to see him waiting for her. She pushed her lips back to his. Without ending the kiss they began to sway in time to the music. Hermione ran her hands up his chest while she teased his lips and mouth with her tongue. His hands tangled in her curls and he nipped back at her. As the kisses heated again Hermione pressed her pelvis against his. His arousal was as evident as her own.

 

“Take me home, Draco” she breathed in his ear.

 

Without breaking their kiss he lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around him. She felt the squeeze and pull of apparition. When she opened her eyes he was still holding her, her legs wrapped around his waist, in a room she assumed was somewhere in his manor house.

 

It was nothing like she had imagined a manor bedroom would be. The rooms she had seen had been grand and opulent. The walls and floors ornate and full of guiled objects. The room they were in was much simpler. Instead of heavy silks and dark colors it was mostly whites and soothing pale blues. The bed was the most extravagant piece in the room. It was a magnificently carved dark wood. Centaurs and fawns seemed to gallop across the head board. Leaves and vines trailed around it. It was covered with a plain white duvet and a few pale pillows. Candle light sparked into existence around them. Hermione gasped.

 

“What is it?” he asked, his face pulled into a mask of concern.

 

“Where are we?” she asked.

 

“My bedroom,” he said. “I thought you wanted to come. We can go back if you want.”

 

“No!” Hermione shouted. “I mean I want to be here, with you.”

 

He smiled down at her and pushed a loose curl behind her ear, “Good. I want you to be here.” he said before capturing her lips again.

 

Hermione felt herself being guided to his bed. They stood at the base of it wrapped up in the feelings and in each other. Hermione found herself tugging at the buttons of his shirt. After a little help from him removing it she began to work on his zipper. His hands had already begun removing her clothing. She pushed gently at his shoulders and he sat on the end of the bed. She climbed onto his lap eager to show him how much she wanted to be there. She felt him pull away from her.

 

“We can’t do this,” he said. “Not like this.”

 

“What do you mean?” she asked straightening herself as best she could.

 

“I want more than just a shag, ” he said sadly.

 

“Why would you think that?” she asked pulling herself away. “Why wouldn’t you think I want more than that?”

 

He reached out to pull her back into an embrace, “What do you want?”

 

“I want you,” she said looking up into his eyes.

 

“All of me?” he asked and held out his arm, “Even this?”

 

She could see the Dark Mark on his arm still black and standing out. It almost glowed against his pale skin. She let her fingers trace it.

She looked back into the grey eyes in front of her, “Even with that. It doesn’t matter.”

 

He let his hands caress her face and he leaned in to give her one more kiss. This one was different. It was gentle and lacked the urgency of the ones they had shared before.

 

“I need more time,” he told her. “I don’t want to rush into this and destroy it. Can you wait for me?”

 

Her heart broke to hear the imploring grief in his voice. She wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled her head into his should.

 

“I understand,” she whispered back.

 

He stood and took her hands and pulled her to her feet. She giggled when he dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose. She hugged him again and inhaled the scent of the outdoors, a fresh rain or clean snow scent topped off with a bit a mint.

 

“Let’s go watch Spice World,” he said.

 

“Draco, really? You want to watch Spice World?” Hermione said embarrassed. “I’m sorry I gave you that stupid movie. You put so much thought and care into your gift.”

 

“I like it,” he said.

 

“No you don’t. I should have given you something better,” she argued.

 

“Like what?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know, but something more personal and serious,” she said.

 

“I seriously had a good time watching it with Scorpius and the kids. Rose and Hugo were here with him and Albus and Lily too. I love having them here,” he said.

 

 “I thought they were at Ron’s, but still,” she argued.

 

“Would you have given it to Harry or Ron to take the mickey?” he asked.

 

“Absolutely! And I would have made them dance!” she said smiling.

 

“That’s what I suspected. By giving me that, you showed me that you thought of me as someone you could laugh with and have fun with. You know, a friend,” he told her.

 

“Well I don’t go round snogging Harry or Ron, anymore that is,” she snarked.

 

“When did you snog Harry?” he asked.

 

“Let’s go watch the bloody film!” she said.

 

They left his bedroom for his sitting room. It was also much less ornate than the public places in the house. The fireplace had a carved marble mantle but she considered that it must be original to the house. His sofa was plush and comfortable all she needed was a blanket.

 

“Do you have a blanket?” she asked looking around.

 

“Are you cold?” he asked sitting down beside her.

 

“No, but watching is so much better if you have a blanket,” she said.

 

He waved his wand and cited the summoning spell. A thick plush blanket floated into his hands. He gave it to her and sat.

 

“Cuddle with me,” she said holding the blanket aloft for him to slide under. When he was situated she leaned her head onto his shoulder. He pressed play.

 



Chapter 35: Chapter 35
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Chapter 35

 

 

A shatter rang out causing Hermione to bolt awake. Automatically her right hand began seeking her wand. Instead of finding her wand her hand landed on Draco’s thigh. She remembered then where she was and knew she was safe. Voices followed the shattering noise.

 

“Dad!” came Scorpius’s voice from somewhere inside the manor house.

 

Draco startled at the sound. He jumped up from the sofa, where he and Hermione had fallen asleep, letting the blanket fall to the floor. He turned searching for the voice of his son.

 

“I thought he was staying at the Potters’,”Draco said looking confused.

 

Scorpius entered the sitting room followed by a few others. He was holding Lily’s hand, Hermione noticed before she had time to discern the identities of his other guests.

 

“Mum!” Rose shouted stepping out from behind her cousin. “What are you doing here and why are you in your knickers?”

 

Hermione looked down and saw only her underthings and made a quick grab at the blanket that had fallen to the floor. Lily, Albus, and Hugo stood there with Scorpius and Rose gaping at the two adults. Hermione wrapped herself in the blanket but Draco stood unsure of what to do or say, flushed with humiliation, only in his pants. Hermione cleared her throat.

 

“We will answer any questions you might have after we get dressed,” she said trying to maintain whatever dignity she could muster.

 

No one else said anything as she stood and began to head in the direction of Draco’s bedroom. She could see the blanket trailing behind and turned to gather it up more. She saw Draco still standing, frozen in place.

 

“Malfoy!” she yelled. “Come on! Let’s get dressed.”

 

She saw him snap out of the daze. She grabbed his arm to pull him along. When they finally made it to his bedroom she heard Rose and Lily break into giggles. She thought she could hear Albus too, but Hugo and Scorpius were not laughing.

 

 

 

“What are we going to tell them?” Draco asked, his grey eyes wide.

 

She shrugged her shoulders, “The truth I suppose.”

 

“We can’t tell them everything,” he said looking more alarmed than before.

 

“Not details, of course,” she sighed, “just, you know, shit what do we tell them?”

 

He smiled and kissed her again. She wanted to become as lost in this kiss as the ones she had let herself fall into last night but knew their children, hers and his, were waiting for them and waiting for answers. Hermione pulled back and smiled at the blonde man in front of her. She gave him one more peck on his lips before finding her top that had so hastily been discarded last night. In the morning light she could see him more clearly and was surprised at how much she enjoyed seeing so much of Draco Malfoy so clearly. She grinned and began to dress herself.

 

After they were both dressed and adjusted Draco turned back and looked at Hermione. She could see that he was still embarrassed but wore a silly grin she was sure matched her own. He reached out his hand to her.

 

“Are you ready?” he said after taking a big breath.

 

“I am,” she said, still not ready but took his hand anyway.

 

 

They walked back into the sitting room and faced those that awaited them. Everyone had taken a seat, Hermione could see. All eyes looked up from their entwined hands to their faces waiting. Hermione shot a glance at Draco. Now that she stood in front of them there were no words coming to mind. In truth, she really didn’t have an explanation herself.

 

“Hermione and I have become good friends, as you all are aware,” Draco began, “We enjoy each other’s company and have decided to explore the relationship further.”

 

Good going, Draco, Hermione thought to herself. That was better than anything she would have been able stutter and stammer out. She was glad he had taken the lead on this one.

 

“So you like my mum?” Hugo said looking up at Draco.

 

“I do,” Draco said. “I care for your mother very much.”

 

Hugo eyed him for a minute and then nodded, “Okay.”

 

“How do you feel about this Rose, Scorpius?” Draco asked.

 

“I like Ms. Granger a lot,” Scorpius drawled. “I’m okay with it.”

 

“Are you sure this is not too soon after your mother?” Draco asked sitting down beside his son on the sofa.

 

“Dad, it’s fine,” the younger man answered. “Mum died, and I miss her. But we are still alive and she would want us to be happy. Both of us. Everyone can tell Ms. Granger makes you happy.”

 

Hermione smiled at the intelligent and mature young man in front of her.

 

 “Thank you, Scorpius,” she said. “You can call me Hermione though. Ms. Granger makes me feel old.”

 

He smiled back at her and so did Draco.

 

“Rose, honey, you haven’t said anything. Are you all right?” Hermione asked her daughter.

 

“I already knew,” Rose said tossing a lank of red hair over her shoulder. “Nigel told me.”

 

“How did he know?” Hermione asked.

 

“He was helping his parents at the pub. Said you two were going at it hot and heavy on the dance floor and that you left together. Didn’t think we’d find the two of you here nearly starkers though,” Rose said arching her eyebrow. “Next time get a room.”

 

Hermione could feel the blush creeping up her cheeks and turned her face away. Rose so often reminded her of Ron. She had the same emotional range as him. Well maybe she had a tablespoon’s worth of emotional range she amended, as she straightened herself in her chair. Draco said nothing but looked shocked that Rose knew and by how much she knew.

 

Albus, at last broke the silence. “Everyone is okay with Mr. Malfoy and Aunt Hermione and being the magical Brady Bunch! But how about me? Huh? I was lured here with promises of breakfast, but no one is feeding me! Can we get some food before we have to board the Hogwarts Express tomorrow?”

 

Everyone roared in laughter at his outburst. He was definitely Ginny’s child, Hermione thought to herself before walking over to him and tousling his hair. It was so much like Harry’s that her tousle had not made a difference in its looks.

 

“Spinks!” Draco called.

 

The rotund elf did not appear instantaneously as everyone had expected. Hermione’s eyes riveted in Draco’s direction. He seemed to be as stumped as everyone else. A worried glance passed between him and Scorpius.

 

“Spinks!” Draco said, this time a little louder.

 

A few seconds later the portly little elf appeared. Everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief. The elf looked confused.

 

“Master called Spinks?” the elf asked.

 

“I did, twice,” Draco said. “Is everything all right?”

 

“Yes, Master everything is all right,” said Spinks. “Spinks did not realize Master was calling the first time. Master gave us the day off.”

 

Draco seemed to realize his mistake and frowned. “I am sorry Spinks, I did give you the day. Please go back about your day. Unless you and the others would like to join us for breakfast.”

 

Spinks looked up at Draco. He did not seem afraid. “Who is cooking?”

 

“I am,” Draco said.

 

Devastation replaced the usual joy on the elf’s face. He hung his head and shook it slowly, “Spinks is eating Master’s cooking before. Spinks must say no unless Master commands it. Puckle and Puff would agree, sir.”

 

Draco chuckled and squatted down to eye level with the elf. “Spinks, I would never command you to eat my cooking. No elf deserves such punishment.”

 

“You punish your elves?” Hermione asked, outraged.

 

“No Miss,” Spinks answered. “Master has never punished us. He did, as a boy once, but not since the unspeakable days. No never again. Master is my friend.”

 

“If he’s your friend why don’t you call him by his name?” Hermione snorted. “Why master?”

 

“Spinks, and the other elves love and respect Mr. Malfoy,” the elf said as if it should be obvious. “We call him master because he treats us well. It is our affection. He says we could call him Draco or Mr. Malfoy, but Master is the proper way a house elf shows respect so he is Master. They only name are forbidden to call him is Mummy’s little Draky Dragon.”

 

Hermione looked up in amusement from Spinks to see Draco flushing at that last name. She assumed it was something his mother had called him as a child. Rose and Albus wore matching grins hearing the silly nickname Spinks had revealed. Hermione then wondered how bad Draco’s cooking was. Then she recalled the week he had been assigned kitchen duty when they were rebuilding Hogwarts. The food had been almost inedible.

 

“I’ll cook!” Hermione said.

 

Scorpius let out a breath and smiled. Albus looked like he thought it was a better idea too. Draco looked offended by her offer while Rose and Hugo said nothing. They watched the others wearily.

 

“Hermione, you are our guest,” Draco drawled. “It wouldn’t be proper to allow the guest to serve in my home.”

 

“Draco, you are not a good cook,” Hermione said.

 

“And you are a poor houseguest,” Draco retorted. “You’re still trying to get my house elves to revolt. Then you insult my cooking.”

 

“We is not revolting, Master,” Spinks said.

 

“I know, Spinks,” Draco said. “You are free to join us if you choose, or you may go.”

 

“Spinks and the others is planning visits to other friends today. I is going visiting,” Spinks told Draco.

 

“Okay, but no more giving butterbeer to the young lady elves,” Draco kidded him.

 

“Spinks will not take butterbeers with me. Spinks can’t say no to the lady elves,” Spinks said back and gave a sly grin.

 

Hermione laughed at the silly exchange. Draco smiled over at her and back again at Spinks. The elf left with a loud CRACK!

 

Hermione lifted her eyebrow, and said “I know something you do, do well.”

 

She walked over and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. He responded immediately in the way she hoped. She felt his hands following the curves of her behind when she remembered the kids.

 

“Where are the kids?” she asked breaking the kiss.

 

Hermione searched the room looking for the kids that had been there before. She knew they were in the room before Spinks left, but had no idea if he left first or if the kids had. Then she realized she must have known Draco and she were alone because she would not have kissed him like that without privacy. Draco seemed unconcerned.

 

“Probably made their way to the kitchens,” he said.

 

“Kitchens? As in more than one?” Hermione asked.

 

“We only use one now,” he said.

 

Hermione took a breath and shook her head. She didn’t think she would ever get used to the things Draco considered normal. Having more than one kitchen was not normal to Hermione but she followed him anyway.

 

They found the kids all sitting at the table in the brightly lit kitchen. Everyone had poured a bowl of cold cereal and seemed to be content with it. They looked up at Draco and Hermione without breaking their own conversation.

 

“Are the elves coming?” Scorpius asked his dad.

 

“They are not. They will be visiting friends today,” Draco told him.

 

“Great job, Dad,” Scorpius chided. “Threaten to cook for me and I’ll never come home.”

 

Hermione bit her lip to withhold a giggle but tightened her grip on Draco’s hand. Draco seemed to take his son’s jab in stride and laughed along with the others.

 

“So you don’t want my special spaghetti bolognese?” Draco asked.

 

“No! Never again!” Scorpius shouted.

 

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Hermione said as she took a seat at the table. “Not really a breakfast food though.”

 

“How about some tea and toast?” Draco asked her.

 

He had already filled the kettle and had it going. She could see he was pulling a loaf of bread from a cupboard. He stopped and looked up at her. She tried to hide her skeptical expression.

 

“I can make toast, Granger,” Draco drawled. “I bought this muggle contraption that does everything. Just put the slices in.”

 

“A toaster?” Hermione said.

 

“Cheese or jam with your toast?” Draco asked.

 

“Both,” Hermione said.

 

“Both? That’s foul!” Draco said.

 

“Not together,” Hermione laughed. “One slice with cheese and one slice with jam.”

 

“Why you so hungry, Mum?” Rose asked. “Did you work up an appetite last night?”

 

“Rose!” Hermione scolded. “We are at the breakfast table. Apologize to Mr. Malfoy for your poor manners!”

 

“Sorry, Mr. Malfoy,” Rose mumbled.

 

Draco cleared his throat and looked sheepish, “Apology accepted.”

 

He placed a platter of toast and jams on the table. He went back to work finding tea cups and cheeses to add to the spread. When everything was placed he poured a cup of tea and handed it to Hermione.

 

“Green tea,” Hermione said delighted. “It’s my favorite.”

 

“I know,” Draco replied. He sat down and began to fill his own cup.

 

“Everyone excited for school tomorrow?” Hermione asked.

 

“No!” Rose said. “I won’t get to see Nigel until the weekend of Valentines.”

 

“You’ll live without seeing your boyfriend every minute,” Scorpius said to her.

 

“Shove off, Malfoy,” Rose said. “What do you know? It’s not like everyone doesn’t know about you and Lily sneaking off to snog every chance you get!”

 

“We do not!” Lily shouted.

 

“Scorp! That’s my sister,” Albus said turning red.

 

“You knew we were together,” Scorpius said to Albus.

 

“Yeah I knew,” Albus admitted. “But I didn’t know you snogged her.”

 

“Well it’s kinda implied,” Hugo said fairly.

 

Hermione looked at Draco across the table and smiled. It was hard to believe where they sat now, knowing how they had felt about each other when they were the same age as these kids. She also remembered Harry and Ron having a similar conversation about Ginny.

 

“Scorpius, I would like to spend this evening with you,” Draco said. “We could go out if you like.”

 

“So long as you don’t cook,” Scorpius said.

 

The young blonde man turned to Hermione and said, “His spaghetti bolognese is egg noddles with ketchup.”

 

Hermione nearly spit out her tea. It did sound disgusting. She laughed until she saw Draco’s face.

 

“I tried,” he grumped.

 

Everyone laughed again and finished breakfast. After everything was cleared up Lily and Albus took their leave for home. Rose and Hug said goodbye to Scorpius and Draco and used some floo powder to go home as well. Hermione called out to let them know she would be right behind.

 

“Bye, Scorpios, I hope you have a good term,” Hermione said.

 

“Thanks Ms. Granger,” Scorpius said before disappearing from the room.

 

Draco was eying Hermione that made her feel silly and weak kneed. She had never thought of herself as the weak kneed type and tried not to give in. His grin didn’t make it easier.

 

“I need some time with Scorpios before he goes back tomorrow,” Draco said.

 

“I understand,” Hermione told him. “I want to see Rose and Hugo too. Thank you for breakfast though.”

 

“Thank you for last night,” Draco said.

 

He reached up to fix a stray curl that had fallen from Hermione’s ponytail. She could feel his heart beating against her and inhaled his now familiar scent. He tipped her chin to him and covered her mouth in a kiss that tasted of tea and jam. She leaned forward letting a low moan escape her own lips. He slowed his intensity to a lazy enjoyment before pulling away.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he drawled before placing one last kiss on her head.

 

 



Chapter 36: Chapter 36
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Chapter 36

 

 

Everyone went back about their routines following the Hogwart’s Express departure. Hermione was relieved the holidays were over but happy to have spent the evening with Rose and Hugo before their going back. She could hardly believe Rose was finishing her final term at Hogwarts and that Hugo would be sitting his O.W.L. exams before long. But the paperwork had piled up in her inbox over the holiday break and she had to attend to that before becoming a soppy mess about the children, or thinking back about the night she spent with Draco.

 

Hermione had gotten wrapped up in the daily ins and outs of her job as she made her way through the piles on her desk. She had forgotten to eat all day because she felt the need to address every single issue that had been directed her way. It was well after the lunch hour when she heard a pounding on her office door. Whoever was pounding like that, had better have a very good reason she thought crossly. She opened the door to find an irate Draco Malfoy.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me, Granger?” he sneered.

 

“Tell you what?” she asked confused.

 

“About Miles!” he shouted.

 

“What about Miles? What the hell are you on about?” Hermione asked her voice getting higher pitched with every word.

 

“His dark mark. It’s gone,” Draco drawled. “It’s gone.”

 

Hermione’s face fell. She had kept this information from Draco.

 

“Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“You didn’t want to try anymore,” Hermione said truthfully.

 

“So you just swapped out me for Miles and went on about your happy way, doing whatever you feel like. Because of course, the great Hermione Granger knows better than everyone around her. Well I hope you’ll be happy,” Draco stated.

 

“What do you mean you hope I’ll be happy?” Hermione asked.

 

“You just proved to everyone I deserve this,” he said pulling back his sleeve.

 

“Draco, you cannot mean that,” Hermione said. “Miles’s mark vanishing should give you hope.”

 

“Hope for what?” he asked.

 

“Hope that we can figure out why yours hasn’t changed,” Hermione said.

 

“And here I believed you when you said it didn’t matter,” he drawled.

 

“It doesn’t matter to me,” she insisted. “You’re the one who is angry.”

 

“I just want it all to be over,” he said. “but it’s never over. Not for me, even when everyone else can just move on and forget about this abomination is staring back at me. I will never be free!”

 

“Do you want to try?” Hermione asked. “We’ll try one more time if you want. If you say no I promise to never mention it again.”

 

“How did you do it?” he whispered. “No one else figured it out, not the healers or aurors, but you did. How?”

 

“Actually, I didn’t,” she admitted. “We, Miles and I, were just talking about everything you and I have tried. He didn’t believe when I said we tried everything and then just used the vanishing spell. You know, evanesco, and I guess his wand reacted because it was just gone. Both of us sat there in shock. He wanted to tell you, but I was afraid.”

 

“Afraid of what?” Draco asked and stepped closer to her.

 

“Afraid of this,” she said, voice rising, “afraid you wouldn’t believe me.”

 

“What that a stupid vanishing spell worked after everything else failed? After we already started at the beginning, Book of Spells Grade 1. Yes, I find it hard to believe,” he said.

 

“Give me your arm then,” she said.

 

He rolled back the white oxford sleeve and held out his arm, the dark mark still black as it had ever been.

 

Hermione could see the disbelief in his eyes. She took out her wand made the loop and finished in a sharp point while saying the incantation. Nothing happened. Draco stood quietly glowering at her as she tried a second time.

 

“Evanesco!” said Hermione.

 

Nothing changed. He began to pull at his sleeve.

 

“No, let me try again,” Hermione screeched pulling him over closer. “Evanesco!”

 

Still no change. Hermione heard him huff as he went to pull the sleeve down again.

 

“No!” she shouted. “I can do it!”

 

“Just stop it, Granger,” he drawled.

 

“No!” she yelled as she grabbed the arm back and circled her wand in the air and shot it to a point while saying the incantation.

 

“Stop, Granger,” he said. “You’re just poking my arm.”

 

He pulled away and rolled the sleeve back down.

 

“Draco, I swear it worked,” she said.

 

“Not for me,” he frowned. “I told you it was permanent. You still want to change me though.”

 

“That’s why I was afraid to tell,” she cried. “I knew you would think that! That is not what I want, not at all.”

 

“At least you know now,” he dropped his head and whispered.

 

“Why do you say that? Nothing has changed,” she said.

 

“Because nothing has changed,” he said. “I will never be free of this because I deserve this mark. Why can’t you see that? Everyone else’s, except those who still believe in that madness, has vanished. I’ve told you this over and over. I can’t do this anymore.”

 

He turned and began to walk to the door before Hermione reached out and grabbed the back of his black work robe.

 

“Why, Draco,” Hermione asked. “Why are you still fighting me? Why are you still fighting us? I’ve done everything I can to show you that this is real.”

 

“Because I can never be free of the past,” he said as he closed his eyes.

 

“No one holds your past against you but yourself,” she sighed.

 

“You weren’t there!” he exploded. “You didn’t see the things he did. The things we allowed, I allowed in my home!”

 

“I know exactly what happened in your home!” Hermione fought back. “It wasn’t even Voldemort that did it. It was your demented aunt! You are not the only one with scars!”

 

“That’s why we have to stop this now. I can’t be someone who didn’t do all those things. I will never be the person you deserve,” Draco said.

 

“Grow up, Malfoy,” Hermione spat. “No one has a perfect past. I knew that before we became friends, let alone anything else. If you can’t man up and be with me or don’t want to be here then walk out that door but do not blame some mark from over 20 years ago.”

 

Hermione watched Draco’s mouth drop open. He seemed to blink back her rebuke without having any response. For a moment she believed he intended to walk away. He finally spoke.

 

“I’m scared,” he said. “I’m afraid I will let you down. In the past, I’ve put myself and my family before doing whats right. I can’t say I won’t do it again.”

 

“You will let me down,” Hermione said. “I will let you down. It’s part of being human.”

 

“No, not the way I let people down,” Draco said. “Not like Astoria and Daphne.”

 

“What could you have done, Draco?” Hermione asked.

 

“I didn’t save them,” he whispered.

 

“Astoria was cursed,” Hermione said. “You knew that when you married her. You made her happy in the time she had. There was nothing that could be done. You told me you spent years trying to find a cure, but there was none.”

 

“I could have saved Daphne. I could have tried to stop it,” he cried. “When Daphne committed suicide, Astoria nearly grieved herself to death.”

 

“What happened to Daphne?” Hermione asked.

 

Draco shook his head, “I can’t.”

 

“Why?” Hermione asked. “Why can’t you tell me?”

 

“She wouldn’t want anyone to know,” he whispered. “and because I’m too ashamed.”

 

“Did you do something to her?” Hermione gasped.

 

“No,” Draco said. “No, but I didn’t stop Voldemort.”

 

“Neither did tens of fully qualified witches or wizards,” Hermione insisted. “You can’t take all the blame on yourself. Your father or even your mother could have stepped in. Anyone who had knowledge of what he was doing to those poor women could have tried to stop him. No one did. You would have died if you had tried.”

 

“I should have,” he said. “At least she might have suffered less. Maybe then someone else would have stopped him. No one could have stayed sane after what he did to her. She was my friend and I let it happen.”

 

“What happened to her?” Hermione asked again. “Draco what could you have done?”

 

“Anything! I should have done anything!” he yelled. “Before she lost her mind. I should have just took her and ran. Killing her myself would have been a mercy, but I was too cowardly to do it.”

 

“If you had killed her you would have been sent to Azkaban,” Hermione said. “You are not a killer. That’s one reason you were never sentenced.”

 

“It’s as good as being in prison,” he said. “Seeing her face in this mark every time I look down. She’s there screaming for me to let her go.”

 

“I’m sorry I can’t vanish that mark for you, but you have to let go of the past,” Hermione said.

 

“You will never understand,” he said running a hand through his hair.

 

“No,” Hermione agreed. “You won’t explain so I’ll never be able to understand.”

 

Draco put his hands in his pockets and paced back and forth the length of Hermione’s office. She watched him as he looked to her and then away. He closed his eyes and finally stood at the desk with his back turned to her.

 

“You know that he took her to punish her finance. He had taken any pureblood woman he wanted anyway. She was the sixth or seventh, I can’t remember for sure. By this time Bellatrix was furious that she had been replaced. He wouldn’t father another child with her. She nagged and crowed about how she was the only one who could give him what he wanted. So when he raped Daphne, he had Bellatrix hold her down. He was putting her in her place, he said. Bellatrix used the Cruciatus curse to hold her. She would scream obscenities and hexes at Daphne in between the curses. It happened about seven or eight time before she conceived, ” Draco said and took a deep breath.

 

“That’s terrible,” Hermione said. “Was it like Neville’s parents?”

 

“No, she lasted through that,” Draco said with a swallow. “No she had conceived and been locked in a room upstairs. I sneaked her a potion to make her lose the baby. We thought he would get rid of her like the rest but he didn’t. Bellatrix kept gloating so he tried again. It was worse because he forced Bellatrix to watch. He cut Daphne open so they would be able to see the second Daphne conceived. He kept raping her over and over on the floor while she was ripped open and bleeding everywhere. He used some curse to keep her from bleeding to death but she didn’t die she just laid in her own blood and filth until he came back and got what he wanted.”

 

“She did get pregnant again?” Hermione asked.

 

“Yeah,” Draco sighed. “Do you remember hearing about how Voldemort kept that Hogwarts professor, Burbage, suspended in the air where everyone could see her?”

 

“Yes, your mother mentioned that during one of the trials. Kingsley said Snape told him about it before he was murdered,” Hermione answered tearing up.

 

“She wasn’t the only one he did that to,” Draco said trying to shake the memories away. “He kept Daphne ripped open from the chest down, all her reproductive organs on display and naked so he could watch the baby grow. He showed everyone who came to the Manor. She just hung in the air and he showed her to everyone. Bellatrix was forced to care for her. Well, feed her anyway, as that’s all she did other than hex her. Voldemort allowed anyone to do anything to Daphne as long as it didn’t hurt the baby. They took turns shooting curses at her. She was target practice for the Death Eaters.”

 

He stopped and sat in the chair directly before her desk. He still did not look directly at her.

 

“Gods, I had no idea,” Hermione said.

 

“I knew that I would be killed if I released her, or Pansy would be taken and the same things done to her, or worse. I watched her for months as she tried to fight the binding placed on her. I wanted to help her, but I couldn’t. She never gave up trying to get free though and one evening she freed herself enough to scream,” Draco said.

 

Hermione walked over to him and reached for his hand. He did not pull away but continued.

 

“He was gone that night. I didn’t know where he was or when he was coming back, but I ran to her and saw her screaming. She begged me to help her so I did. I let her down. I wanted to run and thought she was going to go with me. She didn’t though. She started clawing at her insides. She tore her own baby and her uterus to pieces. Everything inside her was a shredded mess. I knew her mind was gone, but I couldn’t stop her. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t even point my wand at her to put her back in a body bind again. Her eyes were dead but her hands and fingernails kept clawing. All the blood and tissue falling out of her, caked on her arms and under her nails and the screaming, gods, I’ll never forget the screaming. Mother came. She stopped her and got her cleaned up and bound her from hurting herself anymore.”

 

“Draco,” Hermione said as she tried to put her arms around him.

 

“I sent Pansy a warning that he was going to come for her. I knew he would use her to punish Mother and me for what happened to Daphne and the baby. There was no way she would ever be able to conceive again. We didn’t expect her to live through the night.”

 

“What did he do to you, Draco?” she asked.

 

“Nothing, he didn’t come back to the manor. He knew that you and Harry were destroying the horcruxes. He was preparing and planning for the final battle at Hogwarts. If things had gone differently though; like I was expected them to I knew I would be dead and had no idea what he was going to do Mother or Pansy. I couldn’t help her or do more because I couldn’t sacrifice Pansy.”

 

“You were in love with her weren’t you?” Hermione asked.

 

“Yes,” Draco said and looked away.

 

“Are you still in love with her?” she asked.

 

“No,” he said and looked her in the eye. “She’s better off with Longbottom. Much happier than she ever would have been with me. You know, she never wanted me. Her parents did. She went along with it because that’s what we were brought up to do. I let her go a long time ago. Before Astoria even.”

 

“Oh,” Hermione said not knowing what was appropriate to add.

 

He stroked her cheek and offered a slight grin before speaking again.

 

“I was then, in love with her. I couldn’t stand the idea of her being hurt or losing her so I watched Daphne’s torment over and over. She was one of our best friends. She was Pansy’s best friend. I let those things happen to her to protect Pansy. Voldemort was already angry and seeking ways to retaliate for my failure to kill Dumbledore myself. He would have found some reason or other I was just trying to keep her out of it. No matter what though I should have stopped it. I can make all the excuses in the world but I know that I wouldn’t do anything differently now and I’m ashamed. This mark just proves who I am inside. Someone too cowardly to help someone else when it costs me. That scar on your arm proves it too.”

 

He pushed away from her and fled her office.

 

She stood up, shocked and angry.



Chapter 37: Chapter 37
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Chapter 37

 

 

Hermione ripped her office door open to see Draco fleeing down the hall. She stepped out into the hallway and waited for him to turn around. He did not.

 

“Draco!” she called.

 

He stopped mid step but did not turn to face her.

 

“You are a coward,” she said.

 

He whipped back around to face her. She saw emotions crossing his face and his grey eyes narrow. She could see that he wanted to respond but he said nothing.

 

“You are too cowardly to forgive yourself and move on,” she said. “You are pushing me away and making yourself miserable. You are too stupid to see that I have forgiven you and so has Harry and Ginny and Pansy and Neville and everyone else. It’s just not good enough for you though is it? You just have to keep pushing yourself back into that prison you hold yourself in. No matter what you have done for others, including me, you still keep hating yourself and won’t let anyone else love you. You are so stupid.”

 

“I’m not stupid, Granger. I'm smart enough to know that I’m no good for anyone,” Draco drawled and turned away again.

 

“It’s best to let that one slither away, Miss Granger,” said the portrait of Dumbledore. “He is unwilling to let the past be the past.”

 

“Shut up!” Hermione roared. “If anyone in the whole damned magical community ever let the past be the past maybe he would have felt he could have come to the order instead of being stuck in the Slytherin stereotype. That house was excluded from everything and you made sure everyone else held on to the prejudices against them. He wanted me to forgive you! He can’t forgive himself and you bring up old prejudices and history to beat him down with! Just shut up!”

 

Hermione could see all the people, including Draco, that had stopped to stare at her outburst at the portrait of Dumbledore.

 

“Forgive me Miss Granger,” the painting said.

 

“Forgive you!” Hermione spat. “How can I forgive you when you say I should let him walk away? What about Draco? Why doesn’t he get forgiveness? If he could forgive himself maybe he could see that I’m falling in love with him.”

 

The portrait of Albus Dumbledore became still and said no more as Hermione felt arms encircle her waist.

 

“It’s gone,” she heard Draco say.

 

She looked down at his pale white arm and saw nothing.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                     Finis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pansy's story will be told in Pansy Parkinson and the Viper in the House



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