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"It was not long before your father and I found ourselves on our way to Bulgaria. There were, however, a few loose ends to tie up before we could leave. First of all, there was an unofficial inquiry into how so many of us survived the attack at the Burrow; Death Eaters don't normally leave survivors. I answered this with the fact that Lucius was very probably leading the assault, and told the Ministry official that I was carrying Lucius' grandchildren as per what my marriage contract demanded, and in this case blood appeared to be a little thicker than water so the attack was modified so I wouldn't get killed. The official took the story--I couldn't tell him the real reason behind everything--and that was the end of that. The official didn't know about the timing the contract demanded for you two to arrive. I did not know, at the time, that in the Malfoy family blood is not always thicker than water.

In the meantime, your father joined the Order. Harry didn't think that there was any reason not to let him come to meetings, so your father started attending the meetings as well.

In a matter of weeks, your father got sent by his department head to Bulgaria to 'learn the local culture, etc. in preparation for later duties,' as a cover for what Voldemort wanted him to do. Most likely Voldemort had planned ahead to trick or force your father's boss to do this, but I don't know the details at this point.

We traveled by Portkey to Bulgaria, and I got my first look at my family estate…."


"It looks like something I've seen in a muggle vampire movie," Hermione said, peering out of the carriage window. It wasn't an estate; it was a castle. It wasn't as big as Hogwarts, but it still loomed in a cloudy sky that promised rain. It appeared that this particular castle had been constructed with defense in mind, as a wall surrounded it and the windows of the castle itself were narrow as if designed for arrow-slits rather than letting sunshine in. It did lack a moat, but for the obvious reason that the castle had been built on high ground, and every side but the north side of the grounds ended as the side of a steep cliff that only a few trees dared to cling too. Hermione wondered if the side of the cliff had once existed further from the walls of the castle, or if it had been built that way and erosion had been prevented through magical means.

"Well, I can assure you that there are no vampires present there my lady," Schmidt said from the driver's seat of the carriage. "The only staff that has been there since your father's death has been myself, and the family house-elves."

Hermione nodded, pulling the drape across the window to shut out the rain that was beginning to fall. Crookshanks, her cat, stirred in her lap as she moved and then dozed back off to sleep when she had finished closing the drapes. Her husband, who was sitting across from her, closed the drapes on the other side and returned to his seat, looking lost in thought. When Draco had asked her why she was bringing her cat along, she informed him of a certain rat. If Wormtail was around, Crookshanks would know.

The one thing that Hermione knew for certain was that Voldemort would be watching her activities. He wanted her to find whatever it was that he wanted, and then force her to lead him to it. She had to figure out what her father had been working on, and then neutralize it before Voldemort got there. She knew that Voldemort would be using more than Draco to watch her. For all she knew, he could have spread magical devices that monitored her every move throughout her castle. Which meant that she and Draco had to pretend that nothing had changed between them. She had to behave as if she thought he was a Death Eater, and he had to behave like she meant little or nothing to him but still look like he was trying to keep an eye on her.

That might be the hard part. The last few weeks had been wonderful, possibly the happiest of her life. The man that she had fallen in love with--though she still couldn't explain how that had happened--was in love with her. Behind closed doors, they had been behaving like, well, newlyweds. And now they couldn't show any affection towards each other, even when they believed they were in private. Hermione's knowledge, though, that if they did Voldemort might find out and figure out that her husband had changed…. Draco would be killed, if he were lucky. That was sufficient motivation for her to treat him like an enemy she had to put up with. She didn't want to loose him. Not now. She needed him; their sons would need him.

Hermione remembered their conversation before they had left their home that morning. "All will be well, my love," he had told her, "and someday this dark time will all be no more than a memory."

No more than a memory. Hermione allowed herself a contented sigh as she stroked Crookshanks, lost in her thoughts, and then was suddenly jarred as the carriage stopped. Hermione and Draco remained in their seats, but Crookshanks flew across the carriage and into Draco's lap. The large cat shook himself, and glared accusingly at her.

"Sorry Crookshanks," she whispered, putting the cat back into her arms. "But we can't apparate here anymore than we could apparate in Hogwarts, so we have to use a carriage." The castle had some of the same protections Hogwarts did.

"We're here. Welcome home my lady," Schmidt said as he opened the carriage door, and then helped her out of the carriage.

Hermione walked through massive wooden doors, still stroking Crookshanks, and into the castle closely followed by Draco and then Schmidt as three house-elves quickly left to take care of the baggage and carriage. From behind columns, furniture, and stairs peered more faces--house-elves trying to get a look at their new mistress.

Hermione had found out what had happened at Hogwarts when she had spent so much time knitting hats for the house-elves. Dobby might enjoy his wardrobe, but none of the others had wanted their freedom. From that experience she had learned that she had to get her own house-elves to want freedom before she could give it to them. It would take time, and right now she had Voldemort to worry about, so the house-elves would have to wait for the time being. Maybe she could hire Dobby, though, and they could see how much he enjoyed his freedom, and they might come to want theirs. It was a thought, but something she could dwell on at another time.

Right now, she looked around the castle. It reminded her enough of Hogwarts to feel like home, but it felt so…empty. Like no children had laughed in this place for decades. Well, that might change soon. Her pregnancy hadn't progressed enough to be showing--if it weren't for her ring, she might be just starting to suspect that she could be pregnant--but she intended to give birth to healthy boys that would laugh in this place.

"…or would you prefer to dine in the informal dining room?" Schmidt's voice said.

Hermione's mind jerked back to the present. "What was that again?" she asked.

"Would you like to have supper in the parlor of the suite we prepared for your arrival, or would you prefer to eat in the informal dining room?" Schmidt asked her.

"Which way do I have to climb the fewest steps?" Hermione sighed, looking at the staircase. At least the stairs here didn't appear to change.

"Oh yes, my lady's delicate condition; you must be tired. I'll have your dinner served in your parlor then. It's this way, on the first floor up," Schmidt said, starting to climb the staircase.

Hermione had to practically bite her tongue to keep back an angry retort. 'My delicate condition indeed! It doesn't take any energy to apparate to a Portkey and then sit like a bump on a log in a carriage! I'm not tired.' She simply wanted to eat and then go to bed, and that had nothing whatsoever to do with the little fact that she was pregnant.

Possibly noticing her mood, Draco kept his silence, merely looking at the pictures they were passing. They all seemed to be family portraits, and most of them were looking at her and Draco inquisitively.

"Here's something that might interest you, Lady Hermione," Schmidt said, pausing where the family portraits ended. "Here's a picture of your parents, and one of your grandparents beside it."

Hermione walked to where Schmidt was standing, and looked up. "Yes, she vas to be an Alys--she looks exactly like me," a mirror image of herself said, looking down at her from a portrait. Hermione's breath caught in her throat--that had to be her grandmother.

"A logical conclusion. I deduced it really," a wizard said from the next picture over. He didn't look much older than thirty, but had the regal posture of a learned man that made him seem older as well as perhaps a bit crazy. Her father.

"You deduced it, and I foretold it," laughed the blond witch that shared the portrait with him. It sounded exactly like her own voice; that was her mother then.

"She foretold it?" Hermione said to herself, but Schmidt answered her.

"You mother was quite talented in reading the future, while your father thought in logical patterns. I've heard from your former teachers that you tend to take more after your father than your mother, which isn't really surprising. Reading the future is often a talent that tends to skip a generation or two."

Hermione nodded. It was certain that she had no talent in divination. In fact, she had only seen anything in a crystal ball once, and that had said…. Wait a minute. She was supposed to beware of the person that came into the room, and Schmidt and then Draco had then entered. Because she could trust her husband, unless someone else had come into the room without her knowing, that meant….

They entered the suite to find a hot meal spread out on the table already. As Schmidt was leaving, Hermione asked him a question. "You know, I don't think that I've ever asked you what your first name was, Mr. Schmidt."

"It's Benedict my lady, and you may address me however you choose," he said before closing the door behind him.

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