15th October 2012

Marcus hated hospitals. He had been infinitely relieved that Hermione had gone into labour suddenly at home on New Year's Day and had opted to give birth at the Manor attended by Millicent. Of course he would've gone to St Mungo's if she had wished but she hadn't needed to be admitted. Octavian had arrived with a minimum of fuss.

And had been called 'the baby' for almost two months before his stubborn father had admitted to himself that naming the child after the late Flint patriarch was what he wanted. Octavian Martin Flint was a now ten months old and helping his father mind the side door of the Granger Clinic.

Marcus hated hospitals but he was immensely proud of his wife's new venture. To spite the Ministry's bullheadedness about Muggle technology, Hermione had started a private medical firm. She planned to provide access to the latest diagnostic techniques both scientific and magical, subsidised where necessary.

He was less thrilled about the press. His wife's laudable and altruistic gesture in offering healthcare alternatives to St Mungo's had thrust her again into the forefront of the lingering social divides scarring wizarding society. Marcus had heard that last sentence from a speech from some windbag in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes.

Apparently, various people with too much time on their hands and ink for their quills had been writing to the newspapers, the radio and the Ministry about the encroaching Muggle culture. Mobile phones and computers were dangerous. GPS would penetrate their security wards. Wi-Fi would transmit their thoughts. Madam Flint's infernal machines would capture their souls in electronic prisons.

The slightest hint of pure-blood bias in any letter to the editor caused a tidal wave of acrimony. Reconstruction was complete. Reparations had been paid. But whenever anyone complained about anything someone else didn't like, the old feuds returned. He'd been asked by the sister of a Quidditch chum whether he allowed his wife to expose his children to telly-fission. She'd flinched when he'd shown her his smart phone.

A hand tapped on the glass, catching Marcus's attention. He set Octavian onto his play-mat then approached the door. He had the pass tokens to the wards on this floor so he could cross them without trouble but no one else could without his presence. Opening the first of the 'airlock' style doors, he stepped into the vestibule then shut the door behind him before opening the second door to admit a harried wizard.

"Montague." Marcus eyed his friend. Graham looked like shite. "Who is the blonde girl?" He asked the security question, which got a short laugh and a wince.

"Malfoy." Montague answered. He had mistaken Draco for a witch at a distance among the crowd of hopefuls at the try-outs for the Slytherin team. "The mouthy arse is still so pretty."

"Pining?" He joked as he escorted the worn and pallid lab rat into the clinic. After the Vanishing Cabinet, Montague's headaches had got worse and worse. He'd scraped through his remedial OWLs but had to pull out of his Sixth Year after spending more time in the Hospital Wing than in class.

"I like my men with meat." The exaggerated leer was reflex. His heart wasn't in it. "If I wanted to get away with something, today would be the day. There isn't a muckraker in Britain who isn't camped out on your doorstep." Montague rubbed his face, noticing he hadn't shaved that morning. He thought he had, damn it. "Your wife wasn't being coy when she told me to sneak in."

"Afraid not." The press had got wind of some high profile patients due to visit the clinic and had taken it upon their collective selves to lie in wait. "Justin is trying to distract them with a news conference." Marcus sneered. "Better to throw meat then let the dogs fight over it."

"Nice image. Baying of the hounds." The answering smirk had a bit more verve as Montague took a seat in the small lounge. The lighting was softer here and he could close his eyes against the dizziness. Most days it wasn't too bad but he'd slept poorly then had to take the Knight Bus. He hadn't flown a broom in years.

Montague roused to the sound of a quiet conversation, sitting up from where he'd slumped on the leather sofa. Marcus's wife, looking like a doll beside his bulk, was showing him something like a rectangular mirror. She tapped it when she noticed her patient and stowed the probably Muggle thing in a wide pocket in her white coat.

"Thanks for coming in today, Montague." Hermione wasn't a fan of the pure-blood habit of addressing their peers by their surname but a great many witches and wizards preferred it. Keeping the use of personal names exclusively to family and close friends seemed disdainful to the Muggle-born witch. However, she wanted to avoid the endless 'madam' and 'mister' that resulted when traditionalists got on their high horses.

"No trouble." He stood, keeping to himself the comment that if Marcus hadn't told him about his wife's research into chronic maladies he would still be drinking Firewhiskey for breakfast. Alcohol eased his headaches though stopping before he'd drunk so much he would be hungover was tricky. "Are you going to stab or electricate me today?"

"Electrocute." She corrected automatically. "Neither, actually. The neurologist has seen your scan results would like to discuss them with you." Hermione noticed the exchange of glances between Marcus and his friend. "It's not bad news. We'll have a treatment program for you but having some understanding of what's doing on in your brain will help you help yourself."

"I just want the pain to stop." Montague squared his broad shoulders. He'd faced needles and beeping machines and having things glued to his head. He could certainly face a middle-aged Squib not telling him bad news. "I can use the levitator. Third floor, room four?"

Hermione confirmed the destination then sent him on his way. Marcus watched the stocky wizard shuffle off without comment or expression. When Hermione put a hand on his arm, he covered hers with his.

"We can help him. We might even be able to cure him if we can tailor a healing protocol with St Mungo's." The witch consoled. "It'll mean refining the specialised Vasodilator Charm for extra finesse. Definitely not a potion job."

"St Mungo's is being toey. You think they will untwist their knickers long enough to work with you?" He shook his head at his own question. The magical hospital zealously guarded its monopoly and the trustees either swept away or stepped on criticism, an attitude than caused innovation to lag. Hermione had poached several young Healers disaffected with the lack of resources for research.

"Eventually." Hermione had honed her patience in the Wizengamot. Outlasting the medical brethren would be a doddle compared to passing legislation. She'd taken a step back from the Flint Seat on Theo's advice to ease their long-term strategy. Losing on some minor bills was irksome but 'eventually' would arrive faster if they didn't try to hammer through every law.

"Will Doc Ock and I be down here until he is ready for Hogwarts?" Marcus quirked a corner of his mouth.

"Please don't encourage our son to call his brother names." She chastised. Their elder boy loved cartoons particularly ones featuring superheroes. The contagion had spread from Frank Longbottom, who had been introduced to Spiderman by his Muggle grandfather.

"He needs no encouragement." The proud father of a very adventurous five year old kissed his wife and whispered. "Gryffindor."

"I think it more likely the combination of paternal indulgence and sugar." Hermione assayed a frosty tone, though her smile foiled her attempt. Marcus was brilliant with the children and Septimus was an inquisitive boy. His efforts to break himself were fairly typical of his developmental age.

"And when he is Sorted into the lion's den, what will you say?" Marcus would have liked to cuddle to persuade his witch that he was right but they were at her place of work and a certain amount of decorum was essential. "A small bet perhaps? If Septimus goes into Gryffindor, with the caveat that this wager only applies if we send him to Hogwarts, you and I will sneak off for a dirty weekend."

"If Septimus is not Sorted into my House then you will, in an official rec League game, wear Gryffindor colours prominently. Red underpants or socks do not count." She stuck out her hand and they shook on it. "Three to one odds in my favour. I might ask Luna if she still has her lion hat."

"The only pu..." He was about to make an extremely inappropriate comment when someone else tapped on the door. It was Muggle security glass reinforced with privacy charms, so the glass was one-way even if the charms were dispelled. Marcus answered the knock and escorted Luna with a small bundle into the clinic.

"Who told them?" The blonde witch demanded brusquely. "We had to split up at the station. Harry said he would distract the morass by trying to get in the front door." She joggled the swaddling when the newborn began to cry. "This would be much easier with a Floo."

"We're still waiting on approval." Hermione held her hands out for her god-daughter as Luna's hair darkened. The witch hastily loosened her robes as she filled out then licked her teeth.

"I can still taste the Polyjuice." Millicent complained. Eau de Luna had been fruity but the under-notes of the potion had turned her stomach. "Lucian and the other wizards are in position at the Leaky. Hannah said she'd let them know to move in to distract when we get word from Higgs. They've left Wiltshire."

"We don't know who told. Possibly no one leaked the information. It's public knowledge Malfoy Senior was released last week." She answered Millicent's first question as she soothed baby Lily. Hermione had been very careful in her hires and had included confidentially agreements in the employment contracts for everyone involved in the clinic. Lamentably, the wizarding world ran on gossip.

"Luna said she'd be Godiva. I honestly thought she was talking about the chocolates." Although she was a half-blood, Millicent had grown up with minimal contact with the Muggle world. Her husband had explained the folk-tale. "We said, twice, that wouldn't be necessary."

"She'd do it." Hermione smiled at the mental image. Luna had proven with several intrepid expeditions that she was fearless. Horse riding naked wouldn't daunt the witch who had faced down a Peruvian Vipertooth with a broken wand.

"I don't doubt it." Millicent sighed, too tired to explain that grand gestures shouldn't be the first resort. She felt guilty that Harry was thrown into the mire to fend off the reporters while she snuck in quietly. "I could've treated Malfoy at the Manor. He doesn't deserve everyone scurrying about to help him."

"No one will disagree with that." Marcus remarked from the play-mat as he returned to entertaining Octavian. Draco was a friend but his father merited little kindness. He had dragged them all into a war, twice, then had betrayed his comrades to save his own skin. Twice.

"Narcissa asked as a personal favour." Before Octavius Flint had died, Hermione would have likely left Lucius to rot but seeing her father-in-law's decline and the pernicious after-effects of Azkaban had moderated her stance. "Plus scanning him will give us invaluable research data." She kissed Lily when the baby started to fuss. "I think she's hungry."

"I'll feed her in my office." There was a little preening in that statement. St Mungo's had fired her as soon as she had informed her boss she was pregnant. No negotiation, no maternity leave, and while she could apply for a job again there were no creche facilities. Comments made to her by Healers during her second pregnancy had crystallised Millicent's resolve not to return to the magical hospital.

"Will Malfoy's scans help Livia?" Marcus asked once his cousin was out of hearing. She knew, of course. However, he didn't want to air his concerns publicly. At seven, his eldest child remained very sensitive to magic. Her own accidental manifestations didn't trouble her and neither did the house elves but everything else did.

"I think so." She was cautiously optimistic. "With the scans from the Squib volunteers, we have an excellent baseline for neurological pathology. The active EEGs need some fine tuning." Which would have to wait on replacement electrodes after they burnt through their entire stock testing patients casting simple First Year spells. "There isn't anything wrong with her."

"She fainted when Frank broke the window." Neville's son was having a lot of trouble with accidental magic, something he had inherited from the Abbott side of the family. Hannah had swapped all her crockery for plastic once her plates were more Reparo than clay. Frank had yet to shatter Tupperware.

"Her core and reserves are still maturing." Hermione reassured. She was hopeful. They did have to face the prospect of not being able to send their eldest to Hogwarts, or any other magical school, if she remained so susceptible. However, they had years to find strategies for Livia. "We have options."

"I do not want her to hate school as much as I did." Marcus was aware of his own failings. Mostly he didn't give a damn. That thick skin had built up over years of bruising and frustration, however. "She's clever and she works so hard. Cresswell is pleased with her progress. Barring the obsession with Lego."

"I told you not to walk barefoot in the playroom." Sitting down beside her husband, Hermione leaned against him. He was big and strong and determined, and didn't like problems he couldn't face down or intimidate. "What's bothering you, really?"

"I want her to be happy." He told the waiting room while concentrating on showing Octavian how to make his toy make different noises. "I have no fu... functional clue how to do that."

"Be there for her. Be involved." She hugged him. "You're a great dad. All you really need to do is make sure she knows she has your love, trust and support." Hermione nudged him, as usual achieving little physical shift. She had hope she'd managed some mental movement though.

"You're using your reasonable voice again." Marcus smirked. He and Harry had snuck off to a parenting seminar sub rosa. He'd felt a complete fool, and they'd shared an awkward beer afterwards. Hermione's words reminded him of that lecture with the earnest dot points.

"I'm honing it for when I succumb to Tabia's urging to run for Minister." Hermione mirrored the smirk, not saying more as she was interrupted by the chiming of her phone. The conversation was brief.

"Hannah?" He asked and got a nod. The plan to get the Malfoys into the clinic was simple. They were going to create as many distractions as possible to scatter the press then drive in via the underground car park, a remnant of the conversion from Art Deco shopping arcade.

Marcus stayed on duty in case any reporters stumbled across the subfusc door in the laneway. Hermione went to the pilastered front entrance to check if Justin Finch-Fletchley needed reinforcement. Shortly, Harry Potter would saunter by to be clamoured at for a statement on the elder Malfoy's release. Then a group of Slytherins would make a run on the clinic door, escorting a cloaked figure. Unnecessary drama but the Daily Prophet had reported his prolonged incarceration had robbed Lucius Malfoy of almost all his magic. Half the population of wizarding Britain wanted to gloat but had not yet been provided a photograph of Lucius abject.

Zavier Higgs had agreed to drive the Malfoys into London as a personal favour for Hermione and to spare his cousin Terrence from being press-ganged. There weren't many wizards or witches with driving licenses who would also be willing to chauffeur former Death Eaters. Terrence was no good in the decoy scrum but he could drive. Except Tamsin was due to have their first baby any day and the shy Slytherin was already a wrung rag.

So Zavier drove his BMW from Wiltshire to the clinic, smiling quietly to himself all the way. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. Malfoy knew he was a Squib, acknowledged solely because of Terrence's loyalty. A Squib delivering a crippled ex-con to a Mudblood's clinic.

The underground parking lot had been for dray deliveries then a bomb shelter then a general purpose storage oubliette. The Flints had owned the land and leased it, largely ignoring what the Muggles did with the property. The arcade had housed a series of small businesses, growing seedier and seedier until becoming entirely derelict some time during the early nineties.

The refurbishments had included new ventilation and security systems so when Zavier paused at the anonymous roller door he needed only to press a button on the remote on his dashboard. His car had already been 'attuned' to the wards and his license plate registered with the Muggle surveillance system. He cruised into the brightly lit basement, idly ogling the vehicles already parked within and wincing at Hermione's dark blue Subaru. Yes, it was safe and reliable but he was a car snob and Madam Flint was rich.

The aforementioned witch was there to greet them when Zavier pulled into the bay by the elevator. He got out, opening the passenger door for the Malfoys. The gesture wasn't deferential. Draco had no idea how to operate the handle. It took him two goes to get the seat belt.

Between them, wife and son helped Lucius to his feet. He was wan, too thin and sufficiently ill that his pride allowed him to accept the offer of a wheelchair. Hermione limited herself to brief polite conversation during the elevator ride, becoming more clinical once they were in the consulting room. She had explained the procedure to Draco when Marcus offered her help but she explained it again for the sake of the elder Malfoys.

Lucius nodded at intervals already flagging from the exertion in simply getting to the clinic. Narcissa listened fiercely then demanded to see images from a MRI. Hermione complied, handing her the touch pad so she could watch the explanatory video. To avoid questions of patient consent, it was Hermione's own scan with a voice over.

"The curse damage, it's quite obvious." Narcissa looked up from the moving image of a witch's abdomen to regard Madam Flint sceptically "Why is this better than diagnostic charms?"

"The charms depend on the focus and skill of the caster. With this technology, we can have the same accuracy every time. There is no resistance from the patient's own magic, which can be considerable depending on the circumstances." Hermione didn't feel the need to point out personal hostility also played a factor in the provision of magical medical attention. It was difficult to hold a healing spell when you sincerely wanted the other person dead.

"You didn't save Octavius Flint." The accusation was a blunt needle; more bruising than piercing. Narcissa had waited a long time to be reunited with her husband. She didn't want to lose him.

"He didn't want to be saved. If he'd received proper treatment after his incarceration perhaps the long-term psychological effects could have been avoided. The stigma of Azkaban discouraged ex-convicts from seeking medical help." Hermione spoke the rote reply, formal and cool. "Magic sustain us and our will sustains our magic. If there is a break in that feedback loop, we decline."

"The potions aren't working, Mother." Draco said with smothered force. He had insisted on trying the new option after their private Healer's lugubrious assessment of Lucius's chance of recovery. He wasn't going to let his father fade away.

"This Muggle device is only scrying." Narcissa scolded, protective and wary. She knew her husband's health was fragile and his magic thin. She knew he wasn't responding to any of the tonics they had tried but surely they didn't need to despoil Lucius with this Muggle contraption.

"It is." In a careful tone, Hermione confirmed Mrs Malfoy's statement, not bridling at the 'only'. "But we can see in real-time what is going on in Mister Malfoy's body, and our Healers can use the scan to guide them to better target healing. Azkaban depletes so much of a body's reserves that absorbing potions becomes difficult. The magic simply falls into the void within. By using Muggle methods, we can hopefully stabilise our patients to a point where their own energy begins to heal them. At which stage, we can switch to healing spells."

Narcissa was not swayed but she pinched her lips together and sat silently while Hermione outlined what would happen today. Lucius said nothing, staring into the middle distance and flinching when the door opened. Millicent Potter and a radiographer escorted him to the diagnostic suite while the Malfoys waited in the lounge. They didn't speak.

"Not a damn word of thanks." Hermione complained later to Marcus after the children had gone to bed. They sat in the blue parlour on the battered sofa watching clouds drift across the wallpaper. "We ran around like mad hamsters and none of them even muttered 'ta'."

"We'll get an expensive what-not in gratitude or an invitation to some private do." Marcus kicked off his boots and put his feet on the coffee table. Hermione eyed him. "Socks." He remarked, prompting a noise of uxorial disfavour but no further chiding. "Being publicly grateful is servile."

"We don't need any more knick-knacks and Narcissa's parties are always stuffy." They went infrequently but always invited the Malfoys to the necessary formal events, which was acceptable non-snubbing in pure-blood circles. "Astoria is getting flak from her mother-in-law about Scorpius. There were comments made after the trip to the zoo."

"They all had fun. The bugs were universally popular." He and Jason had taken Livia, Septimus, Frank, Alice, and Scorpius to London Zoo mostly to get them out from underfoot. Morning sickness had hit Hannah hard and Octavian was teething. "Scorpius doesn't have many friends."

"I got the distinct impression that Narcissa would rather her grandson be socially isolated than chums with undesirables" Hermione toed her shoes off and put her stockinged feet in her husband's lap. He obligingly started rubbing them. "It's the Gamps all over again. I think your aunts would actually rather you bonk groupies two at a time than be married to me."

"If I didn't have legitimate children, the shrews would get a portion of my mother's dower. That all goes to Livia now, and my aunts have to share the Gamp bequests with her and Alice." Marcus enjoyed smirking about that. His mother's family were no longer Sacred Twenty Eight as they were extinct in the male line but the witches remaining were unwilling to step down from the ivory tower.

"Is there any way to untangle all the trusts and vaults? I looked at them when I was expecting Livia. I started making a chart." She sighed then moaned as Marcus found a particularly tense tendon. "You really do have wonderful hands." Hermione blew him a kiss, unwilling to move from where she was loafing. "I'd give the whole mess over to Leota but she's got a lot on her plate campaigning for marriage equality."

"If the Weasleys keep having sons and they marry witches, eventually they'll hold all the ancestral vaults." He thought about his boys, their future and the future Madam Flints. "The trick is having a second son to marry off." Marcus laughed when Hermione nudged him with her heel. "I'm not planning betrothals. That's traditionally the mother's duty. As Head of the House, I nod and pour myself a Firewhiskey."

"It does bother me, having all the interconnection. Like we're all caught in the same web." Shifting, she reached to put a pillow behind her and exclaimed when her hand contacted fur. A reproachful little face appeared in her eye-line. "I'm sorry, Hazel. Did Mummy disturb you?"

The three-quarters kneazle padded pointedly over Hermione's shoulder and settled on her stomach, a bundle of dark fur with splotches of orange. Her name came from the brown-green of her eyes now narrowed to disapproving slits. She turned her head away when the witch tried to pet her.

"We are married, you know." Marcus told the feline. "No need to be the duenna."

"Eight years. Twelve if you count the Marriage Law." Hermione marvelled. For her part, Hazel ignored them both and went back to sleep on her sofa. "It doesn't seem that long. It's been lovely."

"A haze of bliss, my lady?" He asked, sliding a fingertip up her sole. She shivered at the prolonged tickle of his touch then laughed when he leered at her theatrically. "Let's lose your chaperone and sneak off to a broom cupboard."

Because of love and friendship and camaraderie and three children, Hermione smiled. She lifted Hazel carefully off her before settling the kneazle back on the warm cushion. The witch took her husband's hand and giggling at their own antics, snuck into a hall closet. Because life was good.