Molly Weasley watched as her grandchild was welcomed into the family. Her heart swelled with pride as Ginny and Harry called Ron forward to stand as godfather. Her son's wide smile burst forth as he cradled young James.
When they called Lavender to join them, she ignored the surprised glances sent in Hermione's direction. The witch in question ignored the crowd and smiled. Molly fought off the odd twinge of guilt and returned her attention back to the ceremony at hand.
The ceremony had flowed into the small party seamlessly. Molly sat beside her husband and watched her children proudly. They were all married now. She had guided them through various pitfalls to this place of comfort. She hummed along to the music as the latest addition to her family slept in her arms.
"I have to be going." Hermione touched the child's dark hair. "Thank Harry and Ginny for me."
"Of course, Hermione." Arthur stood and folded the pretty brunette into his arms. "You shouldn't be such a stranger."
Molly saw the grief that washed across Hermione's face and felt the guilt settle in. There was no escaping it now. The last longing glance Hermione sent toward the baby almost broke her. Molly looked away until the soft pop of apparation alerted her to Hermione's departure.
"I know it would have been hard for Ginny, but they should have asked her to stand as godmother." Arthur sighed. "She needs connections and family. She's retreating from us. When was the last time she popped in for a visit?"
"She's a busy witch, Arthur." Molly looked down at the baby in her arms.
"I know she's busy, dear." Arthur sighed. "I wish things had been different. Ginny deserved to be someone's first choice and Hermione deserved to have a family. After what that poor girl went through during the war."
"Harry loves Ginny." Molly glared at her husband.
"I know." Arthur gazed at his daughter and her husband as they glided across the dance floor. "I'm borrowing trouble."
Molly looked down at the precious bundle in her arms. She'd done the right thing. The babe was proof of that.
Hermione stripped of her appropriate dress and slid into her dragon hide armor. The summons from Azkaban had come at the perfect time. She flinched away from thoughts of Harry and his baby.
"No use crying over spilt milk." She quickly slid her sword into its sheath. "Duty calls."
She plucked the port key from her mantle and activated it.
Azkaban was a welcome sight after the torture of the afternoon. She shook her head and grimaced.
"I'm so screwed up." Hermione rolled her shoulders back and walked to the gates. The auror on duty waved to her and let her pass with minimal fuss.
"Sorry to drag you out here, but we have a prisoner that insisted on only talking with you." The warden shrugged. "I judged the threat to be credible."
"There are worse things than visiting Azkaban." Hermione smiled.
"Lucius Malfoy is a model prisoner. He never gives us any trouble." The warden gestured toward the building. "He's unusual in this group."
"He's unusual in any group." Hermione smirked.
"He usually keeps to himself."
"Not a lot of social engagements here?" Hermione arched a brow. "Such a shame."
Harry looked around at his guests and noticed that Hermione was gone. He swallowed back the guilt and kept his smile in place. Inviting her had seemed cruel, but the alternative was no better.
"She left an hour ago." Ron frowned and handed him a glass with three fingers of fire whiskey. "I didn't even talk to her. I never know what to say."
"She avoids me." Harry took a sip of his drink. "Don't blame her. We had our life planned out. The stupid law stole it from us, and I always seem to be rubbing her face in it."
"She wants you to be happy." Ron patted his shoulder. "She understands."
"Doesn't hurt less." Harry tossed back his drink.
"Would you undo this? Give up Ginny and James?" Ron took a deep breath. "You wanted a family. Hermione couldn't give you that."
"Cold comfort." Harry glared at his empty glass. "Saving our sorry asses cost her everything."
Ron glanced over at his pregnant wife and nodded. Harry frowned. There was another shoe dropping any minute. He just knew it.
"We're not going to invite her when our girl is welcomed." Ron took a deep breath. "It's not like she and Lavender are close. I hate it, but she doesn't need to see you and Ginny holding another baby."
Harry turned and walked away. There was nothing to say. He had his family. He'd made his choice.
"Nothing like a family event to make you ache." George joined him. "It's an immutable law."
"Ron and Lavender are leaving Hermione off their guest list." Harry glanced over at George to gauge his reaction.
"Won't make it any easier." George shook his head. "She's a part of you that was forcibly removed. It never goes away."
"I love Ginny. I love my son. I love my life." Harry leaned against a tree.
"I know you do." George smiled and gently shook his head. "Doesn't make a difference though."
Hermione stared at Lucius Malfoy. He wasn't the haughty bastard she remembered. His hair was pulled back in an attempt to make himself presentable, but it was a simple tip of the hat to his upbringing. He was thinner and the fear in his eyes was genuine.
Hermione bit her lower lip and looked through the letters he had received again.
His conclusions made sense. The threat to his son and daughter in law was at least worth examining.
"You're being released soon. Why are you hiring me?" Hermione sat back in her chair and tilted her head.
"They might act before I walk out of here." Lucius looked down at the table top between them.
"There's more to it than that." Hermione pushed back from the table and tossed his papers in front of him. "Honesty is important. I can't work through this kind of mess with blind spots."
"Draco won't let me near his family without supervision." Lucius shrugged.
"You need me to chaperone a visit?" Hermione sighed. "Fine. You've hired a nanny and a curse breaker. When do we leave?"
"My release is scheduled for sunset. They seem to think the place is less forbidding if you don't have to see it." Lucius shrugged. "I will need you to stay with me. Draco has arranged a suite for me in his home with a special room set aside for my chaperone."
"I guess I'll get to see the Manor from a different prospective." Hermione stood up. "I'll meet you at the release point. Wouldn't want to arrive sans chaperone, would you?"
Lucius watched the witch from his balcony. Hermione sat and called her patronus. The silvery animal burst forth from her wand and circled her. That it left marks on the ground was beyond impressive.
Her patronus was a doe. He sighed. His thoughts flew to his departed best friend. Both of them were victims of the same stupid family. He pressed his hands against the cool stone under his fingers. Potter had destroyed this woman, but she still belonged to the fool.
"It used to be an otter." Draco observed and joined him at the balustrade. "She's so remote now. It's like watching a ghost."
"She's on her way to becoming one." Lucius frowned. "It's a pity to watch such a woman die by inches."
"More so that it's Potter wielding the blade." Draco sighed. "I never imagined the ponce was so cruel.
"She can't ask him to remove the binding, but we might be able to create the proper situation to see it done." Lucius frowned.
"The world has run mad." Draco smirked. "House Malfoy attempting to save a muggle born witch from House Potter."
This story was originally submitted to a site that has passed on. As I have little free time in the summer, I thought I'd spend some time gathering all my wayward stories and posting them here. I am working on my other stories. I have not moved on.
I hope you enjoy this story. I actually enjoyed making characters act counter to their nature in this one.
Thanks for your patience.