Lucius smiled as Hermione joined him. The cream colored cashmere jumper and cranberry wool skirt suited her. He knew it was a different kind of armor from her usual, but it was effective. She looked harmless and very muggle.

He rubbed his hands on the jeans she insisted he wear. Apparently, dressing down for a casual meal meant going muggle. Lucius had a hard time imagining being comfortable in trousers like these. The denim was soft, but he'd yet to adjust to the close fit.

"Are you certain I will blend in?" Lucius quirked a brow at her.

"I'm certain that you will stand out." Hermione grinned up at him. "But we have to sell the fact that I am corrupting you."

"Eating at The Leaky isn't enough?" Lucius rolled his eyes.

"Even Draco eats at pub from time to time." Hermione shoved his shoulder gently. "But we will be entering from the muggle side."

"So scandalous." Lucius smirked.

"It will be good practice for tomorrow night." Hermione summoned a wool coat and slipped into it. "Most of the Weasleys dress muggle at home."

"I have not yet agreed to that bit of madness." Lucius summoned his own muggle overcoat. "It is one thing to parade about to anger Rodolphus. Attending a meal at the Hovel seems a step too far."

He watched her eyes light with anger and hid his smile by plucking imaginary lint from his coat.

"You are going with me." Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. "Arthur doesn't ask me to do anything unless it's important."

"Then Artie must never ask for a thing." Lucius smirked and grabbed Hermione's waist. "I will go with you, but I will not be managed by you. I will be myself."

"It's sure to be a delightful evening." Hermione tucked her hair back behind her ears. "I know this might be hard for you to grasp, but I love them still. They were my second family for a long time."

"I understand that you felt they were your second family, and I will treat them accordingly." Lucius spun one of her curls around his finger and smiled at her. When she smiled back, he felt a sense of true satisfaction. She hadn't parsed his words

Hermione watched as Lucius stacked more books onto his pile. He'd started in the arts, but the sciences had him now. Foyle's would be doing quite well this month.

"They've been to the moon." He muttered as he plopped a book on the pile that now reached above his waist. "How is this not known?"

"I know it." Hermione placed her hand on Lucius' arm. "I can help."

"You know about all of this?" He patted the pile next to him.

"What I don't know, I can learn." Hermione smiled at him. "But we need to stop adding to your library now. We have plans."

She watched as he lifted his tower of books and headed towards history. He was obviously using sticking charms to keep the books in place and probably a featherlight charm as well. Following along, she studied him closely.

He set the stack down and grabbed a book from the shelf. There was something frantic in him. She moved closer and let her magic flow out; hoping that it would calm him.

"We need to redesign the very notion of muggle studies." Lucius paged through a book on modern warfare. "These are dangers for which we are unprepared."

He turned the book toward her; revealing a picture of a mushroom cloud. She watched his eyes and caught the wariness in them. He was caught up in an instinctive drive to protect. She sank her teeth into her lower lip. Their incomplete bond was driving him harder. Between the threats to his family and to her, Lucius was nearing a breaking point. She needed to help him.

"We will buy these books." She planted her hand on top of the pile. "We will continue on with our plan, and when we return home we will create a new muggle studies section in the library."

"To what end?" Lucius grabbed her free hand. "How can we protect against that?"

"We will figure it out." Hermione leaned her body against his. "Then, we will design a new, comprehensive muggle studies course and a course on magical culture as well. Hogwarts needs both. Don't you agree?"

Lucius blinked and the bright silvery sheen of his eyes shifted to slate as his magic relaxed. Hermione took a deep breath and pressed her lips to his chest just over his heart. He set the book down and closed his arm around her.

"I knew there had been advances, but this is so much more than I imagined." Lucius sighed. "I panicked. How can I protect my family from this?"

"We will figure out what is possible together." Hermione pressed herself into him with more force; hoping to give him a sense of comfort in his suddenly shifting world.

"Together." He pressed a kiss to her temple and his body relaxed. She felt his magic settle as well and let the breath she'd been holding out slowly.

Harry settled in a booth at the Leaky to wait for Ron and Neville. He cast a quick spell to protect his privacy from the room. He would never understand why so many people felt the need to touch him, but he'd learned to protect himself over the years. He watched the room for a moment before taking a sip of his pint. He saw Neville and Ron enter from the back and head towards their booth.

It felt right to have a pint with his old friends. He needed to relax and focus on quidditch for a bit. He grinned as Neville settled into the booth and rolled his eyes as Ron practically fell onto the seat next to him.

"Took you both long enough." Harry summoned two pints to the table with a twirl of his wand.

"I can only stay for a pint." Ron smiled as his drink landed on the table before him. "Lavender needs me home."

"One pint with old friends." Harry raised his glass and Neville and Ron raised theirs.

"We've become respectable." Neville smirked.

They settled in and talked about nothing but the mundane nonsense of their lives. It was relaxing. Harry felt the tension leave his shoulders. He forced his mind away from less pleasant thoughts and enjoyed ripping apart Flint for his abrasive play on the pitch.

They were just finishing when the bar went oddly silent. Harry looked out of the booth and noticed everyone was looking toward the muggle side. He shook his head. It didn't happen often, but muggles did occasionally wander in. He leaned back and finished off his pint.

"Let's just eat here." Hermione's voice hit him and raced around his brain.

"Are you sure you don't want to drag me to another muggle establishment?" Lucius Malfoy's droll tone conveyed his amusement. "The elves will be unhappy with me as it is, Hermione."

"Don't, Mate." Neville frowned at him. "She doesn't know we're here. Don't wreck her night."

Ron pressed back into the seat and glanced at him. He knew Ron would be a pain to move without making a scene. He looked past his best friend and saw her laughing. Godric, it had been years since he'd seen her laugh like that.

He watched as Malfoy piled bags filled with books next to their table. Seeing her smile and joke with a death eater was awful. Someone needed to stop her before this got worse.

"Let her be." Ron shook his head. "Do you want to make a scene? Think about Ginny. Please."

"Ginny would understand. Hermione is sitting with a death eater." Harry gestured toward them. "Tell me that doesn't sicken you."

"I'll go talk with them." Neville looked straight at Ron. "You both need to leave. The reporters will be here soon. Let's not make the front page."

"Too right." Ron nodded.

"You don't need to treat me like a child." Harry glared at his companions.

"You want to charge over there and drag her away." Ron rolled his eyes. "So, yeah, Harry, we do."

"I'll make sure she's okay." Neville smiled at him. "I'm good at dealing with snakes. It's all the gardening."

Ron pulled Harry away before the inevitable reporters arrived, and Neville settled in to visit with his first Hogwarts friend. He smiled at the memory of searching for Trevor with her. She'd been an intimidating eleven year old, and life had made her more so. He was used to the thrum of power around her. It was ever present, after all, but it was nice to see Hermione smiling and relaxed. He caught odd glimpses of the girl he remembered in the woman across from him. He'd grown accustomed to the fa├žade she usually presented to the world, but there was something softer and kinder in her again.

"Frances and Alicia love the toads by the way." Neville grinned as he thought of his twin daughters. "You're the only one that doesn't push unicorns and pink. Those stuffed toys are wonderful. Did you charm them to hop?"

"I did." Hermione grinned. "Cassie loves unicorns, but I know your girls love toads."

"Toads with flower crowns." Neville grinned. "Hannah was hoping they'd take to badgers."

"There's still time." Hermione smirked.

Neville saw Lucius touch Hermione's wrist. It wasn't overt, but there was something there. Hermione smiled at the older wizard easily.

Neville felt like he'd walked in on them naked for a moment. It was odd, but they were so connected. Their bond was a palpable thing.

"It was kind of you to help Ron get Harry out of here." Hermione smirked. "I designed the spell, Nev. I know how to see around it."

"I forget sometimes how truly amazing you are." Neville grabbed her free hand. "I know it's been awkward and weird between us, but I'd like to set things right."

"You should visit the Manor with your family." Lucius met his eyes steadily. "Cassiopeia would adore the chance to meet your daughters."

Neville nodded. Hermione and Lucius hadn't publicly defined their relationship, but this invitation left no doubt that Lucius had long term plans for Hermione. He was including Hermione Granger in his family by implication. It was such a Slytherin way of dealing with things. Neville looked at Hermione and caught a smile on her face.

"I would love for my family and yours to share a meal." Neville smiled broadly. He could accept Hermione and Lucius if she smiled like that all the time.

They chatted about the children, the need for a revision of the Hogwarts curriculum, and Neville's desire to retire from his position with the aurors. Neville found himself thinking of Malfoy as a person. The man had been a symbol of true darkness. There was something more to him, and it was intriguing.

They finished their meal and laughed as Lucius shrunk down the shopping bags and shoved them in his pocket. He shushed Hermione with an amused smile when she threatened to tell Draco he'd planned to carry the bags like a muggle.

They were heading out into Diagon Alley when things changed with the violent flare of curse fire. Neville dropped down to one knee and looked for their attackers, but Hermione and Lucius sprang into action.

They moved with a fluid grace as the dodged curses and hex fire. Shielding with their wandless hand, they both spun out hexes and curses of their own. The numbers were not in their favor and some hefty wards were keeping help at bay. Neville felt his heart slamming in his chest, but he couldn't get a clear shot at their attackers. Hermione and Malfoy were just too damn bloody fast.

Author's Note

Didn't see the battle coming, did ya? To be honest, I didn't see it there at first either, but some things are just too much fun to ignore. I know the big show down at the Burrow was expected, but it's still coming. I promise.