There was a calendar on the fridge, one of the magnetic ones that came in the mail from realtors or politicians. Hermione touched her index finger to it and another day crossed itself out. Five other calendars, little useful rectangles holding pictures and notes, had all their days marked off. She was patient but she liked to keep track of the progress of her return to what was inexorably becoming another world.
Four years ago, she had sent a query to the Ministry after Jerome Shafiq stood down as Minister. Being photographed drinking champagne in a strip club in Ibiza while your constituents laboured under austerity measures was not a good move politically. Brutus Scrimgeour, nephew of Rufus, stepped in as a compromise candidate and continued the program of reforms.
Scrimgeour had replied with an offer to drop the extortion and embezzlement charges, and ensure a fair hearing on the custody violations. Hermione might have accepted that except the offer did not include any provision for the parolees. When she sent a request for a guarantee Theo and Draco wouldn't be sent back to Azkaban, the new Minister's response had been to withdraw his offer.
She'd used an anonymous owl from a postal service in Vilnius, which was nowhere near where they had been staying but the three of them had opted to move just in case. The active warrants for their arrest were priority enough for several Aurors that they had to shift bases regularly or risk being hauled back to Britain. Ron still insisted in angry letters that she should ditch the vipers and come home.
The Bulgarian Ministry had given sanctuary to Hermione Granger, Andromeda Tonks, Teddy Lupin, and Narcissa Malfoy but had refused to shelter Death Eaters. To guarantee the safety of their family and friends, Hermione, Draco, and Theo publicly left Bulgaria in the autumn of 2002 for the anonymity of Muggle Zurich.
Since then they had migrated around Europe as Gringotts and scholarship necessitated. The success of their venture into the Muggle stock market had made the goblins possessive of their trusted witch, ensuring the trio rarely had trouble keeping ahead of pursuit. Hermione's banking contacts also got them access to some of the most extensive private libraries in the continent, enabling the wizards and witch to further their education unfettered.
"Would you like orange or pumpkin juice, Sagitta?" Hermione asked, pulling out sandwich fixings while her four year old daughter mused on the weighty question.
"Pumpkin, please." She said decisively then waited somewhat patiently to be given a sippy cup. The little girl stretched up on her toes to watch her mother pour and tighten the lid but didn't grab when offered her drink. The compulsory 'thank you' was said in a rush as Sagitta dashed back to her very important colouring spread out on the living floor in a pool of sunlight.
Theo, sprawled on the sofa with a sleeping baby on his chest, smiled at his wife as she made lunch. There were still days when he woke up in the early morning gloom thinking he was in Azkaban. He suspected there would always be those moments of unreality no matter how spacious their bedroom or happy their life.
"Ham or chicken?" Hermione asked around a yawn. They took shifts, each rising for a different feeding but at four months Tiernan wasn't sleeping through the night. He napped better than his sister had, fortunately. They'd been so sleep deprived with Sagitta their magic had become erratic. Fortunately they had been in a remote part of Norway otherwise their neighbours might have noticed their house changing colours and walls randomly becoming invisible.
Theo's reply was forestalled by a susurrus of magic as a wizard or witch brushed against their wards.
The Malfoy-Notts did a variety of unusual things at the unexpected sound. Sagitta immediately ran to Theo to take hold of his shirt tightly. Theo drew his wand and holding the baby close with his other arm Apparated the children away before the first sign of trouble. Hermione ran to the bedroom, shook Draco awake then tossed him the 'go' bag as he grabbed his wand before following Theo to their pre-designated safe point.
Hermione Disillusioned herself and went to investigate the contact with their defences. Neither wizard liked this part of their security protocol but she had insisted that as the one without a Dark Mark, criminal record or Trace, she be the one to verify any intrusion. Besides, as she had pointed out to them when they had objected, she was trusting them to protect her children. That task took priority over everything else.
Something Hermione had not told her husbands was that she assumed far more people wanted to hurt them than wanted to hurt her. Death Eater sympathisers might wish to remove the uppity Muggle-born but people from both sides of the war had grudges against the Malfoys, and the Notts had been Dark Wizards for centuries with blood feuds spanning that long. Thus, trusting to chance, she went alone to the edge of the property.
Anticipating more wild magic with their second baby, they had moved into an isolated farmhouse in the Bohinj valley in Slovenia. Framed by the Julian Alps, their two hectares of meadow gave plenty of scope for flying and for seeing anyone who encroached. Hermione spotted the solitary intruder on the hiking trail that ran to the east. She watched him pace back and forth casting detection charms for a few minutes before she sent him a Patronus.
When Neville's silvery phoenix found her, she dropped the Disillusionment charm and strolled over to him. As proof-of-identity went, a Patronus was almost impossible to fake and definitely impossible to cast while under the Imperius. Hermione didn't think the efforts to arrest her were on the magnitude of sending ensorcelled agents to trap her but kidnapping wasn't beyond the scope of the people who still sent Howlers to the Bulgarian Ministry.
"Lovely place." Neville remarked, eyes on the ground not the mountain vistas. "I think I saw an ash petal crocus on my hike up. Unusual to find in a cultivated pasture."
"This part of the valley has been fallow since the Communist collectivism attempt failed in the early Fifties." Their nearest neighbours, an old couple who farmed goats and made artisan cheese, had taken an interest in the foreigners who bought the former ski lodge. The Brankovics weren't curious people but they were chatty. "I expect some of the indigenous magical species have had time to reseed."
"I've left the Aurors. Quit the Ministry all together." He said, mostly to the grass. When she didn't reply, Neville looked up and saw only sympathy. "Took me longer than it should have and I'm still deaf in one ear from Gran but that's me done with all the bloody nonsense."
"You didn't need to come all the way here to tell me. Andromeda forwards our mail, minus Howlers, from Sofia. All our correspondence goes through her." Hermione paid Mrs Tonks a comfortable wage to act as her secretary though she didn't think of her as an employee. "Ron writes about every three months, usually after we've been in the newspaper."
"Harry gave me your address in Sofia." Neville agreed then raised and lowered his shoulders in a protracted shrug. "I have so much I want to say it seemed, I don't know, feeble to write it down. And I needed to clear my head. It's been hell in Britain. Scrimgeour is a new broom, alright. He's brushing off all the old scandals. Harry's in deep with him cleaning up the Ministry."
"Too much, too fast?" She asked, aware that pure-bloods didn't really like change. Neville was hardly a snob but even the blood traitors had a siege mentality. He grinned, a little wryly.
"Needs to be done. Just glad it's not me." He'd been on half-pay and double-shifts for ages, helping to clean up the mess. He was so done. "I'm not a bureaucrat or a politician. Percy's happy as a grig but Arthur took early retirement."
"Molly said so when she wrote after I set her Tiernan's birth notice." Hermione meant it only as a confirmation. Neville shifted uncomfortably aware of the gulf of years.
"That's how I found you, actually." His eyes strayed to her midsection. "I saw a photo of you and your husbands at the Thaumaturgical Symposium in Udine. You were very, um, expecting." She had looked happy standing between Nott and Malfoy, the wizards holding their Mastership diplomas. "I knew you'd never risk Apparating so far along. I thought you might be living in Italy. I went there and asked some of the people I know from the Consociatio Herbum."
"Gossip, the scourge of privacy." She shook her head. "Quite a few of the witches there were concerned we'd Floo or Apparate." They hadn't said where they were living but they had reassured the concerned that they had driven. "So much advice."
"Signor Stregone mentioned he'd read Malfoy's Potions treatise, as the use of Red Vanilla Orchid as a stabilising aromatic had caught his attention." Neville had been interested too and had read the published work avidly. "I noticed Malfoy used a lot of alpine plants as variant examples so that had me looking to the Alps. There aren't a lot of places where you can find Hladnik's scopolia and Triglav hawksbeard. I knew if I found a place where all three grew I'd be close."
"Are you telling me you spent months trekking through the mountains based on a few references in a thesis?" Hermione asked with the air of someone who feared for a friend's sanity. Neville nodded unabashed "Well, I can put you in contact with a publisher if you want to share your notes." That he had made a detailed survey of the flora during his hike was a given. "So, what now?"
"The House of Longbottom would like to offer felicitations to the Houses of Nott and Malfoy on the occasion of their bonding." He had rehearsed that sentence until he could say it without wincing or gritting his teeth. "I hear Madam Malfoy-Nott is quite a witch."
Later, Hermione would assert she had cried because of hormones. Once she had released Neville from a compulsive hug and mopped her face, she composed herself to send the 'all clear' to her husbands. The momentary nimbus of light that surrounded her made the ex-Auror raise his eyebrows. There had been speculation about how Hermione had broken the suppression but no one had any conclusive evidence to back their theories.
"We're working on dimming the light show." Hermione informed him when Neville asked, after they had returned to the farmhouse and she'd reassured her husbands they weren't about to be arrested.
"It's only obvious when we use the link for active magic." Theo said urbanely. He was willing to trust his wife that Longbottom was not a threat. For her, he could pretend civility. The formal congratulations on their marriage had helped too. It was a throwback to old ways but the acknowledgement from another heir of the Sacred Twenty-Eight mattered. It shouldn't, but it did.
"Or sex." Draco added and smirked when Longbottom met his gaze with a level stare. "You must know Weasley still addresses his scribbles to Hermione Granger."
"That doesn't surprise me." Neville accepted a cup of Earl Grey from Hermione and chose not to see the glare the witch sent her husband. He smiled into his mug as the Slytherin muttered an apology before being banished to the nursery to change the baby. "Bonding ceremonies can heighten magic. More so for triads."
"Actually, we did this to ourselves before we bonded." Hermione confessed, sipping her fennel tea trying not to grimace. It did the job. It didn't have to taste good. "Our method for releasing the magic worked. Unfortunately the modified binding ritual had already created a feedback loop." She made a circling gesture encompassing herself, Theo, and the absent Draco. "One of my sources says that's a continuing problem for all the parolees."
"Your source must be very good if you know that. Shafiq didn't tell anyone, and when Scrimgeour briefed Harry it was very hush-hush. Who told you?" He had been informed of the complications with the suppression rite only because after he had ascended to the Longbottom Seat in the Wizengamot he had petitioned for the information.
"Percy Weasley." She admitted to Neville's surprise. "He likes the Ministry's direction. He still hopes to make a career out of public service, but after working for Fudge his conscience is sensitised. The IMP didn't sit right with him."
"So he leaked the information to you, knowing you were arming for a crusade." He turned the revelation over in his mind. When he had raised his own objections, he had been told firmly it wasn't his call to make. That hadn't sat right with him. Unfortunately, he hadn't had access to the data. The perpetually recurring question of 'could he have done more' surfaced like marsh gas from a stagnant pond. "It's hard to know what to fight when your enemy is paperwork."
"It was little comments like 'for their own improvement' in the press releases that first got my back up." Hermione went to the pantry and brought out a glass biscuit barrel. This action immediately got Sagitta's attention. The little girl materialised in the kitchen like a ninja as children could in the presence of sweets. Neville smiled at sight of her pointed little face and resolute chin. The strawberry blonde curls and bright hazel eyes were also an amalgam of her parents. Malfoy's daughter received her cookie graciously then returned to her crayons.
"You seem quite comfortable." Neville ventured, accepting a home-baked biscuit to go with his tea. Theo took one too despite the presence of raisins. He campaigned for chocolate but until his forays into baking ceased to be charcoal, the Daughter of Dentists got her way.
"It hasn't been easy." Charms Master Theodore Malfoy-Nott remarked when his wife hesitated for the sake of their privacy. "Draco and I were shattered. We didn't realise how badly until we went on the run. He and I couldn't stop looking over our shoulders. Couldn't sleep. Couldn't even attune to new wands." He flicked his hand towards a book on the coffee table. It floated over to him. "Fortunately, we found ways around that problem."
"We went Muggle completely for a year." Hermione explained. The goblins had needed time to assess the vaults she'd opened. The currency exchange was easy but not the resolution of artefacts. Her own induction into Gringotts as a haznik'ha had required her to refrain from wand magic for months. "We picked fruit. Backpacked and stayed in hostels. The culture shock gave us all new perspectives."
"Seeing how the other half lived freed us." Draco asserted, returning to swap a powder fresh baby for a cup of tea and a biscuit. "No one gave a damn about the tattoos on our arms. No one, in fact, gave a damn about us at all. We could be anonymous. An Aussie sheila in Rome asked me how I bleached my hair so evenly." He smirked. He had boggled at the time until the woman had laughed at his expression and bought him a beer. "None of the lies of our childhood matter."
"What made you come back to magic?" Neville could understand the temptation to slip away quietly, to have no expectations put on you because of your parents, your name. All three Malfoy-Notts looked towards their daughter and smiled in varying degrees of fond indulgence.
"Muggle contraception isn't infallible." The witch said blandly. She'd been worried and nervous and had made lists. So many lists. There may have been some panic too.
"We insisted." Draco and Theo spoke almost simultaneously. Their eyes met then Theo ceded the floor to his husband. "We proposed. We suggested a bonding ceremony." Hermione coughed something that sounded awfully like 'demanded'. The heirs of Malfoy and Nott chose to ignore her interjection. "A new life for the new life we had made, with everyone we could give."
"They nag worse than I do." Hermione unsuccessfully hid her affection for the wizards. "Then they roped Andromeda and Narcissa into badgering me to make honest men of them." They had even persuaded Ulrik to advocate for their union by pointing out that as their bonding ceremony would not be recognised by the Heads of either of their families, Hermione could still use blood magic to open the vaults. In fact, the triad bond would boost her magic. She had caved when Draco had taught himself how to knit and scattered their flat with little booties.
"Do you want to come back to Britain?" Neville asked. "I have my family's Wizengamot Seat. I could put forward a bill to pardon you. It'd be a dust-up but I could do it." It wasn't the same without Hermione. They needed her bossy voice reminding them it was the twenty first century. "Scrimgeour wouldn't put his own hand in the fire but he'd back me if I did."
"I'd like to. Having the warrants hanging over our heads crimps what we can do. I don't want Sagitta's schooling interrupted every time we have to relocate." Hermione sighed, conceding to herself the novelty of being on the run had well and truly worn off. "There's a lot more I want to do. We've got plans. It'd be nice to work openly, and not like we're some sort of magical Mafia."
"Teddy starts Hogwarts next year. We'd like to be there on the Platform to see him off." Draco saw Longbottom's unflattering surprise at his interest in the boy's education. "Edward Lupin is my cousin. He's family, and family is all that matters."