Hermione explained in bite-sized chunks how the world had changed while they were away. Shacklebolt had stepped into the breach as Minister, working himself to exhaustion to stabilise the country in the aftermath of the war. His aide had found him slumped over his desk on a Thursday morning. Accusations had flown of course, but three different Healers were prepared to swear he had died entirely naturally of a heart attack brought on by chronic overwork. The Auror had given his all and the bill had come due.
"There was a bun-fight of stupendous proportions. Kingsley had got everything running again so it was back to politics. For a while it looked like Shafiq would get his foot in but he'd spent the war in Spain. No one liked that." After the soup, she had made hot chocolate and now they sat rugged up on the tiny patio overlooking a yard overrun with bindweed and burdock and whatever was the whitish flowering vine creeping in from the neighbours.
"Which Shafiq?" Theo sipped the milky drink. It was thick and sweet and wonderful. He held the mug in both hands, letting himself unwind just a little. The sky was smudgy with incontinent clouds but Granger had cast an Impervius Charm so they could enjoy the fresh air unsodden.
"Jerome. His father was Senior Undersecretary before Umbridge." Hermione supplied, garnering a nod from the dark haired wizard. "So we have Kenelm Marchbanks, nephew of Griselda." Madam Professor Marchbanks had been a fixture of the Wizengamot for sixty years before she resigned in protest over Umbridge's appointment. "He's a plodder who holds grudges, notably against Shafiq. They've been squabbling for more than a year."
"Not good." He ventured, expecting to have his head bitten off for the presumption of offering his opinion. The witch made a noise and took a long swallow of her hot chocolate.
"They're busy digging up dirt on each other, which is how the state of the Treasury came to light." She rubbed the worn knee of her jeans, frayed from a curse that refused to be mended. "The cupboard is bare. Fudge was writing blank cheques, Scrimgeour trebled the DMLE's budget but didn't balance the books and the Death Eaters raided the kitty with both hands."
"My father." Draco had been struggling to listen. Granger's voice penetrated, a persistent nettle. He needed to answer it though once he had opened his mouth speaking became a Herculean effort. Shacklebolt had banished the Dementors but their essence lingered sapping all care. He subsided into apathetic silence.
"Bankrolled a great many projects, yes." Hermione caught the dangling conversational thread, not finding it difficult to guess Draco's point. Lucius had been a very generous patron. "That's what's alarmed so many people. When the Ministry accounts were properly audited, great big shortfalls kept appearing. Fudge particularly had borrowed heavily from Gringotts to service the debts Bagnold and Minchum had incurred. He might've managed to peg back the arrears except for the war."
Theo and Draco had been raised to this. Even spent, they understood the implications of the Ministry going bankrupt. A third of the population of magical Britain was employed by or provided services to the Ministry. Their silence was them slowly digesting what they had been told and mentally answering their own questions.
Before the Statute of Secrecy, there had been a lucrative trade in fosterages. An under-age heir to a fortune could be sent to live with a pure-blood family to better situate the child in society. Nothing so vulgar as actual bidding would take place. Patronage here, generous donation there, a betrothal agreement, all subtle things to ensure influence. That the child was often a hostage for their family's compliance was also valuable.
"Fosterling." Theo ruminated as rain spattered over the untamed greenery. Just the scent of it was intoxicating. A season full of promise. He had forgotten the smell of earth, the sound of the breeze through leaves and the comfort of quiet contentment. He had put those things out of his mind so he would not pine for them. Now to have everything come back was euphoric.
"That's the basis of the legislation. Marchbanks hammered it through at ten minutes to midnight just before the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes defaulted on their payroll." She hadn't been there. Very few people had been present by the end of the session. Most of the rhetoric had been said in time for the Daily Prophet to go to print, meaning most of the windiest bags had gone home. "A special committee cobbled together any old law that justified a cash grab."
"Are we beggars?" It seemed pathetically irrelevant but some slowly rousing instinct prodded Theo to ask. He didn't have his NEWTs. Even if Seventh Year hadn't been a durance vile, Hogwarts had been in no state to hold exams. If he had no money, he needed qualifications to get a job and to get qualifications he needed money to study, which he couldn't if he had to work. The coil of thought threatened to tangle into impossible knots.
"Technically." Hermione said sourly then hurried to explain when she saw their despair. "There's still money in your names. You aren't destitute." She finished her hot chocolate, setting the mug down by her chair lest outrage tempt her to throw it. "Before we get down to brass tacks, I want to say I hate this. I protested. Literally. I resigned from the DRCMC. I was cautioned for trespass. I went to the goblins." The witch made a face. "None of it helped."
The wizards shared a look, obscurely reassured that the acknowledged fact of bossy, crusading Granger was set in stone. Whatever else had changed, the Gryffindor was still made of fire. Draco, exhausted by the prospect of doom, felt himself relax a little. He didn't have to fight any more. Granger would wage war for him. She'd protect him. That hurt like the touch of flames on frostbitten skin but he could ensure it.
"The Ministry has full legal right to the vaults in the name of any prisoner convicted of a capital crime. All prisoners incarcerated for life are considered de facto to have been convicted of a capital crime regardless of the charges levelled." Hermione spoke by rote. "Gringotts could not contest that. They could block the Ministry from seizing the ancestral vaults as those are accessible by blood not name. Hence the IMP, which is part fosterage and part restitution. So long as you are in my care, I have control of your vaults."
Neither Draco nor Theo wanted to hear any more. Hermione couldn't blame them. She took their empty mugs inside after casting another warming charm. Taking the opportunity of their fugue, she moved her personal belongings out of the master bedroom into the spare. She didn't mind and it gave her a chance to survey her wardrobe.
They would need to go clothes shopping, never one of her favourite activities, but her house guests weren't ready for that yet. She could transfigure some of her work attire as she'd hardly worn most of it. New clothes took spells better and her suits needed little alteration. That the two wizards weighed about the same as she did ignited another spark of ire.
Hermione wanted to take them to St Mungo's so they could have a proper check-up but bringing a Malfoy and a Nott into a public area in magical Britain was asking for trouble. Probably not a riot as tempers had cooled as people turned to rebuilding their lives. Anger had banked into slow burning grudges, though. Lucius Malfoy and Tristan Nott had been very busy making enemies.
The best course might be to go to France. Hermione headed downstairs to write to Andromeda then find the scroll detailing travel restrictions and visa requirements. She had her passport so a little side trip to Switzerland would be easy. Gringotts had a branch in Chur so with luck getting some surreptitious banking done would be simple.
Her tawny owl, Sophia, was a scruffy rescue bird still regrowing plumage and was reluctant to leave her nesting box under the eaves. Hermione coaxed her out with some chicken then spent ten minutes trying to tie the letter to her foot. Sophia was willing to deliver mail but she wasn't going to volunteer. After making her witch scramble about until more chicken was forthcoming, the owl acquiesced.
Missive dispatched, Hermione went back to the paperwork. All parolees had a magical Trace on them similar to the one on under-aged wizards and witches, with the addition of a proximity spell that would send an alert to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement if they went more than one hundred yards from their custodian. Aurors would be sent.
There was no mention of a reciprocal arrangement with the French Ministry or indeed any of the other European magical governments. Hermione found that quite suspicious. Even a single sentence waffling about 'international cooperation' would've been enough. She couldn't find anything of that ilk, but neither was travel overseas forbidden. No comment on the Muggle authorities either. Did the Ministry expect the parolees to spend their holidays meekly compliant?
She lifted her gaze to look out the French doors onto the patio where she could see two blanketed forms. Theo and Draco had nodded off. The charms would last a good few hours so Hermione decided to let them nap. She'd give them a nudge if they were still asleep at nightfall and leave her questions for tomorrow.
Saturday happened much later than Hermione had planned. The three of them had eaten soup and tinned peaches for dinner then she had introduced her guests to the television in the small room behind the kitchen. The Muggle-born explained to the pure-bloods about movies and how to work the DVD player. She was frank with them, inviting them to help themselves to her library but suggesting they might want to ease themselves into intellectual pursuits.
In that vein, Hermione started off with a documentary about insects that she thought was usefully non-controversial. That got them curious about Antz, which she'd bought as a filler DVD in a 'buy four' deal. Draco and Theo were fascinated by the Muggle technology and the three of them stayed up late watching movies, sitting on bean bags with more rounds of hot chocolate.
So it was a rumpled and flannel clad Hermione who opened her front door to Harry, Neville, and Dean. They were in the unofficial Auror uniform of trenchcoat and steel-toe boots, a compromise for subfusc utility. She let them in as the call seemed to be business, offering tea or juice. The scattered parchments on the table were noticed as was the crockery from last night.
"I sent an owl this morning." Harry explained. "You didn't reply."
"I've only just got up." Hermione groused, putting on the kettle and investigating her fridge. "As you can see, I am not dead. Neither are my house guests, who are blamelessly asleep upstairs." She gave her fellow Gryffindors a starchy look. "The Ministry thought me capable of bending the two of them to my will. Why the check-up?"
"We were worried." Dean answered when Harry looked uncomfortable at her jibe. "About you. Malfoy's a rat bastard and Nott is creepy. None of us like the idea of you being alone with them, even without their magic."
"Are you suggesting the Ministry's bribe is perhaps a poisoned chalice?" She was snide and immediately regretted it. The current political situation was not her friends' fault. "Sorry." Hermione arrayed breakfast fixings on the counter. "They're both shattered. I'm going to protest, again, about Azkaban conditions. Muggle jails look like resorts by comparison."
"Hermione." Harry interrupted her rant before it turned into a diatribe. "We'll have a quick look at Malfoy and Nott then go."
"So it is an official keeping tabs on me visit." Hermione sliced toast with the enchanted hot knife, being mindful not to use it to punctuate her statement. Her friends probably wouldn't arrest her but no one who'd lived through the war could relax with a blade pointed at them. "Did you know your bloody Department included advice on how to discipline parolees?" She hadn't told Draco and Theo about that little titbit, though they would doubtless find it when they read the documentation themselves. "The DMLE vacillates between treating them like toddlers or maniacs."
"They're both Death Eaters." Neville tried to find a tone midway between caution and reminder, which failed to mollify Hermione judging from her expression. He'd need two goes to pick Nott out of a crowd and Malfoy had been a toerag before he took the Mark, but they had done enough to be initiated. "You need to be careful. Just showing them around Muggle England isn't going to be enough to redeem them."
"I know." She had no intention of dragging them around pointing at things to show them the error of their ways. "I have a plan." This surprised no one. "I'm going to help them catch up on what they've missed then we'll go to France. We'll blend in better there. News of their release must have been leaked to the Prophet by now."
"Yeah, it has." The confirmation came from Dean, who was quietly thankful his status as Auror kept him off the custodian list. While he was technically a half-blood, he had been raised by Muggles and could have qualified for the Integration and Mentoring Program if he hadn't worked for the DMLE. "Inquiries are being made but you know the Ministry's a sieve."
"Andromeda is in France." Harry stated though it sounded a lot like a question.
"I'm not going to keep him from his mum." They had all paid. No one in the house had two parents living who remembered them. Hermione didn't say it but she was certainly thinking it, caustically too. "Look, I don't want to argue with you." There was perhaps a little too much emphasis on 'you'. She was spoiling for a debate with the Ministry. "I am going to comport myself as a responsible member of the valued Muggle-born community aware of my privileges and obligations."
"Is that a quote?" Theo asked from the stars. When he had heard men's voices, he had eavesdropped from the bedroom door. As the conversation grew more pertinent, he had edged forward not wanting to miss any of what was being said. Granger's officious words were so unlike her he was sure she was parroting.
"From the Director of the Ministry of Magic Public Information Services. Ogilvy Blenkinsop has an everlasting supply of pompous." Hermione had sat through many a speech since the end of the war. The Esteemed Director's efforts were in her top five for candidates for Vogon poetry. "He's keen for me to be seen to be behaving myself."
"Where's Malfoy?" Harry asked before Hermione's sarcasm caused her to say something inconveniently accurate to one of the resident security risks. Blenkinsop was a prat who never failed to remind him of Lockhart.
"Asleep." Theo replied, not expecting that to make any difference.
It didn't. Auror Potter went upstairs to confirm the second parolee was in the Land of Nod not Stupefied or hog-tied in the cellar. Hermione made tea. She drank it while the wizards held their cups one handed and pretended not to be watching Nott. For his part, Theo sipped the Darjeeling as though he hadn't a care in the world. After the Lestranges, he didn't have it in him to be frightened of anyone.
"He's up there." Harry reported, taking a cup of tea awkwardly. Hermione was plotting something, he could sense it. He didn't think she'd do something as stupid as helping Nott or Malfoy escape. She was an idealist but she still had some respect for the law if not the lawmakers. "You will at least try to give the revolution a rest, right?"
"I solemnly swear I will not foment rebellion on your shift." Hermione smiled. Dean rolled his eyes, Neville shot her a concerned look and Harry frowned. "Honestly, I'm not going to run amok. I am going to do my civic duty and learn a valuable lesson in moderation from this farce." She regarded her friends calmly. "I have a lot more reading to do before I can hit Blenkinsop over the head with his own verbiage."
That seemed to soothe the Gryffindors, which surprised Theo. He wondered if he was the only one listening to what Granger was not saying. They wanted her to tow the party line enough to keep out of trouble, which she said she would do more or less. They didn't ask for her oath or inquire exactly what reading she would be doing. He doubted she was going to brush up on British legal precedents.
After stilted conversation and a third of a cup of tea, the Aurors left. There was a round of hugs and smiles and when Granger shut the door on her friends, Theo saw her shake her head. He stayed where he was, equidistant between kitchen and front windows, a position that gave him the most scope to dodge. None of the Gryffindors had hit him. They hadn't even raised a hand or touched their wands. But they were guards. They had not come to the house for his protection.
"You're shaking." Hermione noticed the shift in Theo's stance. He'd been determinedly nonchalant at Harry, Neville, and Dean. It was difficult to swagger in a tracksuit though he'd managed some hauteur. It was gone now; his supply of nerve clearly exhausted.
"Yes." Theo kept his cup in both hands as tea sloshed over the rim. He didn't resist when she took it from him or when she stood next to him with arms apart. He turned into her offered embrace, flinching as her hands touched his back. She didn't squeeze or rub, just let him huddle against her for warmth and reassurance.
"It's all a bit shit, isn't it?" The witch observed quietly. "I find swearing helps."