"For fuck's sake, Malfoy." Hermione swore as she snatched the wand from his hands. "Get up before someone sees you." She reversed the hawthorn, offering him the hilt. "I accept your fealty." She felt a warmth settle in her chest, a wan shade of the bond she had with Moppet. "Your first task is to tell me why you thought this antiquated custom was the way to settle your debt."

"You wouldn't trust anything else." Draco tucked his wand away. He had researched, putting off his decision while trying to find something palatable. Most of the easy options involved him living long enough to marry and sire a child, either for her to adopt into her service or to marry one of Rosier's own children. He didn't believe he would see his next birthday far less fatherhood.

"I don't trust this." She took a step away from him. "But refusing would've made it worse. You would've been constantly hovering at my back trying to save my life."

"I thought this way would save us both the discomfort of each other's presence." He stood upon his dignity, battered as it was.

"Oh come off it." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Martyrdom doesn't suit you. Let's get back to the party before someone notices."

"Don't shrug this off, Rosier." Draco snarled. His hand twitched to grab her arm to halt her leaving. The gesture died when her gaze snapped to his face. He froze, lowering his eyes.

"I understand what you have given me." She spoke to him with a predator's stare. "I understand what I could make you do." Hermione shoved down hard the urge to hit him. "I also understand you fear becoming a squib if the debt consumes your magic or being trapped as a ghost if you die owing me." She couldn't keep her hand from prodding his chest. "You're a squirrelly bastard, Malfoy. Don't think for a moment I don't know your loyalty is a matter of convenience."

She stormed off back to the party, to dance with Thorfinn Rowle, who despite being a behemoth moved like Nureyev. He kept his hand chastely at her waist and his conversation was a series of muttered affirmatives and negatives. Hermione didn't unbend an inch despite his anodyne behaviour. She hoped he took her frost for arrogance. None of her suitors had yet complained she wasn't delighted by their attentions, though considering half of them had just got out of Azkaban perhaps they were still numb.

Adrian Pucey was the next on her card. He was strong-armed into stammering a request for her time by the combined forces of his mother, two sisters, and a maiden aunt. He got so tongue-tied one of the brusque girls informed Cathal he was delighted to offer for her hand and wished nothing more than to prove himself a companionable prospect.

"Sorry." Halfway into a pavane, once his blush had faded from cerise to rose, Pucey ventured an apology and a mumbled explanation. "Only boy, you know."

"How many sisters do you have?" Hermione craned her neck to see the cluster of witches plotting by the ice statue of the goddess Hebe. She was charmed to dispense champagne and seemed to be struggling to keep up with the demand from the Pucey contingent.

"Five." Adrian spoke to the air above Miss Rosier's left shoulder. Her dress, silvery and floaty, showed her frontage to advantage. He tried to think of her as a swotty twelve year old as she had been when they first met. He was actually fairly good with children. Just not women. "Four aunts. Eleven female cousins."

"There's your out, then." She smiled, which didn't visibly relax him. "I need sons to be name heirs for Rosier and Selwyn as well as my husband's line. If the Pucey magic has taken to giving daughters, we're not a good match. I'll even pen a nice note to the effect if you'd like me to refuse your suit in writing. Not your fault, that way."

"Didn't think I was in with a chance." He took a deep breath, marshalling himself through several steps of the stately dance. "Here for Marcus, really." He swallowed. "Asked me to ask you to meet him at the tavern with the blue hats. He's staying there." Adrian gulped, having got the words out in a rush. "Said you'd know it."

"Right, yes." Hermione nodded. She remembered the pub in Glasgow where they'd gone Polyjuiced to meet Oliver Wood. "Did he say why?" Pucey shook his head, "Tell him I'll be there as soon as I can get away."

Her partner's inarticulate murmur was all the confirmation she got. They finished their set, Pucey bowed, and with well honed avoidance skills, dodged away into the garden before his relatives noticed the dance had ended. Hermione envied him as she headed back to her grandmother for instructions on further frivolity.

The last guests went home at dawn. Madam Rosier took a stirrup cup with them then collapsed. Nissy put her to bed, refusing Hermione's offer to fetch a Healer. Miss Siglinde was exhausted not ill. Miss had seen her grandbaby all grown up. Miss would sleep happy. Rather spent themselves, Hermione and the Rosier elves put up temporary wards, little more than jinxes and aversion spells to mesh with the Anti-Muggle protections the Ministry had allowed to remain, then went to bed too. Bonica protested but the Head of the House insisted. The mess could wait.

Hermione woke unwillingly with her alarm in time for lunch. Mardi was nominally in charge of the kitchens, though all the elves helped with catering for an event. She presented her Mistress with a tray of fried everything and a glass of Firewhiskey. Piers Rosier's dining requirements had not helped the inherited predisposition to heart disease.

Tactfully, Hermione made some changes to the menu without criticising the cook. Alcohol was for special occasions, black pudding was for never, and fruit was more than a slice of lemon in a cocktail. Sipping orange juice, the new Rosier materfamilias confirmed and reassigned household duties. Nissy was excused from anything but attending Siglinde, which would be a full time occupation until the elder witch recuperated.

Hermione asked for the preferences of the elves; Ruddy wanted the garden, Petal wanted the cleaning, Mardi the cooking, and Bonica the wardrobe and tending of Mistress Rosier. They all received what they wished and with the exception of the senior house elf popped away to get to work. They weren't quite whistling but the rejuvenation of the House refreshed their personal magic.

"Miss has other bonds." Bonica remarked once they were alone.

"I've been meaning to ask you about that." Hermione thought lying would be a slap in the face to the old elf. "What can you sense?"

"Miss is tight knotted around." She frowned, her pendulous ears fluttering. "The Malfoy boy gave some of himself to you, the crumbs left after the dark wizard ate him up." There was an appreciable pause as Bonica waited for lordly wrath. None came. "There is a big one too, like but not like a familiar. An old old rite for a new new bond."

"I forbid you to tell anyone about that big bond." The witch spoke. She felt it was more of a spake or decree. Shades of pompous, anyway. "My partner will be with me at Hogwarts. It'll be dangerous for us both if anyone knew we're linked."

"Even grandmother Rosier?" Bonica asked.

"Even her." Hermione confirmed. "Just as long as I'm at school. After I graduate, there'll be no secrets between us."

"We need Miss." The house elf insisted, with little begging in her tone. She was stating a fact not pleading a case. "Miss is the last."

"There are Rosiers in France. Fourth or fifth cousins." A distant relation, particularly with magical lifespans but still family, at least on the books. "If something happens to me, someone from that branch will inherit. I expect they'll be quite keen for the lucre. You won't be left alone."

"The land doesn't know them. The house doesn't know them. We is house elves." Bonica said the last with emphasis. "If they isn't of this place, never crossed this threshold before Miss dies, then they isn't for us."

Elves varied. That was one of the major nett results of her research of the species. Unbonded domestic magical creatures found a place. They needed that link with a home or territory. They could, if they were strong and determined, bond with an idea. Dobby had embraced his freedom as his place. Not all elves could sustain themselves the same way.

"Is the ambient magic on Rosier land enough to sustain all of you?" Hermione asked, adding the post-mortem support of her elves to her To Do list. Cathal didn't have great chances facing the Final Battle. She didn't want to leave anyone to descend into deprivation and madness like Kreacher. "I could invite my cousins here or find someone you prefer to act as my heir for you."

"Bonica will stay on the land. Am too old to change her bond." The house elf matron spun slowly counter-clockwise to check the tide and currents of the magic. "Everything wakes up with Miss here but the Hall is tired. Slept bad with Ministry poking and Dark wizards prying." She flicked a glance at her Mistress, saw no censure, and continued. "Land can keep Bonica, maybe Ruddy because land knows him best. Too weary yet for more. Miss needs to be here longer."

"I'm returning to Hogwarts in a few weeks." She remarked to a nod from Bonica. "I'll be back for the holidays." That was the plan, honestly because she expected to need to smuggle people out of the Castle. "Is there someone you know who you like?"

"Old Master Piers had bad friends." Bonica's tone was so bland it drew a laugh out of Hermione. Massive understatement there. "We don't knows anyone trusty."

"I think I have someone. I'll ask her when I drop by." Hermione didn't want to make any promises she couldn't keep but the possibility seemed to be enough for the house elf. Perhaps this was a test of how much Mistress gave a damn about them. Bonica left to arrange Miss's clothes for a day of Apparating. Hermione spent several minutes staring in the mirror wondering if anything had changed. She owned people now.

Her first stop was to Moppet. Their bond gave her a direction, north-east, and her grasp of geography suggested the Isle of Man. When she arrived at Rose Cottage, Hermione was astonished to find it partially repaired. The debris had been cleared and the stone foundations, largely intact despite the Fiendfyre, scrubbed clean. A waist height brick wall ran around the edge of the pad albeit without gaps for doors or windows.

"Cathal must stop leaving Moppet sudden." The house elf lobbed a glob of mortar at her friend. "Moppet does not like it."

"Blood magic." Hermione dodged the projectile without effort. It had been more comment than intent.

"Moppet knows that." She snapped, plonking a brick into place with a flick of her wand. "You must stop that too."

"I have an idea. I'll need to go to Borgin and Burkes." Pacing around the cottage, Hermione noticed the bricks were mismatched and weathered. "Where did you get the materials?"

"Moppet went to old barns and places, falling down places, and took what was on the ground. Like fallen apples." Pausing to admire her work, she looked her witch up and down and up again. "You are not hurt?"

"I'm alright. The party was a bit Alice in Wonderland." Hermione shrugged. "But I'm an adult and rich now so let's do unwise things."

They began slowly, working up to danger. The first stop was Gringotts to confer with Harnak and move money around. By dint of handing over centuries of accumulated goblin artefacts, Hermione guaranteed cooperation. The bank would have done as she requested because she was a wealthy client but this way there was absolute surety of discretion. Particularly about her withdrawal of a stonking great number of Galleons and converting a fair bit to Pounds.

Next stop was Knockturn Alley. She had to pay ten times the amount to get back the brooch she had sold to Borgin six years before. The shopkeeper was obsequious but would only barter so much. She paid cash and didn't complain. Hermione would like to see him go to prison. Unfortunately, it would be hypocritical to denounce him for dealing in Dark objects when she was buying one.

She didn't bother with any of the other magical shopping she needed to do. Owl order would be good enough and it would placate Madam Rosier. Hermione reckoned she wouldn't get many opportunities to travel unsupervised so she wanted to make hay. The first step was going to Heathrow and looking casual while an invisible Moppet borrowed the passport of a tall blonde woman about the right age for the witch to duplicate.

The fewer alterations necessary made the spells stick better in her experience. She would require some sort of identification to avoid or limit using the Confundus Charm. Hermione altered her clothes to a nice suit like she'd seen in the high street but would never have bought because Granger wasn't the sort of girl with a thousand pound jacket.

She registered a Royal Mail PO box because she didn't have a residential address then went to the bank. Posh clobber or not, she still had to answer questions. Hermione would've preferred depositing her money in dribs and drabs to stay under the radar except she simply didn't have the time. So she sauntered in, asked to see an investment adviser then explained her eccentric aunt had left her some money.

It helped Hermione's conscience that the adviser was a patronising middle-aged man with an ostentatious Patek Philippe. She didn't feel all that sympathetic to him when she used magic to coax him to find the most plausible route to deposit a hundred thousand pounds. She avoided using the Imperius Curse, which was like using a hammer to shell an egg, but if she were found out she probably would face Ministry charges.

This was her insurance money. If she and Moppet had to disappear into the Muggle world, this nest egg would help them survive. Hermione hoped it wouldn't come to that. She'd already arranged for money to be transferred from her private vault to the Gringotts branch in Chur, Switzerland. The goblins didn't care about countries so long as they had their hands on the Galleons.

She couldn't empty the family vaults without someone noticing. Even with magic, it took dosh to run an estate, Mostly it was the price of food, which for entertaining at a pure-blood society level was astronomical. So Hermione diverted what she could, pruned where possible, and set up a preferred customer account at six different apothecaries. Much of the last was for the rehabilitation of Siglinde and of Tristan Nott. She'd taken over the costs of their potions as it was easier for her than Theo to arrange things until Nott Snr. was compos mentis again.

From the bank, Hermione went to a newsagent, bought a local paper and picked the first listing for a minivan she found. She went to the address listed, chatted to the housewife whose soldier husband was being posted overseas, paid cash for the reliable vehicle, and drove off. Once she had found a concealed parking space, which was harder than it looked in the inner city, she shrank the vehicle and Apparated to Derby.

In total, Hermione went to two different grocery wholesalers, a sports shop, and three military surplus stores. Everything went into the minivan, which was why she had bought it. Walking out with a trolley full of bulk food then trundling off across the parking lot into the shrubbery would cause comment. She was out of practise driving, she only had a provisional license or rather Granger did, thus the minivan had a few more dents then when she started.

Once she had bought everything even an obsessively over-prepared conspiracy theorist could want, she drove north until she found a wooded area reasonably presumed not to have surveillance cameras. Hermione hopped out, helped a queasy Moppet down, then pulled out one of the great finds from the Rosier vaults; a flying carpet.

It was a red and black Chiprovtsi kilim rug listed on the vault inventory as 18th century. The spells on it were still intact. Hermione added a Disillusionment and an invisibility charm after loading the cardboard boxes onto it. Moppet paced around securing the load then took the carpet for a ride around the spinney. The laden rug handled like a brick but the house elf assured her friend she could manage. They parted ways, with Moppet heading up to Hogwarts and Hermione driving to Bury St Edmunds.

Tracey Davis lived in a neat brick bungalow near Hardwick Heath, which Hermione knew because she'd asked Moppet to follow the girl home from school at the end of term. Pulling into the drive, narrowly avoiding the dustbins, she changed her clothes back to the traditional robes Bonica had laid out for her. They were pale blue, quite flattering, and hopefully would pass as a summer maxi dress to any curious neighbours.

Hermione used the brass knocker then waited. The garden was weeded, the front step swept. The windows sparkled. It was a very clean house. No cobwebs either, not even in the fiddly spaces under the gutters. She couldn't feel the warmth of elf magic or the tingle of wards. Tracey's birthday was in April, she always received a cake from home, so it was possible this was a recent scrub-up. Or someone else was as chronically tidy as Davis.

The old man who opened the door was a wizard. It wasn't obvious by his attire, a sweater vest and slacks, or his clipped hair but through her tie with Moppet Hermione could better sense the personal magic of individuals. The carefully ordinary senior citizen in front of her was unquestionably not a Muggle.

"Good afternoon, sir. Is Tracey in?" The 'sir' was probably a bit much. She sounded like she was selling something but Hermione didn't want the door shut in her face.

"She didn't say she was expecting anyone." He said mildly, casting a very good wandless and wordless Repelling Charm. The spell washed over Hermione making her hair stand on end. She didn't feel any particular urge to leave, which suggested the working had been targeted against pure-bloods. Her body reacted but her mind did not.

"She isn't expecting me. It is rather important we talk." She met his steady gaze. "I'm here to help."

"We'll manage, thank you." He made to shut the door. Hermione put the boot in, literally. She stuck her foot in the doorway. Steel cap boots, courtesy of the surplus store. She followed with a shove, letting herself into the front hall.

"Davis!" Hermione shouted. "A word, please!"

Tracey came down with her wand out. The old man shut the door. He didn't draw his own wand, which surprised Hermione. Davis didn't relax when she recognised Rosier, not even when the blonde raised both hands to show they were empty.

"How did you find out where I live? I always jump trains and check for Tracking Charms." Tracey demanded after an Expelliarmus. She got on alright with Rosier but that was a school. They weren't really friends.

"I asked one of my elves to follow you. Misdirection charms don't work if your intention is to go home. House elves can follow that domestic link." Hermione explained, because that was something she'd had to discover herself. Where the fundamentals of magic were concerned, Hogwarts needed a 'Mechanics of' far more than a 'History of'.

"For Hell's sake." The Slytherin witch muttered. She did not lower her wand. Rosier wasn't threatening, yet, but Tracey was protective of her home. "Why are you so interested? What do you want?"

It took some explaining. As Hermione expounded on her requests, the trio migrated into the front parlour. Tracey's grandfather, who had pointedly not introduced himself, outright refused to leave when his granddaughter asked him if he would mind making them tea. He would mind, he replied, and as this was his house, he wouldn't be dismissed.

Tracey's parents came home from work just as Hermione was literally and metaphorically putting her money on the table. Their arrival necessitated a synopsis of the discussion. Mrs Davis went to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of wine. She poured five glasses then gulped hers. The cheap red didn't help much.

"You want Tracey to inherit your elves if something happens to you, and you want us to go to France for a year." Mr Davis had listened closely to what the snooty blonde was saying. He'd been saying much the same to his obstinate father since Fudge left office. "Which you'll pay for, if we leave right away."

"Yes." Hermione opened the moleskin pouch of Galleons she'd ponied up as proof of her sincerity.

"Is Hogwarts going to be that bad?" Tracey didn't look at the money. If she agreed, it wouldn't be for the cash she could already see persuading her father. Both her parents were Squibs. She'd been a lucky throwback. Not at all important in the scheme of things.

"Alecto and Amycus Carrow will be teaching. Muggle Studies and Dark Arts, respectively." She couldn't keep the sneer from contorting her mouth as though she had eaten something gone off. "We'll all be hostages."

"And I'm the only Seventh Year Slytherin who isn't Sacred Twenty-Eight. Except Zabini." The amendment came with a shake of the head. Zabini might not be British wizarding aristocracy but his mother was a Dark Witch. Anyone who threatened Signora Zabini's darling boy would have their heart eaten. "A nice example to demonstrate their ruthlessness. Look at what they'll do to one of their own, think of what they'll do to you."

"They'll go for the obvious target. They're unimaginative and vicious." Hermione didn't like her chances avoiding the Cruciatus.

"Close friends of the family, are they?" Mrs Davis asked tartly. She recoiled, actually jerked back in her chair, when the Rosier girl glared at her.

"You can stay to verify their character for yourself. A Death Eater has control of the Hogwarts elves. A Death Eater heads the DMLE. You'll disappear into Azkaban with the Muggle-borns, assuming someone doesn't try to clean their family tree." She looked to the elder Mr Davis. "I assume your surname is a pseudonym."

"It is." The wizard answered, back straight. "I was cast out when I refused to disown my son. I'm cursed not to be able to speak their name so I picked one very close." He quirked an eyebrow at the young witch, who nodded. She could guess the pure-blood family with a name very like Davis. "My parents were ashamed of the failing of their blood but they weren't Death Eaters. My younger brother was happy enough to step up as the heir. I don't know about his descendants."

"His scion is a snob but apolitical." Hermione spoke with the confidence of two lifetimes. The former Head Boy had enjoyed his position more for score-keeping than influence. He hadn't returned for the Final Battle.

"He likes pretty girls." Tracey said with unexpected sourness. She'd kept her crush on the dashing Quidditch Captain very much to herself. He hadn't looked at her twice. The age difference and the House difference had seen to that. He had been, however, a safe enough infatuation. Not for anything would she have thrown herself into the clutches of any of her fellow Snakes.

"We're getting off topic." The junior Mr Davis interrupted stolidly. "We need to leave, and Miss Rosier has provided the means."

"Lady Rosier." His father corrected. "Head of the House, by dint of dead man's shoes."

"Isn't that the usual way?" Hermione remarked, unsure of his gist.

"Father and grandfather dead before their time, mother obscurely absent, and I'd wager your grandmother is away with the fairies. Convenient for you. If you're not the youngest Head this century you're certainly one of the few." He read the Daily Prophet more as a hair-shirt than for the news but before his expulsion he'd socialised regularly.

"Don't forget my great-aunt in St Mungo's and my maternal great-uncle late of Azkaban." She wasn't hurt by the allegation of suspiciously speedy inheritance. Cathal had been locked up in a cottage while her relatives succumbed to Fate. "I have a few spare cousins yet for the pyramid of skulls."

"You have bottle, I'll give you that." For the first time, the wizard looked at the Galleons. His son made a frustrated noise, wanting to insist. It was Tracey who took the money, though. Neat as ever, she picked up the pouch and tucked it in a pocket.

"I expect Beauxbatons will accept my transfer without quibble. I'll hardly be the only one." She stood and offered Rosier her hand. They shook on it, no mention of debt or terms. They'd sort that out later, mostly likely as patronage and sponsorship. The House of Davis was hardly august but Tracey had ambition in spades.