The ritual for the inheritance bonding was enough like a wedding to be awkward. The witches made a circuit of the Hall hand-in-hand, ending with the blonde lifting the brunette over the threshold so she didn't 'undo' the circle by physically crossing the border herself. They shared wine and broke bread together. The house elves acknowledged Davis with gifts of fruit and flowers.
"I don't feel any different." Tracey commented quietly after eating the fruit and tucking the flowers into her hair. She and Rosier were walking quickly to the boundary wall to avoid any witnesses to the rite. Gringotts were sending a team tomorrow to raise wards. Hermione didn't trust anyone at the Ministry not leave backdoors through the defences.
"You won't unless I predecease you. Fingers crossed and all that." She had to shrug but at least this way the house elves would be protected. "I don't know who'll inherit the Hall and the estate vaults. From what I was told at the bank, there could be a brawl. Malfoy or the Shafiqs could challenge the French Rosiers if they get the solicitors onto it."
"You're really selling being landed gentry." The unfettered commoner surveyed the blasted heath surrounding Rosier Hall and did not lament her lack of property. This land was too Bronte for her taste; the heights were wuthering.
When they made their farewells, Davis didn't give any details on where her family were going. Beauxbatons had a large catchment area. What Rosier didn't know, she couldn't be made to tell. They had enough money they could be a little picky about where they hid though the language difference would be their biggest hurdle.
Hermione didn't let herself linger to fret on someone else's problems. Davis was sensible and she wasn't alone. Her parents and grandfather could sort themselves out. For herself, she had more errands to run. She Apparated to Glasgow for dinner, uncertain whether Flint's presence in the United Kingdom was bad news. As far as she knew, his parents were still out of the country.
The difficulties in two Polyjuiced people meeting without previously being aware of the other's appearance was solved in their case by blue hats. Hermione thought she moved like she'd put her knees on backwards in the body of a thickset lorry driver she'd seen at one of the grocery stores. She couldn't get his stride right and shinned herself on two benches crossing the taproom to the slim woman in the ugly azure bonnet.
"We should have a secret handshake for this." Hermione remarked, ready to apologise if she'd picked the wrong target. The gruff laugh from the petite witch gave Flint away.
"Rosier." The woman said as she sat down at her table. "Fancy going up to my room? I feel like a prat in this body."
Upstairs, he paced clumsily until the potion wore off then kept pacing, long legs quartering the room restlessly. Hermione sat on the bed, the only piece of furniture suitable for perching. This was a place to sleep not live. She couldn't see any luggage but with a wizard that was no significance. Flint could have half his manor in the cupboard.
"I'll start right out. This isn't a betrothal or wicked dealings or anything suspect." Flint thought it best to assure the seventeen year old unmarried girl that he had no plans to accost her. "I bet my mother sent an offer for you."
"She did indeed." Hermione confirmed wryly. Flint made a face, which made him even more unlovely.
"I've got a place. Nice little house. There's room, we wouldn't be living in each other's pockets. Come back to Canada with me." The offer came out with more force than she expected. He stopped pacing to grind a fist into the opposite palm, still tense. "England's not safe."
"You came back to ask me to run away with you?" She said this aloud to verify that was what he wanted. Hermione wasn't convinced. Something about this had her ill at ease.
"Not just you." Flint grimaced. "Olly won't leave."
"You quarrelled." Hermione guessed.
"Yeah." That one word held a world of hurt.
"He's a Gryffindor." She said gently, not wanting to rub salt in his wounds.
"He's supposed to be mine." Flint snarled. "From the first time I saw him..." He cut himself off before he said something weak. Soppy romance wasn't him. He was fighting and hard shags and stupid arguments. "If only he did what he was bloody told."
"Really, from the first?" Hermione asked, more curious than she was sympathetic. She wouldn't be bloody told either.
"We talked about Quidditch on the train, before he was Sorted. His dad used to play for the Tornadoes." He spoke to the sky, well, to the roof but he was seeing the sky in his mind's eye. Olly was born to be on a broom. Even his Muggle mother recognised that. She used to take him out in the evenings dressed up as a kite so their neighbours wouldn't notice him flying. Marcus had laughed when his boyfriend had told him that, half a mile above some resort town in the Rockies.
"There are a lot of guys who play Quidditch." She ventured, in case it was more about the play than the player.
"He's my soul-mate, Rosier. I can feel it." Flint took a deep breath in the aftermath of his declaration. When she didn't say anything, he looked at the witch and her pained failure to hide her scepticism. "I'm not thinking with my cock."
"I wouldn't put money on you thinking with your brain right now." Soul-mates, honestly? Was that a thing too? Magic was stupid like that but Hermione didn't think it was that daft. One perfect match destined across time and space? Twin threads wound together? "Look, Flint, I'm not saying you don't love him, just take a breath, alright?"
"He's going to fight, Rosier. That's what we argued about. He isn't going to stay on the sidelines. He's going to throw away his career, his life, me, everything, because the fucking Chosen One is calling." Marcus spat out the words, feeling each cut him inside. "What can I do when he won't leave?"
"Stand with him." Hermione said before Cathal could stop her. Flint looked at her as though she was speaking tongues.
"It's not that simple. I'm not..." He stopped. He didn't know what he was.
"If you truly believe Wood is the man for you beyond all others then you have three choices." She'd had this talk with herself in the tent after Ron left. "Either you leave alone, drag him away with you forcibly, or you stay beside him." Harry had refused to give up nor could he quit the field so she'd stayed. "I don't think he would ever forgive you if you kept him away from this fight."
"He wouldn't, no." Flint said on a long, fraught sigh. Why the fuck did he have to fall for man with no sense of self-preservation? A little bit of common sense and he could have whisked Olly away. Marcus didn't care who ran the Ministry. "Shit."
"What's Wood doing at the moment?" Hermione asked, wanting to offer suggestions.
"I'm not going to tell you that." The refusal was harsher than he intended. For a moment she looked as though he had slapped her before shrugging. "If you're not leaving with me..." He began a cautious explanation by way of apology, She waved him off.
"It's fine. I shouldn't have asked." The Head of the House of Rosier reminded herself that she was not on the side of the angels. "Whatever you decide, whether you keep out of it or not, the Dark Lord's name is Taboo and he has Fenrir Greyback's pack at heel. You will need to be careful."
"Are you going to listen to your own advice?" Marcus inquisited.
"Probably not as much as I should." Hermione conceded. She stood and dipped her head in polite farewell. No hug, no handshake. Learning the basic courtesies of the wizarding upper classes had taken longer than it should but she'd got a reasonable grasp on them. Flint let her leave, though she didn't feel the conversation was over. Cathal didn't have anything more to say to him and she wouldn't let Granger off the chain.
After years under Ministry purview, Rosier Hall needed a fair bit of work. The house elves had managed the upkeep and maintenance but they couldn't embark on any major projects without the permission of the Head of House. Hermione spent several days after her excursion being shown around the buildings by Bonica or the grounds by Ruddy or the boundaries by a team of goblins.
The Ministry had used their own Curse-Breakers to deactivate the wards after Piers's death, taking the opportunity to have a poke about the property. The executors had done much the same with the interior. Cygnus Black, acting on his ailing wife's behalf, had appropriated everything Druella was entitled to as a Rosier by blood. Bonica gave her a list of what he had taken, which Hermione dispatched to the Rosier solicitors to confirm.
She didn't particularly care about the baubles, she just wanted to have a plausible excuse to meet privately with Narcissa Malfoy if necessary. Hermione didn't think the witch would be much help but when dealing with psychotic mind-readers, you could never have enough plausible deniability. Lucius Malfoy hadn't lowered himself to filching anything though he had done a lot of snooping. Hermione wouldn't be inviting him over for tea.
The Rosier owls were a fat and factious lot. They had been living the life of Riley, eating and breeding with only the house elves to disturb them. The younger ones were healthy specimens but they hadn't been dedicated with the postal rite, leaving them clever though unfortunately mundane birds. Hermione removed the inherited binding tying them to the Rosiers and released them from the owlery. They scattered to find territory of their own, leaving their collared elders without a glance.
There were some ruffled feathers when she dispatched the enchanted owls with purchase orders. Hermione didn't expect to receive her goods promptly. She'd give the parliament a few days to stretch their wings. The Hall laboratory was well stocked. Piers had dabbled with potions, mostly Hangover Remedy, and self-medicating when necessary judging from the ingredients.
The hardware was top-notch if antiquated, an accumulation of generations of Hogwarts supplies. Hermione warded the spotlessly clean workroom and stores then began all the short brews she could finish before start of school. She'd bought a bandoleer at the military surplus store and a box of what she thought were aluminium cigar tubes the camping supply store had sold as 'waterproof emergency travelling containers' at a horrendous mark up.
The tubes were of a size to contain a dose of most potions and they fit neatly in the leather loops of the chest belt. She wouldn't have to worry about smashing a pocketful of glass vials if she fell or was thrown. She could even colour-code the potions, which appealed to her Muggle sense of order. All geared up she'd probably look like an extra from Mad Max but she didn't care.
Four days later when Siglinde had recovered enough to leave the house, they Flooed to Nott Manor with an array of philtres and unguents. Most had been made by apothecaries but Hermione had brewed some of the simpler ones herself to compare the quality and palatability. Cathal's grandmother preferred the home-made potions though that was likely familial bias.
Theo was at the hearth to meet them, they'd been corresponding by owl, and was every politeness. Hermione raised an eyebrow when he bowed over her hand. He murmured 'Father insists' before offering Madam Rosier his arm. Siglinde allowed herself to be escorted to the solarium and settled on a chaise in front of the long window. Tristan Nott, reclining like a Roman Emperor, nodded in greeting to the witches. He didn't rise and they didn't remark on it.
There was some stilted chit-chat, Theo going through the motions before he poured tea. Hermione set the caddy of potions on a low table beside her, passing an atomiser to Siglinde and a more medicinal looking brown glass bottle to Nott Snr. The wizard sniffed the contents with a grimace of distaste while the witch misted the liquid onto her tongue like breath spray.
"Same?" Tristan asked hoarsely. He had screamed enough in Azkaban to damage his vocal cords. Magical healing and pain potions had eased some of the strain, though it would be months before he could speak without discomfort.
"Essentially." Hermione confirmed. "I modified the medium to decrease the viscosity. It absorbs more quickly. I have some for you to try, if you'd like. I've put enough mint essence in it to mask most of the bitterness from the gentian."
Nott was willing to sample her variant of the appetite stimulant, which was supposed to help the partaker recover from malnutrition but for both Death Eaters made everything taste of ash. He sprayed some on his tongue, coughing as the scent of mint overwhelmed his senses. The slight rush of the potion activating, it had many of the same ingredients as Pepper-Up, told him it was working. Tristan raised his cup of tea in salute to the Rosiers and sipped.
He swallowed, waiting for his stomach to rebel. There was a minor cramp at the warmth of the liquid but none of the violent spasms that had greeted any food without the standard potion. He proceeded slowly though not wanting to jinx his luck. Siglinde was looking better than she had been, suggesting the presence if not the brewing of her heir was restorative. His own heir certainly had perked up at the arrival of young Lady Rosier.
A suitable girl, Tristan thought, letting his mind dwell on happier prospects. He had few enough left. He'd fretted about his son while in prison. Theo didn't make friends easily and felt too deeply. He needed a sensible helpmeet. In the fullness of time, the House of Nott would make an official offer for an alliance with the House of Rosier. He wouldn't harry the schoolgirl like Malfoy or Yaxley. Yaxleys, Tristan corrected with a snort. Sniffing like dogs around a bitch.
"Potions Mastership?" He croaked, indicating the caddy with a palsied shake of his hand.
"I plan to, after qualifying as a Healer." Hermione unpacked the lie without wrinkles. She certainly wouldn't mind undertaking an Apprenticeship, assuming she wasn't dead and Britain wasn't aflame. "I'd like to..."
Her preferences were interrupted by the crackle of the Floo. Esne scurried in to announce the guests a bare stride ahead of the wizards. They needed no introduction. Antonin Dolohov and Augustus Rookwood were neither in Death Eater regalia; Dolohov was in faded black robes cut for a man two stone heavier and Rookwood was in tailored navy blue he wore like a pantomime costume. They didn't have their wands out, which was the only reason why Hermione hadn't dived for the window.
"Uninvited." The lord of the manor remarked coldly. Rookwood sketched the shadow of a bow, a gesture that would've been affable except for his gimlet stare. He'd been beyond suspicion, a good chap, before Karkaroff had denounced him. All those careful-casual mannerisms had withered in Azkaban and now played false.
"We are not here for you." Dolohov's comment wasn't quite a sneer. Far from the featureless morass of evil Hermione had taken them to be, the Death Eaters were schismatic; lines drawn over old money and new, pure and half, school chums or recruits, inmates or Imperius. Too many divisions to discover without an anthropological survey. "The Dark Lord sent us for Lady Rosier."
"She's made no petition for the Mark." Siglinde spoke so quickly her words were a hiss. Rookwood smiled, a tic of nod too abrupt to be affable.
"She's young and unmarried." That was simple fact but from the former Unspeakable there was subtext Hermione didn't like. She felt naked when he looked at her, like a laboratory specimen. "There's time yet. What interests our Lord is her medicinal innovations. Several of the new lads have sung her praises."
"I haven't invented anything." Well, nothing she was prepared to share with Death Eaters. "Just adapted variants." If the wizarding world had any sort of standardised education her work wouldn't be remarkable. The lack of peer review or even a patent system meant people kept rediscovering the same thing. "What do you want to see?"
Everything, basically. They frogmarched her through the Floo back to Rosier Hall. Hermione was reluctantly reminded that an Unspeakable and a Curse-Breaker were likely to be intellectually curious. Their fanaticism and incarceration had limited their access to developments in their own fields. Rampaging across the countryside at the behest of an ideologue did not leave one much opportunity for research.
Hermione did show and tell in her laboratory, infinitely thankful she'd left the good stuff at Hogwarts. She talked at length about her efforts to vaporise the usual medical stand-bys, as there had been enough witnesses to her use of her sprays that she couldn't dissemble, but left out her work with other potion media. Topical use was limited to poultices and ointments, messy in the field and subject to more degradation than potions taken internally. An atomiser would be novel enough, she hoped.
She tried to be a pedant but it didn't seem to discourage. Dolohov and Rookwood were so starved for intellectual stimulation they hung on her words. When Hermione finally ran down, discomfited by their attention, she tried not to fidget awaiting their response. First twitch of hostility and they'd get a boiling cauldron to the face.
Astoundingly, Dolohov was the more tolerable. He inspected her tools, wafting the scents of the brewing potions properly with a hand and caution not taking a good sniff as the unwise did. He had offered for Cathal but she could believe he wanted her for her magic not her body.
Rookwood's eyes were thick on her skin. His oily gaze made her feel unclean. When she talked, he looked at her mouth not at the pots or vials. When she offered her lab journal, her public copy with her class notes in it, his fingers lingered on hers; his touch like Midas's; unwarm and cursed.
She flinched, withdrawing her hand gracelessly. He smiled. If they had been alone, she would've lashed out sure he would try to molest her. Dolohov took the journal, turning his back on her to flick through the pages. Had he positioned himself to screen her from his comrade-in-arms? Hermione didn't hesitate to step into his shadow, putting distance between herself and the Unspeakable.
They left shortly after. She called for Petal to clean the lab, her own hands too shaky to manage the charms as quickly as she wished. She wanted any trace of the Death Eaters gone from her workspace. Hermione didn't know much about Rookwood. He wasn't at the forefront of the violence like Greyback or Bellatrix so somehow he hadn't seemed as bad. There was something cracked about him; the sort of person who wrote down his observations as he pulled wings off flies.
She tried not to think of Rookwood that night when she gave herself a little more insurance. Hermione had considered asking Flint to help her with the little problem of her virginity. He wasn't too close like Theo or too risky like Malfoy. Too many men had offered to marry her for her to pick one for a no-strings tryst. She couldn't invite any of the boys she trusted because they didn't trust Cathal. She doubted even Fred or George would think deflowering the daughter of a Death Eater a laughing matter.
Flint was enough of a man of the world to have spared her blushes, but she hadn't found a tactful way of broaching the subject of how far along the Kinsey Scale he was. And any speech she might've prepared she would have discarded as soon as he mentioned soul-mates. Violating that intimacy would've been worse than any 'it's not you, it's me' refusal.
So the solution fell to her own two hands. In the fine tradition of Granger over-researching, Cathal's readings on the topic had been extensive. Hermione had kept herself from revulsion over the subject matter, and the consent issues, with humour. She pretended she was writing one of those informative books she'd found so often in the bargain bin at Flourish and Blotts. 101 Things to Do With a Hymen.
Not that funny honestly, but she had confirmed that one could harvest one's own virginity. There was no need for candles and mood music either. She found the rite in a manual of purification magic, recalling Beatrix Radnott's commentary on personal cleanliness spells. The description was a little coy and there were numerous references to spinsters but she could remove her own innocence herself. Or at least the magically significant part that qualified someone mystically as untouched.
A circle of iron salt and a philtre of unicorn tears to bathe the pelvic chakra, a calming chant and a stoppered vial for the blood and tissue. It stung a bit, more so when she rinsed herself afterwards, and despite all rational feminist ideology Hermione did feel as though she had lost something. Perhaps it was the drain of the ritual. Perhaps it was her own fear of being a convenient ingredient.
The rest of the summer was brewing and lies. People came to visit, eligible men mostly accompanied by mothers or sisters for the social fiction they weren't dropping by to inspect the goods. Hermione made a point of taking tea in her lab apron and trousers, hair scraped back under a kerchief. She received no censure from Siglinde. Madam Rosier was mentally somewhere around 1980 and was having a lovely time riling anyone who had snubbed her daughter-in-law.
They didn't say a damn thing to her face, Hermione noticed tartly. All smiles and compliments, the latter somewhat laboured if she came in smudged with green or reeking of smoke. She wondered how far she could push, how offensive she could be before someone called her out on it. When her grandmother set the teacups on the Burkes after a left-handed compliment on how good her English was, Hermione reckoned she had quite a bit more insult to go before it was wands at dawn.
The Death Eaters got no backtalk. Yaxley sent an owl requesting permission to cross her threshold and arrived with herbal wine for Siglinde and an Ottoman treatise on healing magic for Cathal. The book was so rare, Granger had only heard of it by reference, that she had a hard time not grinning with delight. Because of his thoughtfulness, Yaxley got the company tea out of the fancy cups and some of the petit fours Mardi had made for the 'acceptable' suitors.
Malfoy wasn't on the shortlist so he got leftovers in the kitchen when he stumbled in at four am to have a panic attack on the hearth. They couldn't close the Floo to Malfoy Manor, Death Eaters didn't have to ask, but Hermione had set enough alarms to animate the dead let alone wake them. Wand out, she found him sweating and shaking, and towed him to the pantry so she could pour hot chocolate into him.
He threw up the first cup and didn't bat an eyelash over the fistful of sugar she added to the second. It stayed down however. Hermione didn't ask him any questions. She really really did not want to know. Rookwood had hinted at research that would've turned Mengele's stomach. Instead she supplied company and a damp cloth to mop his face and marshmallows.