Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K.R.

17 Escaped

Daphne's breath quickened as the door to the courtroom closed behind her. It was one of the smaller courtrooms, by far not as big as the main courtroom father and Grandfather Albion had showed her when they began to introduce her to her duties as the heiress of House Greengrass two years ago.

This one was much smaller, though the ceiling was quite as high; it gave the claustrophobic sense of being stuck at the bottom of a well.

There were more dementors in here, casting their freezing aura over the place; they stood like faceless sentinels in the corners furthest from the high, raised platform. Here behind a balustrade, sat Umbridge, with a tall, blonde wizard with brutish features that sent a shiver down Daphne's spine on one side of her, and the harried witch Daphne had followed into the ladies, quite as white-faced as Mrs Cattermole, on the other. At the foot of the platform a bright silver, long-haired cat prowled up and down, up and down. Apparently it was there to protect the prosecutors from the despair that emanated from the Dementors: that was for the accused to feel, not for the accusers.*

Umbridge ignored Mrs Cattermole for the time being and gave father a broad, slightly coquettish smile, while she patted the bow at the back of her head.

Daphne's stomach gave a lurch. Was that old hag flirting with father? Ugh, why did she have to have a full breakfast this morning?

Umbridge's next words left no doubt of her intentions. In her girlish, breathless voice she said, 'Lord Greengrass, I'm soo sorry I couldn't keep our appointment. Today's hearings have been accelerated. We'll have to conclude our business here, I'm afraid.'

Father's cool gaze swept from Umbridge to the tall, blonde wizard and to the small, harried witch, and his eyebrows went up a notch. 'I don't think this is a good idea, Undersecretary Umbridge,' he said in his best Pureblood drawl he reserved for people he detested.

The toad let out another girlish giggle that almost sent Daphne's stomach over the edge. 'Oh, let me introduce you to my business partner, Mr Yaxley.'

Yaxley didn't bother to get up, and gave a nod to father. 'Greengrass.'

Father replied with a curt nod, a sure indication he didn't hold that wizard in any higher regard than Umbridge. 'Yaxley.' His eyes turned to the harried witch, who seemed to retreat into herself like a snail into her shell, and again he raised an inquiring brow. 'And this is …?'

'Nobody you need to be concerned about, my lord. She'll keep her mouth shut, if she knows what's good for her,' Umbridge said, with an undertone in her girly voice that made the hairs at the nape of Daphne's head stand up. 'Besides that, there are always Memory Charms and even … better ... means to make her comply.' Her eyes flickered to the Dementors in the far corners of the room.

The small witch let out a whimper and seemed to shrink even more into her seat.

Daphne couldn't blame her; bile rose in her throat at the thought that Umbridge wouldn't hesitate to sic the Dementors on that poor woman to hide her illegal business of selling the Muggleborns like slaves. However, it was not surprising; after all, it had been Umbridge who had sent the Dementors after Harry to silence him after the Dark Lord's return.

Only an infinitesimal twitch of a corner of father's mouth gave away his revulsion. 'Very well,' he said, 'what do you have for me?'

'You'll be pleased, my lord, I'm sure,' Umbridge said in her breathless voice. 'With this one -' she pointed a stubby finger, adorned with an exceptionally large and ugly ring, at Mrs Cattermole '- the two we've already found guilty to have stolen their magic, and the nine who are still waiting outside you'll have a dozen healthy workers for your enterprises. I'd love to conclude our business as soon as possible; Mr Yaxley and I have more important work to do than dealing with these stains on our magical society all day long.' She smiled at Mrs Cattermole; it was the smile of a cat playing with the mouse, a cat that was sure of the outcome and relished every moment of the poor mouse's death fear until the final stroke.

Mrs Cattermole turned even paler. 'What are you going to do with me? What about my children and my husband?'

Yaxley flicked his wand and aimed a silent spell at her.

Mrs Cattermole's hands flew to her throat; she opened her mouth as if to talk, but no word came out. She coughed, and her breathing became laboured.

Daphne's heart seemed to miss a beat, and an icy feeling spread in her veins. Yaxley's spell had not been a normal Silencing Spell, so much was sure. She cast a surreptitious look at the witch who was still fighting to get enough air and looked as if she was going to faint any second, and made an involuntary move towards Mrs Cattermole. Father stepped in front of her, as if shifting his weight from one foot to the other. At the same time an electric jolt, coming from Harry, swept through her body.

Her stomach turned into a knot. How could she have lost control like this, for the second time today? She'd almost given them away. She lowered her head, letting her hair hide her features, and concentrated on raising her Occlumency shields to get back her composure, thankful for the wave of calmness Harry sent her.

'That is not as much as I had hoped for,' father drawled. 'Oh well, I'll have to make do with what I can get. I count on you to inform me as soon as a new batch comes in. So, name your price.'

Yaxley cleared his throat. 'Not so fast, Greengrass. What about her? Is she trustworthy?' He yanked his chin towards Daphne.

He gave her an appraising look that made her skin crawl, as if she had plunged into a pool of slimy, stinking mud: he taxed her from top to toe like a punter might tax a whore at a brothel. A wave of fury raced through her; this time Harry's feelings weren't necessary to ignite her own fury about Yaxley's disrespectful behaviour. Heat shot into her cheeks, she raised her chin and gave him her best icy stare. Everything in her itched to give him the dressing down he deserved, however, as the well-bred Pureblood woman she was supposed to be she had to keep quiet and let her father handle Yaxley.

Father didn't disappoint her. He regarded Yaxley with a furious glare that made the tall wizard gulp.

'"She" is the heiress presumptive to House Greengrass, Yaxley, and you'd better watch your manners around her, or you'll find yourself at the receiving end of my wand sooner than you'd bargained for. I'm also sure that neither Miss Greengrass' future father-in-law, Lord Nott, nor her fiancé will be amused about your behaviour when I tell them.'

At the mentioning of Lord Nott's name Yaxley paled. He rose to his feet and gave a deep bow to Daphne. 'Please, accept my apologies for my uncouth behaviour, Miss Greengrass.' He turned to father and bowed again until his nose almost reached the balustrade. 'My apologies, Lord Greengrass.'

Father gave him another hard stare and turned his back towards him. 'Well, Madam Undersecretary, name your price. I expect a heavy deduction as compensation for the behaviour of your business partner. You don't want to force me to look for the service you provide elsewhere, do you? I imagine the Snatchers will be quite accommodating in this regard.'

'Of course not, Lord Greengrass.' Umbridge simpered. 'Well, the normal price would be five-hundred Galleons apiece, but I'm sure Mr Yaxley will gladly forgo of his share to compensate you, my lord.' The glare she shot at Yaxley said as good as words he'd better had, or the future would hold great pains for him.

Daphne suppressed a snort. Thank Merlin, and thanks to Harry, her Occlumency shields were strong, so she kept an unmoved face.

'Of course, my lord,' Yaxley said.

Father pulled his Gringotts cheque book out of the pocket of his robes. With a flick of his wand the number three-thousand appeared on the line for the amount of Galleons to be deducted from the Greengrass vault, and Umbridge's name right below as recipient of the payment. He pressed the signet ring with the seal of House Greengrass on the little finger on his left hand to the enchanted line at the bottom of the cheque. The magic of the cheque, together with the magic of the signet ring, would be enough to prove the genuity of the transaction to the Goblins, and they'd transfer the gold into Umbridge's vault.

He handed the cheque to Umbridge. She bared her teeth in a broad smile, and a light sheen of sweat made her pudgy face gleam. She bent forward, and almost snatched the piece of parchment out of father's hand. As she did so, a heavy locket with an engraved "S" on it slipped out of the collar of her robes and dangled to and fro above the balustrade on a gold chain.

Daphne held her breath. Even though she'd seen the locket only in Harry's memories, she'd recognise it anywhere. The jolt of excitement she received from Harry the moment she saw the locked was one more proof it was what they were searching for.

She forced her face into a simper. All the years in Slytherin watching Pansy's mannerisms finally paid off. 'Oh, what a beautiful locket!' she exclaimed, the perfect picture of an impressible and naïve blonde. Well, it couldn't hurt to give Umbridge some sugarbread after all the verbal whipping she'd got from father.

She cast a surreptitious glance at father; he had to be surprised by her unusual behaviour. Contrary to herself, he had a much better grip on his emotions and didn't so much as raise an eyebrow. Instead, he regarded her with the indulgent smile of a father who is proud of his pretty, though slightly simple-minded daughter.

'Thank you, Miss Greengrass.' Umbridge patted the locket with one hand and gave her a smile that was as false as Rita Skeeter's eyelashes. 'It's a family heirloom from my mother's family, the Selwyns. It represents a lot of fond memories, and I wear it always.'

That almost made Daphne burst out laughing. How daft was the toad to think she could distract from her mother's Halfblood descendance with that story? It only showed her mediocre upbringing; if she belonged to the Pureblood circles she'd claimed as her descendance, she would have been educated in the genealogy of British wizardry, just like Daphne and every other Pureblood woman. Daphne knew for sure that Umbridge's mother didn't have any connections to the Selwyns: she was a Halfblood, daughter of a wizard and a witch who both descended from Muggleborns.

A warning tug from Harry's magic helped her keeping her countenance. She gave Umbridge another silly smile and repeated, 'It is very beautiful.'

Father cleared his throat. 'I think we have more important things to talk about than jewelry, my dear,' he said with another indulgent smile at her and turned to Umbridge. 'My purchase, Madam Undersecretary.'

The false smile faded from Umbridge's face. 'Yes, my lord, I'll immediately see to that.' She snapped her short fingers.

The Dementors in the corners glided forward. The temperature behind the balustrade dropped a few degrees, and Daphne shuddered.

An arm was put around her. 'Is that necessary, Madam Undersecretary?' father asked in a disapproving voice. 'Expecto Patronum!' Father's elephant burst from the tip of his wand and positioned itself between the Dementors and Daphne. At once, the temperature rose back to normal.

She leaned back into father's comforting embrace. 'Thank you,' she whispered.

Umbridge had the good sense to look embarrassed, though for all the wrong reasons. 'I'm sorry, my lord - You!' She addressed one of the Dementors.

The horrible thing glided forward, and Daphne retreated even further into her father's arm.

'Go and get all accused,' Umbridge said to the Dementor.

The Dementor turned around, followed by his conspecifics. The harried witch next to Umbridge perked up when the door closed behind them, and some colour returned into Mrs Cattermole's face, albeit her horrified gaze never wavered from father.

A few minutes later, the Dementors ushered a group of wizards and witches of all ages into the room, among them even two children who had been first years at Hogwarts last year; she'd seen their faces at the Hufflepuff table. They looked scared out of their minds and ready to faint because of the presence of the Dementors. In contrary to the adults, who screamed and tried to prove their innocence with loud voices, they were too scared to make a noise, or even to cry, but their wide open eyes took in every detail.

Daphne bit onto the insides of her cheeks to prevent the scream of outrage that welled up in her from escaping. These were children, for Leto's sake, just a mere dozen of years older than Rory. What were these monsters thinking to go after innocent children? She curled her hands into fists until her fingernails dug into the palms of her hands. The sharp pain helped to suppress the urge to run to the two terrified children, drag them away from the Dementors, and hug and comfort them.

'Silencio!' Yaxley roared, and the room fell silent. The voiceless shouting of the poor Muggleborns was a horrible sight.

Father pulled a short rope out of the pocket of his robes and tied the ends together. 'Everybody, grab the rope.'

The wizards and witches exchanged wide-eyed looks.

Yaxley and Umbridge pointed their wands at them. 'Do as you're told, or you're going to be kissed,' Umbridge said.

It didn't need more threats from her; the wizards and witches hastened to grab for the rope. Mrs Cattermole and another witch about her age made sure the two children had a secure grip on the rope and put their arms around one child each to give them an extra hold.

Daphne let out a small breath: the two witches taking care of the children relieved her and father from keeping an eye on them and endanger their cover. Father nodded at her, and she also grabbed for the rope.

Father pulled out his wand and tipped at the rope. 'Activate!'

The rope glowed blue, and the next second she was yanked through the void as if by an invisible hook behind her navel. A felt eternity later the Portkey dropped them to the ground - hard.

'That was about time.' Grandfather Albion's voice greeted them. 'What took you so long?'

Daphne sat up and looked around. They were in a courtyard in front of a long, two story high, mediterranean looking building that was built of drab, brownish-grey stones, with a red shingled roof. Lots of potted, colourful flowers to the left and right of the entrance gave it a cheerful and inviting look, which was enhanced by the periwinkle wooden shutters at the small and narrow windows. The courtyard was surrounded by pine trees, and the sound of cicadas permeated the quietness of the hot day. The sun burned down on her uncovered head; small beads of sweat pooled on her forehead.

'You'd think you would've become more patient in your age,' father said while he picked himself off the dusty ground. 'We didn't stay away that long; however, you know how these Ministry officials are.'

'Yeah, a bunch of idiots,' Grandfather Albion replied with a grim smile and let his eyes wander over the group of Muggleborns.

They didn't make a sound; apparently, Yaxley's Silencing Charm was still working.

Grandfather's smile turned into a frown. 'Only twelve? I wish you could have brought more.'

Father sighed while he dusted off his robes. 'Me too, father. However, Umbridge promised to contact me as soon as she has new … merchandise to offer.' The corners of his mouth turned down, and his upper lip lengthened into a grimace of disgust.

'Well, I guess that's better than nothing.' Grandfather also sighed. He gave the Muggleborns another look. 'Why are they so quiet?'

'Yaxley put a Silencing Charm on them. I'll cancel it as soon a we've told them what we're going to do with them.'

'Good idea.' Grandfather Albion nodded. 'Otherwise we probably won't get a word in.'

'Albion and Cyrus Greengrass, I can't believe what you are doing!'

Mother's voice, coming from the house, interrupted them. Both men whirled around.

Mother stood in the entrance of the house, her hands stemmed into her sides, and glared at her husband and father-in-law. 'What are you thinking to let those poor people steam in their misery while you are talking about them like cattle and frighten them even more? Besides that, they are not used to this climate and will most likely catch a horrible sunburn if you let them stand in the scorching sun any longer.'

Father and Grandfather Albion exchanged a look, lowered their heads, and shifted their feets.

Mother gave them another glare, however, they avoided her eyes like naughty schoolboys. With a huff, she stepped down the shallow step of the entrance door and walked across the courtyard to the hapless Muggleborns. She came to a halt in front of the small group that stood huddled together in the middle of the courtyard and exchanged uneasy glances among themselves at this unexpected intervention on their behalf.

'Please, won't you follow me into the house and partake in some refreshments?' mother said, every inch the graceful Pureblood hostess. 'I'm sure we all will be much more comfortable there, and my husband and father-in-law can explain to you what's going to happen next.' She motioned with her hand into the direction of the main house.

Another round of uneasy glances was shared among the Muggleborns, until they finally set into motion and walked towards the house. Mother took the lead, while Daphne and her father and grandfather brought up the rear.

They entered the house and found themselves in a huge common room with dark wooden beams supporting the low ceiling. The room also served as a kitchen: one side of the room was occupied by a stove and a row of white painted wooden kitchen cabinets, and a huge fireplace dominated the opposite wall. Two Greengrass house elves were working at the kitchen counter on finishing lunch. A long table, set for at least twenty, stood in the middle of the room, bathed in a few rays of sunshine that shone through the two small, narrow windows above the kitchen counter.

'Please, take a seat.' Mother gestured towards the table.

Again, the Muggleborns exchanged uneasy glances.

'Oh, sorry,' mother said. She pulled out her wand and directed it at the Muggleborns.

They startled and flinched away from her, and the two children buried their faces against the chests of Mrs Cattermole and the other witch who had helped them with the Portkey.

Mother gaped; her gaze flicked to father.

He sighed. 'I've not found out much, Isabella, but it's safe to assume that they have been treated badly at the Ministry, probably even hexed and tortured.'

Mother paled and turned to the Muggleborns. 'I'm sorry; I didn't mean to scare you. Finite Incantatem!'

A shudder seemed to go through the small group.

'Thank you, Lady Greengrass,' Mrs Cattermole whispered, and a few more wizards and witches agreed with small nods.

Grandfather Albion broke the awkward moment. He walked to his place at the head of the table and sat down. 'Well, what are you waiting for? I don't know about you, but I'm hungry after all the tension of this morning.'

'Me too,' father said, and sat down at the other end of the table. Daphne and her mother took their seats left and right of him.

That broke the ice. Their uneasiness about their situation still apparent in their hesitant moves, the Muggleborns sat down at the table.

Mother motioned to the elves to serve the meal, and soon the long table was covered with a spread of bread, cold meats, cheese and fruit, together with a selection of butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and delicious cold, sweet cidre.

Even though Yaxley's spell was broken, the Muggleborns didn't talk much during the meal, and if they did, it was in hushed whispers and accompanied with a lot of uneasy glances at the four Greengrasses. They didn't eat much, either, and soon Grandfather Albion stood up from his chair and cleared his throat.

All whispers ceased, and a dozen of apprehensive faces turned towards him.

'Welcome to the Mas de Laurier Rose. This is a farm near Cavaillon in France that belongs to my family since the time before the French Revolution. Normally, only about six house elves live on this property, to keep it in order and grow mediterranean fruits and vegetables for the use of our family and for sale in the magical villages and towns of France. In the light of the … political situation in our beautiful home country, however, my heir and I have decided to open the mas to give shelter to people like you, who are persecuted by the new regime for something as ridiculous as their blood status.'

A jolt went through the group of Muggleborns. Some gasped, some stared at Grandfather Albion with wide eyes, and two or three allowed themselves a small smile of hope.

'You … you mean you're not going to keep us as slaves?' a wizard asked. Daphne recognised him as the wizard who had been dragged away by the Dementors when she and father had walked to Umbridge's courtroom. Her throat constricted at the sight of his eyes, bright with hope, and she averted her face to hide her sudden tears.

Grandfather also seemed to be affected by the way the man looked at him, for he had to clear his throat several times before he continued with his small speech.

'Merlin, no, you are free to stay as long as you need, or to leave if you've found better accommodations. I'm sorry we had to keep you in the dark, but this little charade was necessary to fool Umbridge.'

He picked up his glass, took a sip, and put it back onto the table.

'The house is big enough for about twenty-five people if we put three or four to a room, so expect it to become a trifle crammed here over the next couple of weeks. I know that your wands have been taken, so beginning tomorrow we'll take you to a wandmaker at Aigues Mortes to get new wands for you.'

'But … we don't have money; everything valuable we had on us got taken away as soon as we entered the Ministry,' Mrs Cattermole said. 'They even took my wedding ring.' Her voice faltered.

Daphne blinked. Each time she thought the evilness of the new regime had reached rock bottom she was proved wrong.

Grandfather smiled at Mrs Cattermole. 'Don't worry about that, my dear. We expected something like that and made the necessary provisions. We hope that this way at least a few of you will be able to find work here in France and support themselves, so that we have room to save more Muggleborns from England.'

His last remark was met with approving nods and murmurs and a small smatter of applause.

The wizard who spoke first, however, gave Grandfather Albion a hard stare. 'Don't think I'm not thankful for your help, Lord Greengrass, but I can't help being amazed about it. Your family's reputation is not exactly that of a light one. You're supposed to be neutral, at best, if not secretly on the dark side. Isn't your oldest granddaughter betrothed to one of Nott's whelps? Well, Nott senior doesn't hide his allegiance to You-Know-Who anymore. So, what's in for you?'

Grandfather reciprocated the hard stare with a calm look of his own. 'Well, in the light of my family's reputation your fears are justified, Mr …?'

'Alderton, Archibald Alderton junior.'

'Mr Alderton. My family has been neutral during the last war, and intended to keep this neutrality during the present conflict. However, we were put under pressure from certain … factions almost immediately after the return of the Dark Lord became apparent to the public. My granddaughter's betrothal to Mr Nott was an attempt to buy us space and time - a successful attempt, if I may say so. Shortly after that, a new alliance came up for our family that aligned us firmly to the light side.' He shot a small smile at Daphne, then turned back to Archibald Alderton. 'However, we chose not to let that become public knowledge, and kept our neutral stance. It's our best cover; nobody will suspect what we are doing behind the back of the Ministry.'

Archibald Alderton sat back in his chair, a thoughtful expression on his face. 'I see.'

Grandfather clapped in his hands. 'Well, now that that's settled, let's go on with the organisational part. My daughter-in-law will show you to your rooms presently. Our house elves will provide you with toiletries and a change of clothes until you are able to obtain things of your own. I know you all want to inform your families what became of you. We've put up a Banishing Box from Gringotts for that purpose so that no owls will come to the property and track you down. Give your letters to the house elves, they will take care of them. All I ask of you is not to give away the involvement of my family. It's in your own best interest to keep quiet about today's events. I think that's all for today. Beginning tomorrow, my heir and I will schedule individual talks to all of you to help you decide how to go on during your exile.'

He cast a smile at the two children. 'We'll start with you. We haven't counted on the new regime even prosecuting children, so we haven't made any provisions for you. Don't worry, tonight my family and I will have a council of war and find a way to help you pursue your magical education and get back together with your parents.'

The faces of the children lit up in bright smiles. The girl sprang up from her seat, ran around the table, and hugged Grandfather Albion. 'Thank you, Lord Greengrass!'

Grandfather returned the hug and patted her back. 'You're welcome, child.' He raised his head and looked at the group at the table, his arms still around the girl. 'I guess you all need some time to recover from the strain you've been under, so my family and I will return home. We'll be back tomorrow morning, so have a good rest.'

A second of silence followed his speech, then thunderous applause broke out. The witches and wizards sprang up from their seats, gathered around Grandfather Albion, and thanked him over and over again. Some were laughing, many were crying, and a few did both.

Daphne watched the happy turmoil from a corner of the kitchen, a small smile on her face, and with a light heart. That felt so good after the oppressing morning at the Ministry.

Her eyes caught mother's. Mother made an imperceptible move with her chin towards the door. Daphne caught her cue, slipped out of the house, and hurried to the hidden Portal Room of the mas. It was in some distance from the house, in an abandoned sheepfold.

Not even five minutes later she crossed the patio between the conservatory and the library of their safe house and put her hand onto the handle of the backdoor to let herself in.

The door flung open and barely missed her face before she could push down the handle. The next moment two strong arms flung around her and almost suffocated her in a fierce hug.

'This was the first and the last time I let you spy for me. You little idiot, I thought your Occlumency shields are way better than mine, and yet you almost gave yourself away, twice! Merlin, Daphne, I almost got a heart attack!'

Harry didn't leave her any time to explain herself; his lips crashed down on hers, and he kissed her as passionately as he'd never kissed her before.

When he finally raised his head, she looked up at him, a smile on her face. 'Well, I'll as sure as hell continue spying for you if it gets me kisses like that when I come home.'

His eyes shot green daggers at her, although he didn't release his grip around her. 'Damn it, Daph, I'm not joking! I meant every word I said.' The distress coming from him through their bond lent credence to his words.

She bit her lips and lowered her gaze. 'You weren't this agitated when it happened.'

'No, because I knew Umbridge wasn't in her room, and I was more concerned about warning you when you wanted to comfort Mrs Cattermole. The panic set in later, and I had to raise my shields against you not to let it spill over to you as long as you needed to keep your wits about you.' He leaned his forehead against hers. 'Merlin, love, do you have an idea how helpless I felt?'

'Actually, I have.' Her voice was very low. 'I felt like that when you were on your mission with Dumbledore and I had no idea what was going on.'

Harry huffed. 'That was completely different. I have no choice in this matter, I have to fight Tom in every possible way. You, on the other hand, never wanted to be in this. You were forced into this by someone messing with us and Love Potions, and because of the marriage bond you created when you tried to save us both from the consequences of my poor grip on my feelings.'

Her head jerked up, her lips pressed into a hard line, and she stared back at him every bit as hard as he did. 'Shove that, Harry! I'm not a damsel in distress. I'm not in this because I'm a poor victim of circumstances; I'm in this because I wanted it. When will you finally get into that stubborn head of yours that I love you and will stand by your side until my dying breath?'

He deflated. 'You really mean it, don't you?'

'You bet, Potter.' She sneaked her arms around his neck. 'Look, Harry, you have every right to be angry at me for endangering my cover like I did today. Maybe it was too soon after Rory's birth; I've been an emotional mess ever since I've discovered my pregnancy, and it seems I'm not yet over that. I have problems to maintain my shields and keep a calm countenance.' She raised on her tiptoes to kiss him.

'Harry?'

They both turned their heads to the door, not happy about the interruption.

Hermione stood in the door frame. 'I was worried about you; you jumped up that sudden and stormed out of the library …' Her voice trailed off, and she worried her lower lip between her teeth.

'I'm sorry, Hermione,' Harry said. He turned towards his friend, though he still kept one arm around Daphne. 'You know I was concerned about Daphne this morning, and when I sensed she'd returned home, I ran out of the room to meet her.'

Hermione's eyes became wide. 'You sensed her returning? Oh, it's that Occlumency thing again you don't want to talk about, isn't it?' She gave them an appraising look. 'I'd say there's more about that than you let on, Harry; you've been jumpy all morning long, and your attention definitely was not with Ron and me, but somewhere else.'

Harry gave his friend an indulgent smile. 'Give it a rest, Hermione. You might observe and speculate as much as you like, but keep it to yourself. Daphne and I won't discuss what's between us with you.'

A wave of helpless love for her husband rushed through Daphne. She raised on her toes and gave him a kiss on his cheek. 'Thanks, Harry; you're sweet.'

He gave her his lopsided grin in return and pulled her towards the door. 'Come on, love, you'll have to tell Hermione and Ron what you found out.'

They walked into the house and towards the library, Daphne snuggled against her husband. 'Where is our daughter? Did you put her down for a nap?'

Harry exchanged a grin with Hermione. 'Well, in a way that's true. But see for yourself.' He opened the door to the spacious room that made up the middle wing of the house.

Now, what was this about? Daphne cast a suspicious look at her husband, got only a grin in return, shrugged, and stepped over the threshold.

The walls of the room were covered with bookshelves that held an impressive collection of books about all areas of magic, as well as some fictional works of magical authors, and even some Muggle classics like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Huge windows at the wall on the far side gave pleasant light for reading, and two fireplaces facing each other at the left and the right side of the room made sure it was still a welcoming and warm place for reading in winter.

Her eyes were drawn to the group of comfortable sofas and chairs near the windows.

Ron lay outstretched on one of the sofas, fast asleep, his mouth slightly open.

Daphne scrunched up her nose. How had Harry ever got a wink of sleep in his dorm during the infernal noise Ron made when he was sleeping? Harry's hand on the small of her back propelled her deeper into the room, and she took another look at Ron.

Some caring soul had put an afghan over him. There was a small bump on Ron's chest under the afghan; it was hard to see, he had put one of his large, freckled hands on it, as if to protect it and keep it from sliding from his chest.

She inched closer.

Rory's tiny face peeked out from under the afghan; she lay on her stomach, one cheek pressed against Ron's chest, and her head tucked under his chin. She slept as fast and peaceful as Ron, albeit not as noisily.

A giggle welled up in her. 'How did that happen?' she asked in a low voice.

A grinning Hermione plopped down into an armchair next to the pair on the sofa. Harry sat down in the one opposite of her and pulled Daphne on his lap.

'Well, Harry was nervous all morning long. His thoughts most obviously were elsewhere,' Hermione said with a thoughtful frown at Harry and her. 'When the baby woke up, he took care of her, but wasn't able to calm her down afterwards. I guess she caught on his agitation. I never would've thought that possible, but at one point Ron had enough, took the baby out of Harry's arms, and settled down with her on the sofa. He had her calmed down in a matter of minutes, and she fell asleep on him. Well, Ron can sleep always and everywhere, so the two are napping for quite some time,' Hermione said.

Harry chuckled, and Daphne joined his laughter. 'I wonder how Rory can sleep through the noise he makes.'

'Oh, you get used to it,' Harry said.

'Never!' Daphne and Hermione said unison.

Their eyes met. The laughter that was welling up in Daphne was reflected in Hermione's eyes, though there was also surprise visible about her unexpected agreement with Daphne. The next moment, both witches burst out laughing.

t.b.c.

*Quoted from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows