Bellatrix Lestrange looked older and less polished than the stunning dark beauty Hermione had seen in one of the portraits on the south gallery, but it was unmistakably her.
"Mrs Lestrange," she said by way of greeting, relieved to find her voice steady. "Had we known you were coming, we would not have gone out. Were you offered anything to drink?"
The woman let out a roar of laughter that sent a shiver down Hermione's back. "You have nerve, girl. I'll give you that." She circled Hermione, looking her up and down with piercing dark eyes. "To think that I should be offered a refreshment in my sister's house by the likes of you."
Hermione saw Dobbson — who had followed a few days after them — stop at the door and quietly retreat.
"Maybe you'd prefer to talk to Dra—"
"Oh no, little girl, my business is with you." She was standing too close now, and Hermione resisted the urge to put some space between them. "I don't know who you think you are, but I won't have this family's good name besmirched by some clever little hussy whose only accomplishment was to spread her legs and pop out a brat that may not even be my nephew's."
Hermione balled up her hands into fists, digging her nails into her palms, trying to keep breathing and trying to remain calm. There were many things that kept her up at night, but this horrid, rude, entitled harpy would not be one of them. She didn't care whose aunt she was.
"Ma'am," she said, because she'd been brought up to respect her elders, even elders such as she, "I think it's best if you just wait for your nephew to come down and have this conversation with him." She made to move away, but Bellatrix grabbed her arm, fingers like claws digging into her.
"You'll go when I give you leave to do so." Hermione tried to shake her arm free, but the woman tightened the grip. "You and I are going to have a nice little chat about what will happen if you don't take that bastard of yours and disappear."
"And what would that be, Aunt?" Draco walked in, carrying Scorpius, Dobbson two steps behind him. Bellatrix let go of Hermione, her gaze focusing on the baby.
"So that's the little mongrel," she said, taking a step towards him, but Hermione stepped between them.
"That's close enough." Every instinct she had was screaming at her to keep that despicable woman away from her kid.
"You'll let this woman talk to me like this?" Bellatrix's face was a grimace, her voice shrill and indignant. "In this house? My sister's house?"
"All things considered, I think she's shown incredible restraint."
"You've always been an ungrateful, spoilt brat, but I thought you had better sense than this. To let some nobody con you with the oldest trick in the book. Have you no shame? No respect for the family name? Are you so bent on destroying everything your parents left you that you'll stoop this low? My poor sister must be rolling in her grave."
"That's quite enough." Hermione hadn't even noticed she was moving until Bellatrix backed away, as surprised as she was. "You are not welcome here. Dobbson, show her out."
"How dare you?" Bellatrix took another step towards her, but Hermione stood her ground. "Who do you think you are? You're the flavour of the month, girl, and you're a fool if you think otherwise."
"Aunt, get out."
"Ma'am, if you would—"
The sound of the slap echoed in the room, and Scorpius started to cry. Her nails left ugly scratch marks on Dobbson's face.
"Remember your place, lackey. Next time you touch me, I'll claw your eyes out."
"Hermione, take the baby," Draco said, but Hermione was too worked up even to hear. There was nothing she could do about Skeeter, or the tabloids, or the fact that she was so behind on her school work she wanted to cry, but she would be damned if she was going to put up with that inexcusable behaviour for one moment more.
"Get the hell out of this house," she said, shoving Bellatrix with both hands. "He won't hit you back, but I will, so don't even try me, you fucking bitch."
Bellatrix's smile was maniac and mad and terrifying. "Oh my, the kitten has claws. Think they are any match to mine? See how well he likes you when I've cut your pretty face into ribbons."
She lunged towards Hermione, but the contact never came.
Bellatrix went flying through the air, hitting the ground with a thud, and everyone turned towards the other end of the room where two robed figures stood, wands aimed at the fallen woman. Hermione's heart dropped and all the anger and adrenaline left her, leaving only panic in their place.
Other Draco put away his wand, shaking his head.
"If I had used that on a Muggle, you'd have had my head for it."
Other Hermione stared at Bellatrix's still form, her expression dark and stormy. "For her, I'm making an exception."
Hermione crossed to where Draco was, away from them, away from that woman, who fought wars and could do magic and wore her face. She held out her hands for Scorpius, who went to her as he always did — trusting and happy and unaware that she wasn't the real thing, just a lesser copy.
Draco's hand was warm and steady on the small of her back, a familiar, comforting gesture that couldn't change a thing.
"You found her," he said to the other Draco, whose smile was bright and triumphant and a little smug.
"I said I would, didn't I?"
Other Hermione walked up to her with slow, deliberate steps, her gaze never leaving Scorpius, who looked in amazement at the two sets of parents that were suddenly in the room. She raised a hand to touch the baby and hesitated, dropping it again.
"I never thought I'd see him again," she said with a strained smile. "I thought they'd kill me well before that." Other Hermione's gaze met Hermione's and it was like looking in a mirror that was just a little off. "I thought they'd kill me and my child would be all alone. I wasn't sure whether Draco had made it out. Everything that happened at Gringotts was such a blur, and I wasn't sure— And even if he had made it out, I knew he was just mad enough to come after me and get himself killed."
Other Draco chuckled, draping an arm over her shoulders and kissing her temple. "It takes more than a few curses to take down a Malfoy."
Other Hermione shot him a look that was part reproach and part amusement, and all affection. "Nothing they did to me," she continued, crossing her arms over her chest, "was worse than the thought he might be alone. That we'd be gone, and he'd be waiting for us, and we'd never come back, and he wouldn't understand why." She was crying now, and Hermione wished she could too. "So I want you to understand that when I say I have no words to express how grateful I am that you took him in, I really mean that." Hermione nodded, unable to reply. She didn't want her gratitude. The one thing she wanted from her, she couldn't have. "May I?" Other Hermione asked in a voice that sounded almost, but not quite like hers, holding out her hands towards the baby in her arms.
And Hermione didn't want to let go. She didn't want to give him up to this woman who'd just take him away. Her arms tightened around the baby and the thought crossed her mind that she could just hold on. She could just hold on and keep him there. Somehow. It was a mad, fleeting thought, and she knew better. He wasn't hers. She'd known that all along. Hermione kissed his temple, memorising the way he smelled, the way he felt on her arms, committing him to memory.
"Goodbye, my darling," she said, her voice thick with tears.
Draco wrapped his arms around them both and for a moment time seemed to stand still, and then it was over all too soon.
Draco let go, and Hermione did too, handing Scorpius over to his parents — the real ones, the ones he belonged with. And if Hermione hated them just a little bit, she could live with that.
"Thank you," Other Hermione said, her smile bright even through the tears. "Really. Thank you."
Hermione nodded in acknowledgement, crossing her arms to stop from reaching for the baby. He wasn't hers. He had never been hers. And now the time had come for him to go home.
"Would you like me to handle her?" Other Draco pointed at Bellatrix with a look of distaste on his face.
"Yes," her Draco said without bothering to ask what exactly that entailed. Other Draco pointed his wand at the woman, whispering, "Obliviate," followed by something else Hermione did not catch, and Bellatrix disappeared, leaving nothing behind to show she had ever been there, save for the marks on Dobbson's face.
For his part, the butler remained as unflappable as ever. He had too often witnessed Scorpius's disregard for the law of gravity to be terribly shocked by the fact that there were now two of his employer.
"We have to go," Other Draco said, an arm thrown protectively around Other Hermione's shoulders. "We can never thank you enough for your help."
"We really can't," Other Hermione said.
Hermione could say nothing to this, could say nothing at all. Her heart was breaking and all she could do was stare as they disappeared. The last thing she saw was Scorpius's smiling face.
The silence stretched in the large drawing room and Hermione could not even cry, because if she started, she'd never stop. She focused instead on her breathing, counting the breaths, focusing on that one mechanical thing. Dobbson discreetly left and it was just her and Draco, and neither of them had any words left. And Hermione did not even know what it meant for them. She didn't know what they were anymore, now that Scorpius wasn't there.
"I—" She cleared her throat. "I'm going to put his things away." That was good. That was a practical thing that she could do. "We should let everyone know." They hadn't even got to say goodbye — Ron, and Harry, and Ginny, and everyone else who'd played with, and taken care of, and babysat Scorpius all those weeks — and she couldn't think about that either. There was just so much heartbreak she could take.
"I'll call them." Draco's tone was even and detached, his movements steady as he reached for his phone.
Hermione nodded and made for the door, her mind on auto-pilot. One step in front of the other. Keep breathing. And whatever you do, don't cry.
She was almost at the door when a loud crash made her swing around. Draco had smashed his phone against the wall and was now staring at its shattered remains, his shoulders shaking, his hands balled into fists. And Hermione — who had almost made it to the door without shedding a single tear, who had almost managed to keep herself together long enough to fall apart in solitude — she crossed the room back to him, tears falling down her face and sobs rising in her throat. She threw her arms around him and hid her face on his chest, trying to muffle the violence of a grief that she couldn't choke back anymore.
Draco didn't move for a moment, and then he wrapped his shaking arms around her and buried his face on her neck, holding her tight enough to hurt, but she didn't want him to let go. Right then, he was the only thing keeping her from falling into a pile on the floor.
They stayed like that for a very long time, clinging to each other, taking what comfort they could from one another.
"Come on," Draco said after a while, grabbing her hand and pulling her after him.
"My father's study. That's where all the good booze is."
"Alcohol is a terrible coping mechanism," she said, following anyway. Her therapist would not approve.
"Yes, it is," he agreed. "Tomorrow we'll find a better one. Today we're getting drunk."
And so they drank well into the night, sitting by the fire in Lucius Malfoy's old study, Hermione nestled in Draco's lap. She wasn't sure whether the alcohol helped or not, but she was glad of the company and of the contact. She was glad of the warm, familiar arms around her. She was glad of the lips ghosting over her temple, of the soft breath on her skin.
"You should stay," Draco said, fingers trailing up and down her arm. "At Bradford House. You should stay."
"I don't think Blaise would approve."
"Promise him you'll keep bringing Lovegood around and he might just ask you to move in himself."
Hermione chuckled. She tilted her face up to look at him and Draco kissed her nose.
"Ask me again tomorrow," she said. "When you're sober. Ask me again tomorrow."
They were silent for a few seconds and then Hermione asked, "If there's an infinite number of us in an infinite number of universes, do you think he exists in more of them?"
Draco tightened his arms around her. "I hope so."
She hoped so too.
AN: That's all folks! I hope you enjoyed the story :) Thank you so much for all the favourites, and follows, and reviews. I suck at replying to them, but please know that I appreciate every single one of them. You always make my day :)