Chapter Seven

"Careful," Hermione said over her shoulder as she popped out of Apparation, her hand on Lucius' arm to take him sidealong, since he'd never been there, before. Appearing in her parent's very-Muggle home, she knew, without so much as a glance in his direction, that he was making a sour face before he even took in his surroundings. "You sneer any harder and you might injure yourself."

She'd have preferred to come in through the front door, but she did have some nosy neighbors. The witch didn't want to imagine what they'd think about her bringing an older, oddly dressed gentleman into her parents' house while they were 'vacationing.'

Clearing his throat awkwardly as she dropped her hand from his arm, he shook his head. "My apologies, Miss Granger, I didn't realize."

She shrugged while she made her way through the living room and toward the staircase. "You really need to have a long chat with yourself sometime, then."

His brow furrowing—he could swear she was suggesting that he was rude and should see to that—he fought to keep his face clear of any expression as he followed after her. It wasn't even the—the utter Muggle-ness of the home that caused him to think another unpleasant look might tinge his features.

It was that now, knowing what he did of her true identity, it felt so terribly wrong that she'd been raised here, among this, rather than in the Wizarding world. Though, he did imagine that had she been raised by any branch of the Rosier clan, she would not have the compassionate streak that had allowed her to feel sympathy toward himself and Draco, especially after all his family had put her through.

Upstairs, she went directly across the floor to the room at the end. He trailed behind her, but an open doorway caught his attention rather without his intent.

Frowning, he leaned into the entryway and peered inside. The books lining every available surface—volumes he recognized from the Hogwarts curriculum, among them—told him this was Miss Granger's room. Curious in spite of himself, he took a step inside. While he imagined she was likely a much tidier person under normal circumstances, the stress of the last few weeks saw to drawers being left open, and all manner of articles of clothing strewn about the floor and bed.

He felt a bundle of something under the toe of his shoe. Frowning, he moved his foot and reached down to pick up the item. He wasn't entirely certain what it was. Turning it in his hand, he tried to make sense of the bit of lace and satin . . . .

Wait . . . . No. The color drained from his face as he wondered if this thing that resembled a frilly eyepatch might not be—

"Mr. Malfoy!"

The way he pivoted on his heel to face her, the accursed item still in his raised hand, was purely reactionary. Her shrill tone, along with the furious bloom of color in her cheeks as she saw what he held, told him that yes, this was exactly what he'd thought.

Muggle undergarments.

Miss Granger's Muggle undergarments.

Oh, where the bloody hell was a rock to crawl under when he needed one?

"I . . . I suppose this appears dreadfully inappropriate," he said, looking uncharacteristically helpless as he stared back at her.

Her brows shot up, her glare hardening by the moment.

"In my defense, Miss Granger, I did not realize what they were when I picked them up."

"Oh?" Stepping uncomfortably close to his person, she reached out, snatching the little bundle of fabric from his hand. "So, simply . . . curious were you?"

He swallowed hard, nodding as he watched her move past him and cross the room to toss the troublesome item into one of the open bureau drawers. "Yes, yes. I assure you, I meant no harm nor invasion or privacy; I was simply curious."

"Well, then you should be careful, Mr. Malfoy." She looked over her shoulder at him, speaking as she slammed the drawer shut, "We all know what curiosity did to that poor cat."

Now it was his turn for his brows to shoot up as he nodded in reply. "Noted."

Turning, she looked around her room. God, she really had been out of sorts the last few weeks. And she was still wearing her clothes from yesterday . . . .

With a sigh, she softened her expression and returned her attention to Lucius. "Um, would you mind stepping out into the corridor for a few moments? And close the door, please?"

The witch didn't have to ask twice, he backpedaled the moment the last word left her lips. Turning his back toward the room, he blindly grabbed the knob to pull the door shut behind him.

Once alone in her room, Hermione let out a breath. Laughing to herself, she shook her head. But then, the scene she'd stumbled on played through her mind again. She felt a strange, unexpected flutter in the pit of her stomach.

"Oh, God," she whispered, slapping her fingers against her suddenly, furiously blushing cheeks. "Lucius Malfoy was holding my knickers!"

Sparing a moment to wave her hands near her face in a flimsy, anxious attempt to cool her burning skin, she told herself—adamantly—that she was only in such a state because she was embarrassed.

No different than if she'd caught any other wizard holding a piece of her intimate apparel.

No . . . no different at all, she affirmed with a nod.

"Here we go," she said, backing out of her mum's personal closet on her knees, a heavy metal lockbox in her hands.

Her voice—rather shamefully, he told himself in a scolding tone—snapped him to attention just in time. There was a . . . well, there was a chance that as she'd been crawling about in there, rooting around for the box she now held, his gaze had swept downward. A chance that he had started to wonder if that style of undergarment was actually comfortable for her. Were they all that style?

Did that mean she was wearing something like that right now?

He was beyond relieved that she'd spoken up before turning around. After that first incident, he really didn't know what she'd make of catching him with his gaze fastened to her bottom.

She shifted in his direction, and her face fell.

For a moment, a flicker of panic wound through him that he'd still done something to give away the focus of his attention a scant few seconds ago, until she said, "Oh, for pity's sake. Please sit down somewhere, Mr. Malfoy. You're making me nervous hovering like that."

Clearing his throat, he nodded. He glanced about the room, before choosing to seat himself on the very corner of her parents' bed, nearest her. The way he was perched didn't look at all comfortable, in fact it appeared incredibly awkward.

Wincing, Hermione shook her head. "I'm not sure that's any better, but all right." Settling cross-legged on the floor in front of him, she set down the box and tapped the lock with her wand.

At the metallic clicking sound that followed, she frowned, shaking her head. "I don't exactly enjoy the thought of invading my parents privacy . . . . God, I don't know if I can even still call them that."

Lucius sighed, his shoulders drooping a little. "They did raise you, did they not?"

She nodded, ignoring the sudden sensation of the tip of her nose stinging and the irritating dampness in her eyes.

"And do you believe they loved you as though you were their own?"

Again, she nodded, this time blinking a few times to keep those pesky, unwanted tears at bay.

A small, sympathetic half-smile curved one corner of his mouth. "Then of course you should still call them your parents, Miss Granger. To them, you were certainly their child."

Her entire frame seemed to crumble as she shook her head. "But they lied to me."

The wizard shrugged, momentarily flicking his gaze about the room before returning his attention to her. "Perhaps they simply didn't know how to tell you."

Sniffling, she nodded once more. "You're probably right. I only wish I could give you the same assurance about Narcissa's reasons for keeping it from you."

"As do I."

"Does it help at all that she did it to protect a child?"

At the tremor in the young woman's voice, Lucius arched a brow. "You are determined to make yourself cry again, aren't you?"

Hermione snickered in spite of herself. "I know it seems that way, but I actually hate crying. Okay, okay, you're right. Back to this." Clearing her throat, she returned her attention to the box before her.

Lucius observed in silence as she lifted back the lid and started picking through the papers and envelopes inside. She was meticulous in her search, leaving nothing unchecked. But with each envelope she closed and set aside, each paper that yielded no answers, the more she seemed to shrink into herself.

"Perhaps they disposed of the documentation?" he offered after some time, trying to seem helpful, though he knew the suggestion was likely the last thing she wanted to hear.

"Not Doctors Granger." She frowned thoughtfully, though she was starting to see the bottom of the box. "If there were any kind of problem, they'd want to prove I was 'legally' their child. I was . . . . Hullo . . . ."

Shuffling aside the smaller documents atop the faded and dusty manila envelope that seemed the very last thing in the box, she blinked a few times in rapid succession before she pushed herself to turn it over and open it. Easing the paperwork gently from the slit, she read the business address on the first page. "Brubaker Family Agency? Never heard of it. And . . . oh, Lord, the agency fees alone! That's a hefty sum."

Lucius rose from the bed to settle beside her on the floor. Taking the packet from her hands, he continued to look it over for her. "Female child, approximately two years of age. Well, I have trouble believing this next part, as we learned last night, you were a fairly articulate toddler."

Her brows pinched together. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you would've been able to tell your name to whomever was handling your adoption, and Muggles have a way of verifying these things, I assume?"

She barked out a laugh at that. "Of course! They're not cave people, Mr. Malfoy."

"Exactly, yet it says here 'birth name unknown. Notation: Child addresses herself as Jean, possibly of French parentage based on her pronunciation of the name.'"

"Maybe I was traumatized and Jean was all I could remember? It probably didn't help that Muggles wouldn't have access to records of a pure-blood child's birth. Even if they had, I didn't exactly fit Jean-Anne Rosier's description at that time. It doesn't seem that out of the ordinary, yet I can't help but feel like those are odd details to include for a formal legal adoption."

He spoke as he continued overlooking the papers. "At what point did we truly believe this was legal? But you missed my point. You were a close family relation of a known Death Eater, and the only surviving member of the British branch of your family aside from Evan. If the Ministry had caught wind of Muggles finding a child with your name, they would have sent someone to investigate the matter and dispose of any information the responsible parties had about you. You have to remember Potter remaining hidden for so long was due to Dumbledore's direct interference."

She sighed, the sound no more than a miserable puff of air. That hadn't occurred to her. "I suppose you're right."

"I do enjoy hearing that. However, this is precisely what you're looking for, is it not? We still don't know what . . . ." He stopped cold, his grey eyes widening a little.

Hermione very much did not like that. "Mr. Malfoy?"

"This reads that you were brought to the agency as an abandoned child. Whereabouts of parents or other family members unknown."

"What?" Unable to help herself, she snatched the papers from his hands to read the words for herself. Furrowing her brow, she shook her head. "That doesn't seem to make sense. Of all the rubbish reasons they could've put on there, why abandonment? I mean, all right, how I ended up out of the care of whoever was seeing me to my relatives in the first place is a mystery, for sure. But . . . you were there last night, you saw how much Narcissa cared for me, and we both know she shared your distaste for Muggles. She would never have entrusted me to anyone she thought might do something like give me to Muggles, or leave me on my own. She would've made certain that I was safely on my way."

He shook his head, his expression pensive. "I knew she'd arranged transport for you, but that was the extent of my knowledge and the last I'd heard of you. I don't believe your uncle knew anything had gone wrong, either. He was in Azkaban following the First War, and your family likely would have avoided contact with him to prevent seeming as though they were in collusion with a war criminal. Naturally, I assumed you arrived in France and that Narcissa simply had no desire to discuss the matter because she wanted to focus her motherly attention on Draco. I had no idea until last night that she'd hidden you in plain sight before sending you away, let alone that she'd been so elaborate about it. It's stupidly evident something occurred and that it must've happened while you were in-transit. Obviously, whatever transpired, you didn't make it very far." His voice was hollow, and Hermione couldn't say she blamed him.

Forcing a gulp down her throat, she tried her best to reason out what had probably gone on. "So, we've known this whole time things didn't go as planned, whatever that plan was. There must've been an accident, something that was upsetting enough that I couldn't fully recall my own name. And I was just . . . what? I was left alone and snatched up by some random passerby? My family, the ones who were expecting me, they probably contacted Narcissa. Children don't just go missing, Mr. Malfoy. People take them, things happen to them." She pursed her lips, blinking hard. "The Rosiers likely thought I died as a result of whatever went wrong. Narcissa must've believed Jean-Anne was dead all this time. She probably felt responsible. For seventeen years she was carrying that weight with her; that might've been why she couldn't talk about what happened."

"Miss Granger?"

"Hmm?" She lifted her gaze to meet his.

"You're crying."

Granting him a trembly-lipped grin, she laughed. "So are you."

Lucius gave himself a shake as he touched his fingers to his skin. Certain enough, a tear had rolled down his cheek.

"Yes, well," he said with a clearing of his throat as he wiped at his face with the corner of his cloak, "I will not tell anyone if you won't."

Nodding, she wiped at her own tears half-heartedly. "Your secret is safe with me."

"Well, Miss Granger, you have the proof you were adopted, though I hardly think you needed it for more than peace of mind. What next?"

A lopsided frown tugged at her lips. "These are the sort of answers that lead to more questions. I suppose I could go find the Grangers, break the charm on their memories—"

"You intend to—?"

Hermione cut him off with a shocked gasp. "Of course not!" They both understood memory charms enough—more than enough, actually—to know the only way to break them was through intense torture. She should hope he would not think she was suggesting any such thing. She might be angry with them, but good Lord.

After a moment of letting her nerves settle from the very thought, she put the documents back in their envelope. "I placed a modified charm on them, one that can be broken with a simple—but specific—disenchantment incantation. It's not something anyone could simply trip over or say by accident. But I don't think I want to do that. I'm furious with them for keeping this from me, but . . . you're right. They loved me, I know they did. It's obvious my adoption was a sham. There's every chance these people conned the Grangers to squeeze those so-called agency fees out of them, but if that's not what happened? If they actually knew and allowed this?"

Lucius remained silent, perfectly aware she was speaking rhetorically.

She waved the bulky envelope in display. "Or they found me and drew up these documents, themselves, to cover their tracks? I'm not sure I want to know that. It'll destroy everything I remember about my time with them. I love the memories I have with them. I'd rather remember them that way by imagining they had no idea I was basically stolen and sold to them, than have my last memory of my parents be some sad revelation I really don't want to hear."

He nodded, his expression sympathetic. Though, he couldn't truly say he understood how she was feeling, so he supposed feigned sympathy, or attempted sympathy, perhaps, was as much as it could be called. "So I ask again, what next?"

Pulling herself to sit up straight, she squared her shoulders and held up the agency paperwork. "Next? We see what we can find out about this Brubaker Agency."

Climbing to his feet, he offered her a hand up. "Lead the way."