"So you just . . . took in a child? Hermione! What were you thinking?"
Hermione winced, knowing better than to pull away as her mother checked her for a fever. "Honestly, Mum. What else was I to do? I can't just hand her over to people who might stick her in some terrible place or give her to someone who might hurt her."
She knew the woman had every right to be concerned. Hermione had phoned her in something of a panic, begging her to come over and not ask any questions. And, when she'd answered the door, she was perfectly aware of how tired she looked. Elora'd had her up every few hours to eat, or be changed, or just reach a tiny fist out from her be-spelled cradle and tug at the witch's hair whilst giggling manically like some adorable little gremlin.
"Okay, fine, but you've got to know this is a bad idea." Dahlia Granger shrugged. "Even if this was the right thing to do, you've still got to ask yourself 'what next?' She's safe, now. She's cared for, but you can't just keep a child you found somewhere, Hermione."
"I know, Mum. I've no idea what I'll do tomorrow or the next day. I'm trying to just focus on the day at hand." Hermione gave a shrug of her own, yawning. "I just need you to watch her for a few hours while I meet Draco."
"Can't believe you haven't even told him about this."
"Yes, because my pure-blood wizard boyfriend from the most elitist family in all of Britain would be totally okay and helpful about me taking in an abandoned Muggle infant. He was barely okay with it when he only thought I was watching her for a friend! Besides," she tacked on with an awkward grin, "I thought you wanted a grandchild."
Dahlia scowled. "Look, if some day you and Draco decide to have children, I'd be ecstatic, yes. But this is . . . not at all what I was expecting."
Folding her arms under her breasts, Hermione nodded. "Wait, so you've finally let go of the getting married idea?"
With a pained grin, Dahlia spread her hands in front of her. "Draco's parents already have a . . . unique-enough opinion of Muggles. I hardly think them witnessing the spectacle that is your Aunt Yvonne at any event with an open bar is going to improve future familial relations any."
The witch uttered a surprised laugh at that. But no sooner had she relaxed then did Elora make known that she'd awoken from her nap.
Her expression sobering, Dahlia stood from the corner of the sofa where she'd perched. "So, now, let me see this sweet little bundle who's put those bags under your eyes."
Fenrir grinned. After roving the streets all night, he felt he'd finally picked up a steady thread of the Mudblood's scent. And yes, Frigga's was entwined with hers.
As he neared a Muggle shopfront, he frowned. Dear Merlin, she'd brought his daughter here? Well, time to see what this was about.
He entered the establishment, aware the old man behind the counter was eyeing him warily. Really, it would be fun—and so easy—to dispatch him, but Fenrir knew it wouldn't serve any purpose beyond that.
Nodding and forcing a pleasant smile onto his lips, the werewolf gave himself a moment to determine where her scent had gone in here. She'd been in this place last night. Luckily, this shop didn't have such a high volume of costumers that her scent had been buried.
He followed it across the floor and down an aisle. He wasn't sure what he felt to find himself coming to a halt before a selection of items intended to clean, feed, or dress an infant.
His jaw fell a bit. The Mudblood hadn't stolen his daughter, not knowingly or willfully, anyway—she was taking care of her. He thought she wouldn't realize the threat Frigga posed because born werewolves weren't accounted for in Wizarding texts, but this . . . ? Had she simply stumbled across their hiding place? Could this really have been a coincidence?
Could she really not be aware the child she'd taken in was his?
Backpedaling with a shake of his head, he retreated. Before he knew it, he was back out on the pavement in front of the shop. This was . . . oh, fuck, he didn't even know how to process this.
Anger he was used to. When he'd thought she'd knowingly tracked him and stolen Frigga, he was happy to set aside the possessive streak Hermione Granger had always inspired in him if it meant tearing her limb from limb to get his daughter back. But now? Knowing this?
Smothering a growling sound that was edged with uncertainty, he snapped his head side-to-side, cracking the vertebra in his neck. His rage was dissipating, but now, in it's place, something he couldn't quite identify was growing.
Something sparked by the thought of her, this witch he'd wanted from the moment he'd met her, mothering his child . . . .
Whatever this feeling might be, she was still only that—a witch. Not one of their kind, and Frigga still posed a threat she couldn't possibly understand.
His broad shoulders drooped as he returned to searching for their scents among the tangle of smells out in the open city streets. If he didn't find them before tomorrow night's moon, he'd have to hide somewhere, himself, until it passed—he'd never get close enough to them if he called attention to himself with a full moon slaughter in the witch's own neighborhood.
Hide, and pray that, as young as she was, his daughter retained the first, simplest lesson he'd been trying to teach her. For her own protection.
And—now—for the Mudblood's.
"You're joking! You're still babysitting?"
Hermione tipped her head back and sighed as she walked beside Draco through Diagon Alley, their hands clasped. Mum had fallen into little bits of overprotective love the moment she'd looked into the cradle. Not that the younger woman could very well blame her. Elora had been sitting up, her tumble of gleaming jet curls spilling all over the place, and those enormous dark eyes of her blinking up at them.
The woman who'd been so stern moments earlier devolved almost entirely into a series of cooing noises and infantile giggles as she scooped Elora right up, as though the child had been the thing missing from her hip since Hermione'd outgrown being carried around like that.
Then, just as she found herself smiling at the scene the pair made, Mum snapped her head right around to lock her gaze on her daughter's.
"Just this once!"
"Oh!" Hermione's eyes shot wide as she reached over, righting a wrinkle in the sleeve of the baby's sleepshirt. "I'll try not to ask for anymore help unless I really—"
"I meant . . . ." With a light shrug, Dahlia's expression softened. "Until you get this situation with her sorted. If you find some way to keep her—legally—then you'd better call me for frequent babysitting."
She met Draco's gaze fleetingly. "Technically my mother is babysitting. And unfortunately, I . . . I haven't heard back from Elora's mum." Well, that was sort of true, if she neglected to mention that she'd never spoken to the woman in the first place, and didn't even know who she was. "I knew when I agreed to watch her that it might be a while. Family emergencies can be tricky that way. Muggles can't just Apparrate all over the place, you know. When they have to go from one place to another, it's actually quite time consuming."
When she stopped for a breath, Draco pulled her to a halt. Using his hand on hers, he turned her to face him. "Little bundle of non-magical joy had you up all night, didn't she?"
She couldn't help but snicker as she shook her head. She hated lying to him, but if she confided in him and then she got in trouble for this, he could get in trouble just for knowing about it and not doing . . . well, something.
Her brows pinched together as she asked, "How can you tell?"
He sighed. "Because you only do that thing where you talk so fast your words run together when you're excited or very, very tired."
The witch pursed her lips as she watched him lift her hand to his mouth, brushing a kiss along her knuckles. "You know me so well, don't you?"
Draco's pale eyes rolled in thought while he nodded. "I do, don't I? It's almost as though I'm your boyfriend, or something."
She smiled as they started walking, again. "Can we stop by the bookshop?"
Chuckling, he said, "Don't we always?"
"No, no. I mean . . . I'd like to see what sort of books they have that I can read to Elora. I mean, they'd be Wizarding fairytales rather than Muggle ones, but some of them carry over."
"Sure. I suppose that makes sense. How long do you think you might have her?"
Hermione bit the inside of her lip as she made a thoughtful humming sound. Bloody hell, he was going to push her into making up details about this imaginary friend, though she supposed a story about that imaginary friend simply walking away from her life would have to be created eventually, anyway, if any of this was to work.
"Not sure. Possibly a few days. Depends on how her mother's flights—Muggle air transport, I've told you 'bout that before?"
"I remember, Granger."
"Right, well, depends on what's going on and what sort of travel she can arrange for. Might actually be a few days." She ignored an uneasy quiver in the pit of her stomach. "Why?"
"I thought maybe we could . . . do something together. The three of us. I mean, if she's still with you this weekend."
A curious, if uncertain, smile curving her lips, this time it was Hermione who pulled him to a halt. Pivoting to stand in front of him, she asked again, "Why?"
The wizard shrugged. "Well, I know I wasn't very helpful last night, but then I got to thinking about it. We always talk about the future. What if we have children, what if we don't? What if we . . . go on a murder spree and have to live on the run?"
She shook her finger at him. "Told you that last one is a possibility only if you make me attend another Sunday brunch with your parents."
Draco chuckled shaking his head. "Anyway, what I was saying was if someday, we do decide to have children, we could sort of treat the day like a test run."
Unable to help herself, Hermione threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. "Back in Hogwarts I'd never have imagined you could be so sweet!"
Laughing harder, he returned her embrace. "Think if you'd told me back in Hogwarts that I'd grow up to be this 'sweet', as you call it, I'd have just laid there and let that bleeding curse kill me."
Pulling back, she slapped his chest. "You're ridiculous. But it's a great idea. I love it." Maybe, just maybe, if he ended up as enamored of the child as she and her mother already were, he wouldn't be quite so upset with her if the truth came out at some point.
She didn't want it to come to that, ever, but she also knew she couldn't give up Elora. Just a day and a half that little girl had been in her life, and already she had hooks in the witch's heart.
"I should get home early tonight. I did sort of drop this on my mum. She might not have the energy."
Draco winced as he started walked them toward Flourish and Blotts, once more. "Your mother run ragged and helpless as the baby runs . . . crawls amok about your flat? I'm loathe to think on what you're going to find when you get there."
As though the fates, themselves, had been listening, when Hermione returned from Diagon Alley, loaded down with baby books and age-appropriate toys—both Muggle and Wizarding—she found her mother asleep on the sofa. Her head tipped back against the cushion, her mouth was open in a series of soft snores.
Elora was cradled on her lap, dozing as well, but starting to stir. For a moment, she wondered if somehow the baby'd sensed she was back.
Smiling, she set down her bags and crossed the floor. She scooped the child into her arms, moving carefully so as not to jostle her mum awake.
"Hello, little lady. Did you miss me?"
She'd take the giggle and the way Elora mushed her cheeks with her tiny hands as a yes.
"Mum?" she started softly. "Mum? I'm home."
Dahlia blinked rapidly a few times as she lifted her head. "Wha—? I'm up! I'm . . . oh, Hermione. How was your night?"
Smirking, Hermione started swaying, rocking Elora on her hip as she spoke. "Pretty nice, actually. Got a bunch of books and other fun things for this little one." She noticed her mother's expression, the way Dahlia's brows pinched together as she watched the two of them together. "What is it, Mum?"
Dahlia smiled, blinking again, this time to keep some tears at bay. Her daughter had no idea how beautiful a moment this seemed.
"Nothing, I just . . . I think I was wrong."
Her mother's grin only widened as she said, "This. I don't know how, but I think you should try to make this—make you and Elora—work."
Hermione hadn't even realized she'd been so invested in that thought, already, until Dahlia had said that. Sniffling, she felt tears well in her own eyes as she nodded.
If there was a way to make this work out, she would find it.