"Well, that's the absolute last time I marry a Boy-Who-Lived groupie."
Hermione smiled at her best friend in commiseration and placed a bottle of twenty year old firewhiskey and two glasses on the table between them.
"You know it wasn't that simple," she said gently, "don't beat yourself up."
Harry's divorce was final. Six months in the making, officially, though she believed it had actually been building for years. And now it was over, just like that, with a few swishes of quill against parchment, a life together was undone, and three days before their second son's first birthday. That was going to be the most awkward party ever.
"I know," he agreed, "but I should have seen it sooner. I just wanted it to work so badly." His green eyes pleaded for her to understand.
She sighed. It wasn't the first time they'd had this discussion; Merlin would he ever stop blaming himself for everything?
"I know you did Harry, but you deserve to be happy, really happy," she soothed.
She would never tell Harry about the not-so-small part of her that was relieved that his marriage to Ginny Potter- née Weasley- was finished. If Harry had been truly happy with her that would have been one thing, but he hadn't been, and she'd had to sit back largely silent and watch her best friend be miserable while pretending for the world that all was well. She wondered when the universe was going to give this amazing wizard a break.
But her reasons for being relieved were selfish as well, because Ginny's jealousy had been out of control and it had put a strain on her own relationship with Harry. While she and Harry loved each other immensely it had always been a love between siblings. She could speak eloquently and at length about him and the kind of man that he was. She could even objectively admit that he had turned into a very handsome wizard. She simply wasn't attracted to him in that way. She was and had always been his best friend, there had been nothing for Ginny to find threatening; or so she thought.
It had taken years for her to explain to herself the tension that had arisen, seemingly out of nowhere, following the war. Ginny had a quick temper and a sharp tongue but she also had an excellent poker face and she kept her own counsel. However, Hermione was nothing if not persistent and she eventually figured it out.
As many times as Ginny had made a not-so-veiled insinuation about Hermione's intentions towards Harry, she didn't truly believe that they were sleeping together. She just thought the allegation was the quickest way to drive a wedge between them. Because in all of Ginny's dreams about growing up and marrying Harry Potter she'd never once considered that she'd have to share the spotlight with another woman.
Though Hermione didn't like it anymore than Harry did, she was almost as famous as he was. A member of the legendary Golden Trio and the brightest witch of her age to boot, she'd had an almost meteoric rise through the ranks at the Ministry. Even her blood status seemed to be another source of fascination for a lot of people which garnered her a certain amount of media attention. For whatever reason, when she spoke people listened. It didn't help that Harry wasn't shy about giving her credit for her work during the war. That he emphasized in interviews that he never would have succeeded without her. As a result she was almost as closely associated with Harry as Ginny was. And given Ginny's busy schedule and the fact that she was often traveling as a professional quidditch player, Harry and Hermione were often seen out together without her. Rumors that they were having an affair ran rampant.
Harry had fought hard to keep the marriage intact. Hermione was pretty sure that their second child was a result of that. And he even retreated from his relationship with Hermione in an attempt to ease the tension. But in the end it had simply been too much for his wife to bear.
"Why couldn't you and I have just fallen in love?" Harry's voice interrupted her musings, and if she didn't know for a fact that he was atrocious at mind magicks she would have wondered if he'd suddenly developed a gift for legilimency given that statement's relevance to her current thoughts.
She met his eyes and smiled softly. "That's a lovely thought except..."
"It's also pretty gross?" He finished, his face splitting into the first real smile she'd seen in weeks.
"Exactly," she agreed chuckling, "practically incestuous."
She then poured them each a couple of fingers of the firewhiskey. Harry was usually a butterbeer kind of guy but in the aftermath of the war, amid all the celebrations, he'd developed a taste for good firewhiskey on special occasions. She thought this qualified. She pushed his across the table towards him and raised her own.
"To life," she said simply.
"To life," he agreed saluting her with his glass and downing it all in one go.
She sipped on hers but pushed the bottle towards him. He shook his head.
"I'd like to, but I have to be clear headed for the boys."
"Did you really think I was planning on leaving you alone tonight?" She asked incredulously, "if you'd like to, go ahead. Get good and drunk if that's what you need. I think the occasion more than calls for it. I'll be here if the boys need anything and tomorrow I'll take them out for some special Aunt Hermione time. You can sleep, or yell and throw things, or whatever you need to do. I think you deserve at least a day to, I don't know…mourn."
He looked at her, eyes wide and grateful.
"You really are the best you know," he said, almost reverently, and stood up to lean over the table to kiss her on the cheek.
"Of course I am," she agreed with a teasing smile, trying to lighten the mood a bit.
"Open a bottle of wine and have another drink with me, I know how you really feel about firewhiskey," he ordered playfully.
"Yes sir, Auror Potter!" She chirped teasingly, with a little salute as she moved towards the door of Grimmauld Place's wine cellar. Because he was right, she wasn't really a fan of the liquor.
She ended up in Harry's bed that night after his slightly intoxicated plea not to make him sleep alone; he fully dressed and she in the t-shirt and boxers that she'd nicked once he was snoring away. It was the sort of comfort she hadn't been able to grant him for years. Weasley jealousy in various forms had been a huge factor in their interactions for too long. She had missed the simplicity of their friendship from their Hogwarts days.
The next morning she got James and Albus up, dressed, and out the door. She even allowed each boy to press a sloppy kiss to their father's forehead without the wizard in question even stirring. After a morning in muggle London the trio passed through the Leaky Cauldron and then through the portal to Diagon Alley.
James had begged for a trip to his Uncle George's shop, and as a reward for good behavior Hermione had agreed to take them. She needed to restock her potions ingredients anyway and this was a good opportunity to do so. She generally avoided Diagon Alley but she would do anything for these children, so she figured that she might as well take advantage of James' request and get a practical errand out of the way.
"Uncle George!" James bellowed as soon as they walked into the eye watering display that was Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes.
Albus just squealed in concert with his brother from his perch strapped to Hermione's chest.
"James," Hermione admonished, though she didn't know why she bothered, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.
"My two favorite nephews," George yelled in response, all the way from the back of the shop.
Hermione rolled her eyes. He loved this game and he'd never discourage either of them from walking into his place of business and screaming for him like banshees.
"And the lovely Miss Granger," he greeted her with a smile, once he had gotten much closer.
"Hello George," she said with a fond smile in return as Albus bounced and swung his little limbs, kicking her furiously in response to the sight of the man who clearly was his favorite uncle.
He extended his arms and lifted him out of his carrier, giving her a reprieve from the baby's excitement.
"Ange is upstairs with Freddie and Roxy if you'd like to go seem them," he told her.
"And leave the three of you unsupervised?" She asked archly.
"You wound me Granger," he said, laying one hand over his heart and staggering around theatrically, "I have two kids of my own, and these are my two favorite-"
"Only," she interrupted.
"Favorite," he reiterated, "nephews. Would I let them get into anything dangerous?"
"Maybe not," she shot back, "but you'd definitely give them things to make a whole lot of trouble, which you think is their birthright as the grandsons of a Marauder."
He just gave her a patented Weasley Twin Grin. It was a look that, as an adolescent, used to infuriate her because it meant rule breaking. But now she understood. The twins had enjoyed making mischief but they'd never wanted to create any real trouble. They just wanted to make people happy.
Sure, some of their methods left something to be desired- she would never condone testing on first years, for example- but they weren't malicious. And right now his smile was a plea to trust him. He loved making people smile and while James and Albus were much too young to understand the impact that their parents' divorce would have on their lives, that didn't negate their loving uncle's desire to make them happy on this day, of all days. And given that she was a surrogate aunt who had spent the day spoiling them herself, she couldn't deny him.
"Okay, I'm actually going to pop over to the apothecary's to replenish some of my supplies, it's probably better if I do that without these two," she cocked her head in the kids' direction.
"Alright, we'll be here," he agreed jovially.
"Be good for Uncle George," she ruffled James' hair as he smiled angelically at her, which she knew was just proof that he believed he'd gotten the adults right where he wanted them.
With an internal eye roll she left the shop. Luckily, she remembered that she was still wearing Albus' baby carrier before she could embarrass herself and quickly took it off to stuff in her trusty tote, made even larger by her equally trusty undetectable extension charm. She strode quickly towards the apothecary.
She wanted to have enough time to visit with George's family, and maybe have a bit of a girl chat with Angelina before he and the boys finished whatever they were doing. But before she even reached the front of the apothecary shop she heard shouting, and though she'd never been as impetuous as Harry, she was still a Gryffindor, so she rushed in to see what was the matter.
She recognized him before she got a good look at his face, that particular shade of blonde hair was both unique and unmistakable. But it wasn't Malfoy that she focused on, or even the way that he and the apothecary were yelling at each other; it was the screaming baby he was cradling in his arms. His son, she supposed because-again- the blonde hair was unmistakable. And also because she'd heard that he had a child, she even knew that he was in the middle of a divorce messier than Harry and Ginny's, but that didn't prepare her for actually seeing said child.
It especially didn't prepare her for seeing Malfoy as a parent. She recognized the reverent way he was holding the infant closely against him despite the ear piercing shrieks. It was the same way Harry had held Albus just the night before while he'd rocked him to sleep. It was obvious that he loved this baby unconditionally. But this was Malfoy, it was hard to wrap her mind around.
However, she didn't have time to marvel over that because the baby was red in the face and his cries were heartbreaking; if there was something she could do to help she couldn't let this continue. She registered bits of what Malfoy and the apothecary were shouting at each other and looked at the little boy more closely. He was chewing on his fingers, drooling, and trying to bury his face in his father's neck. She knew what that meant, and she felt terrible for the poor kid, but she was bolstered by the realization that there might be a way for her to help ease his suffering. If his father would allow it.
Meanwhile the father in question- while she was sure he meant well- was in danger of exposing his son to the press he'd been successfully shielding him from since birth. After all, she'd heard them from outside the shop, it was only a matter of time before somebody else came in to investigate the shouting and recognized him. Most people wouldn't be as circumspect as she planned on being and wouldn't have any scruples about passing on a bit of gossip about a former Death Eater to The Daily Prophet.
"Malfoy," she said, testing out a normal tone of voice as a start.
He didn't respond.
"Malfoy," she said, more loudly; he still didn't react in any way.
"Draco!" She shouted as a last resort, and he swung around to face her, almost looking like he'd been struck.
"Granger?" He questioned, obviously surprised to see her standing there.
"You're going to attract attention if you keep yelling, I don't think I'm wrong in assuming you don't want that?"
He didn't respond but his shoulders slumped. The apothecary let out an audible sigh of relief. She turned her attention to the babe in his arms but she only took a couple of steps towards the pair.
"He's teething?" She asked, though she already knew the answer.
"Well, yes, but it didn't hurt him like this before. There has to be something wrong! That's what I told him," he pointed accusingly at the apothecary, "the potion isn't working. He's been screaming for hours."
She sighed, typical entitled Malfoy. Except...it wasn't the same. His fury on his son's behalf was actually rather sweet, if rather misplaced.
"I've seen this before," she said, in what she hoped was a soothing voice, "I think I can help," she offered.
He must have been desperate because he sent a superior look in the apothecary's direction and marched over to her without question. They weren't friends, though they'd been forced into each other's presence often enough at Ministry events and fundraisers, and had managed to evolve into something like polite acquaintances; exchanging pleasant greetings, sometimes even stilted small talk when they met, but they certainly were not friends. And though he'd grown up, he was still a proud, arrogant wizard, and she'd expected a lot more resistance to accepting her help. However, parents would do a lot for their children and Malfoy was apparently no exception.
She pulled him into a corner, away from the other man's view (after shooting him a conciliatory smile, this was his shop, after all) and opened her bag, silently summoning the teething ring she knew was stuffed in there somewhere. She used a disinfecting spell on it and then a freezing charm. When she looked back up Malfoy was watching her with wide eyes.
"Did you just do that wandlessly?" She asked incredulously.
She'd pulled her wand from its secure wrist holder for the second two spells, but she had summoned the ring wandlessly- in her experience it was best to have two available hands for that particular spell whenever possible- and that was impressive enough. Most people couldn't do any wandless magic at all, but most people didn't have either Harry Potter as a best friend or her insatiable desire for knowledge. But as much as she'd usually be eager to discuss magical theory, this didn't seem like the moment.
"Yes," she said simply, and hoping to divert his attention she took a step closer to him and looked at the baby, "Scorpius, right?" She asked Malfoy, she'd heard the name from his aunt Andromeda and remembered it because she'd noted that he had stuck to the Black family naming tradition she'd learned about from Sirius.
She extended the cold ring to Scorpius and he made a grab for it, but she was fairly certain that in his current mood he would simply fling it away, so she held it up to his lips, "open up," she cajoled, "this will feel good against those sore gums."
He slowly parted his lips and she slipped the ring inside, his eyes widened immediately and his cries subsided. He started biting down on it with gusto and she eased it into one of his little hands.
"Think this might be worth holding onto?" She teased as he grabbed onto it for dear life.
She glanced at Malfoy to assess his reaction, and to her surprise, Scorpius took that moment to reach for her with his free hand. Malfoy's mouth dropped open and he looked between her and his son like he was watching a tennis match. It would have been comical except that she remembered Harry's reaction the first time James had reached out to her instead of him when he was upset, and realized that this would surely be worse. She was a stranger to Scorpius and she didn't exactly have a good history with Malfoy. She was fully prepared for him to storm away. But when he just kept gaping at them and Scorpius became more insistent she felt like she had to say something.
"I can take him, if you don't mind?" She offered.
"You don't have to." His hesitation was obvious.
And that's when she realized that if he was upset that the baby was choosing her over him, then it paled in comparison to the fear that she would reject his son. Many people would, all because of a mistake Malfoy had made ten years ago, and a tattoo on his left forearm. She knew a lot of people looked at them with disgust, she'd seen enough of it to know it probably even extended to this completely innocent and beautiful child, and she suddenly felt anxious to ease his fears.
"He's adorable Malfoy, why wouldn't I want to take him?" She asked innocently, like she had no idea what he'd been insinuating.
His eyes widened slightly but he gave no other indication that he was surprised, just handed the baby over immediately and Scorpius cuddled into her arms, surprisingly content. He looked completely worn out. She thought that a few more minutes with that teething ring and he might be able to fall asleep.
"You must be tired hmmm?" She smoothed a hand over his head and down his back, "growing teeth is hard work."
"You're um," Malfoy cleared his throat, "you're good at this. Do you have a kid I don't know about or something?"
It was a poor attempt at a joke, there was no way she could have hidden a pregnancy much less a child from the press, and they both knew it, but she cut him some slack. She couldn't begin to imagine how uncomfortable he probably felt. She chuckled.
"No, just a lot of time with my godchildren, and to a lesser extent George and Bill Weasley's children."
He just nodded. "So what did you come in here for? If you're going to hold my son I can at least help you shop."
It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse him, but he'd allowed her to help him, probably at great expense to his pride, so she could let him do the same. She might as well get her shopping done anyway. She really didn't like coming to Diagon Alley.
"Oh, I just needed to replenish some ingredients," she informed him.
"Well, lead on." He gestured for her to walk ahead of him.
She got her list out of her bag with another wandless 'accio' and handed it to him.
"Do you really have so much in that bag that you have to summon things out of it?" He asked with an amused smirk.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "well yes, actually. I have an undetectable extension charm on it. It would take ages to go through everything."
He just stared at her for a minute before shaking his head and chuckling. "You're really something, Granger." He turned towards the wall of ingredients before she could respond. "What's that thing you gave Scorp anyway?"
She'd been afraid he'd ask about that. "It's called a teething ring, it's both firm and cold so it relieves the pressure on the gums and helps numb the pain at the same time."
"I've never heard of that."
And that was why she'd been afraid he'd ask.
"Well," she hesitated, "it's a muggle product."
There was a pause and she found herself holding her breath.
"Clever of them," he said eventually. "Are you sure it's safe?"
He nodded but didn't turn around.
"I wonder why we don't have anything like that," he mused.
"Well, from what I've observed-" she cut herself off before she could go into full lecture mode.
This time he did turn around.
"Go ahead, Granger," he prompted.
"Wizards rely on magic for everything," she blurted. "It leads to the belief that if magic can't do it, then it can't be done at all. And then, of course, for the most part they wouldn't know how to begin to go about doing something without magic anyway, even if they thought to try." She took a deep breath. "Muggles don't have magic and that forces them to be innovative. To have a comfortable life they've always had to work for it, and they continue to come up with new ways to make their lives even better. They aren't content to just rest on their laurels. The muggle world changes so rapidly but our world looks vastly similar to the way it looked centuries ago. I love magic and wouldn't give it up, but it's not the only thing in the world!" She snapped her mouth closed as she realized how completely she'd failed in not giving him a lecture. She cleared her throat. "Sorry, that's a bit of a touchy subject for me, I tend to go on."
He just looked at her for a long moment, and she struggled not fidget or avert her eyes under the intensity of his stare.
"I can't imagine living without magic, I don't know how muggles do it," he finally replied. "I used to think it made them savages. I still can't claim to know much about muggles, but I've seen enough of their world to know that they are far from barbaric. I really should have figured it out a long time ago. All I should have needed to know is you," he concluded in a suspiciously rough voice.
"What do you mean?" She asked with a curious frown, wondering if she was actually having this conversation with Draco Malfoy, or if she'd started hallucinating somewhere along the way.
"You were raised in that world. You're bright, articulate, and you came into our world and started wielding powerful magic with ease and grace, like you'd been here all along. They must be doing something right out there," he said as he continued to stare at her. And then it was like he came out of a trance, he gave a sharp shrug and immediately looked away from her.
Hermione felt her mouth drop open and, for lack of anything better to do, she shifted Scorpius in her arms. What had just happened? She was nice to him for five minutes and that's what comes out of his mouth? Considering its source she thought that might have been the best compliment she'd ever been given.
"Thank you," she said softly, absolutely unable to come up with any other response.
He cleared his throat again and turned back to the potions supplies.
"So, any other muggle products I should know about?" He asked nonchalantly.
She wasn't fooled by his casual attitude, the tension in the air was thick and completely obvious, but she ignored it. Instead she followed his lead and just acted like they were having a normal conversation.
"There's an ointment, you rub it on his gums and it numbs them. It's very effective, better than the potion, in my experience," she explained
"Sounds useful," he quipped.
"Unfortunately, I don't have any in my bag. There's a tube in my flat though, from the last time Albus cut a tooth. I have to go pick the boys up from WWW when I'm done here but then we're headed home. You can follow me and I'll give it to you. It would be easy for me to get more if I need it, and it's extremely inexpensive." She made the offer without really considering what she was saying, she prepared to be refused once she realized what she'd just asked him. Apparently he wasn't the only one whose mouth was running away with them.
She focused on Scorpius to try and disguise her discomfort. His head was lolling against her shoulder, his eyes drooping, and she adjusted her hold on him to get a hand on the teething ring so that she could catch it when he inevitably fell asleep. He was beautiful, he felt right in her arms, and it occurred to her that she didn't want to give him back. Which is probably why she had just asked Draco Malfoy to come home with her.
Malfoy didn't say anything as he finished gathering the last few things on her list, collecting them all in the basket he was carrying and then he turned to face her again. He ran a hand through his hair and it struck Hermione how weary he seemed. Not just tired from too little sleep, but thoroughly drained. He looked a lot like Harry had over the past months, which made sense, they were in similar situations. The realization tugged at her heartstrings. She knew that she was considered a notorious bleeding heart amongst her friends, and that this was just further proof, but she didn't care, the company of the child in her arms would be plenty of reward for any aid his father would accept.
"I'll be honest with you Granger," he finally said, "I'd do just about anything to avoid a repeat of today. If that includes following you home so that you can give me your muggle medicine, I'm happy to do it. And I- I appreciate it," the way he stumbled over his words didn't make the statement seem any less sincere.
"It's nothing Malfoy, truly. I have some idea of how worried you must have been. I may not have any of my own children but I adore Harry's. There was this one time when James was teething and Ginny was out of town. Harry flooed me totally freaked out. When I got to his house James was screaming, just like Scorpius was earlier, and Harry was completely panicked. I'd never seen him like that before and I'm sure you know that we've been through some pretty scary things together," she shot him a rueful grin, "so it was quite disconcerting. It took us all night to get him to sleep and I think he just cried himself into exhaustion anyway. It was terrifying, I was sure we were failing him and I wouldn't wish that on anybody else. So really, it's nothing."
"Well, thank you," his mouth formed the words almost awkwardly, and she had to wonder how many times he'd said that in his life.
"You're welcome," she smiled at him.
They moved to the front of the store so that she could make her purchases and then before they stepped outside she carefully transferred a now sleeping Scorpius back to his care, doing her best to ignore the pang of regret at the loss of his weight in her arms. When they split she turned towards the joke shop and he towards the Leaky Cauldron where they'd agreed to meet after she retrieved the boys.
Author's Note: Hello to you all, new and returning readers alike, I'm so happy you're here! With 'His Veela Heritage' winding down I thought it was finally time to share this thing I've been working on for awhile. It's another novel length one, so buckle up. I'm so excited to see what you think. Thanks to my wonderful beta reader Weestarmeggie for all the editing, brainstorming, and encouraging. Thanks to you all for reading!