"Here you are, my dearest," a half-asleep Hermione heard her father say as she passed the nursery door on her way to use the toilet later that night. It had to be near 2 AM, she hadn't expected anyone to be awake . . . with the exception of one of the house elves struck with a late-night cleaning fit, of course.
She risked backpedaling a step to peer inside.
Mum sat on the floor, her legs curled under her in such a ladylike fashion. And open in her lap was . . . .
"I can't seem to stop looking at them," Dahlia said, her voice thick as she turned a page in one of Hermione's photo albums.
Hermione covered her mouth with her hand, swallowing hard as she watched her parents.
Heaving a sigh, Warn settled beside his wife, pulling the book half into his own lap. Reaching out, he traced over some of the pictures with gentle fingertips. "I still can't believe we lost so much time with her."
"We knew this was a possibility when we decided to let Albus cast the charm, Warn."
"I remember," he said in a choked whisper, wrapping an arm around his wife as she tucked herself into his side.
Stepping back, Hermione gave herself a shake. She forced down an upwelling of tears—she wanted to go to them, but also recognized what a private moment this was for them—and continued onto the bathroom.
"A party?" Hermione's brows shot up as she stared at her mother across the table at breakfast the next morning.
"No, darling, not a party," Dahlia said, crinkling the bridge of nose as she shook her head. She nibbled at a piece of toast before clarifying, "A ball."
Hermione glanced at her father. He pursed his lips, holding in a snicker as he stared down at his plate.
"But a celebration? Announcing the Dagworths' return?"
"And, so, it would have to include announcing me, I'm guessing?"
Again, Dahlia nodded, picking at her food with delicate, ladylike taps of her fork. "Well, yes, of course. Naturally, we can't tell anyone why we had to hide the way we did. However, with all the knowledge and artifacts our family holds, we can believably rely on that, alone, as reason enough to have concealed ourselves from Voldemort."
Hermione sighed and shook her head, even as she noticed her father nodding from the corner of her eye.
She supposed it would be too much to hope for that they could maybe wait until after her Hogwarts graduation to reveal her true identity to the whole of Wizarding Britain. Since the news of her identity had been revealed at the Ministry, she was actually surprised no one had slipped this undoubtedly juicy bit of information to the Daily Prophet, yet.
But then, it was still early in the day. For all she knew, it was this morning's front page headline.
"Mm, this reminds me," Dahlia was saying when Hermione brought her thoughts back to the moment at hand. "I should really write Xen and let him know we've . . . well, returned."
Hermione sat up a bit straighter. "Xen . . . ? Do you mean Xenophilius Lovegood? What's he got to do with anything?"
"He is my only living relative, darling. He—" Dahlia's eyes flashed wide. "Oh, no! Please tell me he survived the Second War?"
"Oh, yes, he did . . . ." Hermione felt the breath go out of her as that one word bounced around in her head. "Relative?" she echoed.
Dahlia smiled in relief as she said, "Yes. My cousin. So you know him, already?"
Swallowing uncomfortably—she had come to really appreciate Luna's uniqueness and see her as a good friend, but . . . her blood-relation?—Hermione nodded. And, of course, there was that whole messy business with Xenophilius turning her and her friends over to the Snatchers. But maybe this wasn't the time to relive that particular incident. "He um, he runs a magazine, The Quibbler, and has a daughter named Luna. We're friends, actually. She's a Ravenclaw, one year behind me at Hogwarts."
"Oh, how wonderful," Mum said, grinning ear-to-ear. "And you? I trust you made Ravenclaw, as well?"
Hermione shrank back in her chair a bit. "Um, no."
The sound of her father dropping his fork seemed to echo through the dining room. "Not a Ravenclaw? What house did you make, then?"
"Gryffindor." She shot her gaze from her father to her mother, and back, before she tacked on, "But the Sorting Hat did strongly consider placing me in Ravenclaw. I suspect its decision was due to my reliance on book-facts, and difficulty in thinking outside-the-box."
Warn pressed a palm over his heart as he breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, the Hat recognized your ingenuity, but I suppose your bravery outweighs it, and that isn't a thing over which I can be upset."
Hermione let out a sigh, as well. Apparently pure-blood families really did take sorting seriously.
If they chose to resort the pre-existing student body for the term following the War—what with all the tests of character, shifting of perceptions and wavering of allegiances that had taken place—she wondered if she would be Ravenclaw this time, around. She had shown more than her fair share of quick-thinking during this last year.
She tried not to think about Malfoy in this context. Though, she considered for a brief moment that his position as most obnoxious person in Slytherin House might be threatened.
Fine, second most obnoxious, if Pansy Parkinson chose to return for eighth year.
Clearing her throat, she decided to shift the conversation back to her extended family. "Did you know Xenophilius' wife?"
"Did I . . . ?" Dahlia frowned as she held her daughter's gaze. "Something happened to Pandora, didn't it?"
Hermione bit her lip, toying with the food on her plate. "She passed away. A spell she was experimenting with backfired. Luna was . . . ." Pausing, she thought back to what Harry had told her. "Nine?"
"The poor thing." Shaking her head, Dahlia's frown deepened. "Pandora was a wonderful woman. I think you would have liked her. Spellwork was her life, though. I suppose it should be a comfort that she passed on doing what she loved."
Her mother's voice had taken on a distracted tone and Hermione glanced at her father in question.
He was already responding, tossing his napkin down beside his plate and rising from the table. Rounding to his wife's chair he knelt beside her, resting his hand over hers. "Dahlia, my dearest, stop. I know what you're—"
"I wasn't here for him, Warn. I missed what time Pandora had left, and I wasn't here for Xen. We had no other family. I can't imagine what he went through dealing with that loss on his own, with a child to care for."
Hermione pouted in thought as she registered her mother's words. His wife's death was something he'd dealt with alone? Dear God, was there a chance he was a bit less eccentric nine years ago?
"Come along, let's go write him now. With any luck, he'll receive it by lunch."
Dahlia nodded, allowing Warn to assist her to her feet. "Hermione, darling, do you want to come, too? You can write to Luna; we can send the letters out, together."
Holding in a sigh, Hermione nodded. "I'll be along in a moment, I just . . . need a few minutes."
Once her parents were gone, Hermione slumped back in her chair, her expression dazed. Luna was her cousin, and her mother's absence might be responsible for making Xenophilius madder than he naturally was?
Hearing a shuffling sound, she looked toward the entryway of the room. There, Saphie and another elf hovered.
Pushing her thoughts aside, she forced a smile. "Oh, good morning."
Saphie smiled back, toddling in. The other elf, a male who seemed a bit younger than Saphie, followed at her heels.
"Good morning, Miss!" Saphie moved behind Hermione's chair, marveling at the wild locks that spilled over the back of it. "So much hair! Miss was so, so bald as a baby, Saphie thought she might never grow any."
That revelation was the most beautifully frivolous thing Hermione could've hoped to hear, just then. She laughed as she turned to face the other elf.
"I'm sorry, I don't know your name."
"Noret," the little thing said in a small voice.
Hermione thought he looked about ready to dart behind Saphie. The witch frowned, her shoulders slumping as Noret did exactly that.
"Noret's a shy one, Miss," Saphie explained in a whisper that wasn't the slightest bit quiet. "He last saw Miss when she was so, so small. Miss-now is a stranger to him."
"Ah. And when he's gotten to know me a bit?"
Noret muttered something over Saphie's shoulder. Saphie nodded, beaming. "Then Noret will be less shy!"
Hermione nodded. Elves could have social anxiety issues. Who knew? The distraction of the elves' presence only lasted for a moment, since she wouldn't be having this conversation, at all, if not for the last twenty-four hours.
Saphie's tiny shoulders drooped as she noticed the witch's expression grow somber. "Something troubles Miss?"
"Yeah." Hermione shrugged as she turned her gaze toward the windows. "I just . . . this has all been so much to take in in such a short time. I can talk to my friends, but since there are some things about this I can't share with them—" One very particular thing, actually, she considered, unnoticing of her own fingertips trailing over her Mark through her nightshirt and dressing gown. "It might feel like I'm lying. I can't do that to my friends. I suppose I could talk to Harry, since he already knows, but—"
"Perhaps Miss can talk to someone who is not a friend?"
Brow furrowing, Hermione looked to the smaller elf around Saphie's shoulder. "What?"
Noret's enormous eyes darted from Saphie to Hermione, and back. He ducked further behind Saphie, despite that he elaborated. "Miss cannot tell her friends, because she does not want to lie to them," he repeated, his voice barely a thread of sound. "Then perhaps Miss will not feel so bad if she keeps the secrets from one who is not a friend."
A half-smile curved Hermione's lips as she nodded. "One who is not a friend. Thank you, Noret! Thank you, Saphie!"
Hermione thought she could already feel a bit of the weight lift from her shoulders as she bounced out of her chair and headed from the room to write the first of her two letters.
"You could fit my entire house in your sitting room!" Ginny trailed, wide-eyed, behind Hermione that afternoon. Harry had informed Ginny of everything after he'd parted from Hermione yesterday evening.
Well, almost everything. She was pretty sure Harry Potter would take any mention of the Glass Heart to his grave.
"Stop exaggerating! I love the Burrow," Hermione said with a sigh, her head shaking. "Though I suppose I probably won't see it again, any time soon."
"Look, you've always been family." Ginny slipped her arm around her friend's shoulders. "Ron will come back 'round and remember that no matter what else has happened, you're his friend. Mum will, too. I think it'll hit them when that week before school rolls around, and you're not there."
Hermione nodded as she led the ginger-haired witch up to the room that was temporarily hers. It had become something of a tradition for her and Harry to spend the days leading up to start of term at the Weasley house.
For a flickering moment, Hermione felt bad. It was enough that the house probably seemed quieter, already, with Fred gone.
It was hard with their loss to remind herself that she'd done nothing wrong.
Perhaps that was part of Ron and Molly's anger toward her. It must be easier to allow themselves anger at someone who was living, than sadness over someone who was dead.
Ginny recognized a Hermione-Fret when she saw one. "Okay, let's not talk about my family, then. So, Harry said your parents don't remember anything?" she asked, as soon as Hermione had the door closed behind them—she spoke as she moved in a slow circle, marveling over the sheer size of the room, to say nothing of the grand bookcases, the overly-large four-post bed, and the finely polished wood furnishings.
Hermione, hardly immune to her new home's charms, but sick of looking at them for the moment, fell onto the cushioned seat before her vanity table. She had a bloody vanity table!
Propping an elbow on the edge of the table, she rested her chin against her palm. "They may, eventually. The charm-breaking might've just been too much of a shock for them to remember, just now." She bit her lip, holding back from recounting finding her parents pouring over her photo albums in the wee hours of the morning.
She didn't think she could take describing that moment. Her emotions were so raw after all she'd been made to feel over this last day that she wasn't certain she could make it through without crumbling.
And Hermione hated crumbling under the weight of her emotions.
But there was something she could share without feeling like someone was stomping on her heart. Forcing a smile, she proceeded to fill Ginny in on Dahlia Dagworth's plans for revealing her to the pure-blood world.
Ginny pivoted on her heel to face Hermione, finally having pulled her attention away from the currently-empty wardrobe. She was trying not to let her eyes glaze over in wonder as she imagined all the amazing pieces that would fill the one in Hermione's actual bedroom, soon enough.
"A ball?" Ginny's brows shot up, and she couldn't fight the smile on her face as she pictured Harry spinning her across the floor to stuffy classical music. "Well, pure-bloods don't tend to do things on a small scale. Merlin's beard! Can you picture the look on Pansy Parkinson's face when she finds out you're a Dagworth!"
A grin curved Hermione's lips in spite of herself. She supposed that couldn't be helped, however, with all the hell Pansy had given her over the years.
"And what about Malfoy!"
Ginny's giggles eased Hermione's immediate agitation at the mention. "I'd rather not think about Malfoy, right now."
Saphie poofed into the room just then, seemingly on cue. "Post for Miss," she declared happily as she dropped two letters down in front of Hermione.
Hermione thanked the always-smiling elf, introducing her to Ginny before the little thing was off, again. She drew in a breath and let it out slow. Once she was more settled she was going to make a right nuisance of herself, insisting on helping the elves with their chores, she just knew it.
She turned over the letters before her, deliberately missing the look she knew Ginny as giving her over the notion of Hermione Granger having house elves.
The first was from Malfoy. She hurriedly opened it and peeked at its contents.
Luckily, this was not any rambling mess, like yesterday's.
Hermione was actually going to miss him calling her Granger. She didn't think he was going to be able to put the same malicious ring to 'Dagworth.'
I just may take you up on that, but don't go expecting anything. It's a maybe.
Biting her lip to hold in a laugh at how typically Draco Malfoy his message was, she realized he was probably receiving the letter she'd written this morning right about now. His response to that was probably going to be a bit more dramatic than this most recent one.
Well, provided he was clever enough to understand the surface-reading. Wait, what was she thinking? This was Malfoy, of course he was clever enough. And she really did feel a bit better after getting it all out onto paper.
Whether or not it would be coherent was another matter, entirely.
Putting Draco's letter aside, she turned to the next one. Return address, L. Lovegood.
Turning to face Ginny, who was trying very hard to look like she hadn't just been toying the sparkly, jeweled knickknacks on the dresser, Hermione said, "I forgot to tell you about my cousin!"
"Cousin?" Ginny beamed, hoping it was someone pleasant—someone who might help ease Hermione into this whole pure-blood thing without trying to change her. "Go on, then!"
Hermione couldn't help a laugh as she delicately opened Luna's message on her lap. "You might want to sit down, first."
"Another letter from Miss Granger?" Lucius said, as he dropped the envelope down in front of Draco. "Whatever are you two so chatty about?"
Draco's brows shot up as he looked from the letter to his father, and back. She should've only just gotten his reply. "I honestly have no idea."
Noting how genuinely puzzled his son seemed, Lucius frowned thoughtfully as he nodded. He exited the room, aware that the young man was probably not going to open the letter while he stood there.
It wasn't as though it hadn't crossed his mind to sneak a look at the letter's contents, but he was well aware his son would never forgive him for the invasion of privacy. And, really, didn't he already have a long enough list of things for which his son might never forgive him?
Listening for his father's steps to disappear down the corridor, Draco popped up from his chair and crossed the room to close the door. He let out a sigh as he sat back down and opened the letter.
Impress me to read me.
His brows shot up for a moment at the words staring back at him.
"Impress me?" he whispered. What could that possibly . . . ? "Impress? What does this daft witch . . . witch? Bewitch . . . enchant . . . . No. Charm."
He understood as he tried out the different terms. Whatever Granger had written, she didn't want anyone else to read.
Grabbing up his wand, he tapped the parchment, casting a reveal charm over her hidden message. Paragraphs blurred into form.
I can't believe I'm turning to you of all people, but I need to unload this on someone who isn't a friend, because . . . . Well, 'because reasons', as Muggles would say.
Draco gave a side-to-side nod.
I just received confirmation that everyone's going to find out about this soon enough, so there's no harm in breaking it to you a bit early, I suppose. But you can't tell anyone else. As strange as it is, I feel like I can actually trust you to do as I'm asking.
I just found out my family has been keeping a huge secret from me my entire life. My parents . . . they're not who everyone thought they were, including me. I know it seems mad, and I'm probably not making much sense.
"You'd be right," he said, shaking his head as he furrowed his brow at her rambling.
Long story short, there was a charm atop another charm, and a few memory alterations later—Hell, where was I going with this? Oh, right. Are you sitting down? You should probably sit.
Pausing, Draco couldn't help darting his gaze about the room. It was obvious from the tone of her writing that Granger was panicking.
Huh, he didn't think Granger could panic.
Okay, here's the thing. I'm a Dagworth.
Draco dropped the letter, as though the parchment burned his fingertips. A Dagworth? As in the Dagworth Estate father had mentioned last night? Dagworth, the pure-blood family that had dropped off the face of the Wizarding world?
No . . . no. She must just mean a distant relation, as father said. Nodding as he drew a breath and let it out slow, he picked up the letter and started reading again.
Don't even start asking me, I had no idea. My parents hid in plain sight, because the Dagworths have a long history of hoarding knowledge and artifacts, and they were afraid of what Voldemort would do to acquire said knowledge for his own ends.
Grey eyes widened as he understood that she hadn't meant distant relation, at all. He thought he could actually hear her let out an exasperated sigh as she gave herself a shake between paragraphs.
My entire life has been turned upside down. It's become a thing I don't recognize, and every new something that I should have known about myself all along makes me feel like I'm going just a little bit mad.
I have house elves! Me! I mean, my family treats them like trusted friends rather than slaves, but still!
But it's strange. There are so many things that wouldn't have happened to me, had who I really was been known, and yet, those very things helped shape who I am now, and I don't think I'd change my past for the world. Even if some of those things were really terrible.
Draco squared his jaw, trying to pretend he didn't know she was talking about his aunt, and, to a lesser extent, himself and his parents.
You were right, it really is better to get things off your chest. I feel a bit calmer, already.
Oh, I should probably give you a head's up about this. Before start of term, my parents are going to hold a ball, to mark our family's return to the Wizarding world—God, pure-bloods can be obnoxious about their precious pomp and circumstance. I'm suspecting that the Most Ancient and Noble families will likely make the invite list, so . . . . Do us both a favor, and act surprised when your family receives it?
As he finished reading it, the words faded out of existence. What a clever enchantment that was. He wondered where she picked it up, but then the weight of what she'd just revealed hit him.
She was a pure-blood? Hermione Granger? The girl he'd called Mudblood for years?
But the thing that struck him most, now that he knew what the letter said—he'd probably have a proper meltdown about this later—was that he would've expected her to take him to task over how horrible he'd been to her for so long. A laundry list of her grievances against him, and his parents, was what should have followed her revelation.
Hermione Granger . . . Dagworth, the only girl in school ever to best him in test scores was a pure-blood. He could have been studying alongside the brightest girl in school the entire time?
He didn't want it to happen, but memories tumbled through his head. He didn't want to imagine how different things could have been. Not that it would matter to Grang—Dagworth.
Damn. That didn't even have the same ring to it!
No, what would matter to her was that he was so terrible to her because of her status as a Muggle-born. It wasn't as though this changed anything. It didn't change their past, and it didn't change their dislike of one another, but still.
The always-unpleasant expression that twisted Pansy's pretty features crossed his mind. Followed by the look of cold disdain that settled over Granger's face so often when dealing with Pansy.
Huh, maybe she'd had a touch of pure-blood in her behavior, all along.
None of this mattered, because it didn't change anything, he reminded himself, once more.
Still, he couldn't help himself as he cast his gaze heavenward. "She could've been a possibility all along? Really?"
Just as quickly, Draco told himself no. She hadn't been, and wasn't now, because—he reminded himself for the third time—this revelation didn't change a thing.