To Hermione's surprise, she received an owl one morning, bearing an unexpected invitation:


Dear Hermione Granger,

You are formally invited to take tea at the Malfoy Manor at 4 o'clock this afternoon.

The Floo will be open to you. We look forward to your presence.

Yours,

Narcissa Malfoy


An hour or so later, Hermione got another owl from the Malfoys, this one from Draco.

Dear Hermione, the letter read.

My parents invited you over for tea today. I think they want to inquire about your political ambitions and how I'm involved. I've tried explaining to them about the werewolves and hedgewitches, but they don't really understand. When I lost my temper one day and snapped that they should just ask you instead of interrogating me all the time, they took me at my word.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would come and explain it to them. They don't seem to understand, similar to how your parents didn't understand the business with the basilisk last summer. I know they seem intimidating, but I promise, they can be nice.

Please let me know ahead of time if I'll see you. If not, I'll need to think of something instead.

Yours,

Draco Malfoy

Hermione bit her lip, rereading the letter. At least the invite to tea made sense now, in context – a random tea with Narcissa Malfoy wasn't exactly high on her list of things to do. But Draco had helped her when she'd been grounded the previous year; it only seemed fair that she do the same for him with his parents this year.

A formal wizard tea, though – clearly, a muggle tea dress wouldn't be suitable. But what did wizards wear for a formal tea?

Tom seemed to be of the opinion the event was much more than it seemed.

You said the Malfoys were supporters of Voldemort for generations, he pointed out, and that you only have my diary because of Lucius Malfoy. This tea is a battle.

Even if it is a battle, Hermione argued, I can't just show up for formal tea in basilisk leathers and dragon hide boots.

I don't see why not, Tom wrote back, but there was an amused slant to his handwriting. It would certainly accomplish the goal of intimidating them into not going against you.

At the cost of losing social capital with them, Hermione shot back.

Do you really care about the social capital here? Tom inquired. You're a teenage girl, friends with their teenage boy. And they know you're not from magical parents. They'd probably overlook any social gaffe you made. Your goal is to intimidate them.

There's a type of subtle warfare in conversation, too, Hermione tried to explain. It's not something boys do as much – they do more of the unspoken threats – but it's a thing. I can't just forfeit to Narcissa Malfoy by not trying at all.

Tom seemed aggrieved.

If this is really such a big deal to you instead of just a bloody tea with your friend's parents, wear something expensive, even if it's hideous, he advised cynically. If their manor's as ostentatious as you claim it is, you'll fit right in. And they'll know that their wealth doesn't phase you, if you've got your own.

It was as sensible an idea as any, Hermione thought, resigned.

She finally decided on the Mulberry silk robes and crystal hairpiece she'd won from Twilfitt and Tatting's. If Narcissa recognized them and thought she shopped as such an expensive, fancy place, it'd help show their gold didn't matter to her at all.

When she Floo'd to Malfoy Manor promptly at 4pm, Draco was waiting by the fireplace for her, his expression changing from tense to immediately relieved at her arrival.

"Good to see you, Hermione," he greeted her, but his attempted neutral tone didn't fool her, and she laughed.

"Of course, Draco," she said warmly. She grinned. "You did do the same for me, after all."

"Yes. Well." Draco looked pleased and slightly smug, before extending his arm to her. "Shall we?"

Hermione took his arm as he escorted her through the Manor out onto the veranda, which overlooked the lush Malfoy gardens. The gardens were in full bloom for the summer, and Hermione couldn't help but be impressed. They weren't as beautiful as Beauxbatons gardens had been, but they were stunning nonetheless.

Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy were already there, both standing at her approach.

"Miss Granger," Lucius Malfoy told her, nodding slightly. "Welcome back to Malfoy Manor."

"Thank you for the invitation," Hermione said. "It is lovely to be back."

Draco was pulling out a chair for her to sit in, but with a keen eye, Hermione pretended not to see him, pulling out the chair on the left and seating herself. Draco deflated slightly but quickly rallied as if he'd always meant to sit in the chair he'd pulled out, sliding himself back into the table to sit at her right, and Hermione caught the amused glance the Malfoy parents shared.

"So, Hermione – may I call you Hermione? – Hermione, how is your summer so far?" Narcissa inquired, pouring tea for everyone.

Hermione wasn't sure what Draco had told his parents, so she kept to what she knew the Malfoys already knew of.

"Trying to help Royce Fiddlewood's department with the details of the Werewolf bill, mostly," she said. "Daphne Greengrass is planning the fundraiser, but I'm helping with that too, trying to get art for it."

"Ah, yes," Lucius Malfoy said, his lip curling. "For the werewolf home."

"You voted for it," Hermione said mildly. "And it will solve the werewolf problem. If Lupin had been wearing a Moon-key, he'd never have savaged that Gryffindor boy."

A dark expression crossed Lucius' face.

"If Dumbledore didn't hire such incompetent professors, that tragedy also would have never happened," he said, his voice venomous. "Hiring a werewolf as a teacher was entirely inappropriate and dangerous."

"I agree entirely," Hermione said, smirking slightly as she raised her teacup towards him.

Lucius looked at her suspiciously, and Hermione shrugged.

"Professor Lupin was a perfectly kind man, but as a werewolf, he was a danger," Hermione said. "I don't want to hold his condition against him, but the fact remained he was a danger. The Moon-key program will seek to mitigate that, but right now? He nearly killed a student."

"Hermione doesn't support Dumbledore," Draco chimed in from next to her. Hermione winced slightly but didn't correct him. It wasn't as if he was wrong.

"So I've heard," Narcissa said, looking over at Hermione. "You seem to object to Dumbledore's passivity."

Hermione didn't quite know how to respond to that. She shot Draco a look, who shrugged helplessly, and she tried to formulate a response.

"I'm an active person?" she offered, wincing when it came out like a question. "What's the point of having magic if you're not going to use it to do something?"

"Hear, hear," Lucius said, drinking deeply from his cup.

"Like with the hedgewitch tenants?" Narcissa asked. Her tone was perfectly polite and didn't seem anything but genuinely conversational and kind. "Draco says you've been working with them directly quite often."

"I have," Hermione said, raising her chin. "The teens of the hedgewitch communities helped elect me to the Wizengamot. I have a duty to see to their concerns and needs."

"The hedgewitches' concerns." Lucius sniffed, dismissive. "And what concerns do such illustrious children have?"

"Nothing I would have expected," Hermione admitted, wrinkling her nose. "Mostly, better equipment, bread allotments, and to be safe from werewolves."

"Those seem like sensible, practical desires," Narcissa said, stirring her tea. "You would want differently?"

"Yes," Hermione said immediately. "I'd want literacy programs, local magic schools for children, and a secondhand wand program. I'd want to give them what they need to improve their lives."

Lucius shot his wife a look at this, but Narcissa seemed nonplussed.

"And they do not want such things?" she prompted.

Hermione sighed.

"No," she said. "And I mean—I kind of get it. They work a few hours during the day, but then they're free to do as they please. They have strong communities and hold to traditional celebrations and beliefs. Their lives are simple and free. Why would they want to give that up?"

Lucius rolled his eyes.

"Useless freeloaders," he scoffed.

"They work your land and rent from you," Hermione corrected him sharply. "If you dislike what they're doing, it's on you to renegotiate with your tenants. But they're fulfilling their side of the bargain."

Lucius gave her a dark look, and Narcissa hastily moved on.

"Draco tells us he's been helping them," she said. This time, her voice was more questioning. "If they want such simple things, what's Draco helping with?"

"Werewolf protection isn't exactly simple, Mrs. Malfoy," Hermione said. "It's a—"

"Call me Narcissa, please."

Hermione faltered. "Ah, Narcissa, then. Thank you. But like I was saying – it's not a simple thing. Silver wards need to be cast in molds, they need to be distributed around the tenancy to be protected—"

"I thought your Werewolf Bill would take care of protecting them from werewolves," Lucius said silkily.

"It will help werewolves who want to be helped," Hermione pointed out. "Anyone who deliberately wants to attack villagers isn't likely to follow the law anyway. The hedgewitches need more active protection against people like Greyback."

"That's why," Draco said emphatically. "They don't want their kids eaten. And that's a real thing they have to worry about. Well, not eaten maybe, but turned and taken away. They told me about it."

"I understand, Draco, but you must recognize our concern as well," Lucius said, his tone condescending. "We are your parents. Our concern is for you. With you being magically powerful around so many who are not, they are bound to envy your position and abilities. And even though they are weak, if you are outnumbered…"

"The hedgewitches cast most of the magic themselves," Hermione interrupted. "Draco might help lead the casting each time, but they're fully capable of doing it themselves now."

Narcissa and Lucius froze.

"I'm sorry," Narcissa said, after a moment. "It sounded like you just said the hedgewitches have magic of their own."

Hermione frowned.

"I didn't quite say that," she said, weighing her words carefully. "I said that they can cast the magic of the werewolf repellant ritual themselves."

"How is that different than them having magic of their own?" Lucius demanded.

"They—how—?" Narcissa had gone very pale, before rapidly composing herself. "You are saying that—the hedgewitches have learned to work ritual magic in tandem with each other?"

"Yes," Hermione said, unflinching. "Some of them are slowly learning magic on their own, but without wands it's difficult for them."

"The one girl blew her hand off, trying wandless magic," Draco added. "They mostly just do ritual magic for now. They can't afford wands."

Lucius and Narcissa exchanged a long look.

"And… Draco, you are helping?" Narcissa asked delicately.

"Hermione asked me to," Draco said, shrugging. "I was able to get off Hogwarts grounds because I'm Sacred 28. No one else could do it. And it turns out they're pretty alright people. Not many parents around – they don't like to talk about it, so I think something happened during the last war – but they just want to live their lives and need a bit of help."

"Do you do everything Miss Granger tells you to?" Lucius said with a sneer.

Draco looked taken aback for a moment, then angry, but Hermione cut in before he could retort.

"Draco pledged to help me, so he is," she said calmly. She raised her eyebrows at Lucius. "Do you not do what you're told to by those you've pledged your loyalty?"

Lucius' eyes darkened.

"Careful, girl," he said, his voice quiet. "You don't know what you're getting yourself into."

"Don't I?" Hermione shot back, her voice curt. "I'm the one who 'caught' the Heir of Slytherin and stopped the reign of terror at Hogwarts."

"That was a year ago," Lucius said. His eyes glittered. "Have you done nothing else of note for an entire year?" He shook his head sadly, mockingly. "Such a waste of potential."

"She got Sirius Black freed!" Draco objected. "She's introduced legislation, she helped the Head Girl conceive—"

"You're right, Lucius," Hermione interrupted. "I've just been so busy, planning my summer, that I suppose I forgot to do anything meaningful at all." She shook her head sadly, before smiling at him sweetly. "Though, now that midsummer has passed, I find my calendar's opened up quite widely again."

There was a silence.

"You are not claiming—" Lucius began.

"What did the reports say?" Hermione hummed, as if trying to remember herself. "A woman, with a man guarding her back?"

Lucius scoffed. "You're bluffing—"

"I wonder if Dolohov would have recognized his old school friend if the light was better," Hermione said, her tone mild. "Then again, even if he did, he probably wouldn't say anything to the Ministry. After all, he isn't known for disloyalty."

Lucius Malfoy's eyes flashed dangerously, but Hermione wasn't fazed.

"Is it a problem, with Draco helping the hedgewitches?" Hermione asked Narcissa. "We can accelerate the schedule if we need to, now that it's summer, but it would be difficult."

Narcissa seemed pensive.

"I was concerned for Draco's safety in the tenant communities," she said. "But you say they are dependent on him?"

"To a degree, certainly," Hermione said, shrugging. "He's the only one who can levitate mass amounts of silver around for them. He's also one of the few who are literate, so he can read their maps and explain the plans to them. They appreciate his aid."

Narcissa looked at Lucius.

"Perhaps it is harmless," she said. "Even beneficial. For our son to be seen helping the less fortunate—"

"Draco can do as he pleases with the hedges," Lucius said, irritated. He gave Hermione a dark look. "I'm far more concerned about Draco interacting with you than with them."

"Hermione's my friend!" Draco objected.

"You always seem concerned about your son spending time with me," Hermione said, raising her eyebrows. "Last time I was here, you said you and Narcissa both encouraged Draco to spend time with me. Now, you seem to have done an about-face again—"

"If you are making fatal, foolhardy choices—" Lucius began.

"Fatal?" Hermione said, blinking. "I'm sorry, has someone died that I don't know about?"

Lucius looked frustrated. Draco looked worried, glancing back and forth from his father to Hermione. Narcissa looked resigned.

"I suggest," Narcissa began, "that Draco continue to spend the summer with his friends. If that involves helping the tenants, then so be it."

"And I," Lucius said, his lip curling, "will begin by catching up with my old friends."

Hermione snorted. "Good luck on getting into Azkaban. It's on lockdown still."

"I do have friends that aren't in Azkaban," Lucius said darkly.

"Ah, right," Hermione said, tapping her nose. "Then I suggest starting with the Broadmoors. They've been terribly lonely, I've heard, with their sons all grown up and moved away."

Lucius looked suspicious, while Draco looked anxious.

"Is that fine, then?" Draco asked his parents. "I can spend the summer with Hermione and my other friends? Blaise and Theo and Pansy have been spending time with Hermione, too, and I want to—"

"Yes, Draco," Narcissa told him. "You are free to continue on as you have. We were just worried." She gave him a fond smile. "It sounds like your help with the hedgewitches is establishing you as a leader they can look to and trust."

Draco's chest puffed up slightly, proud.

"You're dismissed," Narcissa told him, nodding to Draco, then to Hermione in turn. "Thank you for coming, Hermione. We greatly appreciate your time."

"It was my pleasure," Hermione said, her mind whirring. She'd barely done anything—mostly talked about politics and intimidated Lucius. Was that really all they needed to be reassured of Draco's safety?

"Come on," Draco said, grabbing Hermione's hand and tugging it. "I want to show you something."

Hermione followed obediently as Draco led her back into the Manor, through a receiving room, and up a giant staircase.

"Blaise was over here the other day," Draco said, leading her through the hallways. "He was being extra dodgy, talking about the old war and what I would have done and if I could have joined with a third side." His eyes cut over to her. "If Blaise is asking questions about a secret club that would go against both the Dark Lord and Dumbledore, I'm smart enough to know that you must be involved."

Hermione grinned sheepishly.

"Is it that obvious?" she asked.

"No," Draco said emphatically, shaking his head. "Blaise is just that obvious. Anyway, I'm in. Clearly. But that's not what I wanted to talk about."

Having apparently reached their destination, Draco pushed open a giant set of double doors, and Hermione gasped.

It was a library.

It was enormous, in the literal sense of the word. The stacks seemed to go ten feet high, lining walls that held up large, arching ceilings. One wall had been reserved for window seats, lovely little nooks for curling up and reading, and there was a large wooden table with chairs to sit and read as well. Hermione peeked around the stacks she could see at first glance, only to see more behind it. She marveled at the sight, wandering around without really realizing.

"This is incredible," Hermione breathed, taking The Grievances of Goblins, by Bathilda Bagshot from the shelves and paging through it.

"This is one of the largest private collections in the country," Draco said, proud. He looked pleased at her obvious pleasure over the books. "I thought you might be able to use this for your research."

"What research?" Hermione asked, glancing over at him, and Draco reddened.

"You know," he said, looking away. "Just… research. You're always researching things and looking into new projects."

Draco clearly wasn't saying something, but Hermione shrugged. She'd take advantage of a resource like this if she could.

"Is there any sense of organization?" she asked, clapping the book she'd been looking at closed. "There's no card catalog I can see."

"Err—subject, then author, I think," Draco said. "I think you're looking at History right now."

"That makes sense," Hermione said as she put the book back. There were easily another dozen or more books by Bathilda Bagshot on this shelf. "Is there a Dark magic shelf?"

Draco faltered.

"There's—I mean, yes, but—the Dark magic books are kept somewhere else," Draco said, tripping over his words. "There's—we have to worry about Ministry raids sometimes, so there's a place where they're kept that's not here."

Hermione sighed.

"I need you to check sometime and see if you have Secrets of the Darkest Art," Hermione told him. "Preferably, without your father hearing about it."

"Are we going to be doing Dark magic?" Draco asked, lowering his voice and looking around. "You know, in your secret group?"

Hermione shrugged.

"Who knows?" she equivocated. She gave him a teasing grin. "I'm sure I wouldn't be able to tell you things like that until you joined."

Draco's eyes lit with excitement.

"Are we really?" he asked, breathless. "But—we're not evil, right?"

"Absolutely not evil," Hermione said firmly. "But—not all light and goodness, either. We lie in between, in the gray areas and the shadows."

"And what you said back there," Draco said. "To my father. It sounded like you were implying… did you—do you know who lead the attack on Azkaban?"

Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Have you ever known me to bluff, Draco?"

"No, but—you could have hardly killed all the dementors yourself—"

"Someone did," Hermione pointed out mildly. "But yes – I know who did it."

"Who?" Draco immediately wanted to know.

"That's secret information," Hermione countered. "Classified. You don't get to know group secrets until you're properly initiated into the secret group."

Draco looked envious.

"When is initiation?" he asked. "When can I join?"

Hermione didn't think they'd actually figured out a way to make people swear their loyalty or join the group yet.

"I'm sure Blaise will let you know," she told him instead. "But… probably soon."


IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE:

I had an emergency C-section on Tuesday. My daughter is in the NICU as a precautionary measure, but it does mean I haven't gotten to see her or hold her yet (because I was under full anesthesia and I have COVID).

She is 5 weeks early. It is really emotionally difficult to not be able to hold her myself yet. I am not handling particularly well, but she *is* premature by kind of a lot, so the hospital needs to make sure she has the best chances before sending her home with me finally.

DUE TO THIS UNFORSEEN SEQUENCE OF EVENTS, New Blood will be on temporary hiatus/pause until:

1. This severe gut wound I have seemed to acquired heals enough so I can think clearly through the pain

2. I get a handle on life with a toddler and a premature newborn, and all the challenges contained therein.

Very realistically, this may take through the end of the year irl, for me to sort my stuff out. I still have so much cool stuff already written to share with you guys, so please don't feel like I'm abandoning this! I can't wait till you see what all Hermione pulls off this summer! But this mental health break is something I desperately need to do for me. Hermione will still be here when I'm recovered and doing well ;)