Wow, I'm back. The world is crazy right now, but I'm excited to start writing again. This plot bunny has been bugging me for a while. It demanded to be written!

Fair warning here, this story is different. I mean really different. So if you've been brought here because you followed one of my other stories, brace yourselves. We're in unchartered territory. And if you're a fan of K-drama you'll appreciate this one. I've been inspired by a couple of classic K-dramas I adore (let me know if you're a K-fan and you recognise them!). So get ready to hop onto the angst-train. Yep, that's right. Angst ahead!

As always, this will be a slow burn between our two favourites.

I hope this first chapter doesn't scare you off. Let me know what you think!

Characters belong to JKR.

Chapter One

As the sun dipped low in the evening sky, Draco sat wearily at his desk, gripping his hair in his hands and trying to ignore the tension in his neck and shoulders. After a long day at work, he'd been more than ready to pack his bags and go home. It'd been a day full of meeting after meeting as they signed the contracts for a new venture they were exploring. He'd been swarmed by an endless stream of lawyers tidying up every last detail of the contract for hours now.

Malfoy Enterprises had grown in leaps and bounds these last few years. Once he'd trimmed the company's less reputable connections down and removed the corruption that had been prolific under Lucius's tenure as director, he'd finally been able to capitalise on its potential. With the economic boom that had begun shortly after the war, he'd made some smart investments in new start-ups and markets, and now it was one of the most successful companies in wizarding Britain.

His mood that day had been optimistic, buoyant even.

And now this.

Theodore Nott sat opposite him, shuffling some papers around as he laid out the forms that the Ministry of Magic had sent over via owl that afternoon.

"So that's it? The appeal was just…denied?"

Theo nodded with a sneer.

"Bloody bastards," the other man quipped as he drew out the correct document from the bundle, "Here – you can see for yourself what their justification was..."

Draco snatched the paper and devoured the lines that Theo had highlighted with a tab. His hands were shaking with anger as he read it aloud.

The Ministry of Magic Prisoner Reform Program hereby DENIES the appeal for the release of Prisoner 36743, Narcissa Aurora Malfoy into familial custody.

The Wizengamot appreciates that the prisoner has shown evidence of personal rehabilitation, however it is clear that the nominated representative from her immediate family* does not currently meet the requirements for acting as a parole custodian. It is the opinion of this court that Mr D. Malfoy's own former ties to the group formerly known as the Death Eaters makes him an unsuitable candidate to take custody of the prisoner for the duration of her parole period.

*Note: No other immediate family available as substitute.

Sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Draco scrunched the parchment up and threw it with deadly accuracy into the fireplace nearby, slamming his hand down onto his desk in anger as he watched the paper burn with a grim satisfaction. Theo raised one eyebrow questioningly, gesturing to another sheet nearby.

"Good thing I already made copies," he muttered, observing his friend and waiting for the inevitable tide of outrage that would come.

"What the bloody hell am I supposed to do now?" Draco yelled, standing up and starting to pace across the mantle.

"You may just have to wait. Your mother only has five more years left on her sentence…"

"She won't survive another five years! You saw her last week; that place is killing her."

"We tried appealing on medical grounds already," Theo sighed, "Apparently the Wizengamot feel that chronic pneumonia isn't deadly enough to warrant action. Wankers."

Draco leaned against the fireplace, cradling his head in his hands.

"She's dying, Theo! She doesn't deserve this. My mother was forced into this bloody mess just as much as I was. But because she wasn't a minor at the time she gets Azkaban and I get pardoned? It's not fair."

Draco tried to take a deep breath to calm himself. He'd been fighting this battle for years. It had been six years since the final battle that had seen the end of Voldemort. It had been more than five years since the ministry had aggressively prosecuted all the former death eaters and purged the wizarding world of their evil.

Draco had been very lucky indeed. If it hadn't been for the reluctant testimony of Harry Potter, he wouldn't have made it at all, he knew. But his mother had not been so fortunate. She had housed the Dark Lord in her own home for months. All the events that had taken place at Malfoy Manor could be tied back to her as the manor's hostess, no matter how little she'd actually wanted to be involved. And with Lucius killed during that final battle there was nobody else to blame. She was a scapegoat of sorts.

But she certainly didn't deserve to die a slow, painful death behind bars.

And now he was being told that he was the reason she couldn't be released. They'd pursued this new reform eagerly when it had been announced. It allowed low-risk prisoners with pristine records to be released to an immediate family member for a parole period. But because of his own murky past, he now wasn't good enough to be her custodian?

Draco wanted to throw something else in anger, or better yet storm down to the Ministry and start hexing people.

Instead he collapsed into his chair once more, his elbows landing on his expensive mahogany desk with a distinctive thunk.

"What am I going to do now?" he groaned.

Theo contemplated his notes for a while, his expression thoughtful. The other former Slytherin student had been his close friend now for many years. Both of them knew what it was like to have a sadistic murdering bastard for a father. After the war had ended they had rekindled their casual acquaintance from school and it had grown into a genuine friendship. When Theo had received his legal degree from Pendragon University, Draco had immediately hired him as his personal attorney. The other man was clever, cunning and never gave up until he'd won. A consummate Slytherin.

Theo leaned back, observing Draco over his linked fingers as he took a steady breath.

"Well… I suppose there are really only two viable solutions if you're determined to get her out on a custody bond."

"What are they?" he asked eagerly.

Theo held up his index and middle fingers to count the two options as he spoke.

"Option number one – you find the right person to bribe or blackmail in the Wizengamot. It's illegal, obviously, and carries some risk of being arrested yourself... but it's a tried and tested method I'm sure your father used on numerous occasions."

Draco closed his eyes for a moment as his heart thudded. The thought of doing something so corrupt, something so much like Lucius would have done made him feel sick.

"And the other option?"

"Simple. Clean up your image."

Draco gave him a dubious look.

"Theo, I'm one of the richest bloody people in Britain and I employ hundreds of wizards and witches across my different companies. I treat my employees well. I make profits honestly and ethically. I don't smoke or drink to excess. I don't sleep around. What more do they want? All they see is this."

He pushed up his sleeve impatiently. The dark mark was no longer quite so black as it used to be, but it was still very evident there, seared onto his skin forever.

Theo clucked his tongue, pointing at the mark with a jab of his finger.

"Exactly! This is about your moral image. Yes you were a Death Eater, willingly or not. So you need to do something to change that perception."

"Like what?" he growled.

"You could give a big donation to that Muggleborn Restitution charity? Or start an organisation to help war veterans or something?"

"It can't be that easy," Draco grumbled, "and anyway, it's not like I go around kicking puppies or anything. I give plenty of money to charity."

"Yes but you still come across as just so… pureblood."

Theo said the word sarcastically, with a quirk of his eyebrows. The term had almost become an insult in the years following the war. The wizarding world had changed a lot since then, mostly for the better.

"It is rather trendy to adopt a more muggle lifestyle," he agreed, wondering how on earth he could do so in a short space of time, quick enough to save his mother from her hellish situation.

The two friends were quiet for a while, both contemplating the question. Then Theo suddenly snorted and slapped his hand to his forehead.

"Now that's an idea…" his friend exclaimed thoughtfully as a mischievous grin stretched his lips like the cat that got the canary.

"What?" Draco asked with a trickle of apprehension.

"Oh you're not going to like it. But it certainly would be the easiest and most effective strategy!"

"What is it Theo?" he demanded.

"You could just marry a muggleborn!"

There was an awkward pause after Theo had announced this, during which Draco looked at him darkly.

"What?"

"Don't look at me like that! It's an ideal solution."

"You've gone insane."

Theo grinned, leaning forwards eagerly.

"Come on, surely you're not still pretending you're put off by muggleborns are you?"

"Of course not! But how exactly do you expect me to find a decent muggleborn witch, date her, fall in love and get married all in time to save my mother from certain death?"

Theo scoffed loudly, rolling his eyes.

"Fall in love? What are you, twelve years old? You can just pay someone to marry you."

Draco gave him a look of disgust.

"Pay someone? Are you out of your mind?"

"Well why not? It would just be a contract! A business arrangement. It wouldn't have to be a real marriage or anything. You can stage the wedding, pay the witch an allowance for a couple of years, then get divorced."

Draco actually threw his hands in the air, feeling thrown by the suggestion.

"That's crazy! It's totally out of the question."

"It would work, I bet," Theo insisted, gesturing down at the papers in front of him, "then you'd have someone in the household who directly contradicted your image as a former death eater. An actual muggleborn witch! An heroic survivor of the war against You-Know-Who!"

"Enough!" Draco yelled with a disbelieving expression, "I am not marrying some stranger and paying her to keep quiet!"

Theo sighed.

"Alright, but for the record it's a brilliant idea."

"It really isn't!"

The other man shrugged.

"You may as well. It's not like you give any other witch the time of day. All these years you've barely dated anyone."

"I've been busy! I've been building this company back up from the cesspool Lucius created-"

"Still! You could have dated a bit more. There have been plenty of witches who've shown an interest."

Draco snorted, running his hands through his hair.

"And every time you've set me up with one, they've always been the same. Boring. Desperate. Or just plain stupid. Why can't you find me a woman who can hold a decent conversation?"

Theo looked at him like he was crazy.

"Conversation? Now I know you've got issues. Just have some fun!"

Draco sighed and looked towards the fireplace.

"Easier said than done."

Theo stood and began to gather the documents together into a pile.

"Well you're going to have to agree to something. I'll look into our options, bend the ear of some court officials and see whether a few charitable donations would be enough to help. Otherwise… you might need to consider 'Plan B' a little more seriously."

Draco tiredly rubbed at his eyes.

"Merlin I hope it doesn't come to that… I can only imagine in my worst nightmares the kind of desperate witch you'd have me marry in that scenario."

Theo just laughed as he left the office, calling back over his shoulder,

"You'd be surprised what money can buy, Draco my man! Just wait and see!"

...

Hermione sat nervously in the sterile hospital room, staring blankly at the four white walls around her. There were a couple of bland landscape paintings adorning the walls, but otherwise there was nothing to occupy her mind. Instead she ran through a list of things she needed to buy for the week.

Groceries, a new pair of shoes, that phone bill…

Doing the maths in her head, she wondered how much would be left over.

Not enough.

"Miss Granger?"

With a jolt of surprise, Hermione realised that someone was calling her name. The nurse smiled at her distraction and led her down the hallway and into one of the pristine consultation rooms. St Mungo's was a sprawling maze of different wings and wards. She'd completely lost track of where they'd sent her today.

As she waited for the medi-witch to arrive, she sighed, fidgeting with one loose curl that had escaped her braid.

What a lot of fuss, she huffed to herself, all over a simple fall. She admitted she'd been eating rather poorly lately, and had clearly been dehydrated and under a lot of stress. Was it really any surprise that she'd collapsed in the middle of the local park yesterday afternoon?

A rushed trip to the hospital and a few unnecessary tests later and she was home and fine again! So why was she being called back today? There were definitely better things she could be doing with her time.

Hermione drummed her fingers impatiently on the table top in front of her.

She supposed it was Sophie who'd finally convinced her to go to this appointment. Her daughter had been terribly upset and distressed by yesterday's events. She'd sat next to her mother sobbing hysterically until someone had been alerted and had come over to help. Fortunately a kindly neighbour had been nearby to hear the little girl's screams.

And as much time as she'd spent reassuring her daughter last night that she was fine, she knew little Sophie was too stubborn to let it drop until she had incontrovertible proof.

They only had each other, after all.

And Sophie was like a protective little lioness.

Hermione loved her daughter more than anything on this earth. To say she was a bit of a surprise was an understatement. She certainly hadn't been planning to have a child at the very young age of twenty. But it seemed that fate (and one faulty contraceptive potion) had other ideas. And now she wouldn't have it any other way.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a Medi-Witch, her bright lime robes swishing around her portly form as she came in to sit opposite Hermione. The woman had a kindly but serious expression on her face.

"Good afternoon, Miss Granger. I'm Doctor Seeley. Thank you for making the time so soon to come in."

"Of course," she replied politely, "I just want to get this over with to be honest. I've certainly learned my lesson about skipping breakfast."

The Medi-Witch sighed, leaning forwards to lace her fingers together.

"Miss Granger… the tests done yesterday would indicate that there is something else going on. I read through your records. There were some notes made by your obstetrician from when you were pregnant. For how long before that had you been experiencing dizzy episodes? Muscle spasms?"

Hermione blinked in surprise, thinking of the tremors she would get in her fingers occasionally, her terrible headaches and the cramps she suffered in her arms and legs.

"Uh…well… it's been about six years or so in total now."

"Six years," the doctor repeated thoughtfully, her quill taking notes independently as she observed her patient thoughtfully over her interlaced fingers, "Forgive me for asking, Miss Granger but, knowing you of course by reputation, is it possible that these symptoms could be linked to an injury sustained during the war?"

Hermione swallowed, squirming a bit uncomfortably in her seat.

"Well…maybe, I guess. The tremors started sometime after…I think… well, there was this one incident…"

Her stammering voice trailed off as she choked on the words, the memories overwhelming her a bit as she gathered her courage.

"I believe you were tortured by Death Eaters," the doctor prompted gently, "If indeed the many stories written after the war are to be believed," she added.

Hermione nodded. She drew in a deep breath and answered weakly,

"Yes but… but it's been years since then…"

The doctor nodded with a grimace.

"Indeed. However, there are certain curses that can continue to produce complications years later. Especially after a single, prolonged exposure. The body fights back at first and can succeed for a while. But these things cause damage we might not be able to see or even feel at first that re-emerge later."

"So…what does that mean? What's wrong with me exactly?"

Doctor Seeley leaned back in her chair. Her expression was tender but professional as she observed her patient.

"Let me be frank, Miss Granger. I was called in by my colleagues after your tests came back yesterday due to the nature of your illness."

"My… my illness?"

The Medi-Witch nodded solemnly.

"I specialise in Terminal Curse Wounds. I often help patients to assess their options and cope with trauma caused by inoperable masses of dark magic."

"Woah… hold on. What the hell are you talking about?"

"Miss Granger… Hermione," she said more softly, showing some sympathy in her features now as she leaned forwards, "the torture you endured has left a dark mass in your brain. It's probably been growing there for years. It's spread through your core magic and is also infecting your nervous system. Am I right in assuming you don't actually use magic very much?"

"Uh…no," she answered blankly, "I mean yes… I hardly ever use magic at home. I'm…I'm a…"

"It's quite common for muggleborn witches and wizards to use less magic in their day-to-day lives. It's likely that living a more muggle lifestyle has actually helped prolong your good health this long. Increased magic use may have allowed the darkness to spread more rapidly."

Hermione knew her mind was shutting down in several key areas as she tried to absorb all this. She felt fuzzy and confused.

"But… but what can we do about it? How do we get rid of it?" she asked in a shaky voice. The Medi-witch paused for a moment as if giving her time to prepare.

"There is currently no viable option to remove the mass using surgery or aggressive anti-curse spells. It's too intricately wrapped around your brain and any attempt to do so might prove fatal."

"What are you saying?" she asked desperately, her head spinning wildly, "what can we do then?"

Doctor Seeley sighed, pursing her lips sadly.

"Your best course of action is starting a treatment of potions to try and reduce the spread. But I should stress that it is likely to only give you more time…"

Hermione's body began to feel numb. As the Medi-Witch continued talking, she found herself nodding unconsciously, the other woman's voice fading into a hum as she listed statistics and chances, each more depressing than the last. Hermione's eyes grew blank as she stared ahead, not really sure what she was supposed to do, or how to act. Her back was stiff and straight as she absorbed the information listlessly.

Ten per cent chance of recovery if we can reduce its growth…

6 months, maybe a year…

Rigorous treatment…

Side effects…nausea…vomiting…

High cost due to the rare nature of the ingredients…

Hermione blinked and pulled herself out of her trance-like state as she absorbed the last detail like a shock to her system.

"Wh…what did you say?"

Doctor Seeley cocked her head to the side and looked at her sympathetically.

"The treatment is very expensive unfortunately. The ingredients are incredibly rare, and a single course of potions can cost around twenty thousand galleons."

Hermione felt a twisting sensation in her gut and for a brief moment she thought might actually be sick all over the witch's pristine white desk.

"Twenty thousand galleons?" she repeated dumbly, her face turning pale as her jaw clenched shut to stop herself from crying out.

"Your medical insurance should be able to cover about 10% of that amount, so you'll only have to contribute another eighteen or so yourself."

"Eighten?" she echoed again, her voice hollow.

And then it was all over. The appointment came to an end with the professional witch rushing her through the details and making follow up appointments. She insisted that Hermione consider her choices quickly and return to book in a time to start her treatment once she was able to access her funds, urging her to start as soon a possible.

Hermione wandered from the office in a daze.

For a moment she couldn't even remember how to get out of the building, slowly retracing her steps through the endless winding corridors until she recognised a particularly dull painting of a herd of sheep in a wide green paddock. The shepherd gave her a cheerful wave as she hurried past, tipping his hat to her in a merry fashion.

Hermione picked up her pace, escaping through a set of large bronze doors and out into the entrance hall of the hospital. The air felt slightly cooler out here and she gulped in a few breaths as people rushed around her, going about their business as they jostled and bumped her shoulders. The blur of motion was too much and for a moment she leaned against a nearby railing, trying to draw breath into her lungs and failing miserably.

A cheerful gong sounded through the hall, reverberating from the tall grandfather clock next to the portrait of founder Mungo Bonham that graced the main wall of the entrance.

Hermione blinked at the clock in surprise.

Eight o'clock!

She gasped and clutched at her handbag, her heart skipping unpleasantly as she realised how late it was.

Sophie…

She had to get home. Hermione had left her daughter hours ago with a promise to return soon. The little girl was probably worrying herself sick over where her mummy had got to and what was the matter with her.

Oh god…Sophie…

No. She couldn't think about it now. Not now. Not in front of her daughter. There was no time for theatrics at the moment or silly displays of emotion. She just needed to get home.

Hermione rushed outside to the apparition point, drawing her wand into her clammy palm and trying desperately to focus on the location where she wanted to appear. She really hoped she didn't splinch herself.

With a crack she found herself outside her home and breathed a sigh of relief that she'd made it in one piece. Looking up at the little old cottage on the hill, Hermione felt herself shudder violently.

She clenched her hands into fists and focused on one thing and one thing only.

Sophie.

Her daughter needed her. As she rallied herself and tried to control the trembling in her legs, Hermione made her way up the winding path to the front door of the cottage. The windows were cracked and there were tiles falling off the roof in several places. There was so much to do. They'd only just moved in. And even though the place was practically falling down around them, it was the best she could afford. Sophie needed a proper home. She was hoping she could fix it up and make it look nicer over time.

Ignoring the rotting wood on the front door, she gently turned the key, forcing it open when it got stuck halfway.

It was suspiciously quiet inside. The usual sounds of Sophie laughing and playing were not to be found. Hermione closed the door behind her, smelling something slightly burnt but still welcome coming from the kitchen.

"Mione! You're back!"

Hermione took a deep, steadying breath as she turned to face the curly haired smile of Lavender Brown. The girl was still strikingly pretty despite the deep scar the marred her left cheek, a cruel gift left to her by the werewolf Greyback during the final battle. Somehow, though, she still always managed to look both confident and glamorous anyway.

"I'm so sorry Lav! I had no idea I'd be gone so long, and then I had to wait for ages-"

Lavender waved off her stream of apologies with a dainty hand, shrugging nonchalantly.

"That's okay, silly! Everything's fine here. Sophie's just gone to bed actually. She waited up as long as she could, but the little squirt just couldn't keep her eyes open after a while. Don't worry, I gave her a bath and we've eaten dinner too. I'm a crap cook, but pasta was easy enough! I left you some under a stasis charm in the kitchen."

It took every bit of Hermione's strength not to break down sobbing in her friend's arms. Instead she just gave the other woman a huge bear hug, clinging onto her tighter than usual.

"What did I ever do to deserve you?" she whispered, practically shaking with the effort of keeping it together.

"You mean apart from saving my life?" Lavender joked, pulling back and observing her closely, "No! Let's not start that argument again. I always win anyway. But you know we spent six years hating each other at school. It was about time we tried being nice to each other."

"True. You've been my rock these last couple of years!"

"Well your kid is pretty cute," she joked, giving Hermione a light shove, "and I guess you're alright too."

Hermione laughed, but it came out a little choked, as if she couldn't quite breath properly.

"Is everything alright? What did the doctor say?" Lavender asked with a concerned frown.

Hermione dredged up enough courage from somewhere deep within to force a slightly strained smile onto her face.

"Everything's fine. She just said I was a bit malnourished. It seems I've skipped too many meals."

Lavender rolled her eyes.

"You goose! I told you to look after yourself. You've been so stressed lately, what with having to find another job and… you know… everything else."

Hermione hummed sadly, trying not to think of the other problems looming in her life lest she break down completely.

Luckily they were interrupted by a sleepy voice coming from the bedroom door.

"Mummy?"

Hermione forced a warm smile onto her lips, her heart clenching as she saw her daughter teetering in the doorway in her yellow pyjamas, rubbing tiredly at her eyes.

"Hi sweetie," she whispered, moving her bag to the hook next to the door. Lavender gave her a quiet little wave.

"I'll see you this weekend!" she mouthed, creeping past and out the front door.

"Thanks Lav! You're the best," Hermione whispered back, before making her way over to her daughter. As she did, she heard her fried disapparating from out the front of the house and knew she was gone.

"Hey sleepy head," she chuckled, bending down to sweep Sophie up into a tight cuddle. The little girl threw her arms around her neck, clinging on tightly.

"You're late!" she scolded in her drowsy voice.

"Am I?" she asked in a bewildered voice, "But it's only 2 o'clock in the afternoon! It's still daylight!"

Sophie giggled, the sound muffled against Hermione's shoulder.

"No it's not, mummy! It's dark outside!"

"Oh my goodness, you're right. In that case it's way past your bedtime, young lady."

Sophie giggled again and burrowed in deeper to her arms.

"Will you tuck me in? Auntie Lavender doesn't get the sheets right like you do."

"Is that so?" she mused, carrying her daughter into the bedroom and laying her gently on the low children's bed in there. It was the one piece of furniture she'd spent time and money transfiguring to be warm, cosy and to always bring her daughter joyful dreams. The yellow, sunny patchwork blanket was the only thing she'd kept from her parents' old house and it was a treasured item. Sophie couldn't sleep without it.

"There we go," Hermione murmured softly as she placed her daughter under the blanket before tugging the sheets in tight around her. She pulled them taut and tucked them deeper into the bed frame.

"Now you're snug as a bug!"

Sophie laughed, wriggling her arms until they escaped the tight sheet and lay on top.

"You missed dinner mummy! Auntie Lavender's food tasted kinda funny."

Hermione clucked her tongue, tapping her daughter softly on the tip of her nose.

"Auntie Lavender was very kind to cook for you. I hope you said thank you."

"Yes mummy, I did."

Hermione stroked her hand over the little girl's hair, thankful that her daughter hadn't inherited the full bush of curls from her mother, just a few silky dark waves.

"Are you feeling sleepy now, little bug?"

"Uhuh…" Sophie hummed as her eyes started to droop.

"Well you'd better hurry up and pick a toy."

Sophie nodded, her little nose scrunching up as she thought about this very problem seriously.

"You guess!" she eventually declared with a cheeky smile, showing off a couple of missing baby teeth.

"Hmmm," Hermione considered this solemnly, tapping one finger on her lips, "I think Sophie wants to sleep with… umm…her otter!"

Sophie beamed, nodding enthusiastically.

"Yes please!"

Hermione picked up the brown stuffed toy from the floor. Sophie immediately grasped it and held it close to her chest. It had been a gift from George Weasley when she turned two years old, and she loved it more than anything because it looked like her mummy's patronus.

"Alright, sweetie. Time to dream. Say hello to the stars for me!"

Sophie smiled lethargically as her eyes closed.

"And you say hello to the moon!" she murmured in reply.

The familiar words tugged at Hermione's heartstrings. They'd been saying the same phrase to each other for as long as she could remember. Just like her mum used to do at bedtime when she was little.

With one final kiss to the little girl's forehead, Hermione quietly moved away from the bed, switching on the charmed lantern near the door to give the room a soft twinkling light.

She paused in the doorway, looking back on her baby girl sleeping peacefully in her bed. Watching Sophie sleeping, wrapped up securely in her sheets and clutching at her otter, Hermione felt the emotions finally come crashing down.

Making a hasty retreat, she hovered in the living room for a moment, her eyes moving over the half unpacked furniture still sitting around in a mess in the living room and trembled slightly. One of the couches needed replacing and she'd had to sell some of her parents' old paintings and rugs just last month, so there wasn't much to furnish the walls or floor with.

Eighteen thousand galleons…

Hermione's stomach clenched violently again and before she knew it she was launching herself towards the front door and stumbling outside. Gulping for air, she barely made it to the patch of garden near the footpath before she was falling to her knees and vomiting the meagre contents of her stomach into the bushes.

It took her a while to recover, wiping her hand across her lips and spitting up the bile that had burned its way up her throat and into her mouth.

Sophie… my little Sophie…

There was no use holding back the wave of misery now, Hermione realised, as it swept through her like a bolt of ice.

The ice froze her heart and shattered it into a million pieces all at once as she whispered the bitter truth inside her head.

She was dying.

Bellatrix Lestrange must be cackling beyond the grave, she thought with a deranged sob. The crazy bitch might not have killed her in person at Malfoy Manor, but now the consequences of her malice were coming back for revenge. The hour or two she'd spent writhing on their drawing room floor in pain was nothing compared to the total agony of what she was facing now.

Because now there was a tiny, innocent soul sleeping peacefully in her bed who relied on her mother completely. Now there was this precious life in her hands, who she loved more than anything in the world. And she didn't know what the hell she was supposed to do. Even if she could afford the potions she needed, there was still only the slimmest, most minute chance that she would defeat this.

Hermione collapsed forwards onto her hands, her face turning up to the sky as she howled with impotent rage, thankful for the silencing spells that protected Sophie from overhearing her despair.

She couldn't afford the potions anyway, so all the hope she might have held were instantly dashed.

Her poor, sweet Sophie had already endured so much in her short life-time. She'd already had to be so brave with each new trial they faced. She didn't deserve to lose her mum as well.

When Hermione had fallen pregnant, she'd been terrified but also delighted. The connection she'd felt to the baby inside her had been instant and so powerful.

But Sophie's father, on the other hand, hadn't been as thrilled.

Viktor Krum had come back into her life like some kind of heroic angel after the war. He'd literally swept her off her feet. And maybe she'd been looking for love, or maybe she'd just needed to escape, but she'd happily gone with him back to Bulgaria where he'd continued his Quidditch career with roaring success while she studied her university courses by correspondence. He'd always admired her intelligence, after all, and he'd been so encouraging and supportive.

But he certainly hadn't counted on an unexpected pregnancy. He was at the height of his career, and they were still both so young. They weren't even anywhere near married yet, just dating happily and enjoying their time together after all the darkness she'd faced.

A sort of distance had grown between them those first few months of her pregnancy. But she'd always hoped that when the baby was born he'd come around. That he'd fall in love with their daughter like she already had.

Then the accident had happened and everything had changed.

He'd been out drinking with his team mates. He'd drunk a lot while she was pregnant. Hermione suspected that he was trying to drown his nagging doubts and pretend he was a bachelor again, with no family on the way to tie him down. But that was how the accident happened. He was completely pissed and flying his broom when he fell fifty feet and cracked his head on the stone turret of his old training ground.

He was dead within a couple of minutes.

While the whole of wizarding Bulgaria went into mourning, Hermione remembered just feeling numb about the whole thing, like maybe it hadn't really happened. People had tried to console her but she just couldn't bring herself to accept it. It had been too sudden. Too shockingly mundane to lose him to such a silly accident when she'd recently survived a war.

That was, until the first bill came in.

They'd been young and in love, and she'd just never worried about things as asinine as money. Viktor supposedly made a bloody good salary playing for his country. He was their star seeker after all.

But it seemed he liked gambling even more than he liked flying.

As more and more notices and demands came in, Hermione had been forced to confront the shocking revelation that Viktor owed an unfathomable amount of money to the bank. And goblins forgave nothing, not even after death.

It wasn't fair. They hadn't even been married, but apparently he'd filed some kind of paperwork for his club naming her as his next of kin, and she was pregnant with his offspring, so in some cruel twist of fate and Goblin law the debt fell to her.

And she had to pay.

So she'd gotten a job. And even as she ran herself ragged trying to work, still studying part time and seven months pregnant, she could barely afford to pay any of it back. Every time she managed to make a repayment it seemed she'd been charged more interest than she'd managed to return.

And now, four years later, she was still paying his debts and her credit rating was completely ruined.

She'd come so close. Only three thousand galleons remained of the original amount. And even after the company she was working for had closed down, she'd been incredibly lucky to find a new job. She was supposed to start next week.

But now…

Now she was dying.

She was fucking dying.

And the only hope she had was a treatment that would cost another eighteen thousand galleons.

"Why… oh god why, damnit?" she screamed up at the stars, the same stars she had told her daughter to speak to in her dreams. Now they laughed down at her, taunting her.

Your daughter is going to be all alone. You've failed her.

"Are you happy, you bitch? Are you fucking happy?"

She collapsed, tears streaming freely down her cheeks as she struggled to take in deep gasping breaths.

Hermione had always been a rational person, but nothing had prepared her to sort through the mess of thoughts swarming her now with panic, desolation and confusion fighting for control as she was forced to confront what was happening to her.

Even if she managed to pay off the last of Viktor's debts, who would look after Sophie? Her daughter would be left with nothing, not a single galleon to her name, with no mother, no family at all really, and a broken heart. She was only four years old for Merlin's sake!

It was too much.

Hermione found herself dry heaving again, her stomach so empty now she couldn't vomit. There wasn't even enough bile to expel from her body, so she just sat there curled up, her body convulsing as she tried to keep sucking in enough air to avoid losing consciousness.

Then, when the fit of emotion had passed and only exhaustion lay in its place, Hermione slumped back on the ground; her head feeling heavy like a great weight was anchoring it to the ground.

She stared up blearily at the stars above, wondering what else the cruel strings of fate had in store for her. It was clear she was entirely at their mercy now.

The only thing left to do was hide the awful truth from the little soul sleeping peacefully inside. There was nothing more important now than shielding her daughter from this terrible pain.

And by Merlin she'd do anything to protect her.

Well there it is. The first chapter. And a long one too! What a rollercoaster. Let me know what you think – as I said, it's a very different story!