Benjamin sat on the edge of the bed, tying his shoelaces. He only had a couple more days left in England, then it was back to San Francisco. He hoped he'd be able to get a moment alone with Molly, but with the holiday, several of her younger grandchildren often came to the house during the day soon after breakfast. Benjamin thought it might have been planned by Molly, just to avoid being alone with him. The few times he'd been able to talk to April, she kept insisting he needed to give her some time.
He pushed himself off the bed and opened the door, nearly running into Arthur, who stood on the other side. 'Would you like a tour of wizarding London today?'
'Don't you have work?' Benjamin asked.
Arthur grinned. 'My department runs itself,' he chuckled. 'I'm just there to make sure they don't set themselves on fire.' He motioned for Benjamin to precede him down the stairs. 'We can take a quick tour through the Ministry. See the joke shop. Maybe pick something up for your two children. And see if Ginny can get us to a match before your Portkey…'
'I've seen professional Quidditch,' Benjamin objected.
Arthur snorted in contempt. 'Real Quidditch, son,' he scoffed. 'Not that Americans can't play,' he added, 'but their skills aren't quite up to the level of European players.'
'Like soccer,' Benjamin said.
'Oh, yeah. Football,' Benjamin corrected himself. 'Quidditch isn't quite as big in schools,' he said. 'Most of the schools are in cities, so it's a little hard to find the space to play.'
'We've had a few Yanks sign on with a team or two here,' Arthur said. 'Played quite well, too.' He pulled out his chair at the table and folded his lanky frame into it.
Benjamin looked down in dismay at the plate Molly set in front of him. He picked up the fork, and began to try to unobtrusively nudge the kippers to the side, so they didn't touch his eggs. It didn't escape Molly's notice.
'Is something wrong?' she asked.
'No…' Benjamin murmured.
'Fabian always…' Molly began, then bit off the rest of the sentence, cheeks flushing, as she turned away and began to dish eggs onto her own plate.
Benjamin shifted uncomfortably, the clink of Arthur's fork against his plate the only sound in the yawning silence. He firmly scraped the kippers to the side, in a wordless statement. I'm not Fabian. Several times since he'd arrived, Molly had started to call him by his father's name, only to catch herself and say the correct name. Sometimes, he caught her staring quizzically at him, as if he were one of those odd-looking paintings in a museum – the kinds where women had more than the usual amount of breasts and their faces were on the side of their heads. But she didn't try to engage him in anything more than superficial conversation.
At last, Arthur Banished his plate to the sink and stood. 'Ready?' he asked Benjamin.
'Yes.' Benjamin rose with alacrity, dropping his fork, and Vanished his half-eaten breakfast, then copied Arthur's actions and sent his plate to the sink as well. He followed Arthur from the kitchen. 'Bye… Molly…' he said softly.
Arthur waited just outside the garden gate. 'If you don't mind being treated like a child for a mo, I'll Side-Along you to the Ministry. So you don't get lost and end up somewhere in Wales.'
'I don't mind.' Benjamin grasped Arthur's elbow and closed his eyes against the squeezing, nauseating sensation of Apparition.
'We'll have to go through the visitors' entrance,' Arthur said in a far-away voice. 'Register your wand and the like…' He led Benjamin to a battered red telephone box. 'Just press… six, two, four, four, two,' he muttered.
'Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. What is your name and the purpose of your visit?' intoned a cool female voice.
Arthur nudged Benjamin and nodded toward the receiver. 'Uh… Benjamin Prewett and I'm visiting with Arthur Weasley…' A soft clinking sound came from the coin slot at the bottom and Benjamin scooped out a silver badge. Engraved across the front were the words, Benjamin Prewett, Five Knut Tour.
Arthur peered over Benjamin's shoulder and snickered. 'I suppose the bloody thing's got a sense of humor after all.' The interior of the telephone box began to sink into the ground.
Benjamin gazed up as they passed below the street level. 'It's at this point in the movie that people start screaming for the ditzy blonde chick in her bikini to not go through that door…' he mused. 'She always does…' At Arthur's startled look, Benjamin spent the remainder of their journey to the Atrium explaining Muggle horror films. His wand registered, Benjamin followed Arthur onto the lift and through a confusing warren of cubicles until they came to a slightly wider space. A young witch occupied the desk outside a heavy wooden door. She glared up at Arthur.
'May I help you?' she asked haughtily.
'Ah. You must be Hermione's new assistant,' Arthur sighed.
'Do you have an appointment with Mrs. Granger-Weasley?'
'No,' Arthur retorted. 'But I hardly need one if she's available.'
The witch looked at him severely. 'And why is that?'
'For starters, she's married to my youngest son,' Arthur huffed.
'Yes, I'm well aware of that fact, sir, but Mrs. Granger-Weasley's schedule is rather full today.' There wasn't a shred of apology on the witch's face. 'It wouldn't be an issue had the gentleman in with her now hadn't arrived with as much surprise as you.'
Arthur nodded slowly. 'I see.' He abruptly waved his wand and a squashy sofa landed in front of the desk. 'We'll wait,' he said cheerfully, dropping into the cushions. 'Who's in with her?'
'I'm not at liberty to say,' the witch said coolly.
'She's more of a stickler for rules than even Percy,' Arthur commented sotto voce to Benjamin. 'And that's saying something.'
Hermione stared at Draco in frank amazement before she burst into peals of laughter. She paused to try and catch her breath, but giggles kept burbling to the surface. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. 'Oh, I'm sorry…' she gasped. 'You're trying to be contrite and I'm just shrieking like a fishwife…' She mopped her cheeks with a handkerchief and took a deep breath. 'Are you in some sort of twelve-step program?'
'You know… One of those programs that deal with issues and you have to complete a series of tasks… One of them is to make amends…'
Draco shook his head. 'No…' He looked at Hermione in bemusement. 'That's it? No screaming? No tirade that I ruined your life?'
Hermione snorted. 'Calling me a Mudblood didn't ruin my life,' she stated.
'Well, it wasn't a very nice thing to do, was it?'
'At the time, no,' Hermione admitted. 'But later… During the war, it sort of symbolized everything I stood for. I am a Muggle-born witch. And I refused then to be made to feel ashamed of it. I still feel that way.' She rested her elbows on the desk. 'I suppose I ought to thank you. If I hadn't had to put up with the likes of you for so long, I might not have been so proud of it.' She examined Draco for a moment. 'Why now? It's all disappeared into the mists of time by now.'
Draco looked down at his interlaced fingers. 'It's just something I have… Need to do.'
Hermione studied her old nemesis for several moments. 'Are you dying?' she asked bluntly.
'No. Not that I'm aware. This is merely something I need to do for myself.'
'I see.' Hermione's elbows rested on her desk and she propped her chin in her hands. 'Who else have you seen?'
'Who are you? My Auror?'
'You don't have to say,' Hermione demurred. 'From what you intimated earlier, I'm going to assume it hasn't gone well.'
'Not especially,' Draco allowed stiffly. He let several long moments spool out. 'You're really not angry?' he asked hesitantly.
Hermione shook her head. 'No. There really is a shred of humanity buried in there after all…'
Draco's eyes narrowed and his face hardened. 'I'm not a monster,' he growled defensively.
'I never said you were,' Hermione said smoothly. She rose and held out a hand. Draco stared at it quizzically. 'I'm not going to bite you.'
Haltingly, Draco extended his hand and shook Hermione's, quickly releasing her hand, as if he'd been burned.
Hermione smiled a little. 'Yes, I know. We're hardly friends. You're still Draco Malfoy and I'm still that jumped-up Mudblood married to a blood-traitor. But that doesn't mean we have to despise each other.'
Draco's lips pressed together in a tight line. Hermione thought he might have tried to choke back a wave of nausea. He nodded once and turned on his heel, stalking from the office. Hermione bit her lip, trying not to laugh aloud once more. Some things never change… she said to herself.
Draco stopped short when he saw Arthur chatting easily with a man on a squashy sofa in front of the desk. The witch behind it looked as if steam were going to come from her ears at the disorder Arthur had introduced into the painfully neat and tidy office. The red-headed man glanced up at Draco, then began to examine him, his dark eyes betraying nothing. Draco frowned, shaking his head slightly. He recognized the man from Diagon Alley last weekend – it was the one he'd seen standing outside the joke shop, the one he'd mistaken for one of the Weasley brothers. In full daylight, Draco didn't see how he could have thought the man was a Weasley. Aside from the height and red hair, he didn't have any of the usual distinguishing characteristics of a Weasley – namely an overabundance of freckles. But there was something disturbingly familiar about him. Draco just couldn't place it. Shrugging, he left with a curt nod toward Arthur.
Benjamin turned to Arthur. 'Who is that? And why is he looking at me like I'm some sort of new species of flobberworm?'
Arthur glanced over his shoulder at the witch, who had given up all pretense of aloofness and was almost leaning forward avidly, listening to them, while she perused a scroll. He jerked his head toward the open door and led Benjamin inside Hermione's office, where she sat behind her desk, chuckling softly. 'That,' Arthur began, 'was your mother's nephew.' He looked at Benjamin pointedly. 'Your cousin, Draco.'
'Does he always look like he's got a pole shoved up his butt?' Benjamin grumbled.
'Yes.' Hermione spoke up. 'And he's been acting rather strangely…'
'I still can't get over this,' Benjamin said reverently. 'We don't have anything like it at home…' He poked a finger in the Pygmy Puff cage. A soft butter-yellow one immediately rubbed joyfully against the tip, trilling in ecstasy.
'It's much noisier during the summers,' Ron said.
Benjamin goggled at him. To his ears, the cacophony in the shop was nothing short of deafening. 'You get used to it after a while,' George added cheerfully. 'Although my wife swears I've lost half my hearing.'
'Makes sense,' Ron shot back. 'Since you've already lost half your ears,' he snickered.
'Oh, Merlin's sagging bollocks,' Arthur groaned. 'I only thought I've heard every awful one-ear joke… Didn't think it cold get worse…'
George had been watching Benjamin peer through the shop, with an all-too familiar calculating look on his face. 'Hey bro,' he said to Ron. 'Since Parker's not planning on ending up in the Ministry any time soon, you think we could successfully eradicate any bit of swottiness left in him and talk him into opening a shop in America?
Ron glanced around the crowded shop. 'Hmmm. We might. But where? New York? Chicago? San Francisco?' he added significantly.
Benjamin looked up from the bin that held small, greyish blobs. 'What is this?'
'Ah, a play on a Muggle joke,' George said brightly. 'There's a list of things it will turn into – fake vomit, fake dog poo, severed finger – complete with fake blood… It's even scented.'
'Oh, that's disgusting,' Benjamin muttered, but he tossed a handful into the basket he carried. 'My son will go nuts over it.'
'Would this work in America?' Ron asked Benjamin interestedly.
'It might,' Benjamin said slowly. 'You'd have to change the names of some things, and some of this stuff is a little too localized to work back home.'
'Like what?' George demanded.
Benjamin lightly touched the Hogwarts Heads Stacking Dolls, sending the one of McGonagall dressed in eye-watering head-to-toe plaid, rocking slightly. 'This wouldn't work,' he told them. 'You couldn't even replicate with Salem's heads. Each location is pretty autonomous. What goes on in Massachusetts doesn't necessarily happen in North Dakota or Missouri. And your mail-order service would be somewhat curtailed. Regulations about what magical items can be shipped by owl are pretty tight. To maintain secrecy, you see…'
'Might be easier to open one in Rome,' George mused. 'At least there you can slip the officials a little bit of gold to look the other way…'
'I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that,' Arthur sighed. 'Nothing illegal, please, boys…'
'Dad, I'm hurt,' George said sadly. 'We haven't done anything illegal enough to be sent to Azkaban since Mundungus Fletcher disappeared,' he protested.
Arthur rubbed his temples. 'And you lot wonder why I've lost most of my hair…'
The scent of baked apples and cinnamon wafted under Hermione's nose. 'Pie…' she murmured. 'I love pie…'
'I know you do,' Ron said smugly. He offered her a bite of the pie on a fork.
'I thought you didn't approve of food in bed,' Hermione said, before taking the bite. Her eyes rolled back in her head in pleasure. 'Mmmmm. The best one yet…'
'You say that every time,' Ron chided without real heat.
'And it's true every time,' she teased.
'And I'm not averse to occasional food in bed,' Ron told her, swiping a drop of the cinnamon-laced apple juice off the edge of the plate with his finger. He hissed through his teeth when Hermione's lips closed around it. 'The children are home…' he warned.
'The children are in bed,' Hermione reminded him. 'And their being home has never stopped either of us before.'
Ron swallowed heavily. 'Eat your pie,' he said hoarsely.
Hermione gave him a smug smile of her own, and took the proffered plate. 'Has Malfoy been to see you recently?' she asked casually.
Ron inhaled a crumb of pastry base and began to cough. He shook his head, tears streaming down his face. 'No…' He mopped his face with his sleeve. 'Why would he do something silly like that?'
Hermione hummed in anticipation as her fork sliced through the juicy apples. 'He's either looking for redemption, or truly trying to put it all behind him.' She slid the bite into her mouth. 'It's about bloody time.' She swallowed and eyed Ron. 'No milk?'
'You don't want much, do you?' Ron huffed, flicking his wand, and a glass of milk floated into Hermione's outstretched hand. 'So… Did Malfoy come to see you?'
'Yeah. He didn't seem very happy about it.' She waved off the subject of Draco Malfoy. 'Doesn't matter. Just don't be horribly shocked if you see him come into the shop and beg forgiveness for all sorts of wrongs that you've either forgotten or let go of ages ago.'
'Oh, sure…' Ron murmured. 'The wanker only tried to poison me. Well, not me, but Dumbledore. I was an accident… But still…'
'I know,' Hermione soothed. 'But how often does a Malfoy attempt any sort of apology?'
'That's bound to be humiliating,' Ron observed. 'I mean, I know how hard it is to ask you to forgive me for being a git,' he said.
'You haven't been that bad in years,' Hermione argued.
'I have my moments,' Ron laughed. 'And so do you,' he quickly added. 'But blokes like Malfoy don't ask people to forgive them. Especially not the likes of us.'
'You mean the Mudblood and the blood-traitor?' Hermione asked.
Ron chuckled in deep guffaws. 'I love it when you talk dirty like that.' He pulled the plate from Hermione's unresisting hand. 'You can finish this later…'
Draco slouched in the armchair, his feet stretched out in front of him. 'It was awful,' he said. 'It was almost more horrible than when I tried to apologize to Mother.'
Andrew set his notebook aside. 'Oh?'
Draco heaved a sigh and glared at the ceiling over his head. 'Mother's ire, I understood. Everything she's had to try and deal with the last several years has been a direct result of either my father's actions or mine. The two of us, in effect, ruined her life as much as we did ours. Katie Weasley… I didn't ruin her life,' he said defensively.
'So you say,' Andrew murmured noncommittally. 'What happened with her, exactly?'
Draco scowled at the Healer. 'Don't you know?' he drawled sarcastically. 'I thought the entire world knew.'
'As I've told you before, I do know, but I'd prefer if you said it yourself.'
Draco's fingers twined together in a Gordian knot. He fancied his heart pounded so hard, it would be visible through the layers of skin and muscle. The sand that flowed from the upper globe in the hourglass seemed to slow to a trickle. 'I was supposed to kill Albus Dumbledore during my sixth year of school,' he admitted slowly, haltingly. It was the first time he'd admitted it aloud to anyone since that terrible night atop the Astronomy tower. 'I didn't have the… I don't know… It wasn't courage… But whatever it was… I couldn't make myself do it. Not directly. I didn't want to actually do it. I couldn't bring myself to even try. So I tried to force other people to do it for me.' Draco's throat closed and he swallowed heavily. 'I wouldn't even curse the person directly… I cursed Rosmerta, at the Three Broomsticks… And made her curse someone else…'
'Set yourself up for failure from the beginning,' Andrew commented. 'We could argue that's what you wanted all along.'
'Yeah,' Draco muttered. 'But still selfish, no? If it worked, I'd have succeeded, but without blood on my hands. The really pathetic thing was, I knew Potter, Granger, and Weasley were on to me. I knew from the beginning. I almost wanted them to figure it all out. Then I would have been punished by wizarding law, and I wouldn't have to do it anymore. I wish they had before I had Rosmerta curse Katie. Because I almost killed her. I could have killed both of them.'
'Did you tell Katie that?'
Draco nodded. 'Something like that.' He began to work his fingers apart, and instead of seeing his own hands, the image of Katie's still-brutally scarred finger arose. 'I wasn't expecting roses and sunshine,' he sighed. 'I wasn't expecting for Katie to react as she did, either. Not with that level of vehemence…'
'Do you wish you hadn't apologized to her?' Andrew asked bluntly.
'No.' Draco surprised himself with the speed at which he replied. 'I mean, it was awful, and it brings up all that old guilt, but later… Later…' he trailed off, shrugging in embarrassment. 'I don't quite know how to say it. It's almost like a relief to finally say it.'
Andrew nodded, and retrieved his notebook, jotting a few things down. 'And how are things going with your wife and son?'
Draco heaved a sigh and flopped against the cushions of the armchair. He glanced pointedly at the hourglass. The sand had emptied from the upper globe some time ago. 'Next time.'
Benjamin stifled a yawn behind the back of his hand. 'Stupid ghoul…' he muttered.
'I'm sorry, dear?' Molly asked, perplexed.
'Ghoul,' Benjamin supplied. 'Moaned and clanked all night…'
Molly chuckled a little. 'He does do that. We've managed to tune him out ages ago.' She turned to the stove. 'Arthur got called up to Edinburgh. There's a box of charmed household goods in a church rummage sale.' She pointed her wand at a loaf of bread. 'Marmalade or jam for your toast, Fab… Benjamin?'
'Jam…' Benjamin poured himself a cup of coffee before Molly could fill his cup with tea. He added milk and sugar to it and cupped his hands around its soothing warmth. 'Do you have anything going on today?'
'Maybe you could tell me about my dad,' Benjamin ventured. Molly's shoulders drew together and hunched defensively. 'I know you don't talk about him much, at least that's what Arthur's told me,' he stated. 'You don't talk about either of your brothers… I mean, Mom's told me what she knows about Dad, and she can tell me the usual things, like his favorite color, or what kind of man he was. And she can tell me some of what he was like in school, but I've been told back then, all of you were put into different dormitories, and you didn't really socialize.' Benjamin inhaled deeply. He was speaking quickly, before Molly could cut him off or try to change the subject. 'So she can't tell me what Dad was like before then. Like I didn't know his handwriting was like chicken scratch until this past Sunday. Explains a lot. Like my daughter, Marissa – she has the worst handwriting and April and I have spent hours trying to make her practice, and she does and it's sort of legible, but it's still horrible. You can tell me things Mom can't.' He took another deep breath. 'And maybe you could get to know me. On my merits, separate from my dad.'
Molly's hands shook. She didn't trust herself to carry the two laden plates to the table, and rather wildly jabbed her wand at them. The plates landed haphazardly on the table and some of the contents slid off the edge. She dropped into the chair across the table from Benjamin. 'They were two years older than me,' she said, her voice wobbling. Gideon would always complain about having me tag along after them, but Fabian would tolerate my presence. He was an excellent swimmer, Fabian. Taught me how to swim. They were both excellent duelers. Fabian was much more serious than Gideon. He liked to have fun, to be sure, and could pull pranks with the best of them, but he knew where the line was. Didn't cross it often. When Ron was a baby, Fabian would sit up with him at night. Ron didn't settle down easily, so to give Arthur and me a break, he would sit up in the sitting room with Ron. He would talk to Ron, and spend hours reading while he rocked him. He tried to keep the twins – my twins – from teasing Percy too much.'
Benjamin leaned forward eagerly, pushing his plate aside. 'Sounds too good to be true,' he commented.
Molly burst into peals of laughter. 'He was stubborn and willful, and had a terrible temper,' she corrected. 'When he got angry you could hear him across three counties.'
'That's what my wife would say,' Benjamin interjected wryly. 'About me.'
The laughter on Molly's face faded. 'I was devastated when he died,' she said quietly.
'So was Mom.' Benjamin spread his hands over the table. 'Why didn't you let her stay here?'
'She never asked,' Molly retorted.
'I find that hard to believe,' Benjamin told her. 'Not with the way your family takes in people.'
'She never asked,' Molly repeated. 'She never even came here.'
Molly slid her own plate aside. 'I've never met your mother, really,' she confessed. 'Fabian never brought her here.' Too keyed up to sit, Molly rose to her feet and cleared the plates from the table, taking last night's clean dishes from the drainer and plunging them into the sink, steam from the hot water, frizzing her already-frizzy hair even further. 'You know about the war? I'm going to assume your mother told you that much?'
'I thought she was helping to set up Fabian.' Molly scrubbed a plate that was already spotless. 'I thought she was leading him, and by extension Gideon, into a trap where they'd be tortured or killed.' She set the plate in the drainer and stared at the reddened skin of her hands. 'And I told Fabian as much. He kept insisting I was wrong.' Her fingers tightened around the edge of the sink. 'She was with Fabian when their bodies were found. Did your mother tell you that?'
'I don't see how…' Benjamin began.
'She was there!' Molly ground out. 'Even if she didn't plan it, she was still part of it.'
Benjamin shoved his chair back from the table so violently, that it fell over with a bang. 'Don't,' he rasped. 'Mom didn't…'
'I know,' Molly admitted grudgingly. 'Gideon and Fabian were found by friends of ours. They said her distress was quite obvious and unforced,' she said stiffly. 'But if she hadn't been involved with Fabian, they might still be alive.'
'Did Dad hold a grudge like you do?' Benjamin asked. 'Do you hold that against me?'
Molly's eyes closed. Her mouth worked soundlessly, while the tap dripped water, punctuating the silence. Benjamin muttered something unintelligible, and stalked into the back garden.