Title: Illusory

Recipient: lj user="pigwidgeon37"

Rating: Mature

Warnings: Possible waterboarding of the English language, for which I profusely apologise, and some minor slashy bits.

For the prompts: 1) Some time during the Battle of Hogwarts, Hermione feels compelled to go back to the Shrieking Shack. Snape's body is gone. There are a few more of his memories clinging to the blood on the floor, though. Hermione collects them. What they are, what she does with them and when, is up to the author. Snape is, of course alive.

3)After the Battle, Lucius goes back to the Shrieking Shack and finds an almost-dead Severus. He takes him to a secret location (author's choice) and remains there with him. Hermione Granger, debutante divorcee after 25 years of marriage and now head of Magical Law Enforcement, takes a well-deserved holiday very near the secret location. Threesome ensues.

Summary: Hermione didn't expect her first vacation in years (Vegas doesn't count) to include kidnap, a man who is supposed to be dead, or Lucius Malfoy—but no one asked her opinion. Now, she has to rescue her daughter from a situation where too many things look familiar and deal with a nightmare that goes back to the aftermath of the final battle.

Notes: Thanks to name withheld, as well as the person who spent hours coming up with wildly improbable car accident scenarios with me, although I doubt that he realises what it went towards.

Part 5

The earth

shifts, bringing

the moment before focus, when

these tides recede; and we

see each other through the hardening scales of waking

stranded, astounded

in a drying world

we flounder, the air

ungainly in our new lungs

with sunlight steaming merciless on the shores of morning

~"Pre-Amphibian", Margaret Atwood

Rose curled up in the armchair of the guest room, pretending to read, but really unwilling to let her mother out of her sight. Scorpius and Al had been torn away by their fathers, after enough angry shouting to shake the villa. Rose had made herself sparse, except to say goodbye, and her mother had, by some miracle, slept through the entire eruption.

She didn't fully understand the events of the past two days, but she didn't need to. Her mother had promised to explain them and, although Hermione showed no signs of awakening soon, Rose wasn't overly worried.

Years of insomnia, she was sure, took their toll.

It had briefly crossed her mind to owl her father and inform him of what had happened, but she had decided that that could wait as well. She knew full well that he loathed Scorpius' family, and the fact that they were currently staying with the Malfoy patriarch would no doubt send him over the edge—besides, with any luck, Harry had already told him.

The shades of red his face turned during fits of rage were only entertaining up to a point—especially since she was perfectly aware that she had inherited his complexion. However awry it may have gone, this was still their vacation, and she didn't want him intruding.

She wasn't surprised when, after a while, the door was nudged open and the dark man entered. Smiling at him hesitantly, she closed the book and vacated the chair so that he could sit down, settling herself on the end of the bed.

It wasn't the first time that he had checked in on Hermione.

"What are you reading?" he asked, careful to keep his voice low. The awkward hesitation told her that he wasn't accustomed to small talk.

She held it up so that he could read the spine. "It's a history of Italian unification that I found in the library."

"I wrote an article on Garibaldi once. Years ago."

"Oh," she said, viewing him with heightened curiosity. "I'm more interested in the reformation, personally, but I thought I'd branch out. How do you know about Muggle history?"

She clamped her mouth shut, worried that she was being impertinent, but he merely chuckled. "I could ask you the same thing."

Shrugging, she replied, "And I would tell you that I have retired Muggle grandparents who are overly fond of bookshops."

"It was the only thing that really interested my father. He was a…brilliant man, among other things. It's a pity that he was confined to a world where he couldn't use it."

There was a strange detachment to the way that he spoke of his father that intrigued her, almost as though he couldn't quite remember, but surely he was still too young for memory loss.

She decided not to remark on it; magic mixed with memory was a funny thing. It could make you remember things that had never happened, like the forty-eight hours of Marco's life that she had watched her mother reinvent. Then again, it could also help you recall the most obscure of details. Like blurred, poorly printed photographs that she had once pored over in the library. Like Uncle Harry's shocked exclamation at some point during the aftermath.

"You're Severus Snape, aren't you?" she asked, not really needing to hear his answer.

"And you know far more than you ought to."

She grinned cheekily. "Does this mean that I can blackmail you?"


Hermione woke up a day later to the sound of birds chirruping through the open window. Rolling the pillow around her ears, she privately decided that the person who decided it was a desirable thing to hear first thing in the morning had obviously never had a migraine.

Or any sort of headache at all.

After a period of time spent with her eyes screwed shut and the sounds muted, she pried one eyelid open, and then, sensing no immediate assault to her senses, another. Her headache, she realised as she propped herself up to examine the unfamiliar room, wasn't actually a migraine, but the result of sleeping too long: a combination of remnant exhaustion, dehydration, and hunger.

"Welcome back," said a voice that she knew she ought to recognise.

The sight of Severus sitting in the corner with a history magazine curled up in his hand brought everything flooding back.

"Good morning," she replied. "Where's Rose?"

He sighed, but there was no real annoyance behind it. "She's taken over my sitting room. Lucius, I think, makes her uneasy. And it's actually mid-afternoon."

"Oh." She felt bewildered—how much had she missed?

"Potter sent you a note." Severus gestured toward the bedside table, and she scooped up the sheet of paper, unfolding it. "It arrived last night."

"But I just said goodbye to him last night!" She paused, before adding, "Didn't I?"

"You've been asleep for two days."

Which meant that she had slept away nearly half of her vacation. She resolved to owl the department and request a second week off sometime in the near future; at the rate she was going, she would need a holiday from her holiday.

"Wonderful," she said grimly, skimming the letter. It was an extended apology that stretched over three pages, written in a hasty scribble that made her eyes water after only a few lines.

Harry hadn't reacted well to Severus still being alive, or to his son gallivanting around Italy without his permission. Or to Lucius' offer that she and Rose could stay with him, rather than the hotel.

Harry generally didn't react well to anything that was outside of his ordinary routine.

Hermione had mostly been amused by his rant as she swayed gently, completely drained. He had tried to lecture her about using an Unforgivable, and she pointed out that letting her daughter be killed by a madman who was supposed to be dead anyway was worse than breaking some law that had been instituted in 1652 by a Minister of Magic who wanted to stop mercy killings of Muggles in the campaign against Cromwell.

Not, perhaps, the most eloquent of arguments, but she was in no mood to argue.

He then turned on Snape, asking if he knew what a bureaucratic nightmare it would be to undo his death certificate and reintroduce him to the Wizarding world. When Snape responded that he was really quite happy being dead to the world, Harry made the mistake of appealing to Hermione, at which point he found himself up against not only her, but also Lucius and Draco, who were united on this one front, at least.

Al broke the ice with a well-timed remark about apoplectic fits long enough for all of them to dodge the trolls and roll the car, which was now slightly the worse for wear, out of the mud. It was now Lucius' turn to flirt with apoplexy as he took stock of the damage; the only thing that kept him from shouting was the nearby threat of trolls.

Dealing with Marco was the next problem to be solved—he was, Severus assured them, only under the influence of the Draught of Living Death—and altering his memory to include a mugging before administrating the antidote was simple enough. He would wake up in a hospital, with no memory of so much as meeting Rose.

Hermione remembered the way that her daughter's hands had knotted a green silk scarf as this was decided, and felt her heart go out to her. The opportunities to eat gelato with attractive Italian boys were few and far between; this she knew from bitter personal experience.

Still, she had no right to complain—two older and attractive men were nearly within her grasp, one of which apparently liked her daughter well enough to take her under his wing.

"Thank you," she finally said, setting the letter aside.

He raised an eyebrow in question.

"For looking after Rose while I was sleeping. I appreciate it."

"She's the last person who needs looking after," he scoffed. "She invited herself into my house as soon as she found out that I had my own library."

But the faint tinge of pink in his cheeks told her that he was pleased, and Lucius confirmed this as he appeared in the doorway.

"That's hardly an excuse to let her in," he pointed out, directing a tray-carrying house-elf to the bed. "You hexed me the last time I tried to borrow a book."

Hermione gave him a withering look, but accepted the tray with a quiet 'thank you'. Toast was stacked high on a plate, accompanied by eggs, sausages, and a bowl of cereal with the milk in a creamer on the side. "And you wonder why I didn't believe that you had a housekeeper named Helga. You know that most societies consider that slavery."

"Your tea is on its way, as I know you loathe coffee—shame, I have a wonderful espresso machine. And, for your information, your moral highness, Binky was a free elf looking for work when I took him in. I pay him in tea cosies and horseshoes."

"I'm so glad to hear that." If she had had any expectations for him, she would have expressed her disappointment. As she didn't, she tried her best to look disapproving whilst scarfing down toast.

"But that's neither here nor there," Lucius continued, oblivious to anything resembling sarcasm. "Only Severus is permitted to touch Severus' books, on pain of death. He tried to instate a borrowing card and teach me cataloguing systems."

"You cracked the spine!" Severus protested. "I've told Rose that she will replace anything that she damages."

"She also memorised the Dewey Decimal System when she was twelve," Hermione added helpfully, smirking slightly and not wanting to add that the reason she had been driven to such lengths was because of her constant arguments with Ron.

"The point is that you didn't tell her that on pain of death, and that you didn't know that she was a librarian in miniature before you let her in there. You've clearly gone off your head."

"I did know that," Severus shot back. "She told me that she wanted to work as an archivist for the Ministry."

Hermione's smugness in the face of Lucius' bewilderment dissipated when she realised, with a sinking feeling somewhere in her lower abdomen, that Severus Snape had learned things about her daughter in forty-eight hours that she had never bothered to contemplate. Of course, Rose knew theoretically that anything she wanted to discuss with her mother was fair game, but as Hermione thought back she couldn't remember her daughter ever taking advantage of that. She wondered if Ron knew…

Binky saved her from dwelling on it by arriving with the tea and asking, "Would Mistress like one lump of sugar or two?" with the typical disregard for pronouns.


Rose preferred the bungalow to the main building; it was small and, whilst not elaborately decorated with matching furniture, it was cosy. Papers were strewn across the floor of the library and she tread carefully so as not to disturb any of them. Although he hadn't said it in as many words, she understood implicitly that being here was a privilege, not a right.

She replaced the book on the Italian renaissance and moved along the shelves until she found translations of Roman works. Her grandmother had always insisted that she should read Ovid before she died, and, judging by the thickness of the collection she had in hand, it might very well take her a few decades. Particularly if she wanted to get round to other things in between.

Threading her way back across the room to the worn and sagging sofa, she curled up with her mysteriously refilled cup of tea to read.


"What exactly are you playing at?" Severus led the way down the flight of stairs furiously, not looking back to read Lucius' expression.

"I can't imagine what you mean."

The smoothness of his tone told Severus everything about it that he needed to know. Impassive. Polite. Perhaps a little mocking.

He froze. Inhaling deeply and clutching the banister until it dug into his bones painfully, he snapped, "Baiting me with all that talk about the library. Of course you know what I mean; you always do."

"I merely wanted to make her aware of your feelings for her."

"What feelings?" There were lines and Lucius was crossing every one of them. It wasn't as much the taunting that angered him, but the fact that he, Severus, was letting him get away with it.

"Coy doesn't suit you, Severus."

"I'm so glad we can at least agree about that." His rage was getting the better of him, and he spun around, about to close the distance with a punch. Lucius' proximity surprised him; he hadn't heard him descend the last few steps.

"You know that I—"

"Just drop it. Please."

But if Lucius knew when to stop, he would cease to be Lucius, so he ignored the pleading in Severus' tone and kept talking.

"—I don't mind—"

Something clenched furiously in Severus' chest, causing him to lash out with his fist before he could properly consider the consequences of the action. The other man stumbled backward, landing with a painful thud, and Severus stared at him with something like horror.

"Well," Lucius snarled, but there was still something like amusement behind his eyes. "Aren't you going to help an old man up?"

He knew it was a bad idea before he held out his hands, yet he felt compelled. The yank was anticipated, yet he found himself crashing down on the stair next to Lucius anyway.

"You bastard," he snarled, rolling over so that Lucius' arms were pinned down. "That shoulder was just dislocated!"

"You hit me!"

"You deserved it! Besides, healing charms don't fix everything—it's still stiff."

Lucius began grappling with him, trying to free his wrists. They slid down a bit, each stair punctuated by an obscene protest, before Severus felt himself being flipped over. He struggled wildly, using the wall to brace himself, but Lucius was more built, making it a losing battle. In a final bid for escape, he tried to stand and dart away, but Lucius caught him by the waist, throwing him off balance and causing him to tumble the rest of the way down.

It hurt. A lot. It hurt even more when Lucius followed, landing on top of him.

"Fuck, Lucius. You couldn't have aimed slightly to the left?"

"Now you know what it feels like."

His arms gave a pathetic heave of protest as Lucius captured them, pressing his wrists into the floorboard until he was positive the bones were cracking.

"I'm right. Admit it."

"Will you get off me if I do?"

Rather than answer, Lucius forced his mouth down onto Severus' and made sure to keep him occupied until all sounds of protest had died. The first few seconds sent shooting pain through his spine, making him wonder if he had been seriously injured in the fall, but it disappeared after a moment, first into annoyance that Lucius was trying to use sex to get his way again, and then into enjoyment.

Somewhere in the background, someone muttered, "Oh, God," but he couldn't tell if it was real or imagined until Lucius pulled back and he noticed that Hermione had sunk down on one of the stairs and was now staring at them, cheeks flushed.

She clearly wasn't one of those women who required an hour to prepare—it couldn't have been more than ten minutes, but her hair was pulled back and she was dressed tidily.

Lucius' eyes as he grinned up at her were feral, and Severus couldn't help but be momentarily reminded of his initial jealousy as the thought that this had been a ploy to seduce her a second time. Except that right now it was Lucius who should be jealous.

Lucius liked sex with Hermione; Severus actually liked Hermione, and was treading on the dangerously thin line between like and love—if he hadn't already crossed it.

Sometimes he hated Lucius' perceptiveness.


Rose was perfectly aware that she wasn't an idiot. She had inherited her mother's grades on top of her father's sense of fun, neatly sidestepping Hermione's obsessive perfectionism and Ron's insensitivity, and ending up with her Aunt Ginny's tendency to run through boyfriends as though they were holey socks instead. Which meant that she knew more about sex than some people insinuated she ought to at her age.

People could insinuate all they liked; she viewed it as knowledge to be applied at some later date.

And, she was frantically trying to apply it now.

Her mother didn't blush; she scowled and barked out orders and occasionally cracked prickly jokes that only people who weren't on the wrong end of her sarcasm found funny, but she never blushed. Then again, she didn't like to think of Hermione of someone who cried either, but only two days before she had clutched Rose with a crushing strength that had kept her from being able to breathe properly for at least an hour as she sobbed into her shoulder.

Rose had wanted to be the one sobbing, not patting her mother comfortingly on the back, but she didn't want to make the situation worse by adding to the hysteria.

So, apparently she hadn't analysed her mother's character nearly as well as she thought she had, but still… Blushing?

Neither one of the two men at the table seemed at all affected: Snape hadn't said anything more involved than, "Pass the salt," and Mr Malfoy was providing entertaining diatribes rife with suggestive comments.

It could be the suggestive comments, she allowed, but they paled in comparison to some of the things that her father had unthinkingly remarked upon, and those had always made her mother irritated, not pink.

Of course, she had been flushed before Rose had arrived for dinner, so he could have said something really obscene before then. Nevertheless, it was bewildering, and made her wish that she could leave and go back to her book.


Hermione had refolded her clothes and reorganised her suitcase, changed, and was about to crawl into bed when someone knocked on her door. Uncertain what she was expecting, she pulled it open to find Lucius in a dressing gown that covered silk pyjamas.

"Severus and I are having a drink—you can't be going to sleep already."

She shrugged. Although she wasn't particularly tired, it had seemed like a good idea if she was ever going to regain a normal sleep pattern. "I don't have to."

"Of course you don't," he replied reasonably. "Severus and I are having a drink in my study, if you care to join us."

Feeling thoroughly inadequate—cotton was all very well until it was compared to silk—she nodded, snatching her own dressing gown from the bedpost. Lucius led the way, up another flight of stairs and down a series of corridors, to a wing that wasn't visible from the outside. She would have to revise her opinion of the villa's simplicity.

Most of the walk was spent with piqued curiosity and a strange sensation in her chest that she finally diagnosed as anticipation mingled with dread. If anything happened past a few drinks and witty conversation, it wouldn't be accidental, and it certainly wouldn't be spontaneous, making it more difficult to excuse.

And, she realised as he pushed the door to his study open, all the more difficult to refuse.

Severus was already waiting for them, half sprawled in an armchair with a glass of brandy swilling in one hand. His pyjamas, she noted with a tinge of bitterness, were black silk and draped off of him with an annoying flourish that reminded her vaguely of his teaching robes.

"It didn't take you as long as I expected," Severus remarked, voice less sharp than she had grown accustomed to.

"I told you that she wouldn't require convincing."

"It depends what you're convincing me to do," she cut in, wanting to remind them that she wasn't to be taken for granted.

"Enjoy a drink, of course."

She knew better than to accept the bland expression Lucius wore at face value—that would be both dangerous and stupid—but took the glass he offered her and smiled sweetly anyway. If she were to get anything out of this, it wouldn't come by arguing.

Both of them settled into chairs that formed a triangle, and Hermione found herself being eyed warily. Lucius, it seemed, had been expecting some sort of argument and found her sudden docility worrying.


An uncomfortable silence descended over them, and Severus seemed to suddenly find the rim of his glass fascinating. Hermione wracked her mind trying to find something that wouldn't sound either desperate or superficial, and came back with something that was worse. It was invasive.

"Have you heard anything from Draco about Scorpius' visits?" It really was meant to be a polite inquiry, but she felt her mouth drop open in horror as the words dripped out.

Lucius, fortunately, either didn't mind—unlikely—or noticed her mortification and chose to ignore his twitchy wand hand—lucky—and smiled distractedly. "Nothing yet. I suspect it will take him at least a month to move past his blinding hatred of me to come to a sensible decision."

"I'm sure he doesn't hate you," she replied automatically, then clamped her mouth shut as she remembered the dripping venom with which they had spoken. Perhaps Draco didn't hate Lucius, but there was certainly more bitterness there than he would ever be able to move past.

Lucius chuckled dryly. "Oh, trust me. He does."

It was one of those comments behind which Hermione could hear that there were things he wasn't allowing himself to say, and she waited a moment to see if he would let them out.

Severus spoke before he could. "Are you trying to make him hex you to death?"

"Of course not," she replied, trying to work out if he was interfering for her sake or Lucius'. "He doesn't have to answer if he doesn't want to."

She did, however, shut up, more because she knew what it was to not want to be reminded of something than because of Severus' warning. It was, she supposed, a little like facing the dreaded surname question, only worse. Being asked why one wasn't allowed to see his grandchildren both pried into family matters and insinuated some sort of failing as a parent.

And however frequently she thought that he might have failed at humanity during the course of his life, Hermione had to admit that he at least tried to be a father. Besides, as he had pointed out a few days ago as they raced through the Tuscan countryside, things changed.

The last three days, she thought, toying with her locket, were nothing if not testimony to that.

The silence had now shifted to something more companionable, as opposed to awkward. Or perhaps she was reading that into it because she didn't want to make the mistake of prying a second time. She stared into her brandy, swirling it experimentally to avoid looking up at the eyes she knew were on her.

Perhaps she had been wrong to assume, anticipate, even, that drinks would translate into sex. Neither of them seemed to be showing much more than the most polite interest, which confused her. Lucius had been little more than a walking innuendo a couple of hours earlier, and Severus had been…well, displaying that distant coolness that slipped into some sort of emotion every so often that was bewildering enough to make her wonder if there had been something behind Lucius' earlier teasing.

And then there had been that kiss.

She wasn't entirely sure how to explain her reaction to it, only that it had come as completely unexpected and wasn't the sort of thing that she would have assumed made her heart race. One moment, she had been worried about the crashing that threatened to bring down the ceiling, the next she had been half-falling onto a stair….

A few moments passed before it occurred to her that she had frozen in place, as though some part of her assumed that to keep moving would be to give her thoughts away. She glanced up, painfully aware that her cheeks were burning, to see that Lucius and Severus were engaged in their own quiet conversation that she couldn't quite overhear. They broke off when they realised that she was once again paying attention.

"Why don't we take a walk?" she suggested brightly, mentally kicking herself as soon as the words left her mouth. A walk did not quite encompass the sort of exercise that she was contemplating.

The speed with which Severus agreed was almost insulting.


Grass tickled the soles of her feet as flipped the slippers off of her feet and wriggled her suddenly free toes. The night air was cool on her face and she gulped deep breaths of it, trying to stop the burning sensation that had hovered just under her skin since dinner.

Lucius watched as Severus followed suit, remarking with a slight shudder, "I've never been able to understand the appeal of bare feet."

Hermione laughed, relishing the cool feeling of dew as she darted out across the lawn. "Obviously you were never a child."

"Of course I wasn't." He looked affronted at the very suggestion. "I don't understand the appeal of that either."

"Even I managed to enjoy some of that," Severus called out, surprising her with the sudden flash of humour as he caught up to her and grabbed her by the waist, causing her to shriek, "and I wasn't allowed a childhood."

"I thought you spent all your time mooning after redheads." Lucius scowled. "I'm surprised you didn't stalk the Weasleys."

"I was mooning after them without shoes, though. On a playground. You do know what a playground is, don't you?"

"He's sulking," Hermione whispered, just loud enough that her voice would carry. "If he's going to walk with us, he shouldn't be allowed to sulk."

Severus nodded in solemn agreement, the moon causing his eyes to glitter with conspiracy. "Or wear shoes."

"I'm not taking them off," Lucius shouted after them, as Hermione pulled Severus by the wrist and they took off into a run. "Or following you."

They reached the top of one knoll, half-tumbled down the other side, and landed on their feet to keep going. She felt suddenly grateful to the cotton pyjamas—the grass stains didn't matter as much as they would have.

Severus led the way now; she struggled to keep up as they headed toward the vineyards, laughter threatening to bubble up at every step. He stopped abruptly before they entered one of the rows and turned to face her, suddenly grave.

Expectant, she tilted her face up to him, meeting his gaze firmly.

"You know," he said softly, contemplatively, "a lot of what Lucius said is true."

Something lurched in her chest—a combination of panic and bewilderment—but she didn't have time to analyse the feeling because he was kissing her with the same intensity that he had after they had examined the mangled wreck.


With a heavy sigh, Lucius lit a cigarette and began to pick his way across the lawn, convinced that the dew was going to destroy all of the careful maintenance that he had Binky lavish on his shoes—he didn't believe in slippers. Severus occasionally grew irritating when he was brooding, but this version of him was far worse—frolicking barefoot into the night indeed.

He, at least, had a sense of decorum, and also enough knowledge of ground-living insects that the thought of exposing his skin to them was repulsive.

As he reached the top of the hill, he sighed a second time at the sight that greeted him, and a thread of smoke swirled and twisted over the scene. It wasn't really that he minded, although the relocation process would be a bit more involved than he would like. By the time that they reached anything resembling a bed, the awkwardness that had settled over them in the study would return and then they would have to start from the beginning again. Which meant that it would be up to him to break the ice.

Not to mention that if Severus truly was as infatuated as he appeared to be, there would be a mess to clean up at the end of the week, and Lucius knew that the brooding would return tenfold.

Still, friends didn't let friends have sex that involved dangerous contact with the elements, and among the many ways that his relationship with Severus could be described, friend certainly qualified. Really, it was his sworn duty. Any benefit that he received from the situation was nothing more than fair payment.


Hermione awoke the next morning to a headache and warm bodies on either side of her. The sight of Lucius' nostril greeted her, which was a slightly less pleasant awakening than she had expected.

Closing her eyes, she rolled over to her right side and tried again.

Severus' eyes were already open, and he was propped up on one elbow and watching the two of them with an unreadable expression.

"Good morning," she said, keeping her voice low.

In return he smiled, and she pulled the blankets up around her shoulders. He pushed them back down insistently, touching the locket that sat in the groove of her collarbone.

The terror that clenched in her stomach made her suddenly, painfully aware that he knew nothing about her journey to the Shrieking Shack to recover his body other than what Lucius may or may not have told him and what could be deduced from the hallucination in the ruin. A piece of her insisted that it was wrong he didn't know—without that information, he couldn't possibly understand her reaction to discovering that he was alive.

He certainly wouldn't be able to understand the jolt of relief that shot through her each time she looked at him.

Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her hand around his, careful to include to locket in the mock embrace, and reached her other hand awkwardly behind her neck to undo the clasp. As she did, it transformed back into the vial and she closed his hands around it.

"They're your memories," she whispered, taken aback by the heart-wrenching fear on his face. "Not all of them—just a few that I found on the floor afterwards. I think you lost them accidentally. If you want them, then you can have them back."

He nodded once, quickly, in understanding, before hanging it around his own neck and casting an invisibility charm. "For later."

They gazed at each other mutely until, on her other side, Lucius stirred and pulled her against him with one arm, breaking the moment.

"Touching as this moment has been," he purred, making her wonder how long he had been awake, "I think that it is high time the two of you included me in your exploits."


"So, Mum, I really think that you owe me an explanation." Rose was hanging over the edge of the ferry again, but Hermione didn't feel the same alarm. "Or several."

Rose had held off begging for explanations for the final few days of their holiday, a feat that must have required remarkable restraint. Instead, she had contented herself with spending the days curled up with a book in various corners of the estate, pretending that it was an ordinary vacation that had involved nothing more frightening than a trip to the beach and some statue-gazing.

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, then realised that this wasn't a question with a simple answer. In fact, it hadn't been phrased as a question at all. "What would you like to know?"

Rose flung out her arms, causing the first real stab of worry that she had experienced in days. "Anything. Everything. Who was the man who kidnapped us? What happened during the war? Who is Severus Snape, and why isn't he dead?"

The first two questions were easy enough, as long as she could find a starting point—and there were many of them. For her, the war had begun the second she received her Hogwarts letter, although she hadn't known it then. It was the beginning of her exposure to the prejudice that she wouldn't have experienced otherwise, a prelude to the events of her first year at Hogwarts, when Harry would face Quirrell and apparently kill him.

She would meet Ron, and they would loathe each other—perhaps it had been an early signal not to attempt anything further than friendship.

She would meet Severus, and loathe him as well, but that would be tempered by respect that would only grow.

Somewhere in there, she would have to explain Albus Dumbledore, whose threads of deception had stretched across the decades and nearly resulted in the loss of Rose. That part, perhaps, would be the most difficult; the mere thought of it nearly blinded her with rage.

The third question was more difficult. It was a story that would start over thirty years before hers, and appear to conclude twenty-five years ago—a false ending with a snake attack, to which Al was an epilogue. Truthfully, though, it wasn't over yet, and there were so many things to include. Entangled in his story was that of almost everyone that she had ever known—she and Lucius were only a small part of that—but they didn't entirely define who he was, only what. It didn't encompass the act of selfishness that had transformed into a lifetime of bravery, or the overwhelming affection that she had learned to associate with him in the last week. The complete vulnerability he had shown, asking her if she would visit over Christmas, to which she knew that the only possible answer was yes.

The man was a study in emotional impressions.

"Mum?" Rose said, prodding her arm insistently. "You are going to tell me, aren't you? If you don't, I'll tell Dad that you shagged Scorpius' grandfather."

Hermione's head jerked up rapidly enough that it momentarily seemed she had caused a concussion. "I did not!"

Her daughter rolled her eyes, tossing her hair over her shoulder. For the first time, Hermione noticed a green silk scarf that fluttered in the breeze. "Do you honestly think I'm that stupid? Mum, you blushed for three days straight, and I obviously can't tell him that you slept with Mr Snape, because he's technically dead. Sort of."

"You will do no such thing," Hermione snapped, not sure whether she ought to be more worried about the fact that her daughter was blackmailing her, or that she hadn't been concerned about her daughter noticing in the first place.

Rose smiled ruefully. "Of course I won't. It would be worse than the time last summer he caught me out with Jason Fletchly."

Hermione's eyes widened with shock. "What?"

With a shrug, she said, "I suppose that means that he didn't tell you. Oops."

"You were fifteen!"

"Nearly sixteen, and we'd been seeing each other for over a year. You're trying to distract me again, and it isn't going to work."

Trying in vain to ignore the voice in the back of her mind that was reminding her that Rose had grown up when she hadn't been looking, Hermione sighed. "I'm not sure where to begin."

Rose stepped away from the railing and stared piercingly at Hermione. "Start with the part that matters the most to you. Or, at least, one of those parts. You can explain from there."

She nodded, her mind already springing to a room filled with damaged furniture and half-dried blood smeared across the floor. Not, perhaps, the most historically important moment, but it was significant.

"And hurry up," Rose insisted, "because I still need to tell you about how we sawed through the wall with a butter knife."