AUTHOR'S NOTES: This chapter has been in the works for a while and it's been tricky simply because I'm including a character from one of my other favorite TV shows-'Las Vegas': Ed Deline. (Background on the show can be found on IMDB dot com.)

Chapter 18

As the Hogwarts Express pulled into the King's Cross station, Hermione stiffened as she looked out the window at the parents waiting along the platform. "Oh, bugger," she breathed as a man with graying hair spotted her and gave her a warm smile and a wave. Hermione waved back and quickly grabbed her bag, looking at Draco who was watching her warily. In answer to the unasked question, she said, "My uncle is out there."

"Your uncle?" Draco asked, surprised. Not quite sure what to say to that, he noticed the look of trepidation on Hermione's face. "Is that a bad thing?"

Hermione slowly shook her head, stopped, and shrugged. "Well, for me, no. For you… Probably."

Draco wasn't sure what to say to that as he followed Hermione off of the train and over to Hermione's uncle who gave her a warm hug before straightening up and giving Draco a shrewd look.

"So you're Draco Malfoy, huh?" Hermione's uncle said, studying the kid. Holding out a hand, he said, "I'm Hermione's uncle, Ed Deline."

"Er… Nice to meet you, sir," Draco said, trying to be polite as he shook Ed Deline's hand, trying not to wince as the older man tightened his grip almost crushing Draco's hand.

"Uncle Ed, leave him alone," Hermione said, putting a hand on his arm.

Ed let go, giving Hermione a smile. "Your dad and Shelly are waiting for you outside." Putting a hand on Draco's shoulder as the young man made to follow Hermione, Ed added, "We'll catch up with you later, honey."

Hermione was very reluctant to leave Draco alone with her uncle but after a hurried good-bye she left the train station and found her parents waiting for her on the curb. "Why did you invite Uncle Ed?" Hermione asked as they headed to the car.

Loading his daughter's school things into the trunk of the car, Simon Granger sighed and looked at his wife. "Ed surprised us by stopping by yesterday. Shelly told him we were picking you up and he wanted to come along."

"And let me guess," Hermione said as she got into the car. "Uncle Ed volunteered to bring Draco over to the house for dinner tonight."

Shelly looked slightly abashed as she replied, "I wouldn't say 'volunteered' so much as… insisted. Ed said that he wanted a chance to talk alone with the young man who's going to marry his only niece."

Rather than making Hermione feel better, her mother's words just increased the feeling of dread building up in her stomach.

On the surface, Ed Deline was usually considered to be a nice guy. Sociable, charming, and easy to get along with. Considering his background and history with the Central Intelligence Agency back in the good ol' US of A, the deceptive appearance was extremely convenient.

As Ed got into his rental car—an old pick-up truck which, admittedly, wasn't usually his style—he watched as Draco Malfoy loaded the old storage trunk into the truck-bed and secured it before getting into the passenger seat and fastening his seatbelt. Once they were heading down the road, Ed asked, "So what, uh… What drew you to Hermione?"

Draco shrugged, not quite sure if Hermione's uncle was fishing for a particular response or general information. Deciding to simply be straightforward, he replied, "She's bright, charming… pretty. Cunning as all hell." After a moment's hesitation he added, "And she has this fire that's just… amazing.

"Hmm," Ed said, calmly as he thought. "You know, Hermione told me about you last year."

Draco felt his heart sinking as he heard that but tried to act nonchalant as he said, "Oh?"

"Yeah," Ed replied, not looking at the young man. "Yeah, and I, uh… I've got a question for you. What's that—that word you use for someone who's not from a magical family?"

"Er… muggleborn?" Draco asked, knowing that that wasn't the word Hermione's uncle was looking for.

"No, not that one," Ed replied, pointedly. "The other word. The insulting one."

"You…" Draco gulped lightly as he said, "You mean the word 'mudblood'."

Ed still didn't look at Draco, mostly so he wasn't tempted to physically hurt the kid. When Hermione had explained the word 'mudblood' Ed had been surprised that the wizarding world had such strong racism. But on the other hand, maybe it wasn't so surprising given that he remembered the equally strong prejudice against African Americans decades ago. If there was one thing Ed hated more than someone who tried to hurt his family, it was racist scumbags who didn't care who they hurt or what kind emotional damage they caused.

And right now what was really bothering Ed was the fact that Hermione was actually betrothed to Draco Malfoy and there wasn't any way out of the arrangement.

Ed was quiet for a while but finally he asked, "So you don't think someone's worthy of their magic if they don't come from a magical family?"

Draco hesitated but finally he shook his head. "I used to think that way. But the more I got to know Hermione… She's the best in our year at school. She's even better than some pureblood witches."

After a long silence, Ed pulled off to the side of the dirt road he'd been driving down and parked. Turning to Draco, he fixed the kid with his best 'you're going to listen to me or suffer the consequences' look as he said, "I'm a straight-forward guy. I don't beat around the bush too much when it comes to giving my opinion on things. So here's the deal, kid." Ed waited until Draco was looking him in the eye before going on. "If you do anything to hurt Hermione, I know plenty of places out in the Nevada desert where I can bury a body and it'll never be found. If you try to keep her from her family, it won't matter where you hide because I will track you down and when I find you, you will regret it. If you do anything to Hermione except love her and give her everything she wants or needs, I will hunt you down. Am I clear?"

"As crystal, sir," Draco replied, his mouth suddenly gone dry.

"Good," Ed replied, giving the kid a smile. "Welcome to the family," he added, clapping a hand on Draco's shoulder, happy when the kid visibly flinched.

Hermione was anxiously pacing her bedroom as she waited for her uncle to arrive with Draco. Between his time with the CIA and living in Las Vegas, Nevada for so long, Ed Deline was not one to cross and messing with his family was always a very bad idea. And Hermione knew that the worst of it was that Ed was resistant to charm and he was already prejudiced against Draco.

"Hermione, honey?"

Hermione whirled around at the sound of her uncle's voice and she looked nervous when she didn't see Draco with Ed. "Where's Draco?" Hermione asked, wondering what had happened with the two.

"He's downstairs with your dad and Shelly," Ed replied, stepping into his niece's bedroom and closing the door. Sitting down on the bed, he watched Hermione as she sat at her desk facing him. After a few long moments, he said, "Your Aunt Jillian and I always wanted another kid. It wasn't like Delinda wasn't enough. We just wanted a bigger family. You've always been like a second daughter to me, Hermione. So when I find out you're not just getting married, you're getting betrothed—and for the record, we are in the 20th century—you had to know I'd come running. And especially when I find out that the guy is someone you've been complaining about for more than 4 years straight."

Hermione sighed and seeing that her uncle looked a bit confused about the whole thing, she said, "Draco and I were starting to understand each other. I'd blackmailed him because he told me he couldn't get a date for the Halloween and Yule balls Hogwarts was hosting."

"You blackmailed the kid?" Ed repeated, a distinct note of pride in his voice.

Hermione smiled, happy that at least Ed approved since her parents hadn't. "Draco's parents found out he and I were seeing each other and they were going to cut him off if he didn't break up with me." Frowning slightly, she added, "And then, apparently, they came up with a different plan."

"I don't like it," Ed commented, brusquely. "It's just not sitting right with me, you know?" Standing up and pacing a bit he added, "And I know I don't have a choice in this whole thing, but…" Stopping and giving Hermione his full attention, he asked, "What do you see in this kid?"

Hermione was slightly caught off guard by the question and after a while to think about it, she shrugged. "I don't know. What I do know is that no one else I've ever met has ever been so… so… Aggravating!" Letting out a breath, she added, "And… Draco's been treating me like a princess lately. I mean, you should have seen the dress he bought me for the Yule Ball." Going to her trunk, Hermione pulled out the portraits Draco had done of her and undid the shrinking charms she'd placed on them so she pack them away easier.

When Ed saw the drawings and paintings, he had to admit he was a bit surprised. He'd seen beautiful works of art before but sometimes there was something missing in them. Draco Malfoy's works of art showed an immense love for the subject: Hermione. And that love wasn't something easily faked. Sitting on the bed again, he gave Hermione a smile. "You know I'm just looking out for you, right?"

"I know," Hermione replied with a smile. "And I appreciate it, really." The smile faded and after a long silence Hermione knew she had to broach the subject. "Did Mum and Dad tell you about McClaggen?"

Ed sighed, doing his best to keep his temper in check—not an easy task at all for him. "Yeah, I know all about the bastard." Reaching forward and putting a hand on Hermione's knee, he said, "It wasn't your fault. You know that, right?"

"I know," Hermione replied with a shaky breath. Taking a moment to steady her nerves, she went on. "McClaggen's trial is 2 weeks and the wizard courts need me to be there to testify."

"Hermione, if you want me to, I'll make sure the guy never gets a chance to hurt anyone ever again," Ed offered.

Hermione gave him a weak smile. "I appreciate the thought, but… I need to see this through the right way. I need to put this whole, ugly mess behind me if I'm going to be able to move on."

Ed squeezed her knee again as he looked at his only niece. "I can respect that." As he and Hermione stood and shared a hug, he said, "I could stick around until then just in case."

"Just in case…what?" Hermione asked, not sure she wanted to know.

"You know," Ed replied, vaguely. "Just in case."