Okay. So I wasn't really planning to post this until I was finished, but I just wanted to get some of it out there and see what people thought. This is the first HP fic I've written that isn't Harry-centric. Don't let the beginning fool you, either; it's not Draco-centric either.
Don't own anything related to Harry Potter, except for my own little copies of the series. Which I paid for, thank you very much.
It was rather odd for Draco Malfoy to feel so nervous. He had faced Death Eaters, Lord Voldemort himself, and his mother when she was PMS'ing; if that wasn't frightening, he didn't know what was. He straightened his tie and smoothed down the front of his suit coat. This was the night that would decide it all.
He and Hermione Granger had been dating for a year now, and he knew that she had to suspect something was going on. He had told her to dress formally because he was going to take her to the restaurant they had gone to on their first official date. They had gone out to pubs and night clubs before that, but it was always with Potter and Weaselby in tow, as well as a number of other people they worked with. They had talked about so many things that Friday night, but it still seemed like the night had gone by too quickly. So, to fix the situation, he arrived at her flat the next morning with breakfast and they spent the whole day together, talking and laughing.
It was the most wonderful day of his life, at least up to this point. He hoped that this night would take its place in his mind, and it would if she accepted. He checked his pockets one last time; wand, wallet, keys, box. Yes, he had everything.
He walked out of his front door and made his way to the driveway, unlocking his car as he walked. He drove the fanciest car he could get away with before becoming too ostentatious for the Muggles he lived around. He would have lived in one of the Wizarding enclaves that dotted England, but he knew that Muggle London was the closest to work. Besides, Hermione lived in Muggle London and he wanted to be as close as possible. His mother and father were not too pleased with his decisions regarding his lifestyle, but they supported him nonetheless.
Draco arrived at Hermione's flat and parked his car. He knew that she was a grown woman and that she could take care of herself, but he still did not like the fact that she lived alone in a rough part of town. She had often told him that her neighborhood was not as bad as some other areas of London, and that she could not afford to live in the poshest flats of London like some rich, lay-about blokes she knew. He knew that she did not mean anything by it, he had taken advantage of the fact that his mother and father had offered to buy him a flat in a posh area of London, and he had allowed it only because he knew how his mother worried and he wanted to give her some peace of mind. He had asked Hermione to move in with him six months ago, but she had flatly refused. Sure, she kept some personal things there, as well as a few changes of clothes, but she resolutely stayed in her own flat.
Draco knocked on the door and waited for Hermione to answer. He fidgeted with his tie again and reached in his pocket one more time to make sure that the box was still there. When she answered the door with a bright smile he returned it and produced the bouquet of wildflowers he'd purchased for her. Draco knew exactly what kinds of flowers she loved, and which ones she was allergic to as well, though that he had learned the hard way.
"They're beautiful, Draco," said Hermione. She took the flowers and turned into the flat, Draco closely behind her.
"I remembered you needed a new bouquet on my way here and I nipped into a little flower shop."
Hermione smiled at him from her small kitchen. "You know just how to brighten up my day," she said.
"Did you have a bad day at the hospital?" he asked.
"No worse than usual, but I did have to let two of my nurses go. They didn't seem to understand the regulations regarding patient confidentiality. I overheard them talking about one of the terminal patients while I was doing my rounds. They had been warned more than once regarding their indiscretion, and today was just the last straw." Hermione had been walking around the flat as she talked; grabbing her purse, checking her windows and making sure she had her wrap and wand before she turned to Draco and smiled. "That was my day. How was yours?" she asked as she pulled her wrap around her shoulders and took his proffered arm.
"Not as bad as yours, apparently, didn't fire anyone. I got caught up on some paperwork that had been piling up on my desk. I swear Potter just makes up forms for me to fill out, just to keep me at my desk."
"I'm sure that he doesn't," said Hermione.
Draco and the Golden Trio – as he liked to refer to Harry, Ron and Hermione – had not exactly become the best of friends, but they had come to respect each other. Draco had made an effort to make peace with Hermione's best mates when he realized he wanted to be more than just 'that git you went to school with' to her. It had taken him ages to summon up the courage to ask her out on a date. He had even insinuated himself into the groups that would go to the pub after work. She always made an effort to meet Harry and Ron at a pub when they invited her.
"Well, maybe he doesn't, but I'm sure that he does assign me training duty on purpose," he said.
Hermione laughed as she got into the car. Draco closed her door and made his way to the driver's side. As soon as he closed his door she continued.
"Did you ever think that maybe he assigns you training duty because he knows that you scare the bejesus out of most of the recruits? Draco Malfoy, the wizarding world's greatest bad-ass."
Draco actually laughed at that. "Okay, that might be the reason, but it doesn't make it anymore enjoyable."
"Just think of it as a game. You remember that Muggle game I got you? The one that we play together with Harry and Ron; where we are a team and we have to battle against other teams."
Draco nodded his head as he navigated through the London streets; he knew that she hated it when he would take his eyes off the road to look at her.
"Well, we're the good guys, and Harry has appointed you to take down the enemy – the new recruits – and find out which ones are up to snuff."
He laughed and pulled over in front of the restaurant. "You know, I think that if it weren't for you, my job would be a lot more mundane." He exited the car as the valet opened both of their doors.
Draco handed the valet his keys along with a ten-pound note. "Thanks, mate," he told the young Muggle and smiled as the boy's eyes widened at the tip. He walked to the curb and took Hermione's elbow.
"I will never understand why you think being an Auror is boring. Don't you deal with danger and intrigue on a daily basis?"
"Civilians," Draco muttered and shook his head.
Hermione laughed. This was an argument that they'd had on a regular basis. They both tried to prove that the other's job was the more exciting, Hermione usually ended up winning the argument, but only because Draco really did think that his job was more exciting than being a Healer.
"Reservation for Malfoy," Draco told the maître d'.
The man nodded when he found the name. "Right this way, Monsieur." He led Draco and Hermione to one of the quietest sections of the restaurant. The booth they were given was secluded from the front of the establishment. "Your server will be with you in just a moment. May I offer you the wine list?"
Draco shook his head. "Your finest Pinot Noir, please." The older man smiled and gave a small bow of his head.
Draco reached for Hermione's hand across the table and she readily placed it in his waiting hand. He caressed her knuckles with his thumb and smiled at her. "I've missed you," he said.
Hermione smiled and tilted her head slightly, a blush creeping into her cheeks. It never ceased to amaze her how he could still make her blush. "I've missed you, too." She gave a small giggle. "Although it has only been two days since we last saw each other."
"Yes, but a quick snog in my office doesn't count. I like being able to touch you in public."
The server came with their wine and took down Draco's rapid French ordering.
"I think I'm going to have to learn more French," Hermione said out loud.
"Why?" asked Draco. "I like ordering for you. I love the suspense it brings to our lives. Never knowing just what it is that I'm going to come up with; what, exactly, is going to show up in a few moments in front of you," he joked.
"That's why I need to learn French. Merlin knows you might order something horrendous just to see the look on my face."
Draco took the stem of his wineglass and raised it to Hermione, who copied the action. "To what has been the happiest year of my life," he toasted.
"May it be followed by many more," toasted Hermione.
They talked about the happenings of their respective offices, Draco taking every opportunity to take a jab at Potter and Weasley just to see Hermione give him a stern glance. He loved it when she would try to look upset with him, when he knew she really wasn't; he never really meant the little comments about Harry and Ron. He was genuinely grateful for what the three of them had done for him during the war. They had saved his life and that of his family.
Hermione excused herself before dessert to go to the ladies room. Draco had hoped she would do that. He was actually thinking he would have to excuse himself in order to do what had to get done. He waited until she was out of sight before signaling the server.
"Is everything to your liking, monsieur?" the server asked.
"Yes, thank you. I was wondering if you could bring some champagne with dessert," he reached into his pocket and brought out the box that had been burning a hole in his trousers all night. "And put this in Mademoiselle's glass."
The waiter's eyes went wide at the sight of the rock that was put in his hand. He smiled and bowed his head towards Draco. "Of course, monsieur. Bon chance."
"Thank you. I might need it," Draco said with a smile. He took a large gulp from his glass of wine and waited for Hermione to return from the ladies' room.
Hermione, meanwhile, was having a discussion with Ginny in the ladies lavatory. She had filched a two-way mirror from Harry for this specific purpose. Ginny said that she wanted to know what was going on before Hermione got home. Ginny had been hinting that Draco would probably propose to her tonight.
"He hasn't said, or done, anything different than usual," said Hermione.
"Nothing?!" exclaimed Ginny.
"I don't think he's going to propose," said Hermione. She had been expecting a little something different from Draco. On their three-month anniversary, he had taken her to Paris for the night just so she could have, what he called, 'genuine' French food. He had given her the most gorgeous diamond necklace and bracelet set for their six-month anniversary, saying that he wanted to bathe her in jewels; they never made it to the restaurant that night. After that he made it a point to do something special for her every month on their anniversary, even if it was just showing up at St. Mungo's for lunch with her.
"Don't you say that!" shouted Ginny, bringing Hermione back to her senses. "He might be waiting until you get back to your flat. You know how he loves to torture you because it's so easy."
Hermione smiled into the mirror. "You're right. I shouldn't worry. Besides, who's to say that he has to propose tonight? We haven't talked about marriage for a while, anyway."
"That's the spirit, Hermione," Ginny said cheerfully.
"Okay, I'd better get back. He'll be wondering what's taking me so long."
Hermione put the mirror back in her evening bag and pulled out her powder. She might as well freshen up her make-up while she was in here. Giving herself a mental shake and putting a genuine smile on her face, she headed back out to her and Draco's table.
"Everything alright?" he asked. "You were gone for a while."
"Yes, everything is fine," assured Hermione. "Did you order dessert?" she asked.
"Yes, I got that chocolate cake with raspberries that you love so much," he said.
Hermione smiled and reached her hand out to him. "I was talking to Ginny, earlier today – she says 'hello', by the way – and she was still surprised that I started dating you. A year later, can you believe it?"
Draco smiled down at his and Hermione's hand. Ginny was in for a hell of a surprise tomorrow morning. The server came with their dessert and champagne before Draco could respond to Hermione's comment.
"Bon appetit," he said as he placed the plate with cake and two forks between the couple. The champagne was wheeled over in a cart, but Draco purposefully distracted Hermione from watching the server by caressing her knuckles with his thumb.
"Can I have at least one raspberry this time?" he asked.
Hermione sighed dramatically. "Fine, but only because it's our anniversary." She picked up one of the forks and lifted a piece of cake with a raspberry to Draco's open mouth. The waiter had turned with their glasses of champagne, placed them on the table and quietly left.
Draco and Hermione continued eating their cake in silence. Draco only taking small portions because he didn't think he could hold it down with the ball of nerves in his stomach. Hermione was getting full from dinner and this decadent chocolate cake; Draco usually ate more than half, but he seemed to have lost his appetite. She smiled at him and turned to her champagne flute. She lifted it towards Draco. "A toast to the most amazing boyfriend I have had the pleasure to have."
Draco raised his glass high and Hermione had to raise hers just as high out of courtesy. The bottom of the glass and the ring were at eye-level now, and Draco waited until he knew she had spotted it. "To my fiancé," he said, and took a sip of his champagne.
Hermione had not moved an inch. She sat there with her hand in mid-air staring at the bottom of her champagne flute. Even when Draco cleared his throat and began to fidget in his seat, she just sat there, unblinking. "Hermione?" he called.
"Oh my god," she whispered so lightly that it came out as just a breath.
Draco took the flute out of her hand and gulped it down, ring and all. He took the ring out of his mouth – quite ungraceful, he thought – and knelt in front of Hermione. Her eyes were wide and he could tell that tears were forming in her eyes. Let's just hope that those are tears of joy, thought Draco. He took her left hand in his and held up the ring to her.
"Hermione Jean Granger, would you do me the immense honor of becoming my wife?" There he had said it; he'd asked her to marry him, now it was up to her.
A single tear fell from her eyes and fell in her lap. She began to nod her head and she let out a pent-up breath, "Yes." She closed her eyes for a second, allowing two more tears to escape and make their way down her cheeks. "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!"
Draco laughed and put the diamond ring on her finger. She only waited long enough for Draco to scoot the ring all the way to the end of her finger, before throwing herself at him. They both fell onto the floor, laughing as the pent-up emotions finally were allowed free.
Ron walked out of the showers and rub-dried his hair with a towel. He sighed as he sat in front of his locker. He'd only volunteered for the graveyard shift because he now had no reason to go home. He'd broken up with Susan just last week. It really wasn't working out, and he wasn't sure why. His family thought it was because he was meant to be with Hermione. They never said it out loud, but he always understood the comments tossed about at the dinner table.
He thought about the relationship he once had with Hermione as he dressed. They had begun dating at the beginning of the war, and thinking on it now, he knew it was the rush of emotions you get from life-threatening situations that brought them together. He loved her, there was no doubt about that in his mind, but he was not in love with her. It had made sense to both of them. They realized that they were constantly fighting over stupid and mundane things. Everything was a reason to get into an argument.
He remembered one time she had begun a fight about Ron leaving his socks lying wherever he happened to take them off. It had escalated to the point of him leaving their shared flat for two days. He had gone to Harry's flat and crashed on his couch, thinking about what to do next. They had gone through a war together, that should have counted for something, but the more Ron thought about it, the more he knew that he and Hermione were not going to work out. Harry had tried to talk him out of his line of thinking, but it was no use. Ron gave him a whole list of reasons why he and Hermione should not be together. He was actually quite proud of himself; at least one thing about Hermione had rubbed off on him.
He returned to their flat and they sat down and talked about where their relationship was going. They had been together for over two years, and while they had been great, it was apparent that they were going in different directions. Hermione was finishing her studies to become a Healer, and Ron was dedicated to his Auror training. They were only twenty and they had their whole lives ahead of them, if it was meant to be, then they would find each other again when they were both ready. If it wasn't, well, they would always be friends.
Ron smiled at the thought of their break-up. He only wished that the next few could have been as pleasant. He never seemed to be able to duplicate the ease with which he and Hermione had split. His relationships tended to end like the Filibuster fireworks Fred and George sold in their shop. Susan seemed to be the worst – she had actually slapped him. He didn't know why, he'd tried to be nice and mature about the whole thing. Maybe Hermione was right, maybe he did have the emotional range of a teaspoon.
Ron went to his desk and sat down in front of a huge pile of paperwork that needed to be finished and reviewed. He and Harry were in charge of the training program for new Auror recruits. There were hundreds of witches and wizards who applied every year from all over the world. All of them wanted to work with the famous Harry Potter; at least that's what Ron always thought. There had been one time a recruit had begun to follow Ron like a lovesick puppy. It had not helped that the recruit was female. Turned out that she had followed Ron's part in the war and his activities since, she was just one step away from being a stalker. Harry had dismissed her from the program a week into the training.
Draco was in charge of a special investigations unit. Pretty much what he did was investigate possible Dark Arts practices and groups. Since he had been raised around the stuff, he was the obvious choice. Ron hated to admit it, but the git was good at his job, and he was a passable human being. His and Harry's favorite thing to do to annoy him was to assign him training duty; they knew he hated any kind of training. It made his lovely hair get all sweaty and out of place. Ron had never met a man more fussy about his appearance.
He began on his pile of papers. Might as well try to make a dent before Harry comes in Monday morning, he thought. He didn't know how many entrance applications and resumes and school transcripts he'd gone through before he got to the file marked FOR EYES ONLY. He raised his eyebrows before he opened the file. It was a rare occasion that they got one of these; they were usually Malfoy's department. He and Harry were normally assigned as bodyguards for visiting dignitaries, or called in on emergency raids or distress calls, but outside of that they never involved themselves with regular Auror duties. Not by choice, mind you, they were deemed too 'high profile' to be out with the public. Harry he understood, but he didn't know why he was taken off of fieldwork.
He pulled the picture of the subject and his eyebrows rose even higher. It was of a young woman. She had blonde hair and green eyes, odd combination, but nothing out of the ordinary. She looked to be about sixteen. He looked at the first page of the file and began to read her personal information. Her name was Lyra Helene DelaChapelle; she was actually twenty-five, just turned, apparently and this was the last picture taken. She'd left England at the beginning of the war with her parents. They had fled after renouncing their ties to the Dark Lord, and being threatened with death if they were ever found. The girl had been sent to Beauxbatons for her education, but had not finished because her parents had taken her with them into hiding. She'd been found once during their period of hiding. She had tried to find the authorities to enlist in the war effort, but was found by Death Eaters before she reached anyone. She managed to Apparate to the nearest Wizarding hospital. She'd been beaten, tortured and raped for four days before the Death Eaters left her for dead.
Ron stopped reading and leaned back in his chair. He ran a hand through his hair and then down his face. He hated reading these files. It had been five years since the end of the war, but he never could read through one of these files in one sitting. He stood from his desk and checked his watch; it was his lunch-time.
He walked over to the cart that the Ministry left for the Auror Department. There was nothing opened in the middle of the night, so unless you brought your own lunch, you would have to subsist on whatever was on the cart. Ron grabbed the last roast beef sandwich and two packs of crisps, he walked into the small kitchenette that housed the small Muggle appliances that some of the blokes in the office used. Since many of the Aurors were muggle-born, the appliances made them feel a little more at home, even though they actually worked on magic. Ron smiled as he poured some water and boiled it for tea using his wand. He'd had enough of using muggle electronics when he'd lived with Hermione. She had insisted that they use the appliances on a daily basis; her argument was that there was no need to use magic for day-to-day things that they could do simply. He'd never bought it.
After finishing his tea and sandwich, he returned to his desk with his bags of crisps and tried to resume reading the file in front of him. He placed the picture of the young woman against the stack of papers that he'd finished and piled in front of him. He stared at her for about five minutes before a cleared throat brought him out of his thoughts. He looked up to find Hermione and Draco standing in front of his desk, smiles going from ear-to-ear.
Ron shook his head and stood from the table. They didn't have to say anything; he knew why they would show up at this hour of the night. "Let's see it, then," he said to Hermione. She stuck out her hand and showed him the ring on her finger. Ron did a double take and laughed at Draco. "Bloody show-off," he said with a laugh before shaking Draco's hand.
Hermione was smiling and nearly bouncing up and down. "We were going to wait until tomorrow to tell everyone, but I knew you'd be sleeping most of the day. So, you're the first one to know." She squealed like a fourteen-year-old and wrapped him in a hug.
Ron laughed. "Well, this has got to be a first. I actually know something before the rest of the world." He pulled back and took Hermione's face in his hands. "I wish you every happiness. You deserve it." He looked over at Draco. "You both do." Placing a kiss on her forehead, he wrapped her in a strong embrace.
"Now, go on, get out of here. I'm sure there are more exciting things you two want to do to celebrate, than coming down here to tell me the news." Ron wiggled his eyebrows at Hermione and laughed at her blush.
Draco took her by the arm and shook Ron's hand again. They shared a nod and the couple turned to go. Before they had taken ten steps, Ron remembered the file that was open on his desk. "Oi! Malfoy!" he called out as he scrambled to gather the folder and picture. He jogged over to Draco in quick time. "I think someone may have given this to me by mistake," he said as he handed the folder to Draco. "Unless she's a dignitary that I don't know about."
Draco's brow furrowed and he opened the folder while looking at Ron. "Was this in with your entrance applications?"
"Yeah, I started reading the file, and it looks like it's something . . . that you . . ." Ron's voice trailed off as he saw the blood drain from Draco's face. The man was pale to begin with, so losing any amount of color was not flattering.
Hermione put her hand on Draco's arm. "Draco, are you alright?"
"When did you get this?" Draco asked Ron.
"Just tonight; do you know her?" he asked.
Draco closed the folder and brought it up to his face. The way he squeezed his eyes shut made Hermione worry and she shot a panicked look to Ron.
"Draco, why don't you sit down and we can go through the file really quickly?" offered Ron.
The blond took a deep breath and released it, bringing the folder down from his face. He looked around and saw that there were five other Aurors working graveyard; they had not much else to do, but watch whatever drama was unfolding. "Let's go to Potter's office," Draco said.
When the three of them were safely locked in Harry's office, Draco sat down in the chair next to Hermione's and took her hand. "Lyra DelaChapelle is my cousin."
Hermione didn't understand. "Well, that's good, right? She must be re-entering England and maybe trying to get a job at the Ministry."
She looked up at Draco and then Ron, who shook his head at her. "Not with a FOR EYES ONLY note on her folder." Ron looked at Draco's bent head. "Do you want to read the file, mate?" The unspoken offer was of Ron reading it and then breaking the news to Draco.
"What have you read so far?" he asked softly.
Ron sighed and leaned against Harry's desk, crossing one ankle over the other. "You know her personals. She's just turned twenty-five, and that is the most recent photograph of her. She and her parents went into hiding at the beginning of the war, under threat of death by the Dark Lord's camp. They stayed pretty well hidden, until almost the end." He didn't want to continue; if this girl was related to him the rest of her story would be hard to stomach.
"What happened?" asked Draco.
"She managed to get away from her parents a few months before the end of the war, but she was found before she could get to the authorities. She was trying to enlist in the war effort, that's what she told officials when she was found." Ron hoped that would be enough to sate Draco's curiosity.
"Are you going to tell me everything else, or am I going to have to take this file home?" he asked.
"She was treated in a wizarding hospital in the outskirts of Helsinki; she apparated there after four days of beatings, rape and torture. I don't know much else, like I said, I didn't get to finish reading the file."
Draco sat in silence for a few more minutes. He sat up and leaned far back in his chair. "They told me she was dead," he said from behind his hands. "Two years into the war, my parents gave me a letter from some officials in Germany saying they had found a body that matched her description." He stood and turned his back to Ron and Hermione.
"Did they ever send your family the body?" asked Hermione.
Draco shook his head. "Even if they had, I was so involved in the fighting, I wouldn't have had the time to give her a proper burial. And my parents . . ." Draco groaned at the thought. "They're Lyra's godparents. She was the daughter they never had, and we always treated each other like brother and sister rather than cousins."
The three young people sat in silence contemplating the turn their night had just taken. Draco was the one to break the silence. "Do me a favor, Weasley. Finish the file and owl me as soon as you're done. Let me know everything."
Ron took the folder from Draco's outstretched hand and nodded his agreement. He stayed in Harry's office after Draco and Hermione left and began reading the file from where he had left off.
Lyra had been treated for her injuries in Helsinki and given over to the local authorities, who promptly placed her in protective custody. She was moved to an undisclosed location abroad under an assumed name and had been given a monthly stipend that could have easily supported a small family. Her monthly reports during her custodial periods were still confidential and would only be released with a direct order from the Minister of Magic.
The Swedish Magical Government no longer saw the need for maintaining Miss DelaChapelle in protective custody. The war was over, she had been able to support herself with a job in the Muggle world, her parents were deceased and they had been the main reason she was under threat of death. They had died at the hands of Nature; their bodies were found, lying side-by-side, by Muggle authorities in a cabin in Siberia; they had frozen to death. Miss DelaChapelle would be released from protective custody as soon as the British Ministry of Magic approved her entrance into the country. Because of her family's former connections and the fact that she and her parents had been missing for 8 years were good reasons for concern as far as the Ministry was concerned. She was petitioning for the release of her family's assets, as well as the reinstatement of her British Magical Citizenship.
Ron had been assigned to her case. He would have to investigate her time spent in hiding, as well as interview any remaining family members and whomever it was that she was working for in the Muggle world. He checked the final page in the folder. This gave all the vital information of the case. The address given as current residence was in California. It looked like Ron was going on a working holiday.
Draco and Hermione arrived in front of her flat before Ron finished the file he was reading. Draco followed Hermione to her door and walked in after her. Hermione knew he wasn't in the best of moods, so she left him on the couch and started a small fire in the grate before going to get them both a cup of tea. As she waited for the kettle to boil, she thought about what had just happened. Whoever this woman was, she held a special place in Draco's heart. He had been shattered by the news of her death; she remembered a time during the war where he had fought like Voldemort himself was in front of him. He'd been reckless and aggressive, but he had been silently grieving for the girl he thought of as a sister.
She poured the tea and put some biscuits on a plate before heading out to the living room with the tray. She found Draco pacing in front of the fireplace.
"Do you remember those three months we were on assignment in Scotland?"
"Had you just found out? About Lyra, I mean."
Draco nodded. "My parents had owled me about the letter they received from the German Magical Authorities. They didn't mention my Aunt and Uncle, just Lyra. That was a hard enough blow, but to not know what had happened to them. . ." Draco sat down on the other end of the settee and put his head in his hands. "We helped them go into hiding. Mother and Father gave them enough gold to live on for quite a few years. They were supposed to go to a small cottage our family owns in the South of France."
"Why didn't they declare neutrality like your parents?" asked Hermione.
"Uncle Leo did not want to go through a war with his hands under his bottom. He wasn't one to just sit anything out. He would rather renounce his ties with the Dark Lord and give him the finger while he was running for his life."
"He would rather run away and hide than stay and at least give moral support?" asked Hermione.
Draco shook his head. "It's not giving moral support, Hermione. You've seen how people look at my parents, and I know you've heard comments about them in your line of work. They're thought of as cowards for declaring neutrality."
"But it was the only thing they could do!" declared Hermione. She'd not always thought of it that way. While the war was still raging, she'd thought of the senior Malfoys as a pair of cowards who had taken the easy way out by saying that they would not participate in the war for either side.
"Yes, it was, but that does not change the fact that they did not help. They remained a non-existent party in the war. They were there, but they did nothing. It is up to the side that wins to decide how neutral parties are viewed, and no one wanted to applaud my mother and father when the war was over." Draco scooted closer to Hermione and put his arm around her shoulders. "My Uncle couldn't take that chance. He would have died rather than to be thought a coward."
"Even if it meant saving his daughter from a fate worse than death?" asked Hermione.
"He never was one to think things through, my Uncle. I'm sure he thought that his wife and daughter would agree with him in all aspects of his logic. He seriously did not know his daughter." Draco pulled Hermione closer to him and pulled her legs into his lap. "Sitting there in that office, after Ron told me what had happened to her, all I could think of was 'What if that had happened to Hermione?' We were always in danger of being captured by Death Eaters, and you more than any woman in the war; you were one of the Golden Three. I don't know what I would do if anything like that were to happen to you." He hugged her tight and kissed the top of her head.
Hermione wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled her nose into his neck. She inhaled deeply of his cologne, and the unique scent that was Draco. They sat that way for a few minutes before Hermione kissed his collarbone.
She felt more than heard Draco's chuckle. "Are you trying to take my mind off of things?" he asked.
"Maybe," she replied. She began to move her finger in circles around his chest. She nibbled on his earlobe and heard him gasp when she brushed her thumb over one of his nipples.
"You're doing a really good job," he said as he turned to face her. He gave her a sweet kiss on the lips before turning his attention to celebrating their engagement.
Draco woke up from a deep sleep at three in the morning. He heard the faint tapping on the window and moved slowly out of bed, so as not to wake up Hermione. He pulled on his pants and walked to the window. He let in the owl and rummaged around Hermione's desk to find a treat for it. The bird flew off as soon as Draco removed the letter attached to its leg. He chuckled at the addressing on the envelope: Draco Malfoy, Hermione's Bedroom, London. Well, Draco could not fault Weaselby on his sense of humor.
He opened the envelope and pulled out a full sheet of writing. His eyebrows lifted beyond the hair that had fallen in his face. Weasley didn't usually write this much for his reports on recruits. He must have a lot of news. Draco walked over to the night stand and grabbed his wand. He placed a soft kiss on Hermione's head before heading into the living room to read his letter.
I've just finished the file. It looks like your cousin is petitioning for re-admittance into Britain, and for the release of her family's assets. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but your Aunt and Uncle passed away last year. They were found together in a cabin in Siberia. I'm sorry, Draco.
I've been assigned her case. I'm in charge of interviewing all of her relations, including her employers in the colonies. Her files from Sweden have to be released by their Minister and the only way to do that is to get a written petition from our Minister. I'll be Apparating over to the Burrow as soon as I'm done with this letter to get Dad to sign the petition. These things usually take around six months to complete, but I'll try and get it all done and submitted within the month. With any luck, your cousin will be back in Britain a few weeks after that.
She's still in protective custody under the Swedish Magical Government until she enters Britain. I'm sure you know that means that you can't see her until she's entered the country, and I can't let you know where she is. I can tell you that she's doing fine. She's working in the Muggle world, and seems to have adjusted well.
Listen, Draco, I'm going to be straight with you. I'm not very good with this kind of work. I know you and Hermione are going to be making the rounds tomorrow letting everyone know about the engagement, but it would expedite things a lot if you would let me interview you and your parents as soon as possible. I think if I can get you lot under my belt, I'll be better prepared to pry into the life of a total stranger. HA! Owl me with a good time for your interview.
Right. I think that about covers everything. Again, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if it makes you feel any better, your Aunt and Uncle were together until the end, and your cousin will be home soon. Give my love to Hermione.
Ronald Weaslely, Auror
Draco sat thinking about what Ron had written until the dusk turned to dawn. He knew that Hermione would be getting up soon, but he couldn't bring himself to go back to bed. He knew he would just lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking about what he should do next. He decided that he would make breakfast for the both of them and use the time he had left wisely.
Hermione joined him in the kitchen just as he was spooning the eggs onto a serving plate. He looked up, and smiled at her disheveled appearance. "It's about time you woke up, lazy arse." He placed a sweet kiss on her cheek and put down the pan and grabbed a cuppa for her.
"Bless your pointed head," she said before sitting down to drink her tea. It usually took her one or two cups of tea to wake up, depending on whether Draco had spent the night. Today was shaping up to be a two-cupper.
Draco got the other serving plates out of the warm oven and put them on the table. He'd had plenty of time, so he'd made flatcakes, bacon, sausages, eggs and toast. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out some fruit that Hermione always kept, as well as the orange juice.
"You were busy this morning," said Hermione as she put a few flatcakes on her plate. "What time did you get up?"
"I've been up since three," replied Draco. He was filling up his plate with a little bit of everything.
"I take it Ron sent you an owl about your cousin's file." Hermione took a bite of eggs and waited for Draco to chew his food before he answered her.
"I got it at three. That's why I've been up." He took a bite of eggs and took a sip of orange juice. He hadn't known how hungry he was, but he realized that he had not eaten much the night before out of nerves. "He has been assigned to her case. It must be considered highly sensitive, but I really think what worries the Ministry is the fact that she is asking for her family's assets to be released to her. If she were just asking for re-entry into the country and community, there would have been no need to do everything that Ron's going to be doing."
"If you can say, what is Ron going to be doing?"
Draco finished his mouthful of food in record time and reached for his tea. "He has to interview any family and distant relations that are still living in England. So far as I know, the only living relations that she has are my parents and I. If she has any former acquaintances that wouldn't mind coming forward to speak for her, they will also be interviewed. He's going to have to speak with her current employers; from what he said she's employed somewhere in the Muggle world in America. Do you know he calls them the colonies? Funny. He said he was going to Apparate to the Burrow last night to get a petition signed by his father to release the confidential files regarding her time spent in the custody of the Swedish Magical Government. I lucked out that his father was elected Minister after the war; he'll be able to push through her case in record time." He finished his tea and went back to his food.
Hermione nodded her head along with what Draco was saying. He didn't have to point out the obvious fact that his Aunt and Uncle were not mentioned once in his explanation. She did not want to push anything so she let it slide. "I think we should go to my parents' house first, today. Then we can go to Harry's place; I'm sure Ginny will be there." She decided to ignore the knowing smile that crossed Draco's face. "Then the Burrow, and end the day with your parents. We can even stay the night if you'd like."
Draco nodded his head. "I think that would be best. I'll owl Weaselby and let him know that I will be ready for my interview tonight. He can stay the night at the Manor, and interview Mother and Father in the morning. I don't think they will be up to anything when they hear the news I have to tell them." He stood and put his plate in the sink. He stood looking out of Hermione's window and drinking his tea for a few minutes.
Hermione joined him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his back. "I don't want to diverge from your current thoughts, but this has been on my mind all morning."
Draco turned around and wrapped his arms around her waist. "What's going through that beautiful mind of yours?" he asked.
Hermione pushed away from him enough to look up at him. "Do you think they'll be okay with this?"
"Mum and Father, you mean?"
Hermione nodded and worried her bottom lip.
"I think it might be hard on Father, but I'm sure Mum is going to be thrilled. She'll probably throw us in a room and tell us to start working on her grandchildren." Draco laughed when Hermione slapped his chest. "Are you really that worried?" he asked her.
"Yes! I know that your father still has resentment for me, and I know that his only son marrying a Muggleborn witch is just going to kill him; if he doesn't kill me first."
"My father would never kill you. He likes you. Can't you tell by the way he talks?"
"He calls me Granger!" she exclaimed. "The last time someone called me that was when I was at Hogwarts, and that was you! You father enjoys torturing me."
"He likes playing with you," Draco corrected.
"Yeah, like a cat plays with a mouse before he eats it."
Draco laughed loudly at that.
It was true and Draco knew it. Lucius Malfoy had been furious when his only son had come home and told the senior Malfoys that he was dating Hermione Granger, Muggleborn. Lucius had exploded and Narcissa had nearly fainted. She left the room after giving her son a kiss on the cheek and a rather enigmatic look. Lucius would not let Draco off the hook so easily; he'd kept him at Malfoy Manor for the entire evening giving reasons as to why Hermione was such an unsuitable match. Draco had sat there and listened to his father, understanding that the man had a lifetime of hate and anger stored up in him, and this was only natural – it didn't stop Draco from hating the way he talked about Hermione – and he should try not to judge him. At the end of it all, Draco stood and shook his father's hand. "I love her, Father." He'd left the manor after that statement and Lucius refused to speak to him for a month.
Narcissa was a different story entirely. She had owled Draco the very next day and asked him to bring Hermione around for tea that weekend. It had been an awkward encounter, but Narcissa had made a great effort to get to know Hermione a little bit better. Hermione, on her part, tried to forget the past she had with Draco's parents and concentrate on the new relationship she would now try to forge. Narcissa and Hermione talked about neutral subjects for most of the beginning of the conversation, until Draco began to take an active part. He prompted a conversation about Hermione's work in St. Mungo's pediatrics department. Narcissa was duly impressed and asked Hermione what life was like as a Healer. Draco mentioned Narcissa's philanthropic work to help children that were orphaned in the war. He knew how dear to Hermione's heart those organizations were and he saw as his mother climbed in her estimation as the afternoon wore on.
Lucius walked onto the patio as they were laughing about some of Draco's childhood antics. "I didn't know that you were inviting the indigent for afternoon tea now, Narcissa," he sneered.
Draco put his napkin down on the table and moved to stand but his mother beat him to it. She stood and walked to stand between Lucius and the two young people. "I will invite whomever I wish to my home, Lucius. If it bothers you that your son is here with his girlfriend, I'm sure you can find somewhere else to sit and read."
Lucius' lips formed a sneer and he looked down his nose at Hermione, who was sitting staring into her lap. "Let me know when you've taken the trash out," he replied. When he had taken his first step back into the Manor, Narcissa replied to his rudeness.
"If you insist on being rude, may I suggest you also find somewhere else to sleep tonight. I'm sure there's a guest room that's suitable in the east wing of the Manor." She slammed the patio door closed and turned back to sit at the table. "I do apologize for my husband, dear. I'm afraid it's been difficult for him to adjust."
Hermione gave Narcissa a small smile and reached for Draco's hand. "Maybe we should go," she whispered to him.
"That might be a good idea." Draco turned to his mother. "I think we'll be going now, Mum. We don't want to be the cause of a row between you and Father."
Narcissa stood with Hermione and Draco. "Please don't," she said. She took Hermione's hand. "It's not often that I get to have female company. Most of the women of my former social circle . . . well I'm sure you know what happened to them. I would love to be able to get to know you better."
Hermione turned to Draco. "I don't know. Draco, what do you think?"
"I think I'd love nothing more than to spend an entire day with the two most beautiful women in England." He knew that would bring a smile from Hermione, and he beamed at her when she swatted at his arm.
They'd spent the whole day at the Manor. Lucius avoided them like the plague and had his dinner sent to one of the bedrooms in the east wing of the Manor. He knew better than to think that he was going to be able to enter his and Narcissa's bedchamber before they had discussed his actions of the afternoon. Draco and Hermione, meanwhile, were entertained by the house elves after finishing dinner. They doted on Draco as if he were still a toddler wanting to play hide-and-seek with them. It bothered Hermione to no end, watching the house elves fetch him things, but she knew better than to argue with him when she was just starting to get to know his mother.
They bid Narcissa goodbye that night with a promise to return soon. Hermione was hopeful that she and Narcissa would become friends, but Draco's father was another story. It was not until Hermione and Draco went on a flying tour of the Manor that Lucius really came out of his shell with her.
Draco knew that Hermione hated flying, so he proposed that flying was the best way to see the Manor. She'd agreed reluctantly and was glad when the tour was over. They had been dating for five months and had visited the Manor at least twice a month to have tea or dinner with Narcissa. Lucius still had not joined them on that Saturday and Hermione was resigned to another visit with just Draco's mother. When Draco left her in the library to speak with his mother privately in the parlor, she decided that it would be a good time to get to know a little about the history of the Manor, since she'd just seen the actual thing first-hand. She found a section close to the window box that had a few volumes about the history of the Malfoy family in England. She grabbed the first volume and sat down in the window box.
Hermione did not hear Lucius enter, and only looked up from her book when he cleared his throat. She closed the book and stood quickly. "Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Malfoy. I didn't know you were going to use the library. I'll just put this back and go," she was rambling because she was so nervous. She went to replace the book, but stopped when Lucius spoke to her.
"Interested in the history of the Malfoy family, Miss Granger?" he asked.
"Well, yes," she said. "Draco had told me some of the more recent history, but I thought it would be nice to know a little bit more. He also took me on a tour of the grounds, and I thought I might find some information on the manor house."
Lucius walked to where she was and looked through the books at her shoulder. "Then I would suggest you start with this one." He handed her a rather large tome, and took the one that was in her hands. "It has illustrations of the original house and all the additions that have been made through the generations."
Hermione gave him a small smile; maybe he was opening up. "Thank you, sir. I really appreciate it."
"Yes, well," Lucius cleared his throat and adjusted his robes. "I'm sure it would be fascinating for someone of your birth to know about a real wizarding family."
Okay, maybe not. Hermione forced a smile and bit her tongue. She would not let this man get to her. He was only baiting her; trying to make her mess up so that he could tell Draco about his uncouth girlfriend. "I'll just take this to the parlor and join Draco and Mrs. Malfoy." She turned around and left the room, completely missing the smile that graced the face of the elder Malfoy.
Lucius had joined them for dinner that night; the first time ever. He was the epitome of grace and manners, until the last course was served. He began to ask Hermione what she thought about the new laws regarding half-breed discrimination.
"I think that the Minister has done the magical world a favor by making sure that all magical beings are given a fair chance to prosper. If England sets an example, then other countries will soon follow." She had been a major supporter of this piece of legislation and had spoken out for it while it was being written.
"How well do you think it will be followed?" he asked.
"It's a law, Mr. Malfoy. Any citizen of Britain will have to follow the laws passed by their government or face consequences."
"How many people will that really scare, Miss Granger?" Lucius had begun to warm to his subject and he noticed that his son and wife were becoming increasingly uncomfortable; that only served to spur him further. "There have always been ways to get around a law. Loopholes, if you will, are riddled in the laws of the wizarding world. They are there because all laws cannot apply to all people."
"Discrimination is wrong, Mr. Malfoy. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, muggleborn or pureblood, there is no reason that any person with magical abilities or training should be discriminated because they happen to a werewolf or a centaur or born to non-magical parents." Hermione's voice did not rise, but she raised her chin and dared Lucius to try and refute her argument.
"This is delicious crème brulee, Mum. Did you make this?" asked Draco. He couldn't think of anything else to talk about that might deter the current conversation.
Narcissa took her son's hint. "No, but it is a recipe that the house elves have – "
Lucius cut Narcissa off. "So you're telling me that just anyone should be able to be Headmaster of Hogwarts or a teacher at said institution, or – Merlin forbid – Minister of Magic?"
"If they are qualified to fill those positions, then, yes. Don't think that I want just anyone teaching my children – "
"Aha! So you agree that you don't want just anyone in a position of authority over your children. It is for this reason that I wrote to Dumbledore in Draco's third year regarding his choice of Defense professor."
"I am not saying that!" Hermione nearly shouted. "I am saying that I do not want someone who is not qualified to teach a subject in a classroom with my future children. The policy clearly states that if a person of magical abilities is qualified for a position, they should be considered regardless of their background."
"So if someone from Azkaban were to apply for the Defense position at Hogwarts, they should be placed. Surely they would be qualified for that position, knowing just what the students would have to be defending themselves against."
The color of Hermione's face was getting close to Weasley proportions. "I did not say that, you insufferable, bullheaded, pompous ass!" Hermione slammed her fist into the table and quickly realized that she had just raised her voice to Lucius Malfoy, at his dinner table, in his own home. Her hand went to her mouth, and her eyes went to the size of saucers. She looked at Draco who was looking at his father with panic written across his face.
It was then that Lucius did the one thing that no one expected: he started laughing. It began as a chuckle and ended with everyone at the table wiping their eyes with mirth. When they had composed themselves, Lucius reached for his teacup and took a sip. "So, what did you think of the book, Granger?"