Author's Note: This was originally published as a one-shot but I've added a couple of extra scenes to it and split it into two chapters, as it was ridiculously long.
Thanks to River in Egypt, who told me that, as this story is Rose-centric, it needed Rose's reaction to Draco and Hermione relationship to be complete. I mulled on what she said and a couple of months later came up the additional material in Chapter 2.
Thank you to both Poppyxxxx and arosesinnocence from Hawthorn & Vine for betaing this first chapter for me.
Harry cornered his newest employee having a late coffee break in the canteen.
"Malfoy!" Harry called.
Malfoy turned his head and grimaced as he saw who was bearing down on him. Harry rolled his eyes. He thought that he was worth some respect now that he was the former Sytherin's boss, but Malfoy appeared to think that he'd done Harry a big favour by becoming an Auror.
"What do you want, Potter?" the blond asked insolently.
"I need you to work on Saturday night."
"No can do. I have plans," Malfoy replied.
"Well cancel them."
Harry ground his teeth. It was unhelpful dialogues like this that made him question his sanity in replacing Ron with Malfoy. "I'm your boss, and I need you to work this Saturday. And I won't take no for an answer."
"Doesn't it say somewhere in my contract that weekends are my free time?"
"I can ask you to work and give you time off in lieu."
"I think I'll check my contract before I take your word for it. How do I know you're not lying?"
"I know that contract like the back of my hand because I asked Hermione to draw it up for me, and I specifically requested this clause."
"I'll still check. I don't trust you Gryffindors. Everyone reckons you're all trustworthy, but I distinctly remember several occasions where you were anything but."
Harry sighed. "By all means check, but be here at six o'clock on Saturday."
He walked back up to his office. He had been the Head of the Auror Office for six months and had been given a swanky new office to go with the title, but he still wasn't too sure what to do with all his new space. He sat down and looked at the forest of photos that covered his enormous desk. He felt a small pang of guilt as he looked at the picture of Hermione and her kids. Was he doing the right thing in commandeering Malfoy to fill in for him on Saturday?
Hermione had had a rotten year so far. Ron had gone through some kind of early mid-life crisis and walked out on both his job and his family. No one could understand it. It wasn't like Ron to do such a thing. He'd disappeared for months before he'd turned up at Charlie's flat in Romania. His only explanation for his actions was that he felt trapped and that he married too young. This didn't help Hermione who'd been left devastated. She'd also been left with two young children who couldn't understand where Daddy had gone.
Last week, Ginny and Luna had managed to persuade Hermione to go out on a big 'girls' night out'. The whole Weasley female clan, wives included plus Hermione, Luna, and Andromeda were going out on Saturday, and Harry was meant to be looking after Rose and Hugo along with his kids and Teddy, but he couldn't. Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister for Magic, needed him to attend a meeting with his Brazilian counterparts as the British Aurorsy were trying to track down the last of the Death Eaters, suspecting that some may have fled to South America. So now there was no babysitter for the kids, and Harry really didn't want to cancel Hermione's night out. She needed to forget about her cares and worries for one night. She deserved some fun after all she'd put up with recently.
Now, Harry was left trying to find a fill-in babysitter. George was away for business, Percy was attending the same meeting that he was, and Bill was already responsible for George's, Percy's, and his kids. And Charlie, well, he was an eternal bachelor and had Ron currently staying with him. Even if he was without a houseguest, he needed to get permission from his boss to leave Romania. Harry drew a blank with all of his friends, which left him with Malfoy. He wouldn't have even countenanced such a solution if he hadn't seen Malfoy regularly with Teddy. Over the years, they'd bumped into each other at Andromeda's house, and Malfoy was great with Teddy. So Harry knew that he could look after kids. Harry allowed this fact to smother the unease of leaving his and Hermione's kids in the care of Malfoy. They'd be all right, he was sure. Besides, he'd have Teddy there to help him. Harry was convinced that Teddy wouldn't allow Malfoy to hex any of them even if Teddy did show some disturbing Slytherin tendencies.
Saturday came around, and Harry met Malfoy at the office as ordered. He wasn't giving Malfoy a chance to back out, so he hadn't told him what he was doing yet.
"Let's go," he said and led the blond Auror down to the lobby and the many Floo connections.
"Are you ever planning on telling me where we are going?" Malfoy asked.
"You'll know soon enough," Harry muttered, ignoring Malfoy's narrow-eyed glare. "Here's the address."
The blond stared at it. "Hang on, isn't that your address?"
"Erm… yes, we're stopping there first." Harry said before stepping into the fireplace first, not giving Malfoy a chance to ask any more questions.
He arrived home to a chorus of kids shouting his name. Neville came in from the kitchen with Lily in his arms. "Thanks so much for helping me out for twenty minutes, Nev."
Neville handed the youngest child back to Harry. "No problem, Harry. The rush at the Leaky Cauldron doesn't start for another 30 minutes or so, but Hannah asked if I could get back as soon as possible to help her out."
The flames roared, turned green, and spat Malfoy out, who looked around disdainfully, saw the brood of kids and Neville, and sneered, "I see the Weaselette takes after her mother."
Harry flushed and counted to ten. He wasn't going to allow Malfoy to wind him up. He needed him after all. Neville looked at him, eyebrows raised. "This is your replacement?" he asked in doubt.
He shrugged. "I've seen him with Teddy, so I know he can do it."
"Rather your kids than mine."
Harry furrowed his brow. "Nah, he won't do anything. It would be too easy to pin charges on him."
Harry waved Neville off back through the fireplace and turned to see Malfoy currently looking distastefully at Rose, who was hanging off his leg and looking adoringly up at him. "I can see whose kid this is. That hair is unmistakable. So when are we leaving?"
"Are you a pwince?" Rose interrupted.
Malfoy looked ready to bolt there and then. Harry couldn't help but chuckle.
"No, Rosie, this is Draco. He's one of my Aurors," Harry replied as the blond looked disinclined to do so.
Rose just continued to cling to Malfoy's leg, staring up at him.
Harry pursed his lips. He hadn't actually given much thought to how he was actually going to explain this to Malfoy. "Right, here's the thing. I need your help in looking after the kids tonight whilst I go to a meeting in Brazil. Neville's just fed them, but they need to be bathed, put in their pyjamas, and tucked into bed. Oh, and Teddy's here to help you," he blurted out in a rush, thrusting Lily at Malfoy before closing off the Floo connection and Disapparating before the Auror could object.
Draco stared at the legion of kids. He was going to kill Potter when he got his hands on him. Two little chubby hands reached up and tugged at a stray lock of his silky hair. He grimaced as the baby gurgled in delight. "At least you don't look like Saint Potter, although you are undeniably a Weasley," he commented to the baby.
The little girl attached to his leg tugged at his trousers. "And you have to be Granger's," he remarked at her.
Draco's ten-year-old cousin strolled in from the kitchen with an acolyte in tow. "Uncle Draco," he called out. "Uncle Harry said you were coming tonight. I've been telling James how cool your stories are."
Draco looked at the boy standing next to Teddy. There was no mistaking who the speccy git's father was. The messy black hair could only belong to a Potter, and the little kid currently sitting next to the other baby on the floor had to be his brother. He was the spitting image of Potter. He groaned. He could tell this was going to be a very long night.
Draco grasped his hair in exasperation as Albus escaped out of the bath for what felt like the fiftieth time. "Get your scrawny little backside back in that water now!" he ordered.
"No!" Albus cried defiantly, once more evading Draco's grasp.
Albus skipped out of the bathroom, and he gave chase only to fall on his arse as he slipped in a puddle of water. A giggle escaped the bushy-haired brat in the bath. "Your cousin is a nightmare," he growled.
There was a brief knock on the door before Teddy stuck his head around and grinned at the sight of Draco on the floor. He had a squirming Albus in his arms. "I caught your escapee," he said.
"Put him back in the bath and hold him down."
Between the two of them, they managed to shampoo the messy mop that sat upon the little boy's head. Albus was soon bundled up in a towel and on his way to get into his pyjamas.
Draco held a towel out for Rose. "Come on, time to get out."
"But you didn't wash my hair," the little girl pouted.
"I'm not going near that bird's nest," he replied.
Rose's eyes filled up with tears, and her bottom lip started to wobble. "But Mummy always washes my hair before sleeping. She brushes it and makes it all pwetty."
"That's doubtful," he muttered, but as much as he wished it, he wasn't immune to the big brown eyes that gazed mournfully up at him.
He grabbed the hairbrush that was sitting on the sink, identifying it as Rose's by the numerous pink butterflies scattered up its handle, and proceeded to shampoo and brush her hair. His arms were aching by the time the task was finish.
"I pity Granger - not only does she have to do this for your hair but also her own," he informed the little girl.
Her only response was a beatific smile.
Draco flopped on the sofa, exhausted. Finally all the kids were in bed. Well, all except the babies, but they were not even a year old yet, and Teddy assured him that they tended to go to bed later than the others. It had only taken three hours, and it was now nine o'clock. He was sure they were meant to be in bed well before then, but the excited running around had gone on for ages. It didn't help that Rose had spent the whole night attached to his trouser leg. It had been an absolute nightmare. He was not forgiving Potter for this. If he wanted kids, then he would have gotten married and had one, but he'd stayed single for a reason. Firstly, Malfoys didn't make good fathers, and secondly, he was sure he was allergic to the little blighters. Draco watched as Teddy gave Hugo a bottle. Lily was glued to his side, crying when he tried to hand her over to his cousin, so he was stuck giving the little brat her bottle. She guzzled it all down contently and was now snoozing on his chest, her face snuggled into his shoulder. The door to the living room squeaked open, and there stood Rose, her thumb in her mouth and clutching her rabbit. "Dwako, I can't sleep."
Draco's shoulders slumped as he took in the pathetic sight of the little girl. "Why can't you sleep?"
"I had a bad dweam. The nasty monster came and got me."
Teddy gave him a look that said all too clearly, I told you not to tell them that story. How was Draco to know that Troll King would scare them? His dad had told him that story at their age. Okay, so maybe he shouldn't have said that unless they were quiet and asleep in ten minutes, the Troll King would come for them. Albus and Rose were only three years old. But he was a Malfoy.
"Why don't you come and sit up here for a bit then?" Draco suggested.
Rose grinned at him and bounded over to the sofa, clambering up onto it and snuggling into his side, leaning her head on his arm. Teddy laughed at the sight of his usually sophisticated cousin surrounded by kids. "Tell anyone about this, and I'll make sure you're sorted into Hufflepuff," Draco threatened the grinning boy.
Harry crept cautiously into his house. He Apparated outside as it was the rule when the kids were sleeping. Also, he wouldn't put it past Malfoy to have planted a trick somewhere to cause him maximum pain. He peered around the doorframe into the living room and sniggered at the sight that met his eyes. There was Malfoy, snoozing on the sofa with Lily asleep on his chest and Rose curled up under his arm. A grey eye opened and glared at him.
"Good night, Malfoy?" Harry couldn't resist asking.
Malfoy grunted at him and shifted the sleeping little girl over so she was resting against the cushions, got up, and shoved Lily towards her father. "I never want to speak of this again, and I want a week off in lieu."
"Sorry, no can do. You get a day off."
"I'm never working weekends again. Agree, or I'll file a formal complaint about how you abuse your employees and use them as glorified babysitters."
Harry knew when he was beaten. Besides, give it a few months and Malfoy would be itching to go on an exciting raid, even if it was on the weekend. He nodded his agreement.
Malfoy huffed, glared once more at him, and walked towards the fireplace. Harry reopened the connection just in time for Malfoy to disappear into the emerald flames.
"Thanks, Malfoy," he called after him.
Lily then squirmed against him, woke up, and realised that she wasn't sleeping against Malfoy any more.
"Hello, poppet," Harry said to his little girl, who responded by screwing her face up and screaming.
This, in turn, woke Rose up who glanced, bleary-eyed, around for Malfoy. "Where's Dwako gone?" she asked her uncle.
"He had to go home, sweetie."
Rose's bottom lip wobbled ominously. "But he said he'd protect me from the scawy monster."
"Don't worry, I'm here. I can protect you."
Rose started to cry. "But you're not Dwako. He said only a Malfoy can stop the monster. The monster is going to come and eat us all now."
Harry cursed. Bloody Malfoy, he was going to kill him. "Rose, no monster will dare to touch a Potter or a Weasley. We are the two bravest families in the whole world."
Rose stared up at him with her big blue eyes. "Pwomise?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
"Can I sleep with you?"
Harry gave up on having a decent night's sleep there and then. Lily was still fussing, and Rose tended to sleep on top of you. "Of course, lovey."
James raised his hand. "Don't tell Mummy or Auntie Hermione that Uncle Draco babysat us last night."
"Good boy," he said, ruffling his hair and ignoring the use of 'Uncle Draco'. Unfortunately, he picked that up off Teddy.
"But I like Dwako. I want to tell Mummy all about him," Rose protested.
"But Rosie, he's our secret. You can't tell anyone about him, or he disappears," Harry improvised. "You don't want him to disappear, do you?"
Rose shook her head solemnly. Teddy snorted but kept his mouth shut as Harry's eyes pleaded with him.
The front door banged open. "We're home!" Ginny shouted.
"We're in the kitchen, honey," Harry called back.
A bright-eyed Ginny and a smiling Hermione came into the kitchen and were engulfed by squealing children. Harry got up and poured both women a cup of coffee. "How was your night?"
"It was great," Ginny enthused. "We had so much fun. I can't remember the last time we all went out together."
Hermione came over and kissed Harry on the cheek. "Thanks for making me go out. I really needed that."
He beamed at his best friend. She looked a lot happier and was smiling rather than looking miserable. "Do you need anything to eat?"
"We stayed with Mum, love, what do you think? I don't think she even went to bed. We woke up to a massive breakfast," Ginny said.
"She was just pleased to have so many people to cook for," Hermione remarked.
Ginny smiled. "Yeah, I don't think she'll ever get used to the Burrow not being packed to the rafters."
Harry grinned at the sight of his full kitchen. This was everything he'd wanted when he was a kid. "I don't blame Molly. I love having everyone around."
Hermione felt the chill as she returned to her home with Rose and Hugo in tow. She hated this house now. It was full of memories of happier times and reinforced how lonely she was. She knew she needed to look around for a new place to live as this place couldn't be home anymore. It hadn't been since Ron had upped and left.
They'd been having problems since before Hugo was born, but Hermione was convinced that having another baby would solve them. She'd been wrong. All that happened was that Ron felt more trapped than ever. So she'd come to terms with the fact that she didn't love Ron anymore. The way in which he left snuffed all dying embers of her passion for him. She couldn't respect a man who walked out on his family, especially one who had already walked out on her and Harry once before at the most important juncture in their life. Although unlike back then, this time he wasn't coming back, his tail firmly between his legs.
Then there had been the crushing reality that their relationship had not been some destined-to-be fairytale but a long-running argument. Even before they started dating, they had always bickered. It was part of their charm as a couple, but it wore her down in the end. She felt older than her years and now had the difficult job of raising two young children on her own. She was lucky to have such supportive family and friends, as she wasn't sure when Ron was going to get his act together enough to play a role in his kids' lives again.
Rose wondered into the room. "Mummy, I'm hungwy."
Hermione heaved herself to her feet. One good thing about having two children under the age of four was that she had no time to wallow in her sadness and loneliness, but she couldn't help but wish she had someone with whom to share her problems.
Hermione arranged to meet Ginny in Diagon Alley to buy clothes for the children. Hugo and Lily were only a month apart in age and were rapidly going through clothes. After a shopping spree, they made their way to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour as James, Rose, and Albus had been promised an icy treat if they ate all their lunch. It had been taken over by Florean's niece, who was as creative with ice cream as her uncle had been. The children set to the task of eating huge ice-creams, and Hermione and Ginny were left to chat in peace.
However, the giggling and much nudging coming from the three monkeys got their mothers' attention. They were all staring across the crowded room, and James was trying to keep Rose in her seat.
"What's wrong, Rosie?" Hermione asked.
James glared at Rose as if daring her to talk. Rose pouted a little and looked towards the other side of the restaurant. "Nothing," she mumbled.
"Remember what my daddy said," James said in what he clearly thought was a whisper. "He'll disappear if you tell anyone."
Rose's face scrunched up, and she looked as if she was about to cry. "Now, Rosie, you know there are no secrets from Mummy," Hermione said encouragingly.
"But Uncle Hawwy said we had to keep this a secwet," the girl said, obviously scared.
Hermione exchanged a look with Ginny. If Harry was swearing the children to secrecy, this meant that he had done something he shouldn't have. "I'm sure Uncle Harry didn't mean that you were meant to keep it a secret from Mummy and Aunty Ginny."
James kicked Rose under the table, making her squeal. "James Sirius Potter, you are not to kick your cousin!" Ginny admonished.
James hung his head in shame, and Rose took the opportunity to speak to her mummy. "The bwave pwince has just come in, Mummy, and is sitting over there."
"What prince?" Hermione asked, completely confused.
"The pwince who looked after us and told us a scawy stowy," Rose said. "But he said he would pwotect us fwom the scawy monster."
Albus piped up. "Wosie, Daddy said not to tell anyone."
"But it's Mummy. I can tell Mummy."
"No, Daddy said Dwako would go away if we told."
"Dwako?" Hermione asked, thoroughly confused now.
"He's not gone anywhere, look," Rose pointed out to Albus and James, and she got up and ran from the table.
"Rose Weasley, you come back here now!" she shouted, getting the attention of several nearby tables.
"Go and get her, and I'll stop the rest of these little monsters from joining her," Ginny said.
Hermione weaved her way through the tables, looking for her little daughter only to stop at the scene unfolding before her. There was Rose, tugging happily on the sleeve of her Hogwarts rival, Draco Malfoy.
"Look, Mummy, it's Dwako, and he hasn't gone!" Rose squealed happily.
"Told you it was a Weasley," Zabini said to Parkinson.
She handed over a Galleon. "How was I to know that Draco was now best friends with Weasley offspring?" she huffed.
Hermione stood there confused until she started to get the attention of the other diners. "For Merlin's sake, just sit down, Granger," Malfoy snapped at her. "There's no need to turn this into some sort of side-show."
Hermione, on auto-pilot, took the last seat at the table. Rose had somehow squirmed her way up onto Malfoy's lap and was sitting there looking very pleased with herself. "Er …Malfoy, why is my daughter sitting on your lap?"
"I take it Potter didn't tell you?"
"As you can see," she responded acerbically, not appreciating being kept in the dark.
"No need to get nasty, Granger. Apparently, Potter has written babysitting large broods of kids into the Auror Handbook."
Zabini sniggered, and Malfoy shot him a look that promised retribution later.
Hermione was just confused. "Well… I take it from that, you mean my kids so… er …er… I guess, I should say thanks."
"Don't mention it. And I really mean that."
"Come on, Rosie, don't you want to eat your ice cream now?" Hermione said, keen to escape this bizarre meeting.
Rose looked longingly towards the large ice cream counter that ran one-side down the shop, and then she gazed adoringly up at Malfoy. It was obvious that she was weighing up which one she would prefer. "Can Dwako come and eat ice cweam with us?"
"No, sweetie, Mr. Malfoy is eating with his friends."
"Can I stay here?"
"Now that wouldn't be very nice for Aunt Ginny or your cousins, would it? They would feel hurt that you don't want to sit with them."
The little girl looked beseechingly towards her mother, but Hermione shook her head. "Come on Rose, we need to leave Mr. Malfoy to eat his lunch in peace."
Her daughter looked up at Malfoy with mournful eyes. "Will you come and see us again?" she asked.
Hermione bit back the laugh that wanted to escape at Malfoy's obvious panic. "You can come and say goodbye to Mr. Malfoy when you leave."
Rose accepted that compromise. She gave Malfoy a big hug and a kiss and wiggled off his lap. Hermione held her hand out for her daughter to hold. "Oh, but next time you look after children, lay off the scary stories, Malfoy. Rose has been having nightmares every night since."
Hermione returned to Ginny and the other kids. Rose sat down with an air of triumph. "He didn't disappear," she said to James before sticking her tongue out.
"What was that all about? Who did she go to see?" Ginny asked, standing up and craning her neck. "Oh my, is that Malfoy?"
She nodded. "Yep, Rose seems to have developed an obsession with none other than Draco Malfoy."
Ginny whistled. "Wow, that boy is all grown-up and looking fine. Rose has good taste."
Hermione groaned. "Let's get these kids fed, and then we need to talk to Harry."
Draco was happy to see Granger and the Weaselette take their brood of kids out of the café after he was forced to give Rose a kiss and a cuddle. Blaise and Pansy found the little girl's worshipping of him very entertaining.
"I never thought I'd see the day when a Weasley was 'President of the I Heart Draco Malfoy Club'," Pansy giggled.
"When your father is Deadbeat Weasley and your uncle is Wonder Boy, it makes sense," he said.
"Granger looked fit. A bit skinny but fit," Blaise commented. "Do you think she's dating again?"
Pansy looked at Blaise scandalised. "Blaise Zabini, you dirty little dog! You've only been married for five minutes."
"Not for me, you numpty, but Draco."
Draco plonked his cup of coffee down, spilling half of it, and looked at Blaise if he was crazy. "And why would I want to date Granger?"
"Because you just checked her out as she left."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did. Besides, why not? She's pretty, she's intelligent, and she's always managed to push your buttons."
"Try 'because she's married,'" he said pointedly.
"Not anymore, she's not," Pansy remarked. "Her divorce came through last month."
Pansy was a lawyer at the largest magic law firm in London.
"So she's single," Blaise mused.
"Don't even think about it," he warned.
Blaise gave him a cheeky smile, and Draco sighed. His two closest friends had been on his case to settle down and get married ever since Blaise decided to become domesticated and marry Calliope Vaisey. It meant that Draco was the odd one out in his circle of friends as he didn't have a significant other to bring along, and he didn't date seriously. He learnt his lesson when he realised that Astoria Greengrass had been harbouring ideas of them getting married when he'd just thought it was a light-hearted relationship. Granger certainly wouldn't fit his criteria. She was definitely a commitment type of woman. Blaise was right about one thing though: she was definitely fit.
Harry grouched into work on Monday morning. He should have known those kids wouldn't be able to keep their mouths shut. He had Ginny and Hermione questioning his sanity and his ability to be a good father all yesterday afternoon. Apparently it wasn't acceptable to abuse your power to make your employees look after your kids (Hermione), and it certainly wasn't acceptable to hide how handsome a former school nemesis had become (Ginny).
Once Hermione returned home, he had Ginny going on about how much Rose loved Malfoy and what a good idea it would be to set him and Hermione up on a date. Harry was fully regretting his whole decision to rope Malfoy into looking after the kids.
Speak of the devil, he thought as Malfoy stalked into his office.
"Here's my time off request. Could you authorise it, please?"
Harry always loved the fact that Malfoy had to try and be polite to him when he needed something. He had to admit, he enjoyed being his boss, and being polite obviously rankled the blond - well, when he wanted something.
"Sure," he replied after checking that the holiday didn't clash with anyone else's plans.
Once the form was signed, Malfoy relaxed. "How was your weekend?" he asked maliciously.
He gave him an exasperated look. "Nice way to keep quiet. I had Hermione and Ginny on my case yesterday."
The former Slytherin smirked. "Maybe you shouldn't put so much faith in a bunch of little kids."
Harry grumbled, but there was nothing he could say, as Malfoy was right. He should have known that a couple of three-year-olds couldn't keep their mouths shut. "I would have paid to see your face when Rosie accosted you at Fortescue's yesterday."
It was Malfoy's turn to scowl. "Yeah, well, she shows more taste than I would expect from a Weasley."
Harry snorted, and his obnoxious employee escaped back to his desk.
Hermione was at the end of her tether. She kept bumping into Malfoy both at the Ministry and in Diagon Alley. It was becoming infuriating, especially as Rose's obsession with the irritating blond didn't show any sign of disappearing. She would squeal and run towards him whenever she spotted him.
That day, he happened to be lurking in Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes with Zabini when to visit George.
"Look, Mummy, Dwako's here!" Rose shrieked happily before zooming over.
George shook his head sadly as he observed Rose flinging herself at the former Slytherin. "I don't think that girl can be a Weasley. She shows a disturbing lack of disdain for the haughty pure-blood families."
"Don't," Hermione moaned. "She's driving me nuts with her love of Malfoy."
"She's got Slytherin written all over her. Ron would never forgive her."
She looked away as George's face flamed when he realised what he had said. The way things were going, she didn't think Ron would ever be a presence in his kids' lives, especially once they got to Hogwarts. It really wasn't normal parenting behaviour.
"I think I'd better go and rescue the man," she said, observing Malfoy attempting to stop Rose from climbing up his leg.
George sniggered, bouncing Hugo in his arms. "You'll be a Gryffindor, won't you, Hugo, my lad?"
Hermione walked over to the pair of Slytherins. "Malfoy, Zabini," she greeted. "Rosie, darling, I really think you should leave Mr. Malfoy alone now. I don't think he wants you to climb him."
"But, Mummy, I only wanted to give him a kiss."
Malfoy bent down and suffered one of Rose's enthusiastic - and often sloppy - kisses.
Zabini smirked before holding his hand out to Rose. "Rose, why don't you show me your favourite thing in the shop?"
She frowned as her daughter disappeared with the tall wizard. "She has a complete lack of self-preservation," Malfoy commented.
"She's three!" she snapped back. "She'll be all right with Zabini, won't she?"
He rolled his eyes. "She'll be fine. He's just found out his wife is pregnant, so he wants to practice being a dad."
Hermione, overly sensitive to any mention of fathers, looked away. "I'm sure he'll be fine," she said in a constrained voice.
Malfoy, appearing to realise where her mind was straying, shuffled a little uncomfortably before patting her awkwardly on the shoulder. "I'm sure you'll do great, Granger. You always succeed in everything."
"Except marriage, it seems," she said bitterly.
He scoffed. "I doubt that was your fault. Weasley always was a complete screw-up."
She smiled a little at him. She was amazed he was trying to make her feel better rather than rub her situation in. "So what are you doing in here?" she asked, looking to change the topic.
"Zabini and I were bored. I like looking at the new inventions Weasley comes up with."
"Is that a compliment for a Weasley?"
Malfoy chuckled. "I guess. I must be getting soft now that Potter's my boss."
"How's that going?"
"Yeah, it's okay. It's nice to be doing something with my time."
"I never pegged you as an Auror."
"Why? Because I was a Death Eater?"
"No need to get defensive, Malfoy. You always seemed to have an issue with authority, that's all."
He shrugged. "I like being an Auror, and Potter's not too bad. Don't tell him I said that though."
"Mummy, look what Uncle Base got me," Rose said, dashing over with a little pink Pygmy Puff in her hand
Hermione sighed in resignation and glared at Zabini, who was looking a little self-conscious. "Did you say thank you to Mr. Zabini, poppet?"
"Uh-huh. Fank you again, Uncle Base," the little girl said once more.
"That's okay, sweetie," Zabini said, ruffling her hair. "Draco, shall we go?"
Malfoy nodded, and Hermione looked on, amused, as both wizards gave Rose a kiss.
"See you around, Granger," Zabini said whilst Malfoy just gave her a nod.