Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I make no money here.
AN: This story was written for the 2012 SS/HG exchange on Live Journal. The original prompts will be revealed at the end of the story. Many thanks go to my wonderful Beta/ Brit-Picker Talesofsnape and also to my alpha reader Morethansirius, the were both instrumental in the writing of this story. This story is complete in 7 chapters and a short epilogue. I will post a new chapter at least once a week until done.
Dear Mr. Longbottom,
I have a business proposal to present to you. It would be financially beneficial for both of us. Please contact me at this address at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your consideration.
Neville read the letter again for the tenth time. He kept re-reading it because he couldn't believe it was real. But the truth of the matter was it was genuine. He'd checked it numerous times for hexes, jinxes, curses or charms. He'd cast spells on the signature to verify that it actually was from whom it said it was. He'd even taken it to Filius to have him check it for authenticity, and the diminutive Charms master—now deputy headmaster, had confirmed that it actually had come from Severus Snape: written by his own hand.
It was so like the man, thought Neville. No small talk leading up to whatever it was that he wanted. No explanation of what it was all about, just painfully blunt and to the point: business proposal, financial benefits, call me.
"If I knew what was good for me, I'd throw the damned thing in the rubbish bin and be done with it," muttered Neville. And yet, the very idea that Professor Snape would contact, him—Neville Longbottom—the one he'd denigrated the entire time he'd been his student, more than any other in his class, the student whom he had obviously considered inept and incompetent. For him to approach Neville with a proposal like this, the very idea was ridiculous, unbelievable... and absolutely intriguing.
Neville couldn't help but recall that final nightmare of a seventh year. In the very beginning of that year, he had hated Snape with a fiery passion. However, as the year had progressed, Neville had come to realize that there was much more going on than was initially apparent. Luna was actually the first to twig to it, and the two of them had spent hours in private, debating the possibilities. By the end, between them, they had managed to figure the whole thing out, and pretty accurately at that. The only thing they hadn't been sure of was Snape's motivation for working behind the scenes against Voldemort. Luna had guessed it was for love, while Neville favored the revenge theory; essentially, they were both right.
After reading the letter, Filius encouraged him to follow up on it. In his opinion, if Severus was offering a business proposal it was probably on the up and up. Snape didn't play around.
Neville headed back to his office in the back of Greenhouse Three to compose his reply. He was unsure at first how to phrase it, but decided in the end to simply follow Snape's format.
Dear Mr. Snape,
I'm intrigued. Financial benefits sound good. When and where?
Now, as the Muggles would say, the ball was in Snape's court.
Thursday evening found Neville trudging down the street towards the Three Broomsticks. He knew Snape had chosen this time and place because it was relatively quiet, and no teachers or students were liable to be out after hours on a school night. Just as he'd expected, when he opened the door there were only a few patrons present: a couple of old codgers playing draughts by the hearth, a young couple finishing their dinner, and a few regulars at the bar.
Neville glanced around and then noticed him down at the very end of the bar nursing a stout and talking quietly with Madam Rosmerta. She laid her hand on his shoulder and leaned down to whisper something in his ear which caused a smile to appear on Snape's face. Neville couldn't help but wonder that he'd never in his recollection seen the man smile. It changed his countenance entirely from this cold, dour man to someone who might actually be friendly and interesting. She nodded in Neville's direction as he approached and said something to Snape. He turned and acknowledged Neville, reverting back to his strict Potion master's persona that was more familiar to Neville.
"Longbottom, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Shall we adjourn to a more private table?"
Neville looked around. "How about back there?" he asked, indicating the booth in the corner with a jerk of his head. It was private and there weren't any other patrons nearby.
"Looks fine. Lainey, I'll have another, and bring Longbottom whatever he wants to drink, as well."
"I'll have whatever he's having," responded Neville, turning to make his way back to the corner. As Snape slid onto the bench opposite him, Neville couldn't help but ask, "Lainey?"
"The woman does have a first name, you know. It's Elaine, actually. Elaine Rosmerta," replied Snape. "Although, I wouldn't recommend that you try calling her Lainey or even Elaine, unless she first gives you leave to do so, or you might find yourself with a pitcher of butterbeer upended on your head."
Neville nodded. "Thanks. I think I'll just stick to Madam Rosmerta for now."
The lady in question arrived to deliver their drinks and gave Neville an encouraging wink before sauntering back behind the bar. The two men sat in silence for a full minute, which seemed to both more like an hour. Finally Neville broke the ice, "So professor, you have my attention. What are the particulars of this business proposal you mentioned?"
Snape hesitated before speaking, apparently considering just how much to reveal. "I don't know how much you know about my situation, Longbottom, but the truth of the matter is I need a means to support myself—"
"But I'd heard that you opened your own Apothecary. I would think a well known war hero and Potion Master with your credentials would flourish in that business."
"Well, you would think wrong," growled Snape in return. He took a sip of his drink then continued in a calmer voice. "I had actually thought the same thing. However it appears due to bad publicity bandied about after the war, the general public will not do business with or buy any potions from anyone bearing the name of Snape. I had even considered returning to teaching. Without having to deal with Albus on one side and Voldemort on the other, it would be an acceptable existence."
"But the Potions position is open for next year. Why didn't you apply for it, sir?" asked Neville.
"I did, but Minerva claims that although she would be willing to have me back on staff, the board of governors and the parents would never accept having me work at Hogwarts again."
"But that's so unfair, professor. Without you and everything you did, the entire outcome of the war might have been different."
"Life isn't fair, Longbottom. And stop calling me professor and sir. If we're to be business partners, we will be equals."
"Very well, Severus," replied Neville with a cheeky grin.
Severus frowned. "I was thinking more along the lines of Longbottom and Snape," he grumbled, pinning Neville with the gaze that was proven to freeze first years in their tracks.
"That look won't work on me, Severus. I'm not afraid of you anymore," he lied. Well, perhaps it was half a lie, thought Neville. He was still a little afraid of Snape—he'd be a fool not to be—but he also admired him and knew he could be trusted. "If we are to be partners, then we should be on a first name basis. Of course I haven't actually agreed to a partnership yet. Exactly what sort of business was it you had in mind?"
Severus went on to explain his situation. Because he'd been losing money hand over fist, he'd been forced to close the Apothecary. He'd sold off the inventory, but the proceeds from that hadn't even paid off the loan he'd taken out to start the business. So now, already in debt, he'd been living off his savings from his teaching days but those funds were dwindling quickly. He'd been wracking his brain to come up with a way to support himself.
"Then I decided to think outside the box, so to speak. I started thinking of my Muggle gran, a feisty old biddy if there ever was one. She lived out in the country. My da left there to come to the city to make his way in the world and ended up in the mills, which were already on the verge of dying out at the time. But all through my childhood, I'd heard stories of how gran had supported the two of them when her husband went off to the army and got himself killed. She had quite a green thumb and a fabulous garden, and she sold her produce and flowers to the rich gentry of the area. She grew rare flowers and hybrid strains of fruits and vegetables and they were willing to pay a pretty penny for it all. That got me to thinking, what if I grew rare and unusual things like my gran did?"
"Like rare, hard to find potions ingredients?" asked Neville. "But if people wouldn't buy potions from your apothecary, why would they buy your ingredients... Oh, is that to be my role?"
"Yes and no, Neville. Originally, I thought of you because of your strong reputation in Herbology. You would be perfect for a partner in a business that grows rare and hard to find items. But then I started thinking, why limit myself strictly to the wizarding world? I've got jack shit for support from any of them. I did some research and I've learned that wealthy Muggles will pay unbelievable prices for certain delicacies, Neville. Fucking unbelievable prices."
Neville sat up and took interest. "What kinds of delicacies, Severus? And just how fucking unbelievable are we talking about here?"
"Coffee beans that have been eaten by a civet in their raw berry form and then 'harvested' at the other end. A hundred ninety-two pounds per pound British and in wizard terms—"
"Merlin's saggy ball sac! But that's over thirty-eight galleons for a pound of coffee beans that's been shat out an animal's arse? That's absolutely bonkers," exclaimed Neville.
"I know and it's just the tip of the iceberg," replied Severus. "Muggles will be our target market, so I'm pleased you understand the monetary conversions. Moose milk cheese-over three hundred pounds per pound, La Bonnotte potatoes-nearly a thousand per pound, Matsutake mushrooms-twelve hundred pounds per pound, saffron-eighteen hundred pounds per pound, European white truffles-about twenty-three hundred pounds per pound. The list goes on and on, caviar, gourmet vanilla beans, Kobe beef, blue fin tuna. With our magical resources I'm sure we could produce and market some of these things easily. Of course we'd have to be careful, we can't flood the market or the prices would plummet. After all, what makes these items so valuable is their rarity."
"Are you suggesting that we transfigure other food stuffs into these things? Because I'm not sure that's a feasible plan, trying to transfigure food is dodgy business," contributed Neville.
"No, no, transfiguration or spellwork wouldn't be a viable option. I was thinking more along the lines of obtaining some of these items: the fungi, the saffron, the La Bonnotte potatoes, for example. We study them, where they grow, the conditions they thrive in and we replicate that to produce these items in a controlled magical environment. Or, take the saffron, for example, it is harvested from the stigmas of a particular crocus. But each flower only has three stigmas. Hence, it takes thousands and thousands of the flowers to produce a single pound of saffron. But what if we developed a flower that had thirty stigmas? Or magically made the flowers huge to increase the harvest?"
"And since our target market will be wealthy Muggles, not wizards, your reputation here in the wizarding world shouldn't be a factor in the success of our business," said Neville. "Our profits are going to go through the roof."
Snape gave him a knowing little smirk. "Our market, our business, our profits. Can I take this to mean you're in?"
Neville held out his hand, which Severus grasped in a firm shake. "I'm definitely in, Severus. But there is something I need to know first. I'm curious; why me? Why not one of your Slytherins? I don't understand why you would ask me, of all people. From your actions toward me as your student, I would think you must have hated me. I should be the last person you would want to be business partners with."
"I didn't hate you; I was hard on you, because you scared the shit out of me, Longbottom. I was terrified you were going to kill everyone in your Potions class, me included, with one of your explosions. But the success of this business doesn't hinge on potions knowledge. Although Herbology skills are of the utmost importance in this endeavor, I didn't choose you simply based on your renown as one of the top in your field.
Through the years, I watched you grow from a timid, awkward little boy, into a strong, brave man whom I would trust with my life. I'm sure you aren't aware of this, but during your first year, there were a lot of us in the staff room who thought that the sorting hat had finally got it wrong when it sorted you. But Minerva had an unstoppable faith in you. She would just smile with that 'cat who ate the cream' smirk of hers and murmur, 'Time will tell. You mark my words, young Neville's right where he ought to be, you'll see. Time will tell.' And she was right. I know about some of the things you did that last year to protect the younger children, the way you drew the Carrows' attention away from them and took on their detentions as your own. I heard how you stood up to Voldemort and basically told him to 'fuck off'. Gods, I wish I could have been there to witness that scene. That and how you dispatched that thrice damned snake," concluded Severus with a faraway look on his face, as his fingers drifted up to rub over the scars still visible on his neck.
"I'll let you watch it in a Pensieve sometime, Severus," promised Neville. "It took us a while, but Luna and I worked it out long before the end, just whose side you were really on."
"Lovegood?" snorted Severus in disbelief.
"Don't sell her short, Severus. That's the problem with people. They don't look past the surface. That's why people were willing to believe the very worst of you. There's much more to Luna than meets the eye. And to tell you the truth she wouldn't be a bad contact to have in this venture, especially if we decide to pursue the animal side, you mentioned, caviar, beef, and others. Luna knows more about creatures than anyone I know, and I'll bet she knows a lot about Muggle creatures too." Neville pulled out a pocket watch to check the time. "I need to get back to the school. I still have third year tests to mark. We'll have to set up a meeting to make more specific plans. How about this weekend? Can we meet at your place?"
Severus hesitated a moment before nodding in agreement. He gave Neville the address and they agreed to meet early on Saturday to brainstorm what their first steps should be.
"Those fucking rat bastards!" exclaimed Hermione as she crumpled the note she'd just received and threw it across the room.
"Language, Hermione, language." Her mother's voice came from the kitchen.
"Sorry, Mum," said Hermione. She mumbled under her breath. "Great bloody wankers, that's what they all are."
"I heard that, missy," admonished her mum as she peeked around the doorway. "What is it that's got you in such a tizzy, hon. Your aura is all out of whack, not like you at all, Hermione," Linda Granger commented with concern in her voice.
Feeling sure that her mum couldn't see her, Hermione rolled her eyes at the comments about her aura, and before she could even answer her mum she was scolded again.
"And don't you roll your eyes at me young lady. You, as a witch, should know better than anyone that there are many unexplained things in the world. And right now your aura is telling me that you are carrying around an excessive amount of negative energy. Now come on out to the kitchen and I'll fix us some tea and you can tell me what's wrong."
How does she do that? wondered Hermione. I had my back turned to her, how can she possibly know I was rolling my eyes? Is just it a mum thing, or some sort of new age hocus pocus? Ever since Hermione had retrieved her parents from Australia, they just hadn't been the same. They'd eventually forgiven her for altering their memories, realizing that she truly had done it out of love for them, to protect them. But they were different people from the Jack and Linda Granger she had known. Instead of the straight-arrow, down to earth dentists she remembered from her childhood, her parents had become crystal packing, tarot card reading, spiritualistic, new-agers. She still loved them of course, and they seemed perfectly happy, but it was certainly taking some getting used to. She trudged through the kitchen door, dragging her feet as she went to join her mum for tea and interrogation.
"Now, sweetie, tell your old mummy what it is that's got you in such a dark temper," Linda teased as she poured the tea and offered Hermione some of her favorite biscuits, spiced oatmeal and raisin.
With a sigh, Hermione took the cup of tea and practically inhaled the first biscuit. Then she nibbled on the second as Linda placed two more, still warm from the oven, on her plate. She'd been avoiding revealing her troubles to her parents because she knew they would feel in part responsible for her problems and guilty about it too. She just didn't want to drop that burden on them. But it had got to the point that she had to tell them because they knew she wasn't pursuing a career in either the wizarding world or the Muggle one either.
"I got another letter from the ministry denying my appeal to sit my N.E.W.T.s independently. The final appeal they say. I don't meet their requirements and they aren't going to change the rules just for me. I also got a letter back from Professor McGonagall. She says that although she'd love to have me back at Hogwarts, there's apparently some obscure rule that no one over the age of twenty-one may enroll as a student."
"Oh dear. Well, obviously since you're twenty-two already and soon to be twenty-three this autumn that definitely puts a hold on your plans to go back and earn your N.E.W.T.s through traditional means." said Linda.
"This was really my last hope, Mum. I don't know what I'm going to do now," replied Hermione with a sigh. "It's virtually impossible to find any kind of decent job in the wizarding world without your N.E.W.T.s."
It didn't take a psychic to see how upset her daughter was as she unconsciously shredded the paper napkin into tiny little pieces. "Are you're absolutely sure they won't let you do the honorary thing, like Harry and Ron and your other friends did?"
"I'm positive, I've checked—over and over and over. I must have talked to at least seven different department heads. They kept shuttling me from one office to another, but the answer was always a big fat no. Although it wasn't mentioned at the time the honorary certificates were proposed, apparently they were only granted for a period of two years after the end of the war. The Ministry is maintaining that since I didn't respond to their original invitation to be awarded the honorary qualifications, I was in essence declining their offer. That wasn't my intention at all. I just knew at the time it was more important to find you and Dad and bring you home than it was to fill out an endless list of forms for the Ministry."
Linda quietly removed the pile of shreds and gave her daughter a new napkin to destroy.
Hermione continued on, not even noticing. "And I assumed that when I got back I could either sit my N.E.W.T.s or get the honorary certificate. When I discovered that those two options were blocked I came up with the plan to go back to Hogwarts to officially finish my final year. Even though it would take a year longer, I was willing to do it. But now that Professor McGonagall has denied me even that, I have no other ideas."
"Have you considered going to a university in the Muggle world and making a life for yourself here?" Linda asked hopefully. The look on her daughter's face told her the answer to her question before Hermione even had a chance to speak.
"Oh, Mum. I love you and Dad, and now that we've got everything all sorted out between us about the past, I want to keep close ties to you both. But I'm a witch. The wizarding world is where I want to live. All my friends are there. I can be me without having to cover up or hide who I really am." Hermione blinked hard, trying to hold back the tears that were stinging the backs of her eyes, "I'm starting to wonder, though, if the wizarding world even wants me there. It seems like once again I'm struggling to find my place and that I'm not really wanted there at all."
Hermione covered her face in her hands and choked back a sob. Linda scooted a chair up next to her and embraced her daughter in a tight hug. "Don't you worry, sweetheart. Something will come along. You are an exceptional woman and witch and somehow everything is going to work out for the best." After considering for a moment she suggested, "Harry must have some influence. After all he did save your world from Voldebert—"
"Voldemort," corrected Hermione with a small smile on her lips.
"Yes, him. Anyway, Harry surely must have some pull somewhere after all that. Can't he help you find a way around all this? Or if you can't sit your N.E.W.T.s, can't he help to get you a job some other way... an apprentice, on the job training, or something like that?"
"I don't know if Harry could help or not, Mum. But I really don't want to bother him with my problems right now. His personal life is in the pits. A couple of months ago he broke up with Ginny again and I think this time is the end for real. As a result, Ron's been avoiding him because he doesn't want to take sides between his sister and his best friend. And the rest of the Weasleys were like Harry's adopted family so he's really feeling abandoned and depressed right now. I can't pile one more burden on him after all that, Mum. I just can't."
Giving Hermione a comforting pat on the shoulder, her mum said, "I can understand why you wouldn't want to bother Harry at a time like this, the poor boy. He'll always be welcome here, dear. We can be his family, and gladly so. Next time you see him tell him I want him to come have dinner with us."
"Okay, Mum, I will." Hermione smiled. She knew her mum had always had a soft spot for Harry.
"Hermione, I have an idea how to figure out what you need to do."
Linda rose and went to open a drawer. Drawing something out and hiding it behind her back, she approached her daughter. "Now, Hermione, keep an open mind. I know you think it's silly, but let's see what the tarot cards say." She set the cards down on the table and Hermione jumped back as if they were a nest of Acromantulas.
"Mum! For Merlin's sake!" Hermione cried. "I am not deciding my future by playing around with a bunch of fortune telling cards. It's ridiculous!" Jumping up, she stomped out through the back door in a huff.
With a sad sigh Linda watched Hermione leave. Looking down at the cards, she shuffled the deck and began laying them down in a traditional Celtic Cross pattern, it was her favorite spread for doing a tarot reading. "Oh, my. This is very interesting," she murmured. It would have been better, of course, if Hermione had participated in the reading. But as her mum, Linda felt her strong feelings for her daughter would give her a fairly accurate reading. She carefully studied the cards and grabbing a pen and pad from the drawer she quickly began to make notes on her interpretation.
Hermione wandered aimlessly on the trails near her parents home for the next hour or so. She missed the familiarity of the neighborhood she had grown up in. Her childhood home had mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground shortly after she'd sent her parents away, so they'd been forced to relocate upon their return. After much discussion, they had decided rather than try to recapture what they'd had in England before the war, they would start afresh in a new place. She had abided by her parent's choice to live in a much more rural area than the middle class suburban home Hermione was used to. Jack and Linda had got used to a quiet country lifestyle during their years away. Although Hermione had arranged for them to live in a neighborhood there very similar to their home in England, after arriving they had soon broken their lease and moved away from the fringes of the city to settle in the nearby mountains. That was one of the reasons it had taken her so long to locate them when she went back to retrieve them.
After returning to England, her father had done copious amounts of research and purchased a lovely country home not far from the tiny village of Brierley, in Gloucestershire. By the time Hermione had realized what he was up to it was afait accompli, and to her horror the home was located directly in the Forest of Dean. Merlin knew she and the boys had stayed a lot of different places during that awful year on the run, but for some reason, in her mind, the Forest of Dean seemed to be representative of that entire year they'd spent fighting for survival. She had once sworn she would never willingly return there again. However, once her parents had settled in, Hermione found that she was able look past her last experiences there while on the camping trip from hell, and remember it as the place she had enjoyed on family visits in her youth.
Neither of her parents had any desire to return to their dental careers. Luckily, while in Australia Jack had discovered a keen affinity for successful online investing; he'd managed to turn the small nest egg Hermione had set them up with into a rather sizable fortune. The fact of the matter was that Hermione really did not need to work either, as her father had set up a significant trust for her. Still, she was not the type of person to sit idle and she wanted something to occupy her days with.
Hermione sat on a log next to a stream and felt bad for yelling at her mum. She knew she owed her an apology, and she vowed to try to control her temper in the future. She just found it so difficult to deal with her mum's, and dad's, too, to an extent, involvement in all the new-age nonsense that they had mired themselves in: crystals and tarot and astrology and spirit guides and such. It was just too bloody much like Divination, and Hermione had never put stock in any of that rubbish either.
With a sigh she stood and decided to pop off to London to commiserate with Harry. At least as a witch, she was not limited by the distances she had to travel to visit her friends. Within seconds, she was standing on the front step of twelve Grimmauld Place. Since she was one of the very few people keyed to the wards, she entered without knocking. She headed straight to the front parlor where she knew she was most likely to find her friend.
Flinging open the door, she called, "Harry!"
What she saw brought her to a screeching halt. Her mouth dropped open in shocked. Harry and Draco Malfoy were locked together in a clinch. Harry had him pinned against the arm of the sofa and it appeared that he was trying to swallow Malfoy's tongue, while Malfoy's fingers were threaded through Harry's messy black locks trying to pull him even closer, if that were even possible. At her greeting they jerked apart and she could see that Malfoy's trousers were undone and Harry's hand was buried inside. As Harry yanked his hand out Hermione could see, good gods, was that Malfoy's...
Totally embarrassed, Hermione slapped her hands over her mouth, then over her eyes, then back to her mouth. She quickly back pedaled out of the room as she muttered, "Oh, gods... I'm sorry... I shouldn't have... Sorry... I didn't mean to... Sorry... sorry... I am so fucking sorrrry!"
Before she could make a safe get-away, Harry dashed forward and grabbed her in the doorway. "Hermione, wait! It's not what you think."
"Really, Harry? It's not? What a relief, because what I think I just saw was you and Malfoy here, snogging the pants off each other, and doing a damned fine job of it too, by the looks of it."
Harry glanced at Draco and then looked helplessly back at Hermione. "Okay, so maybe it is what you think."
Hermione couldn't help but look up at Malfoy, who was smirking at her as he made a show of deliberately tucking his shirt back in before he zipped and buttoned up his jeans. Deciding to give him back a bit of his own she commented, "Nice package, by the way, Malfoy."
It was Malfoy's turn to look embarrassed as his jaw dropped and a blush stained his cheeks.
"Don't challenge her, Draco. You won't win," warned Harry with a grin.
Allowing Harry to lead her back into the parlor, she sat in one of the arm chairs as Harry walked to the side-board and poured them all a drink.
"So, is this what the break-up with Ginny was about?" asked Hermione bluntly.
"Yes, and no," replied Harry. "Nothing physical started with Draco before the break-up, but I knew it just wasn't right between Ginny and me. Honestly, it hasn't been for a long time. I knew it deep down. That's why we broke up the first three times. But I always let Ginny, and Ron and everyone else guilt me into getting back together with her. This time she was pressuring me to give her an engagement ring and set a date. I finally realized if I let her have her way I'd be trapped. That's when it hit me; no one should look at that kind of commitment like a trap. It should be one of the happiest times of your life. So I ended it."
Hermione reached across and patted Harry's knee. "And it felt right, didn't it? A huge relief?"
Harry nodded and she continued, "Like you'd been carrying this burden, like... I don't know... like you'd been carrying Norbert around on your back and he'd just suddenly flown off. And the relief was just enormous."
"Yes!" Harry practically shouted. "That's it exactly."
"Wait," interrupted Draco. "Who's Norbert?"
They both ignored him. "How did you know, Hermione?"
"That's exactly how I felt when I finally broke it off with Ron."
Harry continued to ignore Draco and looked contrite as he said, "Hermione, I'm really sorry if I put pressure on you back then about Ron."
"It's okay, Harry. I know at the time you meant well. But it's like you said, it just didn't feel right."
"Who the hell is Norbert!" demanded Malfoy.
"Hagrid's dragon," they both said at the same time.
Draining his drink and looking at the clock, Harry asked, "Will you stay and have dinner with us?"
She glanced at Malfoy, who gave her a brief nod of approval. "I'd love to, Harry. I've missed spending time with you lately. I wanted to give you your space. I'm just going to call Mum on my mobile to let her know where I am. We had a bit of a row and I left in a huff. I don't want her to worry."
After Hermione contacted her mum, Harry stepped out to talk to Kreacher about dinner. With Harry gone, Draco turned to Hermione. "Just so you know, what he said was true. We hadn't been together before this last break up with the Weaselette. But I have been flirting with him for the past year or so."
"Hell, Malfoy. I think you've been flirting with him since our first year at Hogwarts. It's just that none of us recognized it for what it was."
He opened his mouth as if to protest, but then closed it firmly and nodded with a twisted half smile. "You could be right, Granger."
Hermione leaned forward in her chair and looked Draco dead in eyes. "Whatever is between you and Harry is your business. If he's happy, then I'm happy. But if you ever intentionally hurt him, Malfoy, you will answer to me. And, you'd better believe me, I'll make Voldemort seem like Gilderoy Lockhart."
Draco leaned back and surveyed her with a smirk. "I think you're jealous, Granger. Are you in love with our boy, Potty?"
Hermione shook her head and looked at him in disbelief. "Malfoy, you are a fucking idiot. Of course I love Harry. He's been one of the most important people in my life since I was twelve years old. I stood by him through everything. He was my only family when I Obliviated my own parents and sent them away to protect them, not knowing if I would ever see them again or if they would ever forgive me for what I'd done. We went to hell and back that last year of the war, a good portion of it with only each other to rely on. So, yes, I do love Harry Potter. But I most definitely am not in love with him. He's a brother to me, Draco. So believe me when I say it, if you deliberately cause my brother pain, you will feel my wrath."
Draco's eyes widened as he looked past her shoulder. She felt Harry's hand rest on her back and he bent to kiss her cheek. "Are you giving him your, 'if you hurt Harry, I will hurt you even more' speech, love?"
She looked up into his familiar green eyes and smiled. "Something like that, dearie."
Harry took her hand and, reaching out for Draco's as well, he pulled them both after him to the dining room.
After finishing off two bottles of elf made wine with dinner in addition to the Firewhisky they'd had earlier, it was Draco who convinced her to stay the night rather than risk Apparating home. She spoke to her dad to let him know that she was spending the night at Harry's and would come home in the morning.
When she arrived home her mum was waiting for her with a mug of tea and a hug.
Before Linda could speak, Hermione jumped in. "Mum, I'm sorry for yelling at you yesterday. You are entitled to your beliefs and I shouldn't belittle them, even if I don't share them."
"It's alright, sweetie," said Linda quietly. "I know it's hard for you to understand. I know we aren't the parents you remember us to be. Things happened while we were gone, things that can't be explained. We had no memory of having a daughter and yet I knew something wasn't right, somehow I just knew. The first time I had a tarot reading, I couldn't believe the things she was able to tell me. Things she shouldn't have known and yet she did. Maybe I started using it all as a crutch, trying to discover what it was that was missing in my life. But the more I learned, the more real it became. I know you don't believe it, but there's something there, Hermione. There is."
"I know you think so, Mum. To be honest there are plenty of people in the wizarding world who believe in similar practices, astrology, tea leaves, crystal balls. Maybe it's because the Divination teacher at Hogwarts was a sherry tippling weirdo that I just got disgusted with it all and turned my back on it long ago."
With a warm smile for her daughter, Linda said, "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on some things, won't we dear?
"Now on another note, I have a favor to ask. It's for the relative of a friend, actually. I told her you might be able to help. She's willing to pay handsomely, if you can take care of her little problem."
Hermione frowned. "I don't understand, Mum. How could I help your friend? What kind of problem does she have?"
"My friend Suzanne has a cousin who just bought a lovely old country house nearby, in the Cotswolds, but she's discovered it's haunted or something. She can hardly stand to stay there. As soon as she arrives things start happening: loud noises, banging and thumping, things fall of counters, sinks overflow. I know you used to tell stories of the ghosts at Hogwarts, so you know that such things do exist."
"But, Mum, how is it you think I can help? I can't do magic in front of Muggles and even if I could I'm no exorcist."
"Well, I know that, but you could at least see the ghosts at Hogwarts. I thought maybe since you're a witch they might reveal themselves to you. Maybe you could simply reason with them, maybe get them to leave, or if not, maybe at least get them to allow Angela to live there in peace."
Hermione considered it for a moment before replying, "I suppose it wouldn't do any harm to go take a look. I'll do a little research, I believe there is quite a bit of interest by Muggles in paranormal activity. To tell you the truth it sounds more like a poltergeist to me, they aren't really ghosts, but they like to do pranks and harass people."
Linda jumped up to engulf her daughter in a hug. "Oh, honey, thanks so much! I'll call Suze and let her know. Shall we say day after tomorrow?"