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“Good morning, birthday girl.”

She smiled into the pillow. “What time is it?”

There were hands on her waist, fingers poking into—“Stop.”

Draco chuckled as she swatted Theo with a pillow. Served him right for tickling her.

“Now that you’re finally awake”—Theo reached over to the nightstand and grabbed a pristinely wrapped package— “you can open the first of your presents.”

She opened her mouth, only to pause when Draco pressed a finger to her lips.

“If you say the words you shouldn’t have, I swear to Merlin I will go to the nearest jewelry store and buy you the most ostentatious set of jewels I can find,” he threatened. “Diamonds. And emeralds.”

She swallowed the words and shrugged. “Thank you?”

But they really shouldn’t have.

Draco gave her a quick peck. “There you go.”

Theo set the dark blue rectangular package on her lap. “Just a little something for starters.”

She smoothed her hand over the wrapping and bit the inside of her cheek. Whatever was beneath the paper was solid and—she pressed her hand along the side and glared at them. “Please tell me you didn’t spend an egregious amount of money on some rare book when I haven’t even made it through a fraction of either of your libraries.”

Our libraries,” Draco corrected. “And no, it’s not rare. Not to my knowledge.”

“And it cost less than three galleons,” Theo added.

“But it is a book?”

Theo snorted. “Just open the damn thing.”

He was practically bouncing atop the mattress, his eyes wide as he gestured for her to hurry up.

His excitement was contagious. Stifling a laugh, she tore into the paper and plucked the—it was a book—from the wrapping remnants.

Kettleburn’s Guide to Caring for Your Kneazle.” She sucked in a breath just shy of being a gasp. “What?”

“Go on, open it up,” Theo urged.

She flipped the cover and there, slipped between the dedication and the table of contents was a sheet of parchment. “License number 56078cvb. Hermione Granger—” She blinked hard and fast because no, she wasn’t going to cry. “You—did you really?”

Biting his lip did nothing to hold back the grin absolutely consuming Draco’s face. He leaned over the edge of the bed, reaching for something on the floor and—

“Oh my God.”

“Say hello to—” Theo paused. “We didn’t name her yet, actually. Thought you might want to do the honors.”

There, sitting on the bed and staring at her with eerily intelligent eyes—one green and one a pale yellow—was the largest smoke-grey kitten she had ever seen. It was clearly still a kitten, its paws too big for the rest of its body and its limbs rather gangly. However, it was the size of a grown cat, and a rather large one at that. “You got me a cat?”

“We got you a kneazle,” Theo corrected. “Full kneazle, too. Hence, the permit.”

The kitten cocked its head, watching her watching it. She blinked those stunning eyes and gave a sudden yawn, little smushed face scrunching further, her mouth opening to reveal a set of razor-sharp teeth. Suddenly, without warning, she sneezed, scaring herself into a startled ball of fluffed up fur. She meowed, a high-pitched squeak that didn’t at all fit her size, and looked around the room, eyes finally settling behind her on her puffed little white tail. She pounced on it, roaring in that squeak of a voice.

Hermione’s eyes burned as she laughed.

“We were in Diagon Alley and this one was sitting in the window and…” Draco shrugged. “It was hard to resist that face.”

The kitten lifted its head, ears twitching, gaze settling on Draco. She crossed the bed with stumbling steps, paws too big and the mattress too soft. She climbed directly onto Draco’s lap and set her front paws on his chest, standing and staring him in the eye.

Draco chuckled and stroked the cat—kneazle—behind the ears. “You’re a beautiful girl, aren’t you?”

The kitten pressed her speckled nose against Draco’s and mewled loudly.

“It’s the cutest damn thing, isn’t it?” Theo whispered. “Draco took one look at her and fucking melted right in the middle of the menagerie.”

It was beyond adorable.

“Say hello to your mum, okay?” Draco said to the kitten and if she wasn’t already an absolute goner, that would’ve done her in. Her breath caught in her throat, trapped, as the kitten turned and stared at her with those intelligent, mismatched eyes.

That, and it did riotous things to her stomach hearing Draco say those words.

Wobbling across the bed, the kitten crawled onto her lap and squeaked until she picked it up, cradling it to her chest. It batted at one of her curls and let loose another shrill roar before starting up a loud purr. She sniffled and blinked. “What should we name you, hmm?”

The kneazle kitten cocked its head and blinked. Something about those eyes…

She gasped. “I know. We’ll call you Algieba.”

“Erm.” Theo coughed. “That’s diff—”

Algieba gave another squeaky roar in Theo’s direction.

He held his hands up. “Okay, Algieba it is.”

She laughed. “Algieba is a binary-star, two different colors. It’s also known as Gamma Leonis, and this one here has two different eye colors. I think it’s fitting.”

Theo groaned beneath his breath. “Is this a sign of what’s to come? Constellation names?”

“What’s wrong with that?” Draco asked, crossing his arms. “It’s a tradition.”

“Nothing.” Theo shrugged. “I’m sure our little Scorpius and Hydra won’t at all be teased for their names.”

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the name Scorpius.” Draco flushed and averted his eyes.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Theo cackled. “You’re serious? You want to saddle one of our future children with the name Scorpius? I’m sure he’ll be very well-adjusted.”

Algieba finally managed to snare one of Hermione’s curls between her paws, only when she tried to chew on it, it must’ve tickled her nose because she sneezed three times and looked a little dazed.

“You got me a kneazle kitten,” she murmured, interrupting their bickering. “This is—thank you.”

She missed Crookshanks. She missed him terribly. He’d wandered off from the Burrow while she’d been off hunting Horcruxes and he’d just—he’d never come back and she’d never gotten to say goodbye. She liked to think he’d found himself a new home somewhere, somewhere where he was safe and had more mice to hunt than he could dream of.

She’d thought about it, getting a new familiar, but it had been too soon and then she’d been too busy to think about it but now, now was perfect.

Algieba was perfect. Precocious and beautiful and she looked like a kneazle, but nothing like Crookshanks which was good. Hermione didn’t want to replace Crooks. Nothing could replace that ginger grump.

Theo and Draco smiled and if her insides hadn’t been all mushy before, that did it.

“Now that we’ve buttered you up.” Theo grinned. “You can open the rest of the presents.”

***

They spent the morning in bed, her opening gifts—a pair of sapphire earrings whose price she didn’t even want to try to guess, the entire works of William Shakespeare as a joke, and a pair of Muggle handcuffs which she wasn’t certain were meant as a gag gift or a serious suggestion—before enjoying a lazy breakfast in bed followed by playtime with Algieba.

Once the kitten had tuckered herself out and curled up into a ball to sleep, Draco had hauled Hermione into the bathroom. He and Theo had then proceeded to remind her of the many varied uses of the bathtub’s jets.

By the time they made it downstairs, it was after one and her voice was hoarse from screaming.

“I don’t see why it’s necessary that you tied this around my eyes.” She fiddled with the necktie Theo had knotted at the back of her head. A hand gently smacked her fingers away from the satin. She huffed. “I said I’d keep them closed.”

“As if you don’t like it,” Theo whispered in her ear. “I distinctly remember it was your little kinky desire to be blindfolded and—”

Draco coughed loudly.

“Whoops.” Theo snorted. “Too much information?”

Someone groaned from across the room.

Theo,” she hissed.

He sighed. “Way to ruin the surprise.”

His fingers slid the knot free and she blinked, adjusting—

“Ron! Harry!”

Faces flushed and quite honestly horrified, Ron and Harry stood awkwardly on the other side of the sitting room, shifting on their feet. Harry held up the box in his hands and grimaced. “Happy birthday?”

Ron frowned. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Oh please. She rolled her eyes, briefly turning back to glare at Theo who looked entirely too smug. “This is a surprise.”

“Clearly,” Ron muttered before gaping. “What in the bloody hell is that?”

He was staring down at her arms where Algieba was cradled like a baby, purring her content loudly.

“This? This is Algieba.” Hefting the cat up, she presented her to Harry and Ron.

“Al—what?” Harry’s brow pinched.

The kitten gave one her high-pitched roars that one day, would likely be quite intimidating, but now sounded as if she’d swallowed a squeaky toy.

“Algieba,” she repeated. “She’s a kneazle.”

“I can see that,” Ron stared, blue eyes wide. “You realize that thing’s going to get bloody massive, don’t you?”

“Kneazles generally do, Weasley,” Draco said.

Ron looked uncomfortable, probably having some sort of flashback to third year when Crookshanks had gone after his—well, Peter. “What are you going to feed it?”

Draco stroked a finger down the center of Algieba’s face. She shut her eyes and leaned into his touch and—for all that she might have been the kneazle’s adopted mum, Draco was her daddy and clearly her favorite. “Say Algieba, how do you feel about ginger for dinner?”

Wiggling in her hold, Algieba kicked until she set her down. The kitten traipsed across the room, spindly legs and fat little feet stopping directly in front of a wide-eyed Ron.

“What did you—did you train her to—I’m warning you, Malfoy, if you—”

Algieba arched her back and threw-up a furball on Ron’s trainers.

Even Harry laughed, shrugging when Ron glared. “Kneazles are brilliant. You basically asked for it, mate.”

Ron stared glumly down at his shoes. “Ah, yuck. Kneazle barf.”

“Milly?” she called.

In a snap, Milly appeared, little nose wrinkling at the sight of Ron trying to kick cat vomit off his shoes. “Mr. Ronald Wheezy stops that right now. Milly cleans that before you make more of a mess than you have already.”

“Me?” Ron pointed at himself. “What did I do? That beast upchucked all over me.”

Algieba sashayed across the room, pausing to shoot Ron a glare over her shoulder before hopping into the window seat and curling up in the sun.

“You’re a good girl, Algieba,” Draco praised. “A very good girl.”

Theo dropped his head, his lips brushing her ear. “Funny. Didn’t I say the exact same thing to you a half an hour ago?”

Heat spread across her skin.

Barefoot and chastised, Ron took a seat beside Harry on the smaller of the two settees while she perched between Draco and Theo on the other.

“You didn’t have to get me anything, really.” The urge to stick her tongue out at Draco was strong, but she reeled it in.

Harry shrugged. “It’s your birthday, of course we did. Besides, those two told us if we didn’t come, they’d”—Harry paused, head tilting— “what was it you said?”

Draco waved him off. “What’s a little good-natured threat between friends, Potter?”

Behind his glasses, Harry rolled his eyes.

“Like you needed to threaten us. It’s ‘Mione’s birthday,” Ron said.

“Well, thank you.” The box in Ron’s hands looked as if he’d used an entire ream of wrapping paper and sort of just…scrunched it all up around whatever the gift was. “Did you wrap that yourself, Ron?”

He lifted the package and smiled sheepishly. “How can you tell?”

***

Ron’s present had, to be fair, been rather irregularly shaped.

He’d gotten her a potted plant on Neville’s suggestion, specifically a small Flitterbloom bush that had been crossbred with an Umbrella flower to produce brightly colored, swaying tentacles.

A bit…odd, but she appreciated it nonetheless.

Harry had given her a new journal with a set of a self-inking quills.

Gifts set aside, they’d enjoyed a pot of tea and a tray of biscuits brought in by a still-irate Milly who threw an occasional glare at Ron.

“Mum’s throwing a big Halloween party,” Ron mumbled around a biscuit. “Always wanted to, she said. Now that we’re all out of school, guess she figures now’s the time.”

Hermione smiled tightly over the rim of her tea cup. And he was telling her this, why? “That sounds nice.”

Ron shrugged. “I don’t know. Figured you three could maybe come. If you wanted.”

Draco choked on his sip of tea.

“Ron,” she started. “There’s no way in hell your mother would be okay with me, let alone the three of us, showing up at the Burrow.”

“It’s my house, too,” Ron argued. “And Mum said to invite whoever I wanted.”

Theo wrinkled his nose. “I suspect she doubted you’d invite us.”

“Not true, actually,” Harry said.

Ron nodded. “Mum knows.”

“Did you actually tell her, or did you imply it?” she asked.

She couldn’t imagine Molly actually being okay with her showing up, Draco and Theo in tow. No way, no how. Molly would have a fit.

“I told her.” Ron lifted his chin. “I said, Mum, I’m inviting Hermione and some mates over for Halloween.”

Theo gave an exaggerated sniffle. “I’m—Gods, I’m touched, Weasley. Mates.”

Draco wiped under his eyes. “What a spectacular honor.”

And a privilege.” Theo nodded solemnly.

“Arseholes,” Ron muttered, lips twitching.

She huffed. “Ron.”

“What?” Ron reached for another biscuit. “Close enough. Mum knows you’re coming; she has to figure it’s a possibility you’d bring these two.”

“She can’t know I’m coming because I haven’t agreed.”

At least Ron swallowed before he spoke. “Come on, ‘Mione, it’ll be fun. The whole family’s going to be there. Mum, Dad, Bill, Fleur, Charlie’s coming in from Romania, Percy might even deign to show up. George has been working on these…well, I can’t tell you or that’d ruin the surprise. Obviously, Harry and Ginny will be there. And me.”

“The whole brood.” Theo snorted.

“That you’re technically related to,” Draco reminded.

Both Ron and Theo made faces, Theo’s grimace slightly more subdued while Ron stuck out his tongue.

“Dig back far enough and you’ll find we’re all related,” Theo said.

“Except for me,” she said, never happier to be Muggleborn than in that moment. Or any moment where she thought about the conspicuous lack of forking in certain family trees.

Draco stroked the back of her hand with his thumb and smiled.

She did want to see Ginny. It had been too long since they’d caught up, Ginny busy with Quidditch training and her with, well, everything. But was catching up worth going to the Burrow, of all places?

“Your aunt will be there,” Harry added, looking at Draco. “And she’s bringing Teddy.”

Draco frowned. “Three snakes among—what is it, nine lions?”

“Any bets on where Teddy’s going to wind up?” Theo asked.

Harry and Draco answered at the same time. “Gryffindor.” “Slytherin.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Just think about it, yeah?” Ron asked. “You can even bring Algeebia.”

Algieba hissed and went back to chewing on her pile of wrapping paper.

***

Later that evening, after dinner with Lucius and Narcissa who had gifted her with a stunning charm bracelet and an extendable, portable library that she wasn’t entirely sure was legal, she pulled out the still-sealed envelope from her parents and handed it to Theo.

His eyes darted over the envelope, reading, before his jaw clenched. “You haven’t read it yet?”

He passed it to Draco who frowned as soon as he saw the return address.

She shook her head. “Not yet. I didn’t want—it came this morning. I didn’t want—I didn’t want to.”

She hadn’t wanted to sour the day if the response she received wasn’t the one she was hoping for.

The day after she’d received the missive from her parents about selling the house and everything had reached fever-pitch with her confession, she’d penned a letter in response, inviting her parents to Wiltshire for the holidays. Narcissa had actually been the one to suggest it.

Her parents in Wiltshire. Every time she tried to imagine what it would be like, her mind stuck on the image of Mum and Dad seated around the dining table across from Lucius and Narcissa. Her brain sort of froze there, stutter-stopping, unable to move past that bizarre tableau. What in Merlin’s name would they all even discuss?

Which wasn’t to say she didn’t want them to come. She absolutely did. Her trouble picturing it didn’t stop her from trying to picture it.

Her hopes, as much as she’d tried to keep them low, had risen when the letter had arrived, on her birthday of all days. Her expectations, on the other hand, well…she’d kept those in check. Mostly.

Draco passed her the letter and if her fingers trembled when she accepted it, well, there was only so much she could control. A reminder she needed.

“What if they say no?” Gods, did her voice have to sound so small?

“Then you’ll try again in a few months,” Theo said.

Draco nodded. “You’re stubborn like that.”

He made it sound like a compliment.

She huffed softly. Tracing the seal of the Muggle envelope, the kind with the sticky flap you had to lick, she tried to scrounge up some of that courage she was supposed to have. Something flickered weakly inside her, a little flutter of nerves, but also that pigheadedness she’d relied on to get her through the direst of conditions. War and horcrux hunting and N.E.W.T revisions.

They were right. If this didn’t go the way she wanted, she’d try again. When did Hermione Granger take no for an answer?

Sliding her finger beneath the seal, she tried not to frown at the sight of another Hallmark card. There was nothing she could do to stop her heart from plummeting, but at least Theo and Draco couldn’t see that happen.

On Your Special Day, the front read.

Hermione,

Happy birthday. We hope this year is special.

Unfortunately, your mother and I have Christmas plans.

Of course they did. Hermione gripped the cardstock between her fingers and soldiered on, eyes skimming faster, wanting this whole moment to be over.

If, on the off-chance you find yourself in Australia for, say, Boxing Day, we’d be pleased to see you.

Love,

Dad and Mum

She read it twice and passed it over to Draco who read it, brow furrowed, and handed it off to Theo who glared at the paper as if it had offended him.

It could’ve been worse.

They could’ve said nothing.

“It’s something, right?” she asked.

Theo set the card aside and snagged her hand, tangling their fingers together. “It’s something.”